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Comments on Readings from three year Lectionary for Sunday Services. Whitestarhaven's Ramblings
Updated: 1 hour 50 min ago

Acts of Love.

September 25, 2020 - 1:23am

Imagine you are watching television and a commercial comes on. The camera pans out over a tranquil beach scene where a family is enjoying the sun and the water. One parent is helping a smiling child build a sandcastle, while the other child runs in the surf, throwing a stick for a bounding, energetic golden retriever. The other parent is sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella with a picnic basket and a drink, waving to the rest of the family. Finally, at the end, the product is advertised. But that’s not all, right? What was really advertised was not just a drink or an item of clothing or sunscreen or life insurance – the marketers were cleverer than that. They were advertising salvation – buy our product and it will save you from your harried, over-scheduled existence and lead you to this “perfect” life.

Sometimes, we are so harried, we are so tired, we are so over-scheduled, and perhaps are so short-sighted and feel so self-centred in our everyday existence that we buy into this false salvation. We grumble at our church leaders, “Is the Lord among us or not? We aren’t getting what we want. God’s not leading us to salvation as we imagined it, so maybe we need to look elsewhere.” Like the Israelites in Exodus, we are wandering through the wilderness of Sin – both a geographical place and a play on words that reminds us of our imperfection and unfaithfulness. Yet, God remains faithful. God is still at work in our lives, no matter what we believe, no matter what we do as we move through the wilderness.

Christians cannot separate our belief in God from the action it demands. We cannot immerse ourselves in “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” without being stirred to embodying this knowledge and love of God through our actions in the world. Together, they create faith. We can do a whole lot of prayer or a whole lot of serving in a soup kitchen, but an imbalance of one or the other does not exemplify what Jesus is asking. God is faithful in word and deed, and that is the faith that we are called to.

Take this modern parable for example:

There once was a man who came to know Jesus and wanted to be baptised. The whole community supported him, and he was baptised along with several others on a Sunday morning. Things seemed to be going smoothly with his newly minted faith. Prayer flowed easily from his lips and heart, he never went by the homeless person who was on the corner of the street where he worked without speaking to him and giving change when he could. He came to church every Sunday, sang in the choir, and went to adult formation classes.

After a while, things started to feel, well, like a suit that was becoming too small, too tight. What he once did with joy was now starting to feel like an obligation. He didn’t know what to do. When someone asked him to pray for them, he said, “Of course!” with enthusiasm and then forgot to. He began to avoid the homeless person by his work by going through another entrance. He attended church and church events less frequently. He considered his life outside of church as separate from his faith, and it was getting busy. He got a promotion at work, started dating someone seriously, and was getting involved in some philanthropic activities through his workplace.

He still believed in God and felt love for God but didn’t know how to integrate these pieces into the rest of his life. It all seemed like it was too hard, too much. Eventually, his church community who witnessed his baptism and vowed to do all in their power to support him in his life in Christ never saw him again.

Jesus teaches us in our gospel reading today, our intentions don’t really matter. It’s our actions that are grounded in and flow from our relationship with God that count – individually and as a community. The man in the parable was not the only one who fell short of his promises – the community did, too. All these everyday actions are outward and visible signs of our inward and spiritual grace. These are all acts of love – love that God has for us and that we have for God. Jesus preached and taught and touched and healed people. Over and over again, God’s actions prove God’s love for us.

If we take an honest examination of how God has touched each of our lives, we can be surprised by joy. Think back on your life, the ways that the tapestry of threads have been woven to get you to where you are today. Those times where just the right thing happened, those unexpected moments that changed your life, and the spaces in between, all where God was caring for you. How do we respond to this?

We aren’t perfect, but we are definitely called to be different. As we grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus and each other, may there by clarity and fire in God’s call to us, and may we receive the courage to do something about it.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Giving Thanks for Love and Life.

September 17, 2020 - 11:42pm

Children’s books seem to fall into categories: one appears to be about obedience or learning to follow the rules, a great number are about bravery and perseverance, others are about understanding the world around you, but a great many of the books for children today are about teaching our children that they are loved unconditionally. There seems to be a lot of these books, yearning to reassure us that we are lovable.One book, Mama, Do You Love Me?, follows an Alaskan mother and daughter through a conversation where the toddler tests the boundaries and limits of her mother’s love, only to find that even if mama is angry, she loves her daughter still. It’s a story about how fragile we are as humans and how each of us is intrinsically good and worthy of love. It’s a great and honest book, and in some way tells the story of how much God loves us.

This is something we need in our world at the moment as we continue to face the consequences of the Pandemic especially its continued effects. In this week’s reading from the lectionary in Matthew 20 we find Jesus telling a parable that is also about how much we are loved. The parable of the five o’clock people tells of how fragile we are as humans and how boundless God’s love truly is. Many Christians have heard sermons every year on this parable. Sometimes it focuses on the anger and resentment of the people who showed up earlier in the day, sometimes it looks at why the people showed up at five, and other times we hear about how grace is given freely to all simply because they showed up. All of these ring true.

There is something quite fragile about humans; our fragility shows up when we Christians baptise babies and ask their families to protect them from evil and for the community gathered to look after them. Each of us is born with the love and hope of God implanted in our hearts; unfortunately, we are born into a fragile and broken world. At baptism, the child has had people promise to look after them as they grew into the person God imagined them to be in the midst of our communities.

This is the world of the parable: good and fragile people doing their best, wondering why some got more for doing less. What we and the workers forget is that God is not like us. God is better and more loving than we can imagine being. God looks at the workers and says, “I love you regardless of what time you showed up for work, I’m just glad you showed up.” Like the mother in the book I mentioned earlier, God’s love is not conditional on our behaviour, God just wants us to show up and work. It is a reminder that we need to be grateful for help in the work God has given us to do, regardless of what time that help arrives. The work is often about being a sign of love to the world, and finding ways to love others even if they don’t agree with us, look like us, or behave the way we want them to… or show up first thing in the morning for work.

One of the best ways we can be signs of love in the world is to say thank you. Gratitude is an expression of love. When someone does something kind for us, regardless of whether they had to or not, it is a reminder of the goodness in them meeting the goodness in us—and the natural response to kindness is gratitude. Gratitude is extraordinarily important because it is a way for us to remember the goodness in others and ourselves—but still, it is easy to forget to be grateful.

A spiritual discipline of gratitude doesn’t sound like much, but how often do we forget to say thank you? Thank you seems too simple, and yet it has the power to transform our lives. Have you ever tried genuinely thanking someone from whom you ordered food or coffee? Yes, it is that person’s job to make the coffee, but aren’t you glad that he or she said “yes” to doing the job that day? What about people you work with? Have you thanked them for all they do to support you? Have you thanked your family and friends? Most of us know the pain of someone dying suddenly with words of gratitude left unspoken between us. Saying thank you is simple, but it is transformative.

The good news is that God’s grace is so great and so surprising that it can provide enough no matter how late in the day it is – on the deathbed, in the jail cell, after repeated failures – because the recipient need not add anything to the grace, but simply receive it in order for it to do its life-sustaining work. Even as the sun sets on this life, it is not too late to accept God’s Amazing Grace.

And it is never too soon for the rest of us to begin to consider that heaven is “enough,” heaven’s daily bread and heaven’s daily wage make all earthly comparisons look meaningless and silly and for that we can give thanks. We Christians are called to be those people who pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and really make an effort to live that out. To live life in God’s kingdom is a journey to return to manna season.

One suspects this journey begins with being as generous toward God and others as God is with us. After all, there must be some reason that God has created us in God’s own image.' We are created to love and to give. And to be as surprisingly generous with our giving to God and to others as God is with us.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Aching for Answers.

September 11, 2020 - 1:39am

Daily television images flood our imaginations with pictures of suffering and destruction. Not only have we had terrorist events but now we are living through a pandemic and the world has witnessed events that have blown away our sense of security. Death, destruction, loss, innocent suffering, and grief have seemed constant companions for many of us. The remembrance of the terrorist attacks in recent times and the pandemic continue to bring into our consciousness vivid, horrifying pictures. Some still feel the pain, agony, fear, and anger. With the terrorist attacks the feelings of vengeance and revenge stand as ready tempters that promise quick fixes to complex and profound problems. Some of the so-called and dangerous treatments suggested for the Covid-19 pandemic, play upon the feelings of insecurity and again promise quick fixes to complex problems.

Therapists for years have known that hearing the pain and perplexities of others can surface unresolved, suffering that the listener had pushed away and hoped to have forgotten. "Skeletons in the closet" experiences return like tormenting spirits. These people identify with some type of Ground Zero for they have experienced a similar private terror in their lives. Others feel a numbness setting in and they no longer feel anything. It's as if the constant stream of reminders of human suffering, terror, and death have created a spiritual callus that seemingly protects them from pain and covers their fear.

Christians, in the midst of all this complexity, chaos, and confusion, ache for answers that bring healing and hope to us and to those among whom we live and work and worship. People of faith must resist their need to try to say something merely to stop the pain. A premature proclamation usually produces glibness and pat, saccharine platitudes that are meaningless and ineffective. The call to serve may well be a call to continue feeling the pain and loss, to grieve with one another and to carry both the pain and grief into our praying.

We Christians pray in these days that the "Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts." The apostle Paul wrote in the Epistle to the Romans about deep, struggling prayer. "Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the heart, knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Praying our struggles means bringing the full mixture of thoughts and feelings into our prayers. In addition to speaking directly to God, such praying consists of struggling with ourselves in the presence of God. Like Jacob in our Hebrew Scriptures wrestled with an angel and we too are called to wrestle with God even as we struggle with ourselves.

As Christians, we also struggle with Scripture. The themes present in the lessons appointed for this Sunday in our lectionary speak of the dangers of vengeance and anger to our souls. They call for forgiveness as an ongoing discipline. They remind us that everyone is accountable to God. While these challenges are not new, they take on added significance when we hear them against the backdrop the current problems of our world.

We hear such words as forgive your neighbour the wrong they have done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does anyone harbour anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord? Into our perplexity is thrown the notion that we endanger our souls when we are vengeful. Anger and wrath are considered an outrage. Yet, we feel in our rage the desire for revenge. We must bring those perilous desires into our prayer-filled struggle with God.

Try as we will to divide ourselves into "we" and "they," the truth remains that we humans all are related-like brothers and sisters of God. Hate and bitterness have no room in God's family. We cannot deny that we hold others with hatred or bitterness. That, too, is to be added to our inner, prayerful struggle. Peter knew that we are a forgiven people. His question resonates within us: "how often should I forgive?" Jesus' answer comes in the form of an idiom, "seventy-seven" which means that at all times and in all places, we are to embody God's forgiving grace.

Forgiveness involves more than absolution of guilt. It involves reconciliation of our past and the healing of our brokenness. It involves intentional work to heal and reconcile with one another. Such forgiveness remains troublesome until we allow ourselves to bring that brokenness into our struggle where the Spirit will intercede with us. God creates us and we then participate in God's creating. God heals and reconciles us to God, one another, and ourselves and then, we participate in that healing reconciliation. God awakens wholeness that invites us to share in that holiness. Healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness together sketch an embodied way of life of an ever-deepening friendship with God and with one another. Encouraging words in the current world.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Do We Have a Problem?

September 4, 2020 - 1:30am

Long ago the great Anglican priest and poet John Donne reminded us that, “no man is an island, entire unto himself.” For centuries we have considered a person living totally alone to be a hermit. More and more we are discovering that even in densely populated cities loneliness is a chronic, debilitating, and common condition. The current pandemic has raised the issue of how we deal with isolation and community connection other than physically.    

Solitary experience is contrary to human nature because we are social animals. For all human history life has been lived in the context of communities of one sort or another. This, of course, is simply sociology or anthropology. It is a neutral observation, because communities can be good and bad. The bad is easy to recognise, because the history of humankind is as much as anything a history of war and conflict. We read in the record of the past and see in the news of our day that humans have great difficulty getting along with one another—whether it be in the neighborhood, village, city, state, nation, or world.

As Christians we understand the negative side of community life, and we confess it. Yet we do not give in to the dark side; we make no peace with the powers that divide community and isolate individuals. Further, our faith and commitment press us to develop the best side of our lives as social creatures.

The primary prayer of Christian faith begins—OUR—not “my,” but “our.” It is a shared prayer for a shared faith. We understand ourselves as part of a family in which we all brothers and sisters. We recognize that our lives in the context of community must be mutually supportive.

The primary prayer of Christian faith begins—OUR—not “my,” but “our.” It is a shared prayer for a shared faith. We understand ourselves as part of a family in which we all brothers and sisters. We recognize that our lives in the context of community must be mutually supportive.

In the dynamic process of communicating our experiences of God we tell stories. These stories explain why things are the way they are: stories of our founders—how they coped with crises, triumphed or failed—stories justifying our present traditions. Stories are our common vernacular.

The Hebrews told stories about their formation as a nation and culture. They told of a dialogue between God and Moses. Did this communication happen as recorded? Did God really want all that blood and mutton? . . . (Writer, we have a problem). Storytelling continued for centuries. People close to the significant events relayed and recorded what happened. As the stories passed down, they picked up layers. These accretions were attempts to justify present actions by claiming they originated by instruction of the founders.

The Gospel records Jesus giving instructions on church discipline at a time when there was no church. In the narrative he damns unrepentant members to be treated like “Gentiles and tax-collectors,” the very people he ministers to. Furthermore, he suggests that coalitions of church leaders can act unilaterally as long as they have a quorum. Did Jesus really say that? . . . (Writer, we have a problem). 

As the story of God in human experience continues to unfold, we will continue to tell one another the stories of God. There are times when we will baulk at the blood and the Jesus Seminar will blackball the text we are telling. Does that mean we should quit? The Apollo 13 astronauts didn’t. They applied their minds, and duct tape! They put square boxes into round holes and survived. Perhaps we “Wordonauts” can do the same?

And on another tack, you know it’s easy to rush to the good stuff in Matthew’s Gospel passage from the lectionary set for this week. Take the passage whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever we agree upon God will do (18:18-19). But trust me, that’s not the most important part of this passage. The most important part is the difficult but essential truth that community—real community in Christ—is hard.

Real community demands that we confront one another in love, that we speak the truth to one another in love, that we be willing to accompany one another through difficulty and disagreement . . . all in love.

I think that Jesus was not simply laying out a formula by which to resolve conflict. It’s rarely that easy. Different conflicts—and different contexts—will invite different methods of resolution. What’s clear, however, is the need to regard one another in love so as to keep the well-being of all in the forefront.

Why is that so difficult? The obvious answer is because of our sinfulness. But it’s also more than that, as we need to recognise that we have little practice in demonstrating love during times of disagreement. We live in a culture that is far quicker to rush to judgment, preferring polarised positions and the rhetoric of blame and accusation than speaking truth in love. For this reason, we will need to practice patience, practice forbearance, and practice love. But if we do . . . what, then, can we not accomplish in the life and love of our God?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Lord, Help Me.

August 27, 2020 - 11:55pm

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is viewed and to many is a modern-day Saint, tiny though she was. At times she probably wielded the most power of any living person. This was done through humbly serving the most destitute and rejected children of God. In an interview, Mother Teresa once said, "I am but a little pencil in the hand of God as He writes His love letter upon the world!" Though I know the definition of love, I cannot fully comprehend its power when applied to God's created world and people, who, through Jesus Christ, God leads one to serve.

A couple of weeks ago in our lectionary reading from Matthew 15, we heard these words, "Lord help me." The Canaanite woman (a scriptural term for ancient Israel's pagan enemies and here used to designate a Gentile) has complete faith in the ability of Jesus to heal her daughter. Though a Gentile, she calls Jesus Lord, son of David, acknowledging Jesus' lineage. His disciples urge Jesus not to respond, in fact telling Him to send her away. He then answers, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Perhaps this rebuke would have sent most people scurrying away with disappointment, anger, and an unwillingness to try again. However, not this Canaanite Mother.

This woman is determined to get help for her daughter. The Canaanite Mother is no different than many contemporary parents who want something better for their child. Just such a story occurred when parents encouraged their daughter to attend a church summer camping week. The daughter was eighteen years of age, suffered from severe heart deformities and wanted so desperately to be "just like everyone else". It had been extremely difficult for the parents to let her out of their sight, because you see, the doctors had said she had very little time left to live. Though medical science had made tremendous strides in treatment of heart ailments, her particular case was hopeless. 

The best that could be done was provide the most quality life possible under such dire circumstances. After considerable planning by the parents and camp staff, the daughter arrived at camp. She could walk only a few steps without being completely exhausted. The rough terrain made it impossible to use a wheelchair. What to do; the girls in her cabin solved the problem by two of them at a time forming a "chair" by linking their arms together and carrying her from place to place. It was done with genuine caring, a great deal of laughter and equal sharing among her cabinmates. Rather than the experience becoming a burden, it became a ministry to one in the community. No camper nor staff was willing for this particular person to be left out of anything! She was the recipient of parental love willing to take a risk by letting their daughter have a memorable experience. 

The campers experienced selfless love because they willingly embraced her needs and unselfishly saw to them. The result for everyone was a deepening of what it means to "love one another as I have loved you". When news reached the campers and staff that she had died a quiet death within the year, many travelled to her hometown to say goodbye and to reminisce about the experience and learning's they gained from one of their own. Love does indeed change people whose lives it touches. I've always thought those young people who ministered to their peer were indeed little pencils through whom God wrote His love letter upon that gathered community.

The mother in today's Gospel simply will not be put off by Jesus referring to dogs receiving food meant for children. Though this may well be taken as a rather severe rebuke, this Mother will withstand the seemingly derogatory comment, while making her request. She knows she is not considered a believer, but she is also convinced that only Jesus, Son of David, can help her daughter. One can almost visualize her standing face-to-face with Jesus and saying, "......even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Though this woman is a Canaanite, i.e., a Gentile, she kneels in worship, humbles herself and confronts Jesus with her request. She will not be deterred.

Jesus was the only hope for her daughter. How had she heard of Him? Had she been in the crowd of people whom Jesus addressed and taught? Had she held His words in her heart, mulling them over before taking such a brash action? Though a Gentile, had she come to faith over a period of time hearing about Jesus? Was her action of confronting Him what ultimately brought her to faith? She would not willingly depart from Jesus. Rather she was willing to stand before Him and make her request and furthermore, she was driven to her knees as she knelt before Him petitioning Jesus for help. "Lord, help me." 

Such is her faith that she accepted Jesus as being the one who could heal her daughter and restore her child to health. She understood who Jesus was and what He alone could do. This woman is determined to seek help, even at the cost of being called a dog. She knows not whether the disciples will bodily drag her away, but no doubt she would have mightily resisted had they tried. She was totally focused on Jesus. Can we not somewhat identify with this Canaanite woman? If we love someone who is critically ill, do we not pray to Jesus for healing?

"Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly. Through a great and all-encompassing faith, what might be done for each of us? How might we respond to the Lord, Jesus Christ? What sacrifice are we willing to make on behalf of another? He makes all things possible, as He is with us, near us, and in us. "Lord, help me."

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

How We Treat the Least Among Us.

August 21, 2020 - 2:00am

 When the story from Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures for this week opens, the Hebrew people have been living in Egypt for about as long as Europeans and have been living in Australia. A new pharaoh -- or king -- begins to rule Egypt. Because slave labour is important to the well - being and economy of his nation, the pharaoh is concerned that the Hebrews are more numerous and powerful than the Egyptians and could rise up to overcome their masters or to escape. So, one hardship after another is heaped upon the backs of the slaves to keep them in their place and reduce their numbers.

When none of his harsh tactics works, the pharaoh hits on a new and especially heinous plan. He calls in the two midwives who assist Hebrew women during childbirth and orders them to kill all newborn, Hebrew males. But the two women -- Shephrah and Puah -- weigh their fear of the powerful pharaoh against their fear of God and God wins.

The midwives resolve to do what is in their power to do: they boldly choose not to cooperate but to disobey the pharaoh and stand with God on the side of the oppressed and powerless. For taking this risk, God rewards the heroic midwives and the Hebrew community continues to grow in numbers and strength..

When called on the carpet by the pharaoh, Shephrah and Puah are quick-witted! "Why have you let the male children live?" he demands to know. The reply? Because the Israelite women are so strong that by the time the midwives get to them, they have already delivered their babies themselves! What does a pharaoh know about childbirth?! But the midwives have just become the first to assist in the birth of the Israelite nation.

In desperation, the Pharaoh commands that every newborn Hebrew boy be drowned in the Nile River.

A Hebrew woman gives birth to a beautiful little boy. This mother is not about to throw her beloved son into the river. She manages to hide him for some time, which as every parent knows would be pretty difficult given the amount of control one has over newborn vocal cords! One day she tucks her son into a basket and places it gently among the protective bulrushes in the river, perhaps hoping the movement of the water will soothe him to sleep. She tells his five-year-old sister, whose name is not given here but it is Miriam, to stand watch over the boy from the river's edge.

Imagine Miriam's fear when she hears voices coming her way and realizes it is the pharaoh's own daughter coming toward the river! From her hiding place she sees the young woman begin to bathe. She sees the basket, sends a maid to bring it to her. She open it and instantly sizes up the situation. "This must be one of the Hebrew children," she says.

How many dead babies has this Egyptian woman seen washed up on the shore? What makes her resolve to defy her father and save this particular child's life? Somehow, she is taken by the infant, knowing full-well that she is embarking on a dangerous path.

At this moment, little Miriam takes the initiative. She steps forward and asks the pharaoh's daughter if she would like her to bring a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. How quick-witted and courageous for such a young child!

And then picture that meeting between two women of different races, religions, cultures, languages as they enter a pact to resist the law of the land and save the life of this slave child. What must she have been feeling and fearing with her child's life at sake?

She at least is able to keep her son for three years -- yet she holds up her side of the bargain: eventually the boy goes from the Hebrew slave quarters to the palace to be raised as the son of the pharaoh's daughter, who names him Moses which means 'drawn out of the water'.

An interesting fact about this story, when set in the larger biblical context, is that it offers a novel, new model of heroism based on intelligence and wit rather than violence. The women resist the powerful pharaoh but do not seek to destroy him or seize his power for themselves. Each acting autonomously derives power out of no power.

And probably this story is among the first in history, also, in which a king-like god stands with the oppressed rather than the privileged. Confronting the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God is our job here on earth.  When we do that, we learn that our God is always on the side of the oppressed, the excluded, the disenfranchised. And that takes many forms. It is our baptismal responsibility to recognise and name it and then join God in confronting it -- whether it is governmental policies like the pharaoh's decree or racism in our schools, offices, neighbourhoods, media... or violence against women and children... or excluding whole categories of people: people of colour, LGBTQI’s, women, homeless persons.

One of the best measures of a society is to look at how we treat the least among us. Where do we see exclusion or powerlessness in your workplace or community, in our schools and governments? Whose stories are not being told. What can we do about it? Change can come through small opportunities, through resources like money and privilege -- such as being the pharaoh's daughter or well-educated and well-employed.

Change can come through the actions of just one person: a worker like the midwives, a whistle-blower, a person with a God- given opportunity to act, a loving parent, a brave child -- all refusing to cooperate with the oppressor.

Change comes through acts of human love, inventiveness and the courage to do what is in our power to do. What is in our power to do to bring about change? Where and how is God calling us to stand with the powerless, the excluded, those on the margins of our society? It is in responding to that question that we will find ourselves doing justice, loving kindness and mercy, and walking humbly with your God


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

So, Let Us Take A Walk.

August 14, 2020 - 12:16am

Do you believe in Santa Claus? How about the Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy?

Children do. Have you ever noticed they have tremendous, unquestioning faith? If they are told that Santa exists, they will believe, and their belief will be reinforced year after year by the presents under the tree, In the case of the Easter Bunny, the eggs in a basket every year are the reinforcement. Where the Tooth Fairy is concerned, that dollar appearing mysteriously under the pillow, replacing the lost tooth, will reinforce belief. Even when they are old enough to suspect that the person who ate the cookies and milk on Christmas Eve was really dear old Dad, they are reluctant not to believe for fear that the presents may stop appearing. In their developing minds, they grasp for the reality of things hoped for and therefore trust in persons, or rabbits, or fairies they cannot see.

That is what faith is, the surety of things hoped for, the certainty of things unseen.

To a child, faith is limited by an immature view of the world. A child cannot comprehend that the gifts hoped for and received, are really the manifestation of the love of God as shown through the love of parents. But as a child matures, his or her faith matures. In fact, for most of us faith is an ever-changing part of our psyche. As people of faith, we anticipate it will grow, and it generally does. However, that growth is not steady, and all too often is limited by a finite world-view unable to totally comprehend our infinite God.

We have stories of faith in today's readings. One of those we have is the impetuous Peter whose faith was, more often than not, in need of water wings.

Peter's faith, at best, wavered. In fact, during Jesus' earthly ministry, it waffled all over the place. It was rash. It was impetuous. When he saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter was not sure who was actually doing that amazing thing. He yelled out, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." Jesus replied, "Come!" Peter immediately began walking across the sea, but lost heart in the face of the wind and waves. He began to sink, so Jesus reached out his hand and saved him.

Such actions were common with Peter. Remember his confession. Jesus was walking with the disciples and asked, "Who do men say that I am?" "Some say Moses, or Elijah, or John the Baptist."

"But who do you say that I am?" Peter blurts out, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."

Jesus responds, "Blessed are you Simon Bar Jonah [Peter's Hebrew name], for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." Jesus then said he was going to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tortured, and killed; then in three days he would rise from the grave. Peter blurted out, "God forbid, Lord. I shall never let that happen to you." To which Jesus replied, "Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me."

I wonder who has the stronger faith from amongst those we find talked about in our scriptures. Is Peter one of those with a strong faith or does he have the strongest faith? Probably it was one of the Hebrew scripture characters like Jonah. His faith never wavered, even in the belly of that great fish. But Peter had an insight into something which Jonah totally lacked-a glimpse into the infinite power and love of our God. And that stood Peter well. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, which buttressed Peter's faith just as Jesus' hand had supported him on the water, Peter was able to step out in faith and preach the Gospel without fear, even though a martyr's death was ever before him.

What does all this mean to us? Most of us have the wavering faith of Peter. That's OK. The church was built by legions of people over the centuries, all in need of water wings. We are the architects of the new millennium. Thankfully we have something that Jonah, and even Peter, never had. Through the lens of the Resurrection, we have the assurance of the infinite power, love, and forgiveness of our God. We know that every time we step out of the boat, Jesus' hand will be there to keep us afloat.

So, let's take a walk.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Depth of The Gift.

August 7, 2020 - 2:25am

In the Christian Church, the season of Pentecost is a time of explanation, a time of gradual but astounding revelation. The readings for this season try to explain to the people of God who have been redeemed by the death and resurrection of the Lord, the vastness, the depth of the gift they have been given and the deep resonance of it in their lives and in the lives of those with whom they share the gift.

Scripture is full of the natural elements of our world that we all know and experience in our lives -- earth, air, fire, and water. Since we all have some experience of each of these elements in intimate, daily, personal ways, they can provide amazing keys to our understanding of the God that created them -- and us.

This week we encounter water -- and vividly -- in all its dimensions. We know that Jesus' first disciples were fisherman, people who risked their lives on the water and drew their sustenance from the water. Water is essential to human life, we all know that, and it was an especially sharp reality for the people of the Holy Land, where water was frequently in short supply and very precious indeed. There was also something mystical and frightening about the precious element. 

It could be the water of Baptism. It gave you, your life -- but it could also drown you! It sustained you in the desert, but the hidden creatures of its ocean depth might swallow you whole, as was the case with Jonah in his encounter with the whale, the great leviathan. What delivered the doubting Jonah from the depths? His anguished call to God for help when he was sunk deep below the waves in the belly of the whale.

Matthew's Gospel tells one of the most famous of all the stories about Jesus and how he explained the transcendent power of faith to his disciples -- disciples who were charged with going out to the world to preach his message (a perilous business at best). The disciples were at sea in rough waters and Jesus walked out to them, showing them that the faith that he embodied could overcome the natural world, its rules, and its deepest fears. If you read just beyond today's Gospel, you will see how Peter, that most humans of the disciples, faltered in his belief when he tried to repeat Jesus' amazing act of walking on the water. "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

These stories we read in Pentecost are really about the act of belief itself. Real belief must rise above the earthly, the everyday, even the logical. Logic would say that no one could walk on the rolling waves. But Jesus did walk on the water because his belief was absolute, and, more important, he showed his disciples, those people who would have to endure many hardships and even death in his name, what their faith could do, what their faith could overcome.

In fact, the evolving Gospel story is about, on an even deeper level, the way in which the coming of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, changed utterly what we might once have believed were the "facts of our lives." We were to be new people living in a new world. And the writers of the Gospels had a very keen sense of how people might be led to understand the mysteries of the faith.

Certainly, from humankind's earliest days on earth, water and the journey over and through water, have been central to our understanding of our place in the world. From the days of the ancient world, the cycles of our life and experience have been told in terms of perilous journeys on water.

But the Christian message is different from that of the Norse legends and the Greek epics in one important way: it tells us we can and must move beyond and above the world we know and its restrictions and, with faith, enter into the domain of perfect freedom. Our faith must allow us to walk on the disturbed waters of life and it must save us from the depths of the sea when we fall.

 One of the greatest American writers of the 19th century, Herman Melville, knew a lot about the sea and what it stood for. Both his English and his Dutch forebears had strong links to the sea. As a young man he had shipped out on an American whaler, and he spent the rest of his writing life using the experiences he had on that and subsequent voyages to explain what he knew or intuited about the ways of God and men and women. Moby Dick, his allegorical novel about the sea and its potential for destruction and salvation, is full of the fearful music of Scripture, as it reflects the tempests and calms of the sea.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Meeting God Where You Are.

July 31, 2020 - 12:37am

Sooner or later God meets us where we live. For crafty, scheming, heel-grasping Jacob, whom we hear about in this week’s readings from the lectionary, Genesis 32, that meant God’s getting down into the mud and blood of this earth and quite literally wrestling with the man who had devoted his life to getting ahead by being stronger and smarter than his every opponent. Jacob wrestled with Esau in the womb, wrestled with Esau out of the womb.
Next Jacob wrestled with his father, Isaac, and then for about two decades had an ongoing wrestling match with his uncle– cum– father-in-law, Laban. God had stayed with Jacob through all that and even had made some pretty big promises to him at a place dubbed Bethel. But what Jacob did not yet know is what a lot of us are often slow to realize: the best things in life come by grace alone. The old self— the scheming, live-by-your-wits, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap self— has to die and only then can God bring us the blessing of a new identity. Jacob became Israel.
In Christ we become children of God. Who knows what our particular Jabbok River will be— we all have a different “Jabbok,” a different place of “Peniel” where we see God’s own face and discover the glorious truth that grace alone ushers us into God’s wonderful light. But God is as relentless as God is gracious and if we now live as children of the light, we can know for sure that our life is a sheer gift.
We live in a world of death, and this was a fact that crashed in on Jesus with peculiar force after hearing of John the Baptist’s brutal beheading. John’s death was so senseless, the result of a boozy, lusty, thoughtless offer by a corrupt king. So, Jesus withdraws to another place of death— a lonely wilderness spot— only to be followed by masses of people hungry for Jesus’s words and soon enough only plain hungry physically. But where Jesus goes, life follows (as Isaiah predicted). So, when the people had eaten and were satisfied, they perhaps sensed that life is grace— in the wilderness but always. If we manage to find life in a world of death, it is all grace.
Once a person discovers the truth that God alone gives life by grace alone (as Paul did the day, he stopped being Saul), then that person begins having a lifelong love affair with the gospel that reveals that grace. Once you have eaten the heavenly manna only God can give— the bread you cannot buy with money as Isaiah said— you want to share it with the whole world. For Paul in Romans 9, that meant sharing it with his fellow Jews who had not yet come to recognise Jesus as the Christ. Paul was so desperate to see also them fed that he said he would go to hell himself if that is what it took to get more people to take a seat at Jesus’s banquet table. Curiously, that actually is what Jesus did to accomplish that very goal.
I recall a story that I once heard of a brand-new seminary graduate, who had just returned home from his studies and invited to lead an adult education class in his home parish. Still riding high on his wave of celebration, and very much aware of himself as a "master" of divinity studies, he began to hold forth in a session on the story of Jonah. "In my exegesis of this pericope, I found no empirical justification whatever for a substantive faith in the notion that a human being could be ingested by a whale and survive. However, our efforts to spiritualize this foundational myth yield great promise for deeper theological and hermeneutical exploration."

Whereupon the recent graduate's grandmother, who was sitting in the back row, sucked her teeth and hissed under her breath, "Lord, you sent the boy to school, and he comes back here a fool. Anybody knows that it doesn't matter whether Jonah got swallowed by a whale, a goldfish, or a guppy -- the story is still true."
This week’s readings leave us like the that seminarian -- challenged to look beyond the limits of what we think we know, to find the truth underlying another miraculous event in the account of the Scriptures. In Matthew, Jesus starts out with two fish and five little loaves of bread, just enough food to feed one person for one day of travel. By the time he had finished blessing this small offering of food for the needs of the people, it is enough to feed thousands, with food to spare.
The very notion boggles the modern mind -- but not those people who read the story through the eyes of faith. For people like the grandmother in our story, the rich truth of this Gospel parable is summed up in the lyrics of the Gospel hymn writer: "God chooses ordinary people...and little becomes much when it's placed in the Master's hands." Interesting for us to reflect upon. So do we meet God where we are and do we allow our God to meet us there.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Finding Value in What Others Overlook.

July 24, 2020 - 1:04am

Have you ever been somewhere they make the most wonderful and unique dish? Like many other places in Australia there are a variety of bakeries and shops in the small towns nestled among the winding roads around New South Wales. They sell all sorts of pies, but I have to admit I’m very fond of a curry pie. But what I find best is when they use a local ingredient such as seeds, they waste in a vineyard. It makes sense, especially given all the vineyards in the Hunter region of NSW. So, I wonder to myself if anyone had thought of making a wine pie just on its own?
Vineyards are everywhere. Rows and rows of grape vines next to rows and rows of other crops. So neat and orderly looking – quite pretty. Quite predictable, except for the weeds, of course. You never know where or when they’re going to show up. Just like we can never predict how the Kingdom of God will show up.
Take, for example, the parable of the mustard seed that Jesus tells us about in this week’s Gospel from Matthew 13. What we may not know today, but what the early listeners would have most likely understood, is that the mustard plant is a weed that grows like a bush and spreads. It’s a very invasive weed. Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a plant that will constantly and inevitably keep growing and spreading. Have you ever seen ivy on an old house, taking it over completely? Now there’s a visual. That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
But that’s the endgame. Jesus’ point is that the beginnings of the Kingdom are tiny. The Kingdom of God starts small and unnoticeable. But when the Kingdom comes into its own, it is everywhere, and you can’t miss it. We are part of that growth, part of that kingdom, whether anyone recognizes us for what we are or not. The most important thing is that God knows.
Jesus does not stop there in our gospel lesson today. He gives even more parables – more stories of ordinary things that possibly have extraordinary meanings. Parables like these are meant to be wrestled with.
So, what else do our parables tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven? It says in the gospel that it is like yeast that a we mix with flour to make huge amounts of dough – enough for an entire feast. In Jesus’ time, leavening was something that people understood in scripture as unclean or evil. Unlike the convenient packets of dried yeast, we have today, leavening was done by letting some bread rot just enough in order to leaven a new batch of ingredients. The Kingdom of Heaven is being modelled after something that is seen as unwanted or unusable in everyday life. And yet, God makes it good.
The Kingdom of Heaven is also like a treasure hidden in a field that makes a person sell all they have in order to buy the field that the treasure is in. It is like a pearl of great price that makes the merchant sell all he had in order to have just that one pearl. How valuable is the Kingdom of Heaven? What would you give up everything to possess? Would possession be worth the sacrifice?The Kingdom of Heaven in your part of God’s vineyard is like …. You fill in the blank.
What is valuable in God’s Kingdom, others may see as junk. How often do we who are Christians buy into the attitude that on Sundays we carry Jesus in our pocket and take him out for a while, only to put him back in as soon as we leave the parking lot? We get settled in our daily lives the rest of the week and forget whom it is we follow. We might think, “Oh I’m just part of a little church. We can’t do much, so why bother?” Why bother indeed? Except that God bothers. Then God asks us to bother more than we want.
Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom starts out small like a mustard seed and grows into a tree that shelters and nurtures life around it. When that small mustard seed starts growing, it has an advantage, because it can grow in and around the landscape, sheltering those beneath it and giving a place to perch for those above it. This, too, is how the gospel is spread in neighbourhoods where churches discern which leaf to unfurl in their present landscape. A little branch here, a little branch there, and suddenly the place is alive with people in the neighbourhood being nurtured by the spread of the gospel.
God’s gifts are unexpected, but they are so vast that they require a response. Do we give up our self-centred attitudes and everything else for the Good News of the gospel? That’s a question that will take a lifetime to answer and is easier said than done. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with the section of God’s Kingdom that we’ve been given. Even right now, we are in flux – we don’t know what the future holds for the church. But even in that unknowing, we have an advocate – the Holy Spirit – that helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
We are called to trust God. The God that uses what others think is unusable. The God that calls us to love others with reckless abandon. The God that sees in us what others cannot see. By living this way, we become of what the Kingdom of Heaven is made.  

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Which do we Feed?

July 16, 2020 - 11:22pm

In a classic strip of the famed “Peanuts” newspaper cartoon, Lucy explains to her little brother Linus about the existence of good and evil. She tells him that he, like others, have inside these two forces. Linus looks at his stomach with a distressed look on his face and declares, “I can feel them in there fighting.” Humorous, but true.
In this week’s gospel reading from St Matthew 13, we find Jesus telling a parable that uses a similar image – good wheat and evil weeds, fighting it out in a farmer’s field. It’s also the same story in whatever newspaper or On-line News any of us read this morning – good and evil fighting it out in the world. There is a force at every level of existence that works against what is good and what is God. There is a force that seeks to destroy the loving nature of creation.
There is a force that exerts every effort to suck the lifeblood out of everything that promotes prosperity and health and hope and peace and joy. Throughout the ages, the faithful have personified this sinister force by many names: Satan, the devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer, or “the evil one.” By whatever designation we choose, its intent, its nature, is to un-make what God has created and to deface, distort, and destroy whatever good it may latch onto, as it eats away at it with parasitic intensity.
So, the parable from this week’s scripture, Jesus gives us an illustration of the power of the evil force that can invade every aspect of life. Jesus says simply that the weeds came from an enemy, the devil, the evil one. “An enemy of God” is as good an answer as we will ever find for the source of that which works against God.
Though we Christians and many others in the rest of the world renounce the evil that the weeds represent, we also recognise something else in our lives. We see that our lives, like the field in the parable, grow with evil intertwined among the grace, love, and godly obedience that we promise to trust and employ in our Christian living. And we know from experience that no matter how intent we are to follow our vows, none of us will ever totally avoid the corrupting influences and tempting thoughts that lead us to go against the values of God.
Maybe that’s what makes so many of us anxious to do something, anything, about perceived forms of evil in our close communities and in the wider world. Seeing with what we assume is a crystal-clear view of what is good and what is evil, we move ahead, absolutely certain that we are right and just in eradicating what seems obviously ungodly.
But history shows how often this is folly. Any number of “witch hunts” reveal that they were more about making the hunters feel secure than actually doing something about evil. Still, we often have a strong urge, when threatened and fearful, to find something to cut out, weed out, push down, crush, or otherwise stop and destroy. Should we not admit that this kind of behaviour often simply functions as an escape from a more complex reality? This truth is hard to accept, as we find Jesus telling us something we really don’t want to hear. Jesus suggests we wait to let the nature of the godly prosper and prevail in due course. Profoundly, Jesus is leading us to cease chasing after the bad, and rather concentrate on the good.
So, we are left, finally, with a teaching that we would do best by paying less attention to the weeds – the evil in life – and simply staying away from it. Better for us to spend more time tending the wheat – the good in life – fostering its growth and putting it to use as Jesus would have us do, following the values of God’s Kingdom.
Like Linus of the Peanuts cartoon, we certainly recognize in ourselves and in the complex workings of the world in which we live the conflict that Linus experienced as a fist fight in his gut. Yet in the unlikely teaching of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus leaves us with a counterintuitive approach to dealing with this anxiety. What it means to respond in this way to any evil. In the conventional wisdom of the world, the teaching of this parable seems crazy and impossible.
Yet we know that it is possible from studying the leadership of those like Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, who chose not to tear at the weeds, but to nurture the wheat. They learned what they practiced from our Christ. Jesus reminds us, too, that those who choose to use the sword ultimately die by the sword. Indeed, at the decisive moment of his ministry, Jesus left the ultimate exclamation point on the meaning of today’s parable.
Dying on the cross, he did not seek to destroy his enemies who sowed the lethal seeds that choked out his life. Rather, he forgave them. He looked to God to sort it out in the end. And we can – in the best moments of living this life, faithfully look to the end of the passion story – discover that the power of the Resurrection which proves the truth of the parable of the wheat and weeds. In so doing, we will recommit ourselves to leaving the weeds to God. In so doing, we will, in ourselves and in the world around us, turn all our hearts and souls to nurturing the wheat that God has given us.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What Kind of Farmer?

July 9, 2020 - 10:37pm

So, this farmer went out with a bunch of seeds. And he scattered them far and wide. Some fell on the road, so the Emus ate them. Some fell on the red rock; those seeds sprouted quickly, but their roots didn’t go very deep. They withered and died in the blazing sun, and the remains were trampled by foxes. Some fell in the dry and thorny weeds; those seeds never had a chance. And some of those seeds fell on rich, fertile soil and grew forth abundant harvest.
That farmer must have lived in Victorian Desert. Many of us learned some version of this story when we were very small. As one of the Elders said, “It’s so rich and visual, you can just see the flannel board.” Even if you didn’t grow up in a faith community, you’ve probably heard a secular translation. These images can be easily applied to academics, business, family life, investment— any of which a preacher could incorporate for a particular context.
But for you Christians now, go back in time for a minute. You’re five years old, and your Sunday school teacher says, “Now, children, which kind of soil do you want to be?” The answer is clear . . . the good soil. (“Jesus” might also be a correct answer, as Jesus is the appropriate answer to any question asked in a children’s sermon). Yes, we want to be the good soil. Now go back and sit quietly with your parents and listen— be good soil— and God will grow something beautiful in your heart.
Hey, don’t pull your sister’s hair in church. And that twenty cents I just gave you is for the collection plate.
Anyway . . . it is a true and important message, that we need spiritual practices to make us “fertile soil” for God’s word and God’s will in our lives. Prayer. Scripture. Kindness and generosity. These things will make us the kind of ground where good things happen. If you wish to live a Christian life and follow Jesus’ way of life then compassion, love, forgiveness, generosity, friendship are all things that are to be strived to live by in our journey of faith.
But maybe now, as grownups, we need to think also about what kind of farmers we want to be.
The right answer, of course from my point of view, is the New Zealand kind (because of the climate). You want to farm in New Zealand where the “corn tops ripe and the meadows in the bloom,” and the wheat grains are plump and ripe, and the tomatoes are really tomatoes, and the strawberries are crayon-red, and a five-minute run to the garden is all the dinner prep you need. That’s what kind of farmer you want to be.
But the facts of life are, most of us are farming in the Desert. Metaphorically speaking, of course. In the desert, you have to scatter your seeds— the gospel potential life and growth— far and wide.
Because in reality, much of what you have is going to land in a barren place. It might look green enough right now . . . but wait till January and see where the sun hits. See what other-terrestrial bugs and reptiles and rodents come crawling out at night to graze. See what a few months of no rain does to that promising corner of the garden.
But there . . . just over there, that spot so utterly desolate and dry? There, exactly, is where the wildflowers come up singing. Where the winter grass pops up in June after just one hard rain. Where the cactus has been storing water, all year long, for just such a time as this.
You don’t know where your stuff is going to land. In ministry, in relationships, in business, in art. The landscape of our every day is broad and varied. If you want life to emerge from what you have in your hand, you’ve got to toss it far and wide and generously, and trust God for the growth. This applies to all of the society, to anyone who would explore and live the faith journey our God calls us to.
That’s what kind of farmers we want to be, if we are people of faith. We’ve got to sow generously, knowing that we are letting go of much more than what we hold in our hand. In good faith, we let go of our possessions, our agenda, and all expectations of “where the good soil is.” We let go, and watch in awe, as God takes our small seeds of faith and transforms them . . . ten, twenty, one hundred times over.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Humility brings Freedom.

July 3, 2020 - 5:36am

It hurts so deeply because we love so deeply. These words are uttered time and again in reference to the pain of separation. The words drip with truth and yet only scratch the surface of the anguish that accompanies separation from a beloved. When one reads letters between soldiers and their loved one, the raw emotion and tenderness leap from the page. In our Hebrew Scriptures that is how the Song of Songs is often understood, a dialogue between two very intimate partners. Even when understood as allegory, the verses resist timidity.
This kind of rapturous intimacy is often missing when we discuss our relationship with God. There is often a distance, a kind of stoic admiration from afar. And yet, our deepest longing is for intimacy with our creator; to know and be known at an intimate level. We speak so highly of our friends the mystics such as Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila, and yet we rarely engage the book most given to mystical interludes. Why do we run from it? Who taught us to remain distant from the one who is love and created us in love? What is sacrificed in not knowing God more deeply?
 A female as protagonist is found only in Song of Songs. While controversial among some theologians, for those unafraid to engage, it can provide a critical perspective on gender equality and enlighten our understanding of gender roles and masculine normativity. What pathways do engage that female voice open up to us? In the wake of #MeToo and the deconstruction of unequal physical agency, especially among those marginalised in our society, how might this scripture inform and reform our social norms?

 In our “McLives,” (Macdonald Golden Arches fame type of lives) we are often racing to get somewhere, racing to be on time for another meeting, racing to deliver our children to their practices before running laps is required for tardiness. In these fast-paced lives we often rush through what should be important interactions and thoughtful conversations. This includes our prayer lives. With the popularity of movies like War Room, the notion of a prayer closet has been reintroduced. The ancestors often spoke of tarrying in the spirit to “have a little talk with Jesus and tell him all about our troubles.” The delight the author takes in seeing her beloved come near is borne of a deep longing to be in one another’s presence. That level of joy is not birthed in quick exchanges. In our over-scheduled lives, is time with God on the calendar?
So often Christianity or religion in general is eschewed as being too demanding, placing a heavy burden upon believers. In some circles there is the thought that life as a Christian is too confining or restrictive. We are all so staid, dour miserable and wowsers it is said. These criticisms are derived from a belief that old friends and familiar places will have to be sacrificed on the altar of piety. Yet the verses in Matthew 11:28-30 are the very antithesis of burden.
One translation reads, “My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” The writer of Matthew from this week’s scripture informs the reader that humble submission to God actually brings freedom and a way to lighten the load. Unlike the yoke of oxen, which is heavy and conjures images of being forced to work hard in the heat of the day, the yoke of Christ is love and companionship. As the Lord’s Prayer illustrates so beautifully, those who walk with Christ want for nothing. Do our lives witness to Christ as burden-bearer?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Welcome Journey.

June 26, 2020 - 12:15am

I read of a television programme in the United States where a Mister Rogers famously sang, “Won’t you be my neighbour?” to begin his television show. Apparently, this was years ago. He was a pastor, encourager, and educator of children. Mister Rogers’ work and life focused on being kind and inclusive. His work and life also were focused on teaching. He knew that children are our present and our future. He knew that welcoming a little child is the greatest gift we can give to the world.

Matthew’s use of the phrase “little ones” in our reading from scripture set for this week (Matthew 10:40-42) may be about children, but it also may have meant his disciples, those new to the faith community, those young in their beliefs, or those at risk in the world. It was definitely about inviting others into the way and to join those calling themselves Christian on a journey, taking care of their needs, and taking care of the least or “little ones.” Jesus prepares his twelve disciples to go out into the world. The last part of this sending is our scripture for this week and comes as a teaching moment after the Sermon on the Mount. Welcome is a pivotal word for this passage. In a number of our translations of our scriptures available to us today, the word is used six times in the passage.
However, I have to be honest and say that welcome is not one of my favourite words as it is used in the church. For many, welcome is equated with simple tolerance of those different from themselves. To many who visit churches who claim to “welcome” them, there is a distinct level of distrust. Most marginalised persons much prefer a place that exhibits radical hospitality and full inclusion than mere “welcome.” This is definitely not the sentiment that I hear when Jesus uses the word. He was instituting a practice of hospitality for his disciples on their mission of spreading the good news. Jesus is talking about going on the journey of faith and life with that new person.
If anyone welcomed one of them, they were indeed welcoming Jesus and, by extension, God the Creator. We can reclaim this word for the church by exhibiting the kind of welcome that Jesus is asking of us. So, sadly often we use the word welcome to talk about saying hello, offering material but not about befriending, compassion and willingness to share the journey of faith. The challenge is to all Christian people as they are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God. Can we at least agree on that? As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, when we welcome strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware. 

As this passage from Matthew 10 is the final part of Jesus’s teaching about his disciples being sent out to share the faith, we are once again are also reminded about the need to evangelise others. Unfortunately, the “e” word has taken on many negative connotations over the last few decades. A lot of people see evangelism as a loud, judgmental, and in-your-face practice. The word evangelism can bring about images of knocking on doors, asking if those inside have “found Jesus,” or handing out tracts on street corners declaring the doom of those who do not follow Jesus.
Still the need—yes, the imperative—to share the good news is part of our commission as disciples of Jesus. Sharing the ways, we have been reconciled and forgiven by Christ is part of truly being a disciple. Many Christians are nervous about sharing their faith. Yet one of the things we forget as Christians and as those outside the faith is that one can share their faith, evangelise by our words and our actions in profound ways. In uniting these two themes, we see that telling the story of our faith journey can bring lost ones into the welcoming arms of Jesus. This is a word many need to hear.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

This is Not The End of the Story.

June 18, 2020 - 10:13pm
It’s hard to think that the way of love taught by Jesus would be a source of conflict. Yet again and again Jesus reminds us that indeed it is. In fact, Jesus’s own life, his healing, reconciling, and hanging out with outcast and sinners, ended up in his death. Most of us sit in our sanctuaries on Sundays safe and sound. We hear the stories of Jesus, his teaching, and his actions, and we smile and feel good about ourselves. We go about our lives, and most people around us claim Christianity as their religion.

For me the question this week is: Are we loving radically enough? In this time when many of our society are being left behind by the economic policies of our government as it concentrates on a particular type of economic theory and fail to balance that with the importance of people and our call from God to love all, have compassion, to care and support those in need and struggling and not allow greed and abuse to control our society and its interactions.
Loving the unlovable in our society can indeed be radical and controversial. For those who choose the way of Jesus being agents of healing, of reconciliation, of light (especially to those in power) might also stir the pot and thus be rather dangerous. What if for a season of our life together as congregations we measured our effectiveness in kingdom work by how much harassment we suffered, how much trouble we got into, how much life we lost?
This week in our readings there is an invitation to take seriously the call of Jesus to love God and neighbour with abandon, to recognise that our call to discipleship is not a call to being a majority, a call to power and control, a call to privilege and arrogance, but a call to denial, a call to love radically even unto death, a call to allow our coming alongside the least to become our resurrection.
Romans 6: 1-11 reminds us again that discipleship is about death. This time, though, it is reframed in a way that places the emphasis on Christ. Here we have an opportunity to reframe the conversation with our congregations from an emphasis on individual sacrifice to our communal work as the body of Christ. If we are to die to sin, we must remind one another of the story of Jesus, we must call one another to accountability, and we must claim again and again our new life in Christ Jesus. In fact, here in Romans we are reminded that death is the only way to new life. In a culture that is death averse, this love, connection, and restoration for us, our neighbours, and all of creation.
No matter what happens in our lives, God remembers us! The story of Hagar and Ishmael reminds us that it is easy for us to find ourselves drowning in our difficult circumstances. Shame, guilt, and disorientation keep us from seeing beyond where we are. If we pay attention, we might just hear God’s voice reminding us of the promise that we are not forgotten, that life is before us. Recognizing God’s voice changes our perception and we begin to see possibility, potential, and new life where death once lived.
This week’s texts also remind us that we Christians don’t have a neat and tidy little religion that is up market-respectable in all ways at all times. Sometimes life, even a life of faith, can go horribly wrong. But we are clearly reminded that the story doesn’t end there. The story goes on. Isaac goes on to live a life of faith, and he becomes the father of Israel. There is always the possibility of redemption. Even in a thicket on top of a hill. With a knife in the air over the wide-eyed stare of a child. Even there.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Look and Listen for the Joy.

June 11, 2020 - 11:42pm
There’s no greater gift than to be listened to. I remember a primary school teacher always differentiating between “hearing” and “listening.” Hearing is a biological experience; our ears hear sounds that are processed in our brains that foster and further our understanding. Even when our biological hearing fails us, different aids and apparatuses can assist us in hearing. But “listening” takes on a deeper process where we bring our lived experienced into what we hear to find sympathy, empathy, or common threads that connect what is said to a larger story.
 This week, in Psalm 116, the writer says that the Lord “hears [his] requests for mercy” and “listens closely” to his cries. The psalmist has a confidence in God’s listening capabilities; there are many things the psalmist could name as the first of many actions God has taken on his behalf, but it is the act of listening that he names first. Knowing that God is not simply hearing, but listening to us, matters so much in a time when the voices of the marginalized are often heard as inconvenient interruptions, like a mosquito buzzing around one’s ear. But the cries of the righteous pierce a part of our being that calls for us to listen, to give attention to for the sake of both correction and action.
 What resolve we are able to have knowing that God listens to us.
 The story of faith such as we find in Genesis 18 constantly messes with our modern sensitivities. The idea of opening our doors to complete strangers and trusting them to have a message from our God seems naïve, irresponsible, and misplaced. In today’s world, we tend to think of ourselves as self-sufficient; all we need is our own take on things, our opinions, our perspective, our own hearing of God. Strangers are met with suspicion, lack of trust, and at times fear. If they tell us that they have a “word from God,” most of us would think they are delusional or just arrogant.
In our scriptures as Christians we find that again, and again God sends people. Unexpected people, empowered people, strange people to bring good news. Often the outsiders have a much better take on what God is up to than we do. Coming from the outside seems to bring clarity if we are willing to hear, to provide hospitality, and to respond.
I wonder what the people around us would tell us of what God is doing now as we move through our experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. What would God be saying about our dealing with issue of race and violence particularly against those of our first nations within the justice system let alone generally. What would they say to Christians about our life together, our worship, service, and our witness? Christians sadly, tend to think of ourselves as the ones who are sent, and we are at times. But I think Genesis invites us to open ourselves up to the possibility that there are people sent to us and that those who might seem like strangers, might just be messengers from our God. Those who demonstrate are a giving a message we need to hear and a voice we need to listen to.
 Let’s pay attention, for the coming of those messengers we usually seem to avoid might just be the continued fulfillment of God’s promise to us. Let us listen with the ear of God in care and love and with compassion. We can listen and bring joy by making those changes our God is calling us to and challenging us with. Look and listen and seek God’s joy for all, seek healing for the past and the present. Listen in our time to those voices of the lost, the lonely, the abused and those not treated as equal and make the changes needed to bring joy.
Listen. Laugh. Joy. This sequence of events we see Sarah experiencing in Genesis 18:1-15 and again in Genesis 21:1-7 as she listened (more like eavesdropped) on Abraham’s conversation with three visitors to their tent. One of the visitors prophesied that Sarah would have a son within a year’s time—and like we often do when we hear the unbelievable, Sarah chuckled to herself. Beyond her childbearing years, she listened and laughed at what seemed impossible—and would find herself listening, laughing, and joyous again in chapter 21 as the promises of God manifested themselves in a baby boy named Isaac, whose name, in fact, means “laughter.” “Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me,” Sarah proclaims.
There are times in our lives when we listen to the promises of God, whether through our own internal dialogue with the creator or through the mouths of those trusted pastoral advisors or a community of reliable others, and find ourselves laughing at the impossible. Both Psalm 116 and the Genesis text point toward the impact and reward of listening to God and hearing God’s promises—even the ones that are impossible to believe. One thing is certain, as both Sarah and the psalmist learn, that God’s promises are yes, amen, and full of joy.

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