“Young at Heart” Message
We hear references to shepherds and sheep quite often in Biblical scripture.
We intuitively understand what a shepherd is and what it means to watch and care for a flock because we’ve seen images, and the references to the work of a shepherd come up often enough in scripture that we feel like we can understand it.
When you do an internet search for “shepherd and flock” you get a variety of images like this one:
We assume that watching a flock means wandering around in beautiful mountain regions with a flock of sheep and maybe a dog.
Sounds like a great life!
The reality is, I have no idea what it means to be a shepherd, and neither do most of you, I’m assuming.
But, I do know what it’s like to live with one! Well, kind of…
For those of you who haven’t met my dogs yet, the white one is Lacey and the brown and white one is Lyra.
Lacey is a purebred Great Pyrenees and Lyra is half Pyrenees and half Saint Bernard.
Great Pyrenees are livestock guardian dogs.
In other words, they are ”shepherds.” Perhaps not in the way we envision shepherds in the Bible, but they do the work of a shepherd and they take their work very seriously.
Oddly enough, their work is more like the work of a “shepherd” in the Biblical sense than the work that shepherding dogs like Border Collies or Cattle Dogs do. Livestock guardians are not concerned about control, but about safety and protection.
This breed is specifically created to watch over flocks of sheep. They are bred to keep the flock safe from predators primarily, but also to keep them from injuring or harming each other.
A livestock guardian dog can go from this:
To this in a matter of seconds.
Guardian dogs sleep with one eye open, and both ears alert at all times.
They are always ready to jump into action if there is a threat to their flock.
They live in harmony with their flock because it isn’t about control – it is about mutual curiosity, compassion, and concern for safety.
It does not matter what the weather is like – a guardian dog braves the elements with the flock.
They are not about to leave their flock to ease their own discomfort.
Guardian dogs may seem like they have a tough outer shell, but they are soft and caring and nurturing to those in their flock.
It may sound silly, but these dogs offer a real-life example of what is meant when we talk about shepherds in the Bible.
And this is an important distinction because today, we heard two different scripture passages that reference shepherds and sheep.
But these passages also reference kings, and today is Reign of Christ Sunday, where we lean heavily into this notion of kingship and kingdoms.
So, while shepherds and flocks invite imagery of compassion, safety, and protection, the terms “king” and “kingdom” invite imagery of power, control, and patriarchal societies that imply authority rather than mercy, safety, protection, and healthy leadership.
So let’s talk about all of this imagery in these passages and what it might mean for us today.
Both of these passages ultimately offer us insights around justice issues.
In the Ezekiel passage, God is speaking first about gathering the scattered flock. It offers us a sense that God would reach us no matter how far we strayed from safety – no matter how far into the depths of darkness and despair we walk.
It begins with this sense of hope that no matter where we end up, God will find us and bring us back into God’s grace and mercy.
But then, there is also a word of what I would call caution. God also gives a warning:
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet and drink what you have fouled with your feet?
In other words, God provides us with this safety and protection, not so that we can be selfish and take what we desire while ruining the rest for others, but so that we can share the abundance God provides and use it to lift up and serve those around us.
The shepherd or guardian does not protect us from the wolves so that we can go and harm each other instead.
The livestock guardian dog does not keep the coyotes from killing the sick or weak only to have the healthy and strong members of the flock kill the sick or weak instead, even if unintentionally.
God does not protect us and pull us from the depths of despair only to have us turn around and harm our fellow humans or the environment which God created for all of us to share.
This passage in Ezekiel makes it clear that we must be careful not to allow ourselves to become the strong that overpower or overshadow the weak.
Likewise, the passage we heard from Matthew supplements the Ezekiel passage well.
We might struggle to understand what it would be like to be under the rule of a king because our government and society is set up very differently than it was in Jesus’s time.
But, it is helpful to remember that the people Jesus is speaking to do know what it’s like to live under the rule, power, and authority of a king.
That type of leadership could be damaging, but it was leadership that the people understood.
From the throne, the king separates the people. Jesus uses the imagery of the shepherd to illustrate the separation of the goats from the sheep.
On one hand the sheep are the blessed – those who clothed him when he was naked, fed him when he was hungry, and welcomed his as a stranger.
The people considered the “sheep” wondered when it was that they fed him, clothed him, and welcomed him.
Jesus tells them that they did these things to him whenever they did them to the least of them.
On the other hand are the goats, who did NOT clothe him when he was naked, feed him when he was hungry, or welcome him as the stranger.
And once again, the “goats” wonder when exactly they did NOT do these things?
And Jesus tells them that when they did not do these things to the least of them, they also did not do them for Jesus.
The reason Jesus chooses to create this separation between “sheep” and “goats” is so that they understand this notion of power and control and kingship.
He is trying to illustrate for them the difference between the kingdoms of authority and power and control that they are used to, and the kingdom of heaven, which is quite a different type of kingdom.
It is a different type of kingdom because Jesus is a different type of king.
And this is why we talked so much about the imagery of the shepherds.
Jesus is not a king who is concerned about power and authority and control. Jesus is reframing what it means to be a king, and likens it instead to being a shepherd.
A guardian. A leader. A protector.
Jesus reigns because Jesus is willing to step into the darkness, into the unknown – he is willing to search for the lost, to protect the weak, and to feed the hungry.
And in his kingdom, he invites us to do the same.
When we do these things for the least of us, we do it for Jesus as well.
And, when we do NOT do these things for the least of us, we also do NOT do them for Jesus.
Jesus invites us into this kingdom not because he expects to control us, but because he expects us to live out his example.
He expects us to lean into this notion of protecting and supporting those who are weaker than we are, just like we hope to be supported when we are weak or vulnerable.
Just like livestock guardians live to protect their flock and do not want to see the flock harm each other, Jesus lives to protect us and does not want to see us harm one another.
Any harm we do to each other, we also do to Jesus.
As we join Jesus in his kingdom and we celebrate his reign, we must remember that we are invited to become like shepherds – protecting, serving, clothing, feeding, and welcoming one another as well as the stranger or neighbour.
As we celebrate the Reign of Christ today, may we remember that his kingdom is very different than the traditional kingdom we imagine.
Jesus’s kingdom is one of love, compassion, care, and mercy.
May we live out the ideals of this kingdom in our everyday lives, serving one another, caring for one another, and welcoming one another into the glory of Christ’s kingdom. Amen.
God of healing and transformation, we hunger and thirst for your abundant life. We bring you our sorrow and ask for the bread of joy; we bring you our despair and ask for the bread of hope; we bring you our weariness and ask for the bread of inspiration.
Meet us here. We need the bread of heaven to sustain us as we journey to find our way, that we may we be one with you.
In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m extremely independently wealthy.
I earned that money by being pretty dishonest, taking advantage of situations and of people.
I know, I know – it’s hard to believe because I’m a pastor, but bear with me for a minute.
I am going to be going away for a little while, but my money works really hard for me and I don’t want to let it sit idle while I’m gone.
So, I have three volunteers who have agreed to help me keep my money safe.
I am going to give each person some of my money before I go. While I’m gone, they’re going to do their best to make even more money for me.
BUT, they absolutely cannot lose any of my money, or else!
The first person will get $3,797,175.
The second person will get $1,518,870.
And the third person will get $759,435.
Remember, the goal is to use that money to make as much extra money as you can while I’m away, but absolutely do not lose any.
You can ask members of the church for help, but some of them might take your money, and others might double it. Choose wisely what you do with my money.
[Jamie leaves and the volunteers decide what to do with her money]
So, how did you all do?
The first volunteer asked the church for help, and doubled their money! They now have $7,594,350 for me.
The second volunteer also asked for help, and doubled their money! They now have $3,037,740.
However, the third volunteer decided not to risk losing all my money, and instead returned the exact amount I gave them. A pittance compared to what they could have earned for me.
I am not a benevolent pastor! I entrusted this money to them, and two of them earned me significant money in return and will be rewarded.
But the third volunteer will be banished from my sight! I am going to take their money and give it to the one who received the most, because at least they are willing to risk something to earn even more money for me.
Yes, I know, that was a silly retelling of our scripture passage today. But, there was a purpose to retelling it this way.
It is important to understand what exactly a “talent” is in this passage.
A talent is a unit of currency which, at that time, was equivalent to approximately 15 years worth of wages.
The average annual salary in Alberta as of October was $50,629. So, 15 years worth of wages using that average would amount to $759,435.
The first servant in our scripture passage today was given 5 talents. So, if we do the math, that amounts to $3,797,175. In other words, that amount of money was equivalent to 75 years worth of wages for that servant.
The second servant was given 2 talents, or approximately 30 years worth of wages.
And of course the third servant was given 1 talent, or approximately 15 years worth of wages.
The point in doing this exercise is to impress upon you the magnitude of what this “master” was entrusting his servants with.
And, he was not a benevolent man. He was giving his servants this money and trusting that they would go and use his shady methods to earn even more money.
This money was not a gift. There were strings attached.
This was clearly not a small amount of money. Most of us couldn’t even fathom what it would be like to hold $750,000 in our hands, let alone $3.7 million.
These servants also presumably were quite trusted by their master. They were not brand new servants – there is no way this master would give servants he hardly knew this money.
These servants knew how the master earned his money.
So, there was also the threat of a master who “reaped where he did not sow and scattered where he did not scatter seed.”
In other words, he was doing some shady things to earn his abundant wealth. And, he expected his servants to use similar methods when he entrusted his money to them.
As is true for many of our scripture readings, and for many of the parables Jesus shares, there are multiple ways we could look at and interpret this story.
Certainly, we could see some of the implications of capitalism, and the hard reality of a world where we all are encouraged to do things we may not do otherwise in the name of earning extra money.
We could also talk about the master and the way we treat other people we work with, live with, or otherwise interact with on a regular basis.
There are many different ways we could focus our attention, and many different lessons we could take from this passage. Jesus seemed to like to provide pastors with options for Sunday mornings.
What I want to focus on today is this notion of abundance, risk, and reward.
For today’s purposes, let’s set aside the parts of this story where the master does shady things and condemns the third servant. That’s a totally different sermon for another day.
If we look at Jesus as the master in this story, and we consider the talents each servant receives as traits like love, grace, mercy, and peace, we can recognize that these servants of Christ have more than enough resources to go out into the world and do amazing ministry.
And the first two servants do just that. They take their currency – their love, grace, mercy, and peace – and they spread it, and what comes back to them is doubled.
The doors of opportunity were opened to them, and they took the risk and walked through the doors.
Another way of looking at this would be to say they were called by Christ, and they said “here I am Lord. I will go, Lord. Send me.”
The third servant, however, is filled with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the master’s response if he fails, and fear of failure itself. So he hides the grace, love, mercy, and peace he was given.
He had good intentions of keeping them safe, of course. But those good intentions prevented him from using those traits to do good in the world.
The doors were opened, the call was made, but he was afraid to walk through for fear of failure.
His fear led him to be paralyzed.
How often, in ministry or in life, do we become paralyzed by fear?
Fear of taking certain risks, fear of failure if we try, or fear of losing everything we have.
So instead, we hoard resources. We metaphorically bury the gifts we have been given out of fear of losing them.
What if our call or our purpose is to use these gifts, to take risks, to share them with the world in ways we could not even imagine without God’s guidance?
It is true that taking risks could lead to failure. But even in failure, there is often abundant opportunity for growth.
And, often, even in failure, there is success as we learn something new about ourselves, about our relationship with God, or about the world.
Jesus wants us to use the gifts we have been given – whether that’s money, time, talent, energy, or other resources – in ways that honour ourselves and others.
He does not want us to bury our resources. He wants us to use them to thrive.
Taking some risks – and being open to the possibility of failing or making mistakes – allows us to grow not only personally, but also in our faith and in our ministries.
May we always be open to this growth. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
You may be seated. After church today, I’m throwing a last-minute party. It’s going to be the best party you could ever imagine.
Yes, it’s going to be even better than the Christmas potluck.
I’m going to have the best food you could ever imagine, and you don’t have to worry about bringing anything, which for some of you already makes it the best party ever!
Everyone who attends will get 1 million dollars.
Oh, and all of your dreams will be fulfilled. If you want a new car – you’ll get a new car.
If you want a trip to France, you’ll get a trip to France.
If you want the warmest pair of slippers you could ever imagine, you’ll get them.
This is not a joke – it will be the best party you could ever imagine. So, who’s planning to come to my party after church?
Oh, I forgot to mention – only these two sections of the church are invited. This section over here won’t be allowed in at the door.
For those of you who aren’t invited, how does that make you feel?
For those of you who were invited, how do you feel about those who weren’t invited?
It doesn’t feel great on either side, really. If you were not invited to the party, it certainly feels unfair, and you might even feel a little anxious.
After all, those who were invited are promised something amazing.
And for those of you who were invited, it feels pretty unfair that you have access to this amazing party and the opportunity to fulfill your wildest dreams, but those who aren’t invited will miss out.
You might even go so far as to beg me to invite those who weren’t invited.
Maybe, you would even choose to protest my party unless I make it fair for everyone.
After all, what kind of loving pastor invites only two-thirds of the church to such an amazing party?
In our scripture reading today, this is essentially how the Thessalonians are feeling. They feel like they’ve been invited to the best party ever, but they have concerns about those who were not invited.
First of all, it is important to place our scripture passage from the Thessalonians into context.
Scholars widely agree that 1 Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament.
Most scholars believe Paul wrote it during his 18-month stay in Corinth, before any of his other letters and even before the Gospels were written.
It is important to understand the context of this text because we must understand what is happening in Thessalonika and where the people’s heads are at. They have very different concerns than we do today.
The city of Thessalonika is located in modern day Greece.
For many ancient Greeks, once people died, they were considered to be separated from the living and they were doomed to the underworld.
This separation from the living wasn’t believed to be a punishment, though it was permanent. It was just the belief about death and afterlife at the time.
In the letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is writing with his companions, SilvAnus and Timothy. They are writing letters to address specific issues in the communities they founded, of which this Christian community in Thessalonika is one.
It is important to understand the context in which Paul is writing before we can really analyze the text and work to understand what it is telling us that can be applied to our lives today.
The Thessalonians have been evangelized by Paul and his companions and they look forward to Jesus’ triumphant return, which they believed would be happening within their lifetime.
Therefore, many of them were grieving because they believed that death had permanently separated them from their loved ones.
In other words, they were concerned that those who died between the time Paul came to them and whenever Jesus would return would not be saved in the same way they would be saved.
They were afraid that those who have died would miss the best party they had ever been invited to.
So, this letter to the Thessalonians is part of Paul and his companions’ work to introduce a new way of thinking about death.
Imagine what that must have been like for the Thessalonians.
They desperately wanted to believe in the promise of Jesus Christ and his return, but they understood death very differently. What Paul and others were claiming sounded foreign to them.
For some of them, it must have felt like a race between death, and Christ’s return. They were trying to reconcile their preconceived notions of death with this new promise they so desperately wanted to believe in.
For them, Jesus was very different than any other Greek hero they were familiar with. Jesus was not held down or separated by death.
Death was not permanent for those who died in Christ. And this gave those who were still alive and invited to the party hope that even if they died before Jesus’ return, they too would not be separated permanently from their loved ones.
Pop culture today loves to imagine what it would be like to experience the Rapture.
There have been many movies made about those who are left behind.
But this notion of resurrection, life after death, and unending grace even for those who have gone before us is not meant to scare us into believing we may be left behind. Our pop culture movies would like us to believe that’s what it is about.
It is not about fear. Rather, it is about hope. Hope everlasting.
This letter to the Thessalonians is meant for those who lost children, siblings, parents, spouses, and other loved ones.
It is meant to reassure them that even if they died before Christ’s return, they would not be excluded. They were still invited to the best party they could imagine.
And this passage does not only give hope to the Thessalonians. It gives hope to every future generation that waits for Christ’s return.
God has not forgotten those who came before us. God has not abandoned them. Nor has God forgotten or abandoned us.
This passage is meant to reassure us that God will raise the dead up and we will see them again.
Paul, SilvAnus, and Timothy ground their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection because they are fighting for eternal hope.
They are fighting for hope everlasting. Not just for the Thessalonians, but for all future Christians, including us.
They seek to offer hope and encouragement that even if this life isn’t fair, even if we struggle on our journeys, that in death, we will be raised to life again.
This passage offers the bold hope that all those in Christ – living and dead – will be there on the day when he will come again in glory, and they will dwell with him forever. Amen.
God of hope, thank you for your endless love, grace, and care. Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to teach us and save us, and thank you for sending other teachers who have shared their prophetic ministries throughout history – both ancient history and more recent history.
We are grateful for the hope you provide, and we are grateful that we are all invited to your table and no one is excluded. May your hope sustain us throughout our lives and deaths. All of this we pray in your name. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
Today, we have two young people participating in a mini obstacle course. The course consists of some books on the floor, and a strip of tape they need to balance on, along with a chair they need to climb over. They have to try not to touch the floor. The first time, both participants get to complete the course with their eyes open. The second time through, one of the participants will be blindfolded, and they are told to race. The participant who doesn’t have a blindfold on will begin the course, but the blindfolded participant realizes the game isn’t fair. The participant who isn’t blindfolded comes back and helps to guide the blindfolded one through the course.
Thank you to our young people who were willing to try the obstacle course this morning!
When I asked them to try the obstacle course with their eyes open, it seemed quite easy. But once one of their eyes were covered, it became much more challenging. Perhaps even impossible.
It might have even started to feel hopeless, and maybe even a bit unfair. After all, one could see and the other couldn’t.
But then, we saw something that gave some hope: the one who wasn’t blindfolded offered to help the other through the obstacle course.
With guidance, they were able to finish the obstacle course together.
In life, we sometimes encounter situations that make us feel hopeless.
The obstacles that land in our path sometimes seem too much to overcome on our own.
How do we maintain hope when things feel hopeless?
In my role as a pastor, I get to talk with a lot of people, and often, people open up to me in ways they might not open up to other people. It is the nature of the work I do.
I often hear people share their feelings of hopelessness about a situation or about the way of the world at any given moment.
When people share these things with me, they often feel like the challenges just keep piling up. There doesn’t seem to be enough support, and the bad starts to feel like it outweighs the good.
The obstacles that are placed in front of us can start to loom larger and larger, especially when our vision is clouded and we can’t see a clear path forward.
How do we come to a place of hope in those times when we are looking through the veil of shadow?
Often, Christian churches will teach that all we need to do to fix all our problems and feel better is to have hope and trust in God.
However, when we struggle to do that and our vision is still clouded by that veil of shadow and hopelessness, this can make us feel guilty or even feel like a bad Christian because we can’t easily remove the veil.
Our demonstration this morning is a great reminder that all those feelings are valid, and you are not a bad Christian during those times when you feel the obstacles becoming too much handle alone.
It was also a great reminder that it is OK to reach out to someone and share those feelings, and it is OK to seek help and an understanding ear.
Living in hope can be the most difficult of the things we consider essential for many of us, and it can be the most difficult to understand when we are struggling to make sense of the world around us, or when we feel like our world is crumbling.
So, I return to my original question: how can we find hope when things feel hopeless?
Hope is the final essential thing in this sermon series because hope is a product of our faith and love.
Faith can help us through times of hopelessness.
Faith is what makes it possible to have hope even when things might not appear to be hopeful.
That is what the Romans passage we read earlier is telling us.
If we already have what we hope for, there is no need to keep on hoping. Instead, we hope for something we have not yet seen, and we patiently wait for it.
Hope is what saves us.
But what that looks like in practice in the real world could be any number of things. God walks with us and guides us even when the obstacles become too much.
Even when our eyes are veiled and we cannot see the path before us clearly.
But God walking with us and guiding us might manifest in ways we least expect.
It might be that another person walks alongside us and supports us. It might be something that happens that causes us to realize we need help. It might be little nudges or signs that keep recurring that cause us to rethink our approach to something.
Sometimes, those signs, nudges, or people placed in our lives at the exact right moments can fulfill our hope when it wanes.
Hope is confidence that love is stronger than death. And, our hope in the future informs and shapes our actions in the present.
It gives us the assurance and the courage to act with boldness in this life. Hope completes us and moves us forward, even when we would prefer to stand still or turn back.
We see hope for the future because we believe that this is God’s world and we trust that God creates, Christ redeems, and the Spirit sustains us, and God is still at work in this broken world.
We have hope in the future because we have faith that is rooted in the past and love that is active in the present.
Our hope is grounded in God’s eternal love for us and for creation, made present to us through the work of the Holy Spirit in all those little ways mentioned earlier.
This hope that we are talking about today is more than optimism or merely wishing that things will somehow turn out OK.
When people respond to our personal struggle and feelings of hopelessness or despair by saying things like “just think positively,” or “chin up, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” we start to feel guilty for our feelings.
This guilt can actually cause stronger feelings of hopelessness.
Hope is what allows us to sit with our feelings, and hope is what allows us to meet other people on their paths that are shadowed by obstacles.
Hope is what encourages us to meet each other and ourselves where we are, rather than trying to cover our feelings or put on a brave face.
Hope is so much more than simply turning our frown upside down to please other people.
Hope is deeply spiritual. Hope is what keeps us going in the dark and sleepless nights because we know the sun will rise again.
Hope is what makes it possible to work, day after day, in ministries of justice and mercy.
Hope is what encourages us and sustains us even through the challenges of life.
Hope is what lifts our eyes from our own pain and misery so that we can look into another’s eyes with compassion.
Hope is confidence that love is stronger than death and this life is not our only life.
We respond to God’s loving actions in faith, and in love, and in hope. These responses to God’s love work together, and that is why all three are essential responses to God’s love for us.
Without one, the others become much harder to keep and hold in our hearts.
But, as we have heard over the last three weeks, and as we saw demonstrated earlier today, even during those times when we struggle to keep faith, love, or hope, we are guided by the Spirit, and God walks with us, guiding us toward wholeness and healing and helping us overcome the obstacles that may seem too big for us to handle alone.
Let us pray: Compassionate, loving Spirit, we hold a space for gratitude, knowing that when we carry burdens, you carry those burdens with us.
When we struggle to maintain hope in a world that feels hopeless, or when our eyes are veiled and we cannot see the way around or through the obstacles before us, we hold onto our faith that you will take our hand and guide us with love and hope.
We pray that you continue to walk with us, that you will endlessly reach for our hands and offer your guidance as you help us look toward the future with hope.
In your holy name we pray. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
Our sermon topics for this week and next week are the two that I’m most excited about discussing from this sermon series because they really get into the heart of what our call from Christ is.
This week, we are talking about responding to God’s actions with love, and next week we will talk about our response of hope.
We are told that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind, and that we shall love our neighbor as ourselves.
It sounds easy enough. Remember to love God - check! Remember to love others - check! Except - I don’t think it is as easy as it seems.
When we talk about love, we make it sound like it should be easy to love everyone just as they are, without judgement.
And yet, it is the age-old human problem.
It is the reminder we receive every Sunday morning, and it is the confession we make regularly: God, we have failed to love everyone.
We have failed to withhold judgement, and we have failed to love our neighbor and serve them as we would love and serve ourselves. Forgive us,
I would like to tell you a story. It’s a fictional story that I wrote myself, so bear with me.
Once upon a time, a little boy named Charlie lived next door to a little girl named Jenny.
Jenny was older than Charlie by three whole days, and Jenny believed this made her better than Charlie.
Jenny would tease Charlie and call him a baby. She would make him feel worthless.
Almost every day, Jenny would call Charlie names, and every day, he could feel the sting of tears in his eyes.
Jenny started to go beyond name-calling. She began pushing him around, making him fall down and scrape his knees.
Charlie began avoiding Jenny as best he could.
He really didn’t like Jenny at all. He might even say he hated her.
Charlie hated Jenny so much that he felt like she could disappear from the face of the earth, and he would be perfectly happy.
One day, while Charlie was outside, he saw Jenny trip on a crack in the sidewalk and fall face-first into the ground.
Charlie thought for a second that Jenny had gotten what she deserved.
But then, he saw that she was crying and holding her hand to her face.
When she moved her hands, he saw she was bleeding pretty badly.
Charlie ran inside to call for help, and then ran back outside to comfort Jenny and ask if she was OK.
It turned out Jenny had broken her nose and needed stitches.
Charlie made sure he stayed with Jenny until help came.
The incident didn’t make Charlie like Jenny any better – she had bullied him enough that he might never be able to truly like her.
But, he had enough love and compassion in his heart to help Jenny when she needed it, even though she had hurt him pretty badly in the past.
Charlie and Jenny were never friends, but she was grateful for his help and she did thank him for his kindness eventually.
My hope in sharing this story is that is begs the question: what is love? 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love is patient; love is kind. It rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
It also tells us what love is not: love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoings.
That’s helpful, but it also starts to get at something deeper.
Love is complicated. It seems like love should be simple, but anyone who is married or has children or parents know that love is anything but simple.
It’s easy to understand love toward others when we like the other person.
But what about loving someone we don’t particularly care for?
What about loving someone we can’t stand?
How do we love someone who has hurt us?
How do we love someone who has abused us, used us, or harmed us emotionally or spiritually?
How do we love someone who has bullied us, like in our story about Charlie and Jenny?
What about people who are vastly different than us? Is it easy to withhold judgement and love the person begging for money on the street corner?
Or do we wonder how they ended up there?
Is it easy to love someone who holds a political opinion that is completely opposite of yours?
What about a person who holds a view that your rights should be diminished or taken away?
Love is not easy. Sometimes it can be hard to love God, let alone love all other people!
How many times have we heard someone question why God would allow bad things to happen to good people?
When horrible things happen to us, we often wonder where God was, or why God would let such a thing happen in the first place.
It can be hard even for people with strong faith to fully love God when life gets difficult and hope is lost.
We are called to love one another, and yet we struggle daily with loving and serving others.
It is always a balance between loving ourselves, caring for ourselves, and looking out for ourselves, and serving and loving others. Often we feel like we cannot do both at once.
Love is complicated and surprisingly difficult for us humans.
This is one of many reasons Jesus spent time on earth. He offers many examples of what loving and serving others looks like.
Through Christ’s sacrificial love, compassion, forgiveness, and teachings, we see love in action, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we know love as a living experience now and forever.
We are called to respond in love to God’s loving action through Jesus Christ.
We love because God first loved us and God continues to demonstrate for us time and time again a kind of love which seeks the best for humanity in God’s all-embracing love.
Love is complicated, but love is also:
Sacrificial, selfless, compassionate, forgiving, affirming, reconciling, healing, and inclusive.
It means loving the world for what it can and should be in relationship with God.
We can demonstrate love in action and we can respond in love in several ways:
We can offer our gifts, time, and service on behalf of others.
This might mean giving money, or it might mean giving of ourselves in other ways. Sometimes, it means doing all of the above.
When you are a part of a small church like Good Shepherd, many of us offer our gifts in more than one way, demonstrating love in action and responding to God’s gifts in love.
We can also put another’s good before our own. Anyone who is a parent likely knows what it means to make such a sacrifice.
We do need to recognize though that there is a balance - if we are always putting the needs of others ahead of our own needs, we will eventually burn out.
Part of this demonstration of loving action is making sure we are not giving so much of ourselves that we end up with nothing left to give.
Another way we can demonstrate loving action is by letting go of past hurts.
I know that this is easier said than done, and this is another way that love is complicated.
When we are hurt, we tend to hold onto that hurt for years or maybe our entire life, depending on the hurt.
I like to use the example of my fifth grade bully.
The girl who sat next to me in my fifth grade classroom bullied me, and I didn’t care for her all the way through high school graduation day.
Even now, while I don’t necessarily feel like I’m holding onto that hurt anymore, I still think that if I saw her now, I would assume that she is still a bully.
For all I know, she’s a perfectly lovely, kind adult human being. But my initial assumption would be that she’s still a bully.
Demonstrating loving action means working to overcome those hurts and release that judgement.
Along those same lines, we can work on making peace. This may also be complicated.
If we realize or recognize that perhaps we were the bully to someone, we can demonstrate loving action by working toward reconciliation.
If we abused, or took advantage of someone, or if we are simply holding onto a grudge or a past hurt, we can work to make peace with that, even if it is only in our own heart.
One of my favorite ways that we can demonstrate love toward others is by encouraging and supporting one another.
This one can be difficult for some people because we often want to be the best at something, or we might become jealous of another person’s success.
But, when we collaborate and work together toward a common goal, rather than viewing everything as a competition to be won, we can learn to encourage and build others up in ways that are in service to others.
Finally, we can work on restoring health and welcoming all as created in the image of God.
Without our own health, we cannot as easily serve others, so it is important to care for physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
As followers of Christ, we can also take to heart his example of welcoming all to the table.
This act of welcome, even to those who we struggle to like or enjoy being around, is one of loving service to others.
God knows that this becomes complex when personalities clash, and God also knows that loving people who rub us the wrong way is difficult.
I do want to be clear that I do not think God wants us to spend a lot of time with people who drain us, or people who take advantage of us, harm us, or abuse us.
Sometimes, acting in loving ways might mean setting a boundary that reduces or eliminates contact with someone, while also letting go of the hurts that person may have caused, or getting help if we need it.
We can see now why this kind of love can be so complicated, and that it’s a process of constant improvement and regular reminders of Christ’s examples.
Yes, we are called to love others. Christ offers us many examples of loving action.
Christ’s sacrifice not only demonstrated loving compassion for us, but also redeemed us so that when we do not love perfectly, we are still forgiven, and we are given our entire lives to improve on our understanding of love, care, and service toward others.
Let us pray:
God of mercy and of love, we come before you today acknowledging that we are challenged by the commandments you gave to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving all people is harder than we would like to admit, so we ask for your ongoing support in learning to love beyond ourselves. We welcome Christ’s example of love in action, and we pray for your guidance and support as we navigate the world of human complexity. All of this we pray in your name. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
Since we’ve taken a two-week break in the middle of this sermon series, I want to take a brief minute to remind everyone what this series is about and share what we’ll be talking about for the next couple weeks.
We have been working through a better understanding of the Moravian Essentials.
The Moravian motto is, “In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; In all things, Love.”
This motto begs the question: what exactly is considered “essential?”
On the first Sunday of this series, we talked about what makes us Christian, and we came to the conclusion that we can still be Christian even if we don’t have access to things like the Bible, a church, the sacraments, or ordained clergy.
So what are the essentials, then?
Well, Moravians believe there are six essentials:
Three of the essentials are actions that God takes on our behalf:
Jesus Christ redeems/saves
The Holy Spirit sustains/blesses
There are also three essential human responses to God’s actions:
We respond with faith, love, and hope.
Today, we are talking about the first of these three responses to God’s love: faith.
I’d like to begin this discussion with the theology of Calvin and Hobbes.
In this first strip, Calvin pretty emphatically and confidently claims that we don’t believe in things that we can’t see. Seeing things is the only way we can verify that something exists. So, how do we know that microscopic biting bugs exist if we can’t see them?
Well, they make us itch!
In this next strip, Calvin once again wonders about existence if we can’t see someone or something.
Calvin is making a pretty poignant point about God in this strip, and about faith in someone we can’t see. And he parallels God with Santa Claus, bringing up questions of faith in people we never see or interact with physically.
In his words, what IS the meaning of all this?
Finally, we see Calvin making a parallel between religion and math, of all things:
Now of course, Calvin is a child and Hobbes is his imaginary friend. But, he asks some tough questions and brings up some good points about faith.
How do we believe in things we can’t see? What other proof do we need for the existence of things we can’t see?
How do we come to have faith in an entity we don’t see or interact with directly, and what does that faith mean for us?
I don’t know about all of you, but reading through the Hebrews scripture passage and seeing the images made me feel a bit like my own faith might not be strong enough.
Hearing all of the stories from the Old Testament about people who had significant tests of their faith and never faltered can make us feel like our own trials and struggles are rather insignificant in comparison.
It might feel that way to us – we might feel like we are failing in our faith when we hear these heroic stories of the Old Testament.
These prophets and forerunners of Christianity fought for their faith in God and, often, for their own lives and the lives of their families or communities as well.
I am fairly confident, however, that we’re only reading part of the story. We get to read the parts of the stories that are interesting, engaging, and keep the attention of the listener or the reader.
It’s similar to when our friends or family members tell us stories of things that have happened in their lives.
Sometimes, a storyteller will share moments of fear, anxiety, or worry, but often, the only part of the story we hear is the outcome and some important factors that led to the outcome.
We don’t always get the whole story. Sometimes, the storyteller will leave out the parts when they made a mistake, or when they felt hopeless or defeated.
They will tell the story that they want others to hear, which may or may not be what actually happened.
In the passage we read today, we heard the heroic parts of the Old Testament stories. We heard the parts that offer us examples of faith and hope.
Let’s just consider the story of Noah for a moment. We don’t often think about what the reality of going through the flood must have been like.
Human beings even thousands of years ago were not drastically different than human beings today are.
So, if we think even for a moment that Noah wasn’t scared, worried, anxious, or questioning his sanity and his faith, we’re probably mistaken. The world was flooding, everyone and everything on earth was dying, and the ground was disappearing before his eyes.
Not to mention, he was 600 years old when this happened, he was stuck on an ark with animals who needed to be fed, managed, and cleaned up after, and he was stuck with just his family for company.
Do you all know what it’s like to travel with family members or your kids, or your pets? For those of you who have done it before – was it a 100% pleasant experience?
If there weren’t some moments when Noah’s kids said “Dad, is this over yet?” or “Dad, I’m boooored!”, I would be surprised.
Of course, we don’t hear those parts of the story. But I can’t imagine that they didn’t wonder whether or not they were going to survive.
It’s easy to take stories like these at face value, and it’s easy to feel like we are somehow inferior in our faith because we worry, we get anxious, we complain and grumble and struggle with things when they become difficult.
It’s easy to think our own challenges are nothing compared to the things that some of these Old Testament figures endured for their faith in God.
But we must remember that we only hear one side of the story, and it’s the side the writer wants us to hear. We don’t hear about the complaining and the suffering and the wondering. We don’t always hear them questioning God or questioning their faith in God.
But we also cannot assume that they didn’t complain, wonder, or question God.
We cannot compare our own struggles to those of other people because we are all unique and we all handle things differently. We all cope differently, and we all have different tolerance levels for different things.
What we can take away from these stories is what it means to have faith.
We can see that often, faith is made stronger when we nurture that faith in community. Many of these Old Testament figures had communities to support them.
We are all part of a community that supports us, too. When we experience trials, one of the beautiful things about having a church family is that we naturally have a community that nurtures and supports our faith.
It’s a community that also helps us to pick up the pieces when our faith is shaken or shattered. It’s a community that walks alongside us, sharing our burden and our pain when we need that kind of support.
Faith is our response to God that involves personally giving ourselves, our lives, and our actions to God, acknowledging that we are totally dependent on God who created and loves us.
But, that doesn’t mean that walking by faith is easy.
Faith is absolute trust and commitment to God’s saving will fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It’s trusting and giving our all to God, even if our minds do not know and cannot comprehend all of the details.
Even if we have questions and doubts, even when we suffer or carry burdens that are too heavy for our own hearts and we do not understand our own suffering.
Even then, we are invited by God to grow in faith throughout our lives, sometimes moving steadily forward, and sometimes falling backward. We sustain and nurture each other in faith as we participate in community together.
It is by faith that we come to know God as our loving creator, Christ as our redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as our sustainer.
Faith is the first essential action on our part, and even when it becomes difficult, God supports us in our faith through God’s tremendous love for each of us.
Let us pray:
Holy One, we come before you today with all of our worries, anxieties, and fears. We come before you knowing that our faith may waver in times of struggle. But we come before you also knowing that you know our hearts and you love us dearly even when we hold onto questions and uncertainty.
We offer our gratitude today for your continued love and mercy, and for the people around us who walk with us on our faith journeys. We thank you for placing these people into our lives just when we need them most.
With the support of our community, we can be sure of our faith, knowing there will always be someone walking with us, supporting us, and helping us shoulder our burdens.
In your loving presence and in your Holy name we pray. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
I am going to stand still and I’m not going to talk. I want you all to raise your hands when you believe I’m breathing out. If you believe I’m breathing in or holding my breath, keep your hand down. Only raise your hands when you believe I’m breathing out.
How do you think you did? Was it hard to tell?
OK, we’re going to try again but this time, I’m going to hold a balloon up to my mouth.
Raise your hands again when you think I’m breathing out.
It was much easier to tell this time, wasn’t it?
This exercise is intended to demonstrate something about the Holy Spirit. Anyone want to take a shot at what it shows us?
The exercise was intended to demonstrate that even when we can’t see the Holy Spirit with our eyes, it is still there.
And, if we are looking hard enough, there is evidence of the Holy Spirit everywhere. If I had invited one of you up to put a hand in front of my mouth, or place a hand on my shoulder or even on my stomach, that person would have been able to use more clues to determine if I was breathing out, in, or holding my breath.
In the same way, there is evidence of the Holy Spirit all around us - sometimes, it is a matter of choosing to believe what the evidence tells us. And that can, for some people, be more difficult than it might seem.
Today, of course, we are talking about the third of the six Moravian Essentials: The Holy Spirit as blesser, sustainer, or sanctifier.
The Holy Spirit is also the third element of the Trinity, and according to Moravian theology, it is the last of the essential actions that God takes for us.
The Holy Spirit can also be the most difficult to explain or articulate because the Spirit contains less concrete properties.
The Spirit works in our lives in so many ways that it is impossible to fully grasp or understand it as something concrete and evident.
Scripture says a lot more about how God the Father and Jesus Christ interacted with people than it says about how the Holy Spirit interacted with people. We can see evidence of God’s creation all around us on a daily basis - evidence of the complexity of the natural world and of human existence.
Scholars also largely agree that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who lived until his mid-thirties. There is evidence in canonical scripture writings but also in non-canonical writings outside of the Bible. But the Spirit is less concrete and more mystical.
The Spirit exists around us, within us, and through us.
The Spirit can be found in the whispering of the trees, the babbling of a brook, and the chirping of the birds on a spring morning.
The Spirit can touch us through other people, through other living beings like animals or even plant life. We can be moved by the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit prompts us to desire a relationship with God. The Spirit assures us of our relationship with God and moves us to accept Christ’s gift of salvation.
The Holy Spirit also helps us continually discern God’s presence in our lives and the world.
If we are able to really be in tune with ourselves - to really be self-aware and know our own priorities and our own spiritual being, then we can find it easier to listen to the Spirit guiding us.
This can sometimes, or perhaps even often, be mistaken as our “gut instincts” - that moment when we just know our gut is telling us something.
Many people struggle with this - living on their gut instincts, never realizing that it is the Spirit at work in their life.
God knows when we need slow and intentional, gradual pushes. This is where the Spirit can sneak into our lives without us even being fully aware. For some people, the presence of the Spirit is something they are very aware of, but for others, it needs to be subtle.
It can be easy to wonder how to know if a decision we’ve made has truly been guided by the Spirit, or if it was simply our own gut feeling.
Either way, God knows when we need gentle and loving guidance. One way God does this is to place people in our lives that can help us with discernment.
The Spirit often works through people we know well, and sometimes even through people we just met. I have felt the Spirit’s presence in so many people since coming to Calgary, and it is a wonderful thing!
I’d like to invite us all to take a few moments to recognize people that the Holy Spirit chose to work through to impact your life. If you feel called to do so, I invite you to say their first names out loud as we contemplate this important question.
As I did this exercise myself, I thought about so many people: my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, certain teachers, coworkers, mentors, and friends. And of course, the Spirit is at work among all of you as I have the opportunity to be your Pastor and learn and grow with you.
And as I was thinking about all of these people, I realized that most of these people probably never thought about the Spirit working through them for me. So it begs the question: is the Spirit working through me for other people and I don’t realize it? When and how is the Spirit working through you to impact other people?
When we ask the question this way, it gives us pause to think about how our actions, words, and behaviors might be impacting others. We never know when the Spirit might be using us to impact the people around us. This might be a scary thought for some of us, but for me this gives me some comfort - perhaps even a sense of purpose.
If we can recognize that at any given time, the Spirit might be working through us for other people, we suddenly realize that we are needed and important, even when we may not feel like it.
When I was in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), I worked with a woman who was 97 years old and bed-ridden. She could no longer stand on her own.
As she questioned why God was keeping her here, she realized that many of her caregivers started telling her that she was the highlight of their day - she cheered them up and brightened their day, and they were happy when they got to work with her.
She commented that perhaps that’s why God was keeping her here - to care for others even though she can no longer care for herself.
And that was incredibly insightful I think. She recognized, even if she couldn’t put her finger on what it was exactly, that the Holy Spirit was moving within her and working through her to impact the lives of those around her, even while she was bed-ridden and nearing the end of her days. Even though it looked different than it ever had before, and she was in a very different season of her life.
And that is just one of the infinite ways the Spirit helps us to connect with God. It may not seem concrete, but it is a gift of mystery that we have been offered by God to bless and sustain our lives and our wellbeing. The Spirit is also known appropriately as Advocate, Mother, Comforter, Guide, Wind, Breath of God, Encourager, Counselor, and Spirit of Truth and Wisdom.
God’s gift of the Spirit is the Good News for each of us, every day. The Holy Spirit equips and empowers us, giving each of us our own unique gifts for use in ministry and in life. All of these unique gifts are important and necessary, and they must be exercised with love. Each of us has a significant role to play in God’s work, and no one is unimportant. May this news offer you peace and a sense of purpose, and may you always remember that you may be doing the work of the Spirit in someone else’s life at any given moment. Amen.
Let us pray:
God in Heaven, we thank you today for providing us with the Holy Spirit as our Advocate and Guide on our journeys. We ask that you help us to recognize the movement of the Spirit in ourselves, in other people we interact with, and in the natural world.
God, we ask that you help us to take a moment to listen for the Spirit in the wind as it rustles the trees, in the crackle of a fire in the fireplace, in the sound of rain pattering on the roof, in the smell of lilacs blooming in the spring, in the sight of an eagle carrying a fish back to its family, in the warm embrace of a loved one, and in so many other small gestures that bring us peace and comfort.
Today we pray that anyone who feels hopeless or worthless, or feels like they are not needed or loved realizes that the Spirit works in ways that they might not even know, and that one small gesture might have a huge impact on the people around them. We thank you for providing us with the gift of the Spirit, Lord. All of this we pray in your name. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
Who here can give me directions to the washroom in the church?
Can anyone who went to my house for the potluck give us specific directions to get there?
OK, now, I’m new to Calgary. Can anyone give me specific directions to get to Calgary Olympic Park from here?
Alright, lastly, who can give me specific instructions on how to get from here to Wisconsin so I can go visit family?
Now, imagine if, when I asked you for directions, your response was simply “you know the way.” I would admit to thinking “wow, what an unhelpful answer. Good thing I have GPS!”
Unfortunately for Jesus’s disciples, I don’t think they had GPS back then. So, when they tell Jesus that they don’t even know where he is going, let alone how to get there, and Jesus responds with “you know the way,” it can sound a little bit snarky if we think about it from our context.
Now of course I was being a little silly when I said they didn’t have GPS back in Jesus’s day. But, even if GPS did exist in the first century, Jesus wasn’t talking about a physical location that could be found using GPS anyway.
Jesus was talking about something much deeper than that. Jesus was talking about salvation, or redemption.
Today, we are talking about God as redeemer, or Saviour. The second Moravian essential is God redeems, or God saves. This is a tough one to talk about. Not because it’s an emotionally triggering topic, but because it’s a difficult topic to explain in a way that people will understand. But, Jesus actually explains pretty well in the John passage we heard earlier. Jesus says we already know the way - we already know how to understand redemption.
We already know, because HE is the way. He is the way to redemption, or salvation. He says, “without me, no one can go to the Father.”
Without Jesus, no one is saved. In other words, we cannot bring about salvation on our own. And, we certainly can not predict or dictate the salvation of others. God saves souls, we do not. Even pastors don’t save souls - not really. Our ordination vows say that we are committed to caring for souls - not saving them.
Too many Christians spend too much time telling the rest of the world what they can or can’t do to be saved. I drove past a billboard the other day that said something to the effect of “need salvation? We can help.”
Now, maybe whoever placed the billboard there was genuinely just looking to be a messenger of the good news - to be the GPS if you will to reaching Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Maybe they were only looking to care for souls, and not seeking to try to “save” souls on their own.
But, often well-meaning Christians believe that they have all the answers for saving people. However, Jesus says it clearly - “I am the way.” Jesus is the path to salvation. Nothing we humans can say or do will change that, as much as we occasionally like to think we get to dictate who is saved and who isn’t.
I’m not sure how many of you who were not born into the Moravian Church know who Count Zinzendorf was, but he brought about the revival of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Germany. He came from a Lutheran background, but in 1737 he was consecrated a bishop of the Moravian Church and became the major theologian and leader of the renewed Moravian Church.
I bring him up to specifically talk about his Religion of the Heart, but first it is important to note that Zinzendorf emphasized that Christ played an active role in God’s plan of salvation, as expressed in John 3:16. This passage, famously, says “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In other words, a true understanding of God as loving father comes through Jesus Christ.
Zinzendorf lived in the time of the Enlightenment, when philosophers began to question the truth of Christianity in the name of reason. Essentially, they argued that you cannot believe what you cannot understand and cannot reason. This was a very intellectual view of religion, but Zinzendorf offered an alternative.
He argued that the Christian faith is something different than a rational system of knowledge about God. It is a living relationship with Christ. He also recognized that there are differences in how people experience Christ. And this is the part I resonate with the most - he believed that every person has a unique faith journey, and Christ is leading everyone according to their individual character and needs.
Thus, for example, one person may experience a sudden awakening, while another person experiences the deepening of faith as a slow and gradual development.
I am one who has experienced this slow and gradual development of faith. And ultimately, because of these differences, Zinzendorf encouraged people to pay attention to the movement of Christ in their heart and, importantly, to share those personal experiences with others.
All of that is to say that redemption is grace. It is a gift from God. It is not something we earn and it’s definitely not something we can bestow upon others. It is given freely by a loving God who sent his son Jesus Christ to show us the way to God. Jesus is, for lack of a better metaphor, our GPS for salvation.
The One who created us is also the One who saves us out of love for us. If you recall in our introduction to this series that I said love is action. Not an emotion.
God’s action - God’s act of creation and God’s act of sending his Son - is what provides for our salvation. This is the entire message of the Gospels when it comes down to it.
But, here is the important thing for us to remember: We Christians, we Moravians, are not the only ones who are redeemed. Redemption - grace - is not just reserved for us.
If we proclaim “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” we cannot reserve salvation for just our little pocket of the world. We must reserve it for everyone.
And this, honestly, is what can make it hard to be Christian sometimes. Because if we believe we are redeemed - if we believe the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world - we must believe it applies to everyone equally.
We cannot just put up our sign that says “reserved” and hope someone unexpected doesn’t sit there. We cannot hold a place in line for only people we deem worthy, preventing anyone else from getting into the queue. We cannot reserve salvation for only those we deem the righteous, religious, spiritual elite.
Redemption is not just for the righteous. Jesus did not come only for the chosen few. A few weeks ago, we saw Jesus expand his definition of who was included in his grace in the story of the Canaanite woman. Jesus came to save all of us.
Jesus redeems all of us. Even those we fundamentally disagree with. Even those who rub us the wrong way. Even those who have done evil things in their lives. Even those who live their lives very differently than we do.
Jesus redeems everyone.
We must believe this applies to everyone equally. And it can be very difficult to understand this when we look at our enemies. It can be difficult to feel any love toward someone who has hurt us, or who has hurt others. It can be very difficult to love someone who has committed horrible crimes toward other people.
And yes, we are told to love our enemies and to put that love into action. But, we are also redeemed even if we cannot extend our love to certain people. The good news, of course, is that even if our human minds and hearts cannot muster up that kind of unconditional love, Jesus can. Jesus saves everyone. Even if we don’t fully understand how or why, Jesus has shown us the way. It is up to us to see his example as guidance on our path.
If we truly believe in God as redeemer through Jesus Christ, then we can open ourselves up to love others with the kind of love that God has shown in redemption. It is not our concern or our worry to determine whether or not other people are saved. It is only our concern to demonstrate love in action. Jesus is the way to redemption, so we can learn to live fully into God’s purpose for us - to demonstrate love for ourselves and our neighbours, our communities, and the world. Amen.
Let us pray: Redeeming God, we are so grateful that you sent your son Jesus Christ to save us. We are especially grateful that the burden of determining who is saved is Your job, and not ours. It allows us to expand our definition of love in ways we may not have considered otherwise. May we accept your gift of salvation and grace, may we be gentle with ourselves and with others, and may we live fully into the beauty of difference in humankind. All of this we pray in Your name. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
Last week, I said I was going to try something new for a few weeks and see how you like it. I’m tentatively calling it the “Young at Heart” message. My hope is that this will be a message that will apply to both kids and adults alike, so that in the event there are kids here, they can feel included in the service. And if there aren’t, the adults get a fun message too.
Today, we’re talking about God the Father as Creator, the first of our six Moravian essentials. From the beginning, God has entrusted humankind with responsibility to care for creation. God partners with humanity to provide ongoing care for creation. Sometimes, we misunderstand our role in caring for God’s creation, or we expect perfection when perfection can take many forms.
To illustrate this, I want to share a short video clip from a recent Disney movie. Has anyone here seen Encanto? Encanto is a fascinating movie about family systems, individual gifts, and has some deeper symbols of creation. It would be a fun family movie night movie to watch and discuss! But, for now, the clip I’m going to show is a song between the main character, Mirabel, and her sister Isabella.
Mirabel and Isabella have not gotten along very well. Each member of this family received special gifts that help their Encanto thrive. But, they are also only known for the gifts they were given, and Mirabel didn’t receive a special gift. Isabella, on the other hand, received the ability to create. Specifically, she is expected to create things that are perfect, and she is expected to act perfectly in all situations.
Mirabel reads this perfection as pretentiousness, but she discovers in this scene that Isabella is actually quite unhappy having to put on this front of constant perfection. And, we discover in this scene that things that are imperfect by human standards can still be beautiful, and all things are beautifully made. Let’s watch the clip, and as we do, try to think about how this might apply to God’s creation.
So, what do you think? Anyone have any thoughts they’d like to share from this clip?
What I see happening in this clip is the realization that even things we might consider “imperfect” are beautifully made. Isabella was given this “gift” of perfection, but that “gift” didn’t allow her to thrive or live fully into her own being.
Often, society puts pressures on us to be perfect. But God didn’t create us to attain human standards of perfection. God created us to live perfectly into the gifts we were given, the personality traits that make us who we are, and to care for the gifts of other people and living things. God does not expect perfection from us. As Isabella says, “what could I do if I just knew it didn’t need to be perfect, it just needed to be?”
As I said earlier, today we’re talking about God as Creator. Because of God’s gift of creation, and because we have been created in the image of God, humans become God’s stewards for the care of God’s world.
God’s care for creation and humanity continues when people:
· Love God
· Love their neighbour
· Do justice
· Love mercy
· Walk humbly with God
· Practice sabbath living
· Practice ethical stewardship of resources
· Practice God’s Shalom, or peace
God has given us the gift of creation, not only of humankind, but of all of the natural world. There are some elements of the environment that are amazing, inspiring, and beyond comprehension. When I visited the Grand Canyon, for example, words could not describe the magnitude of that natural phenomenon. It was breathtaking, and if that isn’t an example of God’s love for us and for the world, I don’t know what is.
Likewise, I have had the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and do some hiking since I’ve been here in Calgary. The photos you’re seeing on the slides today are all photos I’ve taken recently on hikes. One of my own spiritual practices is to spend time in nature when I can. I can tell when I need to schedule some time out of town for myself and get in touch with the natural world. God has provided so much for us to see and experience outside of the human-made things we have created.
It is a clear demonstration of the depth and breadth of God’s creation, and while we seek to understand, we also recognize the complexity of the world around us.
In other words, the world itself is not black and white.
One example that we can use to demonstrate this complexity and the grey areas of our world is to think about a river.
What makes and defines a river? Is just one drop of water considered a river?
Of course not.
But what about a small running stream? Generally we don’t think streams are rivers, and usually streams are not plotted on maps.
Humans have constructed what constitutes a river, and scientists probably have very specific criteria for what defines a body of water as a river, and when that happens.
But, what about rivers that flow into larger bodies of water like lakes? At what point exactly does the river become the lake?
The house I lived in back in Wisconsin was along a river. That river flowed into a larger lake. When taken as a whole, you can definitely tell that there is a change from a running river to a calmer lake. But where exactly is that point when the water molecules that were a river have now become water molecules that make up a lake?
It’s a bit of a grey area. If you followed one molecule of water as it flowed down the river, there is not an exact point that you could say okay, now that molecule is no longer a river water molecule, but it has become a lake molecule. This transition happens, but at what point exactly, it’s almost impossible to say.
God has designed our world with great complexity. We have moved through centuries, making scientific discoveries and advancements that help us make better sense of the world, but the complexity of God’s creation is still something that we can be in awe of.
These examples of the complexity and beauty of God’s design follow the example that we received in Genesis. Genesis was written by humans who did not understand the world in the same way that we do now. And, what we understand today will seem like almost nothing compared to what people 5 generations from now will understand about the world.
God has graciously partnered with humanity to provide ongoing care for this creation. Human beings are stewards for God’s creation. Many people read Genesis and understand that God first created man, and then from man’s rib, God created a second being, and man named that being woman. God didn’t name her, man did.
Much like we cannot pinpoint exactly where the river becomes the lake, it can be difficult for us to understand from this passage in Genesis exactly where man becomes human. God designs a body - a shell - but it isn’t until God breathes breath into that body that it becomes man. Was the body of man still a man prior to having life breathed into it by God?
The Genesis story is a story which leaves out many of the nuances and complexities of creation. We simplify the story so that our human minds can try to comprehend, and we assume that we can envision what exactly was happening. But, when we envision this story, we can only use what we currently know about our world.
We have to remember that this story took place in a time and place that we cannot truly picture, no matter how hard we try to see it on our mind’s eye. If we consider some of the natural examples that we see today, like the Grand Canyon, we recognize that God’s creation is complex, beautiful, and not something we can fully comprehend.
And, this is by design. Our first of the six essentials is that God is our Creator. We believe as Christians that God is creator, and we believe that God’s creation is good. It is easy for us to recognize the complexities of God’s creation when we look at the natural world, but it can also be easy to forget that God created humanity with the same level of complexity.
We were each uniquely designed by God, and we consist of our own unique complexities. This belief in God as our Creator is essential to our Christian identities and it is the first essential thing because, without it, nothing else would exist. Our understanding of the world would be vastly different.
God created humanity in God’s image, but God is something we can never fully comprehend. Therefore, we cannot assume we know everything about what God was thinking when God created an individual person. Genesis shows us why it is essential that we believe in, and trust, God as our creator, and why we can be comfortable not understanding every complexity about creation.
If we are like Isabella, we can recognize that perfection is not always necessary, and in fact something sharp and new, not symmetrical or perfect, can help us see the intricate beauty of creation in ways we might not have if we expected perfection. This is true for humanity as well - for ourselves and for others. We were not made to be perfect. We were made such that we can have our own thoughts, feelings, and actions that lead us down various paths in our lives. Sometimes, we are sharp!
And because humans are capable of free thought, we are also capable of doing and saying things that might not always be our best selves. And yet, we are perfectly made in God’s image. God’s love for us and our imperfections - our sharp edges and our inconsistencies, and all the things that make us uniquely us - allows us to just be. To just be loved by God, and to love and care for God and God’s creation.
If you have heard nothing else from today’s message hear this:
You are beautifully made by God. You are loved by our Creator. Perfection is not necessary. You are wholly loved and cared for regardless of the choices you have made in your life. May you never forget this. Amen.
Let us pray:
Creator God, we cannot possibly express our gratitude for your creation because we cannot fathom the magnitude of your creation. We must trust in your creation, God, and know that it is good, even if at times we question your work in ourselves and the world.
God we ask that in these times when we question your creation, you forgive us and help guide us to better understanding. We know that because you gave us free will, we do not always make the choices that you would have us make. We also know that you love us despite our mistakes and imperfections.
God we ask that you relieve our anxiety over the things we cannot possibly know or understand, and we ask that you help us to love others in the way that you ask us to, setting aside what we think we know about your design.
Please guide us to be good stewards of your creation and of the resources you have provided for us. With gratitude, we pray all of this in your name. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
When you entered the sanctuary today, most of you should have received a playing card with something written on it. Could those of you who received cards with The Bible on them hold your cards up? Does someone want to be brave enough to tell us why the Bible may or may not be essential?
Great, how about those who have The Church on them? Can someone share why the church may or may not be essential?
Thank you! How about The Sacraments?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but imagine that this sanctuary has been converted into a time machine and we’ve gone back in time to the 1500’s. Those of you who have The Church on your cards, raise your cards up.
Sorry, the government is burning all church buildings that aren’t government sanctioned.
Those who have The Bible written on your cards, please raise your cards up. So sorry, but it is nearly impossible to access The Bible in your native language, and those Bibles that do exist are illegal to keep outside of ordained clergy. You could be killed if a Bible is found in your possession.
How about Music/Hymns? Please raise your cards up. By governmental decree, anyone heard singing hymns in their homes will be arrested. House churches are not allowed.
How about the Sacraments? Raise your cards. Only ordained clergy are allowed to participate in the sacraments. You are only allowed to watch. Grace does not extend to you.
Those who have the ordained clergy cards, please hold those up. Ordained clergy outside of the Catholic Church are prohibited. Those who claim to be ordained and have not been sanctioned by the government church will be burned at the stake.
What does that leave us with, if we are not allowed access to any of these things that we consider important to our faith?
Who has the mystery cards? Is someone willing to read what they say on the face side of the card, if you can read my writing?
God as creator, Christ as redeemer, Holy Spirit as sustainer, and we respond with Faith, Love, and Hope.
Even if we cannot access any of the other things, we can still maintain our belief in God the Father as our creator, God the Son, Jesus Christ, as our redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit as our sustainer.
And, we can respond to those gifts from God with Faith, Love, and Hope. These things cannot be taken away from us, even if all of the other things can be. We can still be Christian without access to the Bible, the Church, the Sacraments, Ordained Clergy, or Hymns. For any church-related thing you can think of, if you did not have access to it and you could still be Christian, it is considered non-essential.
Non-essential of course does not mean unimportant! It merely means that if access to everything we consider part of our Christianity was taken from us, we could still be Christian if we accept the gifts of God as creator, Christ as redeemer, and Spirit as sustainer, and if we respond to these gifts in Faith, Love, and Hope.
Alright, let’s get back into our time machine and head back to 2023, shall we?
Today we kick off a sermon series on the six things that Moravians consider essential for salvation. These six things are separated from things that are considered helpful for salvation and from things that are considered incidental.
The essentials were introduced as early as 1464 and were later more fully developed by Luke of Prague. Luke believed that much of the conflict and confusion in the history of Christianity was caused by the failure to distinguish what is essential from what is ministerial.
For Luke, the reality of salvation should not be confused with the realm of human institutions. The things that are essential for salvation include six things, and two different types of essentials.
The first type of essentials are actions of God that do not depend on human actions. We can call these actions of God “grace” because they are gifts of God.
These three actions include:
1. God (the Father) as Creator
2. God (the Son) as redeemer
3. God (the Holy Spirit) as blesser, sustainer, or sanctifier
The other type of essential includes the human responses to these essential gifts from God. These responses are:
These form the necessary human response to God’s grace.
Faith must be completed in love. Faith, love, and hope are intertwined and cannot be separated. For clarification, faith is not quite the same as “belief.” Faith means that we trust God and place our lives in God’s hands. This is not always easy to do, of course, as we face hundreds of decisions a day, from what time to wake up in the morning, to what to have for breakfast.
We face simple decisions and complex decisions, and it can be hard to understand what it means to place our lives fully into God’s hands when we still have decisions we need to make every day.
Love, contrary to popular belief, is not merely an emotion.
Love is action. To love God is to seek to do God’s will. To love our neighbour is to do good for our neighbour and not do harm.
This one can be difficult to understand as well. How do I love my enemies? How do I love someone who is so evil as to do active harm to others?
I’ll share a brief example. When I owned my business, I had a neighbour who caused me some grief. He complained about the noise from dogs barking at my facility, and he came to a city council meeting once to try to get my request for a permit denied. He generally was not a great neighbour and I mostly tried to avoid him as much as I could.
But, we had a bad storm one night, and the next day some of the equipment outside of his building had blown all over our property and he needed some help cleaning things up. As much as I didn’t care for him, I could not deny helping him recover his property from the storm.
Did I feel love toward him? No. How I felt about him personally did not change. But, the type of love we’re talking about is not emotional love. It is love for neighbour that shows care and compassion when it’s needed. It is love in action. It is a demonstration of love - love of God, love of self, and love of neighbour.
This can be hard to understand, but we will go into much more depth on this one when we reach the topic of Love in this series.
Finally, if we have faith in God and live according to the law of love, then we will have hope.
Hope is last in the list of essential things because hope looks to the future. We have hope that one day we will be with Christ in eternal joy. It is hope that allows us to face the future with courage.
I was in a Zoom bible study with some friends recently, and one of them was explaining John Wesley’s quadrilateral which includes the Bible as the foundation of his theology. And I explained that in the Moravian church, the Bible is not necessarily the foundation, and this is a good thing because it has allowed the Moravian church to remain unified through some very challenging differences globally.
Because our foundations lie on the six essentials, even if we cannot agree about how to interpret the Bible, or a specific scripture, we can at least begin with a foundation of agreement about the essential things.
And this is the beauty of the Moravian theology. These six things are the only essentials to our faith. That is not to say that things like Holy Scripture, the Church as the Body of Christ, Ordained Clergy, the Sacraments, practices of church discipline, or theological doctrine are not important.
But all of these things are considered ministerial. They stand in service to the essentials, but are not in themselves directly related to salvation. Ministerials have a functional role. As I demonstrated when we got into our time machine earlier, if we did not have access to these things, we could still be Christian. So if we can still be Christian without them, then they cannot be essential.
But, under normal circumstances, these ministerial things are still very important to Christian life. They minister to the essential things.
There is one other category of things that Moravians deem incidentals. These are things like the Order of Worship, what hymnals or songs we sing or how we sing them.
It can include the way the pastor dresses, what we have in our sanctuary, whether we use pews or chairs, whether we have screens or no screens in the sanctuary, and the list goes on and on. Ironically, the things we tend to fight over the most in our individual churches are the incidental things. These things can easily become ingrained traditions at individual churches.
This is one reason why moving to a new church can be difficult for a pastor. Every church assumes that their traditions are the same as every other church, but these incidental things can be vastly different from church to church. People can become deeply attached to these things, which is why it is a good reminder to occasionally get back to the foundation of the essentials.
But, our belief in the phrase “In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; and in all things love” is part of the reason that Moravians are willing to work, worship, and fellowship with Christians in other churches despite our doctrinal differences.
If we see evidence of the essential things in those churches, it is easy to find common ground and because we believe “in all things love,” we can start with the essentials as our foundation and be curious and open in talking with others about their faith.
These essentials are also the reason we have been able to remain a global Unity through some very difficult differences in theological and political beliefs. Some of the things that the US, Canadian, and European provinces are moving toward are still illegal or highly suspect in some of the other global provinces.
But again, if we can work our way backwards until we get to common ground, it always comes back to the essentials. We may not be able to agree on how Scripture should be interpreted, but even if we can’t agree on that, we can agree on the gifts of God as Creator, Christ as redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as sustainer, and we can agree that our response to these gifts needs to be faith, love, and hope.
As we leave this space today, may our heads be filled with knowledge of the essentials, and may our hearts be filled with faith, love, and hope. Next week, we will begin a deep dive into the first essential gift from God - God the Father as Creator. We also will be celebrating the Moravian Day of Service next Sunday.
As we dive into each of the essentials over the next several weeks, let us continue to welcome God into our hearts and open ourselves to learning and letting the Spirit lead. Amen!
Let us pray: Gracious God, today we offer a prayer of thanks for the Moravians of our past who recognized the needs and struggles of their members, and understood that grace and faith and Christianity can manifest in many different ways as the needs of the world change. God, we are grateful for your loving action and the gift of God the Father as Creator, Christ the Son as redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier.
God, today we understand that not all Christians throughout history have had safe access to things like Scripture, clergy, the sacraments, or church buildings, and yet they were still able to be faithful Christians because they were still able to respond to your loving action with faith, love, and hope.
God thank you for your continued love and care. Thank you for your grace and mercy, and thank you for sending your Son to redeem us and the Holy Spirit to bless us on our faith journeys and our paths to salvation.
All of this we pray in your name. Amen.