Thursday, April 19, 2018

In the Bulb, a Flower

There are two fundament part to our prayers—bulbs and flowers, and together they help us on our journey of faith.

       The bulb (or root) to every prayer is God. It is that part of the prayer, usually the opening sentence, that says something about God. It is like a child’s story, on the one hand familiar and comforting, on the other, a revelation. We generally agree that God knows everything; if so, then God knows everything about God. The opening part of our prayers won’t tell God anything, but it will sure up our confidence in the bulb of our faith.

The main part of our prayer, the petition, the thing we are praying for or about, is a bud. It could be about anything, I suppose. We shy away from selfish and vengeful petitions. We tend to pray for health, happiness and peace for ourselves and others.

It is a bit audacious (if I can call taking bold risks “a bit”), for us to pray for others. But we do, and I think we can’t help ourselves. It seem so very human to pray for other people, for their health, happiness and peace.

There is a hymn that says in very bulb there is a flower. In the bulb of our prayer is a flower, but the blooming is not an answered prayer, it is a new or reformed relationship.

The change that is brought about in prayer is usually in the one who prays. My prayer changes me. Your prayer changes you. The benefits of prayer are felt most keenly when relationship are formed or reformed. The prayer that is rooted in God blooms all the more sweetly when the newness of life is felt in human relationships.

Prayer books ought to come with warning labels, “Danger: the contents may change you.” If you don’t what change, if you don’t want health, happiness and peace—then run as far away from a prayer book or prayer gathering as you possibly can.

I’m tempted to carry this metaphor even further by saying things like, “prayers are sometimes watered with our tears.” But them someone might ask, “Okay, smart guy, then what fertilizes out prayers?” Instead, I just remind everyone that everything that informs our prayers—our hopes and pains, our joys and sorrows—is “something God alone can see.” And I’m cool with that!

Friday, April 13, 2018

This Deep Shalom

“Peace,” is the best word we have in the English language to translate the Hebrew word, “Shalom.” Yet, it definitely falls short of a fuller, richer understanding of shalom. 

Shalom is more than the greeting we use, “peace be with you.” It is meant to convey more than the absence of war, and certainly more than a stand-off. The original sense of shalom was connected to God’s original plan for creation; a peace that was infused in every bit of what is. It means, things are right, things are as God intended. 

This is what Jesus the risen Saviour says to his followers when he greets them in a locked room. He offers them a “shalom” that only God can offer. 

How audacious for Jesus to offer shalom, in a world that is anything but at peace. In the same breath he commissions his followers to offer the same shalom to the world. His followers includes us. We are likewise commissioned to offer shalom in a world that is not at peace. 

In a world of horrible accidences, maddening violence and childish world leaders, we are to proclaim God’s deep shalom. This deep shalom is God’s intension for all that God created. This deep shalom is at the core of the Gospel. This deep shalom is the first thing the risen Saviour offers to the world. 

If we repeat this deep shalom often enough… If we make this deep shalom our intension… Then maybe this deep shalom will be the world’s lived reality. And I don’t really mean “maybe”, I mean “will.” This deep shalom will become the world’s reality.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Non-Speaking Bells

Originally, “dumb” bells were counter weights used in machinery or cranes as needed. They may or may not have been bell shaped. They were known as “dumb” because they didn’t make a bell sound like a normal bell-shaped medal would have. People of brawn were employed to move the dumbbells as required. Eventually, competitions evolved to see who could lift the most weight. The dumbbells were used to train and build up the strength of the competitors. 

Whether the dumbbells rested in place, acting as counterweights or used in competitions they were useful hunks of metal. 

In the past, I have referred to the doubts that often creep into the faithful Christian’s life as dumbbells. Our doubts can help build strength in our faith. So, rather than running away from, or denying our doubts, let’s put them to use, share them with one another and help build a stronger faith. 

Fair enough I guess, for “dumb” bells. For they are “dumb”, they don’t speak or ring out as a bell ought. Yet the faithful Christian is, in some sense, meant to ring out and proclaim a faith that has the resurrected Christ at its centre. 

Arguments and shouting, threats and division, laws and battles are probably the very things Saint Paul warns us about when he writes of the danger of being, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1) 

Paul goes on to say that at the core of a strong and healthy faith is love. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

Our faith rings out, as it is designed to do, when we are acting with love. Our faith rings out all the more powerfully, when we are strengthened by those dumb times, when our doubts feel like they are getting the better of us.

Letting doubts build strength in our faith, both personally and in our community, help define us so that we reflect more clearly the love of God in us.    

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday Sermon 2018

And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

Many people have spoken, in the past, about a kind of legal requirement for Jesus to die as he did – judged, tortured, mocked, beaten, whipped, stripped, humiliated. His last steps – a parade through the streets, to the dump, where nails are driven trough his hands, his feet – nailed to a rough wooden cross, abandoned by his disciples. There are some strangers there (bystanders), one disciple, a few women, but Jesus is feeling abandoned, even by God. He is left there to die.

This legal understanding seems to suggest, and some say so, that we are the ones who deserve punishment, but Jesus receives it instead, so that we can walk away – free. Like the temple sacrifices, so familiar to Peter and Paul, and all those who first heard the story of the crucified savior. It’s a gift that makes peace with God.

But, what kind of God desires such a thing – the sacrifice of a dove, or a lamb, or a ram, or a human being? In these things, God takes no pleasure.

Don’t for a moment think that our ancestors were comfortable with this idea of offering sacrifices to appease an angry God. They had been questioning the practice for generations and there are lots of scriptural references that say so. Besides, an angry God is not the God-of-love that Jesus proclaims.

So, if it’s not a sacrifice of appeasement, what kind of sacrifice is it? If it’s a sacrifice at all. The writers of the New Testament look at the sacrifice in three principle ways:

First, as a rescue mission – the sacrifice Jesus makes is to break the chains of evil and death.

Second, what Jesus did, he did for many… not just for a few people living 2000 years ago, but for every one …of every time.

Third, it seals the deal between God and humanity, and all of creation. The deal is also known as the Covenant – that agreement between God and us, that God will be God and we will be God’s people.

All three of these ways of talking about the crucifixion are not meant to be definitive explanations, each one has its own weaknesses.

They are trying to put into words that, at the heart of the sacrifice Jesus makes is obedience.

The basic point is that Jesus gave his heart to God – that is the sacrifice God expect of us too. I can’t lie to you… this is a dangerous mission God offers us – should we choose to accept it. Jesus paid for his obedience.

What pleases God is to look into our world, into our hearts and to see God’s own reflection, to see God’s love, glory and beauty in us. That’s what pleases God – not burnt offerings – not crucifixions.

Obedience is not jumping when told to jump. Obedience is living in harmony with God’s will – showing God’s transforming love and justice in our lives.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ turns the idea of sacrifice on its head. In the Temple, the priest offers sacrifices to God, the priest acts and blood is shed, and a completely senseless act accomplishes nothing.

Jesus, on the other hand, is one who is a perfect reflection of God’s love, and it is in him that God acts. It is God who makes the sacrifice, it is God who is judged, and tortured, and mocked, and beaten, and whipped, and stripped, and humiliated. It is God who takes those steps – on parade through the streets, to the dump, where nails are driven through God’s hands and feet, it is God who is nailed to a rough wooden cross, it is God who is abandoned by his disciples, while bystanders look on (and one disciple, a few women). It is God who doesn’t strike back. It is God who is left there to die – abandoned.

In this utterly selfless act God makes peace with us – God invites us into relationship – God looks to see God’s-self reflected in our lives.

10And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.