220116 – One Body

Yr C ~ Epiphany 3 ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

This scripture passage is famous for the extended metaphor Paul spins about the foot not being a hand, and the ear not being an eye. It’s really memorable, and it lays out a pretty solid point quite colourfully. A body has many parts, and it functions best when the variety and diversity of the parts are able to be themselves, and not try to be someone or something else. An obvious, and solid sermon. And then, like many, many well-meaning preachers who have followed him (present company definitely included), Paul pushes the metaphor a bit too far and in his enthusiasm he blows it, and seemingly undermines his entire message. Except he doesn’t, actually – it just appears that way because we’re only reading part of the story.

There are four sections to this reading. It begins with 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and we were all (given) to drink of one Spirit.

Beautiful, right? Though many – one. One body, not despite our differences but one body including our differences – strengthened and blessed by our differences and variety.

‘Diversity in oneness’ seems like a paradox. And it is. Faith is built on beautiful paradoxes. I’ll use the word One with a series of nouns, and hopefully you’ll see that every one of them is paradoxical because the noun is never just one thing: One church. One faith. One hope. One body. They’re paradoxes.

There are over 25,000 Christian denominations in the world, but we profess one church. There are as many ideas about faith as there are people watching this livestream – times a kajillion – but we profess one faith. And despite there being such divisions within it, we strongly profess one body of Christ. And the thing that holds this giant pile of paradoxes together? One Spirit – dancing like tongues of fire – blowing through us and animating our lives.

On a very profound level we are one. And yet on an equally profound level we know that we are also different. Can we be one and different at the same time? Absolutely! Can we be united and at odds at the same time? Absolutely. Life doesn’t make sense any other way.

We are one – body, church, faith, denomination – and yet there are decidedly competing visions for how to move forward. Same thing happens in our governmental elections. I may agree with this or that party and profoundly disagree with a couple of the others, but I honestly have no doubt that every national party sees itself as Canadian – as one country – as one people. But from that oneness there springs profoundly different visions.

Political conflicts, church conflicts, family conflicts, they’re all aspects of these competing visions. And I think the reason we get into trouble is that we tend to focus on our differences instead of on our oneness. When someone gets angry about something in the church it’s usually because their sense of how it should be rubs against someone else’s. How different would church life be – not just here, everywhere – if we began our disagreements like this: “I realize you want the best for the church, and so do I, but it seems we see it in different ways. Can we put our heads together (not butting heads) and try to see it together?” Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

After that unity in diversity section Paul does the hand/foot, ear/eye thing and punctuates it with an admonition saying one part of the body can’t say to another part of the body “I have no need of you!” But think about that for a minute. Why did Paul need to say that? It’s because some parts of his church body in Corinth were doing exactly that – they weren’t celebrating the diversity among them – they were privileging some members and disparaging others. I’ll tell you the reason why in a minute. (Oh, the suspense! – All right, I’ll tell you a bit now.) read on

220116 – Something To Do

Year C ~ Epiphany 2 ~ 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.”
That’s how The Message Bible translates the first verse of 1 Corinthians 12, and that’s precisely what I want to talk to you about today.
“What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.”

I hope you notice that it starts with an assumption that I take as a fact. It’s not a maybe, or a hopefully. It’s a truth. A reality. It’s not, “Gee, I wonder if God’s Spirit might actually be part of my life?” It’s, “God’s Spirit absolutely DOES get worked into my life – and in various ways. That’s the fact, Jack!”

It’s not just one way or one aspect of my life (like while I’m tuned-in to a worship livestream) – and it may be decidedly different for the next person – but even though it may look different and manifest differently there is no doubt at all in my mind that that Spirit’s working in each of our lives.

Of course, the Spirit’s got some competition. There are all sorts of things working on you right now. Some of them you may be actively participating in and cooperating with – some of them you might be outright resisting – and some of them you may have never given a second thought to.

Worship is working on your life right now. Relationships are working on your life right now. Democracy is working on our lives right now. The social safety net and universal healthcare are working on us as Canadians, whether we’re accessing them currently or not. Covid and pandemic are surely working on us all right now. To be completely ridiculous, gravity is working on us or we’d be floating away. To be completely serious, Love is working on us, whether we are aware or not.

I really like this translation, the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives, because it avoids some of the baggage and interpretive problems of the usual language – “spiritual gifts”. The NRSV translates v.1 as,
Now concerning spiritual gifts, (kindred in Christ), I do not want you to be uninformed.

Spiritual gifts kind of sound like Christmas gifts. Sometimes you get one, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it’s just what you wanted, sometimes it’s not quite the right fit and you wish you could exchange it! Hands up if you had to do that this Christmas.
But that’s not how spiritual giftedness works. At all!

A spiritual gift sounds like it’s a self-contained package of skills, or abilities, or passions that you then take and use to help people or love people. Really, what it’s talking about is our general state of blessedness. We are constantly being blessed by the Spirit. We are in a never-ending, never-interrupted, never-diminishing stream of blessing. The Spirit is working into and through our lives just as assuredly as oxygen is! Spiritual gifts don’t come and go like Christmas – they constantly flow like your bloodstream!

1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Now there are varieties of gifts or blessings, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services or ways to engage in ministry, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities one can faithfully engage in, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

So there’s all this variety but for some reason Paul felt the need to put in bold italics and underline the part about all of it coming from the same Spirit. I suspect that’s because before being Christians these Corinthian folks were likely worshipping many different gods, each of whom had their own thing to offer. With Jesus’ God, our God, there are many, many gifts but only One God! It also helps us to remember that there’s not just one way to serve, or be faithful.

And then we get what is, for me, the most important verse in the reading. read on

220109 – Old Habits

Yr C ~ Epiphany 1 ~ Acts 8:9-24 (MSG)

It’s my first sermon in January 2022 and I’ve called it ‘Old Habits’. I know what you’re thinking – it’s another New Year’s resolutions sermon. That would be ok, but it’s not that (ok, maybe a little, kinda, but not really). It’s really going to be a sermon about discipleship – which is the ultimate good habit!

But right there, right off the bat, there’s an interesting assumption built in. That assumption is that old habits are bad, and need to be changed. I’d like to challenge that assumption – because not all old habits are bad! Some old habits are the very stuff that makes you the wonderful person you are! Beautiful old habits like openness, kindness, thoughtfulness, care and compassion for your loved ones, your friends, and even for ‘others’. Deep and spiritual old habits like being part of a community of faith, worshipping together, praying together, loving one another. These positive old habits are what makes us us.

But then there are the other ones. Those old habits that we wish we could shake but we haven’t found the strength, or the will, or the timing’s been off, or life prevents us from shaking them. (Those are often the stuff of New Year’s resolutions!) But those old habits are the ones we know about – and too often beat ourselves up about. Can God help us with those? Can the Way of Jesus help us navigate our way out of those bad old habits? Of course! If we choose to allow the Spirit to do its thing. But of course that requires us doing something we are extremely reticent to do – to surrender, to unclench our grip on that thing, and to drop our guard, and open our hands and hearts and say, “Ok God – I lay it down. Help me not pick it back up again!”

All that stuff makes for great resolutions, and maybe even a great sermon – trust God, let God, and God will help you make your life better. Ok, but that’s a very modern-western-worldly self-help way to look at religion. I mean, it’s good in that it helps us try to be better versions of ourselves, but that’s not entirely what being a follower of Christ is about, and it’s not what today’s scripture passage is actually about.

The prescribed reading in the lectionary here is just Acts 8 verses 14-17. It’s a lovely little pericope that points to the theological difference between being baptized in the name of Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit. It’s a good reading, because it’s a challenge for us as a mainline church. We dutifully do the ‘baptism in the name of Jesus’ part – but we’ve always shied away from the Holy Spirit parts. It’s too unpredictable, and makes one susceptible to outbursts of energy, or joy, or enthusiasm for Jesus, or emotionality, or spiritual giddiness – and we just can’t have that in our staid-stoic-stiff-upper-lip-don’t-let-them-see-you-wobble churches! (Insert eye roll here!)

Those four verses underline that it’s not enough to just say the words, or do the rituals, or go through the motions. It’s suggesting that the fullness and awesomeness of God’s presence, and power, and love are found in an openness to and receiving of the Holy Spirit. So that’s a pretty on-point message for the mainline church. But I could preach that anytime (and I have, as you know). Ironically, the reading being so short kind of does what it warns us not to do – it makes a good point but misses out on a bigger and more personal point.

That’s a frequent critique I have about the common lectionary. It tends to favour broad theological ideas, and concepts aimed at ‘the church’ as a corporate body – as an ‘us’, while tending to downplay or neglect passages that zero-in more on personal spiritual transformation. ‘We’ language is good, but I always think it gives us an out – as in ‘we the church’ can do or be whatever, but ‘me the person’ doesn’t really have to, ‘cuz buddy over there is. As you well know, I tend to favour personal spiritual transformation stuff – so I’ve added in the rest of the story of Acts 8.

The fuller reading introduces us to a fascinating character named Simon (no, not that Simon who became Peter – another Simon). This Simon is something of a con-man.
But before we get into Simon let’s set the context. read on

211226 – Christmas Clothes

Yr C ~ Christmas 1 ~ Colossians 3:12-17

What are you clothing yourself in these days?
Hope, peace, joy, and love? That’s what we said during Advent all through December. Did it work? Were you clothed in those things? Did the annual rhythm of preparation for and anticipation of Christmas capture your spirit? Were you clothed in pre-Christmas cheer?

I wish I could say I was, but I was not. If anything, it was a little threadbare! I mean, it started out well! We were finding our way back into in-person worship in addition to this wonderful online version. I was starting to venture out and make some connections for making more music with people. We had wonderful plans for 2 in-person Christmas Eve services, even with some innovation of having one outdoors! Life was starting to feel like normalcy was slowly re-emerging. It really was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

And then, it turned. A new Covid variant emerged – I ended up getting Covid and having to isolate for 10 lonely December days – and all the in-person restrictions suddenly returned in order to protect people and try to keep us healthy. And in a moment, it seemed, it all went poof. And so did my pre-Christmas spirit.

Now, since then, in the last week, things are turning again. Our son has come home for a visit, I got through the swirl of church Christmas things, and now it’s Boxing Day and we’re on the other side of all the pre-Christmas hubbub. (Yes, I’m actually recording this before that stuff happened – but I’m an optimist by nature!) I know that for many families, Christmas gathering plans had to be tweaked, or simplified (or sadly even cancelled). But I hope that now that the big day is done, and we’re in the aftermath, that we might have the capacity to pause, and take a deep breath, and reflect.

I don’t know what you may have got for Christmas, but I’d wager there was at least one piece of clothing. (Even if it was just socks or underwear in your stocking!) Giving clothes at Christmas is kind of a staple gift. Lately, Christmas sweaters are all the rage. I think my daughter has 10 of them! (And she wore a different one to work every day!) It’s one of the more obvious ways that we can clothe ourselves in Christmas. It’s a little harder to clothe yourself in hope, peace, joy, and love (especially when the swirl of the world feels like it’s against you). But then Christmas finally comes, and we celebrate in the best way we’re able to, and then we collapse! (Ok, maybe that’s just ministers after the December rush, but I doubt it.)

So I go back to my original question: what are you clothing yourself in these post-Christmas days? Maybe it’s rest! That would be good. I’m certainly trying that one on for size! Maybe you’re clothing yourself in Christmas cheer? Or maybe you’re clothing yourself in Christmas baking! Cookies abound!

Would it be too surprising for the preacher guy to suggest that maybe we might clothe ourselves in a bit of scripture? We’ve just come through Christmas Eve worship, especially our ‘Lessons and Carols’ service in which scripture is so central. (If you haven’t watched that yet you can find it on our YouTube channel.) So we’ve been paying more attention to scripture lately than maybe we normally would, because the Christmas story is such a major pillar of our identity as people of faith, and we pay really close attention to it at this time of year.

I’m wondering if we might stay in that spirit and clothe ourselves in scripture a little longer. Interestingly, today’s reading, on the Sunday that’s called Christmas 1, has nothing to do with the birth narrative of the baby Jesus. But I think it has a lot to do with Christmas!

Oh, I don’t mean Christmas way back then. That didn’t exist. The celebration we call Christmas emerged centuries later. But this excerpt from the letter called Colossians sounds like it was written today. It sounds to me like a preacher looked out at their congregation in the aftermath of the modern colossus called Christmas, and wondered what they might offer to their faithful folks to help them through the holidays.

So I invite you to take a deep breath, and close your eyes, and to allow these ancient, yet so current, words to wash over you and speak to your spirit in this post-Christmas denouement.

Colossians 3:12-17
3:12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
3:13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
3:14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Parent through him.

Aren’t these the Christmas clothes we need the most?!

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Clothe yourselves with mutuality.
Clothe yourselves with forgiveness.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love.
Clothe yourselves with peace.
Clothe yourselves with thanksgiving.
Clothe yourselves with scripture.
Clothe yourselves with songs of praise.
Clothe yourselves with discipleship.
Clothe yourselves with God’s Presence.

And unlike that sweater, these Christmas clothes will fit you perfectly!

Maybe next time we get together in-person we can all show one another our shiny new Christmas clothes! That would make for a very Merry Christmas season indeed!

Amen.

211219 – Xmas-Conceive

Yr C ~ Advent 4 ~ Luke 1:35-45 (MSG)

Some of what you’re about to hear may sound familiar. As you know, I’m dealing with being Covid-positive this week, so I hope I can be forgiven for reworking an old sermon (although, there’s nothing wrong with re-preaching – good tunes deserve multiple hearings). But another reason it will sound familiar is that the themes we’ll talk about today come up every single year on this last Sunday before Christmas. Why is that? Because this, in my oh so humble opinion, is the true meaning of Christmas.

This, Advent 4, is the big day. Theologically, well, as far as preaching and teaching goes anyway, this Sunday is way more important than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Oh, those are remarkably important for what they are – and what they are are celebrations of the birth of Jesus – a real person, born to real parents, in a real time and place, 2021 years ago (give or take). A baby whose life was so consequential that we number our calendar from him. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are all about then – and how indescribably important ‘then’ was.

But I say that this Sunday’s message is more important because it’s not just a history lesson – it’s all about NOW. And more than that, it’s all about YOU. In a nutshell, the deep and real and true meaning of Christmas is that YOU are Mary, and you are being asked to birth God’s Love and Light into the world. You. Here. Today. Now. We’ll explore that by looking at Mary and Elizabeth, but instead of history, this morning we get her-story – and we realize that it’s my-story, and your-story.

Elizabeth and Mary – two women – one probably too old to be having a baby – the other probably too young to be having a baby. And yet, they can sense that God has blessed them – that the life they bear is incredibly important – and holy. It’s so ordinary. The same scene has probably happened several million times since then. The joyful hope of expectancy, shared between women, relatives.

Two women with suspect pregnancy stories – or at least unconventional ones. Why is such blessing conferred upon such obviously ‘flawed’ women? Neither Mary nor Elizabeth were particularly special. If you were going to choose mothers for a great prophet and the one who would be called the Son of God would you have chosen them?

Elizabeth was “well on in years” – and Mary was barely a teenager. Who among you who are well on in years would want the blessing of a baby now? Or what would we call it if one of our young church teens found herself “blessed”? We wouldn’t shun or shame (like sadly was done so often in the past), but we also wouldn’t choose it. And what about you? How would you react if it was you?

People of Faith – I bring you a message from God. You’re pregnant! (Everybody look at the person beside you and tell them that they’re pregnant. If you’re online, send out a message saying “I’m pregnant!”) Friends, we are all pregnant with the potential of spiritual purpose. We’re just like Mary and Elizabeth. We’re pregnant. In early Christianity to honour Mary she was given the Greek title “Theotokos” which means “God Bearer” – and that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be too. We are pregnant – we are God-Bearers. Bearing God’s Love and God’s Light, and then birthing them into the world. Meister Eckhart said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God.”

Think about it. How does God choose to usher in a new vision for humanity? How does God transform the world? Through kings? Emperors? Armies? No. Through ordinary, everyday people like Mary and Elizabeth who brought forth children and raised them in love and in faith. The spiritual revolution that changed the world didn’t come through the powerful but through the powerless. God chooses to work in unconventional ways through unconventional people – ordinary people – just like you!

We are God-Bearers. We’re pregnant. Pregnancy is such a great metaphor for faith. read on

211215 – Xmas-Celebrate

Yr C ~ Advent 3 ~ Philippians 4:4-7

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in (God)! What a wonderful way to begin! Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in (God)! Celebrate God! Revel in God! Gosh, Christians must be the most joyful and positive people you’d ever meet. Right? I mean, all that celebrating and revelling. Church must just feel like party central. Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God! Woo!!!

So, considering that beautiful verse, it’s pretty disheartening that our reputation out there is nothing like that! The knock against us (and by us I mean Christian churches in general – remember, most people don’t differentiate between all the flavours) – what we’re known for is being a judgemental, overly earnest, finger-wagging, thou shalt/shalt not – or else, joy-less bunch of people.

There’s an old story about a big church conference with lots of delegates from the major mainline churches in attendance, and everyone was given a helium filled balloon when they came in. The instructions were that during worship, when they felt the Spirit move, when they felt deeply joyful, they should let the balloon go. Well, as you can imagine – the worship ended and the vast majority of balloons were still clutched tightly in people’s hands!

What the heck are we doing wrong? How did we get to the point where stoicism and a stiff upper lip were more valued than exuberance or emotionality? I know, there are some expressions of Christianity where their emotionality is so exuberant that it seems extreme. Can’t we find a happy medium? This is my goal – that by the end of worship you’ll feel joyful enough to let go of your balloon.

But here’s the thing – and this is the part that I think might trip us up. To be joyful is not the same as to be happy, necessarily. It’s possible to be joyful even though unhappy things might be occurring. Happiness is about circumstances, whereas joyfulness is state of being. Happiness is transient, it comes and goes, ebbs and flows. Joyfulness is a deep groundedness, and assurance, and trust in God, God’s Presence, and God’s Love. Happiness is a flash – joy is radiance! Maybe the best analogy is in relationships? You can have love for your partner, child, sibling, close friend, and at the same time be angry with them, or hurt by them. You might not be happy in a given moment, but the depth of love carries on and flows through, even though the circumstances may be fraught.

I don’t know how today finds you, and whether anything or anyone is trying to ‘steal your joy’ – but I’ve had a heck of a few days. I got a call from one of the guys I was playing music with last week informing me that he, although double vaccinated, had tested positive for Covid – which means I’d been exposed. I got tested on Thursday, and then spent Friday and Saturday impatiently awaiting my results. Sadly, I must tell you that I too have tested positive – so that’s why you’re receiving this as a video-recorded message instead of in-person.

Let me tell you, it’s absolutely no fun having to isolate yourself from your family – dreading the thought that now that you’ve tested positive you might in turn infect your loved ones.
So, in addition to fastidiously avoiding touching anything (or anyone) in the house, and going through cleaning wipes by the dozen, needless to say, my joy has been tested! I’m not sure if I’d be letting my balloon go this weekend! These last few days have been consumed by fussing, and fretting, and worrying.

How ironic, or perhaps timely, is today’s scripture passage?! Philippians 4:6-7

6-7 Don’t fret or worry. [Gee, thanks Paul!] Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.
It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Hmm. Can I practice what I preach? Lord, I’m trying! read on

211205 – Xmas- Circumspect

Yr C ~ Advent 2 ~ Philippians 1:3-11 (MSG)

Today we’re continuing our Advent sermon series about church and culture and Christmas, and how we as people of faith can lovingly navigate a season that says it’s about Christ-mas but is so commercialized and secularized that it rankles our spiritual sensibilities.

Last week we talked about how the Christ part has been ‘cancelled’ out of Christmas, because many, many people celebrate the holiday and never go further than Santa Claus and gift giving. There’s even a movement out there advocating for changing the name of it to ‘Giftmas’ instead of Christmas. Giftmas. Well, at least it’s more honest. I said last Sunday that for many – perhaps the majority of people? – that it’s become all ‘ho-ho-ho Santa’ and ‘no-no-no Jesus’. That’s sad. And it’s frustrating (ok, maybe even infuriating) for people of faith. I also said that it’s not just Jesus who’s been cancelled when it comes to Christmas – but that we, churches/Christians, have been cancelled too, generally speaking.

What might we do about that? Should we care? Should we change something?
Have we been doing something wrong?
Or maybe we’ve been right all along and they’re all wrong and they oughta change?
Or, maybe our time has just passed and the whole Christian movement has withered and just hasn’t fallen over yet?
I don’t believe that’s true – but there are some hard and heavy questions to be wrestled with about how and why we’ve been cancelled by the culture – and in the midst of that wrestling hopefully something new will be born. And there you have the reason why we’re talking about this during Advent. Preparing for the birthing of something new, and wonderful, and life-changing, and holy at Christmastime is exactly what Advent is all about.

Last week we looked at a hopeful and encouraging letter from Paul to the Thessalonian church which was facing hard times. This week we have his letter to the church at Philippi. It opens with his typical greetings of gratitude and praise for the congregation. In Philippians 1:6 we get that great line that goes: There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to…flourishing.

Then verses 7 and 8 are about steadfastness in faith. Paul feels this really deeply. Unfortunately, none of the biblical translations capture the vividness of this. The word he uses actually refers to your inward parts – the internal organs. That’s where the ancients understood the seat of our emotions to be. Not in our hearts, but in our guts! Deep down, gut-wrenching, gut-level, “errrrggggghhhhh!!!!!” Do you feel some things that way? In your guts? That’s how Paul felt about his churches – and it describes some of the intensity of the love he’s about to describe. It’s not a saccharine, hallmark card kind of love – it’s in your guts! “Errrrggggghhhhh!!!!!”

And then he tells us how to do it. I’m going to take this part phrase by phrase – and I’m using The Message translation because the way it speaks sounds like a real person really talking to a real church – like now.
This is all from Philippians 1:9-11. Paul says, read on

211128 – Xmas-Cancelled

Yr C ~ Advent 1 ~ 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (MSG)

Let’s set some context. 1 Thessalonians was written in the early 0050s by the apostle Paul. That’s a couple decades after Jesus. Paul had planted the church on one of his journeys, but he was not the resident pastor there. Most of his letters in the bible are actually him writing in such contexts. He wasn’t there so he was worried about them, and wanted to make sure they were doing ok. Especially, it would seem, because he knew they’d be facing persecution, and trouble, and hard times, just for being a church.

So he sends his friend Timothy to check up on them, and when Timothy reports back that the Thessalonians are doing well, Paul is elated, and relieved. And Paul gushes to them in the letter about how he hopes to be able to “see their faces again” soon – a phrase which today we are probably hearing much more deeply than when we may have read this passage in previous times. It’s clear that Paul loves this church. Not all ministers feel that way about their churches, sadly, but it’s wonderful when you do…..yes, I do – I love my church! (Awwww).

You may be wondering what on earth this has to do with Advent, aside from a brief mention in the final verse about Jesus coming. And why are we looking at a persecuted church when we’re here in free and easy Canada with seemingly no obstacles to worship at all? And what the heck is up with the title of this sermon: Xmas – Cancelled? Well, hang on for a few minutes and I hope to tie all that together.

Advent is the church season during which we anticipate Christmas, and we prepare ourselves for the day we celebrate the monumental arrival of Jesus on the scene. It’s always a struggle in church during this season because ‘out there’ folks are already in full-blown Christmas mode. Radio stations are playing Christmas music, stores are decked out in boughs of whatever (and have been for weeks already), and it seems like the world is immersed in Christmassy stuff. Except the church, aside from a few lovely decorations. Liturgically, I hold my nose a little and we have one Christmas carol each week in Advent. I know some of you out there want many more. Sorry! (not sorry). 😊

Curiously, just when the church is ready to finally celebrate Christmas – starting on Christmas Eve and going for, oh, 12 days or so – the world is ready to stop. Out there Christmas is pretty much over on Boxing Day – for us, we’re just getting started. So, once again, the church is out of step with the wider culture. Another example of how we are a ‘counter-cultural’ body. We stand ‘against’ the culture in this way. Here’s the big question: is that a good thing? Should we stand against the ‘Christmas culture’ or just give in and go with the flow? (I bet you already know my answer!)

The problem is that most of the common Christmas culture is actually commercial Christmas culture. It’s possible, and bizarrely for many people even desirable, to celebrate Christmas without ever once mentioning or thinking about Jesus. (I feel a rant coming on!) You may recall that one of my favourite musicians is jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall. She put out a “Christmas” album a few years ago. I was so excited when I heard about it, and I bought it immediately. And then I was so disappointed. Not in the quality of the musicianship – she’s wonderful. But on this entire Christmas album there was not one single reference to anything to do with Christmas! By that I mean it was completely secular – decking halls, and jingling bells, ho-ho-ho, but no-no-no hint of Jesus.

I’m sure you’ve seen the culture wars going on about how supposedly horrible and offensive it is to have ‘happy holidays’ on a coffee cup instead of saying ‘merry Christmas’. “They’re cancelling Christmas!” they howl. “They’re persecuting us!”
Persecuting? Really? I think not!

But I will acknowledge that Christmas has been ‘cancelled’ in some ways – just not in the ways they think. This word ‘cancel’ is all the rage lately. To cancel something, or someone, is to turn your back on them and act as if they no longer exist. Celebrities who do or say some horrible thing may get ‘cancelled’ – meaning not only that no one will hire them in the future, but also that people will stop watching any of their work at all. In olden times they called it shunning – when the community decides that someone is persona non grata.

Like Jesus at Christmas, apparently.
The literal meaning of the word Christmas is to celebrate and worship the birth of Jesus, the Christ. So you could say, and I will, that anyone who celebrates Christmas without Jesus has actually cancelled Christmas! And that goes for a lot of those howlers who with one breath scream about taking the ‘Christ out of Christmas’ and with every other breath demonstrate by their unloving and un-Christlike lives that there’s not all that much Christ in them to begin with. (I warned you I was gonna rant!)

My sermon title is “Xmas (spelled with an X) – Cancelled” – and maybe you’re thinking that I’m doing it too. Actually, the X in X-mas means Christ. It came from the Greek word for Christ which begins with the Greek letter “Chi” which looks like an X – and then was used in the early days of the printing press as a short-form for spelling out the whole word. Ironically, some people may think they’re taking the Christ out of Christmas when they spell it Xmas, but they aren’t. Turns out it’s really hard to excise Jesus from the story! Amen!

Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to a persecuted church to encourage them.
Can we relate? Are we persecuted? No, not really, not in the classic sense, but consider this.

Covid isn’t exactly persecution, but it certainly has limited our ability to be together, and infringed upon our ability to worship as we might choose. But I think maybe the worst persecution we experience is kind of a ‘reverse persecution’ – when they all utterly ignore you. It ain’t just Christmas that’s been cancelled, friends – it’s also us!
We, Christians, churches, aren’t being persecuted – we’re being cancelled!
What terrible thing did we do or say that got us cancelled by so many people? Sadly, the list is pretty long!

Rigid theologies.
Literalist bible interpretations.
Residential schools.
Embedded white privilege and racism.
Judgementalism.
Exclusion of the ‘other’ in the so-called name of holy purity – whether that be because of 2SLGBTQ identity, or race, or social class.
Simple hypocrisy.
Shall I go on?

Now, clearly and importantly, we are trying to do better, and ARE being better. read on

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!
Relax.

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

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