Jesus: A Courageous Man


Sermon –March 20th 2016

Palm Passion Sunday (Year C)

By Roland Legge

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Philippians 2:5-11

Luke 23:1-49



Jesus is having a great day.  He gets a great welcome when he arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey with people laying down their cloaks in honor of him.  On the other side of town, the Roman army is arriving with great military fanfare with soldiers, weapons and war horses to keep the peace during the turbulent times of Passover.  The mission of Jesus was so opposite of the mission of the Roman rulers.


Yet the great fanfare of Jesus did not last for long.  I think we forget that Jesus was seen as a threat to those with privilege and power.  First, Jesus was empowering the poor.  The poor were starting to demand change from their rulers.  Hence, the risk of insurrection was getting worse and worse as the Roman army oppressed the people more and more.  He was a very different threat because he had a different type of power that came from within rather than through external sources such as armies, weapons and money.  The Romans thought they could end his movement by killing him, but it didn’t work.


Jesus was also shaking up his own Jewish faith.  He wanted to reform it so he used the traditions and stories of his own people to remind them who they were and where they came from.  He challenged many of the Pharisaic rules that were getting in the way of people sharing the love of God e.g. not being able to heal a person on the Sabbath.  He challenged the behaviour of some the Jewish leadership who were collaborating with the Roman invaders to keep their own power at a great cost to the average Jewish person.


Jesus was also challenging people’s attitudes toward women.  While I wouldn’t consider Jesus a feminist he showed great respect and love for women.  The scripture tells us that women played a very important roll in his movement.  Some of his most courageous leaders were women even though non of them of were named as Disciples.  He called on men to treat women in the same way that women are expected to treat men.  I am sure this made a lot of people upset.  It would be on the same level as how controversial it has been for the church to accept the GLBQ community as equal members of the church and even more importantly equally loved by God.  Jesus riled up a lot of people.


Jesus also loved so many people on the fringes of society.  He was able to recognize the spirit in every person he met whether they were tax collectors, women, prostitutes, a soldier, and any person that was considered by Jewish custom “un-clean”.  He could talk and touch any one.  He was able to see into a person’s heart and soul that made a lot of people uncomfortable. You couldn’t hide from Jesus.


Many people were looking forward to getting rid of Jesus.  Finally, when he made his trip to Jerusalem the Romans had had enough.  They set in motion the plan to kill him on a cross.


Jesus did not die to fulfill the scripture as the Bible says.  Why does the Bible say this? People tried to make sense of how their Messiah could die like a criminal.  The read back into their own scriptures to make sense of what happened.  If they didn’t find some divine reason for his death on a cross they would not be taken seriously because no Messiah would die like Jesus did.  So why did Jesus die? He died because he was a thorn in the side of the powerful just like Martin Luther King Junior died for his challenging the status quo of his time.  The Roman invaders had to get rid of him and some of the religious authorities would be happy to see him gone because he was shaking up their faith.


Who in the end was responsible for Jesus death?  It was the Romans’!  The writers of the Gospels, Paul and his imitators had to get along with the Romans so they tried to put more of the blame on the Jews especially after the Christians were thrown out of the Synagogues.   At the beginning it was like a family feud between the Jews who believed Jesus to the Messiah and those who did not.  Sadly, these scriptures have been used as justification for violence against Jewish people and communities.  It was this belief that paved the way for the Holocaust in Germany.  In the end it was only the Romans who had the power to crucify a person.  For the Romans Jesus would have been seen as a trouble maker.


For me it is important that we remember the story of Jesus crucifixion.  I think we can all relate to the hopelessness that the early followers of Jesus felt.  How they must have thought that this new and exciting movement was going to end with Jesus death.


There are many people in our world today who face the same kind of suffering that Jesus experienced.  People are killed for their work in human rights, their  religious views, feeding the poor, freedom, building democracy and much more.  There are millions of people who can relate to the despair of the early followers.  But we know that Easter does happen.  Easter is no figment of our imagination.   The love of Jesus was not stopped by his horrible death on the cross.  In fact, the Jesus movement became magnified many times over bringing hope to thousands and thousands of people.


So I hope this Holy Season we will remember what Jesus was really about.  Jesus was offering us no magical solution to solve our problems.  He was offering us a way of life that can bring to life the Kingdom of God. A place where everyone has enough.  A place where people are treated justly.  A place where people are held accountable for their behaviour. A place where know one feels alone.  A place where everyone feels loved.  A place where the nations, nationalities, ethnic groups, people of different sexual orientations, able bodied and disabled, young and old can all get along with each other.  But the bottom line being we need to have the faith and courage to live this out no matter what we face.  We don’t need to get it perfect, but we do need to try.  The miracle is that when we try the Spirt will help us along the way.

The Love of Mary of Bethany

Sermon – March 13th 2016

 Mary of Bethany


Lent 5 (Year C)

By Roland Legge

John 12:1-8



We enter today’s Gospel story with Martha busy in the kitchen getting the meal ready for everyone to enjoy. Much to the annoyance of Martha, Mary is hanging out with Jesus in the living room.  Have you ever felt left alone in the kitchen?  In Jesus day it was the expectation that women would help to get the meal ready.  Mary was breaking the rules.


Mary was so touched by Jesus.  She new what was about to happen to him while the rest of them were living in denial.  Jesus was about to be killed.  She wanted to soak in as much as possible of his teachings, energy and presence before he left this earth.  I like to think the Spirit took her over, that day, and led her to prepare him for his burial. She did this with her love for him, and sharing the costly perfume that she had saved for a special day.  What Mary did was scandalous!    Judas complained that she could have helped a lot of poor people if she had sold that expensive perfume.  He raises a good question as to how we are all called to be good stewards of what we have been blessed with.


Even more scandalous was the intimacy she showed Jesus.  First she let her hair down which was improper for a woman to do in public, especially with a man she was not married too.  Then she had the audacity to end the ritual anointing, using her hair to dry off Jesus feet.  This would have made the people around her very uncomfortable. This was a great act of love and prophecy.


Mary understood the consequences of living in the way of her friend Jesus.  She wasn’t afraid to follow her master.  Jesus was grateful for Mary’s love and for her courage to act this out in a world that was hostile to women.


Sadly, the comment made by Jesus that “we will always have the poor with us” has been taken out of context.  I like how one theologian has said it should read “you will always be around the poor but you will not always have me (Jesus) with you.   Mary new this was an important time to acknowledge that something major was going to happen.  The love of God was about to be unleashed on the world in ways that it had never been experienced before through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Hence, this line was no excuse to it ignore the cries of the poor for justice.  It was more a reminder that we need to stay spiritually, physically and emotionally grounded through our lives to be able to keep doing the Spirit’s work.  This is what Mary was doing.


I also think that Judas keeps getting a bad rap.  Yes, Judas was the holder of the money. I don’t think he was as corrupt as some people make him out to be.  He asked a good question as to whether the spreading of the expensive perfume on Jesus feet was the right thing to do when it could have been sold and the money given to those who had little.  I think this is a question we all need to be asked.  Are we being good stewards of what we possess, of what we have been gifted?   When are the times that justify the spending of money on things that are beautiful such as stained glass windows, organs, computers?  When are the times we need to share all we have?  We need to listen to God in our hearts to know what we need to do.


I think Spring is always good time to assess what we own.  Is there anything we can give away because it no longer serves us, such as clothes we haven’t worn for along time, books we know we will never get around to reading, and anything else in our homes we no longer need.


At least once a year it is a good thing to reflect on how well we are using our money.  Are we giving enough to organizations that are doing the work of Jesus?  This doesn’t just to have to be Christian organizations.  It can be any organization making a difference in the world. As well, are we taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually?   Are we spending money on unnecessary things that hold us back?


It is also good to think about how we use our time.  Do we spend enough time taking care of our bodies, eating good food and getting enough sleep?  How good are we at volunteering our time?   Do we work too hard at our jobs?  Do we have enough time to spend with family and friends?  Do we take time to quiet our minds?  Do we take time to nurture our souls so that our hearts are always full of love to share?  How balanced are our lives?  What do we need to do to get our lives back in balance again?


We not only need to do this reflecting for our personal lives but for our churches too.  If we could get down to what being a member of Foam Lake United Church or any church is all about. Why do we exist?  What is our purpose?  I want you to think about this for a minute.  What is the Good News we have to bring to Foam Lake that will really make a difference in peope’s lives?  We can be ether like the majority of the disciples who were not willing to admit the cost of following Jesus or be like Mary who was committed to living in the way of Jesus no matter what the consequences were.


Good News is life renewing.  It is not about judgement and condemnation.  Good News is about creating a community where all people are truly welcomed.  Where the community is vibrant in bringing people together for worship, work, celebration and mission.  It is about making the community a more just and compassionate place.  It is all about bringing out the best in people.  It is all about accompanying and encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ in being all we can we be.  Good News is about the sharing of the bounty of the earth, which has been given to us as a gift of God.  It is about ensuring that we each have enough and no one is ever left alone.


I believe that when our churches can find again the faith of Mary of Bethany we will find new life.  We will be better able to discern what is important.  Our focus will be to bring good news that is really good news, bringing abundant life to all people of the world.  Not the bad news that you are going to hell, something that I have never believed.  It will be a ministry that builds each other up.  It will be a ministry that really welcomes all people no matter their dress, ethnicity, color of skin, class, gender, sexual orientation, race or anything else.   It will be a place of celebration, embrace and hope.  It will be place to discern with each other how God is speaking to us today and what God is calling us to live out.  It will be a place of accountability where we ensure that each of us follows our callings.

A Dysfunctional Family and its Neighbors

Prodigal Son

Sermon – Lent 4

March 6, 2016

By Roland Legge

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


You know the story of the prodigal son.  Over and over we have been told that this story is about how God chooses to forgive repentant sinners. So it was a big surprise when I heard this story told in a very different way, by a man named Richard Rohrbaugh.


If we made a new title for this story it might be called: “The Prodigal Son: “A Dysfunctional Family and its Neighbors”.  Now you might be wondering if this could be the same story.  You see Richard Rohrbaugh has spent much of his life studying Middle Eastern Culture and the Mediterranean Peasant culture at the time of Jesus.  It is through the eyes of Jesus contemporaries that we now view the story.   Mediterranean Peasant culture was an honor shame culture which is very different from what we experience in North America.


In our culture we focus on the individual.  In Jesus time he and his contemporaries focused on the wellbeing of the community.  So if you did something really good it would have a positive effect on yourself and the whole community. But if you did something wrong then you, your family and the whole community would pay the consequences.  You might even risk being thrown out of your community or even worse killed.


The father looked foolish for distributing the inheritance before he died. But even more, when the prodigal goes off and waste all his share of the inheritance, this shamed the community even more.  So by the time the prodigal returns home, the community would not have been pleased to see him.  Hence he would have been in danger upon his arrival home.  Kenneth Bailey explains why the father runs out to greet him:

In the Mediterranean old men do not run.  It is not only shameful (ankles show), it also indicates lack of control.  They certainly do not run to meet or welcome anyone, and especially not their children.  But if an emergency exists, perhaps that is another matter.  Obviously the father acts in this way because the boy is in trouble.  The villagers would be angry and the father’s compassion’ is well placed… The embrace and kiss are not first of all signs of welcome; they are signs of protection.

“A Dysfunctional Family and its Neighbors” found in the collection Jesus and His Parables Edited by V. George Shillington p.g. 156



The father could have chosen to punish his sons.  This would have been the expected action of the father.  But he chooses to have compassion even at the risk of losing face.  Yet he goes even further by calling a party and welcomes the whole community.  How do we know the village was invited?  If it had just been the family a goat would have been killed.  The killing of the fatted calf suggests that the whole village was invited.  This party was to encourage reconciliation between the village and his family.  It seems to be working as when the older son comes to the home he sees people dancing.  But the problem is the older son will not reconcile with brother and father.  This again would have been a great shame to the family.  In the end we do not know how things work out.


So why, would Jesus have written this parable?

Because as Rohrbaugh says, it’s something peasants could identify with and understand, “commending the valiant struggle of a beleaguered if foolish father” (p.g. 163).

The story affirms our need to be loyal to both kin and village even when sin has gone rampant.  The surprise is how the father does it.  The father counters his own disloyalty with foolishness of his own. ( He sets an example of how we are called to respond.  Instead of responding to his younger son with anger, rage and violence he embraces him with compassion and love even when it makes himself look like the fool.


This parable is not about repentance/forgiveness taught today in most churches. The key is not to equate the father in the story with God.  This is more an earthy story with a heavy meaning rather than a heavenly meaning. Likely, the readers of this story would have believed that the apocalypse was imminent.  So Jesus in this context calls on his people to radically change their behavior – like this father, to become asses and fools of the kingdom.


While today most of us don’t believe in an imminent apocalypse; are there not enough serious problems in our world that beckon us to radically change how we live our lives?  Are we not called to find creative ways to live out our love for family, friends and all God’s creation?  I do!!  I believe this is all an important part of our call to radical loving.  A radical living that may look like foolishness to the rest of the world. What is God calling you to change?


I know for myself that God is continually calling me to pollute less in the world.  This is not an easy thing to do.  First I am becoming much more conscious of how I am polluting.  I can’t change anything that I am not aware of.  This is a big first step.  Jen and I continue to explore ways of being better stewards.  We try to recycle a lot.    I do have a small car, but I think twice now before I use my car.  In town I try to walk when possible.  Sometimes this means I just need to get up a little earlier so I have the extra time to walk.   Sometimes I am good at this but there are other times when I succumb to the car.  What are you doing for the environment?


What else can we all do?  Building community in our families and churches is going to make the difference.  This can lead us to mission, people working for peace and justice in our world. This is a human community where God becomes most active just as God became active in this very human imperfect father.  One person who expresses this well is Jean Vanier.

Community is the place to share together that we are obstacles. That is to say, we’re not perfect. Maybe our wounds from the past, the wounds that cause blockages in our relationships, maybe these will always be with us. Jesus can heal these, but it seems to me that the first thing is to be able to talk about the wounds and the blockages—to talk about them without being threatened.

Reflections on Christian Community. by Jean Vanier. Sojourners Magazine, December 1977

So let us go out and celebrate life with our family, friends, community and world.  Let us go out and be fools for God.  Let us go out and love the unlovable.  Let’s hang in with people that are sabotaging themselves and others.  Let us stand in solidarity with the oppressed. Most of all let us do what God would want us to do even if others are going to think we are fools.