180715 – Thy Kingdom Come Forth

Topical Sermon ~ The Lord’s Prayer ~ Matthew 6:5-13, Luke 11:1-4

Everybody knows the Lord’s Prayer, right? Even in this modern, post-Christian, secular, Western, pluralistic culture there aren’t too many places where if I said “Our Father” I wouldn’t hear back “who art in heaven”! And for church people it’s absolutely automatic. In just about every Christian denomination you will find that people have this prayer deeply ingrained in their memories. There may be differences in some of the words but the prayer is one of the few common threads in Christianity.

Did you know there are two versions in scripture? You heard them both read this morning. The version in Matthew is longer and more familiar, and we’ll talk about all that in a few minutes, but first I want to ask you a question.

Why this prayer?
The simplest answer is probably found in the Luke version.

Luke 11:1-2 – Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say…

So, in Luke, Jesus was quietly praying, his disciples waited until he was done, and then they said ‘teach us how’.
It’s about as direct a teaching as Jesus ever gave. So we grab onto it and pray like he told us to.

I find it interesting that we have diligently memorized the prayer but we pretty much ignore the instructions. The preamble Jesus gives in the version in Matthew is also crystal clear. And yet, as I read it to you now, notice how we pretty much do the exact opposite to what he says – especially here in church!
We took his teaching on prayer so seriously that we memorized every word of it – except for the parts that told us HOW to do it. (And we even kinda messed up the WHAT to say part, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Here’s Matthew 6:5-8

5 Jesus said, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

We’re not so much street corner pray-ers in our tradition, but how many of you really go into a private place for prayer, and shut the door, and pray in secret? Or do you leave most of your praying for this place?

And as for heaping on empty words and phrases because we think we need to cover every possible topic and so that all our words will get heard? – Heck, you pay me to do that!
And from time to time preachers hear complaints that we didn’t include such-and-such in the prayers – like if we didn’t do it God might not know about it!

But Jesus says “don’t be like that”! So is he saying that we shouldn’t be praying together?
Not at all.
He’s saying to avoid a public show and not pile on words because to do so makes the prayer all about your head, and your desires, and your ego. The truth is you could pray just as badly on your own in secret. It’s not the location or the language that really matter – it’s your heart.

Interestingly, the language in the prayer Jesus teaches them is corporate “we” language. I guess he was worried that using “I” language might lead to that ego-based prayer I was just talking about, so he encourages corporate “we” language.

Ironically, I do the exact opposite. Our tradition is SO “we” based that I worry that people may think that personal faith is less important than our corporate faith. If we always say “we” we can pretend that the dude in the next row is really responsible for this or that, and since “we” are collectively doing it “I” don’t really have to. So I swing the pendulum back the other way and encourage “I” language. Again, it’s not the place or the language that’s ultimately important here – it’s the heart.

Ok, so let’s finally dig into Jesus’ prayer. Matthew 6:9 begins: read on

180708 – Hard to Be Humble

Yr B – Pentecost 7 – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

A little context right off the top. Paul is thought to be writing in response to some itinerant preachers who have gone through the Corinthian church and stirred up some trouble with their interpretations of faith. Paul calls them something like “super-apostles” but he doesn’t mean it kindly. They apparently preached about how you have to be strong and powerful and master your adversity to be faithful, like they themselves supposedly were, and that because of their high faithfulness they deserved high status.hard-to-be-humble

Have you ever met a super-apostle? Someone whose spiritual resume is so full that they can’t help but tell you all about it?
[sarcastically] They aren’t bragging, of course, they’re just showing you by their own awesome and amazing example how great a life of faith can be if you live it the right way – like they do!

Perhaps those kinds of obvious “holier than thou” people are less plentiful than the more subtle, but just as misguided, “humbler than thou” types?
Have you ever met one of those? I bet you have!
There’s even a new term that’s been coined to describe what they do – it’s called humblebragging.

Humblebragging is a superficially modest or self-deprecating statement that is actually intended to impress people – or to elicit compliments or recognition. And social media things like Twitter are the perfect vehicle to use to humblebrag to the world!

Here’s a few examples:

A woman tweets, “No makeup on, hair’s not done, pretty sure I’m not wearing deodorant – still get hit on. Sigh.”

A famous spirituality guy tweets, “Hope & despair are born of imagination. I am free of both.”

And my favourite, a megachurch pastor who epitomizes the humblebrag – “I’m truly humbled that you follow my tweets. I pray they enrich your life and strengthen your ministry. God bless all 200,000 of you!”

These are the modern-day version of the super-apostles like Paul was battling. So how would Paul take them on? Well, sadly, he starts with his own humblebrag.
He starts 2 Corinthians 12 with a story of a man he knows who has experienced indescribably remarkable spiritual ecstasies. Many scholars believe he’s actually talking about himself, but we’ll let that slide for now. Then he says this:

2 Corinthians 12:5
On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

But when you think about it, Paul had every reason to brag! I mean, he was da man! He was previously a Pharisee – learned, respected – and after coming to faith in Jesus he became a church-planter par excellence! Everywhere he went the word of God was shared, the name of Jesus was celebrated, and the body of Christ was expanded and strengthened. Paul had much to brag about! Heck, he’s got churches named after him all over the world! We’ve got one right next door in Bowmanville, and another in Ajax. Imagine how many followers he’d have on Twitter today!

But in the midst of that, despite a little irresistible humblebragging, he says something really, really profound.
Within verse 5 he says, I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

Paul sets himself up as equal to or better than those so-called super-apostles, but then turns the tables and comes at it from a very different interpretive lens. Weakness.
I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

That’s something of an oxymoron for us. Boasting in weakness.
It doesn’t compute at first. We need to wrestle with it.
Please note that when he says that he boasts in weaknesses it’s not a really a celebration of lacking strength, or resolve, or resources, or conviction – rather it’s about one’s inability to do it all on one’s own.
THAT is the big spiritual takeaway here. It’s not about boasting about how awesome a follower of Jesus I am, or how I’m some kind of shining beacon of virtue or whatever.
Like so much of Jesus’ teaching the insight comes when you turn that kind of thinking upside down.

Paul says,
I’m boasting that I’m not Super-person.
Boasting that I’m not perfect.
Boasting that I have blind spots.
Boasting that I will indeed fall short many times. read on

180701 – Outside the Box

Yr B ~ Pentecost 6 ~ 1 Sam 17

Q: Why was Goliath so surprised when David hit him with a slingshot?
A: The thought had never entered his head before.outside-box

David and Goliath is one of those stories that’s so well known that it’s completely transcended the confines of the scriptures and has become an icon – it gets trotted out every time a smaller force is pitted against a larger force, and the smaller force wins.
You hear it in business when an upstart little software company tries to take on the Goliath of Microsoft.
You hear it in sports when an unlikely, vastly over-performing team finds itself in a championship game against an overwhelming favourite.

But, as is often the case, when a Bible story gets extracted from its context we lose what the story is really about.
David and Goliath is not a story about a little guy defeating a big guy – yeah, that’s what happens in the course of the tale, but that’s not what the story’s about.
And it’s not a story about how we underestimate our youth – although we may well do that.
And it’s not even a story about how if God’s on your side you can overcome any obstacle – although that’s getting much closer to what the story is about.

What is it about then?
It’s a clash of paradigms – a clash that pits the belief that might is right – which was shared by both the Philistines and the Israelites – against a radically different understanding of power.
Both the Philistines and the Israelites operated under the same paradigm. They were standing face to face with their armies assembled ready to fight a war.

Of course a big army needed to fight another big army – that’s the way it works – that’s the way we’ve always done it! And in some places the idea that a single champion would fight for the entire army was common. Two opposing forces – toe to toe – locked into a mindset that dictated how they had to act in that situation. Trapped in a cycle that had no end – until…someone offers a different way to look at the world.

The message of the “David and Goliath” story isn’t that little guys can do big things – it’s that God’s paradigm is better than ours. David represents the new paradigm – God’s way. It wasn’t that the Israelites didn’t know about it – of course they knew about it – they found out the same way David did – it was taught through their religion. The difference was that for David it was a present reality. For David, God wasn’t just “out there” – God was “in here.” God wasn’t the all-powerful deity that you called on when your army needed a boost – God was the ever-present Spirit that lived inside of him.

That’s a paradigm shift. It’s a transformation.
Let me show you a couple of things from this story that indicate it’s a transformation story. read on

180610 – The State of the Union

Yr B ~ Pentecost 3 ~ UCCan 93rd Anniversary ~ 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Today is our anniversary. Exactly 93 years ago, on June 10, 1925 the United Church of Canada was born – in a hockey rink.
How utterly Canadian!state-of-union

It all began when formal talks started between the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists in 1902 – at the turn of a new century. It was a time of big dreams and endless possibilities. Canada as a country was only 35 years old – Oldsmobile pioneered the first assembly line for automobiles – the Wright brothers made their first airplane test flights.
The 20th century was filled with promise. Back then they bragged that it would be the “Christian Century”.

The United Church of Canada was formed in the cradle of what was called the Social Gospel movement which “applies Christian principles to social problems, especially poverty, inequality, liquor, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, poor schools, and the danger of war” [wiki]. It was a time when the dream was to establish a truly national church.

Several years ago the Very Rev. Peter Short – our Moderator at the time – wrote a letter to the first Moderator – the late Very Rev. George Pidgeon. It was a creative way to offer reflections and pose questions about the state of the union today compared to then. I’d like to read you edited portions of that letter as a way of inviting you into reflecting on our church and our faith.

“Dear George, I serve The United Church of Canada as the 38th of its moderators. You were the first. How odd that you were elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and a week later you were elected moderator of The United Church of Canada. Here in the Maritimes we would say that was some week.

“This is a precarious time for the church we love – not bereft of hope, but a time of great diminishment and a certain desolation… We are (now 93) years old and something in us is exhausted. …I believe you would want to know how things are with us now, and I hope you will understand.

“Sometimes I wonder what was going through your mind in (Toronto’s) Mutual Street Arena that day at the inaugural service. …Was it you who chose the processional hymn, ‘The Church’s One Foundation’? Did your spine tingle when you came to the line that says, “Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blessed?”
I wonder what vision glorious your heart was seeing as you sang with the great crowd.

“…My grandmother was in her 20s when her congregation joined the new United Church. All her life she used to say, “We were Methodist, you know.” My father, born in 1924, grew up in a congregation that was learning how to become a United Church. I was born the month after you retired. I have read accounts of the struggle for church union — how it was so hopeful in one place, so bitter in another. I have seen the scars, but I have no direct memory of it. My children don’t really care much about that struggle. The wounds have healed too well.

“After all these years we still encounter the old fault line though, the one between the socialists and the moralists (as they were called in your time).
Even today, some of us understand evangelism as calling people to participate in building God’s reign of social justice on earth.
Some of us (me!), on the other hand, understand evangelism as calling people to new birth in faith, thus building a better society one human life at a time.
You will recognize that long-standing division. It hasn’t changed much, but for the most part we don’t use the word evangelism at all any more. There’s something about it that embarrasses us.

“I guess I am still wanting to know about the vision glorious. read on

180603 – I’m Listening

Yr B ~ Pentecost 2 ~ 1 Samuel 3:1-10

To give you some context for this story – Samuel was just a young boy learning about faith from Eli who was a Temple priest – and they both slept in the temple with the Ark of the Covenant – where the 10 Commandments were kept. God called Samuel’s name, but Samuel didn’t realize it was God talking and instead responds to his mentor, Eli, “Here I am, for you called me.” i-listening

After a little comedy act of repeating the call and conversation 3 times – “You called” “No I didn’t” (back to bed), “You called” “No I didn’t” (back to bed), “You called” “No I didn’t” – Eli finally figures out that Samuel is hearing God’s voice.
I wonder how many times we’ve been called by God but didn’t recognize God’s voice – and we didn’t have an Eli to explain it to us.

So, how does one listen to God?
How does God speak to us?
Sometimes God calls to us in extraordinary ways – in the big events of our lives – or in the silence of the night.
But I worry that as great as these stories are they might be “too good” for us to be able to relate to.

Honestly, have you ever heard God’s voice like Samuel did? I mean have you ever actually, audibly heard God’s voice speaking to you out loud such that if you had a device handy you could record it and play it back later for your friends? Some say they have. But I sure haven’t!

So why tell these stories if they’re so far out that we can’t really relate? Well, because I think they point us to a really important truth about God – the truth that God communicates with us in many ways – but we don’t always know how to listen. Sometimes we’re expecting something big from God – but get a whisper. Samuel wasn’t expecting anything – and was confused because he didn’t understand at first.
Ah, now that’s something I can relate to!

The Samuel story began with the sentence “the word of the Lord was rare/precious in those days, and visions were quite uncommon.”
I think this is true today too. Our Bible is a closed book and we can mistakenly get the sense that God has finished revealing all God is going to reveal and it’s all in the book.
I don’t think that’s even a little bit true! God is still speaking!
As you’ve probably heard it said, “God is not silent, we are not listening!”

And did you notice that it says that “the lamp of God had not yet gone out”? – This is a reference to the custom of a lamp being lit with just enough oil to stay bright all night beside the Ark.
The inference here is that the lamp was close to going out – which meant that the scene took place just before dawn.
So many religious experiences seem to happen in that time of night.
Could it be because that’s the quietest time, a time in which we’re usually not distracted by any tasks or busyness so that we can hear God, or sense God?

I’d like to suggest that there are 2 primary ways God communicates with us – and they both require us to be quiet. read on

180527 – Lip Service

Yr B ~ Pentecost 1 ~ Isaiah 6:1-8

In case you missed it in the first hearing, or just to paint the picture even more vividly, let me start by retelling the passage from Isaiah 6.

It begins with an overwhelming image of the profound greatness of God. Isaiah has a vision in which he can only really see the hem of God’s robe which utterly fills Temple. Surrounding God’s throne in this vision are some Seraphim. Contrary to how many translations of the bible and artists depict them, a Seraph is not an angel – well, at least not a humanoid angel. The word Seraph in Hebrew literally means a serpent – a fiery, multi-winged creature. lip-service
What does that sound like? A dragon!
A dragon with six wings who sings out praise for God singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” A dragon that sings so loudly that it shakes the very foundations of the Temple. It’s a fantastic and mind-boggling vision establishing God’s awesomeness and glory – God’s beyond-ness, God’s transcendence.

Then in verses 5-8 there is an interaction with this otherworldly vision that is so this-worldly that there is even physical contact.

In verse 5 Isaiah says, “Woe is me! I am lost [undone, brought to silence], for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Think about unclean lips for a minute. Your lips have no agency. They can’t do anything on their own. They do and say what your mind and heart tell them. So if you have unclean lips then by extension it means unclean speech, but it’s really revealing that you have an impure heart. Remember Jesus makes a big deal about how it’s not the stuff that goes in your mouth that’s impure it’s the stuff that comes out of your mouth that shows what you really think. You can follow all the rules and still be impure – in here [heart].

I’ll leave it to you to wrestle with this at home: what do your lips reveal about your heart?

Isaiah is undone because God’s awesomeness made Isaiah’s exceedingly less-than-awesomeness seem foul.

The Seraphim’s lips reveal “Holy, Holy, Holy!”
Ours? Not so much!
Well, we certainly try, but I worry that too often the best we can manage is to pay lip service to that holiness.

And even as Isaiah realizes the depth of his fallen-short-ed-ness he notices that his eyes have seen God’s holiness, God’s presence! It’s a profound, transformative moment of awareness, and conviction, and awestruck wonder. And it changes him!

A Seraph brings a live hot coal (burning stone) from the altar – a gift from the table! – A gift of the fire of the Spirit of God direct from the Presence of God. The symbolism is a connection – a communion – with God that is as direct as a human could possibly imagine. That the coal is hot is also symbolic of its power and its holiness.

With that ultimate holy power the Seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth and says, (paraphrasing v.7),
“Behold! The power and presence of God has touched the deepest parts of you that make you think you’re not worthy of God’s love, and all that self-condemnation, and guilt, and whatnot is wiped out, it’s gone, it’s forgotten, it’s set aside, it’s not in play.”

And then, having had the scales fall from his eyes, having had the barrier smashed through, having had that which he thought was separating him from God removed, having been redeemed, renewed, reanimated, reawakened, and reoriented – our hero is finally able to hear God’s voice. Not just the Seraphim’s voices. God’s voice! He couldn’t hear it before.

And what does God say once we can hear God’s voice?
v.8 “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

And how does a reborn heart respond when the very voice of God asks such a question?
Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!”

But wait a minute. read on

180520 – They Can

Yr B ~ Pentecost ~ Ezekiel 37:1-14

I love this passage of scripture. It’s one of my favourites. I just find it so incredibly powerful and profound. It was written by the prophet Ezekiel who was tapped by God to call the wayward people of Israel back to faithfulness. I’m going to take a few liberties with it and re-imagine it as a contemporary 21st century message to the mainline Christian church in North America. In other words, us. It’s about a vision of the power of the Holy Spirit – a perfect text for Pentecost Sunday. I hope we can catch the vision too. I will play the part of Ezekiel, and the Church (not you fine folks here at Faith United necessarily, more the denomination) will play the part of the people of Israel (and we’ll let God play Godself!).pentecost-they-can

The spirit of the LORD caught my imagination and showed me a valley full of bones. God led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. [Ezekiel 37:1-2]
God said to me, “Minister, can this church live?” I answered, “God only knows – I mean, only you know.” [37:3]

Then God said to me, “Preach to these bones, and say to them: Hey church, listen up. The Lord God says to you: ‘Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!'” [37:4-6]

That sounded good, so I preached as I had been commanded; and as I preached, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them; but there was no breath in them. [37:7-8]

Then God said to me, “Preach to the breath, preach boldly, minister, and say to the breath: God says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain. Breathe life!” [37:9]
I preached as God commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. [37:10]

Then God said to me, “Minister, these bones are the whole body of Christ. They say, ‘Our bones and churches are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely – we’ve been marginalized, they call us quaint, we’ve gone from mainline to sideline to offline to flatline – we’re dying, or maybe already dead.’ [37:11]

Therefore preach, and say to them, Listen, God says: I am going to open your graves (churches?), and bring you up from your graves (churches), O my people; and I will bring you back to the body of Christ. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your churches, and bring you up from your churches, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, I’ll breathe my life into you, and you’ll live. [37:12-14]

It’s such a pertinent text for us in the United Church in the 21st century. A spirit-filled person (like a minister – we hope) is set apart and given a fresh perspective of the reality of church health. Perhaps it’s harsh to say the people are lifeless, or maybe not (and again, I’d say that Faith United is a rare exception).  The leader wonders “is there hope?” and responds with “God only knows!”

The leader is challenged to preach a message of breath (spirit) which will enliven and renew. So they preach it, and it’s heard, but it’s only marginally successful. There’s still something missing. The people aren’t dead dry bones anymore, but they aren’t generally vitally alive either.
What’s missing? read on

180513 – Now

Yr B ~ Easter 7 ~ 1 John 5:9-13

My task today is to take a theological concept that’s probably embedded in most of our memory’s and help us see that the way it’s talked about most of the time is not just unhelpful but actually theologically incorrect and contrary to how Jesus saw the world and led his followers to be. I’ve taken a run at this before but it is a persistent challenge that needs talking about because our culture is so steeped in the error. And yes, I’m calling it an error.now

Here we go:
Christianity is not about getting to heaven when you die. It’s about a new way of living now.
Christianity is not a hope for everything being better in the future. It’s about awakening to God’s kingdom that already surrounds us and working to reveal it now.
Christianity is not about what can be someday. It’s about what ought to be now, and what our role is in helping make that happen.
Christianity is not about eternal life. It’s about eternal life!!! (that’ll make more sense in a few minutes – I hope!)

We are at the end of the liturgical season called Easter. Remember, it’s not just a single Sunday, it’s a whole season. Easter as a season is about the core theological truth and necessity of dying and rising. It’s about the end of what was and the beginning of what can be. It’s about turning from a former way and embracing a new way. It’s about old life being renewed and replaced by a new kind of life.

But what does that new life look like?  What is its character? What makes the new life better than what was?
In a word, it is eternal.

1 John 5:11 And this is what God has testified: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in Jesus.

This is one of those examples where how you interpret a word or two makes all the difference in the world.
What has God given us? Eternal life!
Ok, so what does that mean? What do you mean when you say the words “eternal life”? We use those words all the time. Everybody knows what eternal life means, right?

Unfortunately, it is far too often used incorrectly. Let’s look at each word.

Eternal does not mean the afterlife. Eternal certainly includes the afterlife – in fact, it literally means age-long, unending, everlasting time – but that means a kind of time that has no beginning either! Not just no ending, but no beginning. It’s a timeless time. To be eternal absolutely does NOT mean that when you die you start living forever in a new way. Well, ok, I guess it does in a way but that’s such a tiny fraction of the concept.

Eternal time stands in direct opposition to ordinary, brief, workaday, temporary, limited, fleeting, counting the days until you retire (or the hours until the sermon’s over) time. We’ve talked before about the difference between the Greek words chronos which is measureable clock time and kairos which is a special holy moment in time. Now this is another kind of time – it’s called aiónios which is about the quality or character of the time. It’s eternal time which has no beginning and no end, and in which every moment is connected to every other, and in which God’s Presence is sensed and savoured more fully because it functions in deeper ways than limited clock time is experienced.

Maybe this will help: in English we say “love” but in Greek they have several different words for different aspects of love. Agape is the spiritual, God-centred love that is far deeper and higher than any of the other aspects of love.
So, aiónios (or eternal) is to time as agape is to love – God-centred, holy, on a whole other plane of experience.

Now let’s add in the other word, because eternal is usually paired with the word life. The Greek word here is zoe which means life as in vitality, animation and not just the biological sense of having breath and a heartbeat – it’s not the opposite of death. Zoe means the life we live in both physical and spiritual ways! So again, it’s about a spiritual quality to life.

Put the two words together and what is eternal life? It’s a quality of existence that involves your whole being and spirit, and has no beginning and no end, and is marked by an all-encompassing sense of being God-centred and God-immersed.

Another way to say all this is to call it the kingdom of God.
What does life lived in the kingdom of God feel like?
What character does life lived in the kingdom of God have?
It has the character and feel of eternal life. Eternal life and the kingdom of God are absolutely synonymous.

1 John 5:11 And this is what God has testified: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in Jesus. read on

180506 – This

Yr B ~ Easter 6 ~ 1 John 5:1-6

This! If you’re into social media at all you’ve probably encountered “This!” It indicates importance and emphasis and authority! Often it appears with an arrow pointing either at another post or comment. It’s saying “Hey! Look at this! This is really important. This is, IMHO (in my humble opinion) worth reading again. This comment really ‘gets’ it. This says it better than I could. Out of all the other noise here ‘This’ is the best insight. This is truth! This is what it’s all about!”this

A few years ago we would’ve said “Word!” or “Truth!” In the book of psalms they said “This!” by using the word “Selah!”
Selah! Truth! Word!
This!

So, now that I’ve set that all up, what is the “This!” in this scripture passage? Well, in just 6 verses we actually get 4 “This”-es. And I think “This” will help us in tackling this passage which is generally accepted as being really tricky, and dense, and circular, and confusing, and hard to understand. So let’s see what “This” is all about! Hopefully, “This” helps.

1 John 5:1-2 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
By this we know
that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey God’s commandments.

To paraphrase – Everyone who trusts in Jesus and makes some sort of confession of faith like “I believe” or “Jesus is Lord” has been born of God, is a child of God.

And how do we know whether we love those children of God? By THIS – by loving God and keeping God’s commandments!

Ok, which commandments?
There’s the big 10 that Moses did with the tablets and the mountain thing, there’s the 613 laws of Torah, and there’s our big 3 that we find in Mark 12 and John 13 – to love God, love people, and love one another.
That’s what we mean around here whenever we say love, love, love (like we will in the offering prayer today).

And who are God’s children again? Those who’ve made an affirmation of faith of some kind.

In other words, us.
Look around. You’re surrounded by children of God – by people who have claimed the love of God and claimed God as parent, or father, or even Holy Mystery.

And THIS is how we know we love these people according to verse 2 – by loving God and keeping the commandments.
In other words, by love, love, love.

Then the writer of John says it again, just to make sure we don’t miss it. In addition to loving God’s children we learn how to love God too.
1 John 5:3

For the love of God is this, that we obey God’s commandments. And God’s commandments are not burdensome.

THIS! To love God is to obey God’s commandment to love, love, love.

Is that burdensome?
No, it’s not burdensome, but it’s not easy either.

What’s the measure of knowing if you love God or not?
That you love others and love one another!

But be careful here. You may have encountered people who think that Christianity’s all about being a do-gooder. It’s so much more than that. read on

180422 – Shepherd and Sheep

Yr B ~ Easter 4 ~ John 10:11-18

The majority of this morning’s sermon is borrowed from a lovely extended illustration called “Led From Behind” by Methodist minister Rev. Laura Mendenhall. (edited)shepherd-sheep

“Tom is a real shepherd. Tom herds sheep in West Texas and has a dog named Shep and everyday Tom and Shep are with the sheep. Every day. Tom doesn’t take time off from his sheep to go out to dinner or to a movie. I don’t think Tom even leaves the sheep to go to church.

Maybe he holds his own services for the sheep. I don’t know. What I do know is that he stays with his sheep. Tom’s father bought these sheep years ago and Tom treats them like family, seeming to enjoy their company. Once somebody told Tom that God created sheep in order to make chickens look smart, but Tom didn’t laugh. While he knows that sheep aren’t smart enough for a game of fetch or a frisbee toss; nevertheless, sheep can generally figure out where food and water are. That’s pretty smart.

In order to encourage the sheep not to overgraze but to move on to other pastures, Tom cannot go charging out in front of the sheep shouting orders to them, “Here, sheep, sheep, sheep, come this way. Follow me, sheep, turn here.” If Tom were to try to direct his sheep in this way, they’d probably just turn and go in the opposite direction. So, Tom doesn’t usually shout to his sheep about anything.

Sometimes Tom talks out loud to himself and the sheep probably overhear. Sometimes he may speak to them in the same way we speak to babies never really expecting them to understand. And sometimes he sings to them because he likes to sing and because the sheep don’t seem to be disturbed by his singing, but I’ve never heard Tom raise his voice to his sheep, never heard him be angry or disparaging about his sheep. And so, they follow him, not because of his authoritative directions, but because they trust his voice.

While his sheep probably couldn’t distinguish Tom’s face from that of any other shepherd, that doesn’t mean that they’re stupid. The truth is they seldom see Tom’s face for Tom is not usually out in front of them but rather behind them. They know Tom’s voice and are reassured as he sings along behind them–encouraging those who are straggling, assisting those who are injured or sick, directing those who can’t find food, helping the unfortunate, the weak, the lame.

I doubt seriously, however, that the sheep are aware of how Tom works to keep them from danger. Tom transforms the wilderness into security and safety for them, guiding them around danger to green grass and cool water. Tom will not permit the wolves and coyotes of the hill country to be a threat to his sheep. He defends them from predators. Tom is always on the lookout because sheep are such vulnerable creatures.

Of course, on occasion when Tom has been ill or had a family emergency, he’s had to hire someone to look after the sheep. But hired hands want time off and at the slightest danger hired hands will abandon the sheep and run. A shepherd, on the other hand, will put his own life at risk in order to protect his sheep. Tom has, in fact, sustained wounds from wild animals he’s had to fight off his sheep.

Tom loves his sheep. That’s why, day after day, over rocks and crevices, through shadows and storms, Tom is with the sheep. They know his voice and Tom leads them, though most of the time it’s from behind.

The Bible tells us that the Lord is our Shepherd, which makes me wonder–is Jesus like Tom? Does Jesus seldom get a haircut and bathe only once a week? I don’t know about that.

I hope it means that Jesus refuses to laugh when the angels tell jokes about how stupid we are.
I hope it means that Jesus doesn’t wring his hands over us but is content to be with us even though we regularly do stupid things.
I know that like a shepherd Jesus picks us up when we fall down, mends our broken spirits, feeds our famished lives, supports us when we are limping along, sings to comfort our spirits.

Of course, if we look for Jesus to be out in front of us showing us the way, we may be frustrated at not being able to see him. It may be, however, that Jesus is leading us from behind, the way Tom leads the sheep. Maybe it’s because Jesus is a shepherd that he doesn’t shout directions to us. Jesus knows what we can do and wants to encourage us to go ahead and act on our good judgment. Sometimes we may wish Jesus would be out in front of us giving us explicit signals.

We wish Jesus would be that direct with us.
We’d rather not have to think for ourselves.
We’d prefer to have Jesus to make decisions for us so that we might have someone to blame when things go wrong.
But most of the time, Jesus is leading from behind, picking us up when we get into trouble, encouraging us to go ahead and trust what we know – just like a shepherd.

read on

180401 – April Fools

Yr B ~ Easter Sunday ~ Mark 16:1-8

It only happens 3 or 4 times in a century. The last time it happened was in 1956. The next time it’s going to happen is just 11 years from now in 2029, and then 11 years after that in 2040. And I won’t but some of the kids here today will likely see it after that in 2108. It’s too bad that it doesn’t happen more often because the tie-in is so perfect! And the sermon practically writes itself. Surely you’ve figured out what I’m talking about – Easter Sunday falling on April Fool’s Day.april-fools

Now, I know you’re expecting me to preach about the resurrection of Jesus today but because this is such a serious and significant topic, and because the calendar unfortunately happened to have Easter Sunday fall on April 1st, there was a decision made by the church to honour the sanctity and solemnity of the day and cancel preaching about the resurrection this year.
“April Fool!!!!”

No one knows exactly when it started, but over time April 1st emerged as a day for playing practical jokes on people and for spreading hoaxes. There have been some really funny ones over the years, like the harvesting of spaghetti trees in 1957, the invention of smell-o-vision in 1965, the discovery of flying penguins in 2008, and one of my favourites, in 2014 Kings College, Cambridge (famous for its boys choirs) put out a video detailing their decision to discontinue the use of boy sopranos and instead use grown men who have inhaled helium gas!

The spirit of the day is to play these harmless and fun (never hurtful or mean) pranks on people and when they fall for the joke you shout out “April Fool!” Maybe you had some experience with that this morning before you got here! Someone gets surprised and everyone has a great laugh.

Here’s another one. The bulletin says my sermon title is Surprise Symphony. I was going to use Haydn’s Symphony No.94 which features in the slow and quiet second movement a super-loud full orchestra chord that crashes through out of nowhere and then it immediately goes back to quiet. [play clip]. Then I was going to talk about how the gospels are like a symphony – which literally means harmonious sound – that tell a beautiful story and move us. But then I decided it would be more fun to do April Fool’s jokes so I changed the title. Surprise!!!

So I’m thinking about the reason we’re here this morning.
It’s Easter Sunday – and no matter what the church says I’m gonna preach about the resurrection – kinda!
Mark’s gospel tells the story this way: (Mark 16:1-8)

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “April Fools!”

Ok, obviously he didn’t – but he may as well have! Jesus risen is like the ultimate April Fools prank.
What’s missing from the text is the part about the disciple who got to the tomb even earlier than the women and climbed up to the top of the rock that was covering the tomb…and very carefully placed on its edge a big bucket of cold water – so just in case Jesus really did rise from the dead when he came out he’d get soaked!
Hilarious! (Ok, just in case, I just made that up!)

No, the mysterious young man in the tomb – maybe an angel, who knows – didn’t say April Fools – he said:

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

[laughing] Isn’t that great?! It’s another April Fool’s joke!
Did you catch it?
That’s the end of Mark’s gospel.
That’s it. Nothing more.

If your bible has verses beyond Mark 16:8 it should also have a footnote saying that those verses were added many, many years later. Folks didn’t like Mark’s ending so they tried to change it! Mark’s gospel ends exactly like I just said it does. The messenger says Jesus has been raised and isn’t here – instead he’s going back to Galilee, and so should you.
And that’s it.

So did you catch the April Fool’s joke Mark has played on us?
Jesus isn’t there.
The women don’t see Jesus, they just hear that he’s risen. And then it says they fled the tomb and didn’t say anything.
And that’s the end of the story.
No one sees or experiences the risen Christ at the end of Mark’s gospel.
No one!

We’re expecting a holy visitation.
We’re expecting Jesus to appear with angelic choirs floating overhead.
We’re expecting for him to comfort the women.
We’re expecting to hear about how he appears to the disciples and inspires them to carry on.
April Fool! There’s none of that in Mark.

Instead, Mark tells you if you want to see Jesus you have to go back to Galilee.
That means going back to the beginning – as in back to the beginning of the gospel – and read it again!
Because, my friends, that’s how you see Jesus – he’s revealed in the telling of the story.
He’s been hiding in plain sight the whole time.
He is risen indeed!
He’s here right now! See?

Mark 16:8 says the women hurriedly left the tomb because “terror and amazement had seized them”. Terror and amazement sound like a bad thing – but the actual Greek words are tromos and ekstasis – that means trembling and ecstasy.
Trembling and ecstasy!
Why?
Because they thought Jesus was dead and gone, but now they know he’s still with them!
Because once they were blind, but now they could see!
Even though they couldn’t see Jesus they could “see” Jesus – see?

He’s not dead and buried.
He’s alive. He’s present.
And if you can’t see him then go back to Galilee – go back to the beginning of the story – and read it all again and again until you can see!

I love that Mark’s gospel ends this way.
It just stops.
It totally leaves us hanging. Waiting. Wondering.
It’s like an unfinished symphony! (See how I was going to tie that whole symphony thing together?!)
Mark doesn’t give us answers – he sends us on a journey – a journey that we have to make on our own.

You can’t have faith handed to you. You can’t just show up at church and receive all the answers and go on your merry way. Instead, you get an invitation to join the journey and encouragement to keep travelling.
Easter comes at the end of each gospel but isn’t the end of the story – it’s the beginning!
It’s the beginning of everything.
It’s the beginning of a journey of rebirth, of new life.

Whatever may be going on in your life the promise of Easter is that a new season of abundant life awaits.
It doesn’t mean a magic wand is going to pop out and make your troubles disappear – but it does promise that darkness is not the final word – light and love are.
Death doesn’t have the final say – life does.

And when it seems like Jesus isn’t around, like maybe he’s trapped behind some giant rock somewhere, we remember that he didn’t stay there.
He was raised up.
Just like we can be raised up from our tombs.
Right here, right now. That’s the promise of Easter!

Another reason I love Mark’s unfinished symphony is that it leaves us with more questions than answers.
And frankly, that’s refreshing compared to what often happens at Easter with people getting into arguments about this detail or that in the resurrection story, and whether it was a literal event or a metaphorical one, and whether Jesus’ physical body was raised or his spiritual body, and whether there are 4267 angels on the head of a pin or 4268.

Mark avoids all that by leaving us guessing.
Where’s Jesus?
Go back to the start and see for yourself! He is risen – but you still have to learn to see him.

April Fool’s Day is a day for practical jokes and hoaxes. Interesting!
Was the resurrection of Jesus an elaborate hoax?
Did the disciples just make up the story?
Is Easter a scam?

Absolutely not!
And I don’t say that because I have some incontrovertible proof about the resurrection – all I have is logic.
And logic says that if you’re going to create an elaborate hoax that you wouldn’t formulate it in such a way that you and your fellow hoaxers would be persecuted, beaten, jailed, and killed for championing it.
You make a hoax that turns you into a millionaire, not a martyr.

That those confused and bewildered duh-sciples were transformed into passionate evangelizers who started a movement that eventually overtook the Roman Empire is all the proof I need that the resurrection really happened!

And nowadays, in today’s culture of cynicism and scepticism, society doesn’t think that Easter is a hoax, but they do think we’re fools for trusting in the Jesus story and trying to live the Jesus way – and since Easter usually happens in April I guess we’re all April fools.
I’m ok with that.
I get it. It must seem entirely foolish to them.

I can’t deny that I have given my life to something that cannot be scientifically proven,
that I’m moved to trembling and ecstasy by a Presence that I can’t put into words,
and that I pray to someone

that only those who can ‘see’ can see. Of course they can’t see.
They haven’t made the journey back to Galilee yet.
There you will see him, just as he told you!

Amen.

 

180325 – Cross Trek: Temerity

Lent 6 – Palm Sunday – John 12:12-16

Even though each Gospel’s version of the story differs slightly in its details, the general thrust of what we call the Palm Sunday entry of Jesus into Jerusalem marking the beginning of his last week on earth is the same.
Jesus causes a fuss as he makes a dramatic and theatrical entrance into the city. People crowd around. There is singing and cheering. There is palm waving, or branch waving, or cloak laying (doesn’t really matter).
And there is Jesus on a donkey, tapping into an ancient Jewish writing about how a new king will arrive.
However it gets packaged in the story-telling, there is one fundamental thing we ought to notice and learn from this – Jesus has chutzpah!

That’s my sermon title today. I used a fancy word for it – temerity – because it fit with all my other key words during Lent – cruciformity, integrity, receptivity, and tenacity. So temerity is the perfect word, but chutzpah has more…chutzpah!!!

Temerity means boldness, rashness, brazen nerve, shameless audacity, gall, cheek, impudence, impertinence, and probably some more colourful colloquialisms you might know. But it’s all summed up nicely in the Yiddish word chutzpah.
The word originally had mostly negative connotations and was applied to people who had crossed the line of common decency and should’ve known better but didn’t seem to care. “Oy vay! What chutzpah!”
Over time the word was also applied admiringly by people who would look at someone’s brazen action and lament that they themselves didn’t have the guts to act in that manner. “That guy’s got chutzpah!”

Part of it depends on where you’re sitting. One group’s enemy is another group’s champion.
So let’s take a minute and look at the groups involved in this little Palm Sunday theatre piece and ponder how they might perceive this scene.

Imagine you’re in the crowd.
You’ve made the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival – a festival with decidedly political undertones about the oppressed Jewish people being released from Pharaoh’s captivity.
What are you thinking about all this? I’d imagine there was a mixture of expectation and curiosity. John 12:12 says, “The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.”

They’d heard about him, and that he was coming. That’s not on CNN or in the newspaper – that’s all word of mouth. The city is buzzing about this Jesus guy.
Wouldn’t you be curious?
Wouldn’t you be wondering if he was really the new Messiah who would deliver the people from Roman oppression? Wouldn’t your Hosannas – which means “save us now”, or “deliver us now” – take on a whole new level of meaning if you thought it was really possible?
Wouldn’t you be thinking, “Wow, that dude’s got a lot of chutzpah!”? And he’d better deliver after getting all their hopes up, right?

Imagine you’re one of Jesus’ disciples.
You’ve been journeying with him and learning from him and trying to figure him out for maybe a few years by this point.
What are you thinking about all this?
Pride, energy, validation, hope, excitement.
Wouldn’t you be thinking “All these people are looking at my guy as the one! We’re right. We’re going to change the world. Nothing’s going to stop us now. I wish I had as much chutzpah as Jesus!”

Imagine you’re a Roman soldier – standing guard at the city gate, watching this throng of people excitedly flock to this man and his disciples, waving palms and cheering.
What are you thinking about all this?
Wouldn’t you be wary of these trouble-makers, incredulous of their foolishness, ready to act if the crowd gets too rowdy?

Imagine you’re among the Jewish religious leaders.
You’ve managed a careful balance and an uneasy agreement with the Romans that you can still celebrate Passover but you can’t afford even the slightest hint of rebellion or the entire festival might be cancelled.
What are you thinking about all this?
Wouldn’t you be thinking, “He’s going to start a riot. He’s going to get us all killed. Who does he think he is? How dare he? That fool has too much chutzpah for his own good – or ours!”

Imagine you are Jesus.
What are you thinking about all this?
Foliage waving, people singing your praises, everyone looking at you. Calling you king!
The way John’s gospel tells the story it’s like Jesus was so moved by the crowd’s reaction to him that he quickly found a donkey on the spur of the moment and got on and rode it in. It’s like he was thinking “Wow, look at this response! They’re listening. Maybe they’re ready to hear about the kingdom of God and not just about the usual expectations of a messiah figure? I’ll hop on this donkey and use the symbolism to help make my point that this is entirely another kind of kingdom that we’re talking about.”

Well, actually that makes Jesus sound a bit naïve – and I don’t think that was the case at all.
He knew exactly the underlying messages he was sending.
He knew he was poking the bear.
He knew what was bound to happen next.

Of course, we all know what happens next in the story too.
The thing about audacity and boldness is that it almost always pushes someone’s buttons. Maybe those buttons absolutely need pushing, but there are going to be consequences.
Jesus riding on a donkey, purposely playing on the known symbolism from their scriptures of that indicating a king’s entrance, is being intentionally provocative.
There’s already a king, and he’s not going to be too happy about having a rival.
And the Romans who keep him on the throne as their puppet are not going to take kindly to some rabble-rouser coming in and claiming to be a new king.
How dare he?! The temerity! That dude’s got a lot of chutzpah!

Do you?

read on

180318 – Cross Trek: Tenacity

Yr B – Lent 5 – John 12:24-26

No tengo responsibilidades en absoluto!

Such was my El Salvador mantra. In case you didn’t know, Cynthia and I have just returned from a week long mission awareness trip to El Salvador. It’s called mission awareness because the focus of the trip is to learn about the partnership our church (specifically the Bay of Quinte Conference Region) has with Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel – a small church in San Salvador (the capital) that has an impressive missional outreach ministry with several ministries they run including a school, a youth arts centre, and a few communities in the mountains where they build houses and communities.

Our group included 15 youth and 22 adults. I won’t go into too many details about the trip because in a few weeks when I’m away at Conference annual meeting the UCW will be inviting a very special guest speaker in to talk about the trip – Cynthia!

As I said, one of the best parts of the trip for me was my mantra:
No tengo responsibilidades en absoluto!

That’s Spanish for “I have no responsibilities whatsoever!” – because for once I wasn’t in charge!
I wasn’t a leader.
It was so great to just get on and off the bus and not fuss or worry, and to just savour the experiences.
I was just a learner and a participant!

No tengo responsibilidades en absoluto!
A little slice of heaven!

Having never done anything like this before, and moving way outside our comfort zone, off we went.

The point of this mission awareness trip was not necessarily to make us all into passionate El Salvadoran champions. The point was to become aware of the positive difference that partnering in mission can make. The point was to learn from those partners and grow deeper in faith.

The point was to help us become aware of these things so that when a potential mission opportunity presents itself – like what happened to our leader, our Conference Executive Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Bill Smith, in Ottawa 32 years ago – that we’ll be more ready to respond with open minds and open hearts and be more inclined to take the leap and engage.

One single Salvadoran man who had escaped the brutal civil war that was going on there at the time, wandered into Bill’s Ottawa church called Emmanuel United. The Salvadoran attended Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel back home, so he recognized the word. He went in and was warmly welcomed. That started an amazing partnership that has touched hundreds and hundreds of lives.

Soon other Ottawa Salvadorans joined the man and in no time there were around a hundred of them at Bill’s church. In time they asked him to go and visit their homeland and see the violence and hardship they had fled, because without doing so he couldn’t really understand them.

He went, and the partnership between the United Church and them, and between Bill and their pastor Miguel Thomas Castro, was inaugurated. Our trip was part of the fruit of that missional partnership.

The purpose of this trip was not primarily to get us to fall in love with El Salvador and her people (although that was a happy by-product). The purpose was to transform us and open us to our own potential as mission partners in whatever context we find ourselves.

The need is profound. read on

180304 – Cross Trek: Receptivity

Yr B ~ Lent 3 ~ John 3:16-21

I am a sinner and so are you.
I know that’s not your typical United Church kind of statement, and I know that I’ve just risked a number of you instantly tuning me out, but I hope you’ll stay with me and hear me out. I’m probably not saying what you might think I’m saying. And the reason for that is we have inherited a theological set of understandings that are sometimes not very helpful – and a lot of the talk about sin belongs in that category.

Man walking on a Bible towards a cross

Man walking on a Bible towards a cross

But it’s a really important theological concept – and if we don’t wrestle with the idea of sin and understand it well, then today’s scripture reading – including arguably the most famous and beloved verse in the New Testament – tends to get interpreted far too superficially.
So we’re gonna wrestle! It is Lent, after all!

I talk about sin from time to time and when I do I explain that the literal meaning of the word is “to miss the mark” or “to fall short of the goal”. The clearest imagery comes from archery – or throwing a ball a long distance. In both cases you have to kind of aim higher than your goal in order to reach it – and if you don’t aim high enough you fall short or miss the mark (and you sometimes still miss even when you do aim high).

I also don’t think it’s very helpful to talk about “sins” as in individual actions. Instead, it’s better to talk about sin as a state of being or an orientation in which our repeated and habitual missing of the mark makes us feel separated from God. Why? Because we understand that God sets the mark – which is holiness – and we know we’re not there enough of the time, and so we feel separated.
It’s not true, of course. We’re never separated from God’s presence – no matter what we may do or not do – but it feels like we are when we miss the mark.

Now, we know that we’re essentially good people. And we know that we all try our best most of the time to hit the mark. That’s great!
But no one is perfect.
Like it says in Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
All have fallen short. All.
Raise your hand if you’ve never fallen short?
Jesus said something similar in John 8:7 “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Nobody threw a stone. All have fallen short.

And that’s why it’s so bizarre that Christianity has seemed to make throwing stones its most prominent pastime. Or at least its most vocal. Despite the clear, unambiguous, and frequent teaching of Jesus far too many Christians spend far too much time pointing their fingers at someone else’s supposed sinfulness.
“They” are living contrary to God’s will. “They” are not following scripture. “They”, “them”, “those people”.
Not me, them.

Perhaps you’ll remember Jesus saying in Matthew 7:3 “Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” And two verses later he uses the ugly word hypocrite.

Indeed, these are the biggest accusations levelled against Christianity – that it’s full of hypocrites and judgmental people. Of course, we love to point our fingers at all those “other” types of Christians who do this, at those “other” churches – but we don’t!
But that’s just proving the point! We’re looking for their specks and ignoring our logs.

Can you tell we’re in the season of Lent?!

Having said all that, while our tradition may usually studiously avoid any talk of sin there’s another wing of Christianity that focuses intently on sinfulness and seems to revel in the notion that we are all vile worms deserving of eternal damnation.

So it seems like you can’t win. Either you’re pointing at yourself for judgment or you’re pointing at someone else for judgment, and either way it’s not very helpful. One choice is to abandon any talk of sin at all and only ever focus on our blessedness. But that’s kind of like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, in fine United Church tradition I’m going to strive to find some middle ground! read on

180225 – Cross Trek: Integrity

Yr B ~ Lent 2 ~ John 2:13-22

Scripture passages like today’s are sometimes tricky because the story is really familiar for those of us who’ve been hanging around churches for a long time but the details really can change the way we might interpret it. In Mark, Matthew, and Luke Jesus enters Jerusalem at the start of what we now call Holy Week. The week that he is crucified in. The end of his physical ministry and life.

Man walking on a Bible towards a cross

Man walking on a Bible towards a cross

But the timeline in the gospel of John is dramatically different. In John, Jesus goes into Jerusalem, enters the temple, causes a major scene by wrecking the joint, and has an argument with the Jewish leaders. And this all happens in chapter 2 – at the very beginning of his ministry. Not the end.

Our standard interpretive take is that when Jesus clears the Temple of the money-changers it’s the last straw and leads directly to his arrest and execution. Indeed, if someone came in here some Sunday and started flipping over tables and chasing people around with a whip it would more than likely provoke an arrest! (hopefully not an execution!)

But in John it happens at the beginning. Very weird.
And that time change is really significant for us in shaping our interpretation. So it’s good that we might know the story – but don’t assume the story is precisely how you think you know it!

Let’s review the details.
John’s gospel starts with a cosmic nativity about how Jesus is the Word, then John the Baptizer does his thing, then John more or less sends his disciples to be Jesus’ disciples, then they all attend a wedding in Cana and Jesus does his water into wine thing as his first act of public ministry.
And then the very next thing that happens is the clearing of the Temple. It really is at the very beginning of his ministry according to John’s gospel.

Jesus enters the Temple, sees the marketplace, makes a whip, drives out the people, flips tables, pours coins on the floor, and singles out the dove sellers for some reason and tells them to stop turning his Father’s house into a marketplace (literally the word means emporium).

Well, as you can imagine, this made quite an impression on Jesus’ brand new disciples! Remember, they’d only been with him a couple of days according to John’s timeline! And here he is, first time in the Temple with them, the holiest place on earth for Jewish people, and Jesus goes ballistic! Can you imagine?!

But it’s their reaction that is utterly fascinating!
John 2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Where was that written? It’s from Psalm 69:9. It’s a psalm about how living your faith with your whole heart and soul can bring challenges, and pushback, and insults, and mocking, and trouble.
If you live your faith out loud people will notice, and they might be put off if they don’t understand.

Zeal is a great word!
Zeal means eagerness, enthusiasm, passion.
The Hebrew word from the psalm literally means ‘hot enough to boil’.
Isn’t that awesome? To be so passionate that you’re boiling over with enthusiasm – and enthusiasm, by the way, means to be filled with God.

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So does that mean that Jesus’ zeal for God’s Temple will eat him up? – or might it mean that it will so impassion him that his spirituality and worship and prayer fills his every moment and empowers him to act justly? The latter sounds about right to me.

Then comes the pushback. read on

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