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  • What are the consequences?
    simple gifts and simple acts of faith in Christ It s an important question to mull over Do we think there are any consequences when people shrug off God s invitation to new life because like Naaman they can t see the value in something as simple as following Jesus Luke s story about the seventy followers Jesus sent out suggests some consequences which may make our generation a little uncomfortable Those seventy disciples were sent out to prepare the way for Jesus offering the gift of God s peace to any household which received them with hospitality And Jesus cautioned his followers not to be choosy Wherever they re welcomed whoever took them in would receive a blessing Simple right Except that the story contains a consequence for those who were hostile or couldn t be bothered to invite Jesus friends in If the missionaries were not welcomed in a town they were to wipe the dirt of that town off their feet Now that was an insult to the town to be sure but more ominously it proclaimed that such a town was beyond God s concern A pretty severe consequence for failing to welcome God s peace and good news The verse we didn t read at the end of the story says this I tell you on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than that town Sodom you remember was the legendary city in Genesis burnt up by God s wrath for its lack of hospitality to strangers Now it s interesting that the lectionary clips off that final verse ending the story sternly but not ominously Many in our generation myself included are uncomfortable with the threat behind those words We don t like to imagine the burning wrath of God poured out on anyone anymore I would rather offer the promises of God as good news as a gift to be claimed as something so important relevant encouraging that no one should live without claiming those promises for their own I suppose I was shaped in honey not vinegar school of theology in the carrot not the stick school of preaching I m not inclined to threaten people into submission to Christ But we know there are lots of preachers who still pour hellfire brimstone on unbelievers Plenty of Christians raise the fear factor about the fate of those who don t respond in faith For such believers the consequences of unbelief are pretty clear It will be more tolerable for Sodom But what do we think Are there any consequences for those who do not welcome God as part of their lives Is it OK to think that what God asks of us offers to us is a little beneath us like Naaman did Are there any consequence for us when if we reject or neglect God s invitation to share in God s gifts of peace and healing These are important questions to wrestle with tor they beat at

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/251-what-are-the-consequences?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • The Familiar Samaritan
    and a Protestant elder walk by the injured man The story takes us back to affirm that original childhood instinct common to children across cultures to help whoever we can even with some extra effort on our part But the story adds the twist of difference challenging us to see in those who make us draw back at first another person worthy of respect a good neighbour who can be helpful or helped out The Good Samaritan is an enduring story because we know it in our bones and yet we need to hear it again and again Even those of us who grew up hearing it often can lose track of its challenging edge I remember visiting a city in Brazil with the World Council of Churches I was taken on a tour of the city by a Methodist woman before we went to her church for worship Now Brazil is a country of huge contrasts very rich very poor but they are all proud of their soccer heritage So this woman drove us to see the site of the new stadium still under construction hoping we would marvel at its immense proportions five times the size of the Saddle Dome But my eyes were attracted to the makeshift shacks tucked around the edges of the construction site where poor people mostly children found shelter at night under scraps of building material after spending a day begging My host followed my glance and cut off my question with a scathing remark about beggars and thieves Yet I couldn t help but notice her beautiful jewelry as we got back into her car a Mercedes At church I sat in on her Sunday School class when she read the children the story of the Good Samaritan Inwardly I shook my head saddened by her lack of empathy for children who had to beg because otherwise they d starve We do seem to be living in a time when empathy is hard to come by The flood of stories we hear about bullying driving teens to suicide attempts reveals a kind of pack mentality where no one stops to consider the feelings of their target or the consequences of spreading malicious photos or false rumours How can such bullies have grown from babies who had that instinct to be helpful that innate sense of empathy We could ask the same question about street gangs or anyone who commits violence whether as an act of terror or for personal gain What turns someone from helping to hurting I remember the first time this question occurred to me I was a student minister leading summer programs for children in churches across Northern Saskatchewan One week we were in a small church in Saskatoon I recall sitting on the step reading the parable of the Good Samaritan to some 6 7 yr olds At then end of the parable I said to the kids Jesus wants us to help other people to be a

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/252-the-familiar-samaritan?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • First Place in Everything
    and so generative and so foundational that it has produced continues to produce everything that is All things have been created through him and for him And then comes the punch line In him all things hold together Paul paints this magnificent vision of the cosmic Christ to assure us that Christ is in some way connected to every piece of God s creation that ever was and ever will be So we can trust in Christ all things hold together Christ has to be first in relationship and in time in purpose and priority in order that all things will hold together First first first Now if I am honest about the first born in my family there is a sense in which my big sister helped me hold many things together Being first born she had to do everything first I could watch and learn from her She went to every school I attended before me so she could show me where the mud room was but she also showed me I could manage school when I got there I remember watching her take on algebra while I was still doing arithmetic It scared the bejeebers out of me But she survived it and so did I The first born in our families paved the way for the rest of us After all our parents practiced on them We younger ones learn from first born mistakes too so there is a real sense in which the eldest in a family often helps the rest of us hold it all together as we observe them take on life s curve balls first But whether or not we have an older sibling to lead the way it is an important faith claim to say Christ is before us in all things In Christ all things hold together Whatever challenge we are facing what place in the family we hold if we trust Christ is before us we know we do not meet any challenge alone And if we trust that as the first born of all creation Christ is connected in some mysterious way to every particle of creation then in every relationship every situation we encounter Christ holds all things together for us and with us No piece of our experience is beyond his touch or his concern Yet in order to experience this profound gift offered to us in Christ Paul challenges us to give Christ first place in everything If this statement is to be anything more than lip service it implies that we will ponder every attitude every loyalty and allegiance to see that our perspectives are shaped by our faith in Christ and not vice versa But this is a deeper challenge than just minding our ps qs As the world becomes more complex this faithful task of giving Christ priority also becomes more complex What does it mean to give Christ first place in our views on human rights Environmental concerns Political issues of

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/253-first-place-in-everything?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Religious or Spiritual?
    Lance Armstrong who bewitched the world with lies while he was doping to win the Tour de France politicians who have betrayed public trust in expense scandals or prostitution stings police officers who enforce law with a little brutality on the side all deserve the same kind of critique Yet no one would say we should give up sports or politics or policing because of a few bad apples So perhaps you can see why I m a little skeptical when someone says I m spiritual not religious I always want to ask how consistent someone is in their critique of things religious St Paul would also have us ask about what it means to be spiritual In Colossians he was a little skeptical about spiritual teachers who urged the celebration of unusual festivals or the worship of angels practices that still fascinate some folk today So just what does it mean to be spiritual Is it simply to feel drawn into the mystery of the universe under a starry sky or in the quiet depths of the forest Is spirituality to appreciate beauty in music or art or to engage the discipline of an exercise practice like yoga or prayerful meditation Is it to interpret your own dreams and visions or to try to live up to your own definition of being good In my experience of those who consider themselves spiritual independent of any established tradition or movement I usually hear some self authenticating measure for judging what works what is good for them There is often a book a speaker a conference or friend that has pointed them to their preferred spiritual path And sometimes such spiritual people are evangelical about their path recommending it to others with a missionary zeal which mirrors the practices of organized religions They may defend their mentor or their spiritual practice as rigorously as any religious believer But for such spiritually independent people their right to be their own spiritual authority is what appeals The freedom to think whatever they like without fear of contradiction or critique trumps the debates over interpretation of tradition innovation which characterize virtually every religious movement with a long history including our own So you see when I reflect on the history of religious movements alongside this more independent strain of spiritual practices I see the same risks emerge in both streams the very risks St Paul had on his mind when he wrote to Colossae There is a risk that we individually or collectively make our own views or way of living or practices normative not just for ourselves but for others And we can become defensive or even go on the offensive to prove the benefits and the rightness of our beliefs whether religious spiritual political or practical But when I think about the simplest definitions of these words religious and spiritual I find some guidance for us to consider The word religious comes from the same root as ligament To be religious is

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/254-religious-or-spiritual?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • The Power of Stuff
    nice to enjoy it for a day or two The power of stuff is unrelenting in our culture As I listened to flood victims interviewed right after they evacuated I heard people say We re all OK We ve got each other That s what really matters But now feelings have shifted The inequity between what insurance companies will pay rankles People want their stuff replaced And laminate counter tops won t do if we had granite before Our stuff matters to us even when we ve seen how vulnerable it is to flood or tornado or just the passing of years Both our readings today warn against the power of stuff Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions says Jesus Greed coveting things is idolatry warns Paul valuing stuff in place of God in our lives What is it about our stuff that matters so much Why can t we be satisfied with just enough With laminate instead of granite If we look closely at the letter to the Colossians we ll see what Paul thinks At the very end of our reading for today he makes his pitch about what really matters When we put on Christ we are clothed not with designer names but with God s love So we no longer measure each other by those categories which imply who is more important or good to know Greeks and Jews Celts and Scythians slaves and free such social and cultural categories are no longer to be relevant in our personal relationships We look at each other not from a human point of view that point of view so vulnerable to stuff and the status it brings We look at each other as beloved in Christ And that s why St Paul warns us not only against coveting stuff but also against anger malice and slander all those emotions behaviours which diminish other people cutting them down to size the very people we are meant to treasure in Christ Our defense against the power of stuff is found in our identity in Christ an identity which offers us love forgiveness confidence peace those freely given gifts Christ has clothed us in It doesn t matter what label is sewn into our jackets what brand of cell phone or car we ve chosen Our designer is our Creator And in Christ God has stripped off the labels stripped off the stuff we use to impress ourselves each other In Christ we are renewed in our sense of value and purpose so that the distinctions our stuff creates among us don t matter Our challenge then is to cultivate an appreciation for ourselves rooted in the trust that God values us without distinction because we have put on Christ Our challenge is to recognize that our true beauty value are created in Christ not by the stuff with which we surround ourselves But it s hard to meet this challenge So much around us intends to whet

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/256-the-power-of-stuff?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • Heavenly Minded
    future even though Abraham was old as good as dead says the text and Sarah barren This odd old couple produced descendants as many as the stars of heaven as innumerable as the grains of sand at the seashore We are part of their amazing legacy Without the invisible power of their faith we wouldn t be here continuing the eternal journey they began So what do you think about heaven Are you attracted to the moment the instant encounter when God knocks on your door Or does it make sense to imagine yourself on a journey sustained by the invisible force of your faith moving towards a destination you can t quite picture yet one that calls you to act with assurance on your convictions In our bridge conversation I d say the image of the heavenward journey had more appeal We imagined God walking with us through time as we know it now then staying with us beyond time as we move through the door into eternity continuing with us toward that destination of hope and renewal Because few of us have everything all wrapped up the instant the Maker knocks on our door we wanted to trust that God will take all the time God needs to walk with us in the time beyond time to heal our hurts point out our failings and say Good on you for our better moments as we move deeper and deeper into heaven s mystery together On heaven s journey God will show mehow all the pieces fit of life together reshaped by God s grace Of course this is all speculation on my part but my faith in Jesus Christ assures me that I can live in this hope trusting God to sort out my life as my journey continues in this world and the next Now lots of people don t spend much time wondering or worrying about heaven any more But certainly people used to those like St Augustine who delayed baptism until they were on their deathbed so they could be assured of having every sin forgiven and a key to heaven in their hands when they died Others of his era were convinced women turned into men at death in order to be fit for heaven Go figure But we ve also heard the saying She s so heavenly minded she s no earthly good the ultimate dismissal of impractical pietymore concerned with the hereafter than here and now realities Is there any point in being heavenly minded Well Hebrews offers a thought provoking line to mull over Verse 16 says God is not ashamed to be called their God The writer has Abraham Sarah their family in mind who undertook that incredible journey in faith desiring a better country that is a heavenly one But it is also very clear that Abraham Sarah had faith which made an earthly difference The invisible force of their faith gave them courage to migrate to a land

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/258-heavenly-minded?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • The Milkshake Queen
    to worship week by week to celebratethat refreshing abundance poured out for us in Jesus living dying and rising Jesus words in Luke invite us to live lives overflowing with similar generosity So do you think of yourself as a generous person Does your life overflow with kindness to refresh and restore the people you meet Perhaps most Presbyterians are raised to be too modest to make that claim for ourselves But a few years ago the Presbyterian Church in Canada studied what makes people generous Folk were invited to nominate individuals from their churches who embodied the spirit of generosity in remarkable ways Those nominated were invited for interviews The conversations were revealing Mostly the interviewees were very surprised someone had named them as particularly generous They were very humble about their own generous deeds because they all remembered someone else in their own lives who had touched them generously years before And that original generous act had made them so grateful they were inspired to pay it forward as the saying goes being generous to others whenever they could knowing how a little generosity can change your life Now I ve told this story before in sermons over the last few years Once a woman approached me during coffee hour She was quite disturbed by the thought that generosity could be a measure of your spiritual life She explained she d grown up watching her parents who felt they d been cheated out of an inheritance They were bitter and resentful and hung on to every penny fearful there would never be enough They criticized others who seemed to have more than they needed those who could be generous The woman felt afraid ever to risk giving any more than she knew she could easily afford My sermon on generosity left her quite uneasy But there s no avoiding this theme in the Gospels Jesus teaching is filled with examples of generosity not only in what we have to share with others in kind but also in our attitudes how we measure each other as surely we do Jesus said You can get by just loving those people who love you but what difference does that make Anybody can love somebody who loves them back Sure you can do good things to those who have treated you well but any civilized person will do that Go ahead lend money to someone who can pay you back next pay day but that s no big deal Banks and loan sharks can do that much No said Jesus if we want to think of ourselves as children of God we have to be generous He dared us with these words Love your enemies do good and lend expecting nothing in return Be as kind as God is kind even to ungrateful and selfish people Be merciful because God is merciful Jesus asks us to be generous because God is generous No excuses Love that changes the world God s love

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/260-the-milkshake-queen?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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  • A Place at the Table
    It s something we can t earn and don t deserve yet it s a gift and privilege to cherish when God honours us with a place at God s table I tasted what it means to have such honour bestowed in an unforgettable moment several years ago In Vancouver I worked with the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church as their interim moderator advisor What was supposed to be a six month post turned into more than six years working together In return my Taiwanese friends were very generous to me inviting me to many community occasions as well as church dinners So I received a free ticket to a fund raising dinner they planned to honour the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize that year Jose Ramos Horta Now in case you don t know his name Horta has just completed his term as President of East Timor But at that time he was an opposition leader in exile The Nobel Committee honoured him for his peaceful advocacy on behalf of East Timorese independence and justice I was very interested to hear him speak When I arrived that evening I chatted with my Taiwanese friends who showed me to my table beside their pastor The tables were large and round seating 10 or 12 people As other guests joined our table I recognized a Vancouver MP MLA and someone from City Hall I smiled one of those You have no idea who I am smiles When the time for dinner arrived someone else was ushered to the empty chair on my right Jose Ramos Horta himself I had the privilege of speaking with him throughout the meal as all those other dignitaries looked on I realized my Taiwanese hosts had placed him beside me their minister on purpose It was their way of honouring their Church leaders knowing we understood Mr Horta s human rights concerns perhaps even better than the politicians at our table But I felt completely humbled by the privilege honoured to be in his presence and hear his stories first hand Remembering that evening reminds me of how it feels to receive an honour we haven t earned don t deserve an honour offered as a gift and privilege by those who see us with different eyes That s the way we should appreciate the gift privilege of God s love and acceptance of forgiveness and mercy Our place at God s table is just such an occasion to be raised up in the presence of someone beyond our league yet who turns to us with interest and attention engaging us in a moment that changes our lives In that moment we know our true humility and yet find ourselves exalted by God s love and concern for us But then Jesus flips things around Having been honoured by our place at God s table we don t have to reciprocate by entertaining our social equals betters Instead Jesus challenges us to offer hospitality to those even

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/261-a-place-at-the-table?tmpl=component&print=1&page= (2016-02-13)
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