200405 – BeWildered – Crowd

Yr A ~ Palm Sunday ~ Matthew 21:1-11

The whole city was in turmoil!
I read this verse and I thought to myself, “Are they describing Jerusalem in 0030 or describing us today?” I mean, I don’t need to tell you, the city, the world is in turmoil. And it is colouring how we’re hearing this story today. It has to.

A huge crowd is with Jesus.
Crowd? No, we can’t have a crowd! We can’t have more than 5 people together right now, and they had better be properly physically distanced from one another.

And then I got this visual.
Imagine Jesus was entering the gates of our ‘city in turmoil’ right now. There would be a crowd with him. Well, 5 people, each 2 metres apart. And technically that should be 10, I guess. That’s how many you’re allowed at a funeral – and a good argument can be made that Jesus arriving at Jerusalem that day was a funeral procession!

If so, that certainly wouldn’t be the spectacle we’ve come to expect like in all the Jesus movies. In the movies he’s always perched up on the donkey, smiling away as the hordes wave palm branches and sing songs about him.
You can picture it, right?

But if you read the story in Matthew carefully that’s not actually what’s going on.

It says that the people laid their coats on the road, and cut branches off trees and laid them on the road before him. It doesn’t say they weren’t palm branches, but it doesn’t say they were either. And they apparently weren’t waving.

In Mark’s version it says the people also did the coats and branches on the road thing.
In Luke’s version it only mentions the coats – no branches at all, waving or paving.

Only in John’s gospel do we get actual palm branches waving around (but no coats on the road). That’s the scene that makes all the movies.
I think most people just blend them all together and create a picture that they like. And that’s ok.
But if you do that you need to be conscious that you’re missing the theological point of the writers of each gospel. They wrote four different versions of this story to emphasize four different aspects of theology. Everybody’s got an agenda. So it’s probably best for us to try to figure out what Matthew was trying to communicate to us here.

The tone is really important.
In Matthew’s telling there’s no waving and jubilant singing.
It’s less of a parade and more of a political protest rally – and the people are not happy.
They aren’t happy because they are terribly oppressed.
They aren’t happy because they’re entering Jerusalem for the huge Passover festival and the Romans are ruling with an iron fist.

Passover came from Moses’ time back in Egypt. It’s all about how God saves the people of Israel by having the angel of death ‘pass over’ them and only kill all the Egyptian children. It’s a horrific story. Now imagine if you’re a Jew entering Jerusalem for a festival about how God kills and punishes the oppressor and sets you free – and the thing you want most in the world in that moment is for God to do it again!

And imagine there’s a guy riding a donkey – just like in that story from the prophet Zechariah that you know so well. (Well, you would if you were around back then.)

Here’s the story – Zechariah 9:9-10 read on

200329 – BeWildered – Self

Yr A – Lent 5 – Romans 8:6-11

The word of the day is ‘self’. We love this word.
Self-serve gas. Self-checkout groceries. Self-sealing envelopes. Self-employed. Self-assessment.
Self-interest. Self-isolation. Self-esteem. Self-love.
Or that thing when you point a camera at yourself – selfies!
Some aspects of ‘self’ stuff are positive, and some are very negative. You need to take care of your ‘self’, but you should not overindulge your ‘self’. You need to focus on yourself, but not so much that you become obsessed with yourself. Obsession with self is what the scripture warns us about.

As much as we may not want to admit it, we all have our obsessions with self. We may not be taking a thousand selfies a day and posting them all over the internet, but we definitely have our obsessions. And some of our obsessions with self happen right here in church.

But none of this is new. It’s just human nature – well, it’s immature human nature. Obsession with self is not inevitable, even though it’s painfully commonplace.
The bible is overflowing with stories of people who were so completely focused on themselves, or their own needs, or their own preferences, or their own way of understanding the world that they couldn’t see God and God’s way.
Moses and the golden calf incident, David and the bathing Bathsheba, Pharisees taking on Jesus, Saul persecuting Christians – time after time we see the trouble people get in when they put themselves at the centre of the universe.
And then we have the nerve to be bewildered at how we’re lost in the wilderness of not being happy with who we are.

The strange thing, the incomprehensible thing about this, is that obsession with self has never been a long-term satisfying answer for anyone, and yet we all seem to think that we’re different and it will be for us. Obsession with self is locked-in on immediate gratification, which undoubtedly feels good in the moment because it gives you a rush of what you think you’re looking for, but beyond those initial moments it becomes shallow and unfulfilling.

And so we need voices like Paul’s calling us back from our self-obsession and urging us to awaken to a deeper and more life-giving reality.
This passage from Romans 8, especially in Peterson’s “The Message” translation, really shows how we’re not all that different from that first audience hearing this so long ago. Paul is clearly speaking to our reality too.
He said, Romans 8:6
“Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.”

That really is the message for us. That’s the benefit of a life of faith compared to a life of no-faith. Obsession with self is a dead end. It goes nowhere fast. It leads you down a path that doesn’t accomplish anything or give you any real lasting benefit or growth.

The opposite of a dead end is openness, spaciousness, and freedom.
How do you get those things? “Attention to God!”
Notice it says attention to God and not obsession with God. There’s a difference.
Being attentive to God, tuning-in to God’s presence, seeking the Sacred and spending quality time immersing in it – noticing – brings that spacious freedom we yearn for.

Like the old country song said “looking for love in all the wrong places” – and we do! We look for satisfaction and pleasure and fulfillment and wholeness in all the wrong places too – and the world lets us down over and over again.

Paul says it’s because (Romans 8:7) “Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what God is doing.”

If you’re all about you, you can’t be tuned-in to God’s way, and therefore you won’t be able to serve, to help bring about God’s dream for the world.
What’s God’s dream for the world? read on

200322 – BeWildered – Leaders

Yr A ~ Lent 4 ~ John 9:13-34

Well, here we are. Quite a time we find ourselves in. There’s no sense pretending this is just another Sunday – it ain’t! Obviously this is very different. I mean, I’m standing in this big space and there’s only two of us here. I’m really hopeful that many of the folks who usually participate in this place are currently participating at home. (Hi everybody!)

And if you happen to know of someone who wants to participate but they’re having technology challenges, or they just can’t do the tech thing, then first, maybe you can help walk them through it – I mean, you found your way here, so you already know the Way!
(I know it’s early in the sermon for the big guns but gee, that sounds like evangelism to me!)

Or please call the church or email me and let us know so we can try to reach out to them with different resources.

Because, for now, and maybe for a while, certainly longer than we’d like, this is the only way we’re doing our Sunday worship at Faith United. Getting together is not currently an option. I wish I could say when it will be, but there’s just no way to know. It’s beyond our control. So the best thing we can do is to find ways to do important things differently. Like this morning – like this live stream, which you can also watch on demand on YouTube.

And, coincidently (or is that God-incidently?), that’s kind of at the heart of today’s gospel reading. No, not the live streaming part – the part about how the best thing that faithful people can do is to find ways to do important things in new ways.

There’s a recurring joke in church-land that says the 7 deadliest words in church are:
We’ve never done it that way before!

Well, guess what. That’s kind of our life now. We’ve never done it this way before.
We’ve never encountered a virus threat like this before.
We’ve never had to cope with self-isolation like this before.
We’ve never had to have every church in the country close up their doors to in-person gatherings and find new ways to be church before.
We’ve never had to physically distance ourselves like this before. (I know the term is social-distancing – but conceptually I prefer the idea of physical distancing and socially connecting!)
We’ve never had to do so many aspects of church online, or in alternative ways before.

We’ve never had to think so hard about how to stay in touch before, because we have this great physical space here that’s the hub of our community of faith’s life.
We offer worship and programs and ministries, and people flock to the place, and we interconnect.
It’s easy.

But now it’s not easy.

Now it’s hard to do the things we didn’t think twice about before. And it’s making us reflect deeply on what we value.
As soon as you threaten to take something away – especially something that you almost took for granted because it was so deeply ingrained in your rhythms – something like being at church – when you take that away you begin to realize just how special to you it was.
It is.
And it will be again.

We’re nearing the end of the Season of Lent, and Holy Week is just around the corner.

We won’t have our regular palm parade – we’ll do it differently.

We won’t have our usual highlight of the year, for me, Maundy Thursday potluck with the chaos of serving ‘family style’ at the tables, and worshipping in the midst of our meal – we’ll do it differently! I’m envisioning people setting up a smart phone or a webcam in their dining room and we’ll all eat at home together, and worship together, via technology. It’ll be something else! But, we’ve never done it that way before.

We won’t get to turn the chairs in our sanctuary to face the stained glass window and focus on the cross together on Good Friday – except we will – because we’ll figure out a way to do it.

And then the big one – Easter Sunday. Our biggest, holiest, most spiritually important day of the year. The reality is we won’t yet be back together by then. So we’ll celebrate resurrection differently. I don’t know how yet. For now it’s kinda one day at a time.

But I know this – whenever we do get to come back to this place as a fully gathered in-person expression of the body of Christ – it will feel more Easter-y than we’ve probably ever felt before!

But we’re not there yet.
For now, everything’s kinda different. read on

200315 – BeWildered – Followers

Yr A ~ Lent 3 ~ John 4:31-38

This is one of those scripture lessons where you have to read between the lines a bit and know something of the context in order to appreciate the fullness of the message. Our reading takes place during the woman at the well story – but where’s the well, and who’s the woman, and what time is it, and where are the disciples? All of that is needed. It’s a long story, and I only selected a few verses this morning, so let me bring you up to speed.

The well is in Samaria. That matters because the Samaritans and the Jews used to be kin, but over time there were conquerings, and intermarrying, and the Samaritans came to be seen as unclean, unwelcome, and enemies of the Jewish people. In fact, Jews would take the extra time to travel around that region to avoid associating with the Samaritans and risking becoming unclean. But not Jesus. He takes the shortcut, right through the heart of it, and midway takes a breather at a famous well named after Jacob.

He’s greeted by a woman, obviously a Samaritan. So they are supposed to be enemies, and on top of that Jesus as a male should not be talking to an unaccompanied woman – and she shouldn’t dare to speak to him either. So more taboos are being broken. To make matters even worse, she has quite an, ahem, colourful history with men apparently, and is something of an outcast in her community because of that. There’s a very subtle reason why we know that.
It’s noon.

Why does that matter? Because the women of the town would have regularly gone to the well early in the morning to get their water for the day – and it would have been a key social and bonding time for them. But our heroine here comes to the well at noon – alone. It indicates that she wasn’t welcome among the upstanding women of the community. She’s an outcast among them. It’s no wonder she’s feisty when she encounters Jesus – she’s got nothing to lose! So she gets right in his face and challenges him. They spar, he teaches, she snarks, he loves, she’s moved, he wins, she wins!

John 4:28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.

That’s another one of those deeply theological nuances. She came looking for water, but was filled instead with what Jesus calls ‘living water’, so she didn’t need her jar anymore! I did a whole sermon about that a few years ago. You can look it up!

So, by the end of their encounter she is so filled with the spirit, that she goes running off to tell everyone in her community about Jesus and bring them back to meet him. Did you catch that? The woman who was ostracized by her community had her heart touched so deeply that she rushed off to share her newfound spiritual blessing with the very people who made her an outcast. It’s an incredible story!

Cue the duh-sciples!
Just before she goes running back to town the disciples return from a grocery run (lots of toilet paper, I’m sure!) and see the scene and instantly fall into judgment – of the woman, and of Jesus. They don’t say anything, of course – but they’re judging them left, right and centre! They are astonished that Jesus would do such a thing as talk to a Samaritan, and a woman at that.
It was shocking.

Yeah, it was shocking alright. It was shocking how they stood there in the presence of Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his compassion, sensing his holiness, and they just don’t get it.

They are, in a word – bewildered! So Jesus tries to explain it to them. It didn’t help. I can only hope that in the end, as they saw this fallen, foreign woman come back with all those townspeople, who begged Jesus to stay with them for a few days so they could learn and see for themselves that Jesus really was the Messiah, I can only hope they had an aha moment and they understood. Because if not, well, let’s just say that’s why I like to call them duh-sciples!

So now let’s look at what Jesus was trying to teach them. It kind of echoes last week’s story about how Jesus was laying down his brilliant theological insights but the person listening just wasn’t getting it.
The woman at the well got it – the outcast, the outsider – but insiders like Nicodemus last week and the disciples here – nope. They don’t understand. They are bewildered by it all.

Jesus said, John 4:35-38 read on

200308 – BeWildered – Choices

Yr A ~ Lent 2 ~ John 3:1-17

I feel kinda bad for Nicodemus because in the way the Gospel of John tells this story about his late night visit with Jesus Nicodemus comes off as, well, not very bright. He’s a highly educated Pharisee, he’s probably part of the Jewish ruling council; these are not things that you can do if you don’t have the smarts. And yet, in this scene, this teacher of Israel can’t seem to understand what is clearly a metaphor and instead only seems to understand literal, concrete ideas.

Now, it says that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. That suggests a couple of things.
First, that he didn’t want to be seen because the Pharisees and Jesus weren’t exactly buddies, so he’s called a ‘secret disciple’ of Jesus.
Second, and metaphorically speaking, coming at night suggests that he’s coming in a state of not understanding things; he’s ‘in the dark’ so to speak.

He’s really just set up as a foil for Jesus’ teaching here (I mean, Jesus doesn’t even really respond to what Nicodemus says; he just barrels in and teaches his thing) – and the perplexing thing is that after a couple thousand years of hearing this story, and despite the fact that it contains what is arguably the most famous verse in the New Testament, we still too often miss the point (just like Nicodemus did).

Jesus starts, in John 3:3, with this: “Very truly (literally it’s ‘amen, amen’), I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (born again, born anew).”

Poor Nicodemus can’t seem to comprehend this obvious imagery and falls into the classic trap of trying to apply a physical, scientific lens to spiritual, metaphorical things. How can a person be born a second time? Does one crawl back into the womb and come out again? It’s insulting to Nicodemus to put those words in his mouth – but then again, a lot of people seem to try to take the bible literally when it’s clearly offering metaphors and imagery. It’s sad, really.

John 3:5-8 Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from anew.’

(Then Jesus gets all poetic.) The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

Then Jesus insults the intelligence of this apparently bewildered teacher, alludes to a super-weird story about Moses and snakes, and then drops the bomb of John 3:16.
I suspect you have it memorized, which makes it even harder to interpret. Martin Luther called it the gospel in miniature.
You probably know it in the old King James version: read on

200301 – BeWildered – World

Yr A ~ Lent 1 ~ Matthew 4:1-11

Every year we begin the season of Lent with an examination of what we call Jesus’ temptations in the desert. This year I want to emphasize something a little different. Instead of it being a story about Jesus being tempted I want us to see that the story is actually about us. Because, if we make it all about Jesus, like we usually do, I’m afraid we’ll miss the most powerful part.

The writer of the Gospel of Matthew had one overarching agenda – to make the reader believe that Jesus was the long promised Jewish Messiah, the fulfilment of prophecies and scripture. Ok, fantastic, great job Matthew! Mission accomplished. We’re all here because we acknowledge that Jesus is the dude! So I don’t need to spend very much time identifying how spiritually mature Jesus was in his temptation time – you already know all that. Of course Jesus is going to give all the right answers – he’s Jesus!

The thing is, I’m not Jesus. And neither are you.
And hero worship of how someone else does faith may inspire you a bit but it doesn’t necessarily change anything about you, or give you any tools to go and do likewise. And really, that’s what we’re all here for. So today I’m going to try to help us see that we are actually the ones in the wilderness, and the temptations that Jesus faces are really ours, and we face them every single day.

This story follows on the heels of the baptism story in Matthew’s telling. Jesus has just had a profoundly wonderful spiritual experience. He’s all aglow from a personally electrifying encounter with the very Presence of God and has sensed God’s blessing filling him up and inspiring him in a new outlook on life. Immediately, it says, that same Spirit that filled him up propels him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Ok, couple of things.
Notice that this is the Spirit’s idea, not Jesus’ idea. Having just been baptized I’d imagine Jesus would rather have hung around and enjoyed some cake and maybe a few pictures by the font – but instead, while still dripping wet he’s whisked off into the wilderness. Why? Because as soon as you lay claim to a blessing from God and start to live in the glow of that blessing you’ll start to experience challenges and pushback from the world.

Second thing I’d like you to notice is that this takes place in the wilderness. Wilderness is a specific symbol in the bible and every time it’s used it’s meant to signify a liminal space of being in-between things – a place of danger and possibility – a place of transformation. It literally means a place away from houses and things, not sand dunes and dryness. A place set apart where a person is not distracted by the usual distractions of the world.

Except the problem is that even when we try to get away to a place set apart we take our distractions with us. You can go on a vacation to try to “get away from it all” but the problem is you tend to take your brain with you – and all your thinking comes along for the ride. Enter the character called the devil. This is really important. The bible does NOT have any sense of a single person called the ‘Devil’ with a capital D. It’s a role, a function – not a person.

Have you ever had to make a decision, or a choice, or had a moral dilemma and you found yourself arguing with yourself? There’s that voice in your head that’s nattering at you, maybe trying to get you to compromise a deeply held value for the sake of expediency, or maybe just to avoid a hard conversation or situation. We call that our inner dialogue, or maybe our consciousness.
Doesn’t that make a whole lot more sense than imagining some fictional character in a red suit with horns and a tail and a pitchfork working against us? And besides, that’s not even from the bible – it’s from literature from the Middle Ages.
Simply put – we don’t need a personified devil.
Our consciousness is tempting enough!

Jesus is said to be in the wilderness for 40 days and nights before the temptations begin. Again, 40 is a symbolic number in the bible that means a time of transformation. So Jesus is in a place of transformation (the wilderness), for a time of transformation (40 days), (gee, that sounds a lot like the season of Lent!), and at the end of that time when he’s at his weakest (or possibly his strongest because he’s been praying for 40 days), he wrestles and battles with his consciousness, his inner voice.
That is something I can definitely relate to!

It says he’s famished. Well duh, he hasn’t eaten for 40 days. But actually the word is much richer than that.
Famished here means to desire earnestly. Hence the first great temptation.
The inner voice says, “I know you’re a spiritual and religious person and all that, and you have all these great ideas and great values that you say you hold so dear – but I also know you’ve got some pretty deep worldly desires. So go ahead, take the easy way out. Satisfy your desires. You can do it. And no one would ever know. Don’t worry about all that other stuff, just take care of your own needs and desires. You know you want to.”

Does that strike a chord for anyone?

What would Jesus do? He’d quote scripture to resist temptation!
In this story he quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, as he says in Matthew 4:4 It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

What does that mean? read on

200226 – That’ll Leave A Mark

Yr A ~ Transfiguration ~ Exodus 24:12-18; 34:28-35

A religious movement leader and a couple of their key followers withdraw from the regular distractions and busyness of the day-to-day world and go up a mountainside (or a hillside) to get away from it all and focus on opening themselves to an experience of the Presence of God, and to pray. While in that set apart and quiet space the leader undergoes such a profound spiritual experience that their physical appearance seems altered and transformed – transfigured even – in a word, they are aglow – and a sparkling cloud of spiritual energy and Presence envelops them. The experience causes some confusion for their followers, but mostly they’re simply awestruck. Then the group returns to the wider community and go on to lead in deeper and more inspired ways.

In the New Testament we call this story ‘the Transfiguration’ – and it can be found in Mark 9, Matthew 17, and Luke 9 – all three of the gospels that try to tell the story of Jesus in a linear kind of way (John’s gospel uses a very different approach).

In the Hebrew Scriptures we call this story ‘just another day up the mountain’ for Moses! Well, another 40 days to be more accurate! Moses must’ve loved it up on the mountain because it seemed like he was up there all the time. And when he went it wasn’t just for quick getaway like Jesus did. No, Moses gets 40 days and nights at a shot. What does he do all that time?

Well, in Exodus 24 he goes up the mountain and experiences God’s Presence.
And then it takes all of chapters 25, 26, and 27 for him to receive the incredibly detailed instructions for creating the tabernacle (the tent of meeting, their mobile worship space).
Then chapter 28 is all about the vestments (the clothing) that the priests should wear (clergy clothes have been a thing for a looooong time!), then chapter 29 is all about consecrating the priests, chapter 30 is about the altar, and the goblets, and the incense, and all the other things in the tabernacle, and then finally, after 40 days (a number signifying great transformation), Moses gets the famed tablets with God’s laws written on them in Exodus 31:18.

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he got them and goes back down the mountain he discovers that the people have been very naughty while he’s been gone, crafting giant golden calves and all, and in Exodus 32 Moses smashes the tablets in a rage.
Chapter 33 sees Moses spending most of his time in that tent with what’s described as a cloud (meaning God’s Presence) engulfing the tent while he’s in it, and he has some deep conversations with God.
Then in chapter 34 Moses finds himself back on the mountain and God runs him off another copy of the tablets. Again, he’s there for a while.

Exodus 34:28-30 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights (which is a number symbolizing…?? – yes, transformation!); he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.
When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.

This is the part that I want us to ponder for a while. read on

200216 – But I Say – Love

Yr A ~ Epiphany 6 ~ Matthew 5:38-48

I think I’ll start at the end of today’s scripture passage, and then go way back to the beginning of the whole section, and then do some highlights! Because if I don’t start at the end there’s a word that will hang over the whole proceedings today and unhelpfully colour how you hear anything I may say. I want a different word to hang over us. I want the word love to be ringing in your ears this morning, but I fear the word you’ve already latched onto is perfect. It comes from the last verse of today’s reading, Matthew 5:48 – Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Does that trip you up? Are you thinking that perfection is impossible so why bother even trying? Are you thinking Jesus is bonkers?
I wouldn’t blame you for thinking those things, if Jesus was talking about actually being perfect. But again, as happens so often, he isn’t. How we hear the word is not how the word was intended.

We hear the word perfect and we think “without fault or error, flawless.” We can probably agree that God is without fault or error but we are absolutely positive that we are not!
Try hard? Yes. Perfect? Never make a mistake? Not on your life.
But even in English that is only one very limited meaning of the word. Happily, that is not what this verse means.

The Greek word is teleios which primarily means “mature, full grown, complete in all its parts.” Perfect because the goal has been consummated.
Jesus is not asking us to strive to be flawlessly perfect but to strive to be mature, and full grown or fully orbed in our faith. God is obviously the fullest completeness of loving-kindness and holiness, for God is love.
We can’t be God (that job’s taken) but we can absolutely strive for spiritual maturity and depth.
We can strive to love like Jesus, like God.

So if we start there – knowing that the goal here is not perfection but maturity – spiritual maturity – then maybe we can hear the whole thing in a much better light. Now let’s go back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon on the Mount takes up three chapters in Matthew’s gospel, but we’ve only had time to do the first chapter of it, chapter 5.
We’ve done it as a four-part series (and today’s the last one). The overarching theme of Jesus’ teaching is about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is nothing less than a full-blown reordering of reality with God and God’s values at the centre. It’s a spiritual orientation that we can be immersed in right here, right now.
I can’t emphasize that enough.
God’s kingdom is not a reward for being good that you get when you die.
It’s a realm and a way of being that is utterly and inescapably enfolded and immersed in God’s Presence and God’s love – here, now.
Jesus is inviting his disciples, his followers, us, into that kingdom, into that love, right at the start of the journey.

In order to describe this realm of abundant life for us Jesus starts with the Beatitudes in which he teaches us, “You have heard it said that power over and self-sufficiency and survival of the fittest are the ways you should live in this world – but I say God calls us to live surrendered, sensitively, gently, justly, being compassionate, with pure intentions, being diplomatic, staying on the path even when facing obstacles.” These are what we called kingdom values.

Then Jesus calls those who inhabit the kingdom of heaven (us) to be salt and light in the world. He teaches that the purpose of living kingdom values by being salty and shiny is so that we might draw others into living kingdom values and being salty and shiny too.
So the first thing we do upon receiving the kingdom is to share it. read on

200209 – But I Say – Transcend

Yr A ~ Epiphany 5 ~ Matthew 5:21-32

I know what you’re thinking: “Is he actually going to preach on murder, anger, indebtedness, adultery, lust, sin, and divorce today?”
Yes he is!
Except, no he isn’t!
Because this text isn’t actually about those things.
Well, it is, but it really isn’t!
How do you like this so far?

Unfortunately, texts like these have been used to argue for all sorts of very unhelpful things, in my opinion. I suspect more than a few of you have been pinched by texts like these.
So I’d like to begin by apologizing for those in my profession who have profoundly missed the point. Preachers have stood in pulpits time after time and railed on and on about how Jesus is telling us what appropriate behaviour is for a follower of his Way.

Except that’s precisely NOT what Jesus is doing.
But preaching on behaviour, and measuring behaviour, and judging behaviour seems so “religious” and it’s so easy to do.
Well, I don’t think Jesus cared two figs for what seemed religious, and he definitely was not about taking the easy road.
In fact, this whole section of the Sermon on the Mount is about taking the hard road, the high road, the road less travelled by.

It’s a text about raising the bar for his followers. If, as you read it, you’re thinking that he raised it too far, that it would be impossible to ever live up to it and he’s dooming us all to failure, I’m going to suggest you’re missing his real point.
And the main reason for that is that we think he’s talking to us, which he is, except he isn’t!

What Jesus is all about here is culture change.
His newly called disciples have lived immersed in a transactional culture of “requirement and reward” or “infraction and fine” where keeping the letter of the law was rewarded and breaking the letter of the law required payments, or sacrifices, or penance of some kind.
In contrast to that Jesus paints a picture of a kingdom of heaven with values that challenge us to go above and beyond the requirements of the letter of the law and live according to a higher standard.
To make his point he uses a classic form of rhetoric called hyperbole. It means he exaggerates for effect. He goes to extremes to underline his message.

This is the part that he’s not talking to us about because we have not lived in that transactional culture.
Sure, we may tend to follow the world’s values of rewarding good rule-followers and punishing those who disobey, and that’s ok as far as it goes, but we’ve never been required to submit to religious purity codes, and make sacrifices of birds or animals to clean our slate.
So the main thing Jesus is doing by using this hyperbolic language is to shock his disciples out of their conventional mindset and get them to begin to reimagine the values they should live by. That’s not our mindset so on the surface the tone of the passage confuses us.

This is crucially important for our understanding of this teaching of Jesus.
Without knowing that we will misinterpret what he’s saying about anger, and lust, and divorce, and think he’s setting impossible standards that we inevitably break and then we feel terrible and beat ourselves up about it.
That is entirely not the point.

The point is about a new mindset for living kingdom values.
And here he brilliantly uses the “You have heard it said…but I say” device. read on

200202 – But I Say – Shine

Yr A ~ Epiphany 4 ~ Matthew 5:13-20

So that. These are two very powerful little words.
So that.
It’s kind of too bad that they’re such small words because if we’re not careful it’s pretty easy to breeze right over them. If you’ve hung around here for a while you’ll know that I think these two little words are among the most important and crucial for understanding Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus is a master at painting word pictures and using parables to come at his meaning sideways because if he came straight on he’d probably ruffle too many feathers with how audacious his message was. Today’s reading isn’t a parable, but it does paint some amazing pictures that are powerful enough to be the whole message but then he zaps us with a “so that” that shows us what his deeper meaning is.

When you say “so that” you’re saying that everything you’ve said previously is the build-up, the groundwork, the foundational concepts that you’re working with. I’m not saying that everything before the “so that” doesn’t matter – in fact, I’m saying the opposite. It matters greatly, because you need a strong theological foundation in order to launch your “so that.” So let’s start with that foundation.

First, we need to set the context. This is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teaching. It’s the first real teaching he did in the gospel of Matthew, and the indications in the text are that at this point he’s still talking to his newly formed inner circle of freshly called disciples.

The Sermon on the Mount began with the Beatitudes which were all about describing Christian values, or more specifically [S] kingdom values – values which stand in stark contrast to the usual conventional wisdom of the world’s values. Last week we underlined how important utter surrender to God is for understanding the kingdom Jesus speaks of and invites us to be immersed in. Kingdom values are about living surrendered, sensitively, gently, justly, compassionately, with pure intentions, being diplomatic, staying on the path even when facing obstacles.

So Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount painting the picture of this kingdom and telling his followers that they don’t have to do a single thing to earn it – that they are already ready to simply open their hand and receive it as they embody those values beginning with surrender to God’s Presence.
And immediately upon telling us that ours is the kingdom of heaven he begins to say how kingdom people should act.
Here’s the kingdom – it’s all yours – now here’s how to live it out.
The Beatitudes explain our inward orientation – this passage explains our outward actions.
Our actions flow from our orientation toward God. We love because we are loved.

Jesus teaches that because the kingdom of heaven is yours you are the salt of the earth! And then he warns us about the dangers of not being salty. Jesus says that because the kingdom of heaven is yours you are the light of the world. And then he warns us about the dangers of hiding our light.
Salt is meant to be salty – lights are meant to shine.
That’s us.

He says that a city on a hill cannot be hidden.
He means us.
If you’re immersed in the kingdom of heaven, because you’re surrendered and striving to embrace kingdom values, then you are salty and lit up and stand out like a city built on a hill in full view of the world.
If you’re salty and lit up people are going to notice.
If Jesus didn’t want people to notice us he’d have told us to be cities hidden strategically away.
But not us – we’re supposed to be visible, living our faith out loud, being noticed.

Now, that flies in the face of our usual self-understanding that as people of faith we’re supposed to be meek, and mild, and self-deprecating, and quiet, and humble. I submit to you that our usual self-understanding is flawed.
You can be salty and shiny without being a jerk about it, but you can’t be salty and shiny hidden away and not causing any fuss.

You are a city on a hill! Be seen!
You are a lamp on a lampstand! Shine.

Matthew 5:15 Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.”

Please notice where the bushel basket that hides the lamp comes from. It comes from us, not someone else. It says nothing of anyone blocking your light or stifling your light. It just says that you’re the light and lamps are meant to be on lampstands and meant to shine, giving light to all in the house.

And here is where we start to find the “so that”! We’re supposed to be salt and light. Absolutely.
Now consider for a moment what salt and light have in common – because on the surface it seems a very strange and unrelated pairing. read on

200126 – But I Say – Blessing

(This is a repeat/revision of a 4-part series I did back in 2017. Hopefully things go deeper with repetition!)

Yr A ~ Epiphany 3 ~ Matthew 5:1-12 (part 1 of 4)

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

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

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

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

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

The very first thing we need to be clear about is what the word blessed means.
If someone is blessed it means that they are enviable because they’ve received God’s favour.
Literally it means to become large, like you do when you receive compliments or affirmation.
And so, as we begin, we instantly hit a landmine because it’s hard to imagine how being ‘poor in spirit’ makes one large, or enviable, or favoured.

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

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

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

The first audiences literally heard “blessed are those bent over and begging” – in spirit.
It means to be bent over like a beggar who knows that their own resources are utterly insufficient for the task at hand.
Beggars are prostrate on the ground throwing themselves at the mercy of the kindness of others.
In other words, to be poor in spirit is to be utterly surrendered to God – utterly open to God’s Presence – utterly accepting of God’s way – utterly trusting in God’s sufficiency.

The kingdom value of utter surrendered-ness completely flies in the face of how we think the world ought to work – fend for yourself, stiff upper lip, try your hardest, climb the ladder, be successful, make money, acquire possessions, never give up, outwit, outplay, outlast, you can do it!

But you can’t earn, or fight, or strive your way into the kingdom of heaven.
You can only receive it.
And you can only receive it if you are surrendered enough to let go of your vice-grip hold on the steering wheel.
There’s a great bumper sticker that asks “Is God/Jesus your steering wheel or your spare tire?” But while that puts God as part of your everyday life, which is good, instead of just being a first aid kit that you reach for in hard times, it doesn’t go far enough. If God’s just the steering wheel…you’re still steering. The metaphor breaks down because you would still be in control – trying to push God around for your own purposes.
That’s not surrendering, and that is not the kingdom of heaven.

This first Beatitude about being poor in spirit is actually probably the only one you need, if you really followed it.
Chances are if you are utterly surrendered to God and God’s way then you’d embody the other kingdom characteristics as well.
And if you can’t get past the first one you don’t have much hope of pulling off the rest.
This following Jesus stuff is hard! read on

200119 – Coy, No Knee! Ah

Yr A ~ Epiphany 2 ~ 1 Corinthians 1:1–9

The year is 0055, the place is the Roman city of Corinth, and the author of the letter we heard quoted today is Paul – church planter extraordinaire. Corinth was a busy cosmopolitan city and the church community that gathered under Paul’s initiative was very diverse – socially, ethnically, economically, spiritually. Christianity was actually radically diverse from the very start – and each planted community of faith had its own style, theology, strengths, and challenges.

So what do you think would prompt Paul to write a letter to this church that he had planted some time earlier? I’d like to tell you it was to congratulate them on their awesomeness (that’s certainly what my letter to you would be about – most days!) – but really he was writing because they were messed up. They’d lost their focus. They had too many divergent ideas about what was most important. They had brought too much of their worldly hierarchy into the church.
In simple terms, they were doing community wrong.

We ain’t them! So I’m wondering, can we read this as positive and without Paul’s cynicism or edge? While he’s probably “damning them with faint praise,” what he’s saying ought to be the ideal. Can we hear it as invitation and encouragement rather than setting up how we’re going to be scolded?
Are you waiting for a scolding? It ain’t coming today!
I’d like to preach this without the big BUT that Paul starts into in the verses after this introductory section.

So let’s have a look at this letter and start with something that seems so obvious it should go without saying, but that we really need to say: for Paul it’s all grounded in Christ! If you did a quick ‘word frequency count’ here you’d see something wonderful. In these short, opening 9 verses Paul uses the word Christ 9 times, Jesus 8 times, God 6 times, and Lord 6 times – all in just 9 verses.

Whatever you hear Paul saying, one thing that’s perfectly clear is that it’s thoroughly and deeply grounded in Christ. Christ, Jesus, God, Christ, Jesus, God – it booms out like a musical ostinato echoing in the air. And remember that this would have been read out loud to the Corinthians, not photocopied or sent as an email – they’d have heard it, heard the words reverberating, heard the holy refrain setting the foundation.
So with Christ, Jesus, and God in the air and in your ears, let’s hear what Paul might have to say to us!

1 Corinthians 1:2-3 “To the church of God that is in Corinth…Courtice(?), to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It was very important to Paul to remind his church that they were not alone. They were (and we are) part of the body of Christ. We are at all times spiritually and mysteriously connected to all those who in every place call on the name of God. Sometimes those connections feel really good, and other times, when we hear of someone going off the rails in the name of Ja-eez-us, we roll our eyes and wish people didn’t associate us with ‘them’. But we are all part of the body, together.

That means that while we’re individuals we can never be individualistic. I try to emphasize the individual’s first-hand personal spiritual experience and growth, but it’s always in the context of being part of the community of faith.
We are individuals together.
The Corinthians forgot that and established a pecking order and it led to trouble.

Verses 4-5 “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…”

That word enriched can also mean fullness/made full. Paul’s giving thanks that the Corinthians have been made full in Christ in every way. I like the sound of that! It sounds deep, and rich, and expansive, and empowering, and life-giving, and wonderful! How have you been made full/enriched in Jesus? (or in faith, or spirit, or whatever word works for you). So Paul is thankful for their fullness!

Or is he being ironic? It’s possible. He might be giving them the gears here. read on

200112 – It’s Always Something

Yr A ~ Epiphany 1 ~ Acts 10:34-43

We need to begin today with some context. Acts chapter 10 is considered by many biblical scholars to be a major turning point both in the Book of Acts itself, and more importantly for the entire Jesus-movement becoming the Christian church.

The chapter begins by describing a Roman Centurion named Cornelius who’s described as a God-fearer (which does not mean to be frightened by God but to be awestruck by God). God-fearers were a category of people who were Gentiles (meaning not Jewish) who hung out at synagogues and participated in the Jewish worship and prayers. They even supported the synagogue financially. They’re somewhat equivalent to what we would call an adherent – someone closely associated with a church but for whatever personal reason have chosen not to take on the full rights and responsibilities of formal membership.

If someone wants to be a formal, full member of this church all they have to do is be baptized and make a public profession of faith. We try to welcome new members a couple of times a year. Sounds simple, right? Well, if you were Cornelius and wanted to join a synagogue it would be a bit more complicated. First you’d need to follow all the Jewish dietary rules and cleanliness rules. But the big one is that you’d also have to be circumcised. Ouch! A bit of a barrier!

And this is why Acts 10 is so pivotal and important. Peter has a vision in which the Spirit of God shows him all kinds of foods and declares that everything made by God is sacred and blessed. Then Peter travels to meet Cornelius and incredibly enters his house!
Why is that incredible? Acts 10:28 Peter says, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

I cannot emphasize enough how remarkable this is. These are major tenets of their religious and theological understanding and identity, and Peter is inspired to let them go in favour of inclusiveness.

Now, Peter certainly has no power to change the rules and requirements for formally joining the Jewish faith – but what he’s challenging in this chapter is the idea that one had to be (or become) Jewish in order to be Christian. We are watching the beginning of a brand new, radically inclusive, culturally diverse church.

The scripture passage we’re focusing on today is pretty straightforward. The bigger message is in the context, but we’ll look at the passage now, especially the first verses. Peter begins by proclaiming in Acts 10:34-35

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who is [awestruck by God’s Presence and love] and does what is right, [follows God’s Way,] is acceptable to God.”

Ok, that’s astounding!
Jesus and his first disciples, including Peter, were all Jewish. They were steeped in Jewish theology and Jewish culture. The Jews were God’s chosen people – set apart, different, blessed, unique, and only by becoming fully Jewish could one share in that chosen-ness and blessedness.
At least, that’s how they used to view it.

So when Peter says, “God shows no partiality” – God shows no favouritism, God is all inclusive and all accepting (assuming one is reverent and faithful) – well, that’s like a theological bomb going off.

Imagine you’re Cornelius hearing that – hearing a religious authority (in your view) telling you that all the barriers to religious participation that you’ve been struggling with perhaps all your life, are now, suddenly, fully and completely gone!

Imagine after being constantly told that you were a second class citizen – that you could never fully belong because of who you were – imagine hearing that you are actually welcome!

Imagine after being referred to as unclean, and deviant, and beyond God’s grace that you are hearing that you are beloved, and blessed, and worthy.

How Cornelius’ heart must have been soaring! The thing he so desperately wanted but was denied to him because of his identity – acceptance, a chance to worship freely and fully, to be seen as lovable – was now his reality.

Three years ago this month we officially launched our journey toward becoming an Affirming church. I pray you can see the parallels to this story of Peter and Cornelius. read on

200105 – Sense, Savour, Share

Yr A ~ Epiphany ~ Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12

An epiphany is a sudden burst of ‘light’ that brings insight, inspiration, clarity, and understanding. It’s a moment of great revelation. If you have an epiphany you see things in a whole new way, in a whole new light. Epiphanies usually come with a smack on the forehead, and wide open eyes, and are often characterized by the word “Aha!”

Our denomination needs to have an epiphany! Our church needs to have an epiphany! Each and every one of us does too.
The epiphany we need is the same one Isaiah spoke of around 2500 years ago, that Matthew’s gospel spoke of with the story of the Wise Guys, that Paul wrote about to the Ephesians in the 0050’s, and that innumerable mystics, poets, priests, and preachers have been on about ever since.

Here’s the epiphany:
there’s a Sacred Light that warms, energizes, renews, and fuels us, and that feels like the fullness of the meaning of the word love – yet most people don’t, won’t, or can’t see it – and for those who can see it their job is to help others see it.

Maybe that doesn’t strike you as such a grand epiphany? But it is!
Having that holy, sacred light ‘dawn’ on you is life-changing! It always has been.
When God’s light dawns, darkness evaporates and lives change.
It was true for Isaiah, the Magi, Paul, and it’s true for us.

I love that turn of phrase, by the way – dawned on you. Dawn always happens, we just don’t always pay attention. Most days we sleep right through it. Or we’re up early running around getting ready for work, or whatever, and we don’t notice it.
Don’t notice it!
So even though dawn always happens it doesn’t always dawn on us!

In the sixth century before Jesus these words were attributed to the prophet Isaiah – chapter 60 verses 1-2:

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.”

Arise! Shine! Awaken! Glow!
God’s light has dawned on you.
You’re engulfed in it.
The world’s in the dark and the people are kind of thick about it, but God’s light is shining around you, on you, and in you.
Sense it. Savour it. Bask in it!
And let it shine through you!

Listen to how that light affected the Magi.
Matthew 2:9-10 “(The Magi) set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”

They saw the star – God’s guiding light – at its rising. “Arise! Shine! Awaken! Glow! For your light has come!”
It moved them from where they were and inspired them to make a spiritual journey, and at the heart of that journey they found that light incarnated in Jesus.
And what was their response? They were overwhelmed with joy!

So, with Isaiah’s epiphanic call to ‘arise and shine’ ringing through the centuries, and Jesus’ life and times emanating still more light into the spiritual world, you’d think we’d never lose sight of it, right?
Well, apparently not, because Ephesians 3 is about Paul explaining it again.

In Ephesians 3:3 Paul speaks of his own epiphany saying “… the mystery was made known to me by revelation.”
Mystery and revelation – two words we need to embrace more fully!

Paul goes on, Ephesians 3:5 “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”

So this mystery has been revealed by the Spirit to tuned-in spiritual people, but as Paul said, “this mystery was not made known to humankind.”
Now, I don’t think he means it was kept from anyone.
God’s light shines. It can do no other.
That humankind couldn’t or wouldn’t see it is another matter.
The only reason humankind hasn’t embraced the Sacred Mystery of the Presence of God is because we’ve been too distracted by all the noisy junk we do.

And that’s exactly where you and I come in! Paul said, Ephesians 3:8-10

“Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to people the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; (and here’s the big part) so that (my favourite biblical words!) so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to everyone, everywhere, even to the heavens.”

So that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to everyone, everywhere, even to the heavens.

Arise! Shine! Awaken! Glow!
Follow the star!
Embrace the mystery!
Share the wisdom of your epiphany!

Have you noticed what you don’t get in all this? Answers!
Light does not shine on the answers; God’s light illuminates the mystery. read on

191222 – Mary’s Story

Advent 4 ~ Luke 1:26-38

If you were here two weeks ago you’ve already heard me go into great detail exploring the questions around how being engaged or betrothed back in Joseph and Mary’s time meant you were legally bound but not yet living together, and how the word virgin simply means a young woman capable of becoming pregnant but who has not yet become pregnant, and how while a classic reading of a miraculous conception is possible, a plain reading of the texts show that Mary’s pregnancy could also have simply been done the usual biological way, and that the angel’s role was about blessing the whole thing. If you want to hear more about that I’d encourage you to go to our website and look up that sermon.

Today I’m not going to go any further into any of that because ultimately, for me and my understanding of the big message that we as people of faith are supposed to take away from this, ultimately all that stuff is a secondary concern – a rabbit hole – a diversion away from something truly important. If you get caught up in the insemination paradox you’ll miss something really, really special.

Generally, we tend to lift Mary’s story onto such a high pedestal and describe it all in a once-in-the-history-of-the-universe kind of way that convinces us that Mary’s story could never happen again.

Instead, I’d like you to consider this mind-boggling alternative: Mary’s story always happens!
Or at least it could always happen, depending on the “Mary”.

If you step back from the particulars of Mary’s pregnancy and look at the story you might see what biblical scholars identify as a classic call narrative.
It’s a pattern found especially in the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) that features a greeting from a manifestation of God’s presence (often an angel – or maybe a burning bush), a startled reaction, an exhortation to “fear not!”, a divine commissioning (God wants you to do such and such), an objection (the classic “Yeah, but…” or “Who me?”), a reassurance (“yes you!”), the offer of a confirming sign that you’re not just dreaming this whole thing, and an, “Ok, I’ll do it!”
That’s a call narrative.

That’s exactly what happened to Mary in this annunciation story – and you can find similar stories about Moses, and Samuel, and Isaiah, and Jonah, and others. I hope you noticed that all the other examples I could think of were men.
So what shall we make of Mary, not just a nobody but a female nobody, getting a call story just like the men? I think, that in an era of such strong patriarchy and subjugation of women that Mary having a call narrative is a monumental theological point.
She’s not just some girl.
She is truly being honoured and favoured.
She is being called by God in a manner that is usually reserved for great prophets.

If you were hearing this story when it was first being told, back in the first century of the Common Era when the church was just starting and these texts were being written, the thing that would surprise and shock you in this story probably wouldn’t be the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy but that it was Mary who was being called. What would’ve shocked them was her ordinariness, her nobody-ness. The conventional wisdom was that God’s Presence hangs out with and commissions important people, not nobodies, right?
Put another way, the surprising thing about this is that Mary could’ve been anybody.
She could’ve been you.

And that’s the power of this story for us.
Mary IS you!
You ARE Mary. read on

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