211121 – Influencers

Yr B ~ Reign of Christ ~ Revelation 1:4b-8

I know that some folks start to squirm in their seats as soon as I say that someone (anyone) is your king. Some don’t like the patriarchal overtones. Some don’t like the triumphalist sense it can bring. But I think we balk at it simply because we don’t like to be ruled. We don’t like to be subjects.

Perhaps, instead, we might focus not so much on the ‘royal person’ but on their realm of influence. What does a king/queen/regent do? They reign. They act. They move. They influence. They command (and we all know what Jesus commands, right? – Jesus commands us to love, love, love!). The Reign of Christ – which is what today’s called in the liturgical calendar – is another way of saying the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. It’s the space, the time, the umbrella of authority under which we stand, the canvass upon which our lives are painted, the arena in which our ‘game’ is played. So, will we focus today on the influencer, or their influence? Yes! Both.

Our text for today comes from the book of Revelation. This is a wonderful but tricky book. It has acquired a really negative reputation in many churches because it seems so weird, and violent, and frightening. Even Martin Luther himself would have preferred that it be excised from the bible, and several heavy duty theologians refused to write commentaries on it. Pity. It’s really quite wonderful.

The problem is we’ve never done a good job of teaching people how to read it – and you really do have to read it with a totally different lens than you’re used to. It’s like analyzing a dream – and you know how logical and straightforward dreams are!
Or maybe it’s like a first century science fiction movie – with lots of creatures and special effects.

Or…imagine yourself sitting in a Broadway theatre, and a single actor is standing centre stage giving a tour de force performance of a fantastically wild tale as a one-person show. That’s how this book was likely shared with it’s first audiences – as a story-telling performance. Underneath it all is a very strong message about God, and Jesus, and faith. Our challenge is that we get lost in the flash and miss the substance. (So it is with life too!)

This book was meant to be performed, not dissected – and it was meant to be heard and experienced as a whole, not in little bite-sized pieces that out of context can be wildly misinterpreted.

So, let’s start dissecting! (lol)
Today’s reading is all about influencers and their influence.
And it challenges us think hard about how the influencers influence us!

Revelation 1:4-5 Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

We begin with the influencers. The One who is and who was and who is to come. That’s God – who is (present), who was (past), and who is to come (future). God is not just the God of history; God is also the God of right here and right now, and yet there is also a promise that God isn’t done yet – there’s more yet to come. God was, is, and will be. Our main influencer is omni-present – always has been, always will be.

The other influencer is the Christ who taught, transformed, and reigned. Or is that teaches, transforms, and reigns? Or both? Christ the faithful witness (teacher, taught, still teaching) – Christ the firstborn of the dead (a resurrection reference, he was raised, he is risen, he was transformed and he still transforms) – and Christ the ruler of the kings of the earth (well, he wasn’t literally back then, but then again he was, because he was stronger than the human empires that stood against him and tried to make him irrelevant – and even today his teaching, life, and example move people to confront empire).

These are the players in our Broadway show. The influencers. And what do we know about them?
They are timeless, present, and not yet finished influencing.
What do these influencers do? How do they influence our lives?

Revelation 1:5-6 To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Ok, what has Jesus done for us? Don’t get lost in troublesome words.
Look at the verbs!
Jesus loves, frees, and makes. Loves us – that’s easy to understand.

Frees us from our sins by his blood. Yeah, yeah, I know. That one has tons of baggage. Let me work with it for a minute to see if this helps. read on

211107 – Bittersweet

Yr B ~ Pentecost 24 ~ Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

We pick up the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz after Ruth has been given permission and protection to glean (which means to gather up crops after the main harvesters have gone through) in Boaz’s fields. If you missed last week you can get the first part of the story in the posted sermon on our website (or watch through last week’s YouTube livestream). But here’s the quick recap. Naomi experiences famine, a move, the deaths of her husband and sons, a return to her homeland, and especially the kindness and loyalty of her daughter-in-law Ruth. Now back in Bethlehem they need to make a life for themselves, but being widowed women in that culture, they had limits on what they could do. So Ruth turns to gleaning. She’s been gleaning for two months. To continue the story we need to make a couple of assumptions.

The first is that during this time Ruth and Boaz have developed a relationship, but it has not progressed. By that I mean, she’s a widowed woman and he’s a man with no wife, but he hasn’t pursued ‘that kind’ of relationship. There’s a number of possibilities here. The best guess is that he is such an honourable man that he thinks he’s too old for Ruth so he has given her the space to perhaps catch the eye of a younger, richer man. (Boaz more or less says that later in the story.)

Another assumption we have to make is that Naomi is not content to sit back and let the fates rule her life. Security is a supremely high value for her. It was there in Ruth 1:9, and it’s here again in Ruth 3:1. As a widow Naomi has little protection, less security, and not many rights. As an older widow she probably presumes she herself is unlikely to attract another husband, so she conjures a plan to leverage what little agency she has in their culture. She looks to her daughter-in-law Ruth, and we start to squirm. The plan is very ingenious, but to our sensibilities it probably feels unseemly.

Allow me to paraphrase. Naomi tells Ruth to bathe and perfume herself, put on pretty clothes, and go to Boaz – waiting until he’s finished eating and drinking and has gone to sleep. Then, Ruth 3:3, “go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.”

That’s not very subtle. We might wonder if the uncovering of feet is code for something in their culture. Not really – well, it’s simply a pretty thinly veiled reference to sex. I’m sorry if talking about sex in church makes you uncomfortable. It is what it is. Naomi and Ruth’s plan is actually a very risky and bold strategy. They’re gambling on Boaz being a stereotypical man. A pretty, young thing sneaks into your sleeping space, cozies up to you, propositions you with sex (uncovering you, lying down, ready to do what you say!) – (like I said, it’s not subtle) – well, usually that’s a pretty safe bet as to how a man might react, I’d think.

The next part of our reading jumps to them getting married – which probably suggests that the plan worked. Right? read on

211031 – Companions

Yr B ~ Pentecost 23 ~ Ruth 1:1-18

We’re going to be spending this week and next pondering the book in the Hebrew Scriptures called Ruth. It’s quite a remarkable book – primarily because it’s called Ruth! It’s the only book in the whole bible that bears a woman’s name, and features female characters as the primary focus. It’s an ever so brief opportunity to peer behind the curtain of womanhood in ancient times. It’s a book ‘about’ women, but it’s certainly not just a book ‘for’ women. The themes are deep, and rich, and wonderful – and we get to think about them through a lens that the bible doesn’t offer to us very often – and that gives us an opportunity for a fresh perspective.

It’s quite a short book so I hope you’ll take a few minutes and read it through on your own. I’m going to summarize most of the arc of the story today and next week, but it’s well worth reading through it yourself.

It is set in the time of the Judges – which was a few generations before the time of the kings of Israel. In fact, spoiler alert, at the end of the book of Ruth we get the birth of King David’s grandfather. But the book doesn’t begin in celebratory birth and renewal – it begins in famine and death.

Naomi is actually the main character in the book. Because of a famine in Israel, she and her husband and two sons have to leave Bethlehem to go to nearby Moab. If we spoke Hebrew we’d hear some irony here. It’s a famine – but Bethlehem translates as ‘house of bread’. Anyway, Moab and Israel had, shall we say, a complicated history, so going there was risky for this Jewish family.

The overall story is pretty straightforward, but there are many nuances and cultural subtleties that we should note – not the least of which is the interculturalism of the book. While in Moab, the foreign land, Naomi’s Jewish sons marry Moabite women. It’s not taboo, but it would certainly be eyebrow-raising. There’s 10 years of relative stability, and then more hardship befalls Naomi. Her husband and her two sons all die. Being a foreigner was challenging enough, now Naomi is a foreigner with no men in her family. Women in that ancient culture had few rights, and being a widow increased one’s precariousness.

In short, Naomi was in danger. And she was feeling that God had turned against her. Enduring a famine, residing in a foreign land, losing her husband and sons, and no children being born (barrenness was another supposed consequence of God’s disfavour – we know that’s wrong, but that was the operative theology at the time) – it all heaped up on her.

In Ruth 1:14 Naomi says that it is bitter for her “because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” In verses 20-21 (which aren’t part of our reading today) she says, “Call me no longer Naomi (which means ‘sweet’), call me Mara (which means ‘bitter’), for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
Again, we know that’s not the way God works – but clearly that’s how it felt to her.

Naomi hears that the famine is over and decides to return to Bethlehem. It would have been an arduous 7-10 days trek over rugged terrain – a very dangerous journey for a woman with no men to offer protection. At first she has her two daughters-in-law with her. Three women, alone on the road. Then, part-way along the path, apparently in mid-sentence (according to the way the Hebrew is written), she changes her mind and urges Orpah and Ruth to go back to their families.

(Trivia Time! – read on

211024 – The End

Yr B ~ Pentecost 22 ~ Mark 13:1-8

As they came out of the church, one of the members said, “Look at this beautiful church. I just love these majestic buildings. Church architecture is awesome.” Then Jesus responded, “So you love churches, do you? In time, every one of them will fall down.” The church members were very concerned and asked him, “What? Even ours? But I love my church! Tell us, when will this happen? How will we know it’s coming?”

Jesus replied, “Don’t let yourselves get distracted. And don’t get sucked in by the flavour of the month – or the latest, greatest, flashy thing that’s supposedly gonna save the church. And please, don’t get caught up in the Chicken Littles running around saying ‘the church is dying’. Of course it’s dying. And it’s being reborn. Old ways have to break down for new ways to emerge. Tightly held things have to be let go of in order to be open to God’s newness. That’s the way it works. It’s kinda like birthing – it’s gonna hurt – and then there’s a new thing. Remember what I’ve taught you. Relax.”

And then the line that gets mistranslated and screws us all up – “the end is still to come.”

Here’s Mark 13:7-8 – When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Here’s a paraphrase – “Relax! Yes, things are very challenging now, and the unknown is kind of scary – but it’ll be ok. Fear not! Trust that God is in the new thing. Even so, there’s no getting around it – as we change it’s going to hurt. That’s what birthing something new is like.”

But for some reason, even though it defies all logic, we seem to think that birthing something new is going to be like it is on TV. You know, when a woman says, “Oh dear, I think my water just broke,” and she goes to the hospital, and squinches up her face, and pushes for about 15 seconds, and then whoosh, out comes the baby! Right? It’s just like that, right?

No, of course it isn’t. I’ve been there! Well, I was in the room! It’s agonizing. It’s super-hard. It takes a long, long time and it’s no walk in the park. It’s messy. It hurts. And it’s dangerous. Sure, it’s less dangerous now than ever before because hospitals are very advanced, but childbirth historically has been a very dangerous thing. Many mothers die in the birthing.

Now, on the other side of it, after that really hard ordeal, is a gift of new life that is overwhelmingly wonderful. But you can’t get there without journeying through the painful ordeal.

This is what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples in Mark 13. He used the image of birthpangs because he knew it would be so visceral that it would make his point. But there’s another layer to that too. Mark’s gospel was written in the 0070s, right at or just after the time that the Jewish Temple fell in Jerusalem. There was a war, an uprising, and as the Romans crushed the rebellion they also demolished the Temple.

If you were among the first audiences hearing Mark’s gospel being read to you that news would still be very fresh in your memory. And it was a very painful thing for the Jews. You see, if we arrived here next Sunday and discovered that this church building had been struck by lightning and burned down we would be devastated, because this place is very special to us. We’d be heartbroken.

And then we’d get the insurance money and either rebuild it or go and worship at another church building. There’s plenty around! But for the Jews it was fundamentally different. The Temple wasn’t just a special place for them; it was actually the very centre of their religious practice – God’s home on earth! There were small synagogues and meeting places in the towns and villages, but only at the Temple could you make the required animal or crop sacrifices, and only at the Temple could you properly and fully practice your religion.

So when their Temple crumbled it quite fundamentally destroyed their whole way of understanding their religion, and themselves. There was no insurance settlement. There was no other church to go to. That was it. And it was gone. Can you begin to imagine how devastating that was for them? read on

211010 – Relax

Yr B ~ Thanksgiving ~ Matthew 6:25-33

It’s the last line that trips us up. We hear it and it derails us from what I think Jesus is really teaching. A huge challenge is that it’s lines like this that televangelists and charlatans latch onto to twist the gospel into something hideous. It becomes a self-serving, self-aggrandizing, wishlist-granting, magic wand abomination. The problem is it sounds so nice and comforting. It goes like this: If you’ll just turn to God then, Matthew 6:33, You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. In more classic language it says, seek ye first the kingdom of God and (God’s) righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

If you take that verse out of context and don’t carefully read it with the rest of Jesus’ teaching here then it would be easy to say, “No, that’s demonstrably wrong. There are lots of people all over the world who are devoted Christians and they don’t get everything they need. In some places Christians are starving, or oppressed, or very, very poor. Or all three at once. Or worse.”

So you take that textual problem of the last verse, and add it to the first verse of the NRSV translation of this passage, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” and we get really messed up. Don’t worry about anything? Really? As a Christian I’m somehow not supposed to have any worries? And everything is going to be given to me? Cool! Sign me up!!!

Except I’ve been signed up my whole life, and this simply isn’t true. Well, it’s not true on the surface. It’s actually very true if we dig deeper. So let’s dig a little.

First, there’s nothing wrong with worrying – as long as worry means concern. We are supposed to be concerned for one another. Love shows concern! The Greek word for ‘worry’ here actually means to be preoccupied by, to be absorbed with, to be rendered frozen and incapacitated by the worrying. That’s not healthy. Concern – good. Debilitating worry about things you can’t control – not so good.

The Message bible says it colourfully: Matthew 6:27 Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?
Foolish, right? That’s not loving concern – that’s futility!

Now I’m going to say something provocative. In this scripture passage I think Jesus is focusing laser-like on the ‘insiders’. He’s not preaching to the general public – he’s talking to his closest followers – his disciples – us. They’ve ‘given up everything to follow him’ but we know that his ministry was still well supported (interestingly, probably by women who rarely get mentioned). That means that Jesus’ followers – the insiders – probably didn’t have to worry at all about food or clothing. Their needs were being well provided for. Just like us.

So Jesus is not ignoring the problems of the world, nor is he for a minute suggesting that if you just believe hard enough you’ll get everything you want or need. Faith is not magical thinking. Many times as he taught he would point directly at the people he was teaching about – the ill, the outcast, the beggars in the street – but he’s not pointing at them here. Instead, he’s looking right into the eyes of his followers – the insiders, us – and challenging them to think differently. I think that maybe Jesus is talking directly to the ‘haves’ and scolding them/us for convincing ourselves that despite our privilege that we’re somehow ‘have-nots’?

Jesus invites us to consider the birds of the air. Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to (God) than birds.

Then in verse 28 he has a go at the flowers: …Walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen colour and design quite like it?

And then Jesus drives his point home. Matthew 6:30 If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think (God will) attend to you, take pride in you, do (God’s) best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.

I think the big message here is that we tend to spend our time and energy on the wrong stuff. This is why I love The Message translation of this passage. The first verse, Matthew 6:25, is kinda the whole sermon: If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about… whatever. Let me say it differently. We forget that Jesus is a master wordsmith – probably because some of it gets lost in translation from the Aramaic which he spoke, to the Greek that the scriptures were written in, to the English we read. What he’s saying is, “Don’t worry about your life – worry about your life!” read on

211003 – Jesus’ Table

Yr B ~ Creation 3 ~ Mark 14:17-24

[Image by Bohdan Piasecki]

I’d like you to look carefully at the picture I’ve used as my sermon title slide. I’ll describe it too. It’s a vision of what the Last Supper may have looked like. It is absolutely my favourite depiction of that event. It’s a low table, with people gathered on both sides (sorry Leonardo). I like it because all the men are dressed in appropriate garb – they’re all wearing the white prayer shawls with the stripes near the ends, and their heads are covered – even their hair cuts are right with the long locks flowing from their temples. But the thing I love most about this picture is that there are women and children present.

Scripture always says it like this: Mark 14:17-18 (On the day of Passover) when it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve (and they) reclined at the table and were eating…

It makes it sound like it was just the 13 men gathered. But if this is their Passover gathering – and it says clearly that it was – then their families would be present too. That expansive sense of gathering at Jesus’ table is very important, and has been since the beginning.

About the only thing I dislike about the picture is that the only stuff on the table is some flatbread and everyone’s drinking glass. Scripture also clearly says that the celebration of what we now call Communion wasn’t a specialized, separate thing. It emerged in the midst of their meal.

Mark 14:22-24 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread (of course it wasn’t a ‘loaf’ like we have here – it was unleavened, so it was flatbread – and if it was a Passover meal then it would’ve been matzah bread which is flat and firm, almost like a giant cracker). So Jesus took the bread and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to (all the people gathered), and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Shared bread and a common cup that they all drank from. I don’t know about you but here in the midst of a world-wide pandemic when we can’t even be in the same room together the idea of sharing a common cup sends chills down my spine! And yet I love the idea of it. A common cup – a shared experience.

We commemorate that night, that meal, through a ritual that at Faith United we rehearse on the first Sunday of every month. We call it Communion. Other churches may call it Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. It’s also called the Lord’s Supper. And today, the first Sunday in October, churches around the world make a point of celebrating Communion on the same day, which we’ve called World Communion Sunday.
Think about that.
Churches all over the world – the body of Christ in all its myriad, wildly different forms – making a point of making this expression of unity and oneness. There are well over 20,000 different denominations within Christianity, and not all of them celebrate Communion, and not all of them observe World Communion Sunday, but that it even exists is a remarkable thing to me. Especially since the theology around Communion is one of the main things that has split churches and created new denominations over time.
Dividing over Communion. Oh the irony!

Communion is one of our two sacraments, along with baptism. read on

210926 – Don’t Be A Jerk

Yr B ~ Creation 2 ~ Mark 9:38-50

I said last week that the scripture texts during this Season of Creation don’t really have much to do with creation. That said, I think last week we made some good tie-ins to creation spirituality. Today I’m not even going to try – other than when we get to the end you could certainly apply this teaching to creation care, or environmentalism, or our relationship with the natural world. The message will fit with the season ok, but it isn’t directly about it. What’s it about?

Well, it starts with a bunch of church insiders complaining because an outsider is doing some ministry that insiders aren’t doing, but they don’t like that an outsider is doing it in Jesus’ name, even though it isn’t really affecting the insiders at all. I guess they don’t like someone infringing on their brand? Anyway, so Jesus scolds them – the insiders, not the outsiders (who are actually acting like insiders, but I guess aren’t.) Jesus says, “Look, if they’re not hurting us, then they’re actually helping us. So chill out.” (Well, that’s how it reads in the original Greek – kinda!)

Then Jesus hurls a nasty warning at anyone who might trip up a new believer, saying that if you do that it you’d be better off sleeping with the fishes. Yikes! And then Jesus starts telling people to hack off body parts if those parts are leading you into trouble! Thank God we’re not literalists! (am-i-rite?!) Finally, he finishes off this section with an incredibly cryptic and mysteriously intriguing suggestion.

Allow me to summarize this whole pericope in two sentences:

Don’t be a jerk.
And go salt yourself!

And that’s the whole sermon! Same time next week?

It’s weird how groups and organizations get bent out of shape worrying about who’s team someone is on. Now, that’s not to say things like training, and credentials, and proper procedures aren’t important. They very much are. Here’s where it gets a bit murky. If someone is out doing something in the name of Jesus, that’s one thing. If they’re doing something in the name of the United Church of Canada, we might want to ensure that what they’re doing is in keeping with the values of the denomination. And if someone was out doing something in the name of Faith United – well, you can be darn sure that we would absolutely be concerned with how it reflected on our church.

So I get the source of the disciples’ angst. But at this point People of The Way are not a denomination. They’re just a rag-tag movement – a charismatic movement of the Holy Spirit with Jesus at the centre of it. Interestingly, Jesus isn’t worried about it. He approves of this ministry in his name. If the person is doing good let them do good. Disciples of Jesus do not have a lock on doing good deeds!
Said differently, you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person.

Then Jesus says something I don’t think I agree with. He says, Mark 9:40, Whoever is not against us is for us. If a person isn’t actively working against the movement then they’re for the movement? Hmm, I don’t think it works that way. Regardless, Jesus says that to stop someone from showing loving-kindness, even in the name of Jesus, is a jerky thing to do. And it’s even worse if your insider fussing causes someone new to the movement to turn away. Who wants to be joining a sniping bunch of complainers? So don’t do that. Don’t be a jerk!

And then it gets really colourful! Mark 9:43-48
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,
where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Let’s tackle a couple of things in translation. The word ‘hell’ here doesn’t mean hell like we probably think. Our picture of hell comes from literature, not the bible. The actual Greek word used is Gehenna. read on

210919 – The Two Books of God

Yr B ~ Creation 1 ~ Mark 9:30-37

Today is the beginning of the liturgical season of Creation. We’ve been marking this season for around a decade now, but it’s still pretty new. Except it isn’t. We’ll talk more about that later. You’d think the scriptures for the Season of Creation would be all about, well, you know, creation! They’re not. At least this year they’re not. This year they’re just regular lectionary readings from the gospel of Mark, and then some Matthew on Thanksgiving. So what makes it ‘creation-y’? We’ll talk more about that later too.

Let’s start today with the reading from Mark’s gospel. Jesus and his entourage are walking down the road and apparently the disciples get into an argument about who is more important – ego stuff – which is kind of ironic because just before that Jesus was teaching them about how it was inevitable that the path he was on would lead to his death, but that wouldn’t be the end of this movement – The Way. Well, our duh-sciples were not able to comprehend his teaching, so instead they argued about who was better than the other. Oh the irony!

So Jesus sits them down, and tries again. Mark 9:35 Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Classic Jesus! Turns our perception upside down. If you really want to be ‘first’ you have to be ‘last’ and become the servant of all. In other words, leggo-your-ego! Their blank faces show that they still don’t get it – so Jesus tries again.

He places a child in the centre of their circle. First of all, that helps us let go of this limited visual image that it was just Jesus and 12 men who were there. That kid didn’t come from nowhere. Clearly there were kids with them when they gathered – which means women too.

Anyway, Jesus puts the child in the centre and then embraces the child. Lovely. Jesus says, Mark 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

At first glance we may miss how important this is. Nowadays we say things like “the children are our future” and “it takes a village to raise a child” and “kids first”. That’s fantastic. But that’s not the way it was in ancient days. There were no helicopter or snow plow parents back then. Kids had no rights, no standing, no importance except for their usefulness. Sure, parents loved their kids, of course they did – but from a societal view kids were not valued generally.

But Jesus puts this child in the centre – not the side, but the centre – and embraces the child – and says if we aren’t loving the helpless ones, the ones with no voice or standing, the ones society devalues, then we are not loving Jesus, or by extension God.

Ok, that’s not a shocking teaching for us because our society does much, much better now at honouring, and protecting, and caring for children. So let’s use this teaching as metaphor. Let’s talk about the environment – it is the Season of Creation, after all.

“But Larry, this scripture has nothing to do with the environment at all! It’s basically about Jesus schooling his disciples about being too self-important.”

Look deeper! Jesus places a child in the centre of the circle and challenges his followers to see the child as beloved – holy – valuable beyond measure even though society devalued them.
What if we put nature – the earth – in the centre of the circle?
What if we were challenged to treat the environment as beloved, holy, and valuable – and not just something for us to consume or monetize?

Jesus challenges us to welcome the ‘child’ – to care for and respect the powerless, the voiceless – the forgotten, discounted, ignored, undervalued. Jesus puts creation, the environment, in the centre of the circle, embraces it, and challenges us to do likewise, in love.

“But Larry, we do this all the time. Just like the kids, we value the environment!”

Do we though? read on

210905 – Church Online – Life Is But A Meme

Yr B ~  Pentecost 15 ~ Proverbs 1:20-33 (NLT)

We’re in the final week of a 3-week sermon series thinking about what it means to be church these days – especially in terms of online church, and hybrid worship, and building authentic community through social media. Last week I made what I hope was a provocative insight: What if the things we do, and say, and believe, and follow aren’t the problem? What if the problem is how we communicate them?

So this week let’s talk about how we communicate. Our tradition is built on prose. We love words. Words, words, words. Our primary means of communicating and teaching is long-form, text-based sermons/essays/articles. When we way we’re people of the ‘word’ we really mean it!

How does the online world communicate? Primarily, in images. It’s all bits and bites, short-form, easily accessible, digestible, and sharable. In other words (!), almost the polar opposite to how we usually communicate. So, we’ve got some learnin’ to do! Let’s start today with one of the primary forms of communication online – the meme.

What is a meme? Nowadays a meme refers to phenomena that begins as an image with a witty, or satirical, or insulting caption that gets rapidly shared on the internet (goes viral – spreads exponentially like a virus – something we know all too well because of Covid). Memes require a shared cultural reference point for their meaning. Often it’s pop culture, or politics, but sometimes it’s just that an image meme went so viral that it became its own reference point.

Here are a few examples. The first is from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies. Boromir originally said, “One does not simply walk into Mordor.” The internet turned it into a meme. You can say, “One does not simply…” and add your own ending to make your joke or your point.

Or Morpheus from ‘The Matrix’ movies who became immortalized for saying, “What if I told you…” As you can see it really lends itself to all kinds of creative messaging. But it has to be super short – to fit on the image.

The ‘distracted boyfriend’ meme took the world by storm a few years ago. It’s because it tells a big story in a brief image. A guy’s head is turned by a pretty girl and his girlfriend reacts. Interestingly, it was actually a recreation of an image in The Matrix movie (the red dress scene, if you’re a fan). This image often gets used in political or more intellectual memes. It offers more fertile ground than a one-liner. Notice the one I found shows ‘text-based’ as the girl left behind while ‘image-based video’ draws the attention.

And one of my favourites, from Star Trek we get the good old ‘Picard facepalm.’ Here displayed in the rare ‘double facepalm’ variety.

Finally, you may remember at the start of this year at President Biden’s inauguration ceremony, Senator Bernie Sanders was photographed sitting alone wearing a mask and his now famous mittens. Within hours poor Bernie was photo-shopped into all sorts of situations – including, thanks to a savvy congregant, into the Faith United worship service. The meme had already fully gone viral by the time Sunday came, and of course I jokingly mentioned it during worship. Well, by the time worship ended that image was waiting for me in my email. That’s how fast memes travel!

An image, with a witty caption, that gets rapidly shared on the internet, passed on from person to person through imitation and replication.

Did you know that that’s not the original definition of a meme though? Originally, a meme was a scientific/sociological term that referred to a trend, belief, fashion or phrase that is passed from generation to generation through imitation and behavioural replication. You can see the similarities.

Ironically, the word meme is said to be coined by Richard Dawkins who is a famous (or is it infamous) atheist. I say ironically because essentially what Dawkins calls a meme – a trend, belief, or phrase, passed on through generations through imitation and behaviour – has existed for millennia – in the bible! It’s called wisdom.

Wisdom writing is a special genre in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we’d often call the Old Testament). It’s literally a form of writing that is designed to pass on deep knowledge, often from one generation to the next. Many cultures have this idea. For example, Indigenous people share the wisdom or teachings of the ‘grandfathers’ and ‘grandmothers’. In the bible you’ll find wisdom teaching in the book of Ecclesiastes, in Job, in the Song of Songs, in the Psalms, and especially in the book of Proverbs which we’re looking at today.

Usually the teaching in the book of Proverbs comes in bite-sized portions – kind of like memes! Teachings like:

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way they should go: and when they are old, they will not depart from it.
Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Specifically, it’s a book of wisdom teaching meant to be shared from parent to child so the child can grow up into a good and faithful adult. Wisdom was venerated. Life lessons, hard learned, passed down through generations. Sharing wisdom is an act of love! Memes can be that too – but they can also be quite adversarial. Bits of insight or knowledge, sometimes insightful, oftentimes inane, shared disposably. Sharing a meme is often an act of pique, not love.

And this is one of the great challenges of the online world. While it offers the possibility of amazing depth, and knowledge, and insight, and connection it far too often never gets beyond the shallows of life. One-liners can be life changing if they’re full of wisdom – and they can be devastating or utterly innocuous if they’re full of shallowness. It’s not the medium that’s the problem – it’s how people use it. And for us it’s not our content that’s the problem – it’s how we share it.

Today’s scripture passage from Proverbs 1 is atypical of the book, because it’s a speech from Lady Wisdom herself warning us about the danger of spending all our time in the shallows of life. In the bible Wisdom is personified, and it is personified in female imagery, probably as a distinct balance to the dominant male imagery for God. Oh, and by the way, Lady Wisdom has an attitude! And I can’t help but hear her scolding our current culture, and our online shallowness. read on

210829 – Church Online – Nexus

Yr B ~ Pentecost 14 ~ James 1:17-27 (MSG)

A few years ago a picture got a lot of attention. It’s an image of a group of teenagers at an art museum, sitting in the presence of a masterwork by Rembrandt, all staring at their phones instead of gazing admiringly at the art. On the internet people piled on in derision, castigating ‘kids today’ as self-absorbed, and so addicted to their technology that they were missing out on what’s real and beautiful. One of the main captions that went with the image was, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Well, it turned out what was wrong with that picture was most people’s interpretation of it! The truth is, those students were using an app for their phone – provided by the gallery – which gave more information, and background, and an enhanced, interactive experience of the art. They weren’t missing out on anything. In fact, they were getting more out of it because of their hand-held technology. The common assumption was that looking at their phone meant they were disconnecting from reality – the reality is that that’s their method of interacting with the world. And it ain’t just kids!

I’m a middle-aged guy, and I am interacting with my phone very, very frequently. I use it for all sorts of things – curiously, rarely as a phone! Obviously, it’s where things like my email comes into. But I also use it for checking the weather, checking sports scores, tracking down information (Google, wiki), researching products before purchasing online. Nowadays you can purchase everything you need online with your phone – right down to groceries.

I haven’t had a newspaper delivered to my house in years, but I read the news every day – from several sources, all online. I entertain myself with puzzles, and crosswords, and YouTube, and looking up guitar gear. And yes, I partake in some social media like Twitter, and Instagram, and I have a Snapchat account, and I’ve even watched some Tik-Toks. And of course there’s the ubiquitous Facebook.

I also pray with my phone. I have 3 different daily devotionals that come to my email, I have a couple of prayer apps including ‘pray-as-you-go’ which we include a link to in every Noticings. (You can read Noticings on your phone too!) And I don’t just carry one bible with me, I have access to 20 different translations, all in a handy bible app. I use social media for both my work and my personal life. Apps like Facebook keep me connected to friends near and far, and Facebook groups are a key source of collegiality for me and my minister friends.

Simply put, this phone is indispensable for me. I could not do my job and be effective as a minister today, without being connected via technology – and I’m a middle-aged guy! How much more completely intertwined with their devices must younger folks be!

Here are some statistics.
Of the 7 billion people in the world, 2.5 billion are on social media channels. That is 35% of the world’s population. In 2005 only 5% of North Americans had a social media account – by 2011 that ballooned to 50% – now it’s well over 75%. An average person spends close to 2 hours a day on social media. Think about that – if you’re not spending very much, if any, then others are spending way more than 2 hours!

There are people on Instagram, and YouTube, and Tik-Tok who have channels with thousands and millions of followers. They put out short video content that is easily consumed and easily shared. Do you know what these folks are called? Influencers! We put out long-form video content every Sunday morning, and I invite you to share the link with your friends, but we don’t exactly have a million followers. I guess I’m not that big of an influencer, and neither is ‘the church’.
Maybe the problem isn’t what we’re saying, or doing, or believing, but how we’re communicating!

The scripture reading from James 1 today challenges us as the church to stay on course – to remember and celebrate the light and love we know through our faith in God and our following of Jesus’ Way – and to share it. Where? In the wider world – in the community. Ok, where’s that?

And here is where we get our first paradigm shift of the day.
We know that we should take God’s love into the town square. Well, social media is the new town square – and the town is worldwide! The church has always been called to go to where the people are, and integrate ministry into their routine. (Pointing to phone) This is where the people are. Are we there?

Lately I’ve been rethinking one of my go-to ministry concepts. I’ve always believed that it’s easy for a church to figure out its ministry. All you have to do is walk outside the front door of your church and look up and down the street. That’s your ministry! And to a certain extent that’s true. But it’s also really limited. It’s stuck in an ‘old’ paradigm that equates a church with a physical neighbourhood. The idea of church ‘turf’ is way past its best before date. This morning our ‘turf’ probably stretches from here to Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and to Newfoundland, and maybe south to Mexico, and certainly to Toronto and other untold exotic places. This doesn’t mean we should ignore our neighbourhood ministry and focus – it just means that we can’t stop there. We need to think differently, wider, bigger, farther.

James 1 says we are to be “doers of the word and not just hearers.” It says that true religion is living and embodying Jesus’ principles of love, love, love – otherwise it’s just “hot air” – a religion that only serves itself – a church that’s merely a comfy insiders club. So, how do we embody and become “doers of the word” in today’s town square? How do we help people explore their spiritual questions, encounter this way of love, love, love that we are centred on, and grow in their faith through social technology?

Our ministry isn’t just our neighbourhood – it’s our relationship with all the people we’re in community with – and these days our community stretches far and wide.
That leads into a second paradigm shift. read on

210822 – Church Online – Gear Up

Yr B ~ Ephesians 6:10-20 ~ Pentecost 13

It’s great to be back with you today! I had a lovely time off this summer, and now it’s also lovely to be getting back to my familiar rhythms. Familiar rhythms. Isn’t that interesting?! We’ve been at this pandemic, online church thing for a year and a half now and at this point it feels entirely familiar. We’ve adapted. This is just the way we do things now, and it feels, dare I say it, normal. Most of us gather on Sunday morning in real time, and we all probably have familiar things that have evolved over this year and a half. We’ve jokingly called it ‘couch church’. Maybe that’s exactly where you are right now. If so, doesn’t it kinda feel…normal? I know that some people love the idea of attending church in their pyjamas. (When the time is right for us to gather here in-person again I hope you’ll feel just as comfortable to come in pyjamas if that’s what makes you happy!) I also know that on Sunday mornings some people actually get dressed up in their ‘Sunday best’ just as if they were physically here. It just makes them feel good to put on their ‘church clothes’ as part of their rhythm.

We’re not only worshipping from home, many of us are also working from home. That has been really interesting too. It too has become ‘normal’. And when the pandemic recedes and we start to work from our physical workplaces again I know that many – myself included – will be dividing our time between working at church and working at home. I guess some people have become accustomed to working in their jammies too! So our way of working, and worshipping, and even dressing has changed.

With the kids today I talked about wearing different kinds of clothes or equipment for different sports or activities. And we talked about what kind of equipment you need for church. In some church cultures you’ll see everyone arrive dressed to the nines and carrying their own floppy bible. In other cultures they might sit at tables or drink coffee in a very casual kind of approach. In others they have no chairs or pews because they move around or dance around during worship.

How would you describe our Faith United culture? We don’t really have anything notable. It’s just, you know, church. I like to say that we do the church thing really well – as long as by ‘the church thing’ you mean a modified, classic, mainline protestant, liturgically-based worship gathering. We are incredibly well-equipped to do it. We have the knowledge, expertise, experience, resources, and desire to do ‘classic’ church really, really well.

But look around. This ain’t classic church anymore. The rules have changed. The ground has shifted underneath us. You’re home on your couch – I’m preaching to a camera. It’s both fundamentally the same and fundamentally different at the same time. Whether we wanted it or not, and whether we like it or not, our church culture has shifted. That means that even though Faith United did modern-classic church really well we won’t just be able to go ‘back to normal’ in a few more months. We’re going to have to develop a whole new repertoire of knowledge, expertise, experience, resources, and desire for a whole new way of being church. Well, maybe a ‘whole new’ way is overstating it. Lots of people will be able to go back to how it was in the before-times and get along ok. But the church as a whole cannot.

The big buzzword lately is hybrid church. That means finding ways to keep doing this kind of online worship while also doing in-person worship at the same time. Because, the truth is, that online worship actually works better for a whole bunch of people, for a whole bunch of reasons. It could be distance, or health, or disability, or even convenience – but pulling the plug on online church when in-person gathering returns would be a catastrophic error. So we’ll need to adapt – again (and again, and again, and again).

This is a pretty new way of thinking for us. Our denomination is approaching its 100th birthday in a couple of years and in all that time we’ve never had as big a sea change as we’re experiencing right now. That’s pretty daunting, and unsettling. Where else do we go at such times but to prayer and scripture.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he’s giving them a pep talk in chapter 6. He’s using a metaphor of putting on armour to prepare for a great battle. Remember, back in those days Christians were at best tolerated and at worst persecuted – so the image of gearing up for a battle was pretty relatable. I don’t think the armour imagery works for us in the same way, but I think we can…adapt it!

From Ephesians 6:10-20… read on

210718 – Be Yourself

Yr B ~ Pentecost 8 ~ Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

I was at a church conference once, and at the obligatory Q&A time one of the questioners asked a really deep and heartfelt ‘elephant in the room’ kind of question that perfectly summed up what every person at the conference was desperately trying to get to the heart of. The headline presenter – the one whose wisdom everyone had come to hear – paused thoughtfully, breathed deeply, looked out at the anticipating crowd, and said this, “That is exactly the right question, and there is a simple and obvious answer to it that will solve this problem once and for all – and ‘Jim’ over there is going to tell you what it is.” Of course, ‘Jim’ had no clue he was getting thrown under the bus. Everyone roared in laughter (yes, even ‘Jim’), because we all knew that the question was not simple and obvious to answer. It was complex, and nuanced, and no quick and easy ‘technical’ answer was going to get anywhere near addressing the issue. What was needed was a paradigm shift, an ‘adaptive’ approach that requires a whole culture change.

I tell that story because this is the conclusion of a 3-week sermon series on the topic of the E-word – evangelism – and I teased this week’s message as being about ‘how’ to do it. The first week was about what evangelism is and isn’t – last week was about the enormity of the challenge of our current context, and also the hope that there are cracks in everything and everyone out there where God’s light can get in – and that we’ll need to help. And this week is supposedly about how to do it. And just like that heartfelt question at the conference I spoke of, we all want to get to the heart of this. And just like that equally heartfelt non-answer, we know that there’s no easy answer, and that the ‘how to do it’ part will never be a simple technique that we can just learn and apply. No, it’ll require a whole culture change – and those take time. So let’s get started!

I told you that I’ve been using a great book as a resource for this evangelism sermon series. It’s called Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism by Martha Grace Reese. So to prepare for this last sermon I went to her website and saw a ‘download additional resources’ link. Great! I happily clicked it! It began with a checklist for pastors. Awesome.
Number 1, read the book and decide if it will be a good fit for your congregation. Check!

Number 2 – (In all capital letters) “PLEASE DON’T PREACH or do a newsletter article about Unbinding the Gospel.” (Oops!)
She continues, “It doesn’t help. It will create resistance. Preaching won’t help. A newsletter article won’t inspire. Be quiet. Operate by stealth. Let the group process and the Spirit start working with people. You’re trying to help a lay movement emerge, not give them more information.”

Ok, so I guess we’re done! Short sermon! What’s the next hymn?

No, I’m just kidding. I get why she said that stuff though. She’s anticipating pastors speaking cold into congregations who may not be ready to hear these ideas. Happily, that’s not my context. And she’s worried it’ll come across as information – which is not at all the same as transformation, or culture change. This will become really clear as I get into her core ‘how to’ ideas. Spoiler alert – they’re going to sound really familiar to you – because we’ve already been immersed in these things for years!

You see, this book that I’ve been referencing is actually just the first of 3 books that outline her whole 3-year long transformational concept. The second book is called Unbinding Your Church, and the third book is called Unbinding Your Heart. Perhaps you’ve figured out by now that we’re not actually talking about ‘how to’ do evangelism but about ‘how to’ transform your church and the people who comprise the community of faith.

In other words, the simple and obvious answer that will solve this problem once and for all is the same kind of answer that we already know deeply whenever we say, “Surely, God is in this place. Help me notice!” Several years ago now this congregation began that journey of opening ourselves to noticing God’s Sacred Presence everywhere and always – in everything and in everyone. And that noticing tunes us in to beauty, and compassion, and love wherever we are. And that kind of immersion in noticing God’s constant loving Presence fills us with love, and helps us perceive God’s kingdom – which, like fish in an ocean, we’re already swimming in. It moves us from a head-based intellectual approach to faith to an integrated and fuller head-and-heart-based approach. And the more we swim in that love the more we notice, and the more our hearts feel strangely warmed.

And now we’re back at our first definition of evangelism. A person with a strangely warmed heart, nurtured in a vibrant, and loving, and supportive community of faith, sharing that warmth and love, and the reasons for it, with people they’re in relationships with, so that those people might experience the depth of joy, and peace, and shalom, and flourishing, and love that we experience through our faith.

In the actual ‘how to’ part of her book, Martha Grace Reese basically says that the very first step, before you do any other thing, is that you should be praying. Praying as an individual follower of Jesus, and also praying as a church (in small groups or as a whole) that hearts may be warmed, people may be nourished and nurtured, and faith stories and experiences may be shared both within and beyond the church.
You know how I always say love, love, love?
Well, the key to evangelism is to pray, pray, pray.
Steep yourself and your church in prayer.
Have prayer not be an awkward thing you tag onto a meeting ‘cuz you’re supposed to, but the kind of thing that absolutely grounds and powers your meeting.
Have prayer be so ubiquitous that it actually feels wrong if you don’t pray.
Have prayer be so celebrated and shared that numerous people offer to offer prayers at every gathering. (This isn’t just a lay person thing. You oughta see the eyes glued to shoes when someone asks ‘would anyone like to pray us in?” for a clergy meeting.)

Pray, pray, pray.
Pray like you can, not like you can’t.
Start with mumbles and stumbles. But pray. Pray your heart out.
A church may attract a certain number of people by good deeds, or the charisma of a leader, but churches flourish and grow when the Spirit is felt to be moving – and the single greatest animator of Spirit has always been prayerfulness. Sing your prayers, speak your prayers, pray in silence – but pray, pray, pray.

This is why the author said not to preach about evangelism at first – because it’s gibberish to a church that isn’t a praying church – and it’s scary nonsense to people who aren’t praying people. read on

210711 – Cohen & Cockburn

Yr B ~ Pentecost 7 ~Mark 6:14-29

I thought about calling this sermon “What We’re Up Against”, but I decided that sounded too ominous. So I kept searching for a way to lighten it up. Honestly, I’m not sure I can. It is what it is. I eventually landed on calling it “Cohen & Cockburn” – which I’m particularly pleased with – and I hope you’ll understand why by the end of it. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover before I can get into that inspired title.

This is the second week of a 3-part series on the E-word – yes, evangelism! If you weren’t with us last week I really encourage you to go to our website (faithunited.ca) and look up the sermon. It was called “Two By Two.” In it I went on at length about what evangelism is and isn’t, and why I feel it’s such an important thing for us to be focusing on now. So last week was groundwork, this week is about obstacles and realities, and next week is about strategies. I will say again that this series is inspired by a wonderful book by Martha Grace Reese called Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism.

Let’s start by thinking about that wild scripture reading we heard. Are you wondering why I selected such a thing? I mean, it’s nasty stuff, and it doesn’t seem to have anything whatsoever to do with evangelism – which is about person with a warmed heart, nurtured in a vibrant church, encountering someone they have some kind of relationship with, and somehow sharing a sense of the benefit of it all, and how it’s warmed and nurtured.

So while it doesn’t really speak to evangelism – it absolutely speaks to what we’re up against. And it offers a glimmer of hope that I think is really easy to miss – both in this scripture passage, and in real life.

The scene is in King Herod’s court. It starts with a debate over whether Jesus was the re-embodiment of the great prophet Elijah, or of John the Baptizer. Herod says Jesus is like John, whom Herod had had beheaded. And the narrator fills us in that John the Baptizer had taken Herod to task for Herod’s morals and ethics. And the narrator also tells us that despite John’s scoldings Herod had a great interest in John.
Here’s the line – the one that I think is the hidden gem in this passage:

Mark 6:20 – Herod feared John, knowing that John was a righteous and holy man, and Herod protected him.
When Herod heard John (speak), he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

Then we get a flashback scene like in the movies.
It’s Herod’s birthday and there’s a great party. Herod’s daughter Herodias (who has the same name as his wife – yeah, it’s very confusing) – anyway, the daughter dances and mesmerizes everyone, and Herod in a moment of foolishness gushes at her that he’ll give her anything she wants. She goes to her mom, who because of Herod’s (and hers) illicit and immoral actions had been humiliated by John the Baptizer’s rebukes, and mom tells daughter to ask for John the Baptizer’s head on a platter. Herod, it says was “deeply grieved”, but he felt he couldn’t refuse and John’s head is lopped off. Gruesome stuff.

And that’s evangelism! [grin]
No, obviously I’m going to make a point. Soon. I promise!

The point is that this is what we’re up against. No, I don’t mean any of us are in any danger of being beheaded. But John in this story, well always really, was an evangelist. He was evangelizing Herod. John’s heart was passionately stirred by God, he had a supportive community of faith (including Jesus, if you’ll recall), and he wanted to share with Herod how John’s life was better because of the God-thing, and so too could Herod’s life be better.
THAT’S evangelism!

Remember Mark 6:20 – When Herod heard John (speak), he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. read on

210704 – Two By Two

Yr B ~ Pentecost 6 ~ Mark 6:1-13

It’s worship day, and Jesus finds himself back in his hometown. So he goes to the local synagogue – to what amounts to his home church – and he begins to teach. It says that many who heard him were ‘astounded’. But it’s not the good kind of astounded. It’s more like they’re shocked or mortified. I kinda get it. I mean, I love y’all, but if one of you went away for a while and then popped back in on a Sunday morning, and walked up to this spot, and looked into the camera, and started preaching, well, I’d be a little ‘astounded’ too!

Their complaints amount to “That’s Jesus. Joe and Mary’s kid. Who does he think he is?”
And Jesus responds, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
In other words, Jesus is saying that it’s hard to talk to your family about religion!
Hands up all those who agree.

But that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about today, and for the next two Sundays. I’m doing a sermon series on the E-word – yes, evangelism. My goal is to change that queasy feeling you just got when I said that word, and have you embrace it. That’s a tall order when for a lot of folks the E-bomb may as well be the F-bomb! For the series I’ll be drawing extensively on a fantastic book by Martha Grace Reese called Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism.

Let’s start at the beginning. We all know the E-word, but what does it actually mean?
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘sharing/spreading the gospel’.
Hmm. What does ‘gospel’ mean? We call those 4 books in the bible the gospels, is that it? Nope.
Gospel means ‘good news’. So it’s about sharing the good news!
What good news?
And here’s where we stub our toes.

When I say ‘evangelism’ the type that probably comes to mind is a theological one – and it advances a certain theological interpretation that is not necessarily cut and dried – even though the people doing that kind of evangelism try to say it is. They would tend to say “the good news about what Jesus did for us on the cross.” And instantly we’re in a theological tussle and trying to convince somebody that our position is the right one.
Friends, that kind of E-bomb is an F-bomb!
And it’s absolutely the worst and least effective form of evangelism there is.

So if I don’t mean that, what do I mean?
Effective evangelism is really only about one thing: YOU.
Your life.
Specifically, it’s about how your life is positively impacted by your faith. The ‘good news’ is that your life feels better because of your faith than it would without your faith. You don’t have to know anything about theology, or liturgy, or psychology, or any other –gy – you only have to know about your own self. And for most of us that’s our favourite subject!

What do you think Jesus was teaching that day in the synagogue? Was he schooling them in the finer points of theology, or debating their understanding of scripture interpretation and atonement? Not very likely.

Or was he maybe sharing with them how his own life had been so dramatically changed, and how his faith had deepened, and how his sense of God’s Presence had so intensified that it felt like every single breath was filling him with spiritual energy, and passion, and peace of heart, and empowering him to reach out in love and help the people he met as best he could?
That sounds like Jesus to me! And that’s what evangelism is. Sharing how your life has been positively impacted by your faith.

Before he was famous, John Wesley was becoming disillusioned in his work as a preacher. He wasn’t feeling it. He was going through the motions. read on

210620 – Good Intentions

Yr B ~ Pentecost 4 (Indigenous Sunday) ~ 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (MSG)

It’s good for us to remember that these letters from Paul that we have in the bible were written because something had gone amiss and Paul needed to send a word of correction to a community of faith. That’s why his letters so often have an edge to them. He tends to come down pretty hard on the people, and you don’t have to read too deeply between the lines to sense his exasperation. And then we get passages like the one we’re looking at today, where Paul is gushing with praise, and gently urging the church to keep on doing the great stuff they’re doing.

Faith United is a very vibrant and healthy church. If Paul were around today, he wouldn’t need to be sending very many letters scolding us. But he might very well send the words we’ve heard today.

2 Corinthians 8:7 – You do so well in so many things—you trust [love] God, you’re articulate, you’re insightful, you’re passionate, you love us—now, do your best in this, too.

I think that sounds exactly like us! We really do so well in so many things – in so many ministries. We love God, we’re articulate, and insightful, and passionate. We’re caring, and compassionate, and generous. Last week was Celebration Sunday and we rightfully shone a light on some of the wonderful, faithful things we do and the wonderful, faithful people who do them.

But nobody’s perfect, and no church is either. After lauding them with praise Paul says, “Now do your best in this, too.” What is the “this” that he’s talking about? Well, in that specific case he’s talking about money. He’s talking about getting these wealthy Corinthian Christians to continue to support another of Paul’s churches that is financially poor. That would not be his message to us. So what would?

What ministry or issue might we collectively need to do better at? Remember, he’s not scolding the Corinthians here – he’s just nudging them to remember their professed values and put their money where their mouths are. And neither am I trying to scold you or point out some fault. But I will lift up an issue that I think we can collectively do better at. Today that issue is Indigenous justice. Let’s use that lens to look at Paul’s message.

2 Corinthians 8:10-12 – So here’s what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started (previously) and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands.

It’s easy to be thinking about Indigenous issues these days. Sadly, that’s because the news has been full of terrible injustices inflicted upon Indigenous persons, especially children. We are understandably horrified by the finding of the mass grave of 215 Indigenous children who were forced to attend the Kamloops Residential School. More such graves are being found at other schools. The news will not be getting any better any time soon. Knowing that our denomination, our church, had a direct hand in running some of those schools makes our stomachs churn. Yes, such things were the way of the world in former times, and yes we’ve grown and learned and would not do those things today – but the legacy remains and the damage is still felt acutely in Indigenous people and communities.

I know with every fibre of my being that we want to do something to make this better. But we can’t ‘fix’ it. Paul says, “The best thing you can do right now is to (continue) what you started (previously) and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along.”

What can we do? To begin, we can face the realities instead of turning away. And we can continue to learn, to listen, and to commit to doing better. As a denomination we are already walking that path. Our Church has acknowledged the hurt, offered a sincere apology, and is striving to walk a new path – a path of healing. I once heard an Indigenous elder speaking about how the hurt and the injustices built up over time. They said that it took a long time to walk into the forest and it would take a long time to walk back out, but that it was good that we are walking together.

I want to talk about language for a few minutes. Usually this work of Indigenous justice is called reconciliation. Lately I’ve been hearing some discomfort with this language from some Indigenous folk. read on

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