Wednesday, 23 December 2015
Here it is, a Sunday only two days after Christmas and he's 12 years old already and acting like a teenager.
They grow up so fast!
Jesus is asking questions, exploring his future career, deciding where to go and when, and hanging out with a different crowd than his family does. Basically, he's becoming independent, and his parents don't like the corresponding loss of control.
It sounds so familiar. Parenting teens is a constantly shifting balance between holding tight and letting go. It's tricky for everyone involved. The goal is to come out with independent and well-adjusted adults (all of us, not just our kids). Speaking as a parent of two teenage boys, I'm in the middle of the balancing act right now. It's hard to let go, to allow the questioning, the exploration, the plans that take them away from the exclusive 'family' time that we parents were always able to dictate according to our ideas.
It would be a mistake for me to continue to be the kind of authoritarian I was when the boys were little. If I try to dictate their every move I will become angry when it doesn't work (and it certainly will not) and they will be resentful and rebellious because it would be the only way to become independent adults. (Or I guess the alternative is that they might stay dependent and live in the basement forever.) I have to let go and let them grow up. Controlling them doesn't work out for any of us.
Jesus is not a baby. We can't control him. He grew up fast a long time ago, and is our Lord, but many of us struggle with balance in our Spiritual relationship and sometimes try to be more like parents than teens. We don't like to give up control of our lives or allow Jesus to ask too hard questions of us. He doesn't go where we tell him to go, or hang out with crowds of our choosing. It's good that we do not dwell for long on the baby stories of Jesus. God's plan for us is that we become independent and well-adjusted adults. Children modeled after Jesus.
The story in Samuel is an example of a mother who is able to let go and allow God to be in control of both her son and herself. Impressive. I don't think I could let go like Hannah did, but she is inspiring.
Colossians is a great reading for all of us who struggle with the balance between parent and child, holding tight and being able to let go of what is not ours to control. Next time I am frustrated, this might be a go to reading to gain some perspective so that I respond well to my family. "...clothe yourselves with humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another....above all clothe yourselves with love....whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Question: What (or who) are you trying to control that you should let go of? Can you trust God to be in control?
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Micah 5:2-5a, Ps 80:1-7, Luke 1:39-56, Hebrews 10:5-10
Our family experienced an interesting reversal recently. Our son came home with the bad news that he had failed an important test at school. This was very confusing, he felt he had done well on the exam. However the numbers, it is said, don't lie. So he had to accept the bad news. More than a week later, we received phone calls from the school office. "Don't believe the "C" on the report card! Your son's test was mixed up with another student. Your son actually earned an "A".
What good news! What a great reversal of fortune! When our son got home, I could see the confusion lift from his expression, finally it all made sense! But his next comment was incredibly compassionate and thought provoking for me. "That means someone else is getting the bad news phone call." He said. I thought about being the parent on that end. To go from good news to bad. What a disappointing reversal of fortune for them.
It all worked out for us this time, but it is a reminder that life isn't fair. Some people get what they don't deserve, both for good and for bad.
As much as Mary's song (Luke 1:46-56) makes for beautiful music, it's message should disturb those of us who are among the proud, powerful, well-fed, and rich. We are the ones living with more than we need.
It does us good to rethink the stories we tell at Christmas, to turn them upside down and take a look at the reverse side of things, to wonder what life might look like if things were made fair.
This is a song of reversals on a cosmic scale. It is great news for the majority of earth's population, but what about those of us who might be receiving the bad news phone call?
The good news for the bad news getters is that God is merciful. God does not leave coal in our stockings, although I do think God allows us to fill our own stockings that way!
In Psalm 80, we read of exiles crying out to God to restore blessings and good fortune to them. They had been rich and powerful, then they were poor and homeless. Now they wish to return to home and health and joy. In verse 14, the psalmist says; "turn again...then we will never turn back from you."
'What comes around goes around' is a phrase I grew up hearing, and there is wisdom in it. If we treat people as if we are better than them, if we participate in systems that oppress and dehumanise, eventually it will all topple. Reading Mary's song is a chance to hear about inevitable turnings It invites us to participate in the good news. Instead of being knocked down from a place of power and privilege, perhaps the privileged can learn to share. We can take part in God's promise to reverse things, to lift up the lowly, to set captives free, to feed the hungry and to rejoice with all of the world's people.
Question: What reversal do you long for in your life? In the world? Are there ways that your good news is bad news for someone else?
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
Isaiah 12:1-6, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Luke 3:7-18, Philippians 4:4-7
How can we internalize a real trust in God in a time of fear?
We live in a culture of growing fears. Fear is a fire fed by terrorism, by media that highlights every tragedy, by political parties who use fear to bolster their power (and distract from less immediate/flashy issues), by the reality of climate change, by our own insecurities and movie-fed imaginations.
The issue of fear is huge right now. The attacks in Beruit and Paris and the mass shootings in the US have people thinking the world is spiraling into ever darkening depths.
And it is hard not to despair. This morning I heard reporters discussing Donald Trump and his statement that the US should have a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US." After the attacks in Paris, he suggested the US should refuse all Syrian refugees. These are horrible, fear intensifying comments. More horrifying to me, however, is that there are actually people supporting Trump, agreeing with him, and creating ever more fear and stereotyping and hatred.
Isaiah 12:2"...I will trust and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my salvation."
How do God's people claim this?
Isaiah is written in a time of spiraling darkness, the writer is looking toward future hope and encouraging his people to do the same.
I find this hard to read, hard to understand. Have you ever sat with someone who is utterly despairing or been there yourself---and been able to speak or hear words of hope? Those words ring so hollow, or feel so condescending, or just impossible. It's better to just be there in the moment to stare at the darkness together. Yet....at some point words of hope have to come, and this is the time Isaiah speaks.
Philippians 4:4-7 is a similar passage. The words are uplifting, almost Polly-annish, until we understand the context. Paul is writing from jail and Christians are being persecuted. Out of these situations, he instructs people to "let gentleness show...do not worry...pray...be thankful...God will give you peace."
How does Paul internalize this depth of trust in God?
I listened to the "Pulpit Fiction" broadcast http://www.pulpitfiction.us/ for the third advent, and was inspired by discussion on where to look for hope. The hosts remind listeners that too often we are looking for hope in the wrong places. We will not find it in the headlines. We should look for good news, not among the "lions" (headlions?), but look for it where it is actually happening.
It is happening among our neighbours, among people working to help refugees, at soup kitchens...it is happening wherever people are building relationships and "letting their gentleness show."
The advent hope does appear at the bottom parts of the dark spiral, as a buoyant and determined hope that refuses to give in to circumstance. (Idea pulled from Walter Brueggemann as quoted on the pulpit fiction broadcast.) True hope breaks through human darkness when we realize that we need God and that God really is there. That trust is possible. Trust frees us from our fears and gives us God's strength to do God's work of bringing and being hope to each other.
Question: What will be our advent act of determined hope that refuses to give in to despair?
Postscript. I can't end here without looking a bit at the fascinating passage from Luke. The people John calls "vipers" are people who have come to be baptized! He isn't preaching to the choir, but kind of cursing at them. They are coming for baptism, but perhaps not understanding that this baptism isn't just a declaration of belief, it is a symbol of real, substantial change! Being "in the fold" of Abraham isn't enough, they have to change how they live. They have to be more loving and generous (no hoarding, if you have two coats, give one to someone who needs one), they have to be honest (don't take more than you should), and use power judiciously (don't take advantage of others, be satisfied with your lot.)
The bit about having two coats and giving one away is so relevant right now when we see the great needs of refugees. We have so very much here in Canada. We can give our extra to refugees. Many of us can and should live with fewer coats and be satisfied with our lot!
There is so much more interesting stuff with this passage----if you have a chance, take the time to listen to the pulpit fiction podcast. You can skip to the Luke passage if you don't want to listen to the whole thing. Great stuff to push our thinking about sharing , hope, and repentance for Advent and beyond.
Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Refiners fire and caustic soap, hardly images I want as ornaments for my Christmas tree! Yet these are important symbols for this time of year when we yearn for change, for light to pierce darkness.
The story from Luke 1 is another "not so ornament worthy" Christmas message. "Repent!" The word acts like a starter's gun-it starts most of us sprinting away!
I like to listen to a weekly podcast called; "Pulpit Fiction."pulpit fiction podcast
This week, the host mentioned how he doesn't like the words sin or repentance, because they carry too much negative baggage. We associate them with crackpot "end of world" street prophets, shrieking away in gloomy self righteousness.
At Christmas, we don't want gloomy, we don't want guilt, we don't want darkness. Our frantic, glitzy celebrations distract from reality for a short time, which feels good-at least till the bills, weight gain, hangovers....etc....have to be dealt with. Then we wonder why we did all the same old things again.
It is much more useful to think about the meaning of repentance. The word means; to turn from, to change direction,to change perspective. The podcast host said that one interesting definition of "sin" comes from the idea of an archer missing the target. Repentance, then, could be thought of as trying again, re-aiming. Learning how to get closer to what we are aiming at.
The season of advent is a time for re-aiming, for re-setting our perspectives and trying again. Thought of this way, each new Christmas season is another reset, hopefully a step up from where we were the year before. It's not a quick bandaid for problems. It's more than one turkey dinner for the poor, it's a commitment to try to get at the root causes of that poverty during the rest of the year. It means changing perspectives to make that ongoing engagement more real every time we celebrate Jesus' coming.
Actually, I kind of like the idea of fire and soap ornaments for my tree. Fire changes things and gives light ant warmth. Soap cleans things, and helps me deal with messes. Christmas should inspire more than seasonal change too.
Question: What would you like to turn away from in your life? What new direction should you start in? (Note: This question is not only for individuals! Try putting your church name in place of the word you as well, remembering that you have both individual and corporate responsibility in the work of that change!)
Thursday, 26 November 2015
First Advent and the countdown to Christmas is here already! It's funny to me, how every year this still seems surprising. While we are more than ready to see light in this season of darkness and hear of hope in a world of fear, we can't quite believe it. We can't quite get our heads around the idea that the loud, destructive powers of greed and war and injustice can ever be conquered by the fragile love represented by an ancient story of a refugee baby. I need this story every year to remind myself that hope is alive, that love is stronger than darkness, that God is in control.
Jeremiah33:14-16, Ps. 25:1-10, 1 Thess. 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36
Jeremiah is gloomy and doomy. He was a prophet during the reign of 5 kings, ending with Zedekiah and the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. (Easy to remember that "Zed" is the last!) His nation is teetering on the brink of being overrun by Babylon. Zedekiah has Jeremiah incarcerated in his courtyard to shut him up, to stop his message from "demoralizing" the troops. Surprising then, that at exactly the point where things are darkest, Babylon is at the gates and Jeremiah is in prison, that Jeremiah speaks words of hope. He even buys land as a symbol that eventually the people will return.
It is a surprising place and time for hope to be expressed. It is surprising for Jeremiah to expresses hope, knowing that it is not for him, but for God's people somewhere in the future. The story he rejoices in is corporate, huge beyond the scope of him as an individual.
The Luke 21 passage is awful and necessary. It's kind of an antidote to the shallow glitz of Santa and seasonal partying. We read something like this every first Advent to come face to face with the need for hope, for a new world order, for God to intervene. This year, we read this passage with images of desperate refugees, of governments bogged down in logistics and pressured by fear, of job losses and worry. The need for hope isn't new, isn't surprising.
I have been surprised by some of the fears and negative attitudes toward refugees I've heard expressed in the media. Unfortunately, I've been even more surprised to hear these same fears and attitudes expressed by church people-even a few in my own church. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, we are all just human, but how can we hear God's word Sunday after Sunday and still be so fearful and slow to respond to desperate needs? Our congregation is responding well-generously preparing to sponsor refugees-but we still need education and help to overcome our fears and help the world around us to deal with fear too.
During the season of advent, God's people are called to face the darkness and name it like Jeremiah did. Then, like Jeremiah, we are to recall God's promises and act in hope even when that hope seems ridiculous. We may not see the full revelation of the promise in our lifetimes, but the bits of hope and fulfillment we do see are important.
That fragile love is surprisingly strong.
Question: Faced with bad news on the world front (and maybe personally as well) where do you find hope? How can that spark grow into a light that banishes the dark?
Saturday, 21 November 2015
(I also enjoy reading the piece from John where Pilate is interogating Jesus. Pilate's question; "what is truth?" is particularly poignant. I always hear him saying it in a wistful, longing way. This is hard. Life is hard to figure out. We can only do our best, and rely on God.)
Questions: How do you define sin? Do you feel the world is getting worse or better? Is discussing sin irrelevant or crucial to us as a people of faith?
Saturday, 14 November 2015
I'm losing 10 pounds. In the interest of keeping ankles and knees functional into my senior years, I want to take the stress of them now, and keep it off for the 30 pus years.
At least that is what I want, but I am a slave to zesty cheese Doritos. I do not understand what I do when I snack before bed.I want to stop eating after a modest supper, but I do not. I go ahead and eat the hateful fatty deliciousness, all the while knowing that the rule of not eating before bed is good. I am so trapped by habit that it is no longer me doing it, but the craving living in me....
There are ways every person resonates with Paul's message in Romans 7. While we know what is good for us and others, we still find ourselves, like automatons, doing the very things that we want to stop doing.
It's a helpful way to bring up a topic most of us do not want to address. Sin. It can be an uncomfortable topic because of disagreements over the definition and our ideas of judgement/consequences. Staying with this passage, for the moment, Paul's definition is rather clear. He is not doing the things he understand to be right, he is actively doing what he knows is wrong. We can argue the definitions forever, allowing us to avoid doing anything about those things we already understand. We already understand that greed is wrong, but it seems very few people are free of the desire for more than their share. We know we are hurting the environment, but we don't even do the simple things, (like turning down the heat, line drying instead of using the dryer, walking, using public transit, driving less....) that are easy to do because we can't seem to stop ourselves from taking the easy way out.
What about speaking up against injustice? In the last few weeks, both my husband and I have found ourselves in the middle of conversations where the predominant expressed view is judgement and condemnation of Muslim people and Syrian refugees. "Islamophobia" is prevalent in our supposedly enlightened and educated society!!!We both managed to speak up a little against the unfair stereotyping, but it is remarkably hard to do, and to do it in a way that helps instead of hinders the discussion. We know it is right to speak for justice, but it can be very difficult to say anything into a group situation where a few loud voices are setting the tone.
When we read Romans, we tend to think of sin as limited to individual actions, but for Paul, it is almost (and maybe mostly) about power. It is about being caught up in systems and feeling helpless to speak against them.
There is challenge here for the individual to stop "doing what they hate" and to do what they know is right. That takes courage. It takes courage to speak into groups. It takes courage to speak into systems that perpetrate injustice (especially when we are benefactors of those systems).
We are challenged, but it's hard for a slave (as we all are to those things we keep doing even though we know better) to feel they can triumph. Paul also points to hope.
Verse 25: Thanks be to God, though Jesus Christ our Lord! We are not left alone with our sin, but helped, forgiven, and saved. We can get up after failures, and keep trying, knowing that slavery to what is destructive is not inevitable. Take courage. By following Jesus' example, and God's law, there is freedom from sin-freedom from those things we do not want to do."
Question: If you had to answer the question; what is sin, how would you answer?
Tuesday, 3 November 2015
"There is no such thing as a naked anabaptist! " Gareth Brandt proclaimed at last week's retreat for Mennonite Church Alberta pastors. Our cultural settings and situations always influence our understandings and expressions of faith. In his new book, Spirituality With Clothes On: Examining What Makes us Who We Are, Brandt gets into the ways our culture and personalities help/hinder us in the understanding and expression of faith. (Brandt is professor of practical theology at Columbia Bible College in Abbottsford, BC)
I didn't get to blogging last week, because I was at the retreat, retreating! (And thinking about how culture influences faith expressions, church life, and lots more!)
I still had a sermon for the Nov.1 Sunday- and interestingly, the topic was to boil down my belief into a simple explanation of why I believe. If you were asked (sincerely, by someone with no Christian background) to explain your faith, how would you answer? For me, the "faith in a nutshell" or "elevator speech" has three components. God is the Creator-Love. Jesus is the Redeemer-Hope. Because I believe in a Creator/Redeemer, my life has purpose-Direction.
Of course life always throws complications at us, but this is my core, this is where all the thinking and planning and living starts. This is the most "naked" my faith gets. The acts of living, the application of belief is what puts the "clothes" on who I am and gives the world something to see and understand.
On Nov. 8, Tim preaches the last sermon in the series that deals with the "shared convictions of anabaptist-related churches." Faith that Transforms the world is the topic.
That fits with my core belief that the Jesus way is what brings redemption to broken people and systems and situations. Jesus is peaceful, yet decisive and active. He emphasizes love and is especially concerned for the poor, marginalized, and misunderstood. He is a non-coercive servant leader. His way is hard, and does not always yield immediate results, but I'm convinced it is the best way.
I have trouble reading the Isaiah passage. It speaks of the Lord's house as being the highest of all, with the nations streaming to it for teaching and for judgement between them. The teaching and judgement results in the annihilation of war.
The trouble I have, is that it sounds like a new centralized governing body to solve problems. I don't see any real hope in human institutions. "Christendom" didn't work. (Granted, ways of governing are better than others, but all fall short of the Utopia of Isaiah!) How is this Isaiah vision different from every other structure we've seen in human history? What happens when there is judgement between nations and one of the nations doesn't agree? If I, as a parent, make a judgement in some dispute my children are having, I tend to divide up the things equitably, assign appropriate responsibilities, and have the "attitude" adjustment talk with them. Can you imagine God doing that to a "have" nation like ours? Can you imagine a nation listening without having to be coerced?
This judgement is exactly what has happened to Israel. (See Is.2:6-3:5). Israel has misbehaved-therefore-they are one of the nations also streaming to the 'mountain of the Lord", they aren't up there on the mountain. They need to come for teaching and judgement just like everyone else.
I guess my problem with this passage is that it seems to propose that if we have the "right government" in place, all is well. It's just too human an explanation, and I don't think we humans have it in us to get it right. Humans always use coercion, force, violence, and war.
It helps when I take the "people" off the high mountain, and leave that to God. I don't understand what this new system will look like, except that I expect to be standing at the bottom of the mountain to learn and hopefully to accept judgement.
In Revelation it says there will be a new heaven and new earth, the old has passed away. Maybe that helps too. My old ways of understanding systems is very human-this is something different. This is mystery, this is hope, this is trusting that God is in charge!
Questions for discussion:
1. How would you describe your faith in simple terms? What is "core" to your belief?
2. How do you imagine God as ruling? What happens to those who refuse to be taught?
Final thought. (A little tangent, just because it caught my eye.) An example of how culturally bound our expressions of faith are is found when you read through Isaiah 3. As the prophet describes how depraved and pathetic Jerusalem and Judah have become, verse 12 says; "...children are their oppressors, and women rule over them..." Insulting words that are culturally bound! Women ruling is only an insult in a culture that believes this is unnatural or that women are incapable. It doesn't work in our time and place. (Brandt's assertion that faith and practice always has cultural clothes is pretty obvious here!) So I have to assume that the original hearers of this might have a very different view of 'government' than we do. I have trouble seeing hope in Isaiah's vision, because it seems modeled on human structures which don't work. I do like Isaiah's portrayal of God's people as among those needing to be taught! Overall, for myself, I prefer the Revelation idea of something totally new-something I haven't yet been able to imagine.)
Thursday, 22 October 2015
Our congregation is in the midst of a 4 week series about "what we believe together", an examination of the core pieces of faith as expressed in a book of shared convictions of Anabaptist-related churches and published in cooperation with the Mennonite World Conference.
This Sunday, Tim's message will examine the question; "What does it mean to take the Bible seriously?"
It is a live question. "ITS ALIVE!!!" (Sorry, I can't help but here that phrase in a dramatic Frankenstein manner!) The question is a bit of a monster that creates disagreement.
Some think scripture isn't taken seriously if it isn't taken literally. Others think it isn't taken seriously unless historical context, broad themes, and current context are thoroughly considered. Others read something offensive (think violence, patriarchy, slavery...) and don't want to take it seriously at all!
I'm (seriously) in all three camps at least to some extent! Some things I do take literally. Some things I reject. The Bible is so much more than a fact book, a history, or a contextually-bound guide to faith and life, and yet it is all these things at times too. Most helpfully, for me, is thinking about scripture as the ongoing story of God's people. It is told in different times, through different cultures and understandings, in various literary genres, all for the purpose of restoring us to right relationship with God and each other. All for the purpose of redemption. And that story is ongoing.
I agree with 2 Timothy 16; "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness..."but I don't think it's all on the same level of usefulness, and inspired doesn't mean infallible (back then, or now). There is a crucial role here for the Holy Spirit. We need this Spirit of God here and now if we hope to apply ancient wisdom and stories to contemporary times and issues. We need the guidance of group discernment, none of us hears God's voice in a vacuum. The scripture and the issues it raises, addresses, and ignores is alive today, how are we understanding it?
An excellent book I highly recommend for those who wonder about taking the Bible seriously today is Peter Enns' The Bible Tells Me So; Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It.
This is a highly readable, helpful look at scripture and today's context.
Question: How important is the Bible for you and your understanding of the church? In what ways is it important or irrelevant?
Tuesday, 13 October 2015
We just got back from a family reunion Thanksgiving. Mom and I talked about how fortunate and blessed we are that we get along, that there are no major blockages or breakdowns among us. This is in spite of some significant differences. Faith wise, we range from conservative to liberal, politically from liberal to conservative, environmentally from don't throw anything away to convenience first, etc... Sometimes we just don't talk about the things we differ on, sometimes we discuss/argue. What doesn't change is that we respect each other. We know that in spite of differing interpretations and expressions, we are united in Christ. We are a faith family that goes beyond the sameness of our genes, and that means love will trump the rest.
When I read Philippians 2:1-18, a healthy family experience helps me to understand Paul's words, however, it certainly doesn't make it easy or make me good at it! What does it mean to be of the "same mind" when we absolutely have no agreement on a particular issue or issues? How can we look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others? How can we truly be glad and rejoice (v17-18) with each other when there are things like suffering (Paul is writing from jail) that we observe, or things like jealousy of each other (like when one family/friend has money while another does not?)
When I extend myself beyond thinking about my immediate family, I have even more trouble understanding how this "same mind" is to be understood and practiced. How does this apply in the church where there are many families, many functions and dis-functions, multiple opinions, and huge diversity?
Rev. Mary Austin puts it well when she comments on Paul's ; "...being in full accord and of one mind." She says; "Having lived my whole life in a denomination willing to fight over everything from the place of gays and lesbian people in ministry to the color of the carpet in the church parlor, this is almost unimaginable. Could we ever get there?"
Does this sound familiar?
I think we'd do well as individuals to read this passage before going to any church meeting. We'd do well as a body to read it before our meeting, and then to read it again at the end, to "check" to see how we are doing. Of course, we all know someone else who should read it, but that's not ours to force. What is ours is to take personal responsibility. To learn humility, to follow Jesus' example.
It is difficult to recognize our selfish ambition and conceit, let alone give it up to consider what might be best for someone else. I like the interplay in this passage between individualism, and community. We are to be responsible for ourselves, yet we are to think and act communally. That means that when the body speaks, it is irresponsible of us as individuals to undermine decisions-we have to always be striving for what is best for the whole body, to give of ourselves even when it is hard, and to assume that others are also trying to do this.
An example for me is the difference of opinion I have with some people over whether the lgbtq (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) people should be fully welcomed into membership and all position in the church. I want to welcome them fully, I believe this is Biblical and right. Others disagree with me and are just as convinced that they are interpreting the Bible correctly. We disagree, but I hope we can respect each other, and truly believe that the other is trying as hard as ourselves to be faithful to what God is telling the church today. Within my family and my church family there is difference on this issue, yet we love each other and will continue to be family and respectful of each other-at least, that is what I am trying to work toward.
How is this "in full accord and of one mind?" I don't think that Paul is pushing us to complete agreement and sameness in all things. There are, however, some core things that must be agreed upon. God is love. Christ is our center. We are to care for each other to the point of sacrifice, like Jesus did. Beyond that, can we manage to negotiate our differences well so that there is healthy discussion instead of "murmuring and arguing" (v14)?
I hope we can. Paul believed the Philippians could do it. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit so we'd have help to do it. I want to keep trying.
I'm still not sure what "in full accord and of one mind?" might practically look like in my family or my church, but I think reading Philippians more often before I have to get into discussions, might just be a constructive push toward the right mindset and heartset for unity.
Wednesday, 30 September 2015
Undress for success! Sounds laughable doesn't it? But I wonder.
When we dress ourselves, it is a form of protection. It is necessary armor to keep us from freezing in the cold or burning in the sun, to hide us from negative attention, to present an identity (protecting from misconceptions)...
Being naked is being vulnerable, nothing is hidden and there are no defenses against attack. We have to fully trust the caregiver, the doctor, our partner, whoever is with us in that moment.
Metaphorically, I like the concept of undressing for success. It's only when I let my defenses down, give up my excuses and accusations and explanations, that I can truly hear the point of view of someone else. I still might not agree with them, but at least I have a chance to understand and I do not inflict hurt on them because I've dropped my weapons too-I give them no reason to wear their own armor.
The Genesis 2 passage stops at verse 24, instead of reading 25 which says; "and the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed." Did the verse get left out because of the reference to nakedness? I think this is a crucial verse. They were completely open, trusting, and unprotected against each other and God. It is a metaphor for the perfect loving and open relationship that is the ideal at creation. No one needs protection, no one has anything to hide, both trust in God.
Ephesians 2 is a passage that also talks about what the ideal relationship might look like among people who want to follow God.. The topic is unity, emphasizing that now, through Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles are wholly acceptable to God and in relationship with each other.
I find it fascinating that the discussion of the sign of inclusion (no longer necessary) is circumcision. This was a physical sign that the person (male of course) belonged to God. The ironic thing is that it was a hidden sign, you can't see it unless the man is naked! In this passage I see a people being set free from secrets. In Christ, all people have access to God, there are no longer people who are "in" and people who are "out". The dividing walls are broken down and we can see each other for what we all are; children of God.
In Christ there are to be no walls between us, and no hidden ideas of in and out. We are "stripped" of the protections of barriers and encouraged toward peace, trust, love, and joint membership in one body-God's people. It is a metaphorical undressing. The community is made strong by it's unity, by it's ability to be vulnerable to each other, to be open and without secrets that do harm to each other.
Jesus made himself completely vulnerable, naked and defenseless. He died because he would not put on the armour of argument, or use the power that was his, or even run away. He made himself perfectly vulnerable to his people and perfectly open to the redeeming and resurrecting hope of God.
Question: What keeps you from being open and vulnerable to others and to God? What "armor" are you wearing that you could be better off without?
Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Dress for success! Look the part! The clothes make the man/woman. Dress codes. School uniforms. Team jerseys. Letter jackets....
I could never be accused of being a "fashionista." Comfort and practicality are the top determiners of my wardrobe. However, I cannot deny the power clothing has over me. Going for a run wearing baggy sweatpants and a shapeless old T-shirt feels hugely different from running in my sleek black Lycra with the bright blue and fuchsia slashes! In the Lycra, I feel like a serious runner, someone who cares about fitness and goes home to a salad and nut lunch. In the sweats, I am the couch potato, overcome with a momentary flash of guilt, running to justify my second bag of Doritos.
Bizarre isn't it?
Maybe not so bizarre, but something we need to understand so we can decide how we wish to act and be. The clothing we put on, the identity dress towards, affects how we act and who we become.
The famous Stanford Prison Experiment (Philip Zimbardo, 1971) powerfully demonstrates how every human being is susceptible to shaping by external forces, to "becoming" the role we wear. I'm particularly interested, here, in the place clothing plays in the experiment.
In the experiment, 24 physically and psychologically healthy young men were randomly assigned either to the role of guard or prisoner. Guards were dressed in military style uniforms and given sunglasses. Prisoners were given shapeless smocks, nylon caps, and numbers. What happened, in a nutshell, was that the young men took on their roles to a frightening degree. Guards quickly became abusive, prisoners took on a victim mentality. The experiment was supposed to last 2 weeks, but was cut short after 6 days because of the obvious psychological damage it was doing to both sets of actors. (Interestingly, it took a courageous outside observer to blow the whistle! Even the experimenters had gotten caught up in their put on identities!)
When we decide we want to be followers of Jesus, there is a "uniform" that can help us become more like him. Colossians 3:9 uses clothing language, saying that you have "stripped off the old self with its practises and have clothed yourself with the new self..." The follower is to get rid of anger, wrath, malice,slander and abusive language and to replace those with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. And when we don't quite manage these things, we reset" (re clothe?) by the action of forgiveness. All of this clothing is available from the one outlet, which is love.
It all sounds good, but we know it takes time and thought to change the wardrobe, to change our actions and to live like the new creations we are in Christ.
The clothing image is trans formative. There is a choice here in what we wear. When I get up in the morning, if I put on my Lycra running suit, I am more likely to go running than if I put on baggy sweats. Likewise, if I get up determined to set aside anger for compassion, and slander for kindness, I am much more likely to be aware of my actions. I may not feel kind, but if I decided to "wear"kindness, my clothing will influence my actions. I will grow into the role of what I have chosen to wear.
Philip Zimbardo said; "Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behaviour, more so than we recognise or acknowledge." Reading Zimbardo's work has been a helpful, humbling influence n my life. None of us is able to be "good" apart from solid accountability structures, being surrounded with what we want to become, and everyday choices that shape us. Christ gives us a choice about who we want to become. What do we choose?
Physical clothes are easy to put on, to have others see. How can we put on these Colossians clothes?
I think I might put a prayer up on my closet door, to remind me each morning of what I want to choose that will help to shape my identity as a Jesus follower. Something like this (a beginning draft for a poem...)
Lord, help me dress for success.
Give me a little cotton for compassion, to absorb and alleviate pain.
A bit of Teflon, so anger and abuse slips off and doesn't stain.
Accent the outfit with a bit of white, a reminder for me not to fight.
Perhaps a forgiving polyester shirt, I can wash and wear again.
Surround me in the fleecy warmth of love, Your gift of peace from above
Questions: How would your treating someone kindly (even though you do not feel like it, they don't deserve it, you don't like them...) change you?
How did it (or would it) feel if after you have verbally attacked someone, they responded with quiet kindness?
How does this "kindness for unkindness" play out in the church community? can you see hope in this approach to each other?
Thursday, 17 September 2015
What does it mean to welcome another person in Christ's name?
It's easiest to welcome those who look like us, smell like us, think like us. Even then, however, it can be a struggle to welcome or feel welcomed. A number of years ago, I moved into a small town kind of place. I saw a sign advertising a "Boots and Saddle Club" meeting, and all were welcome. I had a horse, and thought this would be a great way to get to know the community, so I walked in to the hall where about 20 people were gathered. I sat down with them. No one said a word to me, the person sitting beside me even lit up a cigarette without asking if I minded. I did. The ironic thing was that the theme of the meeting was; "how do we get new members?" I stayed for the whole meeting. Afterward, no one approached me, so I introduced myself to the chairperson. I was, I think, constructively blunt in saying how I wanted to be a new member, but was disappointed that no one talked to me. In spite of the rough start, I really did end up fitting in and I found a valuable community to belong to-but I had to put in some significant effort!
What if the people who want to belong look different, smell unusual, and have different ways of thinking? What if they don't feel able to introduce themselves? How do we open ourselves to be like Christ to them, or to meet Christ in them?
Debra Dean Murphy relates this story, said to originate in a Russian Orthodox Monastery, of an older monk telling a younger one;
"I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, 'Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?"
This story tickles me because I hear that last sentence in two different ways. One way has an exasperated tone. I'm tired of hearing 'needy' stories, of giving, of feeling like this might be "wasted time." The second way has a joyful tone, I'm curious about the person and I look forward to the surprise revelation of the face of Jesus that often catches me unaware. It's not all about giving to them, it's about learning from them and receiving their gifts.
A question for discussion;Think of a group or individual who is on the receiving end of what you give to the church. (refugees, homeless, people in a women's shelter....). What do you/can you see yourself receiving or learning from them? Are you serving and receiving with an exasperated tone or a joyful tone?
Here is the link for Debra Dean Murphy's very good (and not long) article.
Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Psalm 116:1-9, Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 8:12-17, Mark 8:34-38
You get a surprise call from a trusted relative, informing you that a large inheritance has been left in your name. The amount is staggering, you will be financially secure for life. All you have to do is go pick it up.
How do you react to the stunning news! Lottery winners, in the first flush of realization, often say they will quit their job, buy a fancy car, pay off the mortgage, travel the world. The first thoughts are, quite naturally, self serving. Human beings are "hard wired" toward self gratification, and when that is coupled with a consumer centered culture, the results are predictable.
I wonder, however, if after the initial reaction to the inheritance calms down, how would you think about the future? How will this idea of absolute security change the way you live? Will it change who you interact with? Where you live? Your involvements in church and community? What about decision making-do you bow to group discernment or make executive decisions because now you have power?
Would you ever consider not picking up the inheritance?
Romans 8:12-17 is a trusted source that informs the Christian community of an inheritance so large that those who pick it up will be secure for life. "you have received a spirit of adoption...we are children of God...heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ..." This inheritance, however, is different than the lottery. The security is one of spirit and eternal life, not money. The inheritance does not enable self-gratification, but enables self-giving. The adoptees are no longer "slaves" to the desires of human tendency to reward themselves, instead, their eyes are opened to the needs of others.
In studying this passage, I was greatly helped in my understanding by listening to a "Pulpit Fiction" podcast on the passage. The NRSV version of the Bible (my usual go-to) talks about being freed from the "sins of the flesh". That phrase tends to limit our thinking to physical desires, so we think of things like sexual sin, greediness, the misuse of alcohol, to name a few. The CEB (Common English Bible) translation is different, instead of "sins of the flesh", it says; "selfishness". That is a much more broad, and I think accurate, description of what Paul is getting at. (And fewer of us can claim innocence!)
If accepting this inheritance from God frees us from selfishness, it strongly affects how we handle ourselves into the future. We will use our gifts (all sorts of them) for the good of the community, we live as family with God as parent, we accept that we have not only picked up the rights of children, but have taken on responsibilities within the family.
Being adopted into God's family means spiritual security, knowing that whatever happens in life, our significant spiritual inheritance is secure. Being adopted means being freed from the "rat race" of selfishness that drives so much of humanity. Being adopted means being a part of a healthy family that (even though families have their issues...) is always trying to work at it's issues.
This Romans inheritance is different than the lottery. The promise is tremendous, but it comes with responsibilities and the willingness to work for God and others, instead of being guided by selfishness. I can see why many people would hesitate to pick up this inheritance-but if more people did pick it up...that's the kind of world I want to be part of!
So, will you or have you picked up the inheritance that changes who you interact with, how you live, where you live, your involvements, your focus in life? Do you accept God's offer to adopt you?
Tuesday, 1 September 2015
Lectionary passages for Sept. 6, 2015. Isaiah 35:4-7, Psalm 146, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37
I read through these passages trying to keep my ears and eyes open to what the Spirit of God might be trying to say to me at this particular time and place. I try to be open, but I realize that my own experiences, prejudices, opinions, and perceptions always colour the message I receive. There is no such thing as complete objectivity! So the best I can do is pray to be aware of what I bring to these readings, and try to be receptive to having my eyes opened in new ways, if that is what the Spirit is doing.
All the passages today are about God fixing things. the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the desert blooms, prisoners are set free, the downtrodden are helped...This is the stuff of hope and comfort for those who are crippled and oppressed. This is the stuff of hope and comfort too, for those who long to see the world set right. We so often feel helpless and overwhelmed by the scope of the issues we see. We easily put ourselves into the shoes of the underdog, the victims, the ones that God is coming to vindicate. But should we perhaps try to put ourselves into the shoes of the privileged, the perpetrators, those who should take warning from these words?
This time when I read the passages, I saw a dark side of healing. What about "God will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense..." (Is. 35:4) That is scary stuff for the oppressors. Or; "...the way of the wicked He brings to ruin." (Ps 146:9) Why do I make the assumption that the "terrible recompense" is aimed at someone other than me and mine? Why do I assume I am not among the wicked? Is it always someone else's problem to fix? When do I need to hear the words from a new perspective?
How do we let the Spirit speak to us with these passages? Do we only identify with the those who are being freed, or are we able to sometimes hear the Spirit speaking these things against us? Today when I read that the "blind see and the deaf hear" I wonder if the blindness is not always physical. What if the "eyes" of the rich were opened to see what their lifestyles have cost the poor? What if the "ears" of the powerful were opened to hear the cries of the oppressed? What if the lame complacency that afflicts so many of us was suddenly cured? The healing of spiritual blindness and deafness and lameness comes with a cost. If we are healed, we have to get involved. (James 2:17, faith without works is dead.) Admitting our participation in injustice, and working toward something better for others is hard work. It is straining to see through the dark and allowing God to lead us through to morning.
The passages spoke to me today in a way that challenges assumptions. I have to be open to the possibility that I might sometimes be willfully blind or selectively deaf, or complacently (conveniently) lame and only responding to the message the way I want it to be. There is a dark side to healing, if our eyes are opened, we might see our complicity in oppression and injustice. We might have to change somethings. Then again, we might not. The challenge is to be open to hearing and seeing and following where God's Spirit directs.
The vision in all these scriptures is hopeful. God promises healing for a hurting world. I pray that God helps all of us to have our eyes and ears open to the moving of the Spirit, so that our lameness is cured and we can work together toward the vision of justice and health for all.
Tuesday, 25 August 2015
The "fruit of the Spirit" theme for this Sunday is self-control. It's hard not to wince a little, hearing that we will consider this theme, after all, it's something all of us "fleshy" people struggle with for ourselves. Struggles to eat less, drink less, exercise more, waste less time, speak up, stop talking, quit looking at internet junk, love more, complain less...
Isn't it funny (not haha funny) how thoughts of self-control easily go to a self-centred place? I want to be skinnier, healthier, loved by others...What about how the exercise of self control makes for a better community?
Isn't it funny, (again, not haha), how the idea of self-control feels like a list of "should nots?"
Paul is definitely not about should nots, but about true freedom. "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another." (Gal.5:13) His definition of freedom is to give up those selfish desires or habits that enslave us (like alcohol for alcoholics, gossip for the idle or those of low self-esteem, junk food for the overweight...). Those habits are all things that start as self-indulgence, maybe even almost harmlessly so, but they easily grow to destroy individuals, families, and communities. We all have stories of hurt caused by gossip, jealousy and nastiness between siblings, quarrelling and cliques. (Interesting that jealousy and quarrelling are listed along with fornication and idolatry. All these things are dangerous, none are harm free!)
True freedom, Paul says is giving up those things that destroy us and others, and becoming SLAVES to each other. I highlight the word slaves, because the irony is so blatant. To be free, we have to be slaves to what is right, to self-control. Freedom is knowing that we do not have to live with the consequences of alcoholism, or gossip, or anger, because we have not indulged in them or have broken free from their control. We may still suffer as a result of these things happening around us, but we should not be the ones causing the hurt once we accept this new kind of freedom. Paul urges the use of self-control to stay away from that which harms, and then to rejoice in the freedom of good relationships, of loyalty and love. It's a radical view of freedom!
I think, however, that we might have to be careful with these lists of what to do and what not to do, Paul is not trying to set up a rigid set of rules for us to use to judge one another, to decide who has self-control and who does not. Rigid rules don't work. Andrew Prior (from an article on TextWeek on Gal. 5) warns that it can be easy for individuals and groups to become self-righteous about how they follow the rules, saying that :"rules and niceties can be the exact opposite of freedom in Christ." When the emphasis is on rules, he warns that our faith can be a pastel piety and a nauseous niceness! This is not welcoming for people who struggle and need help, for addicts seeking a faith home and support, for people who desire to be open about their problems and needs. Also, how often are we judgemental when we hear of someone who struggles with addiction and yet do not see the problem when we ourselves gossip about it in ways that are by no means redemptive, understanding, or constructive?
I find encouragement in Paul's belief that the people of the Galatian church are capable of freedom in Christ. (Quite a lot of the letter is chastising them, yet Paul is hopeful.) The church everywhere is full of real people. We all have real problems. All of us can find places where we indulge in the works of the flesh as listed in verse 19. All of us can find encouragement in the goal of true freedom, freedom to use self control to practise love for each other. A love that is characterised, not by judgement, but by encouragement, by love , joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. There are no laws against such things, and it's so freeing to focus of a healthy list of shoulds instead of on a restrictive list of should nots.
Tuesday, 18 August 2015
This summer our congregation is doing a series on the fruit of the Spirit. On Sunday the fruit theme is gentleness.
Do we know what gentleness is? I wrote up a list of synonyms to see what came to mind for me;
A soft breeze.
A quiet voice.
A non-forceful approach.
What surprises me is that my list is short. It also feels rather weak and wimpy. I usually have no trouble at all thinking up much longer and more varied lists when I do this exercise. Gentleness is a bit hard to define, so I'll try the exercise again to see if I can come up with what gentleness is not.
Grabby, a hard handshake.
It seems easier to think of what gentleness is not, than to come up with a good description of what it is. The scripture passages for today refer to meekness. I have never thought of gentleness as meekness, and yet the words seem to go together or are interchangeable in the Bible. To me, meekness equates with a hesitation to speak up, and I'm not sure that gentleness has to have that kind of "hang back" quality. In fact, sometimes gentleness means courage, speaking up, and taking risks. Maybe meekness does too. So why do we easily think of gentleness, or meekness, as something that is weak, tame, or deficient in courage? Can a gentle person ever be a successful leader, a politician, a business person? Does the more gentle person always get taken advantage of?
The Bible describes gentleness as "power under control." (I am indebted to an article from www.theologyofwork.org/blessed are the meek, for some of these thoughts. It's a good one to google!) The article says that gentleness is power under control; 1) It is a refusal to inflate our own self-estimation. 2) It is reticence to assert ourselves for ourselves.
In Numbers 12:3, Moses is described as the most humble (meek in some translations) man on the face of the earth-yet he was definitely not a wall-flower personality! I never would have included Moses in my top ten list of gentle people in the Bible! Jesus, in Matt. 11:29, is described as gentle and humble in heart-yet he is also the one who, in Matt. 21:12, clears out the temple, overturns tables, and calls the merchants "thieves." He was never hesitant to speak up, to condemn injustice,...or to let the children come to him!
In today's scripture from John, Jesus is the good shepherd who doesn't hide from the sheep like a thief, but enters through the main gate. The sheep recognize him and follow him. He is willing to risk everything, even his life, to protect the sheep. And here is a verse I found particularly interesting, "No one takes it (life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord, I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again." (v.18)
This is power under control. Gentleness here is a choice. It is a choice made for the good of those who need to be cared for. There is nothing weak, or deficient in courage about this kind of gentleness. Gentleness is using our power to care for others. It is rescuing those who cannot do it for themselves. It is a choice to be calm instead of angry, quiet instead of loud, giving instead of pushy, co-operative instead of combative. Above all, it is acting in the best interests of others.
So I can answer my earlier question. A gentle person can be a leader, a politician, a business person. In fact, we need these powerful people to be gentle, to be in control of their power for the good of others. Sometimes it might mean being loud and forceful like Jesus was in the temple-because it was for the good of people. The temple was restored to it's purpose, and the poor who were coming to worship were not to be taken advantage of! Sometimes gentleness means biting back hard words, or refusing to do negative ad campaigns, or not sacrificing workers to the idea of maximizing profits. I wish we could celebrate our leaders who lead like this!
Of course we know that often the gentle and principled leaders may not survive when the more cutthroat, dishonest, and self-driven leaders are their competition. But who would you rather have as your boss? Which of these types of leaders would have the respect and love of their workers, citizens, and even their families? (When Jesus says the 'meek will inherit the earth' I think this is what he is talking about. He is talking about the building of real, healthy communities where caring and gentleness set the tone for economies and politics instead of the brutal and selfish strategies of those who lead for glory and power for themselves.)
Gentleness is not weakness. It is a different kind of strength that is maybe hard to understand, takes practice to implement, and a lifetime to understand how to choose it. Sometimes gentleness is decisive action, like Jesus in the temple, or the good shepherd dying for the sheep. Sometimes gentleness is a soft breeze, a warm hand, and a quiet word of encouragement. These things are power too, and build up the strength and gentleness capacity of the community.
Let's strive to be gentle with each other, to choose to use the power we have, whether it is our money, our words, or our time, to build up our families and communities in the style of the good shepherd. The gentleness Jesus showed in life and death is courageous and full of love for others. That's a challenging definition of gentleness. Maybe now I can go back and expand my list of what gentleness is.
Thursday, 13 August 2015
What does faithfulness look like? In a society where the individual is at the center of decisions, where the possibility of litigation is a first thought before a church program can begin, where people change careers like clothing, and serial monogamy is perhaps becoming normative, what is the value of faithfulness? Is loyalty important or an antique to admire, but leave on the shelf?
Galatians lists faithfulness as a fruit of the Spirit, and the Samuel and Matthew stories present stories of faithfulness, from two very different perspectives.
Samuel 20 is a dramatic account of faithfulness between friends, a faithfulness that comes at great cost to Jonathan, who makes a difficult and daring choice to side with David instead of King Saul, his father. From our vantage point, relying on a Biblical account biased toward David, it is easy for us to choose the young, brave, and charismatic David over the jealous, deranged, and delusional Saul. Jonathan, however, had to make his choice from the midst of chaos, divided loyalties, and political ambition. He loves David, believes him innocent of treason, and is sworn to friendship with him. On the other hand, he is also loyal to the king and is expected to sit the throne himself someday. He probably loves his father, too. His decision to stand by David, and to try to reason with Saul is a choice he knows will likely cost him the throne. He knows it will incur Saul's anger. (Saul gets so angry he even throws a spear at him.) Jonathan still chooses to be faithful to David. He also chooses to be faithful to Saul, remaining in the court and continuing to fight where Saul sends him. It must have been a difficult place to stay. His only consolation is that in all of this, he believes he and David have acted faithfully in the sight of God. "the Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever." (v. 42) In chapter 31, Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, are killed in battle. Jonathan's faithfulness to both David and Saul was a brutal choice. It did not lead to an easy life, but it is clear that Jonathan made his choices and faithfully stuck with them, not for himself, but for love of his friend, his God, and his family. His loyalty did not "pay off" for him directly, but years later, it paid off for his descendants, when David honoured his part of their pact.
The story of the talents in Matthew is also a story of faithfulness. The master trusts his 3 servants with his fortune while he is away. This is a significant amount. A "talent" was worth 15-20 years wages for the average labourer! So even the servant who was given one talent, was given a massive trust! (Each servant was given; "according to his ability". This means the master knew that they could handle the responsibility-it was not beyond their skills.) Two of the servants handle the money the way they knew the master would want it handled. When the master gets back, he calls them trustworthy, because they acted according to their skills and their knowledge of him. The third makes excuses. He even insults the master by calling him harsh.This is how he justifies his fear, yet, it doesn't make sense and the master calls him on it. He could have, with minimal effort and no risk, put the money in the bank instead of burying it. That would have made more sense if he truly believed the master was harsh.
(An aside: We might think burying the money was strange, but it was a common practice. It was easy and often make sense for people to do this. In the servants case, it was plain lazy and may have also been self-serving. He couldn't be bothered to act out the part of the faithful servant, even to simply gather interest on the money. I think this hiding of money is still common. Many people have a "mattress stash" or a wallet of cash, or money stuffed under the rug like we found in our home when we pulled up the original carpet. People like to have an emergency fund, a bit of money for a 'rainy day' that only they know about. I wonder if the 3rd servant was thinking of his masters hidden money in this fashion---he'd return it if all went well, but take off with it if he ran into a personal emergency? In any case, he was putting himself first, and the master's possessions and desires were a distant second.)
The third servant wasn't faced with hard decisions like Jonathan was. He lived in security. He was complacent instead of faithful. He put his own convenience ahead of his responsibilities.
Sometimes being faithful is hard, it might mean choosing between God and family expectations. It might mean making people angry. It might mean losing a job or losing face. On the other hand, sometimes being faithful is easy, simply doing something you already have the resources to do. In all cases, faithfulness isn't about doing what is best for "me", but what is the best in God's eyes, what is the best in the long run for God's people.
I don't want to have loyalty and faithfulness as dusty antiques on the shelf. Our time, skills, and resources need to be employed in the difficult and the easy times for the long term good of the whole people. I want to live in a community and world where the majority of people can be depended on to do what is best for the whole, instead of being mainly consumed by their immediate desires.When the master returns, I long to hear those words; "well done, good and trustworthy slave...enter into the joy of your master!"
Thursday, 23 July 2015
I had to look up "forbearance" in the dictionary. I thought it was something like patience, but wanted a more accurate definition. My Canadian Oxford Dictionary says forbearance is; patient self-control, tolerance.
Patient self-control. What a descriptive phrase. I often think of self-control in a sort of episodic way. I use self control to stop myself from an unwise angry outburst, from eating a dessert I don't need, or to overcome inertia and go for exercise. All brief one time temptations I blast with a shot of self control, then it's done.
Forbearance is the ability to exercise these bits of self-control over and over again, maybe over days, months, or even years. Forbearance moves self-control from a few episodes to a whole series, from a one time attempt to better myself to better habit territory! It's not so much a blast as a steady stream.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells Peter to forgive another member of the church 77 times. That sounds like a forgiveness habit, a steady stream! I want to have this habit of being a forgiving sort of person, however, I don't think a forgiveness habit should make anyone into a 'doormat.' Forgiving does not mean forgetting, and it does not mean allowing bad behaviour to continue unchanged. I can forgive my dog for eating my favorite hen (yes, it happened) but that doesn't mean I leave the dog with access to the rest of the chickens! Something had to change-he either had to learn to leave them alone, or he had to leave so that the flock would be safe. (The discipline worked-thankfully he did learn that chickens were off-limits for him!) Forgiving follows repentance and repentance means; "to regret one's actions." Repentance is, at least, trying not to repeat the thing that requires forgiveness!
We know it takes time to change bad habits or patterns into something else. Relationships and trust, when broken, are difficult and time consuming things to change. Many times people give up because the work is just too daunting, or maybe impossible. Forgiveness is a start, but saying'"I'm sorry", doesn't stop the wound from bleeding! Healing is a long process, and a habit of forgiveness is crucial for dealing with those times when old patterns resurface.
James 5 urges us to use patience in waiting for God. Patience is most definitely necessary in the whole 70 times 7 forgiveness habit! James also reminds us that God is the judge, so grumbling against each other is worse than pointless, it actually makes matters worse.
These passages are excellent reminders of the forgiving character we wish to constantly grow into as a community, and the patience and hard work required to get there. This is a calling of all people who belong to the church. What an amazing and hopeful thing. It's not only about being forgiving, but forgiven too!
Note: Our family is going camping, so I will not have access to the internet. (And I don't want access while on holiday!) The lectionary reflectionary blog will resume for the August 16 service at FMC.
Saturday, 18 July 2015
Mennonites talk a lot about peace. We preach it, we teach it in Sunday School, we get involved in all sorts of programs around the world to work at peace, and its a favourite theme for conferences and workshops. We talk about it so much that I wonder if another sermon on it is of interest. I especially wonder this for people like me (and those younger) who have lived in middle class prosperity in Canada all our lives. Peace to us is normal, we have enough to eat, good places to live, and we feel safe. Of course, there's also the topics of interpersonal peace and inner peace, which we tend to individualize.
As I prepare to preach tomorrow, I've read through these two scriptures and found myself challenged. In Romans 12:18 the word "if" jumps out at me. "IF" peace is possible means that sometimes it is not. What do we do then? "As far as it depends on you..." puts a weight of personal responsibility on the reader, but it certainly doesn't offer any promise that the individual's efforts will solve anything. So, how do we move forward with this bunch of ifs and dependings?
The story of Abigail and David is not usually a story that gets looked at when preparing a peace sermon. David is a man of war. He and 600 soldiers are on the run from King Saul and living away from the city, out in the wilderness and farm lands. Likely, he is deeply resented by local folk. No one wants an idle army camped in their backyard! They take up space, harass locals, take food and things they need/want by force of arms. Even if (a big IF) David's men are well disciplined and ethical, they still need to eat. David's messengers come to Nabal with 'peaceful" words, but there's no disguising the threat that underlies the soft talk. They took on the "guarding of the sheep" without ever being asked or hired. This is a clear demand for protection money, Nabal is being asked to pay the 'mob' of his day so that they continue to leave him in peace.. He refuses, maybe even self-righteously refusing to deal with the "terrorists" of his day. (I also wonder if Nabal has become enamoured of his own wealth, power, and prestige such that he thinks he's untouchable!)
Abigail is horrified. She knows this means trouble. She gathers the requested supplies, (the tribute? the protection money? the ransom? All the nasty words might fit.) She courageously throws herself on David's mercy, offering herself in place of Nabal. I am struck here, by her cleverness. Just as David's messenger's soft words hid a hard message, so Abigail informs David of a threat against him. If he allows his burning anger to turn into violence, he will be guilty of murder. She calls it a "staggering burden of needless bloodshed" and she reminds David that he is beholden to the Lord. It would be foolhardy for David to take on this reputation among people he hopes to rule as their King. It would be foolhardy for David to incur God's wrath. Abigail's words are gutsy and delivered in such a way that David is able to put his anger aside long enough to hear the truth in them. Abigail is negotiating with the "bad guys" to save herself, her people, and perhaps even to help David to become a better ruler.
(I can't help but wonder about how Iran is in the news this week and how republicans are going after Obama for being too "soft" on them. Is there a Nabal and an Abigail thing going on here too?)
Abigail really has no easy choices. She holds her nose and deals with the reality that they have to pay David's men to stay alive. Then later, when Nabal dies and David asks her to marry him, (a third wife), I doubt she has any real choice. The marriage might even be an "alliance" arrangement that gives Nabal's wealth over into David's control. I(Remember that at this point David is still an outlaw that Saul is hunting-Abigail may or may not have wanted this marriage!). All in all, Abigail brokers the best possible peaceful solution for everyone. "As far as it depended on her" she was living at peace with everyone, despite the cost to herself.
This story has no clear-cut choices for peace. Abigail has hard decisions on every side. She has to be brave. She has to do the best with hard situations and leave final judgement to God. Life gives her lemons and she makes lemonade. (But I think it might be a little sour!)
IF is a big little word. What happens when peace is not possible by our actions? The story clearly leaves the answer to that question in God's hands, not ours.
Wednesday, 8 July 2015
Joy is an interesting concept, and tremendously challenging. I think it is very different from "happy". Happy seems an ephemeral emotion, situational and temporary. It's good to be happy, but I tend to experience it as episodic, it depends on my feelings about my immediate context. Joy is deeper, joy is a characteristic, a defining quality that is pervasive and permanent. Joy is a sense of purpose and rightness that is like an underground river that continues to flow no matter what events are happening on the land surface. True joy enables people to keep going in the face of hardship, to not give up, to have hope beyond themselves and the situations they are in.
When I read John 15:11; "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" or "Phil 4:4; "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice." I don't see anything that would make me 'happy'. Philippians is written from jail to a church that is struggling with disunity and disagreements about teachings. Lots of not happy! The surface certainly isn't pleasant, but Paul points the people toward their underlying cause for joy-the Lord is near, and peace will guard their hearts (v. 6-7). John records the words of Jesus as he encourages the disciples shortly before his death. He assures them that if they remain connected to God, they will "bear fruit". Their lives have purpose and direction through God, and that is a cause for deep joy, even when the presenting situation may not be happy.
God gives life purpose and direction, following God results in deep joy that life's crappy situations cannot ultimately destroy. I find deep joy in knowing that God is with us no matter the situation. Joy allows us to smile through times of tears, knowing that our foundation in Christ is solid.
The David story in 2 Sam. 6, is a bit strange applied to the theme of joy. When David thinks the ark is dangerous, he pushes it on other people. When he sees that it is a blessing, he takes it back. He dances exuberantly (with joy?) when the ark is brought into his city. I'm not sure how to use this story in thinking about joy. I don't think it reflects very well on David either. Any input from out there?
Tuesday, 23 June 2015
Wednesday, 17 June 2015
I write this blog to push myself to read scripture, and so that scripture has a chance to speak into my life, to "read" me. The Mark passage about Jesus stilling the storm is a perfect message for me right now, helping me deal with a few hard questions/stories I've heard from people and giving me something to offer to them.
The questions are about God's existence/nature. How can a loving God allow these things to happen? I heard variations on this coming from different points of view. One from someone watching a loved one suffer. One from someone who works in health care and sees apparently senseless suffering every day, and one from the point of view of despair at the state of the world. These aren't easy questions, they never go away.
"When God sleeps through the storm" is an excellent June 15 blog post by David R. Henson. It helps me to think about those hard questions of why things happen and where is God when they happen. Here is a bit of what Henson says;
"I don't really think the miracle in this story is about Jesus calming the storm and taking control. The miracle in this story is that Jesus was with the disciples in the water-logged and weather-beaten boat, experiencing the same terrible storm, the same terrible waves, the same terrible danger. And that alone should have been enough...God's power is revealed in coming alongside us, journeying with us, suffering with us, and even staying with us in the boat when the storms come...God's power is in simply getting in the boat with us, in the midst of terrible storms."
Personally, in the midst of the storms of struggle people have told me about, I understand them asking the ifs and whys and where of God. I'd be screaming for God to wake up too. Wouldn't a loving God fix it? If God cares, why is life so hard for people who don't deserve the struggle?
God isn't a "fix-it for us" deity, but a relational being, a companion in pain and a hope for eventual reconciliation. God is with us. Faith in God does not guarantee a struggle free life, but gives us a way to engage in the struggle rather than to hopelessly succumb to it. We are never alone.
But it's easy to preach from the shoreline, and quite another thing to be in the middle of the storm, trying to hold on to the boat. In the middle of crisis our natural tendency is to scream, panic, blame others, accuse... When the disciples wake him, they accuse Jesus of not caring. They should know better, but they are in crisis. When the crisis is past, that is when the clear thinking can begin. Jesus asks; "Have you still no faith?"
I wonder what they thought? I wonder how they rode out the next storm?
Another blog, this one by David Lose, asks the question: "Do you think the disciples were more frightened before the stilling of the storm or after?" At first they were afraid for their lives because of something concrete and understandable. They were scared because they thought God was absent or maybe non-existent. After, they are standing in the presence of the living God. Terrifying on a completely different scale.
What is it to be in the presence of God? I think sometimes it is in exactly those times we are out of control, where everything is wrong, that God is right there in the boat with us. What would happen if we were the ones to wake up to that awareness?
Here are the links to Henson and Lose's blog posts. Both good reads!
Thursday, 11 June 2015
My garden looks amazing right now. The green onions are huge, the tomatoes are flowering, the poppies waving their bright petals in the sun. One month ago there was nothing but dust and dandelions. 3 months ago the land was still covered in snow and ice. Now it is green, white, yellow, purple, and orange. My salad bowl sings! Sure, I put seeds in the ground and tossed water at them, but the mystery of this beautiful profusion is beyond me.
These scriptures are about the mystery of life and the celebration of the power of the Creator. The parable of the growing seed in Mark notes the mystery. The sower of seed has an important, but very limited, role. God makes things happen. This is a reminder of both the importance of our human efforts and the fact that the results are out of our hands.
Ezekiel is a powerful example of the mystery of growth. In verses 22-24, the community grows and thrives because God has planted it. The point of this, however, is lost unless you read the earlier parts of chapter 17. Here are two eagles, representing foreign emperors, with whom Israels kings are aligning. (Ezekiel is likely writing to try to change king Zedekiah's mind about his policy of aligning with Egypt.) Even though the shoots are planted in great, watered soil, they are destined for trouble and failure because they are relying on human power and not God. Verses 22-24 show the ideal, that humanity must rely on God because people fail.
This morning on CBC radio, there was talk about the firing of Evan Solomon, the host of "Power and Politics" and the "House". I am saddened by this, I liked listening to him and it's hard to hear that he may have used his connections to powerful people inappropriately. The talk this morning was about how power tends to corrupt even the best of people. The Edmonton Journal had an article that talked about the "host" culture at the CBC that protects the powerful when they misbehave or act contrary to good journalistic ethics. All of this is humbling, and should point us toward better lines of accountability for people in positions of power, fame, or authority. It should also warn each of us to consider where we place our trust. Even good people fail. We are not God and it's important to remember that and constructively hold each other to account so we don't create situations where we protect misbehaviour and bend standards to fit what feels comfortable or expedient or makes money.
The words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 are encouraging. "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God , who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation..."
That ministry is a tall order. I wonder if humanity is up to it. I wonder if anyone I know is up to it. I wonder if I am up to it. Maybe the answer is that we are not. We are not up to it if we rely on our own limited and corruptible power. Maybe we are up to it when we rely on God and align ourselves with what God is doing. God grows amazing things. I don't have to completely understand how it works. Maybe I am capable, and it is enough, to toss a few seeds and water out there and see what God does.
Friday, 5 June 2015
Playing hide and seek with toddlers is hilarious. They hide in the middle of the room, crouching and covering their eyes. "If I can't see you, you can't see me" is the operating thought system.
It's not so hilarious when adults do it, and we do, albeit in more sophisticated ways and with a side helping of denial.
Adam and Eve think they can hide from God, but like children, they have a false belief system. When asked why they are hiding, there are excuses and misdirection. When nakedness is not an excuse, Adam throws Eve under the bus-blaming her for his choices. While there is some truth in what he says, he is trying desperately to move the attention off of his own guilt. Eve does the same thing. She blames the snake, trying to distract from her own bad choices with a little bit of truth about something else. These little bits of truth distract from the main point, the root problem, which is the taking of personal responsibility.
Verse 14, "because you have done this..." is something I wonder about. I don't think the biggest issue is the eating of the forbidden fruit. It is the lack of introspection and confession. Funny, you'd think people would eventually learn that no matter how much we complain, the only one we can really change is ourselves. (Ironically, that might also be the best way to change others around us too!)
I enjoyed reading Mark 3 in this context. "A house divided cannot stand." Again I think of children. When siblings are busy fighting and blaming each other, nothing gets resolved and the resentments build up. Sometimes these even stretch into adult relationships! And if we can't even handle our petty childish spats within a family, how can we ever do it as larger communities? What happens, when as adults, we get more sophisticated in how we fight, and less willing to let a parent, even God, step in? Jesus asks; "who are my mother and my brothers...whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." The key to healthy family here is each one taking personal responsibility to "do the will of God."
How would communities change if we all (or even a good percentage of us) dealt with ourselves, with root problems, instead of pointing at the "little truths" of others to distract from the things each of us is actually responsible for?
The other passages elaborate on the theme of needed forgiveness and responsibility. Psalm 130 gives up on the abilities of people, but acknowledges that forgiveness comes from God. 2 Corinthians asserts that the one who raised Jesus can raise us, which acknowledges where the power resides. "We do not lose heart" is a great encouragement. Ultimately, people are fallible. We all struggle with personal responsibility. We like to blame others. We need help. We need to hear the encouragement that God forgives us and our brothers and sisters. Our job is to listen to God.