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  • The Man on Mars
    In a not so subtle way Paul suggested they were ignorant not exactly what those in the city of Athena goddess of wisdom expected to hear And so the crowd in Athens drew back This man is from Mars The story ends with many scoffing at Paul others shrugging their shoulders saying maybe we ll consider what you re saying another time St Paul s message was not eagerly embraced in that sophisticated city Most people could not grasp the promise of resurrection They did not want to change their minds not even to consider the possibility that their breath was a gift from a power greater than their own a power that holds all life in being When I read this story I thought about my Saturday mornings in Kitsilano an ever so sophisticated neighbourhood yet one where the beggars on the street were friendlier to me than the people behind me at the cashier I m sure you ve met people like my Kitsilano neighbours people so sure the Church has nothing to offer them nothing new to say since they were 12 people so sure they know better people so glad to be free of religious commitment that they don t commit to anything much at all We are like Martians to them odd beings breathing rarefied religious air committed to someone we can t see a vision hard to explain And so many of us who do feel a sense of commitment to Christ and his purposes in the world are frustrated these days in the marketplace of ideas Much like ancient citizens of Athens critics of the church today latch on to a skeptic s viewpoint without actually knowing much of what the Church does let alone how we make sense of our faith Yet perhaps the Church with its many divisions diversities is guilty of failing to engage our worldly critics and opponents because it s simpler to criticize other Christians We re glad to say we re not like those Catholics evangelicals Pentecostals United Church folk pick your opposite We spend lots of energy differentiating ourselves from other Christians when the world around us does not care about such distinctions In a sense we re all from Mars But I clearly remember the year Vancouver School of Theology invited Stephen Lewis to be our guest lecturer Lewis had completed his term as Canada s UN ambassador and came to us from Africa his passions ignited by the AIDS epidemic poverty there He took the trouble to read the websites of VST s sponsoring denominations the PCC the UCC and the Anglican Church of Canada I ll never forget the serious respect he paid us when he said You don t realize how good you are You don t know what a difference you make in Canada in Africa and around the world And it s true Most of us are completely unaware of the great impact for good our relatively small denominations make

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/317-the-man-on-mars?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • You just had to be there
    the on going miracle of the Church as people of every background language are empowered with the Spirit to serve in Christ s name wherever we find ourselves This is the message Luke learned from St Paul it beats at the heart of Paul s letter to the Corinthians The Church in Corinth found itself in turmoil because believers began to rank gifts of the Spirit according to their perceived importance The gift of speaking in tongues the ecstatic gift of prophecy were particularly impressive especially sought after to give those with such gifts authority to lead the community But St Paul would have none of that No he says there are many different gifts the Spirit gives all of which can be used to serve Christ and his church A gift of the Spirit has to be used for the common good not for self importance Wisdom knowledge and faith itself are all gifts the community needs each just as significant as prophetic powers or performing miracles There is only one Spirit of God and the most important gift of the Spirit is to be able to say Jesus is Lord With the Spirit s power we can all say that That s the vision guiding Luke s story of Pentecost The miracle he portrays isn t people speaking in mysterious tongues The miracle he portrays is understanding as believers speaking every language in the known world hear and understand each other as if they all had the same mother tongue Luke is showing us a vision of the Church where every believer from any background is touched by the Spirit and called to share their gifts for Christ s sake Peter goes on to proclaim that sons and daughters men and women old and young slave and free all have a gift to share We didn t have to be there that day to find our place in the community of Jesus Christ No led by the Spirit we keep building a vision together and living that vision together so that Christ s forgiving love reaches the ends of the earth The question for us on Pentecost is how well we do honouring the gifts of the Spirit that each one of us carries Like the congregation in Corinth over the centuries every Church has been tempted to honour some gifts with far more respect than others In charismatic churches those who can speak in tongues have often been seen as more spiritual than others In Presbyterian circles we are more likely to honour education and achievement as signs of the Spirit s work The media often promote authors who prophesy and healers who lay on hands to draw huge followings People seem to honour impressive gifts But all of this cuts against Peter s vision of Pentecost where old and young sons and daughters slave and free can all be moved by the Spirit Each one of us has a gift to bring a gift that s

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/326-you-just-had-to-be-there?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Running Side by Side
    of forgiveness and peace and no survivor should feel alone on the journey Reconciliation is about joining our aboriginal neighbours brothers sisters where they are on the journey 20 years ago the Presbyterian Church of Canada made its official confession and apology to Canada s First Nations peoples for our role in the residential school system But that does not mean that for 20 years we have been idle as we wait for everyone else to catch up to us When the church acknowledged it s role in the residential school system confessed it spoke the truth and apologized we then could move to being in a place to join others on the path Just because we make a confession does not mean we need to hang our heads in silenced shame or guilt but we should have a desire to meet survivors and those who were hurt by the residential school system where they are A desire to help them down their path to accompany them as God says he accompanies the blind in the passage we read from Isaiah to make rough paths straight to try turn darkness into light to lead the blind in ways that we do not know I remember at one point in the race my brother and I ran together we were starting to go up a fairly steep hill I didn t have much experience running up hills and my brother just said Ok Murn a nickname what you have to do here is push it all the way up and then just take it easy on the way down and as I huffed and puffed and groaned up the hill he said just keep going just keep going you can rest on the way down If we hadn t been running side by side I wouldn t have known how to tackle that hill on my own In reconciliation we should be building relationships based on a desire to run the some pace as others no matter where they are at on their journey to accompany them up those steep hills to celebrate when something needs to be celebrated and to walk through the tough times when life feels like it has stopped completely This is what Paul s words from Romans the one s we heard today are calling us to do as God s hands and feet in the world And in the spirit of truth and reconciliation in our church and in our country it is what we re called to do There is trauma still being suffered as a result of the residential school system everyone who is suffering has a different story and is at a different place on the road After apologies and confessions are made it does not mean that we can expect everyone to jump to the end of the road and move on Because people are individuals because we all have our own stories every one is at a different place of

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/327-running-side-by-side?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Keep it Simple
    like the words said to the disciples in Matthew say hospitality is a practice by which we can welcome Jesus himself Whoever welcomes you is welcoming me also While the understanding of Christian hospitality emerged from listening to these and many other words of Jesus and taking the gospel seriously its practice really came to be shaped in the very beginnings of the church The leaders of our early faith communities taught that Christian hospitality ought to focus on welcoming the vulnerable or the least of these into one s home and community of faith For early Christians hospitality and welcoming was a way of life and way of living out their faith Hospitality to needy strangers distinguished the early church from its surrounding environment It was these concerns about the needs of strangers that gave rise to things like hospitals and institutionalized care But this meant that soon those in need of hospitality were cared for at a distance from a local church or community and instead cared for by paid workers We began to lose sense of what hospitality was to the Early Christian Church Our earliest Christian communities taught us that Hospitality is a way of living not a task or job It s not a means to an end but is just a way to be in this world its a tangible expression of love Hospitality is a way of living that must be given deliberate attention It is something you cultivate over a lifetime You don t become good at it in one moment but in small and steady increments of daily faithfulness You develop it in acts of welcoming that aren t grand gestures fancy dinners or large banquets but in acts that are little and local But as simple as the words little and local sound Christian hospitality can be difficult Hospitality and welcoming aren t always joyful or easy occasions Christian hospitality can be difficult because we tend to place high value on control planning we set limits for what is possible You see that reflected in the Martha Stewart type of hosting I described before planned meals and decorations Hospitality is much easier when its something we can plan and prepare for but the even a cold cup of water type of hospitality Jesus talks about in Matthew is unpredictable and often inefficient It s not something we can plan for and opportunities for it come up at any moment This means that Christian hospitality is something impossible to quantify and it is an ongoing job The work Jesus calls us to is never finished it s not like the dinner ends and the guests go home it has to be always on our radar But while it can be difficult Christian hospitality does not require many resources It just requires a willingness to share what we have whether food time space money or even a cup of water When we understand this our hospitality becomes more boundless limitless and gives

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/328-keep-it-simple?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • God's Own Way
    the heel of his older brother already trying to catch up These days we feel the unfairness in the arrangements of the ancient world For thousands of years the first born son always got two thirds of the entire inheritance Any other brothers split the remaining third the girls well they got nothing but a wedding But Jacob is cunning enough to rearrange tradition And underneath this brewing family feud is the startling implication that God is not bound to honour ancient institutions like the rights of the first born son God will see to the future in God s own way even the future of conniving schemers like Jacob With God there is no birthright to count on This story stands as a cautionary tale to anyone who thinks their privilege is guaranteed by birth or status in the community or anything else Esau is here to remind us we can lose it all if we re not paying attention This old story declares that God does not side with social entitlement God will see to the future in God s own way Here s a lesson the Church is learning the hard way these days If we ever thought that Christians had a birthright in Canada that the Church would always enjoy prominence privilege in this land we are learning that we may have frittered away our standing with younger generations who have no particular interest in any faithful birthright Perhaps we have presumed too freely that God would protect our rights whether or not we ve treasured the gifts God has given us and used those gifts wisely Maybe it s time for us to learn the lesson of Esau that God does not guarantee anyone s birthright just because it s what tradition taught us to expect God will see to the future in God s own way Well then should we be more like Jacob take destiny into our own hands and manipulate things for our own benefit We only have to read the next two chapters of Genesis to discover how much trouble Jacob bought himself through his cunning He ends up fleeing for his life when Esau realizes he s been conned We ll also see that Jacob the con artist can also be conned by his father in law Jacob is hardly a role model for us But perhaps we can find some comfort in the thought that God does not require moral perfection in order for us to have a future with God God will see to the future in God s own way As I reflected on this story and its deep ambiguities I recognized its temptation for us It s so easy to take the side of one character and make the other one look bad It s so easy to look around see people who remind us of Esau the irresponsible lout or people who remind us of Jacob the manipulative sneak It is so easy to judge

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/330-gods-own-way?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • On Jacob's Ladder
    read him Winnie the Pooh He even left that sterile bubble came home for a few weeks He died in his mother s arms She said to me I wanted Edward to be baptised not because I thought God would love him more or even save his life I wanted to tell the world that even with all the things that went wrong for him Edward was a person God loved She held her son on Jacob s ladder every day of his short life Singing We are climbing Jacob s ladder we are climbing Jacob s ladder We are climbing Jacob s ladder Soldiers of the Cross Stop here The jeep pulled to the side of the road We unlocked our doors and looked around cautiously You don t ride in a car in Guatemala unless the doors are locked I thought I was looking at a cornfield ready for harvest A beautiful volcano loomed on the horizon Maria led us through the grain We came to a white wooden cross planted in the field partly hidden by the corn Suddenly I realized what had happened in that place Voice This is none other than the house of God This is the gate of heaven The cross marked the spot where Maria s husband Manuel had been murdered a year earlier He was a Presbyterian minister He documented human rights violations in his parish One night he didn t come home As I looked into Maria s eyes I saw both the pain and the courage she found in his memory She had moved house six times in the intervening year for she too had become a target She wanted me to see that place the holy ground where Jacob s ladder touched the earth again for Manuel Maria now the gate of heaven Singing Every rung goes higher higher Every rung goes higher higher Every rung goes higher higher Soldiers of the Cross Easter 1979 my first Easter in my first congregation Newly ordained I was a girl minister back then so young I often blazed in where wiser angels feared to tread My church was filled with wise and faithful people most of whom were old enough to be my grandparents They hadn t had their own minister for nearly 10 years so they were glad to welcome this girl As we were getting to know each other I asked the elders when we should plan Communion services In many of Presbyterian churches four times a year for Communion is judged to be sufficient but this small church had depended on the kindness of neighbouring ministers so Communion happened only once in a while The elders had no idea what to suggest So in my youthful cunning freshly trained to understand Communion as the Sunday dinner of every Christian something we need to enjoy often I suggested we mark every major Christian season or festival with communion Advent Christmas Epiphany Lent Easter Pentecost World Communion Somehow no

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/331-on-jacobs-ladder?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • What would you do for love?
    So here s the link between Genesis the Gospel reading for today The little parables in Matthew also tell us what love requires A tiny mustard seed gives itself away completely in order to produce the amazing hospitable bush upon which birds can depend There is no seed left over The yeast that the baker woman sets in the flour leavens the whole mass of dough No yeast cake remains It s all dough Likewise for the fellow who discovers the treasure He commits all he has to buy the whole field to ensure that wondrous treasure is his Same for the pearl merchant When he finds the perfect specimen of his entire career he can t put a down payment on that pearl It s all or nothing And that s what we do for love put it all on the line Now we can look at these parables in two ways First we can see snapshots of God s deep love and commitment to us Even a small seed of God s love can transform itself into a gracious hospitable tree which welcomes a huge variety of birds in shelter and security God wants us all to find shelter in God s great love in a gracious hospitable church The yeast of God s love doesn t hold back either It leavens the whole lump of a life the whole lump of the world because God s love is as persistent as a bit of yeast working in 100 pounds of flour as patient as a pair of experienced knuckles kneading our lives to transform us totally with love In a similar way we can think of Jesus as the traveller who recognizes the treasure hidden in the fields of our lives as the merchant who spots a pearl of great price in us He spends all he has to claim us for himself It s what God will do for love In Christ God has given it all for us Yes us But then we must turn the parables around turn Jacob s story around and let the passion and commitment at their heart work on us How do we respond when someone is so in love with us that they will give themselves completely for the sake of that love It can feel a bit overwhelming But here is an invitation worth considering What will we do to claim God s love If we re half hearted we ll be like a mustard plant that withers before the tree grows strong enough to welcome the birds If we re careless or distracted in our discipleship we won t notice the treasure lying before our very eyes Can Jacob s passion and desire for Rachel remind us of what s at stake in our relationship with God If Jacob wasn t willing to offer another seven years he would have lost his heart s desire He d be stuck in a loveless marriage If we don t

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/332-what-would-you-do-for-love?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Can you imagine?
    sees Esau on the horizon His fear returns Jacob bows low to show Esau he means no harm Yet Esau runs to meet his long lost brother embraces him kissing his cheeks weeping on his shoulder This is not what Jacob imagined Esau doesn t even want to accept Jacob s peace making gifts He has all he needs Stunned by his brother s openness Jacob utters these crucial words Truly to see your face is to see the face of God Those words really got me thinking Can it be that in the faces of our adversaries those from whom we are estranged we will see the face of God Is that why in times of conflict and broken relationships we lie awake wrestling in our turmoil Are we wrestling with something God is trying to say to us through the face of that one we ve cut out of our life It s not exactly a comfortable thought that God takes us on in the midst of conflict not to assure us we are on the side of righteousness but rather to confront us with something we re avoiding in the face of our opponents That thought made me reconsider my four estranged colleagues challenging me to see not just the wrong I feel they ve done but also to recall what good they ve contributed to the church the world to see where my judgment may have blinded me to way things could have worked out differently Now I leave you to consider what God may be saying to you in the face of someone from whom you ve been estranged However I want to turn our thoughts to the world stage the implications of this story for the nations For in the stories of the Hebrew Bible key characters always represent tribes nations not just individuals In this story Jacob becomes Israel fathering that nation through the tribes of his twelve sons Esau is destined to father the nation of Edom neighbour to Israel Esau s family tree fills a full chapter of Genesis giving Edom a Biblical foundation as clear as Israel s At first these brothers these neighbours live peaceably but the reconciliation Jacob and Esau embrace in today s story does not seem to last Later prophets pictured Edom as one of Israel s enemies as if these brothers grandchildren returned to feuding We have only to look into the conflicts of the Middle East today to see their animosity and rivalry dramatized over over again What began to trouble me deeply this week is how both modern day Israel modern day Arab nations keep failing our common heritage in this story Remember Jacob is a patriarch in Judaism and a prophet in Islam honoured in the storytelling of both these faiths And of course Jacob is on Jesus family tree according to both Matthew and Luke We are all supposed to learn something from Jacob and his surprising reconciliation with Esau This

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/333-can-you-imagine?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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