Tag Archives: church

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.

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.

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

 

The Lady in The Back Row


3605629805_00de328b9aI will begin today with two pieces of background information.  First, as a part of the process of discerning my call to ministry I have been asked to write a paper on my faith journey. This has led to a lot of thinking about my past. The second thing is that I am currently living away from home and thus attending a different church. This past Sunday found me in the choir at my sister’s church. The sermon was based on the early verses of Philippians  and the focus turned to Paul giving thanks to God for the people in the church at Phillipi. The minister made a point of the fact that Paul was talking about actual people,  individuals whom he remembered from his time there. He then asked us to look around the church and find three people for whim we were thankful. Here’s where my first two points come in. I was in the choir so I could easily look out on the congregation  and see everyone. As I looked around at a room of strangers and a few acquaintances I had to stretch. I spotted this elderly woman in the very back row and did a double take as my first thought was that it was my grandmother. Next connection, I have recently written a section on the influence my now deceased grandmother had on my Christian development and there she was looking up from the back row. I knew that it was not Grammie, but for the rest of the service my eyes were drawn to her over and over. For me it seemed that Grammie was letting me know that she supports the path on which I am travelling.  After the service I made a point of finding her. I introduced myself to her and I told her that she was one of my three people. I explained what I had felt and she thanked me and said that she was glad that she had come to church. We can find people for whom to be thankful anywhere. They won’t all remind us of relatives, they won’t even all be people we like, but we should keep our eyes open for them!

Of Bouquets, Twigs, and Dandelions


Jessie's photos 001Today is Mother’s Day.  Greetings and best wishes are all over Facebook.  People have changed their profile pictures to ones of their mothers either with or without themselves.  All over sellers of cards, flowers, and almost anything you can imagine are rubbing their hands together with the boost in sales as people seek to recognize the impact mother’s have had in their lives.

Today in church the minister related the history of mother’s day which was not created by the Hallmark.  The first mother’s day was celebrated in a Methodist church in the United States when a daughter gave all the women a white carnation in honour of her mother who had died.  This was expanded upon the next year in that church and then spread throughout North American churches.

The other day my daughter and I were watching TV when yet another Mother’s Day related commercial came on.  It was from a florist who was encouraging us to have a bouquet sent to our mothers to make them smile.  My daughter commented that mothers would smile if you handed them a twig, or a weed from the back yard.  It is true isn’t it?  How many mothers have smiled and bravely dug into a child created concoction served to us by proud children?  How many have little picture frames made of twigs, hand prints, macaroni necklaces etc. tucked away in our closets or hanging on our walls?

It isn’t specifically flowers, or cards or other gifts that make us smile on this day and any other, it is the presence of a person so close to us showing that they think we are special to them.  So, happy Mother’s Day and may your children pick you a dandelion to make you smile!

flickr.comphotos11872189@N004656068717

flickr.comphotos11872189@N004656068717

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.

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

God The Creator Said It Was Very Good!


The meaning of the word ‘good’ has shifted somewhat over the years.  Sadly, these days it has been greatly downgraded in our quest for excellence.  With parents and children saying of a competition that all they can do is give 110% and see what happens is it any wonder that telling someone their work is good, or that they are good, seems lackluster at best?

I started thinking about the topic this morning when once again reading from Walter Brueggemann’s book on Genesis (by the way, I’m still in the creation section and expect to be there for some time having to pause to reflect and digest every couple paragraphs).  Having looked at Sabbath the part I read today was looking at two theologies of creation’s relationship with God; one of vast separation due largely to our failure to be faithful, and the other as a continuing part of bringing about his vision.  The difference seems to hinge on what we think God meant in declaring creation, “very good.”

As per the 110% effort, there is a tendency to feel that being told, “it is good,” is only part of the statement that then ends with, “but it could be better!”  Setting that part aside, let’s look at our other associations with the word good.  If we were at church and I said, “What is the opposite of evil?” you would likely respond, “Good.”  We tell our children to have fun, and be good when we drop them off at activities.  When we say that someone is a good person, we mean a moral and kind natured person.

God didn’t find a world and judge it to be good and I can’t imagine in what way a pine tree or a rock could be considered morally good or evil.  Like an artist he brought the whole of creation out of nothing with his creativity.  He saw it all before it was.  Then when he, “committed it to canvas” he stood back and viewed his work and it was good work.  It was beautiful and matched his vision perfectly.

Check out Brueggemann, Walter, Genesis. Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. John Knox Press; Atlanta 1982

Brueggemann makes reference to the work of Westermann in Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church 1978

Second Only To God: Family Comes First


Today’s topic came naturally out of my morning quandary about what to wear.  As I stood looking at my closet I had in mind that I was dressing not just for church, but for a lunch-time family gathering with almost all of my family of orientation followed by supper with my family of procreation and my father-in-law.  A full day of activity and social contact, this would normally be just my kind of day, but if it weren’t church and family I would be begging off and spending the day resting up for the coming work week.

If you have been with me from the beginning, you may remember my post about priorities titled What Would You Have Left if You Lost Everything? https://curlingupwithgod.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=660&action=edit  In that post I talked about an exercise I do with my classes in which they write down the six things that are most important in their lives, and then one-by-one they have to choose which of them to lose.  It can be pretty difficult when you get down, for instance, to the choice of God, your spouse, or your children.  It also shows just how unimportant things like our cars and our homes are for most people.

Back to today.  The only time I skip church is if I’m away or if I can barely stand due to illness, and there is certainly no way that I am going to miss a chance to visit with my brother and sister-in-law who only get to town once-a-year.  That takes us up to supper time (the evening meal).  We make a point of going to see, and eat with, my father-in-law on Sunday evenings.  It is vital to us that our kids have a close relationship with their grandparents.  They see my parents regularly at church, but their paternal grandfather goes to a different church and so we have, since they were little, gone for weekly visits.

Continuing to prepare for the day, I was putting on my rings.  First I put on my wedding band and engagement ring, an obvious priority in my life.  After that I had choices and I got thinking about the fact that almost everyone would put a ring they bought for themselves in a different category than one that had belonged to a now-deceased family member.  There is more meaning to my grandmother’s wedding ring than the cute ring I got when I finished my lay ministry course. 

In the Bible we see that God created people as man and woman.  He saw the need for us to have helpmates or partners.  When human children are born they are uniquely dependant.  Unlike all other species, humans are not able to fend for themselves until far beyond a year.  This fact made families of whatever configuration necessary for their survival,  and continues to do so.  The cycle continues when we leave our parents and “cleave to” our own life partners.

Getting Your Gulls In A Row: 4 Steps to Eternal Life


So, I’ve had this picture and title, “Getting Your Gulls In A Row,” sitting in a draft post for a couple of months now but it just didn’t go any further.  I’m trusting that inspiration is going to come to me as I type.

You will be familiar with the expression, “get your ducks in a row” for the idea of getting your thoughts straight (in a row) and all the necessary tools and raw materials (the ducks) to get a project underway and all the way to completion.

Across the hall from me at the moment there is a group of young people meeting with the minister with a view to becoming communicant members of the congregation.  In our church we call making this commitment Confirmation, in the Baptist congregations it would be Baptism.  Our kids were baptised as children and parents made the Christian commitment on their behalf, but now we are looking at helping them to understand about our faith and our denomination so that they can make that same covenant with God of their own volition.

On the drive out to the church this morning I was thinking about the common type of article which draws people in with titles that begin with things like, “ten easy steps…”  In the context of getting gulls in a row, and confirmation classes I could simplify the process of attaining eternal life as follows:

  1. Believe

  2. Question

  3. Believe anyway

  4. Repeat as necessary