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.
Confession is not the stuff of pleasant homilies. You might feel that in your body even now—a tension, an uneasiness. So let me tell you a story. Continue reading “Confession is a Sort of Honesty (157)”
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)”
“You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
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”
I’m quite sure some of us have had this experience. I could be wrong of course. We can always be wrong. Sometimes the things we want to believe the most are wrong. But here’s the experience I imagine you’ve had: you we’re in a conversation with someone and somehow they found out that you were a person of faith. They let it be known that they didn’t believe in the existence of God. The two of you got to talking and eventually you realized that what they didn’t believe was something like this:
They didn’t believe in a God who sits in the clouds, looking down on earth over his long white beard and controlling everything. They didn’t believe in a God who looks at a child suffering and says, “Yup, just as I hoped.”
Or maybe they said that they didn’t need God to fill in the gaps of science. They said that natural explanations were good enough. You squirmed in your seat a bit but you nodded and said “okay.” You carried on with your day. Hours later, though, the thought struck you: “Hey, I don’t believe in that stuff either. The ‘God’ they don’t believe in, I also don’t believe in. If that makes them an atheist, then I guess I’m an atheist too.” You realized the two of you actually had quite a bit in common.
Continue reading “The Vegetarian Option (154)”
We have come to the third in this series of sermons related to the way of life practiced by the early church. In the past two I’ve tried to show how these ancient disciples of Jesus were eccentric. They found the centre to their identity outside themselves. They believed their bodies were not their own but were intended as signs of God’s presence in the world and as descriptions of God’s character. Now we move to another chapter of I Corinthians, chapter 7. Our reading came from the second half of that chapter (vv. 29-31).
I Corinthians chapter 7 deals with a question the disciples in Corinth asked Paul about marriage and sexuality. One of the commentators I read this week, Israel Kamudzandu, ended his nice, calm exposition of this passage by saying in an off-handed sort of way that it deals one of the most divisive subjects in the life of the church. As I read those lines, after having decided to preach on this text, I felt a bit as did once when I bought a car. Several days after I bought the used vehicle I found myself marooned at a gas pump, having just figured out that the release lever for filling the car’s tank didn’t work. Things like these would be helpful to know in advance. Continue reading “As Though They Had No Possessions (153)”
“You are not your own.” I wonder if there are many ideas that could be more upsetting to the way we think about our lives today. If the normal way of life is like a Jenga tower, the kind you build with rectangular wooden blocks, the idea that we are our own, that our bodies are our own, is one of the blocks on the bottom. Much of our how we think of ourselves depends on the belief that we own ourselves. You can probably imagine a disagreement between a parent and a child about, I don’t know, a haircut, tattoo or a new piercing. The child pushes back against the parent’s criticism, saying “It’s my body. It’s my decision.” Or maybe it’s an argument happening at the other end of the spectrum, an elderly parent is deciding whether or not to undergo some new life-saving medical procedure. “Come on dad,” the daughter says, “this will extend your life by another five years.” The dad replies, “No, it’s my body. It’s my decision. I don’t want it.”
The point doesn’t have anything to do with tattoos or medical procedures (maybe it’s the grandparent who want the tattoo or the wild haircut). I just want to point out how common it is for us to argue on the basis of the claim that our bodies are our own. Continue reading “You are Not Your Own (152)”
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)”
If you are an average teenager you are apparently on track to spend almost a decade of your life on your phone. The problem is that your phone wants to control you mind. A couple of weeks ago the CBC ran a piece by Virginia Smart that described the way app designers make use of the latest in neuroscience to grab our attention and keep us coming back to their products. I doubt this only applies to teenagers. Continue reading “Mind Control and Other Things (148)”
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)”