Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Passion and Everything

The word, “passion” has it’s roots in Latin and means to feel deeply, as in the gut or in the bowel (what today we might call the heart). The word “passion” could refer to either pleasure or pain.

We refer to the final week or so of the life of Jesus of Nazareth as the Passion. All those events associated with his trial, torture, crucifixion and death. Describing these events is the main purpose, or so it would seem, of the Gospels. The bulk of the Gospels is dedicated to the final week of the life of Jesus Christ.

In a sermon during the past year, as I was trying to explain one of the healing stories, I said that the Passion of Jesus Christ is not just the final week of his life. His whole ministry seems to be governed by his Passion for everything God created. I said at that time that we can draw whatever we want from the healing stories but they seem, at least on some level, to be simply motivated by his Passion for life.

Now that it is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week—and as we walk with Jesus of Nazareth through his Passion, I wonder if the idea of seeing his whole life as his Passion holds up.

Who amongst us wouldn’t, if we could be like Jesus and do as he did: speak truth to power, raise up the down trodden and heal all who are ill?

No one needs another savior. What God did in raising Jesus is accomplished—it is good for all of time. And we don’t need to martyr ourselves. What we need is to act, as best as we can, with the same passion for the created order as Jesus did.

That’s why community efforts like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is so important. It gives people (individuals, governments, corporations, faith groups, everyone) a way of making real change and provide an avenue for the expression of our collective Passion.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

That Lonesome Valley

When it comes to great old spiritual songs, sometimes the music is so good, it trumps the theology. That’s the case with one of my favourite spirituals, “That Lonesome Valley.”

I like the song so much that I never really thought about what it says about God and our relationship with God. That is until some turkey re-wrote the lyrics.

These new lyrics were so diametrically opposite to what we believe that I knew we couldn’t use it. (And I won’t bother pasting the words here.) So, this turkey (me) re-wrote the re-written words… and that is what we will sing today during communion.

Essentially, the song says that everyone has to walk that lonesome valley (that is, life) all by ourselves. At one level it is true—I can’t walk your journey and you can’t walk mine. But, if the Bible tells us nothing else, it tells us that we are never alone. God is always with us—that, what happened to Jesus means that we are never alone—that, in that ultimate trial, Jesus is our Advocate and God, our Father, is judge. The odds are stacked in our favour, so much so that we cannot lose, the battle has been won.

My re-writing doesn’t fit the cadence perfectly, but the theology is scripturally sound:

Jesus walked this lonesome valley;
He had to walk it by him-self.
Oh, nobody else could walk it for him;
He had to walk it by him-self.

And we have a lonesome valley
That we travel on our own
Oh, It's a life of joy and sorrow
That we will walk all of our days

We will each stand on trial
But we won't stand there alone
Oh, for we will have our Savior Jesus
By his wounds he did atone

Jesus walked that lonesome valley
One he walked all by himself
So that every-body walking through it
Knows that they are not alone

As we approach the end of Lent we cannot help but hear the distant strains of organs, choirs and tambourines preparing to sing, Alleluia!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Rose Sunday by any Other Name

Now-a-days, we call the Fourth Sunday of Lent, “the Fourth Sunday of Lent.” Such imagination we are blessed with. This day used to go by different names. It is still known, in some parts of our communion as Mothering Sunday. It is celebrated as such, by many Roman Catholic and Anglicans in some parts of Europe. Traditionally, it was a day when people could visit their "mother" church, but it became an opportunity to honour one’s mothers by  giving her a greeting card and presents. In the UK and Ireland, Mothering Sunday is celebrated like Mother's Day is now. My mother, who grew up in Newfoundland, would have celebrated Mothering Sunday.

This day is also known as Laetare Sunday, a term used by many Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. The word comes from the Latin laetare, "to rejoice". It is from the traditional introit Psalm sung on this day.
Both traditions, coming almost in the very middle of the austere season of Lent were a kind of respite, freeing people from the Lenten fast and rejoicing in their faith.

It was also known as Simnel Sunday (after a light fruit cake with almond paste or marzipan). And it was known as Rose Sunday because the liturgical colour (for the stoles, frontals and veils) was pink or rose in colour. These things were rose coloured to show that this Sunday was a kind of break from rigors of the Lenten season.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

World Class

With the Winter Olympics ended and the Paralympics about to get underway, I was thinking: not one athlete, no matter where they placed, was a couch-potato. Each one practiced, trained and studied to achieve the level of play that brought them to the pinnacle of their game.

World class athletes are not the only ones who train to get to the top of their profession. Nearly everyone we can think of, who’s at the top of their profession or at least a contender—trained. They trained very hard and the results are visible. They may have placed last in a speed skating heat, but they were there ahead of thousands of other athletes who didn’t make it.

Even a couch potato has to spend a lot of time on a couch, in front of a TV, to be called a couch potato. And although there maybe lots of couch potatoes, only a few have made it as world class couch potatoes. I’m only supposing, I can’t find the statistics to support my couch potato theory.

So, if we expect people to put of effort into be considered really great, why do we expect so little of ourselves on our journey of faith?

Developing a spiritual discipline is a good thing. Abiding by the Ten Commandments is a good thing. Prayer is a good thing. Loving God and one another is a good thing. Training and practice benefit the Christian on his or her journey as much as it does the Olympic athletes.

We know that, it is only by God’s grace that we are saved, and the Apostle Paul knew this when he admitted that he does the things he doesn’t want to do, and doesn’t do the things he knows he should. Paul was not talking about things like riding his camel too fast in a School Zone. He meant things like the 10 Commandments, which Paul followed and in which he believed he was blameless. He came to understand that all that really mattered was a relationship with Jesus Christ. Now let’s be clear—I’m sure Paul would advise anyone to follow the commandments (because they are good and purposeful). However, if adherence to the rules in some way inhibits love of God or one another then love ought to trump the rules.

The Olympic athlete trains his/her body so that the unusual movements of the sport become second nature. The body responds quickly and without the slowness of the brain to send instructions: what was unnatural becomes natural, or first nature.

Following the commandments, prayer and worship, are the training tools for making God’s love and forgiveness, God’s mercy and justice, our first nature. Our goal is to be world class practitioners of the faith.

Coaching helps. Many say that the success of other nation’s Olympic curlers is due in no small way to their Canadian coaches. That may be true, I don’t know. The fact that people are saying so is because we all recognize the important role of coaches and mentors in our training. That is why the community is so important to Christians—we can help develop the skills we need to be world class practitioners of the faith.