Sunday 11th

 1ST SERMON          

 MORNING HOLY COMMUNION      PREACHER  - REV LYNN MCKEON

James 5: 7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

Today we observe the Third Sunday of Advent, filling us with a sense that the time is getting short and soon our joy will be complete in the celebration of Our Saviour’s Birth. But still we are waiting. Advent is the season of waiting … and hoping … and wishing for some assurance that God does indeed love us and that God is in control of our lives and the future.

But our Gospel reading reminds us that Advent is also a season of impatience. Will everything come together the way we hope? Have we thought of everyone, will our gifts be appropriate, adequate, appreciated? Are we doing enough for those for whom this will not be a happy time of celebration, the poor, the grieving, and the discouraged? Always in the back of our mind is that dull fear that we have forgotten something, that Christmas will not unfold the way we anticipate.

This morning John the Baptist makes his second scheduled appearance of the Advent Season. But this time John comes to us from a prison cell, expressing none of the bravado and outrage we experienced last week, when we saw him as a fearless messianic herald, drawing crowds in the wilderness and rebuking the hypocrisy of the religious establishment.

In the eleventh chapter of Matthew, John is no longer wild-eyed, assertive, confident, but rather confused, discouraged, some might even speculate depressed. No longer free to wander unfettered through the wilderness, John is a caged creature. And from the gloom of a prison cell we hear John’s inquiry of Jesus: Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?

Prisoners I understand experienced a form of blindness, as their vision is limited to the size of their cell. Generally they know only what they are told. Such was John’s situation after King Herod imprisoned him.

But despite his isolation John did receive news about Jesus, at least enough to make him wonder if he had backed the wrong horse. Was Jesus truly the one who would come after John, whom he had boldly proclaimed was more powerful than he? Was Jesus the one … or should John and all of Israel look for another?

I find the question John asked at the heart of a lot of unrest and disconnection in our world today. I think many good people, Christian people, share John’s pondering … Is Jesus the one, or should we look for another? The limits we place on our vision and expectation have a profound impact on whether Christ comes and makes a home in our hearts this blessed season. And a big reason why so many question where God and Jesus are in their lives is that they have not been trained, their faith has not been formed, and, as a result, they cannot see God at work in the everyday dimensions of their lives.                                     

Each week most of you gather in Christian community, hear the Scripture readings, try to follow the sermon, sing the hymns.                                                  

But do you reflect your faith in the economy of your lives, in the decisions you make every day? Does the simple fact that Jesus is your Lord have any impact on how you live out your responsibility as a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, an employee, a volunteer, or a citizen of this great nation?                                       

To revisit one of my favourite clichés: If you were on trial and the charge was that you were a Christian … would there be enough evidence to convict you?

What are your expectations? Do you see the hand of God in the world today? Do you see any indication that Jesus was reality-based when he spoke of the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, the outcasts of society restored, the deaf hearing, the dead being restored to life, and the poor having good news brought to them?

What are our expectations … for what we anticipate will effect what we see. I’ll give you an example of how our vision is shaped by our expectations. Back in January of 2007, in a glorious test of how expectation shapes perception, The Washington Post videotaped the reactions of harried commuters in the Washington Metro to a public performance by world-renowned violinist, Joshua Bell. For twenty minutes Bell, dressed in ordinary clothing, played the same music he had performed three nights earlier at Symphony Hall in Boston for people who paid $100 a ticket to hear him.

Most of the 1000-plus commuters, who rushed past Joshua Bell, were too busy to stop; they considered him just another subway busker. A few paused, briefly, and a few dropped some money into his violin case. [If you would like to see the video just “google” Joshua Bell – Washington Metro.]

In an article about this experiment, a questioned was posed as to whether we are capable of identifying beauty outside the contexts in which we anticipate encountering beauty? Can we recognize a genius performer, if that individual appears somewhere other than a concert hall?

I think the similar question is appropriate for us to raise on this Third Sunday of Advent. Are we capable of identifying God’s activity outside the contexts of the stained-glass windows and the organ music we tend to associate with the arena where we experience the critical dimensions of our faith? If Sunday after Sunday there is no connection between what we do in church and what happens in our Monday through Friday world, is it possible that something is missing?

When I was a little girl, I was terribly excited as Christmas approached. I always had a list and some of the things on the list I actually received. But none of those desired gifts are still in my life, but the joy of Christmas remains. Like most of you, I have grown up and I no longer make a Christmas list. I suppose that is, sadly, a sign of becoming an adult.

No obviously you have all grown up. You now have the house you always wanted, the job or career that is fulfilling. I hope many of you have that life partner and family that was always on your wish list. Perhaps you have the car you always coveted and have taken some of the trips you hoped to take. But is that all there is?  Is this the totality of what you were waiting for?  What do you do when you have everything you ever wanted … and it is not enough? Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another? [Matthew 11: 3]

Advent calls us to make room in our hearts and our hectic pursuits for the coming of Christ, the Saviour. Advent calls us to make it possible for Him to come and that means to smooth out some of the rough places that block his coming. There is a wonderful Christmas carol, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,  that captures this Advent hope: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.

Advent teaches us to live with patient expectation. God begins with a tiny Child, born in humble surroundings, and then God works slowly, surely. Our task is to be watchful, to not lose hope, to see what God is doing all around us. Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let us cling to this hope, now and always.

 

 

2ND SERVICE

EVENING PRAYER      PREACHER  -  LYNN MCKEON

Psalm 12                                                                                                                                                    
John 5:31-40

Some Christians are gullible, but not all of them are. Some disciples today or in times past might have been superstitious, but they ought not to be, and the Bible in many places tells us to discard such from our lives. Many Christians are very reasonable, rational folks who don’t get taken in by every charlatan that walks down the street. The slogan "Show me!" I think is a good slogan for people who are searching for God. That was evidently the slogan of the people of Berea, because when Paul came preaching the gospel which we read about in Acts 17:11, they wanted to see for themselves. They are commended for their "show me" attitude; "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11).                                                   

I don't think I know of a single Christian that if someone walked into the room and announced that they were the Son of God that they would believe him. And yet, every Christian I know believes that Jesus is the Son of God; by definition that is what must be believed to be a Christian at all. So why do disciples believe the things they do about Jesus? Gullibility? Wishful thinking? Foolishness? Superstition? No, not at all. Christians have examined the evidence, considered the testimony, and have become convinced that Jesus' claim to be God's Son is true. That is exactly the procedure that Jesus challenged even His enemies of the first century to take. He challenged them to consider the evidence and testimony. In fact, He insisted that they reject Him if there was no valid evidence or collaborating witnesses.                                                          

"If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the testimony which he bears of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things that you might be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father who sent Me has borne witness of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. And you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him who He has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:31-40).                                        

"If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true." (John 5:31). The first thing that Jesus did was to challenge His unbelieving enemies. He had not demanded that they carelessly accept His claims without question. Such would be unreasonable.                                                                                                        

Jesus made some pretty substantial claims. He had just claimed equality with God (John 5:18), the authority to judge all men (John 5:22, 27) and the ability to raise all the dead on the last day (John 5:28-29). Jesus invited His enemies to reject all this if He had not properly substantiated the validity of His statements. Obviously, as we deal with determining truth from error today, we also must examine carefully the things that are taught. Accept no teaching blindly. Not even Jesus expected that of His own teachings.                                                                               

The Testimony of John. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the testimony which he bears of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things that you might be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light." (John 5:32-35). The first testimony Jesus considers is that of John. These people knew John well, and evidently respected him greatly, though perhaps grudgingly. John had been sent to precede the Messiah and to identify Him when He arrived. Concerning Jesus, John "bore witness of Him", saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me" and "Behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:15,36). John was a no nonsense fellow. He was strong and determined, faithfully committed to his task. Everyone of his day even slightly knowledgeable of John knew this about him, so John's testimony carried much weight, but not as much as the next witness Jesus calls.

The Testimony of the Works: "But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me." (John 5:36). Jesus invited the sceptics to consider the miracles He had done and which they had witnessed with their own eyes. Nicodemus, one of the leaders of the Pharisees, was of the minority opinion that Jesus was from God because, as he put it, "no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him." (John 3:2). How sad that most of the rest of Nicodemus' associates rejected Jesus in spite of all the evidence provided. Human obstinacies can sometimes cause very irrational behaviour.      

Jesus often appealed to the miracles which he did as being powerful testimony that He was the Son of God (John 10:25,32, 37-38). His enemies finally had to resort to the ridiculous explanation that Jesus did the things He did by Satan's power and not God. For us today, the fact that even His enemies were forced into admitting that the mighty deeds were done, is convincing evidence that the Biblical record of these events is true. The miracles themselves could not be denied, so the only option left to the unbelievers were to attribute them to a source other than God.    

The Testimony of the Father "And the Father who sent Me has borne witness of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form." (John 5:37). The Father on several occasions audibly identified Jesus as His Son. At Jesus' baptism, the Father announced, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." Later, at the transfiguration, the same statement is made with the added admonition: "listen to Him!. During the final week of Jesus' ministry the Father promised to glorify His name. Some of the multitude thought the voice sounded like thunder, evidently not understanding the words. Jesus' enemies were not hearing the Father as had John and the disciples. Today, the unbeliever does virtually the same thing by ignoring and rejecting the Scriptures given by the inspiration of God.                                                            

The Testimony of the Scriptures "And you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him who He has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:38-40). As a final witness, Jesus appeals to the ancient Scriptures. These are filled with prophecies which Jesus was fulfilling daily. Though familiar with the Scriptures, these people rejected the One of whom they spoke so plainly. It takes more than being able to recite various passages; we must apply these things to our hearts and lives else the searching and knowing is wasted.

These people honoured Moses in word, but not in deed. If they truly believed and respected Moses, they would have believed the things he had written centuries before about Jesus (John 5:45-47). Likewise today, many will say they honour Christ, but when it comes to applying His teachings they do Him much dishonour by disobeying Him. Consequently, by not truly coming to Jesus in humble obedience, one cannot have eternal life.