If you look at the Revised Common Lectionary listing of Bible readings over a three year period you will notice that while in theory it covers the whole Bible in each cycle there are parts you may never hear preached. Thankfully one section in this category includes most of the book of Numbers which contain seemingly endless lists of genealogies. One of the most curious things is that even with the Psalms there are frequently parts of the Psalm which are not designated as a part of the reading. For example; two of the Sundays in June had small pieces removed from the Psalms in the RCL. On June 5 we read Psalm 68 but left out verses 11-31. On June 12 the reading was Psalm 104 and we left out verses 1 -24 and 35A.
If you read these Psalms responsively in your worship service, these skipped sections can lead to confusion for the congregation as well as the minister, unless you print them out. What could be so wrong with Psalm 68 verses 11-31 that would deem it unusable in worship. It is a part of the Bible, that is not denied, the planners of the lectionaries, though, presumably thought it best to skip them.
11 The Lord gives the command;
great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
12 ‘The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!’
The women at home divide the spoil,
13 though they stay among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there,
snow fell on Zalmon.
15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the Lord will reside for ever?
17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands,
the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18 You ascended the high mount,
leading captives in your train
and receiving gifts from people,
even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
20 Our God is a God of salvation,
and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said,
‘I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.’
24 Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
25 the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
26 ‘Bless God in the great congregation,
the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!’
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in a body,
the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.
28 Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings bear gifts to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.
I assume that in the case of the above verses there were a couple of concerns. In many of the verses God is portrayed in a very militaristic and vengeful light. God’s army is huge, will shatter the heads of the enemies, there is talk of feeding the enemy to the dogs and the victors bathing their feet in blood. Yuck! One of the things that is most disturbing about reading in the Old Testament comes from this sort of portrayal. This is not the loving God with whom we grew up in the mainline churches! The other thing I noticed was how much God’s desire of a mountain top abode, receiving of gifts etc. reminds me of what I have taught for years in my unit on Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations. This is not surprising exactly, but in early days it would have been very important to distance Christianity from pagan practices.
Would the reasons be the same for Psalm 104?
God the Creator and Provider
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
As you could see, Psalm 104:1-24 had none of the more disturbing elements to it at all. Paired in the lectionary as it is with the creation story from Genesis, I think we can be fairly certain that this shortening was done for time. The Genesis reading is long and covers all the same ground as in verses. Verse 35A however consigns sinners to be consumed (one assumes by fire) which seems contrary to the concept of Christian love.
I wonder if we do too much of this covering up, or brushing aside, the uncomfortable parts of the Bible. I certainly understand that one might not want your five-year-old repeating lines about feeding their enemies to the dogs, or bathing their feet in blood. My concern is that it is a little like issues of family violence. People didn’t ever talk about family violence. It was something to keep behind closed doors. Neighbors might be somewhat aware that things were happening, but would never think to ask or offer help. What ends up happening, in the case of the Bible, is that we educate Christians while side-stepping the issues, and then later when they come across these verses in their own study they are ill prepared to deal with them. I know I wasn’t prepared the first time I seriously sat down and read the Old Testament!
I’m not sure what a solution might be. Perhaps we need to be offering Bible studies on the unpalatable parts, but then, being so unpalatable, who would attend? I do feel, however that it is important to get the verses out of their plain paper bags, and into the open.
Posted in Bible Study, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, Bible study, blood-thirsty God?, change, choices, Christian Education, Christianity, church, controversy, cover-ups, details, enemies, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, leadership, Lectionary, Mesopotamia, pagan, philosophy, preaching, problems, Psalm 104, Psalm 68, Psalms, reflection, sin
I expect most of us are familiar with the expression, “The medium is the message” coined by Marshall McLuhan. The phrase is as old as I am, well ten months older. At the time it was spoken in reference to the quickly changing face of media and our tendency to focus on the obvious effects and not really look for a deeper level. I don’t pretend to really understand McLuhan’s message, but I think that it is important to look at our messages, especially as they are becoming more and more public through blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc.
When I prepare a message for any of my usual churches I do so knowing that, for the most part, I will be preaching to a Christian audience with a fairly similar frame of reference to mine. When I write something for my blog it is different, I have no way of knowing who may read my post so things I wouldn’t normally explain get explanation. Things that are totally open to the world on the internet need a different filter than comments to my friends and colleagues over lunch. Awareness of audience is even one of the sections on rubrics for evaluating student writing.
I am working on a service I will be leading at my sister’s church in the Montreal area. I have led worship at all four of the Presbyterian churches in my area, but this will be my first time preaching out of the province. I am somewhat familiar with the church as I have worshipped there and sung in the choir on occasion, but I don’t really know it. I do know that there are several retired ministers and theology professors who attend her church. While I am used to having one or two retired ministers in the congregation for my services at home, they are people with whom I am very familiar and comfortable. This is not the case for my sister’s church, and who knows what other areas of speciality I may trip upon in my message?
One service I did on Aboriginal Sunday a while back went well. At the end I greeted people at the back as usual. One woman hung back for a bit and when she came up to me said she was debating whether or not to tell me what she really thought. I asked her to go ahead. She was not pleased with my message and gave me various reasons mostly related to her perceptions of “special treatment” for First Nations people in our area. While she had, in part, missed the actual point of the sermon, she needed to talk about the issues it raised for her and I hope that helped her in some way.
So, would I write a different message if I was speaking to the un-churched, the working class, a room full of professors, or atheists? In the end, all I can do is what I usually do. I will study the texts carefully, review what other’s have said on the topic, do some fact checking, and then write what seems to flow. Hopefully what I say will give people something new to think about, something to inspire them, or something about which to debate.
Posted in Bible Study, Reflections
Tagged atheism, audience, Bible, blog, choices, Christianity, church, debate, details, distractions, expectations, facebook, faith, God, inspiration, leadership, Lectionary, preaching, reflection, sermon, stress, theology, writing
This morning our congregation took our first steps down a whole new road. Just like the road in my picture it is not clear right now what it will look like or what side roads may come along but we have cleared a straight path and leveled it out.
For any of you not familiar with the way things work in the Presbyterian Church, we do not hire ministers, we believe they are called to a congregation by God. Once the search committee has heard and interviewed a candidate and decide that they are the right person they arrange for that person to preach for the congregation. After that service there is a congregational meeting at which it is decided whether or not to extend the call to that individual or go back to the drawing board.
This morning we heard a candidate preach, had some time with her at a reception (along with celebrating a members 93rd birthday), and decided at our meeting to extend a call to her. This document will then be presented at the next level of our church courts, the presbytery. If they affirm the call we will have a full-time minister again. It is pretty exciting stuff!
How often in our lives do we face this kind of “new road” experience? If we change jobs, begin or end a relationship, become parents we start new roads for sure. Other than that I suspect many of us are on the same road upon which our parents put our feet when we began to walk, or at least the road we took when we moved out on our own. I know that despite some side streets and dead ends, I am pretty much walking the path my parents showed me.
How does that translate to a church community? We have the comfort of all those things that have “always been done that way” but the real path we walk is the one cleared for us by Jesus and he was hardly one timid about change! I think the big thing that will change in the short-term is that we will have something definite for which to plan. There will be ordination and induction services to plan. There will be house hunting and moving for our minister.
The little things will settle themselves over time. Order of worship is one thing that is likely to undergo subtle changes. This morning for instance we were invited to sit after the call to worship. It seemed strange, but then I still remember when that was the norm and the strangeness of standing right from the call through the prayer and then the first hymn. I think the change was made for time-saving, but today it was quite nice to sit for the prayer.
I think the new road I have pictured above is going to be a new subdivision along the road which goes past our church. If this is the case, it will be leveled, graded, and lots will be sold. Gradually people will buy the lots and move into the area making it into a neighbourhood. Side roads will be added to accommodate more homes. Hopefully the same will be said of our church over the next few years. New people may move in to join those of us already there, perhaps new side-roads will take the form of new groups or initiatives. We can’t know from where we stand now, but we have the road started and it is time to move forward!
Posted in Reflections
Tagged blog, calling, change, choices, Christianity, church, faith, God, improvement, Jesus, leadership, new roads, preaching, promise, reflection, subdivisions
This evening, in around an hour-and-an-half, members of the congregation to which I belong will be meeting the person who may be becoming our new minister. Exciting stuff! A bit nerve-wracking, probably more for the candidate than the congregation, but exciting.
At these points in the lives of congregations we face that most frightening spectre, change! Despite having been without full-time pastoral care for almost two years, we have become comfortable with the status quo. As much as we all know we need to have a minister, we are nervous of the inevitable change that will come along.
What makes people so fearful of change? Many would say, “experience!” It is a bit like labour pains. The more you tense up and resist the contractions, or the changes, the more they hurt. Despite what has resulted from change in our past, we need to remain relaxed and open to change. Perhaps we need to practice our deep cleansing breaths, maybe even expect good things to come. We do have the Holy Spirit with us for the ride so we know that we are loved and protected come what may.
One of the things that all people seek is the “right path” for their lives. My grade twelve students are hitting it head-on right now as they make their plans for future career paths and any related schooling which may be required. How do you balance what you enjoy with what will pay the bills? From an early age people ask us what we want to be when we grow up? And who among us has not at one time or another wondered if our parents had us by accident? As Christians we have the added dimension of calling. What is it God has planned for us? For what use were we given our particular talent set?
If you doubt that people are looking for this calling, Google search for Rick Warren. His book The Purpose Driven Life has been translated into 50 languages and has sold some 25 million copies. Along with the phenomenal success of his book, Warren has trained 400,000 ministers in his Purpose Driven Church strategy. The topic of the first 7 of 40 chapters in his book? “What On Earth Am I Here For?”
In my case, I basically fell into my current career. Early in junior high I planned to grow up to be a minister. In grade nine I decided I was going to go to Mt. Allison to take music and education. I wanted to be just like my junior high band teacher. I did go to Mt. Allison for a university degree in music, but by then I was certain that I would not be teaching school! I didn’t even like kids! Twenty-five years after graduating I am looking at retiring from teaching in six or seven years.
Even as I was in the midst of this career I still felt called to ministry. I began doing pulpit supply work around eight years ago, and five years ago actually applied for a position as university chaplain. When I did not get that position I took it to mean that, for the time being at least, I was doing what was intended. That may have been too simplistic a view, but the years since have been some of the most satisfying of my career.
I feel my life experiences have uniquely prepared me to teach my courses on family and child development (I haven’t taught music in years) and to work to further justice and positive climate in my school. I also believe that all of this is still preparing me for ministry within the church.
According to the PCC pamphlet, “Am I being called?” “The primary vocation of all Christians is to be in relationship with God through Christ. We delight in God’s gracious love and respond in praiseand gratitude. As the Shorter Catechism says, “Our chief end is to glorify and enjoy God forever…For most Christians, their primary arena for exercising their vocation is in the world and the exercise of their vocation in the church is in a voluntary capacity.” Whatever your vocation, may the Spirit of God guide you in your work.
For more about Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life go to rickwarren.com
For more on calling to ministry with Presbyterian Church in Canada check out this link http://www.presbyterian.ca/files/webfm/ourresources/mcv/Am%20I%20being%20called%20for%20web%20booklet.pdf
Posted in Reflections
Tagged calling, career, choices, Christianity, church, details, distractions, faith, God, help, Holy Spirit, leadership, ministry, preaching, purpose, reflection, Rick Warren, students, vocation
The other day when I wrote my blog it was as part of preparation for today’s sermon. I thought I would post some of what came from that beginning today…
Are you a royal watcher? There is an exciting week coming up for people who follow the lives and activities of the British royal family. There are many websites devoted exclusively to the upcoming wedding of Prince William and his fiancée Kate Middleton. At 4 AM Atlantic Time on April 29th people like my sister-in-law will be awake watching their TV sets to see full coverage of this bit of history being made. They will be watching the “pregame show” and then Kate arriving at the church in a car and Lady Catherine and her husband driving away in a glass coach. The red carpet will be out for all the dignitaries who will be at the wedding, most notably Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Crowds will have gathered along the route from the palace to the church as much as 24 hours in advance in hopes of getting a glimpse of the royals and their guests.
Today is Palm Sunday and we are looking at another big day, a procession of an important person and people all lined up to catch a glimpse. The story that begins Matthew’s account of the passion story serves the purpose of showing Jesus’ royal status publicly.
First, palm branches were a symbol of triumph and victory to the Jewish people for instance, in Leviticus 23, they were instructed to celebrate the triumph of God bringing the people out of Egypt with branches of palm and leafy willow. It was a custom in the Middle East to cover up the paths of people worthy of the highest honour. In 2 Kings 9:13 (dated in approximately 830 BCE) when Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was declared king, the people spread their coats on the ground in front of him. This may have been a precursor to the red carpet which at one time was rolled out only for heads of state though now this extends to include famous people of almost any sort. “The earliest known reference to walking a red carpet in literature is in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, written in 458 BC. In this story Agamemnon’s wife has servants spread out a “crimson path” for him to walk over when he returns from Troy. He is reluctant due to “knowing that only gods walk on such luxury…”
The main connections between the Old Testament and Palm Sunday come from Zechariah 9:9 which is quoted in Matthew 21:5 where it prophesies, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. and Psalm 118 which we read today, from which came the words people were chanting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” and another mention of laying down branches, “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.”
For those of us who have the benefit of hindsight in this matter, the perceptions of the people of Israel in Jesus’ day don’t make much difference. Regardless of the size of the crowd none of the people really knew what was going on. The disciples had a fair hint at what was going on after Jesus told them that taking the donkeys was to fulfill the prophecy from Zechariah and yet even they were surprised by the events of the coming week. We know that he was not the king they had been hoping for, entering to get rid of Herod and the Romans. We also know that he was much more than they could ever have imagined. Jesus was not entering as a king of one small area in Israel; he was really the king of heaven. His task, while it would have been confusing to them, was much greater than grasping for political power and improving the lives of the people of the city and surrounding area during his lifetime. He was coming to improve the lives of all the people of the world for all time.
Our current reality in Canada is a battle for power between our political parties. In Egypt power was just taken away from a dictator by the people. In Libya there is a civil war in progress to try to eliminate another dictatorship. Let’s take comfort in the greater reality that the ultimate king is on his throne and he will be coming again.
Posted in Reflections
Tagged Bible, Canadian election, Christianity, church, Easter, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Kate Midleton, Lent, media event, Palm Sunday, perception, photo op, plams, preaching, Prince William, promise, reflection, royal wedding
The other day I was getting a coffee refill at work and when I opened the fridge door I was met with the above picture. I took a moment to stand and consider my options, when I would normally just grab my usual. Did I want to take my coffee black that day? It would still have all the caffeine and be very diet friendly. On the far end of the scale was the flavoured cream which has sugar as well but would turn my drink into something almost like a luxury. Then there are the three levels of 1% milk, 2% milk and 18% cream. As a rule of thumb one might say that the higher the fat content, the richer and more appealing the coffee.
Can the same be said of our choice of church? Most of us attend the church in which we grew up without really giving it much thought. I have no intention of making any judgements on the different denominations of the Christian church. We have many different denominations, I believe, because no single style would satisfy everyone. This is largely because they are a function of religion which is a human construct, and not of faith itself.
At their hearts all churches are like black coffee. The essential elements of scripture, faith, and worship are central to each. We could call that the Holy Catholic Church.
International flavoured coffee cream
What are the ingredients that determine the percentage of cream in our churches? Music is an easy one to look at. If we consider plainsong or Gregorian Chant to be 1% and move towards the more complex that would put the style of simple choruses at 2%. The 18% cream might be the contemporary rock style and the more elaborate classical style music would then be the sweet specialty cream. I don’t think that works quite right. First, it left out the traditional hymn style and second, I don’t think many people these days would consider classical and formal music to be the sweet specialty. Since most churches don’t use plainsong these days maybe the lowest fat music should be the basic hymn, the sweetest the choruses with their strong emotional appeal. The other styles would fill in the center.
Preaching style would be another ingredient. The 18% might be the “fire and brimstone” style of preaching which has too much weight to be low-fat, and hardly sweet. The sweet would be a style that focuses entirely on the love of Christ and the idea that good Christians are always happy and successful. 18% preaching might include audio-visual displays or be somewhat off the cuff, while 2% is likely to be serious but deeply thought out and well composed.
The metaphor may seem a little strained, but even if we normally attend the church in which we grew up, there are times in our lives when we may find ourselves standing at the refrigerator door considering our options. For some this happens when a relationship begins or ends, when we come up against something to which we can not reconcile ourselves, for some maybe even just when we are bored. The point is to remember the central issue and keep that black coffee in our cups. Cheers!
Posted in Reflections
Tagged 1% milk, 18% cream, 2% milk, change, Christian rock, Christianity, church, classical, coffee, details, faith, fashion, God, Gregorian chant, hymn, ingredients, International Coffee Cream, Jesus, music, preaching, reflection
The other night I was bugging my daughter and my husband to click on my blog (stats were really low) and mentioned that it would be even better if they actually read something while they were there. My daughter said, “People don’t want to be preached at you know!” That gave me pause. I looked up the word preach on the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and found three definitions.
1 – to give a religious talk in a public place, especially in a church during a service
I would say that except for this being a public forum, the blog is not an example of this sort of preaching. I do take services at several churches as a supply when needed but there are hours of preparation involved in this, studying Lectionary readings, selecting hymns, writing or finding prayers and then ultimately writing a sermon. These entries take some time, but not nearly as much as a service would.
2 – to tell people about a particular religion, way of life, system, etc. in order to persuade them to accept
While I do make reference to Christianity and Christian scripture, I hope that the underlying issues and values may be shared by people of any religion or even those without religion in their lives. If someone finds inspiration to learn more about Christ that would be great but it is not my goal.
3 – to give somebody advice on moral standards, behaviour, etc, especially in a way that they find annoying or boring.
I assume this is the definition that was in my daughter’s head when she made her comment. I hope this is not what is happening with my blog entries. What I write here is largely the equivalent of my thinking out loud as I deal with issues and ideas from my life and which may be similar for others.
Whichever definition was meant, I’m glad that it came up. As a teacher I am sharing information and ideas with my students all day long. Obviously I am careful not to bring religious issues into my lessons, but I don’t know that I do as good a job of avoiding a preachy tone. When we talk about issues like prenatal development and I am making note of the dangers to the fetus of drinking and doing drugs I wonder now if I break into preachy tone. It is important to get these messages through to the students so there needs to be some balance between information being accurate and just shocking enough to keep their attention.
So, in future blog entries I will continue to bring up issues that puzzle or intrigue me. I will continue to share information when I have it, and I will continue to share the source of my inspiration, my hope and my support. If that is preaching, so be it!