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160410 – Do You Love Me?

Yr C ~ Easter 3 ~ John 21:1-17

Ok, let’s just call it what it is. This is a wonderfully weird reading! It’s all over the place, there are about 5 different themes in it, people say and do baffling things, and it ends on such a bizarre note that I left a couple of verses out this morning.doyouloveme

The scholarly consensus is that this chapter was probably added in sometime after the rest of the book was written, and perhaps by a, shall we say, less gifted writer. This doesn’t faze me in the slightest. My lens for reading the bible is that it reveals deep truths about people’s experience of the Presence of God in their lives and their interpretation of events. It’s like reading someone’s diary – absolutely true, very personal, but not the ideal place for objective, factual information. The community that produced the gospel of John decided this needed to be added. That makes it interesting to me! So let’s have a look at this weird and wonderful text.

The story is about a third appearance of Jesus to the disciples after his resurrection. The first two were in the upper room, one without Thomas and one with, and now he’s present again for this one. Here’s the first weird bit. Do you remember the first season of Gilligan’s Island and how the theme song named 5 of the 7 castaways? Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, and the rest! (They changed it in the second season and the professor and Mary Anne got their due.) In our passage today 5 disciples get named and then there were two others. Perhaps it was the professor and Mary Ann!

In verse 3 we learn they’re fishing – so it’s back to business as usual – and apparently business is bad because they can’t catch anything. Jesus appears on the shore – 100 yards away so it makes sense they don’t recognize him. Can you easily identify people a football field away?
And this unknown figure says, “Hey, you’re doing it wrong! Try fishing on the other side!”
[sarcastically] “The other side? Wow, what a great idea! We hadn’t thought of that before!”

But they do it, and lo and behold they catch a lot of fish. And in that miraculous moment Peter figures out who’s on shore, puts on his heavy cloak, and jumps into the water and starts swimming. It’s nutty! But I guess he just couldn’t contain himself. I don’t suppose you’ve ever done anything foolish because you were excited, right? read on

160327 – An Idle Tale (Easter)

Luke 24:1-12

I frequently find it fascinating to read our gospel stories very closely and carefully, because I think what tends to happen is that we conflate all the unique versions of a story into one.
We see this at Christmas when we have shepherds and angels and 3 wise men at the stable when that is actually an amalgam of stories. Cross-Empty-Tomb-mystery
We saw it last week when we read Luke’s Palm Sunday text and discovered there were no palms in that version!
And today, on this glorious Easter morning, we dig deep into the text and discover something truly astounding.
There’s no Jesus!

In Luke’s telling a group of women (not just Mary) come to the tomb to perform their customary burial rituals and discover the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Two men in dazzling white appear and ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

And then they say the line that keeps me employed!
Verse 6, “Remember how he told you…”
Well, no, they don’t remember. We seem to keep forgetting the things Jesus teaches. My job is to remind us! (and me in the process!) read on

160325 – Maundy Thurs and Good Friday poems

Until There Isn’t

Maundy Thursday Reflection ~ John 13:34-35

There is a reason today is called Maundy
From the Latin mandatum for the English commandment
Mandatum, mandate, Maundy
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
If you have love for one another.
A new mandatum, a new commandment to strengthen the previous loves
For all commandments are mandates to love.

There is love of God, with heart and soul and mind and strengthcross-crowd2
With height and depth and breadth and length
There is love that tunes our hearts to God’s song
There is harmony, there is joy, there is peace, there is light.
In faith, there is love of God – until there isn’t.
When we forget to love God we become hollow
There is discord, there is misery, there is anxiety, there is darkness.
For the people of God, for the people gathered to worship, for the people gathered in prayer, there is love – until there isn’t.
When this commandment is broken
When we forget to love God
When God’s people forget whose we are
When the church forgets to love
We become lifeless.

We are commanded to love our neighbour
To love the stranger, to love the other, as we love ourselves.
There is energy in kindness,
There is happiness in helping
There is delight in reaching out
There is passion in sharing the truth that there is love!
In faith, there is love of others – until there isn’t.
When we forget to love others we become selfish.
There is callousness, there is indifference, there is stinginess, there is apathy.
For the people of God, for the people gathered to serve, for the people gathered for giving, there is love – until there isn’t.
When this commandment is broken
When we forget to love others
When God’s people forget who we are
When the church forgets to love
We become insular.

A new commandment is given
A renewed mandate to love one another, to love those alongside, to love fellow journeyers
At Jesus’ table there is fellowship, there is unity
There is plenty, there is laughter, there is oneness, there is strength
And there is love
Wonderful connectional love for one another – until there isn’t.
When we forget to love one another the fellowship is broken, the unity disappears
There is lack, there is sadness, there is divisiveness, there is weakness.
When love for one another fades or is forgotten
When personal agendas or fears take over
When our ‘we’ is consumed by our ‘me
When this commandment is broken people get hurt.
People turn on one another.
People are betrayed.
People are crucified.
For the people of God, for the people gathered for the journey, for the people gathered at Jesus’ table, there is an abundance of love, love, love – until there isn’t.
And that’s when Fridays like tomorrow happen…

 

The Inkblot Cross

Good Friday Reflection ~ John 18-19

For almost 100 years the psychological field has been using inkblot tests to analyze people’s perceptions of symmetrical blots of ink on plain white paper. How one perceives an object or an event says much about the person themselves.

Consider then, the crucifixion of Jesus. A simple chain of events, witnessed by many, yet perceptions vary wildly.

Jesus is a threat. An insurrectionist that must be stopped.
Jesus is a provocateur. An antagonist who dares contend with Pilate.
Jesus is a blasphemer. A would-be messiah leading people astray.
Jesus is a philosopher. A wordsmith debating the nature of truth.
Jesus is a joke. A pitiful loser who deserves mocking and humiliation.
Jesus is a lightning rod. A figure who can turn gathered crowds into blood-thirsty mobs.
Jesus is a martyr. A misguided soul willing to die for the cause.
Jesus is a patsy. A convenient foil over whom to strengthen convenient political arrangements.
Jesus is the king of the Jews.
Jesus is not the king of the Jews.

Jesus is a sacrifice.
Jesus is a saviour.
Jesus is a substitute.
Jesus is an example.
Jesus is God.
Jesus is human.
Jesus is imaginary.
Jesus is Messiah.
Jesus is Lord.
Jesus is an inkblot.
Jesus is…

Consider now the cross of Christ.
Look at it.
It’s just a simple geometrical shape.
Symmetrical.
Balanced.
Neutral.

And yet we read so much into it!

How do you see the cross?

The cross is salvation.cross-wooden2
The cross is a torture device.
The cross is our ultimate truth.
The cross is a fiction.
The cross is God’s plan.
The cross is humanity’s shame.
The cross is the Roman’s fault. The Jew’s fault. My fault?
The cross is death.
The cross is life.
The cross is love?

The cross is the means by which humanity and God are reconciled.
The cross is the means by which my debt is paid.
The cross is a means to show the powers of this world are not ultimate.
The cross is a means to guilt trip everyone into submission.
The cross is a means to defend my theological views.
The cross is nothing more than how the Romans got rid of an agitator.
The cross is nothing less than the turning point of history.
The cross means nothing.
The cross means everything.

The cross is a symbol.
The cross is a metaphor.
The cross is political.
The cross is mystical.
The cross is spiritual.
The cross is inevitable?

The upright of the cross represents our being grounded in the earth and reaching up to God. Love God.
The crossbeam of the cross represents our reaching out to the world. Love People.
The cross is a vivid way to teach that death must precede resurrection – that dying to what was is necessary to be reborn into what will be.

The cross is hope.
The cross is faithfulness.
The cross is grace.
The cross is the end.
The cross is the beginning.

The cross is mystery.
The cross is an inkblot.
The cross is…

(a pause for silent reflection)

A simple chain of events, witnessed by many…
A simple geometrical shape. Symmetrical. Balanced. Neutral?
The cross is…
The cross…..IS.

Amen.

 

160320 – Practicing Palms

Yr A ~ Palm Sunday ~ Luke 19:28-40

Do you like political theatre? If you do then you must be loving the American presidential primaries. Yes, at times it’s very disturbing and frightening, at least for me, but it’s incredible theatre and spectacle. Some candidates especially have a real flare for it. It’s not like political theatre is a new creation though. It’s always been part of the process.Palm-jesus-silhouette-enter

And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that what Jesus and his disciples are doing as they parade into Jerusalem for Passover is political theatre. There are crowds, cheering, a passionate exchange of ideas, and the entire act itself is making a big statement. I guarantee you Jesus’ version of it will make you feel better than any of the stuff we’re seeing down south these days!

To begin, did anyone notice that in Luke’s version of Palm Sunday there are a couple of things missing? – like palms! If we only had Luke’s version we’d have to call this story something else. Maybe Cloak Sunday, or Parade Sunday. Because in Luke’s version the people laid cloaks before Jesus but didn’t wave branches of palms.
Maybe the detail doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s enough to acknowledge that somehow Jesus’ arrival at the city of Jerusalem for Passover that year created quite a stir.

Other details vary depending on which gospel you read this story in. For Luke’s version, other than there being no palms the really interesting thing is the crowd. I want to say two things about this crowd – one of which might shift how you read the whole story! read on

160313 – Practicing Perseverance

Yr C ~ Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The story of the prodigal is one of the best known stories in the bible. I know I’ve preached on it here a couple of times, so some of you may have heard some of this before, but I’m hoping it’ll still surprise you. And if it doesn’t then I’m not doing my job – because it is actually a profoundly shocking story. That’s what parables always are – if you’re reading them right! They’re thought bombs, and they’re designed to explode!prodigal-run-welcome-love

It’s actually three stories. There’s the younger’s story, the elder’s story, and the parent’s story – and they’re all pretty shocking! The younger turns away from the family, squanders the inheritance, falls on hard times, becomes humble, and returns. The shocking parts are that the parent didn’t really have to give the inheritance but did, and that the kid ended up slopping pigs, which for a Jew was shameful, unclean, a tremendous indignity.

So the kid goes home fully expecting, and frankly deserving, to be treated as nothing more than a slave. At least there’d be food!
The response was shocking.

“While he was still a long way off,” the parent came running out, wouldn’t even listen to the apology, and welcomed the kid home without hesitation. The shocking parts are that in Jewish culture a father would never run in this way, and according to Jewish law the parents had every right to have this kid stoned to death! Yes, you heard that right. Talk about tough love!
So the audience hearing this parable probably assumed the kid would be a slave at best and stoned to death at worst.
That was the law. That is not at all what happened.

What does this say about the character or nature of “the parent?”

Instead of death, or punishment, or a reduction in status, or even a period of getting back in the good books the parent throws a lavish party for the wayward child – the prodigal. It’s shocking! I’m not sure that’s how I’d react if this was actually happening to me. How about you?

What does this say about the character or nature of “the parent?” read on

160306 – Practicing Passion

Yr C ~ Lent 4 (readings from Lent 5) ~ John 12:1-8

Today we get to embrace a story that’s told in varying forms in all four gospels. That means it’s one of those scripture ideas that’s so important everyone knew they had to include it. But, of course, each story-teller tells it a bit differently. That means it’s important for us to think about the theme of it more than the minute details. The details may change from gospel to gospel but the truth of the story is common. It’s a story about love.practicing4-passion

Wait, that’s not good enough.
It’s not a story about love – it’s a story about extravagant, gushing, overflowing love.
It’s a story about a woman offering Jesus an expression of love that is astoundingly extravagant.
Why does she do it? What does it mean? Why is it important for us today? Let’s find out!

The scene is the home of the recently raised Lazarus. You remember him, the one who was dead and Jesus called him back to life. Clearly, that’s another complicated sermon – but it’s enough today to know that he’s now alive and well enough to host a dinner party. He’s hosting with his sisters, Martha and Mary. You’ll probably remember them from the story about how Martha was upset that she was doing all the work while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet learning and that Jesus said Mary’s way was better. Again, that’s another complicated sermon!

At this party we find Mary once again at Jesus’ feet but this time is very different. The range of theological opinion about what’s going on in this scene is breathtaking.

Is this a foreshadowing of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet?
Is this a foreshadowing of anointing Jesus for burial?
Is this a woman anointing a king and therefore claiming feminist power?
Is this an inversion of class as a peasant woman performs a nobleman’s role of anointing a king?

Is this a sexual act?
A woman taking down her hair in front of a man usually meant sex – and then to use her hair to wipe and anoint his feet is a profoundly intimate and somewhat shocking action.

Is this an example of transforming a common ritual into a radical act of love toward Jesus?
Washing the feet of guests was basic hospitality for them – doing it with expensive perfume? Not so much! read on

160228 – Practicing Prayerfulness

Yr C ~ Lent 3 ~ Luke 13:1-9

In the 1992 Clint Eastwood movie “Unforgiven” a young man who has just killed a man says, “Well, I reckon he had it coming.”
To this the grizzled old gun slinger played by Eastwood replies, “We all got it coming, kid.”

How do you feel about that?practicing3-prayerfulness
It’s a heavy question.
The technical theological term for it is theodicy. Theodicy is about the question of how to reconcile the presence of evil in the world if God is supreme, omnipotent, omniscient.

When bad things happen to good people is it a sign of God’s judgment?
When good things happen to bad people is it a sign of God dropping the ball?
Does God permit bad things to happen? Cause them?

It’s a fundamental, core question that each of us has to answer for ourselves: what kind of god is the Holy Mystery we call God?

Jesus has a few thoughts on this! Jesus tells us a couple of hot news stories in this passage.
In one story we’re told that Pilate apparently (oh wait, it’s a news story – allegedly) killed some people while they were making their sacrifice in the Temple.

Did they have it coming?
Did they die because they were worse sinners than other people?
Did God use Pilate as a tool?

Then there’s the story of an accident where a tower fell down and some people were killed.
Did they have it coming? Or was it just terrible luck?
Is God pushing buildings over on people?
Is God standing by helplessly watching?

Jesus answers the questions plainly.
He says no, God didn’t do this. That’s not the way God works.
Remember that next time some wild-eyed televangelist tries to blame some tragic event on sinful people.
Jesus says no.

God does not will evil, permit evil, cause evil, use evil, or have anything to do with evil. God is love.
Elsewhere Jesus says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
To use a colourful colloquial expression – manure happens! read on

160214 – Practicing Surrender

Yr C ~ Lent 1 ~ Luke 4:1-13

So here we are once again in the season of Lent. Lent is our season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Historically it’s had a flavour of sombreness, and contrition, and weightiness. But it also has at its core the theme of introspection and deep prayer.practicing1-surrender

This is why people give things up for Lent – but typically they do it wrong. Far too many people treat Lent as a do-over for the New Year’s resolutions they’ve failed at and they give something up that they likely shouldn’t be doing so much of anyway. If you’d like to give something up for Lent by all means go ahead – but don’t forget the “so that.”
The purpose of giving something up is “so that” you have more time for prayer.

Fasting from chocolate chip cookies may help your waistline but it doesn’t do anything for you spiritually unless you commit the time you would’ve spent eating them to prayer. You fast from one thing in order to feast on prayer. You turn off the TV or cell phone or social media for a while so that you can have more time to pray. The number one reason people don’t pray is not because they don’t know how, it’s because they say they don’t have time. Lent gives you an excuse to make time.

But I’d like to offer you something I think is even better than giving something up to make prayer time. I’d like to show you how to pray all the time even in the midst of doing your other busy stuff – how to make all your time God-time. This was the genius of my hero, Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence was a simple, lay, Carmelite monk in 17th century France who spent most of his time working in the abbey’s kitchen washing dishes. He became known because he was so tuned-in to the Presence of God that even while he was in the midst of his mundane chores he knew he was coram Deo – which is Latin for before God, being in the Presence of God.
We are always coram Deo – we just don’t always realize it.
Brother Lawrence did.

Lawrence will be our focus for Lent this year – teaching us how to practice presence. Each week we’ll look at a different aspect of his practice and see how we can use it today to make all our time prayerful time.

Of course, Brother Lawrence didn’t invent this stuff. He got it from reading scripture and practicing. Let’s have a look at what he might have taken from today’s reading.

Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.

There is enough wonderful spiritual food right here in this verse to fill this entire sermon. And until we have a really strong grasp on this verse there’s no sense going on to the rest of the passage. In fact, without grasping this verse a person could completely misread and misunderstand the whole temptation bit. The temptations get all the attention, but it’s these three words that matter the most: fullness, led, and wilderness.

read on

160207 – Sacrament of Life

Yr C ~ Transfiguration ~ Exodus 34:29-35

Today is the end of the season of Epiphany which is all about the revelation of God’s light. To top it off we get a story about a guy who was so utterly filled with the light of God that he glowed so much he needed to wear a veil over his face because he was too dazzling for the other people to bear looking at. Wow!sacrament-life
I’m looking around here and I don’t see anyone in a veil. Does that mean we’re not aglow in the light of God? I hope not!

I hope that this reading today, and the conversation we’re about to have, doesn’t seem too alien to you. I hope that you’ve had many, many experiences of feeling all lit up in the Presence of God. I hope that you’ve felt your heart strangely warmed, your pulse race in delight, your breathing fill you so fully that you thought you’d burst, your knees quiver and wobble in awe, and your mind boggle at the wondrous mystery that surrounds and enfolds us. And if you haven’t, after today maybe you’ll be a step closer to that.

Let’s talk about Moses. First it’s a burning bush and now it’s a mountaintop glow – it’s like this guy can’t get away from the Presence of God! (ahem!) Moses goes up the mountain, encounters God’s Presence, gets the 10 commandments, and goes back down. The encounter leaves his face with a perma-glow. He’s radiant, dazzling, oozing light.
It says his face was shining so brightly that the people were afraid. That’s an unfortunate translation that misses the real meaning. The Hebrew word for afraid doesn’t mean “Boo, I scared you!” it means to be so overwhelmed by awesomeness that it overpowers your ability to take it all in. So on a certain level, yes, that’s frightening, but a much better word would be awestruck!

Has anyone ever looked at you after you’ve had an experience of God and become awestruck by the afterglow?
No? Are you sure?

32 Later all the Israelites came up to him and he passed on the commands, everything that God had told him on Mount Sinai.
33 When Moses finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face,
34 but when he went into the presence of God, he removed the veil until he came out. When he came out [he] told the Israelites what he had been commanded.

That’s pretty much the whole story. Moses encounters God, gets lit up, and then shares with the people what he’s experienced.

Today is also Transfiguration Sunday. Did hearing about Moses make you think about Jesus? It should have! In the Transfiguration story Jesus goes up a mountain to pray and while there he is bathed in a blinding white light and his face is transfigured – transformed – set aglow! The images of Moses and Elijah appear and the Presence of God takes the form of a cloud from which a voice declares Jesus to be blessed and tells the disciples to “listen to him!”

See any parallels? Mountain – check. Presence of God – check. Glowing – check. Message to be shared – check!

Now, it’s going to seem like I’m dramatically switching gears here and talking about something else but I’m really not. Both of these stories are examples of sacraments. read on

160131 – Love It Out

Yr C ~ Epiphany 4 ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If you’ve been here over the last few weeks you’ve heard me talk a lot about love – how God loves us, how we love God, and last week how God wants to marry us (!) – and now this week we’re doing 1 Corinthians 13. That’s a whole lotta love!love-it-out

Chances are you’ve heard today’s reading at a wedding. Couples love this text because it says the word ‘love’ more times per square inch than just about anywhere else in the bible. But if you read the chapter as a whole it starts out sounding nothing like a wedding text at all, then it starts to sound wedding-ish, then it’s back to not at all. When we’re done with it I hope you’ll see it as both an amazing wedding text and a text for you and me today.

The Greeks had different words for different aspects of love – where we use only one word. The special Greek word for love that refers to spiritual love, to God’s love, is agape.
Agape is the kind of love that supersedes and transcends all other loves.  It’s the ideal kind of love because it’s the kind of love God has for us!
Agape has at its heart a nature of self-giving – of whole-heartedness – of completeness.
Agape is the fullest, holiest, greatest love there is.
This entire text is about that kind of love – agape! Every time you hear love today, think agape.

The first three verses start off kind of harshly. Let me back up a minute and tell you why. There once was a church community in a busy city called Corinth. The church was planted by Paul who taught them all about Jesus and his Way, but then Paul went on to plant more churches. After a while he got word that the church in Corinth was in trouble. You see, they thought they were the bright shining star in the “denomination” but they were actually quite dysfunctional.

Some of the Corinthians liked Paul’s teaching – others preferred Apollos who had followed Paul. There were serious class distinctions with separate tables for the rich and poor at the community gathering meal. There were reports of turning a blind eye to sexual impropriety. They were taking one another to court over disputes. And they were making up their own rules for church and behaviour. It was a nightmare.

So Paul writes a scathing letter to them. I mean, it’s nasty. He pulls no punches whatsoever. The big thing he repeatedly calls them is not mistaken, or evil, misguided, but immature – spiritually immature. By the time we get to today’s reading (near the end of the letter) he’s finally getting into some more positive language, but even this starts with a bang. read on

160124 – The Marrying Type

Yr C ~ Epiphany 3 ~ Isaiah 62:1-5

Two weeks ago we looked at Isaiah 43:4 and revelled in God declaring “You are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you” to each and every one of us. Last week we explored Nehemiah 8:6 and saw how when God’s Presence is revealed through scripture and prayer that the people’s response is to worship with joy and weeping. Worship is how we love God.
So, two weeks ago it’s God loves us, and last week it’s we love God, and this week – God pops the question!marrying-type

The context is that this scene takes place post exile (but just before last week’s text) – so the people have returned home but they’ve returned to ruins and destruction.
How do you think they feel? Well, it’s confusing – because they’re thrilled to be home and released from exile but they come home and are faced with the utter destruction and desolation of their land.

To make it more confusing instead of referring to the people as Israel or even Jerusalem, God calls them Zion – which is a word that associates with the religious identity of the Jewish people rather than just their geography, even as it refers to a holy mountain beside Jerusalem. But here it means the personification of the spiritual aspect of the people. Got it?

Now for the air-quotes: So, God is talking through “Isaiah” (although this is from third Isaiah and the actual Isaiah is long dead) to “Zion” (the people not the place) trying to convince “her” of “his” affection. (Easy, right?)

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

You could forgive the people for thinking that while they were in exile God was being silent and punishing them, thinking poorly of them. Apparently God thought otherwise. Here God declares God will not keep silent – like you won’t be able to shut God up about this! The Hebrew here is really fun and reads something like “I will not hush or be shushed!” In fact, God says the people are so much in God’s love that it shines like the dawn or a burning torch! Hey, God “carries a torch” for us!

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

“Other kingdoms and nations will see how awesome you are,” says God. That would feel pretty good to a downtrodden people. But then the really great stuff comes. God says that Zion will be given a new name.

Ok, bible quiz time – Who got a new name in the bible, and why? read on

160117 – Thirsty Ears

Yr C ~ Epiphany 2 ~ Nehemiah 8:1-10

Have you ever been thirsty? I don’t mean being a little dry because of work or exercise or whatever and you need a glass of water. I mean, have you ever been really thirsty for something? Parched and suffering because you long for that thing so much. The kind of yearning thirst that goes way beyond the physical and grabs you at your core – panting, aching, feeling like you’ll die if you don’t quench it.
Have you ever been thirsty?thirsty-ears1

Have you ever been that thirsty for worship?
Have you ever been that thirsty to engage with scripture?
Have you ever been that thirsty to be in church? – parched, suffering, yearning, panting, aching, feeling like you’ll die if you don’t commune with God, with the Christ, with the Spirit?
Or is this whole church and spirituality thing no big deal?

I think this is one of those things we can take for granted because it’s so easy for us to access these things. There’s probably a church close to where you live, bibles are easily accessible and free on the internet, and we are free to publicly worship whenever and wherever we want.
But I wonder if we can be surrounded by water and still be thirsty because we forget to take the time to drink.

Things were quite different for the folks Ezra was talking to. This scene happened at the end of Israel’s time of exile when they were permitted to return to their homeland and begin to rebuild their lives. Their Temple had been destroyed, they didn’t have cell phones to read their bibles on, only special and rare scrolls, and they weren’t allowed to freely worship while they were in that foreign land.
Needless to say, they were thirsty! So thirsty! read on

160110 – By Name

Yr C ~ Epiphany 1 ~ Isaiah 43:1-7

I’m so glad you’re here today! You’re going to get to hear something absolutely fantastic! No, I don’t mean this sermon – although, clearly, it’s going to be fantastic! [j/k] – I mean you’re going to hear something that only occurs once in the entire bible but it’s so awesome that once is enough!
Are you ready? Are you excited? You should be!by-name

We’re looking at the prophet Isaiah today. The book of Isaiah is a complicated thing because it records the writing of the prophet over the course of a couple hundred years. Obviously, one guy couldn’t have done that. There are actually three sections to the book that all get attributed to the original prophet. They were continuing in his way and honouring him by using his name.

Today’s reading comes from what we call “second Isaiah” which was written during Babylonian exile. The people “Isaiah” is writing for are dispirited, thinking they’re lost, that they’ve done terrible wrongs to deserve their exile, believing the worst about themselves.
It kind of reminds me of how those TV ads that pop up at New Years’ time make us feel – trying to convince us of how supposedly pathetic we are and how their magic-wonder-product will solve all our problems.

So the people are feeling bad about themselves, but God says…

43:1 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

First, a little trivia for you. Do you know how many times the phrase “do not fear” or “be not afraid” appears in the bible? 365! One for every day of the year! (Except this is a leap year so I guess you can be afraid one day this year!)

There are two absolute gems in this passage from Isaiah and the first is God telling us: I have called you by name, you are mine. read on

160103 – So I Gather

Yr C ~ Christmas 2 ~ Jeremiah 31:7-14

Let’s start with a ridiculously simplified quick history lesson: King David united the 12 tribes of Israel. His son Solomon instituted a tax to build the first temple. The 10 northern tribes didn’t like it. Solomon died and the northern folks asked his son for tax relief – they were denied – they said “see ya later” and the kingdom was divided.so-i-gather

The Northern kingdom was called “Israel” and sometimes “Ephraim” – and the Southern kingdom was called “Judah.” The Northern kingdom (Israel) was weaker and was frequently invaded and was eventually overrun. So, the Northern tribes were conquered and eventually “assimilated” by the invading culture. They were dispersed and marginalized.

The Southern kingdom lasted longer but it too was conquered and it’s people exiled. Jeremiah was a prophet (not a bullfrog!) during the time of Judah’s (the Southern kingdom’s) exile. Jeremiah has a well-deserved reputation as being a harsh, fire and brimstone, finger-wagging kind of prophet who doesn’t pull any punches. In this passage, however, we get to see his softer side. The prophecy we’re going to explore today is rooted in a gushing, overflowing sense of love. We’re starting at Jeremiah 31:7 but first listen to verse 3 to hear what the rest is built on.

Jeremiah 31:3 – God said, I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”

Or in The Message translation – God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!” That’s our starting place today.

Just to start this new year off right, I’m going to remind you that the bible is written in a way to communicate to us profoundly true things about this Holy Mystery we call God, but because God is indescribable and impossible to nail down we tend to talk about God as a person.

For me, God is not ‘a person,’ but God is definitely personal.

For me, God’s essence and nature is love, so to say that God loves us is to try to express that we are constantly surrounded by and enfolded by God’s loving energy, God’s Presence.

For me, forgiveness language and reunion language is about us getting out of our own way and resonating with and harmonizing with the love that God’s Presence is constantly emanating – and when we do we experience shalom.

So, with all that in mind, built on God’s gushing declaration of love, let’s see what the invitation to reunion with God looks like. read on

151220 – Do You Realize?

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

Today is the last Sunday in Advent. Our Advent calendars are almost empty, but not yet. Yes, the light of the world is already here, but symbolically we’re reminding ourselves of the journey.
So we’re still waiting. We’re still preparing. We’re still discerning what hope, and peace, and joy really mean for us this year as we wrestle with familiar and often challenging texts.do you realize

I’ve laid it on fairly thick for the last couple of weeks trying to underline how big a deal this receiving the light of the world thing is. Maybe one of the reasons we’ve slowly fallen into a more commercialized version of Christmas is because the scriptural teaching of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth are so weighty and demand a lot from us. It’s way easier to latch onto the ‘hearth and home’ stuff and talk glowingly about ‘peace on earth and joy to all people’ than it is to hear John the Baptizer rail away about what it takes to really prepare the way.

We so casually talk about the coming of the light, but we tend to forget that it isn’t just a nice, warm comforting candle that dances gently in the breeze – it’s the light of God, the uncompromising holy light that penetrates through our darkness, leads us to new life, and shines through us to renew the world.
It’s powerful. It’s weighty. It’s a big deal. It’s not to be treated lightly.
Fa-la-la’s are fun and all but they don’t quite capture the spirit of what’s really at stake here.

If you want to know what Advent really means, and what preparing for Christmas is really like you need to look hard at Mary’s story. Surely you know how the story goes, right? I wonder?
What a remarkable young woman this Mary-betrothed-to-Joseph was.
Think about Mary compared to what we’ve been talking about here for the last few weeks. read on

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