[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)”
[Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36]
Have you head of Big Lonely Doug? He lives near Port Renfrew. Actually he lived there when the town was still called Port San Juan. Authorities had to change the name because the mail kept ending up in the San Juan Islands (USA). Port Renfrew is on Vancouver Island. Big Lonely Doug doesn’t live in town. He’s something of a hermit. Even so, he’s had thousands of children, and outlived most of them. Big Lonely Doug has been part of political campaigns and he’s been featured in magazines. Now he gets some visitors. Here are some of the basic facts: Big Lonely Doug is old, probably 1000 years old. He’s tall, 66 meters (216 feet). He’s well-rounded, 3.79 meters in diameter (12.4 feet). He’s also a record-holder: Big Lonely Doug is Canada’s second-tallest Douglas fir. Continue reading “A Tree and a Branch (180)”
[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)”
[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)”
[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)”
[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)”
[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. Continue reading “Something about Humility (175)”
[Genesis 2:15-20; Psalm 8]
What are people for?
Some of you will recognize that question from the title of a little book by a farmer-poet. That’s the first place I can recall seeing the matter put this way. It’s a good way to ask the question, isn’t it? What are people for? The question upends things.
We have recently welcomed several new babies into our congregation. At the same time a number of us have said a final “goodbye” to someone we love. And some of us are going through the torturous process of wondering if it is our turn for such a goodbye. Birth and death are the bookends. But what about the time in between, where we all are, soaked in the bliss, the pain, the boredom. What is that? What are people for? Continue reading “Tilling, Working, Naming (174)”
[Esther 7:1-6, 7-10; 9:20-22]
Every week we are given several possible texts that might anchor our worship service. One of options this week is a passage from the book of Esther. At a point in time when the public conversation keeps looping back to the ways many women have been mistreated by men in positions of power, it would be strange not to take this opportunity to sit with the story of Esther. This is the story of a woman who chose to step off the path her life seemed to be on. She chose to take a risk, and not a selfish risk, not a risk for herself, but a risk for others. There is a lot we can learn from Esther’s story, but one thing is surely how to live a life of significance—even in very difficult circumstances. Continue reading “A Meaningful Life, Even if it Doesn’t Make the Forbes List (173)”
[Mark 7:31-37; James 2:1-8]
One of the most significant theologians of the twentieth century described God as “the One who loves in freedom.”
That’s the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, writing sometime around 1939. At that point in his life Barth had been forced to give up his teaching position in Germany and leave the country because he was unwilling to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler. This sort of political consciousness wasn’t new for Barth. Earlier in his life, when he was a pastor, he was well-known as an advocate for the rights of factory workers. The vitality of his theology was prompted by a crises of faith he experienced during the First World War when he saw many church leaders and intellectuals support the violence without question. They simply assumed that God backed the nationalistic agenda. Continue reading “Gifts to Each (172)”