29 December 2009

Christmas Eve 2009 - The Incarnation

By Stuart Pike

St. Luke’s, Burlington

8 P.M. & 11:15 P.M.

It is finally Christmas Eve. As we all know Christmas is a time for celebration. Within our culture it has become a time for gift-giving, for festivity and decoration. Mostly it has become a time for family. A time to reconnect a time to focus on the children or the grandchildren. A time to deepen the love that exists between family members. Many people’s most treasured memories are memories of a Christmas time in the past.

Of course Christmas to Christians is also about hearing the story of the very first Christmas. For us this evening the herald angels are heralding, the shepherds are hearing the news and running to witness the Good News themselves. The good news of the birth of a baby who is the saviour of the whole world. Joy to the world we say and sing on this night. And Joy is supposed to be what we are all supposed to feel this night and tomorrow.

There is sometimes a bit of a problem though for Christians in the 21st century. Firstly, there are always people who can’t feel joy at this time of the year because of whatever situation they’re in. Personal loss, tragedy, poverty, sickness. These people are among us and sometimes they are us. What is the Christmas message for those who don’t feel joyful? How is Christ born for them today?

Secondly, there’s a problem even for those who’s life situation is just fine, but might feel removed from experiencing the true depths of Christmas joy. The Christmas story happened so long ago. The distractions of the commercial media Christmas or whatever it is - it’s hard for many to experience the spiritual reality of Christmas. What is the Christmas message for those who don’t feel spiritual? How is Christ born for them today?

Thirdly, there’s the problem with our world right now. The message of Christmas was about the birth of the Prince of Peace. It is more than 2 millenia after that birth and we wonder where the peace is. We look at Iraq, Afghanistan, and what many call the “Holy” land and we see an unholy force of evil which seems to rule at times in those lands. Sometimes it seems to rule in our lands too. What is the Christmas message for those who don’t know peace. For those who live in fear? How is Christ born for them - for us today?

It had been a particularly tiring day for a four‑year old girl and her parents. They had been out all day, fighting the maddening crowd trying to get all their Christmas shopping in on one of the last days before Christmas. After putting their daughter to bed, they collapsed into their room. But the little girl was too tired to fall asleep and became fearful of the dark.

Her words, "Mommy, Daddy, come here, I'm scared" came just as her parents' eyes closed. "It's okay, God's in there with you," they replied, hoping to ease her fears. A minute passed. "Mommy, Daddy, come here, I'm scared." "But we told you, God's in there with you." She answered, "I know he is, but I need somebody with skin on them!"

There are many adults who can understand the girls point. She didn’t want a God who she couldn’t see, one that seemed far away. She wanted a person who could hug her and talk to her and make her feel safe. In a scary world, God knows that we need more than a God who lives far away in the sky. We need a God with skin on them, if you like.

Many years ago, when I was first ordained a Deacon, I went with some other theology students to Peru for a month to study Liberation Theology. We stayed for a couple of weeks in Lima. However, the poorest of the people live outside the city proper. When they first moved to Lima from the countryside, they lived in shacks in public parks and other public lands. The authorities moved them out into the desert where they had to build their towns with their own hands.

Pueblos Jovenes - Young Towns. Shanty towns.

Father Gene - Padre Eugenio - one of the Brothers (from Ireland who lived in the brother’s house in Lima. Father Gene moved in to be with the people. (You’ll get sick) To experience what they experienced, to live a life like theirs and to be alongside them as they built their town and lived their lives.

That’s how I first met Father Gene. Soup kitchen - cup of milk program, the Church building. The people of hope.

Father Gene was living out the example of his Christian faith. God came to be with us. To live our life and experience what we experience. To be alongside us as we live our lives and experience our joys and our trials. This is the meaning of Christmas. That God loves us so much that he became one of us to show us how to return to him.

What does Christmas mean to all people - no matter their situation. It means that God became human. What does it mean to us today - how does God become human today? In the people who let Christ’s love live in them and reach out to others in that love.

Thou shalt know him when he comes

not by any beat of drums

nor his manners, nor his airs

nor by anything he wears.

Thou shalt know him when he comes

not by his crown or his gown

but his coming known shall be

by the holy harmony which his coming makes in thee.

Thou shalt know him when he comes. Amen. Amen.

14 December 2009

Advent 3 C -

Sermon for Advent III

Dec. 13, 2009

(Isaiah 12:2-6; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Phillipians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18)

By Sheila Plant

Lord, we have come to you to hear your word and learn to live by it; prepare our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to receive what you have for us today. Amen

One year at Christmas there was a particular present under the tree for my brother. He was beside himself trying to figure out what might be in it. He couldn’t wait to open it. Every time he walked by, he would pick it up, turn it over in his hands and then give it a really good shake. When my mother questioned him on what he was doing, his reply was generally “Nothing “ If I asked him what he was doing he replied, I can’t figure out what this is and I can’t wait to open it!” We were always allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and on this particular Christmas, you can imagine which gift he chose to open. It turned out to be a model airplane kit, and all the rattling and shaking that he had heard were the pieces which would eventually be made into an airplane. His anticipation and waiting were rewarded with a very special gift.

When was the last time that you were filled with so much anticipation that you thought you would burst waiting for the event? Do you remember a time when you were expecting a visit from an old friend or a gift from someone special. Perhaps you recall a time when you were so proud of your selection of that perfect gift for someone who had everything that you couldn’t wait until you presented the gift. How many times do our children count down to a special event by the number of sleeps that are left? (And just so you know, there are only 12 more sleeps until Christmas!!!)

These experiences often describe time as slowing or almost standing still-far from the reality of time moving forward. I am reminded of a phrase in a song “Anticipation is making me wait.”

Perhaps the best example of this is when you were a child or had a child travelling with you. One of the key elements of that journey was the inevitable “Are we there yet?”

Then there are those that have chosen to stuff so many things into a given space in time (or place) that there is barely room to breathe let alone notice details of life surrounding them. People take a vacation and then fill every waking moment with so many activities, trips, and tours that they never have time to relax. These might be people whose experience of time is that it flies—it is out of control and passes by without them noticing what is in the space. These experiences might make them see that time is the enemy because it prevents them from doing things they would like to do at their desired pace. There just isn’t enough time. For others time might also be the reason or the excuse for leaving things undone.

And yet, time does pass every day with the tick of the clock, the pages being turned on the calendar, the rising and setting of the sun, and the path the moon and the stars. The seasons, through their cycles of growth and rest, and life and death become a part of our lives through the clothes we wear, the sports on television and the activities we take part in rather than through a real connection with the earth’s cycles which contain the mighty nature of creation.

Then there are the church seasons marked by biblical and liturgical events that provide us with that sense of connection to our spiritual life and our relationship to God and our communities. The seasons of the church are times of remembering with acute awareness the events of our tradition and history. They form our identity-it’s the fabric of our nature as Christians and people of God.

We are well into the season of Advent now: the time in which we have been waiting and preparing. This is the season that marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the church and anticipates the birth of Jesus. So, how do we know it is the season of Advent? Is it the Advent wreath and its candles that we light? Is it the prayers we say around the wreath? Is it the music we sing? Is it the change in our liturgical colours? For some, these may be the only signs that the season has changed or that today is the third Sunday in our waiting period. Yet, these signs alone may not be enough to give us that sense of anticipation for the great event of the birth of Jesus because we find ourselves distracted by Christmas shopping, decorations, malls and holiday parties.

Our lessons today remind us that God is with us and that what we are waiting for is the renewal of the relationship with God through Jesus. Consider a couple who are expecting a baby. Their journey begins nine months before the birth, but each day they are conscious of its life already. They know because there are changes in mood, attitude, where they live and how they create a calm and welcoming environment. There are changes in clothes and sizes as the body changes to accommodate the developing child. They begin examining their lives and priorities around this life changing event and they take those changes into consideration when preparing for their new roles and identities.

But during the pregnancy, their wait includes a real knowledge of the life they are bringing into the world. It is they who need to change to make room for this child. It is their identity which is being molded. This is the perfect image of what Advent is: waiting for the time when we have prepared for the birth of Jesus into our lives. It may also help us to understand today’s readings. These lessons may sound harsh and foreboding: John’s reference to a “brood of vipers”, or the imagery invoked by the axe laying at the base of a tree ready to be cut down if it does not produce. But the context of time and waiting takes us into a different place. Maybe, like the people in our gospel we are ready to ask, “What then should we do?” The Lord we await in Advent is a Lord who makes a difference and who changes things. He is a Lord who offers both new life and new responsibilities and who offers them together and simultaneously. We know he is coming, and we await our new responsibilities with great anticipation, but we also take our “waiting responsibilities” seriously too. That is part of the preparation. Perhaps the readings of today and indeed of the last two Sundays are inviting us to use this time to let go of the things that keep us from knowing God in every moment, to see “forgiveness of sins” and repentance as the removal of those constraints bringing us closer to the new birth and the new knowledge of the saving grace which accompanies the birth of Jesus. This birth changes everything including us.

If we are to go there, then we have no choice but to acknowledge that repentance is more than feeling sorrow for our sins; we are called to action—renewing our covenant with God through each other. We are being called to shed all the blinkers that come with our busy world, busy life and a busy attitude and replace it with nothing. Nothing but the space to see the world as God would have us see it. By doing this we will transform the way we hear the Christmas music already playing on the radio, the way we see people who pass us in the street or in the mall, our prayers and the focus of what is really important.

Several weeks ago, Stuart made reference to a bumper sticker that he had seen. “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” So now, as we reach the third Sunday in of Advent and we spend time preparing and waiting

in anticipation for the birth of Jesus, our bumper sticker could read: “Jesus is coming: are WE there yet?”

Thanks be to God.

Advent 2 C - Prepare a Highway

Luke 3: 1-6

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

St. Luke’s Burlington

By Stuart Pike

I have been amazed at how quickly outdoor Christmas decorations have gone up on houses in the streets of Burlington. We’ve got lights, stars, giant candy canes and next door to us lives a life-size Santa who sings to us each evening and joyfully laughs ho ho ho! Many people do this year after year because it brings to mind the many happy Christmases they have experienced over the years. It’s about preparing their homes. For some it is about making their home a familiar place of welcome for their adult children who are returning home for the holidays.

Some people are way more organized than I am. They must have the Boy Scout or Girl Guide gene in them. They are so prepared for Christmas. The concept of preparation is certainly what the season of Advent is about. So what do we prepare for, and how do we prepare?

Yes, we know we are definitely in the season of Advent when John the Baptist shows up in our readings. Like last year on Advent 2, the theme from the Old Testament and the Gospel includes the idea of the mountains being made low and the valleys being filled up to make a level highway. The idea of preparation, here is about preparing a highway, a way to travel easily.

This year in our readings we hear about two highways: one is a highway for the people of God.

This year the Prophet Baruch speaks of this level ground as the way the exiles will return to Jerusalem from their captivity. He writes to the city of Jerusalem to the small remnant of Jews who are left bereft. And he gives them a vision of hope and glory: their lost ones will return:

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. … Look toward the east, and see your children gathered from the west and east at the word of the Holy One. The highway in Baruch is a highway for the people of God to travel on. It is a way for them, who had been in exile, to return home.

The other highway is the one referred to by the Gospel lesson in describing the John the Baptist as the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth…”

I can hear the music from Handel’s Messiah as I think about it!

This highway is a highway, then for the Lord. John prepares and asks us to prepare a way because God himself is coming and John wants there to be nothing to impede God’s coming.

So how do we actually prepare a way for the Lord? What does it entail? When I hear John the Baptist describe the mountains being made low and the valleys being lifted up, I am reminded of the road which I travelled many times in my first parish in order to get the farthest Church in my 10 church parish. It was about 90 kms ‘way up in the mountains. It was the copper mining town called Murdochville. It was a winding road full of ups and downs. It would follow the curve of a mountain here, descend and go along the side of a river there, then cross a bridge, turn and climb another mountain, and repeat the process over and over until you got to your destination.

The local wisdom was that the engineer who built the road simply followed a bunny-rabbit! Remembering the roller-coaster ride it was – particularly during the long icy winter - I often thought that the engineer could have benefitted from a consultation with the Baptist!

John’s baptism, the Gospel says, is a baptism of repentance. This word doesn’t get a lot of use in our secular society. When people do hear it, they think “repentance” means to seriously grovel. The popular image associated with the word is one of a fire and brimstone preacher yelling at the congregation and convincing them how evil they are and how they must turn or burn! Grovel in the dust!

I haven’t tried preaching one of those yet - tempting as it is! Perhaps it is because the only truth which I see to that whole image is the idea of turning. Repentance isn’t about grovelling – but it is about movement and changing direction. Repentance is about aligning our way to God’s way. Sometimes in our life it is means making a huge change: like an about face. But more often, it is about the more day to day course corrections – making sure that we are in tune with God’s will and way for us.

This day to day repentance sounds very much like making straight the highway.

It is about taking away things: removing mountains: getting rid of whatever it is in our life which impedes our progress to God. Remove the distractions which are not life-giving. But it is also about adding things: filling in the valleys: adding a spiritual practice which fills a need enabling us to grow spiritually.

Advent is a time for you to take stock of your life and consider adding to or subtracting from it. All of it for the purpose of preparing your heart for God. Because however you understand the highway, it is one which is built in the heart. Try looking at what St. Luke’s is offering you, to enable you to build this highway in your heart.

What I love about the readings today is that when I was ruminating about two highways – one for the people to return home, and one for our God to approach us, I suddenly realized that it is the same highway!

Baruch’s highway is about us returning home. Perhaps some of us think that we never left home in the first place, but on closer scrutiny we realize that much of the restlessness of our lives has been because there has always been a call, planted deep within our heart to come home. To a deeper home than we have ever experienced so far in our lives, no matter how happy a home life we remember.

John’s highway is about God coming to us – to be in our midst. It reminds us of God coming to us in Christ at the birth of Jesus. It also speaks of our faithful hope for Jesus’ return at the end of time.

It might seem that Baruch’s highway for the people, and John’s highway for God means that God and the people are at opposite ends rushing toward a head-on collision somewhere in the middle. Only, in Jesus Christ, we realize that God and human are found in the same person. This highway of our heart is one which is travelled with Jesus beside us as our companion on the way.

In these days before Christmas then, as we prepare our homes to celebrate the holy feast of Christ’s coming, remember that the most important preparing which you can do is inside: preparing your heart for Jesus. Amen.

Reign of Christ Sunday

Sermon for 22 November 2009

John 18:33-37

By Sharyn Hall

Last week, the front page of the National Post newspaper had a very large colour cartoon of a preacher in a pulpit being blessed with money flowing from heaven. The headline reads, ‘Is Jesus a capitalist? Prosperity Gospels of the Christian Rich’. The headline and cartoon grab your attention and provoke a reaction. Inside the newspaper is a full-page story about the gospel of prosperity. There has been considerable criticism of the extravagant bonuses given to bankers and investment brokers, because of the economic failures and the huge government subsidies. Two weeks ago, people in the pews of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Anglican Church in London were told by some high-powered British bankers that there is no indication in the Christian gospels that wealth is a sin.

The CEO of Barclays Bank argued that Christianity and rewards in banking are compatible. The international advisor to Goldman Sachs aligned his work in high finance to the message of the gospels: “The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest…we have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all.” It is a message which would confuse many Christians, since we often read in the gospels that Jesus criticizes those who are wealthy.

The London executives are not the only Christians preaching a gospel of prosperity. Millions of North Americans follow the ‘prosperity gospel’ interpretation of scripture, which insists that Jesus wants you to have all your material dreams, and if you don’t, there is something wrong with your faith.

Prosperity is defined in the dictionary as success, wealth or well-being. In our society, we tend to think of all three as prosperity. Prosperity for people in Biblical time was a piece of fertile land and a herd of sheep. That does not constitute prosperity in North America. North Americans count prosperity as the accumulation of wealth, but there are many places in our world today where a piece of fertile land and one sheep could bring prosperity.

Today we honour the work of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). The Primate’s fund provides relief for those who are downtrodden by poverty, natural disasters or devastating wars. PWRDF also supports development, helping people to gain not only financial stability, but also self-esteem, and hope for prosperity, whatever that means to them. The Primate’s Fund is about lifting up God’s people, as people of God’s kingdom.

Today also is the celebration in our church calendar of the Reign of Christ. When the crowds following Jesus saw his miraculous powers and heard his inspiring words, they wanted him to be their king, the successor to David. Their king would overthrow the Roman oppressors and establish the Israelite kingdom again in its previous glory, but that was not what Jesus wanted. His kingdom was God’s kingdom, a spiritual kingdom of God’s will for all creation, a kingdom in which the poor would receive care and kindness, a kingdom in which outcasts would be accepted, in which the criterion for success would be compassion, not wealth or power, in which the hope for prosperity would be for all people, not only for a few.

In our gospel story from John, when Pilate confronts Jesus at his trial with the accusation that he is a king, Jesus gives an unexpected answer. If Jesus claimed to be a king, he would be condemned as a dangerous rebel, worthy of execution, but Jesus insists that his kingdom is not a political kingdom; it is not even an earthly kingdom. Was this a clever statement to sidetrack the accusation of kingship? Probably Pilate and those standing at the trial did not understand what Jesus was saying.

In Biblical time and through the following two thousand years, an earthly kingdom was a kingdom of wealth and power and privilege. We know from hindsight that Jesus was envisioning a kingdom like no other, a kingdom without territory or material wealth. The kingdom of Jesus is the kingdom of God, which is founded on a spiritual covenant. First and foremost it is based on the relationship of mutual love between God and every human being. The principles of God’s kingdom are compassion and justice. The rewards of God’s kingdom are not prosperity or wealth. The rewards of God’s kingdom are spiritual, life-giving and beyond measure. Jesus was a kingdom-builder. He was sent by God to lay a new foundation for a kingdom built on love, not a weak notion of wishful thinking, but a strong imperative to strive for the well-being of all people.

Today we baptize an infant into the community of Christians who have taken up the mission of Jesus to build God’s kingdom. We welcome him into the kingdom in which Jesus reigns as the anointed Messiah sent to all nations to embody God’s love for all creation. As Christ’s disciples we strive to uphold the principles of God’s kingdom, the principles of compassion, justice and respect for the dignity of every human being. The Jesus gospel of prosperity is the Good News of hope for all people. The Jesus gospel of prosperity is a challenge to all of us to lift up all people in God’s kingdom. Amen.

07 December 2009

Advent 1

Service of Lessons and Carols

November 29, 2009

St. Luke’s Burlington

By Peter Case

This past Thursday, when Americans were getting set to celebrate their Thanksgiving and their financial markets were closed, news broke that Dubai was defaulting on $59 billion of debt. Once again, markets were seized with fear. The stock prices of British banks fell precipitously as investors wondered what exposure they had to Dubai. Would this be another blow to the stability of an all too fragile banking system? Friday morning we woke to news that Asian markets had tumbled overnight and early morning business commentators were asking whether this was just another hiccup or whether this might derail the fledgling economic recovery that we have been hoping for. There have been many times over the last year when the credit crisis, bank failures, the bankruptcy filings of companies once thought to be too big to fail and stock market crashes have caused people to wonder if the economic order as we have known it is coming to an end. It seems that we are living in troubled and uncertain times.

We are not the first ones to wonder if the world was coming to an end. Indeed the early church expected that the world would soon come to an end at the time of Christ’s return. In Mark’s gospel – the earliest of the gospels – it is clear that the author expected an imminent return of Jesus. This may have contributed to the sense of speed and urgency in that short gospel. It was the apostle Paul’s sense of the impending final salvation and judgement associated with Christ’s return that, for him, made his ethical teachings all the more urgent and relevant.

Luke’s gospel was written nearly two decades after Mark’s and already, people were having to alter their expectations of the timing of Jesus’ promised return and the consummation of history. It is likely that the destruction of the temple had already occurred and so Luke separates that event from the promised end of history in a way that Mark does not. Luke is in fact vague about timing and refuses to hint at a timetable. Instead he focuses on the mission of the church during the ‘in-between time’. This becomes even more apparent in his second book – The book of Acts.

Throughout history, there have been people or groups who claimed that the end was near. Even recently, there has been interest in the notion that the world is going to end in 2012. There are several theories about how this might happen. Some speculate that the earth will collide with an asteroid or another planet. Others point to planetary alignment or solar magnetic shifts. Still others point to the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012 as prophecy and as you might expect, the possibility is being played up in the latest Hollywood disaster movie, 2012.

If thoughts of the end of the world are not new, neither is the sense of worry and anxiety that come with those thoughts, which explains in part why the theme is such great fodder for Hollywood script writers. In a passage from the 21st chapter of Luke’s gospel which was read at 8:15 and would have been the gospel at this service if it were not for our carol service, Jesus says the following: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21: 25-26)

In Advent, we are waiting. At one level, we are waiting for the celebration of Christmas. We are waiting to sing carols like Joy to the World. We are waiting to hear the joyous news of our Lord’s birth. We are waiting for Christmas decorations, the gathering of friends and family and all the special treats associated with our festivities.

In Advent, we are also reminded that we are waiting for our Lord’s return. Like the early church, however, we have come to realize that the timing of Christ’s return is uncertain. For us too, then, there is the question of what we do with this ‘in-between time’.

It is probably fair to say that after two millennia of waiting, most Christians of the modern age spend little time thinking about the end of the world and Christ’s return. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are unfamiliar with the concept of waiting or with the uncertainty or anxiety that comes with waiting for an event that seems to be delayed. We may be waiting for an event on a national or global scale such as an economic recovery, an end to a war or coordinated international action to reduce carbon emissions. We may be waiting for an event at a personal level such as the result of a biopsy, a letter from an estranged family member or the safe return of a loved one. Whatever the case, we know the challenge of waiting. We know the stress of waiting. We know the anxiety of waiting.

It is this context that Luke’s gospel offers us some perspective. In verse 28 of chapter 21 Luke records Jesus as saying, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus distinguishes between the outcome for the masses and for those who have faith. We are reminded that we are living ‘in between’ the two great events of God’s intervention in history – Christ’s birth and human ministry and his triumphal return. We know how this story will end. We are free, therefore, to struggle, to wait, to work, to minister and witness. We are free to live and even to die with hope, because our victory has been secured by Christ.

It is certain that we cannot go through this life without ever encountering some form of crisis or anxiety. The key, however, is how we deal with it. Do we fret, wring our hands and “faint with fear”, or do we “stand up and raise [our] heads” looking to God’s promise. Indeed it is often at the points of worst crisis in our lives that we see God’s power most clearly. When because of the gravity of the situation we are forced to look for solutions more profound than self reliance, simple fixes or superficial remedies that we see God at work most clearly. We see what he has done, what he is doing and what he will do and so these hard and anxious moments become a time of great hope.

David Lose of Luther Seminary in St. Paul Minnesota writes the following:

From Moses to Martin Luther King Jr., history is full of examples of those who, because they had been to the mountaintop, had peered into the promised land, and had heard and believed the promise of a better future, found the challenges of the present not only endurable, but hopeful. We too, amid the very real setbacks, disappointments, or worries of this life, can ‘stand up and raise [our] heads’ because we have heard Jesus’ promise that our ‘redemption draws near’.

May this advent be a time when we read and hear with joy the prophecies of our Lord’s birth and draw comfort and strength from the knowledge that whatever worry or uncertainty we face in the present age, our salvation is secured through the victory of the one who was born, died and rose again for us.

05 December 2009

Proper 33b - Jesus is coming - Look busy

Mark 13: 1-8

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

Sunday, 15th November 2009

by Stuart Pike

You are of infinite worth! That is the way that God sees you. Perhaps some of us haven’t heard or understood or believed this deep truth about ourselves. Some of us have heard other, much more negative messages – sometimes given by our family, or our culture or our circumstance, or our religion. Actually, truth be told, for many it was the opposite message which was especially given by their religion – the message that we are unworthy – that we don’t measure up, that we are miserable sinners. It’s a false message, and it is not first message of the Bible – the first message is:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ 
So God created humankind in his image,
 in the image of God he created them;
 male and female he created them. 
God blessed them … and it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:1 ff - New Revised Standard Version)

God created you in the divine image. You are of infinite worth! And because we are in the divine image, we have divine things to do. We have been created for a purpose, and that purpose is to love, just like God loves creation.

That is why Jesus came: to remind us of our worth, to remind us that we are created in God’s image and to call us to stand up worthy and to act in ways which are equal to our worth. God became human to remind us that we are divine. God became human in Jesus Christ, and Jesus is still present today in the lives and actions of human beings. It’s what we’re for.

Today is Stewardship Sunday, which to me, means it is a day to celebrate how we are accomplishing Jesus’ mission for us through the work that we do at St. Luke’s. It is a day to look at how we are being good Stewards of all that God has put into our power. It is a day for me to thank you for all that you do and give for and through St. Luke’s. And - you know it’s coming - it is also a day for me to encourage you to give generously of your time, your talent and your treasure to ensure that we continue to do this mission, which is building his kingdom.

There is a wonderful bumper sticker which I saw ‘way back in the days when more people displayed bumper stickers on their cars. Some of the Jesus freaks in those days had stickers which said things like, “Jesus Saves” or “The end is nigh”. Around here you can often see the sign of the fish on a car as a tasteful indication that the owner is a Christian. This one particular bumper sticker I really enjoyed. It said, “Jesus is coming - Look Busy!”

Although I laughed at the bumper sticker, I knew that it was also a false message. It went along with the message that we’re not worthy, that we are insufficient, that we aren’t enough. And it is this deep-seated fear which many of us have which has also convinced us that we don’t have enough. And so we put stock in material things in order to cover our sense of unworthiness, or we put our stock in powerful institutions, such as nationalism or our religious institutions. The power of a strong list of behavioural rules or the material solidity of our temples and Churches sometimes assuages our sense of lack, at least for a time.

Today’s Gospel reading from the 13th chapter of Mark has been called the Little Apocalypse. In it, Jesus speaks about the end times. It starts with Jesus and his disciples at the Temple in Jerusalem. We all know they were Galileans. The City of Jerusalem was not part of their day to day lives. The Temple in Jerusalem was an astounding building. It was massive, it was beautiful. It also represented the authority of their religious institution. The temple stood for all of the customs and rules and laws which regulated most of their lives. For many of them the Temple even represented the place where God was. The Temple was their religion. It was the supreme example of the term “pride of place.”

And there is pride in that. Successfully conforming to a religion of rules can certainly make you feel you belong. Having such a beautiful and massive Temple as a focus for such a rigid faith would naturally lead to pride.

It is an easy enough thing to do. We too can feel pride of place for whatever group that we belong to and its symbols. Some of us feel that way about our faith, or even about our denomination or our beautiful Church building. There’s only one problem with having this sort of pride, however. It has to do with the saying which many of us have heard all too often: Pride comes before the fall.

It appears that this unknown disciple of Jesus is speaking with pride about the temple. Jesus then says something which would have been just about unthinkable for a Jew in his time. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

This scene marks the bridge between Jesus’ temple ministry and his own rejection trial and passion. Here Jesus leaves the Temple for the last time. He abandons it and all that it represents and leaves the city and crosses the Kidron valley to the Mount of Olives from which point they can see the City of Jerusalem and the Temple which they have left. Jesus has left everything – the materialism of the city and the trappings of his religion. He knows that the essence of his life is not about these things, but instead is about completely giving himself to God’s purpose.

Four of his disciples - the usual four - ask him when these things will take place. What will be the sign?

The disciples are perhaps displaying the anxiety which many feel when they think of the end of things. There are some religions or denominations who like to capitalize on this anxiety. Some want to scare you into faith and speak about the end times as a time of threat.

Instead I want to listen to the words of Jesus, and to try to understand his meaning. Jesus seems to be telling his disciples to put their faith in God alone. Even the great religious institution of their time, represented by the Temple will fall.

We know that ultimately everything made with human hands will crumble and turn to dust. And also the great constructs of our minds, our philosophy and theology will fail. The only thing which will remain unchanged is God.

Although many people are afraid of the end of time, Jesus refers to the upheaval of those times as birth-pangs, not death throes. In my experience, it seems that most people who think about the apocalypse approach it with great fear. Most of the people I’ve met who aren’t fearful about it are those who are the poor and the oppressed. Those who live in the Third world see the time of Jesus’ return as a great promise: a time of blessing and abundance. Jesus looks forward to it as a time of great hope, not of great fear.

There are many Churches which try to say exactly how everything is going to happen and when. They are trying to put all of the book of revelation into a nutshell. But I think that the only thing you find in the nutshell is the nut! The truth is, we don’t know how or when this physical world of ours will end. But we do have Jesus’ example and his words.

Jesus tells us that our time is like the time when a great king leaves his kingdom in the charge of his servants. One day he returns and says to his servants, “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and in prison and you visited me.” And his servants ask: “But when did we do this?” And the King says, “When you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

We don’t need to ask when Jesus will come again. We need, instead to minister to Jesus today who comes to us in the guise of our brothers and sisters in need. We don’t need to fear Jesus’ coming. We need to have faith in his promises.

Jesus is coming: we don’t need to look busy. We need, instead to be engaged in the work of his kingdom which can be glimpsed in the midst of our lives. Let us stop and see that kingdom amongst us and we can be builders of his kingdom here and now. Amen.