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  • How would you pray?
    prayer It seems as if God has already heard enough would be leaders pray for long life riches and the defeat of their enemies But Solomon s prayer to do what is right is the prayer God longs to hear not a prayer that tells God what we already think is right but a prayer that stands open before God seeking to be led wisely and well God is so impressed by Solomon s modest request that God promises him not only unmatched wisdom discernment but also riches and honour and if Solomon proves faithful to God s covenant a long mandate as well The lesson we are to take away from this is straightforward God is not impressed by our successes God is eager to work with leaders who put goodness before the all tokens of power God blesses leaders who cherish wisdom and recognize that discerning the right move is very different than defeating your enemies To emphasize this point the very next story is Solomon s most famous moment when he must make a judgement between two women who both claim to be mother of the same baby It was Solomon s wisdom settling this heartbreaking dispute that earned him his people s respect because they could see God s wisdom working in him Good judgment is what we want in our leaders It s what we hope they pray for Now our second reading today is also about prayer How would you pray if you were in Paul s position held prisoner by a government you didn t trust worried your friends were being hunted down for carrying the name of Jesus rather than honouring the emperor How would you pray if your life was on the line Surely we might pray against our enemies that they would meet the fate they plan for us We might pray for victory in the face of tyranny or safety as we walk the streets trying to avoid Roman soldiers But once again Paul s approach is not what we expect Paul describes a faithful believer equipped with the whole armour of God Still the figure he describes is not a warrior ready to take on enemies in battle and hold a sword to Roman throats Researchers have learned that Paul s armour of God describes the outfit of a police officer in that day someone walking the streets to keep order wearing protection against the small daily threats any police service knows And if we look carefully at the protection Paul offers to Jesus faithful followers his weapons aren t meant to kill Like Solomon s wisdom the weapons of the faithful help us discern truth and act for justice working for peace by proclaiming the gospel of peace we have found in Christ Jesus Paul is not urging an assault on our enemies He stands in the tradition Jesus has set for us the tradition that calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/200-how-would-you-pray (2016-02-13)
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  • What about 'that old time religion'?
    me thinking back My parents were both members at St John s for many years my dad an elder and member of the choir my mom a long time member of the Thursday Club But you know I think they both had trouble with old time religion Every Sunday afternoon Dad I used to talk on the phone and he usually had a question for his professor daughter stirred up by the sermon he d just heard He loved exploring questions broadening his perspectives deepening his understanding But old time religion isn t really interested in our questions Old time religion takes comfort in familiar answers truths we have learned to cling to even if we wonder deep down inside about their implications I think that s why my mother was quite reserved about her faith You see her favorite brother was killed in WW2 when he was only 23 she just 20 They got that sad news on Christmas Eve in 1941 And before 1942 was out her father had died suddenly The two most important men in her life at that time gone within 12 months Now old time religion proposes we accept such tragedies as God s will God s plan for us Put on your game face and carry on despite your pain But is that proposal good enough for us Some folk believe it is the way we must understand everything that happens But I don t think so And I don t think it offered any comfort to my mother in the midst of her grief I do think scripture offers us a very different view of God s compassion in the life and death of Jesus Christ when we see him as the human face of God going through our pain and sorrows with us not inflicting them upon us So now think about the last verse of our song Singing It will do when I am dyin It will do when I am dyin Yet think about how many obituaries we see now where we read no funeral by request For many people old time religion with its images of judgment eternal life just doesn t resonate anymore In the face of old time religion what people think they must believe about God if they believe anything at all we need to develop new ways to speak of God s gifts of love peace new language to interpret the significance of anyone s life in light of God s grace purpose for us all That s why I ve changed my approach to memorial services I try to focus on the faithfulness we can find in each life and what we can learn from that life put in gospel perspective I also search out many different images from Scripture each offering the promise of God s enduring love hoping that every person who comes will find a connection to God even if we don t all find the same image helpful For

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/201-what-about-that-old-time-religion (2016-02-13)
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  • To know as we are known
    struggle is easier for us to bear We know we aren t alone A story may even give us a new angle on our struggles I think that s why there are so many stories in Scripture The stories of Biblical characters are full of the same angst fear that fuel our feelings too Remember Joseph and his brothers They knew dad loved one brother more than the others Remember James and John They wondered which disciple Jesus would pick as the greatest Or that Syrophenician mother begging that her daughter a Gentile outsider receive God s mercy too Such stories start us reflecting on our own lives A story that makes us go I know exactly how that feels invites us to reflect on why we feel that way And to consider where God is when we feel that way A story that leaves us wondering Who could ever do that invites us to face self doubt and consider if God offers us that new possibility too If we read Bible stories with a willingness to follow our hearts as children do we will gradually come to know ourselves more deeply And we will begin to know God as deeply as God knows us That s how storytelling invites our faith to grow However working with families over the years has shown me that many adults just don t know where to begin to explore the mysteries of God with children Children s questions about God make us uncomfortable so we sidestep their questions But if our question is sidestepped we can grow up angry at God or the Church because that important question that puzzling story lingers unresolved in our souls So there s a challenge for all of us who are part of God s family Will we take time to listen to the stories people have to tell stories with a burning question for God at the centre It s tempting to change the subject if someone s story seems a little too urgent or awkward It s tempting to wiggle out of an uncomfortable question especially if we don t have an answer and we think we need one But if we wish to welcome new members of any age into Christ s Church we need to be prepared to hear someone s stories and explore tough questions about God the way Jesus had to listen to the Syrophoenician woman For often a puzzling question doesn t really need an answer It needs an open heart to hear the story of how that question was born in someone s life Of course to be able to hear each other s stories to be able to explore each other s questions each of us has to be willing to pursue our own questions about life with God As we explore our own questions and tell our own stories we learn how to listen to each other and to listen for God Our own times of seeking

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/202-to-know-as-we-are-known (2016-02-13)
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  • A Tune-up for the Heart
    First I remembered Jack a cheeky 6 year old who visited our centre on Iona in Scotland when I ran the children s program Jack came with his mom and his sisters from a housing project in the north of England They arrived with their clothes in grocery bags not suitcases the first sign they didn t have much to their name Jack was always up to something In the big common room we stocked an area where people could always get a snack a kettle for tea or coffee and an unending supply of cookies That week it seemed we were always running out of cookies Several times a day we d have to restock the biscuit tin Then one morning I spotted Jack running to his bedroom his hands stuffed with cookies holding as many as his little fingers could grasp Jack I called as he disappeared down the hall do you need so many cookies all at once I was talking to the wind But then I thought about Jack s family His mom was a pretty stressed out single mother with two active school age kids and a toddler They d come to our centre supported by our subsidy fund their first holiday since Jack was born I figured Jack didn t see many cookies at home A cookie jar overflowing with an unending supply a 6 year old s version of heaven So I cut Jack a little slack picturing heaven in his hands Then on the last evening of that week I went to prepare a treat for all the children The cupboard was bare No more cookies The island shop was closed the ferry carrying next week s cookies still 2 days off Sorry I explained to the gathered children We re out of cookies But just then Jack jumped up and ran out of the room A minute later he came back with his hands stuffed with cookies He d been packing cookies away to take home But now he was ready to share The generosity of that overflowing cookie jar somehow took away his fear of going without He shared his stash and there were a few cookies left over to take home the next day Generosity given invites a generous response Even when we don t have much we can still find something to share if we re not afraid that there won t be any more Now another call that came in this week gave me more hope for those we receive with a little kindness respect Someone we ve seen now and again for a few years called to ask if we had programs she could join What kind of programs I asked Life skills she said Now we don t offer that kind of program as a congregation but I could refer her to the street clinic so the nurse could figure out the right program to offer her the skills she knows she needs For that

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  • Do we get it?
    hard enough for some adults to give children the time of day Among such people Jesus words might raise a few eyebrows today But in those days children were really considered no better than slaves Both children and slaves were economic commodities In fact the same Greek word referred to both groups And that s the word used in this scene so we could read it in an even more shocking way We could imagine Jesus drawing a slave into the circle of his friends and followers maybe an African sold into household service present that day because she was laying the table for the next meal Imagine Jesus choosing a slave to highlight our duty to each other Jesus is saying Welcome those you consider the least important For in welcoming the least you have welcomed me Jesus really wouldn t stand for the arrogance that leads us to think we re the greatest the fairest the smartest of them all But then Jesus wouldn t want us to think we re of no value either For he was always reaching out to those on the fringes to remind his followers that those we tend to overlook those who feel discouraged about life are in fact precious to God Over and over again he wanted us to get this point The Book of James reinforces Jesus teaching with a clarity designed to make us squirm If you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not be boastful and false to the truth Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly unspiritual devilish For where there is envy and selfish ambition there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind We know the truth of these words in classrooms where we see the effects of bullying in athletics when we learn about doping in world class competitions and in business when we hear about rogue traders who make completely unethical transactions in order to best their competitors even if they end up jeopardizing their corporations in their desire to get to the top What is it that drives this desire When will we settle for being last of all and servant of all and take pride in the model Jesus set for us Well every once in a while we glimpse someone who gets it someone who grasps the thrust of Jesus teaching the purpose God holds out for us all I ve seen a couple of episodes of the show Undercover Boss which features CEOs who disguise themselves go on the assembly line or join their workers in the field In the episodes I ve watched the bosses learn so much about their workers they end up having a change of heart They realize how much their employees contribute to the company and also what challenges those employees face In one episode the boss offered a worker who longed to go to college support for her tuition In another episode the boss

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  • For such a time as this
    for Mordecai we sing Never give up never give up Now Haman s nose was royally out of joint So he developed a conspiracy theory that would take care of Mordecai and all the Jews in Persia at the same time He told the king that Jews were a dangerous disobedient lot He said he had a plan to stabilize the nation for the king The king said Fine So Haman said to his buddies On the 13 th of the month whoever kills the most Jews will get a big reward He sent the decree throughout the kingdom sealed with that signet ring When word spread around the kingdom Mordecai was mortified Tore his clothes Covered himself in sackcloth and ashes All the Jews joined him in his despair At last their despair reached the ear of Queen Esther Mordecai pleaded with her to defend her people to the king But Esther reminded him that to challenge the king meant death Remember what happened to Queen Vashti Reader from Esther 4 13 But Mordecai replied to Esther Do not think that in the king s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter but you and your father s family will perish Who knows Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this What is Esther to do We sing for her Never give up never give up Esther dithered but finally she asked Mordecai to gather the Jews Have them fast and pray for me Reader from the Greek Book of Esther 14 Then Queen Esther seized with deadly anxiety fled to the Lord She took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress Instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung She utterly humbled her body every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair She prayed O my Lord you only are our king Help me who am alone and have no helper but you for my danger is in my hand Remember O Lord make yourself known in this time of our affliction And give me courage O King of the gods and Master of all dominion Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion And turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us so that there may be an end of him But save us by your hand and help me who am alone And have no helper but you O Lord Then Esther summoned all her courage taking her life in her hands and prepared herself to meet the king without an invitation She said to herself If I perish I perish But even restored to her beauty she was so frightened by the king s glare when she interrupted him that she fainted Then so

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  • Blessing Upside Down
    company You are such a blessing We usually say that someone is blessed when we recognize what goodness they have received and what great things they have achieved through hard work and maybe a little luck And we often say that someone is a blessing when we recognize what good things they ve done for us all they ve contributed to the welfare of others But Jesus stands all this on its head He asks us to view blessing upside down Just consider those whom Jesus calls blessed in the collection of sayings known as the Beatitudes Blessed are the poor in spirit blessed are those who mourn Now would we consider people whose hearts are breaking and those who are discouraged by life s hardest circumstances blessed When our world has been turned upside down when grief grips our souls rarely would we call ourselves blessed Bereft is more like it Yet this unusual list goes on Blessed are the meek and the pure in heart Really If we re meek if we re one of the lowly ones who can t or won t stand up for ourselves we re likely to be ridiculed by others bullied maybe For the world doesn t value gentle souls who give way to others Nor is purity of heart something we ll see on reality TV No we re fascinated by schemes We buy scandal sheets to find out the latest dirt on the rich and famous People get book deals and TV appearance fees to tell the story of their crimes The meek and the pure of heart blessed Hardly There s surely no money in being nice Moving on through his peculiar list Jesus singles out the merciful and the peace makers those who overcome the desire for revenge and retaliation those who walk the dangerous route between enemies and call opponents to lay down their weapons and find a new way forward Again these are not roles which nations bent on retaliation respect even though in hindsight we may be grateful that someone had the courage to negotiate a truce or show mercy when tempers or temptations got out of hand But to call for mercy to insist that peace can be made Such priorities usually get us branded bleeding heart liberals those who are so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good The merciful the reconcilers blessed Well maybe if you become a candidate for sainthood after you ve been martyred for your cause And that s who the remaining beatitudes single out the martyrs those who put their lives on the line hungering and thirsting for justice to prevail those who bear the scorn and rejection of others facing persecution and humiliation for what they believe and how they ve put their faith in action I ve met a few such people over the years They sometimes come into our midst as refugees fleeing persecution in dangerous places I ve worked with Christians from Iran

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/208-blessing-upside-down (2016-02-13)
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  • Joyful Noise!
    that make God s praise heard Given this ringing endorsement of noise it s odd that over the centuries worship became quieter quieter Even singing voices disappeared for awhile and only gradually made a comeback through chants sung by ordained men only at first Organs have had a checkered career in worship too JS Bach having given them a couple of centuries of glory among Lutherans only to have Presbyterians become very shy of their power Too showy too noisy for God We ll just chant the psalms as our praise said John Knox the very same psalms that urge us to toot our trumpets blow on the pipes and strike the strings of our harps Something in our spiritual history turned Presbyterians quiet Well except for the sound of preaching thundering forth from our pulpits So it s good that instruments have made a comeback in the last century or so Organs play their pipes for us the Spirit breathing through their depths to support our song The piano strikes its strings like a horizontal harp played by faithful fingers These instruments and their artists set free the music of the spheres so that the music in our souls comes loose and we join in the praise of God Gifted organists and pianists like Diane and Allison turn the random sounds their instruments can make into rhythm melody and harmony soaring song As their music moves around us it moves into us and through us so that we join in the joyful noise tapping our toes moving to the rhythms singing along and if we dare even clapping our hands Joyful noise lives within us all Our challenge is to find the courage to let it out so that God is praised Of course though the word in the psalms is joyful we shouldn t think that the Bible expects us to make happy sounds all the time Joy runs deeper than happiness It holds us up when the bottom falls out of our world I remember after my father died I was so so sad and yet I had to go right back to work greet another class of new students that fall be the perky professor in front of my classes making my students laugh and think But I d come home at the end of the day and be so so so so sad Then I began to play a CD with psalms of lament beautiful aching soul searching music that went as deep as my sadness and maybe deeper It was as if the saddest songs in the universe reached into my heart to hold my sadness for me calling to my hope in the resurrection to replace sadness with joy That s why we need to sing when we re sad Singing in our sadness taps into the joyful noise at the heart of the universe to give us strength to go on The angels keep singing for us when we can t raise

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2012-archive/209-joyful-noise (2016-02-13)
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