Category Archives: Lectionary

Hymn page


The suggestions for this Sunday, July 1, 2018, are up. Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Updated hymn page


I have updated for January 24, 31, and Feb 7.

Baptism of Christ: First ask why


3631902258_3fab33242d_mThoughts for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Read Luke 3:15-22

Think back to your own baptism if they were old enough at the time to remember it, or the last baptism you witnessed to. If you have not been baptized, fear not and read on.

The other day I attended the Presbytery workshop based on the book Your Church Can Thrive by Harold Percy. I was glad to be attending but it didn’t occur to me that I would be finding anything in that time which would find its way into my message for the next day, but there it was. One of the first major points Percy made was that it is important, before getting to how to make change, to ask why we do what we do. So that is what came to church with me this morning.

First, we ask, why?

Why was Jesus baptized? Really, think about it? Had he sinned? We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the Son so it doesn’t really seem like he should need to be baptized. On one hand, the answer to this one is simple, he didn’t need to be baptized but he chose to be baptized! Christian writers over the years have been uncomfortable with the idea of the divine being baptized. In the 2nd century Ignatius stated that he was already pure and so the purpose was to purify the water. Justin Martyr explained that he was baptized “for the sake of humanity.” One might also say that it was a symbol or affirmation of his true humanity.

Why do we baptize? According to Living Faith we baptize as a sign and seal of our union with Christ and with his church. Through it we share in the death and resurrection of Christ and are commissioned to his service.

Secondly, we ask, what?

What was baptism in Jesus’ time? In the Old Testament immersion had been a form of returning to ritual cleanliness. In the New Testament, John announced “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” or purification of the body after the soul was cleansed by righteousness. Before immersion in a river John required prior repentance and performance of good deeds.  In Jesus’ day baptism was a radical, counter-cultural act. Luke highlights this with his mention of the fact that Herod was made so nervous by John baptizing people in the Jordan, and people questioning whether John may be the Messiah, that after John called him out on his marriage to Herodius he had him arrested, imprisoned and eventually killed.

Jesus was already an adult when he went to the river where John was baptizing. Since it was just a couple weeks ago that we celebrated the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, it is sometimes hard to remember that there was no cute little white dress, or white suit, candles and Godparents.

Jesus’ baptism was public but with no big hoopla or special notice. In Luke’s account it is just slipped in. John explains to the people there that he is neither worthy to unlace the Messiah’s sandals, nor able to baptize with anything but water; while the one who was coming would baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. The actual “story” of the baptism is no more than one line stating that the people and Jesus had been baptized and then it jumps to an undetermined time later when Jesus was praying. It is at this point that heaven opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We are given no indication that anyone other than Jesus himself is witness to these signs and statements.

What is baptism in the Presbyterian Church in Canada? Baptism is one of the two sacraments of the Presbyterian Church. Living Faith 7.6.3 “By the power of the Holy Spirit God acts through Baptism. It is the sacrament not of what we do but of what God has done for us in Christ. God’s grace and our response to it are not tied to the moment of Baptism, but continue and deepen throughout life. It is a sacrament meant for those who profess their faith and for their children. Together we are the family of God. 7.6.5 Baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Lastly, we ask, how?

How do we decide to be baptized? As Christian parents people make the decision to raise their children in the church and the first step in that is to have them baptized. One PCC document says that, “When people seek baptism later in life, it means that the Holy Spirit, as a guide and friend, has moved them to claim the grace and love of God in Christ, and faith in a new way. It is a courageous action.”

How are we baptized? Living Faith 7.6.2 “In Baptism, water is administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water signifies the washing away of sin, the start of new life in Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

How are we meant to live out our baptisms? 7.6.4 “Baptism is also an act of discipleship that requires commitment and looks towards growth in Christ. Those baptized in infancy are called in later years to make personal profession of Christ. What is born may die. What is grafted may wither. Congregations and those baptized must strive to nurture life in Christ.”

We begin when the Holy Spirit ignites a passion in us. We seek to discern our vocations, we seek to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the ways of Jesus, and we attempt to live in such a way that people see Christ in our lives.

The thing with seeking to answer the big questions is that more often than not we are left with a whole list of new questions. This can be very frustrating, especially if we want to leap right into the action phase of a project. Remember that we are not alone. We have our church family and most importantly we have God. Jesus said he would always be with us through the Holy Spirit. We can continue to have conversations with others and it is vital that we continue the conversation with God in prayer. When we face the next question in living out our baptisms go back to the beginning, start with why and listen for God’s answer.

 

Your Church Can Thrive: Making the Connections that build healthy congregations by Harold Percy, Abingdon Press 2003

Living Faith -https://www.google.com/url?q=http://presbyterian.ca/resources-od/&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwjuiavu-Z_KAhUkUKYKHX1TCjQQFggEMAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNFxxynHAbwDAa92okqQqlWM4Kj4SQ

 

A Proverbial Word/ Prologue


One of the things frequently heard in my house growing up was, “the proverbial”, as in “the proverbial silver lining!”  The other day I got thinking about how many of the sayings we use in society are, in fact, from the Book of Proverbs and not just local lore. 

It is the readings which are included in Sunday worship throughout the year that we hear interpreted and spend time considering.  In a quick scan of the lectionary readings for years A,B and C I found only five Sundays on which one of the optional reading was from Proverbs. There are none in year A, three in year B, and two in year C.

 So I have decided to go through Proverbs and reflect on some of the items in light of our world situation in 2013.

To begin we have the opening comments;

1The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
Prologue
For learning about wisdom and instruction,
   for understanding words of insight, 
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
   righteousness, justice, and equity; 
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
   knowledge and prudence to the young— 
let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
   and the discerning acquire skill, 
to understand a proverb and a figure,
   the words of the wise and their riddles. 

A little unpacking. From reading the  introductory remarks from the book one would be hard pressed to make any case for this not being important content.  There is nothing to look down on in; wisdom, understanding, insight, justice, equity, shrewdness, knowledge and prudence.  And yet we rarely hear of people spending  lot of time reading and reflecting upon Proverbs.

While the intent is positive, I think most of us view it, at best, as a well meaning lecture from our elders, and at worst, the cynical views of a few people who had everything.  At the risk of  being proverbial, there is a sense that the people who were the source of these sayings should get off their high horses!

Let’s open our minds for the next while and see what Proverbs has to share with us…

As usual I have taken Bible quotes from http://bible.oremus.org/  New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition)

Brought to you by the numbers 7 and 4


Kingsclear-20130411-00562One week before choir practice I took the opportunity to set the hymn board for Sunday’s service.  I started by taking all the numbers I would need out of the pile and I started to worry that I might run out of sevens and fours.  At the practice later I commented, “This weeks service will be brought to you by the numbers four and seven.”  After we finished joking around about Sesame Street and the shows brought to us by a number and a letter each episode, we went on to practice.

As a member of the team who select the weekly hymns I can assure you that we did not set out to see how few different digits we could use.  We had no bias that week against twos, threes, fives, or nines.  There are times in the church year, like Advent, Lent, Christmas, and Easter when the majority of the hymns will come from that seasonal section of the book.  At these times all the numbers will be within around thirty of each other.  If the theme for the week is mission the numbers are likely to be in the 700 s as that is the area of the book for that type of hymn.

Our Presbyterian Church in Canada Book of Praise, like most I expect, is organized with the sung Psalms at the beginning, sections of hymns for the seasons of the church year in order, then a section for God, Jesus, the Spirit, and the Trinity. The rest of the book is organized thematically.

A quick look at the hymn board when you first enter the church should give you a pretty good idea of the theme for the service.

Hymn selection for services may seem random to the people in the pews, and indeed it may be some of the time, but usually a lot of thought and reflection goes into the choices.  An integral part of worship, the hymns should be carrying the theme through the service and helping you to perceive and internalize the message.

Check it out the next time you are in a church, whether using a bulletin or the hymn board.  Look up a couple of the hymns to see what sections they are in.  Are they grouped closely together or spread out?

I realize that many churches probably don’t use hymn boards any more, instead projecting the hymns and service information at the front.  Our church uses bulletins we give to each person with the order of service, unison prayers, hymn numbers and announcements.  I guess we don’t really need a hymn board, but it is tradition.  Back when the Psalms were in our Book of Praise the number of the responsive Psalm would also have been on the board which is why there are five rows and only four hymn numbers.

For What Would You Wish? Solomon’s Wisdom


The issue of good and bad has existed from the time of creation.  There was chaos, a void, and God created and pronounced all of creation “good” and “very good.”  Many of the first things we teach our children relate to the comparison of good versus evil.  We teach them what is safe and what is dangerous, what they may and may not do, and we are proud when we can say that our kids know right from wrong!  Of course, in the next day we may be wondering how, knowing the right thing to do, they have managed to do something wrong and ended up in trouble! 

Imagine with me for a second.  Think about your life at this moment; your joys and struggles, and then imagine that God came to you and said that he would give you the one thing you wanted most for yourself.  What would you request?  How would God’s granting of this request affect your life?  Neither of these questions is easy.  Now if it were a genie, rather than God, we would know that we had two wishes left if that first one didn’t pan out.  But even with three wishes every show and story we have ever seen about people and genies ends up being about the unexpected and unfortunate consequences of the wrong wishes.  In an episode of the Simpsons, even Lisa’s wish for world peace ends up turning out wrong.

Solomon wasn’t dealing with a genie and didn’t have three wishes.  He was a young man in his twenties who had been recently affirmed as king of a huge nation of people, too numerous to be counted. At the point of our reading, Solomon was still grieving the loss of his father and taking a deep breath after all the violence and intrigue that had gone into his confirmation as king.  His father had been the man of action who, even in his youth, took down a giant single handed and then went on to rule his people successfully and follow God’s statutes for forty years.  David had not been perfect, but he had been very good.  Solomon had a lot to live up to and was not off to a very good start.  Despite his belief in the God of his ancestors, he was still following pagan practice of making sacrifices in high places. 

Following the sacrifice at Gibeon, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered him one gift, whatever he requested.  Solomon told God that he was just a child, which may be read as a show of his humbleness, but certainly shows his continuing need for instruction on the true nature of good and evil.

Talk about being put on the spot!  We have no indication of time passing while Solomon considers his options.  One would think that foremost on his mind at the time was the enormity of the task ahead of him, ruling Israel and living up to his father’s example.  Even in his dream Solomon made a good choice of gift.  He didn’t ask to conquer other lands, he didn’t ask to be richer than anyone else, he didn’t ask to live forever, he asked for an understanding mind so that he could discern good from evil when dealing with his people.  He asked for the “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight”  which is one of the dictionaries definitions of wisdom.  He didn’t just want to know the facts, he wanted to know what to do with them.  Of course it may be said that in the very choice of his gift he showed great wisdom. 

In Psalm 111 it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise it have a good understanding.”  Here we see also the need to practise wisdom, or as my father often quotes from John 13, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”   The gift Solomon chose was with the love and fear of God in mind, and the request pleased God so much, we are told, that he promises riches as well.  God makes one more promise, if Solomon followed God’s statutes, as seen in the Ten Commandments and the Torah, he would have a long life.

        Our reading today from Ephesians makes two large comparisons in order to indicate the path of the wise; one between good and evil (which Solomon wanted help figuring out) and the other between drunkenness and being filled with the spirit.  There are three specific down to earth guidelines;

First we are told to make the most of our time.   We are meant to be wise and discern God’s purposes for us and then to work towards them, to dare to be Godly in an evil or pagan world. 

Secondly we are warned to stay sober because drunkenness (excess in anything), in the view of the Old Testament, opens the gate for immorality.  Excess leads to a loss of self-control.  This is not the only time in the Bible that the comparison is made between drunkenness and being spirit filled.  Remember at Pentecost when the apostles are filled with the spirit and begin to speak in tongues?  Many believed, but some thought they were drunk. 

The final guideline is that, filled by the Spirit, we should sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.  We are to sing with the people in our church and other believers as we do with our hymns every Sunday,  but not just that as the reading in Ephesians refers to spiritual songs as well.  In this we are called to share from our hearts the personal experience of our journey of faith. 

So, as we are coming close to the beginning of another school year and thinking about our schedules we are called to spend some time in the presence of God through his Spirit and listen for his direction.  We need to dare to be Godly in the midst of our hectic lives.  We need to keep ourselves full of the Spirit rather than the excesses of our world.  And we need to sing not only the hymns of our faith, but also of our own personal experience.  You may be sitting there thinking, “There is no way I’m getting up in front of people and singing anything and definitely not something so personal!”  The choir director in me would like to stress that everyone can sing, but that isn’t really the point.  Some of us sing through music, some through serving on committees of the church, some by volunteering their time for things like coffee hour and cleaning, and some through their acts of kindness and service to others in their church and their communities.  Wherever you go, “give thanks to the Lord with your whole heart, in the company of believers and in the broader society…The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise it have a good understanding.  His praise endures forever.”

 

1 Kings 3:3-14

Ephesians 5:15-20

Amazed and Rejected/ Rejected and Amazed


 

Amazed and Rejected

 

You go to see a magician.  Friends and colleagues have told you how good a show it is.  At the performance you are amazed or astounded by what you see, or what you don’t see.  Impossible things happen before your very eyes and you leave the theatre shaking your head.  But in the light of reason and your understanding of reality, you reject the magic and wonder, instead you try to figure out what kind of trick was involved?  You refuse to believe that magic was involved. You were amazed, but ultimately you reject. 

 

Jesus returned to his home town after performing a whole series of miraculous healings etc. around the region of Galilee.  We can imagine his meeting his mother at the door and receiving a big hug.  She probably cooked him his favourite meal and welcomed his disciples who had followed him to town.  Neighbors would notice all the extra activity at Mary’s home and would be asking around to find out what was going on.  “Mary’s son and his friends are home for a visit.  The whole family is excited to be spending time with him.”  News about him had been spreading around the region.  He was becoming famous, and now here he was returning to his hometown, someone to be proud of!

 

On the Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and taught, just as he had been teaching crowds on hillsides and lake shores throughout the region.  But this day was different; this was the “church” in which he had grown up.  The people in attendance were well known to him; his neighbours, classmates, childhood friends, and his family. His brothers and sisters, fellow children of Mary were there.  These were the people who knew him the best, whom he knew and loved.  As he spoke, the congregation were first amazed at his wisdom, his insight and the authority with which he spoke.  This was not your everyday teaching and they could feel that. They were astounded, maybe their mouths were agape! They looked around them and saw his proud mother, his brothers and sisters, and remembered him working in the carpentry shop.  They looked at him again.  He was not clothed in fancy robes, had no special aura around him, he had no special credentials, did not make reference to any revered teachers.  Amazement changed to rejection.

 

The town rejected him and Jesus was amazed at their unbelief!  Even though he did know in the back of his mind that, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” What had he been expecting?  Since his ministry began he had been followed without question by total strangers whom, upon first meeting, he asked to follow him.  Gradually his following had been growing to the extent that, a man named Jairus and a sick woman were certain that he could heal a dying daughter and an 18 year illness.

 

I expect we are all familiar with the feeling of being rejected.  You try out for a team or a role and are not chosen.  Most of the time in these cases there is no second chance, no appeal process.  We make proposals, provide information to support them.  At some point we stop and give time for people to process and they make up their minds.  It doesn’t matter how much we believe in our idea, if the other people don’t believe then they don’t.  We can try giving more evidence to prove our case but in the end, it is their decision and if that is to reject the story is over.

 

Rejection stings and often leads to resentment and ends with us giving up.  “There is no point in making suggestions, these people will just ignore them anyway, they never listen to me!”   Jesus knew this sting just as we do but, if tempted at all, he did not speak further to try to convince people.  There was no cajoling, no show of power, nothing.  Similarly, he did not give up.  Undeterred, he simply continued his ministry in other towns. 

 

At home the unbelief of the people meant that no great deeds were done, he healed a few sick people.  This doesn’t mean that his power was reduced, nothing could reduce his power, but because they didn’t believe that it was God’s power they were unaffected.  Hard as it may be to separate the two, it was not Jesus the person whom the people rejected.  In the Old Testament story today, after Saul’s death all of Israel made covenant with David as their king.  He had been great at leading the army and was well known, but he was not accepted as king because he was personally great, rather he was accepted because the people recognized that God had chosen him and led him to this office.  The Jewish people were familiar with prophets like Isaiah speaking to the people in the words of God. The people of Nazareth were impressed by Jesus’ wisdom, amazed by what they had heard or seen of his miracles, but did not see that God had named him His son.  Even the Gentiles recognized that God was the source of Jesus’ power, the unclean spirits had all named him as the Son of God.  The Nazarenes were not rejecting the man in Jesus, they were rejecting the God in Jesus.

 

The people of Nazareth missed a chance that day.  Jesus left and, as he instructed his disciples for their ministries, shook the dust of the town off his feet.  Jesus left, but at no point did he say anything that indicates that they would not be able to change their minds later.  In fact, we know that at least one of his brothers went from trying to drag him home a couple weeks ago, to this week’s rejection, to being one of his followers later on.  Jesus was amazed but he did not reject!

 

I have a friend from my high school days with whom I have renewed contact through FaceBook.  Another friend of mine has commented about how much she likes having the two of us as friends because we are both totally committed but completely opposite; me to God and the church and she to her atheistic views.  I have frequently considered dropping her as a friend as it is most unpleasant reading the anti-religion and anti-God quotes etc.  I haven’t done so though, and 95% of the time we don’t make comments on each other’s posts.  Would I like her to come to faith?  Most definitely!  Do I think that arguing with her and presenting information will change her mind?  No!

 

On its own, no amount of knowledge is enough to bring one to faith…Jesus’ friends and neighbours knew more about him than any of the people he had already helped, more than his disciples, and certainly more than we do.  Don’t get discouraged in your ministry or vocation.  We will all meet with challenges and rejections but we can follow Jesus’ instructions to his disciples.  We go out into our lives with only what we are and what God has given us, we don’t need to pack and prepare, when we are rejected we should shake it off and keep going.

 

As one of Helen Keller’s doctors told her, “permanent blindness.  Deaf. Invalid.  There’s a lot of living to be found within those limitations if you don’t wear yourself out fighting them!”

Amen.

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Psalm 48

Mark 6:1-13

Samuel Anoints David/ It’s Not About Appearance!


Old Testament    1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

New Testament  2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

God was finished with Saul!  While his reign continued into its 42nd year (give or take), it was at this point that God rejected him as King of Israel and secretly chose his successor, the eighth son of a man from Bethlehem.  For the rest of Saul’s life he would have to go back to relying on and taking pride in his chariots and horses.  Chariots break and horses go lame…

 

How do we choose a leader? 

Every couple of years in Canada we have an election of one level of government or the other, and through those elections we seek to choose the best people to make the decisions on behalf of and for the best interests of the country, province, or city.  What do we really know about these people?  We know what they tell us, bragging of their chariots or horses, and we know what their opponents tell us.  Sometimes we also get the scoop from some investigative reporters who uncover interesting and almost always negative or scandalous information which they can reveal in prime time.  This is all a show!  There is nobody involved in the process without a personal stake or a chance for personal gain of one kind or another.  With all the information and media attention the voters are most often just as much in the dark as they were at the start of the campaign.  In the end, not even the candidates really know what kind of leader they will be.

 

My students were writing their exams this past week.  For some this was no big deal as they were well prepared and had a firm understanding of the material.  Some had big gaps in their preparation and were rightly worried coming in to their exams.  Strangely, or not so strangely perhaps, there were those who were well prepared who were panicked and those who were unprepared who were calm and cool.  If you looked in on my classes as they wrote, you would not have been able to identify which students were which.  You might have been able to tell little bit about preferred activities or social class, but not how much they knew nor whether or not they would be able to express that knowledge on the exam. 

One thing no one can know when they look at someone, even their own reflection in the mirror, is their potential to make a positive difference in the world. 

 

As humans we have a natural tendency upon meeting someone new to size-them-up.  Possibly some residual effect from our days as both hunter and prey, we look to see how they measure up in comparison to us.  How likely are they to be a physical threat, a rival in love, competition at work, or even useful to us in some way?  When we do this we make huge assumptions; smaller is craftier, bigger is dumber, stronger is better, small eyes means sneaky, overweight means lack of self-control, slim means obsessed with appearances etc.

 

Samuel was at home in Ramah, having dealt with Saul for the last time.  Given that he had just told Saul that he was finished as King of Israel, that God was no longer on his side, it seems reasonable that Samuel would now avoid any contact with the man who could so easily have him killed.  God, however, sent him on a trip to Bethlehem which would take Samuel right past Saul’s home in Gibeah.  Even more frightening would be the fact that the purpose of his trip was to anoint a new king.  But shouldn’t the new king be the eldest son of the king?  And, why anoint the new king before the current one is dead or at least on his death bed?  God told him to take a heifer with him and to say he was going to make a sacrifice to the Lord.  So, nobody in Gibeah or Bethlehem knew the true purpose of Samuel’s journey and would only come to understand its significance in hindsight after David became king.

 

In Bethlehem, after assuring the local elders that he was not bringing any judgement down on the town, nor its people, Samuel invited Jesse to the sacrifice.  The arrival in town of one of God’s great prophets, the one who anointed the King of Israel and was in regular conversation both with the King and God, would have been exciting and a little disturbing.  Certainly this was going to be a day that would go down in Bethlehem lore for generations.  “Where were you the day when, out of the blue, Samuel came to perform a sacrifice to God?”  Jesse had eight sons, although the Bible only records names for 7, but he brings only seven to the sacrifice, one son would have had to answer, “I missed it all! I was out tending our sheep and didn’t even know about it until after Samuel was gone!”  

 

In order of birth and priority for inheritance Jesse’s sons were; Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, Nethaneel, Raddai, Ozem, number 7 and David.  In our reading from 1 Samuel names are only provided for the first three young men, we only have the names of the others from the lists in the book of Chronicles and it is assumed by that time brother 7 had either died, was childless, or had done nothing of distinction to warrant mention.  Given his lack of invitation to the event and his very low social standing as an eighth son, it is quite amazing that David was the one God chose for Samuel to anoint that day in Bethlehem.  In human terms David was the least appropriate choice.  He was not the eldest son of the king, he wasn’t even related to the king.  Even if one were going to a different family for your candidate, there were seven men in that family more entitled to honour and rank than David.  He was the youngest, the smallest, he was the shepherd.  He was a mustard seed.

 

It is interesting to note that, while this passage is a narrative; people say things, do things, time passes etc., in another respect it is an ongoing conversation between God and Samuel.  Samuel is not sent out on an errand and then left to it.  There is never any indication that Samuel should look for the most suitable candidate for king.  “I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”  Basically he sent him out and said, “we’ll talk later.”  If God was going to tell him whom to anoint, why didn’t he tell him up front…”go anoint the 8th son of Jesse of Bethlehem named David.”?  Instead he remains in conversation with Samuel and allows for each of Jesse’s sons to be presented, and considered in Samuel’s own mind before ultimately being rejected by God.  One by one they pass by, being noted for their appearance, their height, their physical attributes which, of course, were all that Samuel could see.  After Eliab, God tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see;  they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

 

As the last of Jesse’s sons passed by Samuel he would have been confused.  God had clearly said that he was to anoint one of these men, the sons of Jesse.  So he asked if these were all the sons and found that there was one left, out looking after the sheep.  This unnamed eighth son was sent for even despite the delay it would cause in proceedings; Samuel made it clear that they would not continue without him.  When David arrives the writer once again goes to the natural human reflex and comments on his appearance.  “he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.”  When I read this, coming as it does on the heels of God saying to stop looking at outward appearances, I did a double take.  If we aren’t supposed to be looking at appearances, then why do it again?  First, as I said, it is a reflex.  There are a couple things about this that are worth noting.  First, if this is the son who wasn’t even going to be presented one might have been assuming there was something wrong with him.  The terms ruddy and handsome may be more of an expression of surprise than the earlier judgement of the more obvious choices.  Still, are we to think that he was chosen because he was good looking?  No!  It may be a stretch, but the mention of his eyes as beautiful seems significant to me.  The eyes are often referred to as the window on the heart and it is by looking on the heart that God judges people.

 

Once David is on the scene God tells Samuel to anoint him, not privately but in front of all his brothers.  And the story is basically over then.  Samuel anoints David, the spirit of the Lord “came mightily upon David from that day forwards.”  It is in this line from the very end of the story when we first hear the name of this newly selected king, David.  And then what?  We never hear how the brothers reacted to their sibling’s anointing.  There is no talk of celebrations, singing or dancing.  Samuel sets out for home and undoubtedly David heads back out to the sheep wondering what all that had been about.

 

If only we could see people, not for their appearance, but for their hearts!  In 2nd Corinthians this is what Paul is urging.  He says that since we are convinced of Christ’s death that all may have life and live that life for Christ, who died and was raised for us we should change our point of view…our paradigm.  “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer I that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  How much better would we be able to choose our social and political leaders?  How much more often would people be able to avoid trusting people who would later hurt them?  How many bullies would be helped because we were able to see that they needed help?  How many of us who get left in the fields with the sheep would get to come to our potential in helping in the world?

 

In his convocation address to the students at York University, newly honoured Dr. Michael Enright gave some great pieces of advice.  For me the one which stood out was, “The next time you give a dollar to a homeless person on the street, take a moment and talk to him and find out his story.”  It takes time, not a glance, to know a person and every person deserves a little time!  Amen.

 

What Will Your Song Be? part 2


When you hear of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, do you immediately think of her quick thinking that allowed her mother to be the nursemaid for her brother under the protection of the
Pharaoh’s daughter?  Maybe you think of when she and Aaron challenge Moses’ authority since God had also spoken through
both of them at which time she was punished, being struck with leprosy and Aaron and Moses plead for her healing.  I think she is most readily associated with this simple song of celebration at being rescued from a terrible fate.  Scholars believe, in fact, that the original song on the shore of the sea was the simple two line celebration song of Miriam and that the longer version, attributed to Moses and the men, was actually written much later.  If you study the lines in terms of poetry this makes a lot of sense as there is no use of simile or metaphor in the two lines, no sign of exalted language, just the most basic and important facts.  Miriam is known for her song, for what will you and I be remembered?

Mary, unlike Miriam but much more like most of us, was a total nobody to the greater community of the tribes of Israel.  She
was pregnant but not married, the father was God.  What she had to look forward to was being the central figure of all the local gossip, being shunned, and probably losing her fiancé.  She sang in thanksgiving for news which most young women would have thought was going to totally mess up their lives!  Mary sang when she greeted her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, whom she visited right away after receiving her news.  There were no
instruments, no dancing, and no big crowd.  But she sang about being the most fortunate woman on earth and of all the good things that God had done for Israel since the days of Abraham.  She praised him for showing strength to bring down the tyrants, and his mercy in pulling up the victims, filling the hungry, and his faithfulness in remembering his promises to Abraham.  Obviously Mary is known for much more than her song, and yet it is the Magnificat, a song sung with almost no audience at all, which has become a part of liturgy.  We don’t need a crowd, we don’t need drums and trumpets to sing our songs.

Our children have begun another school year complete with the new shoes, the indoor and outdoor, the backpacks, binders, duo tangs, pens, pencils, erasers, etc. and a teacher/student ratio of no more than 1:29.  In Dadaab, currently the world’s largest
refugee camp, there are currently 156,000 school-age children.  Of those, 40,000 children now prepare to go back to school as well, but at a ratio of 1:100.  According to the UN, the camps are in desperate need of 1,800 more classrooms and the teachers to go with them. 

Whatever our place in the world, whatever our status in our culture, whether we are “somebodies” or “nobodies” we have a call to sing.  To be clear, while I firmly believe that everyone can sing music, it is not necessarily singing music to which I refer.   Anything you do to create harmony in the world, whatever you do in praise of God, whatever you do at God’s urging can be your song!  The feature of the September, 2011 issue of The Presbyterian Record is all about the Presbyterian women’s gathering which was held in the spring.  The theme was “Looking In, Shouting Out”.  At this event women from every province in Canada as well as from 12 partner countries met for workshops and worship on topics ranging from Caring for Creation, Nurtuting a Christian Family, Muslim Women-Myths and Facts, Yoga as Christian Practice, Bullying in Canada, and Women in Poverty.  The presenters of the workshops were shouting out!  They were
singing their songs!  And what of the over 500 who attended these workshops and worship services?  You don’t attend this kind of conference unless you already have a deep desire to make a change in the world, and these women were there preparing themselves to sing at home in their churches and communities, and perhaps even beyond.

I’ve been watching a British TV show lately called Ballykissangel.  It is about an English Priest who ends up
posted to a church in a little town in Ireland and all his misadventures.  Recently I watched an episode in which there
was a reporter who uncovered a scandal involving a local businessman and political candidate.  When the politician
suggested that the reporter was just, “whistling in the wind.”  the reporter’s response was that he was unable to whistle but he could  certainly sing really well!  He was not going to
keep a lid on the story; he was going to sing it out so that everyone would know.  Whether or not we can whistle, we
can all sing in some way or other to let everyone know about the great things God has done for us through his son Jesus.  In the words of a song by the Carpenters;

Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad.
 
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.
 
Sing, sing a song
Let the world sing along
Sing of love there could be
Sing for you and for me.
 
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not
Good enough for anyone
Else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.

What Will Your Song Be? part 1


When I read the Lectionary readings for Sept 11, 2011 and the passage from Exodus 14:19-31, 15:1b-11,20-21 with its very familiar story of a miraculous escape from Egypt by some 600,000 slaves, their dependants, belongings, and livestock, the thing that struck me was that anybody would have bothered recording the little bit at the end about Miriam and the other women singing a little short song after the great extensive song of Moses.   Not only is it included, but for some reason it seems to make more of an emotional impact than the longer song.  From all the times I have heard the story, I always remember the part about the women singing and dancing, but I retained no real recollection of the Song of Moses which comes first in the account as we read it today.  Women are often not even mentioned in Biblical accounts unless they are giving birth or being given in marriage.  I was intrigued and no matter how much I looked at the Lectionary readings in Romans and Matthew, I couldn’t get this oddity out of my head.  In internet searches under Miriam there are more mentions of this song than any of her other appearances in the Exodus story.  Miriam, it would seem, is remembered most often for this short song.

The Old Testament contains many songs of various types.  These include songs of; triumph, ascent, Sabbath sacrifice, love poems from Song of Songs, celebration, prophetic oracles, and Psalms.  The New Testament uses the terms hymns, psalms, and odes, which all refer to songs of praise.  Most of these songs are recorded with no mention of their sources.  There are, however, several named songs among which we find; The Song of Moses, The Song of Miriam, The Song of Deborah, The Song of Hannah, Songs of David, Song of Solomon, and from the New Testament the Song of Mary which is also called the Magnificat.   While women were not involved at all in the music of the Temple, they were frequently depicted with their drums, singing in religious celebrations and processions.  Indeed, women with drums took the second priority in the order of processions, just behind the singers.  This seems significant given that so little attention and respect are paid to women in this time.

The people of the Exodus were refugees.  Sometimes  I think that escapes our notice as we tend to think of them as a nation, but they were refugees.  Think of  the video or photo coverage you have seen of the refugee camps in countries around the world today.  On the road to the camps we see groups of refugees, some driving small carts or piled into trucks, but mostly plodding along by foot moving with their loved ones in sometimes vain hope of finding a place of safety, of peace.  Right now in East Africa this tragedy is added to by the fact that these people are near starvation as well.  They end up, if they are lucky enough, in big dusty areas in the middle of nowhere filled with tents and far more people than is probably sanitary for the amount of space.  Children are running everywhere, the people line up for hours to receive some small share of the food aid which is
provided, and often walk great distances to find fire wood and fresh water to drink.  It must be exhausting just living in such a state of chaos, away from everything with which they are familiar, clinging to their families and praying for the chance to go home.  Technically the Israelites were heading home, that is to the ancestral lands which God had given.  In reality, there was no one still alive in Egypt who had ever lived in this much talked about place.  They had all heard about Abraham and the whole story of God’s promises to their people, but what was familiar, what was home, was behind them with the Pharaoh and his army.

Miriam was “a somebody” among the Israelites of the Exodus.  She stood with her brothers Aaron and Moses in leadership over the group.  She was a prophet, not common for women, and people listened to her.  Along with the more extraordinary traits, she was the daughter of a family in slavery.  She was used to the harsh treatment which was by this time being meted
out on her people.  She was there when the Nile turned to blood, when locusts filled the land, when the midwives were instructed to kill all the male infants at birth, when the order went out from the Pharaoh to take every Israelite boy who was born and drown them in the Nile.  She was there also when Moses returned to his people and began the negotiations with Pharaoh to release the people to return to their own land.  She was there the night of the Passover when all the Egyptian first-born sons were struck down.  Along with all the other women she had quickly gathered all she could, including the bread, not yet risen, and set off on foot to an unknown place at a moment’s notice.  Twenty-four days from that hurried departure, exhausted from stress and anxiety and still in the middle of nowhere, Miriam sang and danced, leading all the women in thanksgiving and celebration of a narrow and miraculous escape from likely death or re-enslavement.

It is not too late to have your donations for the crisis in the horn of
Africa doubled by the Canadian Government. All donations received by September 16th will be matched. You may give through any of the registered charities one of which is Presbyterian World Service and Development. You can donate by visiting http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd