Want to disagree with God!

Sermon – January 10th, 2016

1st Sunday after Epiphany – Baptism of our Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9

Acts 10: 34-43

Matthew 3:13-17

By Roland Legge

four_steps_to_hearing_your_callhttpwww.vocationnetwork.orgarticlesshow5

 

Have you ever had a quarrel with God?  I believe that most of us have, at some time.  Thankfully if anybody can handle anger it is God!   In our world of today we have lots to quarrel with God.  We wonder, how can there be so much violence in our world if God is all powerful?  We wonder, why God allows so much evil to happen?

 

We are living in a time again when it seems that the world has gone into complete madness.  Not unlike it was in the time of 1st and 2nd Isaiah. “First Isaiah was written to the Hebrews before they were taken into captivity in Babylon. Second Isaiah comes when the [Hebrews] are about to come home, and the prophet, convinced that they may have forgotten who God is, reminds them.

Our reading today comes from the time of 2nd Isaiah. 2nd Isaiah calls upon Israel to take heart.  He promises that at last, Israel’s cries to God have been heard.  He proclaims that God is sending a “servant” who will lead the people back.”  Do we need to hear that God is still with us and in ultimate control?

“I know that I still need to hear that message.  However, we need to be careful in how we interpret the scripture.   Taking a passage out of context is idolatrous. 2nd Isaiah felt compelled to refresh his people’s faithful memory.  To knock down the false images of God that we create and project upon God, and to irrigate the fields of our religious imagination with the truth of the way God really is in the world.”

 

So what do we mean when we say that we are called to bring down God’s justice on the world?  First I think we often forget that, we are broken and vulnerable.

Secondly, God wants us to remember that God sent Jesus to transform the world through weakness and vulnerability.

None of us are perfect. Each of us has been bruised.  But God calls us to be God’s light in the dark no matter how weak or strong the light is.  Our calling is to be the light for the world.

Thomas Long in a sermon on this same scripture from Isaiah told a story of from Pierre Von Paso’s book about the rise of the Third Reich.  It is a story of a rabbi who refused to give up the light of God no matter how bruised be became.  “Von Passo describes a day when a group of Nazi Brown Shirts captured a rabbi in his study as he was preparing his Sabbath sermon.  They mocked and humiliated him; they stripped him and flogged him.  As they did they laughed and said, “This lash is for Abraham; this one is for Jacob; this one is for Isaac.”  When he we numbed with the whipping, they took out scissors and they sheared his locks and his beard and mocked him, “Say something to us; say something in Hebrew; yes, say something in Hebrew; Standing there shivering the rabbi said in Hebrew, “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart and mind and soul.” But he didn’t even finish before they interrupted him with more mocking, “you were preparing your sermon, weren’t you?  Preach us your sermon…Weren’t you preparing your sermon?

“Yes,” said the rabbi.

“Well then preach it in your synagogue; we burned your synagogue, preach to us now.”

“Give me my hat,” said the rabbi.

“You can’t preach without your hat,” they howled with laughter, “Give him his hat.”

They gave him his hat; he put it on and they laughed all the harder…the sight of a naked man wearing a rabbi’s hat.

“God created man in his image” said the rabbi “in the image of God he created him, that is the text for my sermon this sabbath.”

Long says that all of this destruction that human being commit toward each other is an attack on creation.  God will not rest until justice has been established.”

 

We can also keep the light of God’s love burning by how we choose to LOVE, HONOR and CHERISH our families.  This is another story from, master preacher, Tom Long: “Late one spring a former student came by Tom’s office for a cup of coffee. They chatted about this and that and then she said, “I have a secret to tell you.”

“What is it, “Tom said.

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

He was overjoyed. She and her husband had a seven year-old daughter, and they had been trying since their daughter had been born to have another child, but had been unsuccessful and had finally given up.  Now she was pregnant.

“That’s wonderful news,” Tom said.

“We just got the test results and we know two things about our child.  Our child will be a boy, and will have Down’s syndrome.”

Tom said that he knew she must be a bruised reed and a dimly burning wick.

“I don’t now how we are going to handle it,” she said, “but we are trusting in God to help us.”

A few weeks [later] he had received their Christmas letter and in it she wrote, “After nine long months of unmitigated discomfort, at four in the morning on August 18, I knew the magic moment had come.  At last at 10:55 a.m.  Timothy Andrew took his first breath and let our a hearty yell, he was whisked off to neo-natal intensive care where he spent the next three days before coming home.  He’s strong, alert, beautiful.  He has the sweetest disposition.  He shatters daily our images of handicapped and special needs.  He may need special help, but already he is no slouch in giving a special love.  We are blessed.  Kate (that’s their eight-year old) is Tim’s champion.

 

Hearing our concerns about how well Tim might be accepted by other kids, Kate informed the kids on our block, ‘My brother has Down’s syndrome and everybody’s going to play with him or else!  One evening we overheard her talking to Tim.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Timothy, I will always love you, I’ll never leave you, I’ll always be nearby.’

“Christ came to identify with us especially those most in need.  We know miraculous blessings.  We’ve experienced them first hand.”

 

What has got in the way of shining God’s light in the world?  Each of us will continue to discover ourselves, how God is calling us to keep the candle burning.  Sometimes, for me, it is no more than being hopeful for our church, our community and world.  Hope is such a powerful light in the world dark despair.

 

 

Pulpit Resource by William H. Willimon Vol. 30, No.1.  Year A January, February, March 2002 Logos Productions Grove Heights MN pg. 10 – 12

 

 

 

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

The Spirit Sets you Free

Sermon – March 22nd 2015

Lent 5 (Year B)

By Roland Legge

Jeremiah 31:31-34 John 12:20-33

 

How beautiful is the passage from Jeremiah today. Jeremiah and his people are living in difficult times. They have been away from their home county for a long time. They are sad, depressed, tired and feeling abandoned by their God.

God says to them that the Spirit is about to begin a new covenant which will be different from the last one. Now God will write the Law, on each person’s heart. Hence, God will speak directly to each person through their body, mind and spirit.

Can you imagine the delight of the people in hearing this Good News! They now had something to look forward to. There was something to live for. Life was going to get better!

How do you experience God in your life? Do you really believe that God is right within you? I think many of us don’t really give God a chance to speak to our hearts, minds and souls. Our lives are too full of noise and chatter. But when we do quiet our minds the Spirit does speak to us in ways that helps us to know what is really important in our lives and how we are called to live it out.

Now most of us don’t hear an actual voice, but we do get intuition, feeling, thoughts that can help us to find our way. Can you remember a time when you suddenly realized what you needed to do? It has happened for me. Once in a while I wake up in the morning and know what I need to do or a thought arises and it won’t go away until I act on it. I don’t know where the thoughts come from. I just know it feels right. When I begin to live this out everything starts falling into place.

Now when we choose to follow the Spirit is never easy! It always takes some courage. But when we do open our hearts we find the strength in ourselves to face our own fears. I believe Jesus must have been frightened at times. He knew what he was saying and doing was making a lot of people upset.   He told his disciples that a seed must die before it can bring new life. He was trying to tell his followers that in order to transform our world we must be willing to risk in our own lives, never giving into greed, fear and violence.

Not only must we be willing to risk our lives we must be willing to let go of old ways that no longer benefit us and our world. We must lead by example in being willing to show people a radically different way to live that is based on sharing, responsible stewardship of the earth, and having enough. In the end we must never give in because there will always be some people who will resist this change because for them they have too much to lose. They prefer the devil they know than the one they don’t know.

We all have God’s Laws written on our hearts, the law of love! It is our choices whether we listen to it or not. Thankfully many people do listen. Here is one such extraordinary story of courage and faith:

Orlando Letelier served in the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile; after the 1973 coup, he was tortured and exiled by the military dictatorship, against whose human rights abuses he continued to speak out. On September 21, 1976, he and a co-worker were killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C. Several operatives of the Chilean secret police were later convicted of his murder.

http://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/bishops-homily-letelier-funeral?parent=41164

We give thanks for those who will never be silenced in the job of shining the light of Social justice wherever there is the abuse of power.

Another great person was Clarence Jordan who started the Koinonia community (http://www.koinoniafarm.org/) where people of faith can come together to build up the Kindom of God where all people would be recognized as the people of God. A place where the community would help to bring out the best in each other. A place where people could come together to talk about very difficult issues plaguing the world. A place where humans could learn to live in harmony with the earth. It is still there.

He is also known for his creation of the Cottage Patch Gospels. Here is the introduction he wrote for his

Clarence states:

Jesus has been so zealously worshiped, his deity so vehemently affirmed, his halo so brightly illumined, and his cross so beautifully polished that in the minds of many he no longer exists as a man. He has become an exquisite celestial being who momentarily and mistakenly lapsed into a painful involvement in the human scene, and then quite properly returned to his heavenly habitat. By thus glorifying him we more effectively rid ourselves of him than did those who tried to do so by crudely crucifying him.

http://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/scandalous-life-faith?parent=41164

Clarence was a man of vision and faith.  He has helped thousands of people to find their faith and vocations in life.  His story still speaks to us today!

 

Most importantly Jeremiah and Jesus are calling upon us to be 24 hours seven days a week Christians.  But if we are to faithfully live this out we must remain open to the wisdom of the Spirit through taking time to listen to the Holy within and around us.  Jesus promises us that when we do this we will continue to find abundant life.  Leaving us with feelings of joy deep within our hearts that gives us strength, patience and love to face any challenge in the world.

 

Summer 2012 Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba 055

Miracles and Healing Everywhere!

the man cured from Leprosy

Gospel Reflection

The second half of Mark’s first chapter is all about healing.  Early on we see that Jesus has both the power and the ability to make people whole.  These miracles not only gave hope to the people who were healed, it also put Jesus in the precarious position of being in the spotlight.

In today’s story of the cleansing of the leper, we see that it is the man’s faith in Jesus that opens the door to his healing.  Yet it is Jesus who chooses to cleanse the man of leprosy.  By removing the leprosy, Jesus also removes the social stigma that came with it.  Leprosy is a highly contagious disease.  In those days the only way to prevent the spread of leprosy was to isolate people with the disease.  They were cast off from their friends, family, and religious community.  A leper lived a painful, shameful, and lonely life.  Imagine the immense joy felt by this man who was healed by Jesus.

Jesus instructed the cleansed leper to do two things – (1) don’t tell anyone, and (2) present yourself to the priest.  At this point in time Jesus was already starting to become overwhelmed with the crowds that were following him.  These large gatherings may have been somewhat inconvenient, but they also presented a security risk for Jesus.  The more his popularity grew, the more likely it was that government and religious leaders would see him as a threat.  Jesus was attempting to keep the crowds small while also telling the religious leaders that he comes in the name of the same God they believe in.

It’s not surprising to read that the man couldn’t keep this news to himself.  How can someone keep quiet when their life has been forever changed?!  The man told everyone who would hear, which made life more difficult for Jesus.  He would continue his ministry of healing and teaching, but it was a very different existence from then on.

http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/282

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever seen a miracle happen to someone?

Yes I have I have seen miracles in people’s lives.   They are not like the miracle that happened for the man in the Scripture reading today. I remember one miracle when I was working at My Brother’s Place a halfway house in Toronto for people with no place else to go. One fellow was living with schizophrenia. It was a miracle every day when he got up, brushed his teeth and dressed. One day I was asked to help him go shopping for some jeans. We came back with the things he was needing. The staff were amazed. Now isn’t that a miracle.

In a church long ago that was not known to be a happy place. One Sunday morning I came up to this church and heard laughter. I couldn’t believe it. What was going on? To my amazement two men had come back to church. They totally changed the atmosphere of this church. They liked to tease each other and their laughter transformed that congregation into a much more joyful place to be. Now that was a miracle!

It was a miracle how Jen and I met. She had asked the chair of the Sexual Abuse Prevention Committee to do a workshop for youth leaders on appropriate boundaries. Laura, the chair was not able to do it. So I was called and we planned this workshop. By the way when we talked on the phone we talked about lots of things way beyond what we needed to talk about the workshop. Then when it came time to facilitate this workshop at Conference no one came. We offered it twice and no one came. This gave us some private time to get to know each other. Our relationship bloomed very quickly. Now that is a miracle.

Think about the miracles you have experienced in life.

  • When have you felt desperate for healing or change in your life? 

I felt desperate for healing in my life in the summer of 1983. At the time I was training to become an Accountant. I was not a happy person. My teacher was rude, crude and nasty and I was just passing. So in the spring of 1983 I went to the UK and the European Continent for two months. It was an amazing trip where I learned a lot more self-confidence. Then soon after I got back I worked as a volunteer at the Peace and Justice Coffee House at the World Council of Churches Assembly at U.B.C. I loved the people I met! I heard some amazing speakers. I met Desmond Tutu from South Africa for the first time. I hadn’t been so excited in a long time. Then after that summer I realized that Accounting was not for me. So I ripped up my membership in the Society of Management Accountants and felt elation. This was all part of my journey to being called to Diaconal Ministry in the United Church of Canada.

A couple of years ago I was feeling very unsettled. There was a strong feeling in me that I had more to do. There were new things I needed to learn. I had this feeling for a while, but was afraid of addressing it. So on our trip to the UK one night when I was having trouble sleeping I woke up one morning knowing what I needed to be focussing on the Enneagram. The neat thing was that when I went home everything opened for me to be able to do this. Working on the Enneagram has helped me to begin a healing process helping me to recognize that I had more gifts that I needed to share within and outside the church. This continues to be a healing process.

  • How would you respond to Jesus’ healing if you were a leper?

I hope I would be open to it. But I know I would be afraid of getting too close to the infected person and thus get infected myself. I can relate this to people who are living with AIDS. It was not an easy time for me and my friends to support our friend Craig who was suffering with AIDS. With a lot of prayer and intentionality we were able to be supportive of Craig and each other. We had to face our own fears and remind ourselves over and over that it was not an easy disease to get. So I hope with some help from Jesus I would have been there too for the man living with Leprosy.   What would you have done?

  • Why do you think Jesus wanted the man to not tell anyone?

I wonder if Jesus didn’t want him to tell anyone because he knew it would bring more people to see him and he already was exhausted. I have felt exhausted at times wondering how I could help another person who was in great need. I don’t doubt that Jesus was feeling that. Why do you think Jesus told this man not to share this Good News with any one?

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.

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