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  • Outlandish Mercy
    for Spain God made an outlandish request so Jonah headed for the hills But God was unrelenting so the story goes God would not let Jonah avoid facing his fear Jonah must face the animosity in his heart too And so I imagine Jonah arriving in Nineveh eventually dragging his feet with reluctance and maybe more than a little resentment Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown Picture Jonah rolling his eyes every time he shouts those words How can God make him do this Why doesn t God just blast the Ninevites off the face of the earth The earth would be better off without them their cruelty And sure enough Jonah s worst nightmare comes to pass The Ninevites have a change of heart Oh my God They repent It ought to make a prophet s heart sing for joy But Jonah is more than a little annoyed with God Is this not what I said you d do while I was still back home he steams I knew you are a gracious God merciful slow to anger abounding in steadfast love I just knew you d be ready to relent from punishing these evil Assyrians O Lord you are just too kind for my liking And there s the point of the story It doesn t matter what we make of Jonah s vacation in the belly of the whale That detail is just a little comic relief The real point is that we confront the outlandish mercy of God mercy so astounding it will redeem the very people we detest the most The book of Jonah asks us to confront our own reluctance to grant that God indeed loves our enemies Jonah invites us to recognize God has mercy for those whom we fear for those we ve written out of our lives for those we d like to see frozen out of God s blessing So it s important that we not write off Jonah as an outlandish tale offering foreign policy advice that would never work in today s world Truth be told people of faith still polish our animosities against rivals those who differ with our world view priorities On the week of prayer for Christian Unity the Church has much to confess in this regard Different traditions including Catholics and Protestants so called mainline and evangelical churches Christians in the north and south east and west have created all kinds of dividing lines between true faith and suspect believers We have written other Christians out of the mercy of God And then consider how we look at people of other faiths Christians are often just as angry resentful as Jonah sitting outside Nineveh s gates wishing God would burn up all those people who followed the god Ashur At the very least this prophet reminds us it is not up to us to decide who is worthy to receive God s mercy God s outlandish mercy will surprise us all The

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/156-outlandish-mercy?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • The End in the Beginning
    his resurrection Each miracle shows us how the greater story will work out The end of the Gospel is present in the very beginning of Jesus ministry as Mark describes it Our story teller is reading resurrection back in to every encounter with Jesus before he has even left home before he is anywhere near the cross Whenever we read a story from one of the Gospels we must remember they are not told as news reports giving us eye witness accounts to chew on over dinner like the local evening news No every story in the Gospel was gathered recorded many years after it happened after Jesus death and resurrection made an impact on believing hearts Though we are told these stories as if we re walking beside Jesus and his friends along the way each Gospel writer is really pointing us toward the stunning conclusion the dramatic triumph Jesus scores over death and the powers of darkness when he breaks out of the tomb So the Gospel of Mark stages Jesus life as a series of battles for which the outcome is never in doubt What Mark wants us to consider is how we respond where we will take a stand in the midst of conflicting authorities for or against God s kingdom Now this perspective also helps us make sense of the Book of Revelation John of Patmos the author of Revelation s vision knows how the great battle will end in chapter 21 before he invites us to step into God s throne room in chapter 1 He is not showing us what to expect in the year 2012 or how the world will end No John has orchestrated the dramatic symbols of the battle between heaven and hell to show his people what has already happened to generations of believers before them His symbols interpret the many dreadful cruel powers which have stood against God throughout ancient history beginning with Babylon And his vision invites believers to choose where they stand knowing there is yet another beast on the throne in Rome waiting to see if they are loyal to Caesar or to the memory of their crucified prophet Caesar thinks he has won the battle But John of Patmos knows better and John wants to show us how the resurrecting power of God will deal with any pretenders to God s throne We re going to study this vision on Wednesday mornings starting on February 15 to unlock the mystery and misinterpretation of John s symbols but also to consider the choice his vision offers us Where do we stand amid the competing powers vying for our loyalty in this culture John of Patmos Mark the evangelist are asking us this very same question And for John and Mark the outcome of this tug of war is already clear The triumphant end of Jesus story is written into every scene For them there s no doubt how things will work out But can we

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/159-the-end-in-the-beginning?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Why Jesus left town
    week Jesus confronts the powers that stand against God and against us He touches the sick and tosses out the demons which is Mark s way of alerting us that Jesus has initiated God s kingdom of healing hope Now Jesus fights this skirmish well past sundown the force of his healing power inserting itself into the darkness I imagine Jesus is tired out by the time he goes to bed But early the next morning when it s still dark when I d prefer to roll over and go back to sleep Jesus gets up and seeks out a deserted place a quiet space in the wilderness where he draws close to God in prayer Jesus has to replenish his power which Mark knows is God s power As much attention as Mark gives to Jesus miraculous power he also recognizes Jesus humanity He sees Jesus dependence on God for the source of his life and his ministry Jesus heads off to the wilderness for God to fill his need for strength and wisdom But the disciples hunt him down even in this holy moment More persistent than a cell phone buzzing with text messages they want to get his attention bring him back to urgent reality Everyone is searching for you Come on back to town There are a dozen a hundred more ailing people who need your magic touch Chop chop Jesus Let s go So why doesn t Jesus go back to town Shouldn t he have stayed in Capernaum until every need was met every troubled spirit healed That s my question Why would Jesus leave town when the need was so apparent Why go preaching in the neighbouring towns For that s what Mark emphasizes Twice within two sentences he says the same thing Jesus goes to proclaim the message this is what he feels driven to do Mark has already told us his message The kingdom of God has come near Turn and believe the good news Jesus wants to point people to the Source of his healing power his source of power which is also available to them When he arrives to preach in the next town I can hear Jesus reading the words we heard from Isaiah today The Lord is the God of forever the Creator of the ends of the earth 29 He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless 31 those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength they shall mount up with wings like eagles they shall run and not be weary they shall walk and not faint This is the good news of the kingdom of God which has been unleashed for us in Jesus Christ It s not that we have to feel his personal touch to know this power God the Creator of heaven and earth is our Source of renewed strength whenever we need it Like Jesus we just have to wait on the Lord in our wilderness moments

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/163-why-jesus-left-town?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Healing Humility
    in the Jordan river and your skin will be healed It s so simple that it s too simple Naaman can t believe it Come all this way with all this money and power and fame and a servant tells you to take a dip in the local watering hole Naaman won t have it We have much grander rivers in Syria better than all the water flowing in Israel Yet you expect me to take a swim in the Jordan How humiliating is that And there s the rub in this story Naaman almost misses the healing power of God because he is so arrogant he will not do a simple thing He expected something impressive demanding worthy of his reputation and stature and worth all that silver and gold But as we know from the stories of our own time money and stature cannot guarantee healing God s healing strength and mercy are offered to those who will get off their high horse and realize suffering is common to us all Success cannot buy a cure But when we humble ourselves to accept our lot God can offer us grace and new possibility Healing is not ours to command When we engage God in humility when we accept the limitations common to all humanity whether we are rich or poor our spirits will be healed and we will find the strength to face our situation whether cure comes or not Healing humility stands at the core of Naaman s story And it stands at the core of Jesus encounter with another leper too Mark tells this story of healing in an unusual way Though most English versions are more polite Mark emphasizes Jesus anger He s approached by someone whose skin is covered with scales perhaps contagious someone who should have kept his distance from a rabbi according to religious law But the man is desperate He kneels and cries out If YOU choose YOU can make clean Some Biblical scholars speculate that this poor guy has already been to the religious authorities seeking their prayers and healing kindness only to be turned away The suffering man s frustration might explain what happens next For the Greek text is very odd It actually says that Jesus snorted at the man We re not used to thinking Jesus would snort But hear this snort as the kind of angry snort we d use if we ran into an impasse in our health care system Hear it as Jesus frustration that this poor man is not welcome anywhere not even God s house So Jesus takes things into his own hands literally He touches the poor fellow unafraid of the scaly skin the contagion the repulsion we often feel when somebody looks really ill Jesus touches the leper and proclaims him cleansed And at that moment that tender touching moment Jesus anger resurfaces He sends the man back to the religious authorities the very ones who turned him away in

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/164-healing-humility?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • What will we do now?
    the young Queen Elizabeth met when she put on the mantle of monarchy The only test Elijah set for the young Elisha was that he should keep watching as Elijah rode that chariot of fire into heavenly retirement It was all that Elisha could do to keep watching as his mentor disappeared His young heart was breaking Still even as he struck the water with Elijah s mantle in an angry act of grief it s apparent he had received his inheritance The company of prophets declared The Spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha It was his coronation He received the affirmation of his community for they knew better than he did God will work through him Queen Elizabeth II took on the mantle of monarchy which undoubtedly weighed heavily on her young shoulders But she was already wise enough to recognize she had the company of the Commonwealth to support her if she could wear that mantle wisely faithfully earn the respect she was offered Times of transition often leave one generation feeling anxious as they realize that the mantle of responsibility borne by their parents generation now rests on their shoulders It s no wonder Peter wanted to build three dwellings on that mountain top to anchor his vision of God s three greatest leaders in one place He didn t want his dream to end He wanted to secure the future with the thought that Moses Elijah and Jesus could all be in one place at one time Wow Just imagine what we could do if the greatest leaders of all time ran our church our city our country together No wonder Peter didn t want to break the spell He wanted to freeze that vision of charismatic power success so that none of the responsibility for the future would land on his shoulders But Jesus had already told Peter that the Son of Man must be rejected suffer and die for God s sake Peter didn t like the idea of a future without Jesus so Jesus had to stop him every time Peter tried to pin Jesus down to a future without any risk without any suffering without the cross Jesus knew there was no future without the cross And so he broke the spell on that mountain top The awestruck disciples looked around and they could only see Jesus No Moses no Elijah no miracle of guaranteed success They had to follow Jesus down that mountain But there with Jesus still beside them they joined the company of his followers to figure out how to follow Jesus way This Sunday the season of Epiphany ends We ve finished reading impressive stories about Jesus miracles We stand with him on that mountain top wondering what we will do now This is the point where we have to turn and follow Jesus toward his cross It is the point where we must recognize that the going always gets tougher our choices become more demanding if we

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/167-what-will-we-do-now?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Never Again!
    Never again These same two words beat at the heart of our reading from Genesis on the lips of God our Creator But consider the moment when God says Never again The God we meet in the tales about Noah has a broken heart God has looked out into the beauty of creation and the family of humankind only to be grieved by the wickedness God sees So disappointed by human corruption so angry by this betrayal of God s purposes for human life God rains destruction on the earth so the story goes There Take that See if I care if you drown in your own selfishness God declares With all the pain and anger God expresses at the opening of Noah s story you d think this was God s Never again But instead these powerful words come at the end of the story when God surveys what God s anger and sorrow nearly cost So God say Never again will I indulge my desire to cut off my creatures and punish my people Even when they disappoint me break my heart infuriate me never again will I cut them off God hangs up the bow that weapon of destruction and retaliation and promises never again to end God s relationship with us The same point is hidden in our little story from Mark s Gospel At the moment of Jesus baptism the heavens are ripped open Now this little phrase does not mean simply opened up like a pair of curtains so the heavens could be closed again No God s heavens are not re sealable like the packaging options we prefer these days What is ripped open cannot be closed up again So when Jesus arrives in our midst we witness once again that God is utterly committed to us But remember God sets this precious beloved child among us knowing the risks History has shown God human beings are not all that reliable Human hearts are wayward at best But God has already said Never again Never again will I go back on my commitment to you So God commits Jesus to us There will be no going back when the going gets tough This is God s promise to us in Jesus life and death Still what are we to make of the rest of Mark s scene of Jesus in the wilderness It s so short compared to Matthew and Luke s telling of Jesus confrontation with Satan Well Mark wants to get us to the conclusion of the story where Jesus walks calmly with the wild beasts another symbol of the repaired relationships with all creation God has continued to seek since Noah s day Those angels who serve Jesus tell us heaven is walking on earth committed to the wellbeing of God s beloved not only God s beloved son but all God s precious sons and daughters Mark speeds us to the conclusion that Jesus embodies God s commitment to

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/169-never-again?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • When you just can't take it
    Jesus presses further He challenges us to take it to take up the cross when we follow him to take on the costs of pain and humiliation which come to us when we are known as Jesus people The Bible study we re doing on the book of Revelation these days has focused my attention on the real costs of taking up the cross for Mark s generation of believers For Mark was writing his Gospel during the period of what were called the Jewish wars when the Roman Empire crushed Jewish opposition with savage brutality Many Jews suffered and died and so did Christians for we were all the same family back then During the cruel and unpredictable reign of Emperor Nero scholars think that both St Peter and St Paul met their deaths at the hands of this vicious man There were very real very dangerous consequences to following Jesus in those days The scenes from Syria on our TV screens these days portray the same danger the same terrible cost I ask myself as I watch these scenes sometimes closing my eyes Where would I stand What would I risk if I were in Syria today It s the same question Mark was putting to his church when he repeated the challenge of Jesus Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it On Ash Wednesday when Lent began someone at Bible study asked a good question about what Presbyterians do to mark Lent Do we give something up as other traditions do Actually it has not been part of our spiritual heritage to give up small pleasures for the 40 days of Lent Still I know a few Presbyterian colleagues who do forego chocolate or whisky or some other creature comfort for the season But my Anglican teaching colleague in Vancouver used to warn that practicing such small Lenten disciplines can trivialize the cost of salvation We must never mistake these small self limiting acts with the challenge of taking up the Cross to follow Jesus That would be like closing our eyes at the scary parts of the movie or muting the sound of gunfire on Syrian streets to avoid the weeping and wailing of mothers whose children have been killed because we just can t take it any more Lent is the season when the cost of everything is high for everything is on the line God has staked everything on Jesus on his courage and his faithfulness to defeat what terrifies us So in the weeks of Lent God dares us to take on the high cost of faithfulness because God promises we will not be defeated by the cost Jesus died to promise us that our suffering for what is right and true and merciful is never in vain I thought about that promise on February 29 th which was Anti bullying

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/170-when-you-just-cant-take-it?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • The Whole Truth & Nothing but the Truth
    fallen out of favour Do we only care about what works for us personally advances our own agendas Of course this moment in social history is not the first when private interest has trumped accountability to God and neighbour When we see Jesus enraged in the temple court tossing over the tables chasing out the sacrificial animals challenging the scruples of the money changers we see a prophet distressed by values which placed personal gain above holiness and put trade before traditions of prayer and humility Jesus is as angry as we ll ever see him because he sees a new priority emerging among God s people a priority that values commerce before commitment And he will not stand for it Jesus anger made a deep impression on St John for John placed this story much earlier in his gospel than did Matthew Mark and Luke They all tell this story in the week before Jesus crucifixion But in John here it is in chapter two right at the beginning of Jesus ministry This story has such a priority in John s understanding of Jesus that he wants us to pay attention Jesus is angry and we d better see why If we think about Jesus was upholding the priorities expressed in the Ten Commandments The Commandments begin by insisting that our relationship with God take priority in our lives For when our relationship with God takes priority our relationships with everyone else everything else fall into place The first four commandments all focus on our response to God s holiness God s holiness cannot be manipulated to suit our preferences We can t use of God s name to bless our noble intentions while ignoring our less honourable ones God s people must have an integrity which honours God s integrity And when such integrity takes priority for us we will treat our neighbours honourably too No killing no cheating no stealing no lying no coveting our neighbours property The Commandments are stark And that s probably why they ve fallen out of favour We don t like to be told what we should and should not do So we become our own defense attorneys arguing our way around The Commandments excusing ourselves from misdemeanors here and there using The Commandments to measure the behaviour of others more than our own But truly the Commandments were not intended to be interpreted selectively dodging the ones that seem outdated or a little too stringent for our personal lifestyle The Commandments intend to shape us in right relationship with God and with every part of God s creation right down to the very beasts themselves who are included in the Sabbath commandment because they too are creatures beloved of God But if the Commandments are to shape our lives relationships it s not enough to memorize them when we re in Sunday School before life gets too complicated All those moneychangers in the temple would have known the Commandments by heart

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/172-the-whole-truth-a-nothing-but-the-truth?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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