220515 – That Changes Everything – Adapting

Yr C ~ Easter 5 ~ Acts 11:1-18

Women should only aspire to be housewives and mothers.
People of different races should not marry.
People of different religions should not marry.
Being gay is wrong.
Persons of colour should have fewer, if any rights.
Memorizing facts and figures is the best education.
Smoking is good for calming people.
Only men should be ministers.

I could go on, but frankly I find it abhorrent to even say those things – oh, and just in case you weren’t sure, those things I just said are 100% wrong. Yet a hundred years ago every one of those things I just said were considered to be accepted truths in society at large. They weren’t just opinions – they were settled truths in that day and age. So what happened? Why don’t we collectively still think that way? What happened that those things are no longer be held to be true?

We learned. We grew. We evolved. We widened our worldview. We gained more experience. Science and sociology discovered new things. Courageous people challenged the prevailing views of the day, and the power of their witness moved hearts and minds. Thank God! I shudder to imagine our world if we hadn’t adapted to new insights and changed. And I shudder to think of the things that we accept as being obvious and true today but over time society will look back and judge us to be just as foolish, selfish, unevolved, racist, sexist, closed-minded, and cruel as we often view our ancestors.

Call it evolution, call it progress, call it adaptation, whatever word we choose we should remember that it involves a long and messy process. Big changes and shifts don’t happen overnight – even when we are certain that they absolutely must! I often think of the teaching I heard from an Indigenous elder that said, and I paraphrase, “It took a very long time for us to walk this far into the forest – it will take a very long time to walk back out!” (That an elder was given voice and I was able to learn is a very welcome adaptation!) Sadly, it must also be said that not everyone gets the memo at the same time. Some societies, or groups within societies, change and adapt while others lag behind. (And yes, even that phrasing is pejorative.)

So what opens one group to adapting while another doesn’t? There are myriad reasons, far too complicated for me to get into (or understand), but I’ll try a couple. You go away to school. You get a new job in a diverse workplace. You get to know someone you once thought was an ‘other’. The simplest reason for personal growth is just for a person to have a new experience for themselves and judge it to be a better way than their former way, or thought, or practice. Of course, someone probably had to invite or entice them to try that new thing. Richard Rohr says, “You don’t think your way into a new way of living – you live your way into a new way of thinking!”

I think perhaps the heart of all this is that real change comes when someone you encounter is so passionate in their view that it becomes persuasive. When you encounter someone with that kind of ‘fire in their belly’, who also has sincerity and authenticity, and whose vision, once fully heard though, is so compelling that it stirs the spirit of those who hear – well, that changes everything.

And if you think society at large is slow to change, and grow, and adapt, umm, let me introduce you to a nice little group called ‘church’! Churches are infamous for not wanting to change – anything! And when we really want to dig in our heels we reach deep into our pockets and we pull out this beauty of an excuse for not adapting: “God said!” Or, “the bible says…” Or, the big one, you could probably say it with me: We’ve never done it that way before!

read on

220508 – That Changes Everything – Arising

Yr C ~ Easter 4 ~ Acts 9:36-43

We’re in a sermon series called “That Changes Everything”. Last week we met a wonderfully faithful fellow named Ananias who was called to the unlikely ministry of praying with the worst person imaginable, and helping to change that person’s life by introducing them to The Way of Jesus, and helping to nurture and form them in Christian community. That ‘worst person ever’ had a personal awakening, but it was thanks to the faithfulness of Ananias that that awakening was able to grow and flourish. So, was it the awakening that changed everything, or the prayerful nurturing? Yes! Both!

Today we get to meet another wonderful disciple of Jesus whose faithful living and loving changed everything for many people. Her name is Tabitha, or Dorcas (I’ll explain in a minute). If you’re starting to think that maybe the thing that changes everything isn’t a mysterious spiritual miracle, but the faithfulness of followers of Jesus – well, spoiler alert – you’re right! Maybe the best miracles aren’t inexplicable supernatural occurrences but rather profound movements of the Spirit that inspire regular folks, like you and me, to live out the courage of our convictions, to ‘live out loud’ the love of God. Miracles like that really can ‘change everything’! So let’s meet another one of God’s miracles, and see how she might inspire us.

As I said, she is named Tabitha, and Dorcas. Why the two names? It’s probably because of where she lived, and it actually speaks volumes. She lived in a place called Joppa, which is known now as Tel-Aviv. It’s a port town – which means it’s a place where many people, and many cultures, intersect. Tabitha is her Hebrew name, and Dorcas is her Greek name. Referring to her by both, interchangeably, suggests she was known in and by both communities. That’s quite remarkable, especially for a woman in their time to be named as such.

What might be even more remarkable, however, is that she’s also referred to as a disciple of The Way of Jesus. In fact, she is the only female person in the entire New Testament who explicitly gets that label. Many women are associated with Jesus, or the Way, and many, many were no doubt practicing disciples in every sense of the word. Absolutely! But for some reason Tabitha is the only one called a mathetria, the feminine form of mathetai which is the male version of ‘disciple’ which is used extensively. The writer of Luke and Acts has done a pretty extraordinary thing here. In a profoundly patriarchal world they’ve championed feminism. Women were critically important to the Jesus movement. It’s shameful that the early church lost that focus. (Well, they more likely buried it, you know, because patriarchy.)

In their respective languages ‘Tabitha’ and ‘Dorcas’ both mean the same thing: gazelle, or more descriptively, an animal with large bright eyes! What a beautiful description of a disciple of Jesus – a person with large bright eyes – a person who can perceive the Kingdom of God, and love it out. She is also described as a disciple who was ‘continually’ ministering to people. She was a seamstress, which suggests she was self-sufficient (employed, perhaps somewhat wealthy) – and as someone who shares her resources she must’ve had some resources to share! She was clearly an extraordinary and beloved woman. There is no mention of a husband or family in the text, so it’s fair to assume Tabitha/Dorcas was a widow – and this helps to explain much of the passage. By the way, we’re still in the first verse of the story! We get all that context from one verse!

As I prepared for this sermon I started to refer to this passage as one of missed opportunities – not in the action of the story, but in the translation. As the story goes, Tabitha dies and was washed and laid out for honouring in a “room upstairs” – but that is the exact same as saying “an upper room”! Room upstairs doesn’t mean much – but “an upper room” has all sorts of energy for us. The translators missed an opportunity to honour her by connecting her to Jesus. Luke didn’t – Luke used the same word – the translators blew it.

Being a woman who was held in such high regard, upon her death some other disciples from the church at Joppa were sent to find the apostle Peter who was in a nearby town. They implore Peter to come to see her. Why do you think that was? What did they hope to accomplish? read on

220501 – That Changes Everything – Awakening

Yr C ~ Easter 3 ~ Acts 9:1-20

Picture it. It’s 36 CE (or thereabouts) roughly 3 years after the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A man named Saul is on the warpath. He is a zealous man, intent on wiping out the upstart movement that had become known as ‘The Way’. In Saul’s mind this movement was heretical, blasphemous even. They followed a person Saul thought to be a false Messiah – a rabble-rouser named Jesus of Nazareth, who his followers believed had died on a cross and then was mysteriously raised up. Saul had obtained warrants allowing him to arrest any man or woman he found that was a follower of The Way of Jesus. He was travelling north from Jerusalem toward Damascus when our story for today picks up.

I’m going to circle back to the start of this later and do some poking at it, but for now I want to treat the story as a broad archetype. By that I mean to see it as a pattern, or a pathway from ‘not’ being a person of the Way of Jesus to being one.

Acts 9:3 says – Now as Saul was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Saul was on a certain path, and then in the midst of that he had an experience that changed everything. The story speaks of a light flashing. Perhaps it was an actual visual thing like a bolt of lightning, but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps it’s nothing more (and nothing less) than the dazzling brightness of a new thought dawning on you. When awareness comes it can feel like the whole world exploding in your brain and shattering some of the things you used to think were real and true. I suspect for most people that sense of awareness creeps up on you and emerges stealthily over time rather than being a lightning bolt – but I ain’t saying lightning doesn’t strike!

Something happened to Saul on that road trip from Jerusalem to Damascus. Something that made him stop in his tracks and re-examine his life. Earlier than Luke’s writing (Luke wrote both Luke/Acts), in the book of Galatians, Paul (Saul’s new name) writes about this Damascus Road experience himself, but it’s much more vague. Luke, as always, likes to give lots of details in his storytelling.

In Luke’s telling Saul has a conversation with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus. He doesn’t see Jesus – he just hears his voice – and Jesus is disappointed. Acts 9:4 “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Notice that the voice doesn’t say, “Why do you persecute my followers?” Jesus makes it personal. Paul replies with a “who are you?” And the answer came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

Saul’s fellow travellers apparently heard the voice, but saw no one. And, as we all know this story so well, Saul got up and even though his eyes were open he couldn’t see – which, frankly, describes a lot of people! And then we get the key line – Acts 9:9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Gee, I wonder what that’s supposed to make us think of?
Three days in the dark and not eating or drinking. And then he awakens and emerges into a new life.
Obviously this is an Easter reference! Saul has to die to what was so he can be reborn into what will be – into God’s loving Way.

Then the story shifts to one of my favourite biblical characters – Ananias. Ananias was a disciple of The Way in Damascus. Out of nowhere he experiences a vision of Jesus who tells him he must go and find Saul, and pray with him, and lay hands on Saul so that he might regain his sight. First of all, Ananias is a very faithful man, and his first response was “Here I am, Lord.” That is until he heard who he was supposed to go and pray with. Saul wasn’t just some guy. He was well known to the people of the Way. Saul was public enemy number one in their minds. Imagine the worst person you can – Hitler, Putin, the list goes on – now imagine that Jesus tells you you’re supposed to go and make nice with them and pray with them. So Ananias says, “Say what now? Him? Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. He’s the worst!” But in this vision Jesus persists and explains that Saul will actually become a great leader and preacher championing The Way.

I really feel for Ananias. I can only imagine how conflicted he must have been. But, being a faithful man, off he goes to pray with Saul.
Acts 9:17-18 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.

Let’s pause here and think about Saul’s journey. He had a stop-in-your-tracks enlightening experience, he endured a symbolic dying and was ‘in the tomb’ for 3 days, and now, upon receiving prayer, and the laying on of hands, he becomes filled with the Holy Spirit. Can you see the pattern? An awakening of some sort stopped his former path, he died to that former path and spent some time in the darkness of unknowing (maybe it was like a wilderness time), and then he receives prayer and healing through the faithfulness of a mature person of faith, and it brings him out of his tomb and into the light of Christ.

After such a blessing, after such a gift of renewed life, his very first response, his first action, is to be baptized. Baptism is an act of surrender, an act of trust (especially if you’re doing the immersion kind), and an act of initiation, of becoming one of the People of the Way of Jesus. Saul’s second response was to spend several days with the disciples in Damascus, eating, regaining his strength, learning from them, experiencing their vibe, discovering what this renewed life kinda looked like. I think this time of Saul’s being among the disciples is severely overlooked. He’s often written as kind of a loner – going off on missionary journeys and doing his own thing. So it’s really important to see that before he did that he was nurtured and formed in Christian community! (Just like us!)

And then his last action in this reading is that he begins his public ministry as a preacher, going out and sharing the story of Jesus in synagogues. Can you imagine what kind of reception he may have gotten in some of those places? Maybe that’s why he needed to go and minister among Gentiles – because it may have been hard for people who knew of him before to accept the ‘new Saul’.

So that pattern again – an awakening,
a time of unknowing,
dying to what was,
receiving blessing through persons of faith,
emerging into a renewed life, symbolized by baptism,
being formed and nurtured in Christian community,
and then living out your calling by sharing the love of God in the world.

I’m not sure at what moment we might say that Saul was truly changed – but through this process, this pattern, it’s clear he was. Imagine going from being public enemy number one to being part of the group you were persecuting! Encountering the light of Christ, well, that changes everything, if you’re ready to receive it.

And that leads me back to the start of this story. I have a confession to make. read on

220417 – And the Rest (Easter)

Yr C ~ Easter Sunday ~ Luke 24:1-12 (MSG)

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale – a tale of a fateful trip. It started from a tropic port aboard a tiny ship. (begin singing) The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure, 5 passengers set sail that day, for a 3 hour tour. A 3 hour tour!
The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert aisle – with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his Wife, the Movie Star, and the rest – here on Gilligan’s Isle

Bet ‘ya never heard an Easter sermon start like that before! Y’all are like Peter after he saw the empty tomb – walking away puzzled, shaking your heads! How many of you sang different words than me just now? With Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his Wife, the Movie Star, and the rest! That’s how the words went in the first season of the show. How would you like it if you were on a TV show that only had 7 characters and you were thought to be so insignificant that they named 5 of them in the intro and lumped you into and the rest? In the second season what did they change to? And the rest became the Professor and Mary Anne. Rightly, that tremendous injustice was redressed and they were thereafter immortalized in the theme song. Compared to the ‘brave’ crew, movie stars, and millionaires I guess a girl next door and a teacher seem pretty ho-hum. History often ignores seemingly insignificant characters who actually do amazing things – but without them the ‘bigger story’ just doesn’t happen.

Luke 24 At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb…The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship… Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James – aha! Finally, we get some names and they are lifted from anonymity, and these women are given the respect they deserve! – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women with them – well, that didn’t last long! – kept telling (about the empty tomb) to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.

To whom was the revelation of the risen Christ first given? Women. Women who were part of ‘the rest’. Not to the so-called stars of the show – and certainly not to ones considered ‘important’ in that society. It wasn’t the chief priests, it wasn’t a king, it wasn’t an emperor, and it wasn’t even one of the twelve named disciples. Resurrection was first revealed to ordinary, mostly unnamed, faithful followers of Jesus. And what was their first instinct? What was the first thing they did upon receiving such a profoundly world-changing revelation? They went and shared it!!!

Luke 24:9 They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest.

The named disciples had been reduced from twelve to eleven because of Judas’ betrayal. But surely you just noticed that it wasn’t only the Eleven who were there. It was the Eleven and the rest! All through the gospel stories of Jesus and the disciples there are references to other disciples beyond the twelve – to the rest. Last week we noticed that at the gates of Jerusalem during the parade there was a ‘multitude’ of disciples. Only 12 get named. But don’t ever think ‘the rest’ aren’t critically important to the story!

The named disciples, and the rest, all hear the testimony and witness of the women – but they don’t believe it. Something is missing. If I have something amazing, and extraordinary, and hard to fathom happen to me, and I get really excited about it, and I come and find you and tell you all about it, at best you might think, “How nice for him.” But something’s missing. It’s second hand. You can experience my enthusiasm for it, but you have to experience it for yourself to really ‘get it’.

Here’s my big point – the telling is not what does it. The telling does not ‘win someone for Christ’ – the telling does not ‘convert’ people. The women did some passionate telling – and the disciples, and the rest, didn’t believe it based on the telling. What did they do? They had to go and see for themselves!

Peter goes racing out to the tomb, and stares into its emptiness, and he is still not assured. What he is, is perplexed! Yup. The guy who ate, and drank, and travelled, and learned at Jesus’ side for 3 solid years, day in and day out, still didn’t get it. That’s not because he’s a duh-sciple (as I so often teasingly call them). It’s because he hadn’t experienced the Spirit of the Risen Christ for himself. He hadn’t learned to perceive the world in a new way yet.

So, did ‘the women’ fail because no one believed them? Absolutely not! The women did amazingly well – because their telling made ‘the rest’ wonder – and opened them to a possibility that they hadn’t considered before – and primed the pump for them to have their own, personal experience of the holy.

Easter dawns, and the world is not all that different. Because we have the benefit of knowing much more of the story we tend to fill in all the blanks. But today’s scripture reading detailing that first Easter morning is filled with ambiguity. Peter walked away puzzled, shaking his head – intrigued, but not understanding. And then, in the coming hours, and days, Peter, and the named disciples, and the rest, began to have personal experiences of the transformed and resurrected Christ, and ‘the church’ began to be set in motion.

From those first followers and down through the centuries the story continued to be told, but apart from a few famous theologians (like Augustine, and Luther, and Calvin, and Wesley), and a few famous mystics (like Saint Francis, and Saint Teresa, and Julian of Norwich, and Brother Lawrence), and a few contemporary heroes (like Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa, and Desmond Tutu, and Thomas Merton) – apart from these folks who made history for one reason or another, the vast, vast majority of people who kept the faith, and shared their faith, and expanded the reach of Jesus’ message of love, love, love were anonymous to us. There’s the ‘big names’ in church-land…and the rest.

From a group of disheartened and defeated disciples sprang a movement so great, and so powerful, that we’re standing here this morning, half a world away, two millennia away, sharing in the wonder of it. How did we get from there to here? How is it that Faith United Church is even a thing? Well, it’s part of the United Church of Canada. Where’d that come from? Well, it was a merger of Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians a hundred years ago. Oh, where did they come from? And on, and on, and on it goes. Where did we come from? How are we here? There’s only one answer: it’s because person after person after person had a spiritual experience and then shared their story, and it opened the next person to their own experience. Those famous theologians, and mystics, and heroes helped tremendously along the way, but we’re not here because of them: we’re here because of the rest.

You’re here because someone in your circle of connection experienced the sacred, and shared it, and that opened someone else enough to drop their guard and seek to experience it themselves. And so on, and so on, and so on. It may not have been a lightning bolt experience for us – most tend not to be. Lots of us were just kind of born into it as we followed along with our family traditions and beliefs. I’ve always thought slow burns were deeper and had more staying power than lightning bolts anyway. But the deciding factor for us to become practicing church folk probably wasn’t a persuasive argument or a finely honed theological discourse. It was your heart strangely warmed. It was (and is) your own, personal spiritual experience that drew you here and keeps you here. And if you just kinda fell into it because your family always did church, then they were actually softly telling you the story all along. Telling the story is key.

And so, each year we continue to rehearse this wondrous story – steeped in mystery and inspiration – a beautiful blend of history and mystery – inviting it to once again stir our stressed-out deadness to new life – knowing that as we hear it and are moved by it, we are once again transformed by the new life that comes as we embrace this way of dying and rising into God’s loving fullness. That’s why we’re together today. We have heard, and in our own ways believed – and we’ve received the blessing of having hearts and minds opened again and again to perceive the presence of God and the reality of God’s Kingdom. Hallelujah!

Now comes the ‘now what?’
Now what?
This celebration of Easter is wonderful – and it’s all for us, for our strengthening, for our remembering, for our inspiration, for our assurance, for our groundedness, for our empowerment, for our conviction. Easter is a beautiful blessing for us.

And the rest? What about the people who either haven’t heard the story, or have heard and for whatever reason weren’t moved? Do we shrug our shoulders and hope they’ll catch on eventually? No, we must tell the story! Our story, of joyful transformation from how we used to live and love to how we now live and love, Jesus’ Way! Our story of dying to what was and being renewed and reborn into what will be. Our resurrection story. But remember, it’s not the persuasiveness of our telling that’s going to convince anyone of anything. It’s our sharing of our heart – our vulnerability to dare to show someone that Spirit moves us, and transforms us, and helps us live more justly, and more fully, and more lovingly. It’s our lived story of renewed, resurrected life that has the potential to resonate with someone’s deep need. And if I can help move someone to wonder, and to question, and seek out an experience of their own, well, I don’t care if I stay anonymous forever.

It was first Jesus’ story, but it’s not really about Jesus – it’s about me.
It’s now my story, but it’s not really about me – it’s about who I love by sharing this old, new story.

We have gathered this morning at the empty tomb to witness something inexplicably wondrous, and then, like ‘the women’, share it and how it moves you, with ‘the rest’.
Your task as a witness of faith is not to win anyone for the kingdom.
Your calling is to inspire the Peters you encounter to go running!
And the rest…is up to God.

Amen.

220415 – Good Friday Reflection

War of the Worlds – Casualties

And just like that, it was over. All that hope. All that talk of justice, and peace. All that focusing on care, and compassion, and serving. All that immersion in love – gone. Snuffed out like a poor brief candle. Yes, we know there’s more to the story, and that this is not the end. But we mustn’t hurry past this moment. If we don’t linger we will lessen the impact of Sunday. If we don’t pause and ponder the cross, we cheapen it, like it’s no big deal and we can just get on with celebrating. Well, you just heard the story of Jesus’ last days with all the gory details. Did it sound like ‘no big deal’ to him?

By the same token, he wouldn’t want us to get stuck here – constantly bemoaning the suffering, and wallowing in guilt, or shame, or whatever else stirs in us amid such agonies. Just as Peter, James, and John couldn’t set up shop on the mountaintop of the transfiguration, neither should we set up shop at the foot of the cross. But we must stay long enough to learn from it.

Why did Jesus feel the need to endure this torment? And make no mistake, crucifixion is purposely designed to be like torture. Why didn’t Jesus just deftly come up with a brilliant turn of phrase and sidestep it all? Some say it’s because God needed to be appeased. Well, I’m sorry, but that makes no sense to me. Tough love may rightly be needed by times, but tough love doesn’t kill the one it loves. Sure, you could say Jesus’ love held him on the cross – but that’s his choice – his commitment – his calling. If it’s his obligation and he’s powerless then it utterly undermines his message.

His message was that the Kingdom of God, the realm in which love and one-anothering are the core values, is a way of living that is worth standing up for, no matter what. It wasn’t God that nailed Jesus to that tree – it was the ‘ways of the world’ that drove the nails in. It was the kingdom of ‘me, me, me’. It was the self-obsession of the powers and principalities of the world that interpreted radical inclusion and infinite loving-kindness as a threat. It was so much of a threat to the powers that be that they went to war against God’s Kingdom by implementing the polar opposite of it. Tragically, there are some hard truths about war – and one of them is that it creates casualties.

Jesus is the ultimate casualty of the ‘war of the worlds’. He paid the ultimate price and was subjected to the ultimate cost of standing for your principles, come what may. That’s why this day is so hard for us to understand – because in a war the good guys are supposed to win. But he didn’t. Or so it seems. Good must prevail over evil. Love must prevail over hate. ‘Us’ must prevail over ‘me’. And it surely will. But it may not be apparent in the moment.

So yes, surely Jesus is a casualty of this ‘war or the worlds’. But so too are all those on the ‘other side’ who have not yet perceived the loving presence of God.
All those who couldn’t understand what Jesus was standing up for.
All those walking around thinking there’s nothing more than our day-to-day slog.
All those who practice self-aggrandizement at the expense of others.
All those who say, “I got mine; I don’t care about you.”
All those slowly (or quickly) chipping away at their soul, when they could be experiencing the joys of knowing who and whose they are – being loved just for being themselves – being beloved by God – which they are, but tragically they don’t seem to realize it.
These are surely also casualties of the ‘war of the worlds’. But they have not yet seen or perceived that.

And maybe that’s a way to understand why Jesus died, or to say that he died ‘for’ us. Jesus was a casualty in this war because he lived God’s Way, he lived his principles, he lived out loud, he lived love – and the world couldn’t comprehend it, and couldn’t abide feeling as it did when faced with it. But in his death, in his dying for his values, our values – he brought light and awareness in the most profound and far-reaching way imaginable. Has any other death been so…noticed?

So it is right for us to lay ourselves down at the foot of the cross for a short while, and notice, and lament. Life is not a Hallmark card, or a neat and tidy TV show that gets all wrapped up with a bow within an hour. Life is messy, and sometimes ugly and horrible – especially when worlds are at war. Jesus on the cross reminds us that we aren’t just playing around with this stuff. We can’t flit in and out of church like it’s nothing. Revealing the Kingdom of God is serious business, and it brings serious consequences to those who would dare to live it loudly.

Luke gives to Jesus these final earthly words – “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” They’re the same words he lived every day. Trust, commitment, belovedness. No war could ever take that from Jesus. No cross could either. Trust, commitment, belovedness. If we can notice that, and live that, and have it take hold more deeply, more passionately, and more emphatically because of the cross, then yes – I think it’s entirely true that he died ‘for’ us. And in gratitude our response should be to weep, and pray, and rest in remembering all he said and did. And soon, in a couple of days, we’ll be ready for the next battle in this ‘war of the worlds’.
But for now, in the shadow of the cross, in the stillness, we wait…

220410 – War of the Worlds – Shrieking Sunday

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

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 Parade Sunday, or Cloak Sunday. In Luke’s version the people laid cloaks before Jesus but didn’t wave palm branches. 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.

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.

The 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!

Verse 37 says: As [Jesus] was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.

Did you catch that? Who is making up this crowd? It says “the whole multitude of disciples!” A multitude of disciples! Not just 12, not just a bunch, but a multitude. I think our typical view of the story is that the crowd was made up of a throng of curious onlookers who heard a commotion and came to see what the fuss was about. But Luke suggests it was a multitude of disciples accompanying Jesus – followers filled with the Spirit and being unashamedly demonstrative about it.

Does that change the way you see the story? How about this? – If you were a Roman soldier or a Pharisee and you saw a random crowd gather you might worry a bit – but if you saw a multitude of disciples descending on the city raising a ruckus I’m pretty certain your guard would be up and you’d be ready for action.

Here’s a question for you. If Jesus were to appear today and start parading toward a city to make some kind of point would you be a curious onlooker? Would you be part of the parade laying down your cloak, singing songs of praise to God, and marching toward the powers that be? I wonder.

Ok, now we get to the really juicy stuff! Listen carefully to verse 39:
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

Did you catch that? Where does Luke suggest the Pharisees were? In the crowd! Not standing apart and looking down judgingly but in the midst of the crowd – the crowd of disciples! The suggestion here is that Jesus had some Pharisees as his disciples! Wow!

The story works perfectly well either way – whether the Pharisees were apart from the crowd or within it. What changes is the tone. If those Pharisees were disciples in the crowd then when they say “Teacher, order your disciples to stop” it isn’t an authoritative command from on high – it’s a heartfelt plea from within. The tone changes from angry judgment to friendly concern. Who better than Pharisees to understand that such a rowdy display was likely to seriously ruffle the feathers of the authorities.

However you interpret that one thing is certain. As Jesus entered Jerusalem he encountered opposition – maybe from without, maybe from within, but nonetheless, opposition. How did he respond? read on

220403 – War of the Worlds – Prodigals

Yr C ~ Lent 5 ~ Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

This is the fifth sermon in a Lenten series called War of the Worlds. We’ve been looking at the culture clash and conflict that happens when the ‘ways of the world’ – which are marked by self-indulgence, self-importance, and self-obsession – collide with the ‘way of the Kingdom of God’ – which is grounded in love of God and love of other. I’ve called it ‘me, me, me’ vs ‘us, us, us’. And we’ve looked at it from a number of angles.

Interestingly, or perhaps tragically, over the centuries as we’ve tried to articulate what this Kingdom of God is like in contrast to the ‘ways of the world’ Christians have tended to get it, well, wrong. A lot. Our problem, our challenge, is that as we begin to describe God we have to rely on our own language and experience, both of which fall terribly short of being able to really frame the staggering awesomeness of God well. How do you describe the indescribable?
So instead of words and definitions we turn to stories and parables that paint pictures. Stories have the power to help us imagine things better – and there’s probably no better known story in the bible than that of the prodigals. Notice I didn’t call it the prodigal son. Although, I might have called it the prodigal sons, plural. More about that in a few minutes.

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 maybe even offend 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 your brain!

It’s actually three stories – about two brothers and their parent – and they’re all pretty shocking! The younger turns away from the family, squanders the inheritance, makes bad choices, 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 servant. 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 kid’s apology, and welcomed the kid home without hesitation. It’s almost like the parent had been waiting with open arms the whole time.

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

Instead of 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?”

Enter the sulking older sibling – sees the party, learns it’s for the returned prodigal, and goes off in a huff. This is the dutiful child who stayed home and took care of things while the other one goofed off. Most of us probably relate to this older child. We’re the ones who follow the rules and do the right thing.

Are you ready for the shocking part? This child is a prodigal too!
Are you ready for another shocking part? The parent again comes running out and begs the older child to come in and share in the party.

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

Now, I’m sure we have some sympathy for the older sibling. Because we’re the dutiful ones we want to be rewarded and honoured for being good. On one level the older kid has a case. “I’ve produced like society says I’m supposed to. Where’s my reward?”

Is it any wonder we get theology wrong so often? On the surface the older sib looks like the one who’s hard done by. That’s our automatic reaction. But that’s also the way of the world. “Where’s my reward? I earned it.”

The parent though is on a whole other level.
The parent says, “But you’ve been with me all the time!”
And we go, “Huh?! That’s the reward?”
Yeah! It is!

What the parent didn’t say, and what the preacher gets to fill in is the longer, unpublished version of the parent’s speech… read on

220327 – War of the Worlds – Bad Theology

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? 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! He 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 at worship.
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. That is some bad, bad theology. 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. But he doesn’t stop there. This isn’t a shoulder-shrugging fatalism that glumly endures whatever happens and renders God irrelevant.

The point is not to try to figure out why some folks suffer or die in certain ways; the point Jesus makes is that we’re all going to die – some naturally, some by violence, some by accidents. But instead of fussing about that Jesus says we should spend our energy on how we live!

Twice here in this passage Jesus calls us to repent. Now, that’s a loaded word for some people. It has been understood (and preached) poorly over time.
Repent means to have a change of heart, a change of mind. Literally it means to have a new mind. There is a turning, a change of direction, an end to one path in favour of a new path in God’s love. A deep personal relationship with the Sacred is neither fire insurance nor a protective bubble – it’s about being fully alive while we’re alive. It’s about abundant life in this life.

In Luke 13:3 and again in verse 5, Jesus says something very cryptic. About those tragic news reports, and friends we’re still being inundated with tragic news reports all the time – Jesus asks whether those folks had it coming.
His answer is: No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

We get the repent part – to have a change of heart and mind. But what about that ‘if you don’t you’ll all perish as they did’ part? read on

220320 – War of the Worlds – Belly God

Yr C ~ Lent 3 ~ Philippians 3:17-4:1

I’m calling this Lenten sermon series the War of the Worlds – borrowing from H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi novel – a novel about what happens when a powerful, hostile ‘world’ wages war on a ‘world’ with an entirely different world-view. And really, that’s what this is about – it’s a war of the world-views. This concept is erupting with devastating consequences around our planet right now. Places like Ukraine, Myanmar, Yemen, Ethiopia-Eritrea-Sudan, on and on the violence goes. The evil of ‘power-over’ clashing with those who would resist.

Solving geo-political quagmires is far beyond us, but we can’t help but want to do something, anything to help. That’s why our recent appeal for donations of personal care items for people in Ukraine was so overwhelmingly supported. It was something we could tangibly do beyond thoughts and prayers.
And, this is important – it was a way to assert our world-view in the face of an oppressive world-view.

This is the war of the world-views that we can make a difference in. It’s the ‘ways of the world’ vs God’s Way. It’s the kingdoms of empire vs the Kingdom of God. It’s me, me, me vs us, us, us. The first Sunday in Lent we looked at Jesus in the wilderness – countering the voice of temptation that tries to entice us with taking the easy way, worshipping the wrong things, and distracting us from filling our tank with Spirit.

Last week we explored our constant struggle to turn away from self-interest, and self-indulgence, and self-importance and press on toward the ever-deepening goal of love, love, love. Today we’re picking up right where we left off in Philippians 3 and hearing Paul say more about those who worship the ways of the world, especially the self-indulgence part. We’re using The Message translation today because it’s phrasing is so personal and relatable, and I’m going to go verse-by-verse and amplify Paul’s words as I go.

v.17 Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal.

Watch for people whose faith journey seems deep and grounded. Seek out mentors you can be in relationship with and learn from. They probably won’t see themselves as worthy of being a mentor. But they are. We say we follow Jesus, but really we follow one another in the ways Jesus taught. When the world gives us so many examples of unhealthy and unloving ways to walk, it’s that much more critical that we find kindred in Christ whose walk inspires us.
Because…

v.18 There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross.

Easy street is the opposite of what Jesus taught. That’s why so many people seem hostile to our faith. Maybe you’ve encountered some of that. It usually comes in the form of a vicious and dismissive eye-roll! Maybe some of that hostility comes from the fact that far too many people through church history have tried to make faith into easy street. “Say these magic sentences and you get into heaven!” That’s easy street thinking.
Faith is the opposite of that.
Faith knows it’s not what you say – it’s how you live.
It’s how you love.
It’s how you love, love, love.

Easy-streeters hate Christ’s cross because the cross symbolizes dying to the ways of the world and opening your heart to God’s way of love. Dying to me, me, me and being reborn into us, us, us. Letting go of the lure of easy street is really hard, because on the surface it seems so appealing.

v.19 But easy street is a dead-end street.

The NRSV bible says for those on that path “their end is destruction.” It doesn’t really mean annihilation, but instead means “loss of well-being” not loss of ‘being’.
Loss of well-being. A dead-end street.
If that’s so obvious to us, why is this a problem? Why is the way of the world, easy street, so alluring?

v.19 continues Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.

What does it mean to make your belly your god? read on

220313 – War of the Worlds – Rubbishness

Yr C ~ Lent 2 ~ Philippians 3:4b-14

This is going to be uncomfortable for a while. Oh, we’ll land in a good place, but first we’re going to wade through some nasty business. We’re looking at Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi today and next week. Paul is writing from prison, and he’s laying it on pretty thick. (Yeah, I know, Paul always tends to lay it on pretty thick. Let’s call it the preacher’s prerogative!)

The lectionary has us start at verse 4 of Philippians 3. Why not start at verse 1? It’s probably because it’s a bit nasty – and confusing. This whole chapter must’ve been hard to translate from the Greek because it’s all quite convoluted, but the core message is actually pretty straightforward. Paul begins by talking about ‘the world’, and how most people put all their confidence in ‘the ways of the world’. Last week we talked about how the voice of temptation enticed Jesus to worship power, and money, and fame, and ambition, and how Jesus responded, “You’re worshipping the wrong things.” Paul is saying the same thing here. I’ve been calling it ‘the world’. Paul’s catchword for all that is ‘the flesh’. I believe he means the things of the world as opposed to the things of Spirit.

Paul says that people of faith don’t need to have confidence in the flesh – and then he immediately says, “But if we did, I’d have the most!” Like I said – confusing. But let’s think it through. He’s laying out his credentials. He’s showing the Philippians that in the eyes of the world, especially the known religious world (which in this case is Judaism), that Paul is the epitome of it – the poster child. If you want to critique a system you have to have some cred. If I walked into the quilting group one morning and started to tell them that they’re doing it all wrong they’d laugh me out of the room. Deservedly! I have no cred there.

But here, in this space, in this pulpit, I have significant cred. I’ve even got the fancy degrees and a collar to prove it! I can authentically stand here and critique scripture, church, and faith. So too could Paul. And so he stood there – well, wrote there, I guess, and in the finest tradition of his saviour he turns it all on its head. He says that whatever gains he may have made in the world’s eyes, whatever success he may have achieved, whatever clout he may have accrued, whatever status and privilege he may have ‘earned’ – it was nothing, less than nothing, compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. (Philippians 3:8)

According to Paul, the world says we should be chasing all manner of things – and Paul tells us exactly what he thinks of those things. He says it’s all rubbish. Well, that’s the polite translation. It’s a remarkably salty Greek word. It literally means garbage. Dung. In today’s terms I guess you could say Paul is calling BS on ‘the ways of the world’.
(If you’d like to substitute that every time I say ‘rubbishness’, be my guest!)

We are constantly being drawn into, and tempted by, and distracted by, and conned by…rubbishness. read on

220306 – War of the Worlds – Temptation

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

It’s a story that we’ve heard so many times, and that’s inspired so much art, and literature, and yes, sermons over the years that we may think it doesn’t have much more to say to us. Like much of scripture, the more familiar bits require us to dig in a little deeper to get underneath what we think we already know. And it’s a good reminder that while the story appears to be about Jesus way back then, it’s actually about you and me, here and now. Let’s get into it, and curiously perhaps, we’ll spend most of our time just on the first verse!

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, and how Jesus faced it. The temptations get all the attention, but for me it’s these three words that matter the most: fullness, led, and wilderness.

This scene takes place right after Jesus was baptized. He’s just experienced a transcendent moment in the waters of the Jordan, and has had a life-changing encounter with the Presence of God. Jesus is absolutely full of the Holy Spirit. I’m certain if you could’ve talked to him at that moment you’d have been able to see it in his eyes, and his face would’ve been glowing with shalom and love.

The reason I’m emphasizing this is because it’s crucial that before Jesus was tempted in the wilderness he was full of the Holy Spirit. What I’m saying is: don’t face temptation on an empty tank. If Jesus was left to his own willpower who knows how those temptations might have gone. If you find yourself tempted, or struggling, wondering if your strength will be enough – it might be, but even Jesus relied on something far greater than his own willpower.

I know what you’re thinking – “my temptations tend to come when I’m out of gas and that’s why I so often stumble and fail.” Yup. It does seem like that. So I’m saying if you want a different result, start with a full tank. Don’t wait until you’re on empty before you think about refueling. Constantly stay filled with the Holy Spirit and you’ll always be ready, for whatever may come.

The fullness of God, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that’s not something Jesus earned like a gold star by acing his temptations – it was his starting point. Start with the fullness of God and everything else looks different. And not that this is the only place to get filled, but doing this worship thing regularly and growing and cultivating your capacity to love God, love people, and love one another is a fabulous recipe for fullness!

The place where Jesus was tempted was the wilderness. We’ve talked about this before. In the bible when you hear of a person going to the wilderness it’s a metaphor for a place of transformation. It isn’t that the desert, or wilderness, or deserted place is magic; it’s that it’s quiet. There are no distractions in the wilderness when you’re alone – except for your own thoughts, of course. Jesus had just been baptized and he was about to figure out how to live the rest of his life. What shape would his ministry take? Was he really ready to begin a public ministry that might have significant consequences? His time in the wilderness helped him discern that.

The other giveaway is the number 40. Whenever 40 is used in the bible it’s about a transformation. 40 years in the wilderness the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land. 40 days and nights it rained on Noah and the world was transformed. 40 days Moses was up the mountain to get the commandments. 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness. Again, there’s nothing magic about this – it’s just a placeholder for a significant enough period of time for something to really change. They say if you want to break a habit or build a new one it takes around 6 weeks for it to stick. That’s around 40 days. So it’s a period of transformation in a place of transformation.

Fullness. Wilderness. And now the third word – led. Jesus was led into the transformative wilderness by the Spirit. That means Jesus did not choose to go. Jesus did not necessarily want to go. Jesus was not in charge. Jesus was not following a carefully laid out 7-point plan that he read about in a self-help book. Jesus was doing the one thing that we find so very hard to do. He allowed himself to be led. He felt a spiritual nudge and went with it.

It’s very popular for church people to call ourselves followers of Jesus. But that doesn’t just mean to do as he did – it also means to be led as he was led. Not all of us want to be in the lead, or be a leader, but precious few of us have the strength to allow ourselves to be led, to surrender. Did you catch that? Being led, surrendering to Spirit, is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of great strength. To be led, by definition, means less self-importance and more humility. Like Jesus.

There he is, in the wilderness, full of the Holy Spirit – being led – facing hard challenges and temptations – having his being shaped by God’s love, and discerning what his life is going to be about.

Will he be self-serving or serve others? Will his ego get the better of him or will he answer God’s call? Will he use his gifts, and skills, and power for his own gain or so that others can know God’s love too? Will you?

Just like us, Jesus was tempted with ego and power – and he replied with the love of God. Will you? Look at this picture.  It absolutely sums up this whole scripture passage in one image. Jesus was tempted, not by some ridiculous red-skinned, devil with horns and a pitchfork trying to talk him into doing something naughty. No, Jesus’ adversary was much more insidious than that – he’s facing his own consciousness, his own ego, his own shadowy self, trying to talk him into turning away from God’s Presence and relying on himself alone. And Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, drew on that spiritual power that so utterly filled him and claimed the light and love of God.

The voice of temptation said, read on

220302 – Ash Wednesday

Scripture: Psalm 51:10-17

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
51:13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
51:14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
51:15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
51:16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
51:17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

Reflection  –  Broken Open (the reflection is an amplification of Psalm 51, offered in the form of a prayer from a person to God…)

Verse 10 of Psalm 51 gets all the attention, God, and deservedly so, because it’s such an evocative verse: Create in me a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit within me. I can hear the aching, the yearning in the psalmist – in me. In us? The awareness – that the heart I have just isn’t cutting it. I could use a new one. A clean one. It kind of makes us squirm when we realize that yearning for that clean heart means acknowledging that the one we’ve been working from is somehow…marred – misshapen perhaps through too much setting it on unworthy things, or using it for less than holy purposes. A clean heart, as opposed to this smudged and scuffed up version. A holy heart.

And while you’re in there, God, fixing stuff up, how about installing a new and right spirit too? Mine’s been acting up a bit lately – making some strange noises. I’d like the latest model please. Green and energy efficient, of course!

Even though I know that you would/could never, ever do it, I’m worried that you’ll withdraw your Spirit from me, and cast me away from your Presence. I know that’s foolish, but I can’t help thinking it. I know what my tarnished and stony heart has been up to!

I pray I can return to the joy I used to feel – of absolutely being sure that you were right with me – and how that sustained me, and gave me a willing spirit. I’m not sure how, or where, or why I speed-wobbled, but I’m wobbling. If I could get that feeling back I could convince the world to recognize you.

Maybe part of it is the news I can’t seem to turn away from these days. I know I’m pretty safe – but my heart breaks for those in the fray. I wish you could just make us all see – because then it would all stop – and instead of shouting at each other, or hurting each other we might actually love one another. And we’d use our voices for singing your praises instead.

I can’t bargain with you, Abba. I’ve got nothing to barter with. My sacrifices or offerings, heck even my paltry prayers and mumblings are not really what you’re looking for. What you’re looking for is a chance to help me with my heart.

Scripture says what you’re interested in is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart – but I don’t think that’s quite right. Or at least, something’s got lost in translation. I think what you’re really interested in is a broken-open heart – a broken-open ego – a broken-open me.

 

[this song was then shared – see our YouTube channel for an audio/video version]

Heartbroken

Been taking myself too seriously
I’m all about accomplish, perform and achieve
I’m letting go of pretense, my persona’s not me
I’m stripping the illusion

Been hiding away the things I despise
Failures, limitations, contradictions, lies
I’m letting go of willfulness, let willingness arise
I’m stripping the illusion

Don’t need to be perfect, just humble
As out of my shadow I stumble

I’m feeling heartbroken, heartbroken
I need my heart broken o-pen
I’m feeling heartbroken, heartbroken
I need my heart broken o-pen
my heart broken o-pen,     my heart broken o-pen

I’m longing for a space where I can breathe
With nothing to protect or prove, defend, or plead
Naked so that God can love the me God sees
I’m stripping the illusion

 

220213 – Enemy Mine

Yr C ~ Epiphany 6 ~ Luke 6:27-31

Sometimes Jesus really ticks me off. How’s that for a sermon opener?! I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in a state lately, and it’s not been happy. There are times when I just want to shut out the world, and ignore all the news, and retreat to my cozy little country home hideaway. I don’t ever talk politics from this pulpit, and I won’t talk politics today.

I will, however, definitively and without apology, say that these ongoing protests, regardless of whatever wafer thin connection to legitimacy they may have begun with, have devolved into a reprehensible affront to decency, common sense, science, and logic. It’s a toddler’s temper tantrum that thinks personal inconvenience for the greater good and health of all is somehow an attack on an individual. But I probably shouldn’t say any more because, you know, pastor and all. My first draft of this rant (I mean sermon) had several more paragraphs about this, including how if this had been an Indigenous rights or Black Lives Matter protest it would have been physically ended long ago – but I digress. Pastor. Shh.

Look, everyone is tired of mandates and restrictions. Everyone is tired of all this Covid pandemic nonsense. Everyone wants their lives back. Everyone wants all this stuff to be over and done with. I know I do. I’m sick of it. I believe our Prime Minister even said it clearly this past week – this pandemic stuff sucks. We’re done, we’re tired, we’re through.

But the problem is that Covid doesn’t care about how we’re feeling. It just keeps on rolling, and infecting, and mutating, if unchecked. And dropping health mandates too quickly that collectively protect us all just because we’re tired and frustrated, well, that’s an understandable desire, but unwise.

So we take a deep breath, and then another, and another, because we’re all pretty ticked off about this whole thing – and then we keep on keeping on, because it’s for the collective good – because that’s what love does. Love looks out for the collective good. Love gets vaccinated. Love wears masks. Love loves.

And then we’re confronted with ‘the other’ who refuses to…love. The type that parks their lot in the middle of everything and shakes their fist at the world. The type that yells at the top of their lungs the opposite to what I’d yell at the top of mine. The type that, considering all that, would have to be described as my enemy. An enemy to logic, and science, and decency, and love.

And what does Jesus have to say about that? You’re not going to like it. I don’t like it.
Remember how I started this sermon? Sometimes Jesus really ticks me off!
What would Jesus say to us in such a delicate, and fraught, and volatile situation?
What would Jesus say when clearly ‘they’ are in the wrong and ‘we’ are in the right?

He’d say this, (hold on to your hats): read on

220205 – The Deep

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

One of my favourite metaphors for God is the concept of ocean. An ocean is vast, powerful, mysterious, dangerous, deep, has waves and currents, is known yet unknowable, represents a voyage, is the lifeblood of the world. These rich ocean metaphors vividly describe the Holy Mystery we call God, and our journey of faith. And like oceans, the Sacred is largely unexplored! There are depths of Sacred Presence that too few humans have had the courage and conviction to dive into. We are in a profound relationship with The Deep – whether we’re aware of it or not.

You could think of this whole spiritual journey we’re on as being like moving from the shallow water of everyday experience and into the mystery and wonder of the Deep. That movement is our deepening relationship with God – our immersion in the ocean of Presence that surrounds and enfolds us. The bible is filled with stories of people on this same journey. People just like you and me – and Simon Peter.

Luke 5:1-11 is one of the places we hear about Peter’s call story (he actually doesn’t get the name Peter for a couple more chapters but I’m going to use it now anyway for clarity). A crowd presses in on Jesus hungering and thirsting for more of the Sacred Reality he’s revealing. Presses in! We could stop right there and just explore that remarkable image, but not today. Jesus asks Peter (it’s unclear how well they know each other here) if he can use his boat to go out a bit and create an impromptu natural amphitheatre – you know how sound travels better over water. After Jesus finishes his teaching he invites Peter to take the boat out into the lake and go fishing.

Peter protests. Why should he listen to this guy? Jesus was a carpenter, not a fisher. Peter had been out all night and caught nothing. Why should he go back out – during the daytime – and fail again? But something in the exchange persuades him and out they go. And lo and behold a miraculous amount of fish are caught and Peter becomes a disciple.

Taken on the surface this story feels kind of like magic. Jesus waves his magic wand and they throw the nets over the side of the boat and receive a massive catch of fish. Is that the right take-away for us here? Does Jesus say, “I’ll do something flashy and wondrous for you and that’ll make you want to follow my way”? Nope. But we can really trip on the miracle part. What if ‘miracle’ didn’t mean supernatural but just something that’s so beyond the ordinary and usual that it feels extraordinary and unusual?

The miracle here isn’t that there were suddenly so many fish. read on

220129 – Mirror, Mirror

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

It obviously is, but it really isn’t, but in the end it actually is. People who have never attended a Sunday worship service probably still have some resonance with 1 Corinthians 13. If you’ve been to a wedding you’ve probably heard it there. It gets used for weddings all the time because it talks about love so much. So it obviously is a passage about love – but it really isn’t – at least not that kind of love. It’s not about romantic love, it’s about holy, spiritual love. The Greek word is agape.

And when you put it in context, and remember that in the chapter preceding this, which we’ve been looking at for the last two weeks, Paul (the author) has been going into overtime wagging his finger at the people who make up the Corinthian church. Among a host of other problems in that congregation that we didn’t talk about, including class segregation, sexual impropriety, and taking one another to court, here Paul is in the midst of chastising them for privileging the spiritual gift of tongues over other gifts. Then in the next chapter (14) he says why that’s wrong. It’s because tongues are usually only used to build up oneself, whereas other gifts like prophesying, preaching, serving, hospitality, and whatnot are used to build up the body of Christ.

So we’ve got finger wagging on either side of chapter 13 here – but suddenly Paul takes a break and decides to write a wedding sermon? Not likely. Heck, even in the first verse he repeats that there’s a problem with how they’re using the gift of tongues. 1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

The problem with the Corinthians is that they don’t appear to be doing things out of love. I make a big deal about this every week at offering time. I talk about how God fills us with love and we respond by loving, by sharing that overflow of love. The Corinthians apparently weren’t getting that message. So Paul tells them exactly what love is, by telling them what love isn’t. Again, a curious choice for a wedding text.

He says love is patient and kind – but then we get a laundry list of all the things love isn’t – and apparently it’s a list of how those Corinthians are acting. They are being: impatient, unkind, arrogant, envious, boastful, rude, selfish, irritable, resentful, and celebrating others’ failures. Ouch! In contrast to how they’re doing it, Paul tells them that love – agape love, holy love, spiritual love, God-based love, Christ-centred love, Spirit-filled love – bears all things, trusts all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It’s self-less, not self-obsessed – it’s other-focussed (or better still, one-another-focussed), not self-focussed. And he closes with love never falls down.

God’s love never falls down. Human love? Well, that seems to be hit or miss sometimes. Then Paul surprises us. He says that prophecies, and tongues, and knowledge will all eventually fall down. Church and theology will eventually run their course – but God’s love, and loving in God’s way, never will.

And now we get to the heart of it. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

That’s a tricky concept – the complete. The Greek word means ‘perfect’, which is even trickier. It doesn’t mean perfect as in without ever making a mistake, and it doesn’t mean complete as in finished and done. The best single word to sum the concept up is ‘maturity’. Completeness, Christian ‘perfection’, actually means to be spiritually mature. And if you are spiritually mature you know that you’ll still make mistakes, and that you’ll never be finished growing and deepening. But you will know, and experience, and embody the fullness of God.

Here’s the million-dollar question: When does the complete come? Some folks interpret it as upon death – that only in death can we know the fullness of immersion in God. But I think there’s much more here. I believe with all my being that we can approach that fullness of God in the here and now, that spiritual maturity is possible in the here and now.

And that leads to the billion-dollar question: How? How do I become spiritually mature?
The answer is Jackson, Jason, and Jim! (Oh, and Jesus, of course.)

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Now we perceive, or discern, in a mirror, dimly. Then, when we’re mature, we will perceive/discern face to face. Who? God – one another – everything. Our whole perception will be made whole – we’ll see one another and God face to face – in full presence – in completeness.

But we can’t skip to the ‘then’, the perception part, without doing the ‘now’, the mirror part, first. read on

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