March 24, 2019

Isaiah 55                                                                                                                      

Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant.

In the summer we will likely be putting out an appeal for items to be donated to our annual Fall Fair. Last year we had a bumper crop, people were moving in record numbers, it seemed everyone wanted to donate their extra things to our sale. It got so overwhelming we had to rent a storage pod, we had no room for everything you offered us. As a result, we sold so many things that last year’s event profited the most revenue in the history of the Fall Fair. Well done!

One question that lingers for me every year is how all of us come to accumulate so much “stuff”. Why did we buy it? What was the intent of the purchase? What was driving us to add another set of barbeque utensils, that 7th set of coasters, our third set of tools, those framed pictures we never hung, why did we buy these things? The question is further driven in my mind by the pristine condition of said items, most of them look like they were never used.

And then there is the time we spend. How much of our day do we spend complaining about things we either cannot change (the weather) or have no intention of changing (the way our governments make decisions, the decisions themselves). We spend a lot of time in our cars going here or there and sometimes when we arrive we are not sure why we bothered. I ran into someone from this church last month at a Tim Hortons and asked him if he was waiting for someone to join him. “No, to be honest I just dropped in, I really don’t know why. So I decided to sit down get a coffee.” I asked him where he was headed, “I don’t know, I guess I will figure that out as the day progresses.”

And then there is food. People are very kind to pick me up and offer a drive. Occasionally they make room on the passenger seat by removing various fast food wrappers. “I’m sorry, I don’t where these come from.” I am certainly guilty of this, even considering all of the good food that God gave us when I am hungry I will head to the local A&W and indulge. Five minutes later I regret the choice.

Our text today includes “I will make with you an everlasting covenant”. Isaiah is writing this section of his book toward the end of the Babylonian exile. With the elite of the nation in a foreign land and Jerusalem in ruins, a general malaise fell over the Jews in Babylon. Not only were they cut off from their land, they could not worship their God through sacrifice. It was as if the heart was torn out of the people. But the winds of change blew from the east. Cyrus led a vast Persian army on a westward conquest. Babylon was next. There was hope in the air. For the Jews, the idea of return could be thinkable! Isaiah tried to capitalize on this hope. Yes, the people would return. When we are down, even at the point of despair, we should remember who our God is. God will give us hope even in the most dire times.

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When we are in despair we tend to look for the quickest solution; the most obvious topic to discuss, that “hit”, a purchase, fast food or a rant about someone else can provide. Note that when we complain or express our lament it is usually about others, when we express needs to fill, it is usually about us. And yet in my mind there are these words from our text I will make with you an everlasting covenant. A covenant is an understanding of a relationship, in this case a mutual expression of how our life with God unfolds. If we are going to incline our ears and listen we need to be close enough to hear. Thus when we lean in to the covenant, living out our divine purpose, we hear things differently. I have no doubt that when the Jews heard the words of Isaiah they also heard the sounds of the Persian army and knew freedom was coming.

In my experience finding hope is being open to the sounds of new life and that means knowing what real life is. If you are going to be satisfied you have to know what it is you are hungry for, if you are going to be full you have to know what fills you up and if you are going to be happy you need to know what truly brings you joy.

Remember…when the Israelites complained of hunger in the wilderness, God rained down bread from heaven. Isaiah assured the exiles that the day of God's plenty was coming, for the day would soon be there when everyone who was hungry and thirsty would be satisfied, even if they had no money. And Joel foresaw a day when “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water” (3:18). John tells us that Jesus' first miracle was to turn ordinary water into the finest wine. All the Gospels record the feast of bread and fish brought forth from only a few loaves and fishes—a feast so large there were twelve baskets left over. And, on his final evening with his disciples, Jesus invited them to celebrate the Passover meal, sharing in the bread and the wine that proclaimed God's love and graciousness.

In each of these examples the people were focused on the holy covenant, a lasting expression of their relationship with God. They were God’s people, they ate together, danced together, prayed together, cried together, laughed together and celebrated their identity together. And what they received was a gift, it was not something they earned or created with their own hands. In short the Israelites looked at life as a gift from a Creator who willed only thanksgiving and community, expressed most powerfully in a sacred meal.

The great theologian Karl Barth said that the people in the pew have only one question when they walk in the door of the church: “Is it true?” What if we asked people today what they want? What is it you want? Think about the past few days or week. What questions have weighed heavily on your heart? Overwhelmingly, people want something that is sustaining. What is this life all about, how can I be happy, and how can I feel connected to God on a more consistent basis?

Some of you may imagine that I speak of community as often as I do because I want to fill the void of loneliness that is so common in our culture today. That is partly true. But it is also true that community is where we live out our faith in those things we believe bring life and life in abundance. If I want to have purpose in my life, if I want deeper relationships, if I want to find ways to develop my God-given gifts, I need community. But community is hard. We can be disappointed in community, hurt in community, rejected in community. There is a tendency to retreat from community when such things occur and find what we are looking for elsewhere.

Again, when we look away from each other, away from what God has given us, we can find some instant gratification in idols, idols of our own design. These idols (you fill in the blank) can fill some immediate craving but they have no lasting value. We want, we need, more.

As you know I enjoy hearing stories, deep stories, stories that remind me of covenant love and sustaining love. One story I heard last week has stuck with me, to me. A spouse was reflecting on his partner and imagining what life would be like without her. One day they had “the conversation”, what life would look like without the other. This man’s partner told him she wanted her ashes scattered in places where her husband had found life with her. Those sacred places will last. Those sacred places will sustain.

When Jesus was preparing his followers for his departure he told them to gather around a table and celebrate with a meal of good food, wine and bread. When Isaiah reminded his people they would one day be free he told them freedom would taste like wine and milk. When we move away from the shallow things that just leave us frustrated and broke and instead focus on the habits of the heart that hunger for deeper connections, with each other, with community, with God, then we are truly satisfied. If you are hungry today, if your Lenten appetite is leaving you feeling empty, don’t fill yourself with small talk, consumption or complaining, reach out in covenant love and fill yourself with wine, milk, bread, community, deep conversation, sacrificial service, peace in Creation, and the wonder that is life.

Ashes left in those places are not signs of death, they are reminders of real life. Amen.

March 17, 2019

Mohandas Gandhi once remarked, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Even within the church some of us may find ourselves agreeing with this statement because human beings so often disappoint us. When someone points to the mishaps of a professed Christian as a reason not to embrace the faith...

March 10, 2019

Jesus ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry. The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave him a test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered by quoting scripture: “It takes more than bread to really live...

March 3, 2019

Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of this mountaintop encounter, what we commonly call “the Transfiguration Sunday”. Over the years most of the sermons I have read, heard or preached on the Transfiguration have taken one of two tacks. One has been a focus on the glorification of Jesus as he becomes dazzlingly radiant before Peter, James and John...

February 17, 2019

I have been very blessed. I have enjoyed good health, good relationships with family and friends, had secure employment for close to 30 years, been supported by a wife and daughter who love me and suffered very few setbacks, failures and losses in my life. Yet in the close to 30 years I have served as an ordained minister...

February 10, 2019

Professor Adam Copeland teaches Pastoral Leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He knows a thing or two about how to motivate people to make a change. February is African History Month and it would appropriate to lift up one of lessons Copeland offers his students when it comes to liberation. I don’t need to tell you that music can affect us deeply...

February 3, 2019

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing...

January 27, 2019

Around this time of year my mind usually wanders to Bangor Maine. Why? In the mid and late 1990’s I came to know two retired United Church Ministers, one lived in the valley and the other lived in New Brunswick. I discovered that every late January they would drive from Saint John to Bangor and attend a series of lectures by distinguished preachers and scholars in the United States...

January 20, 2019

An old friend of mine is a lifelong Episcopalian, active in his church, faithful to God, eager to share his gifts for the common good. My friend is a university professor, has written several books and has had the ear of a few Presidents. My friend has, what we sometimes refer to as “influence”. My friend’s academic research focuses on evaluating government programs designed to assist the poorest of the poor...

January 13, 2019

I want to share a story with you, you may have heard it before. A family is riding home from church on Sunday. Their four-year-old son in the back seat of the car was baptized that morning. Suddenly, midway home, he bursts into tears. When his parents ask what on earth is wrong, he sniffles out the answer...

January 6, 2019

I’ve mentioned this comparison before but I want to repeat it, given the Epiphany Sunday we celebrate today. A wise friend of mine once compared how people from the eastern part of our world think/imagine and how people on the western part of our globe think/imagine. Most of us here today are creatures of western thought...

December 30, 2018

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey...

December 24, 2018

Of course this is a very beautiful and cherished reading. It is the story of the birth of Jesus filled with joy and hope. But sometimes the impact of its message is lost on us because it is too familiar. Thus I think we often overlook that the opening of the story is designed to set up a comparison between Jesus, who too would become a King, and Caesar...

December 16, 2018

Placing the focus in Advent on joy in the middle of December is an interesting move by lectionary planners. In the beginning of Advent we remind Christians that we are to wait, anticipate, expect, this Advent of hope and peace into our lives. To get there we have to discipline ourselves that something is in fact going to come...

December 9, 2018

Luke 3:2-6

During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region of Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah...

December 2, 2018

What difference does Advent make to you? Be honest, every year we decorate this church, we place these candles up front by the Communion table and we plan ahead for events like Old Fashion Christmas, the Living Nativity and of course the Christmas Eve celebrations. And then…it all comes down. I am no cynic, I know there are moments of grace...

November 25, 2018

When I was in Seminary our professors would ask us to refrain from a preaching technique they called “dualism”. You will have heard preachers and other public speakers use this technique, to suggest all important issues can be distilled to a choice between two opposites. It will not surprise you to know the preacher would weight...

November 11, 2018

A few years ago a colleague of mine, a Canadian Forces Padre, asked me to fill in as a Reserve Unit Padre. I enjoyed the work and meeting young women and men committed to serving others. One of the tasks associated with this role was to meet with soldiers who had been asked to serve overseas, deployed to a mission where troops would be “in harm’s way”...

November 4, 2018

When Kim and I sold our home in Toronto the realtor sent a “stager” to visit us and offer suggestions on how to make our house more attractive to potential buyers. Among the suggestions was to remove all family pictures and replace them with mirrors. I asked why. The stager explained that buyers want to imagine themselves living in the house...