Every Sunday churches around the world read a set of passages assigned by the lectionary. Of those assigned to us today, the one that I want to draw our attention to is the reading from Psalm 51. We read it to each other as a call to worship this morning and echoed it in a hymn. What this poem does, perhaps more than any other in this part of the Bible, is display the value of confession. Confession is admitting, to ourselves first and then to others, that we have made a poor choice. It might be helpful to think of confession as “radical, personal honesty.” Often when we want to get serious about radical honesty we aim to tell others what we really think of them. Confession, though, turns this back on ourselves.
Some of you have probably seen the film Hidden Figures. It was released in the early part of last year. The film takes us into the story of African American women working for NASA in the middle part of the last century. As movies often do, Hidden Figures simplifies the history a little. But it does so in order to tell the story of three really smart women: Katherine Johnson, a ‘computer’ before that term referred to a machine; Mary Jackson, an aspiring engineer; and Dorothy Vaughan, a department supervisor. Continue reading “Saved from What? (156)”→
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel.”
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk at some length with a group of university students curious about the link between Christian spirituality and reconciliation. The basic question we were working with was this: What is it within the Christian tradition that serves as an impetus for resolving conflict? Other groups were having similar discussions related to other spiritual traditions.
One of the things that was the most provocative for my group was the idea of forgiveness. In particular, the words of Jesus on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I tried to steer the conversation toward the lines about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer; I think those are more formative for Christians. However, it was the response of Jesus to his tormentors that grabbed the student’s attention. Why would he forgive in this situation? Would we do the same? Why would we go through the often long and difficult process of releasing our right to get even? It was not a short conversation. Continue reading “Lent II – Forgiveness and Awe”→
What would you think if I told you that being a Christian meant being eccentric? I imagine that sitting in a church, you might look around and say that seems about right.
The word eccentric can mean being a bit unusual or a little odd, peculiar maybe. Another way to define the word, and this is more helpful for our purposes here, is to say that something eccentric is off center or maybe that its center is found beyond itself. My sermons in the next few weeks will explore a common theme: the way in which the lives of early Christians were ‘eccentric’ in just this sense. Continue reading “Becoming an Eccentric People (151)”→
A one-match fire in the snow is the test. An old-timer once told me a story of a time he failed. He and a buddy were making a long trek on snowshoes between two northern villages. The night was colder than they expected. They were counting on a trapper’s cabin but couldn’t find it. They set up as best they could in the snow with spruce boughs and down sleeping bags. But they couldn’t get a fire started. Match after match, they went through almost every one they had. The flame wouldn’t catch. Continue reading “As when Fire Kindles Brushwood (149)”→
I wonder if you can imagine two neighbours. Let’s say one is a man, recently retired, the other a woman who manages a local bank. They both moved into the neighbourhood around the same time, and it happened that the leader of the neighbourhood association told the woman that she would be a “great asset” to the neighbourhood. This was not said to the man. The man felt slighted and so he determined to show his value to his neighbours, so he fertilized his lawn and planted some new perennials. The woman, though, was finally feeling as though she had neighbours who took her seriously. She wanted to keep it that way, so she had her driveway paved and her shabby mailbox replaced. But then the fellow built a new porch and replaced the siding on this home. The woman had dormers put in and added a picket fence. The man, then, bought some handsome carved lions for the end of his driveway. The woman decided to employ a handsome guard with a red jacket and a bearskin hat. The man bought a new car and then a second one, he threw a lavish Halloween party for the whole block. Then the woman . . . whatever. I think you’re seeing the picture I’m trying to create. It’s a picture of competition. It’s a picture defensiveness. It’s a picture of people driven by the sense that their acceptability depends on what they do. It’s a picture of competition and the sense that everything depends on getting this right and coming out on top. Continue reading “Jesus against Morality (145)”→
This past Sunday our congregation here in Ottawa had a special service celebrating the role music has in this church and in worship generally. Music can do a lot for us. Think about something as specific as the way we understand the Trinity. I’m reminded of the work of Jeremy Begbie, a theologian and professionally trained musician. He says that for centuries Christians have tried to think of the Trinity visually. This hasn’t been very successful. We can’t readily depict two things sharing the same space at the same time and not being muddled into something entirely different. With music, though, Begbie thinks we can do better. Continue reading “And to God the things that are God’s (144)”→
You all came very close to having to sit through a sermon on taxes. We’re lucky we started in verse eight and not verse seven of Romans 13. This is verse seven: “Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due . . . .” We jumped into the passage in the next verse. We’re just in time to hear Paul tell his readers not to owe anyone anything except love. And this meant something. In the ancient Roman world people’s lives were ordered by their sense of obligation, to the empire, patrons, ancestors, even friends. But Paul says that the good news reorders things. Yes, those who believe this good news should still pay their taxes; they should be a benefit to the larger community, not a drag. But because Jesus is the crucified and risen presence of God, they could let the whole system of honor and obligation go. Continue reading “Suited Up (142)”→
It was early spring and raining. My family and I went looking for adventure in a woodlot near our house. A two-day downpour had melted much of the winter’s snow and the little stream that we could jump over in the summer now barely fit under the footbridge. When you walk in the rain you feel the relevant facts. Things are wet, cold, slippery. What’s true and important is obvious, which is to say it’s different than taking in the news.
As my wife and I talked, two of our boys ran ahead to explore. They had their bright rain jackets on and several layers beneath. It was still relatively cold. I was focused on our conversation when I saw a child in the water up to his shoulders. He was wearing a red rain jacket. For some reason, I did not comprehend what was happening. We learned later that our son had been walking through shin-deep silty water when he stepped over the submerged edge of a curve in the streambed. Immediately he was unable to touch bottom. He tried, quite calmly, to swim.
What can we say about a beginning such as Genesis describes? “Let there be light . . . .” A flash and, as it says, “there was light.”
The Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaître developed a theory about the beginning of our universe. He hypothesized back from the observation of its continued expansion to the idea that at one time it must have all been concentrated in single point. Lemaître called this the “cosmic egg” or the “primeval atom.” The beginning of our universe, he suggested, happened with the explosion of this egg. As I understand it, it was Father Lemaître’s ideas that were the beginning of the theory we know as the Big Bang. For Lemaître there was no need to choose between a scientific description like his and the poetic biblical one. Both speak truthfully. Continue reading “Numbering our Days (137)”→