Markham Baptist Church

THE LANGUAGE OF THE UNHEARD, AND THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE

posted Jun 1, 2020

Photo by Jeronimo Bernot

Martin Luther King Jr. called riots “the language of the unheard.” Waking up today, the news of riots in several major U.S. cities is a loud cry from those who have been unheard for generations. The murder of George Floyd, who died with his neck under the knee of a police officer, was the last straw for many. We should not be surprised by the expressions of frustration, pain, anger and rage. The unheard cry, the unheard scream, and then they react physically, just as would any child to a parent that is unresponsive to some genuine need of theirs.

The mayor of Atlanta Georgia, Keisha Lance Bottoms, an African American woman with a family of her own, said at a press gathering Friday that she feared for the safety of her children. “When I heard that violence was erupting in Atlanta, I said to my 18 year old son, “Where are you? I cannot protect you. Black boys shouldn’t be out today.” When I heard that, my heart sank. Friday morning, Prime Minister Trudeau said in Ottawa, that racism is not only an American problem, it is here too. We should not be surprised.

British philosopher, Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The murder of George Floyd and the emerging long needed conversations about race in North America that are being had is a reminder to all of us to challenge our social conditioning and how our own behaviour contributes to it.

Van Jones, an American political commentator, suggested in a recent interview, “When you call people out you lose your audience. The Mayor of Atlanta was calling them up. You could feel underneath the anger and rage, her love for her city.” Martin Luther King Jr. stated it in profound fashion: “I believe the unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

Oh how we need these reminders today. Ultimate strength resides in selfless love for others. It is the message borne in the cross of Christ. Jesus did not sacrifice himself and suffer crucifixion to rescue those who match his view of a good person. He died for all of us – we, who cannot reach that height nor become that person without him.

We need to be more vocal in “calling people UP”, and in reminding one another of our true, deep and eternal value before God. Recall this tremendous declaration from the first chapter of Genesis – “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness”. We can do more to search for, and uncover God’s Spirit, however buried it may seem to us in any person.

“[Everyone] must decide whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness,” said Martin Luther King Jr. “I’ve decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

In these times of confusion and conflict, let’s keep asking each other for help in sticking with love.

Pastor Craig

 


NOTHING TO DO WITH GOD’S WILL

posted Apr 22, 2020

Our hearts break with all those whose lives have been forever changed by the violent rampage in Nova Scotia this past weekend which took the life of at least 22 persons, including an RCMP officer, a teacher, a nurse, and a retired firefighter. What do we say in the face of such pain?

The inability to find ‘just the right words’ to say to those mourning is multiplied when the loss comes as the direct result of an act of violence. People want to be comforting and even ‘helpful’, so they reach into their toolbox for helpful things to say and, coming up short, some decide it is time to include God. In doing so, it is easy to say the wrong thing – not only because the timing may be off, but because there is little truth in what they share.

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin preached a sermon not long after the tragic death of his 24-year-old son Alex. “When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said,” Reverend Coffin stated. What is that one thing? It is a statement I heard following the death of my wife, to cancer. It was said by good people who meant well. Yet the hurt was just as deep.

It happened for William Sloane Coffin. A woman was delivering quiches, to offer care and comfort to the grieving family. As she walked past the living room on her way to the kitchen, she looked his way and shook her head, saying sadly over her shoulder, “I just don’t understand the will of God.” Instantly, the heartbroken father was on his feet shouting after her, “I’ll say you don’t, lady!”

Here is what he told his congregation following that encounter:

“For some reason, nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness. Which is not to say that there are no nature-caused deaths,…that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden, which for that reason raise unanswerable questions….The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is “It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”

Surely, God’s heart was the very first of all hearts to break this past Saturday and Sunday. God’s will had nothing to do with the unfathomable evil unleashed during those twelve hours. It was the result of the man who willfully took those lives. We need to leave God out of that.

A broken-hearted, yet deeply knowing William Sloane Coffin preached on: “The reality of grief is the absence of God — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The reality of grief is the solitude of pain, the feeling that your heart is in pieces, your mind’s a blank, that “there is no joy the world can give like that it takes away.”  (Lord Byron).”

His sermon did not end there, nor is it where our Christian faith leaves any of us in the lengthy season of grief confronting our world today. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is the Psalmist’s question, to be sure, but at least — “My God, my God”!  Let us not overlook the relationship that, though strained and tested, invites us deeper and closer to our God. It is that relationship that is paramount. It is what we find in the Living Christ of Easter — the power of a relationship that never lets go of us, no matter what else may slip from our grip.

Coffin received many letters of condolence. One line in a letter from a friend helped him greatly: “Seek consolation in that love which never dies and find peace in the dazzling grace that always is.”  Is that not the meaning in Jesus’ words in Matthew 6? His statement there, to all of us, is an echo of Psalm 55:22, amplified through the empty tomb, reverberating through the centuries: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you”.  Is this not the reassuring, comforting truth we all live in when the unexpected or unexplainable happens?

Our human words can do so little; which is exactly why Jesus’ peace, and his Spirit breathed over his followers, are what bring the miracle of healing. “Peace, be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Pastor Craig


IN THE MIDST OF…

posted Apr 12, 2020

What is your image of Jesus this Easter? What do you most notice about his appearance? On a cover of a church pamphlet, printed by a denominational publisher for Easter worship, was an image of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus was standing before Mary Magdalene in the garden with his hands outstretched in triumph. He was risen. David Buttrick, in his book, The Mystery and the Passion, tells the story of how a church janitor, having taken just one glance at the image, saw the trouble immediately: “No nail holes,” he said. He was glorious, but not the crucified Christ.

The risen Christ is the crucified Christ. In Luke 24:39, the very first thing Jesus says, as he stands among his disciples is “Look at my hands and my feet.” Buttrick, writes, “The Jesus who was put down by the human world, God has raised up to be Lord of lords. But, raised up, the nail scars still define Christ’s character.” Jesus Christ, who was put to death, is Lord of life.

The Christian message is not a denial of death, or pain and suffering. We are mortal and death is real. Quite the opposite of Easter denying death, Easter boldly preaches it: “They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again” (Mark 10:34).  If anything, Jesus teaches us how real and prevalent suffering is in the world. Jesus advocated for the poor and the suffering, and those who were the most vulnerable of his day. He suffered on our behalf, for our sin.

“The resurrection is not therapy for our death fears” says David Buttrick, “No, instead, [Easter] resurrection is a witness to the power of God-love that gives life in the midst of a deadly world.” I’m drawn to those four words in the middle of that last sentence, “in-the-midst-of”. That is after all the proof of both our humanity, and our greatest hope as people of faith. We live in the profound truth and power of Christ’s resurrection, and we live it, daily, in the midst of what would otherwise — without his nail printed hands and resurrected life — surely be our undoing.

Terrible things, throughout time, have happened in our world. Horrible things have happened to people, throughout history, as well as to those we know and love. But the character of Christ then and now, is that his rising takes place with hands scared by the nails that had been driven through them on the cross. He knows our suffering, in our time. He understands our pain. And he has overcome death, that we too might live. Easter gives Life in the midst of whatever we are going through at the time, or will go through in the future. “…thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

My picture of Jesus includes the nail holes. It is this Easter picture of the risen Christ that gives me hope. We will get through this. Here’s why: “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” (Philippians 1:6).

This is how I choose to live through this moment in history, and in-the-midst-of this global pandemic. I choose to live in possibility; and I choose to live in the promise of God, and without the slightest doubt that God’s Spirit is actively working to bring about “a flourishing finish”. I can’t wait to see what that will look like. For now, all I can do is my part, and experience progress and joy in the faith that Christ has given me.


IN COMMUNITY

posted Mar 31, 2020

I know God loves the world, and all of us that by grace and by gravity walk on this great planet. And Jesus loves me, “this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I have read the scriptures telling of the ways Jesus’ love was unconditional. He loved the lost and rejected, the rich and the poor. He also loved those whose religion had handicapped their faith as much as physical blindness had handicapped the lives of others. Loving this varied lot of humanity, Jesus also healed many. People testified that it reached beyond an individual’s physical wellbeing. It was also deeply spiritual. “Your sins are forgiven you,” Jesus would say. “Your faith has made you well,” he said to another. “Do you want to be well?” he said to one whose struggle must have been obvious to all, yet none had taken the time or shown any interest in helping him get to the place of healing.

Here’s my question — what about all the others? What of the others who never saw Jesus; were never taken to Jesus; were never healed by Jesus? Surely there were others equally in need of healing. Were they simply left to continue life as best they could? No! Thank God there was this New Community, formed to live lives modelled after Jesus’ way of healing love.

In his book, Practicing the Way of Jesus, author, Mark Scandrette, in a chapter titled, “Experiments in Community,” offers an insight that sparked a thought I’d like to pass along.

“Life in community reveals who we really are. We bring our best and worst to our relationships with one another. Our sense of belonging is where we may feel the most wounded and where the gospel of Jesus offers us the greatest hope. Jesus modelled and promised a revolutionary way of love that could transform our relationships on every level.”

It is easy to feel overwhelmed right now, seeing the many in need who are beyond our ability to help. The essence of community is not limited by our gathered presence. It is furthered by our spirit of togetherness in seeking God’s presence no matter how distant we may be from one another geographically. Community is that sense of being for each other, no matter our different paths, knowing we are journeying together in a common hope, a shared prayer, a gathering of hearts. As a community of faith, gathered — and scattered — in Jesus’ name, our reach is incredible, as the Spirit of God partners with us in whatever we offer for his use and glory.

You are reaching people I may be unable to reach. Yet my prayers, and the prayers of others, offering strength, insight and peace to you, bring us together as a community of healing and hope. Those within your reach are being blessed right now, by your saving acts of compassion, prayer and kindness.

Let’s keep on lifting each other in prayer, as we do what we can do, and as we trust in God to provide the miracles and blessing.


At this time — to our many incredible volunteers

posted Mar 23, 2020

Dear volunteer — You may serve as part of one of our worship teams – a singer, musician, sound, slides or video volunteer. You may teach a Sunday School class, or care for our youngest members in the nursery. Perhaps you offer leadership to our children and youth, or help out with Wednesday Pizza Drop In, serving pizza, fill the pop machine, or provide breakfast once a month for for High School students as they gather for prayer. Maybe you are part of the organizing group or serve with First Monday Lunch, giving seniors and others a welcome meal and great company. Maybe you are part of a team that leads a small study group from your home; you may be one of the volunteers who help take non-perishable food donations that have been dropped of at MBC to the food bank, or visit the Crisis Pregnancy Centre to help out, or 360 Kids Hub, to deliver our mission donations or volunteer with the downtown mission assisting the homeless and hungry of the GTA. There are so many areas where you volunteer your gifts and abilities as you bless the lives of others. Some of you, have the gift of mechanical know-how. Thank you! You keep the church running – literally, caring for the furnace, replacing burnt out light bulbs, or financially, by organizing the paying of bills, the planning of our budget, and keeping track of givings. Maybe you share the gift of hospitality, organizing coffee times or monthly breakfasts for the men in our congregation, or gather women, young and old, to share their stories or express their needs. You are giving a tremendous gift, not only to MBC, but, to all the lives that brush up against yours and all the others you are already influencing by your words and actions. If it weren’t for you and those who visit our shut-ins, or send notes of care or condolence or compassion, or set the table at the front of our sanctuary with white linen and display the elements of grace we partake of in communion, we would be the lesser for it. If it weren’t for you greeting at the doors of our building, offering a warm smile as you usher us into the sanctuary, or remembering us and calling us by name on those days we’ve all had, when we just need assuring that we’re not forgotten, and that we are valued, if it weren’t for you, oh, incredible volunteer, we would not be the church we are. We would not see Christ the way we do, when we see you!

Thank you for being the heart of MBC for everyone who serves and walks along side of you, and experiences the love of God through you! O volunteer, simply put, the church of Jesus Christ is alive and well because of you. You bring to light our purpose —”to know him and to make him known.”

As we find ourselves in a strange land, amid all the precautions and needs surrounding this pandemic, we miss being together in the usual ways.  Ah, but I know you’re continuing to offer yourself in whatever ways God leads you, and because of it, what a blessing anyone who has met you, is already receiving.

Holy God, within us and among us, help us share ourselves in Jesus’ name. AMEN

Enthusiastically and thankfully, as we serve together,

Pastor Craig