A Tree and a Branch (180)

[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)”

Cleanse Me with Hyssop (170)

In the biblical world hyssop was used for both medical and ceremonial purposes. It’s an aromatic plant, a bit like sage or mint. It was prescribed for sore throats and upset stomachs. The ancient Hebrews used it in purification rituals. That’s what the poet in Psalm 51 has in mind when he asks to be “purged with hyssop.” He has confessed; he’s hoping to be cleansed and forgiven.

The most famous advocate in our own time for the power of confession and forgiveness must be Desmond Tutu. In 1986 Tutu was named the Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. The job came with an official residence in an area known as Bishopscourt. At the time black folks like Tutu needed special passes just to enter that part of the city. Archbishop Tutu declined to apply for such a pass. He decided he would live in the archbishop’s traditional residence with or without the approval of a racist government. Tutu did not lack for courage. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison he spent his first night as a free man in that residence, hosted by the archbishop. Continue reading “Cleanse Me with Hyssop (170)”

Confession is a Sort of Honesty (157)

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)”

Getting Right Never Getting it Right (115)

I have no doubt that this is a terrible way to start, but I’ll be direct: we need to think about sin and confession. This is the  theme that runs through our assigned scripture readings. It shows up in Isaiah 1, in Psalm 32 and in Luke 19. roadIf I was confident that none of us have ever done anything to harm someone else, or that our way of life didn’t benefit from harm done to others, or if none of us had ever tried to take God’s job as your own—if I was confident of that, I would turn to a new topic. But I’m doubtful, so my suggestion is that we listen once again to Isaiah. The book of Isaiah is a wonderfully lyrical and imagery-rich part of scripture. The first chapter is just so. Here are some of the lines from our reading. Starting with verse 11: “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” Now verse 13: “I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. . . .” Verse 15: “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.Continue reading “Getting Right Never Getting it Right (115)”