201227 – The Day After (the day after) Christmas

Christmas 1 – (With apologies to Clement Moore)

Twas the day after (the day after) Christmas, and in online ‘couch’ churches
Congregations were singing, while wearing new purchas(es).
The folks dreamed of haunting their regular pews,
Awaiting the preacher-guy’s take on Good News.

The children were ‘round as they played with their toys,
While their parents, for once, weren’t concerned with the noise.
And I got myself psyched, and I put on my collar,
Suspecting the ‘views’ would be markedly smaller.

And so, what to preach on, what stories to say?
What message to give on this Christmas Sunday?
What word have they faithfully tuned-in to hear?
What insight will cleverly sum up the year?

I could focus on Joseph, on Mary, on John,
On Shepherds, on Angels, on light from beyond.
On the Wise Men, on Starlight, on Mangers, on Joy,
On the birth of a baby named Jesus, a boy.

But I think that the word that most fully explains,
The whole Christmas season, Advent to today,
Is a pun on the stuff that was under the tree,
And that word is Presence, not “t-s”, “c-e”.

Yes, Presence is what Christmas s’really about,
The Presence of God, beyond and throughout.
And then more awesome still is the truth I’ll now spin,
The Presence of God is most present within!

Their eyes-how they twinkled! Their faces how merry!
Their hearts were aflame, at these words from Rev Larry!
But then Larry told them “That’s only the start,
There’s more to this gift that God placed in your heart.”

“God’s Presence is in you, accept it, or ain’t,
It’s in you because you’re both sinner and saint.
God’s Presence is glowing, God’s Presence is more,
God’s Presence is shining through every last pore.”

“God’s Presence is not just reserved for the holy,
God’s Presence is myst’ry, beyond your control(ly).
God’s Presence is beautiful, awesome, and fine,
God’s Presence is def’nitely tot’ly sublime.”

“But there will be days when despite all this truth,
It’ll feel like God’s absent, abandoning you.
It’ll feel like the darkness will never let go.
It’ll feel like this God has become a no-show.”

“But my message to you, on this post-Christmas day,
Is to never forget this next thing that I say.
For the mystery I want you forever to hear,
Is that Christmas occurs every day of the year!”

“Every morn as you rise from a darkness like death,
And you gather your thoughts at the side of your bed,
Breathe in deeply and slowly and say to your soul,
‘I awake to your Presence, O God, I am whole.’”

“Every morning your being is flooded with light,
Every morning reborn from the darkness of night.
Every morn, incarnation just blows you away,
Every morn, if you will, is a new Christmas Day.”

“Every day you’re renewed with God’s light from within,
Every day’s filled with Presence – go ahead, tear right in.
Rip the wrappings and ribbons right off as you rise,
And rejoice in God’s Presence – it’s just the right size.”

“You see Christmas did not just occur in a stall,
With Mary and Joseph and Jesus et al.
It repeats here and now, every day of the year,
It’s a bottomless cup of the best Christmas cheer!”

“God’s Nativity doesn’t get packed up in boxes,
Like tinsel and garland and big Christmas soxes.
God’s Nativity scene comes alive every morn,
As the Christ child each day in your heart is reborn.”

And the congregants smiled as these words snuggled in,
(be)’side “Surely God, in this place is herein!”
And I heard them exclaim, in a unison way:
“Christmas Presence to all, and to all a God day!”

Amen!

201220 – Advent-Acquiesce

Yr B ~ Advent 4 ~ Luke 1:26-38

Awaken to God’s Presence and your need and desire for more of that Presence.
Adapt your thinking, and doing, and being to create and nurture a relationship with that Sacred Presence.
Through prayer and openness ‘attune’ yourself and keep yourself attuned to God’s Presence, and then hold onto your socks because some incredible, seemingly impossible things are going to happen in and through your life.
If you say yes, ‘acquiescing’ like Mary did in allowing God’s love to be uniquely shaped in her and born into the world through her.

It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent which is always the day we get to talk about Mary! It’s almost irresistibly tempting to weigh in on the debate. You know, that whole thing about the English word virgin having certain connotations of sexual purity that neither the Hebrew word almah nor the Greek word parthenos really have (both basically meaning ‘young woman ready for marriage’ – which insinuates virginity but does not require it) – and the debate about whether this is an immaculate conception or not (it could be, but the text does not require it) – and the debate about whether if they knew that conception required a contribution from the female too (which they didn’t yet know) that the story would’ve been told differently (possibly, but who knows). But I’m not going to get into any of that! [Lol]

I’m not going to get into any of that because ultimately, for me and my understanding of the big message that we as people of faith are supposed to take away from this, ultimately all that is a secondary concern – a rabbit hole – a diversion away from something truly important. If you get caught up in the insemination paradox you’ll miss something really, really special.

Generally, we tend to lift Mary’s story onto such a high pedestal and describe it all in a once-in-the-history-of-the-universe kind of way that convinces us that Mary’s story could never happen again.

Instead, I’d like you to consider this mind-boggling alternative:
Mary’s story always happens!
Or at least it could always happen, depending on the “Mary”.

If you step back from the particulars of Mary’s pregnancy and look at the story you might see what scholars identify as a classic call narrative. It’s a pattern found especially in the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) that features a greeting from a manifestation of God’s presence (often an angel), a startled reaction, an exhortation to “fear not!”, a divine commissioning (God wants you to do such and such), an objection (the classic “Yeah, but…” or “Who me?”), a reassurance (“yes you!”), and the offer of a confirming sign that you’re not just dreaming this whole thing. That’s a call narrative.

That’s exactly what happened to Mary in this annunciation story – and you can find similar stories about Moses, and Samuel, and Isaiah, and Jonah, and others.

If you were hearing this story when it was first being told, back in the first century of the Common Era when the church was just starting and these texts were being written, the thing that would surprise and shock you probably wouldn’t be the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, but that it was Mary who was being called. That would’ve shocked earlier audiences for a number of reasons.
First, she’s a she!
And more shocking than that, this ‘she’ was a nobody. The conventional wisdom was that God’s Presence hangs out with and commissions important people (men), not nobodies, right?
Put another way, the surprising thing about this is that Mary could’ve been anybody.
She could’ve been you.

And that’s the power of this story for us… read on

201213 – Advent-Attune

Yr B ~ Advent 3 ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

I hope you’re enjoying this 4-part Advent sermon series! We began with Awakening to the reality of the challenges in life, and our need for respite, relief, renewal, and rebirth into God’s fullness. Then we said that once we’ve awakened that desire we need to begin to Adapt our being and doing as we change the way we perceive and understand our world and God’s omni-presence permeating it. This week we’ll be looking at ways to Attune ourselves and keep ourselves attuned to God’s presence, because faith and religion are always ongoing, always ever-deepening, never just ‘been-there-done-that-got-the-checkmark’. And next week our word is Acquiesce – as in that spiritual need to let down our guard and allow God to work through us, because the Holy Spirit never coerces, but only ever offers and works at our invitation and consent.

The arc of this Advent sermon series – awake, adapt, attune, acquiesce – is pretty classic in terms of spiritual deepening and spiritual formation ideas. And today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians 5 is kind of the whole thing in microcosm.
It’s like a short, rapid-fire, crash course in spirituality! Easy to understand and remember, but kinda hard to do.

And if you read it too literally, it sounds impossible, and not very desirable! Listen to how it starts:

Rejoice always – but I’m not always happy.
Pray without ceasing – but if I’m on my knees reciting prayers when will I make breakfast, or go to work?
Give thanks always – Really? Even for the bad stuff?

Obviously, I’m going to suggest that it means something much deeper than that! Why do we need a sermon about staying in tune anyway? I mean, if this God stuff is so great and powerful how come it doesn’t just stay locked in all the time? Well, to be blunt – the problem isn’t with God: it’s with me. (And you too!)

Let me start with a huge assumption that sits at the heart of my theology.
Our natural state is to be ‘in tune’ with the Holy Mystery we call God.
We are meant to (or, if you prefer, created to) resonate in harmony with Divine Love.
So, if that’s our natural state then how do we get out of tune?
By living!

Consider this. Imagine you are a musical instrument. (You can spend some time thinking about which instrument you are later!)

Some instruments are built solid and tough, like a piano. They rarely go out of tune, but they do react to use, and changes in the weather, and being moved too much. When a piano goes out of tune you have to call in a pro to tune it.

Some instruments – like guitars or violins – go out of tune as you stress their strings – in other words, through normal use. Can you relate to that? As your ‘strings get stressed and stretched’ you start to go out of tune! Guitars and violins have tuning pegs built into them which the players can adjust as they need to.

Some instruments are so fragile that they go out of tune very easily. The old joke is that every time you open the door to the concert hall you have to retune the harp! (I hope you’re not a harp!)

The tuning of wind instruments – flutes, clarinets, trumpets – depends on the player’s technique and the amount of wind (breath, Spirit!) that flows through them. And they have sliders and stuff to adjust.

But in every one of those situations, out of tune-ness is a natural part of playing music. Going out of tune is not the problem – being unaware that you’re out of tune (or being aware and not doing anything about it) is!
You can’t adjust your tuning if you aren’t aware of your out of tune-ness.
You can’t be transformed into new life until you realize and accept that your old life is somehow not enough (awake), and choose to do something about it (adapt).

Many musicians make the mistake of thinking that once they get their main tuning note, or strings, in tune that they’re good to go – not realizing that every other pitch they play also has tuning issues, and that the stress and pressure of playing affects the instrument.
A skilled musician knows that they must constantly be aware and must constantly be making minute adjustments to stay in tune.
Surely my metaphor is obvious!

Whether you’re a musician or a person of faith – to stay in tune – to stay attuned – requires constant awareness and adaptation.

I don’t know about you, but I find it more than a little disconcerting that it seems to take so little to knock one off their religious path or out of their spiritual rhythm. I say the word ‘attune’ so casually, like we should just get on with it, but my own journey shows how changeable we can be (I can be). How even a small and unintentional (pardon the pun) relaxation and lack of attention can set you adrift.

So what should we do? read on

201206 – Advent-Adapt

Yr B ~ Advent 2 ~ Mark 1:1-8

Before I get into the specifics of digging into this fantastic scripture text I’d like to say a few things about interpretation. First, we need to understand that Mark’s gospel was the earliest of the 4 that are in our bible – and it predates the others by at least a decade. Scholars and historians say Mark was written right around the year 70. This is really significant. Theirs was an oral culture, meaning they passed down stories verbally rather than in written form.

What makes an oral culture suddenly decide to write things down? An existential threat to their existence. A fear that there would be no one to tell the stories. Their great existential threat was the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which happened in the year 70. Mark’s gospel is written in the direct shadow of that, which explains why everything in Mark happens ‘suddenly’ – they’re desperate to get the story down on paper. No time for a nativity story about baby Jesus; Mark needs adult Jesus to get down to business! But he needs a grand introduction, so we get the wild man in the wilderness to herald his arrival, and instead of a birth we get a rebirth through baptism (which we’ll talk about in January).

The second thing we need to understand is that scripture is not really about the actors; it’s about the audience. Well, audiences. If we make it about the actors then we’re studying history – which is ok, but that’s not the purpose of the writing. Mark’s gospel is not about historical accuracy – it’s about theological awakening. We’ve been conditioned to look at books as factual documents about the actors in the scene. Their context and history absolutely matters, but they’re not the point. The theology is the point. It’s not just history about someone else – it’s theology about you!

And that’s the third thing we need to understand. Whenever we read scripture we should remember that there are 3 distinct audiences to consider. There’s the audience in the story, there’s the audience receiving the text, and there’s us. In other words, there’s the people in the year 0030 with Jesus, then there’s the people in the year 0070 receiving Mark’s gospel text, and then there’s us 2000 years later.
All 3 audiences are important, and all 3 audiences hear the words differently – because our contexts are different.
The gospels weren’t written to memorialize the first audience – they were written to enlighten the second audience. It’s doubtful they had us in mind at all, but the reason we still treasure these texts is because they still speak so powerfully to us even across so many centuries. But each audience hears these spiritual truths differently.

I’m saying all this because I want us to hear how incredibly radical John the Baptizer’s challenge is. I think over the centuries it’s lost its bite because we’ve tended to focus on how it impacted Jesus rather than what it was saying to Mark’s church in the year 70. Simply put, we don’t get this story because we don’t appreciate the depth of the challenge it makes. But I know a way to help us understand it.

Imagine your most treasured thing about your church experience. Now imagine that I come along and challenge you to let that treasured thing go and to do things in an entirely new way. What’s your reaction?
“But, but, but, that’s not the way it’s done! We’ve never done it that way before!”
Exactly! Now you’re ready to stand on the shore and hear the wild man’s challenge.

Mark 1:4-5 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

This is absolutely radically shocking stuff, but maybe not for the reason you think. It wasn’t that baptism was a bizarre new innovation. Ritual washing was a feature of many religions, including some sects of Judaism.
John was calling them to repentance – which doesn’t mean to say “I’m sorry for all the bad things I’ve done.” And repent doesn’t mean ‘turn or burn’ either!

The Greek word is metanoia. Meta (after/beyond) + noia (knowing/perceiving).
It means to go beyond the mind/perception you have – to ‘change’ your thinking (and presumably your doing) – to go beyond how you understood religion and adapt to a new way of thinking and being.
That’s what repent means.

But that in and of itself isn’t the radically shocking part. It’s what they were being called to change their thinking about.
They were coming to him for forgiveness of their sin. That’s astounding! You see, in John and Jesus’ day there was only one way to get forgiveness of sin – you made the appropriate sacrifice at the Temple. It was the centre point of their entire religious system. John was, in fact, inviting them to let go of the Temple, and to utterly change their paradigm of spirituality.
“But we’ve never done it that way before!”

And apparently this shocking innovation – nothing less than circumventing the entire Temple-based way of understanding things – was remarkably popular.

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins – presumably instead of going to the Temple.

Obviously it’s hyperbole to say that “all the people of Jerusalem” went to him, but clearly the intent is to communicate that this was a significant movement – so much so that it eventually got John beheaded.
Such is often the fate of those who upend paradigms.

Now imagine the second audience – Mark’s audience in the year 70. How would they hear John’s challenge? read on

201129 – Advent-Awake

Yr B ~ Advent 1 ~ Mark 13:24-37

Allow me to begin by summing up this reading: “The world can be dark, but it doesn’t have to be and won’t always be. Wake up (or keep awake) and be ready to experience light at any time, ‘cause you never know when you’ll notice it.”

Mark’s ‘Little Apocalypse’ (as it’s called) may seem an odd reading to kick off the Christmas season with, and it would be if this was the Christmas season – but it isn’t! This is Advent, not Christmas. Advent is about preparing, and waiting for Christmas. It’s four weeks of ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ while the world out there wants to sing ‘Joy to the World’. (Well, actually they want to sing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, but the point’s the same.)

Advent is meant to prepare us for all that great Christmas ‘light’ imagery. Advent means an anticipated arrival or coming. Christmas literally means ‘the festival of Christ’ when we celebrate what we were waiting for. And then we get our Epiphany, the liturgical church season after Christmas. An Epiphany is a revelatory manifestation – a sudden awareness of the depth of what that arrival that we were waiting for, and have now experienced, means for us.

You could say that Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are about waiting for light, celebrating the light, and realizing the nature of the light. We make them stretch out over the course of several weeks but the reality is that this pattern can happen anytime.
That’s kind of the point.
We notice darkness, receive light, and have an ‘aha’ moment that helps us understand the whole thing. This is the spiritual journey – we just ritualize it and play it out every December and January. We’ll do it this year with a sermon series that follows an arc of meaning too.
It goes: awake, adapt, attune, and acquiesce.

So why not just skip to Christmas now?
Why wait?
Why do we need Advent?
And why use a text about such hardship and dismay?

We need Advent to keep us grounded in the story – to remind us of the reason we cling so strongly to the idea of Christmas light. Advent paints a graphic picture of what we’re lacking, and underlines our need for relief, respite, restart, reset, renewal, rebirth. We’re simply taking the time to name the darkness that God speaks light into, and today’s reading does that colourfully.

I’d like to pause here for a minute and talk about language. Darkness and light are fantastic images – until they’re not. When we start to associate darkness only with evil, and extend that imagery to people, calling everything that’s dark ‘bad’, possibly associating persons with dark skin as ‘bad’ – then suddenly our language is sinfully problematic.

I just want to state clearly here that images and metaphors of ‘light and dark’ as ‘good and evil’ should never, ever be extended to people. Ever. In spirituality darkness can also be transformational, so it’s not like dark always equals bad. The biblical images are fine – the problem is that over centuries we’ve added layers of unintended meaning to them. So, we’ll still use the language – because Jesus did – but we’ll do so being very mindful of what the images do and do NOT mean.

I’d also like to say something about biblical interpretation. This passage is one of those readings that demonstrates in a really clear way why different lenses for interpreting scripture matter so much. If you look at it with a more literal or take-it-as-it-is kind of lens I think you’ll get a very distorted picture of what it’s meant to convey.

Let me say it straight out: Jesus never said this. Mark’s gospel was written right around the year 70 – the same time that the Temple in the centre of Jerusalem was destroyed. This was a cataclysmic event for people with Jewish roots. The Temple was the absolute focal point of their faith and religion. Its destruction shook Judaism to its core. In fact, it has never been the same since. You could not imagine a ‘darker’ time. read on

201122 – Elan

Yr A – Reign of Christ ~ Ephesians 1:15-23

If you follow the liturgical calendar (and we do) you will know that this week is called Reign of Christ Sunday, or Christ the King Sunday. There are some (perhaps many) in our beloved United Church, who have real issues with this language. For them, the concept of a king or a kingdom carries the ugly baggage of oppression, or subjugation, or patriarchy so they reject the language of Christ as a king and instead try to substitute the clever word “kin-dom” in its place. I wonder if that would make this Christ the Kin Sunday? Hmmm…

As you know, I love to celebrate new made-up words so you’d think that kin-dom would appeal to me – but I’m not really a fan – and I’ll tell you why.

Kin-dom is generally understood to be about belonging, caretaking and community. The idea is that the kin-dom of God is a realm where we’re all kin – one big Christian family. And while that sounds like fantastic, Christian kinda stuff I’m afraid that for me it misses the mark of what a kinGdom is about.

A kin-dom is made up of kin – equals – contemporaries. It suggests a flat organizational structure rather than a hierarchy. That’s fantastic and entirely appropriate if we’re talking about the church – about the kin-dom of humans.
But we’re talking about God here.
God is God, and we’re not.
This desire for a flat kin-dom seems, to me, to be a desire to remove elements of authority, or lordship, or surrender from our spirituality.

I think the problem is that we all know of monarchies (or powerful empires, or governments) that exercise ‘power over’ instead of ‘power with’. Those are all human examples – and we all know about how power does bad things to most humans.
But God’s kingdom, Christ’s reign, is never about coercion and subjugation – it’s all about relationship and empowerment.

The reign of Christ means the realm of Christ, the plane on which spirit operates, the ocean of love in which we swim.
We’re not talking about a physical geography – we’re talking about a profoundly rich metaphor describing a perception field.
God’s kingdom is a way of seeing – a way of perceiving – something you’re immersed in always but can’t quite grasp – until you read Ephesians 1:18-19 (we’ll get to them in a minute!).

In God’s perception field, God’s kingdom, God’s Presence is the air we breathe, and God’s love is our lifeblood. But again, we’re not God.
God is God.
We are not in charge of God’s kingdom – which is more than just a kin-dom.
How we interrelate with one another is certainly a kin-dom of humans – but the ocean of love in which we’re swimming is a kingdom – God’s kingdom.
And in God’s kingdom Christ has power, and authority, and lordship.

The earliest confession of faith in Christianity was to say that “Jesus is Lord!”
It was super-political, and rebellious, and revolutionary because if Jesus is Lord then Caesar isn’t – and Caesar insisted on being called Lord!
And if Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar, then the empire of power-over is supplanted by the kingdom of God, and the world is turned upside down (or should I say right-side up?).

Between disliking hierarchy and loving our self-importance and sense that ‘no one’s the boss of me’ we struggle with Lordship.
But if Christ or God or Spirit doesn’t reign for you (or in you) then who or what does?
If you say you do then you’ve made yourself god – and that is nothing but trouble.
If you say no one or nothing reigns over you, well, you’re mistaken.
That great theologian Bob Dylan said it brilliantly – You gotta serve somebody.

I went into this more than I originally wanted to, but I really think this distinction is essential. If, for whatever reason, the language of kingdom is something you just can’t abide, then I hope you can find another metaphor better than kin-dom to describe this sacred perception field that is the realm of God’s Presence. Kin-dom is great for us humans – but it falls short for describing the power and presence of the divine. At least for me it does. Your mileage may vary.

I’m laying out this groundwork so painstakingly because I want us to really be able to dive deeply into Ephesians 1:18-19. But first, verse 17.

Paul prays that God might give us “a spirit of wisdom and revelation as (we) come to know God”.

Awesome!
Wisdom isn’t just knowledge; it’s a special kind of knowledge that implies deep spiritual understanding and maturity.
And revelation is about what is unfolding before us – being present to the moment and discerning God’s awesome presence permeating it.

Paul wants to help us see that this is about an orientation, an attitude – a spirit of a new way of perceiving.
Perceiving what? God’s kingdom!
And why is this a good thing? read on

201108 – Wedding Crashers

Yr A ~ Pentecost 22 ~ Matthew 25:1-13

The parable of the bridesmaids is a kingdom parable. Jesus is offering the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. Calling it the kingdom of heaven can sound to our ears like he’s talking about what happens when you die, but that is absolutely not the case. He’s talking about living abundantly in the here and now. He’s talking about making our lives indescribably awesome, today.

So, what is this kingdom like? Well, it’s kind of hard to describe, but apparently it’s like a big party! A wedding, even! Wedding festivities in Jesus’ time typically lasted seven days, and the processions of the bride and groom marked the beginning of the joyous event. The deal was that the bridegroom would make a journey from his house to the bride’s house and then take her back in a grand procession, accompanied by all the bridesmaids, to his house for a big party.

The parable we heard today uses this backdrop to teach us about God’s kingdom. The beauty of parables is that they often seem to say one thing but they are actually saying something deeper – and if you just react to the surface of it you’ll get it all wrong. Parables always have what I like to call ‘thought bombs’ in them. The thought bombs are there to shake us up, but they’re not the point. They just catch our attention with a rhetorical slap upside the head.

Jesus begins this parable with a “once upon a time” kind of line.
He says, “Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” (Matthew 25:1-2)

Saying five were foolish and five were wise instantly told the Jewish audience that they were about to hear a wisdom teaching, and that the foolish would be really foolish and the wise would be, well, wise.

We can loosely read the parable as an allegory, where each character directly represents something. Here the church is the bride, we are the wise and foolish maidens, and God, or maybe Jesus, is the bridegroom.
So ‘we’ go out to meet the bridegroom, but he’s delayed (25:5). The original audience would know that this happened all the time. All sorts of things delayed grooms from coming to claim their brides (including last minute negotiations for dowries).

They all fall asleep waiting, which has no judgment attached to it. Both the wise and foolish have to sleep.
The difference is when the groom showed up the effects of the delay became clear: the wise had enough oil to account for the delay and the foolish ran out.
Here the first bomb goes off: Matthew 25:8 – the wise wouldn’t share!
Boom!
That sounds mean!

Then the wise tell the foolish to go buy their own.
Boom!
Another thought bomb goes off.
I mean, on one level it’s comedy. You don’t go oil shopping in the middle of the night. It’s ridiculous.
But on another level is Jesus saying you can buy your faith?
Yikes!

The next bomb is decidedly unpleasant – and doesn’t sound like Jesus at all.
The door gets shut on the foolish bridesmaids in verse 10.
Really? God shuts doors on people?
Does that sound right to you?

Here’s a hint – If, when you read scripture, it doesn’t sound like Jesus – well, it isn’t! We’re reading it wrong! (Or the writer’s agenda is emerging!) Either way, we have to dig deeper.

And then in verses 11 and 12 we get the killer.
“Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’”

I don’t know you? God doesn’t know them?
The same God who supposedly knows how many hairs are on our heads, and knows every thought before we think it, doesn’t know these girls because they forgot to stock up on oil?
Surely there must be more to this?!

Of course there is. It’s a parable.
It’s supposed to tick you off.
And it’s supposed to teach you something big.

Of course good people who have resources should readily share with those who don’t have them.
Of course you can’t just go out and buy your way into the kingdom.
Of course it’s never too late and the door to God’s presence is never closed.
Of course God knows you.

Those are just the thought bombs going off.
But they got your attention, didn’t they?!

Ok, here’s how I understand the parable. read on

201101 – The Wrong Race

Yr A ~ Pentecost 22 ~ Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus must never have read the book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ because he seemed to go out of his way to tick off every influential person he ever met. Here he is in the temple, having just finished castigating the Jewish leadership to their faces, when he turns to the people and starts up again.
He says: “Ok, they sit there in the seats of power and we really should listen to them, but don’t do what they do. First, they don’t practice what they’re preaching, second, they put too many rules and burdens on you that they don’t follow, and third, they only seem to do stuff to get recognition for it.”

Verse 5 is really nasty. “They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.” 
Ouch! Let me unpack that.
A phylactery is a small, square leather case which holds 4 strips of parchment upon which significant Hebrew scripture verses were written.
A pious, observant Jew was expected to wear a phylactery on their forehead in a case that was fastened by straps and sat just between the eyes.

The ‘long fringes’ dig refers to the prayer shawls worn by Jews which had tassels or fringe at the corners. The idea was that as you looked at the fringe you would remember and obey the Lord’s commandments.
Nice!
But eventually having long tassels came to be associated with being exceptionally pious.
So you can imagine that “making their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” refers to the enlarging of the case and the tassels so as to make them very conspicuous – like dangling a massive cross around your neck as jewelry. “Look at how religious I am!”

But reminders are good, right? I mean, I carry a prayer stone in my pocket as a reminder. Is that bad?
Or, if I wear a cross around my neck how big is ok?
Is 5 cm good but 8 cm is ostentatious?

Jesus turns all that stuff upside down.
It’s not about wearing religious stuff, or how big your religious stuff might be – or having the best seats, or being honoured for your position: it’s about service and humility. It’s giving of yourself in response to God’s gifts to you.
We know this.

Wanna be great? – Serve! – Do something! – Give of yourself – not because you want to look good, but because of God’s love you feel good.

And so, you’re all inspired, and you’re out there, and you’re doing all sorts of good – and you’re rocking it.
And you start thinking to yourself, “Hey! I’m doing just what Jesus said! And I’m doing it for all the right reasons. How cool is that!”

And then you feel yourself puff up a bit, and because you’ve worked so hard you kinda want to brag about it.
But then you remember that you’re supposed to be all humble.

We can’t catch a break here!

Be great, but be a servant.
Love out loud, but love quietly.
Live holy, but don’t make a show of it.
Tell the world, but don’t be too loud.

This game’s confusin’ man!

Look, the Pharisees weren’t bad people. In fact, they were in many ways wonderful religious leaders.
Jesus wasn’t challenging them because of their passion and conviction for righteousness – he was calling them out for running the wrong race.

The wrong race is one where you think God is a holy score-keeper and you’re trying to rack up enough points to reach the bonus round.

The wrong race is one where you think your outward appearance is supposed to be a flashing neon sign for your inward sense of faithfulness.

The wrong race is one where you seek extrinsic rewards for your intrinsic spirituality.

Our problem isn’t that we have a bad understanding of what our religious faith or what Jesus is all about. We’ve got those pretty solid.
Our problem is that we are running so many races at the same time that it’s easy to get their purposes confused and start to blur the lines.

So what is the right race? read on

201025 – The Trysting Place

Yr A ~ Pentecost 21 ~ Matthew 22:34-40, John 13:35

Renowned theologian Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann wrote these words that have been resounding in my consciousness and inspiring me to think really deeply since I re-encountered them while on retreat last week. Brueggemann said, “The task of prophetic imagination and ministry is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there.”
That strikes me as deeply profound and important.

I have three main roles: priest, pastor, and prophet.
As priest I preside at public worship.
As pastor I teach, and administer, and lead, and support the congregation I serve.
As prophet I take inspiration from God and call people to God’s leadings as I understand them.
Today, I’m the prophet. Nobody likes prophets – because they make us feel uncomfortable – because they call us from complacency to conviction and repentance (which literally means to have a change of heart and mind and embrace a new or renewed direction). Prophets usually get run out of town, which is why priests and pastors tend to stay in their lanes and not venture into the prophetic. No such luck today.

“The task of prophetic imagination and ministry (like this) is to bring to public expression (like now) those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there.”

So, what long denied and deeply suppressed hopes and yearnings do I believe God has called me to bring to expression today?
Love.
And more specifically, our love of God.

“Um, Larry, isn’t that what we’re always all about?”

Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? And I’m not saying that we’ve been horribly misguided and have fallen away or whatnot. (I’m not that kind of prophet!)
I’m saying we (and mostly I’m using the whole denominational ‘we’ here, not just this community called Faith United), we have had our priorities somewhat ‘misaligned’.

See, I told you nobody likes a prophet.

In today’s reading Jesus is challenged to say what he thought the most important teaching of all was. So he turned to scripture and quoted a beloved prayer called ‘the Shema’ from Deuteronomy 6:5.
Matthew’s version is: “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

(That’s it. The love neighbour part is from Leviticus, not Deuteronomy.)

The Shema is traditionally recited by every Jewish child and adult at the conclusion of each day and at the start of each day – when you lie down and when you rise up. That means they bookend every single day of their life with a reminder to themselves that their absolute, primary, number one job in life is to love God with their whole being.

This scripture passage is the heart of my favourite theological concept.
This isn’t my idea. I didn’t cook it up.
Sure, I gave it the catchy expression ‘love, love, love’ (and made it into our church butterfly logo) but I didn’t decide on my own that this was the most important thing for us to focus on in church.
Jesus did.

In all of Jesus’ recorded teaching there are only 3 things that he elevated to the imperative of being a commandment: “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind,” “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” and in John 13 he said to his intimate, close friends “love one another as I have loved you.”
We are commanded to love – love God, love people, and love one another – love, love, love.

I’m a person of faith. I’m a disciple of Jesus, and so are you. I get the love, love, love thing, but it’s pretty vague. They’re nice words and all, but I need more direction in my discipleship. How do I do all this love stuff? Where do I begin?

I need to know what the most important thing is that I’m supposed to be about.

Is it that I’m supposed to believe certain doctrines? Nope. read on

201011 – ThanksZooming

Yr A ~ Thanksgiving ~ Psalm 65

This is going to be one of those sermons where I just use the scripture as a jumping off point to talk about what I really want to talk about. But first I need to address a couple of glaring theological landmines in the first few verses of Psalm 65, and then, with verse 5 especially reframed, we’ll dive into my theme for today.

Right off the top I need to say that this is a psalm – which means it’s poetry – which means it’s all about imagery, and emotions, and deep meanings rather than facts, and figures, and historical detail. In fact, the Book of Psalms is really a hymn book – it’s music and lyrics, except we’ve lost the music. Songs are all about exaggeration for effect, and painting word pictures designed to inspire, and challenge, and make us think. No, that’s not exactly right – not to make us think – to move us to feel, to worship, to pray.

You should read psalms with the words “not literally” in your mind. That doesn’t mean they don’t speak deep and profound truths – it’s just that poetry is not meant to be taken literally. The problem is that over time much of our Christian biblical interpretation lost that nuance, and instead of taking poetry as poetry we’ve taken it ‘literally’, and our theology has been affected, and not for the better.

For example, Psalm 65:1-2 says, “(Oh God,) we will fulfill our vows to you, for you answer our prayers.”

And immediately we have a landmine.
Does God answer prayer? How? All prayers, or just some? And what is prayer anyway?
Aha! Now we’re getting to the problem.
Prayer is not a wish list for alleviating my personal challenges or meeting my desires. Those things may arise during prayer, but they’re not the point.
Prayer is about a relationship, an opening of one’s heart to the Presence of God, a joining of sacredness and spirit, union, oneness, love.

The problem, as usual, is one of translation. When I say ‘answer’ you probably think ‘respond’. But that’s not the Hebrew word here. The word ‘answer’ here means ‘to hear’. Hearing you is not the same as responding to you. This verse should say, “We will fulfill our vows to you, for you hear us, you are Present with us, you embrace our prayerfulness and meet us in our openness.” That’s very different from answering a wish list.

Psalm 65:3 offers another landmine. Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all.

Sin means to fall short of God’s ideal, God’s holiness, God’s spiritual perfection. Well, of course we fall short! But that’s because we aim so high! Again, sin isn’t a laundry list of things you think you did wrong. Sin is a state of being – the state of knowing that you are aiming for God’s awesome, sacred, holiness and you fall short. Listen to that verse again:

Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all.
The only person keeping score in this game is you. Not God.

Landmine number 3.
Verse 4 says, “What joy for those you choose to bring near, those who live in your holy courts.”

On the surface that makes me wince, because it seems to suggest that God picks and chooses who gets to draw near. That fundamentally goes against my core theological understanding that God is love, and God can only love, therefore God could never choose to exclude.
So is the verse wrong? No, it’s poetry! It simply means they’re joyful that they feel included in God’s love. Reading it as excluding others is our mistake, not theirs.

So, prayers are about being heard, not necessarily ‘answered’.
Sin is something that befuddles us but God shrugs off – not ignores, not that aiming for sacredness doesn’t matter, just that not always attaining it doesn’t accumulate on a report card!
And God’s choosing ‘us’ doesn’t preclude God choosing ‘them’ too.

That’s a lot of theology in 3 short verses – and that’s not even what I want to talk about today. I just can’t let those misleading interpretations go without comment.
(By the way, that’s why we usually only have one scripture reading each week – doing others without the benefit of diving in can cause all kinds of trouble!)

Now to our focus verse – Psalm 65:5

You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior.

There’s that problematic ‘answer our prayers’ again.
Only guess what? It’s a different word again – and neither one of them really mean ‘answer’ in the way we understand the word ‘answer’! read on

201004 – Along the Way

Yr A ~ Philippians 3:4b-14

We need some context to understand why Paul is talking the way he is in this scripture passage. The Philippian church (which Paul planted!) has apparently, in his absence, been hearing from Jewish-Christian teachers who are claiming authority because of their Jewish-ness.
So what does Paul do? He out Jewish-es them!
He challenges their cred by showing that he has even more. He offers his resume and credentials and dares anyone to top him.

And then, having made such a bold claim, he instantly declares that all that former stuff – all of his status and achievements and whatnot – is all rubbish compared to knowing Christ. The word for ‘rubbish’ here also means garbage, or even dung!
That’s pretty colourful and salty talk!
We need to be careful to remember that Paul isn’t saying “Jewish-ness” is rubbish – he simply means anything and everything related to human achievement or status pales in comparison to intimately knowing Christ.
What Paul’s doing is weighing human accomplishment against spiritual depth.

Paul is challenging them with a paradigm shift. He argues that Christianity is not concerned about the keeping of the Law of Moses (which would have been the focus of Jewish-rooted teachers), but that righteousness comes through one’s relationship with Jesus. If you know and love Jesus, deeply and intimately, and follow Jesus’ Way, then you, through your faith, inherit Jesus’ righteousness.

Philippians 3:8-9 “…That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”
That’s a paradigm shift.
It’s troubling that Christianity so often still reverts to moralism and rule following, rather than intimacy and relationship in and with Christ.

Maybe this will help us hear Paul’s message more fully. I’m going to offer a paraphrase of this scripture passage, but instead of it coming from Paul’s perspective it’ll come from mine. It’s a little bold, but that’s for effect.
So, Philippians 3:4-14 rewritten for today:

“If anyone else has reason to be confident in their accomplishments, I (the Reverend Doctor Larry Doyle) have more: baptized as an infant, a member of the United Church my whole life, a Christian born of Christians; as to theology, an academic; as to fervour, an unapologetic evangelist and prophet; as to righteousness, an ordained minister (got the collar, and degrees, and everything!).

“Yet all of that stacked up is nothing compared to the gift of being in a deep relationship with God through the Way of Jesus. In fact, all that stuff is utter crap if it even for one second somehow keeps me from knowing and trusting God more fully – because degrees, and speaking, and writing, and credentials don’t lead you to faith – a passionate, open, humble heart does.

“I want to know Christ intimately, and to long for God, and to love like Jesus did so that I can be more like him – and I can only do that if I die every day to my old self and become reborn into new life and a new Way, the Way of Jesus, every day – every hour – every minute.

“I am in hot pursuit of experiencing oneness in my relationship with God because Christ has pursued me, and caught me, and become one with me. My friends, I haven’t done it myself – but I will do this: I will leave my old self behind and throw myself, heart and soul, into the new life that God is calling me to. I’ll stay in pursuit of the ultimate prize – the holy call of God that I have found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That call – to love God, to love people, and to love one another – is all!”

This whole passage is built around one Greek word: diokein. It gets translated with two or three different English words here (depending on your bible version), but it’s all the same word 3 times in these 10 verses!
The main expression is ‘press on’. To press on means to pursue, as in hot pursuit – it’s actually a hunting term.
But really interestingly the exact same word is translated as ‘persecute’.
When Paul says in verse 6 that he’s a ‘persecutor of the church’ it’s a double meaning. Once he persecuted against Christians – that’s our usual understanding of ‘persecuted’. But it can also be understood positively.
A ‘persecutor of the church’ can also be someone who is utterly passionate about it, positively.

So, to press on, to persecute, to pursue – what?

Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Press on toward the goal for the prize.

Not the prize of a heavenly reward upon a life of good deed-doing. That’s more like a scorecard; like worrying about keeping the law.
That’s not our paradigm.
Paul makes it crystal clear that he’s not talking about a destination; he’s talking about a lifelong journey of going ever deeper into the Way of Jesus.
It’s a shame that we’ve inherited this tradition of what some call ‘destination Christianity’ when we should be focusing on ‘relationship Christianity’ – our ever deepening relationship with Christ, and all the love that produces in us and through us.

That’s the goal. Now, generally speaking, we like goals.
I bet you have goals. Career goals. Fitness goals. Monetary goals. Maybe relationship goals.

Do you have faith goals?
Should you?
If so, what would they be?
How will you know if you’re making progress?
How will you know if you’ve attained it?
Will you ever attain your faith goal?
Should you ever attain your faith goal?

(Will he ever stop asking questions?) read on

200927 – Unlike

Yr A ~ Philippians 2:1-13 – Creation 3

There’s no nice way to say this, but generally when Paul writes a letter it’s because one of the churches he planted has gone off the rails a bit. The church in Philippi is no exception. His theme is about humility and unity.
Guess why? Right, it’s because they weren’t being those things. I’ll leave it to you to discern if we are today – and who might be included in that ‘we’.

In his day Jesus taught that we should strive to be selfless and humble and unified in our attitude toward one another because that’s the best Way to live.
In Paul’s day he had an advantage. He didn’t just teach those things. He pointed at Jesus and said, “Look at Jesus! Look at his life. Jesus embodied his own teaching, but he never pointed at himself – which means he embodied his own teaching even more! So…Be like Jesus!”

This isn’t a ‘come to Jesus’ sermon; it’s a ‘be like Jesus’ sermon!
How do we do that? Well, consider Jesus.
We look at him as the most awesome, spiritual, evolved, mature expression of humanity ever, and that makes him a superstar, and worthy of praise and adulation.
He could have embraced that and made himself very powerful.
He could have leveraged his position for great gain.
He could have exploited his status and privilege and lived like a king.

But he didn’t do any of that.
He did the opposite.
He turned it all upside down and subverted what we think of as being successful and powerful, and showed us how living a life of absolute and utter loving-kindness, and care, and compassion, and spiritual depth was actually a far richer life, because it centred the ‘other’ in love rather than selfishly centring ourselves.

There’s a fancy Greek word in verse 7 – kenosis. It means to empty yourself, to pour yourself out, to let go of your supposed ‘right’ to wealth or power or possessions or whatnot and live utterly abandoned and surrendered to love, to God. To give yourself away and in return gain more than you ever could have imagined possible – not more stuff or more power – no, we gain more depth, more joy, more peace, more sacredness, more meaning, more love. It’s kind of like ‘humility-plus’!

Philippians 2:7-11 Jesus didn’t tightly grasp his greatness as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. And…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a humiliating cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I’m not Jesus. You’re not Jesus.
But it would be a mistake to say that we don’t have power, and status, and don’t have the ability to exploit that power for our gain. We certainly do.
So how do we avoid the trap of exploiting our power?

v.5 Let the same mind, the same attitude, be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Ok, I can try that. But what does that look like in my life? In our church life together?

Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

This is not a new teaching, and yet we have countless examples through history – through Christian history – and still today of how Christians repeatedly do things out of selfish ambition and conceit, with no humility, and regarding others as lesser than ourselves. read on

200920 – A God-Shaped Hole

Yr A ~ Philippians 1:21-30

I’m going to do something a bit different this morning. Usually I would read the scripture passage as it appears in the bible, according to whatever translation we were using that day. Then in my sermon I’d go in depth and talk about how the editor’s choice of words when translating from the original Greek or Hebrew can really change the way we hear and understand something. Today, rather than reading it and then reframing it, I’m just going to start with the reframed version. So here is Philippians 1:21-30, with some word substitutions and amplification which I hope can help us hear what I think is Paul’s deeper message without tripping on some of the surface language.

Remember, Paul is a minister talking to a church community that he has planted and is nurturing:

1:21 For to me, living is surrendering and abandoning myself to Christ, and dying to my old way and being reborn in Jesus’ Way is gain.
1:22 If I am to live in the flesh, in the here and now, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer.

1:23 I am hard pressed between the two: my heart’s desire, and passion, and longing is to just dissolve, and melt, and be with Christ, for that is far better;
1:24 but to not go off on a mountain top retreat and instead to remain ‘in the flesh’ (so to speak) is more necessary for you.

1:25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,
1:26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting, your joyful celebration of how well you’re doing, and how much you’re growing in Christ Jesus, when I come to you again.

1:27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you, or am absent and only get to hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,
1:28 and that in no way are you intimidated or knocked off the path by anyone or anything that might challenge that. Your steadfastness, and faith, and perseverance shows any obstacle that it is ineffective and powerless to oppose you. And this is God’s doing.

1:29 For God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of experiencing strong feelings and passionate emotions for him as well –
1:30 since you are having the same agonizingly beautiful struggle that you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church! Amen.

Now, all I did there was to expand on the word fields that are in the text. To be fair, editors have to choose. They can’t go on and on like I can! Plus, we’re inheriting an English version that was largely shaped in the 16th and 17th centuries and they had a certain bias or interpretation (as we all surely do), and they chose language that supported their bias. It isn’t wrong language, but their editorial choices do limit how we hear some scripture passages.

My bias is toward transformation, and hearts strangely warmed.
This a very passionate scripture passage.
Sadly, the published versions don’t emphasize that.
I do!

Let’s look at verse 23.
The words speak of Paul’s desire to depart, which when combined with the living or dying language of verse 21 suggests that depart here means to leave, or even to die.
But a better translation for desire to depart is actually desire to dissolve – as in to melt.
It’s poetic love language.
It’s passion language.
It’s Eros language.

Then in verse 29 we get the phrase “For (God) has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well…”
Yikes!

You’ve probably heard that phrase ‘suffering for Christ’ before. Well, in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya (from the Princess Bride movie), “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means!”

I think the Christian church has grasped onto the idea of suffering for Christ as being a test of how strong you are, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for Christ, or how much hardship and pain you can endure to show how dedicated to God you are.
And that’s really sad, because it completely distorts Paul’s meaning here.

The Greek word is pásxō which means to experience strong feelings and strong emotions. Pásxō literally means passion!
Now, to be sure, to ‘suffer’ in pain is to experience a strong emotion. I’m not diminishing that.
But one can also ‘suffer’ positively – as in passionately, longingly, yearningly, desiring, aching, pining away for your true love.

THAT is what it means to ‘suffer for Christ’!
And that completely changes how we hear this whole passage.

Suffering for Christ is more of an expression of how much you love God – how much your heart yearns to feel more of God’s grace and peace – how much your soul aches when God seems distant – how you feel incomplete and empty when your love is not near, and how your heart bursts with joy, and affection, and fullness, and abundance when your love is clearly in focus.

Now, if you’re a long-time United Church person you may very well be squirming in your seat. All this emotional, passionate, love-language – about Jesus! About God! Our tradition has always tended to emphasize the academic, intellectual, head-based aspects of Christianity.
For lots of us that simple 12-inch journey south from your head to your heart is the longest and hardest spiritual journey of all.
But friends, it’s vitally necessary.
We don’t abandon our heads and check our brains at the door. We take our head with us as we descend into our hearts and experience strong emotions and feelings for God.

Preachers love to tell you that the word love in Greek has several different translations that all mean something different.
Agape
is the love word that refers to spiritual love – it’s a holy, sacrificial, righteous, self-giving love. Love for other – love for neighbour. read on

200913 – Chuwl

Yr A ~ Creation 1 ~ Psalm 114

This is the tenth September that we have marked the Season of Creation at Faith United. What do we mean by creation? One aspect is to think about the natural world, the planet we share, and to raise theological issues about sustainability, respect, resources, stewardship, and greed. We can talk about the environment, the physical world, and celebrate the wonders that it holds.

Another aspect is to think about the act of creation, and focus on God. While it makes for a good visual, I don’t for one instant imagine that a humanoid figure with a white beard physically shaped the stars and planets and all that is. So what do we mean by the act of creation? The big bang maybe? Did it just happen? Was it caused? What banged together? These are big scientific questions, but they’re also spiritual questions.

For me creation is about the existence of life that can in many ways be explained scientifically but also holds a mysterious, miraculous sense because the complexity and interrelatedness and interconnectedness of it all inspires awe and wonder, and we sense that more than just being a happy accident we are somehow the product of a loving intention. We give that mysterious intentionality the name God, and we celebrate how we are part of it all.

Perhaps a better name for the way I’m approaching this isn’t the Season of Creation but the Season of the Creator! How can we talk about God as creator without falling into troublesome anthropomorphism? How do we acknowledge the remarkable understandings that science has given us and at the same time acknowledge that there’s more to it than just science? And how do we find language that can speak to the theological side without leaving our brains at the door?

Today we’re going to explore some of that language – and probably the best language to use to talk about God is poetry – and the best poetry in the bible is found in the Book of Psalms, which is more or less a hymn book – which means poetry and music in the service of speaking of spiritual things. Poetry and music have the potential to help us access deep truths and meaning that science can never get to.
Today we’re looking at Psalm 114. It’s a psalm that recalls the exodus and tries to offer a sense of how momentous a thing it was – and how awesome was the God who inspired and guided it.

1 When Israel went out from Egypt [that’s the exodus], the house of Jacob [which is all of Israel, which was his other name] from a people of strange language [a colourful way to say a foreign land],
2 Judah [a territory] became God’s sanctuary, Israel [meaning the people] God’s dominion [or realm].

The Israelites were once under the rule or domain of Pharaoh – now they’re under God’s domain. That’s the story of the exodus. For the Israelites this was an epic, epoch-making event, and they knew deep in their hearts that God was at the centre of it.
Now, how do you tell that story? How do you describe something so ginormously life-changing for you and your people?
You write songs! Because the metaphors in poetry and songs give you the potential to express deep truths in engaging and effective ways.
So, when that momentous action happened how did not just the people but the planet react?

3 The sea looked and fled; [the river] Jordan turned back [on itself and flowed the other way].
4 The mountains skipped [bounded, danced, frolicked!] like rams, the [little] hills like lambs.
5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?

Why? Why? Here’s why!

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint [an extremely hard rock that gives sparks when struck] into a spring of water.

How awesome was the exodus?
Well, the way they tell it it rocked their world!
And this psalm was one of the ways they tried to express their overwhelming gratitude and awestruck-ness.

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.
Trembling in awe before God.

Tremble is a very complex Hebrew word (c-h-u-w-l) that’s pronounced ‘cool’. Its field of meaning is really vast. It can mean:
to twist or whirl, to dance, to writhe in pain or fear;
to hope, look, rest, shake, stay, tarry, trust, wait patiently, be wounded.

In English to tremble means:
To shake involuntarily, as from excitement, anger, fear, or anxiety; to quake, vibrate, or quiver.

The point here is not to make us afraid of God but to remind us that God is all around and God is truly awesome and awe-full.
So often we are so casual about how we toss God’s name around, or shrug the whole church or faith or spirit thing off because it feels like no big deal.
When the name of God, or the presence of God, is said or revealed the appropriate response is not a shrug – it’s trembling! read on

200906 – You’re Putting Me On

Yr A ~ Pentecost 14 ~ Romans 13:8-14

Do you know what a fashionista is? It means someone who’s all consumed with having the latest clothes and styles. Do you know what a fashion faux pas is? It means someone who has made an unfortunate clothing choice. Do you know what a fashion victim is? It means a partner who actually answered their partner’s question “How does this look on me?” (j/k)

As the back to school ads fill the airwaves and newspapers at this time of year I always get a feeling that I should freshen up my wardrobe. This year being what it is I’m doing that shopping online. It’s hard to try on clothes online. I keep scrolling through possibilities, imagining what they’ll look like on me, mentally trying them on for size. It makes it really hard to decide. I’m certainly no fashionista.

And I don’t know if the apostle Paul was a fashionista either, but I love his “clothes-line” from Romans 13:11-14 today. He says,

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it’s now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you think he means like I put on 20 outfits online? I don’t think so. Putting on Christ is nothing like slipping on a jacket, even in-person in a store. You can’t put on Christ nearly that quickly. You can’t slip Christ on and spin around in front of the mirror to see how you look all decked out in Christ, then decide that style of Christ doesn’t fit you all that well and so you just slip it off and try on another one. That’s not what we’re talking about.

Maybe Paul means it more like long underwear in the middle of winter! You know, “Put on the Lord like long johns right next to your skin – something that’ll move with you wherever you turn and will keep you warm and cozy in the big bad world.” Nope, I don’t think that’s it either.

Maybe it’s closer to the stories I heard about the Olympic swimmers who take a half hour to squeeze themselves into their high-tech bathing suits. Maybe putting on Christ is like that – times 1000! But even that’s not right yet.

Putting on the armour of light – putting on Christ – putting on Faith – isn’t an outside job – it’s an inside job. (Ever spill some liquid on your pants and go around assuring everyone that it was an outside job?) You don’t pull faith on over top of your life. Faith can never be an add-on. To continue our fashion metaphor, Faith is not an accessory!

I don’t know where this idea started that faith is some external thing you ‘turn to in times of trouble’ – or that faith is something you do at church on Sunday. But whoever started that thinking did us all a grave disservice. So yes, we should put on the Lord Jesus Christ – but we need to put him on the inside where he belongs!

I once heard the idea of dating described as the process of trying on different people until you find one that fits. I like that. But what does that really mean? It certainly doesn’t literally mean you try to wear your prospective partner like a jacket! It means you hang out with them, get to know them as best you can, discuss life with them to see if your values line up ok, introduce them to the things you love and try the things they love. No one’s perfect, but some people ‘fit’ better than others. (And just like my fraught online shopping experience you really need to try people on in person. Things in real life often look ‘different’ from their online picture!)

I think that’s what Paul means ‘putting on Jesus’ is like – not the ‘don’t trust pictures’ part, the first part. Paul wants to remind us to ‘wear’ Jesus (on the inside), because Jesus fits! But now we’re left with the question of how does one wear Jesus? How do we know he fits? Well, in some ways it’s just like trying on dates. The big thing is you hang out with him and get to know him the best you can. You try to align your values with his, and you learn to love the things Jesus loves.

Ok, do I need to stop here and remind us that this is all a metaphor again? read on

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