Healing the Enemy

Healing of the Centurion Slave2jpg

Reflection:

Sermon – May 29th 2016

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)

By Roland Legge

Galatians 1:1-12

Luke 7:1-10

 

Jesus on his travels meets this Centurion man. He comes to Jesus to save the life of a slave whom he greatly values.  This is surprising, that a Roman would come to Jesus to save the life of his slave as the Romans considered the Jews as irritants.  It is also surprising that Jesus would have agreed to help a Roman Military leader because it is they who were making life very difficult for the Palestinian Jews. Why was Jesus in awe of this man’s faith? I believe it was because this man had such faith in Jesus ability to heal and that this some how transcended all the differences in status, nationality and religion between them.

 

Healing, in the way of Jesus, has the power to break down all walls in society.  In ancient times healing was a common occurrence.  There were many people who claimed to be healers. There were the usual variety of people from the honest to the fakes. But, what was unusual about Jesus was that it transcended all ethnic, and religious boundaries.  Jesus was willing to heal any one.  So why do we have hang-ups with healing today?

 

In the United Church of Canada, we are not comfortable with the concept of healing even though it was a focus of Jesus’ ministry.  So, why have we in the traditional churches become so resistant to the ministry of healing?  Our Protestant forbears became so fixated through seeing the world through the rational eyes of science, psychology, philosophy, and medicine that religious mystery was put on the side-line. There was little room left for mystical, non-rational ministry of healing.  We have been hindered by the intellectual walls that we have put up to keep out the mystery.   However, I believe Jesus is calling us to renew our passion for healing.

 

I believe Jesus brings healing through his deep care for the whole person. He also has a deep care and love for the whole world and so desires to heal the world with all its inhabitants.  You can not have one form of healing without the other. When you help to heal an individual you help to heal a family.  When you help to heal a family you help to heal a community.  When you help to heal a community who help to heal a nation.  A simple way to begin a healing ministry is through prayer.

 

But a word to the wise from Morton Kelsey and Francis McNutt in how we pray for healing:

In our enthusiasm for healing prayer, a word of caution seems wise. Since Jesus is the savior and healer, we must always seek his will as we consider praying for healing. Our primary task is to listen for God and to identify where, how, and if God may want to use us as we pray.

The Healing Church by Karin Granberg-Michaelson found in https://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/healing-church?parent=47011

 

I believe that prayer is an important part of healing.  Prayer can help us discern how we can be a healing presence in the lives of those we meet whether it be family, friends or people we do not know.  I suspect the Centurion must have prayed for guidance.  What do you think?  Prayer can help us to find from within ourselves as to what healing we need in our own lives.

 

When we unleash the power of God’s love through prayer we never know what is going to happen.  Healing can happen in so many ways.  It often happens in ways that we least expect it to.  In the end the love of God is a wondrous mystery.  None of us can ever earn it, but we must be open to how ever we receive it.  I believe that when we pray there is healing, yet it is often being not what we were hoping for.

 

Healing comes out of relationships, from solidarity with those who are hurting, from people with compassion for those who are sad and depressed, from the sharing of good food, it comes from having a safe place to live that is affordable, it comes from caring community that shares resources with each other, it comes from loving family that brings out the best in each other, it comes from social transformation through education social action and prayer.  No matter how you look at it, it is the result of the Holy Spirit being at work.

 

So how do we incorporate healing into our own ministry? Morton Kelsey and Frances Mc Nutt gives us some suggestions in how to live this out.

 

1) sharing a call to a particular healing work with others, 2) seeking to know God personally, 3) praying for our own healing and that of others, and 4) offering ourselves to others for their healing. This parallels the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program–finding freedom in sharing one’s confession of weakness and serving others still in bondage to their particular addiction.


I invite us to reflect on how we at Foam Lake United Church can become more and more a healing community.  Already we have many people reaching to those in our community who are sick, grieving and/or lonely.  You offer pastoral care to those who have had a recent death in their family through providing hospitality after the funeral service.  You provide opportunities for folks to come together to play cards and enjoy a luncheon.  How else can we be place of hope and healing in our community?  How can we reach out to our young families?  How can we reach out to the many middle aged people who have stopped coming to church?  How can reach out to the many in our community and/or world who are suffering and struggling in many ways.

 

There is no magic solution to this.  A healing ministry requires the attention of all members of the congregation to make this ministry important in the life of the congregation. Your minister and a few lay leaders can not make this happen alone no matter who they are.

 

The Good News is that in the end our congregation is enlivened when we become known as a place of healing and renewal.  People will notice the difference whether we are long time church goers or new comers.  More and more people will experience a deep connection of the Spirit that is beyond anything we could ever hope to describe.  Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!  Amen!!!

 

Holy Mystery

Monsal Dale UK July 2011 (3)

Sermon – May 22nd 2016

Trinity Sunday (Year C)

By Roland Legge

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

 

 

 

Do you believe in the Trinity?  Most of us in the United Church would agree that we believe in the Trinity.  But what does this really mean?

 

Our scripture invites us into a dialogue to discover the many ways we can experience the holy in our lives.  In Proverbs we are told about Mother Wisdom who has been with us since the beginning of time. Mother Wisdom or Sophia is the very feminine image of the holy.  She is loving, creative, compassionate, wise and just.  She is in full relationship with God. Romans reminds us of the person of Jesus who gave us another lens to view God, not unlike Mother Wisdom and God.   In the Gospel according to John we are reminded of the Holy Spirit who is again much like Mother Wisdom, God and Jesus.

 

The doctrine of the Trinity has come to be to help make sense of the mystery of the holy.  It suggests that God is both one and three.  God is relational. For example, God expresses itself through the Spirit.  God expresses itself through Wisdom.  God expresses itself through the person and spirit of Jesus and most importantly through each of us. I love this description of the Trinity by Brian McLaren:

“In the early church, one of the most powerful images used for the Trinity was the image of a dance of mutual indwelling. The Father, Son, and Spirit live in an eternal, joyful, vibrant dance of love and honor, rhythm and harmony, grace and beauty, giving and receiving. The universe was created to be an expression and extension of the dance of God – so all creatures share in the dynamic joy of movement, love, vitality, harmony, and celebration. But we humans broke with the dance. We stamped on the toes of other dancers, ignored the rhythm, rejected the grace, and generally made a mess of things. But God sent Jesus into the world to model for us a way of living in the rhythm of God’s music of love, and ever since, people have been attracted to the beauty of his steps and have begun rejoining the dance.” -Brian McLaren, Found in Translation

 

I imagine God as this creative energy that continues to animate life for each of us and all of Creation.  If I just look around I will see, feel, and experience God.  I see God in each of you.  I feel God within me.  I experience God in the sound of the bird, the bark of a dog and the meow of a cat.  Where do you experience God?

 

For me the creative loving force we will call God is a mystery.  God is way beyond anything we can comprehend.  When we express God we are limited by our humanness.  Many of you grew up with the image of God as father.  Some of you still appreciate it today.  But God is way beyond the image of father.   There is no perfect definition of God. Here are some descriptions I use:

  • Father
  • Mother
  • Friend
  • Creator
  • Redeemer
  • Saviour
  • Healer
  • Child
  • Lover

And much more.

 

Feminist are transforming our church and world through their take on how God – Three in One can tear down the barriers that humans have built up through greed, fear, and hunger for power. This is what feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruther says:

 

Feminists are seeking an alternative understanding of power: power as mutual-empowerment, power that does not dominate, force, or coerce, but heals, reconciles, and transforms. In the presence of such power, we are not demeaned or rendered vile and unworthy, nor made helpless and called to submit; rather we are called into healthy self-esteem, into the power of one’s own creative agency that can affirm the good potential and creative agency of others.

Healing power dissolves the competitive model of power relations where one side’s power is the disempowerment of the other side; where one side’s victory is the defeat of the other side. Healing power repents, forgives, and transforms relationships so that both sides of former conflicts are enlivened, made whole, and enabled to rejoice in one another’s well-being. This is the appropriate understanding of the power of God, not models of power drawn from human relations of domination, war, and violence.

https://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/image-gods-goodness?parent=46596

 

I believe that God is most active in community.  When we come together in community doing the work of the Spirit the work we do gets magnified many times over.  The mystery that what we do as a community is much more than what the same number of individuals could do alone.  Why does this happen? It is because the God energy becomes stronger and stronger when people with the same intent come together.  It somehow unleashes the energy of the Holy Spirt on more and more people.  It inspires acts of kindness and compassion in more and more people.  It spreads the love of God among more and more people.

 

The wonder of God as father, son and holy spirit or creator, redeemer and sustainer that this force of love continues to open our hearts that of recognizing God in more and more people.  We would not be marrying divorce people if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit.  We wouldn’t be recognizing the ability of women to be clergy in our United Church without the Holy Spirit.  We wouldn’t have become a welcoming church for Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, trans-gendered and two spirited people without the Holy Spirit.  The power of the Holy weaving in and out of our lives everything life-giving is possible, even the end of violence in our world not only toward people, but toward the whole creation.

 

May we unleash the power of the Holy on Foam Lake and continue to break down the barriers in our community whether they be social, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, and age that prevents us from truly being the people of God.  The Spirit will guide us on our way.

 

 

 

A Very Windy Day

download

Sermon – May 15th 2016

Pentecost Sunday (Year C)

By Roland Legge

Acts 2:1-21

 

In the prairies we can relate to wind!  Wind has a way of stirring everything up.  It can be both a refreshing breeze on a hot day or make it frigid on some cold days in the winter.  Wind can push us around. I remember when I lived in downtown Toronto I would have to be very careful when I would be walking down Bay street with the cold winds coming off Lake Ontario making it extremely difficult to walk.  Think for a moment of your own stories of wind.

 

On this day long ago the wind of the Holy Spirit woke up a lot of people.  It opened people’s minds, hearts and bodies into the fullness that the Spirit created us to be.  Pentecost was not just a one-time event but one that takes place every day if we pay attention.

 

Pentecost is about awakening to the reality that God has given us everything we need to live faithfully and fully in the world.  Instead of being threatened by this reality the spirit of Pentecost helps us to embrace this Good News.  Now everything good in the world that we thought to be impossible is now possible.

 

I invite each of you to find the Pentecost spirit right in you.  The Spirit is awakened in us when we are able to quiet our minds.  The Spirit is awakened in us when we retreat into our inner world to find out what is going on.   Miraculously, the Spirit speaks to us through the sensations we are experiencing in our minds, bodies and hearts. So God is never far away.    Now isn’t that Good News!

 

The spirit sure shook up the early followers of Jesus.  Suddenly religious, social, cultural and gender walls began tumbling down.  Jews who were following Jesus wanted to begin sharing this radical new way of living with Gentiles, women, and many people on the fringes of their communities.  This was radical!

 

In the ministry of Paul and other early leader’s women became a vital part of this ministry not only in preaching, doing social justice, but in the financing of this ministry.  Peter had the audacity of baptizing an Ethiopian eunuch!   Saint Thecla began a movement to liberate women who wanted to be free to do the work of God without the oppression of the men in their lives.  Many people living in abject poverty no longer were willing to be oppressed and started to challenge their oppressors with courage and confidence.  Why was this happening?    It was happening because of the belief that Jesus passed on that all people are equal in the “eyes” of God.

 

Sadly, as Christianity was embraced by the ruling elite, our church lost its radical hospitality.  Patriarchy took over again.  It didn’t take long to come back.  We were back to the status quo probably about 100 years after Jesus died.  But there has always been a fringe that wanted to take us back to the intentions of Jesus and the early Christian community.

 

I am not saying the early Christian community was perfect.  We can tell from the letters of Paul there were many disagreements.  People held strongly held opinions and yes there was much acrimony.  But the acrimony mostly came from the teachings of Jesus that challenged those with power and privilege.

 

Today much of the Christian church is trying to reclaim that Pentecost Spirit that breaks down the walls instead of putting them up.  Young people around our world are hungry for meaning, purpose and making the world a better place.  For them church needs to be about community where we encourage each other to build up the Kindom of God over and over again.  They want to be part of something that is really going to make a difference in their lives.   They want to make a difference in the world.

 

Today I am experiencing the radical hospitality of the Spirit just as much outside the church as it is in it.  I am meeting people from all walks of life.  People are hungry to clean up the environment. People are hungry to end the many conflicts in the world.  People are hungry to stop bullying.  People are hungry to end domestic violence.  There is so much good going on in our world if we just look for it.  This is the power of Pentecost in action.

 

I feel like I am living in the midst of Pentecost winds.  My life is going through radical change and I am so excited.  It feels like a lot of the walls I have put up in the past are coming down and I am finding new life beyond it.  Before I was too scared to try.  What would you like to do, but too scared to try?

 

Some of the great religious/social movements have been fueled by the winds of Pentecost.  The end of slavery in the western world came thanks to many faithful courageous people.  Human rights for African Americans came from millions of faithful people of all races.  The Spirit kept the people going when it was very difficult.  The end of Apartheid in South Africa ended because of millions of people around the world forcing the South African government to change and great spiritual leaders such as Desmond Tutu helped to make it as peaceful a revolution as possible.

 

The wonder of the Spirit is that it never gives up.  When the spirit resides in our hearts we feel called to do our part even if we don’t get to see the fruits of our work.  The Spirit is calling us in Canada to bond with our Indigenous neighbours and finally end the oppression against these peoples.   The Spirit is calling upon us to clean up our environment to save our world for all of life.  In the end the spirit wants each of us to have meaningful work, great friends, good health and hearts bursting with love to share with all we meet.  The Spirit wants us to honor all of God’s creation.  We are just learning about what this really means for us.  When we welcome the Holy Spirit we will have the energy to do what we are being called to do.

 

May God grant us the grace to embrace the Holy Spirit.  When we fully embrace the Holy Spirit Foam Lake United Church will find even more joy, hope, energy and new life.  The Good News being that we already have all the resources we need to do this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus an agent of Transformation

Sermon – April 24th 2016

5th Sunday of Easter

By Roland Legge

Acts 11:1-18

Psalm 148

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

 

 

It seems to be the rage today to talk about the need for change.  Some say “change is inevitable”; others say “change or die”; even others say “change must come”.

 

Yet most of us do not want change.  We get used to our routines.  Our routines help us to stay calm through all the ups and downs of life.  What are your routines?  When I get up in the morning I shave and take my shower, eat breakfast, give Abby attention, brush my teeth and kiss Jen.  Somehow this daily routine gives me comfort and helps me to face the day.

 

We have our routines in our churches too.  We get comfortable in the ways we operate as a congregation.  Every Sunday each of you have a good idea of what worship is going to look like.  Our order of service does not change much.  We have our favourite hymns.  We all have our favourite places we like to sit in the church.  We are used to coming to church at 10:30 am on Sundays.  Some of us are used to going out for brunch after church.

 

The way we do the church business has not changed for years.  We trust that certain people will do the work of the church so some of us don’t have to worry about it.  If something needs to be done, we form a committee. We run our meetings in the way we have been used to for many years.  Most of us don’t want to be at the meeting, and yet we spend a lot of time talking. We have our regular social and fund raising events that seem to magically happen every year.  We like our routine.  But we can not seem to understand why the younger generation often does not want to take part in the life of our church.   Too often we want to blame them for not being there.

 

In the early church the followers of Jesus were also fixated in their old ways even when they were not working well.    Peter was struggling with whom he should be ministering too.  He had been brought up to only care for the Jews.  Jesus had pushed him to love the foreigner, but he was being tempted to go back to his old comfortable ways.  Many of his friends and colleagues were being tempted to go back to separating the so called “clean” Jew from the “un-clean” Gentile.

 

If it hadn’t been for the dream that Peter had he might never have changed.  This is what he experienced in his vision:

There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me.

 

11:6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.

 

11:7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’

 

 

11:8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

 

11:9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’

 

11:10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.

Acts 11: 5b – 10

 

 

So Peter takes a major turn in his ministry.   After his vision, he is invited to the home of Simon, a Gentile, to baptize his whole family which he does.  When he was there he would have had table fellowship, a meal, with them which was a big NO for the majority of early Christians. Many would see Peter as now being “un-clean”.  Yes, Peter was breaking away from the routine.  This made a lot of people uncomfortable.   It even made people angry.

 

So in the early times in the new Christian movement there was a lot of conflict between the different Christian groups many whom remained strictly Jewish while others began a growing ministry to the Gentiles until eventually Christianity became a separate religion.

 

There is nothing wrong with routine and traditions.  But it can become a problem if we get too stuck in our ways.  In the United Church of Canada, we have become too comfortable with our routines in our style of worship, the way we see ourselves and in the way we organize ourselves.

 

The world is changing at a phenomenal pace these days and the church is being left behind.   Most young people can not relate to us.  We are using a “language” that most young people do not understand.  It is going to take a lot of courage to re-think who we are, in the context of the time we now live in.  I think we need to get back to our routes which is the great commandments.  The commandments to love our selves, to love our neighbour and to love our God.  Then to reflect and act on how the Spirit is calling us to live this out in our modern times.

 

In Foam Lake United Church, we are being called to love our selves, to love our neighbour and God.  Many young people want to be part of movements that help them to live this out in their day to day lives.  Our challenge is to create a worshiping community that brings us together to spread God’s love in real ways.  It is a lot more than sitting in a pew every Sunday.  This requires us to create opportunities to grow together, to care for each other, to celebrate together, to walk our talk in our communities and to always remember that we are part of something much greater.  We are not only part of the whole Christian church we are part of the human family on planet earth.

 

In order for this to happen we must welcome all types of people into our community.  We must be willing to invite people who are openly Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Trans-gendered. We must be willing to invite people who hold different beliefs than we have.  We must be willing to invite people who are physically and/or mentally disabled.  We must be willing to invite young families with noisy children.  We must be willing to invite people who don’t seem to fit in e.g. The guy with the colored hair and earing and the women with pink hair in a short skirt. We must not only tolerate this we must be able to welcome the holy diversity of God’s creation with openness, welcome and love.

 

Are you ready to embrace the wondrous, awesome, incredible diversity of God?  I am!  Are you?

Embracing Change

Jesus: A Courageous Man

Jesus_Christ

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.

Jesus Call to Heal

Sermon – September 27th 2015

18th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
James 5:13-20 
Mark 9:38-50

Jesus’ disciples are feeling good about themselves. They were a part of very important ministry with the Messiah.  How good can it get? Yet they were threatened by someone else healing in the name of God.

They tell Jesus about this impostor.  But to their surprise Jesus was not upset and says “Whoever is not against us is for us.” His followers cannot comprehend why he wasn’t upset.   Jesus has to explain to them, that as the strangers were healing in the name of Spirit, he had no issue with their ministry.  As far as Jesus was concerned the more the merrier.

Jesus demonstrated through his life that he was more concerned with what people did rather than the background of the person who did it.  So for Jesus the act had more importance than the reputation of the person who did it.  A person’s actions were far more important for Jesus than their nationality, gender, religion, color of their skin or abilities.  We still struggle with prejudice today.

Last week we were talking about what it means to be Christian.  Over the centuries people have answered this question in many ways.  Still today the challenge is for us to be open what Scripture is telling us today.

Many of us have a tendency to make God into our own image making the holy a weapon rather than a blessing. Our personal demon tricks us into thinking that we are one of the saved while the people we don’t like will go to hell.  Most of us realize that this is a too simplistic way of thinking.  Yet it still hard to motivate ourselves to risk turning our belief systems upside down.

For me the miracle is that our inspired Scriptures have new things to say to each new generation.  Our Scripture reminds us that we believe in a God of surprises who keeps challenging our prejudices.  Much to our annoyance there is no place that the Creators love cannot go!  The only person we can hold responsible is our selves.

What do we do when we have no person, religion, nationality or belief system to blame?  So for example instead of blaming Muslims, or some other groups, we need to look at ourselves.  We all have shadow sides, that part of us which can be mean, close minded, exclusive and demeaning.  Whether or not we want to admit it we all have it.  The question is are we able to acknowledge that part of ourselves so we can be free from it.  Are we able to allow God’s love to shine on our hurts, anger and greed so they can be transformed into generosity and love?   I believe that with the Creator’s help through each of us we can be changed people building people up rather than tearing them down.

James reminds us that our heart is changed when we to get to know people who we do not feel comfortable with, such as people of the Muslim faith.  I think we would find just as many amazing Muslims as Christians in the world.

The Spirit has shown me the goodness in so many people from all walks of life.  Sometimes it has taken longer than I would like to see people in the eyes of God.  What helped to change my way of thinking was getting to know people I had up to then looked down upon.

In fact James shows us how important hospitality is for our faith.   We are here on this earth to care for each other through prayer, helping each other out in tangible ways, encouraging each other through the hard times and challenging each other through the good times.

The only way we can care for each other is by really knowing each other.  How well do you know each member of our congregation?  Why is it such a challenge for so many congregations to take the time to get to know each other well?  Imagine if a new person arrived in our congregation.  How are we to get to know each other if we don’t create time for this to happen.

James wants us to do more than hospitality.  He wants us to create a healing ministry.  Jesus spent much of his time healing those who were suffering.  Healing begins to happen when we take time to be with a hurting person.  When we risk touching a person by shaking hands, hugging, and just being in their midst barriers are broken.  When we participate in the ancient rituals of anointing a person with oil, sharing prayer and invoking the spirit through the laying on of hands there is transformation.  When we really listen to another person’s story and share our own we become closer.  When we help a person out in need not only with our time and attention but with our physical resources fear is released.

For me there is a big difference between healing and curing.  When we participate in the healing ministry we can make no promises other than the Spirit will be with us.  I believe that we will be healed in some way.  But it may not be the way we would like the healing to happen.  Yes extraordinary healings do happen with cancer being there one minute and gone the next.

But more often the miracle is a change of heart.  It might be a family coming back together in forgiveness.  It might mean discovering what their life is really about and taking whatever time they have left to live out their life mission.  Healing comes in many ways.  It is a gift to be welcomed.  It is the knowledge that God loves each of us unconditionally.  Whether we are cured or not is no determination of the efficacy of the healing.  It simply is.

Thank you Jesus for showing us the way.  God’s love for each of us is much broader than any person could comprehend.  So let us learn from Jesus and welcome each person we meet, knowing they are a person of God.  Let us celebrate with Jesus as the walls crumble and we are reminded that we are all part of a great family.  Whenever we do something that enhances God’s creation, no matter how small or big, God is celebrating saying well done good and faithful steward.images

What is this Jesus Really About!

Sermon – September 20th 2015

By Roland Legge

Proverbs 31:10-31 
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

What does it mean for you to be a Christian?  Right from the beginning the Disciples struggled with what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.  In today’s reading from Mark the Disciples do not want to hear what Jesus had to say.  They are still living in denial.   They want Jesus to be the great leader who will fix their problems.  They want him to fix their problems without them having to make any changes.  What are your expectations of Jesus?

I have a lot of sympathy for the Disciples.  Jesus was asking a lot of them.  But what I love about Jesus is that he invited them to join him.  He used no coercion. He lays everything out so there are no surprises.  If people are to follow him they must be willing to turn their lives around and put their faith into the love of God.  They must put wisdom of God before anything else.  They must be willing to find strength in vulnerability.  They must be willing to mix with those on the edges of society who are living in poverty, violence and all forms of abuse.  Jesus was challenging them to walk their talk.

It is ironic that the first people who really understood what Jesus was about were the people who were threatened by him such as Pilot.  So why was it that the people who were trying to kill him understood who he was while the Disciples who followed him did not?  I think they understood because they could grasp the huge cost the Jesus movement was going to have on, them.   It took Jesus disciples a long time before they fully understood.  They didn’t get it until well after Jesus death and resurrection.

Jesus struggles to get our attention today.  Many of us don’t want to hear what he has to say.  We like the disciples, metaphorically, don’t want to get our hands dirty.  We want someone else to fix our problems.  But yet Jesus never gives up on us.  He keeps calling us to true discipleship.  He does without judgement always hoping that one day we will be ready to be transformed.

Are we ready to be transformed?  Are we ready to be born again?  There is nothing magical about this process.  It is all about finding the Christ self, our higher self within us.  The Christ self is a gift from God and we all have within us.

There are many ways to access the higher power within us.  It is always helpful to quiet our minds so the Spirit can mold us.   Reading scripture in community can help us to discern our call to heal the world.  For me the Enneagram is a great tool to reveal our Christ self because it helps us to release behaviours that are not of service to the world. It helps us to see the difference between our egos, our fake selves, with our truth that comes from wisdom and true presence.  Presence coming from when we are able to release all our insecurities, greed, fear and hopelessness and fill that void with the love of God.

The Good News is that we don’t have to wait for anyone else to join us in our mission to transform the world.   One person can begin to make a huge difference just by changing the way they act.  In Systems theory it shows us that one person can begin to affect change in any organization by acting in ways that they expect their colleagues to act.  One person, destructively acting out, can show us where the organizational system is not healthy by asking these question.  Where is their discord?  Where in the organization are people not having their needs met.  Where in the organization are the members not being heard and respected?  Often once these problems are resolved the person will ether change their behaviour or leave.  Have you ever experienced this?

What will be most surprising are the people who we will meet on our faith journey. Sometimes they will be the people we least expect.  Maybe a person from another faith will want to join us.  Maybe it will be wealthy business person who is wanting to make the world a better place.  Maybe it will be a person who has a criminal record who is eager to help.  God has called us all to transformation, are we ready to receive those who are hungry for experiencing the Kingdom of God?

How are we at we at Foam Lake United Church trying to transform the world.  Individually many of you volunteer in our community.  Know that your dedication really does make a difference. But what are we doing as a congregation?

There are people in our community who are eager to make a difference in the world.  I believe that part of our mission is to invite community members to join us in some community mission that will do something positive for our community and world such as services for children and young families, cleaning up the environment, ending prejudice, building relationships with first nation brothers and sisters. This would strengthen our community, giving us a purpose and encourage those in our community who are looking for a spiritual home where they get to live out their faith.  A place where people get to make a difference.

When we allow our maker to engage us in ministry our lives are changed for ever.  The things that used to bother us are no longer giving us sleepless nights.  We no longer worry who is better or worse than us.  We no longer worry about who is good and who isn’t good.  We no longer worry about who has the right doctrine because we are living out our faith.  We no longer worry about having enough money because we will receive whatever we need to do God’s work because of the Creators abundance that there is enough for all. We no longer need someone else to tell us what to believe because our faith is now etched in our hearts.  You cannot help but know what we believe by what we do and say.

While being a follower of Jesus is not easy.  It also brings us great joy and purpose in life that nothing else can replace.  It is what guides us in what we choose to do.  It gives us amazing community to help us celebrate life and people to help us through the rough times.  It gives us a safe environment to grow beyond our personality.  It brings us together with other people to make the world a better place.  Most importantly it helps us all around the world to come together in peace, love, justice and harmony. To be the new world wide community of love, justice, generosity, and hope that both nurtures people and all of the Created order on this planet and throughout our galaxy.

jesussmhttpthetyee.caCitizentoolkit20041122JesusTrickster

King David: An Imperfect Leader

Sermon – August 2nd 2015

10th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)

By Roland Legge

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://theforgivenessproject.com/stories/mary-johnson-oshea-israel-usa/

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

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

Amen.

King David

Tradition: Blessing or Curse

Sermon – Augusts 30th 2015

14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)

By Roland Legge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resurrection Happens Everyday!

Reflection for Easter Sunday

April 5th 2015

Acts 10:34-43

Corinthians 15:1-11

John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

By Roland Legge

Let’s imagine what it must have been like for the disciples on that first Easter morning. It was bad enough they had lost a good friend. But they had lost much more than that.  The hope that Jesus gave them for a better world was dead now too. I expect you would be feeling down, depressed, angry and sad in their situation.

When have you felt despair?  Remember the times in you life when you felt little hope.  Sometimes we need something dramatic to happen to wake us up into seeing that God has something better planned for us.   This is what happened for Jesus followers on Easter Sunday long ago.

God broke through this hopelessness and despair through the disciple’s encounters with the risen Jesus.  Resurrection came real when the disciples new for sure in their hearts that what Jesus had stood up for, was not dead.  It was resurrection when they could feel the spirit of Jesus alive in their hearts.

No one will ever know exactly what happened, other than something amazing and awesome took place.  Jesus disciples were blessed with experiencing the presence in such a powerful way they could no longer stay in their depression.  They could no longer over look the truth that God had great plans for them.  These were Holy plans to keep on with the journey of faith that Jesus came to begin.

This was truly an amazing event.  But I think we need to be clear that this was not resuscitation, but a resurrection.  What is the difference?  A good example of resuscitation would be the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  But Jesus story is different.  Remember how the disciples at first did not recognize Jesus when they met because he was changed.  It took Mary to hear his voice before she new who he was.  This was a spiritual body that while real looking to the disciples was not a mortal body.  Jesus could walk through doors.  One moment he would be there the next he wouldn’t.

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus.  Why?  I do because I have experienced resurrection many times.  For me resurrection happens when a person or community finds new life despite the difficult struggles they are facing.  I found new life after a very difficult first marriage.  I found new life when I decided to give up a career in Accounting which led me to discovering that I had a call to ministry.  I experience resurrection when I overcome a physical, emotional or spiritual issue with the aid of tools like the Enneagram.  I feel resurrection when I discover I am able to do something like Ballroom dancing that I once didn’t think I was capable of doing.

Also, I hear countless stories of resurrection when ever I visit and provide pastoral care.  We all have our times in life when it feels very bleak.  Resurrection takes place when we are able to move on in hope despite the struggles we are facing.  I can remember a family I worked with that faced such adversity.  First the Mom of the family fought cancer and died.  She left her loving husband, two children and mother-in-law.  Then the Mom of the daughter who had died also succumbed to cancer not many years later.  She had been caring for the children while their Mom was sick and then later supported her son by helping to raise the young children. You would think for the father and his children there wouldn’t be any hope left.  Yet this family held strongly together.  There was an amazing love between them that propelled them to new life, resurrection.

Resurrection comes alive in our natural divine nature to shine no matter what the world throws at us.  One of my favorite authors is Anne Lamott who through her books tells of all the ups and downs of her life.  She tells of how God keeps breaking through into our life leading her from resurrection to resurrection.  I want to leave you with a short quote from her in her book “Traveling Mercies”.  I will set the scene. She is going to be a single mother. She tells this to her congregation when she is seven months pregnant.  I sense this must have taken some courage for her to announce this at her church, St. Andrews in Oakland California.  One can never know how others will react.  But she was blessed:

When I announced during worship, that I was pregnant, people cheered.  All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped.  Even the women whose grown-up boys had been doing time in the jails or prisons rejoiced for me.  And then almost immediately they set about providing for us.  They brought clothes, they brought me casseroles to keep in the freezer, they brought me assurance that this baby was going to be a part of the family.  And they began slipping me money.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott Anchor Books 1999 Toronto, New York page 101

This was resurrection for Anne because she now new for sure that  she and her son Sam could count on their St. Andrews family to journey through all the ups and downs of life with them.

I invite you to begin naming your resurrection experiences in life.  I invite you to reflect on what gives you hope.  I ask you to make everyday a celebration of Easter because God is always working God’s love in our lives and world.

Van Deusen Botanical Gardens Vancouver B.C. August 2012 (5)