“Blessed are we who discover we are loved and held in arms that are strong enough to hold that which we cannot.” (From Good Enough by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie)
One of the tactics we use to be good enough (smart enough, rich enough, healthy enough, etc…) is to have as much control as possible. It is natural for us to want to influence and manage all aspects of our lives, but the reality is that so much is out or our control. We can’t really control other people: their feelings, their actions, their choices. We can’t really control the weather: if it snows, if it is -20C, if spring is very slow in arriving. The last two years of the pandemic have really made us realize how much is beyond our control.
As humans we are uncomfortable with chaos, with pain, with things not going the way we want. In the end, we can only do what we can actually do and accept what we cannot do, and know that it is good enough and that we are never alone. On the second Sunday of Lent, we turn to Jesus who understood the fear and frustration of the uncontrollable. As well, we consider our constant desire for control and it’s impact on our spiritual, mental, and physical well-being as we lean on the strength of God to carry us through times of uncertainty.
“Blessed are you who need a gentle reminder that even now, even today, God is here, and somehow, that is good enough.” (From Good Enough by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie)
This week begins the season of Lent, the 40 days in the Christian year leading up to the celebration of Easter. It is a time of reflection, remembrance, and thanksgiving for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes people give up something like chocolate or social media for Lent and sometimes people add a spiritual practice like prayer or service to others.
We live in a world where the pressure to be the best at something or have the most of something is strong. There is nothing wrong with striving to be our best, yet the stress of never being able to measure up makes life difficult. What if perfection is actually what is perfectly suited to each one of us? What if the ordinary can point us to the divine? What if we agree that sometimes just being good enough is enough? On the first Sunday of Lent, we are going to explore the idea of being good enough and recognizing what is holy in the ordinary.
Luke 6: 27-28 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If only I could win the lottery… If only the Leafs could win the Stanley Cup… If only people could just get along… If only things could get back to normal… “If only” is what we say when we wish that something unlikely or even impossible will happen. However, “if only” can also be a spark to imagining a better world and the first step in making it a reality, when we change it to “what if”. “What if” creates an opportunity for the impossible to become possible.
In the Bible, Jesus said some stunning things like love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and give without expecting anything in return. “If only” might be our first response to those words, but what if things could be the way Jesus said? What if seeing the humanity of our enemies leads to empathy instead of hatred? What if reconciliation is a better path then retaliation? What if being generous is far more effective than keeping score? When we turn our “if only” into “what if”, our wishes may just become realities.
Luke 6: 17-18 “Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people… They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.”
We like when things have order, when we know exactly where we stand and what is expected of us. Yet, as we know, life is not always predictable and we can’t control everything. We may be left feeling unworthy, critical of others, and discouraged with the way things are.
In the Bible, Jesus welcomed all people, just as they were. One of his main messages was that things were not going to be the same anymore. Assumptions about who had value and who didn’t, were flipped upside down as he preached about God’s Kingdom. People who had felt unworthy were given hope for the future through unexpected blessings. It didn’t matter if you had it all together or were falling apart, all were welcome. We too are invited to come as we are and to know God’s blessings of justice, peace, and love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Chocolates, flowers, a special dinner out (or in), a homemade card. These are the gifts we give each other at Valentine’s Day. Traditionally, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that celebrates romantic love, but can also include love among family and friends. There are a lot of clichés associated with love that might not really get to the heart of what love really is including: love is blind, love means never having to say you’re sorry, or you can’t buy love.
There is a passage in Bible that is often read at weddings. It describes the nature of love; love that is kind and patient, love that bears all things, and love that never ends. The original message was directed towards the early Christian church which was struggling to find its way. The people all had different gifts and talents to offer their community and yet, they were reminded that none of those gifts meant anything without the gift of love. Love is more than a feeling, love is an action that requires service, respect, justice, and humility for it to thrive and grow.
Luke 5: 5-6 “Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.”
If you say so. How many times have you heard this? How many times have you said this? Often, ‘if you say so’, is a phrase used when one is giving in to something. It could be said in response to a request to do something you’d rather not do, like the dishes or shovel the snow. It could be said sarcastically to someone else’s belief in something unlikely, like winning the lottery or running a marathon. Or it could be said as a ‘yes’ to the beginning of a new and exciting adventure.
In the Bible, Jesus met a fisherman who was tired and discouraged by a long night of fishing with not one fish to show for it. When Jesus told him to go back on the lake and put down the nets again, the fisherman was understandably skeptical. He might have wondered why he should go out again after such a disappointing night just because Jesus said so. And yet he did, and he caught the biggest haul of fish of his life. Saying yes to Jesus changed that fisherman’s life and he became a dedicated life-long follower of Jesus. It all began with his willingness to take a risk and say, ‘if you say so’, with hope and faith that something amazing might happen.
Luke 4: 21-22 “Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”
Have you ever been asked: ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” We might wonder if hearing good news first makes the bad news not as bad or we might think hearing bad news first will make the good news even better. When we are processing and reacting to news, it probably does matter how we receive it and who we receive it from. In a world of information overload, we need to discern carefully everything we hear.
In the Bible, Jesus preached the good news of God’s love and mercy for the whole world. Yet, the people in his own hometown considered that to be bad news because they wanted special privileges and blessings kept for themselves. They didn’t understand that the greater mission of Jesus was actually good news for all of them, and for all of us. Good news is good news when it lifts up, honours, and includes all people. Thanks be to God.
Luke 4: 14-15 “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.”
What motivates you to help someone? What gives you the courage to act? Maybe it’s your conscience, your moral compass, or your kind and compassionate nature. Christians believe that God has given the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen, motivate, and move people to action. The Spirit is mysterious and hard to explain. And yet, it could be that its presence is known in your conscience, moral compass, and kind and compassionate nature.
In the Bible, Jesus is said to be ‘filled with the power of the Spirit’ as he began his ministry. He declared that he had come to fulfill what God had started and he would be good news to the poor, the captives, and the oppressed. In his life, Jesus would continually be moved by the Spirit to act out that good news through his love and compassion for all people. We too can be moved by the same Holy Spirit to act with justice, peace, and bring good news to the world.
John 2:11 “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
Isn’t there a saying that goes something like “You can never have a second chance to make a first impression”? I guess that might in true in some circumstances. The way we dress, what we say, and how we act in a new situation can have a lasting impression.
In the Bible, Jesus was just beginning his ministry and one of the first signs or miracles he performed was turning water into wine at a wedding. It seems an unusual start to the work of God in the world through Jesus. Wouldn’t a miraculous healing or feeding the hungry have been more impressive? Maybe, but perhaps a sign of God’s abundance at a wedding was just the impact God was trying to make. Maybe, the miracle of making water into wine did reveal the power of Jesus. Maybe, Jesus’ first impression was enough to make people take notice and to believe in him. The wedding miracle at Cana was the beginning of what Jesus would do and say. There was much more to come that would reveal God’s love and grace and would change lives and even change the world.
Mark 1: 9-10 “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”
It’s a new year and we had been hoping that things would be better. As we face another wave of the pandemic and re-instated restrictions, it’s hard to believe that we will get back to normal. However, we are resilient people who can make the choice to keep ourselves and others safe. We can make the choice to stay connected and positive even when it’s difficult. We can make a choice to have faith that this year will bring about new and good things.
This week, we will be looking at the story of the baptism of Jesus. Baptism is a Christian sacrament that involves making a choice to have faith in God. Using water as a symbol to wash away the old, believers in Christ are made new and joined together with others in a shared commitment and faith.