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  • How do you spell 'Presbyterian'?
    their purified dinner tables Why did Jesus consort with such riff raff Now back to the question of who is best in prayer We are given a clue at the opening of the story how this unlikely twosome will measure up Jesus was telling this parable we are told to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt That word contempt gives us our clue It s a very strong word Luke uses it in only one other story When Jesus stands accused facing his cross Herod and the soldiers treat him with contempt Luke 23 11 For Luke to hold someone in contempt is to stand in judgment on God s own Son It is to put oneself in the place of God And that is what the Pharisee does in his prayer God I thank you I am not like other people What a line The Pharisee doesn t thank God for what God has done The Pharisee brags about his own righteousness He judges other people to be rogues and thieves like the tax collector in the temple unclean and despicable He s telling God he is best in prayer by reminding God of all the righteous things he accomplishes in a week It never dawns on him that his sense of his own rightness is actually an act of contempt towards God And that s why the tax collector is found best in prayer that day He stands far off recognizing he s already distanced himself from God by his way of living He won t even raise his eyes toward heaven He can only seek God s mercy with a simple cry from the heart And Jesus surprised his listeners when he concluded it was this one the one who had done great wrong to others who was set right with God that day The one who held others in contempt the one who was so sure of his own rightness and righteousness was judged lacking To be best in prayer is to reject any notion we are better than others To be best in prayer is to stand humbly before God recognizing our own faults and frailties never judging the faults and frailties of others Recently two occasions reminded me of the power of contempt in people s lives First came my day at the Truth Reconciliation hearing in Lethbridge To hear the stories of what happened to many native children taken from their homes and families to residential school is to recall the contempt written into Canadian law in those days Aboriginal people were not considered human persons and their values and communities judged as uncivilized Not for all but for many of those children their teachers contempt has left scars on their souls as they remember harsh words the numbers which replaced their names in roll call the beatings beyond any reasonable discipline and the shame they felt day after month after year That shame created

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/269-how-do-you-spell-presbyterian (2016-02-13)
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  • Try to Remember
    wilderness Such remembering resulted in revival and re commitment to the covenant promises God had made with them and they with him For followers of Jesus the Holy Spirit makes remembering possible As much as we can remember about many things we will be blessed by doing so The reality is that whether in the realm of international affairs or in conflict between individuals we are not always proud of what we remember The best minds of our church prepared a document The Theology of Peace Making It encourages believers to work for a just and peaceful society God does not glorify our wars nor allow us to take joy and satisfaction freely from defeating our enemy How much joy and satisfaction have you ever noted as today our armed forces personnel return home from active duty Very little I d say Author Rita Snowden tells a story of W W 2 In France some soldiers with their sergeant brought the body of a dead comrade to a French cemetery to have him buried The priest told them gently that he was bound to ask if their comrade had been a baptized adherent of the Roman Catholic Church They said that they did not know The priest said that he was very sorry but in that case he could not permit burial in his churchyard So sadly the soldiers took their comrade and buried him just outside the fence The next day they came back to see that the grave was all right and to their astonishment could not find it Search as they might they could find no trace of the freshly dug soil As they were about to leave in bewilderment the priest came up He told them that his heart had been troubled because of his refusal to allow their dead comrade to be buried in the churchyard so early in the morning he had risen from his bed and with his own hands had moved the fence to include the body of the soldier who had died for France This story illustrates what Paul is trying to help us remember in today s reading from Ephesians 2 13 14 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ For he is our peace in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us So many barriers so many fences so many dividing walls so many petty differences blind prejudices stuff of no consequence for the long term Isaiah 57 19 had heard God say Peace peace to the far and to the near Christ is our Peace He is that Third Party who reconciles us to God and to each other That s what the Cross of Christ means for us the bridge by which we may come back to God our sure access to him When two parties disagree they can

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/270-try-to-remember (2016-02-13)
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  • On the other hand
    labour in vain or bear children for calamity Good words to reflect on the week after Remembrance Day with its history of calamities and in the face of a calamitous typhoon Isaiah proclaims that the wars and disasters of this world are not God s will for God s people No God s vision for the future is one of healed relationships The wolf and the lamb shall feed together the lion shall eat straw like the ox They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain So why is it would you say that so many people so often worry that violence and destruction are what God holds in store for God s world To me it s a puzzle In our reading from Luke Jesus actually says do not go after people who pronounce doom as signs of the end Do not be terrified in the face of things that happen all the time war and earthquakes and famines History records that all these things had happened in the years just before Luke wrote his gospel And we know in our own time these same things keep happening So why is it these common features of human life make us fear that God is bringing things to an ominous conclusion Is disaster and destruction what we think the world deserves And what about ourselves Is fiery judgment what motivates you to get out of bed on a cold November morning to come to worship Is that the warmth you crave from God On the other hand we can contemplate Isaiah s vision of peace and reconciliation of prosperity and longevity for all God s people But then we look around at the world and see how often life falls short of this vision Peace and reconciliation are sadly lacking in many places There is prosperity for some but not for all Wolves are still eating lambs and on God s holy mountain glaciers are melting while the oceans warm and super typhoons brew It seems it s easier to spot disintegration and see our glass as half empty and still leaking But when we notice things going awry how do we respond Do we hunker down expecting the worst hoping God s sights are trained on some other sinner not us Or on the other hand do we hear the call in Isaiah s vision of peace reconciliation to become signs of hope and bearers of good news In our texts today we confront two competing visions of what God holds in store for the world blessing or destruction If we listen to many Christian broadcasters evangelists we ll hear them beat the drum of impending judgement and issue the call to flee God s wrath If we look into the world we ll see extremists of every religious stripe provoke violence in order to hasten judgement on those they consider unfaithful But there is always the other hand the hope of healing and reconciliation Isaiah

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  • Jesus, remember me
    an impact on what we feel and think But I smiled quietly to myself that day I think my father would have gulped in sadnessto think he d left such an impression on someone I read some of his written reflections after he died and I know he demanded the most from himself regretting what he saw as his failings in business and in his relationships When Dad remembered himself he was painfully aware of his own shortcomings Then I began to wonder how Jesus would remember him How many of us would like Jesus to remember us the way we remember ourselves For those of us prone to focus on the times we ve messed up if we tend to lie awake castigating ourselves for something we ve done which hasn t worked out it s not likely we d want Jesus to remember us the way we remember ourselves Like the second thief we d be crying out to the king of mercy for more kindness than we think we deserve As I continued to muse on how we might be remembered I thought of my students over the years how they remember me Many students called me tough but fair especially those students I challenged to go deeper the way my best professors had challenged me But of course not every student likes a challenge One woman told me she cried when she read my critique of her sermon so disappointed I hadn t loved every word of her nine page manuscript Mind you she told me about those tears four years after she graduated and had begun preaching in her own congregation She had come to see my point that you can t say every single thing about a scripture passage in a single sermon But still I ask myself would I want Jesus to remember me according to fifteen years of student evaluations Would he understand my truest intentions in challenging and correcting efforts which needed improvement I d want Jesus to remember my good intentions not just the way those intentions were sometimes received by students worried about their final grades And yet I also expect Jesus to see through the times when I was fooling myself and wasn t as true or fair or helpful as I thought I was I hope that when Jesus remembers any one of us he will honour what has been reliable and commendable in our lives And yet I expect the King of mercy to judge us wherever we have fallen short Yes judge us but also forgive us and redeem what is remembered of us like that thief on the Cross For some of us it would be painful to be remembered the way we remember our own lives For others of us it would be painful to be remembered the way other people remember us But what about how the world remembers us Would we want Jesus to remember usaccording to the place we ve

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/273-jesus-remember-me (2016-02-13)
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  • What in the wilderness is going on?
    may offer us God s blessing but not every time and not when we re arrogant or disrespectful in the face of natural power much greater than our own Perhaps that s why we like to manicure a bit of wilderness and tame it for personal enjoyment the ski hill the golf course the skating rink parks with benches groomed trails and water fountains even our back yard minus those pesky deer all a taste of wilderness that s not too wild wilderness where we re in charge But just when we think we have our own piece of wilderness under control in walks John the Baptist to shake things up Wrapped in itchy camel s hair his lunch of locusts in his fist he s not exactly dressed for the country club or chalet Repent he hollers You brood of vipers Surely we d back away from such an unrelenting figure denying any knowledge of this wild man disturbing our wilderness moment But John was more than a little annoyed with those who felt they could enjoy Isaiah s vision of Zion singing with everlasting joy in the wilderness without taking personal responsibility for how they lived out that vision Bear fruit worthy of repentance John growled Demonstrate your loyalty to God s law of love not by flaunting your membership in Abraham s country club or your lift ticket up Mount Sinai Don t presume your history with God is sufficient to save you Be cleansed of your arrogant assumptions and renew your promise to follow God s way once again John provides a fierce wake up call for us if we ve romanticized the wilderness and its charms or become a bit too pleased by our own power to trim the hedges of the forest primeval John the Baptist and his message cannot be manicured And each year he storms into our Advent season like a whirlwind to disturb us and keep us from becoming too comfortable amid Christmas sparkle and winter plans to visit our favorite patch of nature s beauty Wilderness can offer us a gift of tranquility amid life s stresses as well as an invigorating challenge to engage its mysterious power in adventure But in Scripture wilderness is beyond human control Time in the wilderness is time when God confronts us and sets us back in our true proportion reducing us to fit into our proper place in the purposes of creation Time in the wilderness re establishes God s people in right relationship with God and every other slice of God s creation Yes wilderness restores us but as John the Baptist insists we must be restored for God s purposes and nothing less A few years ago I learned a technique for prayer which can help us connect our love for wilderness beauty and the Biblical expectation we will meet God there First you must find a quiet place where you won t be disturbed phones turned off no interrupting family

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/275-what-in-the-wilderness-is-going-on (2016-02-13)
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  • More Blessed to Receive?
    him to put his trust in God God promised victory in the face of his fierce enemies As a little encouragement God offered to send Ahaz a sign deep as Sheol or high as heaven But Ahaz was too anxious He did not receive this offer well He wouldn t ask God for anything After all it is more blessed to give than to receive Isaiah was a bit annoyed that Ahaz wouldn t take up God s offer So Isaiah names the sign for Ahaz delivers the famous words The Lord will give you a sign Look the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel God with us Before the child knows the difference between good and evil the land of your enemies will be deserted In other words the house of David will be saved just as surely as this mother bears her son Now we re not told how Ahaz received this sign But think about it If you were a leader facing two large ferocious enemy armies what sign might you ask from God Perhaps a new ally to bolster your own forces Bad weather to befuddle an enemy attack A white flag raised in a plea for peace There would be many signs a general might appreciate in the face of a battle brewing but knowing that a young woman is with child is not one of them One more vulnerable life to protect adds to your problems Yet Isaiah s prophecies which we read every Advent all strike this daring note A new born child promises God is with us That child becomes light for those living in deep darkness That child tames the wolf who lies down with the lamb Isaiah is saying that new life does not come through conflict between world powers New life is possible when a new child is born for us and we rearrange our lives to cradle and care for that child to receive the child as a gift of God cherishing the blessings of a new beginning Now when Matthew came to tell the story of Jesus eight centuries later he could find no better foundation on which to rest God s renewed promise to be with us a holy child would be born to a young woman in another time when God s people faced brutality all around them and despaired of their future In Jesus day brutality and despair were just as real as in the days of Isaiah Yet once again this gift of God didn t seem like much of a gift At first Joseph can only see the shame in the impending birth A child fathered by someone else or so he thinks his betrothed unfaithful now to face humiliation under the law Joseph s instincts are to make this gift go away so he won t have to endure the consequences Like Ahaz the birth of a child was not what he

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/276-more-blessed-to-receive (2016-02-13)
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  • Christ the Compass
    other Today we might turn to Simeon and Hanna as our good neighbours in Luke s story of Jesus birth to see what wisdom they provide as we face a new year uncertain as to exactly what lies ahead These two faithful seniors were attentive to God as seniors so often are They were people of prayer who came frequently to the temple So there they were in the temple on the day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to dedicate him to God And on that day Simeon and Hanna saw something that happened all the time A new mother came to offer her sacrifice for purification after giving birth a pair of pigeons the offering of the poor as described in Levit 12 6 Every new mother had to make this sacrifice according to the law of Moses There was also a ritual to mark the birth of a first born son According to Exodus 13 the first born son was considered holy to the Lord So the family had to redeem him buy him back from God by making a sacrifice of thanksgiving Simeon and Hannah probably witnessed these two acts of devotion hundreds of times small rituals which honoured God at the beginning of a new life They did happen all the time Yet on that day it s as if the needle in their compass shifted In the tiny baby Jesus just over one month old these wise and faithful seniors sensed that God had begun something new Here was a new point of reference for God s people a light for the nations the source of salvation for all people This tiny baby redeemed by his parent s humble offering would offer himself to redeem the world In the midst of what happened all the time God s faithful servants perceived that God was acting to change things for all time The newborn Christ became the compass to point the world in a new direction In Christ God has established a new magnetic north to guide us in the ways of justice peace and compassion to show us the true source of our salvation our wholeness and integrity restored by Christ s mercy So our challenge in the year unfolding before us is not to prepare for the end of the world according to some ancient Mayan calendar It s the challenge Simeon and Hannah faced year after year Part of a faithful life is to attend to God s presence with us through those small acts of faithfulness which happen all the time daily prayer weekly worship acts of Christian service friendship And yet even while we are practicing such familiar devotion we must stay open to the possibility that God can break into our lives and point us in a new direction God can open our eyes and show us a new purpose right in the midst of things which happen all the time In the year ahead St John s will undertake

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/153-christ-the-compass?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Who? Me?
    call into ministry usually identify some encounters with God s Spirit which nudged us or even pushed us to follow this path However even though I grew up loving Samuel s story I responded more like Nathanael did in John s gospel to the moment I first pondered God s call Nathanael was invited to meet Jesus by friends who thought Jesus might just be God s Messiah Yeah right says Nathanael Can anything good come out of Nazareth Nathanael was sceptical After all he came from Cana a neighbouring town to Nazareth He didn t want to allow that God s purposes could take root in a pipsqueak village like Nazareth But he was discounting himself as well Who Me Meet the Messiah I don t think so I had a similar response to the first inklings that God was urging me to enter ministry Who Me I m not religious enough I m going to law school Can anything good come out of Speedy Creek as we called Swift Current in those days I was definitely sceptical and uncomfortable trying to make sense of a mysterious moment which wouldn t let me go Many of us respond to the prompting of God s spirit with Nathanael s initial scepticism God would not have any particular interest in us right Who Me Not me So it s no wonder children keep their mysterious encounters to themselves We expect others to write off our spiritual experience because we re not sure what to make of it ourselves I met such scepticism when I finally began to pursue a path into ministry I remember a good friend who was studying law with me at the time rolling his eyes when I told him about my change in course Ministry What a waste of a life he said We are sceptical of God s mystery these days And we are sceptical of our own place in its midst But watch how Jesus responds to Nathanael He doesn t scold Nathanael for being sceptical Rather Jesus counters his scepticism with a vision of Nathanael s faithfulness Jesus knows him to be a man who stands before God without guile without pretence without faking it Jesus knows that Nathanael is an honest servant of God despite his scepticism Scepticism isn t a sign we ve rejected God It s more like a sign of caution when we question ourselves as much as God Perhaps we can see Nathanael s scepticism as a wise reminder that we shouldn t rush to assume we know what God wants of us Discerning God s purposes for us takes some reflection And we see that in Nathanael s second response to Jesus Nathanael has his own Samuel moment when he realizes Jesus knows him understands him better than he understands himself Where did you get to know me he asks Jesus answer suggests that God is privy to our lives to our inner thoughts and musings our hopes

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/155-who-me?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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