Monday, October 24, 2016

Looking Forward to October 30, 2016 -- Sustaining Abundance, Elijah with the Widow

The Scripture Reading for this Sunday is 1 Kings 17:1-16

The Sermon title is God’s Provision

Early Thoughts: There was a famine. Nobody had enough. How dare this man ask for some of the last little bit of food the widow had to feed herself and her son?

This passage is a pair of stories about God providing in the midst of true scarcity. As I read them I am reminded backwards to manna and quail in the desert and forwards to the feeding of the multitude in the Gospels. I am also reminded of the Jesus who tells his followers to stop worrying and to live with (through? on?) faith and trust.

Do we trust in God's abundance?

In a world where there are always people telling us that we lack something, that there is not enough to go around, do we trust God enough to use up the little bit that we have left?

The widow would have been justified in telling Elijah to get lost.  That is the reaction we would expect isn't it? But for some reason (we are not told why) she listens to Elijah who tells her to let go of her fear and is blessed as a result.

IT makes no sense. But sometimes the thing to do when we are sure we are running out is to share it. You never know what might happen.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Looking Forward to October 23, 2016 -- David is Promised a House

The Scripture Reading this week is 2 Samuel 7:1-17

The Sermon title is David’s Heir?

Early Thoughts: The civil war is over. Israel has an undisputed new king. Now what?

David's first thought, it appears, is to build a Temple, a dwelling place for God.  Sounds logical, and in fact the court prophet Nathan is in agreement.

Turns out God is of another opinion. "I don't need a house" says God (at least for now -- a few verses later God mentions that David's son will build God a house). Instead God talks about how God has been with David and about what will happen.

The people will be given a place to live in safety (though it later seems that this promise only lasts for a while).

David's name will become great.

And David's house will be established for ever and ever (amen?).

From David will come Solomon. And then after Solomon the kingdom will break apart but the line of David will remain on the throne in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Then in a later era the promise will be remembered again. And as the people wait and hope for a Messiah, for one who will restore Israel to what it once was it will become an assumption that the Promised One will be from the line of David. As Isaiah will say "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isaiah 11:1).

And in a few short weeks we will hear again the angels say "For unto you is born this day in the City of David..."

All because David is favoured by God. All because God's grace lies on this one-time shepherd boy. Not because David is some paragon of virtue. Not because David's son will be some wonder of virtue. Neither of them are. Because God chooses to act through David and his house.

2 months from now we will again celebrate the birth of the heir of David. After centuries where it sometimes seemed that the line of David had been reduced to nothingness, where the promises of God seemed distant, where the nation was enslaved and almost destroyed the heir will arrive again.

And a new start will come.

Part of teh Christian story is that Christ will come again. Part of the Christian story is that the Kingdom will be established "on earth as it is in heaven".  David never created the Kingdom of God. Solomon never created the Kingdom of God. (It can be argued that David and Solomon, rather than creating God's Kingdom, created the circumstances under which the Kingdom of Israel would be broken apart). But David's heir, what does he create? What does he announce?

We continue to await the final work of the heir of David. And as we wait we remember:
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring...
The crownless again shall be king.
(Lines from the poem Bilbo Baggins wrote about Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isildur's Heir in The Lord of the Rings)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Looking Forward to October 9, 2016 -- Thanksgiving Sunday, The Golden Calf Episode

The Scripture Reading this week is Exodus 32:1-14

The Sermon title is Grateful

Early Thoughts: The people have been led to freedom. But the journey is not going quite as they had expected. To put it frankly, the people are NOT impressed.

A few chapters earlier they have been grumbling about the lack of food and water (they are in the desert after all) and some of them mutter that they may have been better off as slaves in Egypt.

Now Moses has been gone a LONG time up on the mountain. Is he still there? Is he still alive? Is he ever going to come back?

Well just in case, we should have a back up plan. And so they (with the assistance of Moses' brother Aaron -- either willingly or under coercion) melt down their gold, much of it "liberated" from their Egyptian neighbours, and make a calf which they worship.

God is not impressed. God has to be talked (or arguably shamed) out of destroying the whole lot of them.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

I mean really, what link could there possibly be...

Actually I think that this is the most egregious in a series of events which show that the people have forgotten what God has done for them. They move into wanting everything to be just right and complain about what goes wrong. Their gratitude, which was very evident as the sea closed and drowned Pharaoh's army, seems to be lacking in much of the rest of the journey.

Of course we would never do that. We would always be thankful.  Right?


Sometimes I think we also are lacking in the gratitude department. Sometimes we find other idols that get in the way of our recognizing what God has done in our lives. When do we need to be reminded to be grateful?

Freedom! (A Newspaper Column for October 21)

About 24 years ago a theologian shared these words in song:
This ain't comin' from no prophet
Just an ordinary man
When I close my eyes I see
The way this world shall be
When we all walk hand in hand...
We shall be free
Admittedly, few people would call Garth Brooks a theologian, but in the song We Shall Be Free he paints a picture of what the world would be like when the Kingdom of God is made real and actual among us.

The story we find in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures is the story of a God who is trying to free God’s people from chains that bind.

We see it in Moses confronting Pharaoh and leading the people of Israel to freedom, an event so central that they remember it every year with the feast of Passover.

We see it in Cyrus of Persia, telling the exiles that they can go home again.

We see it in Jesus of Nazareth, standing in a synagogue and saying “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). We see it in Jesus healing a woman who had been bent over and crippled by an unclean Spirit for 18 years and asking “...ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage...” (Luke 13:16)

We see it in the writings of Paul, telling people about God’s grace and forgiveness.

As people of faith we tell these stories over and over again to remember where God has brought out freedom. We also tell them to remind ourselves that we are a part of the continuing story of God bringing freedom to the world. People are still in chains, bound, enslaved and God continues to help us break those chains.

Indeed, one question that is still used at baptism in some traditions asks “Desiring the freedom of new life in Christ, do you seek to resist evil, and to live in love and justice?”. To follow The Way of Christ is to follow the path of freedom.

Which makes me ask, what do we need to be set free from? What are the chains and bonds that we find in 2016? I think there are lots.

Some are personal and individual. Some are cultural and societal. Some of us need to be freed from addictions and unhealthy habits. Some need to be freed from cages built from shame and poor self image and low confidence. Some of us need to be freed from social structures that aim to keep people ‘in their place’, structures that discriminate against people based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. And if we are honest, some of us need to admit that we are a part of putting our neighbours in chains.

Recently I realized again that the Christian tradition has been responsible for a lot of chain building. The Western Church has tended to cling to interpretations of Scripture that often preference Christian, European, straight, cis-gendered [meaning not transgendered], males with money. Conveniently the leaders and power-brokers of Western society have historically fallen into those same categories. Too often we have chained people in the name of the same God who seeks freedom for all by claiming God supports our positions of privilege.

On the other hand, Liberation Theologians from the last century read the Scriptural account and pointed out that consistently God appears to have a preference for the oppressed, for the underclass, for those cast aside by society. This is the God who is working toward freedom. This is the God who has steadily been at work in the church and in wider society over the last several decades to break the chains of racism, sexism, hetero-sexism, religious triumphalism, economic disparity, and trans-phobia. God challenges all of us to break chains, to stop putting chains on ourselves and others.

As people of faith we affirm that freedom is coming. We trust that the God who wants God’s people to be free is at work in the hearts and souls of individuals and in the structures and norms of society. Some of us find the path to freedom in The Way of Christ, some through Islam, or Hinduism, or Sikhism or any of the other faith traditions we may meet. As Brooks point out in song, one of the signs of the Kingdom is “When we all can worship from our own kind of pew”.

Thanks be to God, through whom we SHALL be free!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Looking Forward to October 2, 2016 -- Worldwide Communion Sunday, The Feast of Passover

This being the first Sunday of the month, we will celebrate the sacrament of communion.
Also, being the first Sunday of the month, we will have our 2nd Offering in support of our local outreach fund.

The Scripture reading this week is: Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8

The Sermon title is Meal of Faith, Meal of Freedom

Early Thoughts: FREEDOM!

It is the last word (if I remember correctly) of the movie Braveheart [certainly it is the death cry of Mel Gibson's William Wallace]. It is also what Wallace uses to inspire the Scots to fight against a larger, superior English army: "They may take our lives but they will never take...our freedom!"

It is described as a worship word int the Star Trek episode The Omega Glory.

It is also what we are promised as people of faith. God promises that we are set free from those things that enslave us. And to celebrate God's acting out that promise we eat!

Okay, that might be a bit of a simplification. But that is a big part of what the Passover feast is, a communal meal to remember what God has done for God's people, to remember the time when they were freed from slavery.

Being set free is one aspect of the ministry of Jesus as well. Jesus comes to free us from bondage. Jesus comes to remind us that God wants us to be free, to not be in chains. In Jesus God shows that the burdens which bend us over can be lifted off our backs. And so our central meal of faith (which tradition tells us grew from the Passover celebration) is also a meal of freedom.

What do you need to be set free from? What chains need to be broken in your life?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Looking Forward to September 18, 2016 -- Abraham is Promised many Descendants

This Sunday we will be celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Reading for this week takes us into the story of Abraham: Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-18; 15:1-6

The Sermon title is Descendants

Early Thoughts:  Poor Abraham. God calls him out of his settled life and challenges him to go to a new place with the promise of many descendants.  And yet as time passes there is not even ONE child.  To have many descendants you at least need to start with one child right?  Over and over again God promises descendants like the stars in the sky or the sand  on the ground, but still no child.

Can you blame Abraham for being a little worried or skeptical?

In the end, the story tells us, Abraham believed and trusted in the promise. And by his death he has multiple sons who become the founders of nations.

But the interim period was a little tough.

The story of Abraham is a story of trust. It is a story of promise. As the spiritual descendants of Abraham we also are challenged to have trust. We are challenged to trust that God is at work sometimes despite all the evidence.

As this week starts I am pondering if there is a link between Abraham desperate for a child so that his name will continue and so that there will be someone to care for him in his dotage and the present church's desperation to know if there will be a generation of faith to fill the pews after we are gone.  Who will be our descendants in the faith?

Do we trust that God is at work? Or do we think that it is all up to us to ensure the survival of this thing we call church? Or do we know that God is at work through us -- if we let ourselves discern and submit to how God is at work?

I think there is some linkage between Abraham's desperation and our own.  I wonder what that might mean for what we do next?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Looking Forward to September 11, 2016 -- Creation and Fall

Source (though the Scripture story never actually mentions an apple)
This Sunday we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

For Children's Time this week we will be talking about IALAC

This Sunday marks the beginning of Year 3 in the Narrative Lectionary cycle. This means that between now and Christmas we will be looking at passages from the Older Testament.  The Scripture Reading for this week is Genesis 2:4b-10, 15-17; 3:1-13.

The sermon title is Paradise Lost?

Early Thoughts: This week we read from the second account of Creation. While the first chapter of Genesis contains the hymn of seven days and the recurrent affirmation that the Creation was Good, this second account is the story of Adam and Eve and the story of what is commonly called "The Fall".

Traditionally the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is described as the point where it all goes wrong. Before then we have a picture of the two humans living in harmonic relationship with God. Afterward the relationship is broken and God is constantly trying to repair it (the people's efforts at such repair work tend to ebb and wane). The question I have always had is whether the eating of the fruit changed the very nature of humanity or if the affirmation of Very Good a the end of the hymn to creation continues to stand.

I think the affirmation is never taken away. I think the fact that for the rest of the faith story (a story that has yet to end) God continues to seek to be in relationship with God's peoples tells us that the original affirmation still stands. There just happens to be some "stuff" that gets in the way of us living as if it were true.

At the heart of the story we find God and Adam and Eve. We find a couple who are tempted by pride to be like God and so become wilfully disobedient. And as a result the world is changed. Now few of us think this is history. Few of us seek the site of Eden (though over the centuries may have postulated where it might have been).. But the story still rings true.

The story rings true because there is a part of us that knows things are not what they could/should be. The story rings true because there is a lived sensation that we could be in a fuller relationship with God and so we wonder how we might get that. The story rings true because in our heart of hearts we know that we are proud, that we are headstrong, that we do not always follow the rules.

But is that all there is?

Scripture makes it clear that God seeks to be in relationship with humanity. I wonder if God could be in relationship with a humanity that remained innocent of the knowledge of good and evil. Could God have known that there would be harsh consequences to humanity gaining that knowledge and yet also wanted/needed us to have ti at the same time? Could we ever be who we were created to be by remaining innocent and naive in Eden or did we have to grow and change and move beyond that point?

So part of me wonders if in addition t pride and disobedience part of the story is impatience and lack of trust, Maybe God would eventually have said "OK, eat that one too", at a time when humanity was more ready for the knowledge. And maybe then the story would be different?

Hmm, sounds a whole lot like many parenting decisions and challenges to me....