Thursday, 26 December 2013

Bigger than snow globe

My love likes her Christmas decorations.  Correction, she loves her Christmas decorations.  Every year, Christmas explodes at our place. 

We have a number of Christmas themed snow globes around our house.  Alright, more than a few (some are still in their boxes downstairs).  Some are elaborate scenes with what looks almost like snow and they have a wind-up music box.  Some are simpler, and smaller, with glittering flakes that catch the light.

My favourite is a tiny, simple scene of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, huddled together in a small glass globe not more than two inches across, while sparkly pieces of glitter float around them.  It's that "special moment" in time, perhaps what the shepherds saw, or the stable animals.   It's so simple.  And so pristine, protected by its glass shell. 

Just the way we like our Christmases.

But that's just the "Christmas" we make.  The one we prepare and package, order and organize to conveniently fit into our holiday schedule.  It's a special moment in time, sure, and it can make many memories, but when we put away the snow globes, the six trees and the three cupboards worth of decorations - or is that just at our house? - we're putting that Christmas away, too.

Christmas, real Christmas, is bigger than that.  

Argue about the origins of Christmas traditions all you like, the accuracy of the story, the arbitrary date, the pagan customs, the commercialism of today's festivities, but Christmas is bigger than all that, too.

Christmas, for me, is a reminder of a bigger story, a story of life since the beginning, a life we're living now and a life ahead.  It's about how our relationship with God, and each other, was and is, and how it can be changed for the better by love.

For as much as we mark yearly commemorations of the birth and death and resurrection of Jesus, and we mark certain days as moments in the story of his life, they're all surely less important than the life itself.  Struggling as we were, since the beginning, in our relationship with God and each other, it was that life, that daily living of love, compassion and grace, that became our example for living.  In living, Jesus showed us how we can make life better.

And how we've struggled with that since.  And often failed.  But perhaps that might partly be because we mark these "moments in time" and celebrate them without truly realizing that they are "moments for time."  The love that came down at Christmas, to paraphrase Christina Rosetti's poem, didn't stay in the stable.  That love lives, and we can give it life each day, as it gives us life, every day.

I have an "annual commemoration" of Christmas: I watch the 1951 classic film of A Christmas Carol.  In it, there's a wonderful moment when Scrooge first meets the Ghost of Christmas Present.  The Ghost, a grand, jovial sort, tells him this: "Mortal! We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year.  We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five.  So is it true of the Child born in Bethlehem.  He does not live in men's hearts one day of the year, but in all days of the year."

The Christmas story is big.  It's life, every day.

Friday, 15 November 2013

The End is Near-ish


I wanted to begin with a little joke, like "the end is near - again!"  It's that time of year,   not the calendar year (a little early for that), but the church year.  The advent season is coming soon, and that begins the church year with the anticipation of the coming of Jesus.  So, these last few weeks before that, as we come to The End, we hear scripture readings in church that remind us of, well, The End.

Luke tells the story of the disciples admiring the impressive beauty of the Temple, only to be interrupted by Jesus prophesying that it will one day be rumble (Luke 21:5-19).  Furthermore, there will be false prophets and doom and destruction and they'll be hated, attacked and persecuted and killed.

You can just imagine the disciples saying "wow, Jesus, thanks for the encouragement."

But there's more, Jesus says: "not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls" (Luke 21:19).

"Well then," the disciples might say, "that's okay then."

No, they probably wouldn't.  Not if they're anything like us.  And I think they are, that's why Jesus picked them.

We find it so easy to focus on the trials and tribulations of the getting to The End.  And why wouldn't we?  We're surrounded by them.
We don't need to imagine war or famine, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis or typhoons.  We can watch them on television, presuming that we are among the lucky ones not to be experiencing them in person.  Also thanks to television - and movies, too - we do imagine seven-headed dragons, horsemen of the apocalypse, great beasts and other computer-generated creatures.  We seem to be good at the destruction part.  Almost a little too comfortable with it, with coming to The End.

Maybe "comfortable" is the wrong word, maybe "familiar" is better.  Either way, I guess I'm wondering how we got to be so familiar with cataclysmic endings and not wondrous beginnings?  Every end is followed by a new beginning, how do we then find it so hard to imagine The Ultimate New Beginning?  We can certainly imagine The Ultimate End.

That's just it, though.  As we come closer to The End, the experience is behind us.  We know what we know.  But we don't know what we don't know because we don't know it … to paraphrase former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

This "new thing" God promises will come after The End, we don't know it like we know the other.  We have hints and we have imaginings, but we have only the language and experiences that we've had to guide us and those are simply not enough.  This is something new.  This needs - demands - hope.  Not wishful thinking, but certain hope.

Perhaps hearing about The End and then experiencing the anticipation of Advent and the new beginning of Christmas is good practice.  What will the new beginning be like?  Wait and see.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Remember, to live


In the Bible, there's a tiny little book near the end of the minor prophets section of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), only a couple of chapters.  It doesn't get dusted off very often.  It's the book of the prophet Haggai.

If you're not familiar with it, it's not surprising.  If he's lucky, Haggai gets read in church once every three years - this year on November 10.  Maybe you could do Haggai a little favour and go read his book.  The whole thing might take you four minutes.  Then someone might remember him.

It's too bad,  too, because Haggai says a couple of really smart things.  Maybe they're things we hear elsewhere, but Haggai has some context worth remembering.  He was writing about 520 BCE.  That's about sixty-six years after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, sending many of the citizens of Jerusalem off to live in Babylon (referred to as The Exile), and eighteen years after Cyrus and the Persians conquered Babylon and sent the exiles back to Jerusalem and authorized the rebuilding of the Temple.
But the rebuilding was not going well.  The remnant who had remained behind and protected the ruined Temple and the returning exiles didn't exactly see eye to eye, there was conflict with the Samaritans and there were a variety of other "interferences."  So, while homes and business got built, the Temple kind of sat and waited.

So.  Here's Haggai.  He reminds all the Hebrews that God is with them.  "My spirit abides among you; do not fear," God says through Haggai (Haggai 2:5).  And he inspires them with the hope that God has promised them a great future.  This new house may not look like much, especially compared to the old one, but it will be : "The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts."  (Haggai 2:9.)

But is Haggai really talking about the Temple or about the people?  That remnant that was left behind protected the foundation, those that returned had a vision to build anew, together with God they can make something greater.  But they had to work together.  And in that, more than a Temple is built.  

God lives in how we work together and play together and relate to each other.  In living God's love to each other, we create a future full of "prosperity," not financial wealth, but the prosperity of healthy, whole living.

It's a thought, perhaps, to hold on to around Remembrance Day.  In remembering, we do not celebrate or glorify, but honour and respect.  We re-member, or reconnect, not, perhaps, with a personal experience, but with the awareness that what was sacrificed on all sides in conflict brought us the freedom and opportunity to create new. 
"Lest we forget" isn't just a call to remember the past, but to honour it by living into the prosperity of the future as best we are able.  In Kohima, in northern India where it borders Myanmar (formerly Burma), there is a memorial to a decisive 1944 battle.  On it are these words attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds: When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For their tomorrow, We gave our today.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Reformed or Reforming?

I've been away.  That's my excuse.  Everyone needs a holiday sometime.  Except maybe Martin Luther.  He was one busy guy ...


Well, it's here.  The day that so many people look forward to, that rolls around every year on October 31.  Children love it.  There's decorations and costumes and parties.  There's fun and games.  And don't forget the chocolate.

That's right, it's Reformation Day.  Woohoo!

I'm sorry, is there something else on October 31?

While The Reformation, the historical period which gave us Protestantism, had shown signs of its coming earlier, it's generally considered to begin with Martin Luther on October 31, 1517.  That's the day Luther nailed 95 Theses, his
propositions that challenged the Roman Catholic church and its doctrines, to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany.

Wycliffe, Hus and others had tried to bring reform to the church before Luther, but it wasn't until Luther - and Zwingli, Calvin, Knox and others after him - that it really got traction.  There were certainly many issues that sparked the fire.  Luther, for instance, famously challenged the selling of indulgences (people could pay money - lots of it - in lieu of doing temporal penance for sin), but reformers had three "great" principles on which their theology rested.

First of all, scripture (the Bible) was the sole authority on matters of faith, life and conduct.  Teachings and traditions of the church were secondary to the truth of the Bible.

Second, we are justified (meaning to be made "right") before God by faith alone, understanding this to be in the context of God's gift of grace.  As Paul writes: "saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8.9).  Works are important in this life, but it is faith, through grace, that brings us to God.

Third, the belief in "the priesthood of all believers."  We are all ministers and need no one but Jesus to bring us to God.  We have leaders, but the power of the priesthood should be nothing more than that.

As a result, reformers rejected the authority of the Pope and a host of other church teachings.  Of course, they couldn't seem to agree on much more after that and Protestantism fractured into a variety of individual denominations.

And then there's what was happening in England at the time with Henry VIII that resulted in the Church of England and anglicans around the world.  But that's another story.

In fact, there's way much more to this Reformation story, of course, like the reform movement's revolutionary use of media.  The new printing press made the mass production of leaflets possible.  Or the religious wars (shouldn't that be some kind of oxymoron?) that followed, like The Thirty Years War.  It's fascinating stuff and there are many very thick books that record the history of the period.

But that's what bothers me.  Most authorities suggest The Reformation ended about 1750.  It's a historic period consigned to the distant past.  We can say that the period of The Reformation was 1517-1750.  Period.  What have we been doing since, then?

Regardless of which denomination of christianity you are part of, regardless of which faith you follow, even of no faith at all, doesn't it strike you that asking questions and challenging things we believe to be fundamentally wrong - literally "protesting" - and consciously trying to reform our thinking with the world around us, these things are always necessary?  Shouldn't we always be "reforming" our faith as we reform our lives?

Jesus does not call us to follow with blind faith, but with eyes open, hands out, minds and hearts working together.  Jesus' example is one of challenging systems and structures that hurt people and impair relationships.  It's one of justice, sincerity and respect.  Through these things, Jesus' example shows us that, before God, unity and conformity are not the same thing.  Regardless of the labels we use, that's an example I get behind.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

So, where's God?


It used to be so much simpler, didn't it?  Life.

And by "used to be," I mean those biblical days when the world was flat, you could fall off the edge of it and the sky was a big dome, above which God lived.  The rules were simple, if many, very black and white (or carved in stone, I guess, would be a better expression) and ruthlessly enforced.

C'mon, I said "simpler," not "better."

But we wondered.  And we figured out the sun was more than a light in the dome God switched on and off, and stars were other suns and the earth turned and moved around the sun and there were other planets and, oh, by the way, the earth was round.  And we figured out how to measure things beyond what we could see and we began to wonder about the universe and how vast it was.

Here's a really cool thing.  A couple of weeks ago, NASA announced that, sometime last year, the Voyager 1 probe became the first human made creation to leave our solar system.  Kind of.  They think.  That far out, it's harder to figure where the edge of the solar system is exactly, but they're pretty sure that Voyager 1 has passed into interstellar space, the space between stars.  That's 11 and a half billion miles from our sun, give or take a mile.

Also last year, scientists managed to take a picture, using visible light, of the smallest thing ever: the shadow of a single atom.
What a great year for science.  We demonstrated how vast and how tiny the universe can be.  All in the same year.

So, where's God?

Like I said, it used to be so simple: God was "up there," just on the other side of the dome, watching over us.  Heaven was above, hell below, and everything had its place.

Then, as we got smarter and the world became more complex, it seemed like God was just getting further and further away, both metaphorically and experientially. 

But, God says, here I am, one of you.  And Jesus teaches us how to find God in each other, in creation and in the relationships that connect us, living in the great web of life.

God is both big enough to fill the universe and yet small enough to fill our hearts.  God's love is great enough to be for all and yet it is best expressed in how we share it with each other.

We may seem to be insignificant in relation to the size of the universe and yet we are each significant to God. 

And Google, apparently.  A friend of mine who uses the Night Sky app on her phone, posted this on Facebook the other night: "I opened my Night Sky app tonight and I got this message: 'Night Sky is calibrating the Universe to your location.'  Guess I'm not so insignificant after all!!"

That's the paradox isn't it?  While we are perhaps like the shadow of a single atom in comparison to the universe, we are nonetheless one of those very atoms that connect together to create it.  Thank you, God.


Friday, 13 September 2013

GOD is with us, we are not alone


It doesn't seem like more than a few weeks ago that we were reading Luke's account of Jesus calling the first disciples.  They were fishermen who left behind their families, their boats and their lives on the sea to follow Jesus and navigate the more unpredictable waters of sharing Jesus with people.

Jesus mit den J√ľngern im Sturm - Waldemar Flaig (1932)
And here we are this week with the story of the disciples crossing that same sea when a storm comes up.  They have to wake Jesus, who's asleep in the back, because they are afraid.  Jesus calms the storm and asks them if they have no faith.  Their response is to be amazed and wonder “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”  (Luke 8:25)

So who then, I wonder, are these "disciples?"  They're experienced fishermen (who, by the way, weren't catching anything the day Jesus first met them - he sent them back out to "the deep water" for fish in Luke 5).  Really?  And they're that afraid of the storm?  They're "disciples" of Jesus who call on him to save them, but are then so amazed that he does that they wonder, "who is this?"  They've been following him for three chapters and he's done some pretty amazing stuff already.

Doesn't seem like Jesus picked well, does it?

But he picked very well, indeed.  He picked ordinary, imperfect, everyday people like you and me.  

We, along with the disciples, will see Jesus do some amazing, wondrous things.  We, along with the disciples will continue to learn about love and compassion and grace.  We, along with the disciples, will share that with others in how will live.

We, along with the disciples, might come to recognize the point of Jesus' question in the storm.  Even in the moments when it seems we are most afraid, we are not alone: God is with us always. 

I think Jesus calmed the storm not as a display of his miraculous power, but out of frustration that the disciples didn't believe that God would see them through this.  It isn't the stormy weather that needs to be calmed, but their fear.  Surely, we might think, experienced fishermen would remain calm and do what they knew could be done to pass through the storm.  But their fear was too great.

Our's is too, sometimes, and we call out to God, just as the disciples woke Jesus.  

God's peace is not the absence of conflict or storm, but faith that God is with us at all times, in all places.  That faith calms our fears, inspires our hearts and minds, and strengthens our hands.

Jesus will always be reminding us - and the disciples - of this.  Even as he left them for the last time.  "Remember," Jesus says, "I am with you always to the end of an age" (Matthew 28:20).

Friday, 6 September 2013

Striving still


Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!  And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.  For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."  (Luke 12:22-31)


It would be easy to reduce this to "don't worry, be happy."  Or even "don't worry, be happy, God will provide."  And then just sit back and wait for it, whatever "it" is, to be provided.

If only we were ravens or lilies, right?

That would be great, but even so, Jesus isn't using them as an example of "if you only believe, that's enough."  The point of the raven and the lilly is that they already live in relationship with the world around them, so that they are fed and clothed.  Each has a place in the web of creation, each relates to earth and sky and air such that they are fed and watered, each gives and receives in its own way, as needed.  That's the greatest beauty of creation, that it works in relationship within itself. 

At least, all of creation but us.  And that's Jesus point.  To strive for God's kingdom is to live in relationship with all things - all things - as God intended.

No, this is not one of those environmentalist rants.  But it could be.  And it should be.  Because that's an important piece of the kingdom.  How we love the earth and all its creatures should equal how we love each other and how we love God.   That means respect, care, compassion, justice and grace.

Being good stewards of the earth is about care and love, not authority.  Even if you want to "have dominion," thanks to Genesis, that's really about good governance, I think.  And good governance shouldn't be about power over things, it should be about power with things for everyone's mutual benefit.  Tell your MP that.

And yes, I drive a car, I heat the house and power my computer.  I recycle, but probably not as much as I could.  Call me a hypocrite if you want, but I'm not suggesting perfection is happening anytime soon for anyone, I'm just saying we should try to make an effort.
But that's still just a part of what Jesus is saying.  After all, "life is more than food, and the body more than clothing"  (Luke 12:23).  

Jesus calls us to be right in spirit, in heart and mind.  That might seem more of a challenge than being right with creation - it is - because it requires us to look at our relationship with ourselves.  But with that, we can then truly love our neighbour as ourselves.  With that, we shall not want (to paraphrase a psalm).  With that, all "these things will be given to you as well."

Friday, 30 August 2013

Dive in, the water's fine

Each fall in our church we've started using the Season of Creation Lectionary which gives us five Sundays with themes about our relationship with the world around us.  It was started in Australia, which explains why we are engaging creation at the harvest end of our summer - it's coming into spring down there.  But that's not a bad thing.  We're surrounded by the beauty of creation in it's abundance, rather than the expectation of it.

So this week, as we enter September and some return to school, some to work and some just to the routine of the fall season, we are diving into the Ocean.  The gospel story is Luke's account of the calling of the first disciples, fishermen that Jesus meets by the Sea of Galilee.  "'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.'  When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him" (Luke 5:10-11).

Except they didn't leave "everything."  That's why the story is so deep in meaning (pun intended).  They were still fishermen, casting their nets out into the deep sea.  That skill they bring with them.  What they leave behind is the physical "stuff," their boats and nets.  And families, too.  It's just that now they're fishing in a sea of life, not water.

Okay, that's a huge change, but the metaphor is still beautifully simple and appropriate.  It should also call us to wonder , though, at the risk that is always present in following Jesus.  Not what we might be leaving behind, but what we might be sailing into.  Just as he did the disciples, Jesus calls us to dive deep into a sea that's unfamiliar to us.

But it's a sea that's full of great mysteries and wonders.  That's why it's such a great story to begin a period of reflection about our relationship with the world around us.  Dive in, Jesus says, the water's fine.

And it is.  And abundantly blessed by Jesus.  When he first comes to the seashore in Luke's story, the fishermen had been having a bad day.  They'd caught nothing.  Jesus, after preaching from one of the boats, tells them to "put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4).  They do, and suddenly there are so many fish they need help to bring them in.

If we are willing to go into the deep water with Jesus, we, too, will find an abundance where we previously found little.  That's the risk - and promise - to which Jesus calls us.

What a great time of year to reflect on that.  For some, we go back to familiar things and familiar places.  Yet, we still go forward to new experiences.  For others, new places and new experiences might mean the only truly familiar thing is ourselves.  In every case, Jesus calls us to go deep, to experience the richness of life - challenge and opportunity, mystery and wonder - trusting that God goes there with us.
So take a deep breath and dive in.  Go deep.  Jesus is with you.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A head in the clouds



We've been doing some little renovations and updating of our church this summer.  Mostly volunteers from the congregation have been renovating and expanding our kitchen and painting.  It's just a few things that need doing after twenty-something years.

I was talking to somebody about that today, reminding them - and me - that when this "new" church building was built, it was built by members of the congregation themselves.  In fact there's a great album of pictures chronicling the build.  "Really?," they said, they had no idea there was an album.

Well, there's more than that album.  Thanks to some conscientious "historians," there's a few albums with pictures and old bulletins and newsletters, clippings from the papers, great mementoes of what's happened, when and who was involved.  They help tell part of the story of faith in this community.

I think that's a little of what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews was doing in the passage we're hearing this week (Hebrews 11:29-12:2).  It's a collection of some figures and events, historical moments of faith to remind us of what it means to be faithful.  

And it's not just happy memories, of course.  Inspiration can come from moments of hardship and suffering, too.  Some "suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented" (Hebrews 11:36-37).

I don't suppose any of our albums have pictures like that, thank goodness.

But it reminds me to pause for a moment and consider what examples of faith might inspire us today, ones that might be right in front of us.

What about all those "saints," for example that built our church, both really and metaphorically?  Like the examples in Hebrews, many struggled as much as celebrated.  Some are no longer with us.   

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes that "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).  How ironic that we think of having a "head in the clouds" as being someone who isn't really aware of their surroundings, someone who's off in a fantasy world of their own.  I'd challenge you to put your head in this cloud for a few minutes and think about who might be an example of faith for you, an example worth following.

Now, hang on a minute, it's not as easy as it sounds.  It requires some discernment.  First, discerning what is truly an example of faith and second, how it might apply in your own life.  After all, everyone's journey is uniquely their own.

So look both ways as you step out in this cloud: look back - and around you! - and see the examples of faith that are there; and look forward, on to your own journey.  

Thursday, 8 August 2013

What have you done for God lately?


It's been a long time since we offered "burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts" (Isaiah 1:11) as part of worship.  We had a barbecue the other week, but that was after church and it was burgers and they weren't really burnt.  Mostly.  So I don't think that counts.

Still, there's the offering of hymns and prayers and the offering of liturgy and ritual and the offering of money and talent, all to the glory of God and for God's work.  Right?

Yes - he said emphatically - yes.  As long as that's not where it stays, in church, in worship.  

The book of the ancient prophet Isaiah begins with a vision that goes something like this: God says that things just aren't right, Israel.  "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isaiah 1:5).  Sure, you worship me regularly, bring offerings and have these celebrations in my name, but what does it really mean to you?  It just seems like a big show you put on and then go away and go back to behaving badly.  I'm so tired of it.

Who isn't?  More than 700 years later, Jesus reminds people that they should not even come to make an offering if things aren't made right with others first (Matthew 5:24).  And he tells stories about those who pray and act for show, but don't live out what those actions truly mean (Luke 18:10-14).

2000 years after that, many people are still wondering the same thing.  When what we say and do in church isn't reflected in our lives, then we're no further ahead than the folks God had Isaiah or Jesus call out.

But there's the problem.  Sometimes it's not about what's "right," it's about perception and judgement.  We're often so much better at telling others what they're doing wrong or seeing the hypocrisy in their behaviour rather than our own.

So here's two thoughts on that.  First, the important part about being "no further ahead than the folks God had Isaiah or Jesus call out" is that it's God that's calling us on it.  Are we prepared to listen for God and offer to God in every moment of our lives, however it is that we know God or by whatever name we know God?  Because if we think that we can offer God a little something special for an hour on Sunday and think that'll hold God until next time, well, we might want to read Isaiah.  Again.   God is honoured by symbolic offerings only when they're symbolic of the depth of our sincerity in how we live.  And the point of Jesus isn't about how we live in worship, it's how worship lives in our daily lives.  "Worship and work must be one," hymn writer Fred Kaan declares in his classic "Worship the Lord." 

Second, I think it's pretty easy, as I said before, to judge others, especially when we don't really know what their life experience is or what they believe.  So don't judge, for starters.  And then, maybe talk to them and find out or, if you're someone who doesn't go to church, why not go once and find out.  Or if you have a problem with "that" church because of past experience or what you think you know, why not go to "that" church and find out where they're at now.  Might not change your mind, but at least you'll know for sure.

I think that worship should be engaging, meaningful and sincere.  And I think it should also teach and inspire.  It should be an opportunity for us, as a community, to celebrate and to lament and to praise and to pray.  And most importantly, it should be something we carry into worship in our hearts and out into our lives.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

More than words


Do you know the Lord's Prayer?

I remember when I was little, the very first thing I learned about church was that everyone could say the Lord's Prayer from memory.  There was something pretty powerful about
that, a whole church full of people kneeling, bowing their heads and reciting the words together, "Our Father, who art in heaven …"

I'm sure every faith tradition has its unifying action, prayer or song or ritual, and for me The Lord's Prayer was exactly that.  The notion that people all around the world were reciting the same words, maybe in different languages, maybe different phrasing, maybe different intonation, some reserved and thoughtfully, some exuberantly, some spoken, some sung, but all the same words: there's a pretty powerful sense of unity there.

I guess.

There's a certain power in the action of recitation, I suppose, but prayer isn't just about recitation.  Reciting the prayer and knowing the prayer are two different things.

We were watching the movie "42" the other night, about legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson becoming the first black man to play professional baseball in the, then, all-white major leagues.  There's a scene at the opening of his first game in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform.  As a man sings the American national anthem, the camera pans across the stadium, moving down the line of all-white-but-one players just in time for the words "the land of the free and the home of the brave."  "The land of the free."  Fine words to sing, but the meaning needed some work.  Still does, and we might remember that, too, that our national anthem asks God to "keep our land, glorious and free" - for everyone.

So do you know the Lord's Prayer?  It speaks with the intimacy of a parent-child relationship, inviting God's kingdom on earth.  It asks for nourishment.  It asks that we be forgiven, as we would forgive others.  I'll just say that one again: as we would forgive others.  It asks for protection from temptation and evil.

It asks God for some pretty big things.  Well, actually it seems to demand some pretty big things.  Someone I know likes to sneak a "please" in there every so often, just because it seems like we're being pretty demanding.  After all, it asks for a lot, but offers …what?
It's a beautiful prayer, but unless it's based on a relationship that is true, the demands are simply that, demands.  To call God father - or mother - requires a commitment to that relationship being true.  To "hallow" God's name requires a willingness to embrace the holiness of God.  To ask for our daily bread requires we be responsible for the life that nourishment feeds.  To ask for forgiveness as we forgive others requires we actually do that - forgive others - and a desire to be forgiven ourselves.  To ask for protection and deliverance requires hope in the future.

To know these words in prayer is to know God in your life and to know more than words.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

In Fellowship


Warning:  Lord of the Rings reference ahead.

A long time ago (way too long ago), I wrote a short script for a skit telling the story of Jesus sending out "the seventy" (Luke 10:1-20).  Jesus sends seventy disciples out ahead of him to spread the Good News and lay the ground work for his own travels.  He sends them in pairs, telling them not to take anything with them and warning them that it's going to be a tough job, first, because there's so few of them and, second, because people aren't always going to be welcoming to them.

In my version, Jesus, clipboard in hand, is pairing people up and assigning them places to go.  Some people aren't happy with their destinations, but even fewer are happy when they find out that they can't take anything with them.  Even less are thrilled with Jesus' warning about what might happen.  "I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves," he tells them (Luke 10:3).

Let's review: tough job to do, no supplies for the job, not enough people for the job.  Anyone want the job?  Well, no, as it turns out.  In my version people are reluctant, to say the least.  Until one little boy says "okay, I'll go, who wants to come with me?"  "Jesus loves me and I want to share that with others," he says, "no matter what."  It was a cute moment, very Fellowship of the Ring-ish.  You know, when they have the council to decide that the ring has to go to Mordor to be destroyed, so they argue and in the middle of all that, up steps the little hobbit Frodo who says "I will take it.  I will take the ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way."


I wonder now if I missed the point, though.

Like so many of the observers in the stories we tell about Jesus, I was happy to focus on the power of Jesus, the miracles, the healings, the "authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19).  But there's two features here that are just as important, if not more so.

First, Jesus sends them in pairs.   Everyone has a companion, someone has their back, there's someone to lean on, talk things through with, share the load. There's a team.  No one is by themselves.  Second, Jesus calls on them to rely, not just on each other, but on the hospitality of those who hear the message they bring.  So the relationships they build are key to the task Jesus gives them.  
Are we, in our churches, doing that today?  I wonder if we're empowering people to share their faith in a way that builds relationship.  Or are we providing an oasis away from life, a way to "get away" rather than engage.  I think we need both, in balance, but we need the team to not be exclusive, we need the team to be always welcoming new team mates.

After all, Frodo carried it, but he needed the Fellowship, even at the end.  Wait … does that mean this is Mordor?