170122 – A Firm Faith

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Galatians 3:23-29
Affirming Ministry Launch Day

Today is a special day because we are officially launching something called our Affirming Ministry process. The absolute number one question that always comes up about this is “We’re already welcoming and inclusive, so why do we have to do this?”
And the second question is, “What exactly are we supposed to be affirming?” I’ll answer that one first.a-firm-faith

Specifically, the Affirming movement grew out of an awareness that people who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) have historically been treated very badly by churches and have felt decidedly unwelcome and therefore unable to grow in their faith.

However, denominations like our United Church of Canada, who lead the way in being inclusive, have been working hard to change that story. The thing is that ultimately our national church cannot and will not tell individual congregations how to shape their worship policies, so regardless of national pronouncements and encouragement the experience at various churches can range from wonderfully inclusive and supportive to downright hostile.

For several years now Faith United has had an equal marriage policy that says that if you are legally eligible to be married in Ontario, opposite sex or same sex, and you desire a Christian ceremony that you can be married here by me. This is a clear sign that we’re already inclusive, but to be Affirming says something more.
If a congregation is an Affirming Ministry they are saying, out loud and to the public, that they “affirm” the radical inclusiveness, acceptance, and hospitality toward LGBTQ folks that our denomination encourages.

And that’s the answer to the first question.

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We here at Faith United are wonderfully inclusive. No matter who comes through our doors I know that as long as they were willing to learn about and practice journeying in the Way of Jesus that you would welcome them without hesitation, no matter how they looked, or how they self-identified their gender, or whatever their sexual orientation might be.

The difference is, and the reason we’re embarking on this is, that WE know we’re inclusive, but LGBTQ folks out there may not be sure about us, because we’ve never taken the time or effort to tell them.
And make no mistake, they’ve been burned and hurt before by churches, so they’re likely not willing to give us a try and risk coming through our doors and finding out unless they’re sure.
And if we’re going to say out loud and publicly that we’re Affirming then we need to be sure that we understand the people we hope to welcome as best we can.

I think there are two key indicators that inform whether people are comfortable with these kinds of conversations: their view of interpreting scripture and their personal experience of people who are “others”.

So let’s talk scripture first. read on

170115 – But I Say~Blessing

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Yr A ~ Epiphany 2 ~ Matthew 5:1-12

One challenge with a passage of scripture like we have today is that it’s so well known it can be difficult to engage in a fresh way. “They’re the Beatitudes. The blessings. Everybody knows what they mean.” Oh they do, do they? We’ll see!but-i-say-blessings

To begin, let’s set the stage. In Matthew’s gospel the Sermon on the Mount is the very first bit of real teaching that Jesus does. He’s born, gets baptized, does the temptation thing, declares that the kingdom of heaven is near and people ought to change the way they see the world and open themselves to receive it, taps a bunch of disciples on the shoulder and says “Follow me” and they do, and then we get the Beatitudes.

The text mentions a crowd, but a careful reading suggests that it’s probably only the disciples that are hearing this teaching. Now that’s sad if you’re a Monty Python fan and you can’t help but imagine a crowd of hundreds and the people way at the back mis-hearing Jesus and causing all kinds of comedy. Instead of “blessed are the peacemakers” they hear “blessed are the cheesemakers” and then have a theological debate where they decide he meant makers of dairy products in general. Funny! But the way Matthew reads there was no crowd – just disciples.

And that’s important because this is a pretty heavy teaching. It probably isn’t appropriate for a passer-by. Even these insiders would have some trouble taking it all in – and maybe we will too, I don’t know. Jesus has just launched his ministry and just called his first disciples and now he’s telling these key insiders what it means to be a part of this movement – the goal of which is residing in the kingdom of heaven. He’s going to lay out what we might call Christian values or more specifically kingdom values. And these will stand in stark opposition to the world’s values, as you’ll soon see.

Now, as usual, there are some things we’re going to have to unlearn. This is one of the downsides of a very familiar text. We’ve heard the words for so long that we don’t really question what they mean anymore. And more than that, some of the words may not mean what you think they mean! No, I’m not saying everyone has had it all wrong and now we’ll get it right. But I am saying that once you hear this, and wrestle with it, you probably won’t read the Beatitudes in the same way.

The very first thing we need to be clear about is what the word blessed means. If someone is blessed it means that they are enviable because they’ve received God’s favour. Literally it means to become large, like you do when you receive compliments or affirmation.

And so, as we begin, we instantly hit a landmine because it’s hard to imagine how being ‘poor in spirit’ makes one large or enviable or favoured.

Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Notice that unlike the other Beatitudes this one is present tense and not future tense. All the other blessings are “will be, will inherit, will receive.”
But this one is “theirs IS the kingdom. These folks have it!
Which folks? Those poor in spirit.
We like the idea of having the kingdom of heaven, but how do you feel about being poor in spirit?

On the surface that doesn’t make sense. Don’t we all want to be rich in spirit? Filled with spirit? Why would we want to be poor in spirit?
The problem is that we’re not hearing the word ‘poor’ correctly. The word in Greek is ptóchos and it’s kind of a word picture. Literally it means bent over, as in one who crouches or cowers – like a beggar would – hence the translation of poor, but it means much more than just lacking! It does not describe a level of spirit but an orientation of spirit. read on

170108 – The Water’s Fine

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Yr A ~ Epiphany 1 ~ Matthew 3:13-17

We’re going to reflect on one of the absolute essential aspects of life today – water. What does water do? It refreshes us, cleanses us, cools us, hydrates us, nourishes us, and sustains us.

Water covers around 71% of the earth’s surface. 97% of the water on our planet is currently undrinkable because it’s salt water – and of the 3% that’s freshwater over 70% of that is frozen!water-fine

Half the world’s water supply is located in just 9 countries. Canada has around 20% of the world’s fresh water, and sadly about 20% of the world has no reliable access to safe, drinkable water. That’s why we do a well-drilling fund raiser in Advent each December! You raised just under $5000 this year (almost enough for 2 wells!) and you’ll save literally hundreds of lives because of that!

Did you know that we can live around 3 weeks without food but only 3-5 days without water?
Did you know that’s because you are mostly water?
Adults are around 60% water. Infants are around 75% water.

One of my favourite Star Trek lines was in an episode where Captain Picard and his crew discovered a new microscopic sentient life form and when they hooked up the universal translator it called them “ugly giant bags of mostly water!”

Whenever we send space probes to other planets the thing that excites the scientists the most is whether they can find any trace of water ever having been there because water is the fundamental element of life as we know it.
Some scientists and environmentalists predict that as the 21st century plays out water will become much more valuable than oil.

Middle Eastern countries have lots of oil, but not much water, and they use among the least amounts of water per person in the whole world, because freshwater resources are so scarce.
It’s no wonder, then, that the bible is somewhat obsessed with water!

Genesis chapter 1 describes the beginning of everything as nothing but deep, dark waters! And Revelation 22 (the last book of the bible) features the river of the water of life. That means the 2nd verse from the beginning of the bible and the 5th verse from the end of the bible are about water! And variations of the word are used around 722 times in between.

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I’m sure you could name 10 or 20 biblical references featuring water off the top of your head – Noah’s flood, the parting the Red Sea, water from a rock, as the deer pants, the woman at the well, washing disciples’ feet – it’s water, water everywhere!

So it should not surprise us that the first action of Jesus’ recorded adult life in all 4 gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, features Jesus immersed in the waters of creation – being baptized and spring-boarding him into his public ministry. read on

161218 – Dreaming Love

Yr A ~ Advent 4 ~ Matthew 1:18-25

If you were going to make a kids Christmas pageant out of the nativity story according to the Gospel of Matthew you would be in a heap of trouble.
Journey to Bethlehem? Nope. dreaming-love
Birth in a stable? Nope.
Shepherds? Nope.
Angels? Nope.
Drummer boys, wise men, or reindeer?
Nope, nope, and we need to talk!
Well, there are wise men in the next chapter, but they don’t arrive for a few weeks! So we don’t have any of the usual Christmas nativity trappings here in Matthew’s gospel. All we have is Joseph, and in the background a scandalously pregnant Mary.

You know that whole controversy and argument that people get into over whether Mary was a virgin or not, and how did she really become pregnant, and maybe it was actually Joseph’s baby after all, and, and, and…

I am going to settle the controversy for you this morning once and for all because I have a very strong opinion about this, and it happens to be correct, and I’m not afraid to tell you what it is. Are you ready? The truth is…
it doesn’t matter!

It totally doesn’t matter. The means of Jesus’ conception does not matter one tiny bit.
What does matter, and what we ought to be focusing on, are Joseph’s reactions!

Ok, to be fair, maybe you’d argue that Jesus’ conception matters theologically. I’d agree, but probably for different reasons. And to make that argument you need to know a little Greek.
You’d need to know that the word in verse 20 that has an angel telling Joseph about Mary’s child is a form of the Greek word gennao. It is the same word that dominated the first 17 verses of Matthew – what we affectionately call the “begats”. This one begat that one, that one begat the next one, that next one begat another one. On and on it goes through the generations. They did a lot of begetting over the years!

So with 40 or so soundings of the word gennao ringing in your ears (and remember, the gospels were primarily spoken, not read) when you hear that the Holy Spirit is involved somehow in the begetting of Jesus your interest would be piqued. Gennao means begat, but it equally means “to engender, to cause to arise, to excite.” Maybe that’s how we should think of it, less conception and more that the Holy Spirit engendered or caused Jesus to arise?

Now add this.
This complex Greek word can also be translated as genesis. Genesis and gennao share the same root.
Verse 18 in English says “The birth of Jesus took place in this way…”
But the word isn’t simply birth, it’s genesis.
“The genesis of Jesus took place in this way…” – just like in Genesis 1 where the Holy Spirit is present and moving as a new creation is formed.
Us uptight Westerners all fixate on Mary’s supposed virginity (which I’ll get to in a second), but the original Greek speaking Jewish audience would only have heard genesis, genesis, genesis – and the Holy Spirit is moving again!

Now about the virgin thing, which I’ve already said doesn’t really matter, but it’s out there so I’ll say a few things about it. It’s all about the subtleties of language and things getting lost or added in translation.
Matthew builds his account on Isaiah 7:14 which we read as “Behold, a virgin shall conceive.”
But that’s English. Hate to break your bubble but the bible wasn’t written in English.

We get virgin from the Greek word parthenos – which strictly speaking means maiden or unmarried daughter, who most likely would be a virgin but not by definition.
And Matthew got parthenos from the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible – but in the original Hebrew Isaiah 7:14 uses the word almah which simply means a woman of child bearing age who has not yet had a child.
Behold, a woman who could have a child but hasn’t had one yet, shall conceive.” Previously childless, but nothing whatsoever about virginity.
So, if you need Mary to be a virgin in your take on the Christmas story that’s ok, but Matthew’s text does not demand it, at all.

Ok, now let’s talk biology. In biblical times they had no real concept of how babies were actually made. In their understanding women contributed nothing to the process except the fertile soil. To be blunt, a male’s contribution was visible and a female’s contribution was invisible, so they didn’t know she made one. So their language and imagery of conception was not about egg and sperm uniting but about seeds being planted. If this story happened today we’d be all worried about DNA and paternity tests – and we’d miss the whole point!

Again I’ll say that this stuff doesn’t really matter. The factual little details that many of us love to argue about are really inconsequential in the meaning of the story. The historicity and the scientific accuracy of the story are not even on the table. It is not a medical story – it’s a spiritual story.

The point is not that Jesus’ conception is somehow more miraculous than any other conception, it’s that Jesus represents a new Genesis – a new beginning. They want us to understand that from his very first moment, from his very conception, Jesus was absolutely and utterly surrounded by and immersed in Spirit. That means theologically we’re starting something significantly new here, and the Holy Spirit is what’s engendering it and causing it to arise!

Now let’s get back to Joseph. read on

161211 – Dreaming Joy

Yr A ~ Advent 3 ~ Isaiah 35:1-10

I should probably begin by telling you that this chapter in Isaiah, this profoundly joyful and optimistic chapter, is both preceded and followed by chapter after chapter of unrelenting doom and gloom. I mean, it’s really nasty. It’s bad enough the Israelites are in exile but to add insult to injury they are getting a real pounding from the prophet. And then, out of nowhere, like an oasis in the middle of a barren desert, we find chapter 35.dreaming-joy

To be exiled is to be displaced from your homeland and heartland. Exile is equated with being in the desert – the wilderness. It’s a dangerous, risky place to be. Resources are scarce. The future is quite uncertain.
But it’s also liminal space! Those uncomfortable places are also places of tremendous potential – for growth, for transformation.

Jacob in the wilderness had a dream and realized that God was with him all along.
Jesus, driven to the wilderness after his baptism, emerged transformed for his public ministry.

Faith United started out in the wilderness.
There was a joyful dream of a new future, but it began in the risky wilderness of selling buildings and meeting in an elementary school for a season. That’s like exile – displaced from your heartland, yearning for a return, not necessarily to exactly the same place but a return to normality, to civilization, out of the wilderness.

I bet you heard more than a few words of hope, and peace, and joy in the midst of your exile in the wilderness of the school where you worshipped until this building came to be.

Some of us, maybe most of us, can speak of a time when we walked away from our church for whatever reasons. A time when we personally experienced exile from our faith life. And over time, considering that you’re here today, you found God’s highway home. Somehow your desert blossomed and water flowed in your wilderness. Somehow there was healing. And in the return there was joyfulness.

That’s what Isaiah was preaching about. He spoke of the tremendous gladness and joy of coming out of exile. That your place or situation can become transformed and the world would be filled with joy and gladness and leaping and singing.

And I hope you noticed that right in the middle of this joy-filled chapter are some of my favourite faith words:
Isaiah 35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.

Don’t be afraid. God is here. God is present. Surely God is in this place. But when you’re in exile sometimes you forget that.
Or worse still, what if you’ve never heard that before? read on

161204 – Dreaming Peace

Yr A ~ Advent 2 ~ Isaiah 11:1-10

It begins with a marvellous image of a shoot of new life growing out of a dead stump of a tree. Most of us have probably seen something like that. The stump in this case represents what seemed to them like the end of the line of Davidic kings. You see, when Isaiah was writing this passage the people of Israel were in exile and their kings were overthrown. And into that dark experience Isaiah prophesies a new branch growing out of the old roots. You can imagine how welcome such a word would be to these exiled and suffering people. A new king will come. In fact, it will be a messiah! And here’s what the messiah king will look like. peace-z

2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

There’s a lot in there. But I want us to notice what it’s all rooted in. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, good judgement, righteousness and faithfulness are the qualities of this coming messiah king, but all those qualities are rooted in two crucial things: The Spirit of the Lord, and the Reverent, Wondrous, Awe of the Lord. The English reads “fear of the Lord” but the Hebrew word means far more than just being scared or intimidated, it means to be awestruck. This messiah will be enfolded in the Spirit of God and will delight in being awestruck and reverent toward it.

(By the way, the word messiah in Hebrew is translated as christos in Greek which is where we get Christ from. It literally means ‘anointed one’, not king, and not Jesus’ last name.)

And what effect will someone like this messiah king, this anointed one, have on the world. Oh, nothing much – it’ll just turn the entire natural universe on its head!

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

Wow! That’s pretty spectacular! It’s a description of utter peace. This passage is sometimes nicknamed “the Peaceable Kingdom” where all God’s creatures live together in perfect harmony.
Predator and prey hang out happily.
The innocent and the dangerous play together with no consequences.
Lifelong enemies coexist in peace.
It’s a lovely dream.

What if this was being written today? We modern citified folk might not be so tempted to use animal and nature imagery. So what would the depiction of utter peace look like now?
How about if we spoke of Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians, blacks and whites, refugees and citizens, the 1% and the 99%, the political left and right (republicans and democrats, conservatives and liberals)?
Could you even imagine that being possible today?
It would take a messiah, at least! And then some! read on

161127 – Dreaming Hope

Yr A ~ Advent 1 ~ Isaiah 2:1-5

In days to come. What do you think of when you hear that? In days to come.
Does it make you think it’s going to happen this week?
Does it mean something like the season of Advent when we know something is coming that we’ll celebrate at Christmas but for now those days are still to come, but they’re coming any day now?
Or does it mean some day in the far off future?dreaming-hope

How certain are you that those days are going to come?
Is it just a wish? A faint daydream?
A fairy tale about how things are supposed to be but very rarely are?
Or is it more than a wish?
Is it a hope?
They’re not the same thing.
A wish is for something that you’d like to happen but you’re not at all counting on it. “I wish I could win the lottery!” or “I wish he was better looking!” (says my wife!).

But a hope is different. They’re not interchangeable – wishing and hoping.
To hope, in the biblical, theological sense, is to trust in something that has not yet happened but will certainly come to pass because God has promised it.
And if you think that’s just wishful thinking then you are not yet getting it.
Hope is trusting in what will be, not what might be.

This reading from Isaiah is a reading of hope. Isaiah has received a vision. It was a word that he “saw”. Isn’t that great! How do you see a word? You envision it. So God gives a vision of a hopeful future to Isaiah, and Isaiah shares it with us.

Now, why do we need this vision for the future? Well, the truth is it’s because the present isn’t going so great in many ways. If you don’t believe me pick up a newspaper! If you were to go back and read the first chapter of Isaiah you’d see that they were doing even worse. The state of human affairs described is frightening. So into that darkened world Isaiah shares a vision, a hope, for the future. Sounds just like Advent!

Isaiah says that in days to come God’s Presence in the world will be so awesome and so wondrously manifest that everyone shall be drawn to it. His language is brilliant – God’s house on a mountain and everyone will stream to it – steam…UP the mountain. Fantastic! And the people will say, “Come on, let’s go to church and learn about God so we can walk in God’s ways!” Well, that’s not in days to come – you’re already here doing that right now! That’s hopeful!

Then we get to one of the greatest, most poignant, most famous verses in the bible. And I’m going to suggest that we’ve generally been reading it much too shallowly. I’m also going to open up some of the language to give a fuller meaning of what it says.

Isaiah 2:4 [God] shall [govern among] the nations, and shall [reprove] many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. read on

161113 – Autumnology

Yr C ~ Reign of Christ Sunday ~ Colossians 1:11-20

Let me start by saying something that may be very controversial for you but I think it will really help. It’s about how we view and read the bible. I’d like you to try to hold this paradox as you contemplate passages of scripture like today’s. Everything in the bible is important and absolutely true for the writer, but it may not be true to your experience, and therefore not very helpful, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still true.autumnology

Here’s an example. Some might say that the world is a very dangerous place. I might answer, no it isn’t. I’ve never really felt in danger nor has my life or safety ever really been threatened. Therefore, it is false to say the world is a very dangerous place. Meanwhile, someone who lives in Syria, or in certain parts of Africa, or in any number of other very dangerous places in the world would rightly say I was crazy and every day is life-threatening. Both views are absolutely true, even while they speak to totally different perceptions of the world.

If you can hold that paradox of two opposite things being true at the same time, if you can get beyond the idea that it’s black or white, that if you think this way then that other way can’t be true, if you can transcend that dualistic, either/or lens, then you will have a much better chance of understanding the bible in really helpful and meaningful ways.

For some of you, today’s reading was like hearing angels whisper into your ear as glorious music was playing and your heart was bursting with joy as the words resonated to the very depth of your being.

For others of you, today’s reading may have been like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard and made you scrunch up your face and squirm uncomfortably in your chair.

Colossians 1:11-20

1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully
1:12 giving thanks to [God], who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,
1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
1:16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him.
1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

So, are you revelling, or squirming?
How you answer that question may help you to understand if you are a person with a high Christology or a low Christology.
Let me explain.

Christology is theological interpretation of the nature, person, and deeds of Christ. It’s about how you look at Jesus.
What does it mean to say he’s fully human and fully divine?
What does it mean to say that he embodies the fullness of God?
What does it mean when he is described as performing miracles or healings? read on

161106 – Conflicted

Yr C ~ Remembrance ~ Luke 6:20-31

I know what you want. You want me to do that thing where I take the text and dive into the language of it and draw out a deeper meaning than the plain words alone offer. You want me to take those words of Jesus, where he says to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, and adapt them and tell you what they really mean.conflicted

But I can’t do that for you today – because they mean exactly what you think they mean. The problem isn’t that they’re hard to understand – the problem is that we understand all too well. And the big problem is that with that understanding comes the realization that we’re just not doing it.

Jesus begins by telling us who’s blessed and who’s woe’d.

Blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded and put down.
Woe to those who are rich, satisfied, laughing, and thought well of.

It’s pretty obvious that these blessings and woes would appeal to people on the margins and down on their luck, and the blessings and woes would challenge or offend people who are doing ok for themselves.
Which group are you in? Probably doing pretty good.
How does that make you feel?
Apparently we can expect lots of woes around here!

But I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you that I think the clearest and most helpful way to see this is that the problem with the woes group isn’t that they are doing ok it’s that they think they’ve achieved it all by their own doing.
It’s that they are pretty content with the world and think they can manage pretty much on their own – after all, they’re already rich, satisfied, laughing, and well thought of.

That’s the difference with the blessed who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded and put down. This group knows they can’t manage things on their own because life has pretty much overwhelmed them and they can’t fix it.

Listen carefully.
They aren’t blessed because Jesus is a masochist and God likes suffering people.
They’re blessed because they are more likely to be God-reliant than self-reliant.

Blessed are you who are God-reliant, for you will know God.
Woe to you who are too self-reliant, for you’re on your own.

And then Jesus says “let’s put this into action and see what happens.” read on

161030 – Met-a-noy-ah

Yr C ~ Pentecost 24 ~ Luke 19:1-10

The story of Zacchaeus is one of my absolute favourites in the bible because it challenges a very popular but problematic theological view in what I think is a very helpful way. But before I get to that I’d like to walk us through the story and lift up some things that I think are really important. The story is actually completely bonkers with all sorts of tidbits that are designed to bake your brain.met-a-noy-ah

Most of us here probably have fairly traditional sounding names that may have a deep meaning but generally we just hear it as a name. But names in Hebrew are more directly related to actual attributes of a person. They had names like “laughter” (Isaac) or “earth/ground” (Adam). So, if you spoke Hebrew and you heard the name Zacchaeus you would hear “pure and innocent” – well, actually you’d hear Zakkay in Hebrew – Zacchaeus is the Greek version, but the point stands. So right off the top we have a story about a no-good-dirty-rotten tax collector – the chief tax collector at that, suggesting he’s probably even worse than usual – whose name means pure and innocent. You just know the story is gonna be weird!

Then we learn that he is short in stature so he can’t see through the crowd and has to run ahead and climb a tree to get a view of Jesus passing through. But the word translated as short here is the same word used elsewhere to speak of children. So, is it about stature or status? Well, this rich tax man who is an innocent child can’t see so like a child he runs and climbs a tree. Except that a mature Jewish man wouldn’t be caught dead running and climbing trees! It would have been utterly undignified and humiliating.
So the story has us perplexed again. The chief tax collector acting like a kid.

And the word for his wanting to see Jesus is better translated as striving to see – and “see” should have air-quotes on it to suggest that it’s not just a visual seeing but that he’s passionately, desperately, enthusiastically yearning to “see”, to understand, to encounter Jesus – which is exactly what every one of us is supposed to be about.
He wasn’t up a tree to get a better selfie for his Facebook page – he was up there to seek out the one who teaches us how to live in God’s presence.

Zacchaeus’ presence in the tree catches Jesus’ attention and Jesus looks up and addresses him by name. Is that a parlour trick? How did Jesus know this guy’s name? Is it a sign that Jesus knows everything?
Maybe it’s just as simple as Jesus looking up into this strangers eyes and seeing his heart and describing what he sees: pure and innocent – Zakkay.

Moved by this encounter – and I mean that Jesus is moved by it! – Jesus pretty much invites himself for dinner! (Oh, and by the way, I’ll be bringing my dozen or so friends too!) So Zacchaeus scrambles down (again, undignified) and he “was happy to welcome Jesus” – but the Greek word is actually not just happy but rejoiced, which means to delight in God’s grace. Zacchaeus, upon having an encounter with Jesus whom he so passionately sought, rejoices and delights in God’s undeserved favour (that’s what grace is).

It’s an astounding story! No-good-dirty-rotten chief tax collectors are not supposed to do any of this stuff – not seek Jesus, not climb trees, not be undignified, not be called pure and innocent, and certainly not receive God’s grace. But this one did! It’s scandalous! read on

161023 – The Great I Do

Yr C ~ Pentecost 23 ~ Luke 18:9-14

Today we get to wrestle with one of Jesus’ blatantly obvious parables that isn’t obvious at all. That’s what makes it a parable! I like to call parables ‘thought bombs’ because as you contend with them at some point it’s going to make your brain explode with a fresh new revelation about your faith. This parable does not disappoint, but on the surface it appears to be simple.great-i-do

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (Luke 18:10)

Instantly Jesus’ audience would be predisposed to believe that the Pharisee will be the hero and the tax collector the villain. (Now for us, Pharisees were often on the wrong end of Jesus’ teachings and argued with him constantly, but they were very, very well respected in that time.)

Pharisees were the ones who lived according to the letter of the Jewish Law and made it their life’s work to be holy and righteous, and tax collectors were no-good-dirty-rotten-scoundrels who cheated people by overcharging them for their taxes and got rich doing so.

By the end of the parable the tax collector ends up the hero and the Pharisee the villain. That’s a fascinating reversal but that’s not the thought bomb! Let’s look at what they did.

Luke 18:11-13 – The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

The surface interpretation correctly sees that the Pharisee’s problem was ego and vanity – that even though he was doing the right spiritual, churchy things he seemed to be doing them for the wrong reasons. And the tax collector humbled himself so he was rewarded.
That’s good as far as it goes, but there’s so much more here! read on

161009 – A Habitude of Gratitude

Yr C ~ Canadian Thanksgiving ~ Philippians 4:4-9

As many of you know I love making up new words. When I was trying to figure out how to make a clever message title for Thanksgiving I was playing with the word gratitude, but I didn’t want to use the familiar “attitude of gratitude” line. Plus I wanted to underline from the Philippians reading that the spiritual life requires an ongoing effort on our part so I came up with the word habitude! Awesome new word, right?! Except it isn’t! It’s an actual English word! I’d never heard it before but it’s a real word! It’s so great; I wonder why this word didn’t catch on?habitude-gratitude

Your habitude is your customary way of behaving or acting. It’s the usual activities in your day. It’s your ongoing practice of something. You’re in the habit of doing it. It’s a regular thing you incorporate into your life. A habitude is not just an inkling or a thought about something, it’s the actual doing of it.

Your attitude is your orientation, or outlook – it’s your way of viewing or approaching a situation. It’s how you tend to feel toward something.
A habitude is an expected action – expected because that’s what the person usually does. It’s what you tend to do about something.

Your spiritual attitude might be just fine – you might think good thoughts, and have a solid theological lens to look at the world through, and be generally positive and hopeful in your faith, but if your spiritual habitude isn’t rocking your faith can’t grow.
So how’s your habitude?
What would a good habitude look like?
Let’s ask the apostle Paul.

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi was written while he was in prison – a reminder to us that in their time claiming to be a follower of the Way and daring to speak out loud about it had serious consequences. So from prison Paul reaches out to the Philippians and reminds them to rejoice!

Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!”

How often are we supposed to rejoice? Always! Without ceasing.
Does that mean we’re supposed to be perpetually happy? Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. No one is happy all the time. Life doesn’t work like that.

But then, it doesn’t say to be happy all the time, it says to rejoice all the time, and even more importantly it says to rejoice ‘in the Lord’.

Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice because you are in communion with the Holy Mystery we call God. Rejoice because at your core you are one with the Sacred. Rejoice because you’re blessed and loved and you are not alone – rejoice regardless of your circumstances. Joy isn’t a feeling, it’s an orientation. Happiness is an attitude; rejoicing is a habitude! read on

161002 – Stand Up for Me (Creation 4)

Yr C ~ Creation 4 ~ Genesis 1:24-31a

If you’re a person who has always had trouble reconciling Genesis chapter 1 with how you understand the world “really” works scientifically, I’d like to suggest to you that you may have been reading it with the wrong lens.

The creation story in Genesis was never, ever intended to be an actual explanation of how things began. At the time it was written such explanations were utterly beyond the writers’ intention or comprehension – and if you think you actually understand it all even now you’re kidding yourself. The origins of the universe and our planet remain in many ways a profound mystery. We know a lot of scientific facts and theories, but it should be humbling to us that every couple of decades new facts and theories come along that blow the current ones out of the water.

But Genesis never pretended to be about facts and theories – that was something that we tried to lay on it over the past few hundred years because we decided that if you can’t rationally and factually explain something it wasn’t true. Thankfully, that concept has come to be seen as ridiculous lately and even in science they are much more at home with mystery, wonder, and nuance.

Simply put, Genesis doesn’t care one bit HOW the world began – it is solely concerned with communicating the theological assertion that however it may have scientifically happened that the Holy Mystery we have named God was and is fundamentally and inextricably at the centre of it. And more than that, they’re saying that not only is God at the very centre of it all but also that God is indistinguishable from it all.

The language of Genesis 1 is absolutely clear about this but we’ve tended to misread it. I don’t have time to go through the whole chapter today but I will point out a couple of key things and you can go back on your own and read through it a few times to see if it rings true for you.

Rather than the facts of creation Genesis wants to have you feel the rhythm of creativity.
I’ve said many times before that one of my favourite ways to describe God is as the fundamental vibration at the heart of the universe – a vibration, a wave, maybe even like music.
As I sing a note for you what you are actually hearing is a sound wave created by the vibration in my throat. (demonstration). I vibrated, a sound happened, and you all saw that it was good!

That’s the rhythm of creativity: God said > And it was so > And God saw that it was good. When Genesis says that God “spoke” it’s saying that a vibration happened – that’s what happens when you speak. A vibration happened.
Isn’t that exactly how science thinks the universe began?
Isn’t that what science says is at the very heart of all matter and energy in the universe?
God spoke (there is a fundamental vibration), and it was so, and it was good. read on

160925 – Walk Lightly On Me (Creation 3)

Yr C ~ Creation 3 ~ Genesis 13:1-11

A large family moves into a new neighbourhood and starts to live their lives. But this large family has so many people, so many possessions, so much stuff, that they find themselves feeling crowded and start to get on each other’s nerves. So the patriarch of the family says to his kin, “Rather than fight let’s spread out. Look out the window. You can have whatever house in the neighbourhood you want, including this one. You pick what you want and I’ll take what’s left.”feet-walk-lightly-environment1

So the younger man lights up like a kid at Christmas and says he wants the nicest house in the neighbourhood – 4000 square feet, professional landscaping, every upgrade you can imagine, the works. The patriarch says ok and they go their separate ways, and all seems to be fine.

But what you may not know is the rest of the story. The younger man took the nicest house but he didn’t realize it was in a sketchier part of the neighbourhood. Eventually he ran into a lot of trouble (pardon the pun) and it cost him everything, including his wife who was once a pillar of the community but now was just a pillar. His short-sighted desire for choosing what was shiny instead of what was deep, and for having the most and the best “right now” and for his own gain ended up blinding him to what’s really important.

The patriarch, on the other hand, lived happily ever after (mostly), because he was content to be grateful for what he was given and to make choices for the sake of his family and his progeny rather than his own immediate gain. He had a deeper appreciation for the land he was on, that it was a gift, and that there was more to life than stuff. He slowly and reverently walked around every part of his property, savouring the experience and being grateful.

What I want to know is how did the writers of the book of Genesis know so much about life here in the 21st century? The characters of Lot and Abram are archetypes for how humanity works on a fundamental level. They are exploring some of the same existential challenges we are.
You get to read this story, ponder it, and decide for yourself: Would you rather be a Lot or an Abram?

Lot chooses for the benefit of himself. Abram chooses for the benefit of others.
Lot sees with selfish eyes. Abram sees with reverent eyes.
Lot says “me, me, me.” Abram says “we, we, we.”

But more than just a morality tale about the dangers of selfishness and materialism this story invites us to go deeper.
It is not the materialism per se that is the problem here.
It’s not that coveting more and more as a human character flaw is the ultimate sin.
It’s what this character flaw leads us to.

It’s about how we act in the world based on this character flaw.
It’s about what impact on the world our choices and actions have. read on

160918 – Seek My Wisdom (Creation 2)

Yr C ~ Creation 2 ~ Mark 9:2-8

Have you ever had a mountain-top spiritual experience? I hope so! They’re those times that you can feel every single part of your body tingle with an overwhelming sense that you are in the presence of something holy, something sacred, something More.
It might take the form of a vision of Jesus, or a dazzling light, or a powerful sense of warmth and peace, or a million other possible forms. The common factor is the uncommon factor of really deeply feeling that your experience of God in that moment is the most real and true thing you’ve ever experienced.seek-my-wisdom

I’m sure that Jesus had many of those experiences of God’s Presence. Heck, that may well have been his constant state of being for all I know.
The most famous mountain-top experience of Jesus is called the transfiguration. I find it fascinating that Jesus’ transfiguration is all about blinding light and dazzling white clarity – but then moments later three of his disciples have their own mountain-top experience and it is marked not by clarity but by being enveloped by a cloud.
The Presence of God in a cloud represents both the fog of confusion and the profound sense of being surrounded and enfolded and permeated by this holiness. That pretty much sounds like my experience of God – part utter confusion and part utter bliss!

But the purpose of our discussion today is not just to encourage you to seek out mountain-top experiences for how good they make you feel, it’s to encourage you to do what the disciples were encouraged to do while they were in that terrible-beautiful cloud – to listen. It’s not just the spiritual moment that’s important (and, to be sure, those moments are vitally important) it’s the listening that goes on within those moments.

Jesus is transfigured and the figures of Moses and Elijah appear – representing the Law and the Prophets, or in other words all the spiritual wisdom of Israel – and what does Jesus do? Verse 4 says he was talking with them – dialogue, conversation, give and take, talking and listening.
The purpose of the mountain-top is deep communion with God’s Presence AND to receive God’s wisdom.

When it’s the disciples’ turn to be immersed in God’s Presence they too experience communion with God AND they receive a fantastic bit of wisdom: they’re told to listen to Jesus (Mark 9:7). Don’t just go to the mountain – listen for the wisdom.

Now, why did this scene not take place in a house, or on the road?
Why is it on a mountain top?
Why do we have that phrase “a mountain-top experience?”
What’s so special about mountains?

read on

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