Sunday, June 14, 2020

Centreville Anniversary Sunday Sermon 14 June 2020

Centreville Anniversary Sunday Sermon

Amid the distractions of these days, give us undivided hearts and attentive minds, O God, so that we might listen for your truth and discern your guiding Word, in our lives this day and the days before us. May these thoughts and words speak your truth in love, through Christ, your living Word we pray. Amen.

I’ve noticed over the last few years that there isn’t as many antique shops open as there used to be. I always enjoy looking through antique shops, examining things, pondering what objects might have been used for and recalling items from my own childhood. Many of the wood or metal items are marked with scars from their use which makes me ponder the environment in which they were used long ago.  Sometimes items can bring back smiles and happy memories.

We live in a house that has a rich history of over 100 years.  What is now our family room once served as the original post office in our village and, even today, you can see the markings on the floor where the counter of the post office once stood.  Over time, the room also served as a doctor’s office and later a store.  Other marks and clues of the home’s history can be found throughout the house and, like the items in an antique shop, I love to think about and ponder what life was like and how the house looked, in days gone by.

When we were renovating a room upstairs, we discovered another small room that had been locked away and covered over for many years. No, we did not come across a room filled with bygone treasures that had been mysteriously abandoned for many years – nothing as exotic as that!  Instead, we discovered an old, long disused and disconnected water closet in what was originally a bedroom closet – and there it stood, the “latest and greatest” of luxurious indoor plumbing many years ago.

Now today, of course, we don’t consider indoor plumbing a luxury or even an “optional extra”, but a standard of home construction and daily living.  And so it is that, when we run into difficulty with our water or plumbing system, we regard it as imperative that it be repaired ASAP.

Now, I share all this because, like our home, the church too has a rich and evolving history, indeed, the church has a history spanning, not just a hundred or so years, but a history that, then, now and throughout all of time has originated and been directed by God Himself.    
At Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the church, that is, when God breathed His life, His own the Holy Spirit upon the people and the church came to life.  And this same Spirit of life has been active in this congregation here in Centreville since 1845 – 175 years ago today.  It was at that time, many years ago, that English settlers, after having worshipped in their homes and in a local log school house, came together to build a local church.  The first church cost $1600 to build and included an adjoining horse shelter.  Later, in 1884, that is, when the Wesleyan and Episcopal Methodists joined together to form the Methodist Church of Canada, the Centreville congregation became the head of their localized circuit which included the churches of Enterprise and Desmond.  Later still, in 1925 the Centreville congregation would become part of the United Church -- that is a coming together of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches in Canada.

On July 10, 1945, just one month after celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Centreville church burned to ground.  Almost immediately after the fire, plans were underway to rebuild the church and the name was changed to Centreville Memorial in honour of the former building.
In 1967, Presbytery placed Centreville church on the same circuit with the Reidville and Newburgh congregations and the Desmond congregation was invited to amalgamate with Centreville.  Later, the Reidville congregation would also be incorporated into the Centreville church – and so it was that the Newburgh-Centreville Pastoral Charge came into being – a bond that has lasted fifty three years and counting.  Today, we acknowledge and honour all those former churches and their members that have became an integral part of the Centreville congregation.

 However, as with any anniversary or birthday, the old and the new mix together.  We not only stop to celebrate and reflect on the past, but we also ponder what the future holds in store.  And so it is that, however much as we may glorify and celebrate the past, we know we cannot return or go back there for time and life itself is always changing; always in a state of flux.  Indeed, in this time of the Covid pandemic, we have learned a new way to be the church; a new way to communicate and share the good news of the Gospel with others and with ourselves.  I am referring, of course, to newly commonplace phenomenon of recording and posting services on the internet.  Since mid-March of this year, all of our worship services have all been on line, and for many in our PC this has certainly been a new, exciting and sometimes daunting way to organize and experience worship,

Of course, living in the present doesn’t mean that we have to seize on and embrace every new trend or fad.  Indeed, if we look to Christ in all things and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be assured that He will lead us to faithfully build upon the past and incorporate what is worthy in the present so that we may go forth into the future with hope and confidence.

In scripture we read that, as followers of Jesus, yes, we are like those who can produce both the old and the new.  And It is always tempting in our situation to choose one or the other, that is, to embrace and hold on to the comfort and reassurance of the past or (2x) to sweep it all away and “get on board,” get with the program, and so on. In other words, it is tempting to find our identity either among the traditional or among the trendy and the fashionable. But in matters of faith, a broader landscape lies before us.  As faithful followers of Jesus, we acknowledge that the past, the present and the future is in God’s faithful keeping as HE provides and guides us day by day.  We can always celebrate and treasure the past for the gifts of grace that it has provided for us; and for the wisdom that we can discern and cultivate.  But we will always need to embrace the present so that we might faithfully identify and meet the challenges and opportunities of each new day; the new and novel ways that life is unfolding around us.

A farmer had two oxen an older and stronger ox  and a young and inexperienced ox. An old and a new. Together they worked side by side in their yoke. The older was able to bear the weight of the work because the yoke transferred that weight from the smaller, weaker ox to the larger, stronger ox.   By working as a team, the two ox were able to share the load. The younger new ox, was also able  to learn the knowhow from the older ox’s years of experience.

We need to embrace the old and the new in our day – and that may mean embracing new ways of doing things that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable for us; when they are not altogether to our taste; not “our cup of tea.”  But whether or not they are within our own comfort zone is surely irrelevant.  The question is:  do they speak and reflect the truth of God’s Holy Word?  Indeed, with this in mind, imagine if all the people who have ever worshipped in this congregation were here today - there would be many hundreds and even thousands of them – and each with his or her own life experiences, stories, musical preferences, favourite Bible verses and so on.  And in a way they are here - part of our storehouse of faith, part of who we are now and, on this Anniversary Sunday we remember them, that is we re-member them.  But our faithfulness to God and to their witness lies in responding to the Gospel with integrity for our own times - while never or letting go of their hands. In that familiar story of the dry bones which we read this morning, God does not breath life into new bones.  Incredibly He builds on what is past and gone; incredibly, it is old bones that He brings back to life again. In Christ, new life can and does emerge out of old; out of death itself.  Together, in and through the Spirit of Christ in our lives, we can and will continue to move us forward in faithful service even amidst the changes and challenges of our present times and circumstances.  And, more than all of this; more even than old and new; past and the present, God in Christ Jesus; God by His Spirit is leading us community, not just with one another, but with God Himself.     

St Paul promises and declares that if we are in Christ we are a ‘new creation’, but of course another way of saying this is that we are restored to what God always intended us to be, since the beginning of creation, that is, in union; in communion with God Himself.

A faithful devout
man, carrying a bag of potatoes on his back, was asked by a skeptic: "How do you know you’re forgiven?" The man took a few steps and then dropped the bag. Then he said: "How do I know I dropped the bag? I haven’t looked around." "No," replied the man. You can tell by the lessening of the weight." "Yes," replied the other, "that’s how I know I’m forgiven. I’ve lost the guilty feeling of sin and sorrow, and have found peace and satisfaction in my Lord and Savior." (“The Elim Emanuel”,
That my friends is new, and it never gets old. New every morning is the love our wakening and up  (New Every Morning - Hymn) rising prove , God’s amazing grace is fresh and new in every moment of every day. Our sins our regrets our burdens do not have to grow old upon our shoulders, through God’s sacrifice in Jesus Christ His Son on the cross, our burdens have been lifted from us, when we share them with Him. 

Philippians 3:13-14

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

As we press on into the future in this changing and uncertain times. There is a certainty that always awaits us, as the past has shown us and as we are assured right now in this present time, we can be certain our Lord will protect and lead us as we stay yoked in His ever faithful, ever sure embrace.

Let us look to Christ and trust in Him in all things so that we may celebrate our church this day, not simply as a treasured object of the past with living stories to share, but as a faith living and vibrant force, for the future; and the continued upbuilding of God’s kingdom here on earth. Praise be to God now and forever. Amen.

Church Anniversary Sermon: Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going (Matthew 1:1-17)  Angela Bainter

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Trinity Sunday Sermon June 07, 2020

 Trinity Sunday Sermon June 07, 2020

Last week we celebrated the beginning of Pentecost, that is, God’s gift of His Holy Spirit and, with it, the birth of the church.  Today is both the second Sunday of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, that is, when we celebrate and seek to understand more fully the triune/threefold nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And, with this in mind, my sermon this morning is going to be doctrinal in nature.  Now doctrine is important to the Christian faith and life, because it helps us understand more fully and concretely just what we believe and why we believe it.  And, of course, the better we know the doctrine of our faith, the better we can share the Good News of the gospel with others.

Our Christian doctrine can also be described as a road map, showing the points of connectedness of our faith.  Now just how and exactly when the word “Trinity” came to be used in the church is unclear.  The word itself does not appear in scripture but its meaning is expressed repeatedly in the New Testament – 23 times to be exact.  And, of course, the Trinity of the doctrine itself is central; “part and parcel” of the creeds of the church.

So what is the doctrine of the Trinity, that is, our focus this Sunday?  Well, of course, when we speak of the Trinity we mean that God is three in one: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Although seemingly separate, these three expressions of God’s being; these three facets of God’s nature are “all of a piece” as we would say.  That is, they are all equal and of one substance.  And so it is that we can say that God is fully God when He created and continues to create the universe.  And what is more, we can say that God is fully God when God lived and still lives in the presence of Jesus.  And finally, we can say that God is God in the presence of the Holy Spirit who abounds in our lives and rules in our hearts this day and always.  And, of course, the Trinity; the triune nature of God, is revealed to us in and through God’s holy Word.

 Now, it bears repeating that the Trinity is not 3 separate and distinct gods, each with different qualities, persona and magnitude, but one indivisible God expressed in the Trinitarian formula. Our service today began with this formula, and will end with it. This Trinitarian formula is used at the beginning of life in baptism, and at the end of life at funeral services and in all traditional forms of worship in between. It is our doctrine our faith expressed in all times and in all places of worship. The Trinity is one of the most important doctrines of the reformed Christian Church.

And it is here, at the point of doctrine, where a so-called spiritual person and a more traditionally devout person may part company.  You see, someone who wants to say they are spiritual or have just a spiritual relationship with Jesus, may not desire doctrine. But how do you truly express your faith, or grow in trust, communion and understanding of God when your interest is only and simply “spiritual”?  How do you truly identify and claim your points of connection with God and one another; how do you come to know the boundaries and richness of Christian faith when “spiritual” is simply ethereal, that is, resembling a floating cloud – no foundation, no method or direction – just whim and feeling) There has to be something more in the expression and exercise of our faith than this – and this “something more” is provided, at least in part, by sound doctrine.
Now, in an attempt to illustrate what a doctrine does,  let us imagine the chassis of a car – and, with this in mind, let us ask ourselves, what would a car be like without a chassis?  The answer is:  not a car at all.  For it is the chassis that holds the engine and wheels in their proper places, it is where the fenders are attached.  In short, the chassis is the frame that organizes and holds the car together. Similarly, what/where would we be without our own frame, that is, our skeleton; that which sorts and binds our body together so that we can function? Without our skeleton we wouldn’t be able to sit or stand or wave our arms, and so on. Our skeleton, like the chassis of a car, is the framework that organizes and binds us up; that holds us together.  Similarly then, our Christian doctrine serves as the framework of our Christian faith; that organizes and holds the different parts of our beliefs together.
With all this in mind, let us “plug into” our doctrinal understanding of the Trinity; the Triune God as it is expressed in the traditional greeting & blessing/benediction that is offered in our service most every Sunday.  It begins by saying: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s freely given gift of Himself; His Son for the forgiveness of our sins.  Grace is Jesus dying on the cross for us so our sins can be forgiven. Forgiveness is free for us, but it was not for Christ.  He paid the huge price of our sins; suffering pain upon the cross for our redemption and salvation.  Again, grace is God’s love freely given in Jesus Christ – and God, then and now, continues to shower our lives with gifts of grace – the sunshine, dew and rain to name but a few.  And make no mistake.  We can do nothing to earn, merit or deserve God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ, that is, we cannot somehow, on our own, achieve our own salvation.  We are saved from our sins, not because we earn it, but because we receive the gift of God into our hearts so that His Spirit may shine forth in us and bear witness to Him in our daily lives.
Let’s look at that phrase one more time:  the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the  OT Jesus is often called Lord. There are two words for God. There is the word, “God.” And the word, “Lord.”  For ex. in the OT, you could say that the “Lord” made the heavens and the earth or you could say that “God” made the heavens and the earth. But in the OT you could say “Lord’ and mean “God”.  When we turn our attention to the NT, Jesus is repeatedly referred to as “Lord” When the New Testament writers put the name, “Lord” with Jesus, it meant that Jesus was God. The Lord Jesus Christ also meant God Jesus Christ.
 Now let us consider for a moment the phrase, “The love of God” to which we could add, “God, the Father.”  The Bible in its entirety makes constant reference to the love of God the Father. And just as parents can harbor deep love for their children, so too does God our heavenly Father love you and me. We are God’s children – and just as God  created the endless reaches of the universe so too does His love for us extend to every place and time.
“The fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”  The same God who created the universe and died in the person of Jesus so that we might be saved from our sins and so live in love and communion with Him, that is the same God that is here right and now, whose desire is to rest remain and abide in our hearts.  Again, the Spirit is but another manifestation of the One God who is active in and around us; the living God who dwells in our hearts and our own Christian communities of fellowship.  By the work of God’s Spirit we are grafted into, and become one with, the body of Christ.  And again, the same God who lives in of our hearts and moves in and around us is the same God who created the universe and is in Jesus Christ.

Hear it again in the words of Ephesians 4:4-6  (NIV)There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

And so it is to know God in all of God’s wonderful complexity and persona, you need to know God the Creator  - the loving Father. You need to know God the Son who died on the cross and you need to know God the Holy Spirit who is in present with us in this moment. When you know the full persona of God then you know God.
And finally, understand that, what we have come to know and understand about the Trinity; what has come to comprise the doctrine of the Trinity, has originated, has come to light, not from our own reasoning or intellect but what God Himself has revealed of Himself to us in Scripture. And so it is, that we find the truth about God and the truth about the Trinity not through reason, but through revelation; God’s Holy Word – yet another of His seemingly boundless gifts of grace to us.  So may we open our hearts and minds ever more to God’s holy Word and so that we may be in ever deeper communion with the community of the faithful, i.e., the church – and to the community of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  AMEN. 

Edward Markquart  - sermons from Seattle

Barclay – promised his presence, assured them of His power, & gave them a commission

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sermon May 31, 2020 Pentecost Sunday

Sermon May 31, 2020 Pentecost Sunday

Spirit of God, at Pentecost you moved among the gathered disciples to create new understanding. So move among us this day to fill us with a fresh understanding of the Scriptures. Energize us to act on this holy wisdom faithfully, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Living Word. Amen.

Following Jesus crucifixion, the followers of Jesus regroup and chose a replacement for Judas, that is, the one who betrayed Him.  After some deliberations, Matthias is chosen by the remaining disciples to assume the vacancy.  By so doing, the disciples are acting to re-establish a sense of order and completeness to their group and, with the naming of Matthias, they imagine that they now stand ready to bear witness to the gospel and the resurrection.

But Jesus made a promise at His Ascension. He said in Luke 24:49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Similarly in Acts 1:8  Jesus says But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Today as we enter this season of Pentecost, we celebrate Jesus’ fulfillment of His Word, that is, we rejoice in the gift of the third person of the Trinity, that is, the Holy Spirit within and around us; today we celebrate being clothed with power from on high.

Now scripture actually presents three very different accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit among us.  In Luke’s writings, the Spirit comes as the overwhelming power of God; like a mighty wind that blows and moves the church in new directions and into totally unexpected places of ministry.
By contrast, John speaks of the Advocate or Spirit of God as the continuing, comforting presence of Jesus with the church, and the source of peace.  And finally, the Apostle Paul describes the Holy Spirit as the Presence of God that unites us to Christ; that binds us together to into His body; the Presence that harmonizes the particular gifts of every one of us into communion with each other and God Himself.
Now of all three of these portrayals of the coming of God’s Spirit into our lives, perhaps it is today’s New Testament reading from Luke’s companion book of Acts, that we might find most distressing and unsettling – that is the Spirit of God as an  sudden, uncontrollable, mighty and violent wind.  I mean, hold on to your hats!!  Who knows where or how hard the Spirit is going to blow; who knows what the Spirit will reveal; who knows where the Spirit will dare to lead us?

But it would be a mistake to characterize this coming of the Spirit as simply some randomly timed “thrill ride” into the unknown.  Brian Peterson Professor of New Testament, at Lutheran Seminary Columbia, South Carolina writes: Being a disciple of Jesus in this windstorm will bring the church, and you along with it, to unexpected places, and unexpected grace. It may only be in retrospect, and with inspired interpretation, that we can look back and recognize the Spirit’s driving wind rather than simply a frighteningly chaotic storm.

Like a horrific wind storm, we read this morning that the Spirit of God can change the landscape of life in mere seconds and, by so doing, alter our individual and collective lives forever.  With this in mind, consider also that the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit in our New Testament lesson today, occupies only four (2x), albeit hefty, verses of scripture.  It only takes about 15 seconds to read about this momentous event – an event that fulfilled Jesus promise, gave birth to the church and filled the hearts and minds of Christians, then and now with renewed hope, strength and purpose.
After 2000 years of waiting for the Messiah to appear; after the of hours Jesus’ suffering and pain on the cross; after the three days in the tomb; after the time of fear, grief and heartbreak of the disciples after Jesus’ death, we heard today, over the space of mere four verses of scripture and 15 seconds of reading time, the Holy Spirit is made manifest to the disciples and to us.

In today’s New Testament passage, we heard that the Spirit revealed itself with great sound, wind and fire.  But these marks of the presence of God are certainly not unique to the story of Pentecost which we read this morning.  For example, elsewhere in scripture, that is in Exodus 19:16-19, we read that Moses led his people to an encounter with God that shared many of these characteristics.  Hear these words:

16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole  mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

But the manifestation of God’s Spirit is not confined or limited to displays of power and might.  In 1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV) we find, not only echoes of the presence of God’s Spirit as sound, wind and fire, but also a reminder God can also reveal Himself in gentleness, stillness and quiet.  Again, hear these words:


11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

The Spirit of whisper is the soft voice that comes to us in the midst of sorrow and grief and says, “I am here, you can do this, and you will be okay, you will get through this. I am with you. Somehow the strength to meet the next day and the day after is there. It is the voice of compassion, the words of encouragement that directs our way, a word of truth that points us in the right direction – if we would place our faith; our trust and confidence in Him.  And so it is that we can come to know Pentecost as a time when we can know that God is certainly around and within us; holding and sustaining us; giving us the power; the quiet assurance and strength to face each new day.  And, with all this in mind, I ask you, when was the last time you sought to rest in God’s Spirit; His Holy Presence; to take the time to discern His will and purpose for you and the world He loves; to open your heart and mind to his Spirit that you might feel his presence around and within you?

Or maybe we find it easier, preferable or more attractive to think of the presence of God solely as power and might; as  the loud sound of the trumpet, the rushing wind; the many voices; the flames of fire. And, to be sure, there are times when that is what we need, that is, for the Spirit of God to come upon us with a dramatic, great and lasting impact; when God needs to give us a “wake up call”; turn us in another direction; draw us out and away from our self -absorbed concerns towards the reality of life in and through Him.

In closing, let me say that Pentecost is more the revealing of God’s Spirit in power and might; in sound, wind and fire.  God may reveal Himself to us in many ways; across an unlimited spectrum.  But, however He may reveal His Spirit to us, may our hearts and minds be ever open to receive Him and so faithfully live and serve Him in this, the world He loves.  God has indeed given each one of us strengths and gifts so that we might go onto the world to be a blessing to others and, in so doing, glorify God’s Holy Name.  Yes, we celebrate the beginning of the season of Pentecost today, but God’s gift of His Spirit; His holy presence within and around us all is a celebration for this and every day. Thanks be to God for Pentecost; for yet another manifestation of His boundless love and grace. Amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Sermon for May 24, 2020

Sermon for May 24, 2020

Today is Ascension Sunday, that is, the end of the Easter season, and next week we will embark upon the season of Pentecost.  As we focus on the story of the Ascension this Sunday, my hope is that we come to understand more, what the Ascension of Jesus means to our faith.

Now it is interesting to note that, in Luke’s gospel which we read this morning, Jesus ascended to his Father on the same day as His resurrection, whereas in Luke’s companion volume, that is, the Book of Acts, Luke records that Jesus’ ascended to heaven 40 days after His resurrection. Certainly there is a similarity in the description of the Ascension in both books – but why does Luke record two very different timings?  It is a question, but, like faith itself, the Ascension has always been shrouded in elements of intrigue and mystery.

 But, what is more, the Ascenson has always been central Christian belief and confession.  The early church included it in all of its ancient creeds, including the one that I suspect many of us know the best, that is, the Apostles Creed, which reads:

On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
 and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Well, all this said, how do we make sense of this event?  How does it “plug into” our understanding of Christ and deepen our faith and trust in Him?

The Rev. Stephen Fetter a minister with UCofC  makes a interesting comment
He says: … if you trust that the Earth is spinning like a tennis ball in flight (not something Luke would ever have dreamed of!), then a person rising … could end up at a very different part of the cosmos, depending on the time of day….miss His destination.

Now, of course, I doubt that neither Luke nor the ancient creed writers were very concerned or preoccupied about aerial trajectories. But the story of the Ascension is not really about how Jesus got to heaven; what direction to fly to find the pearly gates and that sort of thing.  NO!!! The story of the Ascension is one in which the disciples and the church came to know Jesus differently.

What is really important here is that for the first time Luke says the disciples “worshipped” Jesus as Saviour and Lord.  Prior to the Ascension, Jesus was teacher, guide, and companion; but nobody in Luke’s gospel ever thought of him as an entity of worship. This story marks Jesus’ “ascension” in the minds and hearts of his disciples and followers from teacher to Lord.

“The Nurturing Place” is a day care center in Jersey City. Barbara Lundblad Professor Emeritus of Preaching Union Theological Seminary New York, writes that few people would have heard of it if Anna Quindlen had not done a feature on the place for her newspaper column. The center, run by Roman Catholic sisters, welcomes and nurtures homeless children whose natural families are broken or simply unknown.  One day the sisters took the children in their care to the Jersey shore. The 3 and 4 year olds scrambled up the sandy dunes, falling and giggling their way to the top of what must have seemed like mountains to their little legs. When they got to the top, they could hardly believe their eyes: water as far as they could see -- more water than they had ever seen. They slid down the dunes and ran to the ocean’s edge. They chased the waves that teased their toes. Then they went off for a picnic in a nearby park. After lunch they begged to go back to the dunes. One little boy named Freddie outran the rest and climbed his way to the top. He looked out, then turned to the others and shouted, “It’s still there!”1
In Freddie’s short life, so much had disappeared -- even the ocean could disappear over lunch. We’re older and wise enough to know the ocean is there even when we’re not looking. But we’re not so sure about other things. We may feel a bit like the poet who said:  that are time in life when you discover that “ … you live in a different place though you have never moved.” We’re scrambling up the sandy dunes, trying to find a place that will hold.
Can you think of a time when you have not felt spiritually grounded, in sinking sand, without traction, feeling  spiritually homeless and hopeless. What was it like for you? What changed? What brought you home?
Some believers think of Jesus’ ascension like an excuse for Jesus’ absence: because He ascended, or left, that Jesus is gone. And although the idea applies simply to Jesus’ physical body, it tends to be associated with broader implications about the divine presence: since Jesus “ascended into heaven,” we on earth remain “left behind.” (Bummer.)
Not at all.

What the ascension of Jesus in Luke-Acts signifies has far less to do with geography (Where Jesus is) than with his exaltation (Who Jesus is)Jesus’ ascension firmly establishes him as the Lord and Messiah, exalted at God’s right hand in ways not merely physical. Three such examples of the many in scripture include:                                                                          Acts 5:31  31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.                   

Acts 3:26 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
Acts 10:40 
40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
 (Acts 2:22-36; 3:26; 5:31; 10:40; 13:31-38; cf. 3:21).
 In short, the ascension of Jesus speaks volumes about who Jesus is, without confining Him.
The ascension will always remain a mystery, for it attempts to put into words what is beyond words and to describe what is beyond description. But that something such should happen was essential. It was unthinkable that the appearances of Jesus should grow fewer and fewer until finally they petered out. That would have effectively wrecked the faith of humankind. There had to come a day of dividing when the Jesus of earth finally became the Christ of heaven. But to the disciples the ascension was clearly 3 things.
(i) It was an ending to the days when their faith was in a flesh and blood divine/human being who was with them in the flesh. Now they were linked to someone who was forever independent of space and time.
(ii) Equally it was a new beginning. The disciples did not leave the place of Jesus Ascension despairing; but with great joy, because now they knew that they had a King; a Master; a Saviour and a true Friend from whom nothing could separate them.  As the Apostle Paul puts it, "For I am sure that nothing--nothing in life or death--can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39.)
(iii) And thirdly, and perhaps the most important of all, the Ascension gave the disciples the certainty and knowledge that the person they knew and loved on earth, would also be there to greet them in heaven; in the life beyond. To die is not to be cast out into the abyss; into darkness and despair -- it is to go to be with Jesus Himself; to be found in fullest community/communion with Him.
With Jesus ascension, the focus of the disciples as students and followers ends and they assume and step out in their new role as leaders and teachers of the Word – that is, the Ascension marks a passing of the torch so-to-speak.
I am sure many of us today can identify with the position of the disciples in the gospel reading today.  Do we not face a similar situation in our own daily lives?  With students not returning this school year, has not our role as parents and caregivers also assumed more teacher/educator responsibilities?  We may indeed find this new situation challenging and we may feel ill equipped to assume it, but, of course, we know how important it is for the future of our young people.  And so it is that we do what we can to teach, encourage and foster learning.  But, in these and all changing and uncertain times, we can be reassured as the disciples are at Jesus Ascension, and so we know we are not alone. The very presence, the Spirit of God is truly with us, always and forever, a gift we will expressly celebrate next week on Pentecost. At that time, we will also partake in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  We hope you will join us.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Sermon May 17, 2020 (Covid 19) On line Service #8

Sermon  May 17, 2020 (Covid 19) On line Service #8

In our Gospel lesson last week, that is, John 14:1-14, we heard Jesus speak to His disciples concerning His relationship with His Father.  You will recall that, in that passage, Philip asks to see the Father and Jesus replies by saying, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father and He goes on to say that The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 

Now, although we stopped our reading last week at verse 14, the truth is, we only heard part of Jesus’ discourse on the night when he shared his last meal with his disciples and humbly washed their feet.  And, so it is that, this week we continue with the story and hear the “second half,” so-to-speak, of what Jesus said to his chosen followers on that fateful night.  Again, last week Jesus spoke of his relationship with His Father.  And now, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus words speak directly to His relationship to His disciples.  They are words, not only of comfort and assurance but also words to prepare them in mind and spirit for his impending death; his impending departure from them.  Yes, in a little while they will see him no more but Jesus assures them that they will not be forgotten by Him; they will not orphaned and alone.

In this time of isolation during the Covid 19 crisis, are not all of us feeling somewhat orphaned and alone?  Oh, we may not be orphaned in the sense of not knowing who are parents are, but do we not feel a keen sense of absence in our lives these days? – that is, being unable to interact with those people we typically see and share our lives with; people we enjoy visiting and whose company we enjoy; people we long to be with – and cannot.

And, in this time of Covid 19, are we not also feeling a sense of being orphaned by the routines of our lives that have suddenly, seemingly overnight, been drastically changed or completely overturned?  And, in the midst of this turmoil and upheaval many of us may well feel a sense of alienation, and even abandonment, from our place of work, our school, friends and community.  There are just so many normal things we cannot do right now – or do in the normal way.  And, what is more, if this disruption in our everyday life was not enough, I am sure that many of us had planned events and outings that we were looking forward to, perhaps for months or even years, that are now cancelled, radically altered or  simply lost to us.

Certainly all this is true for me and my family.  Like many people, we had planned a trip to Europe this year and it was a great disappointment to us when this opportunity suddenly evaporated.  But my immediate family was not the only one to experience a recent setback.  Just this past week, the Centreville church in this charge took the sad step of officially cancelling their 175 Anniversary plans. We were just putting the details together when the crisis hit.

And so, with all of this in mind, do not the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson today  appear particularly germane to our present time and circumstances?  What good news it is to hear that, despite all outward appearances, Jesus’ assurance that He will not leave us desolate; He will not leave us orphaned nor will He abandon us.  Instead Jesus give us words of assurance and comfort:  God in Christ will, by His Spirit, uphold, sustain and guide us; we will be held in our heavenly Parent’s gentle, secure, loving and caring embrace.  What is more, although our world may be turned upside down; our plans and expectations drastically altered, God’s agenda; His plans for us and for the redeeming of this world remain intact and will be fulfilled even in the face of death itself!  Thanks be to God!

In the meantime, God has indeed not left us desolate.  He has blessed us with His Spirit which is alive and is ever active in our world today.  Now, the Holy Spirit has been called the shy member of the Trinity. Indeed, if you think about the art in our churches or if you picture moments from Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, the Holy Spirit may simply be portrayed as a dove, whereas images of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus present Him in concrete human form. 
The Holy Spirit may present as the least visible and most etherial member of the Trinity, but is it not also the most discernable in our daily life and experiences?    Craig Koester professor at Luther Seminary Saint Paul, Minn. Puts the matter this way.  He states:  Here is the conundrum: Why would anyone believe that authentic life comes from a Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, a Jesus whom they cannot see? The honest answer is that no one would believe it--apart from the work of the Spirit. For it is the Spirit who makes the presence of the living Jesus and his Father known.
Coming to faith is comparable (analogous) to falling in love. One cannot fall in love in the abstract. Love comes through an encounter with another person. The same is true of faith. If faith is a relationship with the living Christ and the living God who sent Him, then faith can only come through an encounter with them. And the Spirit is the one who makes this presence known.
When I was preparing this sermon, I came across a story which illustrates this point.  Hannah did not grow up hearing the Christian story. But when she became an adult, she accepted a friend’s invitation to spend time with members of her friend’s church.  She loved the people there, but Hannah found the gospel message just plain weird.  At Bible studies she was simply astonished at what she was hearing – Jesus walking on water, rising from the dead, and ascending into heaven.   “Do you really believe all this?” she would ask. Later she would tell her friend that what we believed sounded crazy. Yet she kept telling herself, “they seem like sensible people who are able to hold down jobs.
Then one day a member of our community challenged her, “don’t wait until all your questions have been answered,” she said. Just ask yourself whether you can trust Jesus. Hannah went home and she describes how she was sitting on the floor in her front room when suddenly she knew it was all true. And, in that moment she became a Christian. What happened as she sat on her living room floor? The Holy Spirit came on her and spoke to her heart. There was no shining light or audible voice but the Holy Spirit came to give her faith in Jesus.  Surely, this is what Jesus meant when in John chapter 3:3 he says ”I tell you the truth no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” & in today’s reading. You keep my commandments  17 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 

We all know what it is like to have to say good bye to someone dear to us, someone we have loved and have depended upon.  In our gospel lesson today, Jesus is packing His suitcase, so to speak; He is preparing to leave our sight, but in no way is he abandoning us or leaving us desolate.  God sent us His Spirit that he might be ever near us, never leaving us, guiding us in His truth while advocating for us before the Father.
God’s Spirit of truth will enable us to distinguish His values of justice, mercy and peace. The Holy Spirit, unrestrained by ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality, guides us to places beyond the physical and supernatural limitations imposed by the limits of our being.
The guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, is ever present with us as we walk through this journey of life. This same spirit would not allow for the exclusion of a woman who was a Samaritan from the blessings of the Kingdom, as He would not exclude anyone right now for needed care and treatment for the virus. As the Spirit will not allow for the exclusion of any among us today.

The Easter message is that life rather than death has the final word, and this is crucial for faith. John's gospel, teaches us that faith is a relationship with a living being. For there to be authentic faith in Jesus, people must be able to relate to the living Jesus--a Jesus who is not absent but very present. The shy member of the Trinity is the presence of God that is closest to us; that is ever near to us in and through all the changes scenes of life.

Samuel Cruz Working Preacher

Associate Professor of Church and Society
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
New York, N.Y.

Craig R. Koester – Working Preacher

Professor and Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair of New Testament
Luther Seminary
Saint Paul, Minn.