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.”

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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.

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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.”
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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.'”

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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.'”

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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

Sunday, March 10, 2019
Lent 1: Wilderness

Luke 4:1-13: After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable to you oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer…

So, we have been talking a lot about change around here lately, and you may even notice that some things are a little different today. You know, just a little…

And I know that that can sometimes be hard for people, because change is uncomfortable. Even talking about changing things makes some people’s skin crawl. And it’s very hard in someplace like church that is wrapped up in all these traditions and rituals that hold sentimental, nostalgic value for us. So, please don’t read this as callous, but I must say, I am a great lover of change.
Things cannot change quick enough for me, like, I just want to go as fast as possible towards a new horizon. I like to say, Jesus can have the wheel, but I want the gas pedal.

And I have this analogy that my friends and I use when we come to big decisions. We call it cliff jumping. And guess what, yes, I am a cliff jumper. I don’t need equipment, I don’t need encouragement, I don’t even really care if it’s all that safe, I just want to jump. I am a leap before you look kind of person.

Thus, I have to also admit, that when I make these cliff jumping decisions and go flying off without even checking first where I’m going, I tend to be thinking about adventure.
That’s what I want when I start on the path God gives me, I want destiny, not desert.
I want the romantic notion of God’s call leading me to some fantastic journey with a machete and a rope bridge, or maybe some hardened inner-city kids who I befriend. I want even the hardest parts of the journey to be kind of magical, something that someone would want to make a movie out of.

I want change without growth, I want adventure without hardship, I want resurrection without death. I want all the good and exciting parts of life, but I don’t want to do the boring and tough bits. I don’t want to be uncomfortable.

I like change so much because I think if I can just move fast enough, the hard parts of it won’t catch up to me.

So, it’s sort of strange that I love the season of Lent. Because this is not a time to move fast, it’s not a time to dodge uncomfortableness. It is, as was said last week, a slow path through a deep and fruitful swamp.

And this is where we begin, in the desert, in the wilderness. And what a place to start.
Because it doesn’t feel like a great place to start. I mean, Jesus has just begun his ministry, he’s
called his disciples, he’s been baptized and God has sent a dove to proclaim that Jesus is his
beloved son. And then, you’d think he’d hit the road, but he doesn’t. He heads into the desert, for forty days! Forty days!

The beloved son of God, instead of fast tracking his ministry, taking things to the next level and
growing his brand, goes out into the wilderness to pray. And he is assailed there by the Devil.
Now, this is where we could get really weird with this sermon, but let’s just think about this for a
second. Jesus goes off, to start his mission from God, with 40 days in the wilderness. And there he meets temptation. Food when he is hungry, certainty when he is unsafe, power when he is powerless.

Now, this story seems dramatic and supernatural, and quite possibly easy to dismiss. Look what it’s become in the hands of modernity, Lent becoming a time to redo New Year’s resolutions to eat less chocolate and have less computer time. It has lost its teeth, it’s significance. It has lost the ability to remind us what is really going on here.

This story is big and wild and maybe doesn’t seem recognizable in our own lives, but it is. Because what the temptations were exactly don’t matter as much as the reasons behind them, and those are ones we all face. The temptation to take the easy way out when something we want conflicts with where we find ourselves. The temptation to certainty in the face of risk and chaos, the choice to pick safe, well-worn paths because we know where they go and staying stagnant instead of growing. The temptation to wield power to protect ourselves from fear and doubt and loneliness.

This doesn’t feel like a great place to start, but it’s the right place to start, because this journey we’re on towards the building of a kingdom requires something different from us, something new. It requires the ability to choose the long, hard path instead of the easy fix. It requires the willingness to risk, to not play it safe, and take the road less traveled. It requires the compassion and humility to acknowledge other people and their needs, the love needed to be a team, a community, rather than all-powerful and dictatorial.

It requires slowing down, and recognizing that the right place to start is the place of prayer, the place of listening to God, the place of intentional letting the Holy Spirit in.
I know that this is asking a lot. It’s asking all of us to sit with, lean into, being uncomfortable, being uncertain, being in the wilderness. And that’s not an easy task. And it can almost feel like punishment. But it’s not.

This time of wilderness, it’s a gift. It’s a strangely-wrapped, awkward gift that gives us so much.
Because it’s the gift of time, the gift of prayer and relationship with God, it’s the gift of trust, it’s the gift of newness, it’s the gift of community.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we make our journey towards the hope of the cross, we have been blessed with opportunities to discover new things in ourselves; to sit with the new ways we are
worshipping and to meditate on how we feel and why; to gather with the children in wonder and experience the building of ritual in the wilderness; to join in community and solidarity with those who are also on this journey, feeling the weight of this time and fighting the loneliness and fear.

It’s like that old saying, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. We have far to go, but we’re going together. So, take this time, beloved, this Holy Lent as a new start where the possibilities are endless, and let us give thanks for the gift of the desert road. Amen.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, January 20, 2019
Wedding at Cana

John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
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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, we’ve been on a crazy race through the Gospels in the last few weeks, we’ve moved very quickly from Jesus’ birth at Christmas through his childhood, baptism, and now we are here at the wedding at Cana, the first of the signs that John lays out in his Gospel, pointing to Jesus’ divine nature. Now, there’s a lot going on in this Gospel passage, with Jesus, his disciples, and his mother at a wedding, which has been going on for three days. Can you even imagine? Three days of celebration. And then, panic! The wine has run out.

Now, this for us wouldn’t be such a big deal, when my best friend The Rev’d Rosalyn Elm was inducted at the Mohawk Chapel and in all the planning the wine was forgotten for Eucharist, I got to run out to the LCBO. But in this time, there was no quick fix for this. There’s no store to run to, no easy way to get all that wine home, nobody has an SUV with the touchless trunk opener. And worse, this was no ordinary party, this was a wedding, an immensely important and sacred rite, a community celebration of the coming together of two families.

And they have run out of wine. Now, somehow Jesus’ mother knows this has happened, and in typical mother style, has offered her son’s help. And Jesus, like the typical son, doesn’t want to do it at first. But probably giving Him a look, she tells the servants to do what He tells them, and – tada – miracle! Jesus has turned the water jugs into wine.

Now, obviously, we can talk about this miracle as the first sign of many, the first miracle that Jesus performs over the course of His ministry. We can talk about Jesus, and his divine powers, and we can merely marvel at the signs that John has recorded. But I think that this sign, this first miracle, has an important job other than just showing us that Jesus is not your average guy. It is tying Jesus’ birth to Jesus’ death, and the significance of both, and I say this for two reasons.

Firstly, there is the presence of Jesus’ mother. Now, she is unnamed in John’s Gospel, just called Jesus’ mother, and she appears only twice, here at His first miracle and at the foot of His cross for the crucifixion. But the importance isn’t just in her placement in the story, it’s that Jesus, the Logos, the Word made flesh, has a mom. He is a real human being from a particular place and family, with a mom who bosses Him around when they’re at parties. Who voluntells Him to help at the wedding. She connects Him to creation in a human way, to His humble birth, and to His place in an ordinary family.

And she and the wedding remind us that God works through human scenarios that are imperfect and lacking, through humans that are flawed and full of doubts and fears and mistakes.

She stands in the place of us all, turning to Jesus to help. We have messed up, not planned right, or made a miscalculation. Something has gone askew, something has gone wrong.

It’s like Murphy’s Law, what can go wrong will go wrong. And this, this is a big one. Because wine isn’t just a nice pairing to the meal, it’s a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, of joy and gladness and hospitality. And so when they run short on wine, they run short on blessing. This is a catastrophe.

But this is the second connection we have to the overarching story of the Messiah, because this isn’t just a miracle like oh Jesus got some great Pinot Noir, this is about the gift of abundance tied to the gift of resurrection.

Now, the details of abundance cannot be overlooked in this text – six water jars, each 20-30 galleons, filled to the brim, with the best wine. Which would have been a total change-up of the traditional way of supplying your guests with wine, who would be expecting that the host would be down to the dregs of their supply and pulling out the worst of their store.

This is an outpouring of a gift beyond human deserving or making. Human resources are at an end, there is no wine left, no joy, no blessing, no abundance, but just like the other miracles John describes, when humans have come to the end of their skills, supplies, or courage, Jesus heals, feeds, comforts amid the storm of life.

And on the cross, where this miracle is pointing, the Word made flesh comes to the end of His earthly life, but there is another miracle there. Life where there is only death. Beginning where there is ending.

This is what our Gospel reading is about this morning. The gift of the wedding is, yes, wine, but it is more, it is abundance where there was only scarcity. And it propels us forward to the hour when the gift will be abundant new life.

It is easy with the way we read our Bibles in tiny sections every week to forget that there is a grander story that is at play here, that there is an arc, a movement to the ministry of Jesus, and our liturgical year. It’s easy to forget how they connect with one another, to just get caught up in the magic of Christmas and the deprivation of Lent.

But this is a wonderful opportunity to sit in the tension of the story, moving from one turning point to the next, from the birth to the cross; and to really look at the importance of the whole.

Jesus was born a humble babe in a manger, to ordinary parents, born in a stable in the midst of miracle. Here, he is both the child of that mother, and the Son of God who shows the gift of abundance in the midst of great lack.

This Gospel reading is a reminder that whenever Jesus reveals His divinity, He is simultaneously revealing something about His humanity. And in this sign of water into wine, we might experience something of ourselves.

That miracles are not as far away as we think. That God, working in ordinary people can move mountains, can change sorrow into joy.

That every moment we live in Jesus, we have the chance to live in the dance of the divine in and amongst creation. Bread and wine can bear Christ’s body and blood. An ordinary hug can convey unbounded love and blessing. The smallest donation of food or money can tip the balance between scarcity and abundance. A simple act of kindness can make all the difference in the world. The tiniest bit of light can shine in the darkest of places.

With God, anything is possible. And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as we gather to share in the bread and wine, let us be filled with that gift of abundance, that we may spread it, share it, enjoy it, and use it.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, January 6, 2019
wise Kings?

Sermon Summary – Epiphany – January 6, 2019

In a few moments we will sing “We Three Kings”, I expect with some gusto as it is a favourite Christmas Carol, but more appropriate to Epiphany. It also shows just how much liberty we have taken with the Gospel story that has just been read, but then again the Gospel story takes liberties as well. Did you note that they were not Kings, but wise (small w) men from the east. The number of these wise people is not mentioned, but given that there were three gifts, we have just assumed three people. And if these people are fit to visit Jesus, then they must at least be Kings with a capital K.

So a few more details that we don’t usually translate too well. The wise people didn’t show up at the manger. Many scholars suggest they were priests from Zoroastrianism – a religion still practiced today in Iran. Zoroastianism, which focused on astrology, thus the connection to following a star, were prominent in ancient Persia. So if the star appeared to them in their home country, by the time they prepared a caravan for travel and got underway and then made the trek – well my geography of the middle east isn’t that stellar, however I think we can reasonably guess months perhaps as long as a year before they arrived. And don’t forget they stopped to see Herod which would have been up in the area that Mary and Joseph originally lived. But we can be sure when they finally showed up in Bethlehem, the little drummer boy was on hand to play!

Once again, we can’t see the forest for the trees. Matthew, the only Gospel writer to include the wise people, is on a misssion to tell a story, a teaching story, not an historical story. It is important to Matthew to tell the story in a way that shows Gentiles accepted Jesus as the Messiah when His own people didn’t. Now Matthew has five or six decades of water under the bridge to wiggle around in while telling this story. Remember, only Matthew and Luke stop to tell the birth story. Written 30 years after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, we are supposed to accept as actual fact a story that nobody else bothered to tell from 30 years earlier? So let’s agree to get the warm fuzzy from singing the hymn and take on a much deeper investigation of the Gospel.

The fact that Herod plays a big role in this story has much to say to us. The fact that Herod is supposed to have killed every child under two to prevent Jesus from escaping – there is no historic evidence of such a massacre – might just lead us to understand the poetic license that Matthew is taking. That license is to open the door to you and me – gentiles one and all – into the community of Jesus. Not that this would necessarily be any big surprise to anyone who was following the Way. Take the Epistle reading from Epiphesians that we have just heard, written by Paul a full decade before Matthew’s Gospel and Paul already assumes the inclusion of Gentiles in the followers of Jesus.

So we have the Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, a welcome to one and all to come to the table, the family of Jesus. And there have been many other small “e” epiphanies along the way. The earth is round, and it goes around the sun. Slavery is not God’s gift to the privileged. And while we are at it, the epiphany that women are equal to men. I’m currently reading Michael Coren’s book called Epiphany which entails his change of heart and mind on marriage equality. So maybe we shouldn’t be focused solely on The Epiphany but also to see the epiphanies that faith in Jesus brings to all that encounter Him.

Sunday, December 9, 2018
A Time to Prepare

Luke 3:1-6: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

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

Wow, that gospel was quite a mouthful, and I’m very glad I wasn’t the one reading it; but I would like to just reread a piece that I think is really important:

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

” Now, I really love John the Baptist, I love that he’s this wild prophet out in the wilderness, with his revolutionary proclamations: Prepare the way of the Lord! I love that, I mean I’m not ready to go out to the street corner with a sandwich board, but I love it.

And what I find so interesting about this passage today is that it is this foretelling of something great and life-changing. Which might seem like it’s just another weird text about the end times, but I think it can say a lot to us about where we are right now.

And where we are right now is Advent. Now, it’s a kinda funny thing that doesn’t get talked about a lot that we have so many apocalyptic and prophetic passages during Advent; and I think this goes to what Keith has been preaching on in his last two sermons about how we explain and understand Advent. There is a lot here that we tend to gloss over, not just when we scramble to get to Christmas, but also when we focus too much on the aesthetics of the liturgical season. Either way, we’re missing the opportunity to discuss something really important, something that has huge bearing on our future as the church and how we engage with contemporary society.

Now, you might be asking yourselves, how am I drawing that conclusion? I mean, come on, this is crazy prophetic talk from an ancient people, written down in the early centuries of history. What the heck does this have to do with us today?

It seems like such a strange way to begin the season of Advent.

Because Advent is, let’s face it, usually lumped into the Christmas season which is all about presents and food and decorations, it’s a light season, a happy season. Even if people are not sucked into the commercial Christmas season, it’s still about a sweet story of a baby in manger with cute little sheep and cows standing around.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I already have my Santa mugs out and my tree up and I have been blasting Christmas music in my car on the way to work every morning since November 12th, so this is not a disparaging remark aimed at anyone, but it is something to think about.

Because we lose something of the power of the story when we forget what this really means.

We are in the season of preparing our hearts, waiting for God-with-us, God made flesh, and in the midst of a season of hope and peace and joy and love being born into the world, we are confronted with these passages about the coming of something that disrupts the great power structures and pulls down the temple and society and everything. Just as in the midst of great tyrannical power God sends His Son, born a baby to humble parents, a humble birth of a king.

And as odd as it might seem, this is exactly why we need Advent. Because these two images don’t make sense together, and as we prepare for God to move among humans, we are preparing for the reverse ordering of the status quo, we are preparing for an overturning of culture and tradition, power and privilege. Jesus’ coming is not just spiritual, it is social. He is not just preparing his followers for a different kingdom after death, but calls upon them to be different in the present.

It is not just about what happens in the fullness of time or in the ancient of days, but what is happening right now.

When we get to this season, there’s always competing visions of the right way to do this or that. Keith talked about it last week with the Advent traditions. Blue or purple, how we use the wreath, can you sing Christmas carols. We become so ensconced in our own ideas about the best way to celebrate, and sometimes in doing so, we forget what we’re celebrating.

There is always a lot of talk at this time about the War on Christmas, and keeping Christ in Christmas, or talking about how the church needs to be countercultural because society is just so far from the Gospel right now; and I think that this time with Advent invites us into this conversation if we let it.

Because here is the Gospel: that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to be born into it, not a great king, not a mighty warrior, but a helpless baby. Gifted to two humble, faithful people, born in the lowliest of places, surrounded by animals and shepherds. That God so loved this world that when He thought of what could best show His love, He didn’t go to the high priests or the politicians, He didn’t go to the wealthy or the powerful. When His Son built His ministry, He chose tax collectors and fishermen; when He gave examples of great faith and love He spoke about Samaritans and lepers and impoverished women; when He brought messages of trust and hope, He walked among the crowds on the side of the sea.

I don’t think this Gospel is lost, I think we have forgotten how to recognize it. But this is our opportunity to wrestle with it.

As we prepare ourselves for His coming in this Advent season, we can be reminded that we are tasked with not only waiting with joyful anticipation, but with passionate and hopeful action. We are not called to be countercultural or to pull away from the world, we are called into loving relationship with the world that God created.

I know that it’s a lot to ask in this already busy season. I get it, I’m swamped. And I want to just enjoy the Christmas lights and cookies and those Hallmark made-for-tv movies too. But Advent is an opportunity as followers of Christ to delve into something more, something deeper.

So my brothers and sisters, as we move forward, as we journey towards the coming of Christ, let us remember that this is not just the birth of a baby we are celebrating, but the birth of a Saviour. Who came to change the world, and who calls us into that mission. This season is a time to prepare, to move closer, a time to think about our relationship to Christ and what our mission is, a time to remember just how much God loves us, and how He shows that love to the world. A time to think about the Gospel story, not just as a cute crèche scene, but as an overturning of the world.

And it is a time to remember the powerful gifts we have been given to prepare the way for the Lord: hope, peace, joy, and love.

Hana Scorrar