In the mess, part 3…

So, I was feeling a little bit like continuing this “in the mess” series of posts might be a cop-out. Like I just wasn’t creative enough to come up with something new.

But then I came across this on my Facebook feed:

And this…

And this…

And I began to feel that God was nudging me to continue thinking about finding Him in the midst of the mess, about how being honest about things feeling like a mess actually honours God (rather than pretending to be ok and have it all together), about how God takes our mess and makes something beautiful out of it.

So you know what? Sure, things are a bit messy right now. But God is here – with me in the thick of it, giving me courage to keep on going, turning the tough moments into beautiful things. Praise God!

This Advent, may you honour God with your honesty. May you be kind and patient with your fellow messy human beings. May you trust that God is making beautiful things out of the tough things. May you be blessed, and may you be a blessing.

In the mess, part 2…

In my last post I said that my beginning to Advent was a bit of a mess. Some years are like that. Some years, Advent comes and everything just seems to fall into place perfectly. But some years, things are just a bit out of step, discordant, and I feel like I’m chasing advent instead of experiencing it. Chasing it as it slips away from me – my hand out-stretched, and yet the season remains just beyond my fingertips.

This year is shaping up to be like that. It’s not that anything huge has gone wrong – it’s just that things are slightly out-of-time.

There have already been beautiful moments to celebrate: a great evening at the church during which we ate, decorated and sang carols; a quiet dinner with friends during which we had time to relax and share memories; a project that came out better than I could have hoped.

And yet….and yet, there are other things that just haven’t come together: I’m still trying to finish my own decorating at home (every day I think, “today’s the day!” And every day, the time gets away from me again); this is only the second blog I’ve written (I’d hoped to be at three or four published so far); I joined a group who are doing a devotional during the season and I have yet to begin the readings.

Some things are just – off.

And that’s got me thinking some more about how the Messiah comes in that midst of our mess. How Christmas comes whether or not we get all the things done that we hoped to get done.

I’m thinking of that glorious ending to Dr. Suess’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”:

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small
Was singing without any presents at all!

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

And that is the hope that keeps me grounded in the messiness of a season that isn’t quite coming together: that this season isn’t about getting all the things done perfectly. This season is about God’s incomparable grace!

Grace that meets us in the midst of our mess, in the midst of our brokenness, and makes us a new creation.

This Advent, may you know THAT grace in a deep and personal and healing and hopeful way.

In the mess…

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Sometimes everything falls apart and is a mess. That’s the sort of beginning that this Advent Season has had for me. In the last week alone, I’ve come down with a cold, my father has had surgery, and today – the first Sunday of Advent – was marked by a storm that brought freezing rain, ice pellets and snow to the area. Because of the ‘perfect storm’ of these events, my brother and I were not able to make the trip out to Belleville to celebrate my Mother’s birthday today.

And because of the realities of this season, I won’t get to celebrate Mom’s birthday with her until the end of the month.

Sometimes life is just like that: we make good plans, but other factors get in the way and mess it all up.

On the one hand, I don’t mind admitting to you that I’m frustrated and bummed out to have the beginning of the season messed up like this. On the other hand – I am reminded that our world has not been a perfect one for a very, very long time now. And yet – God hasn’t given up on us. It was into our messy, imperfect, dark world that Jesus was first promised, and then born. The messiah comes into our mess. He meets us here, as imperfect and messy and dark as we are, and he becomes the light that shows us the way.

This is the hope we have in Jesus.

This Advent, may you arise and shine, for your light has come. May you know that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness CANNOT put it out. May you be filled with light, even when the days are dark. May you know that Jesus is the source of that light and His kingdom is everlasting. Amen.

Resurrection!

Easter Sunday begins early in these parts. The ministerial gets together to lead a Sonrise Service – a tradition that goes back 50 years, as of this morning.

We awake in the dark and make our various ways up to the top of Centennial Hill in Etobicoke. At the moment of the official sunrise, we begin the service – with readings, hymns and responses, we remember that our Lord lives. And the idea that that which binds us together is eminently stronger than that which separates us, is embodied in our shared worship.

It was a soggy morning on the hill, this morning (so much rain yesterday!!), but it was also so much warmer than last year. There was just the faintest touch of sunrise amidst the clouds at the horizon, but the light of Christ shone in our hearts and showed on the faces of those who gathered.

At 10:30am, at Graceview, we gathered for a joyful resurrection service. The hymns, the scriptures, the chocolate eggs hidden among the pews, the prayers and the joyful presence of faithful followers of Jesus combined for a wonderful, uplifting service (if I do say so myself!).

I cannot imagine what my life would be without my faith. I’m not going to tell you that life is always perfect and I easy – I struggle with difficult days just as much as anyone else. But the joy and certainty I have found in Jesus, the love that he showed by laying down his life for me, the reminder that because He lives, I too shall live… these things are beyond precious to me, and they give me the strength to face the bad days with the hope of better days to come.

My prayer is that you, too, would celebrate this day. That you would know that you are loved more than you could ever know, by someone who died to know you. And that the light of that love would shine, even on your darkest days.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Happy Easter, and God bless you!

Silent Saturday…

As hard as Good Friday is, the Saturday of that first Holy Week was harder. The disciples were in hiding. Their rabbi was dead. Everything they had worked for in the previous years a seemed to have crumbled to dust.

If they could remember, Jesus had told them that this would happen. That he would die, and then rise again. But even though they had seen him work miracles, even though Peter had declared him Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the trauma of his suffering and death was too much. They were overwhelmed and in despair.

They didn’t know the end of the story, the way that you and I do. They didn’t know that in a few short days, he would once again be having breakfast with them on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

We call it Silent Saturday because the scriptures don’t say anything about what happened on the Saturday. All we can do is imagine, and infer from what the Scriptures tell us about the Sunday.

For me, this Saturday has been far from silent. I have spent most of it in solitude (with my dog, whose quiet companionship is always a blessing), preparing for tomorrow’s Easter services. But I have noticed how the world was full of sound. It poured rain for most of the day, and the sound of tired hissing over wet pavement was constant. Around 5pm the rain stopped and we got a little bit of sunshine. Koski and I went for a short walk, and I heard the call of birds, something that always seems louder in springtime. I have noticed how the world is hoeing green again, and people are coming out of their winter hibernation.

The earth is coming back to life. And it is almost time for us to celebrate our risen Lord.

Forgiven.

I fell asleep before I could get a blog written for Maundy Thursday. But that is ok. At Graceview we observe Maundy Thursday – the night of the Last Supper – and Good Friday in the same service.

We read through the entire narrative, beginning with the Last Supper and continuing until Jesus breathes his last. We take communion by intimation and at the end of the sermon, everyone gets up and comes to the cross. Last year we placed cards at the foot of the cross. This year, we brought crosses made from the palm branches we had waved on Palm Sunday.

We remembered that we are to weep for the disease of sin that made it necessary for Jesus to sacrifice himself to save us. Jesus is the remedy for our sin. Though his suffering tears at our hearts, we cannot regret what He did for us. We can only regret what we’ve done.

By his winds we are healed. Through his death we are given new and eternal life. Because he bore our sins in his body on the cross, we are forgiven.

Thanks be to Jesus. Thanks be to God.

Authentic…

Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
‭‭Luke‬ ‭21:37-38‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

In the last days of his life, Jesus could be found teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem.

This seems like a mundane detail. Something we might easily overlook as we read the scriptures. But it’s important.

It’s important because when one takes a trip to Israel, you can go to the site of the Temple. And there you can stand upon the Southern Steps, which were the only way in and the only way out of the Temple for the masses. Often, Rabbis would gather on the Steps with their students, to teach them about how to live the good life – in faithful obedience to God.

The fact that the Scriptures place Jesus at the Temple (more than once in his life), means that we can be certain he was on those steps. We know he was there, right there. And that makes the Temple Steps one of my favorite places in Jerusalem. A place where I have twice laid my hand alongside my parents’ hands – touching the place where Jesus was. This past year, I laid my hand on those steps with a number of my congregants from Graceview. It is a powerful place.

But this is also an important part of the Scripture because it makes the point that Jesus wasn’t hiding out during his last week. He was aware of the plotting against his life. But he lived boldly, knowing it would cost him everything.

My friend, the Rev. Jacqui Foxall posted this on Facebook today:

That was the thing about Jesus – he was authentic. He knew what God was asking of him, and though he might have wanted to – he never wavered from that purpose.

It cost him everything, but it also secured salvation for countless followers throughout the ages. Amen, and amen.

My parents and I with our hands on the Temple Steps in 2017:

My faithful group of Graceview pilgrims, laying their hands on the Temple Steps with me, this past February:

Righteous anger…

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.

He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”

Matthew‬ ‭21:12-13‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

This is what happened on the Monday of Holy Week. It’s a passage that often troubles Christians. Jesus seems angry and passionate. We prefer him meek, mild, gentle and calm.

All my life I’d heard this passage used to explain why we shouldn’t sell things at church. And that bothered me, because often the things being sold benefited the church itself or other charities.

I was glad when I read Bruxy Cavey’s book, The End of Religion. Bruxy explained that this wasn’t about whether or not one could sell things to raise funds for those in need. He explained that the money changers and those selling the doves had a bit of a racket going on – the Jewish people would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple. As part of their worship they would make a sacrifice – a dove or another animal. They could, of course, bring their own dove from home. But those selling the doves had a deal with the Temple priests. The priests would reject the dove brought from home, saying that the dove had a blemish and therefore was not fit for sacrifice in the Temple. Then the pilgrim would have to go outside and buy a new dove – at a premium, of course. And in order to buy the dove, they would have to exchange their money at the money-changers tables…at a higher exchange rate, of course. (The priests would get a kick-back from the profits made by charging premiums.) Often the premiums charged by the money-changers and the dove-sellers meant that the pilgrim could not afford the dove and they would have to chose not to worship.

The point, Bruxy explained, was that people who faithfully sought to worship God were turned away – simply because they were not rich enough to play the game.

If you want to see God angry, stop someone from being able to worship him.

This makes sense to me – I can understand Jesus getting angry and passionate about a system that callously makes it harder (and in many cases impossible) for people to be in relationship with God. I can understand him saying that the money-changers and dove-sellers were turning the house of prayer into a den of robbers. They were robbing the people (especially the poorest of the people) of their chance to enter the house of prayer.

It would be akin to charging a rental rate on the pews in our sanctuaries on Sunday morning. And turning those away who couldn’t pay.

God has always been for the alien, the outcast and the widow – those who, just by being who they are, have a hard time belonging and making a way in this world. God has always been against power structures that victimize the poor. And even more so, when those power structures are found in places that are meant to be houses of prayer.

Jesus has always been about bringing people to God. Jesus is always clearing the path, making a way, removing the barriers between us and God.

My prayer this Holy Monday is that churches would be places where the barriers to worship are removed. Places where all people can come into God’s presence, and experience the liberating power of his passionate Son.

Palm Sunday…

“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!””
Matthew‬ ‭21:8-9‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

Today is Palm Sunday. Holy Week – the final week of Jesus’ life – begins with his entry into Jerusalem. He rides on a donkey and the crowds go wild. They lay their cloaks and palm branches on the ground so that not even the hooves of the donkey on which he rides, touch the dirt of the ground.

The cheer, and wave palm branches and celebrate his coming to the city.

Every year, as we observe an celebrate all the things that take place during these final days of his life, I find myself gripped by something. Some part of the story, or some thought from a theologian about what it all means, or some song lyric that cuts through to the heart of these events. I get a little obsessed. And that’s probably not a bad thing, because that obsession is the thing that carries me through all of the work that this week means for a minister.

This year, it’s the thought that “Hosanna” is a shout of praise, but also an expression that means, “save us.”

Save us.

I don’t know if the people who were in the crowd really understood what they were doing. But I am fascinated and moved by the thought that simply drawing close to Jesus causes people to spontaneously cry for salvation.

Maybe that is what Worship is all about. Maybe every time we worship – whether or not we can fully articulate it – we are expressing our brokenness and crying out for His healing. Maybe the natural state of the human soul is one of crying out to God, recognizing that we are in need of Salvation, and Jesus is the only One who can give it.

Hosanna!

Hosanna in the Highest!