Word of mouth
My family and I have a bathroom renovation project underway and when I was looking for someone to do the work I did as I usually do and asked Dad. After that I asked my friends on Face Book for their opinions of and experiences with different contractors. Similarly, when our washer died I put out a request for comments on top load washers versus front load models. In fact on any given day you can find requests for advice on road conditions, where to go to get things, and whether or not a movie is worth seeing. None of these things are likely to change our lives but are examples which show that we place greater value on the experience and opinion of our friends than on the advertisements which would have us believe that every product is better than all the other products which in-turn are also better… So what about spiritual questions, things that will change our lives? What would you seek and whom would you follow?
In our Gospel reading today John must have been ‘wired for sound’! He had just experienced what he knew was the highest point of his ministry, he had fulfilled his destiny. It was not his own accomplishment, it wasn’t that he would be thinking what a great job he had done, but it was still a great day. If it had happened today he might immediately get out his cell phone and tweet something like, “Best day of my life, baptized Son of God, heard God’s voice and saw the spirit, time to retire, can die happy!”
In the other Gospels this is where the baptism story ended and they moved away from the Baptist and the area around the Jordan, one immediately, to the temptation of Christ and the beginning of his ministry. John chose instead to continue the narrative of Baptist’s activities. In a sense the author gave him time to tweet and for people to respond to his news. While the other Gospels gradually reveal Jesus’ identity, John front loads the story with details of Jesus’ true identity. In very short order he identifies Christ by several of the titles which had been ascribed to him by the church over the years; Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, and Messiah.
Last week we read of the baptism itself and today, the actual baptism itself is not narrated in John, we take up the story on the next day. John the Baptist saw Jesus and told all who are in the area just what had happened and how important this man was! In a tradition in which sacrifices were made for thanksgiving, for atonement of sin, etc. it would have caught people’s attention when the Baptist referred to Christ as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” It may have brought out memories of the Passover lamb whose death and the painting of its blood protected the people in Egypt. For us, and indeed for the early readers of John’s gospel, this speaks to his crucifixion and resurrection, his atonement for the sins of the whole world. At the time of the Baptist, however, it may have brought to mind Abraham who said God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice. At the least it would have indicated his purity but oddly would also carry a picture of weakness; important because of the role of the unblemished lamb in sacrifice, but weak because a lamb is helpless to defend itself from death on the altar.
The Baptist had been out in the wilderness preaching and calling people to repentance, but never taking credit or making himself out to be important. In John’s gospel this event followed a scene in which the Baptist was questioned by religious authorities. He had denied being Elijah, being The Prophet (Moses), and being the Messiah. He had in fact always been saying, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” He had never made much of himself but pointed ahead to that man. He explained that he had been baptizing with water in order to reveal the man to Israel. He related the sight of the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remaining on Jesus, and that God had told them this would be the sign of the man who was coming. He made a statement worthy of a court trial, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
It is likely that most people who heard him talking about Jesus considered it to be at least a bit far-fetched and perhaps attributed it to John’s strange ways. “After all, he lives way out here away from people and doesn’t eat properly, he was probably delirious with hunger, or maybe he is going mad. A spirit came and settled on a man and this is the big news? Hardly!”
The next day, then two days after Christ’s baptism, two of the Baptist’s followers were there when again he saw Jesus. Again he identified Jesus and he testified that he was the Lamb of God. These two men then left John, up until now their spiritual leader, and followed Jesus. Jesus asked them what they were seeking and told them to come and see. Before he had taught them anything they called him Rabbi which means teacher. They went to where he was staying and spent the day with him. Only one of the two is named in this account, Andrew the brother of the man known to us as Simon Peter. Andrew ran off to find his brother and passed on the exciting news, “We have found the Messiah.” When they got back Jesus identified him by name and says he will be called Cephas’ or Peter.
So following the line of information
God tells John of his mission
God tells John how to recognize the one to come after
John witnesses the sign Lamb of God
John tells all who are around Lamb of God
John repeats this to two of his followers Son of God
One of the followers, Andrew, goes to tell his brother Messiah
If we were to continue this line it would lead us all the way to this place and thousands like it where the Word is being proclaimed today.
The three readings I chose to use this morning are very different in form, the Psalm being a poem or song, 1 Corinthians being a letter, and John being a story. They are all about saving help, God’s faithfulness, Christ’s salvation, steadfast love, mercy, and evangelism.
In the Psalm we read a song of thanksgiving for deliverance from dire personal circumstances as well as the pattern of God’s works of salvation for the people of Israel over the ages. The author does what most of us would do after being rescued; he gives thanks and praises his deliverer. He doesn’t do this in private, but in the congregation, he tells everyone! In the 11 verses we read we go back and forth between the personal story and praise to God for his faithfulness, and the communal stories of the past and expectations of the future. The other feature of the Psalm is that it expresses God’s desire for a relationship with us rather than sacrifices. God doesn’t want the rites of religion, he wants our seeking and having his laws written on our heart.
Much of the writing of Paul that is included in the Christian cannon is in the form of letters. There was a very ordered format for letters in his time and he certainly followed it. First you introduce yourself, then identify the recipient, give thanks, and then you move on to the content. Our reading this morning was the introduction to a much longer letter which would address some pretty major issues with the church in Corinth. Without reading further, however, one would be unlikely to realize there was any problem or concern. The focus here was on their unity in that they were all called by Christ, that they were all empowered by the Spirit, that they all shared the same testimony to the grace of Christ and the faithfulness and steadfastness of God. Paul gives thanks for the congregation which was equipped with the tools they needed to continue this testimony, to pass on the word.
So, we have established that word-of-mouth is the most effective way of getting information out to people. Given this it is hard to imagine why do we rely so heavily on the Bible itself to get the Christian message out? How can we offer Christ and invite people to come and see what a life of following Jesus might be like. (Daniel Ogel…GBod)?
People are only willing to inquire about faith and follow if they are themselves open to it. It is spiritual hunger which compels people to search for new possibilities. It is their dissatisfaction with where they are in their lives and in their spiritual life which forces them to go in search of something new.(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com0 John the Baptist pointed the way to Jesus, “don’t focus on me or the trappings of the church or liturgy, look to Jesus himself and be open to a relationship with him. Jesus invited the first two disciples to, “come and see” where he was staying, to actually walk in his ways. Both of these approaches to seekers are models of evangelism. “Instead of beating people over the head or intimidating them to confess their faith, John and Jesus point to what God is doing and invite people to check it out. It’s a pretty compelling strategy for faith-sharing and evangelism.”(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com) and far less awkward than starting a conversation with a person by asking them if they know Jesus, or if they are a Christian and then launching into a “sales campaign.”
So, what did you post on Face Book this morning before leaving for church? Did you post that you were going to church? Great! When we share our lives as Christians with people, just as that, our lives, we open a door. If we get out the bat, quote scripture and tell people how they should live and what they should believe, we are more likely to scare them away. What will you post later in the day? Whether we have good days or bad what people will notice is our patience and hopefulness in God and maybe that will be enough to make them ask where we get that patience and hopefulness and then we can invite them to come and see.
The readings for this sermon were; 1 Cor 1:1-9, Psalm 40:1-11, John 1:19-42
Posted in Bible Study, church, Faith, Reflections
Tagged Bible, Christianity, evangelism, faith, forgiveness, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, John the Baptist
For those of you over forty-something have you ever listened to a rapper? To include the younger set , have you travelled to an area where people all spoke a different language or with an accent that was very difficult for you to understand?
If you were immersed in that sort of situation for days on end, then imagine the joy you would feel just hearing someone speaking so that you could understand. Then, imagine if they were telling you that God had loved you so much that he gave his son’s life to atone for your sins. Then they told you that through Him you would have eternal life.
Imagine the feeling that would give you! Imagine the questions it would raise. Are these guys drunk? In Acts we see Pentecost play out. The wind blows, the tongues of flame descend and then people begin to speak in languages they don’t even know. Peter interprets these things for those who are present. In order to make sense of this he quotes scripture.
“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour
out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
Wait a minute…did Joel say prophesy? Was Peter saying we should prophesy? I’m all for God pouring out His Spirit on me, but I’m not Isaiah, Jonah, or Ezekiel…how am I supposed to prophesy?
In his book New Proclamation Matthew L. Skinner says, “Peter’s brand of “prophecy” is …the task of identifying our own circumstances as somehow in line with testimony about God from the past and in line with the promises of what God is yet to do.” He goes on to explain that the art of prophecy is in truly believing that the Bible is a message to us in our own time.
We need to be open to a dialogue with the scripture. We need to let the Bible shape and effect all that we see, say and do. We need to stop reading the Bible as if it was just another book of information.
In a course I took on Reformed Spirituality we looked at the practice of spiritual reading. In the introduction to this section of her book Soul Feast, Marjorie J. Thompson asks the reader to consider the different way we would approach reading a letter from a dear friend and a newspaper.
Spiritual reading of the Bible is not going to come from reading to get through a section of text. It is not about how much you read, or how quickly you read. Our intention should be, in the words of Thompson, “simply to sink into the words and open ourselves to their meaning in our lives. How do we go about this?
There are four phases to spiritual reading. The first to read in a reflective way, slowly, pausing over words which seem to catch our attention. The second phase is meditation, in other words, when we find those words which really catch our attention, then give some thought to why this seems important to us…what is the connection between this text and our lives?
The third phase is speaking. We respond to our reading with our emotion in prayer. If the reading has highlighted our current struggles we will call out, perhaps in pain, if it speaks of our joy we will lift our hearts in praise. If you want some excellent examples of this phase, read through some of the Psalms.
Finally we contemplate. After pouring out in words all that we need to, we sit quietly and give time for God’s response to us. We rest in God’s presence and listen. These steps may go back and forth as we move through a text but the process is not complete without all four.
As you can tell from the steps listed, this is not the kind of
reading we can fit into the 20 minutes between activities and is best not left to the end of the day. When we make a space available in our day for this kind of reading, the Spirit will lead us in finding the meaning of the text for our lives.
God sent His Spirit to us for a reason. The Spirit is a gift to us which comforts us in our pain, helps us when we most need help, exhorts people to be present with God in answering the call to serve others in the world who are in need, advocates for us and provides the link for us to stay in touch with Jesus and through him with God, and, if we let it, reveals the truth in Jesus.
When God sends out His Spirit, plants spring to life– the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.
This is the glory of GOD–let it last forever!
New Testament:Acts 2:1-21
Epistle: Romans 8:22-27
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Posted in Bible Study, Faith, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, Christianity, church, cross, dreamers, evangelism, faith, forgiveness, God, Holy Spirit, improvement, Jesus, leadership, love, New Proclamation, promise, prophets, reflection, reformed spirituality, seers. Pentecost, Soul Fest, spiritual reading, spirituality
The story of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well doesn’t stop where we left off yesterday. This woman doesn’t just accept Jesus’ word, but she immediately starts to evangelize. She goes back into the town, where many people probably don’t normally speak to her because of her lifestyle, and speaks to everyone she meets to let them know that the Messiah is at the well! These are not the right people, and they are not in the right place!
Jacob’s well, the scene of our story, is at the entrance to the valley between Mt. Gerazim and Ebal. The source of much of the division between the Samaritans and the Jews was that the Samaritans built an alternative temple on Mt. Gerazim. In Jesus’ talk with the woman, when the discussion of which place was correct to worship God, the mountain where Samaritans worshiped or the temple in Jerusalem where the Jews worshiped, he makes it clear that it won’t be long before the issue of place will not matter. The huge divide between the Samaritans and Jews will not matter anymore because everyone will worship in spirit and in truth wherever they are.
Why is it that the wrong people are so able to see Jesus as Messiah and to accept this? Why were the Samaritans who followed this woman out of the city able to see and accept what the disciples were not? Is it because they have no vested interest? After-all, if you aren’t in a position to deserve anything and it is offered anyway wouldn’t you jump at it?
Whatever else might be said of the disciples, they were Jews, the chosen people, they worshiped God and followed the customs and rules of the temple. They would have firmly believed that the temple in Jerusalem was the proper place to worship, that the Samaritans were not people in God’s favour, and that Messiah was coming for them alone. The Samaritans, on the other hand, did not even expect Jews to talk to them, especially after some Samaritans had scattered bones in the temple in Jerusalem, and after the Maccabean uprising was put down, allowed their temple to be dedicated to Zeus. They had nothing to expect of Jesus, so when he offered them the living water they were happy to accept.
So, are we thirsty? I know I am. As thirsty people, are we more like the Jews who are sure of our position and right to the water, or are we more like the Samaritans unsure that we deserve anything?
With potable drinking water at risk all over the world, and especially in Japan and other places which have had recent natural disasters, this seems like a good time for this question of thirst. We in Canada don’t have much to worry about in terms of water. We have lots for us, so much so that we are careless with it and just expect that it will remain this way. Physically we are more like the Jews in this story, sure we will have the water while others may struggle. Spiritually, though, I think our thirst is a bigger problem for us than those in the developing world. As Christians we are lucky to have found the rock from whom the living water springs, even if we stray and find ourselves thirsting again we know that through prayer Jesus is still there for us.
There are so many people out there who don’t even know for what they thirst. They will try anything to fill that need, but it won’t work in the long-term. They remain thirsty. Like the woman at the well we need to go back to town and tell people what we have learned and offer to lead them to the man at the well. If you meet a thirsty person do you not offer them a drink?
Posted in Bible Study, Reflections
Tagged belief, Bible, Christianity, evangelism, faith, God, Jacob's well, Jesus, Lent, Messiah, prayer, reflection, Samaritan woman, temple, thirsty, worship, wrong people, wrong place
In John 4:5-42 we meet Jesus at the well of his ancestor Jacob. By now should not be at all surprised that he is doing something he shouldn’t. In this passage he is talking to someone he shouldn’t, he offers living water to the wrong type of person, and he foreshadows a change in the order of things that would have been very unpopular with the Jewish leaders of the day.
He speaks to a Samaritan woman. She was at the well alone in the middle of the day, not the time women regularly went there, so she was trying to avoid people who knew her and would have ridiculed her, staring and talking behind their hands about her. That alone smacks of scandal! This woman he meets at the well is a person whom he should have ignored for at least three valid cultural reasons of the time.
1. Men were not supposed to talk to women they didn’t know, it just wasn’t done.
2. Jews were not supposed to talk to Samaritans.
3. Not only was she a Samaritan woman, but she was a woman who had been married to five different men and was currently living with a man outside marriage.
As the Pharisees were keen to point out, Jesus spent far too much time with sinners, he should have just walked away!
Many of us are familiar with the story as it unfolds; Jesus is alone, he asks for water, she points out all the reasons why he shouldn’t be talking to her, he offers her a different kind of water which will quench a thirst deeper than the physical thirst, she is down-to-earth and points out that he has no way of drawing water from the well and brings up their mutual ancestor Jacob who had dug the well in the stone, he shows that he knows all about her even though they have never met and he is visiting the area, he tells her that he is Messiah and she believes!
Everyone gets thirsty. In fact, water is the most important thing for our basic survival. We can live much longer without food than we can with no water. Sometimes in our modern-day we don’t even manage to recognize when we are thirsty and mistake it for hunger, so after we eat we still have that uncomfortable feeling. This is one of the things you will read about if you are trying to lose weight and or live a more healthy lifestyle. This kind of thirst can be satisfied with a good drink of water.
The Israelites who had followed Moses out of Egypt were thirsty and there was no well or source of water around. (Exodus 17:1-7) This would be a most disturbing circumstance and so we are not surprised when they go to complain to Moses about this and ask for water. The story does not indicate how long it had been since they had their last chance to store up water, but presumably if they had not gone to complain, God would have led them in range of a water source before it was too late. The thing is, though, that while they may have been physically thirsty, what the Israelites really thirsted for was the assurance of the presence, love and care of God with them. This was the test, if God is really with us he should be able to satisfy our thirst. And so God provided water out of a rock, in a way like Jacob would do years later for his people and flocks.
While the woman was talking about water to drink, Jesus was offering himself to us as the source and sustenance of life and assurance of God’s continuing presence with us. Jesus is the Messiah, believe and you need never thirst again!
Posted in Bible Study, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, Christianity, evangelism, Exodus 17:1-7, faith, God, help, Jesus, John 4:5-42, Lent, Lent 3, Mt. Gerzim, promise, reflection, rock of salvation, Samaritans, survival, temple of Jerusalem, water
I promise, on my honour
To do my best, to do my DUTY
To God, the Queen and my country.
To help other people at
And to obey the Guide Laws.
(Girl Guides of Canada Promise)
Today I had hallway duty in the morning and detention duty at lunch time. As I was looking ahead at the end of the work day I found myself sighing with relief that I didn’t have any more duty today. Then I gave my head a shake. I had many things left in my day that would be considered duties.
- The duty to check in on my kids
- The duty to be sure my family is fed
- The duty to look after the dog
- The duty of planning anthems for my choir
- The duty of running choir practice
- The duty of picking up my daughter after work
- The duty of posting a blog entry
From where do our duty lists come? I remember in Guides when we went to camp there was always a duty list to check. It told you whether you were in charge of cleaning outhouses, cooking, clean-up, or fetching hot and cold water from the lodge. We all groaned when we drew outhouse cleaning and many of us enjoyed the cooking. Clean-up was ok if it wasn’t after porridge for breakfast, and water detail involved a lovely little walk through the woods and the fun of trying to keep the water buckets from tipping off the wagons we used for transport. Those are not the duties referred to in the Guide Promise. While it doesn’t exclude these specific types of duty I believe the promise had something more fundamental in mind.
Some of our duties come from our jobs and, like the camp duty lists, are clearly laid out. Most of the more major duties are put in place through our cultures and may indeed be more in our heads than they are reality. I teach my students about the functions of the family: socialization, reproduction, economic, sexual, and emotional. These are all really duties of the parents. It is our duty, or our job to; keep the race going by having children; having given birth to children to raise them to be respectful and law-abiding citizens with clear sense of right and wrong; to lead the family through bringing in and managing the money so as to provide of the needs of all the members; and to offer emotional support and feelings of safety in our households. Failure to perform some of these duties may cause your children to be taken away, but they largely represent cultural norms.
We talk about our civic duty. This would include voting, paying taxes, doing jury duty, obeying the law, turning in people who do not obey the law, cleaning up our dog’s messes etc.
So that largely covers our duties to “Queen and country” and that leaves our duty to God. Hmmm. As Christians we look to the New Testament for our directives. fundamentally our duty as Christians is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. (Matt 22:37-39) These items have been the topic of several other entries on my blog so I won’t go into detail on those.
I believe there is more.
- We were told to go into all the world and preach God’s Gospel to every nation. (Mark 16:15) So evangelism is part of our duty. Some evangelism is done through forums like blogs and social media. Much is done in one-on-one discussions with people and for many it is done through the example of your own life.
- We are called to worship God. Often in Psalms it says to make a joyful noise to the lord. We need to remember all the great things the Lord has done in the world throughout history and offer thanks and prayers for that.
- We are told to help the weak, the poor, and the widows which requires watching out for where there is need and then taking time and resources to answer those needs. This section is not just about direct assistance but also within our communities working to have fair systems and programs in place to continue the help and ideally take these people off the list of the needy.
- Those who believe have been forgiven their sins, but they need to accept that forgiveness, which is sometimes harder than it might seem, and pass it along to others.
So I realize that the Girl Guides of Canada Promise has actually changed to make it more politically correct, but humour me and join in to make this modified version now;
I promise on my honour,
To do my best, to do my DUTY
To God, the Queen and my country.
To help other people at
And to obey the Law.
Posted in Reflections
Tagged choir, Christianity, church, Civic Duty, Country, evangelism, Family Functions, Girl Guides of Canada, God, poor, prayer, promise, Queen, weak, widow
Thanks to Creative Commons
Ever since I was a kid I thought that houses only looked inviting or alive at night with the when the lights are on. When my husband and I were house hunting we went to see the houses with our realtor during the day or in the early evening when we were off work, but I always made a point of going past at another time later in the evening to see the house at night. I was looking for a house that looked warm and inviting which I could only see when the light was shining out.
I think the same is true of people. Obviously you don’t have to meet a person in the dark to know what they are like, nor do they literally have windows and lights shining out of them. You can tell, though, when you meet a person whose light is shining out. Rather than being able to see it you can feel it when you meet a person both filled with the spirit and letting that spirit move through them and out into the world to shine for others and show them the way.
In Matthew 5:15, Jesus speaks of this light through the metaphor of a lamp being hidden under cover. “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” We have good in us, hopefully we are filled with the spirit, and it would b foolish to hide that under a basket or behind a façade of any type.
It is not always comfortable to be the one shining in the room. There are many more people under baskets in our daily travels than there are people shining. As a result, when we are faced with a situation where we feel called to speak out against some wrong being done or injustice, we may reach for the basket to protect ourselves from potential abuse for being, “naive,” or “wimpy,” or just not fitting in. These are the times, however, that most cry out for some light.
May your light and mine shine out to all whom we meet in the coming week!
Posted in Reflections
Tagged bully, Christianity, evangelism, fear, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, leadership, light, love, reflection
This morning’s epistle reading was from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Galatians 1:10-17 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.mmm
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Notice the section I made bold. Here we have the issue of who is qualified to spread the word of the Gospel. Do we need special training before answering questions people have about why we believe in God? Do we need human approval and or that of specific courts of the church?
One Sunday some years ago we had a supply in the pulpit for the service. This individual had preached for us several times and I always enjoyed his sermons. I knew that he was not an ordained minister and for whatever reason that got me thinking. The next week our supply was an ordained minister whom I know well and after the service I asked him what one needed to do in order to be able to preach services. His answer was short and simple, “Tell someone you are willing.” I did this the next week when our minister returned from vacation and I have been doing pulpit supply ever since and have taken lay ministry courses since then.
When Paul felt the call he did not head to the head office to get approved, he went traveling and telling people about Christ. We won’t all be like Paul, but we can all do our bit. We can teach Sunday School, we can talk privately with friends and others, we can help to keep the church running so that its work can continue, we may even be able to preach the word.