Discovering a bit of Joy (182)

[Zephaniah 3:14-20; Luke 3:7-18]

I want to begin with part of a prayer from Thomas More. More was a 16th-century lawyer and an ardent critic of the Reformation, including our spiritual ancestors the Anabaptists. Sometimes we find wisdom in our enemies. Let us pray:

“Grant us, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant us healthy bodies, and the necessary good humour to maintain them. Grant us simple souls that know to treasure all that is good and that don’t frighten easily at the sight of evil . . . .”

*   *   *

I don’t know if you heard it, but our reading from Luke has a very contemporary ring. This is a passage about privilege.

John has barreled in from the wilderness, chased by an epiphany. He has realized that his people were abusing their privilege. Way back in the book of Genesis we learned that their ancestors were blessed in a special way with God’s presence. John believed they had let the gift sour. John’s people had become complacent in their status. So he marches in to share his epiphany. It’s this: God can use stones. Stones can fulfill the mission. God doesn’t need a special people. The people have become like a privileged tree that doesn’t produce any fruit. John tells them to get ready for the axe. Continue reading “Discovering a bit of Joy (182)”

By the Tender Mercy of our God (181)

[Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6]

Some time before, Zechariah had drawn the short straw. He had been chosen by lot to carry out the priestly duties in the most holy, and most dangerous, part of the temple.

Different time and different culture, but this time of year we see fellows who have drawn the short straw too. They are the ones in the Christmas parade carrying the shovels, following the horses.

It was different for Zechariah. For him drawing the short straw may have meant that his colleagues clipped bells to his robe and tied a rope to his leg. If the bells stopped ringing his colleagues knew he had been struck dead and had to be pulled out by the rope. As it happened, Zechariah was not struck dead. He did, though, have a strange encounter. He saw an angle. The angle said that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. This son would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Continue reading “By the Tender Mercy of our God (181)”

Colonialism and Mission – A Short Case Study

Churches have histories. Or to put it more generally, the church is not just an idea, it is an actual social entity linked across geography and time. Hebrews 12 tells us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses: we are linked to the faithful that have come before us. The other side of that claim is that we are also linked to ventures that have been misguided, misdirected, and sometimes harmful.

Last summer I found myself doing something unusual: planning worship in an attic. I was collaborating by e-mail with one of our congregation’s worship leaders. He was near our church in Ottawa. I was in an out-of-the-way building in a small mining town on the other side of the province. I had traveled there to gain a better understanding of how mission agencies connected to our branch of the Christian family tree came to be intimately involved in a colonialist project. More specifically, for a period spanning roughly 1960-1990, Mennonite missionaries ran three schools that were a part of the government’s effort to assimilate Indigenous peoples into Euro-Canadian culture.

Continue reading “Colonialism and Mission – A Short Case Study”

“She brought him to the house of the LORD” (179)

[I Samuel 2:1-10; Mark 13:1-8]

Not long ago an international newspaper profiled someone who lives here in Ottawa. By itself, this isn’t terribly surprising. This is the nation’s capital; there are many interesting people here. What caught my attention about this piece, though, was that the subject was known essentially for a blog about books. The guy had previously worked for a Canadian intelligence agency and now has a website that is popular among CEO and high-net-worth investor types. What’s interesting too is that one of the most recent authors this guy has featured is a former nun, named Barbara Coloroso.

Now, one of my rules for life is that when I get an opportunity to listen to a conversation between a former spy and a former nun, I always say ‘yes’. Continue reading ““She brought him to the house of the LORD” (179)”

Daring Acts of Ethical Imagination (178)

[Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Mark 12:38-44 – Peace Sunday]

The fourth chapter of Luke tells how Jesus went to the meeting place of his home congregation on the Sabbath. He entered the cool limestone building, and as was his habit, stood up to read the scripture. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled it, scanning until he found this passage, which he read:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

After reading this Jesus sat down, but all eyes followed him. He was expected to say more, so he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus went on, and as he spoke tension began to swirl over the room’s tiered seats. Something sparked it and Jesus was driven out the door and out of the village. Jesus had declared the year of jubilee. He had declared himself a prophet. And he had declared that nobody in his hometown had the imagination to see it.

Cultivating peace requires imagination.   Continue reading “Daring Acts of Ethical Imagination (178)”

Lord, come and see (177)

[Ruth 1:1-18; John 11:32-44]

We’ve just heard two biblical stories. We heard the story of Naomi, from the book of Ruth, and the story of Lazarus, from the gospel according to John. Let’s think, for a moment, about the wider context of these stories. There is one part of this that is easy to overlook. It’s this: if we believe that scripture is in some deep way inspired by God (not mechanically, but in a deeper way) then part of the context of our hearing any scripture is a Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer whose very being is relationship. One of the unique and wonderful things Christians believe is that God doesn’t just have relationships, God is a relationship. Part of what it means to know God is to be brought into this divine relationship.   Continue reading “Lord, come and see (177)”

“I Have Uttered What I Did Not Understand” or Blessed Are Those Open to Reason (176)

[Job 41:1-11; 42:1-6]

In July of 1840 Søren Kierkegaard took a ferry to Jutland. He would have been 27 at the time, decidedly not the influential philosopher he would one day become. I assume that the ferry would have taken him from Copenhagen across the shallow Kattegat strait to that big hunk of mainland Denmark that sticks up into the North Sea. In his journal Kierkegaard says the trip seemed terribly long and boring, even though the regulars said it was abnormally fast. What made the trip worse was that there were four pastors on board. Continue reading ““I Have Uttered What I Did Not Understand” or Blessed Are Those Open to Reason (176)”

Something about Humility (175)

[Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Mark 10:35-45]

Most people today do not have spiritual conversations—at least not very often. We don’t talk much about God. We don’t talk much about prayer. We don’t talk much about theological virtues. Most of us are not comfortable with spiritual language. This is all according to a study outlined recently in the New York Times.[1] Continue reading “Something about Humility (175)”