A New Mysticism for a New Year – A January Sermon

It is less common today than it used to be, but there once was a time when every household had one person who was almost always left out of group pictures. It might have been one particular friend, or mom or dad, or a certain relative, but there was almost always one person absent from visual records. This was the person that usually took the pictures. Any outsider looking through the photo album could be forgiven for thinking that person was not an important member of the household. Continue reading “A New Mysticism for a New Year – A January Sermon”

Is the Prince of Peace Bad for the King of the Jungle?

There’s something still stuck in my head from Advent. I’ve thought about it before, but for some reason the question is sticking with me longer this year (probably because I’m also reading an old book by Holmes Rolston III). The thought is this: What do we do with Isaiah’s peaceful vision? Is the arrival of the Prince of Peace bad news for environmental ethics? It seems an odd question at first. Within the current political alignment, concerns for peace are often allied with concerns for the environment. And in the annual run-up to Christmas churches typically work their way through some of the prophetic passages in Isaiah, the ones that New Testament writers then link to Jesus of Nazareth. Preachers like myself then tie the radical enemy-love of Jesus with Isaiah’s picture of predator and prey living peacefully together. Lion and calf, wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, bear and cow, baby and asp—they are all put together in the nursery of Isaiah 11. And we think this depicts a great future. Continue reading “Is the Prince of Peace Bad for the King of the Jungle?”

Learning about Advent from Bilbo Baggins

A few weeks back, just before the start of Advent, churches around the globe were reading the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The story they were tracking was not yet the birth of Jesus, but the birth of another child—this one named John. The story of John’s birth is interesting. The boy’s mother, Elizabeth, had given birth; her neighbors and relatives were just as excited as she was. They assumed that she would name the boy Zechariah after his father. She refused and insisted that the baby would be named John. In her day a mom didn’t just give a child a nice sounding name that she found on the internt. Kids usually received family names or names with some unique meaning, so the name John came as a surprise. Continue reading “Learning about Advent from Bilbo Baggins”

Churches, Forests, Restoration

One of the places my family and I like to go on a Saturday is a nearby ‘natural’ area known as Forêt Larose. At 11,000 hectares, this is one of the largest community-managed forests in Ontario. We enjoy the trails; skiing and snowshoeing them when there’s snow, hiking and biking them when there isn’t. What I appreciate most about this forest, though, is its story. In the nineteenth century, this part of the province was aggressively logged. Then it was farmed—or at least farming was attempted.

The sandy soil wasn’t productive and by the beginning of the twentieth century, the area became known locally as the Bourget Desert. In the 1920s, a local agricultural representative named Ferdinand Larose began a campaign to have the area replanted with trees. One of the goals was to create sustainable, local jobs. Today the place is forested well enough to draw hikers, mountain bikers, and hunters. On winter weekends, visitors can even hear the rowdy barks of sled dogs. And yes, the forest can now support some careful logging. Continue reading “Churches, Forests, Restoration”

On the Verge of a Reckoning – Apocalyptic and our Changing Climate (Extracts from a Sermon)

Luke 21 tells the story of an ancient field trip. The Rabbi Jesus has taken his students to Jerusalem. Many of the group were from towns up north and rarely visited the city. They were used to small towns and small synagogues, and so the size and sophistication of Jerusalem—especially its temple—made a great impression on them. Continue reading “On the Verge of a Reckoning – Apocalyptic and our Changing Climate (Extracts from a Sermon)”

“Whether the Time is Favorable or Unfavorable,” A Sermon for the Sunday before the Election

“Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.”

This morning I want us to reflect on this phrase in the context of our upcoming election. I want us to consider how this phrase, vague though it is when standing alone, might help us trace the basic shape of a Christian political vision. By ‘political’ I simply mean what is traditionally meant by that word: a vision of human flourishing and a practical way of getting there. Things that tread that territory, including the Christian life of faith, are inherently political. Continue reading ““Whether the Time is Favorable or Unfavorable,” A Sermon for the Sunday before the Election”

Do Churches Matter in the Environmental Crisis?

We could see the green copper roof of the Parliament building through the wide glass windows surrounding us. We were on the top floor of the University of Ottawa’s business building, just a few blocks from the center of Canada’s federal government. It was day one of our orientation to a program of studies in environmental sustainability. We had to introduce ourselves: I described myself as a pastor and a theologian. I felt entirely out of place.

Continue reading “Do Churches Matter in the Environmental Crisis?”

Prayer and the Lumberjack

I’m working from home today. Not long ago the doorbell rang. A delivery man handed me a box. An initial shake gave me the impression it contained books. Occasionally I do receive books that I forgot ordering, but not usually this many. It turns out this box of books was different: inside were several copies of my new book, Speaking of God. I wasn’t expecting these for several more weeks. In honor of the early arrival of the blue books I’m posting an excerpt from chapter 14, which is titled “They were all Together in One Place: Connections.” It’s about ways that we connect with God.  Continue reading “Prayer and the Lumberjack”

The Climate Strike, Scripture and the Deep Question of Value

How much is a great whale worth—alive? One study puts the number at $2 million. Whales are an important part of marine ecosystems. They sequester carbon and distribute nutrients.  But putting a number like that on a whale brings up deeper questions about value.

Yesterday young people led a global protest against the lack of serious action on climate change. Let’s be clear, the debate is not essentially a disagreement about the relative importance of the economy or the environment. There are jobs to be had and money to be made on both sides. The real issue raised by these activists is one of value. Continue reading “The Climate Strike, Scripture and the Deep Question of Value”

Vocation and the Economy of God

On my desk I have a sticky note with a few key words that guide my preaching. One of them is the word ‘meaning’. I think we’re all looking for meaning. We want our lives to mean something and we want to participate in something bigger than ourselves. We want to make a difference in something that really matters. Yet I think it’s increasingly uncommon for people to have this sense, this deep conviction that their lives mean something. This is one of the reasons that I’ve found myself drawn again to the theological concept of vocation. Continue reading “Vocation and the Economy of God”