Thursday, 26 May 2022

If not now, when?

How much longer do we wait for something to happen?


We pray, we talk, we think, but we don’t really do anything more. We don’t act, we just wait, wait as if for something magical to happen. Is that what we do?


I didn’t give that any context, but I bet you’ve already given it some. It could be any number of things in the world today: the unspeakable tragedy of gun violence in schools and communities, racism, hate, war, climate change, inflation, poverty, housing, healthcare - the list is seemingly endless. And the few I mentioned are certainly not in any order of priority because that can change with our experience.


I want to talk about the disciples of Jesus for just a minute, though, and where they found themselves in the story when Jesus leaves them for the last time, ascending to heaven. They’d lived with Jesus for a few years, traveled and wondered and learned with him, experienced him and got to know him. Then he’s arrested, dies, is alive again and now says he’s leaving - again - and tells them that they will soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Then he ascends to heaven.


I imagine them, after all that, wondering exactly when that spirit thing will happen. It’s just a few days on our calendar, but what were they doing? Were they just sitting and waiting for the spirit to happen to them?


All that time they’d been with Jesus, learning to be Jesus, the times Jesus sent them out, told them they were to be Jesus to others, to share all that Jesus was about, not just in words, but in action. “As God has sent me, so I send you,” he’d say, and “love each other as I showed you to love.” He’d breathed the breath of life to them, offered them peace (the peace of God, not just a worldly peace) and said “receive the Holy Spirit.” And now, they should just sit around and wait to be empowered?


I’ve always felt that the story of Pentecost, of the disciples “receiving” the Holy Spirit and suddenly being able to communicate to people in their own language (metaphorically, I think, as well as linguistically), wasn’t really about something being done to them, but something finding its way out of them. We’re made in the image of God and of the earth: the divine spirit is already in us, equal with our earthliness, we’ve just not been very good at letting it out. It’s all part of our factory setting being love, not sin.


So why wait?


What if they were already at it, already living what they’d learned, being Jesus to each other and the world? What if they were already following Jesus’ instructions to love as he showed them, to live as he showed them, to be what he showed them? What if the Pentecost story is simply the moment of that being revealed to the wider community?


Let’s give that a different context. Imagine how different the world would be if we didn’t wait for some magical moment of inspiration to solve a problem that could have been avoided if we’d put love, creativity and life before hate, destruction and death - right now. What if we didn’t wait for some outside force to move us or some public opportunity to make a difference, but, instead, loved right now. What if we didn’t let apathy or fear, shyness or cowardice guide us, but instead broke out all the love that is in us and poured it into every moment of our living, overwhelming the culture of power, control, greed and selfishness that seems determined to make our world?

Thursday, 19 May 2022

What did you say?

“I hate it when that happens.”


Do you, though? I know it might seem like a little thing to some, just a casual expression and all. But it seems like there’s already so much hate in the world. Maybe we could pause for a moment and think about how easily, how casually and how readily we throw that word around. Maybe we could even spare a moment to wonder at what hate really is.


It’s being so vividly and graphically displayed in the world, that slipping it into casual conversation seems, at least, disingenuous. I hope. We’re becoming more and more accustomed to throwing around incredibly volatile language, employing rhetoric that encourages conflict, not relationship. It seems so pervasive.


Our language, like our world, has become incredibly complex. And misunderstood. And inappropriate. But hate, that's something that's still as simple as it's always been.

Hate isn't about personal taste, opinion, dislike or disagreement. It’s just not. The roots of hate are in fear, ignorance, power and rejection.


It was just a few weeks back that we celebrated Easter. Jesus is alive, we shout, and we say it’s a good time to look around and see how Jesus is alive in the world today. (By the way: anytime is a good time to do that.) I remember saying that Jesus is alive in each of us, in the love and caring we show for each other, how we share things, how we respect each other, how we live as Jesus taught us to live. Together.


To be honest, it can sometimes feel hard to say that convincingly when the world seems determined to show something different.


And what we say and what we do are intrinsically linked, aren't they?  One of the fairest criticisms levelled at the church - and governments and institutions and societies - is that we don't live what we say. We don't "walk the talk."


We should. There isn’t an excuse for that. We should. But we should also be as sure and sincere and authentic as we can be about our talk before we walk it out. How much of the bad that happens in the world today is inspired by words that are essentially hate born from ignorance and fear?


Jesus' answer to hate is love. Hope-filled, determined, life-giving love. The love that's at the heart of Jesus' teaching is about compassion and justice, it's about sharing in relationship, it's about being open to the new and different in order to know it and understand it, it's about bringing people together to share life, not just behave the same. Jesus' love is about respect and dignity for all. Jesus' love is God's love, and God's love is for all.


You cannot say that God loves everyone and then say “except those people.” Nor can you say God's grace is for everyone - but I don't have to forgive. Or that at the end of this life, only God judges us - but I can tell you where you're going.


Wholeness can't be achieved just by doing, it must be in what we say, too. And we should think about that first, and share it with God.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

How Are You Known?

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)


On a sunny spring Sunday in May, sitting on a comfortably padded pew, surrounded by people you know in a brightly lit church with the smell of coffee waiting to be shared, these words can sound like some real warm fuzzies. A blissful paradise of community in which everyone gets along, everyone shares, everyone, well, loves. It feels good to hear it.


But Jesus says these words to the disciples on their last night together before his arrest. This little piece of the story begins back at John 13:1 with “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” It includes supper with the disciples, a diverse group that probably didn’t always get along and who, now at least, seem pretty confused and upset about what’s happening. It includes dinner with Judas, who, the story says, betrayed him, and Peter, the one who promises to follow, but who will deny him. As night falls, the threat of arrest looms and the violence of the cross is coming.


That’s the context of Jesus’ words. I don’t think they were meant to be words of comfort and reassurance, but a call to action, a challenge to live “just as I have loved you.” The command to love wasn’t new, those words had been round for awhile. What made it new was the example Jesus gives in living it. Jesus didn’t love when convenient, nor was he selective about who should be loved or how they should be loved. He didn’t judge worthiness but loved all, especially the broken, the sick, the outcasts and the enemies. In Jesus, love becomes the all encompassing manner in which we engage the world to create positive, living, life-giving relationships. Right now.


It sounds great to say “love one another” but let’s just acknowledge right here that it’s hard. We fail often, sometimes spectacularly. History’s full of evidence to suggest that, often as not, people should know that we are disciples of Jesus - Christians - by our hypocrisy, our insularity, our selfishness, our judging of others and our own sense of self-righteousness. But that’s not who we are if we are disciples of Jesus. What would it take to change that perception? That people might know we are Christians by our sincerity, our care and respect for others just as they are, our kindness, our grace, our humble recognition of mistakes that have been made, our repentance - real repentance - for less-than-loving behaviour. What would it take? It would take love.


Yes, it would take love when it’s easiest, with people who look, sound, think and believe like us, when there’s no temptation to be selfish or vengeful or see anything but equality or when our love is welcomed and love is returned. Of course it would. And it would take love when it’s hardest, when we’re afraid of difference and change, when we’re afraid of hurt, when we’re tempted to be selfish and unforgiving, when it’s easier to withhold ourselves and refuse to engage others. It would take love in moments when hate is easier, separation is more appealing and aggression and power seems to make us feel strong. It would take love when we’re most vulnerable and when we’re feeling most powerful. It would take love.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

How Wool You Know God?

Come in the front door of our church and one of the first things you’ll see is sheep. A lot of sheep. Of all different shapes and sizes. Cuddly ones, ones big enough to sit on, funny looking ones, cute ones, fluffy ones and shaggy ones, and one which even has a real identification tag on their ear. I should probably also mention that they’re stuffed.


You can’t miss them. They live above the coat rack in the lobby. If you’re an adult, they might not be the first thing you see - that might be the stained glass or the rainbows, but children, they like to grab a sheep as they go by or scope out which one they’ll grab later.


It all started a few Easters back with a couple of big fluffy ones used in a story. They were just the right size for the littlest people to hug and sit on (and occasionally ride around on). Then there were a couple more. And each year after that there were more, different shapes and sizes and styles, all brought by adults in the congregation.

 

Some children have their favourites and some like to pick a different one each time. They hold on to them in church, or lie on the bigger ones. They're great companions for a movie night and a friend to play with when there's not much going on.


Comforter, friend, companion, protector. They’re whatever a creative spirit needs them to be.


The 23rd Psalm is one of the most familiar and most loved passages of scripture. “The Lord is my shepherd,” it begins. God makes sure that I want for nothing that I need and God is with me wherever I find myself in life - green pastures, gentle streams, even the shadowy valley and at table with my enemies. God comforts, cares, accompanies and protects me all the days of my life, just like a shepherd. And when this life is done, I will be at home with God.


I love the 23rd psalm. Like so many others, it’s one of my favourites and a “go to” for comfort, strength and support. God is with me always: what more could I need. I’ll be honest, though, it’s not the shepherd image that does that, it’s everything else.


Since Sunday school as a kid, through many a bible study, sermons and seminary classes, I understand the point of the shepherd image in this context. I also understand that the author wrote from the perspective of a sheep to this shepherd. I also understand that, as intimately meaningful to the author as it might have been then, it isn’t to me now. With all due respect to shepherds, sheep farmers, keepers of sheep and sheep themselves (not to mention 10th century BCE authors of psalms), I don’t have the same personal relationship with shepherds that they did. And isn’t that the point: the intimate relationship of love and care, a presence that brings peace and grace to every step of our life's journey: a comforter, friend, companion and protector.


Perhaps the shepherd and sheep is a meaningful metaphor for you. Perhaps not. If it's not, how about imagining your own 23rd Psalm. What image of relationship brings that meaning to you? Maybe it's a child with a treasured stuffed animal. Or an elderly person in their last days holding a stuffed bear, the gift of a child. Perhaps it's a farmer and their land, a teacher, a mentor, a partner, a lover, a home. How do you imagine your relationship with God?

Thursday, 28 April 2022

A Flash of Light

“I was blind, but now I see,” John Newton famously wrote in Amazing Grace. It’s an inspiring story, how Newton had been a slave ship captain but “saw the light” and became a priest, an abolitionist and an ally of William Wilberforce, the British politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade. Ironically, Newton went physically blind, but was spiritually enlightened.


Saul saw the light, too. Saul was a devout Jew who pursued the earliest followers of Jesus in the years after the first Pentecost. They were called people of The Way, then, and Saul, like many others, saw the new sect as a threat to his faith. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest more and “bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2) when it happened to him.  There was a flash of light “from heaven” that knocked him down and he hears the voice of Jesus asking him why he’s persecuting him (Jesus) and telling him to go into the city where he’ll be told what to do. Saul’s blinded for three days until a disciple named Ananias, told by God to visit him, comes to him and says “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). His sight returns and he’s a changed man. He later adopts the name Paul and becomes the great builder of the earliest church communities.


The thing is, I think, we often portray these “see the light” moments as just that, a moment. A sudden flash, a light bulb goes on and everything’s changed.


If only it were that simple.


John Newton marks a moment in which he called out to God during a storm at sea in March of 1748 as the beginning of his spiritual conversion. He continued working in the slave trade until a stroke forced him to retire in 1754, though he continued to invest in it for a few more years. He became a priest in 1764. Amazing Grace (and other hymns) appeared in 1779. It wasn’t until 1788 that he began to speak forcefully against the slave trade and he lived to see the Abolition Act passed in 1807, dying shortly afterwards. He would acknowledge, late in life, that it took him many years from that moment at sea to find his way.


Saul’s moment was a beginning, too, and not just three days of blindness. I think it took him a while to really get into that conversion moment. Conversion, by the way, comes form a latin word meaning simply to turn about. He certainly did that. He stopped what he was doing, but he needed to learn things, he needed to experience things, he needed to find his way from being a good Jew to a good follower of Jesus. He needed to understand what was happening. And that was a challenge at first because the very community he wanted to join was afraid of him: they didn’t believe that he had changed (Acts 9:21-30). It took some time.


Conversions begin with a change - a change of heart - but it takes work to live into the change and make transformation happen. We begin to see more clearly and hear more deeply, we learn and experience, we taste life and we live it with all our senses, not just sight. That’s what leads us to what is true.


It takes time and, of course, that means uniquely our own time. Finding love, grace, respect, compassion, truth - these aren’t new things. They’re already in us. This isn’t about religious dogma or tradition or culture, it’s about finding what’s true in each of us and following that path. We are each unique individuals, but we are one in being created in the image of God and God is love. There are many paths to God.


These conversion experiences don’t make something new out of nothing. They make something truly you out of everything you are.

Thursday, 21 April 2022

In and Out

Jesus is alive! This is the good news of Easter Day. Each of the four gospels tells their version of the story: the tomb is empty on the day of resurrection, angels announce Jesus is risen (as he said) and Mary meets Jesus. It's a new day, the first day of the week, a day of new life, a day of celebration.


But not that first day, not for the disciples. They didn't believe Mary's story. Even those who saw the empty tomb didn't get it. They were afraid and they hid "behind locked doors" (John 20:19). They didn't believe it until Jesus appeared to them in that locked room.


We've traditionally focused on Thomas as the one who doubted, but they all did. "Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.' After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord" (John 20:19-20).


"Then" the disciples rejoiced. Maybe Thomas is held up as the example of all of them who didn’t believe at first, but he’s also the example that lets us know that doubts and questions are okay and need to be asked and tested. I think he was even the bravest of them all because I think he was already out starting to live the life that Jesus had taught. Perhaps Jesus' death inspired him to greater living.


But let's get back to the other disciples. Things seemed to have come to a sudden and tragic end. They locked themselves away in fear, not knowing what to do next. Surely they would be safe if they just stayed indoors and kept to themselves, with a good stout door between them and the world.


Jesus wasn't having that, though. He appears to them, offers the peace which he had promised, the peace of his presence, and, literally, breathes life into them. "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:21-22). It's John's version of the Pentecost story. There's no wind or fire or speaking in tongues, but only the peace of Jesus' presence and the breath of his spirit.


And there’s one more thing: the command to come out. Like Lazarus, they are not dead and this locked room will not be their tomb. There’s living to be done. Jesus sends them to do what God sent Jesus to do: to bring love, grace and life to all.


In the midst of a chaotic, struggling world, I want to suggest that we think about how often in our lives we lock ourselves away, or build walls, thinking that we'll somehow be protected from it. But that doesn't protect, it imprisons.


Or we build structure into our lives that we think is only bringing order and sense and yes, it does, and we appreciate that.  But sometimes, if we don't constantly challenge ourselves with the need to go out into the world, it becomes rigid, restrictive and confining.


Jesus sends us out into the world to love. The peace he offers isn't an absence of conflict, but the assurance of God's presence. The spirit he breathes into us is inspiration, potential and possibility. For individuals, yes, but also for communities, cultures, nations: for a fearful world in need of new life.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Outside the Tomb

It really is unbelievable. With our usual sense of what is and isn’t real, you can certainly see why no one believed that Jesus was alive.


And no one in the story did, not just poor old Thomas who gets saddled with that doubt label, after the fact. The tomb was empty, the body was gone. But no one - no one - believed Jesus was alive until they saw him or touched him or talked to him. 


The women who first came to the tomb and found it empty wondered who had taken the body and where. When they told the other disciples, they didn’t believe it either. Not until they’d seen Jesus in person and touched him and talked to him.


I would have thought that, having spent all that time with Jesus, seen him doing the things he did, knowing him the way they did, they might have been more inclined to believe Jesus when he told them what was going to happen. Even the angel at the tomb reminded the women that he was alive, “as he said.” Weren’t they paying attention? Peter was just “amazed.” John’s gospel even suggests that the other disciple, who followed Peter, believed but didn’t understand.


Maybe that’s just it. We struggle to understand that Jesus is more than flesh and bone, broken on the cross, more than words, more than story or teaching or behaviour. We can say that we follow Jesus by trying to be like Jesus, to model our behaviour after Jesus, even to try and live like Jesus. But that’s not being Jesus. 


Jesus is not confined by a tomb, nor a body or the physicality of this creation. Jesus is about being. Jesus is about being love and grace, showing us how that is possible in this form which, like us, is both divine and human. 


I believe that when the gospel of John tells of Jesus describing himself as “the way, the truth and the life,” it’s not asserting that the way is Jesus, but that Jesus is being the way. To be love and grace is the way which is true and life giving. That “way” can exist in more than Jesus. It has existed in more than Jesus, we just always come back to a comparison to the original and nobody makes that cut. But comparison was never Jesus’ point. Meeting a particular standard that always seems slightly out of our human reach was never Jesus’ point. Connecting with the divine and human that is in all of us, embracing the love that’s there, the life-creating, life-engaging, life-giving love that’s there, and being that in the world, that’s Jesus point. That brings us into relationship with God, with each other and with all that is.


Perhaps that seems unbelievable. It certainly seems like the first to discover Jesus was alive felt that way. At first. But they lived into it and they found the way. They lived outside the tomb and we can, too.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Living Every Day

Well, here we are. Palm Sunday brings us to Holy Week which brings us to Easter.


From our perspective, we know what's going to happen. We know that the same people who welcome Jesus with waving branches and honour him by throwing their coats to the ground in front of him, as they would welcome a king, are likely the same people who turn away from him later the same week. We know that the leaders of the Sanhedrin are watching. We know what they were planning. We know the Romans are watching, too.


But we stand in celebration, still, perhaps waving our own palm branches or something like it, recognizing that Jesus planned this moment of celebration. He sent disciples to bring him a donkey to ride, a sign of peace (warriors rode horses), so that he could arrive as the prophet Zechariah had foretold the Messiah would. And the people celebrated his arrival, just in time for the feast of Passover, as they kept a wary eye on Pilate and his soldiers arriving to keep an eye on things during the festival.


Yes, Pilate was arriving in Jerusalem at the same time. He was on a horse. Nothing like a big event to inspire acts of patriotic rebellion, especially one that reminded the people of the exodus from Egypt.  I wonder if he noticed this extra bit of celebration.


So, in that moment, we celebrate what the people celebrated then: the arrival of the promised messiah.


But we know what has to happen. We know that this is not a moment of triumph, not yet. We knows he is walking to his execution. We know that, the very next day, he gets angry at the money changers and sellers in front of the temple and makes a scene. We know he teaches and foretells the temples destruction and the end times. We know he shares the Passover meal with his closest friends. We know he’s afraid, we know he doubts and prays that there might be another way. We know he’s betrayed and arrested. We know his mocked and judged and beaten and killed. We know his lifeless body’s placed in a tomb. We know that’s not where he stays.


Over time, Christians became a Sunday people, something we're now discovering may no longer be meaningful to people, looking to find God in their lives, but also looking for more time to fill their lives with meaningful things. But it's not just our focus on the time at which we gather, it's become part of how we tell the story. Jesus wasn’t a one day a week wonder. Jesus lives every day.


This moment of celebration on Palm Sunday is followed by a greater moment of celebration the following Sunday, yes, it is. But there's a whole week of days in between, important pieces of the story. It’s a story we know is there, but how often do we still walk it with Jesus?


Here is our opportunity to embrace Jesus and hold him close, close with experiences we might share in our own lives, moments of happiness, anger, fear, pain, shame and grief. It’s not a comfortable journey, no. It takes us to death and emptiness. But it doesn't end there. That's why we need to take the journey with Jesus: it’s the story of life and death. And life. That’s a story for next week.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Do you see what I mean?

If you’re looking for words of hope - and I’m pretty sure we all are these days - there are a lot of places to turn, a lot of people who have things to say. If the words are true, they will not only brighten your day, but inspire you to envision a new day, one which is better, and support you in living into it.


Isaiah had just these kind of words for the Hebrew people exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon in the 6th century BCE. Conquered and far from home, grieving the life they had lost, Isaiah told them to listen to God, who says “do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:18-19) I brought you out of Egypt, God says, through the wilderness and to the promised land, remember that? Well, now I’m going to bring you home again and this exodus will be even greater.


But, hang on, this seems confusing. You say forget the past. But you also say remember what God did in the past. How do we do both?


Hope is about what’s ahead, not behind. I think God means to say don’t live in the past and don’t mourn what’s past as if it’s lost, as if it’s something to go back to. You can’t. Those things bring you to here, they help make you who you are, but they don’t confine you. Instead, learn from them, grow from them and use them to propel yourself - and your world - forward into a new day.


The exodus from Egypt and the time in the wilderness were formative for the Hebrew people, a core piece of their identity, central to who they are and who they can become. And now, after a crushing defeat, lost in the wilderness of exile and surrounded by an inhospitable culture, Isaiah reminds them, not of better days in the past, but of what takes them to better days in the future: God.


This is not a return to the exodus from Egypt, but a new thing. They won’t return to the Jerusalem that was, nor will they be able to rebuild it exactly as it was. The people they return to will not be the same, either, they, too, will have changed. The new thing isn’t built in the past but on the foundation of the past, as every new moment is.


The spirit of God - the spirit of life - moves in each of us, and we have a part to play. Hope inspires action. God moved through Moses in Egypt and, in Isaiah’s day, Cyrus and the Persians, but also through community leaders who’s name we don’t know, through individuals who worked together, and people who followed.


The ground might still look cold and wet and bare, but underneath new life is getting ready to appear. If we look around, we might see and hear Isaiah calling to us from the earth. Listen, a new day is coming; do you not perceive it?

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Prodigal Life, Radical Grace

I bet that Jesus often encountered people who were not happy with the company he kept. Pharisees and religious leaders, mostly, but others, too, I suspect, who felt that Jesus, as a godly person, should be spending his time with those they judged to be equally as godly. Certainly not “those people,” sinners, “tax collectors” and the like. It seems like “tax collector” was a catch all for just the worst or the worst people.


But Jesus would try to point out that those are precisely the people he came for: the ones in need of love and grace, the marginalized, the de-humanized, and most certainly people who were judged by others to be “those people.” We’re all children of God, all in need of grace and love.


In the gospel of Luke, he responds to this criticism by taking the time to tell three stories about being lost and found, three stories about the radical, expansive, life-giving power of grace.


All are pretty familiar, I think: the story of the shepherd who leaves all his sheep to look for a single one that is lost and then celebrates its return; a woman who loses one of ten coins and won’t rest till she finds it, celebrating when she does; and a story of a parent with a problem child.


That last one we’ve traditionally referred to it as the parable of the Prodigal Son. But it's not just about the one son. It's also about the father and it’s also about his other son. It could also be about the mother we don't hear about, possibly the rest of the family, if there is more, and certainly about the community in which they live, who witnessed the story, but Jesus keeps it focused on the four main characters.


It's also not just about the "prodigal" behaviour of the youngest son. Prodigal simply means to be rash and recklessly extravagant. The young son was certainly that. His brother - and others - might argue that the father behaved in a similar way by giving him his inheritance when he did. It certainly violated the common code of the day.


One could make a good case for saying the older brother was "prodigal" too, in that he gave his entire life over to being a "slave" for his father. Or so he says. His anger certainly suggests that he thinks he's wasted his life and is now envious of his brother.


But the prodigal nature of their behaviour isn't even the heart of the story. Each of them has been lost, in their own way. The young son lost in the life he thought he could have by himself. The father sadly lost in a life without his son. The older brother bitterly lost in the life he got which was not the one he wanted.


I think the heart of the story is something so big, so alive, so life-giving, that it’s become a character itself in the story, a larger than life one, even. It’s grace. 


The young son finds grace for himself enough to return home where his father offers him grace in welcome. They are found. But, rather than a happy-ever-after for all, Jesus leaves us with the father's explanation to the older son, without indicating that the son accepts it. I can imagine the father continuing on from "this brother of yours was dead and has come to life" with "and I, too, have found new life and you also can find new life in grace. Will you embrace it and live it?" Maybe that question’s for us, too.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

This is the Journey

There was a time when one could reasonably assume that most anyone who attended church regularly knew at least one thing from memory. The Lord’s Prayer or The Prayer of Jesus or the Our Father, depending on your tradition, was one of the first things learned by children and adults.


That may not be true anymore, but I don’t necessarily think that has to be a bad thing. It does present the opportunity to look at it more closely and wonder if, in learning it by rote, we may have lost some of the depth of its meaning.


For me, regardless of traditional or contemporary language or the various biblical and liturgical versions of the text, the prayer encapsulates what Jesus is all about: our relationship with God, which is both intimately personal and communal, and our participation in that relationship. By that, I mean that God is held to be holy, the kingdom of heaven can be here on earth and we are fed - in body, mind and spirit - not simply by God's will alone, but by our participation in it. What we understand as God's will, God's purpose, God's desire for us for a life of wholeness, filled with love and compassion, peace and joy, requires us to be active in living it, in living as Jesus teaches in his life.


Nobody, especially Jesus, ever said that was going to be easy, just that it’s going to be worth it. Of course, we tend to see so many things in life as problems to be overcome, tests to pass, battles to win and opponents to be defeated rather than challenges to be engaged, experiences to be shared and life to lived fully. Even our idea of justice is adversarial and based on retribution: those who are judged to have acted wrongly are punished. And that's more often about the law, which is not always justice.


Jesus, though, teaches that being "just" is about equity. Justice, for Jesus, is distributive.  It's about living what is true with equity, fairly sharing all things so that everyone has what they need, with respect, love and compassion for all.


That all sounds wonderful, doesn't it? And utopian. Which it is, literally. It would be a world of such perfection that it would have to be, well, heaven. But the kingdom of heaven is near, says Jesus, and can be brought here on earth when we participate in living The Way that Jesus showed us. “Perfection” isn’t required, except in the sense that we are perfectly made to be who we are. We will strive and sometimes fail, we will not be the arbitrary “perfect” as society defines it, we will sometimes feel lost, sometimes feel like this heaven is forever out of reach. So why bother?


Simply, because this is the journey. It's not the beginning or the end, it is the journey and, as theologian and author Brian McLaren observed, we are "in the making,” an observation he made in the appropriately titled book 'We Make the Road by Walking.'


We aren't called to an earthly understanding of perfection, we're called to living.  And that means we're called to do our best at living into wholeness with each other and the earth, with love and compassion and grace.  Yes, I know, that still sounds so impossible, but the point is the trying, the engaging and the living - we make the road by walking.

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Life is More

There’s a lot of anxiety out there right now. People are worried about what’s going on in the world. And there’s a lot going on.


There was already a host of social, political, economic and justice issues to be faced when the pandemic hit. That’s created its own worries. And now, our hearts hurt for people of Ukraine and places in the world where tyranny, conflict, anger, hate and bitterness are breaking more lives.


In a moment like this, many people - religious, spiritual or none of the above - might look to the Bible for a word of comfort or support. Or justification. Some may be tempted to turn to Revelation or Ezekiel or any of the apocalyptic stories and see the end times coming. What’s happening now, they might say, is the prelude to the Second Coming and the end of the world. It’s all right there, predicted in the Bible.


Please don’t. I know it’s tempting, but if you’re looking for some direction from the Bible, please look to Jesus instead because, well: love wins.


Jesus even talks about worry in the Sermon on the Mount. He gets to it about a third of the way through (Matt. 6:24-34), but, right from the beginning, with the Beatitudes, he talks about many things that we might be anxious about, including the law, anger, reconciliation, divorce, loving you enemies and other things. Then he says you have to choose, because you can’t let your life be led by God and material things.


Life is more than wealth, more than material things, more than “stuff.” Look at the birds, he says, or the flowers in the fields. They aren’t anxious, they just “be,” trusting in God. The point is, Jesus says, if you live with God at the centre of your life - that is, God which is the spirit of life and love that is grace and compassion, respect and care, creativity and positivity - if that’s what you put at the centre of your life and live that out into the world, then everything else will be what it needs to be. Trust in that, have faith in that, and we won’t be locked down by anxiety, paralyzed by fear or lost in worry. We’ll know that God is with us and working through us: we are not alone and we are empowered and inspired by love.


There are things we can do. Birds fly and flowers grow, remember. No matter how seemingly small an action may feel, each of us has something to offer. It may begin with thoughts and prayers, but that’s just a beginning, action follows according to our ability. For some that might be direct personal action, for others a donation of money or goods, verbal or visual support, letters to governments, what things you buy or use, even consideration of what you wear or where you travel. Even in moments when we feel there’s nothing we can do, love can inspire us to action.


It’s easy to get caught up in material things and in the very real grief and hardship of a struggling world. I think Jesus knows that. And our modern world is so much more complex than birds and flowers. But I bet Jesus would say “don’t worry. Love is in you. The divine spirit of life is in you. All that other stuff’s outside. Strive to be the truest you and you’ll be what you need.”

Thursday, 3 March 2022

A Long Forty Days

The season of Lent is the forty days before Easter. It originates with the story of Jesus fasting for forty days in the wilderness, where he’s tempted by the devil. Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell the story, though their details vary a bit. For most people, Lent is a time for reflection and self-examination, a time for finding solitude, a “wilderness” time, following Jesus’ example. We might even fast like Jesus, or at least give something up for Lent. Once we’ve had our pancake supper on the last day before Lent, of course. Ah, traditions.


I’m feeling a little different this year. Like me, you might be feeling a little like this is still Lent of 2020, a little like we’ve been having a “wilderness” time for two years now. By the way, in the Bible, the number forty doesn’t necessarily mean exactly forty anything, it’s shorthand for “a long time.” And it’s been a long time, with lock downs, masks, sanitizer, and all the protocols designed to protect us, but which also isolate us and disconnect us from the daily life we knew.


Isn’t that the point of what Jesus was doing, though? I think he went into the wilderness to find himself - the testing or tempting is just a way to describe Jesus coming to terms with who he was, so that he could face the world.  In order to do that, the wilderness he needed was simply a place where everyday life was not. The story makes it a geographical desert, but for you and me it might not need to be that. It could be a living room, a house, an apartment, a garden. It could have been any place where we can disconnect from the everyday.


And, while the story says Jesus is tested the whole time, Luke and Matthew give three specific “temptations” from the devil at the end, kind of to sum things up: food, power and safety. Each time, Jesus responds with trust in God. It’s as if the temptations are the earthly stuff our human selves value, the very thing Jesus went to the desert to get away from, the very things that ought to be governed by love, not the other way round. Love before stuff, Jesus seems to say. Then he leaves the wilderness behind and begins to live it in his ministry.


I don’t imagine for a minute that the wilderness - or wildernesses, depending on how you experienced it - of the last two years was welcome, or that we necessarily all made use of it rather than simply experienced it and survived it. Many were able to engage the time, many adjusted, but just as many struggled with loneliness and grieved the loss of life, even the end of life.


So this year, I’m trying to see Lent as an opportunity to spring back to life. The word “Lent,” after all, is derived from a word meaning the “lengthening of days” or even “spring season.” The earth is coming back to life and so should we. What has been resting is ready to appear, it’s waiting for the snow to turn to water, the ground to warm and the sun to shine, and it’s making its way to the surface, to emerge and blossom. What if you thought of your life like a garden, rather than a desert? How would you nourish it, care for it and help it grow? How would you prepare for the summer days which lie ahead?

Thursday, 24 February 2022

More Than a Moment

I’m sure there’s a long list of bible stories, verses or phrases that are appropriate for what’s happening in the world right now. And we might find comfort and inspiration in the ones we each find most meaningful. But, this week, I can’t help thinking of the story of the Transfiguration as speaking a timely message.


Each of the gospels includes this story of Jesus ascending a mountain with three of the disciples. Once there, he appears to be transfigured - illuminated with bright inner light, as if “in glory” - and then he’s seen talking to Moses and Elijah. The disciples are amazed - and afraid - but Peter wants to build a shrine for each of them to mark the moment. A great cloud appears and God’s voice is heard saying “this is the chosen one, listen to him” and, before you know it, it’s all over. Down the mountain and on with their lives they go.


Of course, each author tweaks the story their own way, but, essentially, here is the divine nature of Jesus revealed, not only in his being transfigured, but in the company he keeps and the voice of God proclaiming him.


Okay. Cool story, but what makes it so meaningful right now?


Look where this happens. It’s a mountain top moment, a peak experience. We all have those in the geography of our lives. We also experience valleys and plains, deserts and green pastures, stormy seas and gentle streams. This particular peak, especially in Luke’s account, is the transition between Jesus’ early ministry and the journey to Jerusalem and the cross. He’s climbed the mountain, the light in him is revealed and he comes down the other side, continuing on his journey toward the valley of shadow and death.


Look what happens. The light is the divine spirit in Jesus. It may be revealed in a moment, and that particular moment passes, but the light doesn’t. And the light doesn’t stay on the mountain, it goes with Jesus into the days ahead. The light that gives hope and courage, the light of grace and compassion, the light of wonder and love, this is the divine light that is in all of us. It goes with all of us.


Look who’s there. Jesus takes his friends with him, appears to be divine himself, but also meets the divine spirits of Moses, the great giver of the law, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. The law and the prophets represents the scriptural tradition Jesus says he comes to fulfil. We are all children of God, the divine spirit of life, and that is present in friends, strangers, leaders, followers, the famous and the unknown.


So, when there are shadows, look for the light. When the valleys are deep, remember the mountain top moments. When feeling alone, look for the face of the divine in those around you. Because the divine spirit of life is in all things and shows itself, sometimes when least expected, always when most needed.