190407 – Do It Again

Yr C ~ Lent 5 ~ Psalm 126 Communion

On one level, our text today, Psalm 126, is simple to interpret. The psalmist is clearly in one of those in-between places in life, remembering when life used to be great, and how it felt like God did all sorts of wonderful things for them, but currently things aren’t so great and they need God to do it again, but they still have faith and trust that even though today they have tears they know that in time God will bring joy.
Things used to be great, they’re not now, I want them great again, I trust God will help.
Simple. Of course, we’re going to dig a little deeper than just that.

As we’ve seen with many psalms there’s a major turn in the middle of Psalm 126. The first three verses are teeming with joyful memories of God’s Presence and blessings. Then, out of nowhere verse 4 pleads, “Restore us!” Clearly, the joy is gone! The remaining three verses are all about tears, and hope, and not knowing, but trusting.

Where does trust come from?
What makes you likely to trust that God will again feel Present and bring joyfulness?
The psalmist starts with remembering how God moved before. That’s intriguing. It means that the psalmist was aware of God’s Presence before, “noticed” it, identified it as being God, embraced it as being God, and expressed gratitude for that Presence.
You can’t ask God to “do it again” if you’ve never had an inkling that God did it before!

And according to the psalmist God really did it before! It’s impossible to say if the psalm is about a specific incident but it’s likely referring to the return of the exiles from captivity. Israel was invaded and all their leaders and movers and shakers were marched away into exile, captivity, leaving only the poor behind as essentially slave labour. Eventually those exiles were returned – and the people of Israel thanked God for moving!

Now, I doubt any of us have ever been exiled or held in captivity!
Or have we? Maybe not politically, or physically, but we’ve all certainly be held captive by prejudice, or inexperience, and certainly by bad theology!
So this all begins with a sense of awareness that once we were captives, and it was unpleasant, and then somehow God moved in our lives and we were no longer held captive by whatever and it was joyful! Our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy! (v.2)

Sounds great! But what do we mean by “God moved in our lives?”
Some folks are really comfortable with that language and if you hear them talk you’d think God was actively responsible for every single thing in their life. “God gave us a beautiful day today. God blessed me with good health today. God helped me find my car keys!” – every aspect of life is infused with God’s movement for them.

Others among us are pretty skeptical about that kind of language. They’d probably never ascribe actual actions to God but would name God’s Presence in situations and be grateful for it – a more metaphysical approach.

I’m not taking sides – and there’s a whole spectrum of ways you might think of God moving between those extremes. But on some level, as people of faith, we need to find a way to acknowledge that God has moved and is moving in our lives.

What really intrigues me about this is that verse 2 suggests that God’s movement was so powerful, and so obvious, that even “the nations,” meaning others, outsiders, could see it and would exclaim that God moved there. It would certainly be noticeable if all of a sudden all those powerful people who had been exiled came strolling back into town!
But what about less dramatic things? Is God’s movement visible to outsiders? read on

190331 – Lighten Up

Yr C ~ Psalm 32 ~ Lent 4

Sin, confession, and forgiveness. It’s a big, heavy topic today (yes, that means the sermon is long!), and it’s a topic that we tend to avoid in our church tradition (which is kind of ironic, considering Psalm 32), so let’s dive in.

What does it mean to say that God forgives? Forgiveness indicates an “offence” has occurred. In Hebrew the word for offence is sin. It’s not a word we like to talk about in United Churches but today we’re going to! Sin means offence, so in order to offend there must have been something that said that somehow this action, thought, intention, omission etc. did not meet some standard that must exist. A judgment had to have happened. How do we know we’ve offended? How do we know we’ve sinned? One way to think about sin is to say it is a falling short. Falling short of what? Falling short of that “standard”.

Ok, now we’re into it. What is God’s standard?
Love! Light. Holiness. Kindness. Mutuality. Harmony. Relationship. Shalom.

God is not just a highly evolved, spiritually mature person who practices those things at a supremely high level.
No, God IS those things – entirely, substantively, unchangingly.
So think that through.

God IS harmony.
If I do something that causes disharmony in any way, I have fallen short of God’s way, God’s standard.
I have sinned.
But God doesn’t desire punishment, or recompense, or vengeance, or even shame or guilt!
God only desires harmony, because God IS harmony. So the only way to make things “right” with God is to regain harmony!
Are you with me?

How do I do that? How do I regain harmony?
Well, let me tell you how NOT to do it, but how we usually choose to do it, and how it always causes more trouble than doing it right.

Psalm 32:3-4 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up – as by the heat of summer.

While I kept silence, while I kept everything to myself, while I kept pushing down my short-fallings and letting them stew and fester and eat me up inside my body wasted away through all my groaning. It literally says that it makes our bones grow old, or turn to dust.
Swallowing all that trouble, keeping it all locked away and not facing it, wears us out and kills us inside.
This psalmist knows a lot about the human condition!
Have you ever been worn out by situations you couldn’t, or wouldn’t speak about? I bet you have.

And when we do then it feels like day and night God’s hand is heavy on us – we can feel the burden of our un-faced failings. It says “my strength was dried up” but it literally means my “juice” or my “vitality” is like a drought.
That’s what not owning up to things does to us. It robs us of our juice! It sucks the life out of us.

So, how do I make things right? How do I work to regain the harmony?
If holding it in is killing me then obviously I need to do the opposite.

I recognize somehow that I have caused or contributed to disharmony.
Doesn’t matter if I meant to or not.
Doesn’t matter if I did something or neglected to do something (commission or omission).
I recognize that I’ve brought about disharmony.

Then, instead of denying it I admit my part. I “acknowledge” my part – which in Hebrew means to “say it out loud.” There’s something about saying things out loud that make them more real and make us own them more!
In other words, I confess, which literally means that I lay it all out in the open.
This all carries the assumption that in doing all these things I have every intention to do better in the future, that I resolve to try not to sin (fall short) in this way again. And that in doing so I’ll be moving forward in a new, healthier, deeper, more spiritually mature way.

That’s confession. When we’ve realized we’ve fallen short, we lay it all out and seek forgiveness. That’s our side of it.

What’s God’s side?
What does God want or desire in all this? read on

190324 – Be Longing

[began with a body prayer of Psalm 63 in Kids’ Time]

You are my God (hands on heart)
I seek you (hand horizontal at forehead)
I need you (palms up)
Like water in a desert (acting parched)
You are the best thing ever (hands high, arch back)
My lips praise you (hands to mouth and then open forward)
I kneel before you (kneeling)
I lift my hands in praise (lifting)
You fill me up like Christmas dinner! (hands on belly!)
I dream about you (tilt head, hands as pillow)
I think about you (touch finger to temple)
I feel safe in you (self hug)
I cling to you (hands clenched under chin)
You hold me (hands cupped)
Those who try to hurt me (make fists)
Will fail (palms down, horizontal, outward in opposite directions)
And I will rejoice (hands waving)

[Sermon]

Be Longing

Yr C ~ Lent 3 ~ Psalm 63

We’ve been looking at psalms as our text through this season of Lent, and I don’t know about you but I’m loving it! The thing I think I love best about psalms is how real they are. Two weeks ago we encountered a psalm that wrestled with our human desire to have immunity from all life’s ills if we have faith. The psalmist goes up and down, and all around, and finally lands in a place where they know that immunity just isn’t on the table. What God offers isn’t bubble wrap, but Presence! And that is everything.

Last week the psalmist was riding high on the top of the world fully immersed in God’s loving Presence when all of a sudden they look around and can’t sense God anymore, and they freak out! Again, how real is that! In the end that psalmist comes to the understanding that knowing and trusting that God IS Present, even when we might not be able to feel that at a given moment, is enough. So they commit to prayerfully waiting for God – which really means prayerfully waiting for themselves because God is already there. Remember, if God seems absent, but we know that God is ever-present, then the one absent from the equation is US – so the waiting is for us, ourselves, to turn back and open up again to sense and savour God’s Presence. Another hard, but beautiful dose of spiritual reality.

And this week we get a different kind of psalm again. There’s no big existential struggle in this one. There’s no plea for safety or protection. At the end there’s even a confident expression of overcoming one’s enemies, which serves to remind us that the psalm isn’t just abstract theology, but the victory in the end is by the psalmist’s doing, not God’s.

No, what we get in Psalm 63 is pure, heart-wrenching, soul-bursting, overwhelming yearning for God. It’s all about desire, and longing, and thirst. It’s quite passionate, and that’s what makes it really important for people like us to embrace this psalm and let it speak deeply to us.

What do I mean by “people like us”? I mean those who are at home in what is generally referred to as the mainline church. The mainline protestant church in North America includes us, the Anglicans or Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the United Methodists, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and others like that. The common things among us are that we are liturgically based (our worship looks more or less like what we do here), we use classic hymns (among others), and we are, generally speaking, on the “liberal” side of the theological spectrum.

Those who aren’t in the mainline are the Catholics and the Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Catholics are in their own kind of category, but Evangelicals and Pentecostals are generally known for being far more free in their worship forms, they use much more praise music, and are much more likely to be on the “conservative” side of the theological spectrum.

But perhaps the most distinctive difference is in what we do with our hands.
Charismatics wave them – Mainliners sit on them!
The mainline church has jokingly been called the “Frozen Chosen”. Where does that come from? It’s because, generally speaking, mainline churches are not known for being emotional, or demonstrative. We tend to prize dignity, order, and the intellect. It doesn’t mean we’re not passionate – it just means we tend not to outwardly show it. We keep our faith to ourselves. Whenever I say the word “evangelism” I can feel people squirm. That would mean I’d have to be public about my faith – I’d have to try to be persuasive – which means I’d have to say out loud why it’s important to me.

Now, Psalm 63 has absolutely nothing to do with evangelism – but it has everything to do with passion. Its themes are not our regular mainline themes. And that can make us uncomfortable. And if we embrace it, it just might serve to thaw some of the frozen chosen! Good!!!

Every syllable of this psalm is geared toward expressing the psalmist’s deepest desire – God. The yearning is palpable. Listen to the first verse, and hear how passionate the psalmist is about this:

Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

O God – reverence – you are my God – intimacy – I seek you – desire – my soul thirsts for you – longing – my flesh faints for you – almost desperation – as in a dry and weary land where there is no water – absolute need, utter yearning.

Notice what the psalmist is comparing their need for God with – thirst. It’s far more than just desire. I desire lots of things – warmer weather, longer holidays, more hair, chocolate chip cookies – but water is different.

What happens if I don’t get what I desire? I’m sad.
What happens if I don’t get water? I die!

And so what is the psalmist saying about their need for God’s Presence?
Without God’s Presence, they’ll die!
God’s Presence is the difference between feeling dead and feeling alive.

“My God, I seek you, I thirst for you, I faint for you, I need you, I desire you, I long for you, I yearn for you, I’m desperate for you, I’ll die without you” – said no United Church person ever!

Even right now some of you are sitting there thinking, “Gee, something’s got into Larry today!” read on

190317 – Hide and Seek

Yr C ~ Lent 2 ~ Psalm 27

[monologue paraphrasing Psalm 27]

This is so great! I never could have imagined it – it’s better than I’d ever hoped! I have sensed God’s Presence. I am savouring God’s Presence. This is fantastic. It feels so real, and true, and great. I feel alive! I feel loved. I feel strong. I feel confident. I feel powerful! I can do anything! Bring on the world! I got this! They said to seek your face, and I did, and I found it! Wow, did I find it! How could I have missed it before? I’ll never be without you again!

I sing your praises, O God! I love your Presence. You are awesome! You da man! Or woman, or, I don’t know but you are the One. You are my All In All. I’ll shout it out at the top of my lungs and I don’t care who knows it! I love you, God. I love you Ja-eez-us-ah! I’ll fill this place with praise. It’s all just so beautiful. Life is beautiful. You are beautiful. Everywhere I look, I see you. Everywhere I go, you’re already right there. You are everywhere! You are here! Thank you!

(pause)

Where’d you go? Where are you, O God? I’m calling but you don’t hear me. You used to be right here! Why are you hiding from me? Why are you turning away from me? What did I do wrong? Don’t leave me! Don’t abandon me! I can’t do it on my own. I’m afraid. They’re out to get me! Everybody wants me to fail. I deserve to fail. I deserve to be abandoned. I’m worthless. I’m stupid. Everyone has walked away from me. Even my closest people don’t care.

(pause)

But I know that you are still there, even if I can’t see you, or feel you right now.

I know that you’ll gather me up and hold me, even if I can’t imagine that happening right now. Teach me about trusting you, Lord. Point me to the way. Lead me down that smooth path that helps me keep my bearings even when everything’s a mess. Don’t let me get tangled up with those things that hurt me so much. Remind me that it doesn’t matter what people might say about me; what matters is that I strive to love people, and let myself be loved.

I can’t see you right now, Abba, but I know you’re there. Here. You’re always here. Always. I know I’ll be able to see that again very soon, even if right now I’m kinda blind to it. Surely, O God, you are in this place. I wish I could notice.

Soon. It comes back. It always does. We won’t play hide and seek forever.

So I’ll just stop trying so hard. I’ll stop trying to push the river. I’ll step off. I’ll wait.

I’ll breathe deep. I’ll let it be. I’ll trust. I’ll wait.

[end monologue]

This is a powerful psalm.
I think it’s powerful because it’s just like my faith life. It describes it perfectly – up, down, near, far, joy, bewilderment, turning in an instant.
And in the end there is no resolution in the psalm. There’s no pretty bow tying it up into a neat and tidy little package.
Life’s not like that, and faith’s not like that.
It’s messy. It’s changeable. It’s human. read on

190310 – Mind Your Toes

Yr C ~ Lent 1 ~ Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Back in the 1970s when the television show Saturday Night Live was in its infancy there was a hilarious character created by Gilda Radner named Miss Emily Litella. The joke was always that Emily would mishear something and then go on and on, ranting about how terrible it was, and then at the end she would get corrected and sheepishly say, “Never mind.” My favourite sketch had Emily as a substitute teacher filling in because the regular teacher had been involved in a “stubbing”. Emily couldn’t understand why there were police involved, and why the school was thought to be so dangerous, and why the teacher had to go to the hospital just because they’d stubbed their toe! It was obviously a very bad stubbing! The students eventually correct her and tell her it was a “stabbing” – to which Emily says, “Oh, that’s very different!” But instead of saying “Never mind” she looks at the camera and says, “Mind your toes!”

That was the story that popped into my mind when I read the Psalm that we’re looking at today. Verse 12 of Psalm 91 talks about how God will protect us and not even let us “dash our foot against a stone.” So much protection that we’ll never even have to endure a stubbing!
Except that’s not really the message of the psalm at all. So let’s dive into it!

First we need to talk a bit about psalms in general. Psalms are a special kind of biblical writing. The two main features that we need to remember about interpreting psalms is that they use highly metaphorical and colourful language and imagery, and they are intensely personal writings.
Psalms are not dispassionate theological reflections. They are more like reading someone’s diary, when that person is having a terrible day and trying to make sense of their life.
Psalmists are often completely wrong about something, or at least completely confused, and then they learn something about God.

Imagine you are a fly on the wall of someone who’s pacing back and forth in their room, talking to themselves, arguing with themselves, trying to sort out a challenging thing in their life. That’s what reading a psalm is like.

One of the most interesting things about psalms is that there is usually a movement within them where the writer starts off in one place or one frame of mind and over the course of the psalm they work it out and come to a deeper understanding of God. Psalms tend to “move” from plea to praise, from lament to thanksgiving, from articulation of hurt to submission to God, from thinking things are one way to realizing things are another way.

It’s that last movement that, I think, captures the sense of Psalm 91. It’s a movement from how the psalmist wishes the world worked when you’re a person of faith, to how it really works.
The gist of the psalm is that we want immunity from bad stuff, and we probably think because we’re people of faith we deserve that immunity, even from stubbings, but in the end the psalmist realizes that God isn’t in the bubble wrap business.
God offers Presence – and that is everything!

Another thing that can be confusing about psalms is that they will change voice without any warning whatsoever, and sometimes you have to work hard to figure out who is talking at a given moment.
In Psalm 91 it’s pretty straightforward – we have the psalmist’s voice for the first 13 verses, and then it shifts to God’s voice for the last 3 verses.

It begins innocently enough:

91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, 2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

That is a lovely image – God as our refuge and fortress, God as our shelter, God in whom we abide, God in whom we trust. We’ve started off great!

The lectionary reading skips over verses 3-8 which are a list of all sorts of ways that humans can be harmed but God protects us from the harm. That’s getting a little dodgy.

Then we get to verses 9 and 10 and our real theological trouble starts! read on

190303 – A Little Knee-Time

Yr C ~ Transfiguration Sunday ~ Luke 9:28-36

Imagine you are Peter, or James, or John. Here’s what’s happened to you in Luke chapter 9.
You and the rest of the 12 main disciples were sent out to preach about the kingdom of God and heal people.
Then you come back from your mission trip (v.10) and Jesus takes you on a retreat, but a crowd follows you and he ends up feeding 5000 people – first with preaching and then with food!

The next thing you know Jesus has you and the disciples off together again for more prayer (v.18) and Jesus gets really intense. He asks you and the other disciples who people say he is, and who you say he is, and, of course, Peter blurts out an answer (as he is wont to do) and says, “You are the Messiah!” Jesus says don’t tell, people need to find out for themselves – then he lays out the heavy and high cost of discipleship, or following him, and also the blessings.

That’s the background!
Eight days later (after you’ve had a good long time to ponder all that challenging stuff that Jesus said), Jesus has asked you (Peter, James, and John) to accompany him as he goes up a mountainside to get away and pray. So off the four of you go, and what you see and experience next is pretty much indescribable.

We know the story really well. It’s one of the major stories of the Christian faith. The Transfiguration is right up there with Christmas, Jesus’ baptism, his temptation, Holy Week (including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday’s last supper, and the crucifixion story of Good Friday), then the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, and the day of Pentecost. Those all get attention every year – as does the Transfiguration.
So why is this such an important event?

The main reason, I think, is quite subtle, and it’s easy to gloss right over it. Up until this point Jesus has been preaching and teaching as an itinerant rabbi.
In this prayer time, in this holy place, he is filled beyond description with the Holy Spirit – so much so that his face changes (presumably glowing with bliss, delight, blessing, and holiness), and his clothes appear to shine with a dazzling, blinding whiteness (indicating pure holiness and the presence of God) – which is all very wonderful but not yet the most important part!

As Jesus is transformed, or transfigured, two figures appear beside him, and speak with him. Those two figures are Moses and Elijah.
The significance of that – and yes, this is the big important part – is that Moses and Elijah represent the two main strands of Jewish theological importance – the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah).
So having Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, appear with Jesus and speak with him, communicates to us that Jesus is to be understood as the fulfillment of both of those theological strands, and the embodiment of God’s Way, God’s kingdom, God’s hope for the world.
In glory the three figures come together and glow in holiness and blessing, and Jesus is elevated from rabbi to messiah. Peter had blurted out earlier that Jesus was the Messiah – now he’s really experienced that affirmation in technicolour!

And then the story gets even stranger.
Peter the blurter is at it again, this time suggesting they should build three dwellings for the glowing gang. But ‘dwelling’ here is the same word as tabernacle, which is the tent of worship that the Jews put up everywhere they camped during the Exodus. Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about his “departure” – but that word in Greek is actually exodos, so with all these references Peter has actually perceived this story insightfully – that Jesus is the new Moses leading the people to a new promised land – if they’ll follow.

Well, will they? Will Peter, James, and John?
To seal the deal a cloud envelops them – the cloud is another direct reference to the Exodus journey where God’s Presence accompanied them as a ‘cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night’.
Take a breath.
You’ve just seen your rabbi/teacher talking to the two biggest figures in your religion, they’re all glowing in dazzling white holiness utterly overwhelming your senses and your reasoning, and now you’re enveloped in a cloud of God’s Holy Presence.
And then a voice rings out, “This is my son, my chosen. Listen to him!”

And then everything (and everyone) kind of fades out and there’s just the 3 of you and Jesus.
And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

How does your brain wrap itself around such a profoundly awesome (in the fullest sense of the word) experience?
What would you say?
How would you put it into words if someone asked you?

But that’s not what my message is about today. It’s actually about how this all started, and what it’s all rooted in.

None of this happens – no cloud, no voice of God, no Moses and Elijah, no glorious glowing, none of this happens unless Jesus does two things: goes off to a separate place, and prays.
He wasn’t just strolling along a dusty road and “wham” he gets zapped by a holy lightning bolt.
No, it’s very clear, here and all throughout the gospel of Luke – prayer is where it’s at, and Jesus prays a lot!
And when Jesus prays, big things happen, important things happen; he is changed.

That’s what I want to focus on today – prayer – and specifically how Jesus prays, and what benefits he gets from it – and ultimately I’ll ask, if prayer is good enough for Jesus, and necessary for Jesus, then what do you think we all oughta be doing about it? read on

190217 – Blessings and Whoa’s

Yr C ~ Epiphany 6 ~ Luke 6:17-26

(This was our Annual Meeting Sunday, so the sermon needed to be shortened to accommodate the extra meeting time. A fuller version was preached at the Sunday Night Worship service. Both are included here.)

[morning]

I don’t have a lot of time this morning so I’ll be brief(ish). If you want to hear a fuller version of this sermon you can come back tonight! 🙂

[both]

So today we get Jesus’ beatitudes with a twist. We’re probably more familiar with the version in Matthew’s gospel usually called the “Sermon on the Mount”.
Well, first off, in Luke’s gospel this takes place on the plain, on a level place.
And second, instead of 9 beatitudes like in Matthew we get 4 beatitudes and 4 woe-to-you’s.
Please don’t think that means one of the stories is true and the other isn’t. It’s just proof that sometimes preachers need to say the same things over and over again, but in slightly different ways, in order to get their point across.
Do you really think that Jesus only taught these things one time?
He was an itinerant preacher. He probably gave a similar spiel in every town he travelled to!

[night]

The first thing we might notice is that a chapter ago Jesus was drawing big crowds but was just calling his first disciples. Today’s reading suggests he has a great crowd of disciples and a multitude of people listening to him.
How much of a buzz must have been circulating for that many people to be attracted to him?
And how did they know where to find him?
You get the sense there must have been a set plan, because thousands of people don’t just wander around on the off chance they might find Jesus!

It says this is a sermon on the plain, on the level place, as opposed to the mount. We theologize mountains as being up high and so the people felt “closer” to God – the whole “3-tiered universe” thing.
Well, plains are theologically significant because it indicates that God isn’t confined to our mountain top experiences – God’s Presence is right here with us on the level places, in the midst of daily life, where we most need it!

And I love Luke 6:19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Spiritual power is just emanating from Jesus here.
Maybe you’ve been in a room with someone who’s personal power and energy just seemed to radiate and fill the room.
Jesus had that in super-abundance!

And now the stage is set for us to hear his teaching. But before we tackle it there’s a really important cultural backdrop that we need to remember here. In their culture, the rich and healthy and prosperous were considered blessed – as in they were rich and healthy because they lived righteously and were rewarded for it.
And conversely, the poor and ill were poor and ill because they had somehow done wrong, or were sinful, so they also “deserved” it!
As ridiculous as that sounds to us I sometimes worry that we’ve held onto an echo of that harmful idea.

Against that backdrop, Jesus again utterly upends their understanding of how the world works – because he dares to suggest that it’s the poor who are actually blessed and the rich are actually deserving of woes.
Now, don’t go too far in the other direction – don’t make the same wrong conclusion in reverse.
Jesus isn’t just turning the tables on who’s blessed and who’s not – he’s completely changing the game. read on

190210 – Go Anyway

Yr C ~ Epiphany 5 ~ Luke 5:1-11

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry according to the Gospel of Luke, and we’ve learned that Jesus began his ministry by laying out a very high-minded and spirit-filled agenda of turning the ways of the world on their head and ushering in what he’ll eventually call the kingdom of God. And we also learned that while people were impressed by his teaching there was also a significant amount of pushback once they realized that they too would need to personally undergo a transformation in order to live this God-plan out. After Jesus got run out of his hometown he continued to preach in the Galilee region and continued to gain attention and notoriety, but there’s no mention that anyone had signed up to join his movement yet.

Now we get to chapter 5, and Jesus calls his first disciples. It’s a great story! It begins like this:

Luke 5:1-3 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret (aka the Sea of Galilee), and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

So he’s standing at the lakeshore, and the crowd is pressing in on him. Can you picture it?
They’re hungry and thirsty to hear more of what he has to say.
They’re yearning to hear his take on spirituality.
He sees a couple of fishing boats that were empty because their owners were busy washing their nets after they’d just worked the night shift. Jesus gets into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asks him to push out so Jesus can teach from the water – creating a little natural amphitheatre where his voice will carry better over the water.

But wait a second. Where’d this Simon guy come from?
Well, if you track back to the scene between last week’s reading and this week’s reading you’d meet Simon (who will become Peter) for the first time.
But even that’s a weird story.
Luke 4:38 says, After leaving the synagogue (in Capernaum) Jesus entered Simon’s house.

There was no previous mention. He just seems to go in.
Maybe they met at the synagogue?
Maybe Simon was a regular at Jesus’ impromptu teaching sessions?
Maybe they’re old hockey buddies?
We just don’t know.
But Jesus enters Simon’s house, heals his mother-in-law’s fever, and then heals pretty much everyone in town apparently in Simon’s front yard. I would imagine all that might leave an impression on our friend Simon!

Now Jesus is at the lakeshore, and he jumps into Simon’s boat and he teaches.

The story continues, Luke 5:4-5 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

I really feel for Simon. He’s had the experience of Jesus at his house, and now he’s literally had a ringside seat for another teaching session, and then Jesus asks him to do something crazy.
I mean really, who does Jesus think he is?
He’s a carpenter for crying out loud!
And here he is telling these professional fishers how to do their job. Like he knows better!

“We’ve worked all night and got nothing, but hey, ok buddy, if you say so…”

And out they go, and of course they catch so many fish that it will break their nets and sink their boats.
That’s pretty simple to interpret. If you listen to Jesus then super-abundance happens.

Well, between the healings at his house and this fishing phenomenon Simon was undone.

Verse 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Imagine what would happen if I had a thousand watt flashlight and shone it in your eyes. What would you do?
You’d shield your face, and probably instinctively put your hand up and bow your head, right? That’s what it’s like to encounter pure holiness.
In that moment the holy light shines into all your dark corners and you realize that you are not happy with what you see.
To say you’re sinful is just to say that you acknowledge that there’s a gap, that you’re not perfect, that God’s holiness stands in stark contrast to where you may be.

That doesn’t mean you’re hopeless, or evil, or a bad person – it just means you acknowledge there is room for improvement holiness-wise!
In that moment, Simon Peter understood the depth of what that meant.
It’s humbling, and sobering, and convicting, and strangely beautiful – especially when you realize that same holiness that on the one hand exposes your short-comings also invites you into relationship! I’ll say more about that in a minute. read on

190203 – Present Company Excepted

Present Company Excepted

Yr C ~ Epiphany 4 ~ Luke 4:21-30

This sermon may be uncomfortable. It might be uncomfortable for you to hear, and parts of it are definitely uncomfortable for me to preach.
Are you nervous? You shouldn’t be.
I’m not going to go ballistic and yell and scream or anything.
But I might poke a little, and it might poke some more than others.
And some who need to feel a poke may think I’m talking about someone else.
The truth is, we all need to be poked by this message. All of us.

We begin where we left off last week. A quick recap: It’s the very start of Jesus’ public ministry. He goes to worship at his hometown synagogue and is asked to read scripture. He selects a very provocative text about freeing captives, forgiving debts, erasing land ownership issues, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. This is a direct reference to a concept called Jubilee which is basically a giant reset button that utterly upends the entire world order as far as economics and power goes – and then he sits down.

But the sitting down is actually the teaching time. And he delivers a one sentence sermon (don’t get your hopes up!) that concluded last week’s reading and begins this week’s:
Luke 4:21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Last week we explored these challenging words from Jesus, and we pressed pause on the story to make sure we spent time understanding just how radical the Jubilee values he was championing were. I also tried to emphasize that having Jubilee values being fulfilled in your hearing meant the concept becomes active for you when you hear or perceive or understand it. And once you hear it you can’t un-hear it so you either need to say yes and act on it, or say no and ignore it.

Upending an economic order and a power structure that treats all of us here pretty favourably is a very hard thing to do. But it sounds really good, doesn’t it?

Jesus’ synagogue crowd agreed.
Luke 4:22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the words of grace that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

They’re great words. Faithful words. Inspiring words.
And the people in that synagogue that day, (and probably the people in this church last week, and now), received those words and judged them to be very good! They were impressed by Jesus – even though they knew he was just Joe and Mary’s kid – and they were impressed by these high-minded ideals and values.

And then, seemingly inexplicably, Jesus turns on a dime and starts poking them in the eye.

Luke 4:24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”

Maybe he saw something as he looked at them. Sometimes a preacher can look out and know that their listeners did not take in the point they just made on the level they’d hoped to communicate on. (Present company excepted.)

Maybe Jesus knew that his proclamation should’ve produced more than just a few “atta-boy’s” and that his congregation should’ve been less impressed and more convicted.

Maybe Jesus realized that they were more pleased by their local boy making good than they were motivated to actually embody those Jubilee values and that world upending worldview.

Maybe he looked at them smiling and nodding and discerned that if they really understood they’d have a very different expression on their faces.

So Jesus went after them – and they didn’t like it! read on

190127 – Toothpaste

Yr C ~ Epiphany 3 ~ Luke 4:14-21

Let me set the stage for you. A couple of weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3. Right after that Luke 4 begins with the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness for a 40 day spiritual retreat during which he’s tempted to stray from his path and give in to lesser ideals and values. He goes into the desert filled with the Spirit and emerges from it even more filled and committed.

And today we learn that the first thing he did after the desert was to start an itinerant preaching ministry where he would go around the province of Galilee sharing God’s word. We learn that he was making something of a name for himself, and we pick the story up at his first visit back to his hometown since he’s gotten somewhat famous.

Luke 4:14-16 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.

So Jesus has gone back to his hometown where he grew up.
I love that it says in verse 16 that he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom.”
Apparently even someone as advanced in spirituality as Jesus was clearly thought regular church attendance was pretty important!

Jesus wasn’t setting out to start a new religion. He was being a faithful Jew, practicing his tradition.
It would be fair to call him a reformer, but he certainly was not trying to undermine Judaism and start something new.
He was trying to remind them of their roots!

So when he’s asked to read scripture and offer a reflection he doesn’t come up with something brand new and innovative. He reaches deep into the tradition and comes up with something old, and revolutionary. It turns out the most revolutionary things aren’t new – they’re just following through with what the foundational concepts were but over time the people let them slide. (Why that happens is another sermon!)

The scroll (or book) of the prophet Isaiah is quite long, so that Jesus chose this particular section of Isaiah is significant. In Luke’s gospel this is the very first thing Jesus says in his public ministry. That gives these words a special weight and importance. We look to the first official words of a leader to give an indication of what they’re going to be all about. Here’s what Jesus chose:

We call it Luke 4:18-19, but he’s quoting Isaiah 61:1-2
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus declares that his ministry will be bringing good news and proclaiming God’s love and care for the poor, those held captive, the blind, and the oppressed. In most ways that doesn’t describe anyone here today. Does that mean Jesus has nothing to say to us?
Who are the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed today?
What does it mean to release them, or free them, or relieve their blindness?

On a literal level we can imagine poor, captive, blind, and oppressed people and support helping them in their challenges. But maybe if we go deeper than literal we can see that perhaps in some ways we too are poor, captive to the ways of the world, spiritually blind, oppressed by our own choices and foolishness and desires. So maybe Jesus does have something to say to us too!

The quotation from Isaiah closes with the very cryptic “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Now, if you don’t know what that is referring to then you are proving my earlier point – that the really revolutionary things are already part of our foundation but we’ve tended to forget them – or worse, ignore them! But don’t feel bad, Jesus was scolding his own contemporaries too.

What does it mean to you that Jesus “was sent to proclaim the year of God’s favour”?

Well, it’s nothing less than an agenda of utterly upending the world order. “The year of the Lord’s favour” refers to the year of Jubilee.
You can read all about the Jubilee year in Leviticus 25.
The basic concept is that every 50 years a giant “reset” button gets pushed and everyone starts from scratch again. It had to do with things like every 7 years the fields should lie fallow, and every “week” of 7 years – in other words 7 times 7 years, or 49 years something major needed to happen. The year following those 7 weeks of 7 years – the 50th year – was to be a year of Jubilee. All debts would be forgiven. All captives would be released. Those in slavery (usually because of debt) would be set free. And most importantly, people were able to return to their ancestral lands because land belonged to God not people!

Can you imagine?! Can you imagine it happening today? read on

190120 – The Holy Shoulder Tap

Year C ~ Epiphany 2 ~ 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.”

That’s how The Message Bible translates the first verse of 1 Corinthians 12, and that’s precisely what I want to talk to you about today.

“What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.”

I hope you notice that it starts with an assumption that I take as a fact. It’s not a maybe, or a hopefully. It’s a truth. A reality. It’s not, “Gee, I wonder if God’s Spirit might actually be part of my life?” It’s, “God’s Spirit absolutely DOES get worked into my life – and in various ways. That’s the fact Jack!”

It’s not just one way or one aspect of my life – and it may be decidedly different for the person sitting beside you – but even though it may look different and manifest differently there is no doubt at all in my mind that that Spirit’s working in our lives.

There are all sorts of things working on you right now. Some of them you may be actively participating in and cooperating with – some of them you might be outright resisting – and some of them you may have never given a second thought to.

Worship is working on your life right now.
Relationships are working on your life right now.
Democracy is working on our lives right now, but I doubt we think about it much apart from elections.
The social safety net and universal healthcare are working on us as Canadians, whether we’re accessing them currently or not.
To be ridiculous, gravity is working on us or we’d be floating away.
To be completely serious, love is working on us, whether we are aware or not.

I really like this translation, the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives, because it avoids some of the baggage and interpretive problems of the usual language – “spiritual gifts”.
The NRSV translates v.1 as,
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.

Spiritual gifts kind of sound like Christmas gifts. Sometimes you get one, sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes it’s just what you wanted, sometimes it’s not quite the right fit and you wish you could exchange it!

But that’s not how spiritual giftedness works. At all!
A spiritual gift sounds like it’s a self-contained package of skills or abilities or passions that you then take and use to help people or love people.

Really, what it’s talking about is our general state of blessedness. We are constantly being blessed by the Spirit.
We are in a never-ending, never-interrupted, never-diminishing stream of blessing. The Spirit is working into and through our lives just as assuredly as oxygen is! Spiritual gifts don’t come and go like Christmas – they constantly flow like your bloodstream!

Verses 4-6,

Now there are varieties of gifts or blessings, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services or ways to engage in ministry, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities one can faithfully engage in, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

So there’s all this variety but for some reason Paul felt the need to put in bold italics and underline the part about all of it coming from the same Spirit. I suspect that’s because before being Christians these Corinthian folks were likely pagans worshipping many different gods each of whom had their own thing to offer. With Jesus’ God, our God, there are many, many gifts but only One God! It also helps us to remember that there’s not just one way to serve or be faithful.

And then we get what is, for me, the most important verse in the reading.
v.7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Three big things in that one short verse.

First is the idea that each and every person is blessed and gifted.
Second is that the Spirit is manifested through us – meaning the blessings and gifts aren’t just silent, and personal, and internal – they’re meant to be seen, to be enacted, to be used. And how are they to be used?
That’s the third big idea – our gifts and blessings are for the common good! Each and every one of us is blessed and gifted to do faithful things, to do ministry, for the common good. Every one of us!

Look around this room.
As you look I bet you can catalogue all the wonderful ways various people here do ministry – how they love God, and love people, and love one another – how they show compassion, and kindness, and care.

The Message Bible puts it brilliantly.

v.7 Each person is given something to do that shows who God is!

This is why I don’t like the word volunteer very much. read on

190113 – SS Winnow

Yr C ~ Epiphany 1 ~ Luke 3:2-3, 7-17, 21-22

Ok, so this is supposed to be Baptism of Jesus Sunday, but I’m not really going to talk about that at all. Well, his baptism serves as a backdrop, but really this scripture passage, and this sermon, are all about John the Baptizer. In Luke’s telling of the tale Jesus is almost an afterthought, and his baptism is practically a throwaway line. The message is all about John’s message!

Key to understanding that message is understanding what a threshing floor and a winnowing fork are. Most of us don’t know that word winnow. But it rhymes with minnow, so in an attempt to communicate what John is saying…I offer you this song! A song about the S.S. Winnow!

[to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island”]

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a faith filled trip
That started in the River Jord(an), our Lord his forehead dripped
Now John was a holy, wild man, who ranted, raved, and raged
The brood of vipers wondered if Messiah was uncaged!
Messiah was uncaged!

If you’ve two coats give one away, if you’ve resources, share
If cheating is your stock in trade, then henceforth “Don’t you dare!”
Now separate the wheat from chaff, by winnowing blow away|
The transformed heart must fruit produce, you can’t go forth unchanged
You can’t go forth unchanged!

With water I will baptize you, but this is just the start
One’s coming who will baptize true, with fire in your heart.

The crowd baptized, then Jesus too
From opened skies, dove came down
The voice of God, said
“You’re my son, beloved one,
Filled with Spirit and fire!”     [/end]

Now that I’ve softened you up is this the right time to call you a brood of vipers?
It’s not exactly the most pastoral way to talk about your congregation!

I suppose we might call John a “fire and brimstone” preacher – but actually, that language refers to preachers who bluster on about scaring listeners with threats of hell and damnation if they don’t profess the right theology. That’s not what John is doing here at all.
Baptism for John isn’t a “get out of hell free card”, it’s an “it’s time to turn around and really embrace this new life” message.
Baptism is the symbol of that new life. He’s actually more of a tough love preacher.

The interesting thing about John’s approach is that he lays on the tough love pretty thick! He doesn’t pull any punches. And apparently he draws big crowds for it. Remember, this is out in the wilderness. It wasn’t just at the neighbourhood church. Those people gathered there had to make a journey to get there. They didn’t just hear a commotion or see a crowd down the street and wander over to check it out. John was becoming known for this. The word was spreading, and it was all word of mouth! And clearly, it was no secret because there were even some soldiers in attendance. Now, whether they were there on duty or off duty, we don’t know. But they too were there – getting some tough love.

And the very first thing John loves them with is calling them a bunch of snakes!
And more than that, he accuses them of being snakes that only really want a little water for making their snake-skins feel a little better.
Instead, John wants them to shed that skin – take on a new skin – and live differently.

In verse 8 he says it straight out, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!”

If you’re going to repent – the Greek word is metanoia – which means to “rethink everything, to question your assumptions, to have a deep turnaround in your thinking and values” [Brian McLaren].
It literally means to change your worldview, to “go beyond the mind you have.”
To repent is to change your path, to change your way of living from a self-centred, self-indulgent, self-important way to living God’s way of communion, and compassion, and connection – God’s way of selflessness and generosity and kindness and love.
Those are fruits worthy of repentance! A little refreshing water on your dry skin is not even close to being the point.

John berates the crowd for thinking that because they are children of Abraham they’ve already got it made – they’ve already got all the blessings and they’re home free.
That’s like saying, “Well, I go to church, even pretty regularly, so I’m all good. I just go on Sunday morning and it makes me feel better so I’m happy.”

John would have a field day with much of what passes for church, I think.
Ask yourself, “Am I here just to feel good, or am I here to change my life?”

To their credit, the crowd is convicted. “What then should we do?” they ask.

John answers with what has become a famous line, verse 11, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

You see, the problem with that line is that it has no zing for us. read on

190106 – By Another Road

Yr C ~ Epiphany 1 ~ Matthew 2:1-12

Here are the broad strokes of this very famous story – a story that we usually mess up the details about and probably miss the big message of.
It’s the story of the three kings – except that they weren’t – who come to visit the baby Jesus in the stable – except that they didn’t.
How do you like the story so far?

The story begins “after Jesus was born” but it gives no indication that it was on Christmas, or even that it was on Epiphany (which is when tradition tells us it happened – which is what we’re celebrating today). It could have been some time after, maybe weeks.

So, sometime after Jesus was born his family was said to have been visited by wise men from the East – possibly Persia – and not necessarily 3 wise men (there could have been two or twenty for all we know), who were definitely not kings and definitely not named Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. (That’s purely from the hymn – and you ought to be wary of taking too much theology from musicians!) (j/k).
They were Magi, which is Latin for wise men and where we get our word magician from. Magi are something like a cross between astrologers and astronomers, so they were like mystic scientists!

So these dudes and their entourage showed up out of the blue and started talking about this star they were following and asking all around Jerusalem about a newborn king. It was pretty naïve to think the reigning king wouldn’t be upset to hear of a rival king… and it also apparently upset the people too. I mean imagine a gang of foreigners coming to your country and asking where to find the new king!

Herod catches wind of this and consults the priests and scribes about Messiah prophecies (strange that he wouldn’t have known them – perhaps an indication that not everyone was breathlessly waiting for the Messiah to come), and the religious guys loosely quote him Micah’s prophecy about a coming Messiah being born in Bethlehem. Obviously that worried Herod, of course, so Herod called the Wise Guys in for a little chat about this star they were talking about (notice that apparently neither he nor any of the religious types could see this star).

Herod directed them to Bethlehem and asked them to bring him back news so he could pay homage to the new king too (which we know is bunk, and they probably did too) and the star magically appeared again for them. The star led them and stopped right over Joe and Mary’s place – although Joseph is not mentioned. They went in and saw the child with Mary, knelt down, paid homage (or worshipped him), and gave him three curious gifts: gold symbolizing royalty; frankincense symbolizing the priestly (incense is called the “odour of God’s presence”); and myrrh which is a burial spice signifying sacrifice – not your typical baby shower gifts.

And then comes, for me, the most important line in the whole story – a verse that we usually just skip right over.
It says they would’ve returned to Herod but were warned in a dream not to, so “they left for their own country by another road.” (We’ll come back to that one!)

Ok, that’s how the story goes (with some correctives); now let’s think about what the story means. We usually talk about the “kings” that recognize Jesus as royal, the gifts (which set up our whole Christmas gift-giving thing), and the miraculous star that guides the wise men to the holy child. But I’m not going to talk about any of that.
Instead we’re going to look at 5 profound spiritual truths that this story teaches us.

The first is that the light of Christ reaches beyond the confines of “church”.
The season of Epiphany is all about seeing the light. It is the liturgical season of the ‘aha’! And what this story reminds us of is that the light of God is not the sole purview of any one religion.
Who does the light appear to in the beginning of our New Testament? The marginalized (Mary and Joseph), the outcasts (shepherds), and outsiders (the Magi). This is a radical theological idea – a big aha! read on

181223 – The Blessing and the Burden

Yr C ~ Advent 4 ~ Luke 1:39-45

It’s just so ordinary.
Two women – relatives – who both happen to be pregnant – get together and talk about the future. “What will it be like to be a mom? What will my child be like? Who will my child become? I can feel the weight of it – it’s my responsibility to bring this child into the world and then to teach them everything I can, to help them become who they’ll become. Am I ready? If not me, who?”

Two women – one probably too old to be having a baby – the other probably too young to be having a baby. And yet, they can sense that God has blessed them – that the life they bear is incredibly important – and holy. It’s so ordinary. The same scene probably happens a million times a day in the world today. The joyful hope of expectancy – expectant, but also inevitable – a blessing to be sure, but also the sense of a burden.

Two women with suspect pregnancy stories – or at least unconventional ones. Why is such blessing conferred upon such obviously “flawed” women? Neither Mary nor Elizabeth were particularly special. If you were going to choose mothers for a great prophet and the one who would be called the Son of God would you have chosen them? And yet, that’s exactly what happened.
Whether you interpret these writings as history or as theology doesn’t change the fact that both John the Baptizer and Jesus of Nazareth had very ordinary parents, and unusual circumstances surrounding their conceptions.

Elizabeth was “well on in years” – and Mary was barely a teenager.
Who among you who are well on in years would want the blessing of a baby now?
Or what would we call it if one of our church teens found herself “blessed”?
Would we see a blessing, or just a burden?

When she’s first told of her pregnancy, Mary, the probably 14-year old, shows courage and faith well beyond her years and answers, “Let it be with me as you say.” It’s an astonishing reaction to such surprising news! And then upon sharing the news with her relative, Elizabeth, Mary sings out what has been named the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” [Luke 1:46-49]

Could you sing that song? Do you see the touch of God’s hand in your life? Can you feel the blessing of God’s presence and grace? Doesn’t it make your heart want to sing with joy?!
What great work is God doing in you? Do you believe that something great can come of your life?
You should!
We are filled with spiritual potential – with spiritual promise – the Lord has done great things for you and more are coming! You will receive blessings – and there will be burdens.

God gave Mary the blessing and the burden of bearing Jesus. The story goes that the angel Gabriel came and announced it to her.
What a blessing – bearing the Son of the Most High – a child who would save her people.
What an honour. What a privilege – and yet…… what a burden – an unexpected pregnancy in a time when such things were seriously frowned upon.
She was unmarried, uneducated, and unprepared to handle this. What if she screwed up in raising him? What if Joseph divorced her – he had every right to – even if he was the father.

So which is it? – a blessing, or a burden – or both? Well of course it’s both.
Aren’t all the greatest, most important things – the things that really matter in life – aren’t they all both a blessing and a burden? The mix of the blessing of experiencing weighty things with the burden that comes with them is what makes our lives so rich and worth living.
Think about it. Marriage – a blessing and a burden.
Love – a blessing and a burden.
Friendship – a blessing and a burden.
Parenting – your career – and, of course, faith.

We are people of faith – followers of the Way of Jesus. And staking that claim means accepting an amazing abundance of overflowing blessings from God – and it also means accepting that those blessings come with a burden – a burden to give as we have received – to forgive as we have been forgiven – to love as we have been loved.

People of Faith – I bring you a message from God. You’re pregnant!
(Everybody look at the person beside you and tell them that they’re pregnant.)
We are all pregnant with the potential of spiritual purpose. We’re just like Mary and Elizabeth. We’re pregnant. read on

181206 – Praying – Advent Joy

Yr C ~ Advent 3 ~ Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice, Paul tells us. The Lord is near.
Rejoice always! It’s so important he says it twice in one verse: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Why? The Lord is near!
We might say that God is present. God’s nearness, God’s presence is a wonderful source of and producer of joy!

Then he says something a little odd. Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”

Our ears hear gentleness as being soft and kind – and that’s good stuff. Paul certainly doesn’t mean for us not to be soft and kind.
But the deeper meaning of the word is about being fair-minded, being equitable, fulfilling the spirit and not just the letter of the law as you interact with the world.
Joyful people who know that God is near, are moved to live justly!
Our joyfulness isn’t just for our own benefit, it’s for the world.
We’re off to a great start!

What might derail all this joy and justice and noticing God’s nearness? Worry!
Verse 6 begins: Do not worry about anything. Really? Good luck with that!
But if we dig deeper we can see that the word worry here doesn’t simply mean the care and concern we have for our loved ones and others. It refers to being divided, distracted, going to pieces, literally it means being pulled in two directions.

Paul is not telling us not to have concern for things or people. We can’t care for people or be loving and compassionate if we don’t feel concern for them. No, the worry we’re being warned about here is more than just being anxious about something, it’s about the dangers of being overly preoccupied with things, being absorbed by them, being obsessed with them. Care and concern are healthy, preoccupation and obsession are not.

Care and concern and love don’t steal our joy.
It’s that general state of anxiety and disquiet that insidiously sneaks into our being and starts to run our life – that’s the real soul-sucking stuff. That’s the worry that kills.

So how does one avoid that?
Prayer!

Prayer is one of those words that we use all the time, but it amazed me that in over a decade of preaching here I’ve never gone deep and really wrestled with the core meaning of prayer. Hold onto your hats! Here we go!

The Greek word for prayer is proseuché (pros-yoo-kay) – it’s a compound word consisting of two concepts: toward-ness, and will-exchange. read on

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