Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Lectionary Readings for |June 2: 1 Kings 8:22-23, Ps 96:1-9, Gal. 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

King Solomon is a conundrum, a puzzling character to grasp. While he is renowned for wisdom, (see 1 Kings 4:29-34), many of his actions seem to blatantly contradict that reputation. David could not build the temple because of his wars, so Solomon has the task during peaceful times, one he does using forced labour (5:14). Maybe that was normal for the times, but I can't imagine the workers felt warm and fuzzy toward Solomon. It takes several chapters to describe the ostentatious design and decoration of the building. This is a hugely expensive project-where does all that come from? Heavy taxes and tribute poured into this kind of project doesn't tend to endear leaders to the rank and file-is this wise? Solomon is reported to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines. (Chap.11). This was definitively dumb and led to his demise.

Solomon's prayer for the dedication of the temple in chapter 8, is beautiful, but I can't get past the contradictions in his life. His reign was one of riches and glory for the Hebrew people, but there is rot at the core too.

The Galatians piece identifies some core rot too. Paul derides the Galatians for quickly turning away from the gospel they had recently converted to, to go back to the ceremonial laws and practises of Judaism. Paul mounts a defence of the new 'liberties' and understandings of Christianity-something that frees the people from  some old traditions and strictures and encourages a personal connection and faithfulness to God. This creates some interesting thought paths for contemporary society. Where are we clinging to old, binding traditions and understandings that prevent us from openness to new things God is doing? How do we encourage faithful and open thinking without becoming an "anything goes" church?

I am interested in open and honest discussion, changing ideas, and new understandings. However, I come at these in our church community, at times, with significant concern. I worry that we don't have enough familiarity with our scripture to engage faithfully in good discernment. Often people assume they know what the scriptures say and what the church teaches, but their information is anecdotal and (unfortunately) gleaned from popular media instead of Bible reading,discussion and informed study. Then, when an issue requiring new thinking comes up, we have no good starting point, and assumed platitudes, old understandings, and prejudices end up stifling us. We can't all think about the Bible and faith as a job, life and interests don't allow it, but we must all find some bits of time to keep our faith muscles in shape. A bit of spiritual/scriptural exercise is a must if we are serious about God, each other, and the world. How else can we ever learn, grow and remain relevant in a world needing the good news we are entrusted with?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Mysterious, Wonderful, and Confusing!

Lectionary Readings for May 26. Prov. 8 1-4, 22-31. Psalm 8, Rom. 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

May 26 is "Trinity Sunday" a day for the church to consider the doctrine of Trinity, the three in one. This is how these four scriptures all tie together. Each one celebrates an aspect of the Trinity, God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer, the Holy Spirit the Sustainer.

Proverbs 8 is an extended discussion of wisdom, celebrating God as the possessor of wisdom at the time of creation and exhorting all to aspire to find it for themselves. It's interesting how intertwined wisdom and creation are in this piece. It challenges us, as we use and shape our environments, to search for the wisdom to do this well, respecting the Creator of it all.

Psalm 8 stresses both the majesty of God and the littleness of humanity. Romans speaks of the hope in Jesus for salvation. This hope is clearly expressed in spite of great difficulties surrounding the author and his people.  Finally, the John passage talks about the Holy Spirit as the spirit of truth who will come to be with God's people once Jesus is no longer present.

The idea of Trinity is a hard one to grasp while at the same time asserting, along with Deut. 6:4, that there is only one God. My mom used to explain the Trinity to me as being like an apple, having a skin, flesh, and a core. All are parts of the one thing. Or, she would say that God is like water, and like water can find expression as a solid, liquid, or gas, so God can be experienced in different ways too.

Overall, there is a lot here for this Sunday. A lot of majesty and awe-inspiring creation, many promises for a future beyond the struggles of this age, hopes we are given for things we cannot fully grasp. And the Holy Spirit is promised to us to sustain and strengthen and provide us with truth. All of this is wonderful, but also confusing and beyond human grasp. I resonate with the smallness felt by the Psalmist. He was overwhelmed simply by looking at the glory of the night sky and wondered how God could possibly give us the kind of responsibility and trust to care for this world and each other.  It is overwhelming, mysterious, wonderful, and sometimes downright confusing-like the Trinity.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Gospel Globalization, For and Against!

Lectionary Readings for Pentecost Sunday, May 19. Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis11:1-9, Ps 104:24-34, 35b, Rom 8: 14-17, John 14:8-17, 25-27.
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

There are times I love the lectionary! The way scriptures are paired up can lead to new thoughts and helpful comparisons I doubt I'd see without help. The Acts and Genesis passages are amazing read side by side!

Acts 2 is the familiar Pentecost story of the Holy Spirit as poured out in the cosmopolitan streets of Jerusalem.(Sometimes we get stuck on the speaking in tongues, but that's not what this is about! Although, perhaps today's technology could be looked at as a new form of speaking in tongues and reaching the nations!)

The story is about the "globalization of the good news." The variety of people impacted is astounding. Included are Jews and converts  from every nation under heaven. The list even includes Cretans and Arabs and Libyans and Romans, and Egyptians....Then Peter goes on to expand the list with sons and daughters, young and old, men and women. The news of Jesus is inclusive in ways the world had never seen. "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." The good news is globalized and available for all cultures and ages and genders. It is meant to be shared widely to unify all varieties of people through an understanding that God's spirit is available to all. A glorious globalization!

The Tower of Babel story is also about globalization, but here it's not so glorious. Where people unite for the wrong reasons, to build for their own selfish power and purposes, the result is a scattered disunity.

In an increasingly "globalized" world, here is both encouragement and caution. It's encouraging that more and more, various cultures and religions and countries are able to talk with each other, co-operate, and learn together. Where we do these things in a spirit of humility, wanting to serve God and care for people, we accomplish amazing things. The hungry are fed, the hurting are helped, the earth is respected, and people acknowledge God. (Acts 2:41 "Those who accepted his message were baptized and about 3 thousand were added to their number that day.") Where we "globalize" in ways that take advantage of cheap labour and oppress people, rip resources from the land in a frenzy for profit over purpose, and use power for the gain of the few and the hurt of the many, then things eventually fall apart. (Gen 11:8 "So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.") The message here is a great one for our world today! As a society we must listen to God and put purpose before profit. We have to live and act as if we really truly believe that God loves all nations, all ages, all genders, all people.

In the Psalm, it's interesting that one little sentence in verse 35 is omitted. The one that calls for sinners to vanish. Why remove this? In light of the Acts passage, the sinners vanish because they call on God's name. Let's have more vanishing like this!

John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Cost of Compassion

Lectionary Passages for May 12. Acts 16:16-34. Ps 97, Rev 22: 12-21 (without 15, 18, 19), John 17:20-26 or for Ascension passages: Acts 1:1-11, Ps 47 or 93, Eph 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53

"Dramatic, heart-wrenching, and deeply provocative. A four-star must see for those turning a thoughtfully critical  eye toward our culture."  That's how I imagine a review might read on a movie made from Acts 16. What a story! (read all the way to verse 40-I can't figure why anyone would stop reading at 34!)

How would a movie director interpret the questions raised here? Why did Paul heal the slave girl? Was he compassionate or just worn down by listening to the girl's annoying shouts? And why did it take "many days" before Paul did anything? The story tells us the spirit-possessed girl earned a lot of money for her owners by fortune telling. Obviously, when Paul heals her, the slave owners can no longer exploit her handicap for gain. Perhaps Paul was scared of them, so held off the healing. Maybe Paul was worried about what would happen to the girl once she was valueless to her owners. In that case, healing her would have been a cruelty instead of a blessing. We can't really know Paul's motivations here.

The point of the story, in any case, isn't the girl's fate. This is about what happens to people who "do the right thing" and face up to a corrupt empire. The charge brought against Paul and Silas was that they were outsiders (Jews) making trouble by 'advocating customs unlawful for Romans." What a bizarre charge for an act of healing! They were unfairly beaten and thrown in jail. Instead of bitterness, however, they sing and preach to other inmates. When an earthquake enables a jailbreak, Paul and Silas keep order, prevent the suicide of their jailer, and joyfully share their faith. The next day, when the concocted charges are thrown out, Paul refuses to go quietly to save face for the Roman officials. He waited till the magistrates themselves appeared to apologize and escort them to freedom.

Paul and Silas are models of peaceful, firm resistance in the face of a powerful establishment. Here the truth wins out, but it is a costly fight for them. (What happened to the girl? Likely this wasn't a happy ever after, freedom may have been costly to her as well! What happened to the jailer and his family? How were their lives changed? How did the jailer treat prisoners after this experience?)

I couldn't help but wonder about parallels for today. This past week, Bangladeshi garment workers were killed when their factory collapsed. They might be compared to the possessed girl. Both have owners benefiting from their misery in systems that judge profits as more important than persons. Both may not be better off once the "truth" comes out. Both might end up forgotten, their harsh reality obscured by the machinations of politics and power. Who are our Paul and Silas characters out there whistle-blowing? What happens to them? Do the "slave-owners" ever change, like the jailer did, or do they simply continue placing false accusations and quietly escorting whistle-blowers out back doors? What is ruling the world (then and now) money, or compassion?

Obviously the problems of power and oppression are hugely complex. Disney's pulling out of Bangladesh is a black and white response to a grey world. I suspect they'll just go somewhere else a bit more "under the radar." Bangladesh needs the work, its people need jobs, and they need the powerful companies to be humane and responsible. Are there ways for us to be like Paul and Silas, whistle blowers who refuse to go quietly? Who try to heal the hurting even when it might hurt us? Can the truth be told and responded to in ways that help the "slaves" by providing safe working places and living wages? Are there ways we can change our consumer attitudes to compassion? This story raises so many good questions. I hope it encourages us to acknowledge where we are complicit and to engage where we can be compassionate.

There are other great scriptures to read for this week as well, here's an invitation for you to engage some of those in your comments!