Thursday 30 December 2021

The Light Shines

There's an old celtic story I like that begins with two brothers who don't get along. They competed with each other most of their lives and when their father died, they fought over who should inherit the family farm. Their bitterness and ill will was fracturing the community in which they lived.

Tired of trying to mend their relationship, the local priest finally said to them both, "look, I'll make you a bet. You each take one half of your father's land and work it, harvesting all that you can. We will divide the big barn into three parts. Whoever fills the barn the most, by sunset on the last day of the season, will win. If one of you wins, then you claim the farm and the other moves to another county. If I win, the two of you will embrace each other, work the farm together and live as brothers should."

"But you have only the land around the church," said one brother. "That's hardly good to grow anything," said the other, "what will you grow?"

"That's not your concern," said the priest. "Do we have a bet?"

The brothers knew the priest could not win, so they leapt at the chance to claim the farm once and for all. They agreed.

All summer they worked, tilling and planting, nurturing their crops. And the priest seemed to do nothing.

As the crops ripened, they harvested all they could, working hard from dawn to dusk, one eye on their work, the other on their competition. Still, the priest did nothing.

The barn became increasingly full and the two brothers seemed so close, one could hardly tell who might win. But the priest's part of the barn remained empty.

On the very last day, as the sun set, the brothers bundled in the last of their crops. The priest was nowhere to be seen. The brothers laughed and waited impatiently to measure their harvests, confident that each was the winner.

But just as the last bright rays of the sun shone on the barn door, the priest appeared. He walked straight into the barn, took a lantern from his pack and lit it. The light from the lamp filled the barn, illuminating even the darkest corners.

The brothers realized the priest had won. Looking at their great harvest by the light of the priest's lamp, they also realized the foolishness of their quarrel. Inspired by the light, their love for one another became a bright light in their community.

I know what you're thinking: boy, those clergy are smart! No? Oh, well, then maybe you're thinking that it was just a trick on the priest's part and you can't believe that the two men fell for it or gave in quite so easily.

But that's the thing about light. We take it so for granted. We can easily forget its power to illuminate truth and wisdom as well as "stuff."

The Gospel of John doesn't have a narrative birth story for Jesus. Instead, John talks about "the Word" become flesh and how "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (John 1:9). Jesus, John says, is the light which shows us how to live. Jesus, John says, makes God "known" to us.

The candles we light at Christmas shine on more than a child in a manger. They symbolize the light that comes into the world through the life of Jesus. They symbolize the light that, like the priest's lantern, shows more than "stuff."

This is the light of love, grace, compassion and justice. It doesn't tell us where or how to step, but offers us illumination as we journey.

Thursday 23 December 2021

A Christmas Wish

I wish for peace this Christmas.

My wish is not so grand as to ask that the world will see less conflict, an end to war and violence and a more cooperative approach to all relationships. I would like that and it’s truly important. I forever hope that we will continue to struggle towards that peace. And I mean the hope of faith and certainty that we will get there. One day.

But this Christmas, I wish for something simpler, something more personal: peace for you.

I wish for peace that is a quieted spirit in a frenetic world.

I wish for peace that is rest from anxiety.

I wish for peace that is the warming of cold hearts.

I wish for peace that is the healing of broken hearts.

I wish for peace that is a moment of comfort in grief.

I wish for peace that is forgiveness.

I wish for peace that is a healthy mind and body.

I wish for peace that is having enough.

I wish for peace that is contentment with being just who we are.

I wish for peace that is found in belonging.

I wish for peace that is time with those we love.

I wish for peace that is found in dreams and in remembering.

I wish for peace that is found in visions and learning.

I wish for peace that is a warm bed.

I wish for peace that is a sky full of stars.

I wish for peace that is fresh air and clean water.

I wish for peace that is wholeness.

I wish for peace that is knowing we are all loved.

I wish you peace this Christmas.

Thursday 16 December 2021

Imagine that

Last week, I wrote about the song “Mary did you know.” I mentioned the controversy around it (yes, Mary did know, why are you asking?) but went in the direction of how valuable it is to ask questions and wonder about the characters in the Christmas Story. How else can we engage them, get to know them, relate to them. Imagine the story coming alive. Imagine the different perspectives in the story from all those characters. Imagine what that might say to us today. Imagine the timeless story finding its way into today’s world.

Wonder. Imagine.

I also suggested that the angel’s visit to Mary provided only the big picture, not the details of getting there, first to the birth and then the life which will be lived. In talking about that, I referred to the expectations of the people for what kind of messiah would be coming. It’s something we’re often reminded of, particularly at Christmas, but also later, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem that last week of his life. I wrote “remember, just like so many of the other characters in the story, Mary’s understanding of the messiah they were expecting was likely a warrior-king with wealth and armies that would overthrow the oppressor and restore the glory of Israel. Truly, that would be somebody that would be worthy of ‘the throne of his ancestor David.’”

Someone called me on my minister-splaining and suggested that it’s possible Mary didn’t think that at all. What if the reason Mary was chosen, the reason she was “favoured” by God, was because she believed that the messiah could be something different? What if Mary knew the messiah could be a bringer of peace, not war, a healer, a builder, a lover? What if Mary could already imagine something different? What if there were others who wondered that, too? “You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one,” sings John Lennon in Imagine.

What if that’s how the adult Jesus connected so closely with the twelve seemingly random people he chose as his inner circle of friends? What if that’s how Jesus connected with all his followers: that they, too, dreamed of love and peace and grace, that they, too, intuitively knew we are all both human and divine?

That’s a lot of questions, but that’s just my point: I want to know more. I want the characters in the story to be more than flat, one-dimensional set pieces that justify a particular religious thought or tradition. I want them to be people that I can relate to, complicated and simple, fearful and strong, faithful and tempted, loving and challenged by love, divine and human.

Mary may have been “meek and mild,” she may also have been tough and strong. Perhaps she was innocent and naive or she may have been an old soul, aware of the wonders of the universe. She may have been so much more than the bare words of old gospel writers. I wonder if she could tell us more about that. 

Thursday 9 December 2021

Is it any wonder?

“Mary did you know” has become a popular Christmas song recently. I like it. I like the idea of being able to interact with a character in the Christmas story, asking questions and wondering what they might be thinking or feeling. For me, wonder is a key component of Advent and Christmas, both the wonder of amazement and the wonder of understanding.

If you, somehow, haven’t heard it, “Mary did you know” is a series of questions, asking Mary, as a new mother, if she knew what her son would do and be when he grows up. There’s mention, in the questions, of some of the miracles from the gospel stories and scriptural references that describe the son of God, but wondering about the answers is left to us.

There’s some controversy about it, though. Some folks don’t like the idea of questioning Mary or her awareness of what was happening. Some just think the song, at best, is redundant. Because the answer is “yes.” Yes, she did know. Read the story. It’s pretty clear. The angel tells her the child will be the son of God and “he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

Okay, but there’s not a lot of detail there. Certainly Mary accepts the angel’s words (“let it be with me according to your word”) and seems secure in her understanding of the big picture, secure enough to inspire the words “surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:38, 48-49) But I wonder what Mary was feeling about the first steps on this journey and I wonder if she expected that grand description to turn out, in detail, the way it did for her and for her son.

I’m not questioning the presence of the divine in the story, nor am I suggesting that Mary felt anything less than fully trusting in God. But I also think that here is a moment to wonder about the very human characters experiencing this wonder, to come closer to them and their story, a story of meeting God and sharing love in a way that could not have been expected. I want to be part of that story.

The angel didn’t say anything at all about the hardships that were ahead even before the child was born, nothing about shepherds or magi or Herod or how Mary and Joseph, a poor young couple, would provide for the Son of God. And remember, just like so many of the other characters in the story, Mary’s understanding of the messiah they were expecting was likely a warrior-king with wealth and armies that would overthrow the oppressor and restore the glory of Israel. Truly, that would be somebody that would be worthy of “the throne of his ancestor David.” How could that be her son?

Jesus was something different. I’d like to wonder about what Mary thought of that. I’d like to wonder if she had expectations for the future like anyone else or simply the hope - the certainty of hope - that, whatever happens, God is with us and that is enough. Perhaps it was both. I wonder if she could tell us more about that. 

Thursday 2 December 2021

More than meets the eye

Christmas is coming. And through this season of Advent that prepares us for it, we hear many voices that are part of the Christmas story: of angels and prophets, of key characters, and of minor characters, too.

And then there’s John the Baptist.

John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, is a cousin of Jesus, born only a few months before him. In fact, his birth story in Luke 1 is parallel, but opposite that of Jesus. John’s parents are elderly and unable to have children, but the angel Gabriel appears to his father and tells him that they will have a son who will be the one to prepare people for Jesus. When John is born, Zechariah sings a great song of blessing about his child: “you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:76).

But - and it’s a big but - this isn’t the only part of the story we hear. We also meet the very adult John, who comes out of the wilderness to call people to repent and be ready, to “prepare the way of the Lord,” because the very adult Jesus is about to appear. Sure, he baptizes, but he’s an announcer, an advance man for Jesus.

Okay, you might think, Jesus is about to appear, it’s Christmas. But with all the prophets predicting the messiah and all the angels telling people what’s happening and all the characters in the story, do we really need this cousin from the wilderness, right now, too? Luke says that he’s lived in the wilderness all his life, doesn’t cut his hair, and doesn’t drink. Mark and Matthew both say he wore camel hair clothing and ate locusts and honey. a real rustic cousin who also seems to be plain speaking and truth telling.

Colourful and charismatic, sure, but why do we need this voice calling to us now? Because the prophets and angels and magi are all part of the story we celebrate as an anniversary at Christmas. John calls us to remember that Jesus didn’t just come in the past. Jesus said he would return and, while that might be at sometime in the future in the style of the book of Revelation, it might also be even now. John reminds us to be ready to meet Jesus at anytime, anywhere, in anyone. He reminds us that we prepare not just for a specific event or a specific Jesus, but for the coming of the love, hope and grace embodied by Jesus. What John really calls us to is an open heart and an open mind, a willingness to be able to see the love that is all around us here and now, in each person, each life, each creation.

One of the things I appreciate most about hearing John in the midst of the Christmas story is the contrast between him and the other main “announcers” in the story, the angels. There’s no description of Gabriel or “the angel of Lord” who appears to the shepherds or “the heavenly host” that join them, but think about how we envision them. Light - “the glory of the Lord” - is the only clue in the story, but we imagine them beautiful with long white robes, wings, halos, and they fly in the sky, of course. John comes out of the wilderness, dirty and unkept, wild, raw and rough. Yet each has a message to share.

In preparing for Christmas, in preparing to meet Jesus, it’s not the trappings, the dressing up or the decoration that’s important. It’s the love. It’s the hope. It’s the grace and the peace. It’s God.

Thursday 25 November 2021

These Days

And just like that, it’s Advent again.

On the church calendar, Advent’s the four Sundays before Christmas, the countdown to the big day. No, wait, that’s wrong: it’s the count up to the big day.

That’s the great thing about Advent. Whether you begin on the first Sunday and go by the Sundays, like the candles on an Advent wreath, or have an Advent calendar that begins with the first day of December, Christmas is the culmination of days of preparation and anticipation.

Advent’s the beginning of the church year for many christians. It doesn’t match our calendar year because it’s not chronological. The church year doesn’t mark the passing of time, but rather the telling of a story, the meaning of which is, in many ways, timeless. That means we can start the year with these weeks of looking forward, a time of getting ready for the story of Jesus to begin.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we’re going to reach way back to do that, back to the prophet Jeremiah. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David.” The days are coming - the word advent comes from the Latin word for “coming” - when a new branch will appear on David’s family tree, a branch that will be right and good.

Jeremiah offered hope that righteous descendant of David was coming. With Jesus, many believed that hope was fulfilled. But hope doesn’t just end. Hope lives because hope is life. Hope isn’t casual, wishful thinking, but the certainty that we are not alone, that we are part of this great oneness of spirit which is in creation, that we are connected to each other by it and enlivened by it. It is much greater than just one moment.

As is Jesus. Jesus promised to return and his early followers believed that to mean the imminent return of this divine person they had just meant. When they didn’t happen, it became more like Jeremiah’s words: that day will come, one day. But they missed the possibility that Jesus - that spirit both divine and human - was alive in all of us, always. Jesus is always here, appearing in moments we least expect it. The days that are coming are everyday.

Jesus told them to watch for signs, many of which were about the destruction of this world. The “end times” were necessary for the new to arrive. But he also offered an image fitting a branch of David’s family tree. He said, look at trees: when they have buds on them, and leaves, you know that spring is here and summer is coming. It’s a sign.

Right now, we see only barren trees, cold temperatures, snow on the ground and shorter days. It may feel like winter in other ways, too. But there will be a time when those trees will have leaves again and grow bigger and stronger. Right now, they’re waiting, getting ready to return, but the days are surely coming.

Thursday 18 November 2021

What Kingdom Will Come?

For many churches, the year begins with the First Sunday in Advent, the season that prepares for Christmas. That's usually at the very end of November or the beginning of December, so about a month, give or take, before the beginning of the calendar year. The last Sunday of the old year - New Year's Eve, if you like - is known in many churches as Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday.

It may seem like that’s an image from antiquity - because it is - but the Sunday celebration was only established in 1925. The Pope at the time, Pius XI, was concerned about the post-war world that had achieved a military peace, but not a real one. He saw the rise of secular nationalism and groups like the nazi party and wanted to encourage something very different: the idea that true peace will come when Jesus rules in our hearts and lives. That’s a pretty solid idea, if you ask me, as long as people understand that the point of Jesus was to show us what we’re capable of when it comes to living lives of love, grace, compassion, caring, understanding, patience - the list goes on. The life of Jesus is our example, whatever language we us, religious, royal or otherwise.

For many, the language of religion is already going to require explanation. And now we’ve added the challenge of understanding the language of kingship in a meaningful way. In a modern era where hierarchy, structure and power are challenging issues, wouldn’t it be easier to find a simpler metaphor and more readily understood language, straight forward and to the point? Maybe. Or maybe struggling with this image could help us better understand our relationship with Jesus. Wherever we get our understanding of kingship, from history, culture or Disney, Jesus is going to challenge it, now as then, because Jesus challenges power over others, Jesus challenges unequitable and unjust structures. From the beginning, Jesus challenged our understanding.

Having a pretty clear idea of what kind of king they wanted didn't help the first century Hebrews understand Jesus. He didn't give them that kind of king. They wanted a warrior, he gave them peace. They wanted someone who would hate the enemy, he told them to love everyone. They wanted someone to restore their glory and riches, he told them to give it all up. They wanted someone who was powerful, as they understood power, and he gave them vulnerability. They wanted someone to serve, he was their servant. They wanted someone who would take back what was theirs, he gave them someone who sacrificed for all.

In his last hours, Jesus was arrested and brought to Pilate, a governor appointed by the Roman empire, a man with power and armies, a man who lived in a very structured society that believed their emperor was a God, a man who’s job was literally to keep the peace by force. When Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, I imagine Jesus replying first with “what do you mean by that? Your kind of king or mine?” Because the kingdom of Jesus isn’t this.

Jesus’ kingdom is a place of true peace, with justice and equity for all, ruled, not by a person, but a spirit of love, grace and compassion. That list I mentioned earlier that’s the life of Jesus, that’s how we build it. It’s not about control or force or strength of arms, it’s not about dominance. Whatever language we use, it’s still just about being Jesus, together.

Thursday 11 November 2021

Is it Jesus?

It’s a classic question. Someone walks into your church on a Sunday morning, heads straight up the centre aisle to the pulpit and says “I’m Jesus, I have returned.” How do you know if it’s Jesus or not?

I don’t have an exact answer for that, but, given the number of times Jesus says he’ll return and also warns his followers to watch out for fakes (Mark 13:6, for example), I think it’s worth thinking about. And, besides, while we’re waiting, it could sure help with trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus. So, if you’re wondering if it’s Jesus, here’s a few things to think about, in no particular order.

1. I’m not sure that Jesus would appear in my church on a Sunday morning. Not because there aren’t wonderful, kind and loving followers of Jesus in the pews there, intentional and flawed human beings, but rather because there is. Jesus will always be found first with those most in need, the hurting, the poor, the sick and the lonely.

2. I wonder how Jesus will handle “the church.” Jesus constantly questioned institutions and structures. That’s not to say that Jesus would avoid churches, I just think Jesus is about people first.

3. If the Jesus you meet has an answer for every question you have and tells you what you should think, I think that I’d think twice about that Jesus. That’s a lot of thinking, but I think Jesus wants to guide us on our journey in life, not tell us how to walk and where to walk. Jesus wants us to think. And feel. We find our way with Jesus by our side.

4. Speaking of life, we talk about “the end times” a lot. Revelation is a hot book. But anyone who tells you that they need to bring about the end times now, in any way that causes hurt, pain or damage to others or any part of creation, is not Jesus. The end will come when it comes, we need to watch for it, not accelerate it. And remember, most importantly, the point of those stories is hope: the end of this world is the birth of a new one.

5. The good news of Jesus belongs to no particular nation, culture, tradition, society or people named Jesus. It’s about life, love and grace for all. All (underline that three times).

6. I don’t think Jesus demands blind obedience, but a thoughtful, heartfelt partnership. “Blind faith” ought to be an oxymoron. True faith demands our thoughtful minds, caring hearts and eager hands.

7. Jesus is about building community, with respect, justice and equity for all, whoever and however we are. I don’t think Jesus is interested in sameness or uniformity, but rather a unity or oneness that comes from recognizing the uniqueness of each of us, what we bring to others and how we come together.

8. That means relationships are important. I don’t think Jesus would isolate or set apart anyone. I think Jesus wants to engage the world, seeking ways to include everyone.

9. I don’t think Jesus would ever - ever, ever - use fear. One of the most important things said by the Jesus we know was “don’t be afraid,” and Jesus said it often.

10. Love. Jesus is all about love. If love isn’t at the heart of it, it’s not Jesus.

Come to think of it, you could probably just skip numbers 1-9 and just go with that last one. That’s how you know it’s Jesus: love.

Thursday 4 November 2021

Faith in Giving

The Widow’s Mite is the traditional name for a Bible story in the gospels of Mark and Luke about a poor widow that gives her last two coins to the temple treasury. Jesus comments to his disciples that, while they’ve seen many rich people contribute just a part of their wealth, she gave everything she had. “All of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).

“Mite” is the word used in the King James Version of the Bible to describe the coins, “two mites, which make a farthing.” That’s obviously early 17th century language rather than 1st century Judea, but the meaning is clear: they were small and of very little monetary value, likely equivalent to a fraction of a penny. But value is relative and to her, they were everything.

Many a church financial campaign in the past has cited this text as an example for giving. I’m going to say “financial campaign” rather than “stewardship” because if we’re looking at the widow’s personal stewardship, her use of her “mite” should raise some concern. Why would she give “everything she had, all she had to live on?”

In fact, one might argue that better personal stewardship was being shown by those who gave “out of their abundance.” We don’t know how much they gave, just that it wasn’t “everything.” They might have been generous, too.

I know, it’s not likely Jesus meant that. It was just a few chapters earlier that Mark tells the story of a rich man who asks Jesus what he should do and Jesus says “sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor” (Mark 10:21). That rich man wasn’t about to do that and Jesus sadly comments on how hard it is for the rich to come to the kingdom.

Okay, so the rich could give more. We could all give more. But, what if it’s not about money? And what if it’s also not just about the widow?

What if the widow’s real “might” is her faith in God, that, giving all that she has to God, or, at least, the Temple which does God’s work, she, and others in need, will be cared for and provided for. After all, care of widows and orphans is enshrined in the Law, the Law that’s at the heart of Jewish life. We should all have such faith.

Thing is, just before this tableau plays out, Jesus has been in the Temple and offered a warning to everyone about this, a condemnation of the scribes, the officials who have responsibility for the care of widows and orphans. They like to dress up and appear pious and demand respect for their rank, he says, but at the same time they’re stealing from widows. Jesus calls out their hypocrisy and greed.

What if this story is both a tale of profound faith and a condemnation of institutions that don’t honour it, that just “go through the motions.” Remember, too, that in Jesus world, the Temple and the Law were more than institutions, they were daily life. What if, in the gifts we offer and the sacrifices we make, we could have faith that they would be honoured by institutions and society alike. What if, in this complex weave which is our life, we must have faith in each other, that God - and all the love, grace, compassion, empathy and justice which is God - is present in both offering and need. What if we could build a world like that?

Thursday 28 October 2021

Here be saints

October 31 is a pretty important day, especially this year. Yes, you know what I mean. It’s Reformation Sunday, our annual recognition of the beginning of the movement that began Protestantism. It’s an important historical moment for anyone, but especially so if you’re part of that tradition.

And I mean no disrespect to it when I acknowledge that wasn’t your first thought when I mentioned October 31st. It’s Halloween. As much as I’d love to see some kids at the door trick-or-treating as Martin Luther or John Calvin, it’s not likely we’ll see much crossover there. But both deserve your attention and both have origin stories that are interesting and influential. Please learn more.

Thing is, they’re both part of an interesting little bundle of days on the church calendar and it’s the one that comes next to which I’d like to draw your attention for a minute. Both those days are the eve of All Saints Day or All Hallows (that’s what gives us “Halloween”), a day to remember and reconnect with saints.

Who those people are may depend on your faith tradition, but we’ve tended to think of them as the historic figures that we look to as great examples of The Faith. These are the people we most readily point to as people in whom we have seen the teachings of Jesus lived out, the Spirit alive, the light of God shining through. These are the superheroes of faith we can only aspire to be like.

And, unfortunately, that's where we stop. Somehow those saints have become distant from us, and not just in the past. Somehow, they've become something we, with our faults and frailties could never be, something we put in stained glass or a statue on a pedestal. Somehow those saints have all become not just superheroes, but superhuman. And they're not. They're us.

Jesus didn't choose twelve perfect examples of his teaching. He chose twelve ordinary, everyday people who learned and experienced something special and, despite their very real flaws, became not something different, but even more of themselves. And not just those twelve, but the many who have responded to the example of love and grace that reconnects us to God and to the creative, life-giving power of the spirit.

That's where Jesus takes us, teaching us to be more of who we truly are, both the divine and human. Love God, love your neighbour as yourself, he says. The capacity to love and the desire for relationship, these are within us. Jesus calls us to live them out, to overcome the obstacles we place in our own way and the obstacles others put in theirs.

You may know people from history that are examples of that, whether they have St. in front of their name or not. The church has many examples and perhaps equally as many examples of the opposite, just like the world. You may know people in your life right now who are inspiring examples of good that are meaningful to you. You may be that to others.

The point is, look for the good. Look for the kindness, the generosity of spirit, the love and the grace. It’s not only in statues and stained glass. It may be hiding in plain sight.

Thursday 21 October 2021

Asking a Personal Question

“Who do you say that I am?” 

I wonder who Jesus was looking at when he asked his disciples this question. He’d already asked the easy one, what are the crowds saying. But now, he wanted their own view, their personal understanding of what he was all about. I imagine there was some shuffling feet, the sound of a few cleared throats and a few eyes staring at the ground.

But then, Peter has an answer. “You are the messiah.”

And communities of faith ever since have spent many long hours coming up with studies, statements and creeds that have tried to qualify what that means - as a community. And that’s helpful, but only if we understand that a community is a living thing that’s made up of individuals, each of whom is seeking a relationship with God.

So, who do you say that Jesus is?

If you were to ask me that question, I’d say that my answer has two parts.

First, today - and I say today because I’m alive, like Jesus, and I may grow - today, I say that, for me, Jesus is “God with us,” Emmanuel. I understand that, not in a way that shows us something new or a power that’s remote and unattainable, but in a way that shows us who we truly are and brings us back to our very beginning: we are created in the image of God and of the earth. We, too, are divine and human. Jesus shows us how to live into our divinity and humanity so that we may be wholely, fully, who we truly are.

Jesus reconnects us with God by showing us how God - the life and love of creation - is in each of our hearts. God isn’t just “out there,” but within each of us and we, too, can live that into the world.

I have so much more to say and, more importantly, do to answer that question, but I’m trying to be as succinct as Peter. The fact is, we answer the question in our living as much as in our words, and that can take a lifetime.

Second, I’d say “please tell me who you say Jesus is.” Speak to me from your heart about how you know God, with whatever language is meaningful for you. Show me how you know Jesus, ask questions and share with me a dialogue that allows us to travel together, though we walk our own journeys. Because God is with us and all are made one, not with sameness or uniformity, but in the respect of our diversity and the sharing of it.

So, please, answer the question for yourself, too and, just as good teachers always ask: show your work.

Thursday 14 October 2021

Practicing Faith

We are often so much like Jesus' first disciples in the early days.

They followed Jesus around, from place to place, listening to his teaching, seeing what he was doing, and doing their best to understand. And we, like them, it seems, often don't.

If only we had more faith.

That's what the disciples said to Jesus, "O Lord, increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5).

Somehow, they seem to think, we're just not getting it. But if you can make us more faithful, we're sure we can be the godly people you want us to be. Just make us more faithful.

You can just imagine Jesus slapping his palm to his forehead and sighing.

I don't make you faithful, he says, you make you faithful. There is faith in you already, like a little seed, but it is only grown by living it out. You can learn much, you can perform rituals and follow laws, but it's only when you live them out in your daily lives that you truly practice your faith. And that practice grows faith. (Luke 17:5-10)

I play the piano a bit now and then. Even if I don't play for awhile, I remember the mechanics I learned (some of them, anyway) and how to read the notes on the page, but that's not music. Music happens when all the mechanics and reading happen automatically, almost without having to think about it, because I've used them often enough. Music happens when you can step away from the techniques and skills and focus on the creation and experience of something more: the music. And that only comes with practice. 

We can go to church and bible study, learn and perform our rituals, just like the disciples, but faith is truly only lived when it becomes part of our daily living, like the air we breathe, the water we drink and the bread we eat. Faith is not a complex power that must be acquired, but rather a simple gift that must be put into action.

Thursday 7 October 2021

Embrace Thanks Giving

It’s Thanksgiving this week. I mean the holiday, of course, not “thanks giving,” which we should want to do everyday. Even if we’re particularly focused on harvest thanksgiving, I hope we’d want to be grateful to farmers and the earth more than just one day a year. Oh, and the truck drivers, rail employees, processors and grocery stores. Wait, don’t forget the manufacturers of farm equipment, scientists (especially agronomists) and weather forecasters. And all the businesses and governments that employ people who purchase food they need. And the Food Banks and community groups that support folks who can’t. And the health care community that does just that, cares for our health. I’m sure there’s more - and sorry if I left you out - but I think you get the point. It’s all connected.

And isn’t that the point, also, of a holiday, a special “holy-day?” It’s the single day that reminds us of something we should live everyday. Thanks for life. Thanks to God.

Yes, God. Because, however you know God, God’s at the heart of all this. You might even use a different word to describe it, but God’s the energy, the spirit, the life that powers us and connects us. We want to be thankful for that.

For many, those may be difficult words to hear right now. Lots of people are struggling to find something for which to be thankful today. Many won’t succeed. Worn down by the pandemic and all its trials, frustration and anger are more common than satisfaction and joy. And the world seems to continue to spiral through one catastrophe after another. We can’t just ignore all that and try to be thankful that we’re alive, can we?

No. But we can embrace it and be thankful.

Look for goodness, look for kindness and love, look for things which bring pleasure and joy, but don’t be afraid to engage everything that comes with it. We find wholeness in embracing the whole, not in excluding things from it.

This is how Jesus showed us to live. Jesus, who was also fond of reminding people to not be afraid because God’s with them. Because God’s in all things.

Long before Jesus, the prophet Joel had the same words for the earth itself. After suffering great devastation, Joel proclaims hope: Don’t be afraid, O land, be glad because God is with you. (Joel 2:21-27) The source of life, energy of creation is there. Embrace it.

Be thankful for the interconnectedness of creation. Be thankful for the whole, with all its flaws and weaknesses, its grief and hurts, its struggles and satisfactions, its joys and happiness. Be thankful for its fullness of divine spirit and human heart. That’s the fullness of life.