Thursday, May 5, 2022

God is My Coach

Sometime things become so familiar that they lose their power. It is easy to take things for granted. This is true of the people, places and things in our lives. Including our faith.
Case-in-point, Psalm 23. It is a much loved Psalm, and is so familiar that the deep significance of it can be easily lost on us. So, think about the opening line, “The Lord is my shepherd.” What an extraordinary claim, what a thing to say! The Lord, God the creator of everything is the one who shepherds me.
As we make our way through the rest of the Psalm the claims get all the more extraordinary. The all powerful God is also the one who takes care of me, leads me and revives me. This almighty God frees me from fear and I can rest in the comfort of God’s correction (rod and staff). This same God allows me to eat at ease with my enemies, providing me with more than I need. I can trust in this God for ever.
We could choose others to lead us. We can take others as our examples. And they don’t all have to be bad choices. I tried to play hockey like Bobby Orr for example. It was not a bad choice. In fact, a pretty good choice, if you ask me. I suppose that I could have tried to be like Bobby Orr and still have the Lord as my shepherd.
The real question here is, when it comes right down to it, who will be my shepherd? Who will lead me in my life to green pastures and still waters? Who will revive my soul?
The most outstanding part of this understanding of God is that this creator God who is willing to be my shepherd and to lead me along right pathways does it all “for his name’s sake.” In other words, God does what God does because it is in God’s nature. There is no other reason, there’s no need to try and figure it out: God creates because God creates; God loves because God loves; and God is my shepherd because God is my shepherd.
The person writing Psalm 23 is willing to say out loud an extraordinary thing: God loves us so much that God is willing to follow us around, lead us to good places and to never quit on us.

The 23rd Hockey Psalm

The Lord is my coach
                I shall get my fair share of ice time.
The coach makes me sit on the bench
                                when I am tired
                and gives me plenty of Gatorade.
There my soul is revived
                and I am familiar with the playbook,
                all because the coach is the coach.
Though the play gets tough
and it feels like sudden death overtime
                I have no reason to fear
                I am not alone
                I am tapped on the shoulder
                                and sent on another shift.
There is a game going on
                and the opposing team is here,
                but I have been blessed
                with everything I need for the game,
                                and more.
Surely the goodness and mercy of the coach will follow me wherever I go.
                And I will be
                                in my coach’s rink for ever.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

a hundred fifty three

What an odd detail to include in the Gospel Lesson today (John 21:1-19), that there were 153 fish in the net that the apostles pulled aboard. I mean, who bothered to count them? Maybe it was common for fishers to count their catch, so they would be compensated accordingly when dealing with the fish monger.
It might also be a symbolic number. It was a commonly held understanding that there were only 153 species of fish in all the world’s oceans. We know now that there are a lot more than that, but symbolism is what matters here, not accuracy.
So, this isn’t just a story about catching a lot of fish, it is a story about catching every fish. No fish, no matter how boney, slippery or stinky is unfit for this net.
It’s not uncommon, when traveling along a country road in PEI to see a sign reading, “Worms for Sale,” Perhaps it says, “live bait.” Never in need of worms I pass by these places. But, if the sign read, “Anglewitch for Sale,” I’d most definitely stop. I recently came across this now obsolete word, “anglewitch. It means the worms used in fishing.
Not only are we tasked with bringing all people into relationship with God, we need to think about the appropriate anglewitch (bait). A bait that will work.
To make things even more interesting, the Gospel uses three different words for fish—once to just mean fish, and twice it uses words that means a type of preparation for consuming the fish, like fried or pickled.
At this seaside breakfast we become the host, the guest and the meal itself. We are that which gets consumed. We are that which is offered to the ocean of fish. We are the bait and the meal. We are the Body of Christ.
How many times have I said it? We are the resurrection, we, the community of believers, are the risen Body of Christ.
This is an awesome responsibility that we have been given. It might even be overwhelming, if it weren’t for the presence of the Holy Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit accompanies us on this journey, a journey of being invited and doing the inviting: to be bait and meal, to be his Body and Blood in the world. To love as he loves, to forgive as he forgives, to show mercy as he shows mercy, to seek justice as he seeks justice.
The thing that fills me with hope everyday is that this is a journey that I do not walk alone. I have a community I trust to help discern God’s will and in turn we have God’s Holy Spirit to help figure this out together.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

In the cross of Christ I glory

I regard everything in the Bible to be most powerful at its metaphorical level. That’s not to say that things didn’t happen in just the way they are described. It is to say that the meaning and power behind those stories has greater impact when we consider them metaphorically. That is after all, the reason the stories were saved and retold.

The same might apply to our grand theological statements. Some of which have their origins in metaphors.
For example, there is an online debate taking place amongst some of my colleagues. Some say that Jesus died for our sins, in other words, he paid the price of his life to free us from our sinfulness. Others say that he was simply a martyr.

I have no doubt that the nuances of these debates are lost on me. Perhaps there are ramifications far beyond my meager understanding. I need to boil things down to their simplest components to figure them out.

So, the idea of Jesus paying the price of sin, as if God needed a human sacrifice to atone for our sinfulness, is ancient and amongst the earliest ways the followers of Jesus understood what he was doing. I think that this is sometimes called “redemption theology.”

It’s a strange idea, to say that the God who is so powerful that everything was created would also need a sacrifice to make things right. But that’s not the original idea of redemption. The redemption price was paid by a relative. So, the original redemption perspective was intended to convey the idea that God is an intimate—like a parent or sibling. I don’t mind singing hymns about redemption or saying Eucharistic Prayers that say as much, because they also remind us of how near God is to us.

I must say too, that the idea that Jesus is just a martyr falls far short of telling us the true impact of the birth, life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ. But a martyr he also was.

Sure, God is powerful enough to grant us salvation without requiring a human sacrifice or martyr, but that’s not how it happened. We need to grapple with how it happened and delight in all the ways us mere human have tried to understand and explain those amazing stories. Every story and every metaphor falls short. We are weak but somehow, something of the sublime truth breaks into our attempts to understand God.

In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.

The text of this famous hymn was written by John Bowring in the 19th Century. The tune it is usually sung to is a rousing kind of march, making it sort of fun to sing.

It expresses the point I usually make in my Good Friday or Palm Sunday sermons. The word “sublime” refers to how the cross, an implement of torture and death has become for us a powerful symbol of hope and life. We argue too much about theology and forget to let the power of story, symbol and metaphor inform our hearts and carry us into a deeper appreciation of the intimacy of God the Creator. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Did you hear the one about?

There is an old joke, perhaps you’ve heard it, it asks, “what kind of vehicle would Jesus drive?” The answer is, “a pick-up, because he was a carpenter.” The first time I heard the joke, I answered, a Chrysler (pronounced: Christ-ler). Or perhaps, I’d add, a Dodge Colt! Pretty clever, eh? The person telling the joke didn’t think so, he felt I had ruined the joke. I suppose I did, and I’m sorry.
Jokes work because they have some sort of twist to them. There has to be an unexpected element or they won’t garner the laugh that intended.
Very few jokes get funnier with repeated hearing. Already knowing the punchline doesn’t make the joke funnier, or even funny at all, eventually.
Watching a repeat broadcast of a sporting event that you already know the outcome of usually ruins the enjoyment. That’s why people are so adamant, “don’t tell me who won.
There are some things, however, the bear repeating. Things that, even if we know the whole story, still manage to carry a message that is profoundly moving.
I contend that the Gospels are the sort of thing that can withstand being told over and over again. The story of Jesus has been told in many different languages; in songs; in paintings and stained glass windows; in movies and TV; colouring books; in every way imaginable.
I have told a story in my sermons several times, it involved me and three other boys getting lost at sea. It surprises me how often people say after hearing the story that the whole time they were wondering if I had survived. How else could I be telling the story? This is away for us to get into the story and experience the drama of it, by thinking of it as happening in real time.
This week I will read the Holy Week story as if this is my first time hearing it, as if it is happening in real time, as if I don’t know the outcome. I will tear-up and wonder how humanity could sink so low. I will commit myself, despite my all to obvious failings, to do better, to proclaim the Gospel, not only with my lips, but in all that I do.
It is important for me to retell the story of the Pasion of Jesus Christ—to feel the whips and nails, the insults and the spitting—so that I can remember at the core of my being the depth of God’s love. And I pray that this hearing, this knowledge will impact me in such a way that I will learn that the best way to tell the story of Jesus is by living it, by doing the loving thing in every circumstance we find ourselves in. Love is the telling of the Gospels.