Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I Never Lose

It is said that Nelson Mandela said, “I never lose, I either win or I learn.”

My Grade 11 science teacher told a class that we learn best from our mistakes, and he said, “by that reasoning my best student is John Clarke.” I love science and learning things about the natural world, but it is also true that I was horribly bad at Grade 11 science.

Learning from our mistakes and viewing loses and failures as opportunities to learn is a wisdom we would do well to emulate and pass on to the next generation.
When faced with life’s setbacks we often wonder, “why me?” The truth is that everyone suffers. The wise ones amongst us learn to fight back when there’s a chance of victory, or to move on to other struggles when the battle is futile.

C. S. Lewis wrote that, “The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.”

C. S. Lewis was not advocating making people suffer, there’s enough of it for everyone anyway. The problem he points to is that it seems that some of us aren’t suffering, or making the effort to help our fellow human being when that’s exactly what the Bible calls us to do.

It is an odd thing, for me, or anyone, to advocate suffering, and I’m not really doing so… What I advocate on behalf of is that we, as a community committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, accept that the suffering of my neighbour (next door or the other side of the world) is our suffering too.

I never became a great scientist, and I learn more often than I win, but the suffering we all experience is eased by the love of Christ that dwells in us and enables us to reach out and made a real difference in the lives of others.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Riches Beyond Imagination

The Collect for the 6th Sunday after Easter contains a rather curious phrase, “riches beyond imagination.” Prayer is a tremendously important part of our expression as Anglicans. Not that it isn’t equally important to other traditions. I said in last Sunday’s sermons that when Anglican’s pray, “they do theology.” We are careful when we write prayers because they become such a central expression of our theological point of view. It is why we vary rarely drop old prayers and write new one. We do, but it’s rare.

It seems to me that, “riches beyond imagination,” would so easily be misunderstood. There are, after all, Christians who believe that if they are good, and true to God’s word, they will be rewarded by God with worldly riches.

That’s not what our Collect suggests in any way. The prayer goes on, “Pour into our hearts such love toward you, that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire…” Clearly, loving God is a richness beyond all the possession we could ever desire.

Our theological point of view, expressed in this Collect, is that being loved by God, choosing to love God is a richness that satisfies. Of course, we still need food, shelter, belonging, etc., and so do our neighbours. Seeking hearts full of the love of God is not, and cannot be, an end in and of itself. Our greatest richness is in giving. Our greatest possession is that which we can freely give away. God’s love is not ours to keep but to pass on. Imagine the riches.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

In the Image of God

One of the creation stories in Genesis tells us that we were made in the image of God. Does that mean that God has arms and legs, etc.? Well, I don’t know. I couldn’t describe, as if I was telling a police sketch-artist, what I think God looks like. And I highly doubt that the writers of Genesis meant us to take them literally.

Perhaps, to clear up the confusion God sent Jesus into the world. That’s right! Jesus looks like God, or God looks like Jesus, take your pick.

Jesus acts like God and is concerned about the things that God is concerned about. The followers of Jesus saw in his words and actions throughout his life, all the way to the cross, the things that concerned God most. And they came to recognize the Risen Lord because of the things he said and did, which were familiar to them because it matched what he did before the crucifixion.

God will sit down and eat with five thousand strangers – prostitutes and Pharisees, Greeks and Jews, peasants and priests, and not care about the purity of the kitchen where the bread was baked or how clean the hands were that prepared the fish. God was willing to be reviled, persecuted, tortured, and executed, while only speaking words of forgiveness to his tormentors. God taught us that the realm of God would be brought about quietly and not with the political and military muscle of kings and generals. God revealed God’s glory by touching the unclean, feeding the hungry, healing those bound by disease, inviting the outcast, and bringing about the reconciliation of enemies.

If we are created in the image of God and if we are Christian (Christ-like), then perhaps we are to act like Jesus and be concerned about the things God is concerned about.

Monday, May 1, 2017

A Credit To You

There is not a living thing that doesn’t desire to avoid suffering. From the wisest creature (be that a human or a dolphin), to the smallest beetle, none would choose suffering. If it can be avoided, we will choose to avoid it. The universal desire to avoid suffering is, I hope, a truth we can agree on.

A second truth is all creatures suffer. Suffering is unavoidable. Oh, it can be avoided temporarily, but suffering will manifest itself in some way. Like in dodgeball, I duck the ball coming straight at me while I’m hit from the side by another.

There are at least two things for us to consider when it comes to suffering. First, the Golden Rule. Why would I choose to inflict suffering on another when I desire that they not inflict suffering on me? This awareness inevitably leads to compassion: feeling at our core the pain of another.

Secondly, what are we to do with the suffering we endure? The suffering of Jesus was extreme and perhaps it could have been made easier for him if he could see God’s purpose at work. Scripture is clear that even Jesus felt, in the midst of the pain, abandoned by God. Remembering the Passion of the Lord is only made easier (for me) when I can see it in the light of the overall purpose of God’s salvation.

Our suffering, on the other hand, hardly has the grand design to bringing forth the salvation of creation. Yet we nearly always feel that we are better because of some sort of hardship we’ve endured. I would still avoid suffering, but if it must be endured, why not make the most of it, and come out the other side: better, wiser, stronger. The wonderful thing about what Jesus does for us is that what he did is to our credit. Alleluia!