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

210613 – Emergent See

Yr B ~ Pentecost 3 ~ 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Walk by faith not by sight. Perceive the world differently.
That’s really what today’s scripture passage is about. Unfortunately, it twists and turns, and uses problematic language, and seems to suggest dodgy theology, but let me assure you that it’s not really like that. I’ll poke at some of it, but we don’t have enough time for us to try to undo some of the stuff it does. I think one of the reasons it’s hard to interpret at first is because we may not appreciate just how profound verse 7 is: we walk by faith, not by sight. It’s catchy. It’s probably familiar to you. But are you aware of how much of a profound paradigm shift it’s suggesting?

The ‘we’ Paul is referring to, I think, is we the body of Christ – those who follow Jesus – those who abide in God’s Love and celebrate God’s Ever-Presence.
WE walk by faith. THEY (those people who are not Christ-followers) walk by sight.
We trust in Something More – they trust in what they can see, and touch, and test, and explain. It does sound like it’s creating an ‘us and them’ thing, but it isn’t about exclusion, it’s just about explaining a difference. The difference is how one perceives the world. In biblical metaphors that often gets talked about as ‘seeing’ – or not seeing as the case may be.

Having a different paradigm for perceiving the world has huge implications for your life. If you see the world as God’s Kingdom, God’s realm, God’s really real reality – and you strive to follow the teaching of Jesus who says the way to navigate this kingdom of God that we swim in is to love – then your actions and your interactions will be shaped by that paradigm of love.
That’s what we’re celebrating today – on celebration Sunday. We’re celebrating the ways in which we, as a community of faith called Faith United – live out that love that fills us and flows through us.

The thing that kicks off our celebrations is that on a Sunday near June 10th we mark the anniversary of our denomination – the United Church of Canada – which is now 96 years old!
When we’re in-person Celebration Sunday always marks the end of the ‘formal’ Joyful Noise program and begins the shift into summer programming. We celebrate the kids – and we celebrate the leaders who share their spirit with the kids.
So I will celebrate Stacey Tremblay today – for the incredible and creative work she’s done through this pandemic season to provide wonderful resources for families. I know that others are also offering leadership with the kids, and youth, too. Thank you!

We celebrate that for 3 years now we have been an Affirming congregation. What does it mean to be Affirming? It means that we’re more than just nice, and more than just welcoming, and more than just accepting. It means we’re public, intentional, and explicit about our welcome. It means we really mean it when we say we’re inclusive. It means that we strive to provide a spiritual home that is openly welcoming, nurturing and safe whatever a person’s ability/disability, age, ethnicity, exceptionality, gender identity, sexual orientation, or social or economic circumstance; and that we encourage all who gather here to participate freely in the life and work of this church. I celebrate that!

I could go on and on about so many of our shared ministries here at Faith, but I will risk highlighting two – one that you know about and one that you may not. These two ministries exemplify exactly what it means to live out the love of God in action and interaction.
I’m talking about Sheila Ellis and our Church Work in Durham group (CWID) that supports so many community ministries and agencies on behalf of our church. To the CWID group, I celebrate your gift of leading us into loving others.
And I’m also talking about our Visiting/Care team. You may not realize it but Donna Bignell and this team of compassionate and caring folks regularly phone and visit members of this church who have a harder time being connected because of illness, or age, or circumstance. I am so grateful to this group for the ministry they share on our behalf. I celebrate your gift of loving one another.

I also celebrate all the people who are part of our worship experience each week. Zeljka (our musician), and also the choir who record themselves singing alone and then get mixed together for a video. The soloists and instrumentalists who share their talents. The scripture readers, the tech team who make this all work so seamlessly (most weeks, touch wood), Stacey who anchors our social media presence, and all of you who tune in and have church on your couch when you could be out doing something else, especially on a gorgeous day like today. I celebrate this gift of loving God together.

Why do we do all this stuff? Why do we engage in all these ministries together? read on

210606 – More and More

Yr B ~ Pentecost 2 ~ 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 (MSG)

Ok, let’s just start by getting it all out on the table. There’s a lot of stuff swirling around these days. This month we become more intentional than usual about issues concerning LGBTQ2S persons with Pride Week. We become more intentional than usual about issues concerning anti-black racism as we acknowledge Juneteenth – the official end of slavery in the United States. Canada marks a similar day on August 1st. And we become more intentional than usual about issues concerning Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit, and Metis persons as we mark June as National Aboriginal History Month. With the recent unearthing of horrors at the former Kamloops Residential School, and the chilling knowledge that such horrors were probably not limited to that one school, a month of focus on Indigenous peoples seems supremely important.

Now we pile on top of all that the fact that we’ve been languishing under a worldwide health pandemic for almost a year and a half, with our lives dramatically altered and our spirits labouring under the weight of so much separation, and fear, and anxiety, and disconnectedness, and isolation, and frustration – not to mention the physical hardship of those who’ve been infected by the virus, the financial hardship of so many businesses who’ve been eviscerated by it, and the emotional hardship of those who’ve missed out on vital gatherings for things like funerals, or significant celebrations, or life milestones. Sure, our vaccination rate is steadily improving, and yes you should feel perfectly safe to go and get yours (all of my family has now been vaccinated – so too should yours be). But even though the light at the end of tunnel appears to be getting bigger and closer, it somehow feels even further away right now because we’re all so weary, and fatigued, and wrung out by this whole incomprehensible ordeal.

Like I said, there’s a lot of stuff swirling around these days. What does scripture say to us? In today’s reading from 2 Corinthians 4:17 the apostle Paul offers this: These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us.

Small potatoes? SMALL POTATOES?
No, Paul, with all due respect. These are all big, honking potatoes.
(Yes, I had some other choice adjectives in there but I edited them out!)
It’s true that everyone encounters hardships and suffers from time to time. Some seasons feel especially soul-crushing. Maybe that’s where you are these days. Whatever your challenges may be today, or however you may be feeling the weight of the world these days, to call that ‘small potatoes’ is an inexcusable insult.

Now, to be fair to our friend Paul, he was specifically writing about himself and his own situation – which was that he was in prison for daring to preach the gospel of Jesus that said God’s ways are better than the world’s ways (and Caesar’s ways), and that love, love, love (loving God, loving neighbour, loving one another) was better than anything. That kind of subversive talk got him chucked in prison, and beaten, and in legitimate fear for his life. Now, Paul himself looked at his own situation and evaluated it as being ‘small potatoes’ in comparison to the joy of his hoped-for and expected freedom. That’s ok. You can look at your own hardships and declare them small potatoes. I wouldn’t dream of ever making that claim for anyone other than myself.

But that’s how we tend to read scripture.
Paul was in prison and said it was small potatoes so therefore all my worries are supposed to be small potatoes too, right?
Nope. Paul speaks for Paul. You speak for you.
We can look at his experience and ask questions that may help us with our own situations, but that’s as far as it goes.
Scripture is not a paint-by-numbers, step-by-step, insert-your-situation-here kind of deal. It’s a journal or diary filled with the stories of ordinary people having extraordinary experiences of God’s Presence and Love. So we can learn from Paul’s experience, and even admire it and aspire to it, but this is not an I-did-it-now-you-do-it thing.

So let’s step back and read the passage from a more global viewpoint. read on

210523 – Spirit Ruachs

Yr B ~ Pentecost ~ Ezekiel 37:1-14

I love this passage of scripture. It’s one of my favourites. I just find it so incredibly powerful and profound. It was written by the prophet Ezekiel who was tapped by God to call the wayward people of Israel back to faithfulness. I’m going to take a few liberties with it and re-imagine it as a contemporary 21st century message to the mainline Christian church in North America. In other words, us. It’s about a vision of the power of the Holy Spirit – a perfect text for Pentecost Sunday. I hope we can catch the vision too. I will play the part of Ezekiel, and the Church (not the fine folks of Faith United necessarily, more the denomination) will play the part of the people of Israel (and we’ll let God play Godself!).

The spirit of the LORD caught my imagination and showed me a valley full of bones. God led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
God said to me, “Minister, can this church live?” I answered, “God only knows – I mean, only you know.” [Ezekiel 37:1-3]

Then God said to me, “Preach to these bones, and say to them: Hey church, listen up. The Lord God says to you: ‘Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!'” [37:4-6]

That sounded good, so I preached as I had been commanded; and as I preached, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them; but there was no breath in them. [37:7-8]

Then God said to me, “Preach to the breath, preach boldly, minister, and say to the breath: God says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain. Breathe life!” [37:9]
I preached as God commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. [37:10]

Then God said to me, “Minister, these bones are the whole body of Christ. They say, ‘Our bones and churches are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely – we’ve been marginalized, they call us quaint, we’ve gone from mainline to sideline to offline to flatline – we’re dying, or maybe already dead.’ [37:11]

Therefore preach, and say to them, Listen, God says: I am going to open your graves (churches?), and bring you up from your graves (churches), O my people; and I will bring you back to the body of Christ. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your churches, and bring you up from your churches, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, I’ll breathe my life into you, and you’ll live. [37:12-14]

It’s such a pertinent text for us in the United Church in the 21st century. A spirit-filled person (like a minister – we hope) is set apart and given a fresh perspective of the reality of church health. Perhaps it’s harsh to say the people are lifeless, or maybe not (and again, I’d say that Faith United is vital and healthy).  The leader wonders “is there hope?” and responds with “God only knows!”

The leader is challenged to preach a message of breath which will enliven and renew. So they preach it, and it’s heard, but it’s only marginally successful. There’s still something missing. The people aren’t dead dry bones anymore, but they aren’t generally vitally alive either. What’s missing? The church has all the apparent attributes of life but in critical ways is not abundantly alive. What’s missing? Maybe the most convicting sentence in the reading: “There was no breath – no Spirit – in them!” (Spirit and breath are the same word in Hebrew – ruach!)

God challenges the leader to dig deeper and to preach again – to boldly preach what no one has preached before! – to boldly preach what we seem to have collectively forgotten (or chose to downplay) – to preach to the breath, the Spirit, and to invoke it to come. It came, and they lived happily ever after.

At least that’s how we hope the story ends. The people complain of feeling dead spiritually. God promises renewal, sends the Holy Spirit, and the people are renewed. Yes please!

I think we can all relate to this text because even though this is a very healthy and vibrant church, and we’re not exactly dry bones around here, we all know what it’s like to have a dry season – to be in a spiritual desert. It happens to everyone from time to time, and as people of faith we know that the dryness doesn’t last forever (even though while you’re in it it can feel that way). Covid certainly hasn’t helped!

The people of Israel complained about being dead spiritually because they were in exile and were cut off from their land, and more importantly their temple which was their spiritual home. Interestingly, this text speaks to us in a way it’s never spoken before – because we’ve been forced into a kind of exile by the pandemic. We’re cut off from our church in some ways – and connected in other ways – like right now. For the people of Israel online worship wasn’t an option. In those days it was all about the temple – and they were cut off from that. read on

210516 – Both-And

Yr B ~ Easter 7 ~ 1 John 5:9-13

Have you ever been a witness? Maybe at a trial, or at an accident scene? A witness shares their truth. A witness says what they’ve seen, or experienced. The Greek word for witness is marturia – where we get our word ‘martyr’. So to witness is associated with a sacrifice – a suffering – that to truly bear witness costs something – requires a certain depth and courage to speak your truth. If you were to visit a southern evangelical church you might hear someone call out, “Can I get a witness?” It means a testimony, a confession of faith, a sharing of how God’s Presence has mattered in your life. So, I’ll ask my first question again: Have you ever been a witness? Given your testimony about your faith? 

Our reading today begins with a defence of the reliability of a witness. But it isn’t any old witness. It isn’t you or me giving our testimony. It’s God!

1 John 5:9-10 “If we take human testimony at face value, how much more should we be reassured when God gives testimony as God does here, testifying concerning God’s Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God inwardly confirms God’s testimony. Whoever refuses to believe in effect calls God a liar, refusing to believe God’s own testimony regarding (Jesus).”

Don’t just take my word for it; take God’s word for it. It’s not just me saying this stuff, God says it – and not just in a book but in your heart. God speaks God’s testimony about Jesus into your heart – not into your ears. We talked about this a bit last week – that believing in Jesus really means beloving Jesus. Whoever beloves Jesus inwardly confirms God’s testimony.

You can’t come to this understanding any other way. Your head is the wrong tool for the job. And if you want to dive into the mystery of something like how Jesus is both fully human and fully divine your head will only take you part of the way. The proper organ for contemplating the sacred is your heart.

Why did I bring up that whole fully human/fully divine argument? – Because that’s the conflict that provoked this book of the bible in the first place. That’s what all the testimony is referring to in today’s reading. 1 John doesn’t name it outright, but it’s talking about the divinity and humanity of Jesus. Followers of Jesus have been grappling with the meaning of his life since the day he died (well, actually since two days after he died when they started having mystical experiences of his living presence).

I need to get a little philosophical on you for a few minutes. We here in the western world have been immersed in a certain mode of thinking called ‘dualism’ for, oh, about a thousand years. Dualism reduces to primarily either/or choices. We are either this or that. Right or wrong. In or out. Conservative or liberal. Leafs or Habs. Dualism provides excellent clarity and reason and is a very good thing – for some things. Sadly, it’s very bad for spirituality.

The alternative system is called non-dual thinking. Non-dual thinking operates on the both/and scale. I am both father and son. We are both rich and poor (comparatively). I can be both right and wrong at the same time. Non-dualism requires the ability to hold in tension things that appear to be contradictory but are not. It’s about nuance and interpretation and shades of grey.

A non-dual mindset doesn’t eliminate either/or choices. read on

210509 – Born Of-In-For Love

Yr B ~ Easter 6 ~ 1 John 5:1-7

Jesus didn’t teach outside of his own small geographic region. His unique gift was a spiritual reform of his own religious tradition – Judaism – a reform that eventually took its own form and grew. One of the problems for us though, and this can be a real danger for us, is that we are light years away from 1st Century Jerusalem. The lives we lead in Europe and North America are totally removed from the ancient cultural roots of the life and context that Jesus knew.

It used to be (at least, this is what people always say, I’m not so sure it ever really was) that this was a Christian country. That meant that apparently, once upon a time, everyone here was Christian – and you became Christian by osmosis – you just soaked it in culturally.

But here’s the thing. You can’t become a follower of any faith by osmosis. It cannot happen willy-nilly and by accident. To be a Christian, to be a follower of the Way of Jesus, requires a decision, a reorientation of your life, a moment when you say, “I do.” A cultural Christian isn’t a Christian at all – they’re just Christian-esque. You know the old joke – standing in a church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car. A follower of Jesus has to choose to follow.

I don’t mean that you have to have a lightning-bolt experience of awakening to God’s presence with angel choirs and lots of cool special effects in order to be a Christian. Lots of people never experience a big bang – they have more of a slow burn. But again, you have to choose to burn.

Why am I making such a big deal of this? – Because it makes all the difference in the world. You can read any philosophy or teaching and take it or leave it, but to be a person of faith is to give your life to something, and some-one.

In the Christian faith the defining moment is called a confession of faith. Since the earliest days people became part of the church by doing 2 things – being baptized and making a confession of faith. It doesn’t mean you have all the right answers, it simply means you’re choosing to give your life to a certain type of journey, defined by a certain journeyer named Jesus.

Don’t be scared off by that phrase ‘a confession of faith.’ Confession means to speak out loud what’s on your heart. It’s about honestly and openly saying, “Yup, that’s me. That’s what I feel. I’m all in!”

What would a confession of faith have looked like in the first century? There were no creeds yet to give assent to, no orthodoxy to adhere to, no denominations to become members of – so what makes a confession of faith? The church’s 1st confession of faith was only 3-words long. It went like this: Jesus is Lord!

Jesus is Lord; therefore Jesus has authority in my life. Lord is an interesting word whose meaning has shifted over time. It commonly means ruler or master, but a more nuanced definition includes the ideas of authority, a leader, a superior (as in mother superior), a person of high standing and therefore due respect.

The etymology of the word is really cool. read on

210502 – God In-Is Us

Yr B ~ Easter 5 ~ 1 John 4:7-21

We’ve talked about it before but it bears mentioning again – anytime we try to define God, or explain God, or seek to say anything about God at all we are instantly and necessarily babbling idiots. God is beyond any of our feeble-minded attempts at categorization or explanation. As soon as you think you’ve got a handle on God and start to believe that you understand God you’ve utterly failed. Any god you can understand is not a god worth having. And any person who claims to tell you what God is all about is a fool. And so I begin. And I’m euchred from the start.

But I can’t not talk about God – partly because that’s my job, but mostly because I’m alive! It’s a question that has fascinated humanity since the beginning.
What is God?
Well, let’s start with the basics. Is God animal, vegetable, or mineral? No, no, and no.
Is God solid, liquid, or gas? Nope, nope, and nope.
Is God discernible using any scientific method whatsoever? Negative!
Then doesn’t that mean God isn’t real? No, it just means that God is not discernible using any scientific method! You don’t use a thermometer to measure distance. It’s a useful tool, but fundamentally the wrong tool for certain jobs.

Christians have, from the beginning, made the claim that while we don’t understand God we ‘know’ God – intimately. Anyone who’s ever been partnered in a serious way knows that you can intimately know someone and never really understand them! And in our intimate interactions with this God we know we’ve come to express our sense of God in one succinct, powerful sentence – God Is Love. I’m going to prattle on for another 30 or 40 minutes here (j/k) but I’m never going to say anything better than God is Love – because that says it all.

God is love. That’s the answer to the ultimate question. God is love.
Author Douglas Adams in his Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books humorously suggested that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything was 42. Well, that was the first answer – later we learned that 42 was actually the answer to ‘what do you get when you multiply six by nine?’ If you just did the math and realized that that doesn’t make 42 you’re right. His point was that life, the universe, and everything had no point. Adams was an atheist – a funny one, but still an atheist.

As much as I liked his books I disagree fundamentally with his premise. Life, the universe, and everything most definitely has a point, and that point is love. Every poet and artist and musician in history has understood that. Every person who looked into the eyes of their lover has understood that. And everyone who has ever marvelled at a sunset, been humbled by the power of the ocean tide, drawn a deep breath of fresh air, been the recipient of an act of generosity or kindness, had a friend, or has witnessed the miracle of birth and the relationship that a family has – everyone of those people has at least subconsciously intuited that life has a point, and that point is love.

Just because you can’t make a rational argument to support love doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Love is not rational, but it’s not irrational either. It’s transrational. It’s not without reason, it’s beyond reason. That’s why we say God is love – beyond reason (transrational) – only able to be known and experienced, and never understood.

Let’s look at 1 John 4:7-8 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love – so you can’t know God if you don’t love.

I’d argue that this doesn’t say that an atheist doesn’t love – what it says is that if they love then on some level they know ‘God.’ Whether their intellect allows them to name it as such is really irrelevant. Every atheist loves, but they don’t make the association that we would, that love and God are one. If you love, you know God on some level, for God is love.

Does it work the other way too? If God is love, is love God?
God is love. Yes! Sounds wonderfully spiritual.
Love is God. Love is God. Hmm.
I’m just going to let you think about that…for like, a year!

Sometimes it’s just language and metaphors that stop someone from acknowledging God’s love, yet language and metaphor are all we have to describe God. read on

210425 – Lovingness

Yr B ~ Easter 4 ~ 1 John 3:16-24

Today we’re continuing our month-long look at 1st John 3. The basic message of this morning’s reading is simple and clear: don’t just talk the talk – walk the walk!

You might think I’ll start by asking, “So why don’t we?” Well, most of the time I think we actually do! But I do think there are a couple of things that tend to trip us up, or knock us off course. The second verse of today’s reading challenges us to respond if we see someone in need.

1 John 3:17 If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

It’s one of those scripture passages that means exactly what it appears to mean. And yet, right off the top there’s 3 things we should look at more closely. The first is that this passage – actually the whole letter – is focussed inward. It’s not a sermon challenging the listener to go into the world and show God’s love. Well, not directly. It’s actually talking about perceiving the needs of one’s fellow followers of Christ. Love, love, love means to love God, love others/neighbour, and to love one another. It’s the one another – fellow church folk – who this is aiming at.

So, when you see someone associated with this community of Faith in need, and you have the means to do something about it – you should. Obviously.
But what does it mean to be in need, and what does it mean to have the means to do something about it?

I think we need to define need. In need of what? If I say ‘someone is in need’ we probably tend to automatically think of a poor person, or someone who is hungry or homeless, or someone who doesn’t have work, or a person in a ‘third world’ country. We get an instant mental picture of what ‘someone in need’ looks like.  But surely that’s only one aspect of it.
Not every need is outwardly obvious.

So how do you know if someone is in need?
They’re breathing!
We’re all in need of all sorts of things.

What do people need? Money? Food? Housing? Safety? Absolutely.
We live in a comparatively affluent suburb, of a comparatively affluent region, in one of the comparatively most affluent countries in the world. There aren’t very many classically needy people in Clarington – and even fewer who are part of this community of faith. I’m not saying there aren’t people with serious tangible needs, there are! I’m just saying when you step outside the door of our church – or when you step inside (someday) – you aren’t met with a panorama of poverty, you’re looking at affluence.

What other things might we be in need of? read on

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