Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher, Feb. 11, 2018. Sermon: A Mountaintop Vision

Transfiguration Sunday
Sermon: A Mountaintop Vision
Scripture: Mark 9: 2 – 10

Mountain top experiences – it is an expression we use to describe something wonderful, something extraordinary when we say these words – it was incredible is what we mean when we’re trying to describe a “mountain top” experience. It affects us. It moves us. It is often like a vision. It often changes us.

And for mountain climbers and those who actually get to climb to the top of a mountain – it is described as being something so incredible, so awesome, so sweeping, that they can hardly find the words to express the reality of being there – literally – at the very summit, the peak, the top of the mountain. It affects them. The vision, the panorama, that they are privileged to see changes them. It changes their vision in a perspective way, too. They see the world and themselves in a different way.

We know whenever someone in the Bible heads up a mountain, it is usually a special occasion. It usually marks a mission of some sort, and often God is there. Moses meets God on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, and later, God takes Moses up a mountain to show him the Promised Land. In our scripture reading, we see Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a mountain, and we believe this mountain to be Mount Tabor, 1,886 feet high, west of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus goes to the top of this mountain because he is on a mission. While there, he is literally transfigured before their eyes – his appearance changes. His face becomes shining like the sun and his clothes are white as light. The disciples witness the kingly, heavenly glory of Jesus.

And the disciples witness something else – they see a vision. They see Moses and Elijah – those two great prophets – in the midst of Jesus. They hear a voice saying: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” God is there and God speaks. Moses, Elijah, God and Jesus are there on a mission on this mountain top, for they are there to talk with Jesus and consult together about his ministry. Jesus seeks divine direction and guidance for the vision of his ministry. Where Jesus was heading. What he was to do. Jesus is to bring God’s revelation, God’s salvation to the world, and Jesus receives an ordained vision on this mountain top which directs him and tells him what he is to do. The disciples are privileged to see this vision, to see the glory of Jesus, and to be present. When they are coming down from the mountain top, Jesus gives orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead,” (Mark 9: 9). The disciples wonder what this means, “rising from the dead.” But Jesus knows. He is headed to the cross. And rising from the dead.

When we look at the lives of the disciples, we see the difficulties, the challenges, the turmoil and persecution they lived through because of their connection and their faith in Jesus. But an experience like this, this Mountaintop Vision, must have given them the strength and endurance they needed to continue doing the work of Christ despite the trials that came their way. And this mountaintop experience gave them a glimpse of something else – they were privileged to see beyond their normal physical world. They literally had a glimpse of glory – God’s realm.

I’d like to encourage us this morning, we modern-day disciples of Jesus Christ, we members of his church, that we are privileged, too, to see and take part in God’s realm and God’s vision for us. God and the Holy Spirit are in our midst. The Spirit of Christ is in our midst. In faith, God has a vision for each one of us. And I invite us to go to the mountain top with Jesus and see the panoramic view he wishes to show us. Our vision and our perceptions will change. We will be affected. We will be directed to act, for it is Christ’s mission at work. Believe that as Jesus’ ministry was part of God’s vision for our world, we are part of God’s mission, too. To bring Christ’s salvation to the world. To bring the good news, the gospel of Jesus, to the world. To pray for the voice of Jesus to guide us and believe that we are included in his mission, too.

With the image of Jesus on the Mount of transfiguration with his disciples, can you imagine that you are there, too? I want you to picture this setting with you there, and I invite you to close your eyes. Clear your mind of all mental clutter. Put yourself in the place of Peter, James or John on the top of the mountain – Jesus is there with you – he becomes transfigured before your very eyes – he becomes dazzling white – you see Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus – a cloud of God’s glory comes over you, and you hear the words of the Father: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
What is your response? Are you listening?
What does Jesus say to you?
Do you sense what Jesus wants you to do?
What is his mission for you?
Are you willing to listen to Jesus throughout your life?

If what Jesus said is significant and encouraging to you, if you feel good and right about it, then do it. You are part of Jesus’ mission.
Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Feb. 4, 2018. Sermon: Finding Strength

Scripture:  Isaiah 40: 28 – 31

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Have you ever asked someone how their day was going and they gave you a reply like, “Oh, hanging in,” “Still here.” They sound down and they look down. Sometimes the daily grind does get us down, and we wonder where we’re going to get enough strength to carry on. Where do we find the strength to cope with times of distress and discouragement when it wears us down? Even the young get weary, and for all of us, our steps can grow faint, just as our scripture lesson says.

Well, there is a way to cope. God meets us. In the everyday. God promises us hope.

Imagine being taken from your homeland and being forced to work and live as a slave in the city of a people who have made war upon your country. Imagine that you have no say at all in your daily routine. Whether you are tired, sick or heartbroken, you have to carry on, or die. That’s what it’s like for many refugees and immigrants living in foreign countries, some of them hostile. And that’s what it was like for Jewish exiles in the sixth century BC which the prophet Isaiah foretold in our scripture passage today, Isaiah prophesying centuries before the event happened. But in 596 A.D., Jewish exiles were taken from their familiar home in Israel and made to live in Babylon. These Jewish exiles lost everything – their possessions, their families, their land and their nation.

It is interesting that we can read the stories of folks who lived thousands of years ago and find that their joys, problems, doubts and faith are similar to ours. We live in a free country where we can live and work without suppression or hostility, yet we can feel a great kinship with people who resonate with the words of Isaiah and find hope in them. The Jewish people in exile were eager to return to their homeland of Israel. It was their heartfelt desire and dream. One day, somehow, they would return to their familiar land. Even those who had been born in exile and who had known nothing else yearned for this day of freedom and restoration. The promise that they would be lifted up like soaring eagles speaks to this heartfelt desire.

Eagles soar on the wind. They use the updrafts to raise themselves higher and higher. How can the eagle soar so high and so effortlessly for so long?  Because she waits to see where the wind is blowing and she goes with it.  That’s exactly how you and I are to make our decisions and make our plans – waiting to see where the wind of God is blowing in this particular situation and then going with it.  The Hebrew word used for “Spirit” in the Old Testament is also the word for “wind.” It is “Ruah,” the breath of God. And the same is true for the Greek word “pneuma” in the New Testament. The breath of God. We fly longer, we fly further, when we wait to catch the wind of the Spirit of God.

But the hard part in all of this is that dreaded word “wait.”  Especially if we are “make it happen” action-oriented, strong-willed types. If God doesn’t seem to be giving us clear guidance, or things don’t seem to be moving, we just take off, we furiously flap our wings, determined to get things moving somehow.  We’ve got to do something, right?  Anything!  But God said that if you want God’s way, you have to be like the eagle if you want to soar -you have to wait until you sense where the current of God is going.

The best way to sense this is to turn to prayer. Not the “shopping list” prayer where we give God our want list. Not even the “I think it would be best” type prayer where we give God advice about what would be best for us. The prayer that is needed fits with the eagle’s approach. Watch and wait. Listen to God. Quiet our minds and hold ourselves open to God’s presence. Rest ourselves in God’s Spirit. Let that Spirit carry us. Prayer opens the way for God’s grace to flow into our lives.

All around the world people pray to God in their various ways. In north India, the Khonds in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains say this: “O Lord, we don’t know what is good for us. You know what it is. We pray for that. Amen.” The ancient Greek Plato asked: “Grant us the good, whether we pray for it or not, but keep evil from us even though we pray for things not good for us.” We can also say: “We don’t know what you have planned for us, but we ask that you show us the good things you have planned for us.” As the prophet Jeremiah said: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” Jeremiah 29: 11.

God’s promises meet us in the commonplace, in everyday life. Jesus spoke about seeds and birds and bread and flowers and building houses – his stories were all about daily life where his listeners lived. Jesus wove common-life elements into his preaching, teaching that God is interested in each of us, in our daily life, that God meets us where we are, that God cares if we are struggling and feeling desperate, that God made this everyday world for us, and nothing is beneath God’s attention.

So, can you hand it over? Can you hand over to God and Jesus your concerns and worries and trials and puzzling circumstances and predicaments and ask God to lift you up above it, ask God to give you patience and trust while you wait, and ask God to let you soar on His Wind and rest your wings and soul in his care? Can you ask God to take care of it? Can you listen, and watch, and wait for the wind of the Spirit, the Ruah? May we all be carried to a future that is filled with God’s rest, God’s leading, God’s plans and God’s fulfilment. Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, January 28, 2018. Sermon: Not Knowing Jesus

Sermon: Not Knowing Jesus?

Scriptures:

John 1:35-51:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Let’s go back in time this morning. We are in the early years of the first century A.D. It is 30 A.D. to be precise, the year when Jesus is “about” thirty years old beginning his public ministry as told in our scriptures (Luke 3: 23). Imagine the setting – we are in ancient Palestine. Picture the area of land between the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and a large, inland lake called the Sea of Galilee – this area of land between these bodies of water was called Galilee. The town of Nazareth where Jesus grew up lies roughly halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee, a town with about 200 people in Jesus’ day. The town of Bethsaida was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River ran south from the lake.

Now, picture Jesus coming from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. No one knows him. He’s arrived on their shores – a stranger in their midst. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by the prophet John the Baptist, and John testifies that when he baptized Jesus, he experienced a divine vision – he saw God’s Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, resting on Jesus, and John hears a voice from heaven say: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3: 17). John testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. Soon after this event, Jesus comes walking nearby where John and his followers are gathered, and John looking at Jesus says: “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1: 29). Two of John’s disciples or followers standing there hear John say this.

Now, imagine. You don’t know who Jesus is. You’ve never seen him before. But John, your leader, says these amazing words. You hear these shocking words from your leader, and they are shocking words, for you as a Jewish person would immediately think: “Take away the sin of the world? Only God can do that. Only the High Priest in the temple goes into the Holiest of Holy once a year to offer sacrifice as atonement for the sins of the people, to ask God for forgiveness, and John, our leader, is saying that this person is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” Now, these thoughts are racing through your mind in split seconds. Imagine yourself hearing these words from your leader John, looking at him in amazement, and then I imagine myself immediately looking right at Jesus with a mixture of curiosity, intrigue and awe. John, the great prophet, who has been baptizing people in the Jordan River, telling them to repent and turn from their sinful ways, to prepare for the coming of a Great One who will be revealed to Israel, John who says: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3: 11) – John says this is the person? This person standing right here in front of me? This is him? My interest in Jesus is immediately focussed and very intense. I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off him. I would become instantly intrigued.

And two of John’s followers who hear John’s words, Andrew being one of them, begin to follow Jesus. Would you? I would. I would want to know more about this person. Here is a man, a mortal, an ordinary looking man who is called the Son of God? Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, according to John? Who is this person? What does he have to say? Wouldn’t you want to know? Jesus sees Andrew and the other disciple following him, and he turns to them and says: “What are you looking for?” They call Jesus “Rabbi” – meaning teacher, and they ask Jesus where he’s staying. Jesus says: “Come and see.” So they do. They spend the day with Jesus. And after this time with him, they are so moved and changed and convinced that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Messiah, that Andrew goes and finds his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus. This is Simon who will be called Peter, for Jesus calls him by this name in our scripture passage. “You are Simon – you are to be called Cephas,” which translates as Peter.

The next day, Jesus finds Philip, who finds Nathanael and says to him: “Come, we’ve found the one who Moses and the prophets spoke of – it is Jesus from Nazareth,” and Nathanael half-jokingly and perhaps half-mockingly says: “Nazareth? Are you kidding me? That little town? What good can come out of Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding me.” Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him sitting under a fig tree before Philip approached him. Jesus saw Nathanael from afar before he even met him in person? And later, by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John saying to them: “Come! Follow me! I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus calls them to join his ministry.

Imagine the questions in the minds of these newly-found followers of Jesus. Imagine their thoughts and reactions. Who is he? Where did he come from? Isn’t he the son of Joseph from Nazareth? What’s he doing? Where’s he going? John the Baptist called him the Son of God. He will give us the Holy Spirit, John said. What teaching is this? Is he truly the Messiah? The long-awaited one? He seems to be. He sounds like he is. When you’re in his company, you’re convinced that he is. He’s talking about the good news, the kingdom of God. The time is fulfilled, he says. What does he mean? What’s he talking about? Should we believe? Should we follow him? Where are we going? Where is he taking us?” The disciples didn’t know. They didn’t have all the answers.

These are the same questions we have today. Who is this Jesus? Who is he? What’s he talking about? I don’t understand. What is his meaning? The Son of God? What does that mean? When we encounter Jesus, it doesn’t matter who we are, or where we are, or what year it is, our questions are the same. We find ourselves thinking that we just don’t know. We just don’t know all the answers.

But as the disciples followed Jesus and stayed in his company, many of the questions they had were answered. The longer they stayed in the presence of Jesus, the more they learned from him and about him. They got the bigger picture of who Jesus was, and why he came to earth. He is the Bread from heaven, he says? He came from heaven? He came to save us? To offer us a different way? A different way to God? We don’t have to follow the religious laws but we are to follow His Spirit, he says? This is a different way – a different freedom from our sins and laws and bondage to structures and people and hierarchies and oppression! Jesus offers us a different way. We are to follow his Spirit, he says. It is the divine Spirit of God. This Spirit loves us and forgives us. This Spirit will be with us always, Jesus says. This is the good news, the new kingdom of God! We must tell everyone about it!

Jesus calls us to be his disciples. Will we follow? Will we tell people the good news which Jesus brings? Like the disciples of long ago – the longer we stay in the company of Jesus, the longer we pray to him and learn about him in our scriptures, the more we find out about him – we get the bigger picture, too. And don’t forget – Jesus sees our potential, just like Jesus saw the potential in the disciples he chose long ago. God is perfectly capable of honouring ordinary people just like me and you and the seemingly insignificant places where we come from, too, just like little Nazareth of long ago. And don’t forget – we don’t have all the answers, just like the disciples of long ago. We just don’t know everything, either. And that’s OK. We’re not meant to. We’re just meant to follow. And love Jesus. And love God. And commit. Give Jesus our loyalty and our heart. And he will take care of the rest. Before you know it, you have become a disciple.

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Jan. 21, 2018. Sermon: Listening for God’s Voice.


Sermon: Listening for God’s Voice

Scripture Lesson: Samuel 3 – 4:1
Have you ever been lying awake at night with thoughts racing through your head – one idea after another chasing their way through your consciousness? And then you get a great idea. It’s so good you think: “I’ll definitely remember that in the morning.” But morning comes, you remember that you had a brilliant idea in the night, but – it’s gone! Scientists have observed that many of the great scientific breakthroughs come when someone is either asleep and dreaming or half-asleep. There’s something about this state that let’s our minds be fertile and creative.
Samuel was sleeping when he heard a voice that woke him up. We are told that the “lamp of God had not yet gone out.” This refers to the golden lampstand in the Jerusalem temple where the Ark of the Covenant was located, where God’s presence resided in the temple. The flame on this lampstand burned all night and it was not allowed to go out before the morning. In our story, it is nighttime and the lamp is still burning. Samuel hears a voice and thinks his master Eli is calling him. This happens three times and Samuel keeps going back to sleep. Then Eli tells him that the voice may be God calling him. Samuel decides to listen and he replies: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
The Lord came and stood there. That’s something you’d never forget! It’s one thing to get a brilliant idea in the middle of the night – but it’s another thing entirely when our Creator pays you a bedside visit! God tells Samuel that he has some difficult times in store for Eli the Priest, who has been letting his sons blaspheme God. It is very awkward for Samuel to have to tell Eli, who is his guardian. But Samuel tells him and the predictions come true. God calls Samuel, Samuel listens and responds, Samuel faithfully delivers God’s messages, and Samuel becomes a great and trusted prophet serving the Israelite nation. It is Samuel who anoints the shepherd boy David as Israel’s great king to rule. David was chosen and called by God, for it is through this royal lineage that Jesus Christ was born. It was God’s calling and God’s plan.
Throughout the pages of the Bible we hear about other people who are called by God. We read the stories of those who decided to listen to God’s voice – Moses goes to Pharaoh in Egypt to liberate the Israelite slaves, but initially, Moses didn’t want to go, he didn’t want this task – he says: “O Lord, I’ve never been eloquent, I’m slow of speech, please send someone else to do it!” But Moses does go, for God says: “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Jeremiah the great prophet initially doesn’t want to follow God’s calling either, using the excuse of Moses, saying: “Ah Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak, I am only a child,” but God tells Jeremiah: “I have put my words in your mouth…do not be afraid for I am with you.” Gideon objects to God’s calling, saying: “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest and I am the least in my family!” But Gideon obeys God, and we’re told in the book of Judges that during Gideon’s lifetime, the land enjoyed peace for forty years, a long time in Israel’s history.
One night in a dream God calls to Solomon, who has been newly enthroned as king, and God says: “Ask me what I should give you.” Solomon asks God, not for riches, or long life, or victory in battle, but for a discerning mind (1 Kings 3: 5 – 12). Solomon asks God for wisdom to help him rule God’s people wisely, to distinguish between right and wrong, and Solomon asks to be a good king. His request pleases God and Solomon’s reign is blessed.
A young temple worker Samuel, a king, prophets and leaders – what do these people have in common when answering God’s call? Trust. Faith. And commitment. Commitment means giving everything to God. If we listen to God’s call, we may find ourselves in uncomfortable situations like Samuel who conveys God’s unpleasant message to Eli, or we may find ourselves in relatively comfortable positions like King Solomon whose reign becomes famous for its Godly wisdom.
Have you ever been called by God? Do you recognize a time, or times, in your life when you unmistakably knew that God was calling you, directing you, or guiding you in some way? There are many stories from people all throughout the ages, from ancient times in our holy scriptures to various persons in recent centuries. We have many testimonies of people being called by God. Mother Teresa literally left her convent in India when she declared she had received a Godly call to help the poor and live among them; at first she didn’t receive any support from the Catholic Church to do this work, but she responded to God’s call and she was able to start a mission. Mother Teresa became famous throughout the world for the dedication and love she shared with India’s destitute poor. It may not be well known, but Mother Teresa suffered from doubts and depression, but she didn’t let this stop her – she relied on God to help her and be with her in fulfilling her Godly tasks.
St. Francis of Assisi left behind a life of privilege and wealth to become a monk – he listened to a call from God, and we revere his teachings and recite his prayers to this day. In our 21st century, there are many entertainers, singers, authors, preachers and people from all backgrounds and professions who proclaim their faith in God and Jesus Christ, and who testify to their Christian life. They publicly witness to their faith.
How do we know God is calling us? How do we hear? We must be receptive to God. Communicate with God. Ask to hear God’s voice, like Samuel. Ask for God’s guidance, like Solomon. Matthew 7: 7 tells us: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” God will speak to you “through” prayer and the words of scripture: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” Psalm 119: 105. Jesus says to us: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me,” John 10:27. God wants to use us in God’s service. It is necessary that we grasp how important each of us is to God and Jesus, God’s Son. Wouldn’t you like to work side by side along with them? They do call us. Let’s respond, like Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.
Quiet Meditation Time: What task is God calling you to do? If you say: “Lord Jesus, I want to serve you. What do you want me to do?” What message do you hear?

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Jan. 14, 2018. Sermon: The Early Years of Jesus

Sermon: The Early Years of Jesus

Last week we talked about the story of Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape King Herod as recorded for us in the book of Matthew, and later, after King Herod has died, they return to Israel and live in the town of Nazareth in Galilee. Here, we are told, Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favour of God was upon him,” as recorded in Luke 2: 40. Then, in the very next passage, we’re told the story of the twelve year old Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem in his “Father’s house,” he says. And we know by “Father” that Jesus means God, implying that God is his Father. We have just this one little glimpse of a story of Jesus as a child or young person. Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ early years? Where are the other stories about his life? What was he like growing up as a little child, a young person? Where are these stories, and why don’t we have more of them recorded for us in our biblical scriptures? Well, we don’t. But there are other ancient texts and scriptures.
There is an ancient work called The Infancy Gospel of Thomas written, as claimed, in the second century A.D. This Thomas is not the disciple of Jesus – it is another person called Thomas. There are very old versions of this work written in Syriac, Greek, Old Latin, and Ethiopic (Ethiopian). Translations of this work date from the 11th century. In this work The Infancy Gospel of Thomas there are stories and legends about the child Jesus. It tells of Jesus at five years old playing in a stream, gathering the water into pools, purifying them, and taking clay from the mud, he forms twelve sparrows. Then, with a shout, he commands the birds to “Go, take flight, and remember me, living ones!” Did this really happen? Or is it a fable?
There are other stories: Jesus is playing on the roof of a house with other children, and a boy falls off the roof and dies. The boy’s parents come running and accuse Jesus of knocking him over the edge, but Jesus says he didn’t, and he quickly goes down and stands beside the dead boy’s body, saying: “Zeno, Zeno, rise and say if I knocked you down.” The boy gets up and says: “No, Lord,” and the parents and townspeople are amazed for this wonder.
There is a story of Jesus going into the forest to gather sticks with his brother James, and a poisonous snake bites James, who sprawls out on the ground dying; Jesus blows on the bite, immediately the bite is healed, James recovers and the snake is destroyed. Are these fables or did they really happen?
There’s a story of eight year old Jesus working a miracle in Joseph’s carpenter shop. Joseph is making a bed and one length of wood is shorter than another. Joseph is distressed because they are meant to be the same length, and young Jesus takes hold of the shorter piece and stretches it to match the longer piece. Joseph is overjoyed. Did this really happen?
There are stories about Jesus correcting his school teachers and teaching them about the alphabet letters and the true meaning of Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end. He astounds his teachers – they are stupefied and “cannot follow along in their minds,” we are told. One teacher is said to say: “This child is something great, either a god or an angel or whatever else I might say – I do not know.” We’ve read in our scriptures this morning about the twelve year old Jesus amazing the temple teachers in Jerusalem with his understanding and his answers. Are these other stories true, or legends, or fables?
Religious scholar William Barclay, greatly revered for his work and study, shares two legends in his commentary The Flight into Egypt. The first story tells that when Joseph and Mary and the infant Jesus were fleeing to Egypt, they were met on the road by a band of robbers who wanted to kill them and take their goods, but one robber called Dismas, looks at the child Jesus and sees something there which stops him – he persuades the other robbers not to harm the family and let them go. Dismas, according to the legend, is one of the two robbers dying on his cross with Jesus at Golgatha – the one who asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom.
The other legend is again, about the holy family fleeing into Egypt to escape King Herod’s soldiers, and the story relates that evening comes and Mary, Joseph and Jesus seek shelter in a cave. A spider spins a large web across the entrance, it is cold, and the web becomes covered with white hoar frost. When a detachment of Herod’s soldiers comes along the path searching for male children 2 yrs and younger to kill as they carry out Herod’s orders, the captain sees the cave but says: “Look at the spider’s web – it is quite unbroken – there cannot be anyone in the cave, for entering they would have torn the web.” The soldiers pass by and leave the holy family in peace. And that, so they say, is why to this day we put silver tinsel on our Christmas trees, a reminder of this legend when the spider’s web saved the holy family.
Did these legends and stories really happen? Jesus increased in wisdom, in years, and in divine and human favour our scriptures tell us, and Mary the mother of Jesus “treasured all these things in her heart.” It is recorded that at the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus’ first public miracle to begin his adult ministry, it is mother Mary who says to the servants, “Do as he says,” and the water is turned into wine. Mary knows what Jesus is capable of doing. I’m sure she saw many wonderful things with the child Jesus growing up in her care which are not recorded for us.
In John 21: 25, the disciple John states: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” In faith, we believe that Jesus did amazing things. Things that would astound us. And like his mother Mary, we would treasure them in our hearts.

In my theological studies, we were taught to read the scriptures as if looking through a lens – look beyond the words, try to grasp the meaning or context or setting beyond the mere words, and try to capture the larger picture. What is happening in the story? What do we see? What we do know looking at the life of Jesus is that his life was exceptional, filled with wonder and the grace of God. The wisdom of God. Jesus repeatedly astounded people with his teachings and insights. Where did a simple 12 yr old boy get the kind of knowledge to astonish the religious teachers in the Jerusalem temple? We find him sitting among the teachers, we are told, “listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers,” Luke 2: 46, 47. Where did Jesus get this knowledge? If we believe he was Immanuel, God with us, the “Son of the Most High” as the angel Gabriel tells Mary, then it is understandable where he gets his knowledge, isn’t it? Gabriel says: “So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God,” Luke 1: 35. Jesus, the Son of God, is conversing and communing with God his Father all his life. Jesus speaks the language of God, the words of God, and conveys that Godly knowledge to all he meets.
Has the life of Jesus touched you? Have you experienced his presence? Has Jesus answered prayer for you? Have you called on him for help or guidance in some way? Have you felt him near? Perhaps you have experienced something profound, something unexplainable? Has Jesus intervened for you in some way? We celebrate Jesus coming to us, his birth in Bethlehem, but more than that, we celebrate his Spirit with us today, always. And if his Spirit full of the knowledge and wisdom of God was available to all those in his company when he was growing up as a child and as an adult, why would we think it was for them only and not for us today? That Spirit of Jesus is alive for us in our present day just as it was for all those who were in his company so long ago. Jesus is “the same yesterday and today and forever,” we are told in Hebrews 13: 8. Jesus hasn’t changed. His Spirit is the same. Is he with you?
This new year of 2018, may we all more fully discover that incredible, inexplicable, sensational, unboundable, miraculous and liberating Spirit of Jesus. May it come alive for all of us this year. May we sit at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning and gleaning his insights and knowledge for each one of us. May we each of us be truly blessed to learn more of him, more about him, and may we become more like him. May that be our prayer for this year, to grow into the knowledge and wisdom and love of Jesus our Lord and Saviour. And may we be amazed, astounded, and savour the special moments we have with him, treasuring them in our hearts. Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, January 7, 2018. Sermon: The Flight into Egypt

 

 

 

 

 

Epiphany Sunday January 7, 2018

Sermon:  A Narrow Escape

Christmas time is over and the discarded trees are waiting to be picked up by the roadside. Decorations are packed away and most of the indulgent foods have been eaten or disposed of guiltily. But is the season really ended?

Today is Epiphany Sunday, the time in our church calendar – and a date recognized by many churches and denominations – when we celebrate the Wise Men’s visit to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. But the story really doesn’t end there. You see from our reading today that something else happens after the Magi leave. It is the Bethlehem massacre.

It is not a pleasant part of the story. That may be why we often leave it out. We have experienced the familiar nativity story with fond, comfortable memories and feelings. Yes, it was difficult for Mary & Joseph but despite the hardships, baby Jesus was born, angels sang, shepherds and Wise Men visited. All is good. The warm glow from the stable is so cozy. All is well, we think. It is the end of the Christmas story, we think. All ends happily, we think.

Except that we have forgotten Herod the Great. The most ruthless King of Judea. He is enraged when the wise men don’t return to Jerusalem to tell him exactly where this newborn babe s to be found, this King of the Jews as they called him. They take a different route from Belthlehem back to their countries of origin, far away from Judea. Far away from the grasp of the fury and rage and cruelty of King Herod. But King Herod knows this – this baby was born in Bethlehem. To eliminate any future competition of kingship, Herod gives orders for his soldiers to kill all the boys two years old and younger who live in or near Bethlehem. It is a horrific act we think, but not for Herod.

Herod was a master in the art of assassination. He had an elaborate network of spies, and he often executed people for real, or imagined, conspiracies against his throne. He was neurotic and obsessed with the idea that others were plotting to usurp his throne. He had no sooner come to power in Judea by the Roman Empire than he began by annihilating the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews. Later he slaughtered three hundred court officers out of hand. He murdered his wife Mariamne, and her mother Alexandra, his eldest son Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, because Herod thought, they were plotting to take over his throne. Josephus the historian even talks about Herod’s plan, fortunately never carried out, to have all the Jewish nobility slaughtered at the time of his own death to ensure that everyone would be mourning his death. King Herod of Jesus’ time was a mad man.

So, you can understand that with the surprise visit from the wise men, King Herod does not calmly accept the news that a child has been born who is going to be king. He carefully enquired of the wise men when they had seen the star. Even then he was craftily working out the age of the child so that he might take steps towards murder, and now he puts his plans into swift and savage action.

There are two things which we must note about the Bethlehem massacre. First of all, Bethlehem was not a large town in Jesus’ day, estimated to be around 300 people, and the number of boy babies two years and younger would have been small. We must not think in terms of hundreds. But this does not make Herod’s crime any less terrible. To Bethlehem as a community, to the families and friends of the bereaved parents, this was an unthinkable horror.

Secondly, there are certain critics who hold that this slaughter cannot have taken place because there is no mention of it in any writing outside this one passage in the New Testament. The Jewish historian Josephus, for instance, does not mention it. But in a land and time where murder was so widespread by a ruthless Roman Empire and a mad King in charge of Judea, the slaughter of perhaps around 10 –15 small male babies would cause little stir to the powerful rulers and would mean very little except to the broken-hearted mothers of Bethlehem. The fact that an event is not mentioned, even in the places where one might expect it to be mentioned, is no proof at all that it did not happen. The whole incident is so typical of Herod that we can plausibly believe that Matthew is passing the truth down to us.

Joseph has a dream after the Wise Men leave. In our times we disregard dreams as messages. We think that they are unreliable, fantastic, nighttime visions. Yet, if Joseph had disregarded this or any of his other dreams, we would not have our faith story as it is today. But thankfully, Joseph pays attention to the angel message he receives. He gets up right away in the middle of the night and leaves Bethlehem immediately. This angelic message must have been powerful and frightening in its urgency. Perhaps Herod at that very moment was giving his soldiers his orders when Joseph receives his dream message. The holy family gets out of Bethlehem in time before Herod’s soldiers arrive, and with hurried or perhaps no preparation, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus flee Bethlehem and embark on a lengthy journey to the far-off land of Egypt.

Refugees, fleeing from cruel oppression. Does this sound familiar? According to current facts, there are 65.6 million “displaced” refugees in the world, and out of this number, 22.5 million refugees have fled to another country. Once again we are reminded that Jesus has experienced everything we may live through. When God became human, there was no holding back. All the woe and misery of the world was a part of his reality.

The holy family travels far from the lands under Herod’s rule to a strange new country. Egypt was not a country that Jews were unfamiliar with. In our bible, there are many stories of Israelites in times of famine travelling to other countries where grain was plentiful, Egypt being one of them. Yet, it is a strange land to Joseph, Mary and Jesus as people in those days did not travel very far from their homes under normal circumstances. Ironically, the very land that had been the land of bondage and slavery for the Jews in the time of Moses, now becomes the land of refuge and safety for the new-born King of the Jews, Jesus of Bethlehem.

Herod is believed to have died at his Winter Palace in Jericho, not very long (perhaps a year or two) after Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus into Egypt. After a while, Joseph has another angelic dream and he is told that Herod is dead and it is safe to return to Israel. He follows the angel’s instructions and the family makes the return trip only to find that Herod’s son, Archelaus, is now reigning over Judea. Archelaus certainly learned from his father. He is such a violent and aggressive king that in year 6 A.D. he is deposed by the Romans in response to complaints from the population!

So the holy family avoids Judea and moves north instead to a small town called Nazareth in Galilee. Galilee is ruled by a much calmer king, Herod Antipas, and has become a refuge for those fleeing the iron rule of Archelaus. Nazareth, according to its size and isolation, did not have an esteemed reputation. It was the brunt of jokes. To come from Nazareth, or to be a Nazarene, was the same as being scorned or laughed at, a place having little attraction or acclaim. This was the town where Joseph, Mary and the young Jesus went to live, a safe and secluded place, and they settled down in peace, raising Jesus where he grew up and stayed until he began his earthly ministry.

Jesus and his family lived through the despair and helplessness that even today afflict over 65 million fellow human beings in our world. I am proud that our Canadian government has welcomed 320,000 refugees into our safe and beautiful country of Canada. As we reflect on this, and on our own ministry in God’s world, the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:35, come to mind: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

As we journey forth into this new year 2018, let’s remember Christ’s words and be that haven and place of rest for others. May we set out on many journeys that will take us onward  and forward into God’s future to live out our Christian faith in action.

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Dec. 31, 2017. Sermon: New Year Predictions


New Year’s Eve Sunday
December 31, 2017
On this New Year’s Eve Sunday, I’m certain that we have many hopes and desires and expectations for the new year of 2018. If you made any predictions, what would they be?
Predictions are tricky things. Astronomer James T. Adams said: “Any astronomer can predict with absolute accuracy just where every star in the universe will be at 11:30 tonight. But he can make no such prediction about his teenage children.”
We tend to predict looking at the way things are right now, but however stable our predictions seem, we know some will change. The course of the heavenly stars in 100,000 years won’t be the same. The starry night then won’t be the starry night of today. We can accurately predict some changes. But we often can’t predict ahead because we haven’t the insight or knowledge to know what’s coming. Out of the blue a scientific discovery, or medical revelation, or invention may come which changes our future dramatically. Remember the world before the internet? No-one could reasonably predict that it was going to take off the way it did. Millions of people planned their lives without the World Wide Web. But suddenly, everything changed. Businesses were shaken up, some disappeared, and new ones emerged. Even language changed as new words were invented to describe things. We have a desktop on our laptop, and we move a mouse to manoeuver the curser, the directional arrow. Some folks resisted computers but it didn’t make any difference. The internet had arrived and it was here to stay – until some totally new, still-unknown phenomenon pushes IT aside and things will change again.
As writer Joseph Campbell observes: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
Some predictions have been spectacularly wrong…
“Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant … utterly impossible.” Simon Newcomb (1835-1909)
Decca Recording Company turned down the Beatles in 1962, saying: “We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.”
A Munich schoolmaster told 10 year old Albert Einstein: “You will never amount to very much.”
Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, said about television in 1946: “Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months – people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” said Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977.
Aside from these amazing mistakes, there is no doubt that the future will bring both change and opportunity. And with the passing of the old year and the start of any new year, we look back – where have we been? What did we do? What did we accomplish? What would we like to change? What can we change in this year of new beginnings? What would you do, how would you behave, if you knew absolutely what changes were going to happen this year? Perhaps you would invest in some things and avoid others. Maybe you’d start eating differently, or put some money aside? Maybe you’d choose to spend more time with certain people?
Perhaps you’d give more thought and thanks to God for the birth of Jesus, the Messiah? The prophets of old predicted his coming – they gave thanks for God’s salvation. The Magi studying the stars and constellations predicted a royal birth in Israel, and they gave thanks as they kneeled before the Christ child in Bethlehem. Simeon and Anna at the temple in Jerusalem gave thanks to God for seeing the Messiah when Mary and Joseph brought the young child Jesus to present him to the Lord, according to Jewish custom.
We “see” Jesus every day. He came to be among us so that we can trust in His presence with us. Every day. His Spirit is with us. And Jesus tells us that we can’t serve two masters – meaning, that he wants us to put him first. In Hebrews chapter 12: “…run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” Jesus tells us in Luke 9: 62: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” As Canadian National Ploughing Match Champion Paul Dodds says: “It is essential for the first furrow out on the field to set your sights on the sighting pole and don’t take your eyes off it. You want to set a straight line.”
We keep our eyes straight ahead on Jesus, our sighting pole. We don’t worry what’s behind us because we trust that Jesus will set our furrow, our path, straight ahead. In this new year, keep focussed on Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Our goal is to serve him, to be accountable to him, to listen, watch for him, commune with him, pray to him, and with him, respond quickly without procrastination or excuse. Keep Jesus first. Set your eyes on him. And like Anna and Simeon, when we see Jesus our Messiah, we perceive things through the eyes of eternity. We know that our salvation has arrived.
Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Dec. 24, 2017. Sermon Title: The Gift of Love

Advent 4: The Gift of Love

This, the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love, tells us that our time of waiting is almost done. We have walked the road towards Christmas and we have experienced that sweet anticipation we feel before the big day arrives. We all want Christmas to come. “Are we there yet?” is the cry. Visit any shopping mall this afternoon and you will see that the world is still hurtling on towards Christmas Day. But here, in this sanctuary, we can breathe a small sigh of relief. We have walked the Advent road towards the birth of Christ, and our souls are ready to receive the greatest gift of all.
Sometimes the gifts that mean the most to us are not the ones that cost the most money. The brand names and extravagant packages are lovely to receive but in themselves they are just things. If you’ve ever cleaned out a closet or your basement, you know it’s all just stuff!
We have received mailboxes full of flyers offering us “the perfect gift” to make everyone happy. But have you noticed that if we do buy that “perfect” gift and give it, the receiver may not immediately respond with instant joy? Or, if they do get excited for a moment or two, it wears off and they wait for the next perfect gift to work its magic. Gifts of stuff are not as powerful as the advertising industry would like us to believe.
Our manger scene features the bringing of gifts to the baby Jesus. The shepherds bring lambs, the wise men their precious gifts. But the most “perfect gift” was not something brought to the baby – it was the baby himself! ”A Saviour was born for you,” the angel announces. God’s perfect gift to each one of us. Individually – for all humankind – and the most perfect gift for me and you that we could ever receive in our whole lifetime of Christmases. This gift of Jesus is perfect because Immanuel, God, is with us in whatever life changes, life circumstances, or life events we may find ourselves in.
Mary and Joseph have both found their life events and circumstances dramatically altered when God’s messenger Gabriel visits Mary and Joseph in a dream. They know who this baby is and where he comes from. At the manger scene in Bethlehem, this is the moment when God’s hand in things becomes more obvious to the outside world. Choirs of angels sing above the Bethlehem shepherds’ fields. Shepherds leave their flocks to find and seek the promised Saviour. The time of quiet waiting has led to another time of action. But God’s plan is there – God’s hand is present in these events.
This is how life goes for all of us. There are times of relaxed quiet and times of chaotic frenzy. Times when we must act quickly and decisively, and other times when we are able to stop and think. Sometimes the world just whirls around us, and then, with unaccustomed clarity, we have times of vision and perspective that open our minds to the greater plan God has for us.
If you are swept up in life’s difficulties, hold on to the image of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, this small vulnerable family at the crossroads of their destiny. Reflect that their faith brought them through their trying times, and that your own faith can uplift and support you while God works for your benefit. Over the next few weeks greater changes than Joseph and Mary could anticipate will lead them down fearful unknown roads. We will look at the future events of their lives in our services after Christmas.
How beautifully the nativity story unfolds, bringing us to the realization of God’s astonishing gift to us. We travel through mystery and gaze with wonder like the wide-eyed shepherds. We feel the vulnerability of Mary and Joseph and the little baby. We see how precarious life itself is and how wonderful is the miracle of birth.
When we remember that our God, creator of all things, somehow became human in order to reach out to us and let us know that we are loved and that God is with us, no matter what, in all of life’s ups and downs, that God’s hand is present in all our life events, that is the real, perfect gift!
May we remember on this 4th Advent Sunday, that the true gift of love has been given to us in the baby Jesus.

Amen.

A Celebration of Anthems & Carols by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Dec. 17, 2017.

christmas choir

Sunday December 17, 2017
Advent Three – Joy
A Celebration of Anthems & Carols

On this Advent 3 Sunday of joy, Music Director Jim Jordan and myself prepared a service of choir anthems, scripture readings, and carols, with a little history detailing each carol. We celebrated the joy of music and song! “He who sings,” said St. Augustine, “prays twice.” Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in the 4th century A.D., meant that singing adds to our praise and worship of God. Music and our singing voices are gifts. We musically pray to the Lord. Sung prayer expresses the joy of the heart, the happiness resulting from one who has encountered Jesus Christ and experienced God’s love.  Sung prayer reminds us of the choirs of heaven, the angelic host, with whom we praise God eternally!
It was a joyous morning of worship, music and song. Blessings, Rev. Mary Fletcher

CAROLS HISTORY:

1. Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth
The carol Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth is ancient, written centuries and centuries ago in the 4th century A.D. by Bishop Ambrose of Milan. Ambrose was a noted poet, skilled orator, respected lawyer, and as Bishop of Milan, a great preacher. He wrote books, essays, sermons, and hymns. In 1862, this carol was translated from Latin, set to a 15th century tune, and today, 17 centuries later, we sing Bishop Ambrose’s carol: Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth.
(This carol isn’t in our Voices United hymnbook, so the lyrics are printed below.)

Come, thou Redeemer of the earth,
And manifest thy virgin birth:
Let every age adoring fall;
Such birth befits the God of all.

Begotten of no human will,
But of the Spirit, Thou art still
The Word of God in flesh arrayed,
The promised Fruit to man displayed.

Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.
2. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
The origins of the carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel date back to medieval times. During Christmas Vespers or prayers, a series of Latin hymns were sung each day and in 1100 A.D., these hymns were restructured into verse form. In the mid 1800’s, English minister John Mason Neale wove segments of these hymns together to produce the first draft of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which was first published in 1851.

3. Angels from the Realms of Glory
James Montgomery was the son of missionaries who went to the West Indies and left their son in a boarding school when he was only 6 years old. He never saw them again because they died in those far-off lands. Left with nothing, James enrolled in school, but didn’t do well, and he spent his teenage years trying his hand at one thing and another. In his early twenties, he began working for a newspaper, and there he found his niche. He loved writing. James eventually bought the newspaper, and as the years passed, he became a respected leader in his town, whose citizens eagerly read his newspaper editorials and articles. On Christmas Eve in 1816, at the age of 45, James read the story of the angels in the gospel of Luke, and taking pen to paper, he wrote a Christmas poem for his newspaper. This poem later was set to music and first sung on Christmas Day in 1821. Angels from the Realms of Glory proved to be as popular then as it is today.

4. Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, also known as the “Huron Carol,” is Canada’s oldest Christmas song, written (it is estimated) in1642 by Father Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons. Father Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron people, and the melody is based on a traditional French folk song. The 1926 English lyrics we sing use native Huron imagery and symbols as depicted in Father Brébeuf’s original song when describing Christ’s nativity.

5. Do You Hear What I Hear?
In October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States were involved in a crisis centered on missiles which the Russians had installed in Cuba. The United States threatened military action if the missiles were not removed. The world trembled and prayed – was there to be war between these two nuclear powers? As Noel Regney walked through the streets of New York, a sense of despair was in the air. En route to his home, he saw two mothers with babies in strollers – the little babies, “angels” he called them, were looking at each other and smiling. The little ones reminded him of newborn lambs. As soon as Noel arrived home, he started to write lyrics beginning with “Said the night wind to the little lamb,” and his wife Gloria set the words to music. The Christmas song Do You Hear What I Hear? was born.
(This carol isn’t in our Voices United hymnbook, so the lyrics are printed below.)
Said the night wind to the little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star
Dancing in the night,
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite.

Said the little lamb to the Shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, Shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song
High above the trees,
With a voice as big as the sea,
With a voice as big as the sea.

Said the Shepherd boy to the mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
In your palace wall, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold,
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold.

Said the king to the people everywhere,
Listen to what I say,
Pray for peace people everywhere,
Listen to what I say,
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night,
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light.
CCL1 #2685207

6. Silent Night, Holy Night
In 1818, Pastor Joseph Mohr of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Germany decided it would be nice to have a new carol for the Christmas Eve service. He had written a poem two years earlier, and he thought his poem should be set to music. So he hurried off to see his friend Franz Bruber who was a school teacher and the church’s organist and choir master. In a few short hours, Franz came up with the hauntingly beautiful melody that is so loved and revered to this day. At the request of Joseph, who had a special love for his guitar, Franz composed the music for guitar accompaniment, and just short hours later, Franz and Pastor Joseph stood in front of the altar in St. Nicholas church and introduced “Stille Nacht” to the congregation. That night, a song was born which has become perhaps the most favourite Christmas carol of all. Silent Night has been translated into nearly 300 languages and dialects. Its lullaby-like melody and simple message of heavenly peace can be heard all over the world at Christmastime.

7. Ding Dong Merrily on High
The carol Ding Dong Merrily on High is a good example of a carol in the original sense of the word – a dance tune – which first appeared in a book for dance in the 1500’s written by Johan Tabourot. The dance tune or carol was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, described as a dance for “lackeys and serving wenches and sometimes danced by young men and maids of gentle birth masquerading as peasants and shepherds.” The Christmas carol Ding Dong Merrily on High as we know it today was first published in 1924 when George Woodward wrote words to the tune. And we’re glad he did, for this sprightly, toe-tapping, merry carol is popular to sing at Christmastime! (This carol isn’t in our Voices United hymnbook, so lyrics are printed below.)

1. Ding dong! Merrily on high
In heav’n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv’n with angel-singing.
Refrain:
Glo——————————ria,
Hosanna in excelsis!
Glo——————————ria,
Hosanna in excelsis!

2. E’en so here below, below,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
And i-o, i-o, i-o,
By priest and people sungen: R
3. Pray you, dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers;
May you beautifully rhyme
Your e’entime song, ye singers. R
CCL1 #2685207

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Nov. 26, 2017. Sermon: Meeting the King

x-reign-of-christ-sunday

Sunday November 26, 2017

Reign of Christ Sunday

Sermon: Meeting the King – Scripture: Matthew 25: 31 – 46

People love the idea of Royalty. Why do you suppose we give a royal person such admiration and adulation? The dictionary defines Royalty as: “The power, status, or authority of a monarch.” So, that means a royal person is someone with the power, status or authority of a royal person. That’s pretty straightforward. But why, other than that, would we treat a royal person with such adoration and special star appeal?

If the Queen of England came in the door of our church right now, what would we do? Would we simply hand her a bulletin and carry on as usual? Or would everything grind to a halt as we responded in shock? And then we would simply fawn over her every wish and desire! Queen Elizabeth did visit Washington USA during George Bush’s presidency, and while there, she visited a lady Alice Frazier in her home. Now protocol states that you mustn’t touch the Queen, but Alice wasn’t told, and she gave the Queen a hug! It made headlines around the world. Alice was so delighted that the Queen had come to visit her that she responded in the warmest most hospitable way she could.

Today is known as The Reign of Christ Sunday, or Christ the King Sunday. This is a celebration which was first chosen by Pope Pius XI as a time to celebrate the end of the Church year. He felt that the world needed to remember that we live in the reign of Christ. Jesus is the King above all kings. So, back in 1925, the Catholic Church adopted this day to honour the Royalty of Jesus. Over the decades, many other churches, including the Anglicans, Lutherans, and our own United Church, have also added this Reign of Christ Sunday to the church year calendar. The beginning of our church year starts next Sunday with Advent, but today, we celebrate and honour Jesus in his rightful position as our true King.

What do you think would happen if this King came in here to our church today? Would we stand back in awe – or would we give him a hug? Of course, we believe that Jesus is here. He told us: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also.” He is here in spirit. But what if he made a physical appearance? Would we give him a warm response like Alice? Would we be delighted to receive him?

Jesus gives us the parable about separating the sheep and the goats. The parable isn’t saying that sheep are better than goats, or goats better than sheep, but that they are separated into two groups. Why? What is the discerning factor? The one group follows the teachings and examples of Jesus, and the other group does not. Jesus our King judges and separates – those who follow and those who do not.

Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and spirit,” says Jesus, and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus knows. He knows our actions and thoughts, our opinions and attitudes.

Have you ever made those judgments where you say: “That person isn’t worthy of help,” or “What will they do with the money I give them?” or “They deserve what they get!” If we are honest, we have to admit that we have all thought that way at times.

Mother Teresa wrote that she sought the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, she said, especially in “the distressing disguise of the poor.” What an interesting thought. To see the appearance of a poor person as a disguise. Not their true self, just a face they have to wear because of the way the world has treated them.


There is a story about Saint Francis of Assisi. Young Francis was wealthy and high-born and high-spirited. He lived the good life, but he was not happy. He felt that his life was incomplete. Then one day he was out riding and met a leper, loathsome and repulsive in the ugliness of his disease. Something moved Francis to dismount and fling his arms around this wretched sufferer; and in his arms the face of the leper changed to the face of Christ.

Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One cold winter day, as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked for alms. Martin had no money; but the beggar was blue and shivering with cold, and Martin gave what he had. He took off his soldier’s cloak, worn and frayed as it was; he cut it in two and gave half of it to the beggar man. That night he had a dream. In it he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus in the midst of them; and Jesus was wearing half of a Roman soldier’s cloak. One of the angels said to Jesus, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?” And Jesus answered softly, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”

I was sick and you stopped to visit. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was shivering and you gave me clothes. Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me,” says Jesus.

We are standing in the presence of royalty all the time as Christians. We are standing before Jesus our King. Jesus has a vision for us. He hopes that we will act in our everyday lives as if we were always in his presence. He hopes we will do the things that will make him feel proud of us. Let’s honour Jesus our King. And let’s be counted in the group serving Him. Amen.