Our readings today, from Psalm 24 and II Samuel 6, remind us that at the core of our faith is something more than words, something more than a community that we build, something more than our preferences or experiences, something more than our ideas or worries, something more even than the history of those who have called themselves Christians—at the core of our faith is the living God. In II Samuel 6 we see this truth strangely knit into a story about moving heavy furniture.
A few people have recently asked me about an academic paper I wrote some years back on Mennonite-run residential schools in Ontario. The paper was published in the January 2019 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review.
My sermon this morning is another in our congregation’s series of short summer sermons on the theme of joy. Today I will begin with the gospel reading assigned to us by the lectionary.
Recall these lines: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground. . . .” This is Jesus speaking. “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
The paragraph that comes next in this reading from the gospel of Mark is the analogy of the mustard seed and the kingdom of God. Readers of Mark’s gospel are often drawn to that image, but today let’s stick with this first one. In particular, I would like to draw your attention to the opening lines.
This summer the congregation that I serve in Ottawa will be inviting a number of lay preachers to speak on the theme of joy. I’ll preach a bit less, and some of my sermons will deal with this topic as well. So what I’m offering here tracks away from the lectionary and opens up this topic for our congregation.
A number of church bodies, both Protestant and Catholic, have issued apologies for their involvement in running Canada’s residential schools. However, the response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #58 has been inadequate. It’s time for this to be remedied. Here is the text of that action item:
Sometimes the life of faith can be confusing. We can feel overwhelmed by changing ideas and different points of view. This is one of the reasons I find value in the Christian Creeds. The Creeds don’t say everything about God that needs to be said, but they do have a way of pointing us toward the central things.
We think that the oldest Christian creed was just one line—talk about simplifying things —it’s this: “Jesus is Lord.” The line we see in Greek is this: κύριος Ἰησοῦς. The word κύριος, or Lord, was used in the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible as a substitute for the holy name of God. Greek-speaking followers of Jesus were extending that tradition when they summed up their commitments with the simple phrase, “Jesus is Lord” (e.g. Rom. 10; I Cor. 12).
I was standing with my young sons on the edge of a cornfield. It was late-December and snowing. We let the dog off her leash and watched as she ran across the field. Then she turned and leapt her way back toward us, jumping rows of downed cornstalks two-at-a-time. Bits of unfrozen soil flew through the air. I bent down so my face was even with that of my youngest son. We watched together. The falling snow thickened and the wind picked up. We could hardly see the opposite side of the field. “It’s very pretty,” he said. There was nothing really special about the place—a farm field that abutted a soccer pitch and a schoolyard. But my son was right; it was very pretty. As I dug the dog’s leash out of my pocket, the snowflakes grew heavy, like airborne slush. By the time we got home and I returned to sermon-writing, it was raining. Weeks later we learned that 2020 tied 2016 as the warmest year on record.
There is much at stake in the ecological crisis unfurling around us: places we love, crops we grow and eat, ecosystems we depend on in more ways than we know, even the character of the world our children will inherit. Despite all this, our collective response is falling far short. Too much of our action, including that of the church, is merely individual or half-hearted. What is the way forward? What would meaningfully address the crisis of climate change? Seth Klein’s new book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency aims to answer this question.
It was an improbable scene. The extended family and close friends of Cornelius had gathered in the courtyard of his large house. This was in Caesarea, a port city along the Mediterranean coast. They were there to listen to a speaker that Cornelius had invited from Joppa, a town further south on that same coast. When the speaker arrived, the second thing he said was, “You know it’s illegal for me to be here.”
There’s a story about a theologian from Texas who was invited to give a lecture on the campus of Harvard University. The theologian wanted to get some work done before giving his lecture, so he set out to find the library. Looking for some help, he asked a passing graduate student, “Excuse me, where’s the library at?” The graduate student replied, “Sir, at Harvard we don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” The theologian rephrased, “Okay, where’s the library at, jackass?”
I like this story because it reminds us that sometimes in our urge to be presentable we miss what’s important. I also like it because it reminds me that there are worse things than ending a sentence with a preposition.