Monday, April 28, 2008

Sermon - 6th Sunday Easter April 27 - 2008

Sermon - 6th Sunday Easter April 27 - 2008
Today we are talking a lot about love, and to love someone is to know them. To know someone is not a series of facts about them, it's intimacy. In the movie the Moulin Rouge, in an attempt to court the cortisone, Ewan McGregors character (the young bohemian lover)uses many lines to get his passion and love across.
“Love is a many splendored thing, Love lifts us up where we belong, All you need is Love. I was made for loving you baby... This powerfully points to the desire to know the other. To know in a God type way – is to know with a deep sense of intimacy – beyond physical, emotional or spiritual of anything any of us has yet experienced with other humans. In fact, it’s a one sided love that depends nothing on the other reciprocating the love.
Perhaps this is where God and Ewan McGregor are different. Both are passionate, but Ewan, like all humans, requires love to be reciprocated to keep feeling it. Ewan, like all humans, can be made to give up when to much betrayal or dishonesty enters a relationship.
Thank God that God’s love does not require such reciprocation and that, as Jesus shows us in the resurrection - God is not about to give up.
God comes to Adopt us - Alone, broken, hurting, hurtful and ... deep down... At the root - God knows that to know and be known is something that we long for.
There was once an intern who was serving a rural two point parish, just north of Saskatoon SK. In the first of the two points, the intern read a poem about ecology and how the whole world is connected through the water cycle, and how God calls us to be in good relationship with the earth. It was an exciting poem that gave hope that God would be with the people in the hard times, and was calling the people to work with God in the care and help with restoration of the earth. The intern had a large green bucket on a table, and there were cloths to symbolize the different parts of the poem. It was well done.
The intern then went to the second point in the parish and set up his large green bucket at the front. He called some of the kids forward and a flock of 2 to 5 year olds came forward to see the bucket. And as the intern recited the poem... the young children grew restless, they started to squirm around. And the intern, trapped behind the large bucket, could only watch in horror as his own 2 and a half year old daughter bumped into the large Christ Candle at the front of the church. In slow motion terror the intern watched as the candle hit the steps - the candle went out, and the wax splashed up onto the chancel carpet - two pieces of Christ Candle lay on the floor only loosely connected by the wick.
I’m sure it says somewhere in the church constitution that ‘thou shalt not knock over and break the lit Christ candle during church’. There was a collective gasp, and then a sigh of relief when it was revealed that no one was hurt.
Sensing the tension, the interns daughter ran to her embarrassed mother sitting in the front row - repeatedly saying “Sorry mama sorry mama sorry...”
I am thankful that my daughter... I mean... that interns daughter could run to her mother and know that forgiveness was coming - even though in that moment she was terrified and scared about what might happen next... and the temptation might have been to run the other way, but she ran into her embarrassed mother’s arms.
This is the very same trust that we are called to. The faith like a child, to believe that even when we break the Christ candle, or perhaps we have made the choices that might seem to make us unworthy of God’s love, we can still trust that God will receive us, we will not be turned away. God’s love is not waiting for us - it is always coming.
It was actually my wife that found todays Gospel - the good news for today. Right there in the middle of the reading “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” She said “This speaks to a core fear we all have. It speaks to the deepest fear we have as humans - to not be chosen - to be left alone. It speaks to fear that someone we love will turn us away.”
God is the one who promises to never leave us. God is the one who promises that he is coming. God is the one who promises to send us an advocate to be with us till that time when we are fully united.
The natural outcome of loving God is to live and learn in all that Jesus commands. This is what happens when someone is saturated with the Love of God - it pours out onto others. There is no path to the love of God through fearfully trying to earn the love - this is to try to take the love and posses it. No the love of God is coming - like getting caught out in the rain, it’s not hard to get wet.
So today we hear a great promise. A promise that addresses our loneliness - we are not alone. A promise that addresses our need to know we are cared for. God will not leave us orphaned.
Out of this, the burden of loving the world is made light - the challenge to learn Jesus commandments and to love God becomes possible.
And we can apply all this trust to God’s mission to love and bless the world.
Henri Nouwen writes:
A Christian community is a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings and occasions for a new vision. Sharing weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength.
May it be so with us. In our worst moments, God is reaching down and signing the adoption papers.
In our wounds and pains, God is informing us of who we are - the adoption papers are already signed.
We are the children of the God that makes promises to come to us, to walk with us, and to stick with us... even when we knock over the Christ Candle.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Easter 4 Sermon

Based on John 10:1-10

I once knew this couple from Vancouver that were thinking of getting married. They were young and, as they were getting ready to taketh plunge they had some hesitation.. actually... they had a massive amount of hesitation. You... when they sat down to think about... when they sat down and counted it turned out that they had 14 parents all counted up. This is his and hers, biological and step parents. 14 people have in different ways played the role of Mom and Dad. This couple was so in love and in so many ways didn’t want to hurt each other that they were wondering what to do next... should they take this step of marriage? There are so many voices calling them in different directions and they had seen such pain in so many lives that well... the path of marriage was one that didn’t seem to hold out too much hope for them. They didn’t know which voices to listen to.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was on clear voice that came and made all things clear at times like this? That maybe, some of these decisions could be made for us?

Well, this is the theme today. Shepherds. Shepherds in 3 acts. Act 1: Shepherds in psalms. Act 2: Cows of the Maasai Mara. Act 3: The gospel according to shepherd imagery.

We begin with Act 1: Psalm 23.
“Lo thou I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death!”

Psalm 23... do you think we have it memorized? It is the most popular psalm and even people who aren’t Jewish or Christian have heard this one.

I don’t like that painful part about the darkest valley. I don’t like the dark valley part at all because I really like that part about the still waters, green pastures. To have a shepherd leading to all the good stuff is fun to think about. I can remember many camping trips with the sun beating down, then fresh air sweeping off valleys full of flowers and life and joy and all the wonderful memories of camping. But really I think that I would rather go around those dark valleys. Avoid that swampy place where the odor is foul, the air is cold, and there is a sense of doom and foreboding. Isn’t there another way around? Couldn’t we short cut this valley part our? Isn’t there a shepherd that will take us to the good parts and avoid the hard parts altogether?

Unfortunately, this psalm is rooted in reality. There is a reality that life can be so good and so sweet, but then there is the other reality. Best summed up in a quote from the movie the Princess Bride:

“Life is pain your highness... anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.”

You can’t live too long in this world and not understand a little of what this means. People will always try to sell you something that promises to take all your problems away. More to the point, people will try to sell you a set of beliefs that promise to take away all your pain.

It’s the TV evangelist that promises you marital bliss and infinite wealth if you just pay him a little money, maybe... maybe just buy his book. Just do this, just do that... and you’ll never need to enter the dark valley again. We’ve all heard the sales pitch coming from someone trying to get you to join a group - “If you just live like me, believe like me, be like me, pray like me... you won’t have any more problems.” It’s the same sales pitch offered by the recent book “The Secret”, where a system is outlined that promises a great life if you just think the right thoughts. Just put out the right energy to the universe and the universe will give it right back back to you.”

I feel bad for people who believe this because when that bad thing happens, when you didn’t have a positive thought, or when the sickness comes anyway, or the accident happens, the blame falls on your shoulders. When life is good, you’re riding high... but life won’t always be good.

These ideas are trying to sell you something... and the psalm isn’t buying it. These idea’s are trying to sell you something, but they ignore that the son of God who did things perfectly... ended up suffering, and dying.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil.

Your rod and your staff... they comfort me.

Well, now we have two sides here. On one hand, the beautiful parts of the psalm that offers peace and comfort and protection. And the in the other hand we have “Life is pain.” - and even the psalmist agrees that there are going to be dark valleys to walk through. We won’t walk it alone, but we will walk it.

We live in both worlds. We life in the world that hopes for peace and comfort and life abundantly forever, and we also live in the world where bad things happen to good people.

This is an uncomfortable paradox to live with.

This brings us to Act 2 - Cows

Right now, it is early early morning in Kenya. The sun is thinking about rising on the Maasai mara... the plains of Western Kenya are beginning to warm up. The Maasai people are beginning their day. Water is being carried, food is being prepared. Fires are being stirred. And the Maasai Men and Boys - they’re leading their cows out of the village to start a day of grazing and drinking - these are the activities of daily life on the Maasai Mara.

And tonight, after spending the day grazing, the cows are all brought into the village.
The village is made up of several different family groups, and it’s boundaries are clearly marked by the high wall of thorny branches that have been collected and piled up to surround the village. The village is made up of low roofed mud huts. The grass is cut low in and around the village so that snakes and other predators won’t be able to approach without some warning. This is good practice in a place where the cats are big enough to eat you, the odd elephant might want to come charging through your hut, or perhaps a snake could get a little closer than you would like.

My friend Salash grew up there. Living on the plains in a traditional village and moving his cows around from place to place during the day, and then bringing them into the village for the night. Our lesson speaks of a Rod and Staff to guide the sheep. The Rod was basically a thick stick to beat of the predators, and the staff was the long hooked stick that was used to guide the sheep. Salash used these... (show maccete and club)

When you live this close to your cows they know you, and you know them. With a minimal amount of marking, each family knows which cows they own, and the cows spend the day eating and walking beside their shepherds.

Salash got the imagery from the bible right away as I was talking to him about todays sermon. As Jesus spoke of being the gate, of calling to the sheep and the sheep knowing Jesus voice. To Salash, it was almost like I was describing his home.

Tonight, all the cows of the families will led into the middle of the village, penned in safe together. On a rotating shift, the Maasai take turns being the gate. The opening to the village is guarded through the long night by a rotating shift of Maasai Warriors. You do not get through without being known. They are the gate.

And in the morning, it all starts again. Each family calls for their cows and they separate themselves out and then they head out for the day. These cows know who they belong to, they know the voice that is calling to them and they follow. They follow and trust that they will be lead to places of good food and clean water.

The Maasai people... they are good shepherds. The cows know them. The cows know to follow them when they call. The cows are safe at night, protected by a living gate. The cows are lead out into the world to get food. They trust the one they know to be their Shepherd.

And this brings us to Act 3: The Gospel according to Shepherd Imagery.

I was told this week that in a congregation of 100 people, 15 people will likely have some sort of depression. That is... in this building. If we found 100 of or friends and neighbors and gathered around... 15 of us would have some sort of depression.

It’s a sobering number to say the least. It’s one that I have a hard time believing so I’ve asked many people this week and to my surprise, a lot of people thought the number should be higher... And that is just one of the many problems that face us all each week.

And we can’t escape it anywhere... even right now in this building. In this place of comfort and rest that the good shepherd has brought us to. Here in the body of Christ we have the reality of psalm 23’s whole emotional gambit - pleasant songs and good friends and family gathered. We have each heard the voice of the shepherd and gathered into this safe place... but it seems that the noise of the world, all the things that might distract us from the shepherds voice, all the hurts and pains that we endure, have followed us... right into the heart of worship here.

And you only get to stay here for an hour. The world is out there waiting for us... nothing has changed out their in this hour that we are together.

But I believe... that we are changed in this hour.

We gather and today hear and remember what the Good Shepherd has said while Jesus walked with us and talked with us in the past.

We have examined the psalm of the good shepherd who’s Rod and Staff will comfort and guide us. In many and different ways the Christ is calling us to live new lives in service to the Gospel and to others.

I have told you the story of the good Maasai shepherds who’s machete and Orinka will comfort and guide you as you are lead into the safety of the village, and out into the world to gather food and water as you grow and learn. Jesus is the good Maasai Warrior who is the gate that keeps us safe. Jesus is the good Maasai Cow Herder who leads us out into the dangerous and difficult world.

It is true that life is pain, that many voices distract us, and thieves come to steal and destroy. But it is even more true that Jesus, the good shepherd has come to lead us in life... lead us to a relationship of trust and discipleship as we go out from this place today not only to live, but to live life abundantly.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Post 50... just a video I ripped off the web...

Well... here we are at post 50. Didn't see it coming... didn't think to do something extra special... just a video of Madagascar that my friend Cory made... he's the one in the picture about the Christian that the Devil warned you about in post 49...

Isle de Madagascar on