“I AM the Resurrection and the Life”

July 17, 2016

Reading from Luke 10:38-42

Reading from John 11: 17-272016-06-26 12.18.57

SERMON

Please pray with me – May the words I speak reach hearts that need to hear them, may the thoughts I share inspire thoughts of your own, and may all of us share in this time of learning and reflecting, recognizing the presence and grace of God among us all. Amen.

The third window in this 10 week series is titled “I AM the resurrection and the life.” The window itself was erected in the memory of Robert Romans who was associated with this church from 1871-1921. Unlike our other memorials to date, there was very little to find out about Mr. Romans. The single entry I found was on a genealogy website that shared that his sisters may have operated the famous Waverly Inn here in Halifax, but I wasn’t able to confirm this. All that being said, he was important — because he lived. Today we remember him as we think about the message contained in the window dedicated to his life and service.

This week’s scripture passage was chosen because of the order in which I took the photographs of the windows. Interestingly, like last week, our reading is lining up with the suggested readings from the revised common lectionary. The reading that was read from Luke is that reading and in it we are introduced to the sisters Martha and Mary. These women were loved and well known to Jesus. You can tell because they are very comfortable in his presence. In this story Martha is so comfortable with Jesus that she takes him aside to complain about her sister Mary. I recognize myself in Martha and I think many of us do. Martha is busy. She is preparing meals, she is making sure everyone is comfortable, she makes the home, she serves the food, and she works hard to take care of others. Martha is busy with earthly things. Jesus was never concerned with earthly things. He taught that God would always ensure that we had enough. He taught that worrying was akin to lacking in faith. Jesus taught that if we place our full trust in God we can rest assure that God will provide us with all that we will ever need.

These teachings – these words are what Martha was too busy to hear. It may seem to us, as it did to Martha, that Mary was shirking her responsibilities. But, in the eyes of God and in the heart of Christ, Mary was doing the only work that really mattered. Mary’s heart and mind were set on learning the way of God through the teachings of Jesus. She sat at his feet and worried no more about the work while he was there because it didn’t matter to her then. There was a special guest in the house and he came to see her and she understood that he didn’t want her to fuss over him. You see, there will always be a time for the work…..but when Jesus visits your house and your heart, for God’s sake….literally, for God’s sake, stop working and listen and learn how to follow God’s will for your life!

It isn’t easy to do this. In fact, it can be one of the hardest things to do, right? –to stop being busy, to just stop “doing” just to be “doing”? Like Jesus said to Martha, we are “distracted and worried by many things.” What happens if we don’t ever stop and really recharge our souls? What happens when we fill our days with business? – always wanting more, always striving for perfection? What happens when we build stress after stress, worry after worry? What does it do to us? –

–It kills us. ……..

How many of you know someone who seems spiritually dead? Or maybe, at some point in your life you have thought to yourself, “I feel dead inside”…. If we are not careful –if we are not full of care for spirit then it will die even if the body lives….Jesus says that sometimes this kind of death is necessary so that our lives be transformed to glory God.

One of my favorite commentaries and explorations of the gospel of John is written by a local chap and Hindu man named Ravi Ravindra. His book is called, “The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism.” I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ravindra, but his writing has changed my life. I always felt close to God when I practiced Yoga and Meditation and it was his writing that began to help me make connections between the scriptures in my Bible and all the things I was studying through Yoga. When I this week’s reading came from John I grabbed this book from my shelf and sat down for a read.

For me, there is something about the story of Lazarus’ stinking corpse standing up and coming back to life and walking out of that cave that just doesn’t ring true – it is just too unbelievable to me. It is not that I don’t believe in miracles – I really do. But, I am also a scientist. I am trained to doubt, to ask questions and look for evidence. As much as I am idealist, my sense of what is possible is deeply rooted in my knowledge of how things work. When an important story like this seems too impossible, I know there has to be something more. I always suspect that there is bigger meaning to the story than just what I can skim from it’s surface.

So I dove in. I asked myself if this was simply a story about a man physically dying and then coming back from natural death to the land of the living? –This is how it is written after all. If I am only going to read it at that level then I can honestly tell you that I don’t believe this story to be a fact. I can’t and quite frankly I don’t want to. I learned that I must read the Bible and the stories of Jesus for their truths not for their facts. Otherwise, I risk only believing the stories that seem factually possible. Then the Bible becomes a pick and choose buffet or build your own sandwich bar rather than the rich well-planned, nutritious full course meal that it really is. If I read theses stories for truth then they are all possible. I choose to read the Bible, as Marcus Borg says, “Seriously, not literally”.

In his book, Ravindra invites us to think about the relationship between Jesus and Lazarus in a very spiritual sense – in the light of Indian mysticism if you will. This is a new way of thinking about this story for me and maybe for you too. What if Lazarus was in a deep personal turmoil? What if his “sickness” was a state of anguish and despair brought on by the work of searching for God? What if Lazarus was experiencing a “dark night of the soul”? What if this spiritual journey was so serious that his family was worried about his mental state? What if they thought he was going mad and that he would never come back from it? What if Lazarus was letting go of EVERYTHING he was, to become EVERYTHING he was supposed to become in God? What if his death was the death of the self?

Ravindra also points out that the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead doesn’t appear in any other gospel. This is important. Ask yourself this – If this story is a fact and it is the reason that the Sanhedrin decides to execute Jesus as the writer of John suggests then why doesn’t it appear anywhere else? Ravindra says this:

“…the whole episode is inner and symbolic, enacted in an intimate circle of love and thus not recounted in more esoteric synoptic gospels. Whatever Jesus may have taught crowds, his call to his own close disciples was always practicing dying – dying to their lives, dying to personal human relationships, dying to the whole world, dying to everything that did not pertain directly to the will of God.”

So, Lazarus died. Spiritual death is required for spiritual life.

Enter Martha. Martha “the doer” meets Jesus on the road as he comes to help Lazarus rise from his spiritual death. Martha speaks this truth to him, “Lord, if you had been here he would not have died.” We often read that line as blaming Jesus for he brother’s death, but what if it really was just speaking the Truth? Ravindra suggests that Lazarus may have been Jesus’ closest pupil. The book suggests that he was the one whom Jesus loved. Interpreting Martha’s statement in this new way recognizes that the absence of Lazarus’ spiritual guide and master was required for him to let go of his attachment to his earthly life. Martha implores Jesus to do what he can to help, even though her brother, as she knew him, was gone.

Jesus assures her that Lazarus will indeed rise again, that he will live anew, and that she doesn’t have to wait for some distant unknown time. Jesus assures her that he will live now because, as he tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even thought they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” It is a simple, yet profound statement that speaks of the foundation of our faith as a resurrection people.

This “I AM” statement plants itself firmly in the present. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is now. This is the fifth of seven times that Jesus makes a clear “I AM” statement in the book of John. The “I AM” statements are significant because they echo the Old Testament response of God to Moses’ question about who he shall say sent him. The voice tells Moses, “I AM that I AM, I AM sent you.” In John, Jesus tells us that HE is the way to GOD and he tells us how in these statements. The “I AM” statements are like the key to the map that is the way of Jesus Christ and the way of Jesus Christ leads us home to God. The statement “I AM the resurrection and the life” reminded Martha that the kingdom is NOW and is in HIM and all she and all God’s people need to do is follow his teachings and believe that what he says is true. He asks, “Do you believe this?” and Martha makes her statement of faith – Jesus is the Son of God and he is God coming into the world!

What does all this mean to you and I? –We too must die if we are to live. William Shakespeare said, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” We need to stop worrying about when we will die and start living the life that God wants us to live. But if we find that we are dying a thousand deaths because we are afraid, driven to perfection, never happy with what we have, stressed out, sick and…. well, just stuck then we need to let that life die so that we can rise up and truly live. Martha needed to be reminded of this and so do we. We need to be more like Mary than Martha now and put our work and business aside and sit at the feet of Jesus and soak up the Word. We need to hear the lessons that teach us how to live. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he said. We need to read the words that show us why we need to let go. —-It is written, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” When we do this, when we let ourselves die to the way We think we are supposed to be, this is when the miracles happen.

“Lazarus come out” Jesus said. —and he did. But he couldn’t do it alone. He needed the help of his friends in the end to help him be truly free from the ties that bound him to this state of being dead so Jesus said, “Untie him” and they did. And he was free. This is the Truth I hear in this story.

  • Jesus is the way to God.
  • If we follow his teaching we better be ready to learn that we need to die to live again.
  • If we want to live again then we must follow his way.
  • If we are willing to die, God’s grace will enter in.
  • Jesus loves us –he loves us so much that he will call us from the darkness of death and say, “come out”.
  • And when we are ready, he will send people to help us pick ourselves back up and set us free.

Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” –——- So, do you believe this? And if you do, do you hear him calling you to let go and live again?

“……Come out.”

Amen.

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“Go and Do Likewise”

2016-06-26 12.17.16July 10, 2016

Luke 10:25-37

SERMON

Please pray with me – May the words I speak reach hearts that need to hear them, may the thoughts I share inspire thoughts of your own, and may all of us share in this time of learning and reflecting, recognizing the presence and grace of God among us all. Amen.

This is second stained glass window inspired sermon in my 10-week series. Interestingly, I chose the order that I would preach the windows on the morning I took pictures of them. It was a neat surprise when I learned that the theme of this week’s window happens to fall in line with the revised common lectionary. The Spirit is awesome! The ‘Good Samaritan” window here was placed in loving memory of Sir Robert Boak who died in December of 1904 in his 82nd year. Sir Boak was the founder and operator of the large West India business until passing it on to his son George. He also served as president of the Legislative Council and Provincial Treasurer. He was one of the original subscribers to this church and was one of the men responsible for funding the construction of this building. I could find little about his personal life or contributions to society, but today, in our remembering, we give thanks for his life and his support of the work of the church that allows to worship here today.

The story of the good Samaritan is well known to us in the church. As we read, the story goes that Jesus was asked by a man who studied the law who the neighbour is that he’s speaking about when he says “love your neighbor as yourself”. At the end of the story Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” – the right answer is the one who showed him mercy. According to the teaching then a neighbour is one who shows mercy to someone who is suffering. But wait!!! Is Jesus trying to tell me that I am only to treat those who show me mercy in the way that I would treat myself? If I was the lawyer (and in a previous life I think I might have been!), my next question would have been, “then how am I supposed to treat those that do not show me mercy Lord?” – Thankfully Jesus answered this question earlier in Luke when he said “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I’m pretty sure that Jesus would have answered the lawyer me with, “love them too”. Today I want to talk about another dimension in this story. I want to move past “who is your neighbour” and think about what Jesus’ instruction at the end of the parable “go and do likewise”. I want us to consider what he means? HOW do WE do that?

Commentaries on this parable are endless. In them we learn that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a dangerous. It was dangerous because of its terrain with its ditches, twists and turns. It was also dangerous because that terrain allowed lots of places for bandits to hide. It was the main road leading away from the temple in Jerusalem and going back to Jericho. This is likely why we find a priest and the Levite going down this road despite its known danger. Jewish priests and people (like the Levite) were forbidden to touch blood or the dead as both would have defiled them under the law making them unfit for worshipping God. This may explain why they avoided the wounded man. It has also been argued though that there was no good legal reason because the story says they were going “down” the road back to Jericho and thus their temple duties would have been finished for the day and the law would have allowed them to take care of the dead and injured. We don’t know why they didn’t stop, the story never says. It does tell us who stopped and it tells us why. The Samaritan man stopped and helped because he felt pity. It would have shocked the listener to hear that it was a Samaritan man that stopped to help a man that we assume to be a Jew. Jews and Samaritans hated each other because of a land and cultural dispute centuries earlier.

The story becomes known by the provocative title of “the good Samaritan” because, to the Jews, there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan. There was no war or overt fighting between the Jews and the Samaritans. No, this was a more subtle form of hatred. The Jews didn’t have dealings with the Samaritans and the Samaritans had no business with the Jews. They didn’t fight, they just remained bitter for centuries because their ancestors hated each other. I imagine that many of the people didn’t even know why they didn’t get along. It was just the way it always was. They just knew, on either side, that you simply don’t associate with “those people”. This was racism.

The idea that a Samaritan showed mercy to a Jew made him the neighbour in the eyes of Jesus. Jesus was teaching his Jewish followers that they were to treat all people, even those that didn’t look like them or act like them or worship like them, as they would treat themselves. This was a very radical and inclusive love and would have shaken the community off its foundation. Jesus was challenging them. “Go and do likewise,” he said. “Go and find ways to love those not like you.”

What did the Samaritan actually do? –He took a great risk and considered the needs of the other before the needs or safety of himself. I read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” this week. I was reading the speech because I was trying to understand the horrible events in the United States this past week. There in the middle of the speech Dr. King starts talking about the Good Samaritan story – the same story that had been stirring in my heart. Dr. King taught me that the concern that seemed to prevent the Priest or the Levite from helping the wounded man was what would happen to them if they stopped.“If I stop, will I become unclean in the eyes of God – and no longer be able to be a priest?”, “If I stop, will I find out that he is just pretending and he will rob me?”, “If I stop, will more bandits come out of their hiding places and attack me too?”Dr. King said that the concern of the Samaritan was different. Instead of “What will happen me?” the Samaritan man seemed to only ask “What will happen to the wounded man if I don’t stop?”

This week I watched the videos of two young black men being murdered by police. I have never watched one of these kinds of videos before. I didn’t let myself watch them because I knew that they would hurt me. I felt I needed to protect myself somehow. But something in me, with this scripture reading stirring my heart made me ask, “what will happen if you watch these videos? What will happen if you don’t?” Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw, what I heard, and what I felt. As my helpless tears flowed, I slowly realized that the pain that I just witnessed, the screams I heard, the prayers cried was the pain of a people that have suffered discrimination and hate because of the colour of their skin for centuries. Racism is not new. What is new is that everybody has a camera on their phone and instead of these incidents happening in private or only in the presence of people where it becomes he said/she said, it is now possible for all of us to become witnesses to the horror that is getting pulled over for a broken taillight and being black.

The Washington Post reports that so far in 2016, over 100 black men have been shot and killed by police in the United States. The 2015 statistics from the same source show an overwhelming disproportionate percentage of police fatalities amongst African American men. I am trying to wrap my head around these stats because I don’t get it – I can’t. I am a straight, white, middle-class raised, well-educated, Christian woman living in Nova Scotia. This week I was ashamed to realize that with the rare exception, I don’t have black friends. My Facebook friends list alone is representative of the disproportionate number of black friends that I actually have. I really don’t know why this is the case. I certainly don’t hate black people. I don’t hate anyone. But just because I don’t hate them doesn’t mean that I have made an effort to love them. This is definitely not intentional. But this week it was so clear to me that all my friends look like me, and if they don’t then they are members of communities that I have made an effort to intentionally support. I don’t have a good reason why I have not made this same effort with my black neighbours. I do know that Christ wants us to love all of our neighbours, not just the ones like us or the ones we already know.

It is up to each of us to recognize when we are wrong and work with God to change our hearts. I am starting with this: I am teaching myself everything that it is possible for me to know from the position of who I am as a person of privilege. I am reading every article I can about the #blacklivesmatter movement. I also used to ask the question, “but don’t all lives matter”? I am teaching myself that this sentiment is wrong and why so that I can help other people understand how offensive and demoralizing it is when we correct #blacklivesmatter with #alllivesmatter. Saying all lives matter denies the truth that black lives have not mattered to many people for a very, very long time. Saying alllivesmatter is as obvious as saying that all people have the right to food. Does that mean that all people are fed? No. We wouldn’t respond to a campaign “to feed the hungry” by saying, “But all people deserve to have food!”, because that would deny the fact that there are still hungry people that need our help to be fed even if we know that everyone deserves it!

I am teaching myself about the disparity that black people face in North America. People that identify as black make up around 13% of the American Populations and only 3% of Canadians. Yet, approximately 80% of the cars pulled over by police in the US are driven by black people and black people here in Canada are three times more likely than whites to be stopped and asked to show their ID. This truth results in black parents having to have conversations with their children about the very real possibility that they will be treated like criminals by police and others because of the colour of their skin. This is a conversation I will never have with my children – it just doesn’t make sense!

I’m teaching myself how to use my position as a leader to teach others what I have learned. When I hear things like, “How could anybody video tape that stuff, shouldn’t they have helped?” I find myself saying, “this is the only way they can help, who are they going to call? The police?” I am learning to speak up and defend my neighbour like I would want them to defend me. I am arming myself with the facts. “Maybe he shouldn’t be carrying a gun,” they say. “Well, actually Philando Castile had a license to carry as is legal under the constitution of the United States, according to reports he announced it to the officer who asked him for his license and registration that he was reaching for in his back pocket before he was shot 4 times at point blank range.”I’ve heard things like, “He should have known better than to have weed on him.” Or “he should have known better than to fight back and resist arrest…” My answer will always be, “he did not deserve to be shot dead for carrying a legal firearm, for a misdemeanour, for a bag of weed, or for fighting back because he was angry that he was selling CDs in front of store where he had the permission from the owner to do so like Alton Sterling….”He, they, none of them deserve to be left for dead like the wounded man on the road, none of them deserve to have a gun remain drawn on them as they lay dying. I know that this kind of defense will not make me very popular among those that want to remain comfortable in the shelter of their ignorance where I myself have lived for too long. For this is what we are doing when say nothing. We are walking by and leaving the wounded for dead and carrying on our way like the priest and the Levite.

Earlier this week I posted on Facebook that I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know what to say about what I witnessed in those videos. I still don’t know if this is the right thing. Quite frankly, I am terrified to say the things I am saying this morning. You don’t know me. I could stand up here and tell you that I am not a racist but…. But the truth is that although I wasn’t like the robbers who wounded the man and left him for dead, I have been more like the priest and the Levite by leaving the wounded man to die because I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know how to help. It is my duty, it is all of our duties as Christians to learn from the parables of Jesus about what we are supposed to do. Jesus told us how and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived these teachings. In his prophetic speech he said,

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

In these words hear the hope for change. It begins in all of us when grace steps in and stirs our hearts to action. How can you commit to change in your own life? Who are the people in your world that you walk by? Can you find a way to search your heart and change the question from “if I help what might happen to me” to “If I don’t, what might happen to them”. I wonder if we can begin to care more about the answer to the answer to the second question? This is the hope for change. Each of us can do our part. Where is God calling you to start –today?

Amen.

 

 

 

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“The Least of These”

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July 3, 2016

Matthew 25 verses 31-46 (NRSV)

SERMON

Please pray with me – May the words I speak reach hearts that need to hear them, may the thoughts I share inspire thoughts of your own, and may all of us share in this time of learning and reflecting, recognizing the presence and grace of God among us all. Amen.

Today, I begin a 10-week sermon series inspired by the stained glass windows in this church. Last Sunday, I was here to share in worship with you. Rev. Trent invited me to take part in the service of baptism and as I sat here at the front listening to his sermon I felt what I call, “A tap on the shoulder”. It’s not an actual tap, but it feels kind of like that. You know that tap – when someone has been trying to get your attention and eventually they feel the need to touch you so you know that they are there. When you feel that, you can’t help but stop listen to them. That’s what happened last Sunday. I felt that tap and it said, “look around you” and there I saw 5 beautiful stained glass windows. I assumed that the other side also had 5. I was inspired! 5 + 5 is 10 and I was going to be here for 10 weeks. I knew I was supposed to preach from your windows. I didn’t know why, but one thing I have learned is that when I feel that tap on my shoulder, it is a good sign. So far, it hasn’t steered me wrong. I don’t always like where it leads me (like into discernment and a completely changing the path of my life!), but it is always good and I always learn something that I want to share with others. So here we are…

After the service, I told Rev. Trent of my inspiration and he pointed out that there are only 4 stained glass windows on the other side. So, this morning I’m starting with one of the taller windows here at the front. The window this morning was placed in memory of John Fitzgerald Stairs by his widow in 1909. He died in 1904 at the young age of 56. Mr. Stairs served in all levels of government, was the president of many companies and an advocate for business here in the Maritimes. He was also a pillar of what was then known as Fort Massey Presbyterian Church. He was the superintendent of Sunday school from 1888 to 1894 and again from 1896. He was elected as an elder in 1903 and was president of the Nova Scotia Sunday School Association at the time of his death.

The window itself is based on Matthew 25:40 – I love the old language of the King James Version: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The window depicts a man surrounded by angels giving a woman a drink. This passage is from a longer section that represents the conclusion of a number of parables that speak of the time when Christ will come again after the Resurrection.  In Greek, this is known as the Parousia. New Testament scholars are divided on whether this concept concerns one final time of judgment or if it speaks of any time that Christ reveals himself after his death. The story told here Matthew 25, as we read this morning appears to point to a specific time at the expected day of judgment and echoes the visions of the prophet Daniel found in the Hebrew Bible.

I admit that I struggle with this passage and maybe you do too. I struggle with it because its setting places it clearly in the context of a consequentialist God who doles out punishments and rewards based on a judgment. This passage is uncomfortable and disturbing for me because it seems to lack the element of Grace. Grace is integral to my understanding of the unconditionally loving and forgiving of the God that I have come to know. Even here though, we can find Grace if we seek it. Wait for it….

This scripture promises eternal life for some and for others it threatens eternal fire. It talks of the Devil and all his angels. This story is about good and it is about evil. And both exist – not just at the end of time – they exist in the here and now. I believe that the message in this scripture is less about promising what happens at the day of judgment (that may or may not happen) and is instead a lesson for how we should live life today. I can’t think of a place in the bible that is more specific in it’s instructions about HOW God expects us to behave and WHY.

For most of us, a good story has a protagonist and an antagonist, it has tension, it has a climax and it has a point. For me, what has always mattered in a story is not necessarily the style in which the story is told, but rather, I am always really interested in what the story is trying to tell me. In this tale of throne room of the mighty Kingdom of God, we find the Son of Man. From other stories of our faith we know that this is one of the names for Jesus. Here in this mythical room ALL the nations of the world, all the people that are and ever were appear before the mighty King. They have come to find out who will inherit the kingdom of God and thus live an eternal life and who will not. Then there is a confusing bit about sheep and goats. I don’t know about you, but a throne room seems like a strange place to find a shepherd…. or is it a King?

In R.T. France’s commentary on the Book of Matthew, I read that in ancient times sheep and goats were herded together and it was customary to divide them at times although it was not clear why. In this story,  I interpret this to mean that while on earth we are all “in it” together. Some are like goats and some are like sheep and it is not always easy to tell us apart. It takes the shepherd to really know the truth of who we are. These pastoral images don’t make a whole lot of sense to us today or even thrown into the middle of a throne-room story, but they don’t have to. The sorting is less important here than the reasons given for what separates the sheep from the goats according to Matthew’s vision of the day of judgment. Those that are chosen to inherit the kingdom of God, here represented by the sheep at the right hand, those that are declared righteous and worthy, are those that treated other people with respect, with kindness and with love. HOW did they do that? Specifically, when they saw someone was hungry – they fed them, when they met a stranger they made them a friend, when they saw that someone needed clothes – they clothed them, when someone was sick – they took care of them, when someone was in prison – they took the time to visit them. Jesus says that every time they did these things they were doing it for him. And here is the crux of the story in my opinion. The reason WHY they did these things is REALLY important. It mattered to Jesus because it matters to God. The people didn’t do what they did to impress Jesus or to win favour with God. They did it simply because it was the right thing to do. In the ultimate expression of love – they did these things because they lived in the teaching that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

When they saw someone suffering they felt empathy and their hearts demanded that they ease the suffering of others. This is the true meaning of compassion – “to-suffer-with”. They didn’t help for their own well-being, they didn’t do it for a reward, they didn’t do it because they were afraid of being punished if they didn’t do it – no, they did it because they loved their fellow human beings. It’s easy to love those who are like us, but if we truly believe that we are all made in the image of God, then we must love like God and God surely loves ALL God’s children! The gospel of John does a great job of reminding us that Christ lives in us – he lives in all of us – even those that are hungry, even those that are in prison, even those that are naked…. Christ lives in the marginalized. Christ will live in you if you live in him and to live in him means to love others as God has loved you – without fear and without conditions.

Now here is the part I love about this story the most. We could easily get caught up in the end of the story when we learn what happens to the ‘bad guys’. It is all so dramatic – there is eternal fire, there is the Devil and his angels….it is dark and it is scary! It is so Hollywood, right? There is a great satisfaction in the movies and stories when the emperor gets what’s coming to him at the end of The Return of the Jedi, or when Inigo Montoya finally sticks it to the six-fingered man in The Princess Bride, or what about the death of Malificent at Prince Phillip’s sword in Sleeping Beauty? We all love a classic good-beats-evil conclusion, don’t we? It ties the story up so nicely.

What’s really great about Matthew 25 is this – our story isn’t over! And it ain’t over until it IS and until then — we will NEVER know what happens. Although this story tells us what happened to those that turned their backs on their fellow human beings and let them suffer, that time hasn’t happened yet (if it will at all). I don’t know what the bible means by eternal fire anymore than I understand what it means about eternal life. I can’t know these things – they are unknowable in this life. I can guess, but I can’t know. All the stories about what will happen, when it will happen and who it will happen to, are just that – stories. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t relevant. There is a great first line among some First Nations storytellers that goes something like this, “I do not know if the story I am about to tell is true, but I do know that it contains the truth.” That’s how I read these stories of Jesus. I read them and I look for the truth that they reveal to me. The truth I hear in today’s story is this: God wants us to live a life in concern for each other. When we see suffering, we are called to action. Even though the suffering in the world seems insurmountable most of the time, we make a difference when we treat one person with compassion. When we practice compassion and empathy it becomes who we are, it gets in our bones. We are called to love each other – that’s it. That means that we can do that together with all our brothers and sisters who are also doing God’s work in the world whether they call it that or not. God doesn’t care that we know WHY we are doing good in the world. God only cares that we ARE doing good in the world.

 

So DO GOOD my friends. Trust me – it is more contagious than scaring people into being good with threats of fire and hell or promises of fluffy clouds and pearly gates. Here is where I see the Grace in the message – Do good because God MADE you good and God sent Jesus to SHOW you how to express this innate goodness! Every day is an opportunity to turn to the life and example of Jesus Christ. When we do we he will show us again and again and again how to live in accordance to God’s will. Take care of each other my brothers and sisters. Be kind to the stranger. Fill your lives with love and compassion. Find ways to help so that when people come to know you, they also come to know the love of Christ. So, the next time you feel “a tap on the shoulder” – stop and listen. Someone is trying to get your attention. Don’t turn your back on suffering. Instead, turn your face to God and let Christ be your light – and trust that it is a light that leads you to life full of Love. Thanks be to God.

(Comments are welcome, but please refrain from criticizing poor grammar and punctuation. This is not an exercise in academic writing, but is written for delivery in spoken word. Forgive me for my trespasses as I forgive you! Peace.)
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Fort Massey United Church – Summer Sermon Series 2016

53423_LargeI am so happy to be back on my website again. It has been a tumultuous, but life-changing year and coming back to this blog feels like coming home. I have promised to share my 10-week summer sermon series with anyone who is interested, so I am happy to share them here. I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to join me at Fort Massey United Church at the corner of Queen and Tobin Street in downtown Halifax this summer. I will be leading worship every Sunday morning at 10:30 am from July 3 to Sept 4, 2016.

Each entry will start with a photo of the window that inspired the week’s sermon, the corresponding scripture passage and then the sermon prayer and sermon. Thanks for reading!

In the Peace and Love of Jesus Christ,

~k

 

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Fear not

“You should be in our talent show in the morning,” she said.

“Absolutely not,” my body quickly replied.

“Wait now,” implored my heart, “We love to sing. Flesh, we will be okay…”

“No.” my body replied flatly.

My soul chimed in, “Yes, yes, yes.”

And then my mind remembered, “You have promised to surrender and trust.”

All of me sighed.

“Yes!” I said.

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If you know me personally, you will know how much I love to sing. I have loved to sing and perform since I was a child. It is in my nature to express myself in song. That’s the crazy thing about fear — it will cloud your nature to the point that you don’t believe in who you are anymore.

I have lived with panic for over 15 years. For the first few years, this was controlled by numbing my whole existence with anti-anxiety medication. Then, I found yoga and I began to wean myself from drugs and learn new ways to cope. I thought I had it all “in control” only to come to a place where I realized that my coping skills were to avoid those things that scared me most– driving with others, travelling, anything in church (including taking up collection), and especially singing in public.

I am content to be anxious. Some of my nervousness is a reflection of how I live my life. I live honestly, open to whatever the universe delivers. That vulnerability is naturally exhilarating. Anxiousness, for this highly sensitive person, reminds me that I am living at my edge and I would want it no other way. I have time to sit with nervousness, explore its meanings, but I do not have time to panic.

If you have never panicked, like full-blown debilitating panic, then I hope you never will. It is fear that stops you in your tracks. One of my favorite acronyms for FEAR is, “False Evidence Appearing Real.” And it is so very real in the moment of panic. It stops you in your tracks. It will stop you from living if you let it.

When panic returned to my life a few years ago, I was shocked. Why now? I was a yoga teacher! I had the skills to fight this! Why couldn’t I do it on my own? Instead of feeling as though I failed somehow, I had the courage to ask for help. I did a therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming) that treated PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and put me on the path to healing once and for all. To aide in my healing, my doctor suggested an acute acting drug that I could take if I felt panic was going to take over. It helped me to not slip into Flight or Fight mode, and if I did, it helped bring me back onto my edge. What it really did was help me with all the “firsts” I had been avoiding.

The brain is a curious and magnificent beast. It can convince you of nearly anything. If the body has convinced the brain that in a particular situation you are unsafe, then the brain will automatically remind the body that you are unsafe if you are ever in that situation again. It is incredibly protective in this way. But if the fear your body has experienced is indeed “false evidence” then your brain has been tricked. This is what this medication helped reverse. I was able to trick my brain, to form new neuropathways of memory where, in any particular situation, my body felt okay, so my brain responded in kind. The next time I would drive to a new place, or meet a new person, or perform, or preach, I would lean on my new memory of the last event and know that it had been all okay, so it would be all be all okay.

Around the same time as I asked for medical help with my mind and brain, I sought spiritual help for my heart and soul. In yoga, I researched practices that targeted relaxing in fear. I breathed, I moved, I meditated, I prayed and I sang mantras. I also committed to a life mission statement. The one on this page, “I surrender to the will of God and fearlessly trust the Divine to lead me.” I became a YES.

When I responded to God’s call to the ministry, I decided that if I was living my truth and I truly trusted that this is what God wanted from me, then God would also carry me through it. God helped me at first by teaching me to let down my negative attitudes about temporary medical intervention in the treatment of anxiety. I formed new memories again and reconnected to the fearlessness that is my true nature. The one that is afraid, but does it anyway! This leads me to yesterday morning…

I had agreed to sing. It would be my second day of my new school. It would be my first time being in front of all of them. It would be my first vulnerable act in that place of worship. I woke up early. I sat with God and felt calm in the stillness of that presence. I prepared the kids for their first day of school. I left the house with no extra bathroom stops (my favorite place to end up when flight wins over fight), I drove to school in morning traffic and landed straight to school, I sat in morning worship until it was time for the talent show to begin. I didn’t run, I didn’t hid, I didn’t throw up, I didn’t reach for my bottle of pills. It was my turn. I was first. I stood up and I sang. This was my first “first” without medication and it was thrilling…so thrilling that I want to do it again. I want to have many more firsts in this way. And I will.

I have stepped onto a new path now. One where my firsts can be pure. I’ll still carry that little bottle in my purse for now, but someday I know that my security blanket won’t be needed because I will have fully embraced the security of God’s promise to take care of me. I’m getting there. One first at a time.

“If pretty little bluebirds fly above the rainbow, why, oh why can’t I?” — I CAN.

 

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Living Authentically

ByaOaoyIcAIeESaIt has been an incredible summer. My girls and I were blessed with the gift of each other’s company each and every day. As a family we camped every second weekend. We embraced our beautiful friend who moved in and became a part of our family dynamic for the summer. We took road-trips, spent days and nights with friends in outside and in. We spent days doing nothing at all. Our hair is a bit lighter, our skin is a bit darker and our hearts are definitely bigger. My children have told us time and time again that this is the best summer they have ever had. What is really amazing about that statement is that this is also the summer they learned that their dad and I are seeking a divorce. I am proud of the path we have bravely set foot on , because we have chosen to walk it as a family who loves each other. It is weird, but it is working because it is authentic.

I have finally grown into the person I always wanted to be. I am comfortable in my own skin because I do my best to honour it as the temple of my Spirit. I  don’t need others to like me or agree with me (in fact, I often love it when they don’t), because I recognize that, if I am living honestly, the right people will always be in my life. My friends know that “what you see is what you get” and my family is learning that it is okay to be afraid. It is okay to be raw and open to the world when you entrust yourself to the comfort of God’s loving embrace.

My divorce is not about hate, greed, or mistrust. We are so lucky that we haven’t waited until our relationship is torn apart by anger and fear. My children’s father is a wonderful person, the best father I know, and my family forever. I love him to the moon and back. Our marriage was full of love, which is why it lasted as long as it did. I have said that if our love has survived our marriage then it must be real. When we were both able to admit that we were unhappy and lonely with each other, despite the hours of conversations, therapy and prayer, we could bravely admit that we could be all the things we already were to each other — without being married.

I say “bravely” because I think that courage means being deeply afraid, but doing what you know is right despite your fear. We know our lives will change, but we also know that not all change is bad. We are both filled with anticipation and wonder about our future, but at the end of the day we have hope. Hope comes in living life authentically in a way that celebrates the present moment. It is not about living in the future, but rather, it is a current state of being where life is full, exciting and alive. That is how we lived this summer and we are grateful that we did.

So, summer – fare thee well! I have loved every moment of you. The bliss, the challenge, the excitement and the joy. I have basked in your warmth and consumed your riches. I hope you keep in touch in the coming weeks ahead and may I especially remember the promise of you in winter’s darkness.

I register for my M.Div tomorrow and classes start next week. I had a fantastic job interview last night, I am enjoying my friends, my girls are happy, and my smile is etched on my face. Life is good today. Thanks for reading. May peace and love be with you wherever you travel. ~k

 

 

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Another Step on the Journey

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If this blog had a summary it would begin with, “it’s been a long time since I wrote anything here…” Tomorrow is the first day of Lent. I have always observed this special time in the Christian calendar in some way. It has been my way of reconnecting to the Holy Spirit by surrendering something. Each moment of surrender was meant to be a daily reminder of the life and teachings of Jesus.

For about 6 years I focused on physical health and stepping out of my personal comfort zone by practicing veganism. Then a couple of years ago I decided to add a gluten and sugar-free diet to that too. Well, we almost got divorced (I kid…kind of) and I became really sick and had to quit (I was too busy to do this diet well enough to take care of myself). I came down hard on myself for giving up. Last year I tried something new — I quit social media, including facebook, twitter, and Netflix (although not social media) with success. Success in that I didn’t quit, but reconnected with Spirit? – no. I realized that Lent had become all about effort. It was no longer about surrender.

This year, Ian and I are going on a journey to wellness that begins tomorrow, but doesn’t end on Easter Sunday. We are practicing a new lifestyle that will include health, physical activity, more sleep, and more mindful living.  The desire is for gentle effort to become natural surrender. For me, Lent should be time of personal reflection and that’s what I have in mind. I will become an active participant in my own life. I have felt disconnected and distracted for a long time. I am looking forward to this time to plug back in to who I truly am. Part of that might involve writing more, but his journey is about learning to be gentler with myself too. So, I won’t make promises I’m not sure I will keep. What I will do is work with the intention of taking the time to pray, meditate, practice, write, read, listen to music, play games, cook, enjoy nature, and, most of all, love the people in my life… including myself.

Since my last entry, I was accepted as a candidate for ministry, I sold my business, I gave up teaching public yoga classes (for now), I worked at the hospital for three weeks and a restaurant for three months. I even quit facebook because I thought that was the reason I was so distracted (it wasn’t – I’m coming back baby!). I start a new part-time job tomorrow that promises to be a great fit for these next 3-4 years of study. I will graduate with my BA in May and I have the summer off with my kids. I will begin my MDiv in September. So much has happened and there is so much to look forward to, but  I often feel like a distant observer of someone else’s life. The ultimate surrender for me will mean being a fully present loving player in all the moments of my life. Each day, I will start by saying the words below to remember how to be most authentically me!

I surrender to the will of God and fearlessly trust the Divine to lead me.

The journey begins again now. Time to make the pancakes!

 

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Breaking Up with Facebook

polls_dear_john_letter_xlargeDear Facebook,

I don’t know how to put this… It’s just not working out. I want you to know it’s not you, it’s me.  I have become a bit obsessed with you and have lost myself along the way. I think we need a break. Please know that you are not alone. I am also taking a break from your friends; iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Netflix, Gmail and online celebrity “news”. I am tired. You all take an enormous amount of effort and at this point in our relationship, I feel like I am doing all the work. What do you do for me? You just sit there waiting for me and inevitably I run to you the second I am overcome with feelings of loneliness, sadness or overwhelm – what kind of one-way crazy relationship is that?

It is not really fair to put all of this on you, and so, it is time for me to take responsibility for my feelings. I no longer wish to rely on any of you to help me feel a certain way. I don’t want to be distracted anymore from my feelings. I have been using you.  I want to thank you for letting me in the the parts of my life where I felt like I needed your distraction and validation. You have certainly helped to shape my worldview. The world became smaller through you but unfortunately my small world began to seem further and further away from me.

I’m going to spend my time away from you to re-connect with some old flames. I am sorry if this hurts you but I find myself longing for quiet alone time unplugged from the rest of the world. I am remembering the love affair I once had for books and pray that they will have the patience and forgiveness to take me back. There is also a yoga mat and prayer pillow that have been missing me in the early hours that I sleep through because of my late night trysts with you. Finally, my family – I pray that they will help me to savour the precious time when there was little or even no computer in the house, when we didn’t all have phones and we actually spent evenings playing boardgames, watching a movie together without distractions, cuddling, dancing wildly to music in the kitchen, baking, cooking and crafting our time away – getting to know one another with patience and care.

So, Facebook (and the others), although we never officially committed to one another, please accept this letter as a reason why you will not see much of me in the coming days, weeks and months ahead. I will keep this blog connected to you in case anyone cares to read it. By anyone, I mean the actual people living with beating hearts who are sometimes interested in what I have to say. You know, the messy ones, the ones that can’t be simply turned off or used at my convenience – the ones that need me as much as I need them. I’ll check in once and awhile (especially with email) to keep connected but will no longer mistake connection with “keeping in touch”. You can officially change my relationship status to “alone but not lonely”.  I am moving back in with the life that was once my own – the one I created and thoroughly enjoyed before you – the one filled with real people, conversations, true quiet and love.

See you in passing, until then,

~k

(Dear Readers, my blog will still post wherever it is that you are reading it now.  If you wish to connect with me outside of technology please contact me.  You will already have my contact info or know how to come by it through our connections in the “real” world. If you comment here I will receive it via email and will get back to you on one of my designated times to check and answer mail. Peace, peace, peace.)

First on my list of things to order and read is the book that inspired me to make this post: “Alone Together – Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other”.  Thank you to Dr. Sherry Turkle for writing it and for Dr. Carmel Forde for introducing me to her work.

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Winds of Change

tree-bending-in-the-windBe able to bend like a tree in the wind, for the tree that does not bend will break off at its roots. This is a lesson that I am learning as I move through a life of changes both expected and unexpected. I shared this lesson with my students on Saturday morning. As they moved through the guided poses I was able to observe this teaching at work. In balance poses, the moment you become rigid and grip the toes and the jaw is the moment just before you tip out of the pose. Those that were able to soften the face and allow themselves to bend and sway with the pull of gravity were able to stay in the poses longer. Not only were they relaxed more physically but the expressions on their faces were more calm and joyful than those who seemed to be grasping for perfection.

I am going to take the experience of bending into my week. I will try to move with the winds of change and stop resisting. Resistance is futile (the nerds among you will get this)! I have been resisting the possibility of living a life free from fear and anxiety.  These things have become a part of my identity and to them I am grasping.  I am not sure who I am without them. Resistance is a natural state in the universe that works against us if we let it. It can wear us down until we no longer recognize ourselves. Like a tree bending with the wind – when we bend into the resistance in our lives it will pass by. We will feel it but it will not break us. Simple.

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” ~Arthur Golden

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You’ve got a friend…

James Taylor is a genius.

“If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.”

Now, I can’t pretend to know who Mr. Taylor was talking about in these lyrics but I like to think he is talking about God.

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I’ve missed posting here. Now that a wonderfully busy summer has come and gone and I am settling into my new routine of balancing school, studio and family life I will be able to spend more time in this realm of reflection and self-expression. I have returned to formal education for the first time in 20 years. Being in University is a manifestation of an intention I set last January when a Call to ordered ministry became clear. There was a beautiful moment, about a week into school, when I was walking across campus carrying my backpack and I realized that, in that moment, I was exactly where I envisioned myself months before. The moment overwhelmed me and tears escaped my eyes as I smiled like, well, like a giddy school girl! In that moment, the power of clear intention was inescapable.

If I decided to follow the path of “there is no way I can do that”, “that’s crazy impossible”, or “life is good, why mess that up?”, (which were only a few of the thoughts in my head) then I am not sure what my life would look like today. Instead, I chose to answer a Call, to listen to the Voice and trust that God would lead me in the right direction.  I can tell you that this went completely against the way I was living my life. I was in control. I said I had faith in God and professed to go with the flow yet, I was still standing on the bank watching the river go by. It wasn’t until I jumped in the water of my life that I began to live the truth of who I am meant to be. That is not to say that it has been easy.

Sometimes there is doubt (okay, more than sometimes). As the James Taylor song says, sometimes the sky above me turns dark and full of clouds and that old north wind begins to blow. Am I doing the right thing? Will my studio sell or is that even the right thing to do? Am I studying the right things? Am I giving enough time to my family? Is getting pneumonia a sign? What about the panic returning to my life, does that mean I am doing the wrong thing? I, I, I…  When these questions take over and fear begins to grip, I know it is time. Time to call on a power greater than my self. To call out the name of God.

And God comes. God comes in the voice of my daughter telling me she is so proud of me.  God comes in my friend suddenly sending me a text to say she loves me. God comes in my husband holding me close and ensuring me that I am doing the right thing. God comes in so many incredible ways but God comes every time. And when God comes I am reminded that the Holy Spirit never left. That It was within me all along residing in the Holy Temple of my heart. Invoking the name of God is, in fact, me returning to that truth.  God is with me and I am never alone. Thanks be to God.

“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” ~Psalm 18:6

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