191013 – Happy Together

Yr C ~ Thanksgiving (Stewardship 4) ~ Acts 2:42-47

This is the last Sunday in our 4 week stewardship campaign called Giving in Faith. Our touchstone word through all this has been the word ‘entrusted’. The heart of stewardship is about faithfully dealing with the abundance with which we’ve been entrusted.
We started by looking at our time and a bit about our money. We’ve been entrusted with many hours each week – a gift and blessing from God – how shall we spend them. We have more than the basic needs of food and shelter. Most of us are probably celebrating Thanksgiving at some point this weekend and there will be bountiful reminders of how we’re not exactly starving! We are richly blessed, in more ways than we can count. What shall we do with that abundance?

Two weeks ago we talked about our local mission here at this church, and the dedication you all pour into the work we do. We’ve been entrusted with spiritual gifts and spiritual passion. The message that week was about keeping them ablaze. And we aim to do that by naming all the wonderful things we do together here, realizing what a profound difference we make in this community and the world, and celebrating our ministry together.

Last week it was all about the wider church – being part of the world wide body of Christ – and that we’ve been entrusted with a Way, with good news, with a gospel. How shall we share that good news? We share it through worship, through creation-care, through service, through justice-making, and through proclamation – we share it by being the Church together.

We’ve also been having coffee parties in people’s homes – gathering together to talk about the blessings of this community of faith, dreaming about the future, and discussing our real needs in the here and now. And on top of that we’ve been having people stand up and give testimonials about their faith journey and the ways that Faith United is an important part of that.

I think it has been a tremendous stewardship campaign. I’m very grateful for the hard working team that has been leading it.
And the best part is that we haven’t been harping on money!
Until now. (Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle!)

But before I do that I want to say this.
We’re not perfect by any means, but this is a fantastic church.
You are in many ways a model of how church ought to be done.
And I think the reason for that is all because of me! NO, I’m totally kidding!!!
The reason is that you are a passionately faithful reflection of the very first church.

In the book of Acts, right after the Holy Spirit does its Pentecost thing, Peter and the gang do their preaching and sharing the good news thing, and it says three thousand people welcomed the message and were baptized.
Can you picture that? And then what? Did all those people just go home and live happily ever after?
No, they became a church. Immediately after the words ‘three thousand’ the text uses the word ‘they’ and describes their relationship. It seems pretty unlikely that all three thousand were hanging around together, but it’s crystal clear that the aftermath of Pentecost wasn’t just the memory of a dazzling event – it was a movement.

Our scripture today describes that movement – that first iteration of church – back before it got all messy with other issues – as churches are wont to do.
And when I read that description of that first church I see Faith United, and I’m filled with gratitude.

Acts 2:42-43 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

Let me start with that last bit. Awe wasn’t happening because the apostles were superstars. The translation is misleading. The signs and wonders weren’t done ‘by’ the apostles but ‘through’ them. It makes a big difference. And signs and wonders don’t mean miracles per se – it just means that the work they were doing was having noticeable and positive effects. I read it as the awe was coming through their ministry together.

And what was their ministry?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Learning, fellowship, sharing meals, and worship.
They devoted themselves, as a church, to learning, fellowship, sharing meals, and worship.
So do you!

And what did this spiritual grounding, and nurture, and intentionality inspire them to do?
It inspired them to give.

Acts 2:44-45 All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

No, they did not start a hippie commune!
And no, I will not use these verses to suggest that you need to sell all your stuff and give the money to the church. read on

191006 – Called to Be

Yr C ~ Creation 4 ~ A New Creed

You may be more familiar with the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s creed (both written 16 centuries ago, and a mainstay in many churches) but today we’re looking at A New Creed which was written just a few decades ago by a United Church task group as a creative expression of a statement of faith. The United Church has always been, and remains, a ‘non-creedal’ church. That does not mean that we don’t believe anything. It simply means that unlike some other Christian denominations, in ours you don’t have to look at a creed and sign your name to it in order to be a member. Even ministers don’t. Our requirement is that we must be found to be in ‘essential agreement,’ meaning we affirm the essentials of what is being argued/said but not necessarily the particular details of the way it’s stated. That is in our United Church DNA. And that’s why this is called “A” New Creed and not “The” New Creed. As I’ve joked before, we are people of the indefinite article!

“A” New Creed was first adopted in 1968. (Last year at General Council we celebrated its 50th anniversary.) In 1980 it was changed from male language to inclusive language. Originally it said “Man is not alone, he lives in God’s world.” Sounds completely wrong, doesn’t it? That’s how theology changes us. The creed (I know I just made a big deal about the indefinite article, but I generally default to calling it ‘the creed’), anyway, our creed was changed again in 1994 when the line “to live with respect in creation” was added to honour the influence of indigenous people’s spirituality and also the strong theme of creation theology. And then in 2012 A New Creed was elevated to the status of United Church doctrine, along with the 20 Articles of Faith, A Statement of Faith (1940), and A Song of Faith (2006). Did you notice all the indefinite articles?!

All that to say that this document is a pretty big deal.
It has found a particularly special place in our worship life. We include the creed whenever we do a baptism, or a confirmation, or welcome new members – those times when we remind ourselves of our fundamental ‘beliefs’. We do that because that’s what a creed is for. The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, which simply means “I believe.”

That’s what the first half of A New Creed is all about: what we believe. Although, and I keep preaching this because it’s such an important concept – the words “I believe” do NOT mean “I give my intellectual assent, or agreement to this sentence.” That kind of intellectual believing reduces our faith to something like “I believe in the tooth fairy” – believing as whether or not something exists. That’s not the kind of belief a creed deals in. It’s more like if a family member was going on a job interview, or getting ready to do something significant, you’d look at them and say, “I believe in you!” You are not giving intellectual assent to their existence! You are giving your heart to them. THAT’S what “I believe” really means: it means “I give my heart to…”

What do we, as people of faith, give our hearts to?

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others by the Spirit.

Just quickly, there’s a ton of theology in those few words. It is decidedly Trinitarian in that it speaks of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It speaks of God’s continuing presence, of incarnation, of rebirth, and of transformation – and yet it doesn’t say any of them in a specific way – just that we believe, we give our hearts to these ideas. So quintessentially United Church!

The second stanza is what gets most of our attention though. read on

190929 – Noses, Shoulders, Socks, and Blood

Yr C ~ Creation 3 (Stewardship 2) ~ 2 Timothy 1:1-14 (The Message translation)

Paul’s letters to Timothy are lovely to read. They clearly have a profound affection for one another. Paul looks on Timothy like a son. They had tear-filled goodbyes and were overjoyed when they were reunited. One of the reasons I like passages like this is that it helps make Paul more human for us. Paul is Timothy’s mentor, teacher, encourager. That’s the part I want to focus on today – the way that Paul encourages Timothy to use the gifts he’s been given – and that makes this a stewardship message.

Stewardship is about what we do with that which has been entrusted to us. Last week we mostly talked about our time, and a little bit about our money. Today we’re going to talk about our spiritual giftedness.
Did you know that you’re gifted?
Well, you are! Abundantly! Just like Timothy was.

And you probably got your gifts just like he did too. For him, it all started with his grandmother. Sound familiar? 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul says,
“What a rich faith [you have], handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you!”

Did you notice who carries the faith and passes it down through the generations? It’s the women!
Strong women of faith are a force to be reckoned with – always have been. I suspect most of us are here today because of the faithful example of a strong woman. Not that men can’t be faithful and inspirational, of course.
Maybe you noticed that our attendance is down a bit today? It’s because around 20 women from this congregation are away on a spiritual retreat this weekend! That’s awesome!

So Timothy has that strong foundation, and then he gets the spiritual rocket fuel.
Verse 6, Paul says, “And the special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed – keep that ablaze!”

We’ll come back to the keeping it ablaze part. First we’re going to talk about the spiritual gift.
It wasn’t that Paul’s hands were magic, that when he laid hands on Timothy in prayer a dramatic electric shock coursed through his hands and lit the lad up. Laying on of hands is an ancient posture for prayer that’s been passed down through the centuries.
We do laying on of hands in our Prayers for Healing and Wholeness time.
It’s not magic, but it is deep.
It’s because of the touch, the connection, the shared nature of it.
Two (or more) people physically connecting – embodying and enacting our shared spiritual connection in a deep and meaningful way.
Timothy’s spiritual gifts weren’t imparted by Paul – they were evoked by prayer!

In other places Paul writes extensively about specific kinds of spiritual gifts, but there’s no need to get into that here. It’s not about a specific thing – it’s about inspiration, passion, conviction, fire!
The Greek word for the idea of a spiritually fuelled gift is charism. That’s where we get our word charisma! Do you know anyone with charisma?
It’s a quality of how they come across, how they engage, how they appeal to you.
It’s about being lit up inside and having that exude through your pores as you interact with the world.
It’s that sense of seeing someone’s eyes dancing and their energy pulsating as they’re telling you about something important to them.

That’s what Timothy had. Charisma.
Do you? Yes you do!
Turn and look at the person beside you and see their charisma! Can you feel it?
If you and they are open to it, put your hand on each other’s shoulder, or hold their hand.
Can you feel it now? There’s something about them. There’s a spiritual energy about them.
Keep looking. It’s right there.
Spiritual depth and power, waiting to be fanned into flame.

That’s the challenge Paul lays on Timothy, and the challenge I’m laying on you.
“And the special gift of ministry you received when week after week you come here and worship and pray – keep that ablaze!”

You have spiritual passion in you. You must. read on

190922 – That’s Rich

Yr C ~ Creation 2 (Stewardship 1) ~ 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Today we’re launching the worship focus part of our “Giving in Faith” campaign. It’s a stewardship program.
Stewardship is all about how we deal with the resources we are entrusted with.

Probably the most important element of stewardship for us is the stewardship of our time.
There are 168 hours in every week. You spend one of them here every Sunday morning (ok, most Sunday mornings, or maybe Sunday Nights!!!). That leaves you with another 167 hours to deal with. But rather than think about how you’re ‘supposed’ to be spending those hours, or even what you, as a person of faith, are ‘called’ to do with those hours – I’d like to focus on that word ‘entrusted’.

We have each been entrusted with all these hours every week.
Entrusted – as in, given a precious gift to have, and to hold, and to deal with in a careful and thoughtful way. I have absolutely zero intention of saying word one to you about how you ‘ought’ to be spending your other 167 hours for this or that good cause. I just want to keep saying the word ‘entrusted’ until it resonates fully and deeply and shifts our thinking.
Entrusted.
You have been entrusted with all these hours. That makes them very valuable. You possess a thing of great value. I want us to feel immensely grateful for such a gift.

Let’s keep drilling down here.
Entrusted…with a gift.
One does not earn a gift. If you try super hard, and out-work the next person you don’t get to accumulate more hours. Trust me, I’ve tried!

You may argue that it’s just how it is. The planet we inhabit spins at a certain rate, we’ve developed language that describes the science of it, and therefore every human lives 168 ‘hours’ per ‘week’ automatically and without thinking about it. It just happens because we’re here. Nobody gave me anything, nobody entrusted me with anything; it just is. That’s a perfectly fair argument – except for one thing.

We are all sitting here in this place today because somewhere along the line we had some sort of experience that moved us to consider something else – that there is, somehow, Something More than just the random spinning of a planet and some words to describe it. We may not agree on exactly what that Something More is, but we, folks like us, folks who gather in places like this on days such as these, are persuaded that this Something More is real, and true, and ultimate.

This Something More is fundamental.
This Something More matters.
This Something More is at the heart of everything.
Yet, this Something More is an utter mystery.
And, this Something More is, well, holy, sacred.

And the word that seems to be the most appropriate for describing this Something More is loving-kindness – that whatever or wherever this Something More is that a benevolent loving-kindness is its nature, and that loving-kindness is relentlessly emanating from it, and that loving-kindness is not only far beyond us, but is also all around us, and even more astoundingly deep within us.

So why did I go into this great long explanation about the fundamental reality of God’s ultimate and foundational Presence? read on

Call For All Xbox, PlayStation & Nintendo Players!

Electronic Gaming Night

In the effort of reaching out to the youth in our community, Faith United Church is excited to initiate Electronic Gaming Night that takes place during Family Fun Night.

We understand that electronic gaming is a form of youth’s communication. They see the process creates mutual acceptance, openness and a sense of belonging. We encourage the parents and guardians to see a world through their youth’s lenses, in return to promote youth’s emotional well-being and growth.

Logistically, we plan to set out an Xbox and/or PlayStation along with several board games in the upstairs living room. Therefore, we welcome your input in regards to the choices of board games that would interest youth.

Lastly, if you are able to provide an Xbox console and controllers, a PlayStation console and controllers and or a T.V., please contact Hailu at 289-928-8787 or Enid at 905-436-2729.

Game On!

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.
Boom!

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.
Why?
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

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