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wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Re-posted Sermon

by Pastor Joel

Holy Trinity

May 30, 2021


Isaiah 6:1-8

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

In Nova Scotia, my home province, the wind sets the direction of our sails, both literally and metaphorically. When you are sailing, you use the wind to your best advantage by the position of your mainsail and your jib. A good wind carries us to shore; a vanishing wind leaves us floating directionless. News comes on the wind, the saying goes, both good and bad. An old story tells of the mothers and sisters picking blueberries on the hills above Lunenburg; when a strong wind would come up, they would pray for the safe return of their husbands, brothers, and sons caught out at sea. The wind brings death – in hurricanes that sink ships and flood shores. And it brings life, by spreading nature’s bounty. It blows away the fog and brings clarity. We cannot change the wind; we can only try to adapt to its direction and harness its power.

Yet the wind is invisible; we cannot see it – we can only see the change that it brings. The waves building on th3e sea. Leaves rustling. Fog lifting.

The wind is invisible, and yet it touches everything in its path. It is a power for change.

As our gospel says: The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

Jesus is offering us a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, this aspect of God which we can never truly understand. The original text used the Greek word “pneuma” – which means either wind or Spirit. And in the gospel, Jesus seeks to differentiate the Spirit from the Flesh. The spirit exists outside our earthly needs, our human wants and desires. It cannot be contained by us or controlled; and yet we may adapt to its direction and harness its power. It lifts the fog and brings clarity. We cannot see the Spirit; we can see only the difference it makes.

Jesus is also giving us a metaphor for how we view our lives and the way we interact with our environment. We have our flesh, which includes the physical side of it: our basic needs – food, water, housing. It also includes our wants: the material items we desire, the personal recognition we seek. Our wants may get out of control, driven by greed and envy and power and selfishness. We struggle to keep those wants in check.

The Spirit, however, brings meaning and purpose to life. It’s described in our gospel as an invisible force that we can hear but never fully understand. The wind never bends one tree just like another: it touches everything in its own unique way. And when the wind changes, those same trees bend with it in an equally unique way. So it is with us – we are, each of us, uniquely bent and moved by the Spirit. And from one day to the next, how we experience the Spirit may also change.

So how do we truly hear the sound of this invisible wind of God in a way that matters? We know what happens when the wind blows too hard against a rigid thing: it doesn’t bend, it breaks. To harness the wind, we must move in its direction rather than try to change its course.

And so what Jesus is telling Nicodemus, in answer to all his questions, is that the key to harnessing the Spirit, is openness. If we think we have all the answers, we cannot bend. If we sit in judgement of others, we cannot move in the direction the wind wants to take us. If we cannot be freed up to hear the word of God, we cannot harness the power of the wind.

I think we forget this mystery of God sometimes, perhaps especially right now, when we are so focused on rules and regulations and how to get out of this pandemic. We want to know what will happen to our community, to our families, to our churches. We want to solve the problems we face – and so we have meetings and memos and emails and brainstorming sessions. And yet, where is God in all those meetings? Where is Jesus in our plotting? Where is the Spirit in our brainstorming? We so desperately want to control the future, to know the future, that we close ourselves off to the spirit. We want control, and so we don’t bend to the wind.

And yet, Jesus says, we do not know where it comes from, or where it goes. In other words, we must be patient. We must accede control. We stop plotting every point on the path. We must wait for the wind to take us where we need to go.

My wife can tell you that one of my favourite sayings is: “Everything always works out.” Much like it did for my mother, who was equally perturbed by my use of this phrase, I think it both frustrates Erin and soothes her. But it is not naïve; I am not being the fool when I say this. I have experienced and seen enough in this world to know that things do work out. Not the way I had thought. Not always the way I had planned. But I wake up one day and realize that life has set me a new course. I realize that the wind has bent and moved me, and it will be okay.

That takes faith. It takes patience. It requires that we accept a mystery that we cannot solve; a riddle we cannot answer. We just know that the wind – the Spirit - is with us. We cannot know from which direction it comes, or where it goes – although we do know who sends it. We must wait, and listen, and be open to where it may take us. Amen

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Pastor Joel

Day of Pentecost

May 19, 2024


Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:22-27

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

An opening crawl is played on the monitors at church with the following words to the Star Wars theme song: About 14 years ago in a font not so far away six human babies were taken against their will by parents and sponsors and cold water was poured over their heads. Some of them screamed. Some of them slept through the whole event. Some of them just looked up with wonder. Over the years they came to understand what had happened to them. Their understanding grew as they approached the age of reason. During the last two years they have spent significant time together learning about the love of God and serving their neighbours in need. And today Thomas, Delphine, Liam, Kaiden, Elisabeth, and Thomas #2 come forward in community to say yes to their baptism. Today is the confirmation of their faith.

It’s been 47 years since the movie came out – I was only eight years old – but I remember the cultural phenomenon that Star Wars became, from the moment those words appeared on the screen, and a starship soared over our heads. It seems, perhaps, a sign of the frivolous nature of our society that a science fiction movie can have become so ever present, ingrained even into our language.

But Star Wars, aside from being a marvel in special effects, arrived on the big screen in the wake of a terrible war, and a political scandal, and at the end of a decade where too many seemed to have lost direction. In that void the story of a hero and his disciples, and of an all-powerful, life-giving force equally inspired kids and their parents. Certainly, it continues to fire up the imagination of most of the 8-year-olds I know today – who can describe all the characters, even if they haven’t seen the movies.

This is the power of myth; it gives us a story around which to shape our belief system. Star Wars swirls into our myths because it contains the archetypes of our cultural beliefs – and in not-very-subtle ways – our religious faith. We have the boy hero, Luke Skywalker who must take on great responsibility, and lead a motley band of followers to shape a new world. We have the disciple, Han Solo, who comes to believe. We have sacrifice, and faith. Guiding it all, we have an unseen powerful force, in which the characters must choose freely to believe.

Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Sometimes, Christians might get a little frustrated – the images of the Bible, that first story of Jesus – are so often lifted into popular culture, that it might seem the message is being twisted and diluted. But in fact, the responsibility is ours – to make the link back, to use the myth as a way to build onto our understanding, to develop our relationship to the original truth upon which every story since has been built.

This is the lesson of Pentecost – the freeing message of this Sunday. In our first lesson, the disciples are all together, when suddenly a violent wind fills the entire house, and tongues of fire appear above each of their heads. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” And the crowd that gathered became bewildered because they could understand the disciples as they spoke of the deeds of God in their own languages.

This lesson of Pentecost went unheard for many centuries in the Christian church, when the Bible was only printed and spoken in a language that most of the common people could not understand. But Martin Luther, of course, understood that God had always meant for the message to be heard in a way that people could hear it for themselves, to take it into their own hearts: and so the Bible was translated into German – and since then into just about every language on earth.

Pentecost teaches us that the message of God can be heard in many different ways, and from endless angles of life. One could even make the connection with a TV show like Jack Ryan or Liam’s favorite Bridgerton. We often make the mistake of confining that message of God to speech – but of course, the power of faith and belief reaches out from our art, and our music (except for Taylor Swift), our literature and our movies. The more times we find God in the images around us, the better, stronger and more complete becomes our relationship to God. Our most powerful myths inform our most primary truth.

This is our role as Christians – and our life’s assignment, to remember to look for God – and to be freed up enough to see God – beyond one hour a week when we come to church and God stands so clearly before us – in what we say, and sing, and in holy communion. It is what we need to do especially, when our faith begins to wander, and life throws us in so many directions that we forget where we are going and why.

For in the end, our myths, which inform our cultures, also serve as a mirror for each one of us: we want to see a bit of ourselves in Luke Skywalker. And taken one step further, the most fundamental, we need to know that Jesus resides in each one of us; as we are promised in the Gospel this morning, with the Holy Spirit: “You know him,” the gospel says, “because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

This is my message to you on this day of your confirmation, Thomas, Delphine, Liam, Kaiden, and Elisabeth– a message we all need to remember. Look for God; and feel confident enough to see God in those untraditional spaces, where sometimes God may seem to speak to us most clearly, and with the most passion.

If you do this, I guarantee your life will be better. It may not always be easy but in those more challenging moments there will be a guiding force beyond your comprehension that loves you without reservation. Trust it. May that force be with you both. Amen

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Pastor Joel

Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 12, 2024


Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19

It was an early summer afternoon. The colours of new growth had not yet been faded by the long, summer heat. I was about 5 years old, lying down in the front yard of the parsonage on Convey Crescent in Brockville, staring up at the thin wispy clouds against a perfectly blue canvas. After a little while, my mother came out. Without saying a word, she joined me. I broke the silence with a question: Do you think that’s God’s hair? I asked her. And she carefully responded: “You know, I really thought about it that way.”

This is my seventh Mother’s Day without my mother. I cannot bring her flowers or treat her to brunch at the Chateau Laurier. I won’t see her again enjoying the company of my wife and boys. There are no more coffee talks.

I know many of you have also experienced this loss. There are some memories that are so bright and sharp they stay with you even as years should fade them. Often, they aren’t even the most important moments – my mother and I had many far more consequential conversations about faith and God and my thoughts on the clouds in the sky. I expect that most everyone in this room has their own memories of motherly influences in their lives that have guided them in some way, not by imparting knowledge as much as by allowing them, in time, to find their own wisdom. Sometimes that wisdom comes when they are right next to us. And at other times when they are no longer with us in the same way.

When I hear those first lines in the psalm, I think of my mother, who was never one to be caught sitting down, and who tried to teach the three lessons that appear in that first stanza. “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful.” Aren’t those the lessons we often learn from the people who love us, and those who mother us: to be careful about which opinions guide our life choices. My mother was not always successful in following her own lessons, just as I was not perfect in listening to them. This is also a fundamental truth we learn and come to accept, just as I let go of the illusion that clouds are God’s hair. But, thankfully, perfection is not required with either the imparting of lessons, or the following of them.

In our gospel this morning, we are presented with a prayer delivered by Jesus on our behalf on the evening of his death. And what strikes me most about his prayer, on this particular week and day, is how easily it might have been delivered by a mother, or a father, or anyone who has cared and tended for another and now must leave them.

Jesus prays: “Dear God, I have cared for them. I have loved them. I have taught them. I protected them in your name. I have done my best. And now they must move on, and I must move on. And on their behalf, I ask that you care for them and protect them, from the harshness of the world.”

What is that but the prayer of a parent? In this most precious moment, Jesus speaks, not as a friend, or a brother, to the disciples, but as a mother figure, who has given birth to this faith, and these followers, and now must set them on their own path.

It is a powerful image, because we do not often cast Jesus in the role of mother. He is a man - how would that fit? Our mother images have traditionally been female and marked by sacrifice. The most significant mother figure in the Gospel is Mary, of course, who became pregnant as a teenager, and followed her son on his journey to the cross.

Tradition has both elevated and diminished Mary at the same time – elevating her purity, her dutifulness, her acceptance - at the cost to the fullness of her contributions, as teacher, hero, and justice fighter. Jesus, in this gospel, expands on the image of a mother with this prayer – as one who protects from danger, who instructs in the way of the world, whose creating power is far beyond biology, and who, when being forced to leave, tries one last time to make the path easier for those so well loved. And it leads us to an image of the mother that is not constrained – by gender, by tradition, by expectation.

My mother, especially later in her life, came to be aware of the ways that being a mother had both presented opportunities and limited them – just as it continues to do for many women today. She struggled with that, much as she loved those moments lying on the grass with her sons. Motherhood is not just about being a mom; it is also a role with political, social, and cultural expectations, ones we now increasingly challenge. There is more than one way to protect, to teach, to be life-giving. And there are many kinds of people who can bring us those mothering gifts.

Think of Jesus, the mother, for a moment. Indeed, what is interesting about Jesus, is how much of his power comes from the traits that many still see as feminine – his gentleness, his patience, his willingness to listen, his humility, his warmth. Jesus walked in a time where men ruled, and women came second, and yet where he most succeeded was in his mothering moments – when he defied a notion of men that required force, and aggression and physical strength.

I said, at the beginning, that I can no longer have coffee talks with my mother. But that is not entirely true. I still, with coffee in hand, hear my mother speak to me. Her advice comes to me when I need it most, and sometimes when I would rather not hear it – true now as ever. I try to listen, even so. I do not want her voice to go silent. My looking for her keeps her alive.

So, let us think, today, of our mothers, in all their fullness; fearless, perhaps, but also fallible. And of all the people - women, and men – who have been mothering influences in our lives. If we value those traits, because we identify them by the person who first created us, then they do not belong to one gender, one role, one kind of person. They are meant for all of us to cultivate.

I will remember that day in the clouds with my mother. How she let me live with my little fantasy about the hair of God. And let me find my own way. Just as Jesus prayed for the disciples – whom he had created, and raised, and taught, and protected – that even after he had left them, they would know love. Amen

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