191215 – Zechariah’s Story

Yr A ~ Advent 3 ~ Luke 1:5-25

Today we get the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were the parents of John the Baptizer. Next week we’ll look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, who right after she became pregnant went to visit Elizabeth, her cousin. Today’s scripture takes place 6 months or so prior to that. I’ll be focusing on Zechariah today, who doesn’t really have anything directly to do with the story of Jesus’ birth, but Zechariah does serve as the embodiment of Advent waiting.

The story begins by establishing that both Zechariah and Elizabeth are faithful and righteous people who come from good family lines. Unfortunately, they were never blessed with children (which was a significant cultural piece for folks then), and now they are “getting on in years” – the implication being that they’re beyond the usual window for baby-making.

Zechariah was a priest who lived in the hill country. The way it worked was that there was a rotating schedule of priests who took turns going to the big city of Jerusalem to serve in the Temple there for a couple of weeks at a time, then they’d go back home. The story picks up with him taking his turn at the Temple.

As it happened, he was selected to be the priest who would go into the inner sanctuary of the Temple to offer incense. This was a big deal and a great honour – a once in a lifetime kind of thing for a priest. It even says how the people were outside praying during this, which underlines how it was seen to be a very important and holy event. You could say that Zechariah was about to have his highest “achievement” as a priest. He would likely never again be given this opportunity, and he was about to enter what was, for him, the holiest place he could ever be in. Needless to say, he is primed and pumped, ready for a great spiritual experience – and man, does he get one!

Suddenly an angel appears and he’s terrified. The angel says, Luke 1:13-17
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.

He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

How would you react?
I mean, first of all you’re completely overwhelmed by the whole experience, there’s a manifestation of the Presence of God before you, and it’s telling you that even though you and your partner are old and have never been able to have children that now you’re going to have one, and not only that the kid’s gonna grow up to be a major influencer in your religion.
Standing there in that moment, how would you respond?

Luke 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “Sh’yeah right!”
(I may be paraphrasing a bit!)

Well, I guess Gabriel the angel didn’t think that was all that funny, and he gets a little testy!

Luke 1:19-20 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

And the moral of the story is that if an angel appears to you it’s best not to tick them off!
Because Zechariah doubted the blessing of the angel he’s struck mute until it all comes to pass. He leaves the sanctuary after having been in there much longer than was expected, and the people outside (remember, they’re the ones who were praying all through this) can tell just by looking at him that he’s had a significant spiritual experience.
Have you ever looked at someone who had a glow about them? That was Zechariah!
He couldn’t talk, but his face was apparently speaking volumes!

Then when his time of service ended he went back home, and sure enough Elizabeth becomes pregnant. With echoes of Abraham and Sarah we have an older couple somewhat miraculously, or at least unexpectedly, producing a child.
I find it amusing to think that Zechariah had to go home and try to explain to Elizabeth everything that had happened, and to persuade her to, well, you know, without being able to speak.

So, that’s the reading with a bit of explanation.
I’d like to draw three things out of this that I hope will give us something to ponder as we draw nearer to Christmas. read on

191208 – Joseph’s Story

Yr A ~ Advent 2 ~ Matthew 1:18-25

I must confess that I am fascinated by the character of Joseph as written in the Gospel According to Matthew. I’m going to spend the next few minutes diving deeply into who he was and why I think his story is so important. I’ll say a few things that will likely upset and frustrate some of you. That’s how theology works. And while I’m potentially dismantling some long-standing interpretations of some of our most sentimentally tender texts it’s not with any expectation that my interpretation should replace it for all time. All theology must be challenged – both the classic versions and my contemporary innovations (which aren’t really all that innovative, nor unique, but they still will come across as provocative to many faithful folks). And so, with all that jibber-jabber out of the way, let’s get to it.

There is absolutely nothing in the text of Matthew’s gospel that says that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, and that is my belief.
There’s also nothing in the text that precludes an immaculate conception – so if that’s your thing, this scripture could be interpreted to support that.
However, it can also plainly be interpreted to not support it.
So it becomes a matter of one’s theology. I come down on the side of Joseph as Jesus’ actual, biological father. And here’s why I think that really matters.

It matters because it makes the story real instead of a fairy tale, or like one of the many ancient myths circulating at the time of Jesus in which heroic figures (like Moses, or David) were assigned miraculous conception stories.
It matters because it makes the characters human instead of idealized fictions.

We’ve all seen dozens of movies or Christmas pageants in which the story of Jesus’ conception is portrayed, and just about all of them show Mary, filled with angst, coming to Joseph with the news of a miraculous pregnancy, and Joseph flying off the handle in anger and then eventually coming to terms with it and stoically helping Mary through it all. It’s very powerful, dramatic stuff – and it’s pure fiction.
None of that is actually in the scripture.

In Luke’s gospel, Mary is visited by an angel who announces her pregnancy. To interpret that as the angel actually impregnating her is both a leap, and more than a little creepy. And if God just snaps God’s fingers and she’s pregnant then that profoundly diminishes Jesus’ humanity.

In Luke, Joseph is mentioned a grand total of two times around the birth narrative – once to say he was engaged to Mary who was expecting a child, and once to say he was with her at the manger. That’s it. No big dramatic encounter.

In Matthew’s gospel the news also happens in an offhand and very undramatic way.

Matthew 1:8 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Again, that’s it.
All that wonderful angsty stuff in those biblical movies is just not there.
It makes for a great story, but it’s not based at all in scripture.
So let’s look carefully at what’s actually in the scripture passage, and as we do I hope we’ll get a much deeper appreciation for Joseph, and a fresh perspective on an old tale.

First, we have to deal with the infamously misinterpreted words – engaged, and virgin.
Today, to be ‘engaged’ means to declare an intention to make the relationship legally binding in the future. It’s a declaration of an intention. “Let’s get engaged – we’ll make it legal someday!” For us, we aren’t legally married until we do the ceremony, say the words, and sign the license.

Not so in Jesus’ time.
The engagement, more properly called a betrothal, was a legally binding thing. To become betrothed the groom (or his family) would make a symbolic journey to the bride’s home to pay the bride’s family a dowry to secure the bonding of the families. Marriage was very much a transaction, and sadly, women were not afforded the same rights and powers as men. Upon payment the couple was legally betrothed and breaking a betrothal was essentially a divorce, and it incurred penalties and shame.

Here’s the part many of us may not know. read on

191201 – Generations

Yr A ~ Advent 1 ~ Matthew 1:1-17  (see below for a fantastic video/song version of Matthew’s Begats by Andrew Peterson)

I’m betting you’ve never heard a sermon based on the begats in Matthew’s gospel, and have certainly never had those begats sung to you! So why are you being treated to this today? Every December the whole world is in preparation mode for Christmas, but the church insists on being in anticipation mode.
For us, rightly, Christmas doesn’t begin until the 25th and then lasts for 12 days until Epiphany. We’re just getting started as the world is wrapping Christmas up (get it?).

So instead of waiting until after Christmas to talk deeply about the story of Jesus’ birth I’ve chosen to dive in deep for the whole month. No, that doesn’t mean we’ll sing any more Christmas carols before the 24th. Sorry. It means instead of us wading into ancient prophecies and ‘apocalyptic darkness in need of light’ this year, (which is the usual lectionary fare), we’re just going to look at the heart of the story itself. I’m going to do it through a series of character studies. Next week we’ll talk about Joseph, Jesus’ dad. The week after that we’ll look at Zechariah’s story – he’s the father of John the Baptizer. Then on the Sunday before Christmas we’ll talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus. That leaves Jesus’ story for Christmas Eve.

Now, how shall we prepare for all of these character studies? By looking at where they all came from. And so we turn to the first words in Matthew’s gospel and examine this long list of generations of Jesus’ ancestors.

The writer of Matthew’s gospel had one overarching purpose – to persuade everyone that Jesus was the Messiah promised by scripture. So every single chance Matthew gets to show Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, Matthew takes. In this case it’s not so much a prophecy as a lineage. If Jesus is Messiah he must be connected to King David – so out comes the family tree.

I’ve just used two different expressions – lineage and family tree – but the Greek word used in Matthew 1:1 is geneseos – which is literally translated as genesis. Sound familiar? It’s supposed to.
Isn’t Matthew clever that within the first words of this gospel we have a direct connection to the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures – the book of Genesis. Like I said, that’s Matthew’s goal – make the connections.

So, the genesis of Jesus is found in his ancestors. And so we get the begats. It’s too bad that word has fallen out of usage because it’s a really fun word. Begat! The song version of this reading was fun, but it left out the most significant verse for understanding how this all fits together.

That verse is Matthew 1:17 – There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, another fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and yet another fourteen from the Babylonian exile to Christ.

There are lots of theories about why the 14 generations thing was used. This is my favourite, and the one I think is most persuasive. Remember how Matthew’s primary goal is to make a case for Jesus being the promised Messiah. If you like numbers you’re going to love this.

The book of Daniel 9:24–27 states that ‘seventy weeks of years’, meaning 490 years, would pass between the restoration of Jerusalem after the Exile and the coming of the Messiah.
Since generations were commonly placed at 35 years, this means exactly 14 generations. (14×35=490).
Connecting back from the Exile to David, and then back to put Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Jesus’ family tree only makes the case stronger.

Now, if you are a persnickety person and insist on things like scientific accuracy and attention to detail, and you were to painstakingly comb through the history of all this you’d discover that Matthew actually missed a few generations in the list, and that the last collection is only 13 generations and not 14.
Thankfully, we’re not biblical literalists so we don’t have to watch our heads explode as we do theological gymnastics to explain that all away.

The truth is, it just doesn’t matter. What matters is that Matthew is desperately trying to tell us a story, not give us a scientific lesson.
It’s a story about family, about connection with one’s roots, and about how that story is both embedded as part of our past and projected as part of our future.
And that makes this a story about hope.

I think that’s why we do genealogies. They’re very popular these days. read on

191117 – Testify

Yr C ~ Pentecost 23 ~ Luke 21:5-19

I don’t know why apocalyptic writing is so popular with some people. You know, all that end of the world stuff. People always seem to be looking for mysterious and miraculous signs and wonders to convince them that something big and spiritual is happening. Or maybe it scares people and that somehow motivates them to pay attention or to change. Even Jesus gets on board with his wars, and insurrections, and famines, and plagues bit. But he doesn’t dwell on them. In fact, he says that even before any of those things happen that his followers will have to face something far more risky. And he meant us too.

Jesus is saying that we don’t need to wait for the world to be in cataclysm to act. Or maybe he’s trying to say, “Just look around. When isn’t the world having wars and famines and plagues? You don’t need to wait for signs. They’re already everywhere.”

Jesus is asking us to do something really important here. He’s asking us to realize that our religion is not totally wrapped up in bricks and mortar. And he wants us to imagine (Luke 25:6) that a day will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.

They were talking about the Jerusalem Temple – but I think it’s a powerful exercise for us to imagine our churches crumbling too.

Now, for Jewish people the idea that the Temple would fall was truly cataclysmic! For them, it was far more than a church to worship in. It was the centre of their identity as a people. Churches are deeply important for us – and the Temple was exponentially more so for them.

We need to pause here and understand the time line, because it’s really important. Jesus did his itinerant preacher thing in the early 0030s. The Temple was destroyed and brought crashing to the ground by the Romans in the year 0070. And the Gospel of Luke was probably written in the year 0085. So while this scene in Luke 21 takes place with Jesus and the disciples standing outside the beautiful Temple imagining it destroyed, the audience hearing Luke’s gospel didn’t have to imagine it. It was done. It was destroyed 15 years earlier.

Now, you can get into a debate about whether Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple, or whether Luke just wrote it in to make Jesus look better, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you take the time to think about how drastically your approach to religion might change if your temple, your church, was gone.

As people of Faith United you don’t have to imagine at all. This place exists because faithful people let go of their bricks and mortar and threw in together to create this new place almost 23 years ago. The previous churches weren’t destroyed, they were sold – but they still had to be left behind. Unless you’re under the age of 23 you couldn’t have grown up here – so you’ve left churches behind too. I honestly think this is one of the reasons this place is so healthy and faithful. It’s because you’ve experienced letting go of bricks and mortar before, and you have had to imagine a life of faith in a new way.

That is what Jesus wanted his disciples to figure out.
It ain’t about the building.
It’s about the mission and ministry.
It’s about loving God, loving people, and loving one another.
It’s not about loving bricks and mortar.
That doesn’t mean that buildings don’t matter. God’s people need a place to hang out.
It just means that the building is not the thing.
That is a concept that our denomination desperately needs to contend with in a serious way.

I have this kidding/not kidding thing where I say that my fondest dream is that I will wake up one morning (this is a little dark) and I’ll discover that every single United Church building in the entire denomination has mysteriously been blown up.
That’s my dream.
If one church burns down or is flooded out or something it’s tragic, and the community rallies together, and we rebuild it. But if every single building was instantly gone – yes including this lovely place – then we wouldn’t just rebuild.
We’d have a huge conversation about where the body of Christ needs to be centred for a given community in order for God’s people to love, love, love in that time and place.

The vast majority of our current churches were built in a ridiculously different era and served decidedly different sets of needs. Oh how I’d love it if we could start again. It could never happen, of course, and if it does happen one night I hope they won’t be able to track the rented van or the balaclavas back to me!

I’m not saying we don’t need buildings. We do.
We just don’t need as many as we have, and in too many cases we don’t need them where they are.
In fact, you might say that in a way our churches are already crumbling.
Many, many churches have moved to part time ministers because they don’t have the financial resources to pay a full time salary.
And many, many churches have fewer and fewer members to share the load of keeping the building functioning so all the energy in a place goes to keeping the lights on instead of the mission and ministry of the people. Statisticians are projecting possible zero-member dates of 30 years from now. Yikes!

So, like Jesus, I’m asking us to imagine there was not one stone left upon another.
And I’m asking us to focus on what we think is important about church, and to talk about it.

That’s exactly what you did last month at the stewardship coffee parties. Well, not the blowed up church part, but the ‘what’s important’ part. Some of you even stood up here on Sunday mornings and told the whole church what you thought was important about your faith, and your Faith(!), and why the mission and ministry of this church is valuable to you.
You did exactly what Jesus asked his disciples to do.
You testified!

Luke 21:12-13 Jesus said, “But before all [the end of the world stuff] occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.

First, why are Jesus’ followers getting arrested? What is so dangerous about this message of love, love, love? I mean, has anyone ever looked at you when you told them you attend church and thought that made you dangerous somehow? We don’t get arrested – we get eye rolls.

This is another one of those things where Jesus is talking in 0033 but Luke is talking to 0085 people who were actually being persecuted. It was partly because the Temple had fallen and the Jewish faith became centred in the local synagogues, and there the followers of Jesus represented a divergent faction that threatened the peace and good order of the synagogue. Plus, you had Jesus’ world-inverting message of the Kingdom of God in which the conventionally rich and powerful were threatened by Jesus’ teaching of equality and respect and values. So yes, the teachings of Jesus are dangerous. And maybe if we’re never viewed as dangerous, well, perhaps we’re doing it wrong! read on

191110 – Knickers In A Knot

Yr C ~ Pentecost 22 ~ Luke 20:27-38

Today I’m going to quickly do some unpacking and interpreting of the text and then I’m going to take us somewhere risky. And hopefully by the end you all won’t have your knickers in a knot! The text is actually pretty straightforward, but it rarely gets preached.

Luke 20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question.

The Sadducees were a group of religious leaders who had oversight of the Temple. They strictly adhered to only the first five books of the Jewish scriptures, known as the Torah, or the Pentateuch. That meant they didn’t hold the teachings of the prophets as authoritative, and that meant that they didn’t believe in the resurrection – which was, in Jesus’ time, a pretty widely accepted theological concept.

Luke 20 is a chapter in which all manner of religious authorities seem to line up to challenge Jesus’ theology, so it’s only natural that the Sadducees get their shot. And they fail. Spectacularly. They come at Jesus with a ridiculous challenge and he more or less just shrugs them off and dismisses the premise of their question.

They ask him about something called ‘levirate law’ which was the standard Jewish practice that if a woman was widowed it was the law that one of her husband’s brothers had to take her as a wife if she had not borne any children, because that would threaten the family line so children needed to be produced. And yes, I know that sounds horribly patriarchal and treats women as property, but that was the hard reality in those days. Women had few rights, and laws like this actually offered a measure of protection for a woman.

The Sadducees paint a picture of a woman who went through all seven brothers of a family and never produced a child with any of them.
If it was a musical it would be called ‘1 Bride for 7 Brothers’ – not very catchy!
I’m thinking if I’m brother number 4 or 5 or 6 I’m getting increasingly nervous – but nonetheless, that’s the hypothetical situation Jesus is challenged with. She had 7 husbands who all died. When she dies, whose wife will she be in heaven?

And so here’s the tender part. I need you to hear me out through the whole thing, and not tune out after the first part.
Jesus’ answer is that their question is ridiculous because the whole husband and wife thing doesn’t really exist in the afterlife.

Luke 20:35-36 (In the resurrection, people) neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.

One of our common things to express and cling to when one of our loved ones dies is to say that we’ll see them again in heaven. Or when the second person of a couple dies we say things like “they’re finally together again.”
I don’t want to take that away from us.
Yes, absolutely, I believe we are reunited with our loved ones in the afterlife. But it’s not like it’s just a repeat of life here just with better lighting and bigger TV screens. The afterlife is, according to Jesus, something of another order entirely. Jesus says that resurrection life is qualitatively different than life here. He says we’re more like angels and children of God than we are like people who would enter into marriages.

Now, here’s the important part.
That doesn’t mean we stop being who we are. I don’t for a second think that we lose our identity and become a nameless, faceless, nondescript angel singing anonymously in the 42nd row of the celestial choir.
No, I firmly believe that the deepest and most important parts of who we are remain with us – but our entire realm and manner of existence is utterly transformed.

I hope that doesn’t poke too hard at some of your treasured ways of looking at things. And this is maybe the reason why this text doesn’t get preached very often. It’s not because it’s hard to understand; it’s because it pokes hard at what is called our embedded theology – how we’ve ‘always’ thought about something – and that can be very uncomfortable.

When you take your embedded theology (and we all have some) and put it up against things like how we do church, or how a church views something, we can have a recipe for huge conflict. That’s another reason why this passage rarely gets preached. It invites us to look hard at conflict, and wrestle with those things that provoke us.
And that tends to get our knickers in a knot.
And that tends to get preachers in trouble!

For example, let’s just quickly think about some hot button issues that have torn churches apart.
I’m thinking about stuff like interracial marriage, or allowing divorced people to be full members, or (gasp) the ordaining of women! We all shrug our shoulders because those things are non-issues for us. But once upon a time each of those issues was highly divisive and caused huge conflicts in churches.

What about things like the baptism of infants?
Or what’s going on with the bread and wine at communion?
Or how about kids taking part in communion. Many of you probably remember times when kids were sent out of church at communion time. Now we bring them back in just so they can participate. That’s a pretty significant theological shift – and it caused some pretty significant knicker twisting in its day.
But we’ve moved beyond all that, right? read on

191103 – Life and Limb

Yr C ~ Pentecost 21 ~ Luke 19:1-10

So, how exactly does this work? I’m Zacchaeus. I’m a rich guy. I’m not loved, perhaps even hated by some, but I have status, and power, and means. My family is well provided for. I’m living the good life, such as it was ca. 0032. Why on earth would I find myself running down a road and clamouring up a tree, humiliating myself and risking everything I had – just to get a better look at some wandering preacher who was making some waves? What would possess me to do such a thing? What would move me from lounging in my pipe and slippers to venture out on a limb such as this?

Perhaps it was because life as a despised tax collector was harder than it appeared? He was, after all, not just a run of the mill no-good-dirty-rotten-scoundrel-tax-collector but a ‘chief’ tax collector! – which probably made him seem even worse.

Maybe having people mutter insults and avert their eyes from you wears thin after a while and starts to poke at your soul.

Perhaps it was because despite having riches there was something missing from his life that he couldn’t quite put his finger on but he knew was amiss.

Maybe the good life isn’t all that good if all the music kinda sounds out of tune.

Perhaps having everyone know your name isn’t as meaningful and rewarding as actually being known by people for who you really are inside, not just the job you do, or your reputation.

Maybe having an overabundance of stuff can’t compensate for not having people to enjoy it with.

We all make our choices. And we all choose for our own reasons. And sometimes those reasons make all sorts of sense, and we make all sorts of compromises, and we find ourselves, well, kinda lost – even if we got what we thought we wanted, or thought we needed.

I have no idea what was actually going through Zacchaeus’ head and heart that day Jesus strolled into town. But I know this: something was stirring – and it was stirring long before Jesus and his entourage showed up. And it must have been stirring mightily. It must have!
You don’t do what he did unless your whole being is compelling you to do it.
You don’t just casually risk everything and so thoroughly humiliate yourself on a whim.
And you don’t just completely reorient your entire worldview because you catch a glimpse of a holy man – even if that holy man is Jesus.
No, something was stirring deep inside of Zacchaeus – maybe for a long, long time. (Maybe in you too!) Jesus’ arrival was the last chapter in the story of this tax man, not the first. And then a whole new book gets started.

It’s one of the more famous stories in the bible, so I imagine we’re all pretty familiar with it. Zacchaeus is a wee little man (probably meaning both in height and in what people thought of him) who when he hears Jesus has come to town tries to go and see him, but because of his being vertically challenged he can’t see over the crowd so he runs ahead of everyone and climbs a tree for a better view.

We have to stop here and take a breath – because we know the story so well that we probably just skim right over how incredibly provocative that part is. Men of Zacchaeus’ status and wealth simply do. not. run. It was utterly undignified to do so. And then to climb up a tree on top of that? It would be incomprehensible. It would be humiliating beyond description. He was already probably despised because of his work. To invite ridicule and humiliation on top of that is mind-boggling. I cannot overemphasize how bonkers it is that he’s out on a limb like that.

But you see, that’s kind of the point! It is inconceivable. And yet, there he was.
Was he so moved by just the idea that Jesus was coming to town that he was willing to risk so much? I doubt it. read on

191027 – The Great I Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the first thought-bomb!
If we only interpret the parable in this straightforward way aren’t we being just like the Pharisee?
Do you ever pray like the Pharisee did? (Be honest!)
After hearing this sermon so far aren’t you kind of thinking, “God, I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee in the parable!” – which makes you exactly like the Pharisee!

Or perhaps we find that we do this in more subtle ways?

“God, I thank you that I am not like those atheists – or those biblical literalists – or those fundamentalists – or those weirdos at that church down the road – or those Habs fans – or…”

This is not to say that you can’t be grateful that you have a preference or that you think your way of doing something is better.
It is to say that those kinds of comparisons, and everything that came out of that Pharisee’s mouth, have nothing to do with prayer!

And that leads us toward the second thought bomb.
What is the nature of prayer?
We’ve said that we know that the Pharisee’s way of praying was wrong, so let’s look at the tax collector.
Do you ever pray like the tax collector did – beating your breast and crying for mercy?

I’m going to use a simplistic two-dimensional image to talk about this even though we know that God is much more than this. So, another way to say all this is that the Pharisee was thinking horizontally and the tax collector was thinking vertically.
The Pharisee is concerned with what those around him think, his standing in the community, how he looks compared to others.
The tax collector is concerned only with his relationship with God; it’s like no one other than him and God are even present!

Here’s another way to say that.
The Pharisee did all the right stuff in his life but his heart was oriented in the wrong direction.
The tax collector did all the wrong stuff in his life but in this moment of prayer he got it right – his heart was laid bare.

And now we’re getting closer to what the core message of this parable is: it’s not about what I’ve done, it’s about who I am – my heart.

And if you already knew that, so it isn’t a big thought bomb for you, it must be because you experience such wonderful theological reflection each week, not like those other churches…

I think one of the biggest challenges with the way the mainline protestant church typically functions is that we have either forgotten, or at least utterly deemphasized, the idea of God’s ‘being’ in favour of the wonders of God’s ‘doing’.
Stay with me. read on

191013 – Happy Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

191006 – Called to Be

Yr C ~ Creation 4 ~ A New Creed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

190929 – Noses, Shoulders, Socks, and Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

190922 – That’s Rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call For All Xbox, PlayStation & Nintendo Players!

Electronic Gaming Night

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

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

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

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

Game On!

190915 – A Lost Cause

Yr C ~ Creation 1 ~ Luke 15:1-10

So, a pretty straightforward and obvious little parable about being lost and found, right? Don’t count on it!
Let’s think about this for a minute. What does it mean to be lost today?

Who are the lost?
There’s the usual suspects – those with no religion, or too much greed, or too many possessions, or those in hyper-partisan politics, or Chelsea fans (Habs fans?).
Maybe the lost are simply those who’ve lost their way, or lost God’s way, or maybe have never had a way.
To be lost suggests that at one time you had it and then you didn’t, that you were in before you were out – which brings the question, “How do we get lost?”

We call these the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. But if you read them carefully that’s not what they are. They’re not actually ‘lost’ in the way we usually think. Lost makes it sound like they were valued and loved and then they became separated from their people and so the natural thing was to get them back into the fold. That sounds great – we lose our way and Jesus comes running after us to save us from ourselves and restore us to our belovedness. I once was lost, but now I’m found – a personal salvation story.

But that’s not what’s going on here.
This sheep and this coin weren’t lost – they were discarded. Thrown away and excluded.
That’s not lost. That’s something very different.
And Jesus is making sure we understand what went wrong, and how to fix it.

Parables are supposed to be thought-bombs – stories that jolt our perceptions of the world and help us see through Jesus’ eyes the Ways of God.
So welcome to the parable of the excluded sheep and the discarded coin.

To get what I’m saying you have to look more carefully at the first two verses of this chapter to understand why Jesus taught this concept, and at whom he’s aiming.

Luke 15:1-3 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable.

Who are the “them” that Jesus is talking to? It’s the Pharisees and the scribes – not so much his own disciples here.
Why does that matter?
Because Jesus is trying to describe God’s economy, which operates on a different level than our usual economy does.
The Pharisees and the scribes represent the religious establishment. They are the keepers of the rules – the enforcers of the purity laws.

In their culture at that time being deemed clean or unclean was a big deal. If you were deemed unclean – whether because of sinful behaviour, or a natural medical condition (even such utterly un-sinful things as menstruation or childbirth) you had to pay the appropriate penalty sacrifice or purification sacrifice at the Temple, or present yourself to the Pharisees in your town and they would decide if you were clean. To be deemed unclean meant to be excluded – because if a ‘clean’ person came into contact with a person deemed unclean then that clean person would also be unclean. So the unclean were excluded, and separated out from the rest of the family or village.

Sinners, the unclean, had to be ‘othered’ and removed. For those with chronic illnesses, or those too poor to pay their sacrifices, or those who chose despised work like being a tax collector, there was no way out of their ‘sinfulness’, no way to stop being unclean – so they were permanently excluded, discarded from polite society.

And Jesus had the nerve and the gall to sit down and eat with such people! read on

190908 – One Foot On the Dock

Yr C ~ Pentecost 13 ~ Luke 14:25-33

It doesn’t mean what you think it means, but then again, it kind of does, but not in the way it appears to be. In fact, it’s much heavier than it seems, and may even be harder than you think. But ultimately that’s better than what it looks like.

Confused? You aren’t alone!
This passage of scripture delivers a vitally important spiritual teaching, but the language the translators chose has served us poorly. I’d argue that this has become among the most misunderstood passages in the New Testament, and that’s a shame – because it’s so vital! So my task today is to help you get past what it says and help you see what it means!

It begins by saying, Luke 14:25, that “large crowds were travelling with Jesus.”
Wouldn’t we love that?! Isn’t that our fondest wish? – that big crowds would turn up here at Faith United, and that the message of God’s love that we celebrate could be shared with more and more people, and together we’d live out that love in tangible ways. The more the merrier, right?
Well, apparently not for Jesus. The big crowd is following him and it says that he turns to them and basically tries to talk them out of it – or at least give them a serious reality check.

Consider the crowd.
Something has stirred their imaginations.
Something has inspired them to step away from whatever had their attention and give it to Jesus for a bit.
Something has drawn them to Jesus.
They’re hungry and thirsty for something more, Something More, and they wonder if Jesus has it, or can point the way to it.

Of course he can – but before he does he wants to tell them that this Way he offers is not a simple and easy Way that you can put on or take off like a fall sweater. You can’t just take it or leave it. You can’t just plug into it for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and be done with it. Jesus tells them that there’s a cost to following, and the cost is very high.

No, it’s not money.
And it’s also not what verses 26 and 33 say it is. We have inherited translations that frankly mislead us and give people entirely the wrong idea.

Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

And hundreds, thousands, millions of people say, “Excuse me? What the? I’m supposed to hate my family and my life? That’s idiotic! Christianity is stupid.”
And they’d be completely correct – if that’s what it said – but it absolutely doesn’t say that!

The Greek word translated as hate does not mean what we generally understand it to mean. The choice of words leads us completely in the wrong direction. We hear hate and we think ‘bad feelings, intense and passionate dislike’. So, to follow Jesus means to have to intensely and passionately dislike your kin? No, no, no!
The word actually means ‘to hold one thing in less esteem than another – elevating one value over another’.
It’s still immensely challenging, but it has nothing to do with hate.
In fact, it actually means to continue to hold those things like family and whatnot in fantastically high value and esteem, but to hold one’s relationship with the holy mystery we call God in even higher esteem – the highest value.

Look, it’s not an either/or situation. It’s not a binary choice. It’s a both/and – but Jesus does point to a primacy.
Here’s my favourite example to try to explain this.
Our relationship with God comes before all else in the same way that if you were in a plane and there was trouble the first thing you’re instructed to do is, what? Yes, it’s to tend to your own self and put your own air mask on before you try to do anything else or help anyone else. Even if your parent, your sibling, your child, your favourite person in the world, is sitting beside you – a person you love with all your heart – you’re still supposed to put your own mask on first – because if your core need isn’t tended to first you can’t actually help anyone else.

Jesus is saying the same thing.
If you attend to your relationship with God as your primary focus then you will actually be empowered to love all your other loves with greater power, and joy, and compassion, and fullness. Loving God first actually helps you love everyone and everything else more than you ever could on your own.

So instead of communicating a false thing about needing to hate anyone before you can follow Jesus, what the words actually say is that love of God needs to be the utter and primary foundation for discipleship. read on

190901 – Come In and Sit Down

Yr C ~ Pentecost 12 ~ Luke 14:1, 7-14

Two friends were standing near the back of a huge outdoor venue where the Pope was going to be speaking, and one of the friends said, “Why do we have to be way back here when there’s that wide open space right in front of the stage with nobody in it?”
His friend responded, “I don’t think anyone’s allowed in there.”
The first guy said, “Well, that’s where I’m going!”
And he took his lawn chair and walked all the way up and plunked himself down in the open grassy space, front and centre.
Incredibly, the Pope himself came out to the man, and the friend at the back couldn’t believe his eyes. He watched as the Pope made the sign of the cross in front of his friend, and then the friend got up and made his way back.
As he arrived the waiting friend said, “Oh man, I can’t believe that! You are awesome! You actually got a personal blessing from the Pope! That’s so cool!”
The friend sheepishly responded, “Well, it wasn’t exactly a blessing. The Pope said, [making the sign of the cross as he did] ‘You! Pick up that chair and get the hell out of here!’”

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled!

There are actually two lessons going on in Jesus’ teaching in the scripture passage from Luke 14 we heard today.
The first lesson is about humility. It’s a pretty straightforward teaching.

You walk into a dinner and you have to decide where to sit. Tradition has it that the most important guests get the “best” seats – which usually means next to the host. In Jesus’ parable he imagines a person coming in and sitting in the place of honour, only to be embarrassingly told that someone more important deserves that spot – and since this person was so presumptuous everyone else has already sat down and the only place left is at the far end of the table. The lowliest seat. It’s far better, says Jesus, to sit at a lower place and have the host come and take you to a more prestigious seat, than to try to elevate your status and get shot down.

Luke 14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

That’s basic humility. Don’t think too highly of yourself.
Let someone else tell the world how great you are.
If you try to make people think you’re ‘da bomb’ it’s likely to blow up in your face.
It’s a good life lesson – but really, it’s not very spiritual. We didn’t really need Jesus to teach us that – Miss Manners did it just fine.

I think what Jesus really wanted to teach came next. He was just using this familiar situation as an in – using people’s arrogance and self-importance as a starting point.
His real target here wasn’t the guests at this party; it was the host!

Remember, this teaching takes place at the house of a leader of the Pharisees on the occasion of a shared sabbath meal.
And it says, in verse 1, “(the Pharisees) were watching him closely” – watching to see if Jesus would step out of line, or say something provocative that would challenge the ways the Pharisees held. Jesus did not disappoint!

He started with a lesson about personal humility.
The second lesson Jesus is teaching here is much more pointed. It’s about power. It’s about blind spots. It’s about inclusion.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t exactly stand up to the passage of time.
Luke 14:12-14 Jesus said to the Pharisee host who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus’ example goes as far as it can. He was limited by the culture of his time. In his culture, the things he was suggesting here were utterly radical. His challenge to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” was pretty revolutionary. ‘Good’ people didn’t have such folk at their ‘proper’ parties. Sadly, the perception was that those folks were the way they were because of some shortcoming, or sin, or punishment. They were considered unclean because of it. So the suggestion of merely inviting such as these would have elicited gasps in the hearers of Jesus’ teaching – especially his Pharisee hosts.

Jesus taught that we should invite those that polite society, or religious opinion, has shunned – include those who the ‘accepted ways’ say should be excluded.
Because God’s love knows no barriers.
God’s love never excludes.
No one is outside of God’s love.
And inviting only those who can repay you, or advance your own social standing, or won’t make you feel uncomfortable, is simply an example of self-interest, not real love, or even real hospitality.
We are called to love – but we can’t stop at ourselves.
We need to love beyond ourselves.
We need to love those who the world has mistakenly deemed ‘less than’.

If Jesus was here today, how might he teach this differently? The “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” aren’t the outcasts of society like they were back then. But neither have we learned the lesson well enough to ensure inclusion of such vulnerable people. The poor are still marginalized and excluded, and the needs and realities of persons with disabilities are far too frequently overlooked when we think about organizing gatherings of any kind. Yes, we’re doing better, but we’ve got a long way to go.

I think if Jesus was teaching this lesson today he’d talk about who we include at our tables, and who we exclude. Here’s the kicker. We’re all church folk here. Most of us have been listening to Jesus’ teaching for a long time. And we sincerely are trying to be inclusive people. read on

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