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?

Our Bodies are Temples of God

Exploring the Word:   Sermon – January 25, 2015

By Roland Legge

3rd Sunday after Epiphany (Year B)

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Mark 1:14-20

God within Us

Are you ready for a revolution?  If you are not you might want to reconsider if you want to be a follower of God and Jesus.  God and Jesus are continually trying to bring on a revolution of love, peace and justice.  They are always surprising us and encouraging us to walk a different path.

Back in the days of Jonah, God was just as busy trying to transform the world.  God chose Jonah to be part of that plan.  Now Jonah seems like an ordinary person. He is no king or prince.  Jonah is not unlike us, fearful of living and speaking prophetically and often too lazy to try.  So it is no surprise that Jonah couldn’t be bothered to go Nineveh.  But God somehow got him there.  The story goes on to tell us that Jonah was first eaten by a fish when he was trying to run away and then burped out near Nineveh.  Yes, God does go to great lengths to get our attention and then cooperation.   Most importantly, God wants us, like Jonah, to be part of this transformation of love.

So Jonah gets to Nineveh and reluctantly does the work of God.  He is just barely into the city proclaiming the sinfulness of the Ninevites that they begin to repent.  They were so convincing that our surprising God heard them and forgave them.  But like lots of us Jonah was not so forgiving and became enraged when God so quickly forgave them of their sins.  Jonah had become so full of hate that he was not so ready to forgive.  Then God let Jonah sulk under a bush until he knew that God was not going to change her mind again. You see God is always surprising us.  Doing the things we least expect. How is God surprising you? Who are you meant to forgive?  Who are you meant to challenge?  Who is God calling you to see in a new light?

When God breaks through our armor, often during the traumatic times of our life, then we become open to living out God’s revolutionary plan.  If we choose to be part of God’s plan , then we can become part of this holy work.

In the Gospel according to Mark at the beginning of Jesus’ revolutionary ministry he calls upon two men, Simon and Andrew the fishermen.  They were both courageous men! It is quite likely that Simon and Andrew came from upper middle class families.  They not only had to be willing to give up family and friends but a comfortable standard of living.  They were willing to risk their lives. They followed their hearts rather than over analyzing their options which would have probably prevented them from living out their calling.  They chose a very different life from what they had been groomed to be.  They chose to be counter cultural.

It is Jesus who brings out the revolutionary love in others such as in Simon and Andrew.  It happens in the surprising ways that Jesus goes about building God’s revolution.  Most revolutionaries would build a strong army.  But Jesus goes about inviting ordinary but extraordinary people into his movement.  These are a group of untrained, uneducated, fishermen, and tax collectors stumbling along after Jesus.

 (Pulpit Resource Vol. 34, No. 1 Year B January, February, March 2006 by William Willimon Published by Logos Productions Inver Grove Heights MN P.G. 18)

Are you surprised?

 

When we can feel the Spirit of God, which is always accessible to us, we see and feel the world in a different way.  When we see injustice, we see a way to liberation. When we see poverty, we not only ask why, we seek the path out of poverty.  When we experience neglect for Mother Earth, we grieve, but make choices that will begin to heal the earth. When we are told that we can’t make the world a healthier and more loving place we ignore the sentiment and get on with the revolution.

Each of us has done something to further the revolution.  Here is one story of a teacher in Los Angeles as told in Awaken The Art of Imaginative Preaching.  Does this story bring any people to mind for you?

Rafe Esquith is a teacher in inner-city Los Angeles, California who sees culturally sanctioned disparity between resources and opportunities available to children of wealthy parents and children of parents with lesser means.  He also recognizes that there is a misconception about poor children not caring about school.  His way of teaching, his whole way of living, which for years included working four jobs to pay for all of his classroom extras, is countercultural.  Esquith draws his students to class hours early and keeps them in school hours after the closing bell, and seven days a week.  They clamor to reach and perform Shakespeare, to do challenging mental math problems during breaks in class, and to spend recess learning intricate guitar concertos.  This inspired and inspiring teacher has swept up generations of children into his pro-learning movement, many of whom have grown up to return the support they received from him.  Other schools have tried to lure Esquith away with much larger paychecks and easier settings but he holds his ground.  Viva la revolution!

Awaken the Art of Imaginative Preaching Advent Epiphany 2005-2006 by Janet Norman and Paul Turley Published by Logos Production Inc Inver Grove Heights MN P.G. 37

I hope the story Esquith brings to mind people in our own community. We do have revolutionaries/healers right in our own midst.  We have people who visit our many shut-ins.  We have people who give of their time to community groups who provide great opportunities for our residents of all ages. We have teachers, nurses and many others who go the extra mile to care for those they serve.

Our society tells us the poor, the elders, the disabled, the mentally ill are not worth our time.  Thankfully we have people who the see the value in each person just like Jesus did. Even coming to church today is counter cultural.  It goes against our society that says that life has everything to do with consumption.  Thus in some way we are all revolutionaries of Jesus.  What do you think of that?

Our Bodies as Temples of God

Sermon – January 18 2015

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

By Roland Legge

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20) Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 John 1:43-51 

 

God calls the people we least expect! Can you imagine being Samuel waking up in the night to this voice calling his name?   Now there is old Eli who recognizes this voice as that of God. This must have been challenging for Eli because why would God talk to Samuel rather than him.   The miracle is that Eli was able to humble himself by encouraging Samuel to answer.

Then there is Nathaniel with his poor opinion of people from Nazareth. So what was it that convinced him that Jesus was worth paying attention to even though he came from the backwaters called Nazareth?

When you think of it Paul was also a very unlikely follower of Jesus because at one point in his life he was one of Christianity’s greatest enemies. He did everything he could to make life difficult for the Christians. Then one day on the Damascus Road he has a radical turn around and becomes a follower and proselytizer for Jesus.

I think we can blame all these conversions on the Holy Spirit! These people had their lives totally turned around. They were all able to feel the presence of God in their physical and spiritual selves in such a powerful way they could not continue to live in their old ways of fear and greed.   How has your life been turned around?

I want to focus on the Epistle because it talks of what for me is so important. Paul was calling on his people to use their bodies for the transformation of the world. He calls on his followers to treat their own bodies with respect and dignity and do the same to others. In essence Paul was describing how God becomes incarnate in each of us every day. How God loves to live in every cell of our bodies. Did you know that Christianity is one of the few religions that believes that God became incarnate in a human being? I go even further and say that God seeks to become one of us each day. This is not just a spiritual concept! It is about all of us especially our physical bodies.

Most of us have grown up in the Church that has not been comfortable with our human bodies. We, that is the Church and Society, have come up with all sorts of rules, taboos and destructive theology that has divided us up into two beings a that we are intended to treat our bodies as temples. Our bodies were created in the image of God. In the book of Genesis we are reminded that God was pleased with what God had created.

How do you feel about your own body? No one is perfect! No one has a perfect body because each body is unique. I have struggled with my body image for years. I am certainly not the image of stereotypical strong man. I have too often feared my own body. I keep worrying about what could go wrong. But if you think about it our bodies are amazing miracles. It is amazing that our bodies work well most of the time and especially when we are taking care of them. It is amazing how often, other parts of the body, will make up for a part that is not working well. We are truly blessed.

I believe Jesus came into the world to help us live fully in our human physical life here on planet earth. I don’t think Jesus was concerned about the afterlife. He wants us to live the best we can during our earthly life. He wants us to use our bodies for the building up of the Kindom of God.   He wants us to enjoy the incredible gift of being blessed with a human body that allows us to fully experience the world through sight, smell, touch and thought.

Also I believe that the Spirit desires us to enjoy being sexual beings. Meaning thus that God intends for us to experience the world and each other through our bodies. To remain being fully human we need gentle touch to remind us that we are part of something much greater. Then when we give ourselves fully to another person it becomes a sacred act that radiates the love of God. I appreciate what Rohr says about the Catholic Theological Society’s 1979 Study on Human Sexuality.

The Catholic Theological Society’s 1979 Study Human Sexuality summarized it rather well when stated that our sexual action must aim to be “self-liberating, other-enriching, honest, faithful, socially responsible, life-serving, and joyous.” That is certainly the task and journey of a lifetime, but it is no more or less than what Jesus said when he taught the greatest commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. The two loves “resemble” (Matthews 22:39) one another. They are each the school of the other. We will learn how to be properly sexual as we understand the properly passionate relationship that God has with us. And we will learn to be properly spiritual as we come to understand the true character of human longing and affection.

http://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/pure-passion?parent=41152

When we can openly talk about sexuality in church we will have come a long way.

I hope we can learn to value our bodies more. I hope we will stop trying to separate our personhood in to the physical and spiritual. We are all interconnected. Each of us are a weaving together of all our physical and spiritual qualities. They cannot be separated!

I invite you this week to intentionally be aware of your amazing body and how you feel blessed to live in it. What are you thankful for?

When we feel so blessed by our bodies we cannot help but want to take better care of ourselves and to encourage others to do the same with their own bodies. This all must happen to heal the world.

God within Us

The Power of Intention

Sermon – January 11 2015

Baptism of Jesus Sunday (Year B)

By Roland Legge

Genesis 1:1-5

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Jesus and Discipleship

The Beauty of Grey

Exploring the Word:

Sermon – October 26th 2014

20th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

1 Thessalonians

Matthew 22:34-46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whom do we choose to follow?

Sermon – October 19, 2014

19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

By Roland Legge

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Matthew 22:15-22

 

The conflict between Jesus and his critics had been getting worse over time, since the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. The Herodian’s being a political movement who totally supported the rule of Rome wanted to expose Jesus’ anti Rome/anti tax beliefs because they saw him as a threat to the status quo. The Pharisees, who while not believing in the tax, had come to accept it as a reasonable cost to having the freedom and security to function in the Roman world.  They saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo which gave them power and privilege.  So some Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus a difficult question with the intention to get him in trouble which in essence goes like this: “To whom should they give their loyalty—to God or to Caesar?”

Now Jesus was very wise in how he answered the question.  First he asks for a coin because he does not have one.  Only his critics have a coin. They have in their pockets coins with the idolatrous image of Caesar stamped upon it. Then he says the famous words which is “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to give unto God what is God’s”. So what does Jesus really mean?

Sadly Jesus words have been misinterpreted many times with people claiming that Jesus wants us to pay our taxes to government unquestionably.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  I think it is important to note that Jesus does not specify just what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.  He doesn’t have to.  He is talking with people who know scripture by heart and know this psalm: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” (Ps 24:1)

What Jesus was saying in his time was that if you have chosen to worship Rome then it only seems right then for you to pay taxes to Rome.  However if you choose to follow God then you have no responsibility to pay money to Caesar.  Note that Jesus did not have any coins with the image of Caesar on them.  He is showing clearly where he puts his trust.

Who do we worship today?  Where do we put our trust? Do we worship God?  Or do we worship money, power, armies, bombs, alcohol, drugs etc.   This is a hard question because I think we all want to say that we worship God more than anything else.  But do we?

Our actions often speak louder than our words.  In recent federal elections I suspect that many people put the god of financial security as more important than following our Creator God.  Many have seemed to forgotten Psalm 24:1.  Remember it: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it”  The environment seems to become less important when ever we realize there is a financial cost to cleaning it up.  Christians often forget to ask the question as to what does God call upon Canadians and their government to do in the short term and long term.   We look at our economy in every possible way other than what God’s economy might look like.

The challenge for Christians today is to become politically active like Jesus was.  Yes Jesus was politically active. He stood up for God’s economy.  This included hanging out with people that were looked down upon by the religious of his day.  It included speaking the truth when most did not want the truth to be spoken.  It included practicing civil disobedience when he became so angry by the abuse of those who benefited from money that came into the Temple.  Remember that time when Jesus turns over the tables in the Temple?

Jesus was part of a larger movement that was exposing the evil of the Roman Empire.  He was always challenging people to follow God and not Caesar.  The poor and oppressed were empowered by his message because he was giving them permission to challenge Caesar when Caesar was going against God. This was more than enough to get him killed on a cross.

In Canada today we talk about the rule of law.  I don’t think Jesus would disagree with countries having rules of law.  However Jesus would be very angry at any government saying we have to follow all laws without question.  There are many laws we should follow because they help to bring about God’s economy; that being a world where people have access to basic human rights such as food, shelter, education and community.  However Governments have too often let power become their god.  When this happens they will bring in laws that are unjust, immoral, violent and destructive.  Jesus says we are to refuse to follow such laws as long as we are willing to face the consequences.

For example, my father strongly believed this.  He for many years up to his death was part of the Canadian Peace Tax Fund.  Every year this organization figured out what percentage of our taxes go to war.  Then my father would deduct that amount from what he sent to the government and remit the rest to the peace tax fund.  He strongly believed that we need to put money into peacemaking rather than war making. He was following in the path of Jesus.

Would I every break the law for God?  I hope if the opportunity comes along I will have the guts to do it.  But I know there are so many ways for Christians to stand in solidarity with the oppressed.  This is why I am not afraid to raise controversial topics because I know that is what Jesus would have done if he was here today.  This is why I am not afraid to meet people who society have looked down upon.  What do you do when you are confronted with injustice?

The world is a complex place.  It is not easy to make these tough decisions.  Sometimes it is hard to know what God wants.  But with prayer, worship and community we can together make choices each day that are more congruent with our creator.  These would be decisions that will show others that it is the Creator God who we truly worship.

I believe with God there is always hope.  A hope that says we can make a difference in the world; a promise that we will not be left alone. I believe that God will show us the way if we would only listen.

All quotes except for when it is stated otherwise come from Pulpit Resource Vol. 36, No. 4 Year A & B A October, November, December 2008 by William Willimon Logos Productions Inver Grove Heights MN pages 1316

Question Mark

Whom do we choose to live by?

Sermon – October 5th 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46

I don’t like today’s passage from Matthew!  It has such violent images.  Why am I using it?  I am using it because it has been used by too many Christians over the centuries to oppress our Jewish brothers and sisters.

First, I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a Jew.  Jesus was an Israelite. Jesus never intended to start another religion he only wanted to reform his own.

The Gospel according to Matthew was written by a Jew in a time when there was a lot of pain between Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who didn’t.  It was a painful time—not unlike some of the conflicts we have faced in the United Church of Canada which divided congregations.  These conflicts divided many families, just like conflicts in the early days of Jesus’ ministry.

The parable of the Vineyard was probably adapted from a Parable that Jesus actually said.  In Jesus’ time he was simply wanting to his encourage his followers to keep on going despite the anger by those in power both the Roman Empire and the religious establishment.  I need to be clear that the religious establishment did not represent all Jews.  There were many who were opposed to their intention to keep the power in the hands of a few people—not unlike the Papacy of today or sometime even our General Council of the United Church.

Sadly, this scripture has been used as justification to abuse and kill Jews throughout the centuries.  We must change this way of thinking throughout Christianity.  This is why the United Church of Canada has been working hard to build relationships with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Through these relationships we can better understand each other and find ways to work and worship together.  This doesn’t mean we are always going to agree. No two Christians or Jews will agree on everything.  There is great diversity of views in both religions.

I love this re-telling of the Parable, told by William H. Willimon, which reflects on how Christians have treated Jews. He says:

The church in its dealings with the Jewish people has acted like the bad relations in this parable:
A family, who lived in a beautiful house beside a blue lake, was surprised to hear a knock at the door one morning. There stood at their front door a couple with two children. They were even more surprised when the couple told them, “We are your long-lost relatives from out west. We have come to visit you for just a couple of days. Can we come in?”
The family, though surprised by these relatives whom they had never heard of, graciously received them into their home, and began to graciously entertain them for the next couple of days. After two days had passed, the relatives said that they would like to stay a few days longer. The family graciously agreed.
But then, the family began to notice that their guests, their long-lost relatives, were beginning to behave less like guests and more like permanent residents. The relatives began to redecorate the room they had been given. In fact, they spilled out of the guest room and took over two additional rooms in the house, rearranging the furniture, taking pictures off the walls and putting different pictures there that they had brought with them, and in general, acting as if they owned the place.
Still, the family tried graciously to welcome them and make them feel at home. The trouble was, the guests were beginning to feel a bit too much at home. Two weeks went by, and still the relatives, whom the family thought were only temporary guests, were with them.
One day there was a knock at the door and the family was surprised to see six or seven people standing at the door, holding their suitcases. They had never seen the people before and were startled when their relatives called out from the four rooms they were now occupying in the home, “Oh, those are some of our friends from out west. We told them what a nice house you live in, and invited them to come stay with us and visit. We knew you wouldn’t mind because you are so gracious.”
Well, I won’t go into the rest of the story, but you can probably figure out how it ended. After a couple of months, the family had been reduced to living in only one room of their own house, while their temporary “guests” had taken over the entire house for themselves. Eventually, in dismay, the family – feeling like strangers in their own home – moved away, driven out by those whom they had once received so graciously.
Take this as a parable, akin to the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 21 of the wicked tenants in the vineyard.

 

Sadly, we Christian began to impose our particular ways on our Jewish brothers and sisters and tried to make them look inferior. We would go to great lengths to destroy their communities.  We must not let this happen again.

So what can we get out of today’s Scripture? I think we all fall short of following the way of Jesus and we need to reflect on ourselves.   It is against the ways of Jesus to put down his own people.

I believe the Spirit calls upon us in our families and communities to hold each other responsible for following the Great Commandment: love God with all your heart and soul, to love your neighbour as yourself and to honor and respect yourself as a man/woman of God.  We are the only ones who can change ourselves and we need to focus on ourselves rather than put others down to lift ourselves up.

Canada is becoming more and more a multi-faith country.  I hope we will seek to get to know people of other faiths and philosophies and recognize what we have in common. We can allow our differences to help each of us grow into being more understanding, compassionate and open minded.  May the Creator help us, of different faiths, to work together for a better world and let the Spirit lead us to a just, loving and sustainable world that will honor all of Creation.

 

Crest_2012

Who am I to say No

Exploring the Word:

Sermon – August 31st 2014

12th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

By Roland Legge

Exodus 3:1-15
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

 

Imagine you are walking along and you notice a bush that is burning.  But the strange thing is that the bush is not being consumed by the fire.  Now that would get my attention, unless I was visiting Universal Studios in Hollywood.

 

When we read this passage from Exodus it is the burning bush that gets our attention.  But what is really amazing, is who God calls to do his work!  God calls Moses this less than perfect sinful person to do his/her work to free God’s people.

 

Moses was no saint.  He killed an Egyptian man because he had hit one of his own people.  He was part of God’s plan to kill many Egyptians to help free his people.  Moses could get very angry.  He was obstinate.   I wouldn’t want to be around him when he was angry.

 

Neither was he thrilled by God’s plan for him to free their people from Egypt. He had many excuses, even though God wasn’t willing to hear his excuses. He was reluctant, at best, to agree to God’s call.

 

Moses was a complex man.  While he did some very bad things God still trusted him to do what he needed him to do. God somehow new that Moses had what it was going to take the challenge the power of Pharaoh.  Moses became a great leader helping his people to travel through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.   He faced drought, rebellion and anger from his people because they were exhausted and frustrated.  Because his intimate relationship with the Creator he and his people never gave up.  Now that took a lot of courage, faith and commitment.

 

If God can find leaders in people like Moses God can find leaders in us.  God doesn’t look for leaders like a big corporation would.  God usually finds the least expected people to do her/his work.  People like you and I.

 

God is looking for a very different qualities.  God is calling for people who will follow their call even if it makes them to feel uncomfortable.  God is looking for people to do the impossible such as overcoming violence and poverty.  God is looking for people to see the goodness in all people. God is looking for people who are willing to lead through vulnerability, non-violence and unconditional love.  God is looking for people who are not afraid to suffer to overcome hate, prejudice and retribution. God is looking for people who will offer change through invitation rather than coercion!

 

Today in churches like Foam Lake United we are being called to ministry whether or not we are the laity or clergy.  .  God is looking for lay and order of ministry people to see through the eyes of God and then to have the courage to respond to what they see that needs God’s attention.  For example, we see people in our community who are sick, grieving the loss of a loved one and/or facing a personal emergency and we do help them with food, money and love.  We hear every Sunday the amazing ministry, done in our name, through the work of the Mission and Service fund and we are compelled to give.

 

Today our congregation and all of Christendom is being asked to reach out to people in our communities, nation and world just as Jesus did when he lived.  This means finding the courage to take the church and its ministry outside of our buildings.  It means getting involved in the politics of our time helping to discern with our leaders the type of world our faith compels us create.

 

Sometimes it means that we need to risk getting the comfortable uncomfortable.  I think the life and ministry of people like Martin Luther King best illustrates this.  In a letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King justifies why he has organized marches and sit-ins that have disturbed the peace.  Martin Luther King is all for negotiation but he believes that sometimes nonviolent direct action is required to create a crisis to foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

Pulpit Resource by William H. Willimon http://www.logosproductions.com/content/august-31-2014-call-lead

 

None of us live in the severe conditions like African Americans were living in the Southern United States.  So it may be hard for us to relate, but we all have our blind spots.  But if we think about it all churches have gotten used to being the church in a particular way and often don’t find it easy to change.  Sometimes we need a minister or lay person to shake us up a bit to become open to becoming more relevant for our times.

 

In Canada we continue to struggle in our relationship with our First peoples.  More and more First Nations see the value of nonviolent resistance to wake up the governments and the people to taking action that will begin to reduce the wide disparity between the rest of Canada and First Nation peoples.  Is God calling us to walk with these people and do our part to heal the divisions between us and them?  We are blessed to live in the midst of First Nations people and thus have a great opportunity to do this work/ministry of healing and justice.

 

We believe in a God who asks us to do the most unexpected things.  We like Moses can find hundreds of excuses not to do things.  But God never give ups on us until we say YES!

 

I would like to end with one of my favorite songs sung by Linnea Good, called “Who am I to say No”.  I invite you to sit and reflect as you hear it.  Please join in if you like.

Burning Bush

Who is Jesus for You?

 

Exploring the Word:

 

Sermon – August 21, 2005

 

14th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

 

Romans 12:1-8

 

Matthew 16:13-20

 

 

 

We are not unlike the disciples in today’s Gospel reading.  We too find it much easier to recite what we know about Jesus from others.  Maybe it’s the biblical quotations that we memorized from Sunday school.  Maybe it is what the Preacher said on a Sunday morning.  Maybe it’s from a book we have read.  Most of us have no problem doing this.  But when it comes to defining who Jesus is for our selves, many of us go into a panic.  Even people who are comfortable in speaking in public will freeze up when they are asked to tell us who Jesus is for them.  Why is this so hard for many of us? 

 

 

 

There are more people willing to risk asking this question of who Jesus is for them.  Thus, we are hearing this question being asked more and more these days and not just in the church.  Just a few years ago Time Magazine had a cover story that asked “Who was Jesus?”  The article was in response to a very controversial movie that had come out, Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ.  The article goes on to offer “a diversity of Jesus’s,” and encouraged the reader to takes one pick. 

 

 

 

A few years ago the then Moderator of our church, Bill Phipps’s, made what was for many a controversial statement about Jesus.  He said that Jesus was not fully God.  Thus God was much more than Jesus.  When I first read his statement I was not shocked at all because this is exactly what I believed.  I believe along with Bill that Jesus was probably the most God conscious person to have ever lived.    But for many his statement was sac religious because he went against tradition that said that Jesus was totally God.  Even though this caused some discomfort in our congregations it got not only United Church people talking about whom Jesus is for them but got the whole community talking about it. For the first time in recent times people from all walks of life were being encouraged to reflect on who Jesus was for them.

 

 

 

 

 

Is there one true image of Jesus?  I doubt it.  William Schwein goes on to say: “Perhaps no person in history had more labels and names associated with her or him than Jesus: Itinerant sage, Hellenistic cynic, apocalyptic prophet, inspired rabbi, and so on.  Even his enemies had a variety of descriptive terms: blasphemer, false prophet, and madman.  There are as many ideas and images about Jesus as there are people, it would seem.  Maybe the question is really, “Which Christ?”

 

The Minister’s Annual Manual For Preaching and Worship Planning 2005-2006 Logos Productions Inc Inver Grove Heights MN P.G. 34

 

 

 

What image of Christ do you have at this time in your life?  How has that image changed over the years, or has it?

 

 

 

There are more and more books out there to help us to discover who Jesus is for ourselves.  One such book is “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg.  Marcus like many of us grew up with a very traditional understanding of Jesus.  He says

 

 “by the end of childhood, the ingredients of the popular image of Jesus were in place: Jesus was the divinely begotten Son of God who died for the sins of the world and whose message was about himself and his saving purpose and the importance of believing in him.  Indeed, John 3:16, that verse I memorized as a preschooler, expressed this childhood image perfectly: Jesus is the divine savior in whom one is to believe for the sake of receiving eternal life.”

 

Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time by Marcus, J. Borg Harper San Francisco P.G. 6

 

 

 

However, as Marcus grew up and learned more about the Scriptures his simple understanding of his faith became meaningless.  He was now hungry to have a faith that connected with all of who he was.   It was a faith that would grow out of his very being.  This was not an easy journey.  This was the big aha that opened him to experiencing Jesus in new ways; that God is present in all of us.

 

This transformation in my understanding of God began to affect my understanding of Jesus.  I now was able to see the centrality of God (or “the Spirit,” to say the same thing) in Jesus own life.  I began to see Jesus as one whose spirituality — his experiential awareness of Spirit – was foundational for his life.  This perception became the vantage point for what I have since come to understand as the key truth about Jesus: that in addition to being deeply involved in the social world of the everyday, he was also grounded in the world of the Spirit.  Indeed, as I shall observe from several perspectives in this book, Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit was the source of everything that he was.

 

P.G. 15

 

Thus, for Marcus Jesus comes alive through our relationship with the Holy Spirit.  It is a relationship that is growing and changing, never static.  It is a relationship that leads into doing things that one never dreamed of.  It pushes us beyond the limitations that we and our societies put upon ourselves.

 

 

 

So who is Jesus for you?  I will begin the dialogue by sharing who Jesus is for me.  For me Jesus is one of most God/Spirit conscious persons to have lived.  At this time in my life I see Jesus as both healer and liberator.   Jesus has shown us the way to the Spirit who helps us to discern what we need to do and how to go about doing it.  Most importantly Jesus through the Spirit heals anything within and around us that may be blocking us from living out God’s love in the world.  We can trust that Jesus will do his part, but will we do ours?  What is our part? For me our responsibility is to willingly open our hearts to God and then have the courage to live this love out in everyday life. We then reflect God’s healing love wherever we go. I could go on much longer, but it is time for you to take a moment in silence to begin to reflect on this question.”  Who is Jesus for you?

 

 

 

Love changes us whether it is shared between people and/or God.  Love calls us forth to be more fully ourselves.  It allows us to come out of the cave of fear, allowing the light of God to shine on us and transform us.    To love and be loved by Christ requires to have an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit and thus reflect the compassion of Christ wherever we go.

 

 

 

So, who is Jesus for you?   What is he inviting you to do?  Surrender all that holds you back and allow Jesus and the Holy Spirit to keep working through your heart.  May each of us find the abundant new life in Christ!!!!

jesus1

Mending the World

 

Exploring the Word:

 

Sermon – August 3rd 2014

 

8th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

 

By Roland Legge

 

Matthew 14:13-21

 

 

 

What an amazing story.  Can you imagine being asked to feed about 10,000 people?  Remember while the story says 5000 men, it also says there were women and children.  So I would estimate there would have been a minimum of 10,000 people. Now that is a lot of people to feed with five loaves and two fish!

 

Can you imagine being one of the disciples asked to do this? I think I would tell Jesus that he is not being practical.  So I would have gone along with the rest of the disciples asking the people to go into town to find their own food.  Now that makes sense to me.  What would you have done?

 

It doesn’t matter to me if this story was based on fact or whether it is a metaphor.  The important point for me is that Jesus calls upon each of us to help bring in the Kingdom of Heaven.  To change lives for the better. Sometimes it feels like I am being asked to do the impossible, kind of like trying to feed 10,000 people with five loaves and two fish.  I say to Jesus you are not being reasonable.  How can you expect me to make a difference in the world?  Jesus says, that not unlike the story of the loaves and fishes, our faithful living is multiplied beyond anything we can imagine when we do the work of Christ.  So while are our acts of justice, love and compassion may seem small and insignificant they do impact our world making it a better place.

 

 

 

If you think about it for a minute there are probably things you do in your life because Jesus has called you do so.  I can think of things I do because I feel called by the Spirit to faithfulness.  I am a minister when at one time of my life this seemed to be impossible because it was going to require me to do things I was not comfortable nor felt competent to do.  Today, I feel called to learn and share the Enneagram, a very powerful spiritual tool, even though it requires me to go to school in my middle years of life.  Something I had some fear of doing. This was a fear of failure. There are also people I feel compelled to connect with, even when if left to my own devices I wouldn’t bother to do because of my own prejudices.  How has your faith influenced your choices in life?

 

I love this story by William H. Willimon who shares a story of him meeting a person in a place that he didn’t expect to meet him…

 

So I walked into a church in the inner-city. This church serves breakfast every morning of the week to people who are homeless. There they are, serving breakfast to around 150 of the homeless every day. Other churches pitch in to help them with this task. Still I’m surprised, when I walk in one morning and glance in the kitchen and see a man whom I had met elsewhere. I recognized him as a member of one of our city’s most affluent congregations. I spoke to him and he, looking up from the dishwater, spoke to me. I thought it was rather remarkable having a man like him, from a church like his, there, washing the dirty dishes of homeless people.
     So I attempted to engage him in conversation. “I think it is great that you are here,” I said.
     “I am glad that you think it is great,” he mumbled as he continued in his work.
     “I am curious, have you always enjoyed ministry to the homeless?” I asked.
     “Who said that I enjoyed this?” he replied. “Frankly, I mostly can’t stand the homeless people that I’ve met here.”
     “Really?” I said.
     “Have you sat down and talked with our guests here? A lot of them are homeless for a reason. A lot of them are half crazy,” he continued.
     “Well I guess that makes it all the more remarkable that you are here, washing dishes for the homeless,” I said. “Why are you here?”
     He looked up from his work at the sink, and said to me, with a tone of exasperation in his voice, “Because Jesus put me here. That’s why.” Then he continued in his work.
     It’s a heck of a way to get the job done, but it’s uniquely Jesus’ way.

 

Isn’t it amazing what Jesus can get us to do!  That Jesus can be so irritating!!

 

 

 

Jesus calls us over and over to change lives. To change our own lives.  To inspire those around us to change their lives.  To become more and more like who Jesus calls us to be.  This is not easy work.

 

 

 

How are we changing lives through the ministry of Foam Lake United Church?  In the weeks and months ahead Jesus is calling us as a congregation to focus on this.  Isn’t transforming lives what we are really about?   Too often congregations focus too much on keeping our organization and building going.  We forget who we really are called to be.  I invite each of you to pray and listen for what Jesus is calling us to be about.  One thing some people will need to change is our expectation that people will come to us.  We too are called like Jesus to go out of our building into the community to share the Good News in words and action that God has given us everything to live well.

 

 

 

In our culture we focus a lot on whether something we do is successful. I think we need to remember that Jesus was not focussed on success, but on faithfulness.  As your minister there are a lot of things I do and I have no idea if it makes any difference.  Also what the world considers signs of success such as money and power over, are not Jesus’ concerns.  Jesus wants to know if we have been faithful.  The Spirit calls on each of us to trust that the Spirit will take what we have offered and use it for the glory of God.  We may not see the change because it was too subtle. We may not see the difference because it will be years before it is noticeable and probably happen after we have died. We need to have faith that God will multiply our love, sowing seeds of change around our world.

 

 

 

Christianity has moved in a full circle.  We are coming back to our original purpose.  Along the way we got sidetracked when we became part of the ruling/civic structure that put the emphasis on holding on to the status quo. Now more and more Christians and congregations are returning to the ancient way that says we are here as the faithful whether individually or as congregations to mend the world.  This is never an easy change to make, but the rewards are amazing when dwindling congregations find new life in birthing love, peace and justice to all they meet and seek out. 

Feeding the 5000