This Weeks Message

June 19th, 2016
Lesson in Living:  “You Are Cordially Invited…”
Scripture Lesson:  Luke 14:1-14 (The Living Bible)
 One Sabbath as he (Jesus) was in the home of a member of the Jewish Council, the Pharisees were watching him like hawks to see if he would heal a man who was present who was suffering from dropsy.(an old term used to describe excessive swelling of a limb, usually the hand or foot)
Jesus said to the Pharisees and legal experts standing around, “Well, is it within the Law to heal a man on the Sabbath day, or not?”
And when they refused to answer, Jesus took the sick man by the hand and healed him and sent him away.
Then he turned to them: “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath?” he asked. “If your cow falls into a pit, don’t you proceed at once to get it out?”
Again they had no answer.
When he noticed that all who came to the dinner were trying to sit near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “If you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t always head for the best seat. For if someone more respected than you shows up, the host will bring him over to where you are sitting and say, ‘Let this man sit here instead.’ And you, embarrassed, will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
“Do this instead—start at the foot; and when your host sees you he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place than this for you!’ Thus you will be honored in front of all the other guests.  For everyone who tries to honor himself shall be humbled; and he who humbles himself shall be honored.” Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a dinner,” he said, “don’t invite friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors! For they will return the invitation.  Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Then at the resurrection of the godly, God will reward you for inviting those who can’t repay you.”
May God grant us understanding of this scripture passage and courage to live it out!
Let us pray!
We pray to you, O Christ, and ask you to keep us under the spell of immortality. May we never again think and act as if you were dead and long gone from our world. Let us more and more come to know you as the living Lord who has promised to those who believe, “Because I live, you also shall live.” Help us to remember that we are praying to the Conqueror of Death, that we may no longer be afraid nor be dismayed by the world’s problems and threats, since You have overcome the world. In your strong name, we ask for your living presence and your victorious power. Amen. (A Prayer of Rev. Peter Marshall)
     Every village, town and city Alison and I have lived in there has been a street or at least part of a street where the really, really nice houses could be found. When we lived in Mississauga we knew several such streets, but one of the ones we regularly traveled on and visited was Mississauga Road. Those of you who are computer literate or computer whizzes can go to Google Earth and call up a picture of the area. On Mississauga Road there are quite a number of mansions, quite a number of multi-million dollar homes. We had a very nice house in Mississauga (and we have a nice house here in Corunna), but from time to time we liked to see where those who were really well-off lived.  A trip down Mississauga Road at Christmas time was a special delight because the houses were professionally decorated outside as well as inside. Let me tell you a story about a man who lived on Mississauga Road.
     One bitterly cold night when the city was covered with snow and ice, Stephen Russell sat in his magnificent home. The house was very comfortable. A crackling log fire in the fireplace threw dancing shadows on the paneled walls. The wind outside was moaning softly like someone in pain and the reading lamp cast a warm glow on the Book he was reading.  He was alone as the children, all young adults, had gone out for a night of dining and dancing. His wife had retired early after a strenuous afternoon’s bridge game.
     As I said Stephen was reading from a Book, the good Book, the Bible. He had been reading from the gospel of Luke. The words that caught his attention were these: “For everyone who tries to honor himself shall be humbled; and he who humbles himself shall be honored.” Then he (Jesus) turned to his host. “When you put on a dinner,” he said, “don’t invite friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors! For they will return the invitation.  Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Then at the resurrection of the godly, God will reward you for inviting those who can’t repay you.”
     Somehow Stephen could not get away from those simple words. He had read the Bible often, for he was a good man, but never before did the words seem printed in flame. He closed the Bible and sat thinking, conscious for the first time in his life of the challenge of Christ.
     He felt as if Someone was standing behind him; he knew he was no longer alone. What strange thing was happening? Why was it that he kept hearing—in a whisper—the words he had just read. “I must be dreaming”, he said to himself, “it is time I went to bed.” But in bed he could not sleep. He tossed and turned. Still the voice whispered and still he was conscious of a presence in the room.
     He could not shake it off. Never before had he been so challenged. He thought of the dinners and parties he and his wife had given in this beautiful home. He thought of those whom he usually invited. Most of them were listed in the “Who’s Who in Toronto,” folks whose names were household names, in finance, politics, the entertainment world. They were men and women of power and influence who could grant favours to those who belonged to their circle.  They were certainly not poor, or maimed, or lame, or blind.
    Who had put these strange thoughts in his head?  He tried to sleep but he could not close the door in his mind to the procession of people who shuffled and tapped their way down the corridors of his soul. There were beggars with trembling lips, sightless eyes that stared straight in front, faces blue with cold. As he watched them pass, he felt his own heart touched. He whispered a prayer that if the Lord would give him courage he would do what he had read in the Word. Only then did he find peace and fall asleep.
     In the morning, when he arose, his determination gave him new strength and courage. He had to begin the preparations. He headed for downtown to the local print shop. “I want you to make up some invitations for me” he said, here is what they should say. He slid a piece of paper across the counter on which read like this:
Jesus of Nazareth                                                                             Requests the honour of your presence at a banquet honouring Sons and Daughters in need, on Friday evening in a home on Mississauga Road, Mississaug. Limousines will pick you up at six o’clock at Union Station.
And in tiny print at the bottom of the invitation were these words: “Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy hearted and I will give you rest.” (That is a quote from Jesus. You can find it the gospel of Matthew-Chapter 11).
     When the invitations were ready Stephen picked them up and went on a walk in downtown Toronto, late at night. He handed them out to different men and women he met, who looked him strangely but accepted his card.
    On Friday evening, shortly before six o’clock, an unusual group of people assembled at Union Station, invitations in hand.  “What do you suppose is going on here?” asked one person. “Do you think it is a joke? Or a Scam?” “I don’t know,” said his companion, “but there is only one way to find out.”
     Just then the first limousine pulled up. The driver hopped out and opened the back door, awaiting his passengers. Other limousines followed. It was a strange crew of men and women who entered the cars. It was touching to see the childlike look of glee on the people’s faces. At last they were all inside and the cars glided off.
      When they stopped they were in front of a well-lit colonial style mansion. The invited guests all gazed at the house in wonderment. The door was opened by their host. He was a little nervous but he was smiling. “Welcome to my home,” he said, “I am so glad you could come”.  
    Eventually they were all seated at a large dining table. They had looked at the tapestries that hung on the walls. They had seen illuminated pictures in massive frames, and were awed by the giant crystal chandelier, the concert grand piano that stood across the hall, the spotless white linen and the gleaming silver on the table.
     They were all silent now. It seemed as if the banquet would be held in complete silence. Then the host rose in his place and said, in a slightly trembling voice, “My friends let us ask the blessing.” He began by saying: Loving God, if this is pleasing to you, bless us as we sit around this table and bless the food that we are about to receive. Bless also these children of yours. You know who they are and what their needs may be. Help us all to do what you want us to do and accept our thanks in Jesus’ name. Amen.
    The host then said: “My friends I hope you will enjoy the dinner. I would suggest that we waste no time, for I have no doubt that you are hungry. Go right ahead.” And they did. In a few minutes the silence was broken by hustling servants, glasses being filled, platters of food being passed around, and the sound of forks hitting dinner plates. And along with that conversation and laughter. There needed to be laughter. It was all so utterly foolish. Roughly dressed men and women were sitting in a dining room consuming fine food at a table where bank presidents often dined.
    “What an amazing thing this is”, thought Stephen. “I don’t know the name of a single one of my guests. They have no credentials, no social recommendations, no particular graces, but my they are hungry. And my heart is strangely warmed.” It was funny how the stories in the gospels kept coming back to his mind. He could almost imagine that his house had become like one in Jerusalem. A house where a special guest sat and laughed and ate and taught and said things like: “When you put on a dinner don’t invite friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors! For they will return the invitation.  Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Then at the resurrection of the godly, God will reward you for inviting those who can’t repay you.”
     When the meal was over there was music. Someone came in and sat down at the grand piano. They listened to some very old favourite songs, sings like, “Daisy,” “A bicycle built for two” and “Swanee River.” Then people began to request songs and then a suggestion was made to sing a few hymns, hymns like: Jesus Loves Me, and What a Friend we have in Jesus, Will Your Anchor Hold in the storms of Life, When I survey the Wondrous Cross and of course Amazing Grace.
   Near the close of the evening the host rose and turning to his guests reminded them of their invitation, “Jesus Christ requests the honour of your presence at a banquet….” He said, “I hope you have enjoyed your evening at least half as much as I have. If I have given you an evening of happiness I shall be forever glad to remember it, and you are under no obligation to me. This is not my party. It is His. I have merely lent him this house. He was your host. He is your friend. And he has given me the honour of speaking for him. He wanted you all to have a good time. He is sad when you are sad. He hurts when you hurt. He weeps when you weep. He wants to help you if you will let him.”
     As the host spoke, he felt there was another guest in the room. The feeling was overwhelming. He could never tell anyone how he knew this but this guest was smiling and he obviously approved of all that was happening. He was also very, very happy, because some of the least of these had been treated like his brothers and sisters for his sake.
      Of course you know this story never happened. It is only a writing from someone’s imagination. I am sorry to say it isn’t from my imagination. The story belonged a man named, “Peter Marshall.” Some of you may have heard of him. His wife, Catherine Marshall, was instrumental in keeping his name before the public after his untimely death at the age of 46. Perhaps some of you will remember a film made of his life, it was released in 1955 and was entitled, “A Man Called Peter.”  Peter Marshall was a good man and a very fine preacher. The story I read to you is taken from Catherine Marshall’s book, “Mr. Jones-Meet the Master,” a collection of some of Peter Marshall’s sermons and prayers.
     I made a few changes to the story, a sermon actually, that he preached at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian church in New York City. The changes I made were inconsequential ones, I think, so we could identify with it a little better. I don’t think Peter Marshall, a fellow labourer in the gospel would have objected, but I want to end today’s message with a direct quote from the story and sermon he called: By Invitation of Jesus. He wrote: “I wonder what would happen if we all agreed to read one of the Gospels until we came to a place that told us to do something then went out to do it, and only after we had done it…began reading again. Why don’t we do what Jesus says? How exciting life would become were we to begin living according to his way of life! Friends would say we lost our minds—perhaps. Acquaintances would say we were “peculiar.” Those who dislike us would say we were crazy. But someone Else, who had these very same things said about Him would smile, and the joy and peace in our own hearts would tell us who was right.”
Let us pray!
1.     Mr. Jones Meet the Master: Sermons and Prayers of Peter Marshall. Published by Fleming H. Revell Company, New York. Copyright 1949,1950
Used books are available in paperback through Amazon.ca  A Kobo or  e-book is available from Indigo.ca





This Weeks Message

June 12th, 2016
Lesson in Living:   “I Don’t Know How To Be Grateful!”
Scripture Lesson:  Luke 7:36-50 (New Revised Standard Version)
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.  And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.  Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.”  “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
 May God grant us understanding of this gospel passage.
    I want to begin today’s message by telling you two stories. The first story took place in a small country church high in the coal mining regions of West Virginia. One Sunday morning the preacher, using the same gospel text we just heard, asked his congregation what they were grateful for, what they were thankful for. It was a poor community and yet one person after another was able to give thanks for something special in their life. And then the preacher turned to old Widow John, who must have been 90 years old if she was a day. She lived in a beaten down old shack that most people wouldn’t store their garden tools in.  But she had the widest and most genuine smile anyone had ever seen. She said to the pastor: “I am thankful for two perfectly good teeth, one in my upper jaw and one in my lower job, they match so that I can chew my food.”
    Let me tell you another story. This story came to me from a retired United Church minister. He once met a missionary surgeon who was rather gruff and to the point. On one occasion the surgeon was speaking to a small group of university students about his work in the Gaza strip. In case you don’t know or can’t remember where the Gaza strip is, it is a 25 mile long and seven mile wide strip of land between Egypt and Israel.  The population is estimated at 1.8 million and is made up of mostly Arabic people of the Muslim faith. There is a small Christian Arab population of about 3,000 people. The unemployment rate in Gaza is over 40% and about the same percentage of people live below the poverty rate. Violent, poverty stricken and desperate are all good words to describe the Gaza strip. Oh, and they too are children of God.  Let me get back to the doctor I was talking about. In a speech he gave to university students he told them that we North Americans (that is where the good doctor is from) know nothing about gratitude. NOTHING!!! On one occasion the doctor stopped at a home to see a woman on whom he had performed surgery. She and her husband were poor, dirt poor. I am going to call them farmers. Their livestock consisted of one Angora rabbit and two chickens. For income the woman combed the hair out of the rabbit, spun the hair into yarn and sold it. For food she and her husband ate the eggs from the chickens. After the doctor had looked her over and pronounced her healthy again she insisted the doctor stay for lunch. He said he would after he stopped to see another post-operative patient up the road. An hour and a half later he was back. He smelled dinner cooking and lifted the pot cover to see what they were having. He saw one rabbit and two chickens boiling away. The woman had given her entire livestock supply, her income, her food, her everything to the doctor in thanksgiving. The doctor concluded his story by reminding the university students that they knew nothing of gratitude. Then the doctor wept. Unashamedly.
      You know and I know that woman was very foolish to give all she had to a doctor when he wasn’t expecting any payment at all or at most a kind word. But this story isn’t about the doctor. It is a story about a woman who had to give thanks. She had to show her gratitude and she had to do it that day. Who knows what tomorrow might bring?  I read a story like that and I have to conclude that I know nothing about gratitude. NOTHING. I should know more. I am a person of faith. I belong to a religious order. I am a minister, a priest to some of the folks I minister to.
     In our gospel story today we heard how Jesus went to the home of a religious man. He wasn’t a priest as priests in Judaism came from a distinct line and had distinct duties. But he was a religious leader. He was a Pharisee. In many ways he was a model of how Jews were expected to live. He was honourable. Trustworthy. He kept the commandments. He prayed. He supported the temple. He tithed his income. He gave a minimum of 10% of all his income and probably much, much more.   He had invited Jesus into his home because Jesus intrigued him and he wanted to find out more about him. In his mind he may have been asking the question, “Who are you Jesus”? Was Jesus a person from God or was he a deceiver or possibly even deceived? You can find out a lot of things about a person over a lunch or dinner. I think that may very well have been what the Pharisee was thinking.
     And then the unexpected happen. A woman entered the dining area where the men, Jesus and his disciples and the Pharisee and possibly some of his friends were sitting. The woman was carrying an alabaster jar containing a highly prized commodity, perfume. It was probably a rare and expensive perfume, thus the alabaster jar. The woman fell to her knees at the feet of Jesus. His feet would have been dusty from walking in the streets. Then this woman took Jesus’ feet in her hands and began to weep. She used her tears to wash his feet. Then she kissed his feet over and over again. After all that she anointed his feet with her very expensive perfume or ointment. Very obviously Jesus and the woman had a prior meeting or two beforehand and she felt she owed him a great debt. Her feet washing and anointing was her way of giving thanks. The ointment or perfume as I said was a very valuable commodity. It likely represented the woman’s entire life savings. The men at the table, especially the Pharisee, would have been very distressed. How could Jesus allow a woman to touch him in public this way? And how could he condone such an absolute waste of a valuable commodity? And that is when Jesus told the Pharisee his little story about the two men who owed another man a debt. One owed a small amount and one owed a large amount. Both had their debts forgiven. Jesus asked the Pharisee who do you think will love his benefactor more, the one who owed the small debt or the one who owed the large debt? The Pharisee rightly replied, “The one who owed and was forgiven the larger debt would love his benefactor more.”  And that is when Jesus made the statement that the woman who washed his feet with her tears, kissed them and anointed them loved him a great deal and he had forgiven her debts. Her sins he claimed were all forgiven. (At the same time it appears that Jesus was saying to the Pharisee that his sins were also forgiven but because his debt was smaller he was not as grateful. Do you agree?)
    In life the opportunity to do something good, something long-lasting and meaningful comes along quite regularly. At least when you are young and your pockets are filled with coins it seems that way. In our youth we imagine we will have lots of opportunities to do something good, something that will outlast us. Some day we hope or plan we are going to do something outrageously generous with our time, talents and resources. But who knows how many days we have to do something that will last? I am personally sorry that I never did all the good things I had the opportunity to do. I am also very well aware of how little thanks I have really given in life.   I now know that I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT GRATITUDE, but perhaps through the grace of God and the examples of others I can still do something that will outlast me.
     If the example from our gospel lesson doesn’t challenge your soul and if the example from our first lesson, from the book of Kings, doesn’t impress upon your heart how dangerous it is for our spiritual well-being to not become a grateful and thankful people then perhaps these words from a great mystic will help. A woman named Julian of Norwich, an English mystic from the 14th. Century had a highly developed sense of who God is and what God expects from us and what God plans for us. Here is something she wrote that I hope encourages your soul and makes a difference in your day to day living. She wrote about a vision God gave her and said afterwards: “Sin is unavoidable, but all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. For if we never fell, we should not know how feeble and how wretched we are of our self and also we should not fully know that marvelous love of our Maker. The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. God is all that is good, in my sight…if there be anywhere on earth (where) a lover of God is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it for it was not shown to me. But this was shown that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the precious love. Between God and the soul there is no between. God did not say, you will never have a rough passage, you will never be over-strained, you will never feel uncomfortable, but God did say you will never be overcome.”
         If only you and I knew how much God loves us? If only we knew how faithful God is? If only we knew and believed how generous God wants to be with us, granting us forgiveness, grace and new life, it would change everything. It might even teach us to become truly grateful. If we believed all those things it could even cause us to leave this house of worship today and do something so outrageously Christ-like it would bring tears to someone’s eyes. That is something you can think about. Now let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray.
 
Rev. Blair Corcoran
Corunna United Church
Corunna, Ontario



This Weeks Message

June 5th, 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016
Lesson in Living:  “Returning Your Calls!”
Scripture Lesson:  1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20   (The Message)
Speak God I am Ready to Listen
 The boy Samuel was serving God under Eli’s direction. This was at a time when the revelation of God was rarely heard or seen. One night Eli was sound asleep (his eyesight was very bad—he could hardly see). It was well before dawn; the sanctuary lamp was still burning. Samuel was still in bed in the Temple of God, where the Chest of God rested.
Then God called out, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Yes? I’m here.” Then he ran to Eli saying, “I heard you call. Here I am.”
Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” And so he did.
God called again, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel got up and went to Eli, “I heard you call. Here I am.”
Again Eli said, “Son, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” (This all happened before Samuel knew God for himself. It was before the revelation of God had been given to him personally.)
God called again, “Samuel!”—the third time! Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli, “Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.”
That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy. So Eli directed Samuel, “Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen.’” Samuel returned to his bed.
Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.”

 



1 Samuel 3:19-21 The Message (MSG)
 Samuel grew up. God was with him, and Samuel’s prophetic record was flawless. Everyone in Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, recognized that Samuel was the real thing—a true prophet of God. God continued to show up at Shiloh, revealed through his word to Samuel at Shiloh.
Gospel Lesson: Luke 7:11-17
 Not long after that, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession—a woman’s only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to her, “Don’t cry.” Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I tell you: Get up.” The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.
They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful—and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, “God is back, looking to the needs of his people!” The news of Jesus spread all through the country.
May God grant us wisdom to understand this gospel story.
 
   
     In this morning’s gospel reading we heard these words: “They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery that God was at work among them.” Just take one minute and think about that statement, those words, “God was at work among them.” How do we know when God is at work among us? How do we recognize God’s words or actions and distinguish them from our own words and actions? I am really sorry to say that there is no objective way to measure the presence of God, and for that matter, the absence of God. We walk by faith. Thankfully we have a faith that is built on a solid foundation, it is not a blind faith. Countless people have walked the walk we are on, the walk of faith, and can point out to us the signs of God’s presence, as well as the places where we are less likely to see the hand of God. In my messages I often mention the names of some of those who have built on the foundation of the apostles and their teachings. I also, from time to time, mention the names of people whose faith story I don’t know but who provide us with a good solid witness of how to live in our complex and conflicted world.
      During my last couple of messages I have mentioned different names to you, for instance two weeks ago I mentioned the name of an Australian actor named Paul Hogan better known as “Crocodile Dundee”.  He has a great sense of humour and while he is not an “A” list actor I think he is a good man. A second name I mentioned in the same message was Fred Craddock. Even though many of you have never heard his name before let me assure you he was a very fine preacher as well as being a kind and gentle pastor, in fact I preach the way I do because of things I learned from him.  There is something else that I learned through him that I really hope you will remember and take to heart.  He suggested to members of his congregation that they adopt for themselves a key Scripture verse, something from the Bible that speaks to their soul. You may not need that key verse today but you will need it at some point in life. In that same message I mentioned to you his key bible verse and my own key bible verse. (A copy of that message and any other message I preach is available from Alison upon request.) A very good friend of mine who read that message sent me her favourite key bible verse, which I am sure she wouldn’t mind my sharing with you. Her verse is from the gospel of John and reads as follows: You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”  (John 15:16) Searching for your own key Bible verse could turn out to be a great blessing for you and if you want to share your Bible verse with me I would be honoured to receive it.
     Today I want to mention two more names to you. The first name is Alexander Graham Bell. Who doesn’t know that name? Bell was a Scottish born scientist and inventor. While he is best known for his invention of the telephone he is also credited with other important discoveries and inventions. By the way there are three things of special note about this man; first, his work on the telephone was driven, at least in part, by his desire to help people who were deaf. Both his mother and wife were deaf. Second, Bell was concerned with how intrusive a telephone could be and it is said he never had one in his office and I don’t believe he had one in his vacation home on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Third, Alexander Graham Bell was open to new experiences. When his family settled in Brantford, Ontario he discovered the Six Nations Reserve. “With his undying passion for knowledge, he learned the Mohawk language and translated its unwritten vocabulary into Visible Speech symbols. For his work, Bell was awarded the title of Honorary Chief.” (source-Bell Canada History) I think Aleck Bell was a good man who left an important mark on our world.
    The second name I want to mention to you this morning is another inventor. His name is Martin Cooper. How many of you know that name? Martin Cooper is an American engineer and works or worked in the area of wireless communication. He is 87 years old now so I imagine he has slowed down a bit from his early days in the communications field. He worked for a company called Motorola. Mr. Cooper is called the “father” of the cell phone. You may not always be in a position where you would like to thank Martin Cooper for his invention, in fact there are probably times when you wish he had never entered the field. But because of his invention hundreds of million people around the globe are now connected to a giant communications web that enables them to be in constant contact with all their loved ones no matter how far away they may be. It also allows people from halfway around the world to contact us at the dinner hour to complete a survey, but that is a topic for another day. I am sure that Martin Cooper could never have imagined where his cell phone invention would lead. For instance who knew, way back then in 1983, that a telephone would also become and to some extent replace: a camera, a recorder, a GPS, an e-reader, a calculator, a computer, a scanner, a road map, a memo taker, a gaming device, a radio, a television, a movie projector, a music machine, even a credit card and much, much more. In becoming all these things it has also become much more intrusive then Alexander’s Graham Bell simple telephone.
    Simply put a telephone, whether it is a land line or a cell phone, is a marvelous invention that allows any one of us to make contact with other people in other places and allows other people to contact us. But no contact can take place without our taking the initiative. So let me move back to the subject of faith. Everyone here this morning (and those reading this message at home) had a choice. You could be home right now having another cup of coffee and either looking at the outside world through a picture window or sitting inside and allowing a picture window to entertain you. You had a choice but some power in your life caused you to get out of bed and come here this morning. I think you came, as I have, in response to God’s call on your life. I mentioned my friends’ key scripture verse a few minutes ago, a verse from John’s gospel, let me repeat it to you.  Jesus said to his disciples, and that includes you and me: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”  (John 15:16)
     God has been calling people for a long, long time. In our first reading today we heard of the call that the prophet Samuel heard. He was just a child when God called him, at an age when he could not distinguish God’s voice from the voices of others around him, including the voice of “guardian” and teacher, a Jewish priest named Eli. Eli knew the voice of God. But a time came in Eli’s life when he didn’t pay as much attention to the voice of God as he should have. Eli allowed his sons, who were also priests, to carry on as if the things and ways of God were trivial matters that could be discarded. Eli didn’t correct his children when they took advantage of God’s people, when they stole from them and abused them. God notices those things and while God may be slow in correcting those who engage in what are horrible and loathsome activities God eventually acts. The great emancipator, Martin Luther King Jr. claimed:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” For the day of justice to come there needs to be someone who will answer the call of God because God rarely directly interferes in our world, as you and I well know. God does not manipulate us or the world we live in. That is why we never (for the most part) face either instant justice for things we have done wrong or instant rewards for things we have done that are right. Nevertheless, God is still at work. God’s light has not gone out.                                                                                                                                                                                            
              A man I love and admire, someone whom you have heard me mention from time to time is the writer, C. S. Lewis. Lewis once said there are two kinds of people in our world, there are those who respond to God saying, “Thy will be done,” and there are those to whom God says, “All right then, have it your way.” Samuel wanted God’s will to be done in his life and so he said: Speak Lord, your servant listens. Samuel went on to have a long and fruitful ministry in ancient Israel. Nothing happened suddenly but gradually God’s ways or plans were revealed until they led to the installation of a King, a King we know as King David, from whose line Jesus of Nazareth came.
     Now some of you may have noticed that today’s lesson in living or sermon is entitled, “Returning our Calls.” I do try and return all my calls although I will confess that I eagerly return some calls more quickly than others. Occasionally I have calls that I am reluctant to return and have to struggle over. I am sure the same is true for many of you. Often the call or caller I am most ready to “put off” or offer an excuse to is God. God is still calling. You know that don’t you? God is still choosing disciples! When your children were little, or when your grandchildren were playing did you ever call them and have them ignore you? A few months ago in the one of the Upper Room devotional a mother told a story about her child. He was playing in his sandbox when she called him but he acted as if he hadn’t heard her. Finally she had to go outside and right up to him and she asked him, “Did you hear me call you?” He said, “Yes.” She said, “Well why didn’t you answer me?” With remarkable honesty he replied, “I thought if I pretended not to hear you then you might leave me alone?”
      Could it be that God has called you or me to ministry, not in some far off location but to a place very close to here? If we look inward would we find and admit that perhaps we have been ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t always speak as the Spirit apparently did to Samuel in an audible voice, the Spirit could speak to us through Scripture, hymns and sometimes through someone who lives in our very house. We are God’s creation, God’s children and yet we have been given the freedom to respond to God or even pretend we haven’t heard the voice of God. Thankfully God doesn’t ignore us or stop coming to us. God’s presence is in this very place and we are invited to come to him now in prayer. Let us pray!
Rev. Blair Corcoran
Corunna United Church
Corunna, Ontario
P.S. Do you have a key Scripture verse you could share with me. I would love to know what it is and how it affects or has affected you. Blair






This Weeks Message

Sunday, May 15th, 2016
Sunday, May 22nd. 2016                                                                                                                                    Lesson in Living:  “You Call This A Church?”                                                            
John 16:12-15  (New Revised Standard Version) NRSV
Jesus said:  “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
May God grant to us understanding of these words.
    I want to start today’s lesson-in-living by mentioning two names, the first is Fred Craddock and the second is Paul Hogan. Fred Craddock is a name most folks don’t know unless they are involved in ministry and preaching which is too bad because Fred Craddock was a giant, a pulpit giant. He changed the way preachers handled the Sunday sermon in a fundamental way. When some of you were younger and went to church you heard a sermon that usually had three points and each point would have been named and expanded on. That kind of a sermon is known as a deductive sermon. It is a top down style of teaching. All a congregation or audience had to do was sit there and soak it up.  Craddock was different. He was the opposite of most preachers He completely departed from what theological colleges were teaching. He was an inductive preacher.  He didn’t have messages with three points, he told stories, and what wonderful stories he told. (Does that remind you of anyone, Jesus perhaps?) Craddock was brought up in the Appalachian Mountains, in the age before television. Story-telling was part of his culture and he took that experience with him into the pulpit.  Craddock died last year at the age of 88 but through the marvels of modern technology you can still hear him preach. If you go to YouTube you can plug in his name and listen to one of his sermons.  (I don’t know how many people go on the internet to listen to sermons, but I do).  Since Craddock has been named or chosen as one of the top 12 preachers in the English-speaking world it would be worth your while to listen to one of his messages.
     I mention Fred Craddock’s name to you this morning because he taught his congregations a very important lesson which I would like to pass on to you. He counselled people to choose a key Bible verse or selection of scripture for their lives. His own key verse was taken from the gospel of Luke and it reads like this: But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for (God) is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (Luke 6:35) He claimed the last part of the verse for himself, “God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” BTW Craddock was both a humorous person-preacher as well as being a very humble man?
     I have selected a key verse in fact you heard it a few minutes ago. You heard my key verse from our reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. My key verse reads like this: Then one of the mighty angels flew over to the altar and with a pair of tongs picked out a burning coal.  He touched my lips with it and said, “Now you are pronounced ‘not guilty’ because this coal has touched your lips. Your sins are all forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7) There is a reason that is my key verse. Thirty-seven years ago, approximately, I came to believe that I had done something wrong and I was feeling terribly guilty. There are people who are quick to condemn themselves for behaviour that is neither wrong nor as evil as they think it is. I know that some of you know exactly what I mean. As I struggled with my guilt the thought came into my mind to read Isaiah chapter 6. It was an irrational thought, or so I thought, and I tried to push it away, but I didn’t get any relief until I picked up the Bible and read the chapter and that verse, my key verse, and suddenly I felt different, relieved. If God declared me not guilty who am I to argue?
     A few minutes ago when we read the gospels we heard Jesus say these words to his disciples: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. It seems to me that there is a promise in this gospel passage that we ought to take more seriously. What if Jesus is interested in comforting us here and now? What if he did indeed send the Holy Spirit to us to lead us? Is it possible that the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, has spoken to us many times in life and we didn’t realize it? I can’t tell you how many times in my ministry I have heard people say to me that they felt as if I was speaking directly to them through my message. Don’t you know, even after all these years, that God is quite serious about the “loving you forever” part of the gospel? If you are important enough to God to be loved then you are also important enough to have God speak to you through a scripture, through a hymn, through an anthem, through the words of someone else. That is just something for you to think about.
    Now to the second name I want to mention to you today, Paul Hogan. Hogan is an Australian actor best known for his role in a movie entitled “Crocodile Dundee.” In the movie we learn that Hogan’s character  miraculously survived a crocodile attack and his fame came to the attention of a Newsday reporter named Linda Kozlowski who arranged for Dundee to come to New York. Walking down the street one night, with the reporter, they are confronted by three hooligans who planned to rob him. They pull out a wicked looking switchblade. Dundee laughed heartily and then said, “You call that a knife” and then he whipped out his own knife, a foot long crocodile tamer. The thugs of course quickly disappeared. That is the kind of line many people remember from a movie, in fact it was a commonly used expression for a time. I think the line, with a little twisting, fits into today’s sermon topic, a message that is entitled “You call this a Church?” (I wish I had come up with the title first but that honour belongs to The Rev. William Willimon who was once the dean of the chapel at Duke University.) (BTW you can also listen to sermons from Duke Chapel on YouTube.)
     Let me remind you of the situation with the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ shortly after his crucifixion and resurrection.  In the gospel of John we are told that after the resurrection the disciples met together behind locked doors. They were afraid for their lives convinced that even as Jesus had been arrested and put to death they too would shortly be arrested if anyone discovered where they were. These were the people who had walked with Jesus for three years. They had listened to his teachings. They had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears strange and wonderful things. They had been commissioned to go out into the world and spread the good news. They were supposed to preach, teach, heal and set folks free. But they weren’t doing these things after the first Easter, they remained in hiding from the world until the event we know as Pentecost.
           Following Jesus is a difficult business. First of all we are trying to follow someone whom we can’t see or hear. Second, we are following someone whose story is now over 2,000 years old and every bit of the story has been studied, interpreted, re-interpreted, sometimes discarded, sometimes discounted and always challenged. Third, it can seem as if following Jesus gets you into more trouble than it will ever get you into good places. For fourty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth it seems as if the disciples of Jesus had nothing to contribute to the world. They were hidden from the world not involved in it. The only sermons they preached were to themselves. The only people they ministered to were those they trusted, those who had been with them from the beginning of this great adventure.
     When we look back through church history it seems as if we have come a long way but we ought to remember the disciples of Christ are just as likely, maybe even more likely, to hide behind locked doors out of fear then they are to enter into the problems and trials of this world.   Some might claim that isn’t true in the Western world. We aren’t afraid to speak of our faith and to bring it out into the marketplace. I am not so sure about that.  Let me tell you the true story of a man by the name of Vince Antonucci.
     Vince is a minister in the Christian church serving a congregation in Virginia Beach whose mission is to reach out to the unchurched. He knows something about the unchurched because he was once in that state himself. He was raised by a Jewish mother and a professional poker playing father. He had never been in a church in his life, or a synagogue for that matter, when he discovered the Bible. Actually he borrowed the Bible from a girlfriend who had never read it and didn’t know too much about it. He devoured the book, especially the stories about Jesus and the life and work of the early church. In fact he became so enamoured with the Jesus he found in scripture that he decided he wanted to become one of his followers. While visiting his father in a prison in Florida he was introduced to a prison chaplain who baptized Vince and then told him he should go home and find a church so that he could grow in the knowledge of his new faith. That is when things got really interesting.
     Back in Buffalo, NY, where he was living, Vince called a church and asked to speak to the minister, when told the minister wasn’t there he said, “Oh,” in a disappointed voice. The office administrator asked what was wrong. He replied “Well, I am supposed to come to church this Sunday.” She said, “Well he will be here Sunday why don’t you come and meet him?”
     Vince then asked, “But how will I get in?”
     “How will you get in?” She sounded confused.
      “Yes, how will I get in?”
      “Do you mean, how will you get here? I can give you directions.”
       “No, I know how to get there, but how do I get in? I don’t have an invitation. I haven’t signed up or anything.”
      There was a long period of silence. Then the administrator said: “Well, you just walk in. Just show up and walk in.”
      Vince was astonished. This didn’t make sense to him. Just show up and walk in. You couldn’t just walk into a college class. You couldn’t just walk up to a club and participate. He said to the church administrator, “So, what you are trying to tell me is that I can drive to your church on Sunday, get out of my car, walk up to the door and just walk in?”
     “Yes,” she replied. “Just show up and walk in.”
      Vince said, “But that’s the strangest thing I have ever heard.”
      “And you,” she replied, “are the strangest person I have ever talked to.”
     You might think that conversation sounded a little strange but is it? Would you just drive up and walk into the Mosque in Sarnia? There is also a Jewish synagogue in Sarnia “Would you just drive up and walk into the synagogue?” Our doors may not be locked, well at least they are not locked on Sunday morning, but they may as well be locked and chained as far as some people, even in our local community are concerned. There are lots of folks who couldn’t imagine or wouldn’t be comfortable just walking into a church, at least not without the comfort of a friend.  The early disciples of Christ experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit didn’t just leave them feeling warm and secure. They were driven out of their locked room into the streets of the city. They had a message to deliver, not only to one another but to the world at large.
     When the Spirit comes we are not left in the same place or condition the Spirit found us. We are changed. We are commissioned. We are sent out into the world. Every major Christian movement that has had an impact on society drives the disciples of Christ out from their locked churches or homes or rooms and into the world at large. Are you ready to be driven out into the world to do something for the God who loves you? And for the Christ who redeemed you? And for the Spirit who lives in you and guides you? Well let us come to the one who called us into the Church and pray that we may be all we were created to be, all that we are called to be. Let us pray!
 
Rev. Blair Corcoran
Corunna United Church
Corunna, Ontario

This Weeks Message

Sunday, May 15th, 2016


Sunday, May 15th. 2016
Lesson in Living:  “Pentecost-It is Not Over Yet!”
Acts 2:1-21    
John 14:8-27  (The Living Bible)
Philip said, (to Jesus)  “Sir, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”
 Jesus replied, “Don’t you even yet know who I am, Philip, even after all this time I have been with you? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking to see him?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say are not my own but are from my Father who lives in me. And he does his work through me. Just believe it—that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or else believe it because of the mighty miracles you have seen me do.
“In solemn truth I tell you, anyone believing in me shall do the same miracles I have done, and even greater ones, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask him for anything, using my name, and I will do it, for this will bring praise to the Father because of what I, the Son, will do for you.  Yes, ask anything, using my name, and I will do it!
 “If you love me, obey me; and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter, and he will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, for it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, for he lives with you now and some day shall be in you.  No, I will not abandon you or leave you as orphans in the storm—I will come to you. In just a little while I will be gone from the world, but I will still be present with you. For I will live again—and you will too.  When I come back to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. The one who obeys me is the one who loves me; and because he loves me, my Father will love him; and I will too, and I will reveal myself to him.”
Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but his other disciple with that name) said to him, “Sir, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us disciples and not to the world at large?”
Jesus replied, “Because I will only reveal myself to those who love me and obey me. The Father will love them too, and we will come to them and live with them.  Anyone who doesn’t obey me doesn’t love me. And remember, I am not making up this answer to your question! It is the answer given by the Father who sent me.
“I am telling you these things now while I am still with you.  But when the Father sends the Comforter instead of me*—and by the Comforter I mean the Holy Spirit—he will teach you much, as well as remind you of everything I myself have told you.
 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
May God grant us understanding of this scripture passage. Amen.
     Let me tell you a story, an old story you may have heard before but which seems to fit today’s theme.  A man who worked the four to midnight shift at a local factory, usually walked home from work every night. His route took him past a cemetery. One night, he was in a hurry, it was quite bright out, a full moon, and so he took a short cut through the middle of the cemetery. The short cut took ten minutes off his usual walk and so it soon became a regular habit. But on one particular night it was extremely dark. Somehow he got off the path and wouldn’t you know it, he fell into a freshly dug grave. He wasn’t hurt, but the hole was so deep he was unable to climb out of it. He tried yelling for help but no one heard him. He finally concluded that the best thing to do was wait out the night and in the morning someone would come along. So he pulled his coat around his neck and huddled in the corner and eventually fell off into an uneasy sleep.
     About an hour after he fell asleep, another man coming home from a bar, decided to take a short cut through the cemetery. And as luck would have it he fell into the same open grave. The first fellow woke up and watched as this second man tried to climb out of the grave the way he had tried. After a few minutes the first man felt obliged to say something and so he said, “You will never get out that way!”  The second fellow glanced into the corner, saw some sort of huddled creature in the corner, screamed once and then HE GOT OUT OF THERE.
     There are times in most people’s lives, when through circumstance, fear or perhaps even grace, we suddenly discover a power or strength within us that enables us to get through a crisis or past an obstacle, like the man in the story we just heard. But such times are rare and unusual and we know we cannot depend upon them. Much more common is the awareness that there is within us a certain weakness, not strength. It is a weakness that sometimes causes our knees to tremble, our palms to sweat, our mouth to dry up and our hearts to beat wildly. Not many of us like to talk about our inner weaknesses. We much prefer to speak of our strengths or our gifts and talents. But it is often our weaknesses that define us, at least that is the way it is for me. I am more aware of opportunities lost to me than opportunities seized. I am more aware of my failures than my successes. And I am much more aware of the times when I was silent and ought to have spoken, then times when I spoke while others remained silent. The place where I am most aware of my weaknesses is in the area where you would think I would be strongest and that is in the area of faith. I take some comfort in the knowledge that in this area at least I am not alone.
      Let us consider for a moment the movers and shakers in the early Christian church. The leaders of the church, the apostles, Peter, James, John and so forth had been personally instructed by Jesus Christ in the ways of God and the coming Kingdom. They had been witnesses to his miracles, had listened to his parables, and had seen for themselves his power, courage and grace. Surely there has not been nor will there ever be a finer model to observe and learn from than our Savior. And yet these apostles and disciples clearly showed in the days following Christ’s death and resurrection, how incapable they were of carrying on his mission in the world. They were bumblers of the first degree who fled at the first sign of trouble. Peter’s denial of Christ, on the night he was betrayed, was the most public sign of weakness displayed by the disciples but none of the other disciples showed their courage, in fact, the evidence is clear that when Jesus was arrested all his disciples went into hiding. Even following the resurrection the disciples did not appear in public. They spent time together, but more often than not, it was behind closed doors. They certainly weren’t out in the market-place talking about their faith or carrying on the work Jesus had given them. They were working and living in their weaknesses.
     The surprising thing about all of this is that Jesus did not seem to expect more from his disciples.  He didn’t push them the way we often push people when we think they are not doing all that they could do. Instead he gave them instructions to wait in Jerusalem. “Do not leave Jerusalem,” he said, “but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 1:4-5) With little, if any idea, of what that meant, they did as they were told. They went to Jerusalem, not to the temple, but to an ordinary room, in an ordinary house, and they waited, along with the women who had come with them, including the mother of Jesus and his brothers. (Acts 1:14).
    The book of Acts tells us that while the apostles and disciples waited, they prayed. I imagine their prayers were filled with more questions than true worship. After all there must have been a sense of anxiety among the disciples as they wondered about what was to happen. What would it be like to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? Would it hurt? How would they know it had happened? Jesus had said something about fire, didn’t that sound dangerous? And fire is dangerous as we all well know and as it has been particularly displayed to us in the recent events at Fort McMurray, Alberta. One of my favourite and comforting phrases is one that was often used by the author, George MacDonald, who said and wrote, “Our God is a consuming fire.”
     On the day of Pentecost, a Jewish festival set fifty days after Passover, they were all together in one place and they got a crash course in what baptism of the Holy Spirit was all about. First came a sound like the blowing of a violent wind. That not only got the disciples’ attention but also the attention of nearby residents. In this part of the country we have seen violent winds. When the winds become loud and strong we wonder if a tornado is on its way. People with good sense don’t rush out to watch the wind, we take some precautions. There was no place for the disciples to hide from the wind, because the wind was the very breath of God. Suddenly tongues of fire appeared and came to rest on each disciple and then they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. With their baptism a profound change took place in each disciple. First they began to speak in different tongues, in languages they did not know. One person began to praise God in Latin, someone else in Greek, others in Arabic or  one of the other languages of the area. They may not have known exactly what they were saying but the crowd that gathered knew. These were people from all the known world, devout Jews from different countries who had come to celebrate a Jewish feast. Now they heard a bunch of Galileans talking about the power of God in their own tongue so that no one was left out.
    I was trying to think of a modern day comparison to this event and of course there isn’t one. But imagine if you can folks from multi-cultural, multi-lingual Toronto going to St. John’s, Newfoundland for some special event. In the course of their visit they hear a violent wind and go to check it out. Then they see a group of Newfoundlanders, gathered in prayer, and hear them speaking and praying in their own individual language. That is the kind of thing that happened 2,000 years ago. A group of folks, from a mostly rural background, fishermen and common people, without a great deal of education, were suddenly gifted in a way no one could ever anticipate.
    These disciples were also filled with a boldness, a confidence, a sense of courage none of them had ever possessed or could imagine possessing. And it didn’t dissipate, after a few hours or few days. These very disciples, afraid to leave the room of the house they were staying in, suddenly went out into the world to proclaim the gospel message. According to the book of Acts three thousand people converted to Christianity that day. They were baptized, young and old. What happened in that upper room spread through Jerusalem, to Athens, to Rome, to Alexandria. It spread across nations, across cultures, across centuries as far removed from Israel as we are from the moon. And because of Pentecost, because of the things that happened that day, 2,000 years later, people who do not speak a work of Hebrew, Greek or Latin, have come to believe in a Jewish Messiah who is worshiped today in every language on earth.
     All of the things that happened on that first Pentecost happened after people waited for the Holy Spirit to come. When the Spirit came, they received a power and grace that overcame their weaknesses. When the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit, it usually does so in two ways. First it speaks of the abiding presence of God in Christ, with all the safety and comfort that relationship promises. This is the Spirit most of us know as the Spirit of love, the Spirit of peace, the Spirit that comforts and revives our weary souls. The second way it speaks of the Spirit is not nearly so comfortable. It speaks of a Spirit that blows, and burns, and turns things completely upside down. It is a Spirit unlike our spirits. The Holy Spirit is the power of God, the holiness of God, and is to be feared and worshiped as well as loved.
     Is the same Spirit active in our world today? The Bible assures us that the Spirit of Christ will be with us until the end of time. And so the answer to that question is obvious.  It is yes. But we rarely if ever see the Spirit of God in action, at least not in the way the early church experienced the Spirit. Why is that? I think one of the reasons may be that as a cultural, a society and as individuals we are not into waiting. We like things to be instant and have little or no patience when we are asked to wait. Stand in a lineup at a grocery store or a fast food restaurant sometime and you will see what I mean. You will sense the anxiety and tension that develops when people are forced to wait for even a few minutes. You will probably feel it in yourself. If we can’t wait five or ten minutes for coffee and a donut that we didn’t have to make, without getting worried and anxious, is it any wonder that we lack the patience to wait for the Spirit of God to come? God doesn’t follow our agendas. God is not into instant gratification nor does God usually respond in the manner of a genie in a bottle. God values patience. God also values and rewards those who prayerfully wait for his appearing.
    When St. Peter stood to speak to the assembled crowd on that first Pentecost Sunday he did not tell folks that the Holy Spirit was a gift for those who earned it or deserved it. He did not tell people that the Spirit would come to those who were spiritually astute or religiously aware. He said, quoting from the prophet Joel, “In the last days, God will pour out his spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days....and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
     Surely if the apostles and disciples of Christ, 2,000 years ago, were living in what was called, the “last days,” we too are living in the same time frame. In the “last days,” our day, the Spirit is promised. The Spirit is waiting and willing to come to us, and according to Jesus anyone who asks for him will receive him. Do we need the Holy Spirit? We certainly do. This church needs the Spirit as it prepares for the days, weeks, months and years that lie ahead of you. You need the Spirit to comfort you in your times of sorrow, to challenge you in times of complacency and to gift you in times of need.
     God, I believe, is not only willing and anxious to send the Spirit to us, but is present in this very place this morning. And if we ask him to come to us, he will. I invite you to come to God in prayer now, asking that you too may experience the wind and fire of his coming and then go forth to faithfully serve God in the world. Let us bow our heads and unite our hearts in prayer. Let us pray!
 
Rev. Blair Corcoran
Corunna United Church
Corunna,Ontario


This Weeks Message

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

Sunday, May 8, 2016
Lesson in Living:  What Gift Has God Given You? (And what have you done with it?)
1 Cor. 12:4-7, 27 (The Living Bible) 
Now God gives us many kinds of special abilities, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service to God, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are many ways in which God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work in and through all of us who are his. The Holy Spirit displays God’s power through each of us as a means of helping the entire church.
To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching, and this is his gift from the same Spirit. He gives special faith to another, and to someone else the power to heal the sick. 10 He gives power for doing miracles to some, and to others power to prophesy and preach. He gives someone else the power to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking. Still another person is able to speak in languages he never learned; and others, who do not know the language either, are given power to understand what he is saying. 11 It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives all these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have.

27 Now here is what I am trying to say: All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.
John 17:20-26
 
     Jesus was praying and as he prayed he said to his Father:  20 “I am not praying for these alone but also for the future believers who will come to me because of the testimony of these. 21 My prayer for all of them is that they will be of one heart and mind, just as you and I are, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.
22 “I have given them the glory you gave me—the glorious unity of being one, as we are— 23 I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one—so that the world will know you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want them with me—these you’ve given me—so that they can see my glory. You gave me the glory because you loved me before the world began!
25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 And I have revealed you to them and will keep on revealing you so that the mighty love you have for me may be in them, and I in them.”
May God grant us understanding of these scripture readings
 
        I hope you will bear with me this morning as I try to convey the good news of the gospel in what is a difficult time in many people’s lives. Some of us have recently lost loved ones. Some of us have close connections to people who live and work in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Some of us are dealing with tough issues that no one knows about with the exception perhaps of a very close friend.  It is good to keep in mind the knowledge that Jesus ministered in difficult times, to people who were often overcome by evil or by unfairness in life.  When Jesus wanted to teach folks something that was radically new to them and when he wanted to tell folks important things about God and people’s relationship to God he would often tell a parable or a story. The stories Jesus told have inspired many other story tellers. This morning I want to tell you a story that I think is a good companion to the scripture lessons. The story or parable I want to tell you has a name and it is called: “The Seed.”
      “There was once a very successful businessman who was known as much for his generosity, honesty and integrity as he was for his good business sense. The time came when the man felt he ought to retire from running the business and he decided to choose his successor in a rather unique manner. He called all the executives of the company together and said to them: “It is time for me to step down and chose the next leader of this company. I have decided to choose one of you.” The executives were shocked, and for good reason. In most companies the successor is already known or brought in from the outside. It is rare for so many to be considered for the position. The boss continued, “I am going to give each one of you a seed–one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, look after it and come back one year from today and show me what you have done with it.

     Well the idea instantly made sense to all of the executives, for if there was one thing their boss was known for, outside his work, it was his gardening skill. Most of them had been to his home from time to time and had seen the great care he took of his gardens. He grew the most beautiful roses, orchids, and exotic plants. The employees wanted to know more. What kind of seed were they given? What type of container should they use? The boss simply replied, “The type of seed isn’t important, nor is the container you use. I simply want to see how you take care of the seed I have given you.” And with that last comment they were dismissed.
     One of the young executives, Jim, was more than a little excited. He took his seed and went home and told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and watched him plant the seed, water it and set it on a table near a window where it would get lots of sun.
      In the days that followed the young executives would gather around the board room table and invariably the talk would turn to the seed they had been given. For the first couple of weeks no one had anything to report, then one morning one of them reported a breakthrough, announcing that he thought his seed came from a rose as a rose was growing in his planter. The next day someone announced that they thought they had an orchid growing from their seed. Soon the talk turned to the different plants. Someone announced they were growing a Japanese Flowering Plum tree from their seed. Another person mentioned a “Bird of Paradise” plant. Every day someone had something to report, except Jim.

     Jim couldn’t understand what he was doing wrong. One week he would put the container bearing the seed in the sun.  Another time he would put it in the shade. He tried watering a lot and watering a very little. He added fertilizer still nothing happened. Weeks and then months passed. After a time Jim began to feel like a real failure. But he kept watering and fertilizing and watching.
     The day finally came when the boss announced that everyone should bring in their seeds in whatever container they had put them in. Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to bring his planter in. He had very obviously killed the seed and the boss certainly wouldn’t want to look at it. But the boss made it very clear that everyone should bring back what he had given them. Feeling slightly embarrassed Jim carried his empty planter to the office. He slipped it into the board room before the boss came in and then hurried off to his desk. Other executives started to drift in one by one. Some carried plants that were filled to overflowing their containers. Others had planters that had the plant staked up and still others couldn’t even carry their plants in by themselves they had to bring them in on a cart. The boss called everyone into the board room.

       You should have seen it. The whole board room was filled with plants, plants were by the windows, on the board table, in the aisle, one plant even half blocked the door. And the smell was overpowering, from the rich scent of flowers and blooms. When the boss came into the room, he greeted his young executives. “My,” he said, “what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown.” He went around and would stop in wonderment at one flower or another, picking a few of the smaller plants up to take a second, very close look. “Who grew this one?” He would ask and someone would step forward. “What a beautiful plant,” he would tell them.  Smiles covered faces. Everyone waited in anticipation as the boss reviewed each and every plant. Finally he spotted Jim’s planter. “What do we have here? There is no plant in it? Who owns this one?” At that point Jim stepped forward, “That’s my planter,” said Jim. “I don’t know what I did wrong. I may have over watered the seed you gave me and killed it.
     The boss asked everyone to sit down. “I have looked at your plants,” he announced, “and many of them are more beautiful than anything I have seen before. There are obviously some very fine gardeners in this company. I am now ready to announce my successor. The person I want to take over the company when I leave is Jim.
      That created quite the commotion.  People started to talk and some even began to complain. “How can you pick Jim, his seed didn’t even grow? He killed it. Why should he be our new boss?” 
     The boss gave them this explanation, “One year ago I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed home, plant it, water it and bring it back to me after one year. But I gave you all boiled seeds, in other words the seeds were all dead. It was not possible for anyone to grow anything from the seed I gave you. All of you, except Jim, brought me plants, flowers and trees. When you found your seed would not grow you substituted another in its place. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring back the seed I gave him. He is the kind of individual I want to run my business.
     That is a really great parable, a really great story. If there is one lesson both the young and old can take from the story it is this: “Do what you have been called to do in the best way you can and the results will take care of themselves.” In my experience, in both the business world and in the world of the church, the folks who have been most outstanding are those who commit themselves to doing a job with honesty and integrity. If you want to stand out in the world there isn’t a better way to do so then for being known for your honesty and integrity.
     When I look at many of the parables, Jesus told many of them revolve around the idea of doing the right thing, without counting the costs or worrying about the results. Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan or the parable of the talents. Jesus, as we well know from all that is written about him, didn’t just tell parables, he lived them out. He recognized and appreciated the gifts God gave him and used them in a manner that he knew God wanted him to use them. If the results were not what people expected then so be it. His life, work and ministry were not “results oriented” they were faith based. “How can I faithfully use the gifts God has given me in this situation?
     Our first Scripture lesson today dealt with the subject of gifts or talents. In the lesson (from 1 Corinthians) we are told that we as individuals and as a Church have been given gifts from God. The gifts we have been given, as Jesus taught, are not to be buried or hidden but used to further the Kingdom or will of God. Have you ever identified OR had someone pointed out to you a special gift in your life?  What Gift has God given you? That is the title of today’s message. There is a follow up question: “What have you done with it?” We are not supposed to worry about whether or not our gifts produce good things in our life or even in the life of the church, we are called to use all of God’s good gifts to the very best of our ability. Let us now come to God in prayer.  Let us pray.
Rev. Blair Corcoran
Corunna United Church
Corunna, Ontario
Note: I will be away from the community for a few days to attend a funeral in Aylmer Quebec for my brother-in-law, Richard Filiou. (I will be in the pulpit next Sunday.) Some of you will remember that Richard's wife, my sister, Dianna, passed away at Thanksgiving about 16 months ago. At the end of "the day" we commit our loved ones into the hand of God and trust God to take care of them. We hold onto the hope that we will see our loved ones again in the "sweet by and by." In the meantime we are called to faithfully carry on with our lives, using our gifts or talents in a way that acknowledges the supremacy of God and our dependence on a good God to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
 


This Weeks Message
Sunday, April 17, 2016


Hello All: For today's children's story I am bringing to church, in my brown paper bag, two things to show them. First I will show them a lock of my grey/white hair. I doubt they will be impressed. The second thing I will show them is a lock of hair from a woolly mammoth. (I bought it at a Dinosaur store a few years ago along with some other artifacts.) I imagine the children will be impressed, and of the opinion, that the mammoth hair is more valuable than my hair or their hair. But Jesus once said that God has numbered every hair on our head. God takes an interest not only in our hair but in the entirety of our life. Nothing we say or do or experience is trivial to God. Perhaps that will encourage them/us in our caring for one another and perhaps it will also serve as a reminder to us that when terrible things happen, as is the recent events in Attawapiskat, God not only cares but does something about it. So where is God at work in Attawapiskat, or better yet, who is God working through in this tragedy? When I know the answer to that question I can pray for that person or people. I can also resolve in my own mind to bring God into more situations in my daily life. Something to think about.
Oh yes, and if you are more valuable than a flock of sparrows, as Jesus once said, then you are also more valuable than a woolly mammoth, live like you are and treat others as if they are. Blair

Sunday, April 17, 2016
Lesson in Living:  Looking Ahead With Hope!
Scripture Lesson: 1.    John 10:22-10  (New Revised Standard Version)
22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”
Scripture Lesson: 2. Revelation 7:9-17 (N.R.S.V.)
The Multitude from Every Nation
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
     Since Easter Sunday our primary New Testament readings have been about post-resurrection appearances of Jesus the Christ. On Easter we heard, once again, the story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene. The next week the gospel lesson dealt with the appearance of Jesus to the disciples with particular emphasis on the “doubting apostle,” Thomas. Actually they were all doubting apostles but only Thomas has been given that particular designation by historians. Then last week we heard of a third appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee, an appearance that concluded with a breakfast of fresh fish and bread. It is almost always safe, even comforting, to speak of events that are very old, because we are not in the picture, we don’t seem to be particularly affected and often it doesn’t require for much of a response on our part. But what if that event of 2,000 years ago, the resurrection, directly impacts us? What if it is supposed to make the difference in how we live now and what we do with this gift of life and faith. Today, I would like to do something different and that is to look ahead to our own hope, our own resurrection and to begin I want to go back into my personal history.
     When I first began work as a minister in the United Church of Canada it was as a student minister in a four point pastoral charge in the eastern townships of Quebec. I needed the work, as my wife, Alison, was pregnant with our second child, Ashley, and we already had a small child at home. So I combined my Ministry of Divinity program at McGill University with practical week to week work in a congregation. One morning as I was preparing to head off to university I received a call from a woman, whom I did not know. Her husband, who was terminally ill, was in the hospital in St. Jean, Quebec and she wanted me to go visit him. Someone had given her my name and she hoped that I might be able to bring him a word of comfort. I learned from her that her husband was a lapsed Roman Catholic and calling a priest was not an option he wanted to pursue. When I hung up the telephone I felt physically sick. What was I going to say to a dying man?  I was really, really concerned.  What word of hope or comfort could I bring to the situation? I was in my first year at seminary, we hadn’t covered death and dying and pastoral calls in any of my courses. I was more than a little naïve because, as I was to discover, those topics were never going to be directly covered in any of my courses. There were lots of things I had to learn from practical experience and that experience, for the most part, was given to me, not by professors and theological texts, but by members of the congregations I served.
       All the way to the hospital that morning I prayed for a miracle. I begged God, as hard as I could, to talk to me, I even left the radio off so I would have better reception. My prayers, it seemed to me, were met by silence. I still didn’t have a clue as to what I should say to a dying man.
     When I eventually sat down by the bedside of this very sick man I was still at a total loss for words. Thankfully he was not. He began by immediately telling me how frightened he was of meeting God. And as he described the God he expected to meet I could understand his fear. The God he knew, the God he felt he grew up with, was a very angry God, who had, no doubt, kept track of his every failure in life. In his hospital bed he had time to walk back through his life and in the course of doing so he remembered just about every sin he ever committed, every violation of the ten commandments, every broken promise he had made to himself, another person or to God.
     When he finished with his confession we sat in silence for a few minutes. Then for some reason or another I began to speak to him about his wife. I talked about her calling me and of the great love she had for him. And he agreed that his wife did indeed love him, loved him very, very much, although she wasn’t formally his wife, they had never been officially married, another reason for him to feel somewhat guilty. I told him that wasn’t the important point right now, the love she had for him was what was important. In fact, he claimed, his wife loved him so much, that if she could she would do his dying for him.  That claim of his, that belief of his, was the cornerstone on which I offered to him my understanding of the gospel and my understanding of the grace of God and the love of God. “
For as much,” I claimed and said with all the conviction I could muster, “as your wife loves you it pales in comparison to the love God has for you and has had for you from your beginning and will continue to have for you in eternityThe God you meet on the other side of eternity, on the other side of this life, will be so overjoyed to see you that he won’t have either the time or the inclination to remember or recite to you any of the sins you have committed or think you have committed.” I can’t remember now but I am sure I brought the parable of the prodigal son to his attention.
     Something of what I said that morning brought spiritual and even physical comfort to the man. He relaxed and took my hand as I prayed for him. When I finished praying he had tears in his eyes, and I had a few tears in my eyes, and he said,
“I am no longer afraid.” When I left him I promised to come back and he said, “I might not be here when you get back.” And I remember replying, “Well in that case I will see you on the other side.”  I didn’t see the man again. He died within a day of my visit. (Oh, and I also believe God was with me when I met with this man and directed how things unfolded, after all the scriptures do promise that if we call on God in our day of trouble he will come to our aid. Indeed he does. God is with us every time we call on him, that is what the scriptures teach. You don’t need to be a member of the clergy to bring hope, comfort and God’s presence to someone else, you have done it and should do it, and remember any time you call on God’s name God is faithful and will come to you.)      
     As a minister I probably think about death and eternity more than most people. Most people are afraid to consider their mortality, in any real way. Dr. Scott Peck in a book entitled, “
Further Along the Road Less Traveled” relates an incident that happened in a small town.  A high school student died of leukemia and shortly after another student died in an automobile accident. As a result some of the students in the school petitioned the principal to introduce an elective, non-credit course on the subject of death and dying. A minister even stepped forward and offered to organize the course and find the teacher for it for free, so it wouldn’t cost anyone anything. But any new course in the school had to be approved by the school board, which voted nine to one against the course on the grounds that it was morbid, it was too gloomy and depressing a subject.         
     About thirty or forty people wrote letters to the newspaper protesting the decision and one of the editors of the paper wrote an editorial in support of them. There was sufficient noise made to force the board to take up the matter again. Guess what happened? The board voted again, nine to one, not to offer the class. Nothing had changed for them. They still felt death and dying was a subject they shouldn’t explore or let others explore.
     I can understand a school’s reluctance to deal with this subject but the truth of the matter is that it isn’t just schools that are hesitant to deal with this subject. Here in Canada we have had some recent conversations about end of life issues. In fact the Supreme Court of Canada told Parliament to come up with some guidelines on dealing with assisted death. From what I have read and heard of the legislation it is largely devoid of any spiritual context. (
Father Dan Vere, the local Roman Catholic priest has asked me if he thought there would be interest in arranging for a faith based discussion on this topic and I have encouraged him in that regard so we will see what develops). At any rate as all of you know the Christian Church has a lot to say about death and life and the resurrected life. In fact, the apostle Paul devoted an entire chapter in one of his letters to the subject of the resurrected body. (1 Cor. 15) He made it clear that our earthly bodies can’t be compared to heavenly bodies, they will be as different as a seed is from a plant. The few clues about eternity that are given to us in Scripture don’t allow us to make assumptions about what the life to come will be like. You may remember from the gospels a time when disciples came to Jesus and asked him an elaborate question about a widow who had been married seven times and they wanted Jesus to tell them who she would be married to in eternity. Jesus responded that she wouldn’t be the wife of any man but then cut to the heart of their real question, their real doubts, that resurrection would happen to anyone. Jesus replied, "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection.” Then Jesus went on to defend the idea of resurrection. He said, “…in the account of the (burning) bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to God all are alive."
      It is perfectly reasonable for people to express fears about what will happen to them after death. We are dealing with the unknown, but that doesn’t mean we are without any guide at all, on the contrary we can take great hope from passages like the one we heard today from the book of Revelation. I know that the book of Revelation, along with the book of Daniel, is the subject of a great many myths, distortions, and speculations. But I take great comfort in these words of the prophet or seer, who claimed to have been shown what eternity is like. He provided, as we heard, a brief description of heaven in these words: “
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne (of God) and in front of the Lamb (Or Jesus the Christ). Even as the earth is full of diversity, so will heaven be full of diversity. Every nation, every people, every time in history is represented in this passage, that is why it is a good idea to make friends from a wide variety of backgrounds, after all we will be spending eternity among a very mixed group.
     But what I like best is the end of the passage where this promise is made concerning our future, and the future of our loves ones. It is written, (once people enter the kingdom of God)
“Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   
     It is a shame that those words and images aren’t as well known to us as the words and images of death and destruction that can also be found in various chapters of the Bible. These, I think, are the more important words and images, since they come at the end of the story. And isn’t the end of the story what we are most anxious to know about.
     There are certain things no minister, no person, can say about heaven, resurrection, life after death, for they would be mere speculations, some things we will just have to wait and experience for ourselves.  What we can say, what I often say to people, even in very tragic circumstances, is “try not to be afraid. God is with you, now and in the future. Our loved ones are safe in the arms of God. And in the fullness of time, we will, I believe, see them again. That is my hope. That is my faith. That is what I urge you to believe and if you can’t quite accept these words, do accept these words, “You are loved by God, always have been, always will be, and in God’s love you will be safe. Now let us pray!

Rev. Blair Corcoran
Corunna United Church



This Weeks Message
Sunday, April 10th 2016


Lesson in Living:  Push the Reset Button
Gospel Lesson:  John 21:1-19  (The Message)
Today’s gospel lesson is a story that is best heard with eyes closed and mind open. When I read this passage I imagine I am at the sea of Galilee looking on as the disciples have their third encounter with the risen Jesus Christ. Here is how the lesson unfolds. I am reading from The Message, a paraphrase of the gospel by the Rev. Dr. Eugene Peterson. 
After this, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Tiberias Sea (the Sea of Galilee). This is how he did it: Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.”
The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.” They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night. When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him.
Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?”
They answered, “No.”
He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.”
They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in.
Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!”
When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea. The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along the net full of fish. When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it.
Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore—153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip.
Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master. Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus had shown himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead.
Do You Love Me?
After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.”
Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, “Follow me.”
May God grant us understanding of this scripture passage and may the reading of it draw us closer to the heart of our Saviour.

    Do any of you remember a visit the former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made to Russia a number of years ago, shortly after Barack Obama was elected the President of the U.S.? At that time Hillary Clinton presented her counterpart, the Russian Foreign Minister, with a large red “reset button.” The button was intended to symbolize improved relations between the two nations with the change in the U. S. administration. Some people, at least people of my generation, haven’t generally equated large red buttons with peace and reconciliation efforts, on the contrary, we grew up with the fear that someone, somewhere might push a big red button and destroy half the world. I like the idea behind a “reset button.” It might even be a more practical and certainly more necessary than the button the office supplier, Staples, offers, you know the one: The “That was easy” button. We all have moments in life when we would like a “reset button.” That is certainly the case for the disciples in today’s gospel lesson.
      Today’s gospel lesson deals with the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. The reading began by telling us what the disciples did after Jesus told them to go out into the world and preach the good news of his gospel. Instead of preaching what did they do instead? They went fishing, on the sea of Galilee. I have been to the Sea of Galilee, it is not really much of a sea, more like a lake and compared to some of Canada’s lakes it is a fairly small lake. People still fish on it, some even doing so in the way they did 2,000 years ago. The disciples, as we heard in today‘s gospel story, had been fishing all night. Then early in the morning they saw a figure on the beach who called out to them with these words, “
Friends, have you caught any fish?” The disciples replied with a one word answer, the kind of answer that is supposed to end a conversation. They replied, No!” The person on the shore called back and said, “Cast your nets on the right side of the boat and you will find some fish.”
    Remember these disciples were fishermen, professional fishermen. They knew how to fish or at least they thought they did. We are a lot like the disciples. We think we know what to do. We believe we know how the world operates. We think we know, even better than God, how to live a meaning-Ful life. But some of us spend our whole lives fishing on the wrong side of the boat. We make our own decisions, come to our own conclusions try to do everything in our own wisdom and strength. When we don’t catch any fish, or get ahead in life, when things don’t work out the way we hoped and expected we try to do the same things even harder.
    A number of years ago I read a quote that has been attributed to the great scientist/teacher Albert Einstein on the subject of “insanity.” He is reported to have said “insanity” is the act of doing the same thing over and over again with the hope of getting a different result.” I can relate to that, in fact I have caught myself repeating this mistake over and over again. While I am busy trying to get a different result while doing the same action I act as if God is standing by, watching and waiting, of no real help. I am so busy I can’t hear the voice from the shore that says, “
Cast your net on the other side of the boat and you will catch some fish.” Two thousand years ago the disciples heard the voice from the shore and they obeyed. They caught a load of fish so heavy they were unable to haul their nets in. It was the apostle John who realized that this catch of fish was not natural. He cried out, “It is the Lord.” (BY THE WAY, how many times, do you think, God has intervened in your life? How many times has God done something you asked for, changed a circumstance, given you a sense of peace? And how many times were you able to cry out, as John did? “It is the Lord.” Speaking for myself there have been lots of times God has intervened in my life, but I haven’t usually given God the credit.) 
    For Christians believing in the resurrection of Jesus goes beyond believing certain facts about the time and place of his resurrection, important as those facts may be. The resurrection is an event that shows us at least two important things about God, first what God is really like and second what God is doing right now.
   First, what is God like? God, as we have heard again and again is
perfect love. In God’s love for humanity God came to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. In the resurrection of our Lord, God showed us that love is larger than death. God’s love for us is greater than any sin we can or have committed, or any failure we have ever experienced. God’s love is greater than all our fears. You may remember that place in the New Testament where it is written, “perfect love casts out fear.” (You can find the quote yourself in 1 John)  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the revelation of God’s perfect love. God’s perfect love not only for Jesus of Nazareth, but also, I think, for all his disciples, indeed for all humanity.
    Second, the resurrection shows me a little bit about what God is doing now. The resurrection tells me that God is not sitting on the sidelines of history watching how life will unfold, God is directly involved in life. God is still the one who brings life out of death. God can and wants to bring life to us, here and now. While the physical resurrection of Jesus is a preview of the ultimate reality, a reality that tells us there is more to come beyond the grave, it is also a taste of what we can experience here and now. You can’t help but notice the change in the disciples that followed the resurrection of their Master. They became people of courage. They went out into the world and turned it upside down. They believed Christ was walking with them. They believed he was talking to them, guiding them in their work. Christ had got their attention, not only through his shouted instructions from the shore, but also by helping them to break free from their deepest fears. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. That is our great salvation hope.
    The post resurrection appearances of Jesus are proof to me that God has a “reset button” so to speak, that applies to our relationship with God and can be used in our relationships with one another. The apostle Peter has first-hand knowledge of how it works. Peter had been nicknamed by Jesus as “The Rock” following his confession that Jesus was the Messiah. What a wonderful name to be given. He stood, I imagine, a little taller after Jesus gave him that name. He was certainly seen by the other disciples as a leader, solid and reliable. Peter, it seems, was confident that his faith in Jesus had developed to the point that he would never, ever, do anything that was disloyal. He could be counted on when the chips were down. And then came a time when Peter made a promise to Jesus, a promise that no matter what happened in the future, Peter would stand by Jesus. He would stand with Jesus even if everyone else denied him or left him. Jesus tried to tamper down Peter’s expectations of himself, his self-confidence, he said to him on the night of his betrayal, “
before the Rooster crows three times (in the morning) you will already have denied me three times.” Peter replied with confidence saying,  “that is something I will never do.” But he did. When the opportunity came for Peter to stand up for Jesus the Christ after every one else had deserted him, Peter turned out to be more like a puddle than a rock. He not only denied knowing Jesus, he denied him using very harsh language, even to the point of using curses. Just imagine how Peter must have felt following the events of Good Friday. He not only did not stand up for Jesus when he had the opportunity but denied even knowing him, three times. After the resurrection Peter had many reasons to rejoice but would also, I think, have still been still immersed in feelings of guilt. How could he ever be trusted by Jesus again? How could Jesus ever
forgive him?
    Jesus must have known how Peter felt and that is why he asked Peter three times, “
Do you love me?” Each time Peter replied, “You know I love you.” And for every time Peter acknowledged loving Jesus he was given a command, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus was telling Peter that he was not only forgiven but still trusted. His relationship with Jesus was re-established. That is why I say “Thank God for reset buttons.”
    I believe all of us have been in that place where we have experienced a separation from loved ones, because of some action or inaction on our part. We have all said things that we need to be forgiven for, and some of the worst things we likely have ever said have been to loved ones, but that doesn’t have to be the last word. That doesn’t have to mean a relationship is over and done with and can never be repaired. Certainly the Scripture writers tell us over and over again that in God and with God and through the grace of God we have been given a new start. And since God’s grace is inexhaustible, if we have to start over again every single day then that is not only possible but is in line with God’s willingness and ability to grant us both forgiveness and grace. 
       Like the apostle Peter I can stumble and fall despite my good intentions and knowledge of the goodness of God. I like to tell people that we all know more of the gospel than we live. We also know that sometimes we don’t even live up to what we preach. When folks fail to live in the manner that they know is best, know is faithful, it is very easy for them to abandon the faith or turn to doing something else instead of what they are called to do. We may not go fishing, we may instead go golfing, or to a cooking class, or into our cocoons, but we are not fulfilling our call, our purpose in life. At such times we need to remember that we too have a “reset button”, a button we can push to remind us that our failings do not have to define us. We can at any time turn to the one who has made us and say, “I need a new beginning in life, a new start.” And I believe that God is willing and able to give that to us, no matter how many times we come and ask for it.
      We also need to use our “reset button” in terms of our relationships, one with another. When we find ourselves in conflict with someone else, we are called to do what we can to put the relationship back on a solid footing. Sometimes that includes bearing a greater share of the burden than we have actually incurred. I have a responsibility not only to my family, my friends, my fellow congregation members, but also to the wider world. When Jesus said, “
Feed my sheep” and “Take care of my lambs” he wasn’t simply referring to people who are like me or people whom I like. That means the people in places as far away as Afghanistan or people as close as those who live on the streets of our city are people I can and should minister to. Some of the time we do that by remembering them in our prayers, other times we reach out by assisting others at a time of crisis. It certainly includes standing up for others and with others who are seeking justice, mercy and fairness regardless of their background, faith or any other barrier that may exist between us and them.
      Today is a day in which I want to be thankful for the gentle and gracious way Jesus restored Peter to fellowship with himself and those whom he would go on to minister to. I also want today to be a new day for me and you, one in which we too recognize how gentle and gracious God has been and will be with us and then go out into the world and carry on the mission we too have been given. Now let us pray!

Rev. Blair Corcoran
Corunna United Church, Corunna, Ontario



This Weeks Message
Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hello All: I am sure you will have a wonderful Easter, what other kind of Easter is there? I am reminded of the fact that even when we are going through terrible times we do so with great hope after all we are an Easter people in a Good Friday world. I hope that message comes through in some small way in this week's lesson in living.  Take care and please remember me in your prayers that I may have the health, grace and strength to faithfully carry on this ministry.  Please let me know if you would like me to include you in some special way in my prayers.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.
Blair Corcoran

Sunday, March 27, 2016-Easter Sunday
Lesson in Living:   Is Your God Too Small?”
Luke 24:1-13  Reading from The Message
Looking for the Living One in a Cemetery
At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus.
They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.
They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.
But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.
May God add a blessing to us from the reading of this word.
   I have been preaching for approximately 30 years now and I have quite a few worship services under my belt, lots of sermons, messages and lessons in living. But the truth of the matter is I have only one Easter message and it can be said in just a few words. Jesus has risen. Hallelujah. So instead of trying to say something new today please indulge me and let me say something old. Let me tell you a story that I love and have told lots of times. It goes like this:
 
      "CHIPPIE THE PARAKEET NEVER saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began when Chippie's owner decided to clean Chippie's cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said 'hello' when 'sssopp!' Chippie got sucked in.
     "The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie-- still alive, but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, she turned on the faucet in the shower, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do...she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.
     "Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
     "A few days after the trauma, someone who had heard the beginning of the story contacted Chippie's owner to see how the bird was recovering. “Well,” the owner replied, “Chippie doesn't sing much anymore he just sits and stares.”
    "It's not hard to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . that's enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.
    "Can you relate to Chippie? Most of us can. One minute you're seated in familiar territory with a song on your lips, then . . . The pink slip comes. The rejection letter arrives. The doctor calls. The divorce papers are delivered. The check bounces. A policeman knocks on your door.      "Sssopp! You're sucked into a black cavern of doubts, doused with the cold water of reality, and stung with the hot air of empty promises.     "The life that had been so calm is now so stormy. You're hail stormed by demands. Assailed by doubts. Pummeled by questions. And somewhere in the trauma, you lose your joy. Somewhere in the storm, you lose your song. (Max Lucado-"In The Eye of the Storm")
      In this world of ours no one gets through the whole of life without at times losing their song. Joy can be so quickly snatched out of our hearts and lives. What was once clear can become very uncertain. Doubt and worry can enter us when we are least expecting a visit from it. The world of 2,000 years ago wasn’t different from today’s world, in that respect. That is one of the messages or lessons we should take away from today’s reading from the gospel of Luke. Luke begins by describing to us an event we can all relate to. He tells us the story of a few women followers of Jesus, who loved him very much, and had witnessed his horrifying death on a cross on a Friday afternoon. Death is something we all know at a little bit about. When someone dies they are buried. We bury our loved ones in graves but in ancient Israel the tombs were sometime caves. I have seen some of them in my visit to Israel. In our gospel we were told that the women who went to Jesus’ tomb 2,000 years ago went there with the expectation that they would find his body in the tomb. When they were met by two men in “clothes that gleamed like lighting” they were shocked.  They didn’t know what was going on. They were frightened. Who wouldn’t be? Their whole understanding of the world, of life and death was shaken to the core. They became even more astonished when they were asked by these strangers, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation, The Message, Why are you looking for the living one in a cemetery?”
     One of the common elements of the resurrection stories, and it is found in all the gospels, is that no one expected the resurrection. Even though Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection several times in the course of his ministry no one saw the resurrection coming. That is why none of them stood in the graveyard and cried out, “I knew it…just like he said.” The women came to the tomb expecting to anoint the body of Jesus. When they didn’t find Jesus they had to be reminded of what he said, what he promised. “Remember,” they said, how he told you, while he was with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” Then they remembered his words, his teaching.
     You know what happened next. The women ran back to their friends, the other apostles and disciples and told them what they had seen and heard and they of course greeted their tale with utter skepticism. Who can blame them? I mean, resurrection isn’t simply a claim that Jesus’ body was resuscitated; it’s the claim that God entered the stage of human history in order to create an entirely new reality. Dr. Ana Carter Florence, professor of preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary asks the question, “If the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on? Resurrection seen this way, breaks all the rules, and while most of us will admit that the old rules aren’t perfect, and sometimes they are downright awful, at least we know them. They are predictable, a known quantity, and in this sense comforting. And resurrection upsets all that.
     Let me quote something else I have read about the resurrection that says something much better than I could say it. “If you don’t find the resurrection at least a little hard to believe, you probably aren’t taking it seriously! And truth be told I suspect that is where many of us find ourselves, even on Easter Sunday. We have heard the resurrection story so often it hardly makes us blink let alone shake with wonder and surprise.
     The short account of the resurrection we read this morning ended this way: “Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” The gospel writer is talking about Peter, the big fisherman. He is talking about the chief disciple, and we find he is an individual, who was left wondering to himself what had happened. Don’t be hard on those whom you know who don’t believe in the resurrection, when those closest to the event had trouble with it, what makes you think we would find it any easier to believe?
     Nevertheless, as the gospels make clear, and as the rest of the New Testament makes clear, eventually the disciples not only accepted this new reality they had been introduced to on Easter Sunday, they made it their mission to proclaim it to the world. And when the world rejected their testimony and tried to get them to shut up they kept right on preaching it.
     In the first century most men and women lived their lives based on certainties, on a reality they could see and feel, a reality they could at least partially control. The same is true for us today. But what if the reality we value, the things we are so certain of, are really based on a lie? During the second world war those in charge of Nazi propaganda believed the world would accept any lie, as long as it was spoken loud enough, and often enough and vigorously defended by those who promoted it. Could it be that we are still swayed by lies, still seduced into believing that which is not true? For instance have we bought into the lie that the meaning and purpose of life can be found through our own human efforts? If we could just meet the right person we would have joy. If we could just have the right amount of money we could have security. If we could have just the right clothes, the right friends, the right appearance, the right joy, the right home, then we would be happy. Well that is a lie. Some of those things I mentioned are very good, they may bring some comfort to the body and mind but they are not what life is all about.
      On the other hand we can find a startling new truth in the Easter story. Easter is about new life. It is the beginning of a new world, the Kingdom of God has drawn near to us, things that could only happen in heaven now have happened on earth.  Easter is the hope of a new reality, a reality of open graves, of angels that appear and disappear, of a God who speaks. Easter is about miracles. And the God who raised Jesus from the dead is the master of miracles.
     The great evangelist and preacher, Dwight L. Moody, used to say that if we could only convince people God really loves them, we would find people running to get into heaven. He went on to say, “The trouble is people think God hates them.” People think God is out to get them. The image many people carry around in their minds is that God is marking down their sins in some great book and one day he is going to throw it back in their faces. Well that just isn’t going to happen.
     The idea that God does not love us until we first show our love for him is not in the Bible. On the contrary it clearly states that God loved us before we ever thought of God. The idea that God will love us only if we keep the rules of the church, or the law of Moses is also not in the Bible. There is a passage in the Book of the prophet Isaiah that shows what God thinks of his children. It is written: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I (God) will not forget you!” See I have engraved you (or in modern imagery, tattooed you) on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
     Today’s lesson in living is entitled, “Is Your God too Small?” The title is taken from an old Christian classic written by J.B. Phillips entitled, “Your God is too Small.” I know the book is rather dated. It was written in the late 1940’s and published in 1952 by the same man who did a paraphrase of the New Testament which is still widely availableI particularly like this statement, [Some Christians] prevent themselves from growing up. So long as they imagine that God is saying 'Come unto Me" when He is really saying "Go out in My Name," they are preventing themselves from ever putting on spiritual muscle, or developing the right sort of independence quite apart from the fact that they achieve very little for the cause to which they believe they are devoted.
     Let me make a suggestion to you this morning, what if the mission or purpose you have in life is much bigger than you have let yourself realize. What if there are things God will do in this world only through you. What if you are uniquely suited to those tasks and if you don’t do them they just won’t get done.
     When your image of God is too small so is the mission or purpose of life. The apostle Paul wrote: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” That is  also a good summarization of the Easter story. It is an awesome story. Let us come to its author now in prayer. Let us pray!
Rev. Blair Corcoran
Corunna United Church, Corunna, Ontario