190915 – A Lost Cause

Yr C ~ Creation 1 ~ Luke 15:1-10

So, a pretty straightforward and obvious little parable about being lost and found, right? Don’t count on it!
Let’s think about this for a minute. What does it mean to be lost today?

Who are the lost?
There’s the usual suspects – those with no religion, or too much greed, or too many possessions, or those in hyper-partisan politics, or Chelsea fans (Habs fans?).
Maybe the lost are simply those who’ve lost their way, or lost God’s way, or maybe have never had a way.
To be lost suggests that at one time you had it and then you didn’t, that you were in before you were out – which brings the question, “How do we get lost?”

We call these the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. But if you read them carefully that’s not what they are. They’re not actually ‘lost’ in the way we usually think. Lost makes it sound like they were valued and loved and then they became separated from their people and so the natural thing was to get them back into the fold. That sounds great – we lose our way and Jesus comes running after us to save us from ourselves and restore us to our belovedness. I once was lost, but now I’m found – a personal salvation story.

But that’s not what’s going on here.
This sheep and this coin weren’t lost – they were discarded. Thrown away and excluded.
That’s not lost. That’s something very different.
And Jesus is making sure we understand what went wrong, and how to fix it.

Parables are supposed to be thought-bombs – stories that jolt our perceptions of the world and help us see through Jesus’ eyes the Ways of God.
So welcome to the parable of the excluded sheep and the discarded coin.

To get what I’m saying you have to look more carefully at the first two verses of this chapter to understand why Jesus taught this concept, and at whom he’s aiming.

Luke 15:1-3 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable.

Who are the “them” that Jesus is talking to? It’s the Pharisees and the scribes – not so much his own disciples here.
Why does that matter?
Because Jesus is trying to describe God’s economy, which operates on a different level than our usual economy does.
The Pharisees and the scribes represent the religious establishment. They are the keepers of the rules – the enforcers of the purity laws.

In their culture at that time being deemed clean or unclean was a big deal. If you were deemed unclean – whether because of sinful behaviour, or a natural medical condition (even such utterly un-sinful things as menstruation or childbirth) you had to pay the appropriate penalty sacrifice or purification sacrifice at the Temple, or present yourself to the Pharisees in your town and they would decide if you were clean. To be deemed unclean meant to be excluded – because if a ‘clean’ person came into contact with a person deemed unclean then that clean person would also be unclean. So the unclean were excluded, and separated out from the rest of the family or village.

Sinners, the unclean, had to be ‘othered’ and removed. For those with chronic illnesses, or those too poor to pay their sacrifices, or those who chose despised work like being a tax collector, there was no way out of their ‘sinfulness’, no way to stop being unclean – so they were permanently excluded, discarded from polite society.

And Jesus had the nerve and the gall to sit down and eat with such people! read on

190908 – One Foot On the Dock

Yr C ~ Pentecost 13 ~ Luke 14:25-33

It doesn’t mean what you think it means, but then again, it kind of does, but not in the way it appears to be. In fact, it’s much heavier than it seems, and may even be harder than you think. But ultimately that’s better than what it looks like.

Confused? You aren’t alone!
This passage of scripture delivers a vitally important spiritual teaching, but the language the translators chose has served us poorly. I’d argue that this has become among the most misunderstood passages in the New Testament, and that’s a shame – because it’s so vital! So my task today is to help you get past what it says and help you see what it means!

It begins by saying, Luke 14:25, that “large crowds were travelling with Jesus.”
Wouldn’t we love that?! Isn’t that our fondest wish? – that big crowds would turn up here at Faith United, and that the message of God’s love that we celebrate could be shared with more and more people, and together we’d live out that love in tangible ways. The more the merrier, right?
Well, apparently not for Jesus. The big crowd is following him and it says that he turns to them and basically tries to talk them out of it – or at least give them a serious reality check.

Consider the crowd.
Something has stirred their imaginations.
Something has inspired them to step away from whatever had their attention and give it to Jesus for a bit.
Something has drawn them to Jesus.
They’re hungry and thirsty for something more, Something More, and they wonder if Jesus has it, or can point the way to it.

Of course he can – but before he does he wants to tell them that this Way he offers is not a simple and easy Way that you can put on or take off like a fall sweater. You can’t just take it or leave it. You can’t just plug into it for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and be done with it. Jesus tells them that there’s a cost to following, and the cost is very high.

No, it’s not money.
And it’s also not what verses 26 and 33 say it is. We have inherited translations that frankly mislead us and give people entirely the wrong idea.

Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

And hundreds, thousands, millions of people say, “Excuse me? What the? I’m supposed to hate my family and my life? That’s idiotic! Christianity is stupid.”
And they’d be completely correct – if that’s what it said – but it absolutely doesn’t say that!

The Greek word translated as hate does not mean what we generally understand it to mean. The choice of words leads us completely in the wrong direction. We hear hate and we think ‘bad feelings, intense and passionate dislike’. So, to follow Jesus means to have to intensely and passionately dislike your kin? No, no, no!
The word actually means ‘to hold one thing in less esteem than another – elevating one value over another’.
It’s still immensely challenging, but it has nothing to do with hate.
In fact, it actually means to continue to hold those things like family and whatnot in fantastically high value and esteem, but to hold one’s relationship with the holy mystery we call God in even higher esteem – the highest value.

Look, it’s not an either/or situation. It’s not a binary choice. It’s a both/and – but Jesus does point to a primacy.
Here’s my favourite example to try to explain this.
Our relationship with God comes before all else in the same way that if you were in a plane and there was trouble the first thing you’re instructed to do is, what? Yes, it’s to tend to your own self and put your own air mask on before you try to do anything else or help anyone else. Even if your parent, your sibling, your child, your favourite person in the world, is sitting beside you – a person you love with all your heart – you’re still supposed to put your own mask on first – because if your core need isn’t tended to first you can’t actually help anyone else.

Jesus is saying the same thing.
If you attend to your relationship with God as your primary focus then you will actually be empowered to love all your other loves with greater power, and joy, and compassion, and fullness. Loving God first actually helps you love everyone and everything else more than you ever could on your own.

So instead of communicating a false thing about needing to hate anyone before you can follow Jesus, what the words actually say is that love of God needs to be the utter and primary foundation for discipleship. read on

190901 – Come In and Sit Down

Yr C ~ Pentecost 12 ~ Luke 14:1, 7-14

Two friends were standing near the back of a huge outdoor venue where the Pope was going to be speaking, and one of the friends said, “Why do we have to be way back here when there’s that wide open space right in front of the stage with nobody in it?”
His friend responded, “I don’t think anyone’s allowed in there.”
The first guy said, “Well, that’s where I’m going!”
And he took his lawn chair and walked all the way up and plunked himself down in the open grassy space, front and centre.
Incredibly, the Pope himself came out to the man, and the friend at the back couldn’t believe his eyes. He watched as the Pope made the sign of the cross in front of his friend, and then the friend got up and made his way back.
As he arrived the waiting friend said, “Oh man, I can’t believe that! You are awesome! You actually got a personal blessing from the Pope! That’s so cool!”
The friend sheepishly responded, “Well, it wasn’t exactly a blessing. The Pope said, [making the sign of the cross as he did] ‘You! Pick up that chair and get the hell out of here!’”

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled!

There are actually two lessons going on in Jesus’ teaching in the scripture passage from Luke 14 we heard today.
The first lesson is about humility. It’s a pretty straightforward teaching.

You walk into a dinner and you have to decide where to sit. Tradition has it that the most important guests get the “best” seats – which usually means next to the host. In Jesus’ parable he imagines a person coming in and sitting in the place of honour, only to be embarrassingly told that someone more important deserves that spot – and since this person was so presumptuous everyone else has already sat down and the only place left is at the far end of the table. The lowliest seat. It’s far better, says Jesus, to sit at a lower place and have the host come and take you to a more prestigious seat, than to try to elevate your status and get shot down.

Luke 14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

That’s basic humility. Don’t think too highly of yourself.
Let someone else tell the world how great you are.
If you try to make people think you’re ‘da bomb’ it’s likely to blow up in your face.
It’s a good life lesson – but really, it’s not very spiritual. We didn’t really need Jesus to teach us that – Miss Manners did it just fine.

I think what Jesus really wanted to teach came next. He was just using this familiar situation as an in – using people’s arrogance and self-importance as a starting point.
His real target here wasn’t the guests at this party; it was the host!

Remember, this teaching takes place at the house of a leader of the Pharisees on the occasion of a shared sabbath meal.
And it says, in verse 1, “(the Pharisees) were watching him closely” – watching to see if Jesus would step out of line, or say something provocative that would challenge the ways the Pharisees held. Jesus did not disappoint!

He started with a lesson about personal humility.
The second lesson Jesus is teaching here is much more pointed. It’s about power. It’s about blind spots. It’s about inclusion.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t exactly stand up to the passage of time.
Luke 14:12-14 Jesus said to the Pharisee host who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus’ example goes as far as it can. He was limited by the culture of his time. In his culture, the things he was suggesting here were utterly radical. His challenge to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” was pretty revolutionary. ‘Good’ people didn’t have such folk at their ‘proper’ parties. Sadly, the perception was that those folks were the way they were because of some shortcoming, or sin, or punishment. They were considered unclean because of it. So the suggestion of merely inviting such as these would have elicited gasps in the hearers of Jesus’ teaching – especially his Pharisee hosts.

Jesus taught that we should invite those that polite society, or religious opinion, has shunned – include those who the ‘accepted ways’ say should be excluded.
Because God’s love knows no barriers.
God’s love never excludes.
No one is outside of God’s love.
And inviting only those who can repay you, or advance your own social standing, or won’t make you feel uncomfortable, is simply an example of self-interest, not real love, or even real hospitality.
We are called to love – but we can’t stop at ourselves.
We need to love beyond ourselves.
We need to love those who the world has mistakenly deemed ‘less than’.

If Jesus was here today, how might he teach this differently? The “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” aren’t the outcasts of society like they were back then. But neither have we learned the lesson well enough to ensure inclusion of such vulnerable people. The poor are still marginalized and excluded, and the needs and realities of persons with disabilities are far too frequently overlooked when we think about organizing gatherings of any kind. Yes, we’re doing better, but we’ve got a long way to go.

I think if Jesus was teaching this lesson today he’d talk about who we include at our tables, and who we exclude. Here’s the kicker. We’re all church folk here. Most of us have been listening to Jesus’ teaching for a long time. And we sincerely are trying to be inclusive people. read on

190818 – Politics and Religion

Yr C ~ Pentecost 10 ~ Luke 12:49-56

It has been said that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite company. But then, this isn’t polite company. This is church.
And in case you think I’m just making a flippant joke, I’m not.
Polite company is all about putting social graces above all else – about keeping things light and uncomplicated – about avoiding anything of substance or import for fear of ruffling feathers or causing people to feel uncomfortable.
If you think that’s what church is about, even a little bit, then I’d suggest that you’ve never been introduced to a guy named Jesus!

So today, we’re going to talk politics and religion. I’m going to start with a disclaimer. Nothing I say today will be partisan in any way, shape, or form. By that I mean that I will not be supporting or advocating for or against any particular Canadian political party. If you think I’m saying something about a certain party, well, that’s you reading into it.
I will strictly stick to principles. If, when you apply those principles you think it’s poking at your preferred party, then that’s something you need to spend time praying about.
This sermon will be entirely non-partisan. I’m Larry Doyle and I authorize this message!

Somehow, somewhere along the line, some people seem to have gotten the bizarre idea that Jesus and Christianity were only about being nice.
‘Do good deeds and earn your way into heaven’ is a shockingly simplistic and utterly incorrect view of what we’re about here.
Jesus doesn’t champion niceness – he champions justice.
And justice usually demands confrontation and conflict – because those who hold power and cause injustice (whether they realize they’re doing so or not) don’t like to be challenged or told they’re wrong – and they certainly are reluctant to just let go of the power they enjoy.

This group of topical sermons that I’ve been preaching this month has turned into an inadvertent series. We began two weeks ago by taking a look at all the components of our worship service, then last week we looked in depth at our mission statement. So we started with deepening one’s experience on a Sunday morning, then talked about deepening one’s experience as a disciple of Jesus and a church member, and today we’re talking about taking all that and applying it out there in the real world.

That’s a really important concept.
Church stuff isn’t just for church.
What we’re doing here is not confined to this hour, or this place. God’s clear call for us is for transformation – first of ourselves, and then of the world.

In Hebrew there’s a phrase – tikkun olam – which means any activity that seeks to heal and improve the world, and brings it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created.

In Greek there’s a word for the well-being of the world – for the building up of life, health, and sustainability of the city, our communities, and all within them. That word is polis – and that is where we get our word politics from.
Tikkun olam/the healing of the world, and polis/politics, are absolutely what we’re supposed to be about beyond this place.

We come here to feed our spirits and fuel our way.
We come here to open ourselves to transformation.
We come here to learn how to love God, love people, and love one another ever more deeply and fully.
And then – and this is the really important part – we take all that transformational love and head out from here and go out into the world and share it, apply it, wield it, stand on it, live it.

And here’s a promise for you. I promise that the moment you take your transformed (and transforming) self out there and try to live out the love, and worldview, and ethical stance, and heart for justice that Jesus teaches – as soon as you tune your heart to the healing of the world – as soon as you begin to apply your faith to your politics – well, you are going to encounter pushback, conflict, opposition, and, I’m sad to say, nastiness.

Listen to this scripture passage from Luke 12 again, this time from The Message translation of the bible. Jesus says:

49 “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth – how I wish it were blazing right now!
50 I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up – how I long for it to be finished!
51 Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!
52 From now on, when you find five in a house, it will be – Three against two, and two against three;
53 Father against son, and son against father; Mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; Mother-in-law against bride, and bride against mother-in-law.”
54 Then Jesus turned to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’ – and you’re right.
55 And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’ – and you’re right.
56 Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.

‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ appears to be on holidays here.
Instead, we get a Jesus who is telling it straight.
Read the bible. I mean really read it. The main topics are not about where we’ll spend eternity. read on

190811 – Suit Up

Yr C ~ Pentecost 9 ~ Luke 12:32-40

I’m spending the month of August doing something called ‘topical’ preaching. That means instead of diving deep into scripture texts I’m using them as a springboard to talk about other issues and things. Last week we looked at the components of our worship service, and next week we’re going to talk politics (what could possibly go wrong?). Today we’re going to talk about our Faith United Mission Statement – something that’s in our bulletin every single week, but we rarely, if ever, talk about it.

But first, let’s look at this reading from Luke 12. Jesus packs a whole bunch of teaching into these short verses.
There’s great fodder for multiple sermons in here: do not be afraid; God wants us to have the kingdom; sell your possessions(!); give to charity; worry less about your money than your spirit; where your treasure is, there is your heart!
And that’s just the first three verses!

That “where your treasure is, there is your heart” line gets all the attention (deservedly so), but the very next thing Jesus says is what I want to focus on today.
Luke 12:35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”

I’m a big fan of the old sitcom series called “How I Met Your Mother.” There’s a character in it named Barney who’s a successful business man (and whose morals are highly questionable, yet he is surprisingly endearing). Barney’s always encouraging his friends to join him in whatever crazy escapade he has planned for the night, and without fail he always tells them to “suit up!” You see, Barney always wears a suit – always (even to bed!) – and he’s convinced that it conveys a sense of power and purpose and presence, and that if you “suit up” like him you’ll be ready for action, and you can achieve whatever you want.

Now, if you happen to know the show I am certainly NOT suggesting that we should be involved in any of the things Barney likes to suit up for!
But he didn’t make that suggestion up.
He stole it from Jesus!

Again, here’s Luke 12:35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”
Suit up!

The rest of this reading from Luke 12 is all about being ready.
Don’t wait. Don’t get caught unawares. The time is now. What are you waiting for?
Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get in the game.
Suit up!

So what shall we do? What are we suiting up for?
Well, we already have a plan!
We have a detailed explanation outlining what our task is as followers of Jesus, and how we should practice our discipleship.
And no, it isn’t just love, love, love.

Although, that in and of itself should be enough! Love God, love people, love one another – love, love, love – that’s the whole ball game right there.
That’s discipleship. And it’s all present tense – love, as in love NOW!
Don’t wait! Suit up!

But one can be forgiven for saying that even though it’s perfectly clear it remains more than a little ambiguous in how to go about actually living it out.

So we created something specific, clear, detailed, and localized. Love, love, love is scriptural, but we didn’t write the scripture!
And what I’m talking about didn’t come from the denomination, or some theologian, or even some minister!
It came from you.
If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m talking about this church’s Mission Statement.

A mission statement is supposed to guide the core actions and values of an organization. Sadly, too many places take great care to craft a statement and then never pay any attention to it. read on

190804 – Liturgy Literacy

Yr C ~ Pentecost 8 – Psalm 100, John 4:23-24 (MSG)

So, the basic point of this sermon is to look at our regular Sunday worship service and answer the question: Why do we do that? Perhaps you already know all this, but I think it’s good to lift up from time to time the things that may seem obvious but don’t always get said. Every single piece, and every single moment and movement in our worship gathering has a purpose for being there, and a theological reason as to why we choose to do it in a certain way. Of course, this isn’t the only way to structure a worship service, and lots of other ministers and communities of faith are free to make different choices. But for us, here’s why we do what we do. I hope you’ll enjoy this.

Let’s start with one of the hardest things – we begin worship with the life and work of the church, also known as announcements. Many of my colleagues will argue that this should be after the offering as part of our response, because it’s all about how we’re living out God’s call on our lives. I get that, but for me announcements so break the flow of worship that they would actually undo much of the good work we’d done spiritually in the hour.
So I insist they go at the very start – adjacent to worship, but technically not really part of it. Announcements are a vital feature of the life and work of the church – they just don’t feel worshipful to me – and that’s a big thing for me.
Feeling worshipful – having the gathering be experiential, and meaningful, and moving.
Worship oughta move your heart, not just your head! (And then inspire you to move your feet!)

Then we pause for a few moments – a deep breath – a chance to switch gears from the doings of the church and ready ourselves for being fully present in worship.

John 4:24, Jesus says, Those who worship God must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, I can’t just flip a switch.
I need a moment or two – I need a deep breath to let go of ‘out there’ and make sure I’m really here – present, in the moment, open.

A musical introit draws us in, and while that happens “the bible is placed and the Christ candle is lit, representing our journey into God’s word with Christ’s light guiding our way.”
Everything has a meaning!

I hope you’ve noticed over time that there are three main movements in our worship. They’re marked in bold, italic, capital letters in the bulletin.
This is the skeleton or frame upon which the whole thing hangs – we gather, we listen for God’s word, we respond. Makes sense, doesn’t it? – We gather, we listen, we respond.
Whether your worship is ultra-traditional, ultra-modern, or ultra-somewhere in-between, it probably follows that basic movement.

Our call to worship is always done responsively, but it doesn’t have to be. I find it’s a great way to connect us, and more importantly to create the sense that we’re in a conversation here. It’s not just me yammering away and you listening. You get to participate all the way through – by singing together, by speaking together, by praying together.

Our call to worship begins with the familiar words, “Surely, God is in this place. Help me notice!” It’s a touchstone phrase that we use in all sorts of aspects of our faith life, and it’s perfect for calling us from whatever we were doing and inviting us to focus on and notice God’s Presence.
We have a few ‘anchor’ phrases that you hear every week – like the prayer before the sermon, the benediction, and the introduction to our greeting of Shalom.

That’s next. It’s based on an ancient Christian tradition of greeting one another with the peace of Christ. Some places call it ‘the passing of the peace.’ Traditionally, the passing of the peace was used as part of the communion liturgy, and a ‘kiss of peace’ was often offered. Hey, if y’all wanna start kissin’ that’s up to you!

Confession time – I’ve never liked the passing of the peace. It always feels so artificial to me.

The peace of Christ be with you. And also with you.
The peace of Christ be with you. And also with you.
The peace of Christ be with you. And also with you.

By the time I’ve said it a couple of times I’m done. It just feels weird to me. So I prefer to use the word Shalom.

On the day of resurrection, in the upper room where the disciples were gathered together, the presence of the risen Christ mystically appeared, and Jesus said to the disciples, “Peace be with you.”
Except in Hebrew that was simply the word Shalom.
Jesus greeted his friends with Shalom. That’s good enough for me!
It’s easy to say. It’s quick.
It functions just like “Hello” but it carries a significant spiritual meaning.
Because it’s in a foreign language it instantly feels more spiritual.
And I can say it multiple times and it never feels weird to me.
So I hope that when we exchange that greeting of Shalom that you actually say the word Shalom, and don’t just say ‘good morning’.
Be like Jesus! Say Shalom!

And then we sing.
Psalm 100:1-2 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.

Our mainline protestant tradition is steeped in hymn singing. read on

190707 – Skin Deep Faith

Yr B ~ Epiphany 6 ~ 2 Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-45 

We’re starting in the Hebrew Scriptures, or First Testament, or Old Testament this morning in a book called 2nd Kings which is about how the kings of Israel came into being.
The main character is Naaman. He is powerful, in charge, a respected warrior, the right hand man of the King of the Arameans, who at this point were much more powerful than Israel. But despite his rank and power Naaman had leprosy – a skin disease of some kind.

Perhaps he’s one of those rare enlightened feminist warriors – or maybe he’s desperate to be cured so he’ll try anything – or perhaps he could sense the presence of God in the words offered by his Hebrew slave girl – but for whatever reason, beyond all common sense, he follows this Hebrew slave girl’s advice to seek out Elisha, a prophet of Israel.

Naaman takes with him a letter from the King (!) and a small fortune – Why? Because that’s the way it was done. You paid for your miracles, and a great miracle required a great fortune. He presents himself to the King of Israel – who is mortified, thinking this impossible ask is a thinly veiled prelude to invasion.

Then Elisha (and that’s Elisha, not Elijah, they’re different guys) hears about this, somehow, and sends word to the King of Israel – “Relax! Send this guy to me and we’ll get him fixed up.”

Ok, here’s where the fun starts.
Naaman was a powerful man, but he knows his place. He’s humble before his king, respectful before the King of Israel, but now he’s at a mere prophet’s house. Naaman has the right to burst in and take whatever he wants – but instead, he and his horses and his chariots, the whole entourage, halts at the entrance to Elisha’s house. This is a great act of humility for powerful Naaman.

And what does he get for his trouble?
Elisha doesn’t even go out and see him, but just sends a messenger to say “go jump in the lake” – sort of.
“Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

Well, that’s too much. Naaman will not be humiliated anymore.
It’s one thing to obey kings, but to be sent on a ridiculous errand by the servant of a prophet – no way.

v.11 Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

I thought that for me he would surely come out. There’s that arrogant self-importance again. ‘He should get out here and do his magic trick and heal me. Anyway, how does jumping in the water heal me? And besides, even if I did…’

v.12 Are not…the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

v.13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 

Again, it’s his servants that are counselling him – this just isn’t done. And finally, his heart softens, he accepts the counsel,

v.14 (And) he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

It’s such a great story.
Naaman thinks his problem is skin deep – “I’ve got leprosy, I need it cured.”
But God has a greater plan for Naaman.
The entire story is about breaking down his arrogance and self-reliance, teaching him humility and trust, showing him that he’s not in control, and until he yields his control he won’t be made whole.

This story isn’t about the curing of a leper – it’s about the healing of a man’s soul. His problem wasn’t skin deep – it was soul deep.
The order to go and immerse himself in the river is like a baptism. “Go and die to your old way of being, and be reborn with new life in the Spirit of God!”

When Naaman humbled himself and submitted his will to the will of God he was healed – of what? – leprosy, yes – but through this experience Naaman had a massive transformation of his character.
He learned trust, humility, and submission – not great attributes for a warrior, but essential for real healing, for wholeness.

The Bible is filled with stories of healing, but the story behind the story, the real story, isn’t about the skin deep issue, it’s about the soul deep one. Like in the medical field, the presenting symptom is often not the real issue but a window into a deeper problem.

This may get a little heavy.

read on

190623 – The Sound of Silence

Yr C ~ Pentecost 2 ~ 1 Kings 19:8-15a

A person has a need, a deep spiritual need. They’re at the end of their rope. They’ve realized that their own energy and capacity is maxed out, and they need more than what they’ve got. They’ve had tremendous highs, accomplished incredible things, done tremendous good, but at this point they’re just done. The accolades have faded, the tides have turned, and now they’re shaken to their core. The appropriate word just might be despondent.

And so with nothing left in the tank they completely let down their guard and surrender to God. I would imagine that, “I’ve had enough, God! I give up!” is a prayer just about every person here has prayed.

And then, exhausted, they fall asleep. And in their sleep, when their guard is completely down and there are no distractions, an experience of the Holy happens. Presence is felt – spiritual nourishment is given – energy is restored. The person then goes through a time of spiritual transformation and growth, has even more powerful and transformative experiences of and in God’s Presence, and is refreshed, renewed, and given a new mission of living God’s way.

That pattern of spiritual renewal is exactly what the prophet Elijah experienced, and it can be true for us today too.

Elijah was perhaps the greatest prophet of Israel. Just before today’s reading he stands alone in a foreign land (albeit one where many Jews are living) and challenges 450 prophets of the god Baal. You see, the Israelites there were falling away from God and turning to the cult of Baal, in the land ruled by Queen Jezebel. Isaiah had to prove that Yahweh, the one true God, the God above all other gods, was worthy. So he challenges the Baal prophets to a prophet-off! The problem was if he lost the challenge he’d be killed, but if he won the challenge Jezebel would still probably kill him. But he had to fight.

It’s a colourful story. There were pyres erected, and bulls were cut up, and the challenge was that using only prophecy and spiritual power could the fires be lit and the bulls burned. 450 prophets of Baal danced and chanted themselves into a stupor and a big fat nothing happened. One lowly prophet of God, Elijah, prayed and called forth God’s power and lightning came and started the fire and burned it all up. Elijah won, and all 450 prophets of Baal were put to death.
Winner winner chicken dinner, right? Big man on campus, right?

The next day, Elijah was visited by a messenger of Jezebel who said the queen sent him to kill Elijah.
So Elijah fled for his life, thinking he was done for. He ran and ran, deep into the wilderness, expecting to be killed. Despondent, he laid down under a desert bush and he prayed, 1 Kings 19:4 “I’ve had enough, Lord! Take my life. I’m no better than my ancestors.” The last part is pretty cryptic but the first part is pretty relatable. “I’ve had enough, God! I give up!”

He slept, and an angel visited him, woke him, and provided food and water.
Refreshed Elijah travelled for 40 days and 40 nights – sound familiar? That’s a number signifying transformation.
And he comes to Mt Horeb, where Moses got the 10 Commandments, and just like Moses, Elijah experiences God’s Presence in a magnificent way.

Ok, that’s the background.
How did Elijah get there, and how do we get to a point where we’re ready to experience God so vividly?
There’s a pattern: openness and surrender, receiving spiritual nourishment, a time of transformation, and physically being in a quiet place where deep experiences have a greater chance of happening, and making yourself ready, preparing yourself, to hear.

Now let’s look at the experience.
How do we expect to encounter God? What would it be like to encounter the very Presence of God?
Here’s how it was for Elijah. 1 Kings 19:11-12

(Elijah is told) “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

The King James translation says it was a still, small voice.

That ain’t how it works in the movies!
Generally, God is depicted as all-powerful, shaking mountains, causing earthquakes, chucking lightning bolts.
We expect God to dazzle and amaze, to knock our socks off with power, and fireworks, and throngs of angel choruses singing alleluia!

Silence is the opposite.
Silence is the absence of all those flashy things.
I guess it’s because we have a sense that God is so great, and so awesome, and so holy, and so magisterial that we can’t help but associate those things with showy and noisy displays of such awesomeness.
But clearly, according to this scripture and many others, God’s Presence is known in the silence.
In the silence!
It’s completely counter-intuitive.
It turns our perception and expectations completely upside down.
Come to think of it, that’s exactly how God usually seems to work!

It shouldn’t surprise us though.

read on

190616 – Revealed In Time

Pentecost 1 ~ Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15

The passage from Romans that we started with today makes a huge assumption.
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since we’re justified.
To be justified means to be declared righteous, innocent, cleared of all charges.
That’s nice. When did that happen?
It happens as you grow ever deeper in the way of Jesus.
Presumably Paul knows that he’s talking to insiders, to long term church people, to the regulars. In other words, most of us!
We arrive here every week knowing we are already doing pretty good, right?
We participate. We worship. We pray.
We do good things. We’re the A Team. We’re awesome!
Everybody turn and high five somebody.

I mean, look at this place. This is a healthy and positive congregation.
We do all sorts of community work.
We help local and distant ministries with physical, spiritual, and financial assistance.
We’re an Affirming church.
We have vibrant worship. We have warm fellowship.
We have an amazing staff! We have fantastic lay leadership.
We may not be among the biggest but we might just be among the best congregations in the whole United Church.
We really are awesome!
That needs another high five, and maybe even a wooot!

Does that feel weird?
Does it feel weird to celebrate like that? To boast like that?
Christians aren’t supposed to boast or brag, right?
We’re supposed to be all humble and self-deprecating. Right?
Not according to Paul!

Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Ok, so actually we boast about how good God is and not so much about ourselves. But how do you think God’s goodness is communicated and shared? It’s mostly through people like us! God works through us. God loves via you and me. So when we boast of God’s love we pretty much have to talk about ourselves because we’re the ones that love comes through! High five again!!!

We call this Sunday “Celebration Sunday” and we really do have a lot to celebrate.
We’ve already recognized the folks who do some of their ministry with children and youth through Joyful Noise and Family Fun Night and such. And yes, I purposely call it ministry and not volunteering!
You aren’t volunteers; you’re all ministers living out Christ’s call on your life.

Other folks do some of their ministry through committees or through our church Council. I forgot to do the covenanting piece with all those folks a couple of months ago so right now I’d like to invite anyone who serves on a committee or is a member of Council to please stand. Thank you for your ministry, and blessings be upon it! (You may be seated.)

Many of you do your ministry in countless ways behind the scenes – cutting grass, gardening, doing dishes, moving chairs, knitting prayer shawls, I could go on and on. So much ministry is done here! There’s so much to celebrate and boast about.

We’re also celebrating today the anniversary of our officially becoming an Affirming church – a church that commits to being public, intentional, and explicit about its openness. We describe ours in our mission statement on our bulletin:

We affirm that we strive to provide a spiritual home that is openly welcoming, nurturing and safe whatever a person’s ability/disability, age, ethnicity, exceptionality, gender identity, sexual orientation, or social or economic circumstance.
We may not be perfect, but we’re striving!

You may not think that’s all that big a deal but I assure you it has meant the world to some people – and the defacing of the rainbow crosswalk in Bowmanville a few weeks ago is ample proof as to why being Affirming is so important.
It may surprise you that across our denomination there are still only around 15% of congregations that are Affirming!
I’m wondering why it’s not closer to 100%? You’d think it would be. We are, after all, famous for being a cutting edge, social justice Church.
I guess all those churches are not ready yet.

This is the Sunday we’re also celebrating the anniversary of our denomination. read on

190609 – Babble On

Yr C ~ Pentecost ~ Genesis 11:1-9, and Acts 2:1-8, 11-18

We’re starting today with the famous story of the tower built in the land of Shinar – except we don’t call it that.
We all know it as the tower of…?

Let’s start a fight! The word b-a-b-e-l rhymes with what? Raise your hand when I get to your pronunciation!

Table? Scrabble? Hobble? Or is it something else?

The answer is…it depends!
The proper Hebrew is pronunciation is baw-Bell with emphasis on the 2nd syllable.
But the proper English, according to the dictionary, rhymes with ‘table’ – so it’s Bay-bull.
But many of us learned it as babble, which sounds like confusion, and also sounds like Babylon, which is where the land of Shinar actually is, so maybe that’s right?

It doesn’t really matter. Pronounce it however you like!
My point is that even though we’re all English speakers here we can’t agree on how it should be pronounced. Add in multiple languages, and translations from ancient languages, and it’s a recipe for confusion!
Language can be confounding.
Eventually I’m going to make a big point about language and communicating and understanding, but for now I was just looking for a fun way to get started!

Before I go any further I just want to say the obvious that this story is just a story.
It’s never meant to be accurate history. It’s a teaching story – so we need to look carefully at it to learn its lessons!

The tower of…Babel (however you say it) story happens right after the Noah’s ark story. That’s important for interpreting it. After the flood the first thing we hear about is a story about how the people came to one place, under one language, and began to build an audacious, amazing tower. One language, working together – what’s the problem?

The problem is arrogance!
The problem is that God has repeatedly told humankind to “spread out and fill the whole earth” (Genesis 1:28, 9:1) – and here in Genesis 11, having been given a clean slate after the flood, the first thing humankind does is gather together in one place under one language.

God says “spread out.”
Humanity says, “Nope, we’re staying right here – and we’re going to build a tower that reaches the heavens – because we’re just as important and good as God is! We’ll be equal with God!”

Yikes! Friends, that’s called rebellion!

But instead of punishing humankind for this rebellion of arrogance – again – God chooses to reinforce God’s desire that humankind should spread out and fill the whole earth.
Do they like it? Of course not!
It’s like being told that vegetables are actually better for you than chocolate chip cookies! We may not like it, but it’s right!
So the people are scattered – not as punishment, but as a righting of the course.
A scattered, diverse humanity is God’s plan. One in love, but diverse in identity and expression.

So now let’s turn to the story of the disciples in the upper room at Pentecost. Just by way of background, Pentecost is a Greek word for the Jewish pilgrimage festival called Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks – commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai – Moses, tablets, all that. We know Pentecost as a hugely important Christian day, but it’s roots are Jewish.

It’s called Pentecost (meaning 50th day) because it came 50 days after Passover. And just like on Passover, Jerusalem would have been bursting with pilgrims – Jews from all over the place flocking to the city for the festival. That’s why the long list of countries (that we mercifully left out of the reading) is there – to explain why people from all over, who speak all kinds of languages, are all together. The people have been scattered in diversity, and they have gathered together for worship.

Let’s turn to the text.
I think we all probably know the story well. While the disciples are gathered, presumably in worship, (Acts 2:2) suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

I love the imagery of the Holy Spirit blowing as a wind, but if you read this carefully it suggests that what they experienced was a “sound” like wind.
A sound – a powerful sound that reverberated so resoundingly that it filled the entire house.
Isn’t that fantastic?!

Have you ever stood in front of a loud speaker, like at a concert or something, and you can feel the vibrations of the music actually buzzing in your body?
Wind blows and musses up your hair. You feel it, but mostly on the outside (until you breathe it in, of course!).
But sound reverberates and moves your whole body from the inside out.
Spirit doesn’t just stir and blow – Spirit resounds and shakes your very being.
It’s a very powerful, moving, pulsating image.

I always struggle with the next bit though. read on

190536 – Revelation-Light

Yr C ~ Easter 6 ~ Revelation 21:10, and 21:22 to 22:5
(part 4 of a 4-part series – please read the whole series!)

We’ve been delving into the last book of the bible, a book called Revelation, for the whole month of May.
Primarily, it’s a book about encouraging 7 churches who are struggling to keep the faith in the midst of an overwhelmingly oppressive Empire that threatens to suck them in and knock them off their spiritual path.

The genre of the Book of Revelation is called an apocalypse, which uses fantastically wild, sci-fi, end-of-the-world-battle imagery to paint a picture of how dire the consequences are if one doesn’t do the thing, and how beautiful and rewarding it is if one does. The ‘thing’ in this case is to endure, to keep faith, to hold fast!
I suggested that I like to think of the book as a one person, tour de force, Broadway show with a lone actor spinning a fantastic tale and mesmerizing the audience, for the purpose of encouraging them and teaching them.

In the first week we explored the ‘Jesus as the Lamb of God’ language – which I suggested does not have to mean sacrificial substitutionary atonement theology that says Jesus died to appease an angry God. I reject that.
Instead I offered a lens that sees the Lamb language as something like an honorary title, almost a reverent nickname that imagines Jesus, after the fact and upon reflection, as the ultimate fulfilment of the sacrificial system – not to appease God but to reveal God’s presence everywhere and always.

Next we explored the ‘great ordeal’ of the oppression of Empire and focused on Chapter 7’s lovely, peaceful, worshipful time in the midst of the cataclysmic destruction going on.
We saw how endurance, holding fast was key, and how a life of faith is a strong and helpful way to face the challenges of Empire and oppression – even as we come to realize that in some ways we are actually complicit with Empire and are part of the problem.
We are reminded that no matter what we face, no matter how hard our own personal great ordeals may be, that we are not alone. We are known and loved by God – marked by our baptism and our faithfulness.

Last week we described the great battle between good and evil and learned how Jesus is the hero who defeats the evil enemy (Empire, Caesar) not with force and violence but with the “sword of his mouth” – the Word of God.
We were introduced to the idealized city of God – a physical imagining of the kingdom of God – and how the ultimate purpose of God is to live with God’s people and help us flourish. That means ultimately heaven isn’t ‘up there’ or ‘out there’ somewhere – it’s right here!
And we don’t have to wait for the end of the world as we know it – that kingdom is emerging here and now. God’s home is here among us – a new heaven and a new earth – in our midst, within us, now!

It’s been a wild ride so far. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
If you haven’t been here all month I strongly encourage you to go to our website and read the whole series.
I’ve really liked diving into this book in this way. I’ve learned a lot too!

And today we get to have some final thoughts, about the final chapter, of the final book of the New Testament.
I doubt the author had any clue they were writing the big finish of the bible. They were just trying to offer encouragement to a group of 7 struggling churches.
But the message caught on in wider circles, and when it came time to assemble the canon (250-300 years later), to decide what books and letters got to be in the New Testament and in what order, this book got the final word.

Let’s hear some of those final words! read on

190519 – Revelation-Home

Yr C ~ Easter 5 ~ Revelation 21:1-6
(part 3 of a 4-part series – please read the whole series!)

The Book of Revelation is so convoluted and complicated with layer upon layer of imagery, and double meanings, and numerology, and symbolism, that we could take dozens, maybe hundreds of different approaches to it and still claim to say something authentic.
Or, like many of the loudest voices seem to do, say something inauthentic about it.
One thing’s for sure, you can’t cover all the bases. You have to choose your lens, your theological interpretive tool, and go with it.

We’ve been looking at Revelation all through the month of May and if you’ve been following along you’ll know that my lens has been the way Revelation critiques Empire – how Empire crowds out the recognition and flourishing of God’s Kingdom – how Empire wreaks havoc on the lives of Christians – and how the struggle against Empire represents our “great ordeal” in life and how we need strength to keep on keeping on.

So today’s reading, Revelation 21, the arrival of the new heaven and the new earth is a dreamy envisioning of what it would look like if Empire had actually been defeated, and God’s Kingdom was able to flourish.
But the great problem we have, because we use the Lectionary that only does little snippets of scripture at a time, is that the new heaven and new earth seem to appear out of the blue and we miss out on how we got there and what it all means.

Last week we did chapter 7 – this week we’re on chapter 21. Do the math! We’re missing most of the story.
Some of you may have been adventurous and went ahead and read those chapters this week. If you need some counselling I can recommend some names! Because it’s crazy, wild stuff. There are plagues and cataclysms that destroy a third, or a half of the planet, and there’s a massive war with dragons and beasts, and the amount of killing and bloodshed is overwhelming.
It’s pure mayhem.

And it’s 100% fiction.
It was never meant to be taken literally in any way, shape, or form.
Whoever wrote it may very well have been at a party and ate from the wrong tray of brownies!
But if you strip away all that sci-fi wildness there’s actually a remarkably simple and theologically profound message.
And I’m going to tell you what it is. Soon.

First, I’m going to talk about the arc of those skipped over chapters.
At its heart it’s a simple good vs evil story and in the end good prevails. Jesus is the hero, of course, and he even rides into battle on a white horse as he defeats the beast. Who’s the beast? – the Emperor, Caesar, and symbolically Empire itself.
But check this out – in the description of battle-Jesus Revelation 19:13 says, “…and his name is called the Word of God”, and the wicked are slain by the “sword of his mouth” – in other words, the Word.
So what defeats the wicked? Ultimately, it’s the word of God!

Aside from the Emperor who are the wicked?
Revelation 11:18 says it’s those who “destroy the earth!” – economically, environmentally, socially.
In other words, it’s anyone who participates in or is complicit with Empire. In particular, it’s the accumulation of wealth and privilege at the expense or oppression of others that seems to invite judgment. (That ought to catch our breath and give us pause.)

But judgment is not absolute – over and over there are opportunities for these people to repent. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock!” After each wave of mayhem the text laments that despite seeing the destruction of those around them because of the evils of participating in Empire (in oppression) the people still will not open the door; they won’t repent.
To repent is to turn from one way and live a new way – to let go of the old and embrace the new.
And the heartbreak of the Book of Revelation is that no matter how terrible people’s lives get because they’re clinging so hard to the evils of oppression they won’t let go.

In contrast, we have the faithful.
Remember, Revelation is a book written to encourage the faithful in the face of a great ordeal – namely, the power of the Roman Empire and its threat to undermine one’s holding fast to Jesus’ way.

Most of the book is about the devastation unleashed by the angels, but in chapter 12 the Devil gets his due. In Revelation 12:17 it says that the Devil, the dragon, “makes war…on those who keep the Commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.” It’s personal!

And over and over again there is the encouragement to endure in the face of such a great ordeal.
The words ‘endure’ and ‘hold fast’ are sounded repeatedly – and the whole point of the entire book is explicitly stated twice: read on

190512 – Revelation-Relief

Yr C ~ Easter 4 ~ Revelation 7:9-17

It’s weird, but I think it’s wonderful! I really like this Book of Revelation, even as I struggle with wading through the language and the imagery. It’s really worth the effort because the message is really apropos for today. That’s why I have us spending this whole month looking at it. Last week we dove into the really complex imagery of Jesus as the Lamb, and we wrestled with all that blood imagery and sacrificial language. I offered a couple of lenses to help us navigate that. Maybe as you pondered it over the week some questions or thoughts arose. Cool! I’d love to hear about that at coffee time or whenever.

I told you last week that my own personal lens for approaching the Book of Revelation is to see it as a masterful, one-person tour-de-force Broadway show. Imagine the narrator standing on stage, spinning this crazy sci-fi, fantasy tale, dazzling and mesmerizing the audience.

Revelation is not a letter to teach a ‘theology of the end times’ to the broader church. Like most scripture it’s written to a particular audience of people who were experiencing a specific set of circumstances. Revelation is a wild, sci-fi movie of a letter written to encourage the churches in a certain region because they’re experiencing tough times.

That is certainly applicable today! (even if the dragons and plagues are a little much!)

In Greek, the word ‘revelation’ is apocalypsis – an apocalypse. It literally means an uncovering, a revealing, hence “revelation”. It’s not about destruction, per se. While destruction happens in the telling of the vision, the point of the vision is not destruction, rather it’s to reveal the promise of the Presence of God.

Primarily, the book is an encouragement to those still in the “great ordeal”.
It’s meant to be a present help in hard times! We’ll talk more about that in a few minutes.

The writer of Revelation is writing to a group of seven churches in his charge. He’s like a bishop, and he’s writing a pastoral letter of encouragement – except instead of writing like a pastor he writes like Stephen King! (He’s a horror novel writer.)
Revelation is dripping in numerical imagery – there’s 7 churches, and a scroll with 7 seals, and 7 angels with 7 trumpets, and on and on it goes. And there’s all manner of wild creatures too – including (“living creatures”) 4 faced cherubim with 6 wings, and dragons, and horsemen, and beasts.

It truly boggles the mind that anyone could ever think any of this might be taken literally.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have really important things to say – it does – but to take this stuff literally, as if it actually happened (or will happen) this way, is absolute madness and a complete betrayal of the text.
So I encourage you to embrace the wildness of it, let it freak you out, and see what it’s really trying to tell us.

Today we’re in chapter 7. It’s a lovely, pastoral kind of reading.
But you should know that it comes as a breather in the midst of a huge cataclysm.
To understand that I have to tell you about chapter 6.

God produces a scroll with 7 seals.
The first 4 seals let loose the infamous four horsemen of the apocalypse.
The fifth seal reveals the martyrs who cry for vengeance – although a better translation would be justice, as in they cry for justice being served (which could look a whole lot like vengeance).
The sixth seal brings earthquakes, and eclipse, and the “powers that be” (the human kings and rulers and power-holders) go running for the hills because they fear the coming wrath.

And here we see the real target of this destructive fury.
Revelation is not about punishing individuals who are not Christians, or who are lapsed Christians.
It isn’t damning nice Christian folks who have strayed from the path, or committed sin, or have fallen short.
They aren’t the ones all this mayhem is aimed at.

No, it’s the powerful – it’s Caesar, it’s the Roman oppressors, it’s Empire that breeds injustice. read on

190505 – Revelation-Lamb

Yr C ~ Easter 3 ~ Revelation 5:11-14

Today’s passage in Revelation 5 is a beautiful celebration of praise and adoration for the risen Christ, and for God. Unfortunately, many of us in modern, Mainline Protestant churches can’t hear that because the other language about the slaughtered lamb leaps out and dominates our reading – and we can’t get past it. Maybe you’ve had a hard time singing some of the words in the music we’re singing today. I get it! I hope by the end of this sermon you’ll have a way to sing those with authenticity! I’m going to take it straight on and try to give us a way to redeem and transform these words and images into something lovely and helpful. Kind of a tall order, but I’m game if you are. (Yes, this is going to be a heavy one!)

Let me start by saying that whatever you started thinking when we said “A reading from the Book of Revelation” is probably a view distorted by terrible interpretations of the book. It’s actually quite a beautiful and powerfully helpful part of the bible – but over time, especially in recent time, it has been used in ways it was never intended to be used, and interpreted in ways that would make Jesus spin in his grave – if he were in a grave, but he’s not, because as we know from a couple of weeks ago “He is Risen!” (Notice how I tied Easter in there?)

The Book of Revelation is, frankly, weird – but only because we don’t easily understand what’s going on. The style is called an apocalypse – which was a known genre or form of writing in which a representative seer goes on a journey up into heaven and then returns with an urgent message to the community. It’s basically a dream – and aren’t some of your dreams kind of wild?

It’s a kind of writing that uses crazy weird imagery and dazzling, mystifying metaphors to try to make a point.
What’s the point? The point is that God is present, Jesus is present, the Spirit is present, the kingdom is present, and we are all blessed beyond imagining.

The book is centred around a series of report cards on seven fledgling Christian communities. It’s really kind of an oversight report from a ‘bishop’ to the churches in their charge – and the bishop isn’t all that happy! These seven churches all have good points, but they are all being kneecapped by their bad points – and the bishop wants a change – or else!

Now, this is my take on Revelation, you may have another, and scholars may disagree with me, but I like this take.
For me, Revelation is like an epic one person play on Broadway. It’s a theatre piece!
Remember, scripture in the ancient church was not mass produced and read at leisure at home – there was one hand-written copy, and it was read out loud to the gathered community – usually in one sitting!

But Revelation, with all its sci-fi special effects – fireworks, dragons, horsemen, fabulous cities descending from the clouds, threats, promises, angels, rivers of life – all that stuff demands much more than a straightforward reading like we read it in church.
It would take a tour-de-force dramatic oration to bring it to life.
And when that happened it would be like us going to watch the Avengers: Endgame movie, or Star Wars, or Game of Thrones, or something spectacular and dazzling like that. The listening audience would be blown away – and you’d better be sure they’d get the message to pull up their socks and do church better – because the promises that await if they did so were inconceivably wonderful.

The Book of Revelation is NOT about the end of the world and the rapture. In fact, the rapture isn’t even in this book, it’s in 1 Thessalonians, kinda – then certain folks read it into Revelation and make scripture say something it was never meant to say!

So, let’s dive in, let’s look at this lamb language (that I said at the start we can have a hard time getting by), and try to figure out exactly what it IS meant to say. The lamb is referring to Jesus. Let’s find out why.

Jesus and his followers were initially observant, practicing Jews. Jesus certainly preached a reformed vision of Judaism, but it’s an outright error to say that they were Christians. They weren’t; they were Jews. They lived in and adhered to a sacrificial system, even as Jesus taught that spiritual transformation, and oneness with God, and the revelation and unfolding of God’s Kingdom made that system (or any system, for that matter) unnecessary. The sacrificial system was the intermediary between the person and God – but Jesus taught that we had direct access and didn’t need an intermediary, not even him!

So, (stay with me here), if for his Jewish-based followers, Jesus and his transformational, world-changing Way fulfilled and transcended their previous “system”, then its logical that they would talk about him, and describe him, and theologize him as the ultimate feature of their system – the perfect answer for their system, the ultimate fulfillment of the purpose of their system.
So they call Jesus the purest and most complete sacrifice, an unblemished lamb.

In order to understand this language and why they used it we have to understand that if your entire religious and social culture is immersed and enmeshed in a sacrificial system that says the way we get harmony with God is through physical, ritual sacrifices, then regardless of whether Jesus ever sanctioned the sacrificial system or not (he didn’t) they will still see him through that lens.
They cannot help but see him through that lens. So they reach into the only religious language they know and call him the Lamb of God.

You could think of it as a nickname. Simon became Peter. But Peter in Greek is petra, which means rock. Jesus essentially nicknamed him the rock, or rocky. And now they’re naming Jesus the Lamb.

Then we add on another layer. read on

190421 – Everyday Resurrections (Easter)

Yr C ~ Easter Sunday ~ Luke 24:1-12

Think of something in your life right now that’s very good – something that’s going well, it’s on the right track – something that wasn’t going so well before maybe, but now it’s really good – something that required some kind of change in your life, and you made it, and now that something is much better. Think for a moment of that – a change for the better.

Now think about how it wasn’t so great prior to that. Something happened that nudged you, or compelled you, to make that change and to embrace the new path you’re currently enjoying around that something. But in order to get to where you are now, you had to let go of that former way.
You might say you had to “die” to that former way in order to live this new, better way.

And if you were to cast that in spiritual, religious terms, you might say you experienced a resurrection.

Take another moment now, and think about something in your life that isn’t going quite so good, or at least not in the way you’d like it to go. Sadly, most of us have a much easier time coming up with this list than the “going well” list. Something in your life that you’re just not happy with, that doesn’t feel like you think it should.

Now imagine for a moment how that something might be better. Picture your life with that something going the way you’d prefer. In order for that to happen, something is going to have to nudge or compel you to make that change – to let go of how things are so you can embrace how things might be.
Again, I’d call that resurrection – the need to die to what is in order for what will be to be born.

Resurrection is a fundamental truth in our existence.
Nature does it all the time – dying and rising, the end of what was and the emergence of what’s next – this is simply how it works.

And it’s how our spiritual life works too.
The point of the resurrection story isn’t to try to convince anyone that Jesus was magic and got to come back to life and keep on chugging after he was killed.
Because he didn’t.
After he died, his presence was mystically experienced in incredibly profound ways – in life changing ways – but he didn’t get to just come back to life and carry on with business as usual.
The point is not resuscitation it’s transformation!

I think we’ve done ourselves a disservice in some ways by making such a great big deal out of Jesus’ resurrection – as if his is the only one that has ever happened and will ever happen – until the last days when we all die.
That’s some pretty sketchy theology in my book.

I’d prefer resurrection to be absolutely ordinary.
Everyday resurrections.
I think we’d be way better off spiritually if we pointed to Jesus’ resurrection as him embodying and laying out a pattern for our lives – a pattern that we’re invited to follow. That’s what being a disciple means, after all.

(I’ll be saying a lot more about this, and getting right into the theological heart of it in a sermon series through the month of May – so if today’s explanation doesn’t go far enough for you be here through May!)

This is what we talked about a few days ago on Maundy Thursday when we heard Jesus say “I’m laying down a pattern for you. Do as I have done.”
He’s embodying the same thing here.
On that Thursday he didn’t just mean that we were supposed to engage in foot washing because he did.
He meant that his life and his actions constituted a pattern – a pattern we are called to follow.
Jesus was laying down a pattern in the resurrection. A “death” has to occur, and then new life can begin.

You’ve already experienced resurrection today. You woke up! You had to “die” to yesterday and let it go in order to be “reborn” into today, and rise, and make your way in the world.
Where we get into trouble is when we forget the “let go” part and try to hold on to what was – which never works – and stops us from entering into what’s next.

Easter Sunday always brings visitors to church! Welcome! read on

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