Monthly Archives: June 2016

Hymn page update for July 3


Not Freedom From/ Freedom To


On Friday afternoon, I was IMG-20110407-00025near the high school office and there was a small group of recent graduates there. Two of the boys were wearing their hats, which is against the school rules. When I asked them to remove their hats they looked at me with a touch of, “we aren’t students here anymore, we don’t have to follow the rules” in their expressions. Being rather congenial individuals they did remove their hats. Over the years there have been many who immediately do something they were not allowed to do as some sort of proof that they are free of school and its rules!

Rather than continuing with Elijah today, we join the church in Galatia reading letters from Paul. Paul had been in correspondence with them for quite a while. There were issues in the church with the false teaching that salvation could only be achieved through first believing, and then performing acts to qualify. In the first 4 chapters of Galatians we read of Paul trying to beat it into their heads that we are saved by faith alone, and not works; that there is no human action needed to add to Christ’s sacrifice in order for us to receive salvation. In his notes on Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Scott Hoezee equates this part of Galatians with saying, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”(“Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”)

In today’s reading Paul almost seems to be saying the opposite. “Don’t just stand there, do something!” (“Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”) He moved on to explain that we are now free of the law, by which he is referring to the complex series of religious laws called the Torah, but that being free of the law doesn’t mean that we are free to do anything we want with no limitations. The fact that my Mother’s residen
ce has a soft ice-cream machine that is in operation 24 hours/day would allow me to eat ice-cream cones continuously, but that would not be correct use of that freedom as it would end up making me sick. When, through Christ, we were freed, we were not freed from something, but we were freed to something. We are freed to, “through love become slaves to one another.” Paul sets up a comparison between the law, and freedom in the Spirit as our potential guides for living.  The law may be characterized as being; a dictator, demanding, condemning, and unable to grant freedom. While the Spirit is the source of the power to cope with desires of flesh and it signals liberation. (Cousar)

I guess the overall theme or question of today would be, “Just what is freedom?” If we were prisoners, freedom would be having the gate opened and walking out. In North America, we talk a lot about our freedom. In theory we are all free to get an education, find a home, work, play, form groups, and speak out about things we feel are important. We are free to meet here today and we are free to go as a group to a public park and have a picnic. Freedom, however, is not a guarantee of an easy ride, it is not necessarily our ticket to continual joy and celebration. When the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt they sang songs  and danced with joy, but then they went on an epic 40 year journey full of frustrations, challenges, and years of uncertainty.

            Paul said, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16) Just what is this flesh to which Paul refers? Sarkos, or flesh, is an interesting term which Paul uses as the foil to the Spirit. Flesh is, of course, the stuff on our bones, but in the New Testament, the expression ‘desire of the flesh’ is often used to refer to making decisions according to our self-interest, deciding in favor of human action, or our base animal nature.

            Paul gives two lists in this letter. First he lists the things that we should not be doing despite our freedom. These things, the works of the flesh, reproduce themselves almost slavishly, like addictions and the flesh is passive and powerless.  Paul lists: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these.” (5:20)

Unlike the works of the flesh which reproduce themselves, the fruit of the Spirit may be cultivated and grow and flourish. The Spirit is active, it is power. The fruit of the spirit is Love. It doesn’t say fruits of the spirit are, and then make a list, but rather the fruit of the spirit is love, and then continues with eight more terms all of which can be wrapped up in the first word. The following things both go into love and come forward from love; joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

A world, or a nation freed from all law would be anarchy, a frightening prospect. But the idea of living in a world with no laws is only scary only if you assume that it also means everyone being perfectly self-indulgent, thinking only of themselves with no thought to the effects of their actions on others.  When a prisoner is released they are free to go and live well and build decent honest lives for themselves. They are equally free to go out and reoffend and get themselves thrown right back in prison (Nettleton). “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) Live in the Spirit.

Malala Yousefzai is a young woman from Pakistan with an amazing story. Growing up, she attended the school her father ran. When the Taliban took control she was worried that they would force the closure of the school which educated girls and boys. At 12 years of age, she began to write a blog for the BBC under an assumed name. Later the Pakistan parliament awarded her a prize for her work and that brought her name forward.

“When she was 14, Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her. Though Malala was frightened for the safety of her father—an anti-Taliban activist—she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not actually harm a child.

On October 9, 2012, on her way home from school, a man boarded the bus Malala was riding in and demanded to know which girl was Malala. When her friends looked toward Malala, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack. The shooting left Malala in critical condition, so she was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England.

Despite the Taliban’s threats, Yousafzai remains a staunch advocate for the power of education.” (http://www.biography.com/people/malala-yousazai)

Think for a moment about this statement I found this week. Half of the world is redoing their kitchens while the other half are starving. (Don Delilla)

We are free to redo our kitchens, but we are also freed so that through love we may work to feed those who are starving. It doesn’t mean we can’t do things for ourselves, but rather than letting those things consume us, we need to rely on the Spirit and focus our lives on the fruit.

Hoezee, Scott. “Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”. Cep.calvinseminary.edu. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

Nettleton, Nathan. “Laughing Bird Working Ahead”. Laughingbird.net. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

“Malala Yousefzai”. Biography.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.

Just keep moving/ Elijah not Dory


the-long-road-home         Let’s review the events that precede today’s Elijah story. Elijah was a prophet of God, and like other prophets was not bringing the messages Ahab, king of Israel, wanted to hear. Ahab wanted approval for the Baal worship which he and most of Israel had adopted from his wife Jezebel; but they brought warnings. The warnings went unheeded and eventually, God brought a drought on the land. Ahab ordered that all prophets of the God of Israel be rounded up and killed. Elijah ran and escaped, ending up in the home of a widow and her son all of whom were fed by God. After a time, God sent Elijah back to Ahab. As he was coming close he ran into Obadiah, a close advisor of Ahab who remained faithful to God. Obadiah had great news to share. Not only had Elijah escape the killing, but Obadiah had managed to hide away 100 other prophets of God! Even though the people of Israel were not faithful, Elijah was not alone in his faith in God.

            Following that, there was the scene on Mt. Carmel where he challenged the prophets of Baal and God sent a consuming fire to show his presence and his power. The people acknowledged God as their god and king, and at Elijah’s order set about to capture and kill all of the prophets of Baal who were present. Then Elijah called on God to send rain, and boy did it rain! Both Ahab, in his chariot, and Elijah, on foot, headed back at high speed for Jezreel where today’s story begins just as they were shaking off the rain.

            When Ahab told Jezebel that Elijah had all the prophets of Baal put to death, she was furious and cursed him, saying that he would be dead in 24 hours. Despite God’s great display of power on Mt Carmel, and grace in ending the drought with fresh rain, Elijah was terrified and ran for his life. The primal survival instinct kicked in and he was off. He ran to Judah, the kingdom ruled by Jehoshaphat, when he got as far as Beersheba he left his servant behind. After one more day’s journey, he couldn’t go any further! He sat down under a broom tree, a big tree which is almost always pictured all alone on a barren plain,  and he prayed to God saying, “I’m no better than my ancestors.” and asked God to end his life. He must have been exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and feeling like a failure. He went to sleep with no intention of doing anything more and was woken by an angel with food and drink ready for him, a cake baked on a stone and a jar of water, just what he had asked from the widow of Zarephath, and which God had continued to provide for them.

          After eating, He didn’t do anything else, like hiding for instance, but went back to sleep. When he was woken a  second time he  was not only fed but told that he would need food to sustain him for his journey. Remember, Elijah was planning to lay there until he died, but he didn’t seem to have batted an eye at the statement that he will be on a journey. The writer doesn’t give any indication that he received directions for this journey. It was almost as if a sleepwalker set out and, with no further food, walked south for 40 days and nights until he arrived at Mt Horeb. He spent the night in a cave, possibly the one in which Moses had stayed and met God. There. at the end of his flight from Jezebel’s anger, Elijah met God.

          God asked why Elijah was there. Elijah poured out his story of service, feelings of isolation and failure and God told him to go out on the mountain because he would pass by. From inside the cave, where he had stayed, Elijah observed a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God was not in any of those. It wasn’t until silence fell that Elijah wrapped his face in his cloak and stepped out. Once again God asked Elijah why he was there and Elijah replied just as he had before. This great display of power, the events at Mt Carmel, and the 40 days of testing on his journey had done nothing to shift Elijah’s state of mind, and yet when God told him to return and head to Damascus he set out without questions.

          Today is Aboriginal Sunday and I want to tell you about a friend of mine.  Hugh Akagi is the chief of the Schoodic Band of the Passamaquoddy nation. He lives in St Stephen.  In the year 2013, there were approximately 300 known Passamaquoddy people residing in New Brunswick. Hugh was elected as chief in 1998 and is the great grandson of a Passamaquoddy hereditary chief, John Nicholas. There is no question that Hugh is an indigenous person, and yet, when he is in New Brunswick he is not recognized as one.  He used to joke that when he drove from the US into Canada he felt himself becoming invisible. It is a neat image, but not funny by any stretch!

          “Traditionally, the Passamaquoddy lived seasonally on both sides of what is now the international border (Canada/USA) and traveled freely from place to place. They are recognized as Indigenous Peoples by the United States government, but the Canadian government has denied their Indigenous Rights under Canadian law. The Government of Canada does not recognize the Passamaquoddy Peoples as Indians, entitled to be registered under the Indian Act. Neither Canada nor the Province of New Brunswick recognize Passamaquoddy Aboriginal Rights nor Aboriginal Title to land.” ((“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”) The nation and band have continued to work for recognition in Canada. In a letter to the NGO Committee of the United Nations, he stated, “As Native people we will continue to practice our traditions and culture and we will defend to the end our right to exist and we will resist any attempt to separate us from our homeland, our ancestors and our heritage.” (“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”). Given the lack of change on this issue, it is reasonable to assume that Hugh has had some “Elijah moments” over the years, but the band continues to work for recognition.

          At Mt Carmel, “Elijah had won, but it hadn’t brought him peace.” ((Miller) Somehow he felt that he had failed at his life’s work and he was despairing and ready for it all to end. One component of depression is not being able to see the future, not looking forward to anything, no way forward, no way out. Elijah so no way forward so he sat down ready to die. But even though he couldn’t see a way, he trusted God. He asked God to let him die, but when God had other plans he moved on, not seeing the way himself but letting God direct him.

          We all have times in our lives when we are tired, discouraged, when we can only see the walls that hem us in. No matter what our problems are or have been, no matter how loud and chaotic our lives become, God is present and has plans for us. Elijah took the long journey back to Israel, to the wilderness of Damascus, anointed the next kings of Judah and Israel, and passed on his ministry to a successor. Hugh is still fighting for recognition for his people. We may need to take breaks, to hide in a cave for a little while sometimes, but we also need to maintain hope and trust in God.

We may not know the way forward for us, but Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the light…” (John 14:6) Follow him!

 

Miller, Dr. Susan. “June”. Churchofscotland.org.uk. N.p., 2016. Web. 21 June 2016.

“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”. Newbrunswick.quaker.ca. N.p., 2016. Web. 18 June 2016.

Hymn List Update


I have posted my list of possible hymns from the PCC Book of Praise for June 19, 2016. We are having communion this week so there are some communion hymns included.

Ahab/ king or cranky toddler?


          Phenomenal cosmic power; itty bitty living space! This may not ring a bell for all of you, but it is one of the greatest lines from Disney’s Aladdin. It is part of Genie’s explanation of the highs and lows of the gig of being a genie. He also lists certain provisos and quid pro quos to the wishes he can grant. He can’t kill anybody, he can’t bring anyone back from the dead, and he can’t make anyone fall in love with someone else. Not only that, the only way for him to gain his freedom is for a person to use one of his 3 wishes to free him.

          In the discussion from Starters for Sunday Fourth Sunday after Pentecost from the Church of Scotland, there are five themes identified for this week. From Power, Justice, forgiveness, restoration and grace they draw the discussion to the key theme, woven through the story of Naboth’s vineyard, of the sovereignty of God.

            Today we read about King Ahab again. This time, though, he was being more of a petulant toddler than a king. The first people to read this scripture were probably the Israelites who were in exile and it is likely that it was written to explain to them why God had allowed their exile.

            Ahab and his wife Jezebel had gone to stay in their secondary palace. Apparently, he liked gardening but when he saw the vineyard of Naboth next door he wanted to buy it from him. Naboth refused to sell the land of his ancestors. Not only was this his “family farm” but the vineyard had been granted to his ancestors when the Israelites arrived in the promised land, and when God granted that land he made it clear that the land was for their use in perpetuity, but that it didn’t belong to them. They were told that it was never to be sold permanently. Naboth was being faithful to the will of God when he refused the Ahab. He was, unlike Ahab much of the time, being obedient to the real sovereign of Israel, God.

          When Ahab could not convince Naboth to sell him the land, nor trade it for even better land he was disconsolate. Most kings would not have even offered a purchase or trade, brutality was the norm for kings of the day. I don’t say that to justify Ahab in any way, but rather to highlight the difference with kings of Israel and Judah who did not rise to power through their own actions or by birth but through God’s anointing. There were a few provisos and quid pro quos. The king must not consider himself better…than any other Israelite and he must not use his position to accumulate wealth for himself (Deut 17:14-20). God made it clear that they were to live in accordance with his commandments, remain faithful to him, and imitate his heavenly rule.

          When he returned from the vineyard, Ahab moped, pouted, and refused to eat. Not only was he not getting his way, but as a king he had expected to be obeyed without delay and this made him feel powerless. When she noticed him moping around the palace more like a toddler than a king, Jezebel couldn’t take it. She asked what the problem was, told him to stop being such a baby and eat, and then set about to get him the vineyard.

            Unbothered by loyalty to God (she worshiped Baal) niceties or ethics, she arranged to have Naboth killed. Not only did she do such a vile thing, but so did all the people and advisors who went along with her plan. Naboth died at the hands of the townspeople for trumped up charges of cursing God and king. When he was dead the elders and nobles got word back to Jezebel that Naboth was dead and she, in turn, informed her husband and told him to go take possession of the vineyard. Problem solved!

          Ahab was Israel’s king. When God agreed to have a king anointed for Israel he warned them that life under a human king would not be a bed of roses. He knew, as do we through experience that powerful people and powerful institutions may start out working for the greater good, but too many turn to using their power for personal gain of one kind or another. Some want more and more power, today New Brunswick, tomorrow the world! Some use their power to belittle and diminish others like bullies on the school ground or in the workplace.

          After Ahab took possession of the vineyard, God sent Elijah to him to pronounce his judgement for this crime. He told Ahab and Jezebel that they would die horrible deaths. “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (v 19). Our reading stopped at that point, but the story continues. Ahab actually repents and lives a more godly life for a while, but in the end he and Jezebel are killed and their bodies are dumped in the vineyard they had stolen where they would be torn apart by wild animals.

A story

King Canute was once ruler of England. The members of his court were continually full of flattery. “You are the greatest man that ever lived…You are the most powerful king of all…Your highness, there is nothing you cannot do, nothing in this world dares disobey you.”

The king was a wise man and he grew tired such foolish speeches. One day as he was walking by the seashore Canute decided to teach them a lesson.

“So you say I am the greatest man in the world?” he asked them.

“O king,” they cried, “there never has been anyone as mighty as you, and there never be anyone so great, ever again!”

“And you say all things obey me?” Canute asked.

“Yes sire” they said. “The world bows before you, and gives you honour.”

“I see,” the king answered. “In that case, bring me my chair, and place it down by the water.”

The servants scrambled to carry Canute’s royal chair over the sands. At his direction they placed it right at the water’s edge.

The King sat down and looked out at the ocean. “I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?”

“Give the order, O great king, and it will obey,” cried his entourage

“Sea,” cried Canute, “I command you to come no further! Do not dare touch my feet!”

He waited a moment, and a wave rushed up the sand and lapped at his feet.

“How dare you!” Canute shouted. “Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!”

In came another wave lapping at the king’s feet. Canute remained on his throne throughout the day, screaming at the waves to stop. Yet in they came anyway, until the seat of the throne was covered with water.

Finally Canute turned to his entourage and said, “It seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe. Perhaps now you will remember there is only one King who is all-powerful, and it is he who rules the sea, and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand. I suggest you reserve your praises for him.”

          Even some of greatest of Israel’s kings were, as are the rest of us, flawed. Regardless of who has earthly power over us, God is our sovereign, our true king to whom we owe our loyalty and obedience. Whether we find ourselves in positions of power or not, we are called to live out our lives in justice and love. This leaves us with two big questions. The notes on Church of Scotland starters for Sunday states them this way; “what does justice mean when we try to live it out relationally?” and, “what does it mean to live both justice and love in our lives?” As Presbyterians in Canada we have answer to that in our statement of faith, Living Faith section 8.4.

God is always calling the church to seek that justice in the world which reflects the divine righteousness revealed in the Bible. 

God’s justice is seen when we deal fairly with each other and strive to change customs and practices that oppress and enslave others. 

Justice involves protecting the rights of others. It protests against everything that destroys human dignity. 

Justice requires concern for the poor of the world. It seeks the best way to create well-being in every society. It is concerned about employment, education, and health, as well as rights and responsibilities. 

Justice seeks fairness in society. It involves the protection of human beings, concern for the victims of crime, as well as offenders. It requires fair laws justly administered, courts and penal institutions that are just and humane. 

Justice opposes prejudice in every form. It rejects discrimination on such grounds as race, sex, age, status, or handicap. Justice stands with our neighbours in their struggle for dignity and respect and demands the exercise of power for the common good.

Of Nightmares and Pardons


   Kingsclear-20110524-00031  If you asked a person what was their worst nightmare, children’s answers may include; scary animals or bugs, being abandoned, getting lost, kidnapped, or trapped. As we grow older the focus may change to include being unable to do anything to save a loved one. This isn’t something we usually talk about during worship. Who wants to think about nightmares? For many of the people from Fort McMurray they may have lived through their worst nightmares in the past month and I pray that those refugees who are crowding onto questionably seaworthy boats to flee real life nightmares have faced the worst already.

     In 1Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:11-17, we read two parallel stories of women living their own worst nightmares. Situated in cities miles apart and some 690 years apart in history. Both women are widows who had only one son. They both came in contact with a strange man at the gate of the city and both stories end with sons being brought back to life and being returned to their mothers. In the end, both healers are hailed as prophets of God.

     There is some significance to the setting of the stories. Zarephath was a city on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Phoenicia between Tyre and Sidon in what is known as Lebanon today. In this area people primarily worshiped Baal. This would have been enemy territory for Elijah. Nain was further south inland in Galilee, near Nazareth, where people primarily worshiped God. In theory, Elijah faced the greater challenge, bringing a Baal worshiper to believe in God, than did Jesus who was working in the very heart of the Land of the people of God.

     The women met Jesus and Elijah at the city gates. If this were a modern story with no walled cities and dozens of roads leading into the city, they might have met downtown, or in a city square. City gates served a number of purposes in the Middle East throughout Biblical times. The most obvious of these being an entrance to a walled city and thus, as a part of the defense of the city, they would be guarded.

     The woman in Zarephath was at her worst the day she met Elijah. God had sent Elijah to continue his hiding in a place that wouldn’t be expected. When he asked the woman for a drink and then something to eat he opened the floodgates to her story. She was a widow with only one young son. Due to the drought and her poor circumstances they were down to their last bit of flour and she was fully expecting that she and her son would die of starvation after they had eaten this last bit. Elijah assured her that the Lord God of Israel will not allow the jar of meal or the jug of oil to run out until the drought was over. What a relief she must have felt, pardon from a death sentence!

     She was relieved, but she was still uncomfortable having this man of God living with them. And then her son got sick and died. She was, perhaps, more grief stricken at this time than she would have been earlier. She had already come to accept that they would die, and was prepared. But now, coming as it did after the great relief of the pardon, she was angry and she lashed out at Elijah. “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”

      The second woman lived in a small, little-known town near Nazareth with her only son. We approach these city gates just after his death. A large group of mourners is coming out of the gate, possibly blocking the way. Her son is on a stretcher and the mother and other women follow crying and wailing. No one says anything to the large group of people waiting to enter the gate. No notice is taken of Jesus or his followers. But Jesus takes notice. He sees the woman, bereft and alone in the world now that her final provider has died. He feels compassion for her and, as we would be inclined to do, he says, “Don’t cry.” What else would he have said in that moment? Are there words that can take away the pain? 

            While Psalm 30 speaks of crying out to God, being heard, and being revived, neither woman asked for help. The woman in Zarephath, having already given up hope once, blamed Elijah for making God take her son from her. She wasn’t about to ask him for anything, let alone God! This woman was very much in the anger stage of grief. The woman at Nain was more likely in the depression stage. Her adult son, her sole provider, was dead and was about to be buried. All hope was lost, his death was the end for him, and for her as well.

            Despite the anger and depression; despite the hopelessness felt by both these women, God was not finished in their lives. In Zarephath, Elijah took the boy from his mother and took him upstairs. He cried out to the Lord! He asked that the child’s life be returned. God listened to Elijah and the boy revived. In Nain Jesus did something shocking. He reached out and touched the body on the stretcher. He told the man to get up, and he did. The man sat up and began to speak! Elijah took the boy back downstairs and, “gave him to his mother.” Jesus took the young man and, “gave him to his mother.”

            The reactions to these events were proclamation and praise. The woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”(v24) The crowd around the city gate with Jesus were amazed and, “glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!” (v16)

       By restoring these sons to life God did far more than heal one person. He brought life back to mothers and sons. Life, hope, and a future. God, through Elijah and Jesus, was with these women through their worst nightmares and brought healing and hope and he is with us also. We may not walk out of our nightmares with the kind of healing that happened in these stories, but we do have hope, and healing will come.

            “Burton-Edwards suggests in his notes on 1Kings 17:8-24 that the Lord God’s command to Elijah to “Go now to Zarephath” and live there with the widow in Sidon is basically a call to go and live with a vulnerable person. The command is not to go and do something FOR your neighbors who are vulnerable, but to go and BE WITH those persons. In other words, be in real relationship with them, which implies mutuality: spend time with them, love them, treat them as people from whom you have as much to learn as to teach, and from whom you need to be fed as much as you need to be feeding. (service planning notes GBod.com)

     In the words of a familiar hymn;      

             My hope is built on nothing less

             than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

             I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

             but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

             When darkness hides his lovely face,

             I rest on his unchanging grace;

             in every high and stormy gale

             my anchor holds within the veil.

God is that present hope in our worst nightmares, lean on him, and cry out to him! “May the God of hope fill us with joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we abound in hope!” (Living Faith 10.7)