Sunday at Scarboro – March 11, 2018

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Preaching: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Lent IV - Journey Into The Light

The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.

Come and explore the season of Lent, our theme is "Promises, Promises". You are invited to experience your Lenten journey on the labyrinth in the Memorial Hall.

Co-op gift cards in denominations of $25, $50 and $100 are available after church until March 25, Palm Sunday. Use them to shop for your groceries or give a little something at Easter, a percentage of the proceeds goes back to the church.

Looking forward to Holy Week:

  • Palm/Passion Sunday will be an inter-generational service, with special guests, Arise Dance YYC. Communion will be served, and all are welcome to join in.
  • We will have a Maundy Thursday service on March 29 at 7pm in the Chapel. This simple service commemorates Jesus' commandment for his disciples to love and serve one another.
  • We are hosting Central, Knox and Chinese United here at Scarboro for Good Friday at 10:30am on March 30 - **Contact the office if you would like to volunteer and help host this service.**
  • Easter Sunday on April 1st will be a joyful service of music and celebration of Christ's resurrection.

Promises, Promises: Lent IV – For God So Loved the World
March 11, 2018
Rev. Lee Spice

OK, I’ll admit that these are two weird scriptures to put together. It’s been the practice, here at Scarboro, at least recently, to use at least some the readings that have been set out for us each week.  The schedule of readings is called the lectionary, and today we have a couple of doozies.

First, an odd tale about those Israelites in the wilderness. My study Bible says this is the last of the complaint stories – Oh thank goodness! – and the people are grumbling, “We’re going to die out here in the stupid wilderness, we HATE the wilderness and there’s no food and water and we detest this miserable food…come all the way out here…you brought us here…why??”

And God, who has led them out of slavery, and provided them with manna and quails to eat – God, who made water come from a ROCK, for heaven’s sake…sounds like God finally loses God’s own patience with the people and sends poisonous snakes to bite them.

But even God changes God’s mind, and Moses is instructed to make a bronze snake, hoist it on a pole, and whenever the people would look at it, if they had been bitten by a snake, they wouldn’t die.

Hmm.  Any chance you’ve not heard this one before?  Possibly because the preacher didn’t know what to do with it?

Then, the wonderful portion from John, which contains THE most well-known verse in the Bible – John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The first verse that my 12-year-old evangelical self-committed to memory.  It’s the one that appears at football games and on signs by the side of the road and on those little anti-glare stickers on athletes’ faces.

At first, I just wanted to rip that verse out of the iron grip of those who take the whole bible literally and wave it about like a weapon. I imagined peeling back the fingers of my 12-year-old self, one by one, and saying, “No – quit waving that thing around – it just is making it seem like you’re the only ones who have the answers.”

And then, it hit me.  It hit me WHY this story is important to conservatives and liberals and evangelicals and mainstream people alike.

This is a love story.

A number of weeks ago, you heard my colleague Erin speak about the end of the Noah story – the one with the ark and the animals and the flood…but that week, Erin spoke about God’s war-bow hung up in the sky, and God’s covenant with people and with the whole earth, that God will never destroy the whole earth again – that God promises to be with us.

Perhaps the first act of God’s love is Creation, and then, this promise that God’s not going to wipe out the world just because we mess up.  Even if we mess up a lot.

Even this weird thing with the snakes in the desert.  And ungrateful, grumbling people get a second chance – they can look up at the bronze snake and live.

But God’s pièce de résistance is what is captured by this beautiful word from the Gospel of John – For God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

In other words, not only does God not destroy the world, God enters it.

God does not want God’s children to perish.  God wants God’s children to live. And not just beyond the grave – life everlasting is a way of valuing the life that we live right here on this earth – a life that is transcendent and beautiful and leaves ripples in the pond.

Now, however, we believe that happens, however, we describe that spirit of the Creation of the Universe, the experience of God’s people is this:  God loves the world. THIS world. This grumbling, complaining, messed up world.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why God WOULD love this world.

Looking into the stories that come from the Bible, it’s not really that difficult to see the reality of our world reflected there.  

Over the years, people have built up kingdoms and countries.  They have drawn lines on maps and separated peoples from other peoples and staked claims in virtually everything our planet has to offer.  People have fought over resources and rights to govern. Lives have been lost over sovereignty and who gets to have what.

Lines are drawn between people of differing colours, genders, economic status, and orientations.  Even between rural and urban. You can bet that, if there’s some kind of diversity, there will be some kind of imbalance of power.

That was the world of Noah and the world of Moses, and it was the world of Jesus – a world with inequities and oppressions…has very much changed?  

We’ve messed up, in so many ways, as a people, as individuals.

And yet, God loves this world so much, that God is IN it. And even if we can’t figure out exactly how it happens, our Christian story is about the Source of Love in the Universe sending Love Incarnate to dwell amongst the people.  To live with the people. To die with the people, and to be raised to new life, WITH THE PEOPLE.

It’s a love story. It’s about a God, so intimately involved in humanity, that you can’t tease the strands of God out of us – a relationship so deep that it can hardly be described.

That’s the promise. That’s the covenant.

And perhaps the reason that it is told so many times and in so many ways in the Bible, is that, sometimes, it’s really hard to believe.  And yet, people experience it over and over again.

In her book, Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber shares a minister story in which she messes up bigtime.  It’s a story that is close to my heart because it’s the kind of thing that could happen to me at any time.  It makes my heart hammer because of the number of times that I’ve either come close to this or actually done something like this.

Nadia relates the story of a couple in her church that asked her 18 months in advance to do their wedding.  This couple was very involved in the life of the church – they had met and fell in love there - and so excited to have Nadia do the ceremony.

You guessed it.  A few months before the ceremony, Nadia’s consciousness caught up with her calendar, and she realized she had booked a speaking engagement to Australia over the time that she was supposed to do the wedding.

Panic.  She spent the next few days trying to do the impossible – to do both things by having the couple change their dates…to try to get out of the Australia thing without looking stupid or breaking the contract…whatever it took.  But then the truth dawned. It was a mess, and in Nadia’s words, “There was no way I was coming out of this looking good, and much more importantly, without harming someone in the process.”

She called the couple.

They reminded her of the words that she shares with everyone at her Church of All Sinners and Saints – that, sometime, she will say or do something stupid.  She will disappoint them. But she always says that newcomers should decide to stay or leave before that happens because if you leave after that happens, you will miss the grace that comes and fills in the cracks that our brokenness leaves behind.

Easier to preach, apparently, than to be on the receiving side of that grace.

The next day, an email from the couple said, “We release you from your commitment to do our wedding.  As much as this is painful, we understand why our pastor needs to be in Australia. We love you. And we forgive you.”

That’s where love hurts, doesn’t it?  That’s the sting of grace when you know you are loved, but you have done nothing to earn or deserve it.  Grace, borne of unconditional love.

Our part of the covenant with God is simply to accept that.  To believe that we’re not all doomed. To believe that we are loved. To have as much faith in humanity as God has in us.  To enter into that relationship with God through the one who shows us the way – Christ Jesus, the Love Incarnate.

Our part is to receive God’s love, for God so loved – still loves – THIS world.  Really.

It is our act of faith to go on, even in the wilderness, even if it is miserable food and has poisonous snakes; because God will always ask us to look up and see that not all is lost.

So, although I still have some things to say about taking the words of scripture literally, and I still want to peel my 12-year-old zealous fingers off of some verses and say, “Quit waving that around,” I don’t feel that way about this one – “For God so loved the world.”  

This is a love story that we can share.  May it be.

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