Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mine eyes have seen the glory, Apr 25, 2010

For this week, I have posted the full liturgy to explain the context in which the sermon was written . . . Ian

Welcome to Sunday morning worship at Knox United Church. My name is Ian Kellogg and I am a student minister here at Knox this year. 34 Sundays ago, on August 30th, I came to Knox for the first time. I quite enjoyed the service that Nancy Blain prepared and led that day. I also felt welcomed and encouraged by the people I met: Rev. Nancy, Pat Bird, Doreen McEwen and many others. 33 Sundays ago, on Sept 6th, I stepped into this pulpit for the first time to begin my eight months here as a student intern. And this Sunday, we are here to worship, celebrate, and pray together as my internship comes to an end.

I will continue to work at the church until June 15th as a supply minister, but my covenant with Knox congregation and with the United Church of Canada as a student intern ends with this service.

An eight-month internship is just one of several requirements for those who want to become ordained ministers in the United Church of Canada. The others are a Masters of Divinity degree and various committee and interview processes. But in my opinion, the internship is the most important, the most challenging, the most nerve-wracking, and by far the most rewarding part of the four or five years of training for ministers. I have deeply loved my time out here in Didsbury so I am happy to be using this morning's service to mark this moment, to celebrate the end of the eight months, to thank Knox for supporting me through this process, and to worship and praise God.

This morning, as always, we begin worship by lighting a candle. The light of this candle represents the light of the Risen Christ. It calls to us, leads us, and reassures us. This morning we gather to remember, celebrate and give thanks.

Light candle . . .

We now turn our attention to the Life and Work of the Congregation. There are a number of announcements printed in the Bulletin, which I hope we will all take time to read. I will start with a few. Today is jam-packed. At 2 pm, the Junior Youth group meets. At 4 pm, we are all invited to a congregational swim at the Memorial Complex. This will be followed by a potluck dinner at 5:00 back here in the church hall. And the day ends with a meeting of the Senior Youth Group at 6:30 pm.

And I have some more words about the end of my internship and the start of seven weeks of work here for me as a supply minister. Most people may not notice any difference between these two phases of my time here; but there will be a few. I will no longer be under supervision, nor will the focus of the work be my own learning. Instead, I will try to serve the community as best I can as a paid staff member.

So I will have less supervision and more responsibility. I will also be paid more, for which I truly grateful ;-)

The Supervisor of my internship, with whom I have met every two weeks in Red Deer since September is here this morning. I would like to ask the Rev. Fran Hare to stand for a moment and accept my deep thanks and appreciation for her wise counsel and help since September. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, Fran!! I have felt honoured and blessed to have spent this time with you.

I have also been supervised by a Lay Support Team here at Knox for these past eight months, and their work is now also over. Would the five of you also please stand so that the community can show our thanks to you as well: John Loney, Pat Bird, Birgit Due, Joanne Ridder and Iaian Patton. Thank you so much; I have deeply appreciated your help during my internship.

This morning is the fourth Sunday of Easter. But despite that, I have placed much of the service within the season of Christmas -- and here is why. When I was wondering when to take my two weeks of vacation during the internship, I first thought about the "low Sunday" after Christmas, which is a traditional time for one of those weeks. But then I realized that I had preached a sermon for the Sunday after Christmas the year before at my field placement church in Toronto; and I thought, it might be easy to preach it again three days after Christmas Eve. That sermon was the first of four that I preached during my field placement and only the third I had ever preached. I assumed that the assigned text for Sunday, Dec 27th 2009 would be the same as for the year before, Dec 28, 2008. It is the Gospel text we will read this morning from Luke, which tells about the baby Jesus presented by his parents at the Temple as the family makes its way back from Bethlehem to Nazareth. But to my surprise, the assigned readings for this year skipped over this story and leaped ahead to the next passage, which is Jesus at age 12 discussing the Torah in the Temple.

Even so, I decided that I would not take vacation the week after Christmas; that I would preach on the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old on Dec 27th; and that I would return to the story of the baby Jesus presented at the Temple for my final service as an intern, which is today. I even announced this intention during the sermon at the late service on Christmas Eve. The sermon from Dec 2008, which I have adapted for this morning, works, I believe, as a farewell sermon. And even though I will still be here for the next seven weeks, today is a farewell to my internship; and so I have stayed with my original intention.

Whew! So having said all that, are there other announcements for the community to hear?

Hearing no (more), we now ask if there are any birthdays being celebrated this week and offerings for the birthday jar?

Finally, we think about prayers and celebrations that are on our hearts and minds this week.

Hearing no (more,) we now turn to our  Opening Easter Hymn. At my evaluation meeting on Wed evening, the team joked about all the new hymns that I have tried to incorporate into worship here this year. And I'm afraid that we have two more this morning, including this first hymn. Some people will know it, I'm sure, but I'm told that most do not. I used the lyrics of this hymn to begin my Easter morning sermon, and I hope that with a quick tutorial now, we can learn it.

The key to this hymn, like many, is rhythm. This hymn is syncopated, upbeat, and even jazzy. First, I will beat out the rhythm. Then Doreen will play it through once, then I will sing the first verse as a solo. And then we will all be invited to stand and sing all three verses together. It is . . . 

* GATHERING HYMN "The Spring Has Come" #187 VU

Thanks for trying that!

And now the call to worship and opening prayer . . .

* CALL TO WORSHIP (said together)

On the path of faith hope and love,
companions come and go,
but our destination remains the same:
the God who is Love, Spirit and Source.

* OPENING PRAYER (said together)

God of the path,
May we see the face of Christ
in everyone we meet;
and may everyone we meet
see the face of Christ in us.

Dear friends, as we prepare to hear again the good news that we are reconciled with God through Christ, please feel free to now turn to your immediate neighbours and offer a gesture of reconciliation.

One: May the Peace of Christ be with you!
All: And also with you!


THEME CONVERSATION: Graduation Day/Earth Day

I now invite those kids who would like, to come and join me on the front steps for a minute before church school. Good morning, I am glad to see you all here today.

Today I want to talk about two things: graduations, and then Earth Day. You know, today feels like a graduation day for me. My time here as a student intern has come to an end. And graduations from school are a big deal these days. The keu ones are Grade 6, Grade 8, Grade 12, and then graduation from college or university.

I want you thank you as children of the church. You know what you have done that has helped me the most? You have shown up! You have come to church and come to the front of the church for a minute to spend time talking and praying with me before church. And this has been a wonderful gift from you to me.

An important thing I have learned over the years is that half the battle in life is just showing up! Because you have showed up, I have learned about church school and about life as a child here in Didsbury. So I'm happy about that and I thank you.

Now last week was also Earth Day. Did any of you celebrate Earth Day on Thursday? I'm glad. Earth Day is a big celebration, but it can also make me feel a little scared -- there seem to be a lot of problems to fix in order to keep the earth a clean and safe place.

Well, at church I think we have a big part of the answer. In church, we remind ourselves of what is important. So on Earth Day, we begin by remembering how thankful we are for the earth and for all of life. And we will try to remember this again when we sing our next hymn.

Finally, I want to suggest that every day can be Earth Day where we love life and the earth. And every day can also be a graduation day where we give thanks for all that we are learning in life. So as I graduate from being an intern, I'm going to try to remember to always give thanks for what I'm learning and for the people like all of you who show up  so that we can help one another. And I'm also going to try to remember that every day can be earth day where we give thanks for the earth.

So . . . I hope you enjoy church school this morning. But before you go, I have a brief prayer, then we will pray again the prayer that Jesus taught us, and then we will sing a song. OK?   LET US PRAY . . .

Dear God,

We give thanks for each other, for showing up,
and for helping one another.
We give thanks for families and churches in which we can learn and grow
and in which we love one another and love you, O God . . .
Earth Day has come and gone, but every day can be Earth Day.
So we give thanks for soil and sun and water and life.
Help us to learn to keep the earth healthy for all living things.


And now let us pray again together the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying . . .

Our Father . . .  Amen.

The hymn before church school is also new, but it is a lot simpler than our first hymn. In four verses, it gives thanks for the four elements -- earth, air, water and fire -- as the people in ancient Greece saw those. Doreen will play the melody; then, I will sing the first verse as a solo, and then we are all invited to stand to sing all four verses together.

* HYMN: "Mother Earth, Our Mother Birthing" #39 MV


Psalm 148                   Sun, moon, and shining stars
Galatians 4: 4-7            Born of a woman
Luke 2: 22-40              Jesus presented at the Temple

The Psalm selection this morning is number 148

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host! Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

The second reading is from Paul's letter to the church in Galatia

Galatians 4: 4-7

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The Gospel reading this morning is from the book of Luke

Luke 2: 22-40
Shortly after Jesus' birth, the time came for purification according to the law of Moses. So Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord -- "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

There was a man in Jerusalem at this time whose name was Simeon. Simeon was righteous and devout. He looked forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah.

Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple that day; and when Mary and Joseph brought in Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about Jesus.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed -- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

When Mary and Joseph had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee with Jesus, to their own town of Nazareth.

And Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

One: Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
All: Thanks be to God

SERMON: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

This line, taken from the anti-slavery anthem The Battle Hymn of the Republic, was the last sentence of the last speech given by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. It will also be the last sentence of this sermon today.

I thought of King's famous speech from April 1968 as I studied our passage from Luke because what Kings says reminds me of what Simeon says in the passage.

Both Simeon and Martin Luther King have a vision of salvation; and this vision in and of itself seems to heal them. So today, I put the two visions side by side.

In our reading from Luke, an old man named Simeon is prompted by the Spirit to go to the Temple in Jerusalem right after the first Christmas. When he gets there, he meets the one-month old Jesus. Simeon picks Jesus up, cradles him in his arms, and claims that in this baby he has seen Israel's Messiah and the world's salvation. Having finally met the Messiah -- even if only a baby -- Simeon says that he can now die in peace. This is a remarkable thing to say after seeing a baby, wouldn't you agree?

The Messiah (which is a Hebrew word), or Christ (which is its Greek translation), or Anointed One (which is its English translation) was to be the long-awaited King of Israel. The Messiah would bring Israel back to the glory of its days under God's Anointed, King David. And yet Simeon somehow is able to say that in the baby Jesus he has seen this Messiah. And further, this Messiah is not just to be the ruler of Israel, but will also be a light of revelation to the rest of the world.

While Simeon's vision is healing, it also contains the shadow of the cross. Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and then says, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed -- and a sword will pierce your own soul too." Simeon's blessing is one that comes with a cost!

In a nutshell, Simeon has laid out the entire good, but difficult news that is the Gospel. The Gospel says all that all are blessed in the coming of the Christ, but that a sword will pierce our souls and that his coming will lead to the falling and rising of many. The falling is the cross and the rising is new life in Christ.

Somehow, in holding this newborn baby in his arms, Simeon experiences salvation in an instant. This salvation involves dying to an old way of life, which can feel like a piercing sword. But the good news is that after dying to our old way of life, we are free to rise to a new one, which is a life in which we are healed.

Here at Knox last week, Ormand Lavenne and David Gilchrist got to hold three babies in their arms They baptized Jessa, Blake, and Mike. I felt honoured and moved to be part of that sacrament; and those baptisms also made me think of Simeon in the Temple.

Imagine cradling a newborn baby in your arms, looking down at it, and seeing the Christ there. In really looking at a newborn baby, we are sometimes, if only for a moment, taken out of our usual worries and cares. We stop centring our attention on our small selves, and instead we can see life as it should be: whole and divine. The baby lacks power, but it contains infinite potential. This potential flows from the baby's reality as a human being, created in the image of God; and from its life in a family, neighbourhood, faith community, and global village. And sometimes in seeing the divine image in a baby, we might be reminded of our own fragile but divine status as well. When we receive the grace to see like this, we touch salvation.

There is a Celtic Blessing that captures the message. It goes like this: "May the Christ who walks on wounded feet, walk with you on the road, May the Christ who serves with wounded hands, stretch out your hands to serve. May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart open your hearts to love. And may you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you."

Simeon looks at the newborn Jesus and has the grace to see there the face of Christ. And I believe that when Simeon looks up at Mary and Joseph, they also see the face of Christ in Simeon. Because in this moment, Simeon's old life has fallen away. He is living in the new life of Christ, which is in tune with God and is a life freed from fear. Feeling blessed in that moment, and no longer afraid, Simeon says that he can now die. It is not that he needs to die, even though he is an old man; just that he no longer fears death. He is "in the moment;" he is following the prompting of the Spirit; he is free.

Simeon does not need to live another 30 years to see what the adult Jesus will do, to puzzle at his parables, or to experience Jesus' death and resurrection. For Simeon, it has happened in an instant when he sees salvation in the face of a baby.

Simeon's story reminds me of my experience this year with Knox United. In one of my meetings with Fran Hare in Red Deer in November, we talked about how I was starting to relax into the internship; how pleased I was with the way the work was going; and how much I was enjoying being a supply minister. But then I went further: I said to Fran that somehow out here, in Mountain View County, between the foothills and the prairie, in Didsbury, and with Knox United Church, I was feeling different. I told Fran that I felt as though I had met my salvation here!

Such healing is always the work of God, but for me the work of God this year has flowed through the people and activities of this beloved community, Knox United. Borne by your presence and energy, I continually meet the Risen Christ. He is here with us; and if we look deeply into each other, we see His face again and again.

It is not that there are no problems in Knox. Some people are usually happy, while others are often unhappy. Some feel content with a decision or situation, while others are disturbed. As in all families, there is conflict, fear, and pain enough at Knox. It is not that I don't see that side. But our difficulties flow honestly from our reality as fragile human beings living with the stress of our mortality and in a world of violence.

And yet our inner divinity shines through. It shines when we worship, when we reach out to the community, when we sing, when we discuss church and community issues, and when we pray together. Each week, we gather to remind ourselves of what we value most in life and of the gracious path that God has laid out to us. Doing so helps us to not only see our broken and pain-filled selves when we look at each other. It helps us to also see the face of the Christ in each other.

Perhaps it is easiest to see inner divinity in a baby. But we also see the face of Christ in seniors, in mid-lifers, in youth, and in children. Simeon saw it, I see it, and you see it. At worship each week, we remind ourselves of this reality and we celebrate the divine Love that flames inside each and every one of us.

And now at the end of my internship, this sense of being saved has led to a new realization. Last Mon and Tue, I attended a retreat with 15 ministers at Pincher Creek United Church. The focus was on spiritual practices that could help us stay balanced amid the stresses of ministry.

By the end of our time together, I had come up with an odd idea. I decided that my decision to follow a call to ministry would take the form of retirement. I now believe that I am about to retire into ministry in the United Church of Canada! It is not that I don't know that the work of ministers can be complex, difficult, or busy. But nevertheless, after eight months at Knox, ministry looks to me like retirement.

For me, it will be retirement from a career as a librarian. But more importantly, as a person who has often struggled with anxiety, it will also be a moment-by-moment retirement from anxiety. With grace, it will be a retirement from fear into faith; from loneliness into community; from despair into hope; and from apathy into love. Such healing, of course, is not a one-time thing. With grace, it occurs over and over again. It is available to all of us as we minister to our children, our parents, our church, our world and our God . . .

And so we read again the story of Simeon and the baby Jesus in the Temple. It is about babies and salvation; piercing swords and crosses; a fearful old way of life and a trusting new way. All this might seem like a lot to find in a short Scripture reading. But I think that the truths packed into that story from Luke can also be seen in our modern-day Simeon -- the African-American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, and cultural hero, Martin Luther King Jr.; and I will end with his story.

In the spring of 1968, King travelled to Memphis Tennessee to support a group of public works employees who were on strike. On the day before his murder, King delivered what became his final speech in the Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ.

It is called the "Mountaintop Speech" because King says that he has been the top of the mountain and has seen the Promised Land. His vision is of a world without racism and a world of peace and justice. King realizes that he may not get to the Promised Land. But just as it was with Simeon -- for whom it was sufficient to see the promise of the Messiah -- for Martin Luther King, the vision is enough. In fighting for this vision and believing in it, he has been healed and freed.

So I close this sermon with the end of King's speech from that night 42 years ago:

"I got to Memphis. And some talk about the threats that are out there. Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."


Our hymn of response is . . . 

* HYMN "A Little Child the Saviour Came" VU #445



And now let us pray . . .

Let us pray,
    for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus
    for all people everywhere according to their need
    and for the entire web of life . . .

God of Life, help us to be aware that you are with us every moment of our lives;
help us to give thanks for this and all our blessings.

For babies in whose face we see the face of Christ we give thanks,
For the flame of your Divine Love alight in all our hearts we give thanks,
And for companions on the journey to share our concerns and give and receive support, we give thanks.

God of Faith,

Help us to trust in this life even when we feel afraid.
Help us to build beloved communities even when we disagree.
Help us to live out love, even when we feel burdened by life.
Help us to touch your gracious support, which underlies every moment.

God of Hope,

Help us to look well into today, to see that love that is here for us.
In doing so, help us to turn all our yesterdays into dreams of happiness
and all our tomorrows into visions of hope.

God of Love,

Jesus comes to us not only as a prophet of hard truths, but also as the Prince of Peace and the embodiment of your life of Love.
In a world of dubious values, help us to follow Jesus' path of self-giving Love and so taste the joy that is our birthright.
God of Healing,

May we feel your healing touch during times of physical and emotional pain, in times of loss, and when we feel afraid and alone.

God, we need your loving presence.

We raise up for support and love those that we have named aloud and those whom we now remember in silence . . .

Gracious God, these are our concerns, these are our joys, these are our prayers. We lift them up to you.

All of this we pray in the name of the Risen Christ, our Redeemer and our Hope. Amen

MINUTE FOR MISSION: Caring for Creation


We now return a small portion of what we have been given. The offering will now be received.

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
    praise God all creatures high and low;
    give thanks to God in love made known:
    Creator, Word and Spirit, One

Our closing hymn is . . .

* CLOSING HYMN "All Creatures of Our God and King" #217 VU


Dear friends, as we leave this sacred place we go knowing that we do so
with the love of God,
the grace of Christ
and the communion of the Holy Spirit both now and always.

* Benediction Song -- Battle Hymn of the Republic
    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
    He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
    His truth is marching on.

   Glory, glory, hallelujah!
   Glory, glory, hallelujah!
   Glory, glory, hallelujah!
   His truth is marching on.

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