The story begins familiarly enough: a young person on a service trip to a poor country is rocked by the poverty and the suffering she sees. Upon returning home she finds that she can’t carry on with life as usual. The knowledge that, even though she lives in relative comfort, others suffer profoundly from a lack of the most basic provisions is too much. It’s hard to settle back into ‘normal’ life. Where this particular story takes a different line than most, is when the young woman decides to return and volunteer at one of the charities making a difference. And where the story gets even more surprising—and for a time inspiring—is when the young woman decides to start her own charity. She was 19 at the time. The needs were obvious. The people back home were generous. God was in it, at least that’s how it appeared. Continue reading “Too Nice to Help?”
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. –Jeremiah 31:33
Several years ago my family and I spent four months on a sabbatical in a new part of the country. It was memorable. For one thing, this was the first time we had lived in a building that was the unique design of an internationally known architect. We also met interesting new people. One family we got to know had kids who matched up with our own. Over hand-made pizza one evening I was surprised to learn that they, little kids included, practiced elements of the Ignatian spiritual tradition. Ignatius was Christian teacher and pastor, a Spaniard from the sixteenth-century. Continue reading “Lent V – And Joy Too”
For some reason whenever I read the first verse of Psalm 19, “The heavens are telling the glory of God . . . ,” I am reminded of one of the climbing trips I took as a college student. Two friends and I were trying to climb a peak in southern Alberta, just east of Banff National Park. It was called Mount Joffre. We ended up there because the instructor of a glacier-travel course we had taken suggested it would be a good fit for our (relatively low) skill level. For one reason or another we attempted a more difficult route than he probably had in mind. We almost got ourselves killed, or at least that’s how it felt. Continue reading “Lent III – A Thought on Fasting”
At the heart of what I want to share in this sermon is the simple biblical news that God is trustworthy. I take this to be an implication of our scriptural readings: in Genesis, God made promises to Sarah and Abraham; in the gospels we see God fulfilling these promises in ways they could have never imagined. God is trustworthy. That’s the message of Scripture.
Our own experience tells us that this trustworthiness does not mean we should expect God to magically intervene whenever things get tough. That God is trustworthy, doesn’t mean that we will end up healthy and wealthy. That God is trustworthy, doesn’t mean nobody will ever take advantage of us. That God is trustworthy, doesn’t mean that the way things are is the way things should be. That God is trustworthy, doesn’t mean that following God’s Word, following Jesus, will be free of sacrifice. Continue reading “No Longer Shall Your Name Be . . . (155)”
Have you ever heard of someone ‘praying to the saints’? There may be some people who actually do this, but mostly it is a misconception. Protestants, Anabaptists included, have told tall tales about this sort of thing for a long time. The Bible calls all those who are in Christ ‘saints’. We have come to use the term more narrowly, though, to identify someone whose life is obviously holy. A saint is a role model, a hero of sorts. It’s a description we don’t use glibly. We don’t usually identify people in this way until years after they have died and some of the biases have settled out. In the wake of so many new allegations of sexual harassment and abuse this seems like good sense. Celebrity culture pushes us to admire public and powerful figures in a way that ignores their shadow side. The tradition of identifying saints isn’t perfect, but it is more patient. Continue reading “Together, the Saints and the Suffering (146)”
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 … Continue reading I Knew You Would Save Me
On this particular Sunday, it is Pentecost Sunday, we are here once again to worship God. This is how we begin each week. But on this special Sunday we are also here to baptize and receive new members into our covenant community. This is quite something. It is an important day for those who will be baptized. It is also a sign of encouragement to the rest of us. God’s Spirit, that member of the Trinity who filled and emboldened the early church, is still at work. Continue reading “With Water and Spirit – A Baptism Sermon (136)”
It has not been long since we celebrated Easter. Even so, the gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter (John 20:19-31) begins by taking us back a week to the evening of the prior Sunday. The second part of the reading takes a week later. Jesus shows up on both of these days. It’s on the second encounter, the one that happens a week after Easter, that I want to focus our attention. In doing that we find a question that we can’t avoid. It’s this: What do we make of the resurrection? Continue reading “This Time with Skepticism (131)”
You may be familiar with this story: Dirk Willems, imprisoned on account of his Anabaptist faith, was on the run and being chased by a guard. He crossed an ice-covered pond. His pursuer tried to do the same but fell through the ice. Willems turned back, stretched himself across the ice and saved the guard. The grateful man wanted to let Willems go, but a town official reminded the guard of his duty. This was the sixteenth century. Dirk Willems was jailed again, tried and then burned (MM, 741). Dirk Willems is an Anabaptist hero. He lived Jesus’ call to love his enemies.
On my drive in to the church today I was reflecting on how to respond to the events that have made news headlines over these past days. There has been yet another deliberate shooting of the innocent, an attempt to take as many lives as possible. We extend our prayers and sympathies to the victims in Quebec City as well as to our Muslim neighbors here in Ottawa. That much is obvious. As the news is recounted on the radio connections are made to the way our southern neighbour is closing its doors to those who wish to flee violence in some of the most unstable parts of the world.
It occurs to me that just as violence can creep through communities of faith and co-opt their commitment and devotion, so too it can poison the love of nation or culture. In a better world a person’s willingness to kill for an ideology, a faith, a culture or a nation would trigger some kind of automatic shutdown. It would tell us that we have gone too far and it would force us into some critical self-reflection. It would tell us that when our love for something we believe is ‘ours’ demands the death of others we have stooped too low. In a better world we would always recognize the inherent, divinely-ordained dignity of the lives of others. Continue reading “Breaking Bread in Response to the News”