Bible Text: JOHN 1:19-28 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp Last week I spoke of the prophecy from Isaiah that brought words of comfort and joy to the people of Israel at the end of a long period of exile from their homeland. The prophet was to declare that their time of suffering was over. A straight path was to be made in the desert – a sign to the people that their second exodus was over and that a way had been opened for them to return to the Promised Land. In a real way, the people were being invited by John the Baptist to discover that a new straight path was being created – one that would not only bring them back to the Promised Land but even more importantly back to a relationship with their God unlike any they had ever known or imagined. The people were living in the land promised to them by God to their ancestors but they were living like foreigners in their own land because the land was occupied by the Romans. Salvation for the people could not come in the form of an exodus return from a foreign land; it needed to come from an exodus from a place of spiritual isolation to a place of peace within the person. Over the centuries the people who heard the call of God had moved from place to place ever guided by the hand of God as God spoke to the leaders and directed the path of the people. From the modern history of the people with the call of Abraham and Sarah to the events that led to the people residing in Egypt during Joseph’s time to the events that led to the release of the people from their slavery and their 40 year journey to the Promised Land and then through the exile to Babylonia and Assyria, the people had found peace restored and a new life opened to them through the hand of God in a physical movement. But the time had come for God to move the people on a new path – one that did not depend on sacrifices of material goods and that did not involve a physical movement in space and time. This movement would fulfil the prophecy given in Micah where the sacrifices truly asked of the people would be sacrifices that anyone could make regardless of their economic or social status. “The Lord has told you mortals what is good, and what it is that the Lord requires of you: only to act justly, to love loyalty, to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) While the idea that the people could ever possess the Promised Land as they had before may not have been possible in the world as it was, the idea that the people could live as the people of God was possible. John came as the emissary of this new message from God that was to come from the one he would call the Lamb of God – God himself in human form. John is given the task of preparing a straight path for the coming of God. And he encourages all who would listen to him to help him prepare the path of God by being baptised. Their baptism would be a sign and seal of their preparation to receive the new word from God – a word that would not just bring physical release but more significantly spiritual release. The people had become bound by the law that was meant to free them. The law had been given to guide the people in this life so that they might experience and share what life was meant to be. But in their great concern to not offend God, they had bound themselves with interpretations and reinterpretations that had them doing mental summersaults leaving them feeling dejected and hopeless. And while many of them continued to offer the material sacrifices required by their temple law, they despaired of ever feeling an intimate and close connection with God. The chasm between them had grown to the point where the people could not see any possibility for them to bridge the gap. John’s invitation to baptism was to be a first step for the people as they prepared to receive the one whom John said would bring to the people an opportunity to have the relationship with God that God ever wanted to have. No longer would God depend on prophets or priests to communicate his message. He would come himself and enter into the condition and life of the very people he had created, nurtured and led. He would come to them with a message that would give them a hope, comfort, joy and a peace that would go beyond anything they had ever known. They would come to know God in a way they had never imagined and see God in a way that would change their lives forever. The advent of God was coming. The advent of hope for a people who had lost hope; the advent of comfort for a people who knew suffering; the advent of joy for a people who knew sorrow; the advent of peace for a people who knew conflict and oppression; the advent of love for a people who knew hatred, prejudice and persecution. It is said that we are pilgrims on a journey through this life to a new life – a life that will be fulfilled in a new heaven and a new earth. The people of Israel and all those who would follow the new path revealed by God in Jesus would find themselves on a pilgrimage unlike any they had ever taken. The destination would not have a geographical marker that could be found on this plane but it would be a destination that would bring a sense of wholeness to anyone who would choose to believe. While we may struggle to understand why our pilgrimage continues here and why the final fulfilment of God’s promised return in Jesus has not come to fruition, we need not lose faith in the promises of God for wherever we are led, whatever we do or say, as we follow the way of the one who revealed himself in Jesus. And so we may never see another physical exodus of the people of God but whenever we find ourselves in a spiritual desert we can know that a way has been made through Jesus for us to find our way to God and to a spiritual wholeness where we can live in perfect harmony and peace with God. AMEN
Bible Text: Ephesians 1:15-23 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce Kemp We never go through this life alone. As believers in God, we have a constant companion. Whether we view that companion as God in the grand overall sense of what God may mean to us, whether we view that companion as the earthly incarnation of God in Jesus Christ or whether we view that companion as the Holy Spirit of God, the fact that we acknowledge God as our companion indicates to ourselves and those around us that we have a faith in God and a firm belief that we do not live this life alone - solitary, at times, but never alone. But there is more to this business of faith and life. We are called not only to live this life in companionship with God but also with others who acknowledge and live that same faith. We are called to be in community with one another. When Paul first preached to communities in cities such as Ephesus, he didn’t just preach to one or two people at a time. He didn’t just visit with one or two households and he certainly didn’t tell each of them that they were to not share their faith. In fact he gathered all those who came to faith into communities and gave them instruction in gathering for worship, conducting worship, celebrating the sacraments and in praying for one another. Paul knew that he could not be with all of them all of the time. He established their communities and taught some among them to be leaders and then he left and went to a new community. His hope and his prayer was that they would bond together and support one another in this new life to which they had been called. And just as they had been brought to faith in God through the work of the Spirit and a knowledge of what God had done in Christ, they were to bring others to faith and to be supportive and encouraging not only to the new converts but to all the people in the community. In those days there only was one church community. No one could have imagined the variety of Christian communities that would spring up. And even though they didn’t always agree with one another on how the community should function – as evidenced by the many issues recorded for us in Paul’s letters – there was a strong belief that they needed to stay together in order to be sustained in their faith and to be able to faithfully live their lives to the very end. Time and again throughout Paul’s letters, the image of the believers as a family, as many parts of one body, comes through. Even Paul – a great pillar of the early church and one who seemed to have superhuman strength of faith – depended on faithful companions to get him through. Even when he was in jail, he reached out to those who were his spiritual companions through letters and sometimes with visits. He may never have settled into one community that he established and stayed with them for long but he never went alone. I have always been a firm believer that each one of us who are in this community of faith today is here for a reason. Each of us has been led to not only come here but to stay here. It may be that this is the place where we grew up, where our earthly family have attended. It may be that this is like home to us. For others we have come from somewhere else but something has led us to this place and time. I firmly believe that God leads us to the place where we need to be, the place where we will find people we can connect with and share our lives with. There should never come a time where we say: No more people welcome here. We have all we can handle. We know who we are and we don’t want to change. Reality is that life never stands still. Whether you watch a clock or mark a calendar – nothing stays the same. We are ever changing physically, mentally and spiritually. And so as Christian communities, we are ever evolving, ever growing, ever changing. I remember in university taking a course on the Psalms in my undergraduate degree. When I was planning the courses for my masters, my advisor asked about taking a course on the Psalms. “Why should I”, I responded, “I already did that.” His response was, “take another, you might learn something.” When we try to make time stand still, we soon discover that time has just gone on without us. Creating a family in Christ is the title of this message and it was the goal of Christ from the very beginning. The very first disciples who were called came from varied backgrounds. Some of them knew each other but most of them were strangers when they met. Some of them were labourers. Others had a profession of sorts. Yet each of them responded to the call of Jesus to follow Him. Where that call to follow would lead them and what would ultimately be expected of them was not revealed until later. After 3 years, they were faced with another life changing experience when their leader and ever-present companion was led to death. His resurrection brought more change and his ascension to heaven left them wondering what the next step would be. The next step we learn is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. That gift would enable them to go out into the world and carry on the ministry of reconciliation begun by God through the Son Jesus Christ. The disciples had become a family of sorts. It didn’t look like a traditional family but nonetheless it was. They had lived through experiences unlike anything ever before and it bonded them together. Once again, they didn’t always agree with one another but they knew that they needed to pray for one another, love one another and support one another. Their common bond in the beginning may have been their call to follow Jesus but now their common bond was their mission to spread the good news revealed by God in Christ and to support one another in that mission. Here in this place we have also been called to follow Jesus. We don’t look like a traditional family but we have an experience of God that has brought us together. We share a common desire to gather for worship, for prayer, for support, for learning. We will not always agree with each other about everything but we will need to respect each other, support each other and encourage each other as we seek to understand and live the community life that God seeks us to live. Will your life together be different because I am here? Probably. Is that a good thing? I pray it is. But let us never forget that what will keep this community of faith strong is not what each of us accomplishes separately but what we accomplish together. You have created a family in Christ. That is evident by your continued presence in this place but the future of this family depends on our willingness together to let God recreate that family and grow that family according to His vision allowing Him to draw people to this community that they may share their faith and life with us!
Bible Text: Luke 24:1-35 | Preacher: Rev. Feras Shammas Different people describe life differently, but no one will disagree that it’s anything but perfect. We all believe life can be better if we do this or that or if this thing or that thing can take place. In any given day, the idea of changing things occurs to us more than once. We would often say to ourselves: “if only this or that can happen, things can look much better.” Usually, when we need to fly somewhere, we chose an airline that we can trust & afford. However, when we need to go somewhere in our minds we usually start by using what they call “if clauses” or “conditional clauses”. “If clauses” can help us to start to imagine the change we want to see so we can work on it. In this sense, “if clauses” can help us see the things that can’t be seen to the naked eye. Or they can help us see the turns our life needs to be taking. “If clauses” are very powerful; they give us the energy to explore possibilities beyond our immediate context. + Today is the 2ed Sunday of Easter. Easter is a very special time for church people. It’s the corner stone of our faith. We believe nothing happens without this belief. Jesus resurrection from the dead is what makes us who we are: “Easter people”. But as we came here last week & we exchanged the Easter wishes with each other, and as we do this almost every year, we are aware the world around us does not share with us the faith in the resurrected Christ. I think it’s fair to say that many people in this world don’t see the resurrection happening because it’s not seen to the naked eye. The world does not share our faith in the empty tomb because it does not exist in its immediate context. I wonder if I can invite you today to see what can’t be see & explore beyond where we’d normally stop by using our “if clauses”. I wonder how we’d we chose to finish the sentence that starts by saying: “If Jesus was risen …” Allow me this morning to suggest 3 answers for the sentence that starts: If Jesus is resin (what will happen?) + Let us start: +(S) If Jesus is risen…you will not come for anointment, rather you will come for testimony. It was the custom in the Middle East to put spices to the dead bodies. Usually they would do that before burial, but in Jesus’ case they couldn’t because they had to bring him down from the cross & bury him quickly before the Sabbath starts. In the Jewish law, if the Sabbath starts while you are impure because you have touched a dead body, you will be looking at a difficult week until the next Sabbath. So, early in the morning, dawn time, some ladies (mother of Jesus accompanied by family & friends) went to the tomb to anoint Jesus. - But Jesus was risen; he was not there. - When the ladies found out that the stone was rolled away, & did not find the body in the tomb & were told by the angels that Jesus was risen as he had foretold them, who would care about the spices & the ointment anymore! Spices were expensive & hard to get, but who would care for them anymore when Jesus was risen? The angels asked Merry & her company to go & tell his disciples about that. - When these ladies left their houses early in the morning, while it was still dark, they had an assignment in their minds (they had something to do). - They had to anoint the dead body, but when they left the tomb they had a totally different mission: they are to tell Jesus friends that he is not dead (he is risen) There is no way to compare the two things: the first is so painful & sad (a mother anointing her dead son). The second is bringing the good news to those people. What would you chose? Years ago, in winter time, I had to take the train to get to my school. Many details of those mornings made me to remember Mary & the ladies who went with her for Jesus anointment. We had to be in the station early in the morning while it was still dark, and of course it was bitterly cold. Only one look at some people’s faces was enough to tell you how unhappy they were to be there at that hour going to their work. Mary & her friends were not super happy about their mission that morning. - If Jesus is not risen in our life, we will not be happy with our life mission. - We will be probably busy doing things that we will get tired from soon. - Those who came to anoint a dead body left with a mission (with a transforming mission) they were to bring good news to the people (what can be better?). In what sense are we anointing dead bodies in your life? Do we want to have a real mission? Listen to this: Jesus is risen indeed & this can change your life. - According to some articles which I came through when I was looking to learn more about “if clauses”: The first thing you have to do if you win the lottery, is to stay anonymous. - But if Jesus is risen, go for a testimony (for a new mission; not an old one like anointing dead bodies). +(S) The second answer: if Jesus is risen, you will not look for the living among the dead? When the angels met the ladies in the empty tomb they asked them: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is the lord of life, death couldn’t hold him. Death is the power of nothing; Jesus is the lord of the creation (he is the Lord of every living thing). Death did not have the last word in Jesus story; life did because Jesus is the life. The angels asked the ladies a very big question: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Have we ever done that? Have we looked for the living among the dead? - We don’t need to buy spices & leave our houses at dawn, while it is still dark, to be looking for the living among the dead. - Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian novelist who is considered one of the most significant authors of our times, was asked where he gets his stories from. He said: “I go to the poor streets of Mexico city; if you go to Avenue Foch (a street in Paris) you will get nothing” and then he said: “do not look for the living among the dead” - Avenue Foch is one of the most expensive & prestigious addresses in the world. - Of course we are not judging the people who live in that Avenue or in any other one, but the point is that life is not found where we usually expect it. - The world’s compass can be misleading. - Too many people look for life where it is not found. - I think each one of us has to ask his or her self: where am I looking for life? - Are we looking for life among the dead? Do you remember the story of the Samaritan women? She was looking for water (water is life), but Jesus told here you need to ask me for the living water. We go out for water every day (for life in different forms), Jesus tells us you need to ask me for the living water. We don’t need to be looking for the life among the dead, Jesus is the life; he’d gladly give it to us. - If Jesus is risen you will not look for life among the dead! + (S) If Jesus is risen in your life, you will not go to Emmaus. When the people who accompanied Jesus heard that he was dead, they started to go back to where they came from. People went back to their cities & villages. They thought…..it is over. They thought that the beautiful & promising story has ended in a bad way. Two of the disciples went back to their village called Emmaus. The risen Christ met, explained to them what happened & broke bread with them. Jesus made himself known in the road of Emmaus. Their eyes were opened & they came to understand that Jesus has risen indeed. Once they embraced that, they went again to Jerusalem. Most of the people have a faith story in their life, but this story comes to an end at some time. Some of the stories end in a bad way, others just give up on their faith. When our faith stories come to an end we go back to Emmaus. It is a sad & unfortunate trip. There is a heavy traffic on the road to Emmaus. Many people think that faith stories are over & they don’t make sense any more. The risen Lord is on that road all the time: meeting people, explaining to them & even breaking bread; making himself known to them in mysterious ways. Some people have their eyes opened, others not. Did I say that “most of the people have a faith story in their life”? Well, I should have said also “all of us have faith stories that had sore ends”. - If our eyes were opened, we will change our way. If our eyes were opened, we will go to Jerusalem. - Emmaus is the way out (is the way of giving up), the way to Jerusalem is the way in (the way of keeping on). - We take the road to Emmaus when our faith candle is put off; we take the road to Jerusalem when our faith candle is kindled again. - Usually, in the bible there are two famous roads: the narrow & the wide roads. Well I think we should be remembering these two roads too: Emmaus & Jerusalem. - The resurrection is an excellent opportunity for us to have our eyes opened. If Christ is risen in our life we will not go in the road to Emmaus, we will go in the road to Jerusalem. Biblically & theological, going to Jerusalem is going up. Jerusalem is seen as the roof of the world, the top point of the world & for a good reason. The Israeli air lines are called ALLIA, which means going up because they land in Jerusalem. Every road is a downhill road if you compare it with going up to Jerusalem. If Jesus is risen you will go from the valley to the top of the mountain. + Yes, life is anything but perfect. Certain things have to happen for it to change. If Jesus is risen in our life, this change will take place We will not come for anointment, rather you will come for testimony We will not look for the living among the dead We you will not go to Emmaus Feras Chamas April 12, 2015 Chesterville Winchester Morewood
Bible Text: Jeremiah 1: 4-10 For today’s message, I would like to do something different. I would like to present to you a character study of the one of the prophets from the Old Testament – Jeremiah. The book of Jeremiah and the book of Lamentations are two wonderful pieces of literature in the Old Testament and cover a pivotal period in the history of the people of Israel, the forerunners for us in the faith. Jeremiah was born at a time in history when the kingdoms of Judah and Israel had been separate for about 200 years. Those who followed Solomon had squabbled over power and prestige. Such squabbling had led to a division of the nation. The subsequent weakening of the whole led to two kings with two centres of worship and intense rivalry over which centre God was most present at. The division eventually led to first the kingdom of Israel being overrun by the Assyrians and the people led into exile in 721 BC and then to the downfall of the kingdom of Judah and the exile to Babylonia in 587 BC. This was the world into which Jeremiah was born. For us today we may find it hard to believe that there was ever a time when what we know as the Old Testament could ever have been lost but that is exactly what had happened before Jeremiah’s time. In fact, the oral tradition handed down from generation to generation, which was the method of transmission in those days, had been perverted to the point where there was no clear understanding of what the people of God were to believe or follow. The division within the nation had not only split the kingdom and the family of David but also led to splits within the priesthood. Such divisions led to many and strange things happening some of which we read about in the story of the kings and through the exploits of such great figures as Elijah. What we have come to understand in religious studies as the Deuteronomic tradition did not arise until this time. According to tradition, copies of the Law were to be kept by the priests in the temple and by the kings and read aloud to the people at every major festival. Of course, through the corruption of the kings, such practice ceased and one king in particular, was so adamant that the scrolls not be read that eventually as the generations passed, all knowledge of what the true doctrine was had disappeared from public view. But, as in every age, there were faithful followers who ensured that the tradition and true doctrine not be lost; and so it is that Hilkiah produces a copy of the scroll and gives it to King Josiah. It sparks a renewal of the true worship of God in the land but it proves to be too little too late to save the people from the coming destruction of the nation and their exile into captivity. This is the world into which Jeremiah is born and the world to which he brings his prophetic message. Unlike some of the other prophets of the Old Testament, Jeremiah comes from a priestly family. It certainly would have been expected of him that he would become a priest and I am sure that his father would have been schooling him in the true tradition of their faith and teaching him from the scroll of the Torah. It is an interesting question to ask as to why the priests who held this scroll at Anathoth did not bring this forward before but probably they knew that only King Josiah would be receptive to receiving it and be prepared to restore the people and the kingdom to the true worship of God. As I have already indicated, this was a turbulent time in the history of the people, especially with regard to their relationship to God. Jeremiah is a young man from a small village in the land of the smallest of the tribes of Israel - the tribe of Benjamin. If you remember, Benjamin was - along with Joseph - one of the two children born to Jacob’s favoured wife, Rachel. And so throughout the history of the people, Benjamin holds a special place. And so it is significant that a renewal of the faith of the people come from a place of great meaning for the nation. So hear we have this young man who probably sees himself as one who will perhaps succeed his father one day as a servant in the temple at Anathoth. Now suddenly he is thrust into a position where he will be sent to a people who have determined for themselves what is the truth about God and God’s plans for their lives and who have decided for themselves what path they will follow. He is given a little insight into what the future holds for him, the prophecies which he will have to deliver. He is given an insight into the difficulties and personal sacrifices which such prophecies will bring. And unlike many other prophets, Jeremiah will suffer greatly – not only emotionally and spiritually but physically to the point of death. His future is not a bright one and yet he is determined to take on this calling from God. Almost every prophet whose words have been recorded in the Bible has a personal story of their calling. At first we may think this simply to be a nice way to introduce the prophet to those who may not have known him but such stories are critical for they provide the reader with a foundation for understanding whether or not the prophet is truly sent by God. Jeremiah is the first prophet to speak so directly about his calling to be a prophet. From what is said, we learn that God had a plan for Jeremiah long before the day when the Lord first spoke to him. Such words help Jeremiah to understand that God did not just choose him on a whim to be the one to go to the people and deliver the prophecies that would upset the people but that this was a plan that God had, knowing what had occurred in the nation. God impressed upon the young Jeremiah that he had been created for this very purpose. In many ways it seems astounding and perhaps unbelievable that someone could be chosen by God in this way to be His prophet and yet the history recorded for us in the Bible and even today reveals that God continues to choose people to be prophets, teachers, and pastors and to fulfil so many other roles of service. In his lifetime Jeremiah would move through a period of history as catastrophic as the period in time in the first half of the 20th century. He began to prophesy in the last times of a great nation with its temples and priestly orders and kings. He would witness terrible strife and oppression and see the destruction of the nation’s whole life. He would be challenged to help them find meaning in the midst of such turmoil and be challenged in his own life to discover how to truly worship God when all the familiar places had disappeared. He would be challenged to discover and communicate to the people a God who continued to love them in spite of all the calamities that had befallen them. And yet, until they turned their hearts again to God and saw their lives as in God’s hands, he could not speak a word of peace to them. Between a rock and a hard place, Jeremiah remained faithful and spoke only the words God gave him. The lamentations of Jeremiah reveal much to us of the personal struggle and sacrifice of this man yet to the very end he remained faithful. Jeremiah is seen as one of the great figures of the Old Testament. He is one of the communion of saints who has preceded us and yet he would see himself as just a person who was called by God and given a task. He never asked for it nor did he want it but he was faithful to the call of God and gave his life in service. We may never have an experience like Jeremiah yet each of us can answer the call of God in our own lives. Each of us has a task to fulfil. It may be big or it may be small but whatever it is, when we see the hand of God in our life and respond to it, we have done what is required of us.