What Christmas is All About. #1, What Christmas Is Not All About!

Wow, it’s been fifty years. 
Sure doesn’t seem like it.  December 9th will be the 50th
anniversary of the first showing of Charlie Brown Christmas.  And while
most of us grew up watching the animated special there were a number of
hesitations about the show when it was aired.  As a matter of fact, for
the sponsor and the network all they were kind of hoping was that it wouldn’t
be a complete disaster, and they would be able to shelve it and hopefully
people would forget all about it. 

And maybe you are wondering what the
problem was.  It wasn’t a problem; it was a multitude of problems. 
When Coca Cola and CBS first started the project they were visualizing a little
light hearted animated Christmas special with laugh tracks and secular
themes.  Instead they ended up with this melancholy tale complete with
jazz music, what kid listens to jazz? And a reading from the King James Version
of the Bible.   

Peanuts creator Charles Shultz insisted that no laugh track be
used, in the meeting Shultz said “The network
should let the people at home enjoy the show at their own speed, in their own
way” and then he walked out of the room ending the argument. Sounds like
Schulz had a little bit of Lucy in him that day.  

Shultz also refused to use adult
actors for the voices and instead he cast neighbourhood children for the parts
to preserve the innocence but also to make it a little funnier and
edgier.  One snag was that some of the kids were so young they couldn’t
read and had to be fed their parts line by line.  The only adult voice
used was for Snoopy.   

But in spite of their worst fears
Charlie Brown Christmas has become an enduring part of  the Christmas Season. How many folks here have
watched the Charlie Brown Christmas at some point in their life?   

And the entire show comes down to
the question asked by Charlie Brown “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas
is all about
?” 

And over the next few weeks we will
be looking at: What Christmas is all About, but today we are going to look at
some of the answers given in the movie, because that was what was frustrating
to Charlie Brown, what he was hearing from the others. 

And even fifty years later I think
we can find a snapshot of society in the cast of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. 

For Snoopy Christmas is all about
Christmas 
It doesn’t
take long for us to discover that Snoopy is a big Christmas fan, he seems to
love Christmas, but what he really loves is the idea of Christmas. 

He loves all the hoopla and the
excitement, the lights and the glitz.  Snoopy would be right at the curb
for the parade of lights, and be first in line to see the Christmas tree lit in
Grand Parade.  And we all know people like Snoopy.   

My sister decorates for Christmas at
Halloween, and then she dresses up as Mrs. Santa Claus and hands out candy
canes to the trick or treaters while Christmas music plays in the background. 

There is a lady who works at Tim
Hortons who is obsessed with Christmas, I’m sure if you went in on March 17 and
asked her she could tell you how many days it is until Christmas, and she talks
about trees and lights, gifts and meals but that’s where it ends.  I’ve
invited her out to our Christmas services and she’s not interested, I think
they would interfere with the celebrations. 

For her Christmas is all about the
holiday and family and food.  And those aren’t bad things, but they aren’t
what Christmas is all about.   

For too many folks a Holy Day has
simply become a holiday, and we have lots of holidays to pick from.   

You can have a day off on
Thanksgiving, or Labour Day or Canada Day.  And along with the holiday
comes the opportunity to spend the time with family and with family comes food.  It’s like church: There’s no meeting without
eating. 

But you can have burgers on Canada
Day and Ham on Easter and if you are a big turkey fan, that’s what Thanksgiving
is for, you really don’t need Christmas.

And it’s easy to get caught up in
all the hype of Christmas without understanding what Christmas is all
about.   

Jesus came to give you eternal life,
not a holiday. 

In contrast to Snoopy we see Lucy
and For Lucy Christmas is all about the Effort.    Lucy
is so wrapped up in making sure that everything is just right for Christmas she
misses Christmas.  She’s organizing the Christmas play, is responsible for
finding the perfect tree and even needs to find time to help Charlie Brown get
into the Christmas spirit.   

When Charlie Brown confesses to Lucy
during their counselling session that he doesn’t understand Christmas and it
leaves him feeling down instead of happy her solution is easy.  She says, “You need involvement, you need to get involved in some
real Christmas projects.”  And then she recruits him to direct the
Christmas play, because for her that’s what makes Christmas, Christmas. 
All the stuff you do. 

There’s gifts and cards to be
bought.  Food to be cooked, presents to be wrapped, letters to be written
and cards to be mailed.  There are the staff parties to attend, turkeys to
be stuffed and church appearances to be made.   

And it’s not just that she’s busy,
Snoopy is busy but he’s happy busy.  The season lights a fire in Snoopy he’s
laughing and dancing, not one bit of stress will you find in our canine
friend.   

But the hustle and bustle of the
season just makes Lucy grumpier and more cynical.  She is stressed and
resents what she has to do and ultimately she tells Charlie Brown  “ Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas
is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” 

Sociologist Robert
Lynd nailed the difference between Snoopy and Lucy with this statement “There are some people who want to throw their arms round
you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle
you simply because it is Christmas.”  It doesn’t take long to
figure out who’s who here. 

There are lots of people who are
like Lucy and Christmas means lists and obligations and lots of stress and
regrets.  And there is enough stress and regrets in life without adding
Christmas to the pile.  So Christmas isn’t about the stuff we do.

Jesus came to give you eternal life,
not just more things to do.

And then there is Sally, Sally is
Charlie Browns’ baby sister.  The little girl who read Sally’s lines was
so young that she didn’t know how to read and she had to be fed the lines, bit
by bit and then she would repeat them back.  And For Sally Christmas is
all about Sally 
 

She wants Charlie Brown to help her
write her letter to Santa and when he tells her he’s busy she just brushes it
off and forces the paper and pencil on him.   

Her one concession to what others
are feeling is summed up when she finishes her letter to Santa by dictating “If it seems to complicated, make it easy on yourself and
just send money.  How about tens and twenties?”   

For some folks all of Christmas
revolves around what’s in it for them.  And it’s all about making them
happy?  Will the date work for them?  Will the food work for them?
Will the gift be what they were expecting and hoping for? They even insist on
picking the Christmas special that everyone will watch.    

Sally sums it up
when she tells her brother “All I want is what I
have coming to me.  All I want is my fair share.” 

And we might expect that of a four-year-old,
but not adults.  But for many that is the reality.  Regardless of our pious denials most of us
will be looking forward to what’s under the tree, with our name on it. 

Probably, if we were willing to be
totally honest we could say with C.S. Lewis “I
never had a selfless thought since I was born.”

But here is the reality, Christmas
isn’t about the stuff we do and it’s certainly not about the stuff we get. 

Jesus came to give you eternal life,
not Christmas presents. 

Let’s not forget the hero of our
story, because for Charlie Brown Christmas is all about Despair And
Charlie Brown isn’t alone.  

For the past few years we’ve had a
Blue Christmas service, on December 21st, this year we are simply
calling it “Silent Night”  but the tag line remains the same. “Christmas
isn’t Merry for everyone.” 

Shane Kelly. Manager of the Irish Association
for Counselling and Psychotherapy says “Christmas
is a time of happiness, reunions, family time, and these celebrations can
heighten feelings of loneliness and despair.”

At the beginning of the story
Charlie Brown tells Linus “I think there’s
something wrong with me Linus, Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.  I
don’t feel the way I’m suppose to feel.  I just don’t understand
Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and
decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy.  I always end up
feeling depressed.”     

Christmas seemed to magnify and
polarize what Charlie Brown felt his life was like the rest of the year, in one
scene he goes out and looks in his empty mail box for the Christmas Cards that
aren’t there and he says.  “I know nobody
likes me why do we need a holiday season to emphasize it?” 

For some it might be a reminder of
someone who is no longer there, either through death, divorce or simply
distance.  But when everyone else is celebrating family their loss becomes
more pronounced.   

Or maybe it’s because we can’t
afford the expectations that are placed upon us by society. 

In his 1973 song “If We Make it
Through December” Merle Haggert Sang.

“Got laid off down at
the factory 
And their timing’s not
the greatest in the world;
Heaven knows I been
working hard,
Wanted Christmas to be
right for daddy’s girl;
I don’t mean to hate
December,
It’s meant to be the
happy time of year;
And my little girl don’t
understand
Why daddy can’t afford no
Christmas here” 

And nobody else in the story
understands, to them Charlie Brown is just being Charlie Brown. 

And simply saying “cheer up”, or “get
involved” or reminding them how others are worse off than they are doesn’t
help. 

If you find yourself in that camp, I
would like to invite you out to our Silent Night Service on December 21st,
we won’t try to force you to cheer up, it is simply a time of reflection in a service
that is a little quieter than most of our Christmas offerings.  

Jesus came to give you eternal life, not despair. 

For Linus Christmas is all about
Christmas
And maybe you are thinking, “Denn must be
losing it, that’s what he said about Snoopy.” But Snoopy and Linus are at
opposite ends of the Christmas spectrum.   

Snoopy is all about the secular
aspects of Christmas while Linus seems to be all about the spiritual side of
it.   

Linus seems to be the one who gets
it, he recites the Christmas story from memory, from the King James version no
less, and he challenges people to look deeper into the Christmas story.  

After he recites the Christmas story
he proudly turns to Charlie Brown and proclaims: “And that’s what Christmas is
all about Charlie Brown.”   

And we all know people like, Linus
they are the ones the “Keep Christ in Christmas”  button on their winter
coat, the “Jesus is the reason for the season” bumper sticker on their cars and
the inflatable nativity scene on their front lawn.  Not that there is
anything wrong with an inflatable nativity scene.   

They are the first to challenge the
commercialization of Christmas and sometimes they go to the extreme of demanding
that we fire Santa and shoot all the reindeer, pull down the lights and return
the presents.   

The problem is that on January 1st
they pack up Christmas, along with their nativity scene and put it away for
another year.  Sure, they keep Christ in Christmas but that’s where he
stays, in Christmas.   Just as some people are guilty of leaving
Christ on the Cross after the Easter story Linus is content to leave the baby
Jesus sleeping quietly in the manger after Christmas is over.

Linus wants to keep Christ in
Christmas the same way he wants to keep the Great Pumpkin in Halloween. 
That’s where he belongs. 

But how much difference has the
Christmas story made in the life of Linus? 
In the opening scene when Charlie Brown is deep in despair Linus
encourages him by saying “Out of all the Charlie
Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”  Linus where’s the love?

Jesus came to give you eternal life,
not a religious celebration.

And maybe at this point you are
thinking, “Wow If Christmas isn’t even about Christmas what is it about?”   

Well, over the next few weeks we are
going to travel back in time 2000 years to see if we can find the answers. 

But here are some things to keep in
mind as we look ahead.

Christmas Isn’t Just a Day or an Event.  As long as we see Christmas as December 25th
or even view it in a broader sense as “The Christmas Season” we will miss what
Christmas is all about. 

American President Calvin
Coolidge said  “Christmas is not a time or a season but a
state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to
have the real spirit of Christmas.”  You
see Christmas has to be as valid and valuable in July as it is in
December. 

If Christmas doesn’t make a difference in how
we live every day, not just December 25th than it has made a
difference at all.  Because when we
celebrate the birth of Christ we should be celebrating something bigger than a
baby being born in a barn 2000 years ago. 
With the birth of Jesus, we need to be celebrating changed lives, a
changed world and changed eternities. 

Otherwise we are like the shepherds who were
invited to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, they showed up they rejoiced and
they disappeared.  Not a mention again of
the shepherds, Jesus birth had a great immediate impact on them, but nothing
long lasting and certainly nothing eternal.

Christmas has to last longer than the leftovers
if we are to truly understand what Christmas is all about.  Charles Dickens
wrote “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try
to keep it all the year.”

Because Dickens understood the truth that if
Christmas doesn’t change your life, then you’ve missed what Christmas is all
about

And Christmas Isn’t About
a Baby Being Born 
Too many
people who proudly talk about keeping Christ in Christmas or reminding people
that Jesus is the reason for the season have a one dimensional view of Jesus
and it is summed up in Luke 2:7 KJV And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped
him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room
for them in the inn.

And truthfully that’s how it
all began, Paul reminds us of that in Galatians 4:4  But when the right time came,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  I love that passage, because it reminds us
that Jesus wasn’t born at just any time he was born at the right time.  But let’s never forget that the baby born in
the manger wasn’t just the son of Mary, he was the Son of God. 

Too often in our haste to
make sure that at Christmas people take the time to celebrate Christ’s birth we
miss the enormity of Christ’s birth.

Ken Herr in the Wesleyan Bible Commentary reminds us “This
was not just another baby or another birthday. God was born in human likeness—the
Divine taking upon himself the limitations of humanity.” 

Which is why Paul reminded the early
Christians in Philippians 2:6-7  Though
he (Jesus) was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling
to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble
position of a slave and was born as a human being.

Did you catch that?  Jesus was God! God!  He created the universe, he shaped the
planets in his hand and cast the milky way into the night sky, he always was
and always will be and he chose to come to earth as a new born child.

God chose to take part in
the full range of the human experience, beginning with the trauma of his birth,
and I can’t imagine much more traumatic in this life than the birth experience
for the new born.  Everybody coos and
talks about how beautiful of an experience birth is, if a new born could talk
I’m not sure they would agree that what they had just gone through was
beautiful.

And for the next
thirty-three years Jesus lived his life just as we live our lives, from potty
training to puberty, Jesus experienced life just like us. 

When your teenager says in
the midst of their angst.  “You just don’t
understand” they somehow think you were magically conceived as an adult and
never went through what they are going through. 

In the same way we sometimes
yell at God, “You just don’t understand.” 
But we are reminded in  Hebrews 2:18  Since
he (Jesus)  himself has gone through
suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.  I would suspect that Jesus fell and
skinned his knees, that he had the cold and measles, that he was probably teased
at some point by other kids.

He may have had his heart
broken by the little girl with red hair and peered into an empty mailbox
waiting for the card that would never appear.  

What is Christmas
about?  Sure it began with a child being
born of a virgin, far from home.  And
there were angels and shepherds and wise men with gifts.  But that was just the beginning.  And for some it seems to have ended
thirty-three years and six miles down the road when Jesus was crucified, but
that too was just a beginning.   

Who will define Christmas this year
for you?  You will.   

They are going to the chapel

Who would have thunk?  After living together for thirty years they are finally tying the knot.  And I don’t know what was more of a shock, reading about the wedding or seeing the picture of the happy couple. She doesn’t look much different than she did when I had a crush on her when I was 12 but now he looks homeless.  

Goldie Hawn, who just turned seventy, and her long-time partner Kurt Russell, have decided to get married, and I think that’s great.  After thirty years they seem to have decided that there is something different between simply living together and being legally married.

And that is the reality.  When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 she commented that she had been married five times and the man she was presently living with wasn’t her husband, in Jesus’ mind there was a difference. 

I don’t know why they waited so long, or why after thirty years they finally decided, but I hope then have a great wedding and a happy and long marriage.

Someone asked me if I thought it was a good idea that Goldie and Kurt get married after living together for so long, you bet your sweet bippy I do. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

I hear singing!

So, the other day I was strolling through Walmart when I heard it.  At first I thought I had just imagined what they were singing about, but when I stopped and paid closer attention I confirmed that was what they were singing.  And nobody seemed outraged, as a matter of fact I don’t think anyone other than me even noticed, but I did. 
They were singing about angels and virgins and God sending a Saviour.  And nobody so much batted an eye or raised an eyebrow about what they were listening to.  It was almost as if I was the only one who could hear the words.

Now I would suspect if they had of been playing hymns or praise music at Walmart it wouldn’t have been long before someone complained, but people seem to give a pass to Christmas music.  And I’m not sure if it’s because after years of hearing it that people have become immune to the words or if the message is simply considered harmless.

But regardless, when I hear the birth of Jesus being sung about, between songs of snowmen and Santa, I will celebrate and whisper a prayer that a heart will be touched and an eternity will be changed.   Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

The Scandal of Grace

They held his hands firmly against the un-planed
timber and placed the rough iron spikes over the junction of his wrists.  The roman centurion lifted the mall and drove
the first spike home with one swing.  The
man bucked and twisted in agony as the metal pierced his wrist like white hot
fire, pinning his left side to the cross.

The second spike followed in his right wrist but the
shock from the first wound tempered the pain. 
As the two guards crossed his feet over each other most of the fight was
gone out of him and even the involuntary protest from his body was minimized as
the spike was driven home, impaling both feet to the upright member.

As he lay there in the hot Palestinian sun his mind
raced back over the short span of his life, everyone thought he had so much
potential and yet here he was nailed to a cross.  At what point did he go wrong he thought,
when was it that he crossed over the line that made this day inevitable. 

He drifted in and out of consciousness as the pain did
its work and he had almost slipped into the silent cocoon of oblivion when the
cross was lifted and dropped into the hole prepared for it. 

If he thought the pain couldn’t get any worse he was
wrong, as his weight crashed down on the three spikes holding him to the cross
it was as if every nerve ending in his body had suddenly been stripped at once
and then his body convulsed against the splintered wood behind him.

And the day was just beginning.  As he hung on the cross the sun rose slowly
across the horizon, the heat increasing and speeding the process of dehydration
and death. 

Through the haze of his pain he could hear the taunts
coming from the crowd gathered around the three crosses.   “He saved others, let
him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”


“If you are the King of the Jews, save
yourself!”

The abuse continued until finally he heard one of the
other two hanging with him yell out insults ending with, “So you’re the Messiah, are you?
Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

And he could stand it no more, struggling to catch his
breath, he pushed himself against the spikes to take the pressure off his
diaphragm and then in a ragged voice he spoke saying,   “Jesus, Remember me when you come into power!”  

The man of course was one of the two criminals
crucified with Christ.  And these words
are recorded in Luke 23:42

We don’t know much about the thief that hung with
Christ on that day.  His plea to Jesus is
only recorded in Luke chapter 23 and his name,
Dismas comes to us only through legend. 

What we do know is this:  it was that criminal who was the first person
in the history of the world to taste the Grace and redemption that Jesus Had to
offer.

Listen to the words of the thief, Luke 23:40-42 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you
fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our
crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus,
remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And with those words two thousand years ago, on a
Friday afternoon, when mankind had fallen to the lowest point in it’s history,
a miracle happened.  A man was born
again! 

The thief on the cross became a new creation.  He may have been crucified as a criminal, he
may have lived as a thief, but he died spotless. 

And we celebrate that. 
The story of the thief on the cross is so cool.  Until you suddenly stop and think about it
and realize that the reward that the thief got was exactly the same reward as
your dear sainted Grandmother who became a Christian when she was a babe in
arms, never ever cussed or had a bad thought in her entire life.   

And maybe you are thinking, That’s not fair.  It was John F Kennedy
who said “Life is unfair”, and might I add
that there are times that grace seems unfair as well, it’s why some people
refer to the Scandal of Grace. 

We’ve been talking about Grace for the past six weeks,
and we’ve looked at Grace displayed in an unlikely person, in an unlikely
place, at an unlikely time and two weeks ago we saw how Jesus displayed grace
at the table when he invited his 12 closest friends to celebrate with him at
the last supper even knowing that those who were there would betray him, deny
him and doubt him. 

And then last week we looked at Grace in an Awkward
Situation, when even after Peter had denied him three times Jesus didn’t give
him what he deserved, he didn’t deny Peter, instead he embraced him and forgave
him.

But Jesus knew that some people would struggle with
this concept of Grace, grace unearned and undeserved.  And so he told a story to address that very
topic.  It’s found in Matthew chapter 20,
and here is the short version. 

It was harvest time and the owner of a vineyard needed
to hire some day workers to help harvest the grapes in his vineyard.  So early one morning he went to where the day
workers hung out looking for work and hired a group, agreeing to pay them a day’s
wage.  Later that morning he realized
that he would need more workers so he went back and hired another group,
telling them he would pay them what was right. 
And that part of the story repeated itself at noon, three o’clock and five
o’clock.

When the work day ended the owner of the vineyard told
his foreman to pay all of the workers, starting with those who were hired at
five o’clock.  And each group of workers
got paid exactly the same amount, a day’s wage. 
And those who worked for one hour were a lot more excited about what
they made then those who worked for twelve hours.  And really, who would blame the?. 

Let’s pick up the story in    Matthew 20:10-12
When those hired first came to get their
pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s
wage.  When they received their pay, they protested to the owner,  ’Those
people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid
us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

And this was the response of the owner of the
vineyard.  Matthew
20:13
He answered one
of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for
the usual wage?’

When your dear sainted Grandmother accepted Christ at
the age of two, she was offered the same grace that the thief on the cross
received, and the reward was exactly the same, an eternity with God.

Now before we get into the story a couple of
observations about death bed conversions that I have made over the years.

We all like the concept of the death bed conversion
when it comes to those we love.  That
even though they never had time for God, we hope in those last few moments,
with their last gasp of breath that they too will call out to God saying “Jesus
remember me.”

And truthfully that is the hope I present at every
funeral I preach. 

Poet William Camden was
writing of a man who was killed when he was thrown from his galloping horse,
when he penned these words: “Betwixt the stirrup
and the ground,

Mercy I asked, mercy I found.”

And history records any number of deathbed conversions
including Oscar Wilde, Buffalo Bill Cody, John Wayne and others.  Which is just fun thinking of Oscar Wilde and
the Duke as neighbours in heaven.

But some people wonder if it’s fair, fair to others or
fair to God.  Someone once said “A deathbed profession is burning the candle of your lifet
for the devil and then blowing the smoke in the face of God.”  Another person said “Many a man who was planning on coming to God at the
eleventh hour died at 10:45.”

Now I know
that we are all getting up on our spiritual high horse and silently protesting
that we aren’t like that, that we would always celebrate the fact that someone
stepped over the line of faith, regardless of when it happens.

And most of us
like the fact that we’ll get to meet John Wayne in heaven.    Oh stop it, hypocrisy doesn’t look good on
you, you know very well that only goes so far.

On January 24th
1989 Ted Bundy was executed after confessing to the murder of 30 people, media
outlets all over the US requested interviews with Bundy that he turned down,
but on the day before he was to be executed he requested an interview with Dr.
James Dobson from Focus on the Family. 

Bundy felt
that there was a very real correlation between the escalating use of
pornography in his life from the time he was a young teen and what he had ended
up doing and he wanted to warn people about that.   If you watch the interviews you come away knowing
why they referred to him as the Gentlemen Killer. 

But that is
not what we are here to talk about here today. 
In a later interview, with Dobson not Bundy, Bundy was dead by then,
James Dobson talked about how he felt that Ted Bundy had been truly remorseful
about what he had done and in those final hours had asked Christ’s forgiveness
and turned his life over to Jesus.

How does that
make you feel?  That Ted Bundy, a
self-confessed killer, in the last hours of his life could have a death bed
conversion?   When you get to heaven he
could be your neighbour.  Bet that
knocked you off your high horse.

Through the years I have discovered that we want
grace for ourselves and those we love but we want karma for everyone else.  “Well they got what they deserved, they made
their bed and now they are going to have to lay in it.”

But the story of Dismas and for that matter the
story of Ted Bundy and each of our stories goes back to Ephesians 2:8-9  God saved you by his grace when you
believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us
can boast about it.   

So the story of the thief on the cross is a story of
grace.  But it’s only half of the story,
because Dismas wasn’t the only one crucified with Jesus that day. 

There were two thieves and there are two stories.  It is interesting that there are two men in
the story, because throughout the gospels Jesus tells stories of two
people.  There were two brothers, there
were two builders, there were two men working in a field, two women milling
grain and there were the two men who came to the temple to pray. 

And the reason that Jesus told stories about two
people is because one person wouldn’t be enough for the story and three people would
simply confuse it.

And so Jesus ends his life between two men, and the
lesson we learn from these two are the lessons we learn from Jesus’ stories. 

They
Both Started in the Same Place
The men crucified
with Jesus weren’t nice people.  Matthew
and Mark both call them thieves and Luke simply refers to them as
criminals. 

And Dismas himself confirms that when
defends Christ in the scripture that was read earlier, Luke 23:39-41 One of
the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you?
Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”  But
the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been
sentenced to die?  We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t
done anything wrong.”  

There was no doubt that these men were
sinners.  Nobody here would deny it.  They weren’t misunderstood, they weren’t
victims of their childhoods, they were sinners. 
We know that. And it’s easy to categorize people when we have
descriptions like criminal and thief and the like.  Well they are bad people, they are
sinners. 

If you were going to try and categorize
people on a scale of good and bad where would you start?

Say my iPulpit here is a scale and these
sticky notes are people.   

So if we wanted to think of someone really
good, maybe Mother Theresa, where would you put her?  Here on the top.  And if we were going to think of the thief on
the cross, where would he go?  Maybe down
here, not all the way down that would be reserved for people like Hitler and
Stalin but pretty far down.

So then, where would I put Denn?  Down here by Dismas or up here by Mother
Theresa?  There seems to be a big gap
between the two, but understand the gap now between Mother Theresa and God is
astronomical.  That’s why Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 For everyone
has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 

We all start in the same place.  And we need to realize the same thing that
Dismas did, that we are all sinners.

The next thing that we discover about the two thieves
on the cross was that They Both Had the
Same Choice
Like
the stories that Jesus told using two people each of these men had the power
within their grasp to make the same choice. 
The each could have rejected Christ or they each could have accepted
Christ. 

They
each had the opportunity to make either choice. 
And we are told that there are only two choices, accept Christ or reject
Christ.  No middle ground.  No “But I’m a good person, or I’m a spiritual
person, or I’m a
moral person.”  Jesus said very plainly
in John 14:6 Jesus
told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one
can come to the Father except through me.”

If we go back to my fancy iPulpit with the
sticky notes, here is Dismas, here is Mother Theresa and Denn is somewhere in
the middle but God is way up there and there is no way that we can bridge that
gulf on our own, we can’t be good enough, or moral enough or spiritual enough.

That’s why Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10 As the
Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one.”  Not
even Mother Theresa or Billy Graham or your dear sainted Grand Mother who got
saved when she was only 2, and certainly not me or you.

Oh we try, we try to be good and moral and
spiritual.  We try to bridge that gulf
but in the end the truth is recorded in Isaiah 64:6 We are all infected and impure with sin. When
we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but
filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
and our sins sweep us away like the wind.  

This is one of my favourite movie scenes,
one I’m sure you are all familiar with. 
(Crocodile Dundee that’s not a knife)

I just picture Denn showing up in heaven
and saying to Saint Peter “Look at all my good deeds, look at my righteousness,
look at my holiness.”  And Peter saying “That’s
not holiness this is holiness” and opening up the door so I can see all of God
and his holiness and it’s like 10,000 suns. 
And I look down and the little bit I hold in my hands  looks like dirty rags.

You see here
is the true scandal of Grace, 2 Corinthians 5:21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for
our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

We are all offered the same choice.  And we need to realize the same thing that
Dismas did, that it is our choice to make.

The Each
Made their own Choice

One
thief rejected Christ and one thief accepted Christ.  It was just that simple.  One chose an eternity without God and one
chose an eternity with God. 

How? What could this common criminal have done on the
cross that would have gained him admittance to heaven.  Nothing, at least not in himself.  But he understood some basic math, he knew
that 1 + 2 = 3.

The formula is laid down in John 1:12 But
to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children
of God.

So the formula is this Believing in his name, plus
accepting him equals becoming the children of God.  Some say, “well I believe in Christ” that’s
not enough, James the brother of Christ tells us in the book that bears his
name, James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there
is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in
terror.

Belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is not
enough, if you don’t receive that which he offers.  The entire Bible can be summed up by saying, “God
created us, we blew it, Jesus paid for it, we must accept Him.”  That’s what the thief did he traveled the
longest distance in the world, the distance from his head, knowing that Jesus
was the Son of God, to heart receiving what Jesus could do for him.

Let’s go back to our Story.  Luke 23:41-42  We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done
anything wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus,
remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

First of all, he acknowledged the fact that he was a
sinner, We deserve to die for
our crimes Then he acknowledged the righteousness of Christ when he said
but this man hasn’t done
anything wrong.” And finally he asked Christ to do what he couldn’t do “Jesus, remember me when you come
into your Kingdom.”1 + 2 = 3, Believe + Receive = Become a child of God.

I’m not sure what type of scene was in heaven that
afternoon.  I’m thinking that right up to
the point that the thief spoke it must have been like a wake as the angels
looked down in unbelief as mankind hung God on a cross. 

They couldn’t believe what was actually happening, but
then, then all of heaven began to celebrate, because Christ had said back in Luke 15:10  In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels
when even one sinner repents.”

That same Grace is available for each one of us
today.   Regardless of where you are on
the scale.  And so I leave you with two
thoughts.  William
Barclay wrote in relation to this story “It
is literally true that while there is life there is hope.”

On the other side of the coin, years ago
someone reminded me that there is one story of a deathbed conversion in the
bible to show that it’s possible, but there is only one to show that it’s not
probable.  Let me remind you of the same
thing that Paul reminded his readers of 2000 years ago in 2 Corinthians 6:2  For
God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.

Something I didn’t know

I stumbled across something the other day that I didn’t know.  Unlike our neighbours to the south, our leaders very rarely talk about their faith publically.  We all seem to know that Stephen Harper was an Evangelical Christian, but I never actually heard him mention it.  Maybe everyone learned a lesson from Stockwell Day.  But the other day I came across some comments made by Prime Minister Trudeau in an interview last year.

He spoke about how his father had him in church every Sunday, prayed with him every night and read the Bible with he and his brothers at least once a week.  Hmmmm, things I never knew. 

And then the Prime Minister mentioned that after his brother Michel was killed in 1998, that a friend invited him to attend a 12-week Alpha Course, which he did.  And then he closed that part of the interview by saying: “Since that moment, I still consider myself and have re-found myself of a deep faith and belief in God. But obviously very aware of the separation of church and state in my political thinking.”

Justin’s comment may confuse you or make you angry but for me it renews my commitment to continue to pray for the Prime Minister and his family.  #prayingforjustinandsophie.   Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

Grace in an Awkward Situation

Grace in
an Awkward Situation

I
knew something changed between us, all the talk we made was small, but what do
you say to someone when they’ve heard you say it all.  It’s an awkward conversation in a most
peculiar way.  How did we get from saying
I love you to I’ll see you around some day?

I
remember when I first heard that song when Great Big Sea released it late in
the last century.  I thought, Peter must
have felt like that.  What a day he
had.  I’m sure that he could identify
with our friend Murphy.   He argued with
the other disciples over who would be greatest, wouldn’t let Christ wash his
feet and boasted that he would die for Christ. 
In Gethsemane he fell asleep when he was supposed to be praying then he
freaked out in the garden with a sword and cut a dude’s ear off, and then
vehemently denied Christ, not once not twice but three times.  Ever have one of those days? Hey stuff
happens. Does it ever.  

But who
would have thought Peter?  He was the
leader of the apostles, one of Christ’s closest friends, do you remember the
old hymn that said “He walks with me and he talks with me”?  Peter could have written that. Like how much
more spiritual can you get.  But so often
that is the very type of person who is subject to Satan’s greatest attack.  The person in the highest position is the one
with the farthest to fall. 

But who
was Peter?  Well his birth name was Simon
and he was the son of Jonas, he was the first apostle, brought to Christ by his
brother Andrew, and was renamed Peter by Jesus. 
He was part of the inner circle with John and James the “Son’s of Thunder”.
It was John and Peter who went ahead to arrange the upper room for the last
supper.  It was Peter who walked on the
water, a man wholly devoted to Christ and yet he was still just a man. 

It was Peter who said, “We know you are the Holy One of God.” And “you are the messiah sent from God.”

And when Jesus told the 12 that they would
all desert him in His hour of need it was Peter who said  Mark 14:29  Peter
said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”

The
phrase that is translated  deserts you is actually one word in the Greek and
that is σκανδαλίζω  skandalizō  (scan da lid zo), it’s where we
get our word scandalize, and it means to trip up, stumble, entice to sin or to
offend.  And so Peter is saying, “Jesus I would never sin against you.” 

Let’s
remember that whenever we use the word never we’d better watch out, it’s an
awfully big word, and an awfully long time. About the time we use that word
Satan pulls out all the stops.   “I don’t
know how they could do that; I would never commit adultery.”  “I would never cuss” “I would never lose my
temper like that.”  

Never is
a long time.  The very word stumble is
indicative of the kind of mistake it is. 
This isn’t “Well I think I’ll go out and murder 17 people today.”  This is a slip of the tongue that hurts a
fellow Christian, this is a flash of anger, and this is a careless thought or
action. 

The
second part of Peter’s boast comes two verses later in Mark 14:31  “No!”
Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny
you!”

How often
have we heard such a boast, for that matter how often have we made such a boast?  “O Lord I would never do anything to bring
reproach on your name, even if I have to die for you.”  I’m sure that Christ would concur, the
problem isn’t getting people to die for you, it’s getting people to live for
you.

This is
week five our moments of Grace series, and we’ve looked at Grace displayed in
an unlikely person, in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time and last week we
saw how Jesus displayed grace at the table and he invited his 12 closest
friends to celebrate with him at the last supper even knowing that those who
were there would betray him, deny him and doubt him. 

And we
referenced this story last week, that even though Jesus knew that Peter would
deny him before the night was over, he still extended his grace to him at the
Last Supper. 

Now let’s
recognize that Peter didn’t plunge from saint to sinner overnight. How often we
think that Peter got up and said, “Well this is the day.”  It may appear that way but if the truth was
known it just don’t happen that way. 
Usually a lot happens before the actual fall takes place.  Satan knows that, he doesn’t open up with the
heavy stuff right off, he gradually wears down the defenses and then zap he’s
done it to you again. 

They tell
us, although I don’t know from actual experience, that if you put a frog in a
cool pot of water and slowly bring it to a boil that said frog will stay in the
pot until it is cooked, because the gradual rise in temperature doesn’t give
him adequate warning about the danger, but if you were to toss the same frog in
a boiling kettle there would be all kinds of activity as he tried to get
out. 

Now I
want to know how did they find this out, and what other critters did they use
first?  A cat?  A dog? 
You never hear about the horse in the kettle theory do you?

Friends, Peter
was walking a well-trod path.  A path
that others had walked before him and that plenty have walked since.

If we go to the Garden of Gethsemane, after
the Last Supper and before the arrest of Jesus we hear him tell his apostles:
Mark 14:38
 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to
temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

And then
in Mark 14:39-40  Then
Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before.  When he
returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their
eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

The first
downward step for Peter was when He
Stopped Praying
. Christ has gone to the garden to await the troops that
Judas was bringing.  And Jesus gathers
the inner circle to him, John, James and Peter and in verse 40 he asks them to
watch and pray.   

Now the
one essential ingredient in any relationship is communication.  You cannot sustain a relationship without
talking. In work, sports, love, and God the common denominator for success is
communication.  Nowhere in the bible are
we commanded to preach always, or sing always, or teach always.  But we are told in Luke 18:1
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray
and never give up.

And Paul
commands us in 1
Thessalonians 5:17
Never stop praying. 

The first
downward step for Peter was when his prayer life went on the skids.  The best relationship in the world cannot
stand up to silence. 

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote  “Prayer does not
mean simply to pour out one’s heart. It means rather to find the way to God and
to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.”

When we
stop talking to God we lose the strength that he offers.  I realize that some people think that their
prayers have to be in King James English with all the thees and thous in the
right places.  And that is perfectly
alright if that is what you are comfortable with. 

Other
folks just can’t get into that, like they don’t talk to others like that, how
many people come up to me following the service and say, “thou hast preached a
fine message my sovereign preacher, I shalst endeavour to followest thy words
in my daily endeavors.”  Wow wouldn’t
that freak me out.   Bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter
how you talk to God, as long as you talk to him. 

Mark 14:53-54  They took Jesus to the high
priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of
religious law had gathered.  Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance
and went right into the high priest’s courtyard. There he sat with the guards,
warming himself by the fire.

That second
sentence in that passage is the second step in Peter’s downward trek. The
scriptures tell us that Peter followed at a distance.  He
Stopped Following. 
I mean sure he
followed, where were the other eleven? 
But he followed at a distance, not up close where you’d expect to see
the leader of the twelve. After all he was Christ’s friend and companion for
three years.  Like he wasn’t just an
acquaintance.  I can just hear Peter now,
“don’t worry Jesus I’m behind you, way behind you.”   Love made Peter ashamed to run, fear made
him ashamed to get too close.  The
disciples chose the left side of the road and ran; Jesus chose the right side
of the road and obeyed.  But Peter chose
the middle of the road; you know where you find yellow stripes and dead skunks.

Once you
stop communicating with someone, then you no longer know where they are and
where they are going.  And it isn’t long
before your paths usually diverge.  In
1982 twenty-eight of us from bible college in New Brunswick headed for the
world headquarters of the Wesleyan church which was located in Marion Indiana
at the time (kind of like going to Mecca), something like a thirty-hour
trip. 

The
problem was that we were driving six cars and only the driver of the lead car
knew how to get to Marion.  Along the way we somehow managed to lose the
last car and as he was struggling to keep up, he was pulled over by a Vermont state trooper
for exceeding the speed limit by a mere 48 kmh. 
When he explained the State Trooper told him that it didn’t matter how
fast he drove he wouldn’t catch up, how come? Because he had missed the right
exit about thirty miles back.  It doesn’t
matter how fast you’re going if’n you’re going in the wrong direction. 

It doesn’t
take long for you to start following Christ from a distance once you have
stopped talking to him on a regular basis. 

Peter’s third step downward is at the end
of the passage we read a couple of minutes ago Mark
14:53-54
 They took
Jesus to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the
teachers of religious law had gathered.  Meanwhile, Peter followed him at
a distance and went right into the high priest’s courtyard. There he sat with
the guards, warming himself by the fire.

Seriously Peter, you are
sitting with the guards?   These weren’t
guards from an armoured truck, or guards from the local prison, these were temple police, the very ones who arrested Christ, these are those
who eventually and ultimately were responsible for the crucifixion. 

The path away from Christ eventually leads
into the path of the ungodly. He Stopped
Fellowshipping  
Fellowshipping is
just a churchy word for hanging out with God’s people.  Peter would have been better off hiding in
the shadows with the disciples or standing in the courtyard with his master but
instead he was warming his hands over the devil’s fire. 

And David
told us a long time ago in Psalm 1:1 Oh, the joys of
those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

The
converse of that is also true, the man who does follow the advice of the
wicked, and stands around with sinners and joins in with mockers, is not
blessed and that is right where our old buddy Peter found himself.  Now that does not mean that we isolate
ourselves.  Christ never intended us to
live in monasteries.  Remember one of the
chief complaints against him is that he was a friend of sinners.  But they weren’t his primary social contact,
most of the time he was in the company of his disciples. 

And
remember that Christ was intent on winning those sinners into the kingdom and
not simply having a good time with them. 
Church is for fellowship as well as for worship.  When we go into the New Testament we discover
that the entire lives of the early believers were interwoven with the
church. 

And that’s
why we have coffee after the service, and why we have the Great I Hate Winter
Beach Party, and weekly Life Groups and why the ladies are planning a Christmas
event next month, it’s so we can sit around and talk to people who aren’t using
the Lord’s name in vain and cussing and telling smutty stories.  Because like it or not you are different then
the world. Or at least you are supposed to be. 

The bible reminds us in Hebrews 10:25  And
let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one
another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Church isn’t just some place you go, it is
something you do. 

And then
you know the rest of the story, if you don’t Peter goes on to do exactly what
Jesus said he would do, he denies Christ, not once, not twice but three times.

When
Peter assured Jesus that he would never deny him I’m sure he was sincere.  But it kind of comes back to Yogi Berra’s words.  “In theory there
is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”  In theory Peter was convinced
that he would never deny Jesus, but in practice. . .

Peter’s
first two denials were simple, when people commented that Peter looked like one
of Jesus’s disciples, and he said “ Not sure what you are talking about, but
you’ve got the wrong guy.” 

But
listen to what happens when he’s given one more opportunity

Mark 14:71-72  Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know this man
you’re talking about!”  And immediately the rooster crowed the second
time. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times
that you even know me.” And he broke down and wept.

And that should have been the end of the
story.  Peter had done exactly what Jesus
said he would do and exactly what Peter said he wouldn’t do.  This wasn’t like Peter hadn’t been warned, he
just didn’t pay attention. 

Now remember that justice is getting what
you deserve.  So what did Peter
deserve?  Good question and a question
that Peter knew the answer to, because it was spelled out earlier in the story. 

Back in
the book of Matthew Jesus has appointed the 12 and is preparing to send them
out.  After Matthew lists the
12 by name, a list that includes Peter, we read Matthew 10:5  Jesus sent out the
twelve apostles with these instructions: And then Jesus tells them a whole bunch of
things that he expects of them.  And part
of that list is recorded in  Matthew 10:32-33  “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will
also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny
before my Father in heaven.”

Sounds
simple enough, acknowledge me
publicly here on earth, I will acknowledge you in heaven.  Deny me here on earth, I will also deny you
in heaven.”   

I wonder
when the rooster crowed and Peter wept if he wept because of his actions, was
he weeping because he had denied Christ, or did he weep because he suddenly
realized the consequences of his behaviour. 
That justice dictated that just as he had denied Jesus that Jesus could
justly deny him.

Luke’s account contains a
detail that is missing from Mark’s account. 
We read in Luke
22:60-61
 But Peter said,
“Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was
still speaking, the rooster crowed.  At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter
remembered that the Lord had said, “Before the
rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know
me.”

Wow, talk
about an awkward situation.  What do you say to someone when they’ve heard you say it
all. 

But that
isn’t what happened.  Maybe you know the
rest of the story, maybe you don’t.  That
day ends with Jesus being crucified.  And
we are told that he was buried in a borrowed tomb and that the eleven remaining
disciples went back to the upper room where they had celebrated the Passover
feast less than 24 hours before. 

And we
don’t know what happened there as they grieved the loss of their friend.  I would suspect that there was guilt, that
there were recriminations, that the words “if only” were spoken more than a few
times. 

But we do
know that on the third day that things changed. 
Because on the third day when Mary Magdalene and her friends went to the
tomb to finish preparing the body of Jesus they found the tomb empty, guarded
by an angel.   And listen to what the angel told the women
that day Mark 16:6-7  The angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for
Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!
Look, this is where they laid his body.  Now go and tell his disciples,
including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him
there, just as he told you before he died.”

Did you
catch that?  Not just his disciples, but
make sure you tell Peter. 

If you
know the story it wasn’t long after the resurrection that Jesus met Peter on
the beach at the sea of Galilee, back where it had all begun three years
earlier.  And three times, the same
number of times that Peter denied Jesus, Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?”

If you go
back to the song that the team sang for us earlier, the question asked was: “But what do you say to someone when they’ve heard you say
it all?”  Apparently the answer,
at least in this case is “I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

Remember
Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. 
And that is exactly what Peter got, what he didn’t deserve.  Christ forgave him for his past and entrusted
him with his future.  Peter would go on
to become the leader of the New Testament Church.  Many years later Peter would write to the
early church, he began by telling them in 1 Peter
1:2
 . . . May God give
you more and more grace and peace.  And
he finished his letter with these words.  
1 Peter 5:12  My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure
you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand
firm in this grace.

And so in
conclusion, my prayer for you today is: May God give you more and more
grace and peace. 

And my purpose for preaching this message today is to
encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of
God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.

 

Christmas Projects

It’s November, the days are getting shorter and as much as we might try to ignore it, thoughts of Christmas start creeping up.  At Cornerstone we promote “Christmas” projects, not projects that have will have an impact on Cornerstone but on people who we will never meet.

Operation Christmas Child will put gift boxes in the hands of children who may never have received a gift before. And there are many families at Cornerstone that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without filling a box or many boxes for children in developing countries. 

Our second project, Clean Water for Christmas, has raised funds to provide clean water for over a dozen villages in Africa through the years.  This year our gifts will be matched dollar for dollar by another donor and used to cap fresh water springs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

And no one at Cornerstone is poorer for having taken part in these projects, but lives have been changed and without hyperbole lives have been saved.

As a church family most of us have been blessed and I want to thank you for the blessings that you have and will pass on to folks who you will probably never meet, at least not on this side of eternity.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.  

Grace at the Table

It was the summer of
1980.  I had just completed my first year
of university and for the summer I volunteered with an organization called the
Shantymen Christian Association, now referred to simply as SCA.  In an article written for the Toronto Star in
the 1970s the author wrote:  “If you have the zeal of a Billy Graham, the
toughness of a Green Beret, the desire to lead an outdoor life in some of the
most rugged terrain in Canada and, in the time of inflation, can live on about
$35. a week and expenses, then consider joining the Shantymen.”
Across Canada these men ministered in
lumber camps, mines and on wharves.  But
in the summer time in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia the Shantymen ministered on
fairgrounds. And that was what I spent my summer doing.  We had a mobile chapel in each province and
would travel with the Bill Lynch show and the like, set up on the fairgrounds
and show gospel films and hand out gospel literature to strangers, the second
part was way outside of my comfort zone.   And we spent most of our off hours with the
carnies.  You know the folks you warn
your kids about when the carnivals and fairs come to town.  And under the gruff exterior most of them
were really nice people.
And I spent most of that summer wearing
blue jeans, a US a;rmy jacket and a cowboy hat. 
Life was good.  Our crew was made
up of me, Joe Hooper who was another student and the Shantyman in charge.  There were three of them who rotated in and
out but mostly it was Bruce Lumsten who was a Baptist minister. 
On many weekends Bruce would find a local
Christian campground where they were having meetings and that’s where we’d go
to church. 
And so one weekend we showed up at a
particular camp, and to be truthful I was looking a little worse for wear, my
hair was long and shaggy, but I had my best jeans and cowboy hat on for
Sunday.  
Part of the service was to be communion,
and I was looking forward to receiving communion that day.
Well, when they got to the three of us they
stepped out around us, served people on either side of us and didn’t even slow
down for us.  I was a little
offended.  Actually a lot offended.  Bruce explained later that that particular
denomination practices “closed communion” it was only for members of their
church and that I shouldn’t take my exclusion personally, but I did.
On a side note, the bright shining point of
that summer was the week we spent in Musquodoboit Harbour and Joe and I went to
Hillside Wesleyan Church on Sunday and that’s where I met Angela for the first
time.
The next year one of my classes was called
Pastoral Ministries and we were taught the practical stuff of ministry, as one
of my peers later called it, hatching, matching and dispatching.  How to do everything from baby dedications to
weddings to funerals.  And in the class
on communion my Professor, Bill Burbury told about an experience he had when he
was a young pastor. 
He was serving at a small rural church on
that day as he served communion there was a stranger in their midst.  This was back in the day when our
denomination was much more conservative in an era that was much more
conservative. 
And Bill said that this lady was wearing
more makeup and jewellery than was fashionable in the church at that time, and
so when he got to her he opted not to serve her, saving her from being put in an
awkward position of not taking communion. 
But as he stepped around her she tugged on
his jacket looking to be served.  Dr.
Burbury said that from that point on he never made the assumption about who
should or shouldn’t receive communion.
At Cornerstone we are much more open to who
can receive communion than some churches. 
Through the years I’ve been asked questions, have received nasty letters
and have had people tell me they can’t or won’t attend our church because of
how I approach communion.  Because I
don’t tell people they can’t receive communion, either because they have not
yet stepped over the line of faith or they aren’t where they should be in their
spiritual walk. 
And maybe you are in that group, or maybe
you never really thought of it.
And the reason that some folks feel that
way is in how they read 1 Corinthians 11:27-29  So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the
Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and
drinking the cup.  For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without
honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon
yourself.  Which is the scripture
that we read here at Cornerstone almost every time we celebrate communion.    
And it’s all tied up in how you view the
phrases 1 Corinthians 11:27  So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the
Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  What does Paul mean or imply when he
speaks about eat and drinking in an unworthy manner?  Perhaps the answer lies in 1 Corinthians 11:29  For
if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honouring the body of Christ . .
. You eat or drink in an unworthy manner when you don’t honour the body
of Christ.  But what does that mean? 
Well, it goes back to my favourite
answer.  That depends.  If you were Catholic, then the teaching of
the church is called Transubstantiation, which is the belief that when the
believer receives the bread it turns into the literal body of Christ, and when
they drink the wine it turns into the blood of Christ.  So within their tradition if you don’t
believe that, then you aren’t honouring the bread and cup and you are taking it
in an unworthy manner. 
Now that’s not be confused with
Consubstantiation.  But you knew that, Consubstantiation
is the belief that was taught by Martin Luther when
he left the Catholic church.  His belief
was that the bread and juice didn’t actually change into the body and blood but
co-existed with it.  He explained it this
way.  “It is
like an iron put into the fire whereby both fire and iron are united in the
red-hot iron and yet each continues unchanged” And so if you were
Lutheran and believed in Transubstantiation instead of Consubstantiation you
wouldn’t be honouring the bread or the cup. 
Now in our tradition as in most protestant
churches we view the elements as purely symbolic and so there would be some who
would say that if you subscribed to either the Catholic or Lutheran view then.
. .  well you get the picture.
Now if that isn’t confusing enough, I read
one commentator who focused on 1 Corinthians 11:29  For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honouring
the body of Christ . . . And he went back to how often the church is
referred to as the body of Christ so their view was that when someone wasn’t
honouring the body of Christ it was that they weren’t honouring the church,
perhaps by promoting division in the church.
Hmmm. 
Now there are those who feel that this
simply narrows down who should and shouldn’t take communion.  In their minds it means that those who have
never accepted Christ as Saviour haven’t been invited to the table, and that
those who are not where they ought to be spiritually shouldn’t partake. 
And they may not know exactly who should be
allowed to receive communion, but they definitely know who shouldn’t.  But think about it, if you come to a
communion service at Cornerstone and because of who I include or don’t exclude
you become judgmental about me and have harsh thoughts wouldn’t that exclude
you?
And perhaps you might wonder how can people
take part in a service of remembrance when they weren’t directly impacted by
it?  Next week is the Sunday before
November 11th and traditionally that is when churches across Canada
will stop and remember the sacrifices made by members of our Armed Forces for
our freedom. 
Truthfully very few people here served
during WW1 and WW2, Angela’s mom did and she might be the only one.  Angela’s father served in a combat role
during the war and I would suspect that there are other’s here as well whose
parents may have served.  My Grandfather
was too old and my father was too young. 
Others here presently serve in the military
or are retired having served in both peacekeeping and combat roles. 
And some have children serving in the
military and some of those are serving in places like Ukraine.  But the vast majority of us pause to remember
simply because we reap the benefit of those sacrifices.  And next week, if you a member of the forces
we’d love for you to wear your uniform for the service.
In a few minutes we will pause to remember
what Christ did for us.  Nobody who was
alive when Christ said “Whenever you do this, remember me” is with us today
But there are those here who have accepted
the grace and forgiveness of Christ and whose lives have been changed. They
have chosen to follow Christ and it has affected their lives now and their
eternities later.  But they aren’t the
only ones here today who have benefited from the sacrifice that Christ
made. 
I’ve preached this over and over again, the
much of the good in the world today was shaped by Christianity, the way we
treat the sick and the poor and the way we view education.  The abolition of slavery in the Western world
was spearheaded by the church as were children’s rights and women’s
rights.   And for some, even though they
have never accepted the gift of grace that Christ offers, they understand that
there is much they need to be thankful for.
That was a very long introduction.  This is week four of our series “Moments of Grace”.  In week one we looked at how Paul’s theology
of Grace had been formed by his knowledge of examples of God’s grace in the Old
Testament and the Gospel story as well as his own experience of grace.
In week two we saw God’s grace extended to
a prostitute by the name of Rahab which basically lifted her from a life in a
brothel to a part of Jesus family tree. 
And last week we looked at how Elijah
experienced the grace of God when he found himself in the very depths of
despair and depression.  And so we
started with Grace shown to an unlikely person, Grace displayed in an unlikely
place and Grace discovered at an unlikely time. 
So let’s go back to the original story that
was read for us, the story of the Last Supper. 
The account that was read to us was from Mark’s account and as I’ve
mentioned before many scholars feel like Mark was acting as a scribe for Simon
Peter, so this is an eye witness account of what happened the night Jesus was
betrayed.
And I think that in order for us to
understand who should be included at the table we need to see who was included
when Jesus brought the 12 together that night to celebrated the Passover.
One
Who Would Betray 
If we were to go back to the section in Mark’s Gospel that precedes
the Last Supper the heading in my bible says “Judas Agrees to Betray
Jesus.”  And we read in Mark
14:10-11
 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve
disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them.
 They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to
give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
Do you see the significance of the
narrative here?  Judas went to the
leading priests, they didn’t recruit him, he went and offered his
services.  And Jesus knew it, in Mark
14:18
 As they were at the table eating,
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray
me.”   And then
he invited Judas to participate in the meal. 
Personally, even I would think that if a person should have been
excluded at that point it should have been Judas.  But Jesus extends his grace to one who had
already decided in his mind to betray him. 
Judas had already put the plan into
motion.  And there are all kinds of theories
as to why Judas betrayed Christ, some make him out to be a villain and others
simply make him out to have simply made a tragic miscalculation that resulted
in the death of his friend.  But it
doesn’t matter. 
The one who rejected the Lordship of Christ
in his life, who basically said “after weighing the pros and cons I’d rather
align myself with Caesar than Jesus” He was still invited to the table. 
I have had people betray me, not sure if I
had of known in advance if I would have been all that enthused about inviting
them to dinner.  And yet that is what
Jesus did.
And then there was One Who Would Deny  And if it
had of ended with Judas and his betrayal than perhaps we would say “That’s the
exception that proves the rule.”  Which
is the dumbest thing I’ve every heard. 
Exceptions just prove that a rule can be broken.
Regardless, Judas wasn’t an isolated case
that night.  The section before the Last
Supper in my bible is entitled “Judas agrees to betray Jesus.” The section
following the Last Supper in my bible is entitled, “Jesus predicts Peter’s
Denial”.
If you don’t know the story it goes
something like this, in Mark 14:27  On
the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,
‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
And Peter says “No way, maybe the rest of
them but I’d rather die than deny you.” Or words to those effect. And yet
within 12 hours Peter had denied that he knew Christ, not once, not twice but
three times. 
And Peter wasn’t alone, the others
scattered, perhaps not denying Christ with their words, but certainly denying
him with their behaviour.  They turned
their backs on Jesus when Jesus needed them the most.
And when Jesus invited them to join him at
the table that day he already knew that when it came time to choose to do what
was easy or what was right they would choose what was easy. 
And we like to think that we always choose
to do the right thing, and maybe you do, but there have been too many times in
my life I have chosen to keep my mouth shout and go along in order to get
along, instead of speaking up. 
I’ve said it before, but it bears
repeating, “Sometimes silence in golden, and sometimes it’s just plain
yellow.”  And yet in spite of that, the
invitation to come to the table still stands. 
And along with the one who betray him and
the one who would deny him, there was also the One Who Would Doubt  We know
him as Doubting Thomas, but to his friends he was just Thomas. 
He had been there from the very beginning,
he had watched as Jesus fed thousands of people with a few buns and a couple of
small fish.  He had seen Jesus walk on
the water and heal the lepers.  He had
watched as the blind saw, the deaf heard and the lame walked.   
He knew what Jesus could do, because he had
seen what Jesus did do.  But After the
crucifixion he was so caught up in despair that he couldn’t believe that Jesus
had risen from the dead. 
John
20:24-25
 One of the disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with
the others when Jesus came.  They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But
he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put
my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
And it’s easy to call him doubting Thomas,
but who of us have been without doubts?
When we get involved in a relationship that
we know we shouldn’t be involved in, we do it because we doubt that God has
something better for us.  When we don’t
give, it’s because we doubt God can be trusted to provide for us.
When we don’t tell others about Jesus, it’s
because we doubt that they would be interested, or that it would change their
lives.  When we aren’t obedient to God,
it’s because we doubt that he wants the very best in our lives.
And yet 2000 years ago the doubter was
invited to eat and drink.
You see the reality is that on that night
when the 13 came together to celebrate the Passover there was only One Who Was Perfect and that was
Jesus.  He knew that it wouldn’t be long
before he would be betrayed, denied and doubted.  And yet he invited them to the table.
And today, he still invites us to the
table, in spite of our failings and our faults. 
As we come to the table, it would be wise
to remember Paul’s words from  Ephesians 2:8  God
saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this;
it is a gift from God.
As Wesleyans we believe that Communion is a
sacrament and a means of Grace.  First we
view it as a sacrament, one of only two, the other one being baptism.  And a sacrament is a divinely appointed
meeting place where we can experience God’s gracious presence and power in our
lives. 
Today he invites us to join him at the
table. And I think it is important that we remember what Paul wrote in  1 Corinthians 11:28
 That is why you should examine
yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup.  Did you catch who you are supposed to
examine?  Not the person in the row in
front of you, not the preacher, not your spouse or the stranger in the back,
but you are to examine yourself.
But we don’t just view it as a sacrament
but we also view it as a means of grace. 
And you might be wondering what we mean by a means of grace.  Wesleyan theologian Ken
Schenck writes “To say that communion is a
means of grace means that there is something mysterious going on here, that in
some strange way we cannot explain, people meet God when they take
communion.  We mean to say that a person
seeking God is more likely to find Him if they take communion.”
So who was Paul talking about when he
warned them about taking communion in an unworthy manner?  Well that depends, because as HC Wilson often says “Where
you stand is determined by where you sit.” 
But I kind of think that it goes back to
the people Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians
11:20
 When you meet together, you are
not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 
And so this morning if you aren’t really interested in the Lord’s
supper than you probably shouldn’t take part, but for the rest of you I trust
that you will experience His grace this morning as you join us at the table. 
And now May the
grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy
Spirit be with you all.