Sunday Sermons are now available to as either an audio file or YouTube video
and can be found under Services Available
Sunday Sermons are now available to as either an audio file or YouTube video
and can be found under Services Available
Nobody would have blamed Mary if she had stayed in bed that day. As she rolled over on her straw palate, she was struck with the realization that the horrors she recalled were not just nightmares, but the stark reality of life without Jesus. It was a horrible thing she and all of her friends had lived through. Watching their beloved teacher and leader so brutally betrayed and killed. Standing vigil as they took his lifeless and brutalized body down off a cross and laid it in a tomb. Hiding behind closed doors for fear of what might befall those who were associated with Jesus. The meaning and purpose she had felt as a follower of Jesus only days before was replaced with a grief that overwhelmed her with its intensity.
How easy it would be to stay hidden away forever, she thought.
And yet she felt drawn to go to the tomb. They had been in shock when it all happened, in such a rush to put Jesus’ body there before the start of the Sabbath, she wanted to make sure everything was in order. It was the least she could do. It was the only thing she could do for her teacher, her leader, her friend.
Before the dawn had broken on the horizon, Mary stumbled her way out of the house, walking in a fog of grief and loss, until she found herself standing in front of the tomb where just two days earlier she had seen them lay Jesus’ body and seal the entrance with a stone so big it took three men to roll it in place. Except now the stone had been moved away from the entrance, and she could see there was nothing inside. The body of her beloved Jesus was gone.
Mary was heartbroken. The Romans had killed Jesus and now someone had taken his body. Now they couldn’t even mourn him properly. Not knowing what else to do, Mary ran to find the other disciples and give them the bad news. They ran at once to the tomb to see for themselves. Simon Peter went in to make sure that the body was really missing. He found the cloth that Jesus’ body had been wrapped in, but no body. There were no words to express their sense of grief, of loss, of shock as sadly left the tomb……
When most people attend Easter morning worship, they come with a certain amount of anticipation – that they will experience magnificent music, joy-filled messages, and the glorious news being proclaimed that Christ is Risen indeed! And for those of us who know the whole story, these are good and right expectations. Easter IS a time of celebration.
However…if we allow ourselves to go back to that first Easter morning, what we find is that the sight of the empty tomb seemed not to have induced any sense of joy or hope amongst those who first discovered it. Instead, the emptiness brought with it a shock that was a dagger in the already broken, grieving hearts of those who loved Jesus most.
Think where the disciples’ minds must have been those days after they watched their beloved teacher and friend cruelly punished, brutally beaten, senselessly condemned to death. They literally stood at Jesus’ feet watching him die an agonizing death, then had hurried to put Jesus’ body in a tomb before the start of the Sabbath. They had been in hiding, fearing for their very lives the past two days. So when the sun came up that first Easter morning, there was no pent up excitement and joy to start it off. The overwhelming shock and sadness of Good Friday was still very much on their minds and in their hearts.
How often it is for us, as well, that events we look back on with delight, joy, and understanding, are ones that initially bring us only feelings of shock, of fear, even of sadness. The gift of perspective and time allow us to reframe these events in positive ways, but the reality of many of life’s experiences in the moment are often gritty and hard. I think of that moment when the reality of becoming a new parent sinks in and you feel as if you will never have a life again. Or the news of getting the new job that you really wanted that all of a sudden seems so scary and overwhelming that you can feel no excitement, only terror. Or the intense grief upon the death of a loved when, when no amount of reminiscing about good times can take away the horrible ache of loss that washes over you with every breath. These moments of shock leave us speechless, trembling, fearful. They remind us that much as we would like to think we are in charge, the reality of life is that there are moments, events, experiences that remind us we cannot control everything. These are the moments when faith takes on a whole new meaning.
The great invitation of our faith, as Easter people, is to remember the courage that it took for those disciples, that first Easter morning, to continue to put one foot in front of the other, in spite of their shock, their grief, their fear. We know the good news is about to come – for them, and for us. But not yet. For all of us living in those times of shock, of uncertainty, of grief….we hold fast to our belief that we are not alone…..
After the disciples leave the empty tomb, Mary stands just outside the tomb and weeps. From her vantage point in the garden near the tomb, she can still see inside and she cannot resist another look. She sees a vision of two angels, dressed in white. “Woman, why do you weep? they ask. I am looking for my master, my teacher and my friend. They have taken him away and I don’t know where he is.
Turning away, Mary sees a man she does not recognize and assumes he is the gardener. Who are you looking for?, he inquires. If you’ll tell me where he is, I could go and care for him, she implores. Jesus tenderly calls her by name, and in a flash, she understands the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. “Rabbouni”, she cries! Oh my teacher, my rabbi, my friend it is you! In reverence and awe, she reaches out a trembling hand, wanting more evidence that she is not dreaming, yet likely afraid of what she will feel beneath her touch. Can’t you just see Mary’s outstretched hand grasping for physical proof? She had seen him be crucified with her own eyes and now he is standing before her! Just as Mary touches Jesus, he warns “Do not hold onto me; do not cling to me”. He still needs to complete the process of resurrection and ascension. His has been raised from dead but must rise further still.
Jesus commissions Mary to go and tell the others what she has seen. Go and bear witness to the Risen Christ! Go and tell them that Love has not died. That love cannot die. Tell them that Love will always rise. Share this Good News Story.
Mary goes and proclaims the news boldly. I saw the Master! Our beloved Jesus lives!
AWE: Theological Reflection
As with Jesus’ sleepless and prayerful night in the Garden of Gethsemane, this garden just outside the empty tomb sets the stage for an earth shaking, world rocking encounter. What she experiences will change her life forever and will launch a movement. It will launch a movement based on a love that no knows bounds.
Can you just imagine that moment in the garden? The person you love more than anyone in the world appears to you from the grave and is now standing before you and speaking your name. When you reach out to your beloved, you are told not to hang on to them. Not to cling for dear life. Really?
It is a truly an amazing moment. Yet, it’s one we’ve heard described so many times, I propose that it has lost much of its awe. Instead, it’s become a cliché. It can be hard to connect with feelings of awe this story is intended to evoke in us. We’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? We’ve heard this story countless times. And yet we are still left with a world, that despite all its amazing beauty, is full of hurt, violence and suffering. So what difference can this resurrection story make today, when people are still crucifying Love the world over?
The Resurrection story is all about the salvation of the whole world. For God so loved the world he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life”. (NRSV, John 3:16) Seen in this world-embracing context, we can understand the event of the Cross as the open-ended possibility of salvation and redemption for everyone, regardless of race, religion or even species. Even for all of Creation itself. God so loves the entire world.
One way to understand the Resurrection is as a promise kept. God keeps God’s word. Throughout scripture, God promises us that in the end, love wins. Even “if you feel like you’re finished with love, Love is not finished with you.” God can and does transform tragedy into beauty – with our help. Given an opening, no matter what the circumstances, God who is Love “will raise you up”, just as Love raised Jesus from the tomb. (Bruce Sanguin, The Advance of Love, p. 55) We are a resurrection people and God’s Love is still active in our lives.
Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and encountered the risen Jesus in the Garden. She recognized that love did not die on that Cross and she went out to proclaim this good news: He is Risen! Love cannot die!
When we are faced with heartbreak, God’s Love has the power to raise us up. When life is messy and scary and downright horrible; when tragedy strikes in its many forms, God’s Love is there lifting us up. God was with Jesus every step of the way and God was there to see him rise. With God’s love, no matter the circumstances, we too can rise.
Every year at Easter, we hear this awesome story anew and in sharing it, we offer to the World a powerful testament to the saving power of God’s Love. This morning, as we rise up and follow in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene, let’s proclaim this wondrous news for all to hear: Hallelujah! He is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Amen
Sermon on Matthew 5: 1-12 – January 29, 2017
By Rev. Caroline Penhale
You is kind, you is smart, you is important! In the film, “The Help”, these are the words of blessing that Aibeleen, a black maid in Jackson, Mississippi bestows upon Mae Mobley, the little girl in her care. Little Mae has been hurt time and again by her mother and Aibeleen wants her to have the blessing that she knows all children must have to thrive: the unconditional love and approval of an elder, a parental figure, of someone in authority over us. In the movie, when Aibellen is fired from the employ of Mae’s parents, she reminds Mae Mobley of her affirmation one last time: You is kind, you is smart, you is important!
My mother’s best friend Marie, who had a generosity of spirit about her that was infectious, blessed people in a similar way. She used to say, “T’es belle, t’es fine and je t’aime”. You are beautiful, you are good and I love you. Take a moment to remember and give thanks for those people who gave this gift to you…On a personal note, I anticipate the ways we will work together to embody those living words together for our community.
Where Christians are gathering this weekend, and if they follow the cycle of Scriptures proscribed in the Lectionary, the familiarity of this passage from the Gospel of Matthew confronts us again. So let’s ask this question: how do we understand Jesus’ context for the word “blessed”? What did he mean?
Jesus spoke Aramaic and the scribe translated the Aramaic words into Greek many decades later. The closest Greek equivalent to the Aramaic is Makarios. In English, we translate this word as happy, fortunate, or prosperous. There is another way to come at this word that I like a bit better as it gets at a deeper connotation of “blessed”. It is the word “honourable”. (David Ewart) Especially in the Ancient World’s shame and honour culture, it makes sense to me to think of blessed in this text as honoured or even honourable.
And there’s another proposed translation from the Greek that resonates with me today. It’s “unconditional love”…“Unconditional love.” Molly and I shared this with the children earlier. Unconditional love. As children of God, God blessed us all with unconditional love. Everyone. Everyone. According to David Lose,
“to be blessed feels like you have someone’s unconditional regard. It feels like you are not and will not be alone, like you will be accompanied wherever you go. Being blessed feels like you have the capacity to rise above present circumstances, … Being blessed feels like you have worth — not because of something you did or might do, but simply because of who you are, simply because you deserve it.”
(David Lose, Working Preacher, 2014)
In Grade 6, at Blessed Sacrament Elementary, I had both the privilege and terror of being taught by Sister Beatrice, a French-Canadian nun and a force to be reckoned with. Sister B, as we called her, loved teaching our religion class every morning. I learned about devotion and ritual and prayer. I was taught that God loved me, but how that love was understood in my 11-year-old brain often left me feeling guilty, or unworthy and like I had to earn God’s love and approval. I remember learning the Beatitudes and feeling that only very special people, saints perhaps, could be blessed like this. I didn’t think I stood much of a chance at being pure at heart and I had yet to experience the hard things of life that teach you about mourning. Despite this, it was then, in that classroom, that I learned that God loved me.
The Beatitudes. The structure of this passage follows a literary pattern that is also seen in the Psalms and in Wisdom literature like Proverbs. Each verse contains two sections that are joined together by the word “for”. For example, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”. In our Java Jive discussion on Thursday, we talked about whether this “for” really meant because and indicated a cause and effect relationship. If so, “for” implies “because”. Ex: Blessed are the pure in heart because they will see God.
If we go with “because” then we are saying that a person would be blessed because they were meek, or pure of heart. And the unspoken meaning would be that blessing would be withheld to those who failed to live up to this standard. That interpretation, though, rings of earning our salvation and earning God’s blessing, which is in sharp contrast to a Reform theology of Grace. It is by God’s Grace that we are saved, Paul assures us.
What then are we to make of these beatitude formulations? Many of the commentaries I consulted would remind us of how much Jesus loved to teach in reversals. In parables. In riddles. Jesus likes to turn ideas on their head and teach in such a way that people were shaken from complacency. In this early part of this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asserts that blessing with be conferred on those that society would rarely deem blessed, happy, or honourable. In this way, Jesus, is lifting up the outcast ones, the dishonourable ones, and even the ones who are persecuted for following in Jesus way and saying “See these people? See those who mourn – likely widows and orphans who have been left destitute? The impoverished in spirit? They will be blessed and theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Note that Jesus does not say that others won’t also be blessed. He is ensuring that those who would not normally get a seat at the table are invited to the banquet. Jesus is making sure that there is room for everyone in his vision of a heavenly kingdom. Catholic Liberation Theologians call this Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. “Living with a preferential option for the poor means constantly looking around and wondering who we have left out so that we can find ways to bring them in.” (Emily Kahm) Jesus makes sure that everyone is seen as worthy of God’s blessing.
Now if the unconditional love and blessing of God wasn’t good news enough, there’s more! Jesus also declares that even amidst despair, or grief, or abandonment, hatred and persecution, we are all God’s beloved and we are blessed. The Celts would call these seasons in our lives “thin places” where we draw closer to God and are keenly aware of our need of God. It is in that knowing and in the drawing close, that we feel God’s blessing more acutely. So blessed are the persecuted and reviled for they depend more on their connection to God.
As baptized folks gathered in a church congregation, we are called, as disciples, to live into Jesus’ Kingdom vision and to work for flourishing and justice for all people and for all Creation. There is a sense of calling, of possibility and of becoming in this morning’s text. For even as God loves us unconditionally and bestows upon us blessing, God also invites us to live more and more fully into the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.
And it’s messy business because we live within human systems and structures that are unjust. It is virtually impossible to be engaged in justice making and at the same time be morally pure. Those who advocate for leaving fossil fuels in the ground, for example, are often criticized for being consumers of fossil fuels. Their credibility gets called into question because they don’t “have their own house in order” when it comes to living without the benefit of fossil fuels. Or we can be told that we don’t have the credibility to participate in a march. Or we can be discouraged from speaking out about an issue because we don’t have it all together yet. And therein lies a danger: we can be silenced or paralyzed in our efforts to work for peace and justice in this world because we fear being called out for not being pure enough, consistent enough, or righteous enough.
When Jesus shared this “sermon on the mount”, he didn’t have a security scanner at the foot of the mountain so that only those who were pure enough, consistent enough, or righteous enough could hear his words. Many of those who followed Jesus were labeled not worthy by the dominant political culture. Jesus didn’t see it that way, about them, and he doesn’t see it that way about us.
Friends, trust that you are good enough. Worthy enough. Loved enough. Know that, no matter what, as a child of God, you have God’s blessing. Let that encourage you to make room at the table for those at the margins.
So what do we do with these Beatitudes today in our world? The Beatitudes call us to speak out. Let us not be paralyzed into inaction or silenced because we fear we are not good enough, or spiritual enough. What they call hypocritical, we know is just the messiness of humanity. And that messiness should not keep us quiet or passive. We are called, in all our messiness, as children of God, to strive for the coming of the kingdom of God here on earth. That is our collective work as Christian community. I know you’ve been doing this work and I so look forward to engaging in that work with Molly and with you all in our ministry together here at Orleans United Church. In all circumstances, we can be assured that we are held in God’s unconditional love. We are worthy. We are blessed. Remember this, and then hear God calling us into action and into fullness: into a time of when supreme love and justice will reign. So let us rejoice and be glad, for ours is the kingdom of God! Thanks be to God. Amen.
At Orleans United Church we seek to be a place where people of all ages, stages, backgrounds, and traditions can come together to worship God and build community.
Worship takes place on Sunday mornings at 10 am, with nursery care and programs for our children and youth offered each week. We would be delighted to have you join us.
So bring a friend, invite a neighbour, spread the word – the Spirit is alive and at work at Orleans United Church this fall and we are excited about all that God has in store for us in the year to come!