Sunday, July 14, 2019
The Good Samaritan>

Luke 10:25-37: Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

——————————————————————————————————————————————–

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight o Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer…

So, the Good Samaritan. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story. Heck, even my friend who thought Easter was when Jesus was born and that’s why we have Easter eggs knows something about the Good Samaritan story. Although I don’t know what her version is. But it is certainly ubiquitous, this story. It shows up in secular culture all the time. There’s even a law, the Good Samaritan law. This is how prevalent this story is.

And so, it may seem like we can gloss over this one. I mean, this is already a shortened service as it’s Service of the Word. If we don’t tell Keith, we can all leave extra early. And, trust me, as much as I would love to say hey, you all know this stuff, let’s just plow through and we can all get home for a nap, I just can’t. Especially in the wake of the devastating and divisive decision made at General Synod.

Because this, I’m sorry not sorry, is a wake-up call. And it seems mean and pushy and perhaps heavy-handed to give it to you all this morning, especially because I know that you are good people with good hearts, you would not be here otherwise. But the problem is, that sometimes that’s not enough.

See, I think that in our efforts to focus on WHO is our neighbour, we miss WHAT is meant by love. Because we think we’ve got love all in the bag.

Now, that’s not to say that I think a discussion about who constitutes our neighbour is not important. It is, as all too often my neighbour gets correlated with who looks like me, or thinks like me, speaks my language, worships my God, someone whose care will benefit me. My child, my parents, my spouse, my friends. People I choose to care for and who I like.

And, obviously, that’s not who Jesus thinks is my neighbour. I mean, we get that message time and time again. My neighbour is the single mom, the homeless man, the struggling university student, the immigrant, the indigenous activist. My neighbour is also the local racoon and the wild foxes and the sea turtles. My neighbour lives in downtown London, and Detroit, and Haiti, and Myanmar. My neighbour is sick, imprisoned, impoverished, my neighbour is addicted, my neighbour is traumatized, abused, orphaned.

My neighbour is everyone who needs me, because that’s what it means to be community. That at some point, we all need help, and tomorrow it might be me, but today I’m doing the rescuing. And trust me, I think that message is so important, because while it’s spoken over and over again, we sometimes still have

trouble implementing it. Because people who don’t share our values or our culture or our tax bracket can seem different and scary and all too foreign to be our neighbour. And that is a real issue.

But what I think is at the heart of this all, and at the heart of the gospel message, is love. Not just who we give it to, but what it really is. Because here’s the thing about this story…

So, we have Jesus talking to a bunch of people, teaching them as he does. And he gets a question, what do I have to do to get eternal life? Now, this opens up a whole other can of worms, but don’t worry about that, that’s a problem for another day. But Jesus answers him, what does it say in the law? Or rather, what is your covenant with God? Because that’s what he’s talking about here, covenant, not like bylaws about how many garbage cans you can have.

What does your covenant with God say? And the lawyer answered, love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength, and with all my mind, and my neighbour as myself. And Jesus says, well, there you go. Just go do that. It’s like two things.

But the lawyer, much like I would assume any of us would be, was kind of puzzled and was probably thinking geez, Jesus, can you vague that up for me a little bit? Like that’s not an answer. So, he goes where I would assume a lot of us would go and asks, well then, who is my neighbour?

Now this is, I think, the magic of parables. Because Jesus doesn’t tell the guy, here is an analogy for who your neighbour is. Dude, I’m God and it’s everybody. And I’m going to tell you this story using a group of people that you hate as a good example so you see that I’m not kidding when I say everybody.

No, what Jesus does is just start telling a story. And our minds, like the lawyer, jump to the part where Jesus gives us an explanation of who our neighbour is. But we completely bypass the other huge part of this discussion…love.

Now, we are in a really rough place in the church right now. And there is a lot of pain and hurt and utter despair out there. There are a lot of people who have bravely stood up, told their story of being the other, and faced judgement on the status of their personhood within this church, and we cannot diminish that.

But what we also cannot do is pave over this pain with politeness and excuses.

I said this passage is a wake-up call to us all, and I meant it. Because while we’re busy worried about who our neighbour is, we aren’t listening to what Jesus is telling us about how we are to love.

We can accept that our neighbour is poor and lowly, that they are marginalized and oppressed. But love, we want that to work both ways. Actually, we want that to flow upstream more than down.

Because when we talk about loving dialogue and standing in solidarity with each other, what we usually mean is the marginalized must put aside their pain and suffering to put their arms around us and smile. To conform to the status quo that keeps them down in the first place. To be submissive to the system that broke them. Don’t fight hate with hate we say while we strip them of their dignity and safety and personhood.

But that is not the love that Jesus calls us to. We look at the Samaritan as an outsider, and so we say that the story is about how even those we don’t care for, those outside our systems, can be loving and kind. But what we completely miss is that the Samaritan was healthy and wealthy enough to pay a lot of money for that man’s care. He wasn’t another poor soul in the ditch, he was privileged.

He bent the knee to the dirty, dying soul on the side of the road, put him on his animal and took him to an inn. He lowered himself in service to another. His love was about humility and sacrifice.

That is the love of the cross. To empty oneself in sacrifice to another, to wash the feet of those who follow us, to eat and drink with outcasts and sinners. To give up our lives for the betrayer and the criminal.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray for the church right now. I pray that it will find healing and unity, but that cannot come at the cost of those we deem not important enough to care about. True love is paid by our own lives. Our own hearts, our own minds, our own strength, our own souls. If we would truly love as our Christ taught us, let us bend the knee to those in pain right now. That is the covenant. A sacred trust, that for those who are in the worst of it, we will be at our best.

That we will love with no thought of how they love us back, but only that our neighbour needs us.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, July 7, 2019
Sending Lambs to the Wolves

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20: The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’

And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” —————————————————————————————————————————————

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…

Now, as many of you may realize, I am not a very soft-spoken gentle person, and I have to admit that I have preached on this gospel passage before. A long time ago, actually. Back at my home parish. And it may please you to know that I gave them a hard time as well.

I was so excited to get this passage, because I thought oh, this is right up my alley. Jesus has sent his disciples out on a mission and they are to go out with no bags, no sandals, and just do the work of kingdom building.

I loved that, as a brash young person eager to get out there and make a difference, I loved the message of just go. Don’t worry about all the stuff you need, just go and spread the word. I would have loved to have been called out on a mission like that, it’s why I carry my passport everywhere I go. Although, I will say I know I would love it right up until the minute I needed my phone or my Netflix, and then I would probably be just as upset as some of my congregants were that long ago day.

But the idea of not worrying about all the non-important stuff and just doing the work of evangelism, of kingdom building, appealed to me. It still does.

And I think that’s still an important part of this message. That Jesus sends out the disciples like lambs in the midst of wolves, with no provisions, where danger abounds, because our tendency is to put all kinds of stipulations in place before we feel secure to go out and witness to what we know about God and to how we have experienced God’s love. We want a big checklist of things in order before we accept the mission. We want every possibility accounted for, everything we think we need to have before we accept the mission.

We want surety. We want security. We really just don’t want to have faith.

Now, I’ll admit, Jesus’ demands are, maybe, a little extreme. I mean, they’re walking, they should probably have more than one pair of sandals. And no money, that might end badly.

But I think those demands are there to make us pause and think. To stop and reflect: what do we think we need? What are those things we suppose we have to have for a life lived in service to Christ? And at the same time, I think this mission of the seventy should make us stop and think that maybe we’re asking the wrong question. That maybe the question is not what do you need to serve Christ, but who?

So, when I was younger and preaching on this gospel message, I really connected to the part about shaking the dust off your feet when people didn’t want to listen. And you may know why. Being a young woman of colour was not easy, nor is it easy now, not even in the church. And so, Jesus saying, it’s okay, even what He wants, when people refuse you and reject you really resonated with me. That is the point I was really emphasizing that day. Standing up there, preaching my little teenage heart out, knowing that I was no authority.

Well, things have changed. Now I have no authority but I do have a nifty collar and stole. And while the radical young person in me still thinks that’s pretty important, what I think we need to emphasize is not the ones who reject us, but the ones who travel with us.

A rather obvious but overlooked detail in this tale of discipleship is the number seventy. That’s right, while we were probably all thinking about what it would be like to be sent out with nothing, we were probably all doing the same thing and forgetting that we were not being sent out alone. There were seventy disciples being sent out. Each apostle had sixty-nine fellow missionaries, friends in the faith, on whom to rely, to depend. That’s a lot of somebodies on which to count if the going gets tough. No one was going through this alone. Jesus was teaching his disciples already that in this ministry we rely on each other. That we don’t do this alone. And I think we forget this a lot.

Because it’s easy to get distracted by what you think you need to be successful, to do a good job. It’s easy to think if we just had more money or more space or more things that we could do better, that the church would be bursting. And it’s easy to think that lack of those things are what’s preventing us from moving forward, that we need the money or the space first, that we need the checklist of stuff before we start building the kingdom.

It’s really easy to get distracted by the rejection and the refusal of people to listen. It’s really easy to start thinking that no one is listening and that your voice doesn’t matter. That what you say doesn’t change anything, and that the world is stacked up against you.

And, yes, more money, more space, less opposition, all of that would make this easier. But we’re not always asked to do easy. Actually, God rarely asks us to do what’s easy. He asks us to do what’s right.

This kingdom project, this mission we have been given by Jesus, is hard and it’s going to include some hardship. And it may seem like we’re ill-equipped. But what we don’t see is that the only thing that is necessary to carry out this mission is God, and each other.

This is the necessity of community. This is the radical nature of faith, that it is communal.

All too often our understandings of faith and spirituality are independent, they are about our personal relationship with God. And, all too often our understanding of leadership in the church is dangerously autonomous. It is all about who has power and title, who has seniority, who is in charge. We talk about teamwork, but we often think of those teams as tiers of hierarchy rather than the priesthood of all believers, the servants of Christ, all important, all necessary, all gifted, and all different.

We are not called to the building of a personal empire. We are called to the building of a new kind of people. A leaderful movement, one that recognizes the need for an ethos of the good of the whole, the gathering of disciples for whom the greatest title is Christian. This is why we are here this morning.

My brothers and sisters, this is why we are here this morning. To be sent out into the world and witness, to shake off the sting of rejection and keep going, to take no bread, no money, no extras, nothing except the great love of our Creator, and the great strength of each other. To know that we are never, ever alone.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, June 30, 2019
Love God and our Neighbour as Ourselves

Galatians 5:1,13-25: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
—————————————————————————————————————————————
In just a few days, representatives from Anglican Churches across the country will gather in Vancouver for General Synod. While there are many things on the agenda, no doubt two will draw the most interest.

After some 12 years as Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Fred Hiltz is moving to a well deserved retirement. We give thanks to God for this true servant. Five Bishops, including our own Linda Nicholls have allowed their names to stand as a candidate to be the next Primate. General Synod members will cast ballots to decide.

What will draw the most interest, especially from the secular media, will be the latest chapter in our long, protracted and oft bitter discussions about human sexuality. While it is possible that this will be the final chapter of the discussion; because we are voting for the second consecutive Synod on a change to the Marriage Canon to allow same sex marriage; in truth, this debate will most likely linger for many years.

What the church decides will be what the church decides, but there will likely be much more discussion and debate, especially at the international level.

What I am much more passionate about is how we have carried on this debate and the willingness of many to hold a position without the courtesy of taking the time to hear what others have to say from a different point of view. So, indulge me while I use today’s reading from Galatians 5 and show just how difficult it is to understand even a somewhat simple passage without being willing to expend the time and study needed to answer enough questions to give you a couple of dozen more questions so you can continue learning.

Having just heard what has been read, you are all aware that the subject of this passage, in fact the whole subject of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is “circumcision?” You didn’t hear that. I wonder why? Oh because those who crafted the Lectionary didn’t use any verses that talked about that subject, but perhaps used an edited version to make a different point?

What was just read for us was verse 1 of Chapter 5. Then we jump all the way to verse 13, omitting the reference to circumcision. What we then have is a bit of Paul’s letter that tells us about Law and Gospel. That is the mechanism that Paul used to address the fact that leaders in Galatia were demanding that new converts to the “Way” must be circumcised, because that was what was required, under the law. Paul responds that under the freedom won for us by Jesus, a rigid, arbitrary rule cannot be enforced because the Law is summarized by love.

So, what we don’t hear from the Lectionary reading, but is in fact the focus of this letter is a struggle over Law and Gospel around the issue of circumcision. (Don’t tell anybody but our debate over sexuality in the Anglican Church of Canada is a struggle over Law and Gospel around the issue of marriage.)

Well, we know how this discussion turned out – Paul won. But not before, in my mind he got a little heavy handed. I am fully aware that what I am about to say may well just be me trying to make a point, by stretching further than the text allows. However, given that is all about how we understand words and how Scriptures are translated and how from culture to culture, generation to generation it is nearly impossible to have a complete understanding of why who believes what, I think this might be an interesting discussion, just in the mechanics.

After telling the Galatians what they should do, Paul wasn’t shy about telling them what not to do. Maybe even in a bit of a judgmental way? Maybe even in a way to show he was not only in the right, he was in charge?

Below, you will find verses 19-21 of Galatians 5, first from the translation we use weekly – the New Revised Standard Version and then from four more different translations.

Galatians 5:19-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,[a] drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 New International Version (NIV)

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: [a]adultery, [b]fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, [c]murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God

Galatians 5:19-21 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

19 People’s desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. 20 They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are 21 envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God’s kingdom

Galatians 5:19-21 The Message (MSG)

19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; allconsuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

Yes, they all say the same thing, sort of, in a general sense. But if you compare the individual way the individual words and terms are translated, there are some significant differences.

Now, in our current study, those translations might not mean much as they don’t really affect Paul’s argument. However, if five different versions of the Scripture can translate terms in five different ways, with subtle changes of nuance; how can we say for certain exactly what any word in Scripture actually means? Well we can go back to the original Hebrew and Greek. But that is where these bands of scholars began and they don’t seem to be able to find common ground. Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? Perhaps; but I still think it is an important exercise.

So, as I said, I’ve perhaps taken some liberties here. However, this is exactly the way that discussions have gone back and forth for the best part of three decades in our discussions of human sexuality. No matter how many debate for how long, we can’t seem to come up with any kind of consensus. And maybe there are a couple of reasons for that. We have constantly talked at each other, rather that listening carefully to the other side’s position; first trying to understand the other and then suggesting what we might hold to be the understanding. And many have simply refused to participate, listening only to that which will stoke their own personal preference.

So what do I really think? I think no human being(s) have a corner on truth. None of us have now, or will ever have a complete and final understanding of God and what God wants for us and from us. What I really think is that God created humans and gave them just one command – love one another. Simple and at the same time impossible! But that is the dance that is true humanity. It’s not who is right and who is wrong, who has truth and who has been misled. It is the much more difficult – who can love the most! It is always easy to walk away; to dismiss the other; to start my own club. I don’t think God gives us that permission. I think love calls us to struggle, to be patient, to be in relationship. And that is frustrating, maddening and aggravating to name just a few. But it is what to means to love God and our neighbour as ourselves.

Keith Nethery

Sunday, June 23, 2019
Who are You Willing to Love?

Luke 8:26-39: Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?”

He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable to you, o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…

So, I have sat with this Gospel passage for the week, and I have to admit, it’s a lot. There’s a lot going on here. Jesus is traveling, doing his ministry, and he’s taken a boat across the water from Galilee, and he is here in the country of the Gerasenes, and then, as he’s stepping out onto the land, he’s accosted by a man with demons in him. And not just one, many demons.

I mean, whew, that’s just a lot right there. Imagine being behind Jesus as one of the disciples and this is what greets you. This is, to put it in context, right after the storm when they are shouting at Jesus to wake up, that they are dying, and he wakes and calms the storms. So this is like a lot to take in.

They’ve almost died on the water, and now they are being met by demons, they’re met by this guy who when asked his name, he goes Legion, probably in a scary horror movie voice. And what does Jesus do? What he always does, he casts the demons out into some pigs, and the herd of pigs goes running off. Crazy, right?

So, that’s a lot to talk about. And we could go the safe route and have a nice talk about how Jesus is so powerful and all mighty that he can cast demons out of people. I mean, that makes sense, that’s probably where the disciples went. They were probably talking later amongst themselves about the things they’ve seen him do. Oh my goodness, he calms the waters and exorcises demons! This is no ordinary man we’re following. And that’s all well and good. Jesus will heal you, all will be well, thank you Jesus.

But, the problem with that sermon is that I don’t think it encapsulates the most important part of this story. Which is crazy, because this story has a legion of demons getting put into pigs, and I’m telling you oh, don’t pay attention to that part, it’s not really the point.

Because what I think is so important about this is not what Jesus says to this man, but where Jesus went to find him.

So, let’s talk a little about this situation for a second. The disciples have followed Jesus onto a boat, after he tells them, hey, I feel like going over to the other side, through a storm, and they land in the country of the Gerasenes. And this is significant to this passage because this land is not the comfortable, predominately Jewish area of Galilee where at least Jesus and the disciples would be among their own people. This is Gentile territory, not a place a Jewish rabbi would normally venture.

And there, the first person he finds, is a man who is filled with unclean spirits. Now, we can debate all we want about what that really means to our modern minds, and most of us would probably jump to mental illness, but put the medical designation aside for a second and just think of the fact that this man has been deemed unclean, not just physically sick or mentally disturbed, but he is religiously unclean.

And this man, being in the state he is, would not be allowed to live in the city like a normal citizen, but would be pushed outside the walls, and as it is stated, chained up, like an animal.

This is where our itinerant Jewish rabbi proclaiming the kingdom of God goes, to an unclean land to meet an unclean man living in an unclean place. In short, the very last place Jesus should be.

Probably the very last place any of us would want to be. But this, dear friends, is exactly the point.

There is absolutely nowhere God is not willing to go to reach and free and sustain and heal and love those who are broken and lost and despairing. There is no place on the face of this earth that is Godforsaken. There is no person that is God-forsaken. Unclean, outcast, abandoned, unpopular, incarcerated, unbeliever. No one is left out.

We do not get to leave anyone out. They are all our brothers and sisters.

And that is the hardest thing we will ever have to square with to be Christian. Because these are not the places, not the people, we want to associate with. But they are the places that need us the most.

As Keith stated last week, we are embarking on a journey with our partnership with Indwell, in which we hope to make real and lasting changes to the lives of people in need of a helping hand in London, but not only that, to make a real and lasting change in the landscape of poverty in our community. To strike out at the cause of disparity and need rather than placing Band-Aids on the wounds.

This is the work we are called to, not to hand out scraps on the sidelines, but to shine a light into the darkness, to be the hands and feet of Christ where they are needed most.

We had our training day on how to use Naloxone for overdoses just recently, and as we were being asked what the cause of the spike in opioid drug use was, there were a lot of good answers, but just like what we’re doing with Indwell, it’s not about the symptoms, it’s about the root cause.

It’s very easy to encounter the drug user and see the unclean man, and maybe we too like the people of that city would just be afraid, would just want him to be under control. Trust me, I get those feelings. But the thing is, no matter what we say about addiction disease and gateway drugs, at the heart of it is this: prescriptions and weed are not the gateway drugs. Poverty is, and trauma, and neglect and abuse. Being labelled unclean is the gateway.

What we need in this is not better chains, but more hope, more healing, more love. Unclean spirits do not go away because we push them further to the margins, but because we expose them to the light.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, there are no conditions to be met to receive God’s love. God loves all, and commands us to do the same. And this is not easy work we are being called to, but I ask you this. In this unclean world full of unclean spirits, where are we willing to go? How much are we willing to give? And who are we willing to love?

Rev. Hana Scorrar

Sunday, May 12, 2019
I have told you, and you do not believe

John 10:22-30: At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

————————————————————————————————————————————

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable to you o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…

So this is the scene in our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus is walking in the portico of Solomon, an old and revered part of the Temple, it’s winter, it’s the Feast of the Dedication, better known to us as Hanukkah, and as usual, he’s drawing a crowd. People are gathering around him. And they’ve come with a question. Perhaps they’ve heard of his enigmatic parables, or witnessed one of his miracles, or maybe they just want to trap him into saying something they consider blasphemous. Whatever the motive, the question they pose is a zinger: How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.

If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly. What a question! I mean, maybe your first response is like mine. Duh, have you not been around for all the other stuff that’s happened? We believe it and we’re this many thousands of years out! Come on! And it’s lucky I’m not Jesus, because I would just be rolling my eyes at that question.

And this Gospel reading’s placement in our lectionary re-enforces this reaction from me, because doesn’t it feel odd to ask for clarity so soon after Easter? Didn’t we just celebrate the plainest, clearest, most irrefutable proof of Jesus’ Messiah-ship possible? How can we still be in suspense after the Resurrection?

But, maybe, just maybe, this question, and its timing in our lectionary, is spot-on. It tells us the truth about how faith works, if we’re honest enough to admit it. Most of the time, faith isn’t a clean movement from confusion to clarity, from fear to trust. It’s a perpetual turning, a constant returning, a circle we trace from unbelief to belief. From Christ is risen to if you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.

And it’s easy to consider this a sort of waffling, a weakness, but it isn’t. It’s real life, it’s what we human beings do. And it is totally normal to find ourselves on the Fifth Sunday of Easter asking Jesus to speak plainly into the circumstances of our lives. This is the way to authentic faith, the taut impatient feeling of needing Jesus to rise once more into the particulars of our days and nights, our comings and goings. This is how it works.

This question that Jesus confronts in the temple hits a nerve, and exposes all kinds of pain and yearning. Because these last few weeks, I have felt as if God was keeping me in suspense, and holding me in his silence.

I can’t count the number of times recently I’ve started a prayer with the words of the people who approached Jesus on that long-ago winter day: if you are…

If you are good. If you are powerful. If you are loving. If you are real. If you are sure.

If you are the Messiah, then start telling me it’s going to work out exactly the way I want it to. Stop making me walk the long desert road, stop making me learn lessons I don’t want. Give me a sign, show me clearly, speak plainly. Take all this fear swirling around me and give me clarity. No, not just clarity. Give me fact, give me evidence. Give me concrete, set in stone actions.

And how does Jesus respond? Well, unfortunately not plainly. And not, at first glance, kindly. I have told you, and you do not believe. You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. Ouch.

I’ll admit it, I have been wrestling with the harshness of that sentence. You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. What a stark pronouncement from Jesus! And I suppose the easy way out of all this is for us to say, well, that doesn’t apply to us. After all, we’re all here in church. We know our Bible, we love the liturgy, we say our prayers. Surely we both believe and belong.

Except when I don’t. See, the nagging problem with Jesus’ statement is that it does apply to my spiritual experience. Not just rarely, but often. When I ask Jesus to stop keeping me in suspense, when I insist that he speak plainly, give me the signs, what I’m really saying is: I can’t trust you. My fear is bigger than my faith right now, and I cannot hear your voice. You’re supposed to be my Good Shepherd, and I just can’t follow you right now. I can’t belong, I don’t feel like I belong.

Belonging is a strange thing. A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. And when we feel those needs are not met, we don’t function as we are meant to. We break, we fall apart, we numb ourselves, we ache, we hurt others. We stop listening to our shepherd. We lose our way.

I had wrestled with the passage because I heard Jesus saying you do not belong to my sheep coldly, but I don’t think that’s how he said it at all. I think it was soft and sad, you do not belong to my sheep. Not because I do not love you, but because you cannot love yourself. You have decided you do not belong to me. And so, you will not listen.

You have decided that belonging is predicated on your worthiness, that believing requires all the answers now. To belong to me is to walk to footsteps of the shepherd, living in the company of your fellow sheep, listening for the voice of the teacher whose classroom is the rocky hills, the dry wilderness, the hidden pastures, the shadowed valleys. If you won’t follow me into those layered places of tranquility and treachery, trust and fear, you have chosen to stay trapped.

And I wonder how the crowd felt about that answer, because what else could Jesus say? Yes, in fact, I am the Christ! Would anything have changed? Would his parables, his countercultural teachings, his miracles suddenly make sense so that his listeners could tuck them neatly under their arms and carry them home?

Living as we do on this side of the Resurrection, we know that even the greatest miracle was not enough to stop Jesus’ followers from asking questions. And we, their heirs, are no different. We want certainty with no risk. Truth without trust. A Messiah that will provide and not provoke. I have spent a long time trying to outsmart vulnerability by demanding things be black and white, good and bad, and that inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limits the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: love, trust, joy, and belonging.

There is no objective proof strong enough to quell all our fears, but my brothers and sisters, I don’t think, at the end of the day, that’s what we really want. The miracle we’re after, is the experience of God’s presence. And that, in accepting our belonging, in leaning into that vulnerability, is the miracle we all get.

Rev. Hana Scorrar

Sunday, April 28,2019
Peace Be With You

John 20:19-31: When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

—————————————————————————————————–

For us, all the excitement is over! Jesus is alive, Easter Sunday is a week behind us, and so it’s back to our regular schedules.

For the disciples, nothing has been settled. This passage from the next to last Chapter of John’s Gospel (could be the last words of John depending on your position on Chapter 21 – there’s your homework) finds the disciples stuck between exhilaration and abject fear!! Yes, Jesus is alive, but no, they are not safe. Those who backed the Crucifixion, are none too pleased to hear about a potential Resurrection. Thus the doors are locked and the disciples would just as soon no one knocked.

So, as Jesus was wont to do, He didn’t knock, he just showed up inside the door. This appearance is exclusive to John’s Gospel, although there are some connections to this story in Luke.

There are three things for us to take note of in this passage, and to be sure we get to all three things, each follows Jesus saying “Peace be with you.” The author wanted to be sure we got the clue.

The first “peace be with you” lead to Jesus showing His hands and feet, obviously so the disciples could see the scars and know that Jesus’ death was real, just as was his resurrection quite real at that very moment. While we might see this as a rather small part of the story, for Jesus’ followers this is of huge importance. This was proof of what they thought they believed, hoped they believed and even though they wavered a bit, what they hoped to claim for themselves. Jesus was alive and all those rather apocalyptic comments about him dying and coming back, were in fact true. From being enthusiastic, yet not understanding followers; to fearing that it has all been a big misunderstanding and they had given their allegiance to the wrong one; to suddenly a great exhale and the revelation that they were in fact still in the good graces of the Master and that perhaps there was a future.

Jesus wastes little time in getting to the point. “Peace be with you.” Suddenly Jesus tells them to go out as He has been sent out by God and then breathes on them and says “receive the Holy Spirit.” We who have been raised in the church, survived Confirmation class, and paid attention in church, especially on the High Days and Holy Days, ever since, have somewhat of an understanding of this Holy Spirit. One might think this moment could be a little disconcerting for our happy band of suddenly redeemed disciples. They had heard the talk, but not necessarily understood what Jesus meant in saying the Counsellor, the Guide, the Spirit would be coming along to keep them on the straight and narrow.

We have an intermission in this point of the story. Jesus disappears as quickly as he appeared and Thomas comes sauntering in the door. He steadfastly refuses to believe what they have just witnessed, unless he gets a first-hand view of the resurrected Jesus. It’s a long intermission, because it takes a full week before Jesus comes back, to the same room, in the same house, most likely behind the same locked door. We can only speculate, but one would think that Jerusalem was still in a bit of an uproar with some saying He was resurrected and others suggesting you’d have to be daft to believe that. Me thinks the disciples were still keeping a low profile.

And the conversation begins with “Peace be with you.” In other words, pay attention there is more for you to learn. This time Thomas is with the group and he gets his first-hand look. Are we not just a little surprised that Jesus doesn’t castigate him for not believing? Aren’t we a tad befuddled that Thomas gets a pass on the lecture we expect? In fact, Jesus calls Thomas blessed!

So, “peace be with you!” Where have you encountered the risen Jesus this week? Have you stayed with the adventure and continued to think about what the gift that Jesus has given means to us?

“Peace be with you!” Are we sent? What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit? Will it change our lives? It certainly will for Brycen who joins our group of Jesus’ followers by the Sacrament of Baptism at the 8:30 service. But what for the rest of us? Has the story lost momentum this week?

“Peace be with you!” Jesus wants us to see and to know and to live and to love and to grow in our faith. Doubt will always be part of this journey as we can see clearly that it was for Thomas. Doubt is a constant companion, but one that we need use to help us find our faith and install it into every part of our lives.

Peace be with you as you live out your lives of faith!

Keith Nethery

Sunday, April 7, 2019
Lent 5 (John 12:1-8)

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
==========================================================================================
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable to you o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…

You know, it’s interesting sometimes how the readings that we have fit together. I mean, they are chosen to tell the story of Christ’s ministry and walk us through the liturgical seasons, leading us from our Christian New Year of Advent through Christ’s birth, the beginning of his ministry, our time in Lent reflecting on his path to the cross, then Easter with his resurrection and on through Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. And so, they in a way have to tell a narrative of Jesus’ life, but they are snapshots of the Bible really, because we are reading sections, and thus, they are sometimes without the context to ground them. Which can make it easy to cherry pick, and move around the Bible without having to talk about the more difficult bits.

But what I have loved about the last two Gospel passages, last Sunday with the Prodigal Son and this week with the anointing of Jesus is that they are very well-known sections, and it would make my life a lot nicer to just gloss over the harder parts in both these stories because you already know them, however I don’t ever do things the easy way, just ask my parents, and so we’re going to sit in this deep and fruitful swamp one more time, and look at something difficult.

See, what I find so fascinating about this passage is that line at the end where Jesus says you will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. Because it’s one of those touching little lines that can go really, really wrong.

You can read it like, well, this is just human Jesus having a moment with Judas. And they throw in that bit about Judas being insincere about the reasons he is scolding them, so it takes the sting off the comment a bit. But, while I’m sure Jesus had his human moments, I don’t think that really encapsulates what’s happening here, so I think it’s probably useful to keep digging.

Now, we can also do what a lot of Christians like to do and interpret this to mean that Jesus is saying, oh there will always be poor people, material possessions don’t matter. Which, yes, is true-ish. Jesus wants our minds off our material goods and wealth and onto our spiritual well-being, especially how we treat others, but I don’t think he really means it the way we want to interpret it.

Because these explanations about the need to distance oneself from wealth usually come from people for whom having a break from their iPad and paying money to retreat from the world seems like a charming way to engage in ‘monastic living’, rather than people who go days without food or who have to walk miles for clean water.

So there’s a big disconnect there, between the concept of less things and actually having to survive without things. Which I think shows the importance of interpreting the Bible with nuance, and an awareness of our own perspectives. Because where we mostly get stuck on stories like this is that we don’t understand the difference between two similar concepts. In this case, we don’t understand the difference between poverty and inequality, and, just like last week in our exploration of the Prodigal Son, we don’t really get the difference between fairness and justice.

I’ll tell you a silly story that I think explains what I mean: I have to two little dogs, one is a chunky black pug who is a very stubborn girl named Bailey, and one is a fluffy blond Shih Tzu named Teddy who is very stupid. And they’re only about a year apart in age, and they grew up together. So when it comes to how they are treated, everything needs to be fair. From treats to food (they need identical food and water bowls) to Halloween costumes (they both have to be the same thing because once they fought over who got to wear a purple hippo in a tutu costume). But Teddy gets ear infections, and he needs ear drops a lot, and when he gets drops put in his ears, Bailey needs them too, so my mom has to pretend to put medicine in her ears as well. So Bailey, in the effort to ensure all things are fair, even wants medicine. Now, that’s a silly story about dogs, but it’s true for us as well.

This passage, just like the rest of the Gospel messages, is telling us something about the new kingdom that Jesus has come to inaugurate. And it is telling us that what we think we understand about the world is wrong, that it doesn’t have to be like that. The poor will always be with you; yes, they will. Because poverty is relative, it’s the difference between me and Bill Gates. Inequality, on the other hand, is the social ramifications of discrimination and prejudice. It is the system of privilege and power working against the people, forcing us to assimilate and adhere to social rules or be left out. Coupled together, they cause systemic, generational issues.

But Jesus shows us here and in the Prodigal Son, he doesn’t come to eradicate difference and institute fairness, he comes to give us the compassion and grace we need, to bring justice to a world insistent on sameness. Everything about our journey through Lent has been leading to this, Jesus is incarnate with us for only a little while longer, and it is time to lean close and listen. The kingdom Jesus promises is the end of inequality and prejudice, not the end of difference.

It comes because we are brave enough to take risks, to follow him where he may lead us. It comes because we are strong enough to be vulnerable and compassionate, to be open to transformation in the Spirit and open to allowing those around us into our hearts. It comes because we recognize that time and growth are not punishments, that we are called to cultivate and nurture not just demand fruits. It comes because we know that God loves us so much he gives us into the care of each other, that the lost brother or sister who belongs to God belongs to all of us.

And it comes because we understand that lack will always exist, but when we give freely, abundantly, when we abandon power for love, fairness for justice, we are all richer.

This is the image of the kingdom: Jesus, born to two ordinary people, humbly in a stable, is anointed a king by a woman, not a man vested with power and authority, in the house of a friend, not the temple or the political seat of the city. He is anointed because he has eaten with sinners and outcasts, healed those thought too unclean, taught the everyday masses.

He has walked the wilderness and will die the death of a criminal.

He stands in the place of us all, broken and lost, loved and redeemed, so that we might see him, maybe only for a little while, in the face of the one next to us, and glimpse that kingdom, here and now.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, March 31, 2019
The Good Old Prodigal Son Parable

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32: All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.
A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…

Ah, the good old Prodigal Son parable. You know, I have to admit, I love the Prodigal Son story. I think there’s a myriad of interesting ways to look at it, and tons of theology to mine from it. But, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t always my favourite.

In fact, I rather hated this story when I was young. Because I have a younger sister. And because she’s the baby, she always seemed to be getting things I wasn’t.
So, when I would hear this story in church, I knew, without a doubt, that the older brother was justified in his feelings. Here is a story about two sons, and the older brother doesn’t even get any real play, no character development, it’s all about the youngest.

And so, for years, I didn’t listen to the story. And maybe, when you hear “there was a man who had two sons” in the Gospel lesson today, you immediately recognized this as the beginning of the parable of the prodigal son and decided you already knew this story and its point.

But when we really listen to it, scripture can surprise us. This is part of what make the word of God a living word: we always read it in our own circumstances, and when we have brushed the scales from our eyes or opened our heart or maybe just experienced something new, we read it afresh and it can say different things to us. And I’m hoping that reading this passage within the context of Lent and all that we have journeyed with over the past few weeks can help us hear a new word.

Now, what’s interesting in this, and what we don’t get in our text this morning, is that the verses that serve as an introduction about Jesus eating and teaching sinners and the Pharisees grumbling about this actually precede two other parables. The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.

I’m not going into details on those, but I suggest you go read them, and see this passage in the entirety, as they tell us something about how we are to interpret this Gospel message.
Because it would seem that these three passages are about being lost, right? The shepherd loses a sheep, the woman loses a coin, and the father loses a son. This is clearly Jesus speaking to the lost and broken, teaching about hope and forgiveness and being found. And that is a wonderful and powerful message, one that it seems like the world needs right now. That God’s love is so great and abundant that we, lowly as we are, sinner though we may be, can be welcomed in.

And that is certainly one part of the meaning. But I think what these parables, in fact, what all parables do, is invite us into the paradoxical tension of being a human in relationship with God. Because while the nicest interpretation of this story is that we are all lost and we are all found in Christ, it completely ignores a big part of this text: what do we do with the older brother?

Now, we can do what I did as a kid and secretly sympathize because we know what it’s like to be treated unfairly, or we can dig a little deeper.
Because this is paramount to Jesus’ ministry and the building of the kingdom, it is foundational to our future as church, and it is the thing we are most likely to overlook.

Jesus was not only speaking to the tax collectors and the sinners that he was eating with. His parable is not aimed only at the poor and the marginalized, but it is a pointed comment in the direction of the Pharisees, and I think, us.

Because we all like to think of ourselves as the lost lamb, the lost son, Jesus is describing, I know I do; because we like to be reminded of God’s forgiveness. We all like to be granted that mercy, and while we like to talk about God’s gift of love to all, I think it’s harder to put that into action.

That is what is so compelling in this story. This parable calls us into a discussion of just what makes a sinner.

Because there is the obvious answer of the youngest son, the one who fritters away his inheritance and comes back in disgrace. That’s easy to see, and that’s exactly how the Pharisees would have seen it as well. But there’s also the older brother, the one who has held to social standards and conventions and when faced with someone receiving mercy and love, demands that he should have more because he is more deserving.

He believes that all the love and comfort and social status he has received from the moment he is born is somehow diminished because his brother is forgiven and restored. He can’t see all the privilege he has, all the power, he can only see that someone else is receiving a tiny portion of what he believes is his.

And I think this is the powerful crux of this story, Jesus is reiterating his constant message of love and hope, the building of the kingdom that is so different from the empire.
What I couldn’t understand when I was little was that love is not a loaf of bread, if someone gets a big slice it doesn’t mean you get less. When someone gets attention or forgiveness or grace or freedom or rights, it doesn’t take away from me. It makes the world better. It makes the world richer, and fuller, and it raises all of us up.

This is the beautiful message of Lent, of Easter, that God loves you so much, that he loves each and every one of us so much, that he is willing to do whatever it takes to be in relationship with us. Sometimes that is finding us when we are lost, and sometimes that is inviting us into the mission, inviting us into the party, and giving us lost siblings of our own to love and care for.

This church and the wider Anglican Church are in a time of discernment, we are in a time of searching for the right way forward into the future. And the challenge will be learning to look beyond what we want for ourselves, what makes us feel safe and comfortable, what we think is fair and equitable, what we feel we deserve; and finding a way to create the space for all our lost brothers and sisters to come home. We are being invited into an amazing love, one that moves between God and creation, so the question is: as we were once lost and now found, how do we share that joy with those who need it the most?

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, March 24, 2019
Lent 3

Luke 13:1-9: At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

————————————————————————————————————————-

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…

Well, what a passage we have this week! Talking about blood and sacrifices, pain and suffering. And perhaps this is the perfect passage for us right now, at this time with the world in the state that it is, because while this passage is full of peril, it also holds a promise to address one of the persistent questions we have: why is there so much suffering in the world? Or, perhaps what we really want to ask: is suffering a form of punishment?

Now, this question, usually asking in moments of extreme suffering and loss is as poignant as it is important. And it has a lot to do with our Lenten journey. Of course, we’ve all heard less-than-helpful and sometimes downright awful explanations of suffering, running the gamut from innocent placations after particularly painful deaths to preachers using natural disasters or horrific incidences of human suffering as proof of God’s punishment for sin. So, to assume that one passage, taken on its own, can give us a whole theology is not a good idea, but we can say a lot about suffering and loss from this single passage. And I must admit, this is a message I need, a lot.

It may surprise you to know that I was a very wilful child, and I had a hard time with hearing no. I had a hard time with things that seemed unfair or unjust. And because I have siblings, unjust things happened a lot. And while I am perhaps more discerning in my wilfulness now as an adult, I still have a very hard time with injustice. So, I understand the desire to have the world fall out “right”, to have good people have blessings and bad people have punishments. And I understand this as a sticking point for a lot of people.

Why does God let this happen?

There is this interesting, more than likely apocryphal, story that I’ve had more than a few people tell me, about a young boy who goes to his pastor and asks him if God knows everything, and then pastor says of course. So the young boy asks, does God know that there are people starving in Africa, and the pastor says yes, I know you don’t understand but God knows about this. Finally, the young boy says well, if God knows there are people starving in Africa I don’t want to worship him and walks out of the church forever. And that young boy was Steve Jobs.
Now, I don’t know if that really happened, likely it didn’t exactly that way, but I know that so many people like to use that story to show the unjust nature of a God who knows about suffering but does nothing. And I think that’s kind of what Jesus is dealing with here.

He has people approaching him about the Galileans that harmed by Pilate, and I can just imagine that people were wanting answers. Did they deserve punishment? Why would God do this?
And to answer them, he tells them a story about a fig tree. Now, most people want to read this allegorically, and say that God is the landowner who is frustrated with the fig tree not growing the way he wants, and Jesus is the kindly gardener, who placates the angry God and puts off the cutting of the tree. Now, that might work fine with the Steve Jobs version of God, but I don’t think that’s ever the image of God that Jesus paints.

I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to see here. Instead, I see myself as the landowner. Getting angry when my work and personal life aren’t giving me the fruits I want, getting frustrated with the long walk on desert path I’ve been given, getting upset at the punishment of growth and transformation. Because the landowner thinks he knows how the world should work, the fig tree should grow fruit on his timeline. The fig tree should produce because he wants it, because he demands it, and here’s the kicker, he doesn’t even take care of the tree!

The landowner just decided he wanted figs, and he comes by every once in a while, to get mad that there are none, but he hasn’t done a thing to help the fig tree bear fruit. He’s left it entirely up to the gardener, who knows that things will grow with love and care in their own time. Who knows that figs come only with the right set of circumstances to those who work hard for them.

And think about this, Jesus is having this whole conversation on the road to Jerusalem, as he is steadfastly making his way to the cross. Not as a punishment, but in solidarity and love.
He walks towards certain death, with courage and vulnerability, and with the knowledge that we, like the landowner, don’t understand the delicate hand that is needed to grow fruit, that we don’t always understand that bare branches and rot are sometimes the beginnings of new life, that time is not punishment, and justice is not reached by negligence and apathy.

In Jesus God loves us enough to take on our finite and vulnerable selves and live our lives fully, identifying with us completely. In the cross, we see just how far God is willing to go to be with us and for us, even to the point of suffering unjustly and dying the death of a criminal. And in the resurrection, we see that God’s solidarity and love is stronger than anything, even death.

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, what can we say in the face of suffering and loss? That God is with us. That God understands what our suffering is like. That God chooses to come close, to be with us, even in the wilderness. That God has promised to redeem all things, including our pain. And that suffering and injustice do not have to have the last word in our lives and the world.

Because yes, God sees all things, and yes God understands suffering, but so do we. And the love and care and kindness that God sends to grow and transform this world is us. It’s in all of us. This is the promise that God sends to the world: that in the most broken and battered of places, hope will rise, for we, the body of Christ, are here.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, March 17, 2019
Lent 2

Luke 13:31-35: Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill
you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing
cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to
be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those
who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood
under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see
me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

————————————————————————————————————————————–

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable in your
sight o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…

When I was in grade school I wrote my class speech on my favourite philosopher, who I love to quote to
this day. I even have one of his quotes on a post-it note on my mirror, hanging up where I see it every
morning: Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you
seem, and smarter than you think.

And I like seeing this every morning, because I like to remind myself to be brave, to be strong, to be
smart. As I said last week, I’m very into taking big risks and jumping big cliffs. I love thinking of myself
as courageous.

But I think that part of the journey through Lent is understanding that there are two kinds of courage.
One is the immediate and situational courage of the person who, in a moment of extreme need, summons
the courage to face an imminent danger. This is the courage of the by-stander who pushes someone out
of the way of oncoming traffic or jumps into a raging river to save someone struggling to swim at great
risk to him or herself.

This kind of courage seems very spur-of-the-moment, and makes us question ourselves and whether we
could possible do the same, but ultimately it is a display of character, an accumulation of traits and
beliefs. It is the visceral response of someone who is prepared to act courageously in any given moment,
the training developed and exercised over time, sometimes unknowingly, of a person who can snap into
action. You can see this response from any mom or dad who has snatched their child’s hand away from
something dangerous.

But there is a second kind of courage as well, one not displayed in a single moment or act but in
anticipating a significant, daunting or even frightening challenge and not turning away from it but
meeting it head on.

This is also a show of character, character that has emerged from a lifetime of facing fears and
shouldering burdens, allowing oneself to be forged in accepting challenges and responsibilities that we
could avoid.

It is this second kind of courage that Jesus displays in the gospel passage we heard this morning.
Some Pharisees come and warn Jesus to make a run for it because Herod is out for his blood. And we
don’t know who these particular Pharisees are or what motivates them, but that doesn’t really matter.
We just know they show up to tell Jesus to run and save his life, and that Jesus refuses. Instead, he will
keep to the road ahead of him, traveling the arduous path to Jerusalem to meet his death on the cross.
And this commitment to embrace his dark and difficult destiny for the sake of humanity is the very
embodiment of this second kind of courage.

And to be honest, it’s always kind of bothered me the way we portray sometimes the steadfast courage
that Jesus displays in moving forward to Jerusalem and the cross on behalf of the world God loves so
much. Because we often want to overlook the critical commentary the gospel offers on Jesus.
We like nice Jesus, who makes us feel comfortable and is a pretty cool guy who is okay with whatever
we do. We like king Jesus, all glory and honour. We like the versions of Jesus that speak to the good
parts, not the tough parts.

And we bypass the challenge and suffering, because this Jesus who walks the wilderness on his journey
to the cross says something significant about courage. It says that the ability to make oneself vulnerable
for the sake of others is essential to courage.

And I think this is important to note, because we don’t often equate vulnerability with strength and
bravery. When we think of sacrificing our lives for another, I know I imagine, and you probably do to,
the act of going down fighting, not the slow, certain walk of one who is fully aware of the pain waiting
for them.

Jesus walks on to Jerusalem not to prove himself fearless or a hero, not to make a sacrifice for sin to a
judgemental God; Jesus marches to Jerusalem and embraces the cross that waits for him there out of a
profound love for the people around him.

This is what Christ embodies, this vulnerability, this love. This is the courage of God – that God becomes
incarnate and vulnerable, that his strength is in what others would find weak: love and grace and
forgiveness and sacrifice. That he calls those who others would call powerless or marginalized, irrelevant
or unimportant.

Because in this vulnerability, we find connection, we find authenticity, we find innovation, we find
creativity. Vulnerability is the birthplace of change and the deep vein that sustains relationship.
When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, when we can open ourselves us to others, we can be honest,
we can choose to let our true selves be seen and we can see others more clearly. When we allow ourselves
to be vulnerable, we can know that we are imperfect and wired for struggle, but that we are also worthy
of love and belonging. And we can give of ourselves, abundantly, ridiculously abundantly.

We are facing a time right now in the church where we are being given that choice: to grow and change
and be courageous, taking big risks and letting down our guard. To say yes instead of no, to say what
can we give instead of what are we owed, to find ourselves in the wilderness instead of locked safe in
familiar territory.

I said last week that Lent is a time to lean into the uncomfortable and uncertain, and it takes no small
amount of vulnerability to do that, it takes no small amount of courage to do that. But where we go, we
go together, and when we lean into this season of uncomfortableness, we are also leaning into hope. We
are embarking on our epic journey through this wilderness, and this Lent invites us into daring greatly.
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us embrace our vulnerabilities, embrace our strength, and
embrace this time to grow together, because I will reiterate the immortal words of my favourite
philosopher, one Winnie the Pooh: Promise me you’ll always remember, you are all braver than you
believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Hana Scorrar