Monday, July 2, 2018

Looking Forward to July 8, 2018 -- Finale of Job

This week we read the last bit of Job's story Job 42:7-17

The Sermon title is Right Restored?

Early Thoughts: In the beginning Job was wealthy, incredibly so.  Then disaster struck. Now at the end Job's life and wealth are restored. So all is right with world?

Or maybe not? Does returning all that Job ever had and then some make up for all he has lost? Can what he has lost simply be replaced? I doubt that.

But is that what is happening? How does right get restored after great damage is done? And what gives Job the gumption to go ahead with a new life after all that has happened to him?


Maybe trust. Trust in the God who has been proven to be present in all that has happened. Trust in the God whom he has met face to face. Trust in the God who allows Job to lament and rant full honest expression if his feelings. Trust that God will continue to be present.

The book of Job never answers the "Why do bad things happen to good people?" [or the corollary "why do good things happen to bad people?"]. But it does teach us something about how we could possibly respond to tragedy in our own lives. And it suggests that sometimes we might come out of the trauma with a new life. Sort of a resurrection story?

And yet it is a bit about restoration. I don't mean the restoration of wealth (though that happens) or the restoration of family (though that also happens). I think that the relationship between God and Job as been restored and repaired as well. Partly because I think that restored and repaired relationships are a major part of how we live through trauma into new life.

So maybe right has been restored after all?
--Gord

PS: Of note about the end of this story is the fact that Job's daughter's in this new life are named in the text (a relatively rare event in Scripture) but also that they are given a share of the inheritance after Job is gone (thought to be VERY rare in the ancient world).  Also the Masonic-linked organization Job's Daughter's takes its name from this story.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Looking Forward to July 1, 2018 -- Continuing with Job

This week we will read the following pieces of Job's story Job 38:25-27; 41:1-8; 42:1-6

The Sermon title for the week is The World God Loves

Early Thoughts: Once God started to respond to Job we have heard a lot about the world God created. And in the end Job has a different picture of his place in the system. He has been taken down a peg or two.  Where once he ranted to God and demanded answers now he seems very chastened (despite the fact he never go a direct answer to his question) but also satisfied, Earlier Job demanded to see God, now he has seen God.

The divine speeches show that God has passion for the world God has made. They also suggest that humanity is not in fact at the center of Creation (despite what some humans would like to believe). Rather humanity is a part of the whole creation that God loves. Which reminds me of John 3:16 "For God so loved the world...".

It is my belief that the story of Christian faith is not about the God who rebuilds relationship with humanity, though that is a big part of the story. It is the story of a God who is redeeming the world, the whole world, in the building of God's Kingdom. The God who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the fields in colourful flowers is at work loving and redeeming the world. This includes, but is not limited to, humanity.

God loves the world!
--Gord

Saturday, June 23, 2018

July /August Newsletter

Summer of Spirit

I am writing this from the Saskatoon airport with a head full of thoughts stirred up by the ReJUNEvation event that finished this afternoon. There is a column waiting to be written growing out of the discussions of the last 3 days but I need more time to process my thoughts so it will come later, likely the next time I am scheduled to write the Faith piece for the Daily Herald Tribune.

The question that is in my head for this piece of writing though is:”How do you hope to feed your spirit this summer?” Not just what do you hope/intend to do and accomplish this summer but how will doing those things help feed your spirit?

As I ask that question a story comes to mind. Many years ago I was talking to someone who lived on the lake. They told me that once summer cam around they did not go in to town very often on a Sunday morning. Instead of attending worship they would sit on the deck and watch the lake and listen to the loons. That was what fed their spirit.

We feed our spirits in a variety of ways. Being with nature is one. Attending communal worship, gathering with the faith family to share the Good News is another. For some sleeping in and having no commitments may be the best way to feed the soul some mornings. For some a change of scenery, a trip to some other part of the country does the trick. But it is my base assumption that year-round we need to do something to feed our spirits, even if what that ‘something’ is will vary from time to time.

How will you feed your spirit this summer?

One of the things we are doing this summer is handing out church passports. The idea is to get people to have them stamped/signed wherever they find themselves worshipping each Sunday and then share their experiences when September comes. This way we can learn from each other how our spirit was fed. I know that my girls plan to get their passports signed while they are at Camp(or at least their parents plan they will get that done). Maybe your passport will be full of stamps from St. Paul’s. Maybe it will have a variety of churches in it. I may be biased but I do believe that worshipping with other members of the faith family is one of the best ways to feed my spirit. At the same time I find a walk along Bear Creek can do wonders for my spirit too.

One of the ways I am feeding my spirit this summer is family time. We are heading out to Toronto for a week, which will (hopefully) include a day a day at Niagara Falls. Despite the expected crowds I hope that going to this natural wonder will be as awe-inspiring as I remember it being last time I was there – 34 years ago. Another thing I am doing is taking some Study Leave time and attending the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) gathering in Edmonton at the end of July. The presenter list for this event looks very promising. You can find out more at: https://nain2018edmonton.ca/

Then there will be the regular summer things like mowing the lawn, trying to find the desired plants among the garden weeds, a few BBQ meals... But even those things might have the chance to feed the spirit.

How will you feed your spirit this summer?

I look forward to hearing about it as the summer proceeds or in September!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Lookng Forward to June 24, 2018--God Shows Up

This week's section from Job is Job 31:35-37; 38:1-11

The Sermon title is How Dare You?!

Early Thoughts: Job has made his final plea. He has once again sworn his innocence. And finally, after 35 chapters, God re-appears.

God appears out of a whirlwind and challenges Job's right or ability to question God.

In large part the speeches out of the whirlwind are an ode to Creation. But they also say something about God. And God never actually does answer the complaint Job lays before God. God never explains to Job why these things happened to Job, God never accounts for the justice (or lack thereof) of what has taken place.

What God does is explain that God has set limits to the wildness of the creation (which, hearkening back to the conversation with the Adversary in chapter 2, would explain why Job is still alive). God makes an argument for God being in control. God reminds Job that Job is not God.

It is not, to my mind, a satisfactory answer. It is not, to my mind, a satisfactory resolution. But as we shall see, Job seems to accept it.
--Gord

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Looking Forward to June 17, 2018

This is the third week of our hop skip and a jump through Job.

The sections from Job we are reading this week are: Job 14:7-17; 19:23-27

The Sermon title is Hear Me God!

Early Thoughts: Job has been pleading with God for several chapters now, while his friends continue to try and convince him to confess what he has done to deserve his "punishment".  God has remained silent (and will do so for several chapters yet).

Still Job is steadfast. Still Job demands an accounting from God. Still Job insists that God is present in all this mess. Still Job wants to have it out with God, to see God face-to-face, presumably to plead his case in personal contact.

Job still trusts in God and God's presence.  Even though Job feels unjustly treated by God Job still trusts in God.

Because Job trusts that God is there, that the relationship has not been severed, Job trusts that God hears and listens.  In this lies a teaching for us.

Sometimes it is tempting to think that we are alone. Sometimes it feels like our ardent prayers fall lifeless to the ground. Sometimes we echo Psalm 22 "my God my God why have you forsaken me" But we are not alone. God remains in relationship with us. God hears our anguished cries. There may be some hope in that, even if it does not take away the fact that life is falling apart around us.

Can we trust that this is true?
--Gord

Monday, June 4, 2018

You Are Loved (Newspaper Column)

Maybe you have seen this commercial: “We all need a hug in the morning, and one at the end of the day. And as may as possible squeezed in between to keep life’s troubles at bay...”. I have no real opinion on what brand of diapers is best for an infant (we used cloth anyway) but I strongly believe that this little jingle tells a real truth. In fact it reminded me of a song from a church songbook a couple decades ago: “four hugs a day, that’s the minimum”. We all need hugs, safe and voluntary hugs to be sure, each and every day. Because we all need to be reminded that we are loved. Studies have shown how difficult it can be for children who have not had their hug in the morning and at the end of the day, children who have not been reminded that they are loved. Hugs are one of those things that say to us “You Are Loved”.

Being reminded that we are loved is at the heart of the Gospel. I am remembering a story about famed theologian Karl Barth. Barth was one of the most prominent theological minds of the 20th Century. He published many books. And yet, the story goes that on a visit to the United States Br. Barth was asked to explain the basics of the Gospel message. He responded with this song lyric: “Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.” The heart of the Gospel is that God loves the world. Are you part of the world? Then you are loved!

At the beginning of our faith story, in the first chapter of Genesis, we find a hymn to creation. In that hymn there is a refrain. At the end of each day God looks at what has been created and says it is good, and by the end of day 6 God looks at all which has been created and says it is VERY good. Matthew Fox calls that the original blessing. At no point in the faith story is the original blessing cancelled, because God loves the world. God may be disappointed or angered or disheartened by the choices and actions of God’s creations, but God still loves the world.

No matter who you are, no matter what you do. You are LOVED! Even on those days when you are sure you are thoroughly unlovable, when you feel like you are lower than pond scum (other people have those days too right? it isn’t just me?) YOU ARE LOVED! If we remember nothing else from our faith story we need to remember that each and every one of us, even those people we can’t stand, even those we consider deplorable, is a beloved part of God’s creation. Nothing can change that status.

So why do people spend so much time trying to figure out what or who God hates? It seems to me to be far more important to remember that we are loved, that the jerk who cut us off in traffic is loved, that our LGBTQ neighbour is loved. Because that is why Jesus came. John 3:16 reminds us that Jesus came because God loves the world. John 3:17 reminds us that Jesus comes to redeem the world, not to condemn it. Because God loves the world God continually tries to draw us to God.

It is my belief that the main marker of the Kingdom of God is that it is a place/time when love guides all decisions. And so the fact that God loves the world is what drives the coming of God’s Kingdom. The fact that God loves each and every one of us with a love that will not let us go is why God offers us forgiveness, is why God does not give up on us, is why GOD calls us back into relationship.

Jesus gives us a clear commandment. Love each other, love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Some days that can be hard to do. But when we remember that we are loved it is easier. In John 13 when Jesus give the commandment to love it is to love one another as I have loved you. When we remember that we are loved it is easier to love others. In fact I am pretty sure it is the only way we can do so.

The Gospel is a love letter. The Good News is that God, who the first letter of John describes as being Love, loves the world and each of us in it. When life feels like it is falling apart remember at least this one thing: You Are loved, You Are Loved, YOU ARE LOVED!

Have you got your four hugs yet today?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Looking Forward to June 10, 2018 -- Job Continues

The Scripture reading for this week is Job 3:1-10; 4:1-9; 7:11-21

The Sermon title is God is.....Just?

Early Thoughts:Job is losing his patience. Job is starting to look a bit more human.  Job is getting emotional. And ready to tell God about it.

Job has moved from accepting his fate to bemoaning it.  First he curses the day he was born.  After all if he had never been born these terrible things would never have happened to him.  I have to say that this seems to be a pretty natural reaction.

And then the "friends" of Job start to have their say. "What did you do?" they ask. "You must have done something to warrant such punishment." "God does not punish the innocent." Really Job's friends were much more helpful when they sat in silence for 7 days.

Job knows better. Job knows he is blameless (for the record the reader also knows that Job is blameless, God admitted as much in chapter 2). Job knows that, to the best of his knowledge, this is not just. And so he, continuing to be a man of integrity, insists that God let him know why he is being punished and asks that God "pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity".

Which brings us to one of the big questions of the book of Job.  Where is the justice in the story? IS there justice in this story? What does the book of Job have to say about God's understanding of justice?  To be honest after reading the whole book and then rereading some sections I am not sure this book has much of an answer.

Through out the Hebrew Scriptures there is a fairly straightforward understanding of God's justice.  Do good/live well and God will bless you. Live badly and God will punish you.  One of the places this is laid out most clearly is in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, which reads:
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 
 This understanding of God's justice will be used by the prophets of Israel to explain the disaster of the Exile.  Because the people  failed to live as requested/required/agreed by the covenant between the people and God, because the people did not practice justice, because the people fell away from God's path God punished the people with defeat and devastation and exile.  Under this understanding of God's justice Job must have done something wrong.

But he did not. Job is, as we were told in chapters 1 and 2, blameless before God. No wonder Job insists that God answer for what God has done (or has allowed to happen).  Where is the justice?

There is no answer to Job at this point in the book. But I think the book, and Job's vehement self-defense, pushes us to ask what God's justice looks like. Is it that straightforward do good and be rewarded, do bad and be punished? OR is that a simplification?

While in exile the people will start to realize that even in their devastation God is with them. They have not been abandoned. There also develops a vision that God's justice has yet to be fulfilled, that God's justice is yet to be seen. And then centuries later a new message will come, building on the understanding of God we find in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Kingdom of God is one of justice. But it is not here yet. The Kingdom preached by Jesus tells of a God who forgives. One strong strand of traditional theology tells us of a God who suffers death so that justice may be done and also forgiveness and justification offered. And so I am not sure that we will ever see the justice of God as we have come to understand it in the book of Job. Because in the end, nothing in Job is about justice (which is why I find God a highly troubling character in this book). Job does not suffer as punishment, Job suffers because God was trying to prove a point to the Adversary. One strand of theology that takes seriously the Sovereignty and omnipotence of God would say Job suffers because God wills it (which raises all sorts of other issues -- but is a thread that arises later in the book when God finally answers Job). For those of us who have doubts that God is totally in charge and omnipotent the very best answer we can come up with is that Job suffers because s#%t happens.

Still as people of faith in a world that more and more shows that it is not the Kingdom (some days it is hard to even say the Kingdom is growing in our midst) we have to explore God's justice.  Because we are told that God is Just.  Is it true?
--Gord