Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sermon Feb. 18/18: A new Conscience in Christ

In Genesis, we hear about Noah’s Ark. One of the most popular biblical stories filled with the images of the great flood, the building of ark, animals and a rainbow. Overcome with the more Hollywood image of this tale, we often forget that this is a story about God making a change in His own behavior. God promises to never use divine anger as a means of punishing his divine art piece, creation, and his reflected divine image, humanity.

The God of Israel, is moved with remorseful compassion. In other words, the very thing God set out to do was to create life, not destroy it. How do we know that God was moved by this event? God created the rainbow to be a reminder to God’s self to not give into anger and destroy his creation again—the rainbow is not for us to remember, but for God to remember his side of the contract.

The first temptation we need to resist, then, is believing that God is involved in any horrific acts of violence, and terror within the world in order to punish humanity for it’s sins. As we heard, God promised otherwise. With that said, the second temptation we need to resist is believing that God does not care when horrible things happen. In God’s covenant with Noah and to humanity, God allows for humans to be responsible for their actions and their own free will, but that doesn’t mean God could care less about how we use our freedom.

God teaches us how to use our freedom as means of building peace on earth during times of trial. To teach us, God in Jesus is born as one of us and one who is in solidarity with us. Jesus takes on our life, our struggles, our emotions, and even our doubts in faith during turbulent times so that a new path can be carved for humanity to follow—it is a path that is not easy for him or us.
Proof of the latter is found in the Gospel of Mark who clearly paints a different portrait of Jesus. 

Unlike Matthew’s gospel where Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit who will protect Jesus while he is tempted in the desert, Mark’s Jesus seems to be more resistant and had to be driven out by the Holy Spirit in order to be tempted by the devil for forty days. And for some of us here, Lent might be like the Marcan Jesus, whereby, God drives us out into our own desert for forty days to confront our own temptations and our own iniquities.

When we think we can’t survive our own desert experience, we are reminded that in Jesus we have a path to follow. Jesus, in his humanity, shows us that we can survive the time of trial, and avoid the temptations in our life that do not build us up or God’s church up. Jesus entrusts to us the confidence that we can overcome the most challenging obstacles in our life and horrific events within our world.

Therefore, our Lenten journey is about developing a better conscience as we hear in Peter’s letter; but not a conscience that simply makes moral equations of what is right from wrong so that we can use this formula to judge other people’s intentions, actions and faith. What Peter is getting at is that through our baptism, we enter into a fuller and more meaningful relationship with God that is built on love and forgiveness, not hate and anger.

This relationship develops a unique conscience that awakens our hearts to examine and question how we treat God, how we treat others and how we steward God’s creation. A conscience that takes into account that unity in the church is as vast as the colors found within the rainbow, not conformity based on one dark shadow. A conscience that needles us to speak out against injustices and to defend those who can not defend themselves. A conscience that begs us to not join with the oppressors, but rather, the side of God whose path is always love and mercy. Amen.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Ash Wednesday: Treasures, Fasting, and Increasing God

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our Lenten journey of fasting, praying, and almsgiving. These acts of penance, are ways in which we can open our hearts to receive God in a more abundant way. In these acts, we experience what God gave up so that we could gain a fulfilling life both in the present day and in eternal life. In today’s gospel, however, we are sternly reminded to practice these acts of penance with humility.   

Jesus warns his disciples not to by like the hypocrites. These pretenders of the faith preformed acts of fasting, prayer and alms giving as a way to gain or to exploit something. Their repayment was getting praise and glorification from others in the community—in essence, they were about using their faith to gain great publicity.

The God in Jesus is quite the opposite. Jesus does not charge us a price for our redemption. He becomes impoverished for our sake taking on the form of a human. He knows our sufferings, pain, illnesses, and he now hungers and thirsts like a mortal. Most importantly, our God took on our sins. God in Jesus becomes in debt, in order for us to gain to an life everlasting in a love relationship with God.

We gain from Christ’s greatest loss through his death on the cursed cross. We no longer hunger or thirst for righteousness, and we are no longer slaves to sin and death. Ultimately we have gained a seat, as unworthy as we are, at the heavenly banquet in God’s Kingdom through the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

Jesus, therefore, warns us to stop storing up treasures on earth. It is not simply materialistic wealth, but an emotional wealth that binds us to emotions and attitudes that are against God’s life giving ways. It is important, then, to remember that when we are called to give something up for lent and to fast, we are not just simply giving up a thing we might enjoy. We are also giving up the emotions and attitudes that prevents us from being Christ like. It is both the object and our relationship with that thing we give up that either prevents us or helps us to see how good we really have it, and how rich our lives really are with God.

  Thus, we give the world a knowledge of Christ’s free love by decreasing our earthly treasures, our bad attitudes and our own self importance so that God can increase in our world! And in case we forget, that is why the church calls us to humbly pray, fast and preform acts of charity as our Saviour did with us and for us. Amen.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Jesus and the man with Leprosy: the Great Exchange

Over the past few Sundays in Mark’s gospel, we have heard about various miracles and healing in the context of Jesus’ ministry.  On the one hand, these miracles represent the reality of God’s kingdom being established in the authority and the person of Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, the miracles and healing administered by Jesus reveal to us the temperament of God.  And today’s gospel reveals to us God’s self-sacrificing nature in healing the man with leprosy.
Before we can understand the importance of Jesus’ healing, we need to understand how people suffered beyond their physical condition when diagnosed with leprosy.  The Israelites thought that leprosy was a punishment from God for some type of sin that one may have committed. Strict legalism of the law of Moses was enforced, and the person with leprosy was removed and isolated from the community.  The sentencing for this man’s infirmity was executed swiftly and, was unusually cruel.  
No one was allowed, including family and friends, to visit the leper, otherwise, they risked becoming unclean both physically and spiritually.  When people approached him, or likewise, he would have to yell to them that he was unclean.  His life ceased to exist.

  In a certain sense, this man’s life became the literal translation of “sin”; sin meaning a complete separation from God.  Therefore, if a person was lucky enough to be cured from their infirmity, it was considered by the Israelite people to be on the same level as raising a person from the dead.
As we heard in today’s gospel, Jesus does heal this man with leprosy.  Jesus heals his physical condition which, in turn, restored him to his community, to his loved ones, to his work, and to worship.  This man literally gets his life back.    

In the bigger picture, the God in Jesus takes this man’s place in his uncleanness, in his sufferings and in his sins.  In a unique way Jesus exchanges place with this man so that he could live again.  In this great exchange, it clearly shows something different about God that was not previously understood by God's chosen people.  

Jesus reveals that God is not interested punishing humanity for their sins.  Rather, God takes on our exile, our desperation and our imperfections so that we can fully live.  Proof of the latter is when Jesus touches the unclean man.  Christ takes on what this man feared the most: a lonely existence; the finality of death because of sin; and being left without the opportunity to really live in freedom.    
The disclaimer is that God gives us the freedom to make a choice to ask for forgiveness and mercy.  If we do ask Jesus for help, it is evident that God will do the heavy lifting.  Jesus will take our place, even our iniquities, in order to bring us back into his sheepfold, not away from it.

As a result, we have much to be thankful for.   Our God who in infinite wisdom, mercy and sacrifice has won for us inclusion within the body of Christ no matter our faults, illnesses, or sins.  Amen.

By Rev. Billy Isenor
Last Sunday in Epiphany