Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

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.

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.

Are you ready for Baptism?


  Pentecost Banner 

      In John 14 we read that Jesus promised that God would provide a friend for us so that we would never be alone. This friend was the Spirit of Truth. Today is the season of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. Happy Easter everyone, and happy birthday!

     In his Interpretation series book Acts, William H. Willimon discusses a number of views and perspectives on the Pentecost reading. It is interesting to note, as he does, that the actual event of Pentecost is far overshadowed the sheer number of verses, by Peter’s immediate interpretation of the events for those shocked disciples and for the even more bewildered crowd. One of the interesting things he spoke about was the value of looking for parallels between the creation story, the birth of Jesus, and the birth of the church. The Spirit was the instrument of God’s power in all three of these events. Setting aside the creation for a moment, both the birth of Jesus and the birth of the church were foretold in the works of the OT prophets. They were both made possible through the power of God and through the work of the Spirit. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The church was the culmination of the promise of Easter and was given life and inspiration by the breath and flame of the Holy Spirit.

     The Pentecost scene in Acts concludes with the first Christian sermon proclaimed by Peter. Peter’s sermon followed a three-step pattern which is common in the church even today. He explained the day’s events in terms of scripture, he proclaimed The Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he encouraged all in attendance to be baptized.

     In The Message translation, Acts 2 says, “Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.” The power that had breathed creation into being empowered the disciples on the day of Pentecost. They had been in hiding since Jesus arrest and crucifixion, had been with Jesus for 40 days, had the scriptures opened to their understanding, but were still not ready to proclaim the message without this gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of wind and flame.

     Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is generally thought of as God’s presence in us. In the reading from John today, Jesus called the Spirit an Advocate which may be translated as: “Comforter”, “Counselor,” “Helper.” He also refers to it as the Spirit of Truth and tells us that not just anyone can receive the Spirit because not everyone sees and knows the Spirit. We are only able to receive the Spirit through first knowing and believing in God (God being in Christ and Christ in God).

     Why was the Holy Spirit represented in the Biblical account of the birth of the church as wind and flame?  We first met the wind in Genesis 1:2 where the wind swept over the waters. Winds can do many things; they may blow, stream, issue, freshen, gather, bluster, sigh, moan, scream, howl, and whistle. The wind has been called a breath or an aura. We have read throughout the Bible stories with winds, perhaps most notably the two stories of Jesus and the disciples on the sea in a storm. In both cases, Jesus was able to calm the storm and the disciples marveled over his having power even over the wind.

     Fire has frequently been used as a symbol of the presence of God in the Bible. We see God in the burning bush as the fire that burns but does not consume. This very image is used as the symbol of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The Jews were led by God in the form of a pillar of fire in the desert at night. We know that fire is one of the main reasons for the success of the human species on our planet. We cook with it, we heat our homes with it. We think of flames, blazes, conflagrations, but we also think of enthusiasm, verve, kindling, igniting, inspiring, and arousing.

     There were Jews and proselytes from all over the world, which is to say from every direction, in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. If each one spoke in their native languages they would have been unable to understand each other because, since the days of Babel, there were many different languages. Most of the people in the Roman Empire were able to speak Latin or Greek in order to communicate, but still, they had not been able to hear the message of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection in their own native languages until this event. To hear the good news in terms familiar to you since birth. Centuries later, this was the goal of Luther who wanted the Bible translated so that the common people could read it for themselves. This desire to meet the word in our own tongue continues. We have the Bible in its original Hebrew and Biblical Greek, King James English, contemporary language of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s etc. and as of Nov 2014 the Bible Society has translated the whole Bible into 531 languages, and 2,883 languages have at least some portion of the Bible; the work on translation continues.

     What was the big news that the disciples began telling in many different languages when the Spirit entered them? This is the good news…that God sent his only son to be one of us. That Jesus suffered and died on the cross to atone for our sins that we may have eternal forgiveness and that Jesus, who returned to the Father in heaven asked God to provide us with a comforter, a supporter, and inspiration to stay with us forever…the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ was and is in the Father and the Father was and is in Christ. Those who believe will continue in the mission of Jesus in the world. Jesus will do whatever we ask in His name so that the Father will be glorified through Him.

     Many of us, here today, were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some of us were baptized as babies, some later on or even as adults. This is the third section of Peter’s sermon, “repent and be baptized every one of you…so that you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Are we ready to begin a new life today? Are we ready to have the Spirit blow through us, and through our lives, consuming all the dust and waste in the incinerators fire, and refreshing us as a gentle breeze in the summer? For those who may be new to the Good News, are you ready to let that spark ignite into action? Are you ready to follow Peter’s challenge and be baptized? For those of us who have been there and done that, are we ready to be aroused, to feel again the enthusiasm for the work of Christ? How do we receive this gift? Believe in God, and in the precious gift of his son Jesus Christ, and open your heart and you mind to the indwelling Spirit and begin to feel the warmth of the flames in your soul.

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.

Food, Power, and Minions #1


On The Menu                    spiritual-emptiness

 

This is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent has traditionally been a time used to prepare people for Baptism, and confirmation of faith, and for those already confirmed in faith to reflect upon their Baptisms. Good Friday and Easter are the most important observances of the Christian year. Preparing for these events is not, at least for those not leading in worship, about outward trappings but inner awareness and grounding. It should not be like wedding planning; deciding on venues, making guest lists, what food to serve, and decorations. The readings for the first Sunday in Lent always include the story of Christ’s temptation.

Christ’s temptation reflects the experiences of Moses’ 40 days on the mountain with no food, Israel’s 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and Elijah’s 40 days in flight to the mountains. In Luke’s Gospel, the story of the temptation of Christ particularly draws Israel’s wilderness experience first into the life of Jesus and beyond that into the life of the church. Just as Luke focused his gospel on the path of Jesus’ ministry from Galilee to Jerusalem he changed the order of the temptations so that they culminated with the Temple in Jerusalem. The three temptations in the Gospel lesson, and which I used for my sermon series title, are Food, Power, and Minions and address three themes; personal or social temptation, political temptation, and religious temptation. Today, as we begin our preparations, we will focus on the personal temptation.

Jesus was in the wilderness and was tempted for 40 days. Luke tells us that in that time he ate no food. When the Devil began his testing it was on a personal level. How many of you could go 7 days with no food at all? I know I couldn’t! Jesus was famished. As a human being, his deepest drive must have been to meeting this most basic physical need, but though he had no food he was full. He was full of the Holy Spirit. So, when the Devil suggested he turn the stone into bread, he quoted from Deuteronomy 8 saying, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”

Was this test really about food? If we have eaten enough we are full. If we have not eaten we are hungry. When our consumption runs amok we are guilty of gluttony. But do we only hunger for food? There are, of course, too many in our society today who are physically hungry. From our side their need is clear and the solution is food. Though this is a much more complex issue, we are not going to focus on that today.  It seems that we are all hungry; hungry for more, hungry for new, hungry for the best, just that one more thing will make us fulfilled!

Let’s look at the context of Jesus’ quote. Deuteronomy is the final sermon of Moses. He and the Israelites are now on the border of the Promised Land and he is preparing them for their future, reinforcing all that God had commanded them through him. In Chapter 8, Moses is said to them,

2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:2-3)

Theologian Fred E Craddock says of today’s passage that the Devil chose the perfect time for this testing of Jesus. The narrative in Luke chapter 3 ends with Jesus’ baptism and the words, “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.” (Luke 3:23)  Before his ministry had time to take shape; before sermons; before casting out demons; before healing the sick; the Devil wanted to see if he could influence or sabotage it.

In a brilliant work of satirical writing called The Screwtape Letters, C S Lewis has letters written by one of the Devil’s main demons, Screwtape, to an apprentice or sorts named Wormwood. If you haven’t read this book I would highly recommend it! The letters are one side of a supposed correspondence between the two on the issue of how best to ensure that Wormwood’s patient (victim from our point of view) goes to hell. He gives instructions on how best to distract a patient from any attention to the word of the Enemy (God) and leanings in the way of becoming and living a Christian life. In one letter Screwtape notes that gluttony, one of the deadly sins, is perhaps the easiest to encourage given that it is not actually restricted to quantities of consumption but also on luxury. So we are lulled easily into thinking that just because we have a relatively moderate consumption of food, fashion, and leisure activity etc. is not enough. When we stare at the open fridge full of food and see, “nothing to eat,” we should not be too quick to congratulate ourselves on choosing not to snack.

Note that he was full of the Holy Spirit throughout the story, that this did not protect him from being tempted. Temptation is a basic human condition. Luckily we have, as did Jesus in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit with us and the word of God to work against the Devil’s temptations. As we leave here today and go through our weekly routines remember the words from one prayer I found for the first Sunday of Lent.

“You declare, “It is written,” and Satan flees. Teach us the power of your Word. Remind us that Satan cannot stand before the blinding glare of your Father’s revelation…We are not weak and helpless before him after all. We have your strong Word to defeat the Tempter.” (Kuntz, 1993)

 

 

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

 

Word of Mouth


Word of mouth

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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

  1. God tells John of his mission

  2. God tells John how to recognize the one to come after

  3. John witnesses the sign Lamb of God

  4. John tells all who are around Lamb of God

  5. John repeats this to two of his followers Son of God

  6. 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

Samuel Anoints David/ It’s Not About Appearance!


Old Testament    1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

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

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

 

How do we choose a leader? 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Empty Nests and Cat Ladies


I was sitting on the couch this morning, alone in the house with my dog.  It isn’t that I am never alone, but with one child moved out, one daughter about to graduate from high school, and one entering grade 11 it occurred that this may be a little taste of the eventual empty nest.  Changes are on the way.  As I thought this I was glad to have my little lap dog to cuddle and talk to (better than talking to myself) and that led me to think of…

I have lots planned for my future after the kids have moved out.  I don’t expect to have much more time alone at home than I have now other than evenings, but there is definitely some appeal to having little furry ‘children’ to look after and who may always be happy to see you (at least in the kitchen near their food dishes).  We have a human need for companionship and for those without an available human, pets fill the gap.

One companion we can always count on, even when the cats are ignoring us, is the Holy Spirit, and God’s is always eager for us to talk with him!