Sermon 24 May 2020

Sermon 894 FRED on the New Normal John 4: 1-10
I my name is Fred. Some of you already know that. I want to tell you that I am not related to your minister. We were born at the same time and place and to the same mother but we are really are no relation at all.
I have come today to preach – to give your regular guy some time off. I hear he works really hard. I don’t come by that often and when I look around, I see that many of you don’t either. The size of the congregation today is pretty much the same as it was the last time you heard I was coming.
They tell me, that you are now using contactless worship . We used to do the same thing when I was a kid. We just called it prayer – and I can tell you, if you were praying off by yourself and you felt a contact – you got plenty scared.
Anyway I suggested I show up as I had a weird experience. Someone asked for my advice. I know they often ask the preacher here and he told me to tell you he was pretty good about giving advice, but asking me for advice is as useless as a one-legged dog trying to bury a bone in an ice rink. It just doesn’t happen.
The question they had was about this here disease we are going through. It’s pretty upsetting for some. I know one fella and he is so unhappy about it he calls it the Pan-damn-it!
The good thing about it is that everyone has to stay far enough apart that you can’t tell if you have had your yearly bath.
They asked me if I had any idea about what the new normal would be like. Well golly I don’t think they were asking the right person. I don’t know what the old normal was like. Look at me.
It’s different for everybody. What I consider normal might be illegal somewhere else – probably is. Especially when it comes to marriage – just joking! But it depends where you come from. Depends what age you are too. I bet for some of you it used to be normal to be able to put on your own socks.
I had a friend – his name was Bob. He was only about 18. He was real good at running this fancy machine with all kinds of handles and levers and such. One night he was about to go on a date with a girl and his boss said he had to stay and teach a new woman how to run the machine. Bob wasn’t happy cause like I said he was about 18 and going on a date is pretty important at that age. To make matters worse the new woman had just come to Canada and didn’t speak even one word of English. So Bob decided to do things a little differently. When the boss came in on Monday morning the new woman was very pleased to show him how well she had learned the names of all the levers. She had no idea why the boss was upset when she called each one of the levers by a new swear word. The boss called Bob in and said “Bob, what you did is not good. It’s not normal. You are going to have to undo it.” Bob said, “Why should I? She thinks that is what they are called. For her – that is normal.
Normal is relative – and none of my relatives are normal.
This here disease is sure making us look at what normal was. It’s kinda setting fire to the whole world. You know a horse often lives in a barn. For that horse the barn is normal. But a strange thing. Horses are pretty smart but when a barn catches fire some of them go back in cause they think they are safe in the old normal that is burning up. They die cause they are trying to get back to what was. A city fella asked me why their young horse would go into a burning barn. I said because the fire is warm and the horse was Colt – sorry, I thought it was funny.
When those people asked me what the new normal would be like I had to tell them we needed to think about it. Our thoughts right now on this is kinda like pickin parsnips in the fall – they just haven’t had time to develop fully.
So I thought I would do a little research and help those people pick a new normal.
I had a hard time trying to figure out who to ask.
First group I asked was the pharmaceutical organizations cause they seem to be on the front edge of what is happening. They said they were going to get this world back to the old normal by giving everyone vaccinations. That had me a little worried. I had a personal difficulty with them vaccinations. When I was young we lived in an old log cabin. My daddy got hurt falling off the roof. Doctor said he was sick and gave him a vaccination to take away the shingles. From that day on the roof leaked. I thought if the pharmaceutical company can’t keep the roof on my house they sure can’t fix the world. They don’t have a key to the future
Next I went to the banks. You know it was the first time I walked into a bank with a face mask on and they didn’t call the police. You notice I didn’t say it was the first time I walked into a bank with a facemask on – just this is the first time they didn’t call the police. I spoke to the bank manager. He said this whole pandemic was good. People were finally were moving to a cashless society. I told him some of us have been cashless for years. He didn’t get it.
He said this is making everyone use etransfer and online banking. Means you have to use your debit card for more than picking locks. If you want to get money you have to use the machine. It is going to be a while for me cause I just got used to sending pictures of cash through the fax machine. The reason I use pictures is cause the new money is plastic and it melts on those hot fax rollers.
There is another problem with going cashless. Let’s just put it this way, if one of your relatives was operating an illegal – shall we say still – the government can follow all your transaction. Nuff said.
I don’t think the banks have the answer to the future
Next I looked at the real estate folks, to see if they had any suggestions about the future. The woman said that due to social distancing they were going to have to build bigger houses so families could keep apart. Houses have been getting bigger for a long time. And as far as families keeping apart – well I just have to show up and they all leave.
Finally I looked at the retail group. They want things to return to the way it was.
There is going to be some awful big sales when things open up.
Kind of reminded me of the horse going back into the burning barn.
Suddenly I thought about the burning barn.
What do you need when there’s a fire? More than marshmallows…
You need water.
I happened to be flipping through the bible and I read that part about Jesus getting water from a foreign woman. He did a lot of new things. He changed a lot of what was normal. He didn’t talk about pandemics and dying, he talked about living and living water; water that could put out a world that is burning up with greed and hatred. Living water that brings life and love.
Sometimes you need the bad to find the good
Had a friend whose house was in a tornado and a big part of a corner was destroyed. I went to see her – which wasn’t difficult cause the walls were gone. When I saw her I sympathized. She said “every bad has some good – now I get the kitchen I always wanted.
The world seems to be burning up faster than a bad rumour spreads
But maybe if we pour some living water on that fire, something beautiful will grow out of the ashes
See what happens when you ask for my advice – you get it.
Prayer
God we live in a world that is not controlled. A world in which you gave us freedom to choose wisely or not
Sometimes we excel at improving the lot of everyone’s life, Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we do a wonderful job of sorting out our own problems and sometimes – not so much.
We know you never abandon us. We know you never stop loving us. We know you never stop hoping for us
Open our hearts and minds to hear and use the answers you have for us, Open our eyes to see Christ in everyone and everything.
We pray now for people who are close to us, We pray for others who especially need pray at this time.
Now we pray in the way Jesus taught us.
We repeat together the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever Amen

Sermon for 03 May 2020

Sermon: Should Jesus have been a Goat-herd? Matthew 25: 31-36 Text and youtube

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=churchillgilford+united

Many people will be familiar with the story of the kid in math class. Teacher asks “ If there are 20 sheep in a field and one gets out through the fence, how many are left? Boy answers “none”. Teacher says, “You don’t know your math”. The boy says, ”You don’t know your sheep”.
If we ask the same question about goats the answer would be – Well – it depends on how they feel. There might be 19 left or 0 or 6. Goats are much more independent than sheep.

I have raised both sheep and goats. They are very different animals. Sheep are followers and will mostly stay in a group. Goats on the other hand make their own decisions. I always thought they were similar to a dog in intelligence. I had goats who could climb ladders, open gates and turn on taps. If you have had goats you have looked out your window and seen them sleeping on your vehicle. They love to be up high. Some who have never had goats are saying “Well don’t let them on the vehicle” Those who have had goats are just laughing.
I have always had a concern about the emphasis on sheep in the bible. Jesus is often portrayed as a shepherd. He is portrayed as the “Lamb of God”

The lectionary, which is an international three year rotation of suggested scripture reading, is used by a majority of the churches. It suggests for this Sunday the passage which describes Jesus as a shepherd. I don’t always follow the lectionary (no surprise) so I chose a related one about the separation of sheep and goats.
The idea of Jesus as a shepherd raises some questions for me. The idea of the goats getting tossed out raises some concerns

First, Jesus was not a shepherd. He was a carpenter as far as we know. We see lots of pictures and sculptures of him carrying a lamb but I cannot recall an image of him carrying a saw. Why?

Part of the construct comes from the idea of the sacrificial lamb which was part of the Jewish religion. The Passover is the celebration of the Israelites escape from Egypt. They were to put the blood of an animal on their doorposts and the angel of death “Passed over” their homes. The Passover lamb, is the sacrifice that the Torah mandates them to ritually slaughter on the evening of Passover, and eat on the first night of the holiday with bitter herbs and matzo as a remembrance. Interestingly the Torah states that it also could be a goat.

Part of the idea also comes from passages such as the Psalm 23. “The Lord is my Shepherd”. It is a beautiful passage that has brought comfort to many over the years. The thought of Jesus as a compassionate shepherd is very powerful. There are about 30 passages in the Old Testament that refer to God as Shepherd and about 10 in the New Testament that extend that metaphor to Jesus.

As beautiful as it is, in reality Jesus rarely would have come in close contact with a sheep. Sheep were housed outside town. He worked in town. Shepherds were of a lower class while carpenters were probably like jewellers in today’s world. Wood was more difficult to come by and so it was more of an artisan or specialty practice. Houses were primarily built of stone.

The passage from the lectionary talks about Jesus being a gate to hold the sheep in. Is this good of bad?

On one hand it is wonderful. There is a concept of protection involved. There is comfort in being with others who are similar. There is reassurance in being protected from the outside world and guarded by someone you trust.

However every room has walls. Walls keep others out but also keep you in. Right now we are protected from the virus by staying apart, but at the same time we are losing some of our liberties. Should we be concerned?
Was the image of Jesus’ followers as sheep done on purpose?
Was the image of goats as bad, done on purpose?

The passage of scripture I chose, talks about how good and kind sheep are and they can spend eternal life in paradise, while the goats are bad and must be cast away. Yet if someone says “they followed like Sheep” it is not considered a compliment.

The church and the government of any country have always known it is easier to control people who are placid and contained than people who will question. A few years ago a bumper sticker came out that said “Question authority”. It was seen as a radical statement.

During the history of the church there has been a desire to have people follow without question. The bible was not easily available for 1600 years. The large bibles in pulpits were chained down and people were not allowed to look at them. Even recently people have told me that their priest, minister or pastor explained that they should believe without question.

I wonder if our history and our personal view would be different if the church had chosen to call Jesus a Goat-herd?

Names are important. At a funeral or wedding I always make sure that I have the right name. It makes a difference- trust me. Many times, a person’s legal name is not even similar to the name they go by. I knew a man who changed his name slightly with each new girlfriend. He did it so he could keep track. If one of them wrote him a note and didn’t sign it – he knew who it was from.

Names have meanings. In the Chinese culture relatives have different names depending on where they are in the family tree. So the older uncle would have a different title than a younger uncle. It is a sign of respect but it is also a sign of clarification. It might also be easier than our system where we say “Well that’s your mother’s second oldest uncle on her father’s side, who was actually his sister’s son from a previous marriage”.

So if we change the title of Jesus from Shepherd to Goat-herd. What effect does that have?

In every society there is an undercurrent of submission. People are to fit in. It makes it easier and there is tremendous pressure from many sources. Fashion is a powerful force to make everyone abide by certain rules. We were never to wear white after Labour Day. Every family was to have a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and everyone was to have a legitimate job. The people who didn’t fit in, the artists, the rebels and the outcasts were often people who questioned and were questioned. Those were people who thought in different ways. They are people in today’s world who have a difficult time “fitting in”. They are often people who have depression and anxiety because they don’t feel accepted. They don’t fit the status-quo.

Did the church make a mistake by emphasizing the sheep over the goats?

There is a video making the rounds right now by TomFoolery called the Great Realisation, where a man reads in poetry form to his child about the great change that came to the world after the Coronavirus because we were forced to reassess our values and needs.

After this Virus there will tremendous pressure to return to the “normal”. There will be pressure to buy and spend. There will be pressure to continue the rat-race and there will be pressure for us to follow like sheep.

But maybe it is time to question; – to ask, if the sheepfold we are in is the right one.
This is not a sermon to discredit the sheep or the sheep fold. We need comfort and security right now. But maybe we need to look and see where the goats are. How many are left in the field?

I believe that God cares for the sheep and made Jesus a shepherd but I also believe that God cares for the goats and Jesus is a goat-herd.

Maybe following Jesus in the new world will be very different.

Prayer
God we come to you. As people who are often consumed by fear. We are overcome by obstacles tht we think are walls.
We lose faith
We lose hope
We lose our vision of who you are.

As the sun finally breaks through the fog
As the face of a friend finally breaks through the crowd
We ask for your care and compassion
But God we also ask for your challenge and encouragement
Provoke us to venture out
Out of our secure fold and help us to make a difference in the world
Help us to challenge the hatred and evil
With love and kindness
Help us to uplift the human race
We know you walk with us in our fear and in venture
We pray for those close to us

We repeat together the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever
Amen

Sermon for 17 May 2020

Sermon Don’t Repay Evil With Evil
When I was younger I did a lot of hitchhiking. That was back when I had long hair. On one particular day I was standing by the side of the road with my thumb out. I noticed a car coming toward me. The odd thing that caught my attention was that several people were yelling and had their arms out the window. At the last minute I realised those arms had hands that were full of large stones. They began throwing them at me. Fortunately I was able to duck behind a tree. The rocks landed hard. Between the speed of the throw and the speed of the vehicle, they were moving fast.
That car passed, and right behind was another vehicle. It was an older truck and as it went by I saw the driver hold up one finger (not what you’re thinking) in a gesture of “wait a minute”. He drove quickly out of sight and I felt like he was in pursuit of the first car.
A few minutes later he returned and offered me a ride. As we drove down the road I saw the rock-throwing car, off the road, axle deep in mud and up against the tree, smashed. My driver said “Bet they won’t throw rocks again”. They were yelling at him and this time he held up a different finger to wave back.
I realised what had happened. He had forced the car off the road in retaliation.
My first response was satisfaction. Lines about Karma came to mind and I thought they got what they deserved.
On second thought, what just happened? As much as I appreciated what he did, was he not just the bigger bully. He had an older truck and more skill but really what would happen in the future? They seemed to know him. They would likely retaliate. It is a vicious circle.
The scripture today is “Don’t repay evil with evil”
We know that is the right response. But it may not be our first one.
There is a certain satisfaction when an evil doer gets their “just desserts”
We may not instigate it but if “karma” does, that’s ok. There are times when people doubt their faith because God didn’t respond the way we would have. How often have I heard people complain that innocent people get cancer while criminals remain healthy. Can you imagine a movie where the guilty people got away with something and then the movie ends before the bad guy gets killed?
Revenge is a basic instinct that we justify by calling it “Justice”. OR sometimes we call it punishment.
Our legal system is based on punishment, not correction.
There are viable alternatives to our system but public pressure is opposed. Rehabilitation, community service and justice circles, are viewed poorly.
It is embedded in us that people need to be punished.
It is true that some need to be kept separate from the population but
So often I hear people advocate that if you are faced with a bully the best thing to do is out-violence him or her.
Right now there is an underlying current of revenge against China. I hear people say, “they took our jobs and sent us a virus, we should get even.”
1) The first problem with repaying evil with evil is that there is always going to be a bigger evil. It escalates. That is how we end up with gangs and feuds
People take sides and violence breaks out.
2)The next problem is that it divides people. When people take sides then they can’t or won’t talk to the people on the other side. More and more we see this in our world. People are divided along political, religious, conspiracy ideals and then they are labelled and unreachable.
3)Another problem with using evil is it uses up resources. The most obvious example is the billions of dollars spent on war, but here are many much smaller losses. When there is a divide in a family they won’t share possessions so more possessions need to be purchased. Divorces are notorious for costing a lot as two people wo are not getting along are expected to not share anything. There has been a lot of money and resources wasted on anger.
4) Finally it destroys life. Not just in the war aspect of bombs and bullets but also in the way that anger limits possibilities. It can destroy the hopes and dreams and motivation of others. An unkind word, spoken even in retaliation, can destroy. Going back to the bully situation; often a bully acts the way they do because they just want some human interaction and that is the only way they know how to socialize. It is hard not to repay evil, but it is the solution to living together as a human race.
When Peter says this statement he was not in a easy world, He was in a world where violence was commonplace. He lived in a society where crucifixion was an everyday matter. 11 of the 12 disciples died a violent death. They were persecuted and killed. He knew what it was like to be the recipient of violence and yet he makes this statement.
Jesus states the same sentiment when he says “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but I say – do not resist someone who does evil”; (otherwise we would have a toothless and blind populace) He says “turn the other cheek” “if someone takes your cloak give them your coat also”. Many times Jesus says do not repay evil.
Basically, someone has to stop. I always find it interesting when someone says “ I’ll stop being mean when they stop” or we will stop the war after they lay down their weapons” In other words, they are the better person or country. They are the people who are correcting the situation.
We are the ones called to stop the spiral.
We are the ones to be the peacekeepers.
So the question is, How do you not repay evil for evil?
I have 2 suggestions:
1)The first is to walk away. This takes more courage than you think because you don’t get to defend the lies that are being told about you. You don’t get the last word, but it does prevent escalation. When Jesus was dragged from town and was about to be stoned to death, he simply walked away.
It is not always the answer as sometimes the situation needs to be addressed.
2)That is when you seek a positive response. Is there some way you can alleviate the situation? Is there some way you can breach the barriers that have been erected? Jesus suggests that when a soldier forces you to walk a mile, (which by law they could) offer to walk two. Change the dynamics Try and bring a different perspective. Try to see those involved as human.
It is not an easy task but if we set out with the idea that we will not repay evil for evil we will find better ways.
There are many stories of how someone in the face of unkindness, intentional hurt, or pain repaid with love and compassion and changed the negative situation to positive. Hopefully we will all be able to add our story to that list.
There is enough hurt in the world. Lets be the change
Prayer
God, Make us channels of your peace. Help us to see the human side in each person. Help us to know everyone is a child of yours. Help us to break through the barriers that keep us apart. Where possible help us to heal the divisions and if not possible help us to forgive ourselves and the others. Keep us from inhibiting life. Whether that is physical or emotional or spiritual, help us to be the light that brighten the darkness. Help us to overcome evil with your love.
We pray now for people who are close to us, We pray for others who especially need pray at this time.
Now we pray in the way Jesus taught us.
We repeat together the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever
Amen
SERVICE May 17
Opening Prayer
Hymn – 574 Come let us Sing
Scripture 1 Peter 3: 8-14
Reflection
Prayer
Lord’s Prayer
Hymn 371 Open my Eyes
Benediction
Go now in Peace
Go now in peace, Never be afraid
God will go with you, each hour of every day
Go now in faith, steadfast strong and true
Know God will guide you in all you do,
Go now in love and show you believe
Reach out to others so all the world can see
God will be there, watching from above
Go now in peace, in faith and in love
Amen, Amen, Amen

Sermon for 10 May 2020

Sermon A Passage through Difficulties and on to Greater
This sermon can be found on YouTube at
Have you ever noticed that when you hurt your finger, that that is the same finger you hit again on something else – several times. Ever notice that when you bite your tongue, you don’t just bite it once. Sometimes bad things seem to pile up. For many people there is a feeling of gloom, desperation and even frustration over them right now. Covid 19 has added a heavy layer to everyday life. It seems to make things worse. Weddings and funerals are limited. Shopping is more difficult. Seeing loved ones especially on a day like today – Mother’s Day is impossible. Life seems tough.
We all recognize that when you are having a bad day and someone tries to give you advice, it is not always well received.
The usual response is: What do you know about trouble?
But it is when you are having trouble that advice – good advice, is needed.
The scripture today is about getting through difficult times.
Jesus did know about trouble and loneliness and fear. He lived in a occupied land with strict governmental and religious controls. He got crucified.
To put it into context, this passage from John takes place the night before Jesus is crucified. The disciples are gathered in an Upper Room which traditionally was a room on the second floor of a house that was designated as a place of spiritual care. There has been lots of speculation about whose house this was but we don’t know for sure. If you visit Israel today you will find a church on the apparent spot. Regardless it was a place where Jesus took his disciples to share his last hours.
It was also a place of sanctuary because the disciples were associating with a rebel leader and so they too feared for their lives. The next day when Peter denies Jesus, he does so because he is terrified that he will get killed. They were basically quarantined in that room – and they didn’t even have cell phones or Netflix.
One of the first things Jesus did was to wash their feet. It was an act to clarify that they were all together. That no one was better or worse than the other. It was a symbol to counter the priestly idea of religious hierarchy and to empower the disciples to make their own decisions in the future.
He then shared a meal with them; A meal which has become very symbolic. During that meal one of them makes it clear that he is going to betray Jesus. Jesus reaction is to say “Go and do what you need to do”. There was no anger or hatred.
Then he turns and addresses the rest of the disciples with a passage that has become a favourite at funerals. He recognizes their fear of death. He tries to bring comfort. This is one of the very few places where he talks about the after-life. He says “Don’t worry. In my father’s house there are many rooms”. He uses the term “Abba” or father to indicate that it will be like going to a good home. He could have said “parent” but he lived in a different time. His point was that it was a secure place and with many rooms they were all welcome.
Then Thomas – a doubter – like many of us, asks how we will know the way. Jesus basically says “through me”. He says “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but by me”.
Unfortunately, this line has been used as an exclusive instead of inclusive term. A statement that should have brought comfort to people has been used to strike fear into generations of worshippers. I don’t believe that is the way it was meant.
To explain it in a different way I would use the analogy of a road. After this pandemic is over we are going to be invited to people’s cottages (hint hint). Some people live down a laneway or road where there is only one access. They will say “In order to get to our cottage you have to take this road only.” That may be true but it doesn’t matter what vehicle you drive. Some drive trucks, some drive cars. Of course some ride motorcycles and I better include horses. In other words, there are many different ways to travel on the same road and you reach the same destination.
Jesus may be the way to communion with God but it isn’t limited to a certain culture or religion. His road can be found in many places.
Having said that – you need to make sure the vehicle you are using is roadworthy.
I am reading a book presently called “A Course in Miracles. It is a book written by a woman who had a vision and claims to have some further insights into Jesus words. Maybe it is good maybe it isn’t. I am not sure yet. There will always be someone trying to sell you on a religion or dogma that doesn’t add up. If it seems like a cult, it likely is and won’t steer you in the right direction.
Another analogy is the new math. If you are homeschooling your kids, you have found the new math very different and I am sure you have said” There is a different way to get to the same answer”
So what was the answer that Jesus gave?
Right after this discussion about pathways with Thomas, Philip asks about God. Jesus response is – “if you have seen me, you have seen God”. Philip is still not convinced and Jesus says” If you don’t believe me – look at the works that I do. That is God at work in me.”
In other words – the indication of God in your life is doing good. God is the ultimate embodiment of goodness. When you are doing good, you are in sync with God. You are in sync with the universe. God is in you.
Then Jesus says something that again has been misunderstood. He says, “if you believe, you can do greater works than me”. Think about what Jesus did. He healed the lame, brought sight to the blind, raised the dead, etc. Unfortunately we have, over the years put a timeline on that. We think that means we have to be able to do these feats right now, by ourselves Many have lost faith because they couldn’t do what Jesus did.
Possibly Jesus wasn’t talking about individuals only. Possibly he was talking about the whole human race. When we, as a collective group put our minds together we can do those things. Think about the accomplishments we have had. We have given sight to the blind, enabled the lame to walk and even raised some of the dead.
Right now we are binge watching Grey’s Anatomy. I know it’s a medical soap opera show but it’s based on medical reality and it’s amazing what can be done.
We have a long way to go but when we put our minds together for good, or we might say for God, we can accomplish amazing things.
This comes back to the situation that Jesus was in. He was in a room where fear and uncertainty reigned. He was the man who should have been the most worried. How many of us, if we knew we were going to be tortured and killed the next day would spend time helping others?
What did he do? He did acts of kindness and love. He washed their feet, he fed them, he forgave, he had compassion, he taught that in the midst of distress the best thing and the most godly thing to do is to help others.
This applies both to our personal life and our world
The road to overcoming fear and distress is to do something for others
Prayer
Thank you God for the vast array of information that we have access to; Information about how to heal and how to help.
Information about how to treat each other.
Information about how to make life longer and better.
Thank you that we have a choice each day on what direction we should go.
Help us to rise above the obstacles that we meet.
Guide us that we might always use the information in ways that help.
Guide us in ways that our own lives would have meaning.
We look to you. We look to the words and wisdom of Jesus as we try to follow his example.
We pray now for people who are close to us, for mothers and mother figures in our lives. We pray for others who especially need pray at this time.
Now we pray in the way Jesus taught us.
We repeat together the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever
Amen
SERVICE May 10
Opening Prayer
Hymn – 213 – Rejoice the Lord is King
Scripture John 14: 1-10
Reflection
Prayer
Lord’s Prayer
Hymn Deep in our Hearts 154 More Voices
Benediction
Go now in Peace
Go now in peace, Never be afraid
God will go with you, each hour of every day
Go now in faith, steadfast strong and true
Know God will guide you in all you do,
Go now in love and show you believe
Reach out to others so all the world can see
God will be there, watching from above
Go now in peace, in faith and in love
Amen, Amen, Amen

Sermon for April 26 2020

Sermon for April 26
Sermon Luke 24: 13-22
A Friend once gave me sticker that says “If you want to see God – keep texting while you drive”. According to the scripture reading today, apparently if you want to see Jesus, keep walking and talking.
That scripture, is about two people who were walking down the road to Emmaus, a little village about 7 miles from Jerusalem, when a stranger joined them. That wouldn’t happen in this world today because of social distancing, we would have to stay 4 cubits apart.
The first question for me is; Who are the Two people? It seems unlikely that they are part of the disciples, as the scripture says that later they went to see the eleven. (Judas had already ended his life when Jesus was crucified). It does seem logical that these two going down the road may have been a local couple, possibly husband and wife, as they invited the stranger in for a meal.
One account in John 19:25 says Cleopas (the only person named in the encounter) is the husband of a woman named Mary who was at the cross. One the other hand they don’t seem to know who this stranger is. It does say their eyes were dimmed so maybe the woman was crying and Cleopas simply doesn’t know because possibly he and his wife don’t communicate well. That is something that used to happen in the old days. Wives and husbands didn’t always communicate well but that is changed now as in the last 8 weeks people are spending a lot more time together talking.
These two do seem to know the local news as they are astonished that the stranger has not heard of the crucifixion. They call it ”The biggest event in recent days”.
The stranger on his part is surprised that these people don’t understand what is happening in the larger picture, so he relates the events of the bible leading up to this weekend. They don’t seem to be active “Church goers” because they don’t know the story “beginning with Moses” very well.
So these two people who Jesus encounters are a local couple who have some awareness of Christ but are not “religious”. To use a modern terminology they are SBNR; Spiritual but not religious.
They invite the stranger in. I assume it was partly out of hospitality; partly out of curiosity and partly because there is some kind of a connection to him. Later they say “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was present”
Finally when they share bread, he uses an expression from the Last Supper at which point they understand who he is. Then he disappears from their sight.
To me this whole story is about breaking down barriers. Jesus approaches two people. The people welcome the stranger. Jesus helps them with their questions. They invited him in and feed him and after he leaves they search for others of like mind.
Last week I said our world is often divided by differences based on fear and misunderstanding. One area when this is common is between people who are “outside the church” and those “inside the church”. Both sides are sometimes leery of the other. Both sometimes feel they have the inside track on spirituality. The others are either too pagan, or too ritualistic or too religious or institutionalized.
But both groups have much in common.
I find it interesting and humorous when people say that Mahatma Ghandi was one of the greatest Christians of the last century. He was the non-violent liberator of India. He had great wisdom and often great quotes. He did have a huge regard for Jesus and often cited him. However he was a Hindu. It shows how similar our sources of wisdom are.
Some of Jesus famous sayings and lessons actually come from other cultures.
The other day someone sent me a video of Albert Einstein and letters he wrote to his daughter. In it he claims that as brilliant as science is, it cannot control or have near the power of love. He writes “God is love and love is God”. We may not think that Einstein is a source of spirituality, but everyone is.
We are all struggling with the same questions of life. We are all asking about meaning and the best way to live a full life. There are many different approaches to spirituality. We can learn from each other.
The story we read is full of movement. Nine verbs describe action. Jesus went outside the “church” and “outsiders” came in.
Crisis brings us together. Covid 19, the shooting in Nova Scotia, the crucifixion and many other critical moments unify us. They make us search.
The Journey of life means we are going to meet many different people. We need to welcome each other whether it is in the church or outside. The wisdom of Christ can be found everywhere.
We are called to share our spirituality with others. We are called to have others share their spirituality with us. We are called to walk down this road together.
Prayer
God, in a world in turmoil we listen for your voice
Small acts of mercy give us hope
A kindness done, shows us your word found a home
A stranger helped, lets us know of our unity
A coveted fortune redirected – let us feel your idea of sharing
Relationships mended teach us of your forgiveness
When there is pain – we search
Knowing you are there suffering with us
When there is confusion – we know you didn’t cause it but you are there to lead us out-
Where there is death or tragedy we come to you for comfort
Help us to seek love
We pray for those in distress, in Nova Scotia or anywhere in the world .
We pray in silence for those close to our hearts……….
We repeat together the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever
Amen

Sermon 889 19 April 2020

Sermon 889 John 20: 24-29 Printed Version
I have lived in many places and officiated at many funerals but some are more memorable for certain reasons, good and bad, and this one will stay with me for a long time.
I was the minister in a small town. A man who we can call “Jerry” passed away suddenly. I did his funeral. He was a farmer who had lived in the community for a number of years and so he was quite well known. The funeral was large. Most of the town witnessed the burial of “Jerry”. The obituary was posted in the local paper and unknown to us it also was mailed to another country. Jerry had an identical twin bro that no one knew about. The twin read the obituary and decided to come and pay his respects. He didn’t make it on time for the funeral but was there a few days later. As “Jerry” had worked on the farm, his wife now needed some help. The brother decided to help out but didn’t have any farm clothes so he borrowed Jerrys’. It made quite a stir when the identical twin showed up at the Co-op dressed in “Jerrys” clothes. Apparently people screamed.
Obviously this is not the same as a resurrection but it does give us a glimpse into the surprise aspect.
In the scripture today Jesus appears in a room with locked doors, twice. To me that is a far greater miracle than walking on water. Possibly even bigger than making 2500 liters of wine out of holy water, but no one seems to remember this miracle. Thomas and the story of doubt seem to overshadow it. For Thomas to doubt, Jesus must have looked very different.
The room they were in was possibly the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Last Supper or a room that had special meaning as Thomas and others knew to meet there. Jesus entered a familiar space but in a most unfamiliar way. Mary seemed to be comfortable with this but Thomas needed more proof.
I think this is an example of what is happening in our churches these days. For a long time the churches have been quite traditional.
For example, the picture of Jesus, through history hasn’t changed much. In 235 there is the oldest known drawing of what Jesus may have looked like. He looks pretty much the same as our present image, but without the beard. It took him until the 4thC to grow a beard, but then some are slower.
One of the most popular pictures of Jesus, is the Last Supper and apart from the question of why he is practicing social distancing between himself and the person to his right, he looks familiar.
In 1940 and artist named Sallaman painted the picture that is in almost every church in North America. The head of Christ was reproduced over 500 million times. Nothing much changed for a long time.
Then the 60’s happened and things changed. Rock and roll became the new music. It was very different from anything in the past. There were many experts telling us how bad it was for our health and welfare. Hippies existed with all the fabricated and true stories about their activities. Men had long hair. Woodstock was certainly a different style of concert.
However one of the real changes was the attitude of questioning authority. Never before had the anti-war movement been so strong, indicating that people were not willing to just accept the statements from the Government – or the church. Everything was up for examination.
The traditions of past were being challenged. The same was true inside the churches. Some will remember the upset when “The Laughing Jesus” picture appeared. It became a very well-known and controversial picture. Interestingly it was drawn by a man Willis Wheatly in 1973 who worked for the United Church of Canada. It was sold to some monks and then moved on to the Evangelical Church in the United States who distributed it widely. Not only was there a laughing Jesus but there was also a Black Jesus, a Korean Jesus and many more.
Worship changed as well. There were Folk Masses, where guitars and drums led the service. Blue Jeans were accepted (women no longer had to wear gloves and hats.)There were many different styles of church and a new found freedom of expression. Theology itself grew new wings with the advent of Liberation Theology. No longer was the church limited to the Top Down style of medieval rule. Liberation Theology gave an alternative concept that Jesus was a poor person and the gospels should be viewed from that perspective.
Rules of the church opened up. While the United Church has been ordaining women since the 1930’s, other churches began welcoming female clergy. Gay ministers were now a part of the leadership and ecumenism (Different denominations working together) became the norm. The United and Anglican Church produced a joint hymnbook.
Posters like this appeared:
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While the church underwent significant changes it did still meet in the same building, but the image and idea of Jesus had changed
Some were very excited about new image. Mary welcomed the new Jesus. She didn’t ask much about whether he was real. She seemed to know. She accepted the new Jesus. Others were not so enthusiastic. They were more hesitant and like Thomas they needed more proof or reassurance that this was the same Lord. They needed something they recognized.
We are being forced now into new expressions of faith by this virus. Not having church in real time is challenging. For some it is freeing. For some it is a upsetting
Unfortunately some people have locked doors of their faith. Some traditionalists feel that the old way is the only way while some non-traditionalists believe we must worship in a new way.
The Church needs to, and does, welcome both. Neither is wrong.
There is great beauty from the past. Much of the art and music are powerful tributes to a strong faith. Often at overwhelming moments some of the old familiar tunes bring comfort.
The newer way has the enthusiasm and often unique ideas. The freedom to be adventurous may lead to the message being shared with people who have never heard it before.
The miracle is Jesus appeared through a locked door. Not just the locked door of the Upper Room but the locked door of human hearts. He can unlock the door of people, regardless of their personal preference
We live in a society which tries to build barriers of differences. We are told in many ways that if we are different or have dissimilar views, be that; cultural political, environmental, religious, lifestyle or any number of things we can never co-operate together. Jesus entered a locked room with two very different people proving that the biggest Miracle is – we can all come together with Christ.
Prayer
God of many descriptions
We pray for those who are steeped in religion
We pray for those who are spiritual but not religious
We pray for those who have no expression of faith at all.
We pray for those who need a new expression of faith
We pray for all who are expressing their faith in their
own languages and cultures and traditions
Wherever we are in our journey, we know you meet us
Wherever the world is, we know you walk with it
In the times of crisis – like now, we come to you for
strength and guidance.
Help us understand you in our own perception that we may all come together
We pray for those in our hearts…….
We repeat together the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever
Amen

Sermon Easter Sunday

Sermon for Easter – will the world stay changed?
Scripture Matthew 28: 1-10
I start with a story – as I often do. This one is about a minister from the Salvation Army who was shaking hands with the members after the service. He noticed a man who rarely came to the church and in order to highlight his lack of attendance said “ Brother, you need to be in the army of the Lord.” The man replied “I already am”. The minister responded, “Well I never see you in church”. The man explained “Well you see I am in the Secret Service”
Right now – we are all are in a Secret Service.
It’s a new world for all of us. Things are changing around us quickly. We watch the news each day to see the updates and the numbers. We look to see what stores and facilities are open or closed. Our priorities are different. Things that seemed important are now just fleeting thoughts. Things we took for granted are central to our lives. Did you ever think you would have a discussion about toilet paper with so many people? Life is different
We’re not in Kansas anymore
How many people will name their dog TOTO after this?
The question is: What will remain after this is over?
The same question was relevant around the resurrection of Jesus Suddenly Mary and the disciples were in new world. They had watched Jesus transform from a local friend to a leader. They had travelled with him and seen his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then been traumatized by his crucifixion. I am sure they thought everything was over.
Then came the resurrection. Everything they knew about Jesus, in fact everything they knew about life had been overturned. Death was not final.
How much of the new perspective would remain?
This pandemic has highlighted some inadequacies in our world. There are shortages in supplies and delivery systems. There are inequalities in whose job is really the most important. There are questions about what is truly important.
There is an on-line magazine called the Beaverton. It is a satiric look at life. Recently the article was entitled, “Has Doug Ford been infected with Socialism?” The point was a humourous look at how the hard and fast party lines have melted under this situation. Everyone is working together to bring relief to those most affected.
We have been entrenched in the status-quo for many years. The “bottom line” has been used as justification for consumerism and profit. Many decisions are made according to that line no matter how it impacts the people. Now in the midst of this Covid 19 we realize that some old world solutions do not work.
The same was true in Jesus time. There were many inadequacies in Jesus world; from the treatment of people; to the violence; to the social injustices; to the view of God. The status-quo was convinced if it killed Jesus then this movement would stop. They were not counting on a resurrection. The “Christian” movement continued. It continued because it was addressing the inadequacy in the world
I don’t believe that the pandemic was sent by God. In the Good Friday sermon I wrote that I did not believe the crucifixion was sent by God either, BUT – godly things can come out of it.
There are bad things like death, illness, loneliness, fear and anxiety that are were all present in the crucifixion. They are present in this pandemic as well.
But also Life came out of the resurrection. Not just the idea of “life after death” which can bring comfort but the knowledge of the freedom to live fully now. In this world.
Mary would be horrified if she was around today and saw crosses around people’s neck as jewellery or the many other ways the cross is used. In her day the cross was a horrible reminder of the pain and suffering of Jesus. Over time, that cross has grown to represent the hope of new life.
In the 1600’s during the Plague, people would place money in hollowed out stones full of vinegar. Farmers would come to town and trade the money for produce. The idea of the vinegar was to prevent the spread of the disease. Those stones now are a memorial to the horrible life that those people had to live and how they got through it.
Did the world stay changed after Jesus resurrection? Yes, Christianity is the biggest movement in world. It is the largest religion and virtually everyone has heard of it because it implemented the idea of love into society. People welcome genuine compassion and caring.
The world has changed due to this virus. The offers of help are constant. People are concerned about their neighbours. People are offering to shop for others. People are phoning strangers to ask if they are ok. There is genuine concern. Big companies are making amends and raising the wages of front line workers . Banks are trying to make payments easier. Communication companies are reducing costs Restaurants are giving away food to those risking their lives. There are many more situations of concern. People even wave back when I wave at them now.
Other changes are happening as well. People are finding out you can live more simply. We are able to work from home. Pollution is down. The list could go on.
Things should not return to normal
We will get through this.
Every resurrection recognizes that there was sadness and loss. It is only a resurrection because you are raised from something bad.
Every resurrection recognizes new life
We are discovering the resurrection of this pandemic
Goodness, kindness, sharing, caring, love
The same as Jesus resurrection.
The power of Love
May the power of resurrected life stay with us all.
Prayer
God, there are times when we live I the state of crucifixion. Times when we exist in the darkness of the grave. Covered by layers of death cloth. Times when we can’t see our way to any type of light.
At this time in our world there is much darkness and despair but there are also signs of hope. There are signs of resurrection.
As the disciples felt overwhelmed in their grief, so their joy was all the more joyous.
Help us to find the good, the positive, the joy
Help us to find the resurrection
In this world
In our lives
For others and with others
At this time we remember those who need special prayers……
God we give thanks for the resurrection of your Son
Help us to walk this day in the light of that victory. Amen
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever
Amen

Good Friday 10 April 2020

Good Friday April 10, 2020
Scripture: Mark 15: 33-40

This sermon may be disconcerting for some as it confronts some statements of faith that are entrenched in our society. (Disclaimer – lol) My intention is to bring hope.

Good Friday is a very important day for me. It demonstrates the power of real commitment of Jesus. It demonstrates the power of love.

We often hear the words that “Jesus died for our sins,” especially on Good Friday. It is found in hymns, poems and art. I do not believe that statement to be true. I believe that Jesus died because he loved us. He loved the human race.

Years ago I published an article in the United Church Observer with a title “Jesus didn’t die for our sins – he died because of them” The editor said she had never got so much hate mail about anything in her life. I will copy from that article (Which I found out recently that it is being used in theology colleges, but I am not sure how. LOL)

I cannot believe that Jesus was sent by his father (God) to be cruelly tortured and become a blood sacrifice, to pay back a debt that Adam and Eve owed to the same God. If anyone in our society killed their own child for any reason we would have difficulty with that person. There is an exception, which people sometimes quote. It is a story about a railroad worker who sees his son on the tracks with a train coming. He has a choice to divert the train off the track, kill the people and save his son or let the train run over his son and save the people. This story has been used to say that God killed his son to save the people. The problem with that is that the railroad worker didn’t send his son out to the tracks. If a parent set up any situation to have their child killed, we would charge them with murder. I have difficulty worshipping a god who would orchestrate the death of a child.

The theology that this idea comes from goes back to the Creation Stories. The two creation stories have major differences (like the order of creation) and incongruences, (like who created the wives for Adam and Eve’s sons?) but both end with a story where the first couple get tempted by a talking snake. Because they are weak and fall for the deception of a speaking reptile, they eat from the tree of knowledge (there is no mention of an apple) and God gets angry.

God then condemns the human race to pain and death. God then holds onto this grudge for thousands of years until Jesus comes along. Even though in the Old Testament God tells his people he no longer wants blood sacrifices (Psalm 51:16) and especially human sacrifice, ( God prevents Abraham from killing Isaac his son) Apparently with Jesus, God changes views and demands a human blood sacrifice.

It may seem that I am being harsh on this theology but I believe it has done tremendous damage to our understanding of God and the way we treat each other. It also does much damage to Jesus’ commitment if he is merely a pawn in a cosmic argument.

There are other difficulties with this theology. The first is that because Jesus “died for your sins” you must now accept him as your saviour or you will spend an eternity is some type of fiery torture chamber. (Dante basically came up with this idea). The problem is that billions of people don’t qualify. What about the people who lived before Jesus? What about the people who never had exposure to Christianity? What about people who are too young or don’t have the mental capacity to understand the concept? Are all these people condemned through no fault of their own? We are told that everyone is a child of God but it seems that some are outcast simply because of where, when or how they came into this world.
Some churches have come up with bandage solutions to this while others merely state that if you aren’t with us you are condemned. It leads to a lot of judgementalism and prejudice.

Another concern is the type of image that this portrays of God? Jesus says to us that we should forgive 70 times 7, which is another way of saying always. Apparently God cannot forgive. God’s bottom line is not forgiveness and love but rather violence and revenge. If you don’t agree with God then all hell breaks loose – literally. We have been raised with the statement “God is love” yet this theology denies it.

That has repercussions in our social dynamics. The bottom line in our world is violence. After all if God’s bottom line is violence then ours will be too. By saying that God needs a blood sacrifice to right the wrongs, we are stating that love and forgiveness are not the most powerful forces.
During this pandemic I have heard people state that this is God’s punishment, for many different “social sins”. Strangely it turns out that it is never punishment for something they agree with.

A few years ago when we had the tsunami, I heard from some that it was the punishment for those people who were not Christian. I asked about a cathedral in the 1800’s that had been demolished by a tsunami while the people were in Christian worship. The answer was that they were not the right kind of Christians. It’s very handy if you worship a god who is going to punish everyone you disagree with.

We don’t need God to punish us when we do bad things. We can do a fine job of that ourselves. When we abuse our bodies, they will break down. When we abuse the earth, it will be destroyed. If we lie and cheat in our relationships, they will end. That is not God punishing us but rather the repercussions of our actions.

I believe that Jesus laid down his life of his own accord. Matthew 26: 52-54 He says “Do you not know I could call and my father would send legions of angels to protect me.” As he approached that time he prayed “My Father, If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” As with any person facing a dire and fearful moment, he wanted a different solution. He realised that given the world in which he lived there was no other solution. He had reached the point of no return. If he backed down now, all he had preached and done would be lost. If you stand up for something you truly believe in, you know there is a point of no return.

So why did this theology develop? It developed because it was safe for the institutions of power. When you look at the life of Jesus, you realise he was a rebel. He fought against authority whenever he felt it was wrong. He challenged the church and the government. He challenged the wealthy and the status quo. He challenged power. That became a problem after the church became the most powerful force in the world. The only way to maintain “Christianity” and power was to move Jesus’ focus into the next life. In reality Jesus rarely speaks of life after death. His directives were all about helping people now; feeding, caring, sharing, forgiving, and loving.

If we believe God to be a judge who would kill his own son – for the sins of some couple, then it is very difficult to turn to that God on Good Friday or on any day when we have been struggling. How can we turn to a god who would inflict pain and death, whether it is this pandemic or some personal grief?

If we realize that Jesus died because he truly loved and wanted, the human race to live in freedom; if we realize that he died because he really believes that love is more powerful than anything else; not to pay back some cosmic debt, then we realize that the Spirit of God walks with us through all our good and bad. God was not satisfied by the death of his son, God was saddened.

I believe that the God of love is always with us and encourages us to live fully.
Prayer
God, on this day we recognize and remember the love that Jesus has for us. As we walk through difficult times, we recall his commitment to make our lives better, even at the cost of his own.
As we feel isolated, we feel his loneliness on the cross,
As we feel hurt, we become familiar with his pain,
As we feel useless, we understand his feeling of failure,
As we feel cheated of opportunities, we realize he was only 33.
As we cry out in anguish, we hear his fear of being forsaken.
Yet God, we know your Spirit walks with us. We know you share our pain. We know there is a resurrection. Christ rose and we will too.

Sermon on Pilgrimage for April 5

Sermon on Pilgrimage
Scripture: Matthew 21: 1-11
This is the last sermon in the Spiritual Practices series. This one is on Pilgrimage; taking a spiritual trip.
It is also Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem while people waved palm branches and shouted Hallelujah. They tie together nicely.
Recently someone reiterated the old adage “If you don’t get off your backside you can’t get on your feet” I was going to use the original language of that expression but it might get confusing as that is what Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
The idea of a pilgrimage is ancient. Almost all religions have it as part of their beliefs. It is a physical representation of a spiritual journey. In some faiths it is a requirement while others merely encourage it. The three religions that have Abraham as their founder: Islam, Judaism and Christianity all focus primarily on sites in the Holy Land as destinations. Other religions have places around the world where something special happened like the birth or death of an important person or maybe a place where there was some divine interaction . Some people find the journey moving. Some find it spiritual or even mystical. The destination itself is important but the travel and even the preparation are important contributing factors
The pilgrimage that Jesus made was not so much a journey to a holy site but rather a journey to a place of religious and political power. The expression “Bringing truth to Power” works well here. He knew he had to face reality. He knew that if he was going to further his message he would have to face the obstacle that was also the most fearful.
Sometimes our pilgrimages can be a physical journey to a holy site but other times, like Jesus, it may be a journey to a reckoning. There may be a hurdle that we have to face: an obstacle that is also the most fearful part of our life. As Martin Luther King Jr said: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.
When people take a traditional pilgrimage to a holy site they do so in order to clarify the issues that cloud their life’s condition, so too if we are taking an inner voyage.
The first step is the preparation and the first question is: Are you ready? So often we decide that we need to take that trip. Perhaps it is to start or end a relationship. Maybe it is to get a new job or home. Maybe it is to refocus our personal and spiritual priorities. Whatever the need: are we ready?
Jesus knew he had to take the journey to Jerusalem. He went there as a child but this time, it was very different. This was to be his signature journey. He didn’t take it at the beginning of his ministry because he would not have had things in place to explain the new meaning of his life. His friends would not have yet understood the purpose of his action.
For ourselves if we suddenly embark on a pilgrimage without preparation, we will find we often turn back shortly after we start. Picture Peter, seeing Jesus walking on the water and without thinking he jumps out and stands on the water. Then he sinks. He wasn’t prepared for the new ability that he had. His doubt caused him to sink. If we are not prepared for the new self, we may get scared and fall back. As we take this pilgrimage we will discover new aspects and abilities. We need to be ready to accept them.
Another way that Jesus prepared was he told his disciples to go and find a donkey foal that had never been ridden on.
When Caesar returned from a battle he would ride victoriously into town on a magnificent white horse, demonstrating his majesty and power. Jesus chose a young donkey demonstrating his vulnerability (and his sense of humour), showing that he was not about the power of violence but rather about the power of love.
The same is true of our journeys. How we prepare indicates our intentions. Not everyone who goes to a holy site does so to improve their spirituality. Periodically we read of armies who go to holy shrines to destroy. The Romans destroyed the Jewish temple, but many times since then holy places have been levelled. If you are going to destroy you take different equipment. If you are going on a spiritual quest, you take faith, love and hope.
Jesus took something that was unconventional; a donkey. Taking a spiritual pilgrimage is unconventional. Using love as your means of motivation is equally unique but if you are to succeed it is a must.
The next step is the actual journey. I am sure that as Jesus stepped over that donkey he did so with both determination and hesitancy. He knew he would be cheered and condemned.
As you journey, you will find supporters and detractors. Many times I have heard people say that they were concerned about what the “other people” would think and then they found that there was great support from people they never would have dreamed of. On the other hand you will always find people who think you shouldn’t rock the boat. You should just put up with the status quo. Those are people who are afraid. They are afraid that if you can change, there is pressure on them to do the same.
As Jesus rode along he had tremendous support. There were palm branches and cloaks thrown down. They were a sign of honour. The people were shouting Hallelujah. It was a tremendously uplifting time for him but he knew they were people in that crowd who were plotting to kill him. (If it had been in today’s world he likely would have been fined for littering) (if it had been recently there would have only been 5 people at the parade). The point being that you carry on with your pilgrimage regardless of what others think as it is not their journey – but yours.
Finally you reach your destination which is really the beginning of a new journey. Any successful pilgrimage opens a new door. The author, Henry Miller says “ One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things”
When people travel to a holy site or space as a pilgrimage and if they are prepared for the revelation, then a whole new world begins. When you think you have reached a spiritual destination, you have really only reached the bottom rung of a dynamic ladder. When Jesus reached Jerusalem, he conquered his fear and confronted his mission. A whole new chapter was beginning for him. There was no turning back.
When you reach a true destination in your pilgrimage, there is no turning back.
If you have ever been stuck in a relationship, a job or a lifestyle that was unfulfilling and you journeyed out of it, there was no turning back. If you were ever stuck in a religion (as Jesus was) that was unsatisfying and you flourished out of it, there was no turning back.
Right now we are stuck in this pandemic. I do not believe that God “sent” this to us. (more next week on that) There is no turning back. It is a journey that none of us chose so there was little or no preparation. But we can make it into a spiritual pilgrimage. There will be hardships and losses. There will be support from unknown and unexpected sources. There will be divine support. There will be a destination that will be a new beginning.
Life itself is a journey. It can be so much more as a pilgrimage.
Jesus took that pilgrimage to Jerusalem. If he hadn’t, we never would have heard of him.
Each of us faces a road. We have the opportunity of stepping on to that highway or standing beside it. Some of the people who stood along the roadway that Jesus travelled were excited about the opportunity but chose to stand beside it and not follow. They missed “the road less traveled” They missed their chance at pilgrimage and so missed their chance at a new beginning
I hope that one or all of these six spiritual practices: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, Meditation, Solitude and Pilgrimage will lift spirit in this time.
As you travel with God may you find a heightened awareness of the presence of God.
Prayer
God, today we pray for all those affected by this pandemic. We pray for support for the front line workers who are risking their lives that others may live; we pray for those who have contracted this virus, that they may be strong and healing may occur. We pray for those who struggle to pay bills that generosity may well up and compassion may take the lead.
We pray for those who are struggling with other illnesses and pains: those in sorrow, fear, violence and uncertainty and we pray that as we journey through all of our situations, we may ever be aware of the strength and love you have for us. Amen

Sermon on Pilgrimage for April 5