200503 – The Rolling Stones

Yr A ~ Easter 4 ~ 1 Peter 2:1-10

Even though it’s true that these days I can’t always get what I want, and sometimes no satisfaction, and really just wanna pray that God might gimmie shelter, this sermon is not about what you think it is.
(And if you didn’t get that opening sentence, don’t worry, I was just using that to start me up.)
If you’re still not with me, those are a bunch of song references for a group called the Rolling Stones.

This sermon isn’t about those Rolling Stones – it’s about us – the Rolling Stones!
Well, Peter called them living stones, but it’s pretty much the same.

1 Peter 2:4 says that Jesus is a living stone. On the surface that’s an oxymoron, but I don’t think the metaphor is actually all that difficult to understand. Picture the giant stones of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. They were fixed, thought to be permanent.
But they crumbled!
Jesus taught his disciples that the temple is not the seat of God’s presence in the world – your heart is. It’s about a paradigm shift from a physical reliance on an external spiritual home to being personally built into an internal spiritual home.
Jesus didn’t start a church; he started a movement.
A movement!
Movements move, they’re alive, they ‘roll’.

For those of us who have significant experience in bricks and mortar churches the idea of church being built on fixed stones is pretty (ahem) solid.
But look where we are right now.
This pandemic, and the resultant physical distancing, and the fact that you’re at home right now and not here with me in this physical, bricks and mortar, fixed stone church, is driving home Jesus’ teaching in jarringly vivid ways.
Whether we like it or not we’re rolling!

We’re learning something right now that we’ve never really had to contend with before.
We’re learning how to be the church without the church.
We’re realizing that even though we’re not here together, we’re still here together!
I keep saying this every Sunday – we are still the church, but different. (Thank God?)

Our paradigm for generation upon generation has been about bricks and mortar – about building a physical space for worship, prayer, mutuality, and outreach. Our fixed stones matter. This is a good place. Church buildings aren’t bad – they’re vital. God’s people need a place to gather, and to serve as a launching pad for loving one another and loving the world.

The challenge is that over time our buildings have, not always but far too often, become the point. Too often all our resources – human and financial – get used up just keeping the stones from rolling. (Yes, I mean that on multiple levels.)

I’m not going to sugar coat it – this pandemic is going to result in a great number of church buildings closing. All those places just hanging on will likely be pushed over the edge. It’s sad, and it’s hard.
We keep saying that the church isn’t about the building, it’s about the people. Well, we’re going to find out if we really mean it.
And I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, or that it doesn’t sound too harsh or flippant, but all in all, I’m ok with this.
If this pandemic breaks the stranglehold that fixed stones have on our communities of faith and compels us to reimagine ourselves as living stones, as rolling stones, then, well, I’d call that a blessing.

Church is a people, not a place.
Church is the refuelling station along The Way, not the destination.
Church is who you are, not where you go.

Through this challenging season we’ve discovered that we can do and be church in all kinds of new and creative ‘non-bricks-and-mortar’ ways.
Here we are live-streaming right now and you’re attending church at home, on your couch, in your jammies.
Tomorrow morning we’ll use a platform called Zoom to do our online bible discussion (we call it The Porch).
Wednesday evening I’ll offer praise music and prayer on YouTube.
Thursday morning we’ll have coffee together online.
Our choir can’t sing together, but they still gather for connection on Thursday evenings.
Last Wednesday our Church Work in Durham group started to share ideas for how we can participate in offering compassionate care and love in our community in this season. Our social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, plus our website – have all kinds of posts and links to materials and ideas and inspirations.

These are all ways to access religious, spiritual, faith-formative resources. It used to be you had to physically step inside a church to do all that stuff – now you have access to it on your phone 24/7 wherever you are – because, wherever you are the church is.

Our ancestors imagined that God needed a home on earth, so they built a temple for God.
But obviously, God cannot be contained in a structure. read on

200426 – Character Revealed

Yr A ~ Easter 3 ~ 1 Peter 1:3-9

The scripture passage we’re looking at today is one of those readings that’s filled with all sorts of familiar churchy-sounding words – words that if we’re not careful we can rush right by them and miss not only their profound depth, but also possibly take a very unhelpful message away with us. There are wonderfully uplifting concepts in this passage, and also a couple of land mines. So we will tread carefully!

We begin by saying that God has (verse 3) given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.
God has given us a new birth, a rebirth, to be born again, to be born anew. Literally it means to be re-begotten, or in more familiar language, regenerated. That sounds fantastic.
But, of course, we have to remember that before one can be born anew one has to ‘die’ to what was. We talk about this all the time. In order to open your hand and receive God’s new thing we have to first release our grip on what was and let go of the old thing.
The obvious question arises – is the new thing better? Is letting the old thing go (letting it die) worth it?

New life in Christ isn’t just my old life with a new paint job.
It’s a new life, a new worldview, a reordering of my understanding of the values and priorities of the world – and that has real consequences for my choices and my actions.
We toss out words like renewed life, and born anew, and resurrection (especially about Jesus) but we sometimes forget that the key feature that led to that resurrection was a cross.
We aren’t playing around here. This regeneration-new birth stuff is serious business.
God has given us a new birth (sounds great) into a living hope (I like that) through the resurrection of Jesus – the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Gulp!)
Like I said, we can’t fly through this stuff too quickly or we’ll miss the weight of it.

Perhaps you’re thinking:
“Ok, so I get that I have to let go of what was, die to what was, in order to be born anew into what will be. But, um, what exactly am I being born anew into? I mean, what does this new life look like?”

I’m so glad you asked!

1 Peter 1:3-4 says that we are given a new birth INTO a living hope…and INTO an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

New life in Christ apparently has the character of being a living hope.
A living hope.
What the heck does that mean?
Well, remember that hope as a spiritual concept doesn’t mean wishful thinking but rather a confident expectation and assurance of something God has promised and we trust we’ll receive. And it’s not just a hope, it’s a living hope – like when Jesus described the living water. Living in this sense means to be filled with spiritual awareness and presence, to know spiritual abundance. So we are born anew into this state of having a spirit-infused awareness of and confidence in God’s blessing and God’s kingdom – even if we look around and see that it isn’t fully realized in the world yet.

And that helps make the next part make better sense.
We’re not just born anew into that character of living hope but also into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
What kind of things do we usually inherit? Money, possessions, material things. Things that are perishable, things that fade.
And what kind of things do we inherit upon rebirth into God’s living hope? Things that are imperishable, incorruptible, indestructible, unfading, enduring, perpetual.
Spiritual things. Things of God. Things like love, and blessing, and compassion, and kindness, and selflessness, and shalom.
These are the types of things we inherit. Inherit – as in after a death.

But again, as we look around our world, we see that even though we as followers of the Way of Jesus are born anew and into this glorious living hope that we cannot yet fully enjoy our inheritance because the world hasn’t generally embraced God’s kingdom.
In other words, we’re different but the world ain’t.
And that’s going to cause some problems.

The first problem is that in the beginning of Christianity there was a very real sense that Jesus would be returning in a very tangible way and in the very near future. read on

200419 – Shalom, Peace Be With You

Yr A – Easter 2 – John 20:19-31

Later that same day! (That’s how our reading from John 20 began today.)
It’s evening on the first Easter Sunday – and “the disciples” – maybe 10, probably more, maybe all of Jesus’ followers – are hiding in a locked room for fear of the authorities.
They’re afraid about what they should do, where should they go, how should they live.
They’d put all they had into following Jesus and now they’re afraid that it was all for nothing.
They’re broken, disheartened, miserable, defeated, scared, defensive, and their dream is dead.

Put yourself in the story as John’s gospel tells it. They must be an absolute mess.
On Thursday they were having dinner together, by the next night their friend and leader – whom they’d given up everything for – was captured, tried, convicted, and was executed in the most brutal manner imaginable – crucifixion.
And on Saturday, the Sabbath, God’s day, yesterday, all they could do was sit in sadness and grief – hurt, lost, defeated.
And then that very morning – just 12 hours before – Peter and John stood in the empty tomb and Mary says she actually talked to Jesus.

How does your brain wrap itself around all that?
Can you imagine how they spent that Sunday? 12 hours of wondering what happened to his body? “Is Mary crazy? Might he actually be alive? But we watched him die?!”

And then, right there in the middle of that locked room, Jesus – their dead friend – suddenly appears out of nowhere – right before their eyes.
Was there a sound? Angels singing? The Hallelujah Chorus ringing out?
A huge whoosh and flash of lightning and smoke like in the movies?
A bright light maybe?
Whatever it was, picture the disciples in that room – one’s screaming his head off – another’s eyes are bulging out of their sockets – 2 over there start babbling like fools – that one’s legs have just given out – and very likely, more than a few fainted.
And Jesus says “Shalom – Peace be with you”.
Peace.
Shyeah right.
A dead guy appears in the middle of a locked room – peace is the last thing I’m thinking of.

But it’s not some dead guy – it’s not a ghost – it’s the Risen Christ!
And peace he does bring – and they stop screaming and babbling, they wake up, stand up, put their eyes back in and they ARE at peace.
Then he shows them his wounds, just so they’ll know it’s really Jesus – and they are overjoyed.
Joy!
“Jesus isn’t dead! He’s alive. He’s been raised up. But how? I don’t even care, I just know that he’s standing right here in front of us. This is wondrous!”

(John 20:21-23) Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

It’s sad that we can’t hear that “breathed on them” part today and not cringe! Nobody oughtta be breathing on anybody these days! But let’s set that aside and hear it for what it really means.

Jesus says for a second time, “Shalom. This is Peace. My peace I give you. Receive the Holy Spirit. I’m sending you like Abba sent me. Teach what I have taught you – live the Way I lived – love the Way I loved – accept people for who they are – let them know that God loves them and that whatever they think stands between them and God is only a barrier for them – it’s already forgiven – invite them to turn back to God and embrace a deeper, fuller, truer love than they have ever known – the only thing that stands between God’s love and them is them. Peace be with you. I am with you! Go and live – Go and love!”

At least that’s how I imagine it went.
I can’t say exactly how it all went down, but somehow in that upper room they experienced Jesus coming back and breathing the Holy Spirit upon his followers – and they were commissioned – given the authority to be Christ for others. They were breathed upon – they were brought back to life – they were resurrected!
Like in the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones where the Holy Spirit of God is breathed into a field full of dead, dry bones – the metaphorical people of Israel – and God’s spirit brings them back to life – to new life.

I wonder – did Jesus just disappear or did he hang around and chat?
If he stayed, what do you think they talked about?
And if he disappeared, what do you think the disciples said next?
Imagine the scene. You’ve just had a supernatural encounter with a guy you saw die 2 days ago, and now he’s commissioning you and breathing new life and the Holy Spirit into you.
How long did they just sit there and stare at each other trying to take it all in?
Peace be with you indeed!

It also doesn’t say what happened in the intervening week. read on

200412 – Nothing and Everything

Yr A ~ Easter Sunday ~ Matthew 28:1-10

Whenever I have a bible study group, after starting with prayer we read the scripture passage out loud. Usually people in the circle have different translations or versions of the bible so there’s always a variety of ways of saying things that may be different from what each person has in front of them.
After the reading, before we dive in and explore each verse, I always ask the same first question: Does anything grab you as you hear this today? Because there’s always something in the reading that leaps off the page and captures your attention. It might be an affirmation, or a question that arises, or a disagreement or challenge you might have with this or that verse – but usually it’s just something that you didn’t notice before, but for some reason in this go-round you noticed it.

That happened for me as I was working on this Easter message.

I know that theologically I’m supposed to notice that it’s women and not Jesus’ 12 named disciples who are there. Of course, the women were disciples too, but they don’t get described that way in scripture. It’s theologically really important though, that Jesus’ resurrection is first witnessed and experienced by women, and not men, or powerful people, or religious authorities. These women also become the first evangelists – the first who share the news of Jesus’ rising.

I’m also supposed to notice that in Matthew’s telling we get to watch the angel roll the stone away right in front of the Roman guards while in the other gospels the opening of the tomb happens in different ways, with different characters present (or not).

And that in Matthew the disciples don’t experience Jesus in a locked upper room, but back in Galilee on a mountainside – presumably the same mountainside where it all started with the Sermon on the Mount. So there’s a lovely ‘full circle’ thing going on.

All of those are great sermon topics for the resurrection story in Matthew – but none of those are what leapt off the page and caught my attention. What grabbed me was the description of the emotions of the 2 Marys as they were processing all this.

Matthew 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Fear and great joy.
Yes, that’s it exactly. That perfectly captures how I’m feeling about Easter this year.
Fear and great joy.

The great joy part is obvious. It’s Easter! Jesus is risen. (He is risen indeed!)
After all the hard work and heavy theological lifting we’ve done through the Season of Lent, our bewildered journey through the wilderness, after all the weightiness of Holy Week – the betrayal story, the arrest, the trial, the beatings, the crucifixion, the agony of the cross, and yes, Jesus’ death and burial – and then the deathly silence of Saturday – after all that, finally we arrive on Easter Sunday and we get to sing “Hallelujahs!” and we rejoice at his resurrection.
That’s joy!

As the women were running from the tomb that first Easter morning they were experiencing joy and fear.
Suddenly, Jesus meets them, and he says, “Greetings!” But it’s much more than just “hello.” The Greek word means to rejoice – to delight in God’s grace.
They have fear and joy, and the first thing Jesus says to them is “Rejoice!” – and as the women fall at his feet, awestruck, the second thing he says is, “Do not be afraid!”
The angel said that to them too, but they needed to hear it again. (And again.)

And we need to hear it again and again too. Do not be afraid.
Because we are afraid. read on

200410 – Good Friday Reflection – Look At It

Look at it.

It’s such a simple device, one shorter horizontal beam fastened at a right angle to a longer vertical beam.

It’s made of wood so the materials are plentiful.

It was effective both as a tool and a symbol.

As a tool it was used to execute people who had crossed the Roman occupiers.

As a symbol it stood menacingly along the roadside reminding all of the awful power of the oppressor.

It’s a device of torture and suffering designed to kill agonizingly slowly.

Its purpose was to degrade and humiliate a person utterly, to reduce them to a non-person.

 

Look at it.

The cross we see is empty, clean, idealized.

It has been transformed from a symbol of death to a symbol of new life.

It has been glorified and mythologized and sanitized.

Sanitized.

A word we’re hearing and understanding far more deeply these days.

These days, where every day feels a bit like Good Friday in some ways.

But that draws our focus away from the cross.

And the cross deserves, demands our focus today.

 

We casually wear it as jewellery and embrace it as a promise of renewal.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

It is absolutely that.

The empty cross and the empty tomb are our ultimate symbols of life.

 

But they are only symbols of life because they became empty.

They didn’t start that way.

The tomb had a body in it.

The cross held a man aloft.

There is no symbol of new life without the harsh reality of a death that preceded it.

 

That’s why we gather today – to pause, and reflect, and to never allow ourselves to forget that this is really real.

Jesus really was nailed to that thing.

Jesus really did die an agonizingly slow death.

It wasn’t pretty.

It wasn’t clean.

And it wasn’t good.

There was nothing good about that Friday.

 

Good Friday is a terrible name for today.

It almost feels insultingly sarcastic.

The only way we can see it as good is to look back upon it in the full light of Sunday and know that something very good came from it.

But that day itself?

Not good.

 

We are an Easter people, but we couldn’t become that without Friday – without the cross.

No, we didn’t put Jesus on the cross.

No, you are not responsible for his death.

No, God didn’t punish him in your place.

 

That is hateful theology.

That is not God.

 

Did Jesus choose this death?

That’s a complicated question.

Did he plot and scheme a way to draw attention to himself and make himself a martyr for God?

No.

But did he know that a cross was waiting for him should he continue on the path he was blazing?

Likely.

 

Look at it.

See Jesus on it.

Did it hurt him to die that way?

Of course it did!

But his death would have been much longer, and slower, and more painful if he sold out, if he turned his back on God’s way, if he took the path of less resistance and traded what was right for what was easy.

That is a much worse death.

That, is hell.

 

Jesus was nailed to that cross because his unflinching commitment to loving God, loving people, and loving his disciples ran him afoul of both the religious and political authorities of his day.

Jesus was killed because society values power over communion, control over compassion, and individuality over connectedness.

If we don’t engage the world differently maybe we are responsible for his death.

 

Look at it.

It’s such a simple device, one shorter horizontal beam fastened at a right angle to a longer vertical beam.

The vertical grounded in the earth and reaching for the heavens.

The horizontal stretching out like two arms embracing the world.

 

How can such a simple device have such depth of meaning?

How can it evoke such a powerful response in us?

How can it be both death and life at the same time?

 

Perhaps it’s those questions and the thousand other questions that race through our minds about God and God’s Way that are the real power of the cross.

Perhaps the point is the deep breath and the pang in our gut when we contemplate it.

Perhaps it’s the stark reminder that new life must be preceded by some kind of dying.

Perhaps it reminds us to trust God’s light in the face of abject darkness.

 

Perhaps that’s why we call this day “Good”.

200409 – Maundy Thursday Reflection – Just Like Them

Just Like Them

I think maybe this year more than any other we can actually understand the depth of the feelings that were swirling around that upper room dinner table so long ago.

Just like them, we’ve gathered tonight for a spiritual purpose, to re-enact a foundational religious ceremony, to connect ourselves with our faith tradition in a tangible way, and yet we find ourselves distracted and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond our control – just like them.

Just like the disciples must have felt that night during the Passover festival with the occupying and oppressing Romans everywhere, and the people fearful for their lives.

Gee, can anyone relate to that?

 

So what do we do? Turn to Jesus, obviously.

He’s our leader, our teacher, our inspiration, our friend.

Surely Jesus will guide us through this!

And what does Jesus do? He washes their feet.

 

We lose some of the meaning of this because foot washing is alien to us. We don’t automatically have our feet washed by a host when we enter their home. They did. It was common and expected.

(Now we don’t go to anyone’s house, and we wouldn’t wash our feet we’d wash our hands – but I digress.)

The thing is, a servant, a ‘lower class’ worker (so to speak) would do the foot washing. Not the host. Not the leader. Not the…king.

 

Instead of calming their frayed nerves Jesus flips their understanding upside down (again) and challenges them to go and do likewise. Be as one who serves. Even if you’re…important.

 

And the disciples must’ve been thinking, “So now I’m fearful about what’s happening out there and confused by what’s happening in here. But that’s ok. Jesus is here. He won’t let us down.”

 

In the midst of the meal Jesus pauses and asks us to consider the food before us. As we look at it he tells us that this food, this every day, three times a day, regular, ordinary, homey kind of stuff is actually infused with Spirit, and meaning – if we choose to notice. He says to take that food and while you eat, while you’re savouring the flavor, while you’re doing what keeps you alive – remember.

Remember Jesus and his teaching.

Remember Jesus and his world-inverting kingdom values.

Remember Jesus and his servant heart.

Remember that it’s all about love – loving God, loving neighbour, loving one another. Remember that that food, all food, can represent Jesus’ body, the body of Christ, the physical enacting of his Way.

Remember.

And so we ate – just like them – and remembered.

 

And then he has us look at our drink – his was probably wine, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just what was on the table. So look at what’s on your table, in your glass – and remember.

Remember Jesus and his spirituality.

Remember Jesus and his passion.

Remember Jesus and his unrelenting commitment to his vision of loving-kindness.

Remember that that drink, all drink, can represent Jesus’ life-blood, the spirit of Christ, the spiritual immersion in his Way.

And so we drank – just like them – and remembered.

 

And then, just as we were starting to feel a little relaxed, and we’d forgotten some of the clamour of that oppressive world outside our doors while we huddle inside in safety – just then he said it.

One of you will betray me.

How would you react? Just like them, probably.

“Who me? You couldn’t mean me! I would never…”

 

But the truth is, while we’d all like to just point to Judas and say, “No, it’s just him! That Judas!” – the truth is, if we didn’t think it might just be us too, we wouldn’t have been defensive and objected so loudly. Just like them.

 

I don’t think Jesus was trying to shame Judas, or any of the disciples – and not us either.

I think he was just naming a hard spiritual truth.

Following his Way, living God’s kingdom values, without compromise, is very, very hard to do. It demands so much. And at some point, some sooner, some later, some maybe never, all probably at some point – fall short, compromise, turn away, deny – just like them.

Not that we want to.

Not that we’re bad disciples.

Not that we don’t have faith. We do.

It’s just that we’re, well, learning.

So much to learn. Just like them.

 

After dinner that night things went from uncomfortable to terrible.

Jesus is betrayed and arrested – for calling out injustice, for daring to offer an alternative worldview that wasn’t based on individualistic greed and power, for loving too much.

Apparently the most subversive and dangerous thing a person can do is to wash someone’s feet and invite people to infuse every aspect of their lives with remembrance of God’s Presence and God’s Way.

Apparently seeing the sacredness in every person and every place, and demanding we actually treat ALL people and places as sacred cuts too deeply into the bottom line.

And, apparently, staying true to that kind of worldview demands our all.

All.

And we can’t wrap our brains around why that’s so.
Just like them.

 

So we’re left with only Jesus’ challenging commandment – to love one another.

How wonderful that we have so simple a way to remember this – just by eating and drinking – not just in a fancy church ritual – but in every bite, and every sip, every day.

 

Sustenance like that will help us as we rise from the table and go out and face the oppression and struggle outside our doors – as Jesus lives out the consequences of loving so deeply and fully.

And we’ll do so, despite our discomfort, and despite how hard it is, just relying on our faith in Jesus and his Way, no matter what.

Even through the horrors that await tomorrow.

Because we’re disciples.

Just like them.

 

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.
Shocking!

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

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