Tag Archives: Lent

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)

 

 

Seven Days Until Easter: Palm Sunday


Today marks the beginning of what many call Holy Week.  This week contains within it the whole of the Gospel message for God’s people.  Today is Palm Sunday.  You know the one, people lined the already busy streets to catch a glimpse of Jesus, or at least to see what all the fuss was about.  In a way it represents the height of our misunderstanding of the role and nature of Messiah.

When a Roman legion returned from a successful campaign the city of Rome held a Triumph.  A triumph was basically a hero’s parade in which the legion in full regalia, and toting along any captives and slaves, rode and marched through the city streets.  It was the only time that a legion was allowed to be in the city en masse.  The people of Rome would be lining the streets, cheering and waving to the conquerors who had either protected them or fought to gain them new territory.  There was no personal benifit for most of these people but it was a great chance to celebrate!

When Jesus entered Jerusalem the people held in their hearts and minds all the dreams of the Messiah coming leading a legion of sorts and driving the Romans out of their city and their land.  To them it was a triumph, they seemed to miss or ignore that he was not riding a fine steed, but a young donkey, and he was not armed or wearing armour.  Perhaps we needed to be completely blind to who was really coming into Jerusalem in order for the story to work out properly.

So, even as you wave your palm branch and sing Hosanna this morning, enjoy the party but remember that the real triumph awaits us in seven days time.

20 Days Until Easter/ A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession


Father God, you sent your son into the world, not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved.  We thank you for this good news, the center of our faith.  We thank you for the freedom to meet here to worship you.

Jesus, life of all the world, source and sum of all creation, we give you thanks and praise for your work in this broken world.  Where there is hatred and devastation, even there we see signs of the new world to come.  We see pockets of beauty amidst devastation; hear of miraculous escapes from certain death.  We see people giving of what little they have to help others.  We see people risking their lives to fight against tyranny and even natural disasters as they work to put out fires, hold back floods.  We pray that we may continue to see signs of this hope in all the coverage of despair.  We pray that you strengthen us to be, in some small way, one of those agents of hope to others.

Jesus, living word we give thanks that you who know our every need, give us life.  We give you thanks for all the seemingly ordinary ways in which you bless us every day; for waking up each morning with a whole new day to explore, for our jobs, for an unexpected smile, for chances to get together with friends and loved ones, for the signs of spring after a long winter.  We pray that you may help us to be more aware of what we have than what we lack, and give us the strength we need to hold out that focus of hope to those who may have lost sight of spring.  While despair can be contagious, so can hope be contagious.  Help us to hold on to our hope and spread to those we meet in our daily lives.

We thank you for the freedom, gladness, and truth which allow us to let go of our fears and guilt.  Help us to remember that, through Jesus, we have already been forgiven. Help us to forgive ourselves, to let go of all those feelings of not being worthy, of failure, and bask in the freedom that brings.  Help us also to extend this forgiveness to anyone who has hurt us or wronged us in any way.  Make us open to all people, even those we might normally avoid.

Jesus, life of all the world, you are Lord of every nation; by your Holy Spirit’s power make your Church your incarnation till our lives of truth and grace show our world your human face! Amen

 

this prayer uses parts of Margaret Clarkson’s hymn Jesus, life of all the world which can be found at 776 in the Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada

23 Days Until Easter


The days are getting longer, the sun stronger, and the snow is lasting for a shorter time.  These are sure signs of spring, of rebirth of our natural world.  The reawakening of mother earth.  Along with this people’s spirits are lifting and thoughts and dreams are focused more on the short summer (in Canada anyway) which is on the horizon.

This brightening can be seen in the church as well.  Sure, we are still in Lent for our worship services, but at choir practices and planning meetings the focus has moved on the joyous celebration which is coming in a mere 23 days!  We are still practising our hymns for Lenten services but now the end part of practise is focused on the cheering crowd of Palm Sunday and the weeks of celebration which begin on Easter morning.

So, hang in there! Easter, rejoicing, and spring are coming!! 

31 Days Until Easter: Have you got your ducks in a row?


OK, I realize that this picture is not one of a line of ducks, as one might have expected from the title of this post.  It is however evocative of spring and Easter and that is my topic for today.

As I look around my living room right now I see a snowman plate set hanging on the wall across from me, the remnants of my Christmas village still sprawled across the railing and top of the bookshelves, an empty vase, and other general clutter.  I did finally take down the last of my nativities earlier this week, although it hasn’t made its way to storage yet.  With only 31 days before Easter, I had better get on the ball or it will be too late for bunnies and chicks and we will be into summer!

I’m not suggesting that the season of Lent is about home decor, nor that there is any need to actually decorate our homes seasonally at all!  For many of us, though, as is our home – so goes our mind.  The most important thing about Lent is getting one’s focus on a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and we can’t do that if we are still stuck in Christmas, or clutter, or unfinished projects, or whatever else may surround us. 

There is, of course, no actual time limit to getting our relationship with God on solid footing.  God accepts us whenever we come to him.  Our church calendar provides these designated periods of each year as a reminder, a way to keep us on track.  So, I’m just putting it out there, you have 31 days left to get those ducks, or bunnies, or flowers lined up! 

Answering The Reflection Questions


We have a book study starting this evening at our church based on God: The Rumours Persist!!by Bishop Bill Hockin.  In preparing  for this I began to read the first chapter.  It began with a pre-reading reflection, “Would you describe yourself as a religious person?  Why or why not?  How would you describe your relationship with God?”

I have a habit of skipping over this type of question whether they be in the header, in the margins, or in the back of the book.  I guess that might seem strange considering that I write about this type of thing all the time, but there you are.  So here’s why…I find it hard to answer the questions without sounding very self-satisfied when in reality I never feel satisfied or worthy.  

Would you describe yourself as a religious person?  Yes

Why? Church, service and God are a big part of my life.

How would you describe your relationship with God? Comfortable, needy, unbalanced (I get lots and give little) 

Are there people out there who find these comfortable to answer?  Should we?  Would the answers be the same every day? Do the people who write them into the books have answers? Oh look…I wrote reflection questions.  On the up side, I’m pretty sure there are no right or wrong answers either to the real questions we find in books, the questions that come into our heads throughout our lives, nor the ones I just wrote.  The idea is just to think and be open to answers as they come.

Hockin, Bishop Bill, God: The Rumours Persist!!Taylor Printing Group Inc. Fredericton:2011.

35 Days Until Easter: One World, One Prayer


This past Friday evening I was at the annual World Day of Prayer service with the theme Let Justice Prevail.  Given all the differences in circumstance around the globe, it is hard to think of everyone praying the same thing at any given time, other than the Lord’s Prayer.  I thought that I would include the prayer for intercession from the service.  This was written by the World Day f Prayer Committee of Malaysia.

Almighty God, we thank you that through Jesus Christ, you have opened a new and living way whereby we can come with confidence in prayer.

Lord we pray for the leaders of our countries.  Grant them wisdom to know and do what is right and just.  Grant them the compassion and willpower to do your will.  Fill them with a love for truth and righteousness and fill them with the fear of God that they may work for the justice of all people.

God from whom all justice flows, hear our prayer.

O Lord, thank you for creating us in your image – uniquely gifted to contribute positively to home, society and church.  While many of us are comfortable in our setting, there are those who are oppressed and abused, isolated and silenced.  We pray for those who are voiceless victims of oppression and violence; victims of inequality and abuse; victims of unjust and biased cultural practices, victims of religious practices of law.

Jesus, who suffered injustice for us, hear our prayer.

Gracious Lord, we pray for migrant workers, the weak, the poor and the marginalized , that their cries for help and elevation from discrimination, deprivation of rights and dignity be heard and be acted upon by those in power over them.

Holy Spirit, empower us to work for justice and peace.

O God, we pray that you will strengthen your church with power and revelation that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.  Let us be rooted and established in love.  Grant us the boldness and wisdom to reach out to the community in a holistic manner.

God from whom all justice flows, hear our prayer.

O God, we ask a vision of your justice and for the strength of the persistent widow to work for it.  You have called us to be instruments of justice in a world of strife and false justice.  We pray that you will make strong our hands and make clear our voices.  Give us humility with firmness and insight with passion, that we may fight not to conquer, but to release.

Jesus, who suffered injustice for us, hear our prayer.  Holy Spirit, empower us to work for justice and peace. Through the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

 

prepared and adapted for use in Canada by the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada

38 Days Until Lent: Sold Down The River


Today I went to the daily lectionary page of pcusa.org for some inspiration.  Today’s Old Testament reading was Genesis 37:25-36, the scene in which Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery ‘down the river Nile’ in Egypt.  This struck me as an odd story on which to focus during Lent.  The Gospel reading, Mark 1:29-45 covered the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, healing of many people who were brought over to her home that evening, and a leper the next morning when he had gone apart from the group to pray.  This continuation of the story of Jesus seemed much more appropriate.

Then I got thinking…

Joseph was very popular with his father and, in the eyes of his brothers, spoiled.  They were all older than he was and all had a right to a place higher in the pecking-order of esteem and inheritance than he should have had.  They were the ones who deserved the attention.  

Imagine now that the role of the older brothers is, in the New Testament, taken by the Scribes and Pharisees of his day.  Jesus, despite all that he had done for people in need, made these people nervous, even jealous.  What did these older brothers do?  They sold Jesus down the river, or up the cross to be more accurate. 

When Joseph was sold, it turned out to be to the benefit of all of Israel.  It had all been part of God’s plan.  Likewise, when Jesus was sent to the cross, through the planning of the Caiaphas and the betrayal by Judas, it was for the benefit of all people.