Prayers of the People, January 24, 2021

A – Walking in the dawning light of Christ, we offer our prayers for the world God loves, the church God calls, and for all people according to their needs.

[Short pause]

A – We hear your call, gracious One.  We are working, we are retired, we are learning, and you come in the middle of all we are about, proclaiming that the reign of God is at hand, right here, right now.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – We hear your call, gracious One.  We are worried, we are isolating, we are distancing, and we discover that you are indeed with us, closer than we imagined, right here, right now.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – We hear your call, gracious One.  We feel stuck, we feel unready, we feel inadequate, and you declare that we are the way you want to come to our world, right here, right now.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – We hear your call, gracious One.  Your church is small, and struggling, and unsure, and you challenge us to look for you where you are always found: among the small, and struggling, and unsure, right here, right now.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – We hear your call, gracious One.  You call us to embrace the sick, the under employed, the lonely, the depressed and the dying, including those we name before you.
[Long pause]
Enable us to live your promised presence with them, right here, right now.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – We hear your call, gracious One.  Give us faith.  Give us hope.  Give us the desire and ability to respond, right here, right now.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

P – We ask all this in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray,

The Lord’s Prayer

Prayers of the People for January 17, 2021

A – Walking in the dawning light of Christ, we offer our prayers for the world God loves, the church God calls, and for all people according to their needs.

[Short pause]

A – Sight giver, vision provider, you open our eyes to possibilities where we see nothing.  Give us an awareness of what might be.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – Sight giver, vision provider, we harbour prejudice and hostility toward those who are different.  Enable us to see you in the Other.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – Sight giver, vision provider, we admit that we are stuck in old ways of seeing, and former ways of doing.  Show us the options which surround us.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – Sight giver, vision provider, you call your church to follow.  Inspire our trust in your promises, that we may respond eagerly.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – Sight giver, vision provider, your presence comes in illness, in separation, in isolation, and even in dying.  Surprise us in our fear, that we may share your love with those whom we name before you.
[Long pause]
God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

A – Sight giver, vision provider, you walk with us every step of our lives.  Motivate us to walk with you.  God of light,
C – Shine in us and through us.

P – We ask all this in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray,

Litany for the season of Epiphany, 2021

What we will be using at the front end of our services during this Epiphany season. Feel free to borrow, modify, whatever.

Epiphany blessings from the Lunenburg Lutheran Parish!

Opening Litany

P – The light shines in the night of our lives.
C – The Epiphany of God has come.

P – The Magi said, “We have seen his star in the east.”
C – The Epiphany of God has come.

P – A voice came from the heavens, “This is my son, the beloved.”
C – The Epiphany of God has come.

P – Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me.”  Philip said to Nathaniel, “Come and see.”
C – The Epiphany of God has come.

P – Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”
C – The Epiphany of God has come.

P – The crowd was amazed, saying, “A new teaching — with authority!”
C – The Epiphany of God has come.

P – Jesus said, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.”
C – The Epiphany of God has come.

P – The light shines in the night of our lives.
C – The Epiphany of God has come.  Thanks be to God.

Communion Prayer for a Baptismal celebration

Hi all.

I will be using the attached this Sunday, as we remember the Baptism of our Lord. But I suspect it would work with any Sunday liturgy at which baptism plays a role.

Another option, if you can find it, is Eucharistic Prayer D for The Season of Lent, found in the With One Voice Leader’s Edition (page 68). Very nice water images in there.

Peace to you all!

Baptismal Eucharistic Prayer

Christmas Eve Sermon, 2020 – Christmas Questions

Who is Mary tonight?

Who is Joseph tonight?

Who are the inn keepers, and the shepherds, and the bystanders tonight?

Who is playing the lead characters?

And who is playing the bit parts in this eternal drama?

Who’s doing it tonight?

+ + +

Who’s Mary?

The young?

The engaged?

The feminine?

The pregnant?

Those who bear burdens greater than any of us can imagine?

Those who give birth to miracles?

Those who are aware that they are giving birth to miracles?

Those whose souls are pierced by swords,

and knives, and bombs, and poverty,

and betrayal, and abuse, and isolation,

and the whole death-dealing universe of pain

which we seem so willing to inflict?

Those who know it’s coming, and who say yes anyway?

Those who think deeply about things?

Who ponder them in their hearts?

+ + +

Is the church Mary tonight?

Are we giving birth to miracles?

Are we aware that we are giving birth to miracles?

Do we know what’s coming, and say yes anyway?

Are we Mary tonight?

+ + +

Who’s Joseph?

The old?

The engaged again?

The masculine?

The also expecting?

Those who are always in the background?

Those who are overshadowed?

Those who are overlooked?

Those who quietly accept responsibility for others?

Those who dream?

Those who act on those dreams?

Those who want to do the right thing,

but choose the wrong way to go about it?

Those who need to be corrected?  And redirected?

Those who run from danger?

Those who are willing to give up everything,

and uproot their lives,

and abandon their plans,

and turn their backs on respectability

and who worry, alone in the night,

and say nothing to anyone,

and who somehow manage, some.how.manage,

to put one weary foot in front of the other weary foot

again and again and again?

The ones who play their part, and then disappear?

+ + +

Is the church Joseph tonight?

Are we overshadowed and overlooked?

Are we dreaming a new dream?

Are we acting on that dream?

Are we being called to play our part, and then disappear?

Are we Joseph tonight?

+ + +

Who are the inn keepers?

The ones who have no room?

The ones who can’t be bothered?

Or the ones who say, I have a shed out back?

Those who provide blankets and hot water

and a manger?

+ + +

Who are the shepherds?

Those who nobody wants to be near?

The day labourers and temp workers who are so “essential” for the economy

until the pandemic is over?

Those to whom God speaks first?

And who leave their jobs because God just happened?

And who tell anyone who will listen,

and even those who won’t?

+ + +

Who are the bystanders?

Those on their way somewhere else?

Those who don’t have the energy for the problems of others?

Or those who are curious,

and who slow down, a little, to listen to the babblers,

and who wonder to themselves, What if God did just happen?

+ + +

Is the church the inn keeper?  The shepherds?  The bystanders?

Are we un-named bit players who show up briefly and then vanish?

Are we offering our sheds?

Are we telling any who will listen,

and even those who won’t?

Are we the ones who are wondering,

What if, what if, God did just happen?

+ + +

Who is Mary tonight?

Who is Joseph tonight?

Who are the innkeepers and the shepherds and the bystanders tonight?

+ + +

Who is Jesus tonight?

The newborn?

The vulnerable?

The weak?

The hungry?

Those whose mere presence raises questions about relationships

and fidelity and faithfulness

and “the way things are supposed to be done”?

Those who shake empires and kingdoms by simply loving?

Those who challenges the assumptions of the powerful

by showing up where they’re not expected,

and not playing the game the way it’s “supposed to be played”?

Those who hang out with those nobody wants

and welcomes those nobody wants

and listens to those nobody wants

and says, Blessed are those who nobody wants?

+ + +

Is the church Jesus tonight?

Vulnerable?

Weak?

Only capable of loving,

and being among those who nobody wants?

+ + +

What if all we have for Christmas this year are questions?

What would that do to our celebrations?

How would it change things, how would it change us,

if, instead of proclaiming, we simply asked?

Instead of demanding, we simply asked?

Instead of insisting, we simply asked?

What if we simply embraced the questions,

and the ambiguity, and the wonder,

and joined in the asking of,

What if God really did just happen?

Sermon for November 15, 2020

Sermon

Did you hear or see that Lunenburg made the CBC this week?  A story about Lunenburg was broadcast on the Halifax morning show on the radio, and later the town was on the CBC Nova Scotia web page.

Unfortunately, it was not for a good reason.

The story is about a man by the name of Stephen Labrador, who lives just up the street from us.  You can literally see their house from the front porch of the parsonage.

In June, Stephen’s son had received a nasty message on his cell phone from a person whom he had recently met through a mutual friend.  It seems there was some kind of issue between them, but nothing to justify the nastiness of the message that was sent.

Shortly after that, Stephen’s wife got an abusive message from the same person; this time, it was completely out of the blue.  It was a hateful message, filled with all kinds of accusations and profanity.  Stephen describes it as “too painful to read.”

After this second message, Stephen called the RCMP.  He told the officer, over the phone, what had just taken place.

And nothing happened.  The officer did not come to the house, did not take a statement, did not look at the message.  Nothing happened.

Stephen called that same RCMP officer the next day to ask why.  The officer said simply, “I took care of it.”  Stephen’s response was “How can you have taken care of it?  You didn’t come and take a statement.  You didn’t even come to the house and see the message.”

He called the RCMP later, spoke to a different office, and this one did come to the house.

A couple weeks later, in July, an RCMP sergeant came to the house, so that they could talk about the way the investigation had been handled.  Stephen was not happy, and wanted the sergeant to know why.  That same night, the family was together watching a movie, when a police cruiser drove down Fox St., stopped in front of Stephen’s house, turned its spot light on, and shone it through the front window.  Stephen ran outside, and the cruiser took off.  But a neighbour saw a police cruiser drive by the house several more times that evening.

The CBC has attempted to contact the person who sent the messages, and has received no response.  Not a big surprise.  They also contacted the RCMP, who said they won’t comment on something that is currently being investigated.  Again, no surprise.  So the story has not ended.  That’s where we are.

This is how Lunenburg made the CBC news this week.  Not how we want it to happen.

So.  Why bring this up?  If we didn’t send those nasty messages, if we didn’t ignore someone’s request for help, why are we spending time thinking about this in our worship today?

Well, partially because this is something that happened in our community, and we need to be aware of what’s going on with our neighbours, even if we don’t know them personally.  Partially because this is about our community’s police force, and we as citizens are responsible for how we interact with them, and how they interact with us.  It needs to be a mutual process, so we need to be aware of that, too.

But there is one more, very important reason why we need to be aware of this story.  And that reason is pointed out in the story from the book of Judges which was read this morning.

The people of Israel had been freed from slavery in Egypt.  God had led them through the wilderness, and they were finally living in the Promised Land.  But they were still trying to figure out how to do this.  How do you live in a country when you aren’t a country?  There was no standing army, there was no government bureaucracy to run things, there was no Prime Minister to inspire the nation, or to blame when things went wrong!  They were making it up as they went along, which as we know from our current pandemic experience, can be a pretty stressful way to live.

The book of Judges tells the story of those early days in the Promised Land, and the difficulties they faced.  There is a definite pattern to these stories in this book.

First, the people behave badly.

Second, they are punished by God, who gives their neighbours power over them, and the neighbours use their power to oppress them.

Third, they repent and cry out to God.

Fourth, God raises up a leader who is called a Judge.  This is frequently a military leader, but not always; sometime it is a person who is literally a judge, someone who makes judgements when there is a disagreement.

Fifth, the Judge tells the people what to do so they can be God’s faithful people in this particular situation.

Sixth, the people respond, and God frees them from their oppressor.

Seventh, the people enjoy their freedom again.  Until the Judge dies and they forget what they were told.

Rinse and repeat!  The cycle starts all over again.

Today’s story is one example of that pattern.  But this story has one detail that is very different: the judge is a woman, whose name is Deborah.

This is significant, because in a patriarchal, male-dominated society, women were almost always in the background.  In that kind of setting, the stories were always told by men, the stories were written down by men, the stories were always about men.  That was considered “normal.”

So the fact that we have a story about a woman, who plays the leading role, is remarkable in itself.  But the fact that she was recognized as a prophet (someone who speaks God’s word), that she was recognized as a leader in the community, and that she was recognized as a judge, is really exceptional.  Deborah is the only female judge recorded in the book of Judges.  She stands out because of that.

This story is a great reminder that God doesn’t always do things according to our sense of “normal.”  God is free to do anything and everything outside of what we expect.  All of God’s people are capable of being used by God for the benefit of the wider community.

This sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  It’s obvious.  But in the heat of the moment, responding to an “outsider” can be a pretty hefty challenge.  We get so used to our “normal” that we frequently don’t even see the outsider, the stranger, the one who is different or unexpected.  And as challenging as it is to hear, we, too, need these reminders over and over again.  Because, like those Israelites newly living in the Promised Land, it’s too easy to forget.

Fifty years ago, we Lutherans had such a reminder.  In 1970, a woman named Elizabeth Platz was ordained as a Lutheran Pastor.  She was the first woman to be ordained in any Lutheran Church in North America.  It seems difficult to believe now, but her ordination was massively controversial.  We hadn’t done that before.  It was not what we were used to.  It wasn’t “normal!”

But stories like the story of Deborah reminded us back then that God is not bound to our “normal.”  God can do new things, even with, or maybe more, especially with people who are “outsiders,” who aren’t part of our usual routine.  God frequently comes through those who are outside the power structures, outside the expected, outside what we have grown comfortable with.  In fact, God often has to make us uncomfortable, so that we start to pay attention, so that we see things that we need to see, hear things that we need to hear, learn things that we need to learn.  And for those things to happen, God, time and time again, will use people whom we haven’t even seen, or whom we have intentionally ignored.

And this is the reason we need to pay attention to why Lunenburg made it to the CBC this week.  Because Stephen and his family are outsiders, are different, and have, up until this week, just been in our background.  But no more.  Stephen Labrador and his family were attacked and harassed and received threatening messages… because they are Mi’kmaw.

We like to pretend that racism is a problem somewhere else.  We like to pretend that hatred is not a problem here.  We like to pretend that we are friendly to everybody.

I think that God is speaking to us, right here, right now, through Stephen Labrador and his family.  I think God is reminding us that racism is part of our shared experience; it is part of this community, our community.  I think God is showing us that we have work to do.

And the first step in this journey is admitting that we need to listen.  To the outsiders.  To the minorities.  To the ones whose very existence calls us to question our “normal.”  People like Deborah the judge.  People like Elizabeth Platz the pastor.  People like Stephen Labrador, our Mi’kmaq neighbour.

It’s not “normal” for us to do this.  But that just might be the point.

May God open our ears to listen to the stories of those who make us uncomfortable.  Because that holy discomfort just might be the beginning of the journey toward healing that we all so desperately need to make.

Amen.

Prayers of the People for November 15, 2020

We offer our prayers to God, trusting that we will be heard, and trusting that God will open our ears as well.

[Short pause]

A – Creator of those we consider outside, we confess that we do indeed draw lines around people.  We do exclude, we do make judgements.  Forgive us for denying your image.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

A – Creator of those we consider other, open our eyes to the ways we shut people out of our circles, out of our gatherings, our of our lives.  As painful as it might be, help us be honest with ourselves, and in that process, bring healing.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

A – Creator of those we consider weak, we acknowledge the mis-use of our power structures, our laws and regulations, which have too often been used to separate your people by gender identity, by race, by wealth, by ability.  Strengthen our desire to change, to grow, to become who you have in mind.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

A – Creator of those we consider foreign, fill your church with a burning hunger to break down barriers between people, that we may discover your presence with all.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

A – Creator of those we consider sick, we remember those who are separated due to pandemic, due to age, due to inability, due to fractured relationships.  We especially pray for those we name before you.
[Long pause]
Use us to touch all with your healing love.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

A – Creator of those we consider less, letting go of our prejudice and our fear is hard work, and we frequently run away from that holy task.  Give us faith to trust that you go into these difficult valleys with us, and that nothing will separate us from your love.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

P – We ask all this in the name of Jesus, who continues to teach us to pray,

Prayers of the People for Sunday, October 11, 2020

We offer our prayers to God, trusting that we will be heard, and trusting that God will open our ears as well.

[Short pause]

God of the banquet, you do not do things the way we expect.  You do not play by our rules.  We give thanks for your unpredictability.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

God of the banquet, we admit that we have tried to impose our will on others.  We confess that we have done this in our church, in our community, in our homes.  We give thanks for the potholes you place in our path which compel us to ask ourselves hard, life-giving questions.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

God of the banquet, we offer thanks for the sacramental meal you provide.  May our participation in this feast recall us to ourselves, that we may let go of self-serving assumptions, and receive what you are truly giving.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

God of the banquet, we pray for the outcasts and misfits of our world, our nation, our community.  Use us to welcome them all.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

God of the banquet, we pray for those who cannot join us in your banquet today: the sick, the isolating, the fearful, the forgotten.  We especially remember those we name before you.
[Long pause]
May we be among those who share your love in this hurting world.  God who is with us,
C – Hear our prayer.

Into your hands we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
C – Amen.

Sermon for Thanksgiving 2020

All of today’s readings today have a something uncomfortable in common.  They drive us along just fine, and then run us straight into a monstrous pothole.  All of them.  Old Testament, New Testament, doesn’t matter.  Whether we are familiar with them or not.  We’re driving along just fine, and then Crunch!

In Exodus, the Israelites have been freed from slavery.  They are in the process of being given the 10 Commandments (to this day, this is considered the high point of Jewish people’s lives!), and in the middle of it… they give thanks for their golden calves!  Crunch!

In the Psalms we sing O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever (which we like), but they forgot God, their Saviour (which we don’t like).  God did awesome deeds by the Red Sea (which is fine), but he said he would destroy them.  Crunch!

Jesus’ parable does this, too.  A king invites guests to his son’s wedding, kills the guests when they don’t come (which we don’t like, at all!), brings in a bunch of street people, good and bad (which we like!), and then throws out someone who isn’t dressed appropriately!  Crunch!

So.  How do we celebrate Thanksgiving in a pothole??

Here’s what we don’t do.  We don’t complain about the unfairness of having potholes in the road, or in our readings.  We don’t find someone else to blame for the pothole (God, Matthew, Jesus, the pastor, the mayor, the Public Works department, whoever).  Nor do we try to avoid the potholes, or pretend that we didn’t just go Crunch!

Here’s what we DO do.  We ask ourselves, Why does this catch us so off guard?  We ask ourselves, What were we expecting?  We ask ourselves, What assumption were we making that makes this pothole so jarring?

And I think it is here, in examining our assumptions about the Bible, about the church, about God, about life, that we might find some wisdom…, if we have ears to hear.

We could spend time with each reading today, but we will focus on Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast.  It has the biggest pothole, and therefore carries the most potential for self-reflection.

If you do any reading about this story, either from church history or current theologians, the assumptions we make about this story are actually pretty clear.  The banquet is God’s reign; not just the final culmination of creation, but the daily promise of God’s presence with God’s people in Christ.  The first guests are the Jewish people, who “obviously” have turned their back on what God is doing in Christ, and so they justly deserve to have their invitation revoked.

I’m not saying this is the truth, or that I agree with it!  But this is pretty universally what is said, what is written, what is understood, what is assumed about this passage.

The next assumption we make is that God, obviously the king in the story, then goes out and brings all kinds of other people, from the highways and byways, to the banquet.  The story goes out of its way to point out that “both good and bad” are brought in to the banquet.  This is understood as a clear proclamation of the Good News – All are welcome!  And we would be hard pressed to disagree.

Then there’s the hard part.  God, the king, discovers someone who is at the banquet, but who is not really prepared for the party.  This guest is not really taking part the way guests “should” take part.  And our (pretty universal) assumption here is that this person isn’t doing it right, isn’t really taking part in God’s presence in Christ, is just there for the show, just there for the food, just there because everyone else is there.  And in this understanding, God, the king, is again completely justified in casting this person out into the outer darkness.

The assumption is that we need to take God’s reign in Christ seriously, and if we don’t, God will take steps to insure that we are appropriately dealt with.

This understanding has been used throughout church history to try to motivate lazy or marginal church members to take their membership more seriously.  Because if you don’t, you’re gonna end up in one whale of a pothole!  And there won’t be any road assistance for THAT Crunch!

But I would like to suggest that this parable is not a pothole for lazy or marginal church members.  This is a pothole for us.  If God is a God who only welcomes those who “tow the line,” then all of our proclamation of love and grace go out the window.  If God is a God who demands that we have our act together in order to take part in God’s banquet, then we are all going to spend most of our time looking over our shoulder, wondering when we are going to be singled out for not wearing the correct wedding attire.  If our traditional assumptions about this parable are right, we will inevitably find ourselves in trouble.  Crunch!

This is one big pothole!

But what if our assumptions about this story are wrong?  What if our starting point for hearing this parable is missing the mark from the beginning?  What if it’s not about “the Jews”?  Or lazy and marginal church members?  What if there is another way to read this story?

I came across another way a little while ago.  It was on a web page which, unfortunately, has had some significant technical difficulties since then, so I can’t give credit to the person who suggested this.  I don’t know this person’s name.  But I think it is a brilliant suggestion, which points us in a whole different direction, and helps us come to grips, not only with the text, but also with our assumptions.

Instead of assuming that the king represents God, this person suggests that the king is simply a king, a typical ruler of a small kingdom within the Roman Empire, who is playing the usual power games to stay in charge in an unstable political climate.

The king throws a wedding banquet for the heir-apparent, and invites all of the usual important people to come.  This is not just about celebrating a marriage; this is a loyalty test designed to benefit the king, because it will force these “important people” to publicly support the heir-apparent, and add a measure of stability to the king’s political ambitions.

But the important people don’t want to support the king or the heir-apparent.  They are pretty much revealing that they have other ideas about who should inherit the throne.  So they decline the invitation, which, in political circles, is a terribly insulting, as well as destabilizing, thing to do.

The king reacts with violence, which is what petty kings do in these situations.

So since he can’t count on the support of the usual “important people,” the king decides to make us of another political ploy.  He rebrands himself as a populist.  He has his servants invite ordinary people off the street to his banquet.  The king doesn’t care if the are “good” or “bad,” he doesn’t care if they supported him before.  He only cares about their loyalty now, and the easiest way to buy their loyalty is to feed them, and tell them that they are suddenly important, and isn’t it great being acknowledged by the great?

So far this parable is not talking about God.  So far this is not about God’s reign, or God’s people, or Jews or Christians or any other religious tradition.  This is simply describing normal life, the usual headline news.  And not just headline news, either.  This parable is a pothole for all of us.  We all behave this way, whether we are running a kingdom, or a bowling team.  If people play our game, we support them, and welcome them, and enjoy hanging out together.  But if they challenge us, or don’t do things the way we like, or the way we approve, we subtly or not-so-subtly un-invite them, and go looking for people who will play our game according to our rules.

Which is precisely what happens to the person in the parable who is not wearing a wedding robe.  Here is someone who is not obeying the rules, who is not making the king look good, who is not even attempting to play the game.  So this one, too, is un-invited, and ends up in the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But what if this is the real pothole in this story?  What if this is the point where God actually shows up?  What if God is the one who refuses to play our power games, or wear our expected wedding robes, or measure up to our standards for desired behaviour?  What if God is the outcast?

Given the core of the Christian story, which is, of course, Jesus being crucified, by us, it seems to me that this is not only a helpful way of hearing the story.  I think it’s also, quite frankly, more appropriate to read it this way.

This parable is a pothole for all of us who have ever tried to use others for our own purposes; who have ever insisted that people do things our way; who have ever insisted that others see things our way.  It is an especially big pothole for all of us who have ever assumed that we can point our fingers at others (Jews, Catholics, Indigenous people, politicians, foreigners), and thereby get out of examining ourselves in the light of God’s insistent love.

Which brings us to today’s banquet, which we call Communion.

This banquet, which we celebrate today for the first time in a long time(!), is not the banquet of the king, set up for the important people of the kingdom.  It’s not the banquet of a populist, trying to appeal to everyone in the kingdom in order to increase his support base.  Nor is it the banquet in which only certain people are allowed to participate, as long as they do what we demand.

This banquet, which we celebrate today for the first time in a long time(!), is the banquet of the Cast-Out One, prepared specifically for cast-outs who don’t fit in; who won’t play by the world’s rules; who don’t even want to understand the schemes of power people; who refuse to conform to the status quo; who say a quiet but insistent “No” to going along with everyone else simply for the sake of temporary safety or a full belly.

This banquet, Jesus’ banquet, is not like the king’s banquet.  This one is not being thrown to benefit the king, or those who want to be king.  This one is being hosted by Jesus, the ultimate outcast, the ultimate misfit, and is being given to benefit the outcasts and misfits of life, the outcasts and misfits of the world.  No matter what we, or they, are wearing.  Crunch!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Amen.

Sermon and Prayers for Sunday, October 4, 2020

Text Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

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Sermon

A Sunday School teacher was asking the class some questions one day, to see how well they had absorbed what was being taught.

One of these questions was, “What is an Epistle?”

One student raised a hand, and proudly answered, “An Epistle is the wife of an apostle!”

I don’t know how the teacher responded, but the answer that that Sunday School teacher was looking for was, “A letter to a church.”

If you look up the word in a dictionary, you will see words like: letter, note, communication, or missive.  One goes so far to say, “A poem or other literary work in the form of a letter, or a series of letters.”

But there’s a little more to it.  The epistles in the Bible are not just “letters.”  They are not just passing on the family news, or local church gossip.

Our friend Laura Marie, the priest over at St. John’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg, says this: “Epistles are letters… with a nudge.”

Yes, they are letters; yes, they pass on information.  But they also provide a slight push.  Not over a cliff!  But if we engage with what has been written in these letters, we will discover that they call us to take a step or two in a slightly new, and quite possible uncomfortable, direction.  Epistles are letters that don’t leave us where we were.  They take us on a journey, and leave us in new territory.

Today’s Epistle reading is from an Epistle that Paul wrote to the fledgling church in a place called Philippi, a city named after a former king whose name was Philip, who was the father of Alexander the Great.

Paul wrote to the church in this place because there was some division in the congregation.  This passage doesn’t tell us what the division was about, and it really doesn’t matter all that much.  We know what happens when communities are split apart (“I’m right, you’re wrong!”  “But I’ve been here longer that you have!”  “Oh yeah?  I’ve been on more committees than you have!”  “Oh yeah?  I’ve given more money than you have!!”  We all know how it goes), and it is those issues that Paul is addressing.

He starts by seeming to play the argument game!  He says, “You keep talking about how many credentials you have.  Well, here are mine!”  And then he lists off a series of qualities he has, a list of things he’s done, a list of accomplishments he can claim.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

He basically rattles these off to try to shut down the argument about comparisons that are being made between members of the community.  He’s basically saying, “Look folks; you wanna play that game?  I’ve got you all beat.  So, according to the rules of the game you started, I win, and so you have to sit down and listen to me now.”

And here’s the first part of the “nudge” that Paul wants to give them.  He tells them that the comparison game they are playing is a complete waste of time and energy, because all of those things they thought made them so important, are actually garbage.

Whatever gains I had [in other words, whatever perks, whatever status symbols, whatever bragging rights these things gave me], these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him….

As far as Paul is concerned, all those things that he rattled off aren’t even worth being recycled.  Those things are not green bin material!  They go straight into the landfill.  Or maybe even better, the incinerator!

He is inviting these Philippian Christians to get their priorities in order, to stop playing their power games (which are, of course, really “insecurity games”), and remember who they really are.  He is reminding them that they are not defined by being winners of petty arguments.  They are defined by being God’s people through Christ.

And here’s the second part of the “nudge” in Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.

…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

“Forgetting what lies behind….”

That’s a pretty serious nudge!  Because for us, a major part of the way we have gotten used to “doing” church and “being” church, is remembering what lies behind!  We have history here.  We have memories here.  We have “the way we’ve always done it before” here!  We have “who we are” here.  And we’re supposed to turn our back on that???

As I said, this is a pretty serious nudge.  And even a little scary.

Paul addresses this in two ways.

First, read the whole sentence.  “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead….”

It’s not just throwing away everything that’s in the past.  It also embracing what is to come.  Our faith is not just about the past.  It’s also about the future.

But Paul reminds his readers (and US!) that the future to which he points is not a “pie in the sky” version of “Just think positive thoughts, and everything will work for the best.”  Nor is it, “Everything will be better when we die and our souls join Jesus in the sky.”

No.  The future to which Paul points is the one that is promised by God, and which is coming right now.

“…straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Please please please!  Don’t here this as, “Just believe the promise, and everything will be better in heaven.”  That is absolutely NOT what Paul is suggesting here.

The “heavenly call of God” is one that is made now, calling us to a new way of being in the now, in the present, today.  That’s why Paul says we can let go of the past for our identity.  Our identity in Christ is being given t us again, right now.  And right now.  And right now.

Paul did not have the Corona virus in mind when he wrote these words.  Paul did not have racial tensions between Black and White, or Settler and Indigenous fishers in mind when he wrote these words.

But they apply!  The point us toward a way through the challenges we are facing today.  Not by telling us that the virus doesn’t matter.  Not by telling us that we are “right,” and therefore “they” must be “wrong.”

But by reminding us that God is giving us our identity today, so we can let go of our conveniences and begin to look after our neighbours.  We can let go of our status and power and control, and begin listening to the stories that our Indigenous neighbours are telling, even if they are different than the stories we grew up with.

Paul’s Epistle to the church in Philipp’s city has some pretty significant nudges.  For the people of the church 2,000 years ago, and for us.  It leaves us in new, and frankly uncomfortable territory.

But it does not leave us here alone.  It reminds us that we are where we are precisely because God has brought us here.  It reminds us that our current identity is not just about what happened before, but is being given to us again through the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  Today.  Now.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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RESPONSE TO THE WORD

Prayers of the People

We offer our prayers to God, trusting that we will be heard, and trusting that God will open our ears as well.

[Short pause]

Spirit of God, you nudge us into new places.  Forgive us for resisting.  Open us to what you are doing in the present.  God who is with us,
Hear our prayer.

Spirit of God, you nudge us through the people around us.  Free us from clinging to our past.  Help us hear what you are saying now through those who are different.  God who is with us,
Hear our prayer.

Spirit of God, you nudge us into uncomfortable situations.  We prefer the comfort of the old.  Motivate us to embrace the reality of today, trusting your presence today.  God who is with us,
Hear our prayer.

Spirit of God, fill your uncertain church with the assurance of your love, not only for us, but for the whole creation.  And then send us out to proclaim your love through word and deed.  God who is with us,
Hear our prayer.

Spirit of God, you accompany all who hurt, who wonder, who question, who cry.  Use us to touch the sick and isolated with your healing presence.  We especially offer our prayers for those we name before you.
[Long silence]
God who is with us,
Hear our prayer.

Spirit of God, continue to nudge us into the future, and give us the grace to welcome it.  God who is with us,
Hear our prayer.

We ask all this in the name of Jesus, who continues to teach us to pray,