6th Sunday of Easter

One of my favourite things

About Edmonton in summer

Is the light.

I’ve been here nearly two years

And I still can’t get over

Driving home after an evening of playing softball

With the sun just beginning to set

Over the horizon.

I know we pay for it in wintertime,

But there is something magical

About the extraordinary light

That fills the evenings

And the mornings

With God’s glorious day.

I remember the first time

I travelled far enough north

To witness this glorious light

I was on the border between Scotland and England,

On pilgrimage to Holy Isle.

I remember the first time I sat on the beach

Under the light of the dying rays of the midnight sun,

And being woken by its glimmer

In time to pray Matins with the monks

At 4am.

There is power in light.

The power of a new heaven

And a new earth.

In this penultimate chapter of Revelation,

John, the author,

Just can’t stop talking about the light.

He is dazzled by it.

As the kids say, he “can’t even.”

John has been granted a vision

Of all that God has done, is doing, and will do

For God’s people.

And in this, the grand conclusion of that vision,

He sees a city.

A city so full of light,

It needs no sun or moon.

A city so full of light,

It shines forth,

To enlighten the nations

And allow them to walk by it.

A city so full of light,

Its citizens feel safe enough to leave the gates of their city open

That the kings of the nations may bring their glory into it

For there is no night

No danger

No enemy formed against it

Who should be shut out.

In this city,

Everyone will sit under their own vine

And fig tree,

And no one will make them afraid.

Because it is the darkness

That frightens.

We do not yet live in such a city.

We do not yet see such a world.

The nations of the world seem to be closing their gates

Not only by night

But by day, also.

Not everyone can sit under their own vine and fig tree,

For those who have much

Will not be content until they have more

And snatch away what they can

Making many afraid.

If there were ever a time when we needed

The leaves of the tree

For the healing of the nations

It would be now.

It is tempting,

In the face of such a world,

To put our armor on.

It is tempting

To find a way to make ourselves invulnerable,

Invincible.

To lock the gates

Around our vine and our fig tree

And give no one the power to hurt us.

And yet.

When we build up walls around us

To keep out that which makes us afraid,

We keep out not only that which might hurt

But that which can heal.

We keep out not only that which could wound

But that which binds up.

Because you see,

The tree which is fed

By the water of life

Whose leaves are for the healing of the nations

Shows us

That God’s desire

Is not for a perfect world,

In which nothing has ever been broken.

God’s desire is to put back together

What has been torn apart.

There is a Japanese art form with which you may be familiar.

Artisans take ceramic pottery which has been broken

And bind it together

With gold, silver, or platinum.

Because that which has been wounded

Is not worthless.

That which has been damaged

Need not be discarded.

Because beauty is not lost when blemished,

When love binds up

That which has been broken.

After all,

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Accomplished our salvation

Not through victory in battle.

Not through violence and pain and power.

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Defeated the power of sin and death

Through his death

On the cross.

It is through the breaking in his body

That the world is made whole.

It is through the wounds of Christ

That our wounds are healed.

In the words of the great poet Rumi,

“The wound is where the light enters you.”

And the wounds of Christ

Brought the light of the heavenly city

Into our world.

And so we who follow this same Jesus

Cannot lock our treasures away

For fear that others may break them.

We cannot hide ourselves in fear

Of ever becoming wounded.

The world is in desperate need

Of the light of Christ.

And it will only enter

When we have made ourselves vulnerable

When we have left ourselves entirely open

When we have said to the nations of the world

“Come and feast at our table

Where there is plenty for all.”

It can be a frightening thing

To follow the way of Jesus

This side of heaven.

It can be a frightening thing

To offer our vine and our fig tree to those who have none.

It can be a frightening thing

When we have been broken

To trust

That the gold with which Our Lord binds us together again

Will allow his light to shine into the world

More brightly than we could ever imagine.

Such that we, like John

Can’t even,

We are so awestruck at God’s glory.

A glory which is not diminished

By the glory the kings of the nations of the world

Bring to it,

For it binds all things to itself.

The light of God

That heals the nations

Entered the world

Through the broken body

Of Our Saviour on the cross.

The light of God

That heals the nations

Cannot be diminished

By any weapon the world tries to throw at it.

And so we lay down our arms.

We beat our swords into plowshares

And our spears into pruning hooks.

We stop trying to protect ourselves

And our God

From harm

And start binding up that which has been broken

For no one shall make us afraid.

We are safe in this city God has made.

Where he is our light

And night is no longer.

To Jesus Christ be the honour

And glory

And power

And blessing

For ever and ever.

Amen.

6th Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Open the eyes of our heart, Lord,

That we might see your kingdom

On earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

……………

“You Are Horrible People.”

Thus proclaims a headline from Macleans Friday morning,

After the horrifically callous reaction

That rocketed around Ontario

In response to a late-night Amber Alert.

There were indeed a shocking number of complaints –

Including to 911, which means legitimate emergencies were held up –

But while it’s tempting to mock Ontarians,

It behooves us to take a moment away from the speck in our neighbour’s eye

And focus on the log in our own.

I may have never used 911 as a complaint line,

But I have definitely been pretty peeved to receive a late night Amber or Silver Alert,

To have my sleep interrupted

For Somebody Else’s Problem.

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps.

Macleans certainly thinks so.

That this is yet more evidence

Of our increasing entitlement and isolation,

Our sense that we earned what we have

And this kind of thing is Somebody Else’s Problem

Because we have forgotten what we owe to each other.

But I’m not so sure it’s that new.

After all, the crowd Jesus is addressing is like that.

I love the way that Luke describes the wild diversity of this crowd

That has come all this way

To hear Jesus.

They have come

From all Judea,

Basically the whole of modern-day Israel

And some of Palestine.

From Jerusalem,

Way to the south of the Sea of Galilee.

From Tyre and Sidon,

In modern-day Lebanon.

This was quite a crowd

That Jesus has attracted!

But why have they come?

Luke tells us that too.

They came to hear him,

And to be healed of their diseases.

They came

Because they were hurting

And they needed help.

And Jesus helps them.

He cures their diseases.

But then he does more.

Because God always does more

Than we could ask or imagine

And sometimes more than we wish he would.

Then he says, 
“You are facing the wrong direction.

You are valuing the wrong things.”
Because in Jesus’s time,

It wasn’t exactly common to hear

“Blessed are you who are poor,

For yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now,

For you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now,

For you will laugh.”

The poor weren’t blessed!

The poor were a sign of God’s disfavour.

The prevailing worldview at this time

Was that you earned whatever the universe was throwing at you,

Like The Secret,

That book from a couple decades ago?

Where you get back from the universe what you put into it.

So if something bad happens,

Well,

Maybe you should’ve been thinking more positively.

As you can see,

Our worldview hasn’t exactly changed much since that time.

Even Christians,

Who have these beatitudes

Who’ve heard Jesus’s words of blessing spoken over us

When we are at our poorest,

Our hungriest,

Our most tear-filled,

Have a tendency to make judgments based on outward appearances.

When good fortune or wealth comes to us,

We say that we are blessed,

Or “hashtag blessed”, as the kids say on Twitter.

There are Christian authors and pastors out there right now

Arguing that riches and fame

Promotions at work

The partner you want in life

All come to you as signs of God’s blessing and favour.

His approval on your life.

And folks who aren’t so fortunate?

Well, maybe they should buy a book about financial peace

Tighten their belts

Give up even more of life’s more frivolous pleasures.

That sounds like Somebody Else’s Problem.

These authors and pastors,

I am ashamed to say it,

Are liars.

Because Jesus doesn’t look upon those

Who are suffering

With judgment.

Jesus looks at those who are poor

Those who are hungry

Those who weep

Those who are persecuted

And hounded

And bullied for who they are and what they believe

And says that in His eyes

They are blessed.

And just in case we didn’t get the message,

He turns to those who have money,

Those who have good fortune,

Those whom the world would call blessed,

And he says that they have got it wrong too.

What counts as blessed is the exact opposite

Of that which we have deemed worthy.

The last shall be first

And the first shall be last.

And that can be hard listening

For those of us who might count as rich.

It’s a universal human tendency to start counting what’s rich

As exactly one tax bracket above your own,

But it’s safe to say that many of us in this room fit in that category,

At least, from a global perspective.

Lord knows there were many in the crowd

That fit that definition,

And I’ve always wondered what they felt

When they were hearing this.

I’ve always wondered if they translated his “Woe to you who are rich”

As “You Are Horrible People.”

I’ve always wondered

If any of them wandered away

If any of them wished there were a complaint department

For the kingdom of heaven,

“Um, excuse me, waiter?

I just ordered a healing,

I didn’t ask for the side order of a haranguing

About how rich and happy I am

While my neighbours suffer.”

But it’s important for us who fear

This loss of status

To remember

That to be last

Is not to be left out.

To be last

Is not to be denied.

To be last

When chosen voluntarily

Can be an extraordinary gift

That not only changes our perspective

But makes a whole new way of living possible.

There’s a folk tale

Found in many cultures.

In this folk tale,

We hear of a great banquet table set

With large dishes

Family style

In the centre of the table.

At each place are set

Comically large forks,

Far too unwieldy to be used

To feed yourself.

In hell, the story goes,

The diners are angry to discover the large forks,

And eventually starve

As they sit with their arms crossed

And scowls on their faces,

Ready to complain

That they have no way to partake

Of this sumptuous feast.

In heaven,

The same table is set.

The same comically large forks,

The same impossible task to feed yourself

But we find the diners happily feeding their neighbours across the table,

Because they have discovered that the table

Was set with the intention

That the diners would share.

The proper response to Jesus’s harsh words to the rich,

Isn’t to get defensive

About how we’re not really rich,

Or to feel guilty or ashamed of what we have received,

But to share it with our neighbours.

For then we will no longer be rich,

And the poor will no longer be poor.

The full ones will share their bread with the hungry,

So that no one will hunger and thirst in God’s kingdom.

The well off will cease their judgment

Of those who have less

Because they will recognize that in God’s eyes,

What we have,

What we have earned,

What we have accomplished,

Adds nothing

To the infinite love God already has for us.

Every week we pray

“Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done,

On earth

As it is in heaven.”

In that prayer,

We are asking God

To change our perspective

To match His own

That we might see God’s kingdom

Not far away,

Off in the clouds,

But right here,

Among us.

As Jesus often said,

“The kingdom of heaven

Has come near to you.”

This is what it entails.

This is what we are praying for.

That God would open our eyes

To change the way we look at the world

That we might see with His eyes,

And value what He values.

That we might witness a world

Designed for a community

That has a duty to care for our neighbours.

So that when we see a table set

With forks too long for us to use,

We might realize God’s holy invitation to share

So that everyone

May be blessed.

Amen.