Grounded in Faith

Sermon – March 29th 2015

By Roland Legge

Palm/Passion Sunday (Year B)

Isaiah 50:4-9a:  Philippians 2:5-11:  Mark 14:1—15:47:

 

I am indebted to William Willimon for the idea of today’s sermon.

How many times have you heard this story?  Anyone want to venture a guess?   In all the times I have heard this story I have rarelly focused on the woman in the story who challenges Peter.  So I invite you to join me on reflecting on the importance of what this woman did.

Willimon summarizes the story like this: “It is late at night, toward the end of this Holy Week. It is after the last supper when Jesus had gathered with his disciples in an upper room. The Passion of Christ has begun. The soldiers have seized Jesus and have led him away to the palace. At the palace, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate and is on trial. But out in the darkness, in the courtyard, down below, another trial takes place. Judge and jury at the trial is a servant girl. And though we don’t know much about her, if she is only a girl, but also only a servant, we know that she is small, insignificant, powerless person. She is not only a woman in a patriarchal culture, but she is also a servant woman. And she is young and you know that also means you are powerless, on the bottom. And this little, powerless girl is the one who puts Peter, the premier disciple, through his paces.

Pulpit Resource Vol. 36 No. 1 Year A January, February, March 2008 by William H. Willimon Published by Logos Production Inc Inver Grove Heights MN Page 46

This oppressed, simple girl challenges the faithfulness of Peter, the one Jesus is to call the rock of the church.  She challenges him and he fails miserably.  He claims to her that he never knew Jesus.  He does this to save his own life. But soon Peter realizes the terrible error of his ways and begins his healing process.  In effect this girl is the one that challenges Peter into being the person he claims to Jesus and the other disciples to be.  This girl was challenging Peter to walk his talk.  It was a tough lesson for Peter to learn.  It was even harder to learn from a person that society had impoverished, oppressed and ignored.  But he had to move on.  Why?  Jesus wasn’t going to let him off the hook!

We all need people in our lives to ensure we remain grounded in our faith.  We all need people to challenge us to walk our talk no matter how hard or easy life seems to be.  Willimon tells of this student:

A few years ago a student was telling me that he and his roommate were not getting along too well.  I asked him why, and he said, “Because he is a Muslim and I’m not.” I asked him how that made a difference.  And he said, “When we moved in together, he asked me what my religion was. I told him that I was a Christian.  A Lutheran—I  told him that my family wasn’t the very best of Christians and that we only went to church occasionally and it wasn’t that big a deal to me.  My roommate has this nasty habit of asking embarrassing questions.” “What sort of question?” I asked. “Well after we had roomed together a few weeks, he asked me, “Why do you Christians never pray?”

“I told him, ‘We pray a lot.  We just sort of keep it to ourselves.”

“He said, ‘I’ll say that you do.

I’ve never seen you pray.’ He prays like a half dozen times a day on his prayer rug in our room, facing the East.  When I came in last Saturday morning, and he asked me, ‘Doesn’t your St. Paul say something about joining your body with that of a prostitute?”

I told him, “Look, she is not a prostitute, she is Tri Delta. I told you I am not the best Christian in the world.  You shouldn’t judge the Christian faith by me!”

And I, hearing of his torment said, “Well how should he judge the Christian faith?  I think I need to write your Muslim roommate a thank-you note.  If he keeps working on you with these questions, he may make you into a real Christian.”

Pulpit Resource page 47

I hope this person learnt from his Muslin roommate.  He was giving him the opportunity to grow in his faith.  If he engages his roommate by choosing to learn more about his own faith this relationship could turn from being a curse to being a blessing. I wonder if Peter was ever able to look back and see the encounter he had with the young girl as a blessing.  What do you think?

Most of us have had experiences with people who drive us crazy.  There are people out there who will push all the “buttons” we have.  These are people who have much to teach us; if, only we would listen.

When I was training for ministry I was in a class called “Basic Christian Beliefs”.  Every week I was part of a seminar group.  We were made up of Seventh Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Anglican, United Church and possibly Mennonite. We were definitely a diverse group. What has stuck in my mind from my seminar group was the Catholic sisters understanding of communion and why open communion was not acceptable to them.

This was challenging for me because I believed as I do today that communion should be open to everyone.  For me it is so tragic that Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox cannot have communion together on a regular basis.  I say how you can break up the Christian family! But by the end of the seminar gatherings I could respect my Catholic sisters in the group.  You see the Roman Catholics believe that in the bread and wine is the real physical and spiritual essence of God and Jesus.  This is one of the main ways for Catholics to connect with the Holy,   So to have Communion with Protestants, who understand communion as an active remembrance of Jesus, takes away some of sacred power for Roman Catholics.  While I do not agree with my Catholic sisters I came to understand them much better and learned a lot more about my own understanding of communion.  I am thankful for my encounter with them even though it was not easy.

Who have been the people in your lives who have challenged you into being more the person God calls you to be, just like the young woman did for Peter?

God will always ensure that there will be irritating and challenging people in our lives to challenge us to be even more authentic Christians and people of planet earth.  May God give each of us the wisdom to learn from these occurrences.  May we never fear the light of God being shone on us by people like the woman who challenged Peter.1-donkeyhttptheblogthatwasthursday.wordpress.com20120403a-two-day-late-palm-sunday-reflection

Prophets Love them or Hate Them

Sermon – Feb 1st 2015

4th Sunday after Pentecost Year B

By Roland Legge

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

I Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

 

In the Gospel according to Mark we enter the scene where Jesus is exercising demons. In this era we don’t usually think of demons in our lives. Do you? We probably talk more about addictions and mental illness. But the bottom line is that Jesus has come in to the world to heal human suffering . Yet we all struggle with the meaning of pain, suffering and death in our world.

Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? I think most of us have. Yet too often we try to make sense of why we or others suffer. Why did Aunt Joan get cancer? Why did Jim get hit by a drunk driver? Why was Alice murdered? Too often we want to explain this away by suggesting that God was responsible for this. This makes me angry because I don’t believe in a God that would do that. To me a God who did this kind of violence should be charged with crimes against humanity. What do you think?

What would you have said to William Sloan Coffin on the death of his son? Here this story by William Willimon?

After his son died when his car plummeted into Boston Harbor, the great preacher William Sloane Coffin preached his most memorable sermon in which he said: When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and at least one thing that should never be said. The night after Alex died, a woman came by carrying quiches. She shook her head, saying sadly, “I just don’t understand the will of God.”      Instantly I swarmed all over her. “I’ll say you don’t, lady! Do you think it was the will of God that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper that he was probably driving too fast in a storm? Do you think it is God’s will that there are no streetlights along that stretch of road?”      Nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around with his finger on triggers, his fist around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is, “It is the will of God.” My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

Pulpit Resource by William H. Willimon for Feb 1st 2015 : http://www.logosproductions.com/content/february-1-2015-suffering-love

 

I totally agree with Willimon and Sloan. I believe the Creator grieves with us when something tragic happens or when a loved one dies whether young or old. God is all about mending the world.

Jesus shows us in Mark how he has been called to help people to live full lives in the here and now. He keeps calling us to mend the world. Jesus calls upon us to participate in the world through the diverse ministries we are called to. In today’s readings we are made aware of the two distinct ministries, one being healing, where Jesus heals the man and the second, prophecy, described to us in the book of Deuteronomy.

Our world is in such great need of healing. There are so many hurting people because of dis-ease, mental issues, hopelessness, violence and poverty. Jesus calls upon us to share the bounty of resources we have been blessed with on our planet earth right now. What are the implications of Jesus call to action?

All of us participate in this important ministry of pastoral care. We care for our children. We reach out to those who are having a hard time. We let people know we are praying for them. We encourage friend, and stranger to do the best they can with what they have been given. What else is God calling us to do? Think about this for a moment. (Silence…..)   I have been given the gift of walking with people on their journey. What gifts have you been given?

Also, we are also called to the prophetic ministry. Today many of us misunderstand prophecy. Too many people think it is about the Bible predicting the future which couldn’t be further from the truth. The ancient and moderns prophets were people called to uphold the covenant we have with God. They are to call his/her people to live up to the Great Commandment and the Sermon on the Mount. They are to warn us what could happen if we continue our sinful ways. They are present to “rock the boat” so much that they will get our attention. They are present in our lives to remind us that we have been given the power to choose between right and wrong. They never make us feel comfortable!   Yet they open us up to the possibility of new life.

Today we are more and more aware that our communities and world need both the pastoral and prophetic ministries for us to remain healthy. We each need pastoral care which includes healing to be fully present in our world and open to the Spirit. But we need the prophetic to remind us that we are our brothers and sisters keeper. When one person suffers we all suffer. The prophets recognize that there are systemic problems in our world such as materialism that needs the light shone on and hearts that need to be opened so that the world can be transformed into Kindom of God.

The Spirit calls upon us to walk our talk by living in ways that do not rely on other people being abused by poor labour practices and violence. It calls upon us to hold our politicians accountable for their actions in whether they are making our country a just place for all.

In the next year we will likely have a federal election. First think what Jesus would have our government live out and then ask questions of the candidates to see which person will do the best for our people in Canada and around the world. If a policy is good for Canada but destructive for the world we need to think twice. But we also must show our appreciation for those willing to serve our country and promise to work with whomever comes into government. When we care for others there is room for dialogue which can open doors to greater unity and purpose.

I invite you to reflect on how you continue to be called into service by God. What ministries of Pastoral Care and Social Justice are you being too called to live out?   What is God calling us as a congregation to be about in our community and world? As we continue to live this out more people will be interested in participating in our church because they want to be part of a community that is making a real difference in people’s lives.

[RL1]romero04

The Power of Intention

Sermon – January 11 2015

Baptism of Jesus Sunday (Year B)

By Roland Legge

Genesis 1:1-5

Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11

 

Today we mark the day of Jesus baptism. It was an important day for Jesus! He felt compelled to follow in the way of John the Baptists. He wanted to start afresh again through the repenting of his sins. He wanted to publicly profess his faith in God! He also wanted to make clear that God was God and Caesar wasn’t.

The story goes that when Jesus is baptized a dove appears, a sign of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. Do you remember when a dove appears in another Biblical story?   If we go way back to the book of Genesis a dove is sent out to find dry land and finally it returns with a leaf in its beak. I think Mark wants us to connect Jesus to Noah. Hence he has a special relationship with God and he is to be trusted.

I believe in the power of intention! Jesus made his intentions known to God in how we was going to live his life. This was his strong desire to spread God’s love and stand is solidarity for justice. However this is much more than our annual New Year’s resolutions. How many of us hold on to our resolutions for more than a month. I don’t think many of us do. Do you?

When we set our intentions we are using all of who we are in mind, heart and body in connection with the Holy. This becomes a powerful force for change. How do we do this? It comes out of our prayer, mediation, and worship, all within community. It comes out of listening to the Spirit within us and around us. It comes from the cries for justice from our brothers and sisters from around the world. It comes from the teachings of Jesus and other wise people. The miracles is that the more we live it out the more right it feels. However it is often not easy.

In the United Church of Canada we mostly baptize our children. I am probably one of a few of you who was baptized as an adult. For most of you the equivalent would be your Confirmation or Re-Affirmation of Faith. It is the time when we proclaim to God and our community of our choice to live in the way of Jesus. It says to ourselves and those around us, that everything comes from God. We have been put here on earth to be good stewards of amazing Mother Earth to whom we are just one small part of.

As follower of Jesus we choose to try out a very different understanding of how humans and Creation are to live in harmony with each other. We say NO to the Domination system that says only the toughest and most violent people will survive. We offer the radical understanding of power through vulnerability and weakness. We follow in the way of Jesus that gives this world an opportunity to pass on this amazing planet and gift of life to many future generations ahead.

Sadly Christianity has been terribly influenced by the Domination System. This had led to horrible violence being let loose on many vulnerable people. Millions of people have been killed in the name of Jesus. If Jesus could speak to us today he would be very angry and sad!

The Jesus Movement is one of compassion! It is also has a peculiar concern for the vulnerable and oppressed! This makes many of us in the West uncomfortable because we have so much. Yet Jesus cares about us all.

His call is for us is to be more generous with all we have been given. It doesn’t matter to God who paid for it or made it. It does matter how it is being used. It does matter that those who are in greatest need benefit from the technology; production of food, clean water, affordable housing. People who are sick such as the thousands of people in Africa who are suffering from Ebola should get the medicine they need whether or not they have money to pay.

God calls all of us into ministry. Ministry is all about spreading the Good News of Jesus. This is not about capitalism, materialism or militarism. In fact it goes against any ideology that gives the power and privileges to a few people. The Good News is that we each have enough! The Good News is that we can all enjoy life when we share more equitably with each other. The Good News is that no one needs to suffer from poverty, violence and or war. The Good News is that there is a better way to live on this planet.

So go and keep spreading the Good News! Jesus has abundant life planned for you! Jesus knows that you have important things to do in this world that will help to make it a better place for all. Jesus has given you everything we need to live well in this world.

 Jesus and Discipleship

Living in the Here and Now

Sermon – November 9th 2014

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Matthew 25:1-13

 

I am troubled by today’s scripture reading from Matthew.  The lazy bride’s maids are condemned for life because of their laziness in not being prepared to welcome the bride groom. I feel for the lazy brides maids do you?

Yes, todays Gospel lesson was a message to Matthew’s followers who were getting impatient because Jesus had not returned yet.  Matthew was trying to tell them they needed to be patient.  But they also needed to be prepared as we would never would know when Jesus would return.

Matthew was trying to emphasize that we are to focus our lives on living, in the way of Jesus, which prepares us for any eventuality. Sadly this scripture has been corrupted by the popular belief, called rapture, which leads us to being only concerned about our salvation in a very narrow way.  It does not include the biblical understanding of the salvation/healing of the world. It is about believing in a particular dogma that divides the world into good and bad.  It doesn’t like diversity! So, whenever we get into talking about the theology of end times I get uncomfortable.  Do you?

I believe that Jesus keeps returning over and over again.  Jesus comes to me through each of you.  Yet I am accountable for my behaviour and the choices I make in life.  How am I accountable?

Yes I am accountable to God.  Do I need to fear God when I die?  No I don’t!  But in some way I will be held accountable to the Divine.  I have no idea how that will happen.  I sometimes wonder if hell is only on earth.

Yet there are so many ways God holds me accountable.  God holds me accountable through my faith community, through my family, through my friends.  I pray that those around me will affirm me when I am on the Christ path and challenge/confront me in a loving way when I am getting off track. I believe that we need to do this for each other.

Another word that is commonly used in our faith that is not unlike accountability is judgement.  Yet none of us want to be judged unless we get a good mark in a test or essay.  But judgement is not a bad word.  I like what William Willimon’s colleague Rick Lischer says about this:

Yet my colleague Rick Lischer points out that in the New Testament the Greek word for judgment is krisis. And he points out that this word krisis does not really mean the end, the final act, or what happens after the final act, but more accurately means “turning point.” A crisis is not what happens after everything else is over. A crisis is what happens when the plot of the story takes a decisive turn. That decisive turning point could be at the beginning, the middle, or the end. It doesn’t always have to be at the very end.

Jesus often talks judgment, particularly in this Gospel. When Jesus talked judgment, he did not speak of it so much as being at the very end, but at any time there is that moment of crisis, a turning point.

Lischer says toward the end of Matthew that the crisis comes like a thief in the night, when you are sleeping. The thief pries open a window and climbs in. Like that. Judgment comes when you least expect it.

  1. http://www.logosproductions.com/content/november-9-2014-prepared-judgment

I know that holding people accountable/judging can be uncomfortable.  We need to keep building healthy relationships for this to happen.  We need to learn to communicate in clear and compassionate ways so others have the chance to hear us.  It is not that difficult.  Remember to always use I statements.  Always try to be clear as possible.  Clarify what each other are saying.  Make a plan to resolve your issue and come back from time to time to see how you are doing.  When you do resolve it celebrate!

I don’t worry about Jesus returning for one last time to divide the sheep and goats.  I think God loves sheep and goats!  I am thankful that God comes back over and over again through people like you.  I am never alone!!  God comes back to us to help us live out our lives faithfully seeking for us to reflect the Creator’s love.

We all have a number of callings.  They are all equally important.  I was just at a meeting of Saskatchewan Conference Pastoral Relations and Settlement Committee in Saskatoon.  Did you know that we are in great need of leaders in the United Church of Canada?  God is calling for Ordained, Diaconal or Lay Profession (Designated Ministers).  Have you ever wondered if you would make a good minister?  Do you know somebody who would be a good minister?  If you do let them know.  Many of us in church leadership are there because someone encouraged us to consider it.

Are you able to do what you feel passionate about whether that is as your paid job, or as volunteer?  I hope you are able to live out your dreams.  I hope you are able to do things that feel meaningful for you.  I hope you know you are making a difference in the world.

In holding each other accountable and judging is not meant to be a weapon, rather it is an act of love that a person or group lives out to help people become more and more their true selves.  It is an act or acts to help people to recognize they are men, women and children of our maker.  It is a reminder that we are all created in the image of God.

I can think of times in my life where I have been held accountable in life giving ways.  It could be a congregational member, a colleague, and/or Presbytery who with compassion explains clearly to me in a calm tone how I have impacted themselves or others whether good or bad.  I may not have liked what they had to say at first, but then I have a chance to redeem a relationship whether that means me making amends, seeking forgiveness or the opportunity to sort out a misunderstanding.

I feel very fortunate to have a job that I love to do.  I am grateful to have activities such as dancing and learning about the Enneagram that also give me energy.  I am grateful to be in a relationship with Jen where we seek to encourage each other in living our lives fully.

I pray that you may have that joy and satisfaction too!  Don’t forget that each of you are women and men of God blessed with gifts and abilities to bring the Kindom of God closer and closer to us.

Thanks be to God.  Amen!

New York City June 2014 (147)

The Beauty of Grey

Exploring the Word:

Sermon – October 26th 2014

20th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

1 Thessalonians

Matthew 22:34-46

We live in a very complex world.  We are often trying to simplify our lives.  So it can be very tempting to join a church that will tell you what to do in every circumstance.  To paint the world as though it is black and white.  To paint a world where everything is either good or evil, clean or dirty.

Why should we believe in our/Christian Jewish religion?   Jesus said religion is not there to be our moral code which defines who is good and who is bad.  It is not there to turn us into obedient people.  Rather it is there to compel us to love with all our heart.

In his time, Jesus wanted people to get down to the basics of their faith.  Why? Because people were getting confused.  People were getting confused because of the hundreds of rules that had been created to help people to stay on the narrow path of faith. It almost became impossible to remain faithful because you couldn’t help but break a rule because there were so many.  Sadly those who were privileged used these rules to keep their positions of power and the money in their pockets.  Those in power were also using the rules to rob the masses of their potential to confront the powers and  principalities.

So Jesus reminds his people of the great commandment that was passed onto him through his Jewish faith community.  He says that if you live by this commandment you will have fulfilled the Law.

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” —Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus says along with other Jews that the great commandment is one that sums up all their beliefs. It gets to heart of how we are to live our lives faithfully. If you love the Lord your God, you love yourself and love your neighbour then you are meeting all the expectations of God.  Jesus took it even further in saying that we should love all people whether they are Jew or not.  When you have done this you have truly fulfilled the Law.

How do we do this?  I appreciate how author Stacy Martin expresses this in an article she wrote for Sojourners magazine.  She shows how we can remain faithful through the following of the Great Commandment which includes these spiritual gifts.

Grace is the first gift of Christian faith.  For me grace is all about giving myself and others the room to learn through the trials and errors of life.  It is about reminding ourselves that none of us are perfect.  It is about acknowledging the light of God in each person we meet.   It is being open to God/Spirit working miracles of transformation through our lives even when at times we feel there is little hope.

Relationships is another gift of faith.  It is acknowledging that we relate to the Created order through God.  How God is always part of the picture.  So whatever we choose to do in this world whether that is mining, forestry, and/or trying to support our families we cannot create a hierarchy of God’s Creation to justify its destruction. It is all  GOOD!  I believe that when ever we show our love for God, ourselves and each other we will treat the world with greater compassion.  The world indeed will get closer to being the Kindom of God.

Forgiveness is another gift of faith.  Acts toward forgiveness free us up to keep living out the great commandment.  Acts towards forgiveness free our children from holding on to the same negative/destructive feeling creating new opportunities for healthier relationships.  Acts of forgiveness open up our hearts to love some of the more challenging people in our lives.

Community is the last gift of faith.  God’s call to community reminds us that we cannot live without each other.In a world where we live with the misconception that we can be successful on our own we are challenged to say with conviction that we need each other.  That when one person is hurting we all hurt.  When one person is celebrating we all celebrate.  We are the body of Christ!  Every one of us has something to offer this world.  Every one of us is loved by God!

Living out the Great Commandment is a lifelong goal.  It is never easy because sometimes we will miss the mark. However, I dream of a more loving world.  This isn’t a pie in the sky dream!  It is a dream that becomes true day in and day out.  Every time you and I intentionally choose to live in the way of Jesus, loving God, loving ourselves and each other, the world will continue to be transformed.

One way that I try to live out this commandment is to use the gifts I have been given.  I believe that is true for all of us.  So I invite all of us in our congregation to reflect on how we continue to live out love in Foam Lake and area and the rest of the world.  How do we show the grace of God?    How do we emphasize the importance of community so we can find a greater richness in life and be motivated to share our gifts with our brothers and sisters around the world?  How do we show the power of forgiveness?  A great place to start would be to forgive ourselves so we can feel the expansive love of God within us and around us.

Then, how do we forgive others while not allowing ourselves to be a door mat to be abused again and again!  Finally the last one is community.  How do we as a congregation seek to be community?  How do we create space for truly sharing who we are with others so we can be there for each other in all the ups and downs of life?

I end with this thought.  I have found it important to forgive myself.  I have been my own greatest enemy.  I continue to learn that it is okay not to be perfect.  I continue to learn that I don’t always need to have the answers.  But the miracle is that the more I come to live in harmony and love with myself I find it easier to open my heart to others.

I invite you to take some time in this coming week to spend some intentional time forgiving yourself.  If you need some help, do it with a friend you love.  If you need some help, pray for help from the Spirit.  Always remember that God loves you unconditionally.  Nothing can every change the mind of God.

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