A Courageous Woman!

Sermon – September 6th 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

Mark 7:24-37

I love the story of the Syrophoenician woman!  This is the only story in the Christian Scriptures where Jesus is challenged and the other person wins the argument.

Many people don’t feel comfortable with this Scripture because Jesus does not look good.  He is having a bad day.  I can only imagine that he is tired from all the traveling and people he helps every day.  He just wants some peace and quiet.  I think we can all relate to that.

Yes Jesus was an amazing man, but he was still a person of his time.  He was impacted by the religious and cultural values of the time that required Jews to have no contact with foreigners, especially women.

Jesus, besides being tired was annoyed by this woman because she was breaking taboos.  For one thing women were not to speak to men.  Even more so that foreign people should not even be recognized as they are believed to be unclean.  I think Jesus was feeling grumpy.  Jesus was having a bad day.  Most men of Jesus time would have reacted this way all the time.

Then there is this amazing gutsy woman who had the courage to ask for Jesus to heal her child.  She had the courage to demand justice.  This was a very risky thing for this woman to do.  She was risking her life.  Yet she had a strong faith that Jesus would come around to her point of view.

What is also momentous is that Jesus had a change of heart.  He could not argue against her come back, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”.  He could not refuse her and still follow God. It was her courage and faith that brought healing to her child.

We don’t know how the end looked and felt like. Was Jesus moved to compassion or did he reluctantly agree to do what she asked.  I would like to think that Jesus was able to give her a big hug at the end.  But we will never know.

I feel empowered by this story because Jesus shows me there is nothing wrong in saying that I am wrong when I am.  Experiencing Jesus imperfection in this story gives me hope that I can follow in the way of Jesus.  Not many men in Jesus time could admit they were wrong, especially when it was a women who is challenging their perspective.

Who are the marginalized in my world whom I need to be transformed by?  This week the tragic death of a young child in the Mediterranean Sea has woken the world up to the continuing terrible tragedy of thousands and thousands of people who are trying to escape from war torn countries such as Syria.  It is sad that it takes the picture of a young drowned child on a beach that finally wakes up the world.  Then how long will it stay in the memory of the people of the world after some other big news story comes along.

One of the largest groups to help refuges come to our country is the church.  I believe that the voice of people of faith across our country and world need to speak up even louder putting pressure on our government to welcome more refugees who are leaving their homelands to survive.  Congregations and parishes such as ourselves are being called to sponsor even more refugees.  Yes it is a lot of work, but I believe we are called to help our brothers and sisters from around the world when they are distress as we would expect them help us if needed.

I remember when I was growing up how the Vancouver Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends welcomed a large family Vietnam, one of the families of boat people.  It was a rich experience for the congregation to get to know them and learn of their story.  It took a lot of courage for them to find their way to Canada.  We helped them to learn how to live in Canada and they offered us their friendship and appreciation.

There are many marginalized people in our country.  It is not only people of different races and nations but it includes the mentally ill, people living with disabilities, gay, lesbian, transgendered and bi-sexual people.  The Syrophoenician woman shows us how the Spirit keeps on calling us to recognize all people as children of God.  There is no such person as an enemy.

I have been blessed by people who have challenged my prejudices and racist views.  I once had qualms about same gendered couples having children.  Some friends of mine challenged me on this, just like the Syrophoenician woman did for Jesus.  After conversations with them I could no longer hold the same point of view.

What do you think the Syrophoenician woman would say to us at Foam Lake United Church?  I wonder if she would call upon us to accept all people even if we don’t agree with all the choices they have made in life.  I wonder if she would call upon us in the United Church of Canada to never divide the world into the good and bad, the sheep and goats because the Spirit never does .  Instead of wanting to blame others, she would want us to look at our own shadow side, the parts of us that are need of healing.  I wonder if she would call upon us to really listen to each other.  To take a risk of being transformed by another person as Jesus was transformed by this woman.

I pray that we can all learn something new from this courageous woman to care for those we would otherwise walk away from.  I hope we can learn from Jesus that to admit, when we are wrong, is a sign of courage.

Sometimes we do need to take a stand like the Syrophoenician woman when our hearts burns with love.  Sometimes we need to admit it that we got it wrong.  We all need to keep expanding our understanding of God’s love. God’s love is always much bigger than we think or want to admit.Syrophonecian Woman

King David: An Imperfect Leader

Sermon – August 2nd 2015

10th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)

By Roland Legge

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

King David is so human!  He is like all of us flawed, imperfect and at times violent. Last week we heard about the horrible things he did in raping Bathsheba and having her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed. Now enters the prophet Nathan who tells David a story:

There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.

12:2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds;

12:3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.

12:4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” (2 Samuel 12:1-4)

David is enraged by the abuse of the rich man over the poor man.

Nathan is quick to pronounce to David that he is the rich man in this story.  Can you imagine being in the shoes of David?  I don’t think this would have been easy for David to hear.  Many would have rejected what Nathan said and yet David is able to see himself.  David seeks forgiveness from God for his abominations.

All of us can relate to David.  We all have done something that we later regret.  Right here in the United Church of Canada we have had to acknowledge our sin in how we treated our aboriginal sisters and brothers through the residential school system that destroyed the lives of many.   We seek forgiveness for how we have excluded those who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and trans-sexual and two spirited people.  We seek forgiveness for how we excluded women.  We seek forgiveness for how we looked down upon those who were divorced.

Forgiveness is never an easy process whether it was for David or us.  In 1986 the United Church of Canada apologized to the First Nations of Canada for our participation in the Residential School program along with other denominations and the Federal Government.  We have yet to have been forgiven as the First Nations representatives reminded us that this was a process.  They needed to see us following through on our promises of funding, healing programs and education.  We are still in the midst of the reconciliation.

Forgiveness begins to happen in many ways.  Forgiveness rarely happens quickly.  It is an intentional process to help people to reconcile with others and groups so they can begin see the humanity and vulnerability in each other.  To at least come to the point that the destructive event will no longer negatively affect your life and relationships.

For those who have committed the sinful behavior they need to show that they are remorseful and do everything they can to ensure it will never happen again, just like David.

We need to forget the saying: “to forgive and forget Instead of trying to forget we need to move ahead in life fully aware of what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from happening to ourselves again and anyone else.

When there has been violence, those involved may never be able to be friends or participate in the life of their family because of the brutality of the act.  There is no shame in not being able to renew the relationship you had before the act happened.  The most important thing to do is to be able to get to the point where the hurt, shame and anger will not negatively influence current and future relationships.  Here is one story of two people who were able to build and new healthy relationship together.  This would have taken a lot of courage from both people.  Here is one inspiring story:

On 12th February 1993 Mary Johnson’s only son, 20-year-old Laramiun Byrd, was murdered.  The perpetrator was 16-year-old Oshea Israel who received a 25 year sentence for second degree murder. Many years later Mary visited Oshea in prison and since his release in 2010 they have lived as neighbours in the Northside community of Minneapolis. Mary now dedicates her time to From Death to Life, an organization she founded that uses healing and reconciliation to end violence between families of victims and those who have caused harm.

Mary Johnson

I was at work when a caller rang to ask if my son had come home that night and if not I should try to get hold of him. She said she didn’t know if it was true but she’d heard that his body was at the morgue.  I was so confused and immediately called my sister who called the Police department.  When she called me back she said, “Mary, they said they’re coming to see you so it must be true.”

Three days later I was told they’d picked up the 16-year-old boy who had taken Laramiun’s life.  I believe hate set in then and there.  Here was I , a Christian woman, full of hatred.

I was pleased he was going to be tried as an adult for first degree murder so when the judge suddenly changed the charge to second degree murder I was mad. In court I viewed Oshea as an animal and the only thing that kept me going was being able to give my victim impact statement.  I was inspired by my faith, and so I ended off by saying I’d forgiven Oshea “because the Bible tells us to forgive”.  When Oshea’s mother gave her statement she asked us to forgive him, and I thought I had.

But I hadn’t actually forgiven. The root of bitterness ran deep, anger had set in and I hated everyone. I remained like this for years, driving many people away.  But then, one day, I read a poem which talked about two mothers – one mother whose child had been murdered and the other mother whose child was the murderer. It was such a healing poem all about the commonality of pain and it showed me my destiny.  Suddenly I had this vision of creating an organization to support not only the mothers of murdered children but also the mothers of children who had taken a life.   I knew then that I would never be able to deal with these mothers if I hadn’t really forgiven Oshea. So I put in a request to the Department of Corrections to meet him.

Never having been to a prison before, I was so scared when we got there and wanted to turn back.  But when Oshea came into the room I shook hands with him and said, “I don’t know you and you don’t know me.  You didn’t know my son and he didn’t know you, so we need to lay down a foundation and get to know one another.”  We talked for two hours during which he admitted what he’d done. I could see how sorry he was and at the end of the meeting, for the very first time, I was genuinely able to say that I forgave Oshea.  He couldn’t believe how I could do this and he asked if he could hug me.  When he left the room I bent over saying – “I’ve just hugged the man who’d murdered my son”.  Then, as I got up, I felt something rising from the soles of my feet and leaving me.  From that day on I haven’t felt any hatred, animosity or anger. It was over.

In March 2010 we gave Oshea a welcome home party organized by my organization and some Catholic nuns from the hood; even some ex-gang members from Chicago drove down to witness what was happening.  When Oshea told me he wanted to share his story publicly with me so that he could help others, I couldn’t believe he wanted to do this. He is my spiritual son. It’s not easy for us to stand next to each other, again and again, and share our story but I say to other mothers that talking and sharing your story is the road to healing.


Who do you need forgiveness from?  Who do you need to forgive?  Remember this is process that sometimes can take a life time.  We forgive to free ourselves from the lasting impact of destructive experiences in our lives.  We forgive to bring healing, love and hope to the world.

King David spent the rest of his life dealing with the consequences of his behaviour.  I wonder what happened to his relationship with Bathsheba.  I doubt that she was fully able to forgive him.  We can only hope that she found the courage to free herself from the impact on David raping her.  I doubt that they became the best of friends.  I hope that after this event that David was able to treat her with some gentleness.  What do you think happened?


King David

Tradition: Blessing or Curse

Sermon – Augusts 30th 2015

14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)

By Roland Legge

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
James 1:17-27 
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

What do you think of tradition?  How important is tradition?  How do we know when to keep tradition and when to let go of it.

Jesus was trying to answer this very question to the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were concerned that Jesus and his followers were not following all the traditions such as washing their hands before a meal. Jesus felt compelled to challenge these Pharisees who were turning human concepts/traditions into holy laws.

You can imagine how the Pharisees felt after Jesus chastising them.  I don’t think they were feeling very happy.  This didn’t help Jesus popularity.

I don’t think a lot has changed since Jesus day.  Today we still get mixed up as to what we consider appropriate tradition/laws to follow.  For example, in our churches we all have different ideas as to what is proper worship. Think for a moment as to what you believe worship should include.  What songs should we sing?  How often should we have the Peace, if not at all?  How often should we have communion?  How should we offer communion in the pews or up front.  How long should church services last?  What should the minister wear?  Can we challenge some people’s interpretation of the Bible?  How free are we to have open conversations about what we believe?

Throughout my career as a minister I often seem to violate some person’s rules.  I don’t intend to break these rules, other than I stumble into it not knowing what everyone else believes.  I have had people get upset if worship goes a minute over 1 hour.  I have had people get upset when communion is served up front.  I have had people upset if a child makes a noise in church.  I have had people upset when I didn’t move through the communion ritual in the exact way that someone else had decided communion must be done.  I have had people upset when I used a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer.

I think Jesus is trying to suggest that there is no one perfect way to honor God.  There is no perfect way to worship God.  Each of us have our own preferences, but we cannot declare that there is one perfect way to do it.

There is no one perfect way to interpret the Scripture.  While the Bible may be inspired by the Spirit it is still written by people.  It has been translated into many languages and one can never perfectly translate from one language to another.  Always, a nuance of the story is lost.  Some of us will have a certain interpretation of a passage in mind, often something we learned in Sunday school long ago.  But exploring the Scripture is more like a conversation.  It requires each of us to be open to learning anew every time we read the Scripture.  If we stop being open to learning we are in effect shutting out the Spirit from our lives.

Too often we are so stuck in own point of view, preventing us from hearing anything the other person is saying.  I have been guilty of this. So most of us give up when it becomes a one sided conversation.  To continue to spiritually grow we must be open to really listening to what another person is saying.  We don’t have to agree, but we need to really listen and be open to the possibility of changing our minds whether that is a small or big change.

Our whole denomination is now being asked to explore what it means to be church for today. It means, changing how we organize our self as the United Church of Canada.  We are being asked to let go of the many ways we have organized ourselves as church to re-create a more vibrant church that is better able to share our Gospel story in a very different world.  For some of us this will feel like we are breaking the rules, going against tradition!  Yet Jesus message to us calls upon us to open our hearts and minds to seeing the world with fresh new eyes so we can bring healing and hope back to God’s Creation.

I know for many of us, including myself, this can be a scary time, because we are being asked to go forward without knowing he we are exactly going to be doing it.  We will have the wider church, General Council, regional groupings which may be for us Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.  Then each congregation will become much more independent.  The Spirit is moving us to become more Spirit driven than run by a bureaucracy.

Are you ready for this new freedom?  What is Foam Lake United Church going to look like in 10 years?  Are you ready to face the reality that most young people are not moved to be part of a church that still runs like it did in the 1950’s?  Are you ready to accept that if we continue to operate as usual our church is on a path to death?  But are you ready to experiment?

If we are ready to experiment, the potential for a continuing strong faith community is very possible.  I could suggest many ideas to you.  But to hear them from me is not enough.  For them to make a difference they must come from you the congregation.  I wonder if we need to go back to house churches like the early Christians did.  What do you think?

If we continue to act out of love we cannot go wrong.  If we can assume that we all are trying our best to live out our faith.  If we can continue to build a strong faith through not being afraid of asking questions of ourselves, God and others we can live as a community that respects both unity and diversity.

Living through the Spirit is what Jesus continues to call us to do.  Living out of love that comes out of respect for diversity and a hunger for truth makes us stronger.  Trusting that God works through each of us we can encourage and support each other in making meaning out of our lives and finding the courage to live out the great commandments to love self, neighbor and God will bring hope, peace and justice to the whole world.Tradition from Fidler on the Roof