When you pass through the water (185)

[Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22]

If you go to any good museum there are usually places where you can get a sense of what something historical felt like: maybe you can feel the weight of a Viking sword or maybe touch the sort of cloth worn by the Romans. The Bible suggests that are similar touchpoints for the Christian life. There are at least four natural phenomena that allow us to feel life with God. Continue reading “When you pass through the water (185)”

Groaning in Labour (163)

I wonder if you’ve ever had one of those conversations about God where you felt like you got hold of something especially honest and true. Maybe you were driving with a friend or paddling a canoe. Maybe you were stuck in an elevator or stuck in a snowbank. Whatever the context, it was just limiting enough to give you one of those magical hours where you and a friend talked openly and vulnerably about God. And maybe, just maybe, you came to the conclusion that so many others have come to, which is that it’s hard to talk directly about God. The best we can do is look around for analogies. Maybe you concluded that God is like the sun, an old analogy, or like electricity, a much newer one. Maybe you likened God to beauty or to a rock. Or maybe you said that God is like the channel of a stream or a protective mother hen. Or maybe you said God is like the wind.

Our churchy language has a tendency to becomes so familiar and easy that we forget it’s mostly analogies. Sometimes it takes a new analogy to help us see things that are true but so very hard to notice. I think it was Julian of Norwich who described everything that exists as a small, round hazel nut. Seeing it that way helped her gain a deeper appreciation for the expanse of God’s love. Continue reading “Groaning in Labour (163)”

“Incels” and the Challenge of Unchosen Lives

According to various news outlets, the man responsible for attacking pedestrians in Toronto self-identified as an “incel,” someone who was “involuntarily-celibate.” These reports suggest he believed this justified his violence. Whether or not this bit of information will hold up to further scrutiny is yet to be seen. There will surely be other complicating factors. “Cause” and “motive” are tangled things.

As a pastor of a Mennonite church, I have some stake in the importance of things being voluntary. Mennonite churches and the larger Anabaptist tradition from which they stem began with the idea that joining a community of faith should be a voluntary act. The early Anabaptists were dissatisfied with the practice of baptizing infants. Infants can’t choose whether to identify with a community of faith or not. Their status as members of the church would have been involuntary. This would have obscured the identity of others who deliberately chose to follow in the way of Jesus. I mention this just to say that if any tribe within the Christian family values lives chosen voluntarily it is us. Continue reading ““Incels” and the Challenge of Unchosen Lives”

Becoming an Eccentric People (151)

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)”

With Water and Spirit – A Baptism Sermon (136)

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)”

Through Water and Word (122)

We begin with ‘water’ and with the words of an ancient Hebrew poet.

The poet would have composed in his head and then dictated the lines to a copyist. The copyist would have written the lines out with a stylus on a papyrus scroll. The scroll would have been made from the stalk of a papyrus plant. scrollThe  papyrus stalk would have had it’s rind removed and the inner fibers sliced lengthwise into long strips. These strips would have been placed side by side in two layers, each layer at a right angle to the other. The two layers would have been wetted and pounded together. The joined layers would have made a long sheet that, when it was dried, could be rolled up as a scroll. The scroll would have been divided into columns by the copyist and filled with the poet’s composition. Here are the words scratched down:

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,

ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;

worship the LORD in holy splendor.

‘Ascribe’—the poet means ‘name God this way’ or ‘say these things about the divine’. He then encourages us to worship the LORD as one who is magnificently different. Sometimes, when a morning is bright and the snow is new it’s as though we can see these words, ‘glory’ and ‘splendor.’ They cling to the trees and lie heavy and thick on the grass. Continue reading “Through Water and Word (122)”