Posts Tagged ‘proclamation’

An anniversary message from Mark 4: 1-9

May 28, 2016

A sower went out to sow.  Jesus offers this parable to a curious group who have crowded him off the beach and into a boat.  Mark’s gospel offers an interesting image; a crowded waterfront, busy with people doing what people do – an empty boat serves as an unlikely pulpit – and a puzzling message is offered to ‘those who have ears…’

For his students and friends, Jesus will later offer an explanation of this event – a starting point for the discovery of truth in all the parables that follow; analogy / allegory / metaphor – all these play a part in the understanding that is possible – and we know the standard explanation, don’t we…

The seed is the word, and it either takes root or it doesn’t; it flourishes or it struggles, all according to where it falls.  But I would like to take a moment to consider the utter carelessness that can be found in this parable – and I would like to thank God for such carelessness, especially on the occasion of the anniversary of this congregation.

Some of you will know that my vocational path took a turn through the farm equipment business – not as a farmer, but as a friend of farmers.  My high-school classmates and best friends worked the land in Southwestern Ontario; I worked closely with the technology that makes modern farming possible.  And from that perspective, I have to tell you that the carelessness of this ‘sower’ is almost criminal.  I don’t know anyone, ‘professional’ farmer or casual gardener, who willingly lets seed fall to anything but well prepared ground.  Even considering the more primitive (by our standards) farming practices of Jesus’ day, there is no excuse for it.

Seed is precious!  Seed is expensive!  Seed is a farmers life-blood – the guarantee of another harvest, and it only makes sense that you ensure none gets wasted.  So Jesus offers this curious parable – and I have some questions.

The Word is precious, isn’t it?  The Word – the gospel promise is life-giving and life-affirming, and shouldn’t we go to great lengths to see that it never goes to waste?  But still, this sower keeps on sowing – hard ground, thorny ground, good ground; it’s all the same, apparently.  Are we missing something?  Is Jesus giving us ‘answers’, or clues?   Perhaps, another parable will help.

A preacher went out to preach, and the word was a blessing, and soon, within this community, a congregation was gathered.  Funds were raised, and a building too – and all was as it should be.  But the community suffered hardship; work in the mines was difficult, and all too often, tragic.  The congregation survives a denominational divide, and then the loss of a new building.  members are welcomed, and members are mourned.  preachers come and go – and for one hundred and forty two years, the word has been a blessing.  Through the rough patches, the celebrations, the tragedies and triumphs, from invocation to benediction, God is present, praised and (served).

This is no invention of mine.  The ‘parable’ is one you yourselves told, not that long ago, in the profile that brought you a new minister – where you said (among other things):

“St Andrew’s Westville … has been, for many of us, a safe place to wrestle with our doubts. Worship and work together is more than just a habit – we find, in our congregation, a place of security borne in our long personal histories with this place…”

This weekend’s celebration is your reward for the ‘careless’ sowing of the seed!  And so it is for the whole church.  Not for us the perfectly prepared ground, or the carefully tended rows, straight and true, that are the envy of the neighbourhood.  No, we have been called to ‘spread the word’, with due respect for the important nature of the work, and the lively nature of the material, but also ‘without a care’.  Yes, we may take our turn ‘at the plow’, tending the ground, raising our children up in the way they should go,

but worship and proclamation are the main duties of the body of Christ, and that requires that we throw caution (and ‘seed’) to the wind more often than not.

The word of life – the gospel of grace – spread with wild abandon, offered in your work and witness – in playfulness and in more serious moments – that word entrusted to all who follow Jesus is bound to fall in some interesting places.  Perhaps it lays there only long enough to encourage one person; maybe it is faintly seen through the tangle of life’s troubles, and so one more battered soul is soothed.  And once in a while, it falls to fertile ground, where it bears fruit that lasts – fruit to feed a multitude – though no credit to the sower, for God’s is the growth, and the harvest, isn’t it?

No, we don’t look for credit, though this day I offer my own thanks into your celebrations; thanks for years of Christian witness, for years of your ‘carelessly faithful’ sowing of those seeds of hope and grace  – those nuggets of Christian wisdom – that will continue to bear fruit, God willing, for many years to come.

Advertisements

Salt and Light

April 24, 2016

“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…”  Words that leave all who hear them with work to do.  On the earth; for the world.  These words, coming as they do within that great teaching moment – Jesus on the hillside; he’s laying out the framework for faith – building a platform on which the promised kingdom of God might rest.  “Blessed are they…blessed are they…”; Jesus urges his hearers to faithfulness, compassion, humility and the peaceful pursuit of justice.  And then this – Salt of the earth; light of the world.  This is the only mission statement the church needs, and we don’t really know what to make of it.

Oh, we know about mission, all right – mission is that thing that the church supports, isn’t it?  That overseas work that we entrust to missionaries and Presbyterian World Service & Development – and this is certainly one aspect of “mission”.  But THE MISSION of the church – the reason we gather, the reason we organize ourselves, the reason we exist is to be Salt and Light.

The knowledge of God to which Jesus calls us – the work of God in which we are welcome to participate – the promises of Scripture and our identification as a covenant people; all these things mark us as different, and Jesus description reminds us just how different.  We are to be salty – brilliant; we are called to be like those two elemental things which are most often noticeable by their absence.

On those Thursdays when we gather to make soup, our ‘chief taster’ (aka Gerald) will let us know when our offering of the day ‘needs salt!’  Most of us can tell pretty quickly when the salt shaker has been stowed away – it’s the first thing we reach for when at the dinner table.

Likewise, the first thing some of us do when entering a dark room, is…stub our toe.  THEN we turn on a light.

Salt gives flavour to things by enhancing the flavour of all the other things we cook with; it is versatile and plentiful – so valuable in the ancient world  that it supported the economy for empires – much as oil does now.  Light shows us things that would otherwise be hidden from our sight, and then helps us chart our path through even the most familiar spaces.  For many, light is the thing that quenches fear, and salt is the purifying element that lets healing begin – and in the work of the church; in every mission project taken on by the AMS, or PWS&D, where ever the people of God are gathered or sent, we too must be salt and light.

It is with this hope that every missionary journey begins – from John and Charlotte Geddie in the New Hebrides, to Donald Walker and Marion  in Ghana – each and every person called to overseas work is aware that the gift of the Gospel of Christ has the potential to reveal things that may have been hidden; to lift he veil of darkness and fear, and to bring cleansing and healing to those who have been broken by oppression and injustice.  And while our understanding for mission work may be the liberation of lives half a world away, it is clear that Jesus meant much more than that.

Jesus mission never took him beyond the borders of his own country.  His call to be ‘salt and light’ was local and immediate.  His teaching would have a global impact only after his followers accepted the challenge for their own lives, in their own communities.  And Jesus’ example gave them a pattern to follow.

You don’t think Jesus was ‘salty’?  (a term that has come to have negative implications, as in “his language is a little salty”)  You don’t think having Jesus in their midst didn’t spice up the ordinary lives of the people of Galilee?  Think again.

Calling God by name – using terms of endearment (Abba = Daddy); taking principled positions on current events and in religious debates that aligned him with God’s definitions of mercy and justice – positions that were often contrary to the prevailing civil and religious authority.  Jesus revealed the promised safety and certainty of those powerful people as a sham, and offered the promises of God for the healing of all.

Jesus shed light on those who had been thrust into the dark corners of his society – and that light revealed those outcasts and strangers as children of God.  He loved the loveless and touched the untouchable; Jesus reached out to those whom religion and culture had abandoned, and redefined the ‘kingdom of God’.

Through Scripture and the present, powerful work of the Spirit, Jesus still calls us; challenging all who would follow him to share in the task of revealing the things of God and reviving God’s broken world.

The call to be salt and light is a call to action.  Beyond worship, beyond an historical appreciation for “the role of the church in our lives”, beyond any sense of eternal security that comes with faith, we are called to live as Jesus lived.  To speak the truth to power; to ‘spice things up’ by offering friendship and courtesy where none was expected; to offer the light of hope – the hope of death defeated, and robbed of its power – to those caught in the deep gloom of hopelessness; and we are called to do that here, and now.  The opportunity to live out our calling – to engage in the mission of Christ – is always at hand.  The work of the church, even when it seems to have little effect, is indispensable.  It is, as salt and light, most noticeable when it is absent and the good news is that by the grace of God, we are still here.  Thanks be to God that we are – even now – living out that call to be salt and light, for Jesus’ sake – to God’s glory.  Amen

I’m no prophet…

July 12, 2015

Amos was neither a prophet, nor a prophet’s son; just a shepherd and part-time tree farmer.  He would not ordinarily draw the attention of the powerful…except that he insists on speaking out.  He can’t help himself.  Amos is more than just another concerned citizen – he is an interested, engaged person who takes seriously God’s invitation to be in relationship… and who finds himself compelled to challenge the way things are in his time.

Trouble is coming – and Amos thinks he knows why.  God’s people and their neighbours have neglected justice and mercy for their own reasons.  These are empires built as testimony to human triumph – God’s part in all this has been disguised by human pride, and God will have no more of it; so says Amos, whose every speech ends with “says the Lord”(‘amar ‘adonai)

On six of Israel’s nearest neighbours, Amos pronounces doom (in the name of the Lord, of course).  Exile – disaster – destruction – fire (especially fire); the wrath of God will be unleashed (for these are wicked people, beyond God’s covenant protection).  And since Amos is a subject of Israel’s king, there was expected to be an omen against Judah as well – so that Israel might finally say; “See, I told you we were the favourite.”

Sure enough, Judah is treated like all the others – and so God will send fire, to devour the strongholds – Israel must have rejoiced…but only briefly.  The worst, it seems is saved for them.  It will be like escaping a lion and running into a bear, Amos says – try as they might, there is no escaping what will come.

Chapters 2 through 6 outline Israel’s failures – – the nation has  claimed God’s gifts as their own creation; they have acted as though the Lord depended on them, rather than the other way around.  They have ignored what the writer and Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman calls “the perfect freedom of God”  –

freedom to act (or not act) in an infinite variety of ways towards an infinite variety of people.  There is trouble coming, for Israel; for her leaders; for her people.

When we encounter Amos in this morning’s reading, he is at the point of bargaining on behalf of this wayward people.  Once again, he can’t help himself.  No one who is interested in the way the world works and who, like Amos, desires to honour God by their living and their engagement with current events, can stand apart from the consequences of judgement.  Amos’ plea for change, (or repentance in this case) is moved by his sense of justice – and his hope that God is also just – so Amos is a compassionate prophet.  Having experienced the visions God gives him, Amos responds in horror, and out of love for his people, begs God to forgive.  Twice, God relents.  The third time, however, seems to be the end of God’s mercy.

‘See, I am setting a plumb-line

in the midst of my people Israel;

I will never again pass them by;

9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,

and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,

and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’

Desolation and exile is their lot, and the king (along with his whole house) shall die.

Now this is not an unusual path for a prophet to take; indeed, this is the prophets meat and drink – but Amos doesn’t want the job (doesn’t that sound familiar…).  Instead, he claims that he had no choice but to condemn (in the name of the Lord); he can connect the dots – he has seen the powerful take their power to dangerous extremes. And as a person of integrity, as one of God’s covenant people, he cannot remain silent when confronted by the events of the day.  Amos is assured that God cares enough to warn – and to threaten – those whom God claims under the covenant.

This is a much different picture of a prophet.  Too often, we equate prophecy with wild-eyed pessimism, or violent fanaticism – though neither of these is an accurate description of the prophets we know from Scripture.

Sure, some of them carried on a little – Jeremiah was prone to dramatic public demonstrations (lying half naked at the city gates – smashing pottery); Isaiah and Ezekiel recorded graphic hallucinations (that we charitably call ‘visions’); in later years there was John the Baptizer – eating bugs, dressed in rags, preaching repentance and goading the powerful (that cost him his head…).  But we need a more broad-minded picture, for we are called – even now – to call the world’s attention to the justice and mercy and yes, even judgement of God.

In a world that is flying apart – over developed in the name of commerce, and under-achieving where equity and justice are concerned, God’s people cannot help but notice; God’s people are compelled to speak out and speak up; those who claim to follow Christ must plead and warn and beg and weep for this world ravaged by the work of our own hands.  God has promised good to all – abundant life is at the core of the gospel.  yet we have taken a world that has the ability to feed and house every person, and created a place of such inequality (economically, socially) that justice has become a foreign idea.  We must, without fear for ourselves, speak the truth to those in power.  We must speak – though we are neither prophets nor the children of prophets – because God is free to act, and God has acted in grace through Jesus – and we recognize that there are consequences to this great act of grace.

Ours should be a call to repent, but not just because we believe that ‘we are right and they are wrong’.  Amos had no training, no credentials, no standing in the circles of influence – he had only his faith, which told him that God was being ignored (or mocked, or made subservient to human desires) and his faith compelled him to speak.  The doom he proclaimed was no more than the logical outcome of having broken covenant with God.

The conclusion of Amos indicates that God is determined to maintain covenant.  Israel will be restored, but not before the whole world recognizes God is free, both to tear down AND to build up.  That promise of restoration must be part of our message if we are going to be true to the gospel of Christ.

Yes, the world is free to ignore us – and yes, a little freedom goes a long way in this day and age.  But praise God that even in times of great distress and danger, the word of truth – the spirit of God’s righteous judgement – the gospel that is entrusted to us – will always be a word of grace and peace.  Amen

Turn and attend this good news…

February 25, 2012

So, there’s this thing that Jesus does…

 

Following in his cousin’s footsteps,

Jesus steps into the prophetic void

created by John’s arrest,

and calls attention to God’s victory.

 

This is not how you are used to hearing it – but here it is;

repent, and believe in the evan-ge-lion

we typically read “good news”, aka gospel –

but I have been asked to consider in the course of this week’s preparation

another way to translate (and therefore, understand) this Greek term.

 

Proclamation, says this translator[1], as in “Victory announcement;

of the sort that follows triumph over an oppressor, or the overthrow of a despot.

 

Now, let’s remember that this is (according to Mark), the BEGINNING of the good news – the proclamation – of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.   So says CH 1 v 1.

And that proclamation this declaration of good news,

gives us little indication of what that news is…or why it might be considered good;

so what is this evan-ge-lion ?

 

When we call attention to the “good news” (the gospel), what are we talking about?

Crucifixion – resurrection – salvation – grace – stuff like that, yes?

We make the gospel about Jesus, and only Jesus –

and that is a seriously short-sighted approach.

The good news is (believe it or not) so much more, according to Jesus.

 

 

The gospel – the proclamation that Jesus offers –

both at the beginning of his prophetic vocation,

and throughout his teaching/preaching career –

is about nothing less than the redemption of creation.

 

Jesus proclaims, from the beginning, the far-reaching, overwhelming,

absolutely grace-full work of God’s reclamation of all that God set in motion.

Our other lessons this morning suggest that this has been God’s work from the beginning of God’s interaction with humanity.

 

Good news suddenly seems like an understatement.

 

We are quite good at this –

understating / underestimating the extent of the evangelion of Jesus –

which IS good news for every inch of God’s creation.

 

We are content to reduce it to specific doctrines (important though they may seem).

It has become good news for us; an inside joke; a secret password to prosperity –

Gospel has become a commodity for the chosen; the faithful; the orthodox;

those willing to sign the pledge and take a seat –

but this has become our downfall.

 

Such thinking spawned an institutional church

that is now widely thought to be self-serving,

and ignorant of the need in its own neighbourhood.

 

This packaged, institutional interpretation of what ‘gospel’ could be

resigns us to ignorance of the bigger picture –

We are apt to loose sight of the vision of God that Jesus came to relate and the spirit helps us capture –

and that makes light of the good news;

that ignorance robs the gospel of its real power…

 

If you doubt this, consider that at this crucial season in the church calendar,

God’s people have, in many cases,

been reduced to a series of tension-filled meetings

which consider the future through accountant’s lenses.

 

We worry about numbers.  We count people, we assess assets, and we look to the past as a way to assure the future – but if we would be honest, our past is marked by problems of its own; our calculations are often flawed – our accounting leaves something to be desired.

 

Should I mention that we are urged by Jesus to live for today (for tomorrow has worries enough) even as we look to the future that is opened to us by our covenantal God.

 

So back to that thing that Jesus does…

Powerfully prophetic; full of hope (and brazenly challenging the status quo)

Jesus jumps into the public debate and announces God’s triumph – God’s concern that stretches beyond regular time (chronos) and evokes specific time (kairos).

 

Promises are ours – so goes Jesus’ proclamation (evangelion) – the kingdom is come.

A kingdom that acknowledges one power – one hope – and one passion.

It is a passion for peace; for fellowship; for justice; for truth

and none of these things can be measured, counted, possessed or purveyed.

 

 

 

 

Good news?

Only if we are more inclined to trust in God’s promises than our resourcefulness…

 

Good news?

Only because the promise has carried God’s people through positions of vulnerability and uncertainty for generations – against all odds – against common wisdom and our natural inclinations.

 

Let us Repent of our short-sightedness and believe this good news as Easter approaches. Look for the comfort and compassion of God’s promised kingdom – revealed to us through Jesus (the) Christ.

May we celebrate God’s victory in those battles not yet fought;

and to God be glory, honour and praise, for all we might discover in faith. Amen.

 


[1] The Anchor Bible, vol. 27:  “Mark: a new translation with introduction and commentary by C. S. Mann,  Doubleday (New York) 1986.