Tag Archives: Christianity

Be of one Mind and Other Challenges for the Church


2759742066_57d26d0948It was recently Trinity Sunday. When I first looked at the readings for the week, though, I was thinking about it being the first Sunday after Pentecost and the beginning of a long period of regular time, neither a time of preparation, like Advent or Lent, nor of celebration, like Christmas or Easter.  My first thought was that, after preaching a service last summer on the longest Psalm, it was funny how short the Gospel (Matthew 28: 16-20) and Epistle (2 Corinthians 13:11-14) readings were. They may be short in terms of the number of words and verses, but they are far from short on import and challenge!

If you set aside the importance of the texts to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity, these readings, in their few verses, speak to some of the most challenging things in the life of the church.  From the Epistle, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”, or in NRSV terms which I read first, “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace.” These words seemed particularly pertinent in the wake of this year’s General Assembly, three full days of worship and deliberation on issues facing our denomination. And from the Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Today I’ll focus on Paul’s final words to the Corinthians.

Paul wrote a series of imperatives to the community in Corinth. The first imperative to them was, “put things in order”, or mend your ways. The focus of this directive is for each individual looking first to their own relationship with God before trying to sort things out with others in the church. He “invites them into a time of self-examination and self-improvement. To “examine” and “test” themselves.”

 

Paul then, after reminding them to listen to him,  says, “Agree with one another,” or, “Be of one mind.” No problem, right!

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have trouble being of one mind on an issue, and I have just one mind! As we all know from our personal relationships, agreement between even two people can be hugely challenging. That is the whole premise of the various Love It or List It shows in which one couple is unhappy with their home, one convinced that they must move and the other convinced that renovations can solve the problems.  Things can get pretty nasty during the process, but in the end, a decision is made based on what is best for the family.

 

What happens when we disagree on things? It is so easy for a  calm discussion to devolve into argument. There may be harsh words, name calling, accusations may be made, feelings hurt, and the more we battle the less we are able to consider other’s ideas. We focus on defending our own view. This is true of almost any argument, imagine how much more so when the disagreements are on such fundamental things as our faith!

 

If it was easy to agree with one another Abel may have lived a long happy life, and yet Paul here encourages the church of Corinth, a divided, even fragmented, and contentious community, to agree with each other. “Be of one mind.” Was he kidding?

 

As we are agreeing already, the rest is to live in peace. I like this story…

“Painting Peace

There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest… perfect peace.

Which picture do you think won the prize?

The King chose the second picture. “Because,” explained the King, “peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.” (“Painting Peace”)

This is still a significant challenge, but sounds much more realistic!

In the notes for today on the Church of Scotland website it says, “Second Corinthians is a painful letter for Paul to write, as it deals with the church community in Corinth that has been fractious, irreverent and divisive. The exhortation to, “mend your ways…agree with one another, live in peace…” is forceful. It is a word not only for C1st but also C21st Christians. If essential qualities of the Trinity are unity, togetherness, mutuality, interdependence, then Christians following in the way of the Trinity must also demonstrate those same qualities.

Paul’s letter, after the storms, tears, rebukes, recriminations, and self-justification, according to one commentator, ends with three sweet verses, “…that appear as something of a rainbow.” Paul calls for things to be put in order, for the Corinthians to ‘kiss and make up’, and to be reconciled with each other and with him. It might be that these verses do not give so much instruction about the Trinity, the Trinity is not the focus; rather it is the gifts, given by the Trinity, that are at the forefront: grace, love, and fellowship. The Trinity is intrinsically social in nature; therefore those made in the image of the Trinity are likewise intrinsically social beings. We are called to live in peace and harmony. We are challenged to resolve our disputes graciously and to live peaceably together. Or, to use Paul’s familiar ‘body’ metaphor from First Corinthians, in our diversity we find our unity. In the multiplicity of our purposes, we find that we work together for the good of all. God’s creative imagination and Christ’s redeeming love, culminating in the sustained fellowship and communion that is the binding and joining work of the Holy Spirit.” (“Trinity Sunday”)

And how can we do all this? This is where, in closing, Paul pulls in the ultimate example of a relationship, which we know as the Trinity. Though we can barely hope to do it on our own, we remain hopeful because we are not alone in this. Paul reminds us that we can do it through the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We have been given all we need…

The Facebook post with the link to the summary notes on the Assembly said, “The best summary of all, though, may just be the Moderator’s words and call to action in the final sederunt. “And now the hard part…in church terms, this is called ‘passing the peace – seriously.’ I invite us all to do that, right now.”” (https://tinyurl.com/y7y4qz7w)

 

“Painting Peace”. Stories for Preaching. N.p., 2017. Web. 10 June 2017.

“Trinity Sunday”. Churchofscotland.org.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.


This is a little late getting posted, I preached it on Feb 5, 2017. We have now reached spring in NB, though there was snow a few days ago.

View from front door, February 23rd, 2009 stormIt is winter here in New Brunswick and with winter comes darkness. In the winter we have short days, cold, storms, and for those in the northern part of the province this past week, lengthy power outages (now at 11 days). Even though the days have been getting gradually longer since Dec 22nd, by February 2nd if we are not planning trips to warmer climes, we are looking with longing ahead to spring, the light at the end of the tunnel of winter. On the 2nd there were reports from around North America about whether or not famous groundhogs like Wiarton Willie in Ontario, Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia, Mactacaddy, of Mactaquac Provincial Park, and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, saw their shadows and thus predictions on 6 more weeks of winter or not. If we lived in the far north we would literally have been in the dark from early October and looking forward to the first sunrise in March. We do not like the dark!

If you have been following the news from the US and Canada in the past several weeks you are aware that there seems to be an increase in the intensity of the dark in the world: US President Donald Trump is still planning to build a wall between the US and Mexico, he plans to cancel trade deals such as NAFTA, the US Congress has a bill on the books proposing to withdraw the US from the United Nations, executive orders have been signed banning travel into the US by people from 7 majority Muslim countries for 90 days, and immigration from there for 120 days. On January 28th a mosque was burned down in Texas, and on the 29th Alexandre Bisonette opened fire at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec killing 6 and injuring 8. And all along the way we have had facts, and alternative facts blurring the lines of truth so that it is sometimes hard to know what to believe.

While we may be particularly concerned with these events and trends, they are really not so different from the darkness that has always been at work in the world. Take heart in the words from the Psalm we just read,

“…those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments…They are gracious, merciful, and righteous…are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. (Psalm 112: 1,4,7)”

And look forward to see what we, as those who delight in God and as disciples of Christ, are meant to be in the world. In Isaiah we read what God wanted from  Israel rather than self-serving fasting,

“Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

As Jesus moves on from the final beatitude, “11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11), he begins the next section of the chapter with, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world (Matt 5:13,14). There are a couple of things to note in those statements. First, he is speaking to a crowd, when he says “you” it is in a corporate sense, all of you. Second, he doesn’t say you will become, or you might be, but states as a fact already accomplished, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…”

What do salt and light do? Salt is used to enhance and alter the taste of food, to preserve food, and salt’s power comes from its distinctiveness when mixed with other things. If salt loses its flavour, its distinctiveness, it becomes useless. Scott Hoezee says,

“The implication for disciples is exceedingly curious: it means that we exist for mixing it up with the world. It means that for us to do our savory gospel task of making this world a better place, we need to be out there, being mixed up into people, culture, and society.   Following hard on the heels of his Beatitudes, Jesus is saying that if you’re going to live those grace-filled attitudes, then it’s not enough to work inside the church community, it’s not enough to nurture a strong interior life of spirituality. No, the result of all your piety must be pouring yourself out onto this earth so as to bring out life’s complex and beautiful flavors.

To be useful and true salt, you need to mix into the world, bringing with you gospel savor…But literal salt that never leaves the shaker does nothing to add zing to your French Fries, and likewise Christian disciples who never interact with non-Christian people have no chance of reaching those people with the influence of that whole new world of God that just is the kingdom.

– See more at: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-5a/?type=lectionary_epistle#sthash.7JOBOTlR.dpuf” Scott Heozee

Light has several uses. First of all it allows us to see what was being hidden in the dark, allowing dangers and deceits to be cleared away.  Light helps us to find our way in the dark, to recognize home, to keep ships off the rocks. It makes it so that we can delve into the dark places like mines to uncover their riches just as it allows people to find someone lost in the dark. Sunlight helps plants to grow and keeps us healthy. While we may individually be salty, it is the church, as it reflects the Gospel, which is the light. Marcia Y. Riggs puts the corporate nature of the light like this.

“Like light, the disciples as a gathered community have the overarching purpose of being the mirror that refracts God’s light so that all peoples and nations can know of God’s justice and mercy. As a gathered community the disciples are like light when they engage others in the world, enabling diversity (giving things color), nurturing a healthy, ecofriendly world (helping vegetation grow), generating policies for ecojustice (providing solar power), and restoring or repairing whatever relationships that need such (focusing for specific purposes). (Marcia Y. Riggs, “Theological Perspective” on Matthew 5:13-20 in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1)

This past Thursday evening I went to a play at St. Thomas University.  Titled No White Picket Fence the play by Dr. Robin Whittaker used the verbatim style to tell the stories of ten young women who consider themselves to be living well after being in the foster care system in New Brunswick. The women met individually with an interviewer, a researcher working on a study, to tell their stories and they agreed to allow their words to be used in a play which would bring their experiences into the light.  For ninety minutes the audience sat in the near dark with ten wooden boxes painted as houses and ten actresses. They sat on their houses, and of course they shifted houses periodically, and when it was their turn to share a part of their story the lights in the house turned on. Some of the houses had only one or two windows lit up, but the strength of those women lit the room, not in a warm cozy way but shining light on those uncomfortable, unpleasant corners so often left in the dark. The more this light shines the stronger the impetus to work for change may become.

Back to the news, growing out of all the reports of the dark we also see stories of light. There have been; rallies against Islamophobia around the world; all sorts of people have stated publicly that they will register as Muslim if registration goes forward in the US; non-Muslims are raising money to rebuild the Texas mosque; candlelight vigils have been held for victims of fires and shootings; and in Fredericton money was donated to help the Muslim community expand their area for worship.

So what are we to be and do in the world today? We start with the words of Isaiah, God wants us to,

  • loose the bonds of injustice
  • undo the thongs of the yoke
  • let the oppressed go free
  • share your bread with the hungry
  • bring the homeless poor into your house
  • when you see the naked to cover them
  • do not to hide yourself from your own kin

Be salty! Dare to be distinctive and speak out where others are silent. As you work to enhance and alter the world, God’s light will be seen reflecting off of you and the lost may see their way home.

Grace; what do we do with it?


Tool BeltSumming up the last three sermons about Grace; Grace may be defined as the freely given, unmerited favour and love of God; grace is available to all people, over 7 billion in the world today; and there is nothing we can do to receive grace for ourselves except make ourselves open to that forgiveness, and trusting that it will come.   

Since we have been justified by faith and forgiven for our sins, what are we meant to do going forward? Many people have questioned the doctrine of grace earned by faith alone as it seems to imply that, since we are already justified, we have no need to be good, or do anything in the world.  This is, of course, not the case.  As children of God, forgiven through Christ, we commit ourselves to live a Christ-like life.  As our Epistle reading this morning reads in The Message, “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it.  Pursue the things over which Christ presides.  Don’t shuffle along eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you.  Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is.”   What does this life look like?

In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace Philip Yancey talks about, “tracing the roots of the word grace, or charis in Greek, and finding a verb that means “I rejoice, I am glad.”  He goes on to say that, “In my experience, rejoicing and gladness are not the first images that come to mind when people think of the church.  They think of holier-than-thous.  They think of church as a place to go when you have cleaned up your act, not before.”  As people of grace, we want our lives and our church to reflect this rejoicing and gladness, and we want people to feel free to join us no matter where they are on their journey of faith.

In our readings last week we read the story of Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray in the words we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer.  It is in this prayer that we run up against the first requirement of leading a Christ-like life.  Jesus instructed them to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  The first part is all good, forgiveness of our debts, grace, is central to our lives. The problem appears in the form of one of the shortest, and in this case most powerful, words in our language, “as.” Forgive us like we forgive. It is a powerful word because while we are happy to be forgiven, there is a clear link here between our forgiveness by the Father and our own forgiving of our friends, neighbours, and enemies. Our first task as Christians is to forgive, to pass the grace along, and this is definitely a counter-culture way of thinking. 

Yancey quotes Elizabeth O’Connor who puts the dilemma this way, “Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven.  Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be.” The human tendency would be to brood over wrongs, hold grudges, plot revenge, and pray that the bad guys get their just deserts in harsh punishments. I have no intention of making forgiveness sound easy in this sermon.  It is not. I pray the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime and I often find myself tripped up in the middle and having to go off on a tangent to try to bring myself around to forgiveness for someone else before I can pray the remainder of the prayer. Luckily we have God to help us with our natural tendency towards unforgiveness.

Forgiving others is an emotional and spiritual challenge which we work out mostly internally and through the help of the Holy Spirit.  In more practical terms, let’s look at some of the other things we should be doing as recipients of grace, and to be as Christ-like as possible. I referred last week to the ‘means of grace’ which are a gift from God rather than a checklist to be completed in order to receive grace.  Steven Manskar describes them as, “… how we grow and mature in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength….This means of grace are divided into two general categories: works of piety and works of mercy.”  There follows a nice concrete list…

Piety                                                              Mercy

prayer (private and family)                   feeding the hungry

public worship                                           clothing the naked

the Lord’s Supper                                     caring for the sick

reading & studying the Bible                visiting the jails and prisons

Christian conference                               sheltering the homeless

fasting or abstinence                               welcoming the stranger

                                                                        peacemaking

                                                                        acting for the common good 

These are all things Jesus did and taught his disciples to do, not in order to receive forgiveness but because they were forgiven.

 In reading through several recent issues of the Presbyterian Record I saw many examples of these acts of piety and mercy; I read of the power of prayer; of many different styles of worship from Sunday mornings in the established churches to worship around the campfire at one of our many summer camps; I saw ads for different colleges and universities and the elders institute offering both Christian conference and study, I read of assistance given to people from Fort McMurray and the congregation there, of women’s retreats,  of congregations sponsoring refugees from Syria and Namibia, of young people identifying needs in the community and starting a program to help, of the church signing a joint statement stating that the church would work to implement the articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous; the discipleship is there, it is active and vibrant throughout the national church.

 Is discipleship active here at St. Paul’s?  I believe that it is.  You put an emphasis on worship through our Sunday services 52 times each year.  You regularly meet to share the Lord’s Supper and include in that everyone who attends worship. Worship is based on the reading and interpretation of the Word, and make available monthly books for daily devotion.  Meeting in Bible studies, coffee hours etc. there is a chance to share experiences, questions, and insights with each other.  You are always ready to welcome people to the congregation, collect for food banks, lead services and help with birthday parties at the Carleton Manor, send birthday and Christmas cards and fruit trays to seniors, celebrate PWS&D Sunday, support the Atlantic Mission Society and Presbyterians Sharing. 

Manskar stresses in his article the need to maintain a balance in our works rather than to, “always gravitate toward those that suit our temperament or personality. For example, an introvert may naturally be drawn to …private prayer, Bible study and fasting…and will tend to neglect worship, conference and works of mercy…while an extroverted person will naturally be drawn to those works of piety and mercy that suit his/her temperament but will neglect time alone with God in prayer and reflection.  Could we challenge ourselves to stretch and increase our involvement even in the areas with which we are less comfortable?  This is a question upon which every individual needs to reflect in prayer, and which our congregations need to discern in order to gain a vision for their continuing ministry within the community.

 In a world of ever bigger barns, as individuals and congregations we need to avoid the trap of the greedy farmer, filling our barns with stuff for ourselves rather than with God.  We need to look beyond ourselves to where Christ is looking. To the needs of those in hunger, in pain, in trouble with the law, everyone we meet, for as it states in Colossians, “Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing.  From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. “

 We will know we are getting it right when people see a church which is active, vital, open and welcoming; a place to come for help, as well as to offer help, and a place to grow in the love and service of Christ. 

 

Manskar, Steven W. “Opening Ourselves To Grace: The Basics Of Christian Discipleship – Umcdiscipleship.Org”.Umcdiscipleship.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 3 July 2016.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002. Print.

Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997. Print.

Grace; how do we get it?


checklistIn case you have not read the last two posts, we have been talking about grace.  The first week we defined grace as the freely given, unmerited favour and love of God which means that, “God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love” (Yancey). And last week we focused on the issue of whom this grace is for.  Our answer from Colossians was that “God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing…”

 For today, we change our focus again and look at the issue of what we need to do in order to receive God’s grace for ourselves. Today’s quick answer is, say yes, thank you! “In his article entitled Opening Ourselves to Grace: The Basics of Christian Discipleship, Steven W. Manskar said,

 “This life (of Christian discipleship) begins with forgiveness of our sins. When we acknowledge who we are (sinners in need of forgiveness), we can begin living into the lives God desires for us as his beloved children.  With forgiveness comes freedom – from sin and death – so that we can love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love those whom God loves; as God loves them, in Christ.  All this is God’s gift to the world – grace.”

 As we hear in that description, before we can receive forgiveness of our sins we need to admit that we are sinners in the first place.  This is why our service of worship always includes a confession of sins.  If we feel that we are justified in all our acts without God then we will not need grace at all. This admission of our sinful nature is also a part of the summary of Louis B. Weeks’ chapter on following Jesus in his 1941 publication To Be a Presbyterian, 

“In the sequence of trying to follow Jesus we are first enabled to repent, to recognize the sinfulness in which we exist and call upon God for forgiveness. We are then permitted to sense that God does not count our sin against us, because Christ intercedes for us.  Then we experience the falling away of sin, the restoring of our relationship as children of God.  Finally, we move in the process of following Jesus.”

Having accepted that we are in need of forgiveness, we move on to receiving the gift.  First, as a gift that is offered freely and without price, it must be received and accepted as a gift.  As our Gospel reading says today, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Think for a moment about the last time someone gave you a compliment. Maybe they thought you looked good, your clothes were nice, or your work was well done. How did you feel? Happy or proud right? Or maybe you felt awkward or undeserving. Does this sound familiar to anyone? “That is an awesome shirt!” “Oh, I’ve had it for ages.” or “I got it from a bag of things my friend was getting rid of.” Somehow in our society we have come to think that accepting a compliment with a simple thank you is somehow prideful, and pride must be avoided. If we have this much trouble with a simple compliment imagine the challenge in accepting that all the things of which we are most ashamed in our lives have been erased with no penalty.

 Some theologians say that if we are seeking God, it is only because God has planted in us the desire to seek him, and that it is God rather than man who seeks relationship.  God is looking for us, desires a relationship with us, and has grace waiting for us when we are ready to accept it, all we really need to do is ask, or knock and then stay on the step expecting the door to open.  When you ask for something, as I tell my kids all the time, you need to be prepared to accept the answer whether it is positive or negative. In this case you ask in faith knowing that the answer will be yes.  I think that when we ask for grace, in this context, what we are really asking for is God’s help with accepting the gift.

The reformed tradition of Luther and Calvin teaches us that justification, being made right with God through forgiving grace, is received through faith alone, that we do not need to make ourselves good enough through doing the correct number of good deeds in order to receive God’s forgiveness. In fact, none of us are capable of making ourselves good enough for God. Remember that grace is freely given and unmerited.  In our humanity and in this world of corruption and greed, it is difficult for us to accept that anything is freely offered, that there are no strings attached. 

 “Congratulations, you have won a free trip to the Caribean…”

The idea that anyone, even God, can love us despite our sins and flaws seems ludicrous and then adding that there is nothing in it for them is just more than we can fathom.  We have so much trouble forgiving ourselves and those who slight us in any way that it may be beyond our imaginations that God would forgive even the direst of sins.

Manskar points out that, “we are not always faithful, patient, or available to God.  God provided us with the means of grace, gifts given to help us make time and space for God in our lives.”  One of these means is in prayer, both private and public.  Through prayer we can ask for help with accepting grace.  Where faith is the only requirement for justification, we can follow the example of the father of an epileptic boy in need of healing who said, “”I believe; help my unbelief!”  We might pray the words of our call to worship from this morning, “May we drink deeply, and receive your grace. May we stand in trust, and receive your strength. May we open our hearts, and receive your healing love.” In public and in private we can not go wrong by praying the way Jesus taught in today’s reading from Luke.

 Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

For we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.

 The bottom line today is that there is nothing we can do to receive grace for ourselves except for making ourselves open to that forgiveness, and trusting that it will come.  Our real struggle will be with our human nature and our inclination to doubt.  For help with that we have but to ask. In the words of John Wesley;

“O that we mayst all receive of Christ’s fullness, grace upon grace;

Grace to pardon our sins, and subdue our iniquities;

To justify our persons and to sanctify our souls;

And to complete that holy change, that renewal of our hearts,

Whereby we may be transformed

Into that blessed image wherein thou didst create us.”

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.

God in Community


2759742066_57d26d0948      In the popular 2007 book The Shack, a man named Mack went into the woods to the scene of the greatest tragedy in his life to meet God. He wasn’t sure what to expect but he did meet God there in a very special way. He met the Trinity, three persons in community; there is a large black woman who goes by Elousia but allows him to call her Papa, which was Mack’s wife’s name for God, a small Asian woman named Sarayu, a gardener who was somehow never quite in focus, and a relaxed Hebrew handyman, complete with tool belt, named Yeshua. When Mack asked which one was God they answered in unison, “I am!”

Who is God? What is God? If there are three, how can we say there is just one God?

      In The Shack, author Wm. Paul Young gives names to the Trinity. The parent figure is Elousia. The word Elousia does not appear in that form in the Bible. One source says that the author combined the Hebrew name for God, El, with the Greek ousia which means being. So, being God, or the great I Am. The Spirit is named Sarayu a word that has several meanings including being the name of a river. It is a Sanskrit name which means “moving fast”, “air”, “wind” And the young handyman is Yeshua which, in Hebrew, is a shortened form of Joshua, and is derived from the verb “to rescue”, “to deliver.”

      We read just last week about the tongues of flame and the inspiration which allowed people to preach the Good News in languages they had never learned. We know that there is only One God, not three. In the light of the New Testament, we know that God’s word is Jesus and that the wind or breath of God is the Spirit. They are one!

      The word Trinity does not appear at any point in the Bible. In today’s Psalm, an emphasis is given to the majesty of God. “O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.” While it doesn’t mention anything about a trinity, it starts us off in considering to what extent God is an undefinable entity. The Lord is so awesome that the only way we can try to express it is in sharing and repeating all the marvels that have occurred at his hand.

     In Romans, Paul speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within 5 verses. The Spirit is God’s love poured into us, Jesus was our means of access to Grace, and it is God’s Glory we share. Jesus is God’s grace, the Spirit is God’s Love and God is I Am.
In John, there is a brief explanation of the relationship amongst the godhead. The Spirit of Truth will reveal to us what Jesus had not, but not in the Spirit’s words but those given to it by hearing what is of God. And since what God has Jesus also has, and the Spirit speaks it may be inferred that they are one…clear?

      The term Trinity was introduced by a third-century theologian, Tertullian, to underscore the “oneness” of God. The doctrine of the trinity was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed which was agreed upon at the meeting of the church council in 381 CE. This creed affirms the Holy Spirit as, “the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. Who, with the Father and the Son, is worshiped and glorified.” Saying that the Holy Spirit and Son are glorified is an acknowledgement that they are God.
The Celtic symbol of Trinity is called the triquetra and consists of three equal and intertwined loops, one continuous line with no beginning and no end. The Trinity shows the potential of a dynamic communion and loving relationship open to us all through the communion of the three parts of the trinity. God seeks a relationship with us and the relationship among the trinity is a powerful example of what our relationships can be, and what our relationship with God will be someday.

      In my own life and as a teacher, I have been brought face-to-face with the destructive nature of some human relationships. One student whom I had taught for several years came to me one morning in tears having had a break with family. In the hour we spent together before I had to teach my next class, the student shared more of her story of the past 10 months at home than I had previously known. I listened, tried to reflect what I was hearing to give openings to continue, and I felt frustration over the fact that I could do nothing to improve the situation. Over the years of teaching, I have seen too often the results that jealousy, blame, the importance of seeming to be in charge and in control, (these all too human traits) can have on family members.

      There is none of this to be seen in the relationship among the Trinity. In several places, including the Great Commission, we are called to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is no sign of jealousy, power struggle or priority here. The Spirit was the final sign of our adoption by God. As we are told….we are heirs, with Jesus, of the inheritance of God.

      The Presbyterian Church is a part of the Reformed tradition and a part of that is a focus on the Trinity. There are some Christian churches out there which we might call “Jesus only” churches. In their services, you will hear little mention of God the Father or Spirit; just Jesus. There are also some “Spirit” churches in which strong emphasis is put on the Spirit. Likewise, of course, there are God churches which either do not recognize the Trinity or at least do not focus there. We were told, however, to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In our services of worship, you should hear at least some reference to all the parts of the Trinity each week. We pray to God in the name of Jesus, and we call on the Spirit to inspire and sustain us in our faith.

      The formula of the Trinity reminds us of the mystery of God which will never be fully understood in this world. No matter how much we study about it, nor how much thought we put into this, God transcends us and our ability to name Him. But we can say, in the words of The Lorica by Steve Bell…

I bind unto myself today the gift to call on the Trinity
The saving faith where I can say Come three in one, oh one in three.
Be above me, as high as the noonday sun.
Be below me, the rock I set my feet upon.
Be beside me, the wind on my left and right.
Be behind me, oh circle me with your truth and life.

Readings were: Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-15, and John 16:12-15

Young, William P, Wayne Jacobsen, and Brad Cummings. The Shack. Newbury Park, Calif.: Windblown Media, 2007. Print.

Happy Un-Palm Sunday!


Cancun 2009 076           No palm trees were harmed and no hosannas were shouted in this Sunday’s gospel! Happy UnPalm Sunday! From its first chapter, Luke’s gospel has been headed, with Jesus, to Jerusalem and here we are, disciples entering the city with our Lord. While it is the last Sunday of Lent it is the beginning of the most important week of the Christian year. This is what it is all about right? For the unchurched, it may seem as if Christmas is the most important, or most central celebration, but, if it weren’t for the series of events we commemorate this week, Christianity wouldn’t exist!

We think of the events from the entry into Jerusalem through the resurrection as having taken place over a period of eight days, but this comes from a literary compression of the story. We are never told clearly how long Jesus ministered in Jerusalem. Based on surrounding details in other accounts, some estimate that Jesus was in Jerusalem for six months; from his entrance for the Feast of Tabernacles in November to Passover in April.

This morning, we entered with the children’s procession with palms but, unlike the other Gospels, Luke’s story of the entry to Jerusalem makes no mention of children or palms. He actually says nothing that would indicate that any of the other people crowding Jerusalem that day paid any particular notice to this rowdy group, that is, other than the Pharisees. All it says is that Jesus entered riding a colt with his disciples, people put their coats down on the road in front of him, and the disciples called out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of Lord. Peace in heaven, and glory to God in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38)

With all the focus usually placed on palm leaves, I expect that we often overlook the coats being laid on the ground, or at least don’t take time to wonder if this is significant in some way.  With the palms out of the way in this year’s reading, I discovered that entry on a colt with coats laid on the ground was a common greeting for a royal figure and part of a pre-exilic annual ritual of enthronement. The nature of his entrance also fulfils prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 which states.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion?

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you:

triumphant and victorious on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The fact that it was only Jesus and his disciples entering, and only his disciples who were cheering, is important to note. They are believers celebrating the Messiah, but they will not, as it would seem in the other Gospels, later be the same people crying out for him to be crucified. Luke also makes no Davidic claims in this Gospel account. For Luke it is clear that the entry into Jerusalem was, “an event for believers by believers” (Craddock).

So, instead of focusing on palms and cheering crowds let’s continue, as we did through the temptations, to focus on Jesus’ experiences. Scott Hoezee begins his lectionary guide for this Sunday with a story from M*A*S*H*.

 

“In one of the earlier episodes …the doctor known as “Trapper” gets diagnosed with a stomach ulcer (Trapper was memorably played by Wayne Rogers, who died recently). Although initially upset about having to deal with a hole in his gut, Trapper soon beams with joy when his bunkmate Hawkeye reminds him that according to Army regulations, Trapper was going home! His ulcer was his ticket out of the misery of the Korean War.

As the episode progresses, they arrange a farewell party for Trapper. But minutes before Trapper shows up for his party, he is informed by the Company Clerk, Radar, that the Army had recently changed its regulations and his ulcer would have to be treated right there in Korea. Trapper goes to the party anyway and allows the hilarity, festivity, and joy of the evening to proceed for a good long while until he’s asked to give a final speech, at which time he tells everyone the truth: he’s not going anywhere after all.

But throughout the party, both Trapper and Radar have a look in their eyes that betrays the truth, if only anyone had looked close enough to notice. Trapper smiles and even laughs during the party at times but it’s a bit muted and the sadness in his eyes tells the reason why: it’s a nice party but it’s not going to end the way he had hoped or the way all the other partygoers were anticipating (“Palm Sunday Center For Excellence In Preaching” 2016).

 

Philippians reminds us of all Jesus had already given up: the glories and splendors of heaven and any powers of divinity. He had to restrain his power, stay in one place, and give in to a body which demanded sleep and food and experienced illness. We know that he suffered major temptation and torment with the devil in the wilderness. Living amidst his creation, he would have been daily reminded of just how badly corrupted it had become. His own creations did not even recognize him.

Think about what Jesus was facing as he rode into Jerusalem with his cheering disciples that must have muted his smiles and laughs that day. He would have been acutely aware that soon, in this same city, he would be arrested, held captive, denied by his closest followers, ridiculed, condemned, beaten, and crucified. He knew that he could avoid it all if he chose to; he knew that he would do nothing to stop it; and he knew he would experience a very public, shameful,  and human death.

His disciples were full of excitement about the new king and, despite Jesus having predicted his death three times, still didn’t understand the true nature of the Messiah.  Presumably they thought that the cutting off of chariots, war horses, battle bows, and commanding peace would be done through military victories (Zech 9:10).

Most of the Philippians reading today is a hymn which scholars presume Paul quotes from common use amongst Christ’s followers at the time. It covers Jesus’ story in clear progression from pre-existence, earthly career, and glorification.  But Jesus sacrificed all for us. He wasn’t looking for honours, for a big throne and lots of wealth, and not so that crowds would cheer and shout his name.

Paul seems to have been dealing with problems in Philippi. The first four verses of Philippians 2 indicate that pride was becoming a problem. One of my et peeves is the use of the word humbled. Have you ever noticed that most of the time when you hear the word being used it is in speeches being given by people who are being highly honoured for some reason? Receiving an Oscar or other form of recognition is the opposite of humbling it is honouring! Sure Jesus was exalted by God in the end but at no time in his human existence nor after his resurrection was he anything but humble. He emptied himself completely for us, people who couldn’t even recognize that he was the very one who had created us. Paul said to the congregation at Philippi,

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves, ‘Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.’ Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, (Phil 2: 4-5).

For us it may be impossible to see Holy Week without the sure knowledge of the victory coming next week, but even for us we meet today with smiles and laughs somewhat muted, truly humbled by the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

 

Hitting the Road With Jesus


the-long-road-home          Today we leave behind the devil and his temptations and take to the road. For Jesus, the road is his ministry and the road to Jerusalem which will end with the cross and the resurrection. And for the Israelites, it was the road to the Promised Land. When Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope, he dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean in St Johns, Newfoundland with the plan to run across the country. Terry began his run with a ritual, just like we mark the seasons of our lives with baptism to represent the beginning of life in the family of God, graduation as the end of a journey for education, and the beginning of a whole new journey.

            In Joshua, we read about the second celebration of the Passover. The night before they began the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites followed God’s directions to mark their lintels and door frames with the blood of a lamb and to follow certain procedures in their meal. This ritual, called the Passover, marked their houses, allowed their children to live, and marked the beginning of their journey to the Promised Land. They were free, no longer slaves, but transitions in life aren’t instantaneous! They include space (the road) and time (for us 40 days, for Israel 40 years). When Moses led the people out of Egypt they surely expected to travel directly to the Promised Land, but they were barely through the sea when they began to complain. Rather than 250 miles in one month they were destined to lead an unsettled existence in the wilderness for 40 years. The miles multiplied as the time went by, they needed the time to make them ready, “to grapple with the promise of God to see the Promised Land” (“A Plain Account: A Free Online Wesleyan Lectionary Commentary” 2016)

          After all their time in the wilderness, they finally crossed the Jordan. We meet them there this morning. Keep in mind that these men, women and children were not the same ones who had left Egypt. Not a single one had ever been to Egypt, they were never slaves, and they were born and raised in the wilderness. They had never known a settled life, had never grown crops, and they had not carried out the ritual of Passover. The first thing they did in the Promised Land was not to set up defences, not to charge the nearest city, but they repeated the ritual that had begun their journey. Though Passover has been celebrated ever since this ritual marked the beginning and the end of their transition to a new land and a whole new way of life.

          Congregations with pulpit vacancies are on the road to renewal. From the final services and farewell parties, they head into the wilderness stage of the vacancy. There is no way for to know how long the search will take. There are so many steps to go through: dealing with various supplies in the pulpit, committee meetings, review the membership rolls, reflection on priorities and vision, writing of the congregational profile, and then considering candidates. During vacancies in the churches to which I have belonged, I was always torn between feeling frustrated at how long it took and concern over finding the correct person. In a paper on Joshua 5:9-12 Hannah Beers said, “our desire to know the final outcome limits our ability to see how God is working in the present…Throughout the wandering Manna was miraculously provided for by God and the Israelites did not want for food.” (“A Plain Account: A Free Online Wesleyan Lectionary Commentary” 2016), and “On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land,” (Josh 5:11).

A Broken Stradivarius

One of the greatest ambitions of any violinist is to play a Stradivarius. Meticulously handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari these very rare violins produce an unrivalled sound. So you can imagine the excitement of acclaimed British violinist Peter Cropper when in 1981 London’s Royal Academy of Music offered him a 258-year-old Stradivarius for a series of concerts.

But then the unimaginable. As Peter entered the stage he tripped, landed on top of the violin and snapped the neck off. I can’t even begin to imagine how Peter Cropper felt at that moment. A priceless masterpiece destroyed!

Cropper was inconsolable.  He took the violin to a master craftsman in the vain hope he might be able to repair it. And repair it he did. So perfect was the repair that the break was undetectable, and, more importantly, the sound was exquisite.

The Academy was most gracious and allowed him to continue using the Stradivarius. And so night after night, as Peter drew his bow across those string, Peter was reminded of the fact that what he once thought irreparably damaged had been fully restored by the hand of a Master craftsman. (“A Broken Stradivarius | Stories For Preaching” 2016)

 

While Terry Fox never got to dip his leg in the Pacific Ocean, God was at work. Through Terry’s days on the road and his struggles he inspired the nation and a generation. For 3,339 miles, from St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost city on the shore of the Atlantic, he’d run through six provinces and now was two-thirds of the way home. He’d run close to a marathon a day, for 143 days. No mean achievement for an able-bodied runner, an extraordinary feat for an amputee. He raised $24.17 million on his own run. The first memorial Terry Fox Run was held in September of the year he died. More than 300,000 people walked or ran or cycled in his memory and raised $3.5 million.  The master craftsman was definitely at work on this road with Terry (Schrivener 2016).

Remember that the master craftsman is also working on our own roads of life: through relationships, jobs, education: from endings to new beginnings; on our journey to forgiveness, and to Easter; God reminds us of our identities as his forgiven children through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Lent prepares us for and Easter prepares us for the transition through death to the new lives waiting for us, but we can’t get there without the pain of Good Friday.

 

 

“A Broken Stradivarius | Stories For Preaching”. 2016. Storiesforpreaching.Com. http://storiesforpreaching.com/?s=A+Broken+Stradivarius&submit=Search.

“A Plain Account: A Free Online Wesleyan Lectionary Commentary”. 2016. A Plain Account: A Free Online Wesleyan Lectionary Commentary. http://www.aplainaccount.org/#!Joshua-5912/bhul0/56d3c27c0cf2154b8027d5fc.

Schrivener, Lesley. 2016. “Terry Fox & The Foundation – The Marathon Of Hope”. Terryfox.Org. http://www.terryfox.org/TerryFox/The_Marathon_of_Hope.html.

Food, Power, and Minions #3


Show Me The Power!

wilderness_temple

In the first of this series I mentioned that Luke’s is the only Gospel in which the temptation at the temple is placed last. As Fred Craddock points out in his commentary, Luke modeled his Gospel after the life and ministry of Christ and so it made sense that his temptations should lead from home, to the world, and then to the temple in Jerusalem just as Jesus began at home, travelled throughout the countryside including some Gentile areas and ended up in Jerusalem (Craddock 1990). That is just where we find Jesus and the devil this morning, standing 150 feet up, at the pinnacle of the temple.

Why did the devil take Christ to Jerusalem? Jerusalem was the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel (at other times just Judah) and later of the Roman Province of Judea under Herod the Great. It is into Jerusalem that Jesus would ride to the cheers of the crowds on Palm Sunday; in an upper room in Jerusalem that he and his apostles would celebrate the Passover feast; from Jerusalem that he would be led up to be crucified on Good Friday; and to that same upper room that he would return after his resurrection.

Why did they go to the temple? The temple was his father’s house. It was the symbol and center of the Jewish religion; the house of God, the only proper place to make sacrifices to God. It is where the chief priests and many Pharisees, who would later take the role of Christ’s enemies, were to be found. It was the site of teaching, prayer, worship, sacrifice, cleansing, and absolution. They were on the pinnacle of the temple which, in Jesus’ time, would have been the top of the Holy Place, the most important part of Herod’s temple.  This structure was open only for the priests to light the lamps and give incense offerings, and it housed the Holy of Holies which could only be entered once each year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.

Why the pinnacle of the temple? In almost all religious traditions in ancient times, mountains and the tops of human-made mountains such as ziggurats and temples were considered to represent the seat of the gods and the place where people could find themselves closest to them. Moses met God on the mountaintop, Jesus frequently went up a mountain to pray, Jesus’ transfiguration was at a mountaintop, and Jesus was crucified on a hilltop. In colloquial speech we refer to moments of great revelation or closeness to God as ‘mountaintop experiences.’

            So, what did this temptation mean? The temptation was a chance to show proof of God’s power, to avoid a 98% chance of death with a show of supernatural power and beings, God’s minions/angels. Would this produce real faith in those who were witnesses or would this sort of coerced faith be short lived and situational? As we have seen throughout the Old Testament God’s shows of his power through the plagues in Egypt, the holding back of the Red Sea, the manna and water from the rock in the desert, and his presence in the cloud on the tabernacle, led to great declarations of faith which were followed all too soon with challenges. ‘You are the one God, full of power, but what have you done for us lately?’

Having been shot down twice by Jesus quoting scripture, this time, the devil takes his temptation directly from scripture, 

“‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone (Ps 91:11-12).”

If you go to the Psalm you will see that he conveniently stopped his quote just before the part about defeating the serpent and crushing its head under his feet.

            We have all sorts of assurances of God’s power and faithfulness in the Bible. In this morning’s Psalm we read of powers such as; forming light, creating darkness, bringing prosperity, creating disaster, making the earth, creating mankind, stretching out the heavens, marshaling their starry hosts, and making  ways straight. We have assurances because we believe, but if we have to test it do we really believe, and then why should the promises still apply?

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul reminds people of Israel’s history of testing God who said, “you…have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice (Numbers 14:21),” Paul wrote,

“We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor 10:8-11).”

 

Living Faith’s statement on unbelief states that, “For some today “God is an empty word indicating no reality they have ever consciously known. They do not believe there is a God (Living Faith 9.3.1).” These people, if seeking at all, are looking for proof that God is real in the worldly meaning of real. Something you can touch, see, feel. It next states that, “Many find it hard to believe in a loving God in a world where so many suffer. Unbelief threatens many with despair, the feeling that nothing really matters and that beyond this world is emptiness (Living Faith 9.3.2).”

Jesus answered the devil, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test (Luke 4:12).”‘ Paul told the Corinthians, “We must not put Christ to the test (I Cor 10:9).”  Like Jesus, we need to be resisting overfilling ourselves but allow the Holy Spirit to fill us, we need to resist grabbing for power over others and instead seek to serve, and we need to allow the assurances of God to be enough for us. We need not wait for pigs to fly.

“We have looked upon God in the sanctuary, beholding his power and glory. Because his steadfast love is better than life, our lips will praise him (Ps 63:2-3).”

 

Craddock, Fred B. 1990. Luke. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press.

Living Faith A Statement Of Christian Belief. 1984. Kelowna: Wood Lake Books Inc.