Tag Archives: religion

Forever and ever/ One or Two Evers?


6332067642_362db22359“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

My father and, I presume, many people over the years, debated frequently on the issue of why we would need two evers at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. I stopped saying “forever and ever,” a long time ago because it seemed nonsensical to me. It was redundant! In some churches, it is done with one and others use the two.  This morning when I was thinking about all that has happened in my life in the two years since my cancer diagnosis I found myself thinking about this again. Knowing that my personal forever is definitely a shorter time than it might have been otherwise seems to have changed my perspective.

I think it has to do with whose idea of time is involved. As humans, we have a very limited or flippant idea of forever.

“It has been forever since I have seen you!”

“It took forever for my parcel to arrive!”

“Best news ever!”

When we pray the benediction to the Lord’s prayer we are not just looking at our time, but God’s time. Thus, “Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for all time we can imagine and even beyond that into all time! Amen.”

 

Be of one Mind and Other Challenges for the Church


2759742066_57d26d0948It was recently Trinity Sunday. When I first looked at the readings for the week, though, I was thinking about it being the first Sunday after Pentecost and the beginning of a long period of regular time, neither a time of preparation, like Advent or Lent, nor of celebration, like Christmas or Easter.  My first thought was that, after preaching a service last summer on the longest Psalm, it was funny how short the Gospel (Matthew 28: 16-20) and Epistle (2 Corinthians 13:11-14) readings were. They may be short in terms of the number of words and verses, but they are far from short on import and challenge!

If you set aside the importance of the texts to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity, these readings, in their few verses, speak to some of the most challenging things in the life of the church.  From the Epistle, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”, or in NRSV terms which I read first, “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace.” These words seemed particularly pertinent in the wake of this year’s General Assembly, three full days of worship and deliberation on issues facing our denomination. And from the Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Today I’ll focus on Paul’s final words to the Corinthians.

Paul wrote a series of imperatives to the community in Corinth. The first imperative to them was, “put things in order”, or mend your ways. The focus of this directive is for each individual looking first to their own relationship with God before trying to sort things out with others in the church. He “invites them into a time of self-examination and self-improvement. To “examine” and “test” themselves.”

 

Paul then, after reminding them to listen to him,  says, “Agree with one another,” or, “Be of one mind.” No problem, right!

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have trouble being of one mind on an issue, and I have just one mind! As we all know from our personal relationships, agreement between even two people can be hugely challenging. That is the whole premise of the various Love It or List It shows in which one couple is unhappy with their home, one convinced that they must move and the other convinced that renovations can solve the problems.  Things can get pretty nasty during the process, but in the end, a decision is made based on what is best for the family.

 

What happens when we disagree on things? It is so easy for a  calm discussion to devolve into argument. There may be harsh words, name calling, accusations may be made, feelings hurt, and the more we battle the less we are able to consider other’s ideas. We focus on defending our own view. This is true of almost any argument, imagine how much more so when the disagreements are on such fundamental things as our faith!

 

If it was easy to agree with one another Abel may have lived a long happy life, and yet Paul here encourages the church of Corinth, a divided, even fragmented, and contentious community, to agree with each other. “Be of one mind.” Was he kidding?

 

As we are agreeing already, the rest is to live in peace. I like this story…

“Painting Peace

There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest… perfect peace.

Which picture do you think won the prize?

The King chose the second picture. “Because,” explained the King, “peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.” (“Painting Peace”)

This is still a significant challenge, but sounds much more realistic!

In the notes for today on the Church of Scotland website it says, “Second Corinthians is a painful letter for Paul to write, as it deals with the church community in Corinth that has been fractious, irreverent and divisive. The exhortation to, “mend your ways…agree with one another, live in peace…” is forceful. It is a word not only for C1st but also C21st Christians. If essential qualities of the Trinity are unity, togetherness, mutuality, interdependence, then Christians following in the way of the Trinity must also demonstrate those same qualities.

Paul’s letter, after the storms, tears, rebukes, recriminations, and self-justification, according to one commentator, ends with three sweet verses, “…that appear as something of a rainbow.” Paul calls for things to be put in order, for the Corinthians to ‘kiss and make up’, and to be reconciled with each other and with him. It might be that these verses do not give so much instruction about the Trinity, the Trinity is not the focus; rather it is the gifts, given by the Trinity, that are at the forefront: grace, love, and fellowship. The Trinity is intrinsically social in nature; therefore those made in the image of the Trinity are likewise intrinsically social beings. We are called to live in peace and harmony. We are challenged to resolve our disputes graciously and to live peaceably together. Or, to use Paul’s familiar ‘body’ metaphor from First Corinthians, in our diversity we find our unity. In the multiplicity of our purposes, we find that we work together for the good of all. God’s creative imagination and Christ’s redeeming love, culminating in the sustained fellowship and communion that is the binding and joining work of the Holy Spirit.” (“Trinity Sunday”)

And how can we do all this? This is where, in closing, Paul pulls in the ultimate example of a relationship, which we know as the Trinity. Though we can barely hope to do it on our own, we remain hopeful because we are not alone in this. Paul reminds us that we can do it through the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We have been given all we need…

The Facebook post with the link to the summary notes on the Assembly said, “The best summary of all, though, may just be the Moderator’s words and call to action in the final sederunt. “And now the hard part…in church terms, this is called ‘passing the peace – seriously.’ I invite us all to do that, right now.”” (https://tinyurl.com/y7y4qz7w)

 

“Painting Peace”. Stories for Preaching. N.p., 2017. Web. 10 June 2017.

“Trinity Sunday”. Churchofscotland.org.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.


This is a little late getting posted, I preached it on Feb 5, 2017. We have now reached spring in NB, though there was snow a few days ago.

View from front door, February 23rd, 2009 stormIt is winter here in New Brunswick and with winter comes darkness. In the winter we have short days, cold, storms, and for those in the northern part of the province this past week, lengthy power outages (now at 11 days). Even though the days have been getting gradually longer since Dec 22nd, by February 2nd if we are not planning trips to warmer climes, we are looking with longing ahead to spring, the light at the end of the tunnel of winter. On the 2nd there were reports from around North America about whether or not famous groundhogs like Wiarton Willie in Ontario, Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia, Mactacaddy, of Mactaquac Provincial Park, and Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, saw their shadows and thus predictions on 6 more weeks of winter or not. If we lived in the far north we would literally have been in the dark from early October and looking forward to the first sunrise in March. We do not like the dark!

If you have been following the news from the US and Canada in the past several weeks you are aware that there seems to be an increase in the intensity of the dark in the world: US President Donald Trump is still planning to build a wall between the US and Mexico, he plans to cancel trade deals such as NAFTA, the US Congress has a bill on the books proposing to withdraw the US from the United Nations, executive orders have been signed banning travel into the US by people from 7 majority Muslim countries for 90 days, and immigration from there for 120 days. On January 28th a mosque was burned down in Texas, and on the 29th Alexandre Bisonette opened fire at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec killing 6 and injuring 8. And all along the way we have had facts, and alternative facts blurring the lines of truth so that it is sometimes hard to know what to believe.

While we may be particularly concerned with these events and trends, they are really not so different from the darkness that has always been at work in the world. Take heart in the words from the Psalm we just read,

“…those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments…They are gracious, merciful, and righteous…are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. (Psalm 112: 1,4,7)”

And look forward to see what we, as those who delight in God and as disciples of Christ, are meant to be in the world. In Isaiah we read what God wanted from  Israel rather than self-serving fasting,

“Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

As Jesus moves on from the final beatitude, “11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11), he begins the next section of the chapter with, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world (Matt 5:13,14). There are a couple of things to note in those statements. First, he is speaking to a crowd, when he says “you” it is in a corporate sense, all of you. Second, he doesn’t say you will become, or you might be, but states as a fact already accomplished, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…”

What do salt and light do? Salt is used to enhance and alter the taste of food, to preserve food, and salt’s power comes from its distinctiveness when mixed with other things. If salt loses its flavour, its distinctiveness, it becomes useless. Scott Hoezee says,

“The implication for disciples is exceedingly curious: it means that we exist for mixing it up with the world. It means that for us to do our savory gospel task of making this world a better place, we need to be out there, being mixed up into people, culture, and society.   Following hard on the heels of his Beatitudes, Jesus is saying that if you’re going to live those grace-filled attitudes, then it’s not enough to work inside the church community, it’s not enough to nurture a strong interior life of spirituality. No, the result of all your piety must be pouring yourself out onto this earth so as to bring out life’s complex and beautiful flavors.

To be useful and true salt, you need to mix into the world, bringing with you gospel savor…But literal salt that never leaves the shaker does nothing to add zing to your French Fries, and likewise Christian disciples who never interact with non-Christian people have no chance of reaching those people with the influence of that whole new world of God that just is the kingdom.

– See more at: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-5a/?type=lectionary_epistle#sthash.7JOBOTlR.dpuf” Scott Heozee

Light has several uses. First of all it allows us to see what was being hidden in the dark, allowing dangers and deceits to be cleared away.  Light helps us to find our way in the dark, to recognize home, to keep ships off the rocks. It makes it so that we can delve into the dark places like mines to uncover their riches just as it allows people to find someone lost in the dark. Sunlight helps plants to grow and keeps us healthy. While we may individually be salty, it is the church, as it reflects the Gospel, which is the light. Marcia Y. Riggs puts the corporate nature of the light like this.

“Like light, the disciples as a gathered community have the overarching purpose of being the mirror that refracts God’s light so that all peoples and nations can know of God’s justice and mercy. As a gathered community the disciples are like light when they engage others in the world, enabling diversity (giving things color), nurturing a healthy, ecofriendly world (helping vegetation grow), generating policies for ecojustice (providing solar power), and restoring or repairing whatever relationships that need such (focusing for specific purposes). (Marcia Y. Riggs, “Theological Perspective” on Matthew 5:13-20 in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1)

This past Thursday evening I went to a play at St. Thomas University.  Titled No White Picket Fence the play by Dr. Robin Whittaker used the verbatim style to tell the stories of ten young women who consider themselves to be living well after being in the foster care system in New Brunswick. The women met individually with an interviewer, a researcher working on a study, to tell their stories and they agreed to allow their words to be used in a play which would bring their experiences into the light.  For ninety minutes the audience sat in the near dark with ten wooden boxes painted as houses and ten actresses. They sat on their houses, and of course they shifted houses periodically, and when it was their turn to share a part of their story the lights in the house turned on. Some of the houses had only one or two windows lit up, but the strength of those women lit the room, not in a warm cozy way but shining light on those uncomfortable, unpleasant corners so often left in the dark. The more this light shines the stronger the impetus to work for change may become.

Back to the news, growing out of all the reports of the dark we also see stories of light. There have been; rallies against Islamophobia around the world; all sorts of people have stated publicly that they will register as Muslim if registration goes forward in the US; non-Muslims are raising money to rebuild the Texas mosque; candlelight vigils have been held for victims of fires and shootings; and in Fredericton money was donated to help the Muslim community expand their area for worship.

So what are we to be and do in the world today? We start with the words of Isaiah, God wants us to,

  • loose the bonds of injustice
  • undo the thongs of the yoke
  • let the oppressed go free
  • share your bread with the hungry
  • bring the homeless poor into your house
  • when you see the naked to cover them
  • do not to hide yourself from your own kin

Be salty! Dare to be distinctive and speak out where others are silent. As you work to enhance and alter the world, God’s light will be seen reflecting off of you and the lost may see their way home.

Not to Kneel For Me


OK, so kneeling might work but the kneeling stool did not work for me at all…I couldn’t figure out how to use it at all.  I realize this sounds rather pathetic, but it was much higher than I expected and I just slid off.  This is just a minor issue though. 

When I was kneeling to pray it was more formal somehow.  It was not difficult to think of things to pray about but it felt much less like the connection I normally have with the Father.  I found myself using more formal language than usual.  In the end, after I said Amen, I went to bed and proceeded to pray again without really planning to.

To Kneel Or Not To Kneel?


Tonight when I curl up with God it will be in very different circumstances from usual.  I am staying the night at a Roman Catholic retreat center in Mississauga, Ontario.  My room is just big enough for a twin bed, the door to open and close, some hangers to hang behind the door and the chair I am sitting on at the end of the bed.  Other than a tiny ­½ bath the only other feature in the room is a prayer stool with a table to hold the Bible.

I got thinking about the differences in the ways we pray.  In my Presbyterian church during worship we sometimes pray standing, sometimes sitting, but we don’t kneel.  Many of my Catholic and Anglican friends kneel to pray. Our Muslim brothers and sisters kneel and bow their heads to the ground in prayer.  As mentioned the other day, Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery) would like to go out in a field or climb a tree to pray but she certainly didn’t understand why she had to kneel at her bedside to say her prayers.

I have no deep theologically based answers to the question of the posture of prayer.  Maybe we need to look at this from the perspective of body language in general.  We all know that if we are talking to someone who has their arms tightly folded we are not likely to get them to agree with what we are saying.  We can tell by looking at a person’s posture if they are defensive, relaxed, interested, bored, ready to leave, or angry.  If you felt that you needed to protect yourself from potential attack you would hardly get down on your knees and put your forehead to the floor.  Such a posture would leave you a sitting duck!  But maybe that is the whole point of praying that way.  In order to take that posture for prayer you need to have complete trust.  Some of us might do it in the privacy of our rooms but I cannot imagine doing it where anyone was going to see me.

I have occasionally, guided by one devotional writer or other, been called upon to read and pray in certain postures.  Even though I am alone in my own room I still feel silly following these directions.  To be honest, I don’t even read the scripture aloud if it calls for me to do that.  So, tonight I am going to try something different.  I am going to pull out the little stool and kneel before God and I’ll let you know what I thought of it tomorrow.