Our minister, Rev. James Murray preaches from a prepared text each week. (He says it keeps him from rambling on too long!) We are pleased to offer for your inspiration these messages. If they are cited or shared, please be sure to include credit where credit is due.
Lost and found with Jesus.Third Sunday of Easter, April 30 2017 Text: Luke 24:13-35, Psalm 116
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Dominion-Chalmers United Church.
I once had a parishioner compliment me on a sermon I had just preached. He said “You really told them how they should live their lives.” He was shocked when I said to him, “But I wrote it for you.” The words of scripture have the power to change us. But first we must admit that these words are addressed to us. That parishioner had good intentions. He thought he was a good person. But he did not think the sermon applied to him. He did not think he was part of the problem. And as a result he didn't think needed to work to be part of the solution.
I want to share with you now a video clip where the singer Bono is being interviewed. Bono is the lead singer in the band U2. Over the past forty years the band U2 have written many songs about faith and justice. Here Bono speaks about the impact of the psalms on his life and his art as a singer and a song writer.
(video- Brutally Honest https://youtu.be/8V0QiX8zJmQ )
Bono feels the psalms are where we can be brutally honest about our lives with God. In the psalms we see every emotion laid out. There is despair. Sorrow. Jealousy. Distress. Anguish. There is joy. Love. Passion. There is gratitude. There are tears. In the psalms we reach the depths of the pit of despair. We walk in valleys that are as dark as death. There is anger so vile that you want to smash the heads of babies on the rocks. When we are willing to admit that such intense emotions are part of who we are, only then can God enter in to deal with the reality of our lives. A lot of people think it is a sign of weakness to admit to such dark thoughts. They see the anger in others but fail to see their own judgemental mean spiritedness. A lot of people are afraid to share the presence of such troubling thoughts with others, and especially with God. But if we are not willing to admit this is where we are at, then how can God find us and help us.
This morning we heard one of my favourite stories in the gospels because it shows how far God will go to find us. It is the Emmaus road story from Luke. It begins on that first Easter Sunday in the afternoon.
The two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. They are going home to Emmaus. They have heard the witness of the women about the resurrection, but they do not believe it. They can't see the resurrection, even though Jesus is walking right there with them. They don't believe it is possible, so they can't hear what he is teaching them. They can only see what they believe, so they do not see Jesus. It is only when Jesus breaks bread with them that they can see it is him. They already do believe in the power of communion to connect them with God. So it is in the breaking of the bread that they finally recognize him. And in that moment, he disappears. Jesus disappears, because now they can see. Now they can see they are in the wrong place. Now they understand how they were believing the wrong information. Now they realize they are hiding in a locked room out of a sense of fear. Now they know Jesus is risen. Now they know he is with them. Now they are ready to go back to Jerusalem, because they know God has found them.
I want to share with you a second clip of Bono being interviewed about how God found him. At the beginning of the clip he speaks about his mother's death. When Bono was 14, his grandfather died. On the day of the grandfather's funeral, as they were lowering his grandfather into the grave, Bono's mother suffered a brain aneurism and she died very suddenly.Let's hear what impact that had on him.
(Video- Where Death Died https://youtu.be/y-UtNhbq7wc )
Bono sees Golgotha as the place where death died. Calvary is the place where our fear of death can die. The love of God is stronger than our fear of death.
In the beginning of the Bible, Adam and Eve are driven out of the Garden of Eden. They have broken their relationship with God. They leave the earthly paradise which is Eden. They go out in fear. They are lost.
On Easter Day, Cleopas and the un-named female disciple are also lostThey too are full of fear. They have left the heavenly city which is Jerusalem. They have broken their relationship with God’s own son Jesus. And Jesus meets them in their moment of brokenness. He heals their hearts and their faith, so they may return to the earthly paradise which is the kingdom of God.
Saint Paul tells us that Jesus reconciles all people through himself. That's what Jesus is doing for Cleopas and the female disciple in Luke's gospel. And in a symbolic way, Luke is telling us
that Jesus has even forgiven Adam and Eve. Jesus has reconciled Adam and Eve and he has brought them back to the Garden. By the resurrection of Jesus, our darkest fears can be overcome.By the resurrection of Jesus, even our fear of death can be overcome.In the resurrection we see how far God will go to find us.
When we have experienced such a love, it is then the words of Psalm 116 come to life for us.
I love God because he listened to me, God listened as I begged for mercy.
He listened so intently as I laid out my case before him.
Death stared me in the face. Hell was hard on my heels.
Up against it, I didn’t know which way to turn;
Then I called out to God for help: “Please, God!” I cried out. “Save my life!”
God is gracious—it is he who makes things right, our most compassionate God.
God takes the side of the helpless; When I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.
I said to myself, “Relax and rest. God has showered you with blessings.
Soul, you’ve been rescued from death; Eye, you’ve been rescued from tears;
And you, Foot, you were kept from stumbling.”
Now I’m striding in the presence of God, I'm alive in the land of the living!
I stayed faithful, though I was bedeviled, and despite a ton of bad luck.
Despite giving up on the human race, I was saying, “They’re all liars and cheats.”
So What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God!
Hallelujah, and Amen!
Psalm 116, from The Message by Eugene Peterson
Fuller Studios has an excellent short film where Bono and Eugene Peterson speak about the power of the psalms. It's too long to show in a worship service so we encourage you to watch it at home.
Texts- Acts 7:55-60, John 14:1-14
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, May 14 2017
On Mother's Day we come to church looking for inspirational words about what love looks like. We gather wanting to be affirmed for the hard work we have done to raise our families. We want to feel good about the life we have shared together. We come together, hoping that the love of our mothers has some how come close to the love of God. And then for some strange reason the minister stands up and reads from the book of Acts how the apostle Stephen is murdered by an angry crowd. I do confess this is not a warm and fuzzy passage for a day like today. But Stephen gets included on happy days like today because he shows us what the love of God looks like even on the worst of all possible days.
When the apostle Stephen is accused of blasphemy, he is taken before the High Priest. He is put on trial. Stephen gives a stirring defence of the gospel which enrages the ruling council. The ruling council is so offended they take Stephen outside the city gates where the crowd quickly starts to pick up their rocks. The crime of being unfaithful to God was considered so serious that death by stoning was the usual punishment. As the rocks start to fly at his head, Stephen kneels down and prays to God. His final words are “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” In the face of such violent hatred, Stephen's final words are full of forgiveness. He doesn't condemn his attackers. He is mindful of Jesus' final words from the cross. Like Jesus in his moment of agony, Stephen asks for the gift of forgiveness for those who are murdering him. Stephen shows what the love of God looks like even in the worst of all possible situations.
It's one thing to hear words spoken about what love is like. But words can be empty if they are not backed up with actions. When you show by your deeds what love is like, that is when others truly learn what you are saying. The jazz musician and teacher Victor Wooten says that a teacher can only show you something. It's up to you whether you choose to learn what they are showing or not.
Mother's Day is a celebration of the love we have received from our Mothers. We express in words and gifts our gratitude for something that was usually given without words. My grand daughter Evelyn is now 21 months old. Every day she is learning new activities. She is learning new words. So much of her learning has been because her mother Melissa has been patiently showing her these things. Little Evelyn is slowly starting to understand the words her mother is teaching her. Most of her learning has been simply copying what her mother is showing her how to do. The copying quickly becomes understanding as Evelyn learns to master these new challenges. Even though she cannot read, she knows how to turn the pages of a book, and in her own way she has learned to tell the stories that the books contain. It has been a real blessing to see the bond of love that has grown up between them. Now my son Nathan is very active in parenting as well, but there is something truly beautiful about the bond of love that is growing up between mother and daughter.
Every one of us shows what we truly believe by how we act. The way we treat strangers reveals whether we are full of fear or trust. The way we act towards people who are hurting reveals whether we are full of compassion or judgement. The way we act in uncertain times reveals whether we are full of hope or despair. The way we act reveals whether or not we understand the words our teachers have shared with us.
While we know Jesus our teacher shared with us the importance of our showing our love, we often do let fear, judgment, despair and even hate creep in to our actions. We choose our words carefully in order to hide it, but our actions do reveal our true intentions. One of the most obvious examples of this is found in expression “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” We've all heard it.
“Love the sinner but hate the sin.” We all know someone who says it. We all know someone who does it. The problem is that we are all sinners. We are all imperfect. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. None of us is perfect. But we don't use this phrase to describe ourselves. We don't use this phrase to judge our friends. This phrase is used to attack people we don't like. We use this phrase almost exclusively to show disapproval towards members of the LGBTQ community. The Christian church speaks of “the gays” in the same way we spoke of “the savages” from those old missionary stories. We treat them as less than human, the same way we treated Canada's indigenous population which we shipped off to the Residential Schools in order to tame and colonize and save them. It's a condescending kind of love that treats LGBTQ people as defective in the eyes of God. The blogger Micah Murray points out that our actions result in us turning our backs on all the gay brothers and sisters who already in our church, already following Jesus. He says “Our “us vs. them” narrative leaves little space for those who didn’t choose to be gay, but do choose to follow Jesus.” To speak of 'loving the sinner but hating the sin' doesn't work. There is no love behind it. All anyone sees is the continued hatred. As a result of this self-justified hatred, the Christian church is known today more for showing its bigotry than it is for showing its love.
This morning we shared some of the words of our teacher Jesus. He is giving us words of encouragement in uncertain times. He is saying “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You trust God, don’t you? You can trust me. There is plenty of room for all of you in God's love.” This is part of his farewell speech, where he is giving a final summing up of his message to his friends. He is telling them that the Way of life they should be pursuing is the same Way of life that he's been living with them all these years. The True meaning of life is the same Truths he's been sharing every day he's been with them. The Life that is worth living is the Life they have already been sharing. This is an important teaching Jesus is sharing.
As that music teacher Victor Wooten says, a teacher can only show you what you need to know. You have to decide whether or not you will learn what they are showing you. The disciple Phillip obviously doesn't yet understand what Jesus is saying. Phillip responds to Jesus' beautiful words about the Way, the Truth, and the Life, by simply saying “I don't get it.” Phillip says “Just show us this abba father God you keep talking about and I'll be happy.” Jesus is a very patient teacher. He reminds Phillip of all the things he has seen Jesus say and do over the years. He says if you have seen me do anything, that's what God does. If you have heard me say anything, that's what God is all about. If you have seen me in action, then you have been shown what God is like. Then Jesus tells him that there is even more to God than what they have seen in Jesus. Jesus tells them that when they trust in God's Way, people will see God at work in them. Jesus fully expects his disciples will do more to show God at work than what he has done. He fully expects us to show the Truth of what God is like in every moment of our lives. Jesus believes that when we live the Life that is worth living, God will do 'greater works than these' with us. And the greatest work we can do in Jesus' name is to love one another the way he has loved us. The greatest work we can do in Jesus' name is to love everyone the way he continues to love us all.
Micah Murray “Why I can't say love the sinner hate the sin any more.” www.huffingtonpost.com/micah-j-murray/why-i-cant-say-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-anymore_b_4521519.html
Victor Wooten “The Music Lesson” Berkley Press 2008
|Like a shepherd. |
Texts: John 10:1-10, Psalm 23
Preached by Rev. James Murray at Dominion-Chalmers United Church. May 7, 2017
On Easter Monday our family drove down to Brockville to get together with my cousin to celebrate Easter dinner together. My cousin and his wife have a sheep farm which they have been developing for a few years now. It is lambing season, and their flock is growing. They had a record 53 lambs this spring. The barn was overflowing with lambs that were only a few days old. With that many lambs being born, it makes for a lot of sleepless nights as you have to check the barn every two or three hours in case a ewe has gone into labour. As their flock has grown, so has the work. They now have two sheep dogs and a llama providing protection for the flock. My cousin has had to cut back the bush that surrounds the sheep pasture to reduce the risk of a coyote attack. When my cousin and his wife are out in the field, they often have to carry a rifle just in case the coyotes decide to visit. It's not an easy job to be a shepherd.
When most of us think of shepherds in the Bible, we often think of a quiet pastoral scene. We can just imagine experiencing the beauty of the warm day, the sunshine on our faces, the cool green grass, the quiet pond of water, the nice hiking path. It’s like we just won the lottery and we have just moved into our ultimate dream home in the country. It is a pastoral scene, a ‘happy place’ we like to visit when we are feeling down.
But there is more to this vision than just some nice scenery. The twenty third psalm was not written so we can feel good about ourselves. It is written so we may learn how hard God is working for our well being. Like a shepherd, God leads us. Like a shepherd, God protects us. Like a shepherd, God spends many a sleepless night watching over us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us a good shepherd is willing to go so far as to lay down his life for the sake of the flock. We are being invited to be part of something that is clearly much bigger than our own self interest.
And God is not just leading us to a quiet place. The good shepherd is leading us on a path of righteousness. Another word for righteousness is justice. This world only looks good and pretty when there is path of justice running through it. In an unjust world, nothing feels or looks right. In an unjust world, everything is out of balance. Without justice, without righteousness, there is no harmony or beauty in the world.
These paths of righteousness lead us right through the valley of the shadow of death. This means we can walk through the darkest days of our lives without fear. We aren’t given a free ride to the other side by God. We are lead through the valley, not away from it. Our God gives us the means to face the darkness, to endure, and to persevere. We have God’s promise that we will come out on the other side.
Then the psalm declares "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my foes." We are fed by God, but this feast is made in the presence of our enemies. We have the promise God will provide. But our troubles are not removed from sight. They are ever in view, even while we are under God’s protection. I saw a funny example of this last week when the WWE wrestler Titus O'Neil was in the news. Titus O'Neil is a former pro football player who is now a popular wrestler. O'Neil was in San Diego for a match. He met a few people who were homeless, so O'Neil decided to help them by taking them out for dinner. He spent the meal time talking with his guests about their lives. He also shared with them his story. O'Neil was raised by his mother and with the help of many others. He is open to the fact that there were times he went without due to lack of money. Apparently the restaurant was less than happy that O'Neil had brought 'those kind of people' into their establishment. O'Neil responded to their criticism the best way he knows how.
The next day O'Neil returned to the restaurant. This time he brought an even larger group of about a dozen homeless people. Together they shared a very meaningful meal together. O'Neil says “I'm not the richest man in the world, but money, fame and status have never held me bondage, because at the end of the day, I've gone without before and God has always provided for me.” O'Neil says “Now I have the opportunity to do the exact thing that others did for me when I had nothing to give them in return....LOVE OTHERS!!!”
Titus O'Neil has put his trust in the good shepherd. And that gives him the courage to care for others in their time of need. He is not blind to the problems people face. For sheep are not docile dumb beasts. Sheep are always very aware of the dangers which surround them. O'Neil says "We're all one situation away from having our lives turned upside down whether it be via health issues, a loss of a loved one or becoming homeless." O'Neil believes "We all are people that can and will deal with struggles of all sorts.” he says it is up to each of us “to bring light to the places and issues that are deemed dark." We can be that light when we are willing to share the love of God with each other in our times of need.
When the sheep do trust their shepherd, they do look for the shepherd to protect and provide. But they still keep their eyes open for danger. Their trust in the good shepherd does not blind the flock to the terrors which await them along the paths of righteousness, the paths which lead to justice in this world. These sheep are taking a risk here. This is not a case of simple blind obedience. Rather this is a daring act of placing a radical trust in God.
As Christians, we see trust in Jesus to be our good shepherd. The people of that era often used the image of the shepherd to describe what a good king should be. Jesus is our shepherd, but he is not a king. He is not the general who leads us into battle. Instead he is the healer who provides. He is the fellow sufferer who understands. The one who died for us is the one who leads us to the fullness of life. The one who refused to claim ultimate power in the world is the one who shows us how to live in this world. He protects us, by sharing in our vulnerability. He wishes to wipe away every tear from our eyes. The good shepherd doesn’t try to take his flock out of the world. Rather he desires to lead us to the waters of life which are in this world.
The Christian gospel does not ask us to be a sheep who are dumb, docile, or dutiful. Rather we are asked to be like the sheep who trust their shepherd. We are being offered a faith which can carry us through our darkest hours. We are being shown what a radical trust in God can feel like, a trust which will provide, even when we know troubles are all around us.
This trust, like the ways of the sheep with its shepherd, empowers us to live this life with meaning, purpose and courage. It helps us to live fully in the face of all the dangers, toils and snares of this life.
We can trust in Jesus Christ, for he is our good shepherd, he is always working to restore our soul. He walks with us along the paths of righteousness, the path which leads to the fullness of life which is eternal. Amen.
Text: Acts 2:14, 22-32
Preached by Rev. James Murray, April 23 2017 at Dominion-Chalmers United Church
The scriptures tell us that Saint Mary Magdalene is the first person to witness the resurrection of Jesus. She is known as the Apostle to the Apostles, because Saint Mary Magdalene is the first to share this good news. Mary and those women who travelled with her to the tomb had a very powerful life changing experience of resurrection on that first day of the new week. When they hear the news the women bring, Peter and John race to the tomb. When they find it empty, only John believes that Christ is risen. The other disciples have their Easter moment when Jesus appears later that day in the locked upper room. Cleopas and the un-named female disciple walk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They only have their Easter moment when they break bread with the risen Christ at their home. A week later, again on the first day of the new week, Thomas meets the risen Christ in that same locked room.
When Peter stands up to preach for the first time he says “This Jesus, God raised up. And every one of us here is a witness to it.” It amazes me to realize that all of the disciples are witnesses. And each of them has a different experience of the Risen Christ. In fact the Bible does not even describe for us the moment when Jesus is resurrected into new life. All the Bible gives us is the experiences of the many different disciples when each of them first experiences the presence of the risen Christ.
We are gathered here today, on the first day of this new week, and we too have gathered to share our experiences of the risen Christ. Because Easter did not just happen to Jesus 1,984 years ago. Easter started on that day so long ago. And Easter has happened every single day since then. Easter keeps on happening. Because we keep experiencing the risen Christ in our lives and when we have that moment of resurrection we join Saint Peter in becoming witnesses to this life changing event.
As human beings, all we have is our moments of experience to guide us. Each of us experiences the same event in so many different ways. Some moments of experience are fleeting. Some moments of experience stay with you for your whole life. Religious experiences offer us new insights that can often shape us for the rest of our lives.
The early disciples all had very different experiences of the Risen Christ. These experiences changed them. Their lives took very different directions after the resurrection as a result. We know that doubting Thomas travelled east through Turkey into Iraq and Iran before heading to India. Thomas founded churches along the coast of India, many of them still survive to this day.
Saint Peter first doubted when he saw empty tomb. It took till Jesus’ appearance in the upper room for his Easter moment to occur. We know Peter left Jerusalem. He started the church in Antioch Turkey. His family descendants are still there today. Peter also travelled to Corinth in Greece, and founded the church in Rome.
Saint Andrew travelled throughout Greece & Turkey. Andrew established the church in Constantinople. He also travelled into Ukraine and Poland and as far as Kiev in Russia. Saint Andrew established what we now know as the Orthodox branch of Christianity.
Saint Mark travelled with Peter to Rome. Mark then went to Alexandria in Egypt. Mark established the Coptic church which today still has close to 20 million members world wide. Saint Mark wrote a gospel for his church. He also wrote down his communion liturgy. Parts of the Liturgy of St. Mark are still in use today. I'm sure you know it very well. If I say “The Lord be with You”, your response is “And also with you.” That is from St. Mark's liturgy.
We know Saint John travelled through Turkey and he established the church in Ephesus.
Saint James travelled as far west as Spain. He died in Jerusalem, and was buried in Spain.
Saint Phillip in his brief life travelled to Samaria, even though the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. Phillip established churches in Samaria that still are worshipping even today.
Saint Matthew wrote a gospel, and he travelled south into Africa as far as Ethiopia.
Simon the Zealot travelled west through Egypt into North Africa where he shared the faith with the Berber tribes. The Koran actually has several mentions of the great work Simon did there.
And not lastly there is Saint Mary Magdalene. Along with Saint Martha the Dragon Tamer she travelled to Provence in southern France. You will find many churches in Provence are named in their honour.
Mark Weaver is a young man who learned the power the resurrection has to change our lives. Mark was raised in a Christian home. When he graduated from college, he wanted to experience the world, and to learn more about his faith. He went to Colorado and spent the winter snowboarding and volunteering with a youth ministry there. Mark then went to Cancun Mexico for spring break and he helped to rebuild some playgrounds at a local school. Then he went to California and volunteered with a surfboard ministry. While he was in Los Angeles, he went to see a taping of the popular game show “The Price is Right”. Mark was selected to be a contestant and he won the showcase. He won $58,000 in prizes including two new cars and a trip for two to Paris. Mark decided to sell the prizes and he took the money to help people w