16 April 2009

Easter Day - Ta Da Christ is Risen

By Stuart Pike

12 March 2009

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

            Joseph of Arimathea’s friend, Levi, is standing in front of him wondering why Joseph would have given his brand-new (and very costly) tomb to bury the body of Jesus. “For why did you do such a thing?”, Levi asks. “It hadn’t even been used!” Joseph just shrugs.

“And it was expensive!”, says Levi. “And this man was a criminal! He was executed by the Romans!”

“Why so generous?” asks Levi.

Joseph just shrugs again. “It was nothing,” he says, “He only needed it for the weekend!”

            It has been a tradition in the orthodox Church for hundreds of years, to tell jokes on Easter Day. The reason is that God played the biggest joke imaginable on that first Easter Day, cheating the devil with the biggest surprise of all: not even death can hold God’s son back. Life wins over death!

            There was a Sunday School teacher who told the Easter story to her kids and then, wanting them to use their imaginations, asked, “What do you think Jesus’ first words were when he rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb. A tiny little girl put up her hand and waved it around, “Pick me”, she said, “I know, I know.”

            “Oh yes”, said the Sunday school teacher, “What do you think he would have said?”

            The little girl jumped to her feet and splayed her feet and arms wide open as she sang out: “Ta da!”

            I think that this little girl understood the true meaning of Easter. The mixture of astonishing power and great joy could be summed up in words like, “Ta da!” The story is amazing. We have heard it so many times we forget to be astonished. Jesus rose from the tomb and destroyed the oldest enemy, death, which had such power over us.

            Mary went to that tomb very early in the morning expecting only death and sorrow. She is bewildered by the empty tomb, and in her despair, she runs to tell Peter and the others. Peter and John run to the tomb and enter and see the evidence of the body being unwrapped and the head wrapping lying in a place all by itself. The story says that John believed, though it doesn’t say exactly what he believed. They head home.

            The bewildered Mary is left in her grief, still thinking that the body of her Lord has been stolen. The men who blustered in and left so quickly failed to recognize that there was more in that tomb. Perhaps it took someone with Mary’s sensitivity to perceive the holy presence of angels in the tomb.

            Yet, in her bewilderment, she still doesn’t recognize that it is Jesus in the garden. She thinks it is the gardener. I can imagine the smile playing across Jesus’ face as he realizes that she thinks he is the hired help!

            Then follows the most crucial part of the story for me: Jesus calls her by her name: “Mary!”

            At the sound of her name, the scales fall from Mary’s eyes and she recognizes her Lord, alive and smiling at her. Jesus, of course, knows her name, and it is hearing her own name in his voice that the moment is transformed.  Before she hears him call her name she is simply trying to make sense of all that is happening. She is trying to figure it out rationally.

            I think that is what we try to do as well. There have plenty of theories and books written trying to explain away the astonishing truth of Christ’s resurrection. One novelist, Dan Brown, has cottoned on to people’s need to rationalize and made $380 million selling his fictional story. The news has reported how he was being sued by the authors of 'The holy blood and the holy grail' by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh which is a theory which Dan Brown uses in his book. Although that suit has been lost. After that an art historian launched a new lawsuit.

            I hear these news stories and I shake my head and laugh! It is amazing how human beings use the wrong tools in so many situation. We try to use words to capture what is beyond words. We try to use logic to explain something which can only be experienced. We try to use theory or even theology to rationalize mystery.

            When we do these things we are like Mary, seeing not reality, but banality. Instead of rationalizing and explaining, open your heart and be filled with joy. Because, our Lord Jesus knows your name as well. He knows us through and through and he loves us fully, just as we are in all of our imperfections.

            So what can you do in order to hear Jesus calling your name? Most religious traditions appear to have some common wisdom. Essential to this wisdom is the need for us to stop, to be still and to open ourselves to the holy presence.

            It is a problem for us who live in a fast-paced, infinitely wired society – bursting with the noise of our technology. We have become so used to the noise, and have developed our own preferences within the noise, that many are uncomfortable with silence. And because we are filled with noise, we find it really hard to truly live in the present moment, and just to be. But God is only ever found in the present. And so we often miss the holiness which is among us and is present to us in our everyday lives. We fail to see Jesus and simply see the gardener.

            The good news of today’s Easter story is that you can have a relationship with Jesus which will transform your life! The scales can fall from your eyes, too, and in a moment, in the time it takes to hear your name, your world can be changed. And your life can be filled with meaning.

            Don’t come to the Easter story with logical hypotheses. Bring your whole being to the Easter story and open your ears to hear your name! And have faith by experiencing Jesus’ presence just as Mary did that first Easter morning. Nothing can explain away your own experience of Jesus. Be astonished, be astounded as you hear your name because, Ta da! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Good Friday - It is finished

By Paul Tinker

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our strength and our redeemer. – Amen

“It is finished”

“It is finished”

These are the last words of Jesus of Nazareth…Hanging on a cross… outside the city… in the place of the skull… Golgotha… hanging from the nails that were hammered through in his hands and one big nail through both his legs… like the worst criminal - and in the middle of two criminals. Away from the gate of the city that less than a week ago He entered amidst a chorus of praise and adoration for the coming of a king. Yet up on a hill for all that approach the city to see… Dead – hanging in the worst type of death known. A death to evoke fear in all that would see. This death was to send a message of just how powerful the Roman Empire was.

Consider what the last words of Jesus would have meant:

To Judas - this was the end of a long journey that has ended in disappointment. When once things seemed to be so promising. This was the messiah that was to bring us Jews everything that the prophets had ever promised. This was the end of Roman occupation. This was the end of 1/3 of everyone we know being a slave. This was the man that was supposed to set the captives free, that was to bring the year of jubilation. How could we have been so wrong? How could we have misread the signs? He surely was of God, he miraculously healed people. He taught - and people from miles away would come and listen, they would leave everything, sometimes coming so captivated by His teachings that they would not bring food or drink – yet He provided for all that came….

Some of His teachings were confusing, some of His ways didn’t make sense, I should have understood sooner, I should seen how He was not going to lead us to military victory. Only a few days ago a foolish woman wasted a years salary worth of precious oil on His feet - and He said ‘it was alright, she was preparing Him for burial’ – well, burial is what He wanted and I helped make sure of that. The hope of a Jewish Kingdom rising out of this oppression - “It is finished”

Consider what it would have meant to Caiaphas, the high priest and all the other priests, Sadducees and Jewish religious leaders. This is finally the end of that problem. No longer will the people be distracted from the temple. No longer will we hear of people hungry for this new message.          It is back to business as usual. The Passover festival can continue. No longer will we be challenged and made to feel like we don’t know what we are talking about. No longer will we have to worry about who is loyal to us. No longer will we have to settle the minds of the Romans occupiers about their concerns for this movement – this uprising. It is better that this one man shall die for the good and the peace of all the people - “It is finished”

Consider what this would have meant to Pontius Pilate:

That was a close one! There was so many gathered – so many of these Jews gathered at this time in this God-forsaken land, in which I am sentenced to this place, so far away from the real action in Rome. This land we no one respects me, where we are forced to put up with these Jewish customs, where we allow them to continue because it is easier to rule, letting them to continue as long as they understand and fear the power I weald. Yet that was a close one! This Jesus seems to me to have done nothing wrong – but He sure could get a crowd going, only last week I was told that they treated Him like a King as He entered the city. I made sure that people in every language knew what He had been crucified for – ‘King of the Jews’, is what I wrote for His cross!

This was the end of a long and strange day. Where my wife, came to me, she doesn’t normally bother me during the day – yet she came to me and told me to have nothing to do with this Jesus – that she had a dream that troubled her. Then these crazy religious Jews, they bring me this man, Jesus, a Nazarene, to execute, because they don’t like the message He has. They have no charges against Him, and they leave His judgement up to me. I questioned Him - and His answers show no fear. He didn’t seem to understand that I hold His life in my hands. He claims to testify to the truth. Ah… what is truth? It is certainly not with these Religious crazies – that much is easy to see. Try as I may to respect my wife’s warning and to release this innocent man, they repeatedly call for His death. And trade Him for the bandit Barabbas. Truth – I don’t know what it is – but I wash my hands of all it - “It is Finished”

Consider what this would have meant to Peter:

My Best friend is dead. I don’t understand. He brought me out of everything that I have ever known. I left my job – I left my boats – I left my family. To follow – to learn. He gave me the power to heal as He healed. I saw thousands seek Him where-ever He went – to hear what he taught – to be healed from all kinds of illness. He even brought Lazarus back to life. My best friend – my teacher – The man I thought was the Messiah is dead. Like a criminal! And I betrayed Him - three times – just like he said I would

I thought I would be stronger – I thought I would die for Him – but I was so afraid, so afraid - and now he is dead. I am so confused - “It is finished?

Consider what it would have meant to Mary, the mother of Jesus:

My Son, my Son! In whom God gave to me to care. In whom the angel told me, was God’s Son. Jesus, who at twelve marvelled the priests in the temple, Jesus who did so many miraculous things. From water into wine. To healing - To teaching - To showing us a different way to understand the scriptures. My Boy! Who, I knew a long time ago in my heart, was someone beyond normal understanding.          My Son – God’s Son. Is dead

The miracles are over – the suffering is over – the torture is over – the pain is over. “It is finished”

Consider what it might mean to Jesus:

“It is finished” My work is done - What I came to accomplish – What Abba sent me here for – is complete. I have taught -          I have healed - I have shown them signs and wonders – miracles - I have served - I have given them a ‘new commandment’. I have shown them … I have lived… for them … I have died… for them… I love them… so that they might truly know my new commandment. “It is finished”

Consider what it might mean to God the Father:

My obedient Son – well done – “good and faith servant” - My children of faith will know that I love them so much that I sent My one and only Son that they may know my love. That they might know ‘my way’ is love. That they can be released of their sins – that they can be united with their creator for evermore – that they may know Love - That they may live love - “It is finished”

Consider what the Cross – what the last words of Jesus means to you…

“It is finished”

Thank you Jesus – Thanks be to God - Amen

11 April 2009

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

5 April 2009

Mark 11: 1-11

By Canon Sharyn Hall

            A few weeks ago in one of our Sunday worship services, I was listening to Canon Stuart preaching from the pulpit, when suddenly I saw Jesus listening intently to what Canon Stuart was saying. No, it was not a miraculous vision, but it was a startling vision. What I saw was the figure of Jesus in the stained glass window beside the pulpit. Like many of you in the parish, I have looked at this window often, but that day, I saw Jesus from a different perspective.

            In this window, the artist has slightly tilted the head of Jesus, giving the impression that Jesus is leaning forward to listen, and perhaps begin a conversation. When I was startled to see Jesus in this way, I also saw Jesus as curious, wanting to ask Canon Stuart, and any preacher in this pulpit, “What are you telling the people about me?” “Are you telling them MY message, or is it YOUR message?”

            These are challenging questions for a preacher, and I remember these questions as I stand in the pulpit beside this window today. If I could talk with Jesus, I would have many questions about what he said, and what he did, and about what message he has for us in the world today, in this new millennium, but Jesus had a way of asking probing questions of people who came to him for answers.

            Jesus might say to us,

“Some people call me a prophet. Did I prophesy death and destruction? Did I come to condemn the world?

“Some people call me a saviour, but did I bring freedom and peace to all people?

“I have lived among you as a human being, and I understand your vulnerability to pride and to fear and to hopeful dreams. The crowds who greeted me with palm branches and ‘hosannas’ on the road to Jerusalem were full of hopeful dreams for liberation and for their return to a proud nation with God’s anointed king. But, when they saw that I had no army, that I did not rise up as a mighty warrior, they turned away in fear, and their fear led to anger against me and against God.

“The road to Jerusalem was not about me. It was about them.

“They took my message and transformed it into what they wanted to hear,

I preached love and they heard glory.

I preached faith and they heard power.

They wanted the power and the glory of a warrior king, a saviour with a sword.

Pilate was not the only one who washed his hands of me that day. The people who shouted ‘hosanna’ deserted me when I did not fulfill their dreams.

But what about MY hopes and dreams, MY message for humanity?”

Jesus has much to tell us, and he has some tough questions for us. For over two thousand years, the followers of Jesus have molded his message and his mission to suit their own desires and dreams. As I look at the questioning face of Jesus in this window, I wonder if he is amazed that the people who follow him today, like the crowds on the road to Jerusalem, can misunderstand his mission, and turn away to another road.

Jesus thought it was such a simple message. Love God. Love your neighbour. Love yourself as God’s creation meant to love and to be loved. There was too little love for Jesus. Love was swept away by pride and fear and broken dreams. 

Today the road to Jerusalem still leads to a war-ravaged city. The road to Jerusalem is every road where people dream of peace and live in fear, where hope is ground down by despair because people turn away. Are we the people who turn away from the hard realities of human life, from the suffering of our neighbours? Or do we follow the Way of Jesus to confront the pride of power and the fear of death, believing that this world can be healed of its broken dreams. 

If we look at the other stained glass windows in our church, we see familiar images of Jesus as the shepherd, the compassionate healer of the sick and the risen Lord  Those windows tell us something about Jesus. In this window, we can see Jesus from a different perspective. This is the questioning Jesus who wants to know about us, his disciples in the 21st century.

We are millions of people all over the world who praise and honour Jesus, but what do we do to Love God, to show kindness to our neighbours, and to work to heal the broken dreams of God’s people? These are questions for each one of us, not only in this Holy Week, but day by day and year by year, because Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, …always.   Amen.

01 April 2009

Lent 6 B - To See Jesus

by Stuart Pike

St. Luke’s Church

28 March 2009

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” This is the request of two Greeks who have entered the City of Jerusalem for the holy feast. These are foreigners. And being Greeks, they represent the great philosophers, the questioners, the seekers after truth. Their search for truth has brought them to this great feast in Jerusalem, and their experience there has brought them to this request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Is that what you wish? Is that what the people around us wish? On first glance, it doesn’t appear to be so. People seem to be mostly engaged in other things. Today people seem to be mostly wishing for security. The economy is probably part of the problem. People everywhere seem to be worried. People are living scattered lives. We just want to do what we can to survive this mess.

And yet, when we think about it, we realize that people seemed to be just as preoccupied and scattered when the economy was going full tilt.  People were still searching for more. Surely there has got to be more to life hasn’t there?

Our book study has just completed Marcus Borg’s book, the Heart of Christianity and in an early chapter he describes how humans throughout the ages have recognized a lack in their lives. There’s got to be a “more.” He describes this lack as living East of Eden – in other words, we no longer live in the garden, and we are missing it.  Human beings know that something is wrong.

And it seems that it has always been so. We want more, we feel the lack and we try to do all sorts of things to fill our lack. None of it works.

Could this be why we have these Greeks in today’s Gospel lesson? I think so. They’re seeking for more. They’ve been searching all of their lives, just like we do. And their search has brought them to this time and place. Who knows what world of ideas they have struggled through to get this far? Now they are at a kind of culmination of their efforts. And here they are, wishing to see Jesus.

Is that what we wish? Even though it might not appear so, yes, I think at the deepest level of our being, it is exactly what we most wish. But most of us don’t live very deeply these days. We are too concerned with all the surface stuff to pay attention to anything deep. Even though we know that something is wrong, we are too distracted by our material world to know what to do. This is the way most people live their lives. And because we’re so distracted we can’t pay attention to one other either. We become isolated from each other.

There might be one upside about a poor economy, and that is it’s bringing people together. It is making some people realize that having all the material goods isn’t really the most important thing. It is making more and more people share, and it is bringing people back to humanity. In our search for more meaning in our lives it is bringing us to ask to see Jesus again.

God bless Philip and Andrew! They’re not the superstars of the disciples. They don’t get the limelight like Peter and James and John do. They work quietly behind the scenes, bringing people to Jesus. Andrew is the very first missionary in bringing his brother Peter to see Jesus. Later it is Andrew and Philip who bring a small boy to Jesus, who wants to share his meal with a hungry crowd. And now, here are Philip and Andrew bringing these Greeks to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew are Jesus’ welcoming committee.

We can learn a lot from Andrew and Philip. Today people are so in need of seeing Jesus. They might not know it yet, but they are desperately in need of seeing Jesus. The answer to their need is you. Each member of our Church needs to be part of the welcome here at St. Luke’s.

At parish council this week, we spent a considerable amount of time talking about the effort which some Churches put into welcoming newcomers into their midst. They’ve got people who first shake a hand, people who will escort newcomers to find what they need, people to take down their names and contact information and people to explain what their church is all about. We realized in our discussion this week, that we can do a lot more to be more welcoming here.

Yes, It will mean looking again at our methods of welcoming others. Yes, it will mean getting our job descriptions right. Yes, it will mean being tolerant of people who might not know the way we do things. Yes, it will mean being glad to hear the noise of kids in Church, because that means that we are a Church that is alive!

But mostly what it will mean is everyone who is now a member of St. Luke’s needs to extend a hand of friendship to those around them. Every one of you needs to be part of the welcome, just like Andrew and Philip were. It’s not someone else’s job, it your job. You need to be able to tell newcomers why you like your church and why they should join us. And the reason why we need to do this isn’t because we need to grow our membership. It’s not about our need: it’s about the newcomer’s need to see Jesus, and Jesus commands us to bring others to see him.

And, it’s about bringing isolated people together into a true community that can give meaning to their lives.

What might have been surprising to these Greeks is the message Jesus gives them. He tells them that the road to life is through dying. The way to gain everything, is to let go of the distraction of the material world. It doesn’t make much sense in a materialistic world.

But, I’m thinking that these Greeks probably understood. They had searched all their lives until this point. This was a new path – one which spoke of something more. This way has depth.

We know, in our hearts, that the answer to our deepest need has to do with something far greater than this material world. This is the “more” we seek. Let us be part of Jesus’ way of self-giving, and let us remember that what we most wish in this life is to see Jesus. Amen.