Thursday, 22 September 2022

A Moment on a Journey

There’s a familiar story told in three of the four gospels about Jesus and a storm at sea. Mark tells it like this. It’s the end of a long day. Jesus wants to cross to the other side of the lake so says to the disciples, let’s go. The head out onto the lake and Jesus falls asleep in the back of the boat. A fierce storm comes up and the boat and its occupants are overwhelmed. They wake up Jesus, feeling like the end is near, and Jesus gets up, commands the storm to cease and it does. He asks them “why are you afraid? Don’t you have any faith?” They’re amazed and wonder who this could be, that nature obeys him.

I can recall many, many sermons and bible studies that suggest two approaches to this story. 

The first is that it’s simply a miracle story that displays the power of God present in Jesus. The story is a real narrative in which Jesus demonstrates his power, even over nature. The answer to the question “who is this?” is clear: Jesus is divine and the power of God is in him, the same power that was present in stories of Hebrew scripture, even back to the very beginning. The spirit of God moved over the waters in the creation story.

I’d be happier if it was less about Jesus power over nature and more about his relationship with nature, but I can see how meaningful this is as a story of the miracle tradition. It demonstrates Jesus divine power saving us when we are in need. It’s one interpretation. 

Another is that the story’s a parable. Whether it really happened this way or not is less important than the metaphor that in the storms of life, we turn to Jesus who is there for us. In those moments in our lives when we are most in need, Jesus is there. It may seem like we are adrift, but Jesus is there. If only we will reach out to him, we will be saved.

A meaningful interpretation, again emphasizing Jesus’ power to save us from the events in our lives that bring fear and trouble. It again offers rescue, this time from the storms that can come up in our daily lives. It’s one interpretation.

Both those understandings of the story emphasize our calling out to Jesus in the moment, the moment of fear when we should have faith. It would be a good time to remember how often Jesus said “don’t be afraid.” And that he meant, it’s okay to be scared, just remember that you’re not alone. God is with you. But what if we looked at the bigger picture, including asking how we got to this moment in the first place.

Jesus asks the disciples to come with him in the boat. Experienced fishermen agreed to get in a boat at night after a long day. No one wondered if there might be a storm. No one suggested waiting until morning. The same people who left their boats to follow Jesus, now follow him back into a boat when they might well have paused and asked questions. But they didn’t. They trusted and got in and off they went. They took the first step - again - and began a journey with Jesus, trusting in his presence.

Jesus’ eagerness to get to “the other side” might also be about the hope that Jesus offers as we journey. We might not know what’s ahead, but we step out with trust and hope.

And God goes with us, together. The storm is just a moment in a larger journey. What if it wasn’t the storm that was stilled, but our fear so that we may engage the storm and make our way through it? What if the questions about fear and faith were simply a reminder that we are journeying together and that, whatever storms or brief squalls or rain or sun or calm seas, we are not alone, even if it seems someone’s asleep at the wheel? Or rudder? What if the wonder at Jesus was the beginning of getting to know him? What if the question here isn’t about faith in what God will do to save us, but rather what we will do together, with God in our lives?

Thursday, 15 September 2022

Just as we are

When we read the story of Jesus calling the first disciples to follow him, I think we sometimes have this idea that they simply dropped everything and went, without a second thought. It’s Jesus, after all.

But each of the gospels has its own account of what happened. We might want to condense the story into a simple run-on sentence “Jesus went to the lakeshore and told some fishermen to come and follow him and they will fish for people and they dropped everything and went.” But it isn’t that simple.

First of all, John’s story is more complicated and doesn’t involve fish at all, and, second, it’s just not that simple. Luke, in particular, makes that clear. In fact, I don’t think Luke’s story is really about Jesus. It’s about Simon.

In Luke’s story, Jesus has been hanging around for a bit. In fact, in the previous chapter, he already knows Simon and has been staying at his house. He’s even helped Simon’s mother, who was ill. Then, he’s doing some teaching by the lake and he sees that Simon, a fisherman, hasn’t caught anything even though he’s been out all night. Jesus tells him to go out again, into deep water, and this time there are so many fish that he has to get help. Amazed and overwhelmed, Simon tells Jesus to go away. “I’m a sinful man,” he says. But Jesus says “come with me.”

It might seem like all it takes is faith in Jesus to drop everything and go, but I wonder if Luke isn’t reminding us that it takes something else, too: faith in yourself. You have to participate.

To me, it seems like Simon might feel unworthy of Jesus. He’s been getting to know him for a couple of days, he’s seen him work, heard him speak. Luke says everyone around there was pretty impressed with Jesus, I can’t imagine Simon wasn’t, too. It also seems to me that he might be feeling a little embarrassed that he, a professional fisherman, hadn’t caught anything and suddenly, with Jesus’ advice, has caught enough to feed the village. I can see how Simon might have been feeling pretty low.

So I wonder if Jesus said “I believe in you, Simon. You are worthy just as you are. Come with me and see what else you can do.”

Jesus had faith in Simon because Jesus knows what many of us so often seem to forget: we are enough, just as we are. Enough to go forward, enough to try new things, enough to dream and live into those dreams, enough to be fully and wholly who we are.

Simon was certainly not what he - and others - would think is perfect, he’ll prove that repeatedly to Jesus in the days ahead, but he’s the perfect one and only Simon. And he’ll be exactly that. So can we.

Faith in God is just one piece. To live and love like Jesus, we need to believe in ourselves, that we are enough, just as we are, to be the best version of ourselves. And that can change the world.

Thursday, 8 September 2022

They that go down to the sea in ships (Psalm 107:23)

Three of the four gospels tell a similar story of how Jesus called his first disciples. They were fisherman, Jesus saw them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he told them to follow him and, together, they’ll fish for people.

Each telling of the story has its own uniqueness, but Luke’s version is quite a bit more elaborate. Luke tells that Jesus, with a large crowd wanting to hear him, sees that the fishermen are done for the day so he asks to borrow one of their boats. They put out a bit from shore and he teaches the crowd from there. When he’s done, he tells Simon to go out one more time to the deeper water and they find a huge catch of fish. Others come to help and, when they get to shore, Jesus says “don’t be afraid, from now on we’re going to catch people.”

That’s the obvious takeaway here: Jesus calls the first disciples. It’s literally the heading in most translations. I’ll get there next week, but first, I’d like to take a moment and wonder about how this story gets started. Jesus teaches from a boat.

Jesus teaches - and preaches, heals, ministers and socializes - in a lot of places. That he chooses the work vehicle of the very people who will be the first ones invited to follow him resonates with me. I wonder about a few things that prompt me to ask questions.

I wonder, for example, what Jesus was teaching here. “The word of God,” Luke says. Yes, but how did he communicate that? Jesus seems to be able to communicate with people wherever they are. Did he tell some fishing parables? Was there, perhaps, a version of the “mustard seed” story that used a minnow instead or something about the abundance of love that comes with going deeper that segued into that demonstration with Simon?

I wonder about the boat itself. There’s nothing to suggest Jesus knew anything about fish or boats or the sea. And yet, he seems to fearlessly step out into one and speak to people on the shore from it. Was he hoping Simon and the others would see that he wasn’t afraid to step into their lives so that they might not be afraid to join his?

And, again with the boat, I wonder that Jesus sat and taught in a vessel that’s meant to be out on the open water. I presume it was kept stationary so people weren’t running up and down the shore. But then, think about it: he gathers his first “ship mates,” steps off the boat on to dry land, and “sets sail” in his ministry. That’s one powerful boating experience.

Here, at the beginning of a new season, those couple of verses remind me to reflect on some important aspects of ministry. No, more than ministry: how we live our lives.

How are we communicating with each other? Are we finding common ground, respecting each other and building relationships? Are we remembering that, when Jesus says “don’t be afraid” he means “it’s okay to be scared - you’re not alone. I’m here.”

And what kind of boat are we building anyway? The church isn’t meant to be anchored in our buildings, it’s meant to set sail into our communities and into our lives. What Jesus taught didn’t stay in one place, it was blown by the wind and carried by the water out into the world. From the depths of all our hearts, there’s an abundance of love to be carried into our lives and into all the lives we touch, looking for a place to land.

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Are you in shape?

Have you ever worked with clay or played with playdough? I don’t mean to imply anything by saying you work with one and play with the other. I feel confident that there’s a certain amount of play involved in the art of clay, just as there’s some work involved in playdough (there certainly is if you make it at home from scratch). And, by the way, they’re also not for any particular age group. Adults and children alike can enjoy both. If you haven’t, you should try it.

In the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah says that God spoke to him and gave him the metaphor of the potter’s wheel for how God can be in our lives: we are the clay, God is the potter who molds and shapes us.

There can be a negative side to that image, of course, one of manipulation and control, but I don’t believe that’s what Jeremiah means. I think he sees God as the great artisan in creation. He knows that with God in our lives, we are not only created as wonderful things, but are capable of creating wonderful things.

As any good artist knows, the medium has a part to play in the creation. Work some playdough or play with some clay, you’ll see.

So, if, as Jeremiah suggests, we are like the clay, then what kind of clay are we? Hard as a rock, unchanging and unmoveable? Or so fluid and easy going that we never take a single form? Or are we firm enough to stand, but ready to be molded, open to being made into something?

Or, from another perspective, creating something ourselves.  Perhaps, made in the image of God, we might see ourselves, not just as the clay, but the artisan. After all, we live in relationship with each other and we have a responsibility to be creators, teachers and inspirers of others, as much as we need to be open to receiving what other “artists” have to offer us.

I’m particularly mindful of that right now, because it’s back to school time. As the summer winds down, it’s time to head to school, some for the first time, some sophomores, some wily veterans of the elementary grades, and a few grizzled grade twelves, hunkering down for one more year.

There’s the look of excitement and wonder, some anxiety and a little bit of fear. On teachers’ faces, too. And parents’.

What an awesome responsibility to have, the “moulding of young minds.” You have to thank school teachers for that, you really do. But I also hope that we all think it’s an awesome responsibility, because it’s not just school teachers that have it, is it?  We are all teachers, mentors, guides and leaders, each in our own way. It’s part of being community.

Play with some playdough (or real clay, if you can). You don’t have to be a professional artisan to make something. Didn’t you make an “ashtray” or a “bowl” in school when you were young?  Wonder about how often we are like the clay and how often we are like the hands that form it. And wonder about when that clay is our hearts or our minds or our spirits.  And wonder, too, about how often, as the clay, we might not just need to be open to God’s hands, but how often we might seek God’s hands and need God’s hands in our lives, created and creating. How do you think you’re formed?

Thursday, 25 August 2022

What do you see now?

Our church has a rainbow. In fact, it has several - probably more than several - but the most obvious one is the sidewalk to the front door. We repainted it this week. It’s been there awhile, it’s seen a lot of sun and rain, wind and snow, and it needed a little refreshing. Don’t we all, from time to time?

It’s bright and bold and makes a statement. And, like any statement, we know that people will see it how they see it and respond to it how they will.

And that’s okay.

We hope that you’ll know that, for our church, it’s a statement about welcome. We wouldn’t have put it on the way to our front door if it weren’t. We hope that people will see it as a statement about inclusiveness, an eye-catching way of saying anyone and everyone is welcome here. And when we say that, we mean “all the colours of the rainbow” everyone. And, more importantly, it’s not just about welcome, it’s that we mean to affirm and appreciate you for who you are, just as you are. We share these words when we gather: “all are welcome here, affirmed and appreciated just as we are, as we all are as children of God, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, culture, ability, economic or social circumstance —wherever we are on our journeys through life.” We believe in unity, not uniformity, and that means acknowledging, affirming and appreciating each person for who they are. It means loving as Jesus loves.

We hope that people will see the LGBTQ2S+ rainbow and we hope they know they’re welcome and safe here.

We hope that children will laugh and be inspired by it and know that the church is a happy and safe place for them, too.

We hope that people will be reminded of the ancient story of the Great Flood and remember that the rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant of life with us.

We hope that people will see that it’s creative and colourful and so are we.

We hope that people of any age will see it and smile and be reminded of the sense of wonder and beauty that we experience when we see a rainbow in the sky.

The point is, we hope that you will see something that is welcoming, affirming, heart warming, friendly and inspiring that speaks to you. Do you see what we mean?

Thursday, 18 August 2022

Rest in wonder

I’d like to talk about sabbath for just a minute.

If you belong to a faith tradition that has a specific understanding of sabbath - a specific day, perhaps, with certain rituals or with clear rules about what you can and can’t do - I respect that. If you find meaning in that, please continue on, I don’t mean to challenge it. But I do have a couple of thoughts about what’s at the heart of sabbath.

When I think about the creation story in Genesis, I like to imagine God doing all that creating like an artist working in a bunch of different mediums, from the conception to the hands on work to the final touch ups. That all takes “six days” - whatever a day means to God - and then God takes a day and just admires how awesome it all is. God looks around and wonders how there’s a little bit of God in each and every stone and leaf, river and stream, fish and bird, elephant and platypus. And those human beings, well, God wonders, they’re just the coolest thing ever. Created in my own image, God thinks, full of love and promise.

Things happened after that, of course, but in those first moments was a connectedness, an embracing of the bond which is in all life. A moment of wholeness. The seventh day isn’t a day off, it’s the climax and culmination of all that creating, the celebration of the completeness of creation. God rests in wonder.

Then, when Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt, there’s an opportunity to reconnect. The people are learning what it means to be free, to be a community and a people on their way to the “promised land,” so God offers them ten sayings to help them. And in there is the day of rest, pretty high up, too, at number four. I imagine God hoping this is an opportunity for the people to understand they need to make time to reconnect with God, to rest in wonder, just like God.

And there’s this story about Jesus in Luke (there’s a few of these in the gospels),  about the leader of the synagogue chastising Jesus for doing work on the sabbath when he heals a woman, bent over by the weight of a broken spirit (Luke 13:10-17). Jesus replies that even on the sabbath, everyone unties their ox and donkey so that they’re free to get water that is essential to life.  How could it be less appropriate to free this woman from the bondage of her illness?

For Jesus, this moment of healing isn’t about physical infirmity, it’s about wholeness. It’s about being free from the bonds that keep this woman from the world, from being fully engaged with life.

Our lives can get very much like that, too. We get bound up by the work we do and the desires we have, the need to acquire things, the need to be always busy with work or play. Our spirits can bend and buckle under the weight of the world. Even a “day off” can be so full that we can’t find a real moment of freedom.

That’s what sabbath is. It’s freedom from the work of the world so that we can reconnect with God, wonder at God’s presence in creation, including us,  and rest in the wonder. It’s a moment of healing for our spiritual health, contentment and well being. It’s a moment of completeness that refreshes and renews us. A moment in which we break free of the things that bind us and reconnect with love, grace and wholeness.

Thursday, 11 August 2022

It's more than an hour on Sunday

As far as I know, 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 a religious service. We occasionally have a barbecue, but I don’t think that really counts. We have potluck lunches, too, but I’ve never seen anything burnt at those. I don’t think we’ve ever burned a pancake, even. 

Besides, while those are important and meaningful gatherings of the community, without any doubt, they’re not what would be considered “liturgy,” the rituals of a service of worship. That would be the prayers, songs, readings and rituals that are structured and offered in order to bring meaning and understanding to our faith, not just in that moment, but in the living out of our faith in our lives. 

Isn’t it?

In the Bible, 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, God says, 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 lives full of sin, hurt, hate, judgement and cruelty. 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.

Sometimes it's not just 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. That’s not just church going folk, either, is it?

Health and wholeness come from connecting the spirit of worship and the spirit of daily life. However we know God and whatever name we call God, if we think that a few moments of prayer or even sitting through a three hour sermon are “doing our duty,” and that’s enough, well, we might want to read Isaiah again. 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 “worshipped” 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. 

I think any gathering of a community of faith should be engaging, meaningful and sincere. 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.  It should connect us with God and each other and the world. It should be something we carry into our daily lives.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Ready to meet Jesus

Are you prepared to meet Jesus?

That’s a loaded question. You might hear it like “ready to meet your maker” or a similar metaphor for the next life. Certainly, we’d like to feel we’re ready for meeting Jesus there. When our time comes. Whenever that is.

You might hear it as an allusion to the second coming. Jesus said he’d be back. Maybe not like the Terminator’s iconic “I’ll be back,” but it might raise a similar level of anxiety to hear that we should be ready for Jesus to return at “an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40). Whenever that is.

Both situations - the end of this life or the second coming - could be anxiety inducing since the question certainly makes it feel like either is imminent rather than eventual. The people who first heard Jesus talk about a “second coming” certainly thought it was soon. As time went on, it seemed like it could be anytime in the future, but, even with more time, there’s still no indication of when or how or where. What if I’m not ready? What does it even mean, to be ready? Ready for what, exactly?

Hang on a minute, though, and take a step back. What if Jesus didn’t mean either of those things? Remember, this is the one who was teaching us how to live the love, grace and goodness that’s in all living things, the one who tried to inspire us to see that we, too, are both of the earth and the divine spirit, the one who constantly tried to describe what he was about rather than specifically who he was. What if he meant all of that rather than just simply “me, this figure, Jesus?”

What if Jesus meant we should be ready to see all those things he is to us in the world around us, in the people we encounter? What if Jesus really meant that we need to be prepared to see love in our neighbour as well as be love to our neighbour. And everyone’s my neighbour, right? The easy to love and the hard to love, people just like us and people so different it might be a little scary. Wouldn’t that be meeting Jesus? How do you prepare for that?

When Jesus says things like keep your lamps lit or be dressed and ready for action or be ready to open the door for the master of the house when they come home (Luke 12:35-38), I think he’s just trying to say keep busy with living like I showed you: be a light for others, be ready to love and care and show grace to others and, most important of all, be open to the promise that all that Jesus is, is alive in you and the world around you. Keep an open heart and mind, give that possibility a chance, hope to meet it, encourage it and inspire it.

We are constantly meeting all that Jesus is. See it, make that connection and build relationships on it. Live it and make it an everyday occurrence, not a once in lifetime experience.

Now, go back to those two anxiety inducing moments where we started. Live well, you’ll be ready.

Friday, 29 July 2022

Are we there yet?

The title of our churches’ summer children’s program this year was Holy Moses! Each day of the week, we shared a story from the life of Moses, one of the most important figures in Hebrew scripture. Some were retellings of the story in the Bible and some imagined moments inspired by the story.

One of those stories imagined what it must have been like for the Hebrew people packing up and leaving Egypt. After all the “persuasion” needed to convince Pharaoh to let them go, when it finally was time, we wondered how the people were feeling. They’d been there so long none of them knew any life other than as a slave in Egypt. For better or worse (or much worse), it was their home. They’d lived with the hope that one day things would change, but it had been a very, very long time. Now they were leaving. Wouldn’t they have questions? Like, now what? Where are we going? How do we get there? Is it far? Will it take long? And, of course, what can we bring?

We imagined how Moses would have to explain that they were leaving in a hurry, they were walking (most of them, at least) and they wouldn’t be able to take anything but the most important things with them. After a lengthy list of requests of what they wanted to bring (some more ridiculous than others, of course - it was a story for children, after all) it came down to a little girl reminding them what was most important: we’ll have each other and our freedom. God is with us. “Any more questions?” asks Moses, and off they go.

The simple point we wanted to make with the story was that when you’re in the same place for a long time, you might collect stuff that you think is important. But what’s really important is living, free to be who we truly are, who we share our life with and how we share our life with others. That becomes the theme of the wilderness time: discovering those things and how to be a community together. And at the heart of that is God.

What was just as important was where the conversation after the story went. We talked about how hard it can be to let go when it’s the only thing you’ve known. Even when that thing might not have been a good place or a good experience or a positive part of our lives. We talked about how scary it can be to know that you have to move on but you don’t know exactly where you’re going. We talked about how that’s made much more difficult when it seems like you have to move quickly - too quickly. We talked about how you can be happy and excited as well as sad and scared all at the same time. We talked about how that’s okay, and where we might look to find support and care. We talked about where we find God in all this. And it brought us back to the little girl at the end of the story.

God is the love that creates, cares, inspires and brings life. We might experience that in people we meet, the creation we wonder at, and the simple sense of God’s presence - that we are not alone. 

Thursday, 21 July 2022

You get where you're going with practice

There doesn’t seem to be any universal understanding of what exactly is the difference between perseverance and persistence. Even folks who claim “the dictionary definition” can’t agree on a dictionary or a definition. The best I can do is suggest to you that I think the difference maybe, might possibly, perhaps, be that persistence relates more to repeated action and perseverance to dedication to a belief or cause. I might throw in that persistence is more focused on the goal to be achieved, whereas perseverance is about the journey. Oh, and persistence tends towards shorter periods of time and perseverance to longer periods of time. But those are just my thoughts.

To be honest, I think they’re related anyway and I’m not sure that there’s that much difference in how we use them, particularly over the last few years of pandemic and now, in the world of its aftermath. I wonder if that isn’t because we almost invariably use persistence and perseverance in the context of what we need to overcome, the roadblocks and opposition that we see in our way.

Stick with it, keep calm and carry on, one foot in front of the other, we’ll get through this - there’s a host of encouraging words and slogans that we use. Encouraging, but still seeming to focus on the obstacles in our way, the hard experiences keeping us from “getting through.” Even little orphan Annie reminds us that “the sun’ll come up tomorrow … come what may.”

What if we could see persistence and perseverance in a different light?

A musician learns skills and techniques, but it’s only by putting them to use in constant practice that music is made. Similarly with artists, dancers, actors, writers, athletes in any sport. In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of anything where constant practice doesn’t lead to something greater. 

But practice isn’t just repetition. It’s not just hammering away, sticking with it or getting through. Practice requires intention and engagement, a sincere desire to learn, a passion for what you practice and a willingness to go where the practice takes you. Obstacles aren’t battled, overcome or defeated, but engaged, embraced and incorporated into our journey, leading to a deeper and more wholistic life.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus encourages his followers to be persistent in prayer. In response to a request to teach them how to pray, he offers them words we recognize as The Lord’s Prayer (we know it from Matthew’s version). But, as often as we share them together or offer them in private prayer, I wonder if we’re engaging them each time. I wonder if Jesus might ask if we’re just repeating the words or practicing prayer.

“First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament” isn’t a literal translation of scripture, but a new telling of the story in keeping with the oral traditions and cultural imagery of indigenous people. In Luke, the translators share that Jesus encourages his followers to keep “dancing” their prayers: “answers will come to the ones who ask, good things will be found by the ones who search for them, and the way will open before the ones who keep dancing their prayers.” More than repetition and movement, dance requires intention, engagement, an awareness of self and context, passion and spirit. It’s more than just a beautiful image or ritual, it’s a practice that invites the connection to the journey prayer takes us. However you dance, be persistent and see where it takes you.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Why tell the story?

The Good Samaritan isn’t the only Bible story that’s made its way into everyday - or near everyday - use. There are lots of characters, lots of phrases and stories that have become familiar, not for their place in the Bible, but their place in our everyday lives. All exemplary, but not all positive.

Look at Mary and Martha. The gospel of Luke shares a brief story about Jesus stopping at a village where he’s welcomed by Martha, apparently with the traditional hospitality of a first century Hebrew home. Martha bustles about busily, distracted by her household tasks, while her sister Mary just sits at Jesus feet and listens to him speak. Martha’s a little put out and asks Jesus to tell her to help him. His response is that Mary has chosen to focus on the only thing that’s really needed, while Martha is distracted from it by her work. Apparently.

Marys are dutiful disciples. Marthas are, at best, industrious and hard workers. They’re also the caste of household servants in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” They’ve also, in many a sermon, born the brunt of making the wrong choice.

That’s assuming, of course, that you see this little vignette as an either/or moment, where one is in the right and one, well, not so right. Listening to the teachings of Jesus are more important than the work of our daily lives. 

What a useful scripture passage that would be for pastors! It sure seems as if Jesus is saying “whatever you’re doing that you think is so important, it’s not really. What’s really important is listening to the Good News from Jesus.” So, get thee to a church on Sunday morning!

But is that really the point?

Personally - and I know I’ve said it a lot - I don’t see Jesus as an either/or kind of guy. I think Jesus is an and/with. At the very least, I think Jesus means to say that, in this moment, I’d rather you stop working and visit with me, but I see that the work of hospitality is important. In fact, we need both and need to make time for both. “Look at my life,” Jesus would say, “look at my life.”

The word and the work need each other. There must be time for learning, for reflection, for rest, just as there is time for the hard work of healing, showing compassion, working for justice and helping the oppressed and broken down. Remember how we are all created with the divine spirit and of the earth?

And maybe the issue isn’t really the work itself anyway, it’s the distraction, how it’s overwhelmed Martha. Perhaps the real point here isn’t just the need for both, but the balance of both and the integration of both. That’s what makes wholeness in our lives.

Our lives. That’s another great feature of this story. It’s not two of the chosen disciples that are made an example. Neither is it two unnamed random characters who demonstrate it. It’s not a parable. It’s an encounter between Jesus and two women, they have names and they are family. The balance of word and work doesn’t just bring wholeness to our selves, but to our relationships, to our families, and to our world.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Who do you love?

It goes without saying that the story of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known of Jesus parables. Even if you’re not familiar with the Bible story, you know the expression. It's even become something of a cliché. We use the expression "a good samaritan" to describe someone who does an unsolicited kindness for another person who is in need.

Knowing the expression’s a good start. It's important that we understand the need to be compassionate and caring about others in need, even - perhaps especially - if we don't know them.  After all, everyone is our neighbour, Jesus says.


That's where knowing the story goes from valuable to important. Jesus' idea of "everyone" isn't just those people that are easy to deal with, it's, literally, everyone. And, in this story, that’s not just anybody. Others have passed the man by, others who should have been more than willing to help but don’t. The one who does stop to help - the hero of the story - isn't your friendly everyday Judean, as Jesus' audience might have expected, it's the hated and despised Samaritan. It’s the least likely person who would stop to help. At least, that’s what we would assume if we were first century Jews.

“Good” Jews knew Samaritans were to be despised. They were Jews, kind of, but the wrong kind of Jews. Jews who didn't believe "right." Among other things, they believed God resided on a particular mountain, not in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Sigh. Hard to believe, isn’t it? (No pun intended.) Okay, so let's put that in a contemporary context and tell the story for you, personally. There's a person lying in the street. They've been assaulted and they're severely injured. The first two people to come by are people who should be willing to help, but they don’t. Maybe it’s, say, a pastor and a lawyer. They could have good reason, we don't know. It does seem like they should want to help, given what they do. It’s likely they were just too afraid to stop. Dangerous neighbourhood, maybe. But then along comes … 

So who is it? Who's your "samaritan?" To be blunt, who have you learned to hate or fear, from life or culture, experienced or imagined? Who is it that you "wouldn't cross the street" to help? Is there someone?

That's who Jesus wants you to love. Not just your next door neighbour you get along with or your friends or people who are easy to love, but the hard to love, the difficulty to get along with, the people we’ve learned to not love, even those that live far enough away that we don’t know them, we just think we do. Who is that for you?

And don’t just stop there. Relationships are always a two-way street and, like any good story, we aren't always the hero. Sometimes we're the victim. Would you accept the gift of compassion from that very same person?

What happens when we're the "samaritan" in someone else's eyes? How hard will we try in the face of rejection? It's easier to walk away than fight to care, but Jesus still calls us to do so, because building relationships demands it.

This isn’t just a story about being kind and compassionate. It’s not even just about being loving. It’s about building a relationship of love with those we find the hardest to love. Especially when what makes them hard to love isn’t them: it’s our own ignorance or prejudice.

Friday, 1 July 2022

Let's Go Together

A few years ago, I wrote a short script for a skit telling the story of Jesus sending out "the seventy-two” (Luke 10:1-20). Jesus sends seventy-two of his 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.

As you might expect from a Bible story, there doesn’t seem to be any questions, nor is there any indication that Jesus had any trouble at all finding volunteers. In fact, there’s not much description of their mission, either, other than to say that they returned with joy because they’d been so successful.

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."

Like so many of the observers in the stories we tell about Jesus, we might be tempted to focus on the power Jesus gives them to act in his name, the miracles, the healings, the "authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19). And, of course, the great success of the mission. That’s what we most aspire to, isn’t it? But maybe there's a few features here that are just as important, if not more so for us.

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 their relationships with each other, but on the hospitality of those who hear the message they bring. So those relationships they build are key to the task Jesus gives them. 

I wish there were more said about how people got together, how they worked together, how long they were together because together isn’t always easy. And that’s the third thing. I don’t think what’s important in this story is the power Jesus gives them or its success.What’s truly important is “together.”

No one is alone here. Everyone is reaching out, perhaps not always as successfully as is implied, connecting with people and with God. What we aspire to as the Kingdom of God doesn’t come with a flash of light and the invocation of Jesus’ name. It comes in the slow and steady work of building relationships of love and grace. And that can be real work. It’s also more likely to be a journey than a quick visit. But it’s a road worth taking.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Things just got real

There’s a pivotal moment in the Gospel of Luke when the author writes that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” It’s the moment, for Luke anyway, when Jesus moves from his ministry in Galilee and intentionally begins the journey to Jerusalem, knowing “the days drew near for him to be taken up.”

Even though Jesus has already been busy, it feels to me like a “time to get down to business” moment. There’s an increased intensity and it feels like things have escalated.  Things just got real, you might say.

It may be that it’s the beginning of a journey, not just geographically to Jerusalem, but to being “taken up” — the author of Luke isn’t just anticipating death and resurrection, but the eventual departure of Jesus’ person. It may also be that Jesus is beginning to attract more attention, not all of it good. Or maybe it’s something more. Two things happen as Jesus sets “his face to go to Jerusalem.”

First, they’ve sent news ahead that Jesus is coming to a Samaritan town, but the people there aren’t interested in Jesus. Of course they aren’t. Samaritans and Jews are enemies. Samaritans were originally Jews, but they’re Jews who believe that God resides on Mount Gerizim, not in the Temple in Jerusalem, amongst other things. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem. 

But the disciples are offended and annoyed and ask Jesus if they should call down “fire from heaven to consume them.” No, says Jesus, let’s just move on.

Second, Jesus and the disciples next encounter three people: one who says they want to follow Jesus, and two that seem to have other priorities to take care of first. In each case, Jesus’ gruff response feels designed to dissuade them, rather than invite them in.

So what’s going on here?

Well, let’s remember that while we revere the divine Jesus and hold up (sometimes in more ways than one) the Son of God, there is Jesus’ humanity too. I think the key purpose of Jesus - divine and human - is to show the divinity and humanity that we are all capable of and inspire us to live more fully into it. So, as Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem, he acknowledges that we’re all on a journey and our journeys are our own, they’re complicated and they’re not always easy. 

I wonder if, after the disciples wanted to “smite” the Samaritan town, Jesus might also have said that they find their way to God their own way, and that’s okay. In a later chapter, Jesus will tell the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus seems to want us to know that not only are other faith traditions still part of the family of God, but that we can learn from them and be inspired by them to live more fully into our own.

I wonder, too, if, with the others, Jesus is pointing us again to this truth: God is life. The divine spirit is in all things and if we don’t understand, appreciate and engage that, then what we are doing is simply behaviour. To live like Jesus is to live with love at the heart of everything, to understand that divine spirit is in every fibre of our being and every action we take, however we know God, however our religion understands it, however our traditions engage it. For Jesus, that’s as real as it gets.