Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, June 25, 2017. Baptism Sermon: We Are Named

baptism

Sunday June 25, 2017 Psalm 139, Mark 1: 1 – 11

Baptism Sermon: We Are Named

Thus says the Lord, he who created you… I have called you by name, you are mine,” Isaiah 43: 1.

Jesus our Good Shepherd says: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out,” John 10: 3.

This morning we have named a child in the sacrament of baptism. We celebrate the continuity of family, and we are proud to be part of a successive line of people related to each other. We celebrate that the inherent make-up of our very persons continues in the legacy of our children, and that families are bonded and united in the growth of their offspring. Often naming a child reflects its family’s history and heritage. Madeleine’s middle name Alejandra is the name of her mother, and so this name will continue throughout the decades of Madeleine’s life and hopefully be passed on to future generations.

Name-calling can follow popular trends or have unusual connections. Names once used exclusively for boys are now used for girls, and vice versa: Blair, Morgan, Jamie, Jordan. Parents name their children after cars, constellations, rock bands, almost anything – and the more unusual and unique, the better, parents often think! Just a few years ago, one young mother told me in Tim Horten’s right here in Stratford that her baby daughter was named “Pandora” after a vampire from a television show – it was her husband’s favourite show, she told me.

When my son David was born in a small hospital in Wales, Great Britain many years ago, a new mom like myself told me that she was naming her son “Alias.” I asked her: “Did she mean the name ‘Elias,’ an old biblical name? No, she said, she was calling her son “Alias.” I wondered if she knew the meaning of that word? “Alias” means an assumed name or false identity. Sometimes children are saddled with names which doom them for the rest of their lives. A current church minister named “Sandy” has the surname “Kloss.” Sandy Kloss. I knew a school principal with the surname “Christmas” – I hope he didn’t name a daughter “Mary!”

The Puritans were very religious people as you know, and they apparently had the habit of giving their children names which described scripture or their Christian beliefs: for instance, a child named “Zeal-of-the-Lord!” “Wholesome Tribulation!” There is a story, reportedly true, that a father named “Praise-God” with the surname Barebones, called his son: “If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-wouldst-have–been-damned!” With the surname “Barebones” added on the end. This name was regularly shortened to “Damned Barebones!”

The aboriginal native peoples give their children names which speak of the spirits in nature, or characteristics which the children possess, e.g. the Ojibwa name “Niimi” means he/she is dancing, the name “Myeengun” means little wolf, “Namid” means star dancing, and the name “Waatese” means there is lightning.

As well as our given birth names, we can get nicknames: Shorty, Stretch, initials for names, shortened surnames like “Fletch” for Fletcher or “Hutch” for Hutchison, my maiden name. In Mark 3: 17, Jesus calls his two disciples James and John “Sons of Thunder.” Jesus nicknaming his disciples? I wonder what other names he had for them? And “Sons of Thunder?” What did that imply? Loud and noisy? Quick-tempered? Jesus calls Simon “Peter,” indicating that Peter (“Petros”) was a rock (“petra”) for his church (Matt. 16: 18). In New Testament times, Jesus was a common name, as well as Judas. But these names are not commonly used today, as Jesus seems too sacred a name to give, and Judas a name too terrible.

Our scripture readings tell us that God names us, as well as Jesus: “I have called you by name,” says God in Isaiah 43: 1. Jesus says that he “calls his own sheep by name,” John 10: 3. What names have they given us? If we had a nickname, I wonder what it would be? In the same way that our parents name us with family heritage in mind, does God name us with God’s family heritage in mind? We inherit from our earthly parents the DNA, chromosomes, genes, and all that makes us biologically who we are, but we are also God’s children, and as part of God’s family, we are gifted by God spiritually – we inherit spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts are listed for us in our scriptures – mainly in Romans and 1 Corinthians chapters 12 – among them, the gifts of cheerfulness, generosity, wisdom, among many others. When God looks at us, God sees the gifts God has implanted within each of us, and the potential to grow into the person, the very BEST person, God fully intends us to be. God sees the unique biological and spiritual potential built within each of us. Does the name God gives us reflect that?

I like to think that it does. If God blesses us with a name, it would be one that best describes us as God sees us and takes delight in us. Perhaps we are given our “divine” name at our earthly birth. And in the same way that a nickname can be quite different from our parental given name, if God has a nickname for us, what would that be? Would it deviate much from God’s divine name for us? Would it reflect our earthly characteristics? What would Jesus call us? Son or Daughter of Thunder? Oh, oh, watch your temper…

In holy baptism, we recognize our spiritual connection with God and we celebrate that we are the children of God. In the same way that God called Jesus “His beloved” at Jesus’ baptism, God calls us beloved, too. In baptism, we are welcomed spiritually into the broader family of God – the family of Christ. Romans 8: 16, 17: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” With the name “Christian,” we all have a name which we all share – we are Christ’s man, Christ’s woman, Christ’s boy, Christ’s girl – we all have the name of the person called Jesus the Christ. As Christians, we are named after him.

In baptism, we enter into something greater than ourselves. We are participants in an experience, an encounter, an event greater than our imaginations can ever conceive. Baptism reflects the mysterious, intimate and loving relationship we have with God our Parent, Jesus God’s Son, and God’s Holy Spirit. We are claimed to be a child of God, named by God, and called by God. And for this divine connection, we say: Thanks be to God! Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, June 18, 2017. Sermon: The Prodigal Son – a Modern Rendition

prodigal son

Father’s Day Sunday, June 18, 2017 Luke 15: 11 – 32

Sermon: The Prodigal Son – a Modern Rendition

Song: Nobody Likes Me (everybody sings)

Once upon a time, there was a dad with two sons. The younger son said to the dad one day: “Give me now what you’re going to give me when you die!” So the dad did, and the son left home. The dad was sad and dejected, and every day after his son left, the dad could be heard singing:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,

Guess I’ll go outside and eat some worms,

Long, thin, slimy ones,

Short, fat, juicy ones,

Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms.

For his part, the younger son had a great time for a short while, but then things started to go wrong. He ran out of money, there was a famine, he had to take a terrible job, and he ended up near to starvation. Then it was his turn to sing:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,

Guess I’ll go outside and eat some worms,

Long, thin, slimy ones,

Short, fat, juicy ones,

Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms.

Soon the son got sick of singing this song to himself. He thought, “Well shoot, even the guys who work for my dad do better than I’m doing now. I’m going to go see dad and sing this song, and maybe dad will feel sorry for me and let me come back and work for him.” So, as the son got closer to home, coming down the lane, he started to sing in a loud voice:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,

Guess I’ll go outside and eat some worms,

Long, thin, slimy ones,

Short, fat, juicy ones,

Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms.

But even before the son finished the last line, his dad came tearing out of the house and grabbed him in a great big bear-hug. The dad began to sing:

I really love you, I will always love you,

Please don’t stay outside and eat some worms,

No long slimy ones,

No fat juicy ones,

No more fuzzy, wuzzy worms for you!

And the next thing you know, the father and son were singing and dancing and they went inside the house where the dad organized a feast to celebrate! And there were no worms on that menu, I can tell you! Just about that time, the older son was coming back from a hard day of work in his father’s fields. He heard music playing as he got closer to the house, and when he came up on the porch, he asked a servant what was going on. When he was told that his younger brother was back and there was a feast going on in the house, he could hardly believe his ears! “My younger brother? Who ran away? All this music and food is for him? You’re kidding!” And the older brother thought: “Dad loves him better than me!” He stayed outside the house and started to sing:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,

Guess I’ll go outside and eat some worms,

Long, thin, slimy ones,

Short, fat, juicy ones,

Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms.

Nothing anyone said could make the older brother come into the house and join the party. Finally, his dad couldn’t stand it anymore and he came out to try to get his older son to come inside. But before the dad could say a word, the older son said, “Dad, are you crazy? I’m the good son! I’m the one you should love! I’m the one you should be throwing a party for! How can you throw a feast for my younger brother who treated you like he did, dad?” And the older son started to sing: Nobody likes him, everybody hates him… But before the son could sing any more, the sad look on his father’s face made him stop. Dad said: “Son, this is the day your little brother decided to stop eating worms. Of course we had to throw a party!” And the dad started to sing to his older son:

I really love you! I will always love you!

All that is mine belongs to you!

The good and the broken ones,

The hurt and the wholesome ones,

Everything I have belongs to you!

So,” the dad said, “why not put away those worms and come inside and have a steak with us instead?” And I bet you want to know how the story ends, right? Well, we don’t know! Jesus never said. Cause the story is for us today, too. The end of the story depends on us – what do we do? Jesus says to us:

I really love you! I will always love you!

All that is mine belongs to you!

The good and the broken ones,

The hurt and the wholesome ones,

Everything I have belongs to you!

We are meant to take care of others the way Jesus takes care of others and us. He loves us all! We all come to the banquet of God’s love!

(The Gathering, Pentecost 1 2013, Leslie Clark, Niverville, Manitoba.)

In our parable, God is the Father, and God chooses to judge. God sees the good and the bad within each of us. God sees our potential as only God can. And in God’s mercy, we are forgiven unconditionally. God doesn’t hold grudges! We do.

We are like the older brother in the story. “It isn’t fair,” we cry. We get jealous. We get disappointed. We become resentful. We remember hurts and hold it against others. We become critical. We judge. We eat worms.

In the same way that the very thought of eating worms causes a negative reaction within ourselves, so do the resentful, hurtful feelings and attitudes we harbour within ourselves: they cause a negative reaction and they’re harmful. Let God judge others. Let our judgments go, as difficult as it may seem. When we “show mercy” to others, it means to forgive them even when we think they don’t deserve it. Show mercy! Let our judgments go. Release them to God.

One way to visualize this is to mentally hand them over to God – picture yourself literally plunking the person, the circumstance, the trauma that has caused you grief, and you plunk it into God’s lap. You say: “Here God, take so-and-so, take my resentment, take this circumstance, take my hurt, and please – you deal with it. You take care of it. I hand it over to you.” And leave it there. Leave it with God. Let God judge. Let God deal with it. God will know what to do and it isn’t your problem to stress about anymore.

Then, we stop eating worms and we come to the banquet of God, the feast, which is prepared for ALL of us. We are all invited, no exceptions. Does God play favourites with us? No. Neither does Jesus.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of love, certainly, but also one of freedom. We become exceptionally free when we hand over to God our burdensome troubles and traumas, whether it be people in our lives or events or circumstances.

Come to God’s feast which is prepared for all, and let Father God judge!

And when we do, we learn to show mercy, forgive, and love the way God wants us to love each other and care for each other.

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, June 11,2017. Sermon Topic for Trinity Sunday: One Powerful God in Three – Awesome!

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TRINITY SUNDAY June 11, 2017

SERMON: One Powerful God in Three – Awesome!

SCRIPTURE: John 14: 8 – 11, 16, 17, 20, 26; John 16: 13 – 15

 

Why do most Christians believe in what they call the Trinity? This is a question which puzzles the Jew, the Unitarian, or the Muslim of Islamic faith. Each of these religions rejects what the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and majority of Protestant Churches call the doctrine of the Trinity.

Trinity Sunday is the Sunday in the church calendar which commemorates the oflicial acceptance of belief in the Trinity by the earliest Christian church councils. The doctrine was established as official teaching at Nicaea in 325 AD, and at Constantinople in 381 AD. It seemed of vital importance to the church at the time to combat what they considered a heresy, or false teaching concerning God. So the early Church Fathers and Bishops, meeting in solemn council at Nicaea and Constantinople, affirmed that both Jesus Christ as Son of God and the Holy Spirit are unequivocably the same being as God the Father.

Does it sound mysterious, even completely baffling, to you? The early Church Fathers thought so, too. Throughout the centuries since these important Councils, Christian teachers have considered the Trinity a mystery.

What do they mean by a mystery? They mean that its nature cannot be fully known or understood by human intelligence. It is a truth of revelation: it is a truth God’s Spirit enables us to grasp.

Repeatedly this doctrine has been attacked as “irrational.” But the teaching of the Trinity is an attempt to describe the fullness of God, or the revelation of God.

The word “Trinity” means “three-fold-ness.” And the doctrine of the Trinity declares that the great God who confronts us in our lives and in the life of the universe, confronts us chiefly as God our Maker/ Creator, as the Eternal Word revealed in Jesus the Word made flesh, and as the Holy Spirit opening the hearts and minds of men and women of faith. Yet, it is the same God who is present in each disclosure and experience.

God lives, and as a living entity, God is active. God is active in an infinite number of ways in God’s universe, in God’s Kingdom, but we humans chiefly experience God as Creator, as Redeemer/ Saviour in Jesus, and as the Paraclete, the Spirit.

When we speak of “God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity,” it sounds as if we believe in three Gods. Three Persons suggest three different beings. But this is a misleading translation from the Latin word “persona.” What is meant is a way of making Personality known. And this is the clue to a better way of understanding the Trinity.

We believe that there is One God expressed or revealed in three very distinct ways:

1. God Creator/Maker is the Designer of Life – our earth, the universe, US – God the Designer of Life gives us life.

2. God came to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus brought God into people’s lives in a way they never knew. They could only explain him by saying that somehow God was in Christ. God entered into life in a tangible, material way – God became matter. God entered into our life and became one of us, “Immanuel” – meaning “God with us.”

3. God became Spirit – not tangible, touchable matter like Jesus, but God became a Living Spirit speaking to our hearts, minds, and souls – a very real presence, but in Spirit form.

God – One God – becomes known to us in three distinct, separate ways: God the Designer creates matter, God becomes matter, and God transforms or energizes matter into spirit. Have you experienced God in any one of these ways? How real is God to you? Have you had a dream or vision, have you heard something – a voice, a message, have you experienced a holy presence? Have you recognized that it is God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?

I’d like to share some real-life experiences of my own:

When our son Iain was not quite three years old, he became afraid of tigers. He was having nightmares dreaming about tigers and he was afraid to go to sleep. So my husband Terry and I said a prayer with him, asking God to take away Iain’s fear and bring him peace. The next morning, Iain told us that he had seen God – and that God was a woman! Amazed, we asked him, how did he know? He replied that God was wearing a long dress, (we wondered, a tunic?), and God was holding five tigers in God’s hand. And God was laughing! Iain was delighted with this dream and his fear of tigers was gone. God was taking care of the tigers.

Both my husband Terry and I have separately had visions of a bright, white light which we knew was God. Terry wasn’t brought up in a Christian home – he had no religious training whatsoever, and years before I met him, he was exploring our Christian faith to discover what it was all about. He was reading C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity in the bath, he tells me, when he suddenly had a sensation of travelling through space towards a very bright, white light. The light grew stronger and stronger, and so bright that he couldn’t look at it. He realized that he was in the presence of God – God was in direct communication with him, and God was letting him know that God existed.

I saw a bright, white light when I was baptized at thirteen years of age. I was brought up Baptist, and we were totally immersed in a tank of water when we were baptized. When I came up out of the water, I saw a bright, white light which completely enveloped me, and I felt complete and immeasurable Love. I was immersed in the presence of Love. It was God. It was a glimpse of heaven, I think, for I could hear beautiful music in the background, beautiful singing. It was so lovely. It was truly Love Incarnate. I remember walking up out of the tank thinking: “So this is what happens when you’re baptized!”

Just over a year ago, Rev. Anne Beattie-Stokes in London presented a course on the spirituality of visions and dreams, and the messages we can receive through them. Terry and I attended her course, and Anne said that she had a vivid dream when she was a teenager – Jesus came to her in her dream. He told her that she was to become a minister. She woke up and told her family that she knew what she was going to become! It was a direct message about what she was to do with her life: Jesus wanted her to become a minister.

What are your stories? How have you experienced God?

On the date of a Jewish festival called Pentecost, Jesus’ friends had “an overwhelming sense of the presence and power of God.” They said that God our Heavenly Father whom they had known in His Son Jesus, is with us now and forever through His Holy Spirit. So, Christians would say that to think of God in terms of the Trinity, we can think of what God is in His or Her eternal love, of what God did in Jesus for us, and what God does still today, living with us and within us through the Holy Spirit.Whichever persona we meet our God in, we know that we are loved and cared for. And that is the most important fact about the Trinity. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar for Parkview United Church, May 28, 2017. Sermon Topic: “To Reconcile and Make New”

Habakkuk

Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar: “To Reconcile and Make New”

The prophet, Habakkuk, shows us how to share a vision. And strangely enough he started by complaining. In the bible we call them laments.

Habakkuk was lamenting about the state of the people and the nations. He lamented that justice never seemed to prevail—there was still violence, famine, and destruction in society. He saw that things weren’t where they could be. There were better possibilities for being together in community.

In the United Church today, we have also been lamenting that things aren’t where they could be. We also see injustices—racism, heterosexism, discrimination, and other structural inequities. We see that not all are welcomed in a place that they might call home. And, we see these both in church and society.

After Habakkuk lamented, he prayed. Then, at his watch post, he waited for God’s response. He waited with confidence, with anticipation and with a steadfast faith that God would provide a vision of justice.

And sure enough God called Habakkuk to write the vision and to make it plain, so plain that a runner could read it.

Habakkuk’s is not as familiar to us as is a much more familiar figure that we follow, one whom God also called to write a vision and to make it plain, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to reconcile and make new. This phrase is embedded within the New Creed of our United Church and has formed the ongoing theme for this year’s London Conference.

Throughout the scriptures, Jesus is often found sitting sharing parables, stories that had life lessons in them for the crowds and disciples gathered around him.

In our gospel passage this morning we have the reconciliation of the prodigal son and the prodigal father. The word prodigal can be confusing, because it does not mean wayward as the story suggests, but it actually means extravagant and lavish – excessively so. The son lived a prodigal life in the far off country, and his father hosted a prodigal celebration upon his return.

Mark Allan Powell wrote a book called What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap between Pulpit and Pew that examines something that has always amazed me: why it is that a preacher thinks they say one thing and the congregation hears something totally different.

He speaks of “social location” as being one of the factors. One’s place in society influences the way we think, perceive and judge. Our unique life experiences inform our opinion and unless we can identify such biases within ourselves and in others, the path to reconciliation can prove steep.

Powell did an exercise with a class where he told the story of the prodigal son and then asked the class to get into partners and retell the story to one another. When he called the class back to order, he asked them the following:

What were some of the things that were missing or changed from the text when their partner retold the gospel story? ____

Why did the young man end up starving in a pig pen? ______

Powell noticed something when he did this exercise with his class. Everyone mentioned the wayward immoral living in the big city (100%). Hardly anyone mentioned the famine (6%) in the country where the son had run off to. Did that make a difference? Maybe not. Unless it does.

He did this same exercise with a group of students in Russia, when he had occasion to be there on sabbatical. Only a third mentioned the young man squandering his inheritance and a whopping 84% mentioned the famine in the retelling of the story.

There’s a historical and sociological reason for this difference in remembering the famine. During World War II, German forces besieged the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) cutting off food and supplies, instituting what became a 900-day famine. In that time, ¼ of the population died from starvation and exposure. 670, 000 people. You don’t forget such things so easily. For those students in Russia, the famine in the prodigal son’s far off land is worth mentioning.

So in the telling of what happens, we have these events:
1. young man receives inheritance
2. he squanders it in a far off land
3. famine comes
4. he is left in dire straits

Depending on our social station, we emphasize different aspects of the story. In Powell’s particular study, American listeners focus on point 2, ignoring point 3: rich young man goes off, squanders his riches, is left in a desperate situation, returns home, is forgiven.

Russian listeners focus on point 3, skipping over point 2: rich young man goes off, famine devastates the land, he is in a desperate situation, returns home, is restored.

Their social situation affects the way they hear, remember and interpret the story. In Russia, the great sin was leaving home and trusting in one’s self-reliance. In America, the great sin was of squandering property in dissolute living.

Asotos is the Greek word used in our scripture reading to describe this dissolute living. It can mean “wasteful” in the literal sense, as in the opposite of saving up. It can also mean “unhealthy” in the figurative sense, immoral and wicked.

We’ve tended to interpret asotos in the second manner: the son squandered his property in riotous, reckless, loose, wild living, in a life of dissipation, of debauchery. As translated in 8 different English translations of the Bible.

If we instead interpret asotos as the son squandered his property in wasteful, expensive, luxurious living, there is no indictment of immorality, just foolishness and poor planning. This is how it is translated in Syriac and Arabic versions of the Bible.

In one viewpoint, the wicked, evil and immoral son got what he deserved, because his downfall was inevitable. In the other, the dumb kid just ran into hard times – he might have been able to get by on his own if it wasn’t for the famine.

The difference being the son is either wicked and evil, in need of reform and repentance – the pivotal moment being when he comes to himself and decides to return home as a slave. Or the son is just stupid, not prepared for a rainy day or for a famine, thinking that he could make it on his own, in need of reunion and in being found – the pivotal moment being in the embrace of his father and the celebration that ensued.

So which is it? Evil prodigal son, or stupid prodigal son? Both interpretations are valid. Are we willing to have our minds open enough to hear what the other viewpoint may be? Are we willing to accept the value and truth that shapes another person’s faith and belief?

Here is where reconciliation must live: in the willingness to connect and bridge gaps, to re-examine and let go of assumptions and hearsay. It’s a hard place to live and many of us don’t like to stay there very long. If we can’t resolve or reconcile quickly, it’s too frustrating, painful, hurtful, and discouraging.

And if it’s a daunting task to reconcile multiple meanings and interpretations from trying to preach a sermon, how much more intimidating is it to try and reconcile people? When it comes to estranged families, discontented congregation members, rogue atheist ministers, the social dynamics are more complicated and stakes are far greater. When it comes to the reconciliation between nations, entire societies; be they aboriginal or settler, it seems impossible. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. Or keep trying.

We claim to be a people of faith, we claim to be a church of Jesus Christ, and so we name ourselves as pilgrims committed to a long journey of repentance, restoration, to live into what Jesus would do: to reconcile and make new.

As a postscript, Mark Alan Powell asked a group of ministers and students in Tanzania, eastern Africa, the question: why did the young man end up starving in a pig pen? The overwhelming answer was: because no one fed him. In Tanzania society is responsible for caring for their people, receiving and supporting immigrants and visitors, for warning them about famines, and helping them. It’s not kind to consider someone stupid or foolish just because they didn’t know the rules about how to live in a new country, to punish them for not being ready for something they didn’t know about.

A Little Boy’s Explanation of God

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A Little Boy’s Explanation of God — Fabulous!!!-

Out of the mouths of the Babes–

I certainly don’t think an adult could explain this more beautifully!

 

It was written by an 8-year-old named Danny Dutton, who lives in Chula Vista, CA . He wrote it for his third-grade homework assignment, to ‘explain God.’ I wonder if any of us could have done as well? (and
he had such an assignment, in California, and someone published it, I guess miracles do happen!)
EXPLANATION OF GOD:
‘One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn’t make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.’

‘God’s second most important job is listening to prayers an awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.’

‘God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So, you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.’

‘Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista. At least there aren’t any who come to our church.’

‘Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him. But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.’ And God did not let Jesus stay in the grave, but raised him from the dead.

‘His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So, he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.’

‘You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.’

‘You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God!

Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.’

‘If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared, in the dark or when you can’t swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.’

‘But…you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.
And… that’s why I believe in God.’Save

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, May 21, 2017. Sermon Topic: Rogation Blessings

rogation sunday

Rural Life/Rogation Sunday May 21, 2017

Sermon: Rogation Blessings

Scriptures: Genesis 1: 29 – 31; 2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 11

This Sunday is known as Rural Life or Rogation Sunday in our United Church calendar, and it is a centuries-old custom which gives God thanks for the goodness of creation. The word “rogare” is a Latin word meaning ask – we ask God to bless our fields and our planting, to bless our soil, seeds and water. We ask God for continued blessings in agriculture and the harvests to come. The church celebrates on this Rogation Sunday the specific themes of seed sowing and tending the fields.

In days of old, as far back as the 1600’s and earlier, it was the custom and practice to mark the boundaries of fields and the parish community. The priest or minister would process with the entire community out into the fields, onto the land, and prominent landmarks such as boulders, ditches and hedgerows would be noted and marked to set the boundaries of the land. It was a practical way to acknowledge where each field lay and where property lines were established. Embedded in this custom, as well, was the spiritual practice to acknowledge and pray for God’s goodness and bounty. The priest would “rogare” or ask God to bless the soil, the water and the seeds in their planting. This tradition known as Rogation Sunday takes place in the springtime when there is a renewing of the earth. This service traditionally follows Easter, the season of resurrection. Renewal and resurrection are the underlying themes of Rogation Sunday.

We humans are meant to reflect, seriously, our relationship with the natural created order. Our Genesis scripture reading this morning states that God has given every seed-bearing plant and tree on the face of the earth for food for all creatures, and in this same chapter of Genesis, God says to we humans, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it; rule over…every living creature that moves on the ground.” Some translations use the word “dominion” instead of rule. Have “dominion” over the earth. What does it mean to subdue or “have dominion” over the birds of the air, the cattle and animals, the plants bearing seed, the trees bearing fruit, the green plants? Having dominion does not mean that we are privileged to exploit or rule the earth with tyranny or disregard for its welfare. We are not meant to exploit or subdue the earth for our own personal gain when it would threaten or harm the well-being of all earth’s creatures. Earthly dominion means that we are “stewards” or “managers” for our earth. We are part of the whole, part of creation. All of life is simply amazing, and our planet earth is a remarkable, beautiful, amazing place to live.

We enjoy the four seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter. Our rain and water are as old as our earth, billions of years old. It is the same water – it isn’t replenished from outer space. We have a unique stratosphere and atmosphere which constantly recycles our water as it changes from liquid drenching our earth, to vapour as warm air rises in the sky carrying moisture, to rain droplets as this vapour condenses to liquid, and our clouds return rain again to the earth. Our ground, all rocks and sand and soil are as old as our earth. Our water and soil are constantly recycled. It is amazing! We are living in the middle of a miracle. We wouldn’t exist without this ecosystem. Our rain falls, cleaning the air and the soil, watering our fields, infiltrating our earth, and seeds sprout into life. The everyday miracle of seeds and plants is that year after year, they regenerate and continue to grow and flourish.

Jesus says to us in a parable: “The kingdom of God is as if a man scatters seed on the ground, he sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows – he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  And when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come,” Mark 4: 26 – 29.

Jesus equates the kingdom of God to the miracle of nature. God’s love and care for us is likened to the richness and never-ending bounty which we find in all of nature. The kingdom of God comes to us in the miracle of Jesus. When he emerges from the tomb on Easter morning, he is announcing to the world that his resurrection has overcome death and his Spirit is with us forever. The Spirit of Jesus is alive, living within us. Like the seeds of nature regenerating and flourishing, Christ brings us renewal and growth. It is unstoppable, inexplainable and unfailing. We cannot stop Jesus’ and God’s love and care any more than we can stop springtime from coming.

God has provided for us in giving us everything we need to survive on this beautiful planet earth. Let us never take creation’s abundance for granted. On this Rogation Sunday, we praise God and thank God for earth’s creation, for God’s Son Jesus, and the abundant blessings we receive from soil, seeds, water and air.

Blessing of the Seed, Soil & Water

Blessing of the Seed

Lord God, from your hand comes the mystery of life.

We thank you for the gift of seed, and the wonder of fertility, growth and harvest.

Bless the seeds we sow in our farms, allotments and gardens,

that they may germinate well, flourish,

be resistant to disease, and yield abundantly.

Bless our efforts to feed others and ourselves.

Blessing of the Soil

Lord God, from your hand comes all that nourishes life.

We thank you for the gift of soil.

Bless the soil in which our seeds are sown and our crops are planted;

bless our efforts to use it well, to enrich it,

and to sustain its fertility for the future.

Blessing of the Water

Lord God, your rain is the most precious liquid on earth.

We thank you for the gift of water.

Bless our land and our crops with rain;

grant us adequate reserves of water, and spare us drought.

Bless our efforts to keep water unpolluted and to make it accessible for all.

Bless our efforts to conserve water responsibly.

God of Goodness, we ask for your blessings for our earth.

Amen.

Mother’s Day Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, May 14, 2017. Sermon Topic: We Celebrate Mothers

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Mother’s Day Sermon: We Celebrate Mothers!

This morning we celebrate Mother’s Day across our nation and all of North America – and we recognize what a special day this is because we all have one thing in common: we wouldn’t be sitting here right now if we didn’t have a mother! We value our Moms for so many reasons and we owe our lives, our very existence, to our mothers who birthed us.

A woman once wrote to a bishop. In her letter, she said that despite the fact she had thirteen children, she was certain God was calling her to be a missionary. What should she do? The bishop wrote back and said, “Congratulations on your vocation, dear lady, and I am delighted that God has called you to be a missionary. He has even provided you with a ready-made mission field! Start with the thirteen you have!” This Mom was encouraged to teach her faith right at home, with her own family. For those of us who were brought up in a home where we were taught our Christian beliefs and values, we are glad! I’m one of them! Our Moms were indeed missionaries!

We recognise our mothers in many roles: nurse, cook, teacher, chauffeur, coach, cleaning lady, storyteller, peacekeeper, umpire, gardener, timekeeper, referee, accountant, guidance counsellor, mentor… the list goes on and on! If all of these jobs were accomplished in the home by a variety of paid, skilled people, it would cost a small fortune! But a mother does them all for free. That’s why today we give thanks for our mothers because her love comes free. No charge.

Mother’s Day as we know it originated in the great USA. Just over 100 years ago, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the second Sunday in May would be designated “Mother’s Day,” because said President Wilson, this day is a time for “public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” But the origins to celebrate mothers for a day goes back even further – to the 1600’s in England. The fourth Sunday of Lent was known as “Mothering Sunday,” a day set aside primarily for servants who worked and resided in the homes of the wealthy. They were given the day off and encouraged to return to their homes to spend time with their mothers.

The Biblical commandment to “honour your father and mother” is a very important commandment, and we find in our scriptures many stories of mothers who played an important role in their time and their history:

– Moses’ mother hides him for three months from Pharaohs’ guards who would kill him – an edict from Pharaoh to slay any newborn Israelite boys – but finally when Moses’ mother can’t hide him any longer, she puts him in a papyrus boat on the Nile river, praying for his safety. Along comes Pharaoh’s daughter to bathe, and she finds the baby there. She adopts Moses, and his real mother becomes Moses’ nursemaid. Moses becomes the great leader of the Israelite exodus out of Egypt to the Promised Land, where they establish themselves as the nation of Israel.

– Naomi in Moab wants to return to her native land Israel, and her widowed Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth says she will accompany her, never leaving her. Ruth utters the words which have become famous in our scriptures: “Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God.” Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David!

– Hannah pleads to God for a son, promising that her child will be reared for God’s purposes. Samuel is born, raised in the temple when he comes of age, and Samuel becomes a great prophet used by God. It is Samuel who anoints the shepherd boy David as King of Israel, of whose royal lineage centuries later Jesus is born.

Do you see how these mothers, living centuries apart from each other, shared a connection as they played their role in bringing about God’s fulfilment for God’s purposes? Moses helps to establish the Israelite nation, Hannah births Samuel who anoints David as King of Israel, and Ruth becomes part of King David’s ancestry, of which lineage Jesus is born.

Many other mothers and women in our Old and New Testament scriptures have wonderful stories to share, testifying to their walk with God, their trust in God, and their belief in God’s Son Jesus Christ. These women may not have known each other, and they may not have known their role in fulfilling God’s purposes, just like Moses’ mother, Ruth and Hannah.

Today, our own mothers and women who have raised us, women placed in our lives and who have affected our lives, have they been women of faith? How have you been influenced in your faith journey with God? How did your mother or mother-mentor teach you, encourage you, and share with you her faith stories to help you in your walk with God? Do you feel urged to pass your faith on? Today we celebrate Mother’s Day, and we honour the grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts and nieces, and all the incredible women who have helped us and nurtured us with their faith stories. For them, we say: Thanks be to God!

And remember this – we may not know how we are connected. We may never know each other. We may never know how God is using us for God’s fulfilment and God’s purposes. Wherever we are, wherever we are placed, whatever we are doing and wherever we are living, whatever children are placed before us and in our care, stay focused on one thing: stay true to our faith, stay connected with God and Jesus God’s Son, and stay open to the Holy Spirit and its leading and guidance. You may never know who you are influencing and your role in another’s life. Trust in this: when you believe in Jesus, when you live for Him, when you give God and Jesus your heart, soul, spirit and mind as our scriptures say, you are being used in God’s Kingdom. You are important. God is using you. Jesus is using you.

Ladies, women, on this Mother’s Day, remember: you never know the impact you have on others. You may never know how you are bringing about God’s fulfilment and God’s purposes. But trust that you are. Just where you are. May God bless you, and Jesus anoint you, in your faith journey!

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, May 7, 2017. Sermon Topic: What Does God Want?

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PARKVIEW UNITED CHURCH’S 92ND ANNIVERSARY SUNDAY

Sermon: What Does God Want? Text: Isaiah 55: 8 – 13

Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who speaks a totally different language? It’s not easy, is it? Words don’t hold the meaning you expect them to. But we can often make some sort of progress by using examples. (hold up glass) I say “glass,” a French speaker may say “verre,” an ancient Greek may say “kōs.” Being fellow human beings, we can eventually come to some sort of understanding. But if we hold up the glass and say “glass” to a cat, what would it say? Probably nothing – you know how cats like to ignore us when we show an interest in them! But if it did say anything, it would not be saying the cat language for “glass.” That’s because communication between unrelated species is really difficult. We may get cats or dogs to understand “no,” or “down,” or “roll over,” but we are fooling ourselves if we think these animals really understand our language. They may know what we mean from the sounds that we make, and they may know how we feel – that’s a different thing. So, if we can’t understand words between ourselves as human beings, and other species who share this planet with us, imagine how hard it is to hear and understand the words of God!

My thoughts are not your thoughts,” God says through the words of the writer of Isaiah. But how did the writer hear God’s words? Receiving messages from God cannot be easy. It cannot be casual communication between equals. God also says in our passage: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” So, God’s word changes things, and people. God chooses people to hear God’s voice and pass on God’s messages.

We often wonder why God chooses to do something one way when we would choose another. But God’s way is not our way. That’s in our Isaiah scripture reading, too. In the Hebrew language, the word for “way” means “road or path,” but like English, Hebrew words can have other meanings as well. The “way of God” means the way God thinks and acts. And God tells us that God’s ways are higher than ours. That doesn’t mean that God’s ways are “up there” somewhere floating around in the stratosphere. It simply means that God’s ways and thoughts and actions are understood better by God’s Self, not by us, and of course God’s ways are known better to God! How can we mere mortal beings discern them? How can we understand God’s ways? How can we earthly creatures get close enough to God to understand what God wants?

The psalmist cries to God: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.” We also echo that plea when we ask God for meaning and direction. The people who gathered around Jesus in his day were just as hungry to hear the answer. Jesus spoke in the every-day language of his people, using metaphors and images and parables to get his meaning across. We’re a bit like our other species when it comes to us trying to understand God’s language or God talk. You can almost hear the disciples groan: “Oh no, not another parable! What does he mean by this one? We’ll have to figure it out. What if we get it wrong?”

One important parable which Jesus told, relevant today as we celebrate our church’s anniversary, is the parable about the seeds and the sower. A sower sowed some seeds, says Jesus, and some seeds fell on unsuitable ground – they were dried up by the sun, or withered from lack of water or nutrients, their roots didn’t take hold in the soil, they were choked by weeds – these seeds were destroyed by various deterrents or enemies which stunted their growth and prevented them from fulfilling their destiny, the plan devised within themselves, the DNA within each seed, the budding and blossoming of their true potential and fulfilment. But, Jesus says, some seed did fall on good soil, and these seeds did bear fruit and they yielded great harvests. There in a nutshell, or a seed shell, is the answer to God’s ways. We, each of us, just like a seed, are devised and planned to be used for God’s glory and goodness, and we are meant to grow and develop into our unique, full potential. We are meant to grow in Godly-good soil, and like receptive, beneficial soil, we need to be ready to receive and hear God’s word.

How do we do that? How do we discern God’s word so that we grow into God’s ways? Where is the instruction book? Can we Google it? Well, in a way, we can. When we look in our bibles, at John chapter 14, Jesus says: “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. If you really know me, you know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Jesus is talking God talk. Using God language. Jesus, the “Word made flesh,” fully human and divine, speaks to us the words God wants us to hear. We find out what God wants by studying the messages Jesus gives and the words, thoughts, and actions he uses. Jesus shows us by example how God wants us to think and act and respond.

By faithfully preaching and believing that Christ’s salvation- Christ’s Spirit – enters our hearts, minds, souls, and transforms us – this is what God wants. The transforming reality of the Holy Spirit takes hold of us, allowing us to grow in Christ and through Christ into our full potential. Like healthy seeds in good soil, we grow into the Christians Christ would have us to be. We bear fruit and yield great harvests for God. This is what God wants.

This Sunday, as we celebrate Parkview’s 92nd anniversary year, we celebrate our Christian faith and those among us who faithfully serve Christ in our church, our neighbourhoods, and our community. We celebrate the saints who have gone before us, the seeds of faith planted long ago, decade after decade, year after year, those in our church’s history and heritage who stayed faithful to Christ, who listened to his words, and who followed in Christ’s ways, God’s ways. May our church today, as the body of Christ, and all of us collectively and individually as Christ’s disciples, continue to grow in His care, peace and goodness. May we continue to be richly blessed, guided by the Holy Spirit and enveloped in God’s love and care always. Amen.

Hello Parkview! (An update from Rev. Mary)

Hello Parkview!

I have had the most wonderful holiday and study week away out west in Vancouver (visiting our daughter Heather) and at the Rivendell Retreat Centre on Bowen Island, just outside Vancouver. This centre is right at the top of a small mountain (!) in the middle of forests and woods, and the views are stunning. This Christian centre welcomes folks from Canada and the USA, as well as people around the world who know of it! As a “community” retreat centre, we cook our own food (take groceries, share communal kitchens) and we clean our own rooms when we leave. We are supplied bed linen and towels. There are no shops at the top of this mountain, so we rely completely on the food we have brought! The main building is just lovely with double and single rooms, a large lounge area and dining room on the main floor, and each floor has a wood-burning fireplace which you are able to use and enjoy. We did! Several nights. There is a “silent” rule at Rivendell – we can speak, but quietly, as many people are on a silent retreat (and then we don’t speak to them at all). This Christian centre is a place for connecting with the divine and nature. There is a labyrinth to walk and a chapel with services twice daily at 8 am and 5 pm. This chapel is a small round building based on a Quaker design (I’m standing in front of it in one photo). There is a cross on the top of the mountain, dressed with daffodils celebrating Easter, and an aboriginal medicine wheel with four quadrants set in the earth with stones (we celebrate this wheel in our United Church crest). I have included a photo of the library as well, where there are many good Christian books and resources to read. We loved one book which celebrated prayers from the animals! I’m going to try to track it down to buy. Every day we read a devotional and a special prayer for that day.
It was a wonderful retreat and I am so glad that I was able to go to this beautiful spot.

If you click on the individual photos, you can bring them up to full size.
Blessings to all, Rev. Mary

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Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar for Parkview United Church, April 30, 2017. Sermon Topic: “On the Road to Emmaus”

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Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar, April 30, 2017. Sermon Topic: “On the Road to Emmaus”

The Emmaus road experience is a well-known gripping story because it is in many ways our own story…when we loose hope and the desire to move on because our dreams have been crushed.

This story highlights the living hope that we have in the Resurrection of Jesus.
Paul wrote to his friends at Corinth “If we have hope in Christ in this life only,
we are the most miserable of all men. But now Christ is risen from the dead” .

But on that first Easter day that living hope was all but snuffed out
for the two disciples on their way back home to Emmaus.

They had left the demoralized and confused group of disciples
with the events of Good Friday fresh in their memories.
We can understand their confusion, can’t we?

Only a week before, on Palm Sunday, the hopes of the disciples had risen to fever pitch when the excited crowds had hailed their Master as the longed-for deliverer
from the tyranny of Roman occupation… but now his body, broken on a roman cross lay dead in a sealed tomb!
Their hopes were dashed… the dream was over!

The followers of Jesus were without a leader and they were falling apart quickly…
These two were already on their way home.
What else was there left to do? Life goes on…Life must go on…

The reports that Christ’s tomb was empty had only confused the disciples more.
Their entire world had come apart. The two downhearted disciples summed up the situation when they said, “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

Human hope is a fragile thing, and when it withers it’s difficult to revive.
Have you ever experienced such total hopelessness….
When there was no way out…no matter what you tried…
there was nothing you could do to change the situation…?

Have you seen that look of total helplessness
in the eyes of people who have given up…
“There is nothing they can do for me – the cancer has spread too far.”
“My spouse has left me for another partner.” “I feel so stuck in my job – I hate the job but, I can’t quit because my family needs the income and I don’t know how to do anything else.” “I’ve given up.

Have you ever heard yourself or someone else say these words?
Then you have a bit of an idea what the Emmaus two were grappling with.
Hopelessness is desperately hard to cure.

When you see someone you love and care for overtaken by an illness that goes on and on, despair sets in.
It almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery…you even become afraid to hope because you don’t know if you can cope with another letdown.

And so, in our heart-break, like the Emmaus disciples, we put up a wall of hopelessness around us and we become trapped in our misery.
“We had hoped …”“We had hoped…”

Well, our story today beckons us past that point…Praise God!

As the travellers made their weary way to Emmaus a stranger fell alongside them.
It was going to be one of the most wonderful walks in history!

Jesus, in his infinite consideration for their brokenness, and their bewildered minds comes next to them and joins them on their journey…he walks with them…and he listens and then he fills their hearts with the promises from God’s Word and ultimately with hope and understanding.

Jesus knew that downtrodden people don’t need someone to tell them, “you should have listened better. They need companionship. They need a listening ear before a stream of good advice. The last thing they need is a brisk “cheering up” talk or being told to “snap out of it”.

Instead, Jesus joins us on our journey… he spends time with us…
sometimes unrecognized in the person of a stranger…

Jesus enters their pain, and allows them to share their story of disappointment.
And as they tell the stranger what they thought the man of Galilee was all about
Jesus unpacks for them the full mystery of God’s plan of salvation.
He fills their broken hearts with a lesson in faith and hope.

Jesus told them about God’s plan of salvation in the OT…
… the thread of God’s activity in the lives of His people…Abraham, Isaac & Jacob,
Moses and the prophets… the Exodus out of Egypt… the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah…

And then he said, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things …”
Yes, “suffering”… that’s the one thing they hadn’t factored in…
The disciples were counting on a Messiah who would rule with Power
and crush the enemies of Israel and establish the Kingdom of God on earth once and for all.

They could not conceive of the idea of a Messiah who would suffer and die on a cross.
And maybe today Jesus says to us what he said to the disciples,
“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”

Their two-hour journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus must have seemed like just a few minutes. They were so wrapped up in this conversation with the Lord whom they had not yet recognized.

Luke informs us that, “As they approached the village to which they were going,
Jesus acted as if he was going further.” And they invited him to come in, because the evening had fallen, and it was dangerous to travel alone after dark.

So, their hearts being strangely warmed during the course of the conversation they set the table for three…There was bread on the table
and the stranger took the bread and gave thanks and gave it to them.

They saw his hands… they were different from when he had broken bread
at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and at the Last Supper.
They were the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. In an instant they knew him.
And in an instant, he’s gone.

They suddenly realized that Christ is risen from the dead!

And the two disciples lost no time in retracing their steps to Jerusalem to share the Good News. A simple two hour walk turned into a life-transforming experience.
Now their hearts were burning with passion to share with everyone

The noted conductor Reichel was taking his choir and orchestra through their final rehearsal of Handel’s beautiful and inspiring “Messiah”.

When the soprano soloist came in with the refrain, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” she sang it with flawless technique, perfect breathing, and clear enunciation.
After she completed her part, everyone looked at the conductor expecting to see his responses of approval.

With a motion from his baton for silence, he walked over to the soloist and said, almost sorrowfully, “My daughter, you do not really know that your Redeemer lives, do you?”

Embarrassed, she answered, “Why, yes, I think I do.”
“Then sing it!” cried Reichel. “Tell it to me so that I’ll know
you have experienced the joy and power of it.”

Then he motioned for the orchestra to begin, and she sang the truth with a fervor that testified of her personal relationship to the risen Lord.

Those who listened wept and the old master, eyes wet with tears, said to her,
“You do know, for this time you have told me.”

I am almost certain that the two-hour journey back to Jerusalem took the disciples a mere 45 minutes. Their broken hearts had been transformed into hearts that were on fire for their Lord!

You see, Hope has that powerful effect on us. It transforms ordinary people,
like the Emmaus Disciples… like you and me.. into passionate witnesses of the risen Lord!

As we journey along and as we experience defeat, despair and disappointment in our daily life let us welcome the stranger that joins us on our journey.

May our hearts also be warmed by His company and may our lives be ignited with passion to share with all… that we have seen the risen Lord!