The Holiness of Doubt (Sermon on John 20:19-31 preached on April 26, 2022)

Well they say seeing is believing, but as children most of us intuitively believed in things we couldn’t see: the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and monsters under our bed.

 There is something within a child’s mind that believes what we are told without the burden of proof, but as we get older, doubts and questions creep in. We stay up late at night trying to catch the Tooth Fairy in the act, we set up traps for Santa, we write letters to the creature or ask our parents difficult questions.  

Eventually, our parents fess up and tell the truth.  We are crushed and devastated that our treats will no longer be forth coming, and sometimes we are angered that we have been led to believe a lie.  Yet, almost always, deep down we knew the creature wasn’t real.  Hopefully no children are listening.

When I was about six or seven, my older brother, Sam concluded that the mystical Treat Fairy who left late night snacks and coins in our duffle bags wasn’t real.  He boldly asserted that he had outgrown this creature and was no longer in need of her services.  I was heartbroken because I have always had a sweet tooth and was more than happy to keep the chocolates and candies coming.  

Deeply wounded, I turned to my parents and demanded the truth.  My parents did not want to spoil my older brother’s skepticism for me, so they told me she was.  I was worried she would no longer come around, so I wrote her a letter which I still have.  In the letter I wrote through tears,

“Sam doesn’t believe in you, but I still do.”  

Guess what?  She came that very night.

The Bible devotes quite a bit of space to talking about faith.  It is mentioned over 300 times in the context of confidence, honesty, trust, and conviction.  Hebrews 11:1 gives us a simple definition, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.”  Faith is trust in an uncertain future, belief that things will be made right, and a deep abiding trust in God.  Faith is a gift of the Spirit that leads to peace.  Jesus commands us to have faith without needing signs and wonders, and He encourages us by saying that even the most minuscule amount of faith – the size of a mustard seed, is enough to move mountains.  

Our modern culture also talks quite a bit about faith even if the context is different than the Bible. We tell people to “just have faith things will work out” or “to believe in themselves.” During the pandemic we were told to have faith in science and vaccines.  Even if we naturally question and doubt, we practice faith every day – we have faith that our cars will run smoothly, that we will have food on our table, and that we will wake up the next morning.

We put faith in our professionals – the people teaching our children and grandchildren at school, the doctor and nurses at the hospital, the mechanic who fixes our car,  and the restaurant chef who prepares our food.  

We do not practice blind faith – we believe these things because they have proven to be the norm and because we put stock in the abilities people have acquired through job training and education.  

This morning’s Gospel text evokes thoughts and feelings that have become all too familiar for many of us as we have lived through uncertain and perilous times. It’s a few days after Christ’s resurrection, but instead of celebrating, the disciples are cowering in a locked room for fear of the Jewish leaders.  They whisper amongst themselves trying to process their broken dreams, dashed hopes, and disillusioned devotion.  Suddenly, Jesus shows up in their midst offering peace and assurance.  Jesus’s followers are filled with overwhelming gratitude, but their friend Thomas is nowhere to be seen.  

Upon Thomas’s return, the other disciples excitedly tell him that they have seen the Lord.  Thomas replies that unless he physically sees Jesus and touches His hands and side, he will not believe it.  Well, you’ve probably all heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for and then duck” because a week later, Jesus shows up and does exactly that. When Thomas sees the risen Christ he boldly exclaims “my Lord and my God!”  Jesus answers that Thomas has believed because He has seen, but there will be an even greater blessing for those who believe without seeing.

We’ve all heard the saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it”or the Millennial version “pictures or it didn’t happen.” The human condition often only feels satisfied with absolutes, assurance, signs and wonders.  Thomas has gotten a bad reputation throughout history because of his disbelief, and today we hear the phrase “doubting Thomas”, but can we really blame Thomas for his request?   He was not the only Bible character who questioned God, and yet we don’t talk about a doubting Nathaniel or a doubting Gideon.  Rather than faulting Thomas, he is an archetype of what many of us experience in our own lives especially in the midst of uncertain futures. Thomas was only asking for what his other friends had experienced.  He felt he was missing out and when Jesus showed Himself, Thomas was the first to explicitly acknowledge Jesus’s divinity.

Historically, many churches have seen doubt as negative.  In early Christianity, people were taught to accept the church’s teaching without question.  It didn’t help that back then books were expensive and most people couldn’t read, so the only Biblical instruction was what was given by the priest.  However, according to the Bible, doubt does not necessarily equate unbelief. Rather, Scripture tells us to think critically and examine the doctrines we are given.  Even the Apostle Paul told his congregation to test what he was saying and examine it through the character of God.

 Today there are many people and even some churches which try to present a Gospel different from the one of Christ.  It can be confusing and complicated to know what is true especially when the arguments are compelling. The Bible does not tell us to follow something blindly, but to wrestle with the texts, and yes, at times, even to doubt.  In my own life, I have sometimes been troubled by a Scripture passage or a sermon, but through study and wondering, it has caused my growth.


We Came In As Strangers

After my first unit of CPE I wrote a poem. Now as I approach the end of unit two, I have written another one. This sums up what it’s like for me as I enter the hospitals and do my best to minister as a chaplain. I am incredibly blessed for the work I get to do. I look forward to continuing on my path and in my calling!

I open the door to your room and I see the window of your soul,

You who are timid, shy, afraid,

But at the same time courageous, fearless, and strong,

You who are spirited as the result of being a warrior.

I ask if I can come in and you hesitatingly agree,

Making small talk at first,

Your eyes darting to the corners of the room and finally gazing out the window,

You are fixated on getting unstuck,

On leaving what you perceive to be a prison,

And yet your legs won’t let you.

You let out a sigh, and in that sigh I hear a thousand different things,

Pain, anguish, longing, and dread co-mingled with expectant hope.

At this moment, I notice you are truly vulnerable,

Your tiny frail body shivering despite the heat,

Your eyes looking sad and droopy,

The remains of your untouched breakfast on your tray table.

You search my face and for a moment, I also feel vulnerable.

We have met as strangers, yet now we are connecting at a deep level,

And you don’t even know my name.

I sense my own face flush and pray it’s not visible.

I feel a thousand emotions running through my own mind as my heart beats wildly in my chest,

I check myself to make sure that I stay present for you.

I will myself to be fully focused on this moment where time stands still.

I breathe a prayer under my mask that God gives me the words to say,

Yet it doesn’t take long before you jump in rattling the silence.

You tell me about your children and grandchildren,

You tell me about your garden,

You tell me about your pet dog.

From there, you take me on a journey through your childhood,

Growing up on the farm and picking vegetables,

You tell me about your first job,

About your first love,

About heartbreak and healing,

About marriage and divorce,

About the grief and traumas you have endured,

The whole time I feel privileged,

I am unsure what I have done to secure your trust.

All I did was say hello and introduce myself,

But you heard the word “chaplain” and you immediately felt drawn to me.

As we talk the seconds turn to minutes and soon an hour has passed,

You pause for a drink of water, carefully sipping so it doesn’t moisten your gown,

And involuntarily you cough.

You are caught by surprise at what has poured forth from you,

And I find myself recognizing this moment for what it is: Sacred.

In your stories you have shared the narrative of your life.

I have hardly done anything,

A few nods, a few guiding questions, a few umm-hmmms,

And yet for the first time in a while you have felt truly understood.

We came in as strangers, we are now to depart as fellow travelers.

You thank me for my time and for my listening ear,

All the while I know you have been my teacher and guide.

You ask me when I will come back to visit,

I find myself drawn to wanting to see you again.

I check myself knowing that on this journey we have met at a crossroads.

We never talked about God and yet I felt God was present the whole time.

You never even told me what you believe, and yet I sense your spirit.

You didn’t ask if I was a minister, and yet, I felt I ministered to you just as you ministered to me.

We make a plan to meet again.

The day comes, you aren’t there.

You have been taken up on wings to whatever the next realm is.

I find myself filled with sadness,

I felt you had become a friend.

I find myself wondering about some of the stories you told.

I know you suffered greatly in this world, I hope you find serenity in the next.

I didn’t expect this day to come so soon,

I know I shouldn’t be attached, but I’m only human.

I look out the window and I see a rainbow.

I see a promise.

Goodbye brave soul. We met as strangers, we will meet again one day as friends.

The Way is Made By Walking – Psalm 1 (Sermon Preached Feb. 13, 2022)

To begin today’s sermon I want to ask what at first might appear to be a strange question: Do you have any pleasant memories with trees? Are you the type of person who enjoys spending hours in the forest? Do you ever  sit under a tree and enjoy its shade while reading a book? Have you ever decided to hug a tree? Or perhaps when you were a child you hung a rope from a tree, You may have collected sap from a tree, You may even have enjoyed eating fruit right off the tree.

When I was much younger than I am now, my parents owned a little farm just down the road in Wheatley. My Dad who is a lover of cedar trees, also decided to plant several fruit trees on some of the acreage. We would haul the water over to the trees and let it sink into their roots.  This was no small feat for a child and it was rather tiring.  The problem is, that the trees never produced much fruit.  Some years there would be an apple or two, but they were scraggly and not good to eat.   The reason is because the trees were not properly tended to. They weren’t cared for throughout the week. They were not properly sprayed to keep bugs from devouring them. They were not inspected or monitored to check their growth. In fact, the only thing good about it was that they were straight because we forced them to grow straight, although they never did become big, beautiful trees that produced luscious sweet fruits.

This morning we read a passage from Psalms and from Jeremiah.  Both of these passages are very similar because they describe a Christian believer as being a tree.  They also demonstrate the difference between how a righteous and unrighteous person will bear fruit.

I think for the most part we all desire to be productive, loving, and caring people.  Yet, we live in a world that requires a lot of discernment. Even though I am only 30, I look at the world that our children and teens are growing up in and I see how it’s a very complicated society. Youth these days have so many different opinions being given to them on social media, amongst their peers at school, within their families, and at church. Just think of  how difficult it can be for a youth to discern right from wrong and truth from falsity when the news, social media, and their friends are all saying different things.  Even as adults we see our world being divided and arguing over many things including the colour of someone’s skin, their ethnicity, or their religion.  Every time we turn on the news we can see desperation, desolation, and destruction.  There’s also been a surge of what is known as “fake news” in the past decade or so.  Sometimes it’s complicated to even know who to trust and what to believe.

In Psalm 1, we see the contrast between the one who is following God and the one who is following worldly standards of greed, prejudice, hatred, and strife.  Yet, the journey all begins with a path.  And the correct path all begins with that sense of discernment.  It is a journey of choosing what to think how to behave and where to belong.   Some would simply call this “spiritual maturity.”

The Psalm is the most concerned with what a person DOES.  Let’s first draw our attention to the righteous person. Someone who is following after God is Spirit-Driven.    They are careful who they take advice from.  They delight in God.   They meditate on Scripture.

Who do you go to for advice when you are having a bad day or when you need to make a major decision?   We all thrive best when we are part of a community of faith such as this church.  It is good to take part in corporate worship because it feeds our souls.  It’s not just in the message, the Bible reading, or in the songs, but it’s because it takes an active commitment to be part of a group of people.  As we form a congregation, we hopefully become friends for the journey.  The more we get to know someone, the more we see both their strengths and their flaws.  The more invested we are into someone’s life, the more we are able to encourage them and help them grow more into who God has made them to be.  

The ungodly are not like this.  In fact, the Psalmist calls them “know-it-alls.”  These individuals don’t grow because they don’t allow themselves to grow.  Anytime someone gives them constructive feedback they either retreat or justify themselves.  Anytime someone questions a decision they are making, they move on to another friend who will fully support them.  They keep asking around until they find people who agree with their choice even when it’s self-destructive.    They don’t open themselves up to new experiences.  They don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.  They don’t want to progress to the next level.  Some might even say, they are stuck in the past.  Not so much the past of tradition (which is often sacred) but stuck in the past of who they were and what they did before rather than who they are and who God is transforming and shaping them to be today.  

But a righteous person, lives life as an adventure.  They are comfortable not having all the answers.  They search out people with more experience than them and ask questions.  They open their minds by reading books, attending educational events, or even just talking to people who are different than they are.   Their mind is a sponge, soaking up all the information rather than acting rashly.  They consider their path, they make plans and goals to accomplish their dreams, they ponder over advice they’ve been given, carefully weighing the pros and cons and deciding which path is best for them. Just like Philippians 4:8 suggests, they fill their minds not with mindless entertainment, unhelpful thoughts and images, or things which make them feel worse about themselves or about society, but with things that are: true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praise-worthy, and will build community.

The next characteristic of the Godly person is that they delight in the Law of the Lord.  We all have to obey certain laws every day even if we don’t actually stop to think about them.  There are driving laws, public health guidelines, and criminal justice laws.  There are also unwritten rules and codes that we have to follow for pretty much any social situation we find ourselves in.  Rules like common courtesy, treating others with respect, and the Golden Rule.   Sometimes laws can be cumbersome.  Psalm 1 was written in the First Testament so you can imagine how many laws were given back then, especially in books like Leviticus.  Yet, the Psalmist doesn’t just say that the righteous FOLLOW the Law of the Lord, but that they DELIGHT in it.   Why would anyone delight in laws?  The reason is because the righteous person sees that laws produce boundaries and barriers which keep us safe.  If you have children or grandchildren you may have witnessed them growing up and becoming defiant, refusing to follow the rules, and maybe even arguing with you about why they had to do certain things.  Yet, as a parent you knew that the reason these rules were in place were to help them be happy and healthy, to avoid getting in trouble at school, and ultimately to make them mature adults who would go on to lead productive lives.  Rules like doing homework before watching any TV might not seem fun or delightful for a 10 year old, but when they are 20, they may realize the discipline instilled in them from youth is why they are now excelling in their university course.

The third characteristic of a Godly person is that they meditate on the Word of God daily.  I don’t know if anyone here is into meditation.  I have tried meditation many times, and I always find it hard to empty my mind and focus just on my breath.  I began to grow frustrated with my lack of ability to be calm and relaxed as my mind would rush to an endless to-do list.  It wasn’t until I heard someone say that meditation and worry were basically the same thing, so if I knew how to worry, I knew how to meditate.   Worry means focusing on all the negatives, whereas meditation is focusing on all the positives.  Meditation is more than just counting our breaths, it’s also about counting our blessings.  

Meditating on God’s Word can look different for each person.  Some people enjoy reading a short devotional book such as “Our Daily Bread,” some people enjoy reading or listening to a Bible passage, others simply might reflect on a particular verse from a motivational calendar, and still others might just reflect on general Biblical themes like love, acceptance, grace, and mercy.   There is no right or wrong way to meditate on God’s Word, but by having a daily practice, we are able to develop what is known as a “Spiritual Discipline.”   And Spiritual Disciplines are again what help us to grow and bear the Fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  

Going back to my original analogy of all those fruit trees in Wheatley which had the potential to bear fruit, but ultimately never did, I pray that we will see the ways our own growth has been stunted and the ways in which we are thriving.  God has given us a blueprint for how to become solid trees where others can rest in our shade.  It can be hard to grow when we are fully isolated, but with community it becomes much easier.  In community where we have love, joy, and peace modeled to us, we also learn how to model it to others.   I pray that this coming week we will find pockets of that same community everywhere we go.   May our hearts be receptive to the seed which has been planted in us, may our minds be watered with the goodness of God, and may our feet dance through the orchard rejoicing in the God who brings in the harvest.

Ash Wednesday Poem

This year Ash Wednesday feels different,

To say we are dust is not to say we are insignificant,

Rather it is to say we are mortals,

Guests of this Holy Habitation,

Yet, rather than sanctifying this Sacred Space,

Humanity consumes creation ravaging this realm,

To say we are dust is not to say we are worthless,

To be swept out on the grass or shaken out with the rug,

But to say we are mortal.

As society screams for youth offering serums, lotions, and magic solutions,

We become consciously aware that we cannot cheat death,

Yet our world is cheating children out of their life,

The rubble, the destruction, and the mass graves,

Snuffing out a flickering candle whose life would have brought joy to many.

Ashes fall from buildings, dust settles over corpses,

Remains of buildings, humans, and animals comingled

While I sit comfortable seated, safe at church wondering what’s for lunch.

To say we are dust is not an unimportant careless ritual,

Rather it is a reminder of the many Christians in the world for whom death is a daily possibility.

While in the West, we have deconstructed the Gospel to little more than a moral fairy tale, church being optional – why not just watch TV,

There are millions martyred whose ashes cry out

“Wake up” the King is coming!

To wear the visible Christ sign on our forehead is not trite or glib,

It’s a bold declaration, a tangible imprint of the mind of Christ,

To think about the lovely, admirable, trustworthy and true.

To wear the ashes is to know our identity and not to hide the truth that we are all God’s beloved.

To commemorate Ash Wednesday is not a one day only event.

Our nation and world has privately and corporately lived in Lent for the past two years,

Longing for normality, giving up what we value in sacrificial service to another, suffering in isolation,

The frailty and uncertainty rising with each case count, mandate and lockdown,

We have all lived in the fear that Easter may never come,

And yet, it has.

These days have been long and dark and filled with tears and pain,

But like the Son it has risen again.

That’s why this Ash Wednesday feels different,

It feels different because we are not insignificant, worthless, unimportant, trite or glib,

It feels different because this is our courageous act of defiance,

Our refusal to surrender,

Our prophetic witness,

That we are here to break oppression, stop hatred, end discrimination and restore our world once again.

Being God’s Beloved: Affirmations from A-Z

A – To be God’s beloved is to accept that the awesome God created me to be authentically me.

B – It’s to bravely bare my flaws, seeing that God makes me strong in my weaknesses.

C – As God’s beloved child, I courageous choose to see myself with the same love and compassion I give to others,

D – And I determinedly dare to defy the destructive labels that have been placed on me.

Instead I delight in the diversity of the Divine, taking pride in who he has made me to be.

E – When I look in the mirror, I can see my elegance for God has elevated me to the place of princess, to the realm of his royalty.

F – It’s because I have an audience with the King that I can face my fears, I do not live in bondage, but in freedom.

G – Through Christ, I’ve been granted a new life, and I choose to extend the same grace and generosity to myself which were first modelled by Him.

H – I don’t hold myself hostage to toxic thoughts of my past, instead I heal and in turn heal others.

I – I use my inquisitive and imagining spirit to innocently seek after that which God requires.

J – I jubilantly live into my quirks because in the joking there is joy.

K – The King kindly saw me shivering outside His palace. He welcomed me in, set a table before me, and we had a feast. It wasn’t so much in the delightful food, but it was in the soul connection that we bonded.

L – Through lovingkindness I am filled with God’s love to give to others.

M – I look at the magnificence of God’s multi-coloured and multicultural world and I see my place in it. I’m one of a multitude but I’m also my own.

N – No one gets to tell me who I am. Only God does.

O – There is no secret too outrageous, no deed too obnoxious, no thought too outlandish for me to talk to God about. He sees it all and yet has mercy and forgives.

P – To be God’s beloved is to find a deep inner peace and placidness in His presence,

Q – A quality quietness from the swirl of questions in my head.

R – Reassured even in rough waters that God has the strength and wants to pull me out of the deep

S – I sense His salvation, the sacred stops me from spiraling,

T – And instead calls me to trust, to truth, and to tranquility. In turbulent times, God’s timely presence is tangible to me.

U – I see myself as unique. A bearer of God’s Spirit, a tent in which He dwells. Therefore I care about my physical body.

V – God took me, a vagabond, and gave me victory, He saw my vulnerability, He saw that my life was exploding like a volcano, and He invited me into His vastness.

W – For a long time I held a warped view of who I was, but God has shown me I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I feel welcomed into His wide arms, seeking fully after Him is wondrous and worthwhile.

X – My relationship with God is more than just xenial*, it’s transparent, real, raw, and intimate. It didn’t come without a cost, though. I willingly had to surrender myself to God’s x-acto knife, allowing Him to cut out those parts full of rage, hatred, and disgust mostly towards myself.

Y – To continue being God’s beloved, is to constantly yield to the ways He wants to grow and shape me. I yearn for His courts for He has broken off the yoke that crushed me.

Z – God has filled me with a zestful zen. No more zig-zagging through the maze of life, no more zoning and zeroing out, but instead living each and every moment to its fullest potential.

*xenial – a friendly relationship between host and guest

A Modern Retelling of the Woman With the Issue of Blood (Luke 8:43-48)

Picture taken from:

Content: Harm Reduction/Addiction/Homelessness/Soul Sickness
Here’s a poem I wrote this morning, a modern take of the woman with the issue of blood. This woman has long since intrigued me especially after I suffered an unknown illness that robbed me of life and joy for a year (in my mid-twenties). After going to countless doctors with no answer, I related to this woman more and more. On my drive home from work last night, I thought about this woman in relation to the stigma and shame many people who are homeless and struggle with addictions suffer. I have been working through understanding harm reduction (something I admit to having quite a bit of bias about because I believe strongly in abstinence). However, as a true scholar, I have decided to spend the semester looking into it and trying to understand more about it. So in my wrestlings I came up with this piece:


Desperation. Frustration. Fear. Stigma.
I can imagine the pain of the woman with the issue of blood, because I see the same pain every day.
Walking down the streets, I notice,
There are so many homeless people, rough sleeping out in this cold,
And it makes me wonder, what happened?
Why is there still such poverty in such a rich country?
We could blame capitalism and consumerism, and they certainly play a part,
But there is a much deeper reason,
One that is not so easily answered or solved:
The woman with the issue of blood was an outcast,
She was ritually and ceremonially impure,
Surely God’s love couldn’t be for her.
She spent all she had not only trying to be healed from a physical ailment,
But also from the soul sickness of being ostracized.
Every penny in her jar steadily growing thin as she sought out the best of the best,
The most determined doctors, all the nicest nurses, the most superb surgeons, the most helpful healers,
As her penny jar dwindled so did her hope.
Her husband gave up on her,
She could no longer meet his needs as she lay writhing in pain upon her bed,
He tried to be sympathetic and understanding at first,
Tears welled in his eyes as he remembered the bride of his youth,
But eventually he came to the startling realization that woman was gone,
He twisted and pulled at his wedding band willing to take it off,
Gritting his teeth as he remembered the vow “In sickness and in health,”
Yet each time his ring got loose, he couldn’t will himself to throw his marriage away entirely.
Her children long since grown, had left home.
Her daughter would call from England sometimes to check in,
Her son unfortunately had chosen a different path,
One of addiction. He, too, was suffering.
He truly did care about his mother, he just lost the ability to show it.
Sometimes as the nameless woman wheeled her way into the hospital entrance,
She would see her son on the street corner with a sign in his hand asking for food,
And the woman’s heart was saddened because she knew that he, too,
Had a dwindling penny jar and had spent every last penny feeding his habit.
The woman longed to make him whole again,
But how could she when she was also broken?
The young man had tried everything he could to get clean.
The family had scraped together what little they had to put him through
Detoxes, counselling, and the most expensive of treatment facilities,
When that didn’t work, he ended up in hospitals, jails, and mental health homes,
And still he couldn’t stop.
The family tried to get him into 12 step recovery,
They brought him to church,
They told him about the love of the Jesus they had heard about and believed in.
The young man would stop at times,
But eventually his relapse would be even harder.
Finally, as the mother grew worse and worse,
As her sickness evaded her entire body and life,
Their attitude and actions had to shift to the one who
”Actually wanted to get well”
Which was sad because the young man so desperately also wanted to get well,
He just didn’t know it yet.
Would harm reduction be the answer for him?
His mom finally wondered during a long day as she lay in her hospital bed,
His mom had never considered it before, she was a firm believer in abstinence,
But she was wearing thin and as her own body deteriorated, so had her spirit,
Looking out the window, she saw a robin landing on a tree,
This small sign gave her hope.
Just then, a kindly man walked in.
He wasn’t wearing a doctor’s robe, and he looked like he was just an average man,
But what that man said to the woman that day gave her hope,
For the man told the woman there was another solution.
The woman was so weak she could barely speak,
All she could do was simply squeeze the man’s hand to let him know she was listening,
But as she lightly squeezed, power surged through her,
Energy coursing through her body.
Her eyes fluttered awake,
For the first time in days she sat upright and had a piece of toast,
And her bleeding stopped.
Her physical ailment left her, and more importantly her heart stopped bleeding,
Because she sensed that even in her worry her son would be ok.
That very day, she called around to shelters,
And in her travels she discovered an affordable housing option.
They didn’t do abstinence, they did harm reduction.
”Would it really work this time?”
The woman found herself doubting, but she fiercely pressed on,
She had been given new life and a second chance,
She loved her son more than anything and fearlessly dared to dream he could also be given a new life,
She called the place, they were happy to show her son around.
Her son has since moved in,
His progress has be slow, but it’s been steady.
He has the most wonderful laugh, his eyes light up as people started believing in him,
The last time she called,
Her son said he isn’t ready to kick his habit yet,
But he’s been slowly cutting back.
For the first time in years they had a 30 minute conversation
Where the mother didn’t worry about her son being in jail, in a hospital, or on the streets,
Instead they laughed, they cried, and before they hung up they promised to do it again real soon.
The mother still hopes her son will eventually give up his drugs,
She still longs to bring him home, hugging and kissing him as her baby,
But she also realizes that for now the little boy is a man
Who must fly solo.
She’s given him up to God,
And she hopes that one day he will also touch the hem of Christ’s garment
And be fully healed.

Jeremiah’s Call (Jeremiah 1:4-10) (Sermon From January 30, 2022)

Have you ever been assigned a task that you felt totally unprepared for?  You might have felt this sense of both dread and anticipation when you entered a university classroom for the first time, when you started a new job or took a leadership position at your work, when you got married, or when you gave birth to your first child.  It’s this sense of having a goal in mind, but also having no way to know exactly what that role entails until you try it out.

In today’s passage from Jeremiah 1, we meet a young prophet who not only was unprepared for what was to come, but also was given this opportunity without any warning.  Usually when we take on a big task we have time to think about it and get ourselves ready.  A woman carries a baby inside her for 9 months before giving birth, students study anywhere from 1 to 10 years at a college or university before receiving a job in their chosen field, a person generally courts a partner for a substantial amount of time before committing to them in an act of marriage, and a minister goes through a whole process to become ordained.  Yet, in Jeremiah’s case, the calling came upon him suddenly and fiercely.

God came to Jeremiah when he was still very young.  While there is no agreed upon age during the call, most commentators have settled on between the ages of 17-20 with some commentators suggesting as young as 10-12.  God comes to Jeremiah and tells him that he will be a mouthpiece for the Divine sharing the messages he has been given.  

Being a prophet was not an easy task back then, it often involved much hardship, ridicule, and scorn.  Jeremiah came from a family line of priests and he knew what was involved in ministry work.  It wasn’t just the daily grind of temple service that worried Jeremiah, though, Israel was also in a tumultuous time where there was hostility due to Israel being in exile.  In other words, it wasn’t just ministry, but ministry in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place.

The way that Jeremiah saw himself and the way God saw him were total polar opposites of each other.  To Jeremiah he was ONLY a boy.  He focused on his own shortcomings, his own lack of ability and his own inexperience.  Yet, God looked at Jeremiah’s potential.  God used the word “sanctified” which was a holy and special word at the time and it showed how much weight God really had placed in Jeremiah.  God believed in the young prophet and he approved of him.  There are many incredible call stories of prophets in the Bible and many of them were uncomfortable and tried to flee from the calling, but Jeremiah’s story is unique because it showed how God had a plan on the young prophet even before he was born.  

We are all called by God to do something.  Some of us might be called to lead or start a ministry, some of us might be called to become ministers, lay leaders, or diaconal leaders within the church, we might be called to serve the homeless, to raise interest on environmental issues, or to write a book.  Yet, how easy is it for us to look at ourselves through a perfectionist lens, never truly satisfied with who we are?  How easy is it to look at the areas we don’t like about ourselves and to critique them rather than to accept the compliments we so frequently give to others – even complete strangers?

Humanity is good at making excuses.  We might think about going back to school and get excited about studying and pursuing a new career, then reality hits us and we start to think: I’m too old, I’m not good at math, I’m only the average person not someone extraordinary.  

Or we add the word JUST to our identity in the same way that Jeremiah did.  We say I’m JUST a kid, I’m JUST a single mother, I’m JUST someone with a learning disability, I’m JUST a B student.  We don’t realize that if we were to give God permission God could help us achieve far more than we could ever ask or imagine.  

It’s easy to get weighed down by the world and and its impossibilities, but when we allow God to choreograph our lives great things happen.  Jeremiah’s youth scared him.  He was no doubt afraid because he thought that as a young man people might not take him seriously or listen to him, yet imagine what would have happened if some of the greatest children we know decided not to speak up because they were afraid no one would care.  Greta Thunberg was only 15 years old when she boldly approached the Swedish Parliament demanding stronger action on climate change.  That was back in 2018, now 4 years later, she is an icon, an example to many young people, and has spoken around the world to major political leaders.  She could have said “no, I’m too young” but she knew that she had a message to share and she wasn’t afraid of it.

Historically, there were some great female reformers who shaped the world despite being young and the “wrong” gender at a time when men more or less ruled.  Joan of Arc was only 16 when she began her quest for freedom and by age 19 had already been martyred. Sophie Scholl was only 22 when she took a stance against Nazi Germany opposing their harmful ideologies at the risk of her own life and Samantha Smith was only 10 years old when she published a paper on why the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union were so tense.

I think as well of childhood heroes we know a little less about.  Iqbal Masih was less than 12 years old when he campaigned against child labour in Pakistan, Nkosi Johnson was only 8 when he started raising awareness of HIV/AIDS a disease he was born with, and Emma Gonzalez was less than 18 when she became an American activist for gun control after experiencing a violent school shooting in Florida.  

A quick Google search will bring up thousands of other examples of those who stood for change, activism, advocacy, and social justice despite factors which might have held them back.  Imagine if any of these people would have said “no I’m too young” or “I’m just a girl” or “No one will listen to me, I’m not a good public speaker” how much less rich our world would be today.  Our world becomes a better place exactly because of courage and bravery.  This is why Paul told his young charge Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.”

Usually when someone is ready to take on a new role or identity, something is given to them as a symbol.  For example, an engagement ring and later a wedding band is place on a person’s finger to show their new transition, a clergy collar or stole is given to a minister on their ordination, a black cap and an expensive piece of paper known as a degree is given to a student upon graduation, and a white lab coat is given to a doctor to signify that they have certain qualifications and credentials.  In Jeremiah’s case, it was a little less glamorous – he was given a piece of live coal which touched his lips and with this was told that he would now be God’s mouthpiece.  This is not the first time God or another angelic being has done this action for someone who otherwise feels unworthy.  We see the similar things done to Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John the Revelator on the Island of Patmos.  In our western culture this may seem rather odd, but in Ancient Israel such symbolism was not out of place for to them words were of utmost importance.  Greta Thunberg often criticizes global leaders for their “empty words” but to the Israelities words led to actions which in turn produced results and ultimately brought consequences sometimes good and others bad.  Words were about authorship and carried with them a sense of assurance, accountability, and authenticity.  And it was with these words and this action that Jeremiah was appointed.  

I wonder what holy mystery God might be calling us to?  What divine delight we might be invited into.  What magnificent mystery God will share with us in a quiet place only between us and the Spirit.  What vibrant vocation awaits us if we are open to receiving it?

As we conclude our meditation for this morning, I want to share with you something my chaplaincy supervisor said to me this past week.  In looking at my own unworthiness, my own flaws, and my own shortcomings, I began to feel down that I would never reach perfection.  My supervisor then gave me these words, “how can we honor God and still attempt to abolish parts of ourselves?  God’s creation?  How do we rather embrace, with compassion, all parts of ourselves, without judgment – rather with an attitude of wonder and a theology of mystery?”

I pray that we will take those words to heart.  That we will not see our disadvantages as weaknesses which must be abolished, but rather as invitations for us to offer grace to ourselves.  That we will see our flaws as areas where Christ can pour the most beauty into, and that we will see our ordinariness as an outlet for God to do extraordinary things.  May it be so.  Amen.

An Abundance of Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; January 16, 2022)

In Shakespeare’s famous play “Twelfth Night” he pens a timeless line, “do not be afraid of greatness.  Some are born great.  Some achieve greatness.  And others have greatness thrust upon them.”

The desire to know and to be known are embedded in the human experience, in fact it is said that Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-17 speaks to the three greatest human desires that exist in pretty much all of us.  The temptation to be relevant (turning stones into bread), the temptation to prove our value and worth (throwing himself off the temple), and the temptation for riches, fortune, and fame (bowing to Satan in order to receive the earthly kingdom).  

Most of us desire to know that we have made a difference, most of us spend our lives seeking after a passion that will help define our existence, and most of us want to know that we are living for something or someone beyond just ourselves.

In the passage we read today from 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, the Apostle Paul shows us how we are all different and yet we are all serving the same body of Christ – or the same church.  Here Paul lays out several different spiritual gifts which one can possess, some of them are still common in our time, and others are not as common unless you come from a charismatic or Pentecostal background.  The gifts Paul lays out here are: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, distinguishing spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.  There are other similar spiritual gifts lists found in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 for a total of 20 specific gifts the Bible talks about believers being granted.  The other lists include the gifts of teaching, serving, encouragement, generosity, leadership, mercy, and preaching.  While some gifts are very much public roles, there are many others which are quietly done behind the scene but which still carry the weight with them of Kingdom impact.

This morning, I read a different version of these gifts from a liturgy called “Enfleshed.”  This is what the author writes, “In today’s lectionary Scripture, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 is proclaimed, ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’  For the sake of common good.  For collective liberation.  For the sake of un-building empire and co-creating otherwise. For the purpose of love’s freeing work.  For material transformation, intimately, structurally, and commonly.  

To one, the Spirit gives discerning wisdom and to another, the strength to weep for all that is being lost.  To another, an unshakable belief in the potential of transformation, to another, a soft presence that holds space for healing.  To another, a fire that inspires and compels.  To another, the courage to name and to unveil. To another, humour that upholds us.  To another, a curiosity that bridges, to another still, the gift of telling stories – ancient, fresh, intimate, and collective.”

Many of us might have been told at some point in our life perhaps by a friend, colleague, boss, or family member that we are specifically gifted in a certain area.  Perhaps we are good at extending hospitality – cooking and hosting a meal, making others feel welcome, and making sure that others feel included and valued.  Perhaps we are specifically gifted in service – we are willing to do the important jobs which others overlook and which might never be acknowledged, but perhaps we still take pride in knowing that someone completed them.  Perhaps we are good at working with children, being thoughtful as we remember the shut-ins, or good at writing thoughtful cards that cheer someone up.

These are all gifts the Bible specifically addresses, and yet in my sermon preparation I remembered that there are many other gifts which the Bible doesn’t talk about but which to me are priceless.  I think about the biweekly United Church Young Adult’s group I am part of with 18-35 year olds from across Canada and I think of their gifts of bravery, vulnerability, honesty, and compassion as they freely share about their lives.  I think about the gift of advocacy and justice many within the United Church carry as they pour their life work into social justice causes.  I think of the gifts of creativity that artists, musicians, writers, poets, film makers, and board game designers possess.  It is exactly because of the gift of artistic expression that many of us have been able to manage through various lockdowns.  I also think of those who are creative problem solvers, visionaries, bridge-builders, and those who have the gift of wondering and questioning how to make things better for the future.  I think about the people I work with who are coming out of homelessness and their gifts of courage, of trust, and of belief even when moments seem bleak and hopeless.  

Since we are now entering the week of prayer for Christian unity, I also have been thinking of the gifts that other denominations and even other religions can bring to us.  While many of us here grew up in the church, we now live in such a multi-cultural world where there are people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and persuasions.  In Windsor alone we have Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Baptist, Brethren, Byzantine, and Orthodox churches.  We also have Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, and a host of other spiritual identities.  Each one, and each person has something to bring.  The way we worship, our core theology, and our social structures might vastly differ, but beneath it all many of us are still searching for love, for acceptance, and for a spiritual community.  To me, being ecumenical or inter-faith does not mean that we have to be exactly like someone else or that we must purely focus on the similarities, though.  We can acknowledge the differences, but we can also remember that there is often rich beauty in diversity.

Additionally, I think about those whose gift is often not considered.  What is the child who is non-verbal and who has a developmental disability trying to teach and show us?  Can it be through the gift of slowing down, of friendship, of trust, and of deep listening even when words are not expressed?  Could the person suffering from drug or alcohol addiction really be giving us the gift of being able to reach out and speak to them at the heart level, of acknowledging their trauma rather than their perceived vulnerability?  Could the immigrant from another country whose accent we can barely understand or who might not even speak English, be giving us the gift of experiencing a new lifestyle, a new perspective, and learning a new definition for home?  

Every week, we literally bump into hundreds of people.  Even with the restrictions, we still see people at the grocery store, walking past our street, driving to work, sitting on the street corner asking for money, on our social media, and in our churches.  I’m wondering if when we see these people, we can stop and actually see them as beloved children of God.  I’m wondering if we can consider what the person can teach us – even if it’s just patience because they are taking so long to count out their change.  I’m also wondering what gifts we can give to help that person, what lessons we can teach them.

Sometimes we may feel like we have nothing to give or to offer, but even in those moments of pain, we can remember that we are always a few pages ahead of someone else in our story.  There is always someone who we can help and often in those moments when we are depressed, disillusioned, or distressed, being able to help someone else takes our minds off of our own reality.  

Yes, God has given each one of us unique gifts, but it’s all for the exact same purpose.  Regardless of what our gift might be, we were given it to remember who God is and to show others about Him, to build up the church, and to help equip and empower others.  There will be times when we feel anything but great on our journey, there are times when we might even feel taken advantage of or burnt-out, but Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:9 that we should “not become weary of doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  A statistic I came across once said that the average person will influence 1,000 people in their lifetime.  At first this may seem like a lot of people, but just think about how many people you have met already in your life.  There are even people that we are able to influence without ever meeting them because of our prayers for them, or because a friend of ours tells them a story about us.  Since we have no idea how many people we will impact, I want to encourage us to impact them through our gifting.  Through our smiles, our sharing, and our loving-kindness.

Shakespeare once wrote not to be afraid of this greatness – of these gifts.  Not to shy away from them, but to use them for good.  He wrote that not all understand greatness.  That there will be people who aren’t happy with what we do, don’t stay where you are merely tolerated, go where you will be celebrated.  Give of yourself to the people who will see that value and be grateful.  Some are born great – some have an inherent and natural ability to do something almost as if it were genetic.  Some achieve greatness – some are able to develop a skill or ability because they spend time practicing and working towards it.  And some have greatness thrust upon them – some find themselves in a position where they must use their gift to help others whether they feel the gift is fully developed or not.  

Regardless of where you are today, regardless of how small and insignificant you might think your gift is, and regardless of how underdeveloped you might feel your gift is, I encourage you to shine.  I encourage us to claim the gifts we know we have – we do not have to pretend they don’t exist, but we can actually say “yes, God has given me this talent” and then we can seek out a way to use it to support others.  

I hope and pray that in this coming week our eyes will be open to such possibilities, because they are always there and they always exist.

May it be so. Amen.

Baptism of Jesus Sunday Sermon (January 9, 2021)

Have you ever thought about changing your name or your identity?  Many of us talk about or have talked about being different than we are in the past.  Perhaps you wished you were quieter or more outgoing.  Better at math or at science.  That you were taller, thinner, more muscular, or had blonde hair instead of brown.  It was 14 years ago yesterday that I decided to legally change my name.  When I applied for a name change at the age of 16, I received a new birth certificate, new driver’s license, and new social insurance card. It was almost as if the old me had never existed.  That old person was struck off any legal documents, and a new identity was formed.

Today is Baptism of Jesus Sunday, and it’s monumental because it shows us how in Christ we have been formed  as a new creation.  We likely have all heard the phrase “new year, new you” but the Bible actually says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that in Christ, the old aspects of ourselves are done away with, and we are transformed.  Romans 12:2 says that our minds our renewed.  The word “renewed” literally means to re-establish, to rebuild, to repair, to restore after decay or deprivation.

Today’s Scripture passage might have only been 4 verses, but to me they are powerful and transformative.  For those of us who grew up in the church we likely have heard the phrase “remember your baptism” which is a curious expression because many of us were baptized as infants.  There are many traditions which baptize adults only and some of us here today might have made the choice to be baptized later in life perhaps due to not having been raised Christian or because we wanted to make a public declaration of our own accord, yet in the United Church these occasions are rather uncommon. Instead, I wonder if there is a holy mystery which occurs through the corporate act of remembrance on the part of the congregation, even if we, ourselves, slept or cried through the water being poured on our heads.

The United Church is not a “sacramental” church in the way the Roman Catholics and Orthodox denominations are, so we don’t often talk about what the sacraments mean and yet they are an important part of our communal worship.  In the UCC we only have two sacraments: baptism and communion.  Both were decreed by Christ Himself who said in Matthew 28:19 that we are to go into the world, making disciples, and baptizing in the name of the Triune God.  If you’ve never given much thought to the theological basis for sacraments, they are tangible ways God reveals Himself, ways to identify ourselves as believers, and visible sermons to others.

I will admit, that I, myself, never gave much thought to sacraments until I was forced to consider them in light of my ordination, for when a pastor is ordained, it is a calling to both the ministry of Word (Preaching) and sacrament. At first, I found it difficult to figure out how one could be called to sacrament, but then it became clear to me: for baptism is actually a sign of invitation, inclusion, hospitality, and healing.  More than that, it is a sign of purity, of passively receiving something which we do not have to earn of our own merit, and of being part of a community of friends.  It is a way of honouring life, bringing community together, and baptism is ultimately about being welcomed, accepted, and loved by God.

Last summer during my first clinical pastoral education unit also known as my chaplaincy training, I had a classmate encourage me to see my worth as a beloved child of God.  I have struggled with seeing my value as a worthy individual my entire life.  I have always been striving and seeking after the next thing, feeling that I needed to prove myself based on my degrees, my job performance, my popularity, or how the world saw me.  So, I decided to challenge myself to spend a year thinking about what it truly meant to be God’s beloved.  It has been a slow process and I’m not entirely sure even now that I can articulate it, yet, through my preparation for this sermon, I have come to see how our belovedness is uniquely tied into our baptism. Of course, this does not imply that if you are not baptized you are not God’s beloved.  We are all God’s chosen and cherished children, yet baptism to me exemplifies this very act of God’s outpouring love.

In Baptism we are chosen, called out and marked in love.  When Jesus came up out of the waters, it was the beginning of His ministry and marked a unique turning point in His life.  At that very moment, a voice from heaven called Jesus the delight of God’s life, the apple of God’s eye, and affirmed that Christ was on the right, true, and faithful path.

Some of us might have experienced the horror of being chosen last in school when it came to picking sides for a team sport.  As a single person, I often felt extra lonely and rejected because I felt that not having been married was a sign that I was not special enough to be chosen and I have heard many other singles say the same.  Perhaps we felt rejected because we were not hand picked or selected for the job, scholarship, or other opportunity we so desperately sought after.  Yet, in baptism, God shows us that we all are part of His family.  That we are all part of His church.  That we are gifted, called, and chosen because we are His.  

I love how Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that God delights in us and rejoices over us with singing.  When is the last time you delighted in being you?  When is the last time you looked in the mirror and told yourself how much you love yourself?  It’s easy to tell others how much we love and appreciate them, but it’s much harder to list out those good qualities for ourselves.  It’s easy to compliment others, even complete strangers, and so easy to criticize ourselves, yet, when God made and formed us He pronounced us as good.  Not “good enough” but as whole and treasured children.  Psalm 139 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are God’s handiwork and each one of us here today was born into such a time as this to accomplish a task which only we can do for God’s kingdom.  There has never been and there will never be anyone else just like us – with our temperament, our redeeming qualities, our quirks, idiosyncrasies, and flaws.  It’s easy for us to “show our best and save the rest” but sometimes it’s exactly because of our brokenness that beauty exudes from us.  Sometimes it’s because of the scars in our stories that we are able to offer hope and reassurance to others.  Or, as Brittany Estes, an American pastor says, “if I wouldn’t have been shattered the way I was, I wouldn’t shine like I do now.”  

One Bible story that is not often talked about but which has been a huge road marker on my journey is the story of David’s son Solomon found in 2 Samuel 12.  This story is one of the best illustrations of how God loves us even despite who we are or where we came from.  After David had an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and then proceeded to murder her husband, God still showed favour to David and gave him a son.  David named his son “Solomon” which means peace, but the Bible says that God gave him a different name.  To God, he was called Jedidah which means “loved by the Lord.”  God loved Solomon even though his father was a lustful murderer.  God also loved David even though he committed this sin because David’s heart was in the right place.  He made a mistake, but God is full of forgiveness.  We might also have made a wrong turn, we are imperfect, we fail, we choose the wrong path sometimes.  But still, to God, we are called “Beloved.”

We might not be able to remember our baptism literally, but I’m willing to say that our parents remembered it well.  That they remembered the anticipation and excitement leading up to it.  Carefully choosing beautiful and special clothes for the occasion.  Giving thought to who our godparents would be.  Cheerfully inviting friends, relatives, and neighbours.  Delighting over us.  Taking pride in us.  Giving expectancy over to God for their hopes and dreams over who we might become.

This is what it means to be a beloved child of God. It doesn’t matter who we are, who we were or where we came from, because the Bible tells us that we are all given the same spirit and that we have all been clothed in Christ.  To be a beloved child of God means that we have entered a covenant with him – not a casual contract that can be easily canceled, but a binding promise given because God is committed and values us.  We do not need to hide who we are in Christ, we can take pride and joy in the fact that God continues to work in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about changing your name and your identity.  Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be called something different than the name your parents gave you at your birth.  Yet, in Revelation 2:17 we are told that one day we will all receive a white stone with a new name on it.  It might be fun to consider what our new name could be.  Could it be the name of a celebrity we’ve always adored, or the name of a mentor we’ve had who has had a place of prominence in our lives?  It very well could, but to me, it will be the same name as we were all given at our baptism.  The name will remind us that we are loved, that we are redeemed, that we have a place in the Kingdom, and that God has chosen us as a vessel for whom His Kingdom life will pour out of.  

May it be so.  Amen.  

A Season of Fresh Starts (Rev. 21:1-7)

New Year’s Day has long been one of my favourite holidays of the year.  Almost as sacred as Easter, more exciting to me than opening up my presents on Christmas, and certainly more jovial than my birthday especially now that I’m over 30, there’s something profound about the clock striking midnight on January 1st.  The other day my colleague and I were talking about how we celebrated New Year’s as children.  Back then it was so exciting that our parents let us stay up well past our bedtime and as we got giddy and started dozing off to sleep, they would nudge us awake with promises of goodies and non-alcoholic champagne which my parents used to call “Kiddy wine.”  As an adult, I stay up past midnight more often than not, so that part is not novel to me, but there’s still something magical and exhilarating in the air as I look back on all I have seen, experienced, met, and accomplished the previous year and make plans and ideas for what is to come.  

When I was originally asked to lead the inaugural sermon of 2022, I was drawn to the beginning of the Bible.  The story of the Garden of Eden found in the book of Genesis.  The origins of humanity, the understanding of where we came from and as such where we are headed.  Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I felt it necessary to start at the back of the Bible instead.  The last book, the penultimate chapter – Revelation 21.  For you see, God is the great author and knew how to write a compelling book.  We have a poetic and serene introduction, the middle bits are filled with paradoxes and parables, with both turmoil and triumph, with sin and salvation.  Then finally our creative God ends with a Happily Ever After scenario.

I don’t know if anyone here today is a big movie buff, but there’s almost always this expectation that a movie ends on a happy note.  Even when villains seem to be winning, even when destruction and doom seem to permeate the set, and even when all seems hopeless, we all hang on to the edge of our seats, tightly gripping our bowl of popcorn, eyes wide at the screen believing that in the end a hero will swoop down and save the day.  There have been a few movies which have tried the opposite – where in the end of the day the villains wins, and likely most of you won’t even know about these movies because they generally fell flat.  People don’t like to watch movies where the bad guy does not meet a fair end.

Speaking of movies, if you’re anything like me you enjoy watching a movie through with no interruptions and get irritated when your friend or relative continues to ask questions or make comments through the film.  Or perhaps you’re the opposite and you are the person who enjoys being the commentator.  Generally people will shush others because they don’t want to miss anything.  Of particular note are those who have already seen the movie who are told not to spoil anything.  People say they want to be left in suspense, they don’t want to know the ending because it will ruin their movie pleasure.  Yet, interestingly enough, a 2011 psychological study actually showed the opposite.  The truth is that the general public actually enjoys a movie MORE when they know what to expect…but don’t try to tell them that.

I believe that God is like a great film director.  He knows that we will enjoy the movie of our life more when we know the ending.  Yes, there are times in our lives when we ask God when something will happen for us or even if it will happen for us.  Sometimes in my 20s I wanted to know how my life would unfold – where would I eventually live, who would I eventually marry (or would I even get married), would I have children, what type of job would I have, would I get ordained?  At that time, I thought that knowing all these answers would take away my anxiety and stress.  Well, God never did give me those answers at the time I thought I needed them, but God has given us all the answer for how good will ultimately triumph in the end of the day.  

Revelation 21 acts as a great SPOILER ALERT and in it God makes eight unique promises to us.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth, there will be no threats, earth will be restored, God will dwell among us, God will wipe away every tear, there won’t be any of the unpleasant realities we face in this world, the old ways will be done away with, and free water will be given for all who thirst.

I found it particularly interesting that while the story of humanity begins in a garden – a serene and peaceful place surrounded by nature, it ends in a city.  Think of the big cities we know in Canada – Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.  They are places of great opportunity, multiculturalism, diversity, and artistic expression.  Yet, they are also places filled with poverty, homelessness, and lack of affordable housing.  Yet, the new city promised to us by God is one where all will find a home, where all will be loved and cherished, and where all will feel welcome.  When I lived in Toronto I sometimes felt alone in a concrete jungle even despite being surrounded by millions of people – yet in the new city God promises there will be no isolation, no quarantines, no lockdowns, because there will be no virus, no threat to our safety, and no harm to our loved ones.  No longer will the world be abolished by consumerism and the destruction of our environment due to corporate greed, rather it will be restored, flowers and plants will grow, trees will bear fruit again, and there will be endless fields for children to play in.  

If you’re like me, you probably grew up with the notion that when we die we go to heaven, yet, the Bible actually says that heaven comes to us.  That heaven is the restoration of this world that we already live on.  That heaven is made possible because we (through Christ) make it possible for others.  The New Heavens have not only been mentioned in Revelation, however, but the Apostle Peter and the Prophet Isaiah also knew about it and mentioned it to the Israelites.

The next great promise is that God will dwell among us.  We saw this very truth revealed to us at Christmastime when Jesus came to us as a helpless infant.  He was born in an ordinary way, and yet the events surrounding his birth were extraordinary.  He was born without pomp, ceremony, or fanfare, His origins were humble, and yet He came as a king to rule in righteousness rather than in riches.  John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  We have seen His glory.  The glory of the One and Only Son of the Father.”  The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:16 that we, as ordinary human beings, are God’s temple, carrying His light and love into the world and as a result that God lives and walks amongst us.  We see Christ’s glory, and in turn we give this same glory away to others.

This passage is not all theoretical future musings though, it also offers us hope for our present reality.  John, the author of Revelation, writes that God will wipe away our tears, and that there won’t be any death, sadness, crying, or pain for those are former things which are done away with.

There is an old cliche that the only two things certain in this world are death and taxes.  It is a glib way of looking at the world, almost a sarcastic pessimistic nod to the fact that life can be harsh and difficult for so many people.  As the pandemic rages on, we see that sad reality continuing to be played out in our midst.  We know that many will continue to be affected and infected by the virus.  We know that loneliness and despair will continue to surface.  We know that issues of racial injustice, systemic oppression, and violence will not go away on their own but will continue to thrive.  We know that hatred and animosity will continue to flourish even amongst those who hold fast to militant views and extreme beliefs on any number of topics.  It is a difficult time for Christians and for society in general to live in.  And while the virus is one very real physical threat, we know that there are many other threats to our well-being and our desire for justice that are rarely discussed.  We think of issues of Indigenous rights,  gun violence, food insecurity, the refugee crisis, and more.  

Imagine a world where there is unity over division, understanding over fear, listening over arguing.  It reminds me of an old song by the band Family Force 5 called “Let It Be Love.”  The lyrics of this song go: I’ve never seen a soul set free
Through an argument
I’ve never seen a hurt get healed
In a protest
But I’ve seen sinners turned to saints
Because of grace
It’s love, love that lights the way

In 2020 we were all introduced to the phrase “a new normal.”  It has definitely not been easy for any of us going into year two of the pandemic to adapt and learn new ways of doing things.  We often crave the old.  We often lament that which we once loved.  We often wish things could return to how they used to be.  Yet, my charge for 2022 is to imagine and believe that while lots of the old ways were good, fruitful, and meaningful, that perhaps God is calling us to something far greater.  In Hebrews 11:15-16, the writer talks about Bible characters who had to leave their home town and mentions “if they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

As we now enter 2022, may we seek after this new and heavenly city.  May our new normal be one of grace and compassion where the dominant variant is love.  May our hearts be stirred to support and show mercy to those who find themselves marginalized and afraid.  And even as God dwells among us in human form, may we also be Christ with skin on to those we meet.  

May it be so.  Amen.