Posts Tagged ‘redemption’

My ways are not your ways…(thank God)

July 15, 2017

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  These may be the most comforting words in all of Scripture, and they are used to set the stage, in 55 Isaiah, for the sort of redemption the people of God can expect.

Images are key in this great hymn of hope that comes in the form of Isaiah’s reporting of God’s intention.  Words alone are inadequate.  Words cannot convey the sense of majesty, the sense of awe and wonder, that comes from knowing that God has promised your rescue.  And so the prophet is bound to remind us that, as God’s representative, even he cannot approach understanding, or articulate fully what God has in store.  But it will be miraculous, and it’s the images that convey the miracle.

God’s ways are higher than the heavens – (verse 9) – unmeasurable, unreachable (in Isaiah’s time), full of unimagined wonder; this is how the prophet creates awe in us.  And then, assurance.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return until they have watered the earth…”  As sure as the rain and the snow bring goodness to the earth.  As sure as the slow procession of the seasons provides work and food and growth with such comforting constancy, God’s promised relief – for a people in exile, and by extension, we who are ‘apart’ from God – will come.  As certain as the seasons, set in motion by God’s creating word, “…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return empty…”

A startling image, which shows remarkable insight into the way this ecosystem works – and presents (in turn) a glimpse of God’s complete mastery of…well, everything.

Think about it for a minute.

We are not as well connected to the life giving renewal of the seasons as once we were.  Our food is regularly available (to those who have means) in and out of ‘season’.

The work we do for our ‘daily bread’ has little to do with harvesting the grain or processing the flour. Work generates income which provides sustenance; it’s no wonder we worship money.  An image that draws attention to the cycle of the seasons may be distant from us, but it is still useful; still full of meaning and promise.

  The enduring images found in Scripture are not intended to prove our disconnection from the created order; our lives and livelihoods may change, but the bigger picture continues to be about God’s connection to creation, and to each of us as part of that creation.  Our changing relationship to creation has led us to believe that our relationship with God must have also, somehow, been altered.  Where once we participated, by necessity, in the constant patterns of growth and decay; of sowing and reaping – now we have become passive consumers of creation’s bounty – and by extension, consumers of God’s bounty.

Isaiah, addressing a people who believe that their connection to God has been irrevocably harmed, stresses that while the connection may have changed, God’s promise (and indeed, all Creation) is still as vibrant and vital as it ever was.  Our passive relationship to that creation – and our notion that creation is nothing more than ‘product”- is mocked by Isaiah’s final images.  “…the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song…”   Remember Jesus talking about the stones shouting if the people stood silent?  This is better.  And better still; “The trees of the field…clap. their. hands…”  Brilliant.  You should not be able to see the landscape in the same way ever again.

Passive creation?  No such thing.  And if there is a breath in you (the prophet seems to suggest) you cannot be unmoved by it.  No more standing idly by.  No more ‘consumer’ attitudes.  Humanity is called into action.  Joy –  Peace;  two parts of the human trinity of bliss – all that’s missing is love, and to be sure, this glorious transformation is only possible because of the love of God… not specifically mentioned by the prophet, but who can doubt that such spectacular promises are motivated by love.

The promise continues to say that creation will be moved to redemption.  Cypress rather than thorns; instead of the brier, the myrtle…an everlasting sign.

And for no other reason than God wishes it.


Remarkable that to a people in the midst of a long and bitter defeat; to a people who imagine that God has forsaken them forever; to generations of those drawn to the edge of hope, only to have that hope dashed; to them and to us comes the image of a vibrant, joyful, and incredibly active work of God.  And that is the image that leads us toward something new that God will do.

We can find hope in these ancient texts because, with careful reading and a rediscovery of our connection to creation, the images take on life for us, and our view of the world may be refreshed.  The prophetic texts of the Hebrew Scriptures seem to nudge us toward that Master of the metaphor – the principal parable maker – Jesus of Nazareth.  He offers us (this morning in Matthew 13: 1-9) an image of an active sower in an active creation; seed falling here and there, springing up where it shouldn’t; exceeding expectations and disappointing them too.  There is a lot going on in this parable, and whatever else you take from it, know that the growth is (ultimately) God’s greatest gift.  A renewable, refreshing gift – one that asks something of us, even if it means ‘casting seed wildly about’ and hoping for the best…

Because ‘the best’ is what God offers us.  In every promise – across multiple generations of covenant keeping – through life and beyond death – “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” – and we are invited to share in God’s abundance, to be a part of the fullness.

It is remarkable – it is absolutely remarkable; the sort of thing that causes the very earth to sing – the trees to clap – and all God’s people to jump for joy.  Thanks be to God!  Amen


I am the Lord your God…(Leviticus 19 considered)

February 19, 2017

Leviticus gets a lot of bad press.  The book of restrictions; hundreds of rules covering food, fashion and all manner of human behaviour.  When someone of a very conservative opinion wants to tell you what’s wrong with society, a quick tour through Leviticus gives them all the ammunition they need.  “See how we’ve abandoned the commandments – the statues of God?”  Sure enough, many of these regulations have been set aside by modern believers – even some modern Jewish believers are less observant than Scripture says is desirable.  Times change, is the defence.  We no longer feel it is right to stone children for disobedience.  Women are not seen as property; our feelings on slavery and economics have changed, yet the law is the law, isn’t it?  I will happily confess that, where “biblical law” is concerned, I observe and obey selectively.  I search the law with intent to discern the way God calls us to live – and I claim biblical precedent for this approach; think of the challenge to Jesus about which was the “greatest” commandment…

The rules laid out for us this morning are rules for relationship – and we’d like to think that those still merit our consideration.  This particular section of Leviticus seems to focus on the same concerns that we see outlined in what we have come to call the Ten Commandments – expressing the holiness of God, the sanctity of the sabbath, and the need for integrity in our dealings with our fellow human beings.

Revere your parents.  honour God; leave a little for the poor and the alien; don’t cheat, steal or lie.  Be fair in your daily encounters and don’t bear a grudge.  Love your neighbour as yourself.  There are all good, sensible, honourable ways to live – and as followers of Jesus, we find that there is nothing here to disagree with.   Jesus offers us these same suggestions – in parable and in practice – throughout the gospels.  Jesus wasn’t making up new rules – he was calling attention to these ancient ideals in new and alarming ways.

We can rightly claim that we want to follow these principles because Jesus told us to – but Leviticus gives us even better motivation.  Over and over again – eight times by my count (in this morning’s reading) – those who recorded the law gave the only reason they needed for such behaviour: “I am the Lord (or the Lord your God)”  These instructions for good human relations come out of the character of God; they reflect God’s desire for the good of Creation.  Why should you honour your parents?  I am the Lord your God.  Leave some of your harvest for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.  Love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.  The refrain is purposeful – not to inspire fear, but to draw attention to the one who stands at the centre of every promise, and draws people to the hope of something better.  I am – the one who met Moses in the wilderness – who led the people out of bondage; the one who created with a word all that is, was and every shall be – God claims a people by offering them a new way of being.  Compassionate; honest; loving; just.  Those who endeavour to live in this way will find they have a share in the redemption of Creation.  Their exodus from slavery to freedom is a metaphor for the process that will bring God’s reign to earth.

Now, the possession of these ‘holy rules’ did not guarantee anything.  And the notion that ‘if only we follow the rules’ we will be saved; well that didn’t help either.  We have a preferential option for poor behaviour it seems, and God knows it.  So it’s no surprise that Jesus comes emphasizing the law and even repackaging it for his ‘modern audience’.  “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…”; Jesus offers a litany (in Matthew’s gospel) of better behaviour – kingdom behaviour – and wraps it up with a troubling phrase “Be perfect, therefore, as your father in heaven is perfect.”  And to think, only last week, I stood here and told you Jesus wasn’t calling us to perfection.  “What about it, preacher man?  Can you talk your way out of this one?

What if I tell you that the word generally translated as ‘perfect’ comes from a greek word that means “ultimate goal, object or aim.”  What if I tell you, based on that understanding of the word,  that this is a call to be ‘God-like’ – to remember that we have been made in God’s image.  What if the purpose of such instruction is to help us model ourselves after God, whose character is reflected in love of neighbour and tolerance of error and the subversive correction of injustice (rich are poor; foolish are wise; slaves triumph over established power of Egypt…).

Idealist nonsense, you say.  Careless interpretation too.  How can we presume to be ‘god-like’ without breaking the commandment and making gods of ourselves?  But rather than argue over interpretive principles, what if we asked ourselves how the world might be changed if we were to follow these relationship commandments?  We might remember that Jesus felt so strongly about  these behaviours that he build parables around them, and used the application of those rules to openly defy the power that eventually arrested and executed him.  We might be encouraged by the thought that the reign of God, promised and sought by the faithful of countless generations, is in our midst even now.  It has taken flesh and dwells among us – we have been called by name to an eternal task that plays out in the here and now.  And if what we say we believe about the majesty of God and the person and purpose of Jesus is even remotely true; if we believe that the Spirit of God is with us and working in and around us, then these are the rules we must live by – rules that repair and redefine human relationships; rules that honour integrity, justice, compassion and love.

Of course, our behaviour may not instantly change all that is troublesome and terrifying about the world we now live in; there are some problems that require more than just one or ten individual life-changes to solve.  But our willingness to live as God calls us to live – to live in understanding, empathy and mutual care and respect – these habits will change the way we see and understand the world, and that is the first step toward the kingdom long promised.

Searched and known is better than ‘lost and found’.

January 18, 2015

Scripture offers us a variety of evidence of the mysterious persistence of God; bushes that burn but don’t burn up; visitors (to Abraham & Sarah’s tent) who make wild promises of new beginnings; visitations in dreams and visions, and here, a voice calling young Samuel from sleep to sudden wakefulness. Last Sunday was a reminder that God has a voice. this week, we discover that God (voice and all) is on a mission.
There are several ways to describe this mission – the most common being the theory of “God’s lost and found” – made famous in song and parable (see the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 11-32). The suggestion in this “lost but now we’re found” attitude is that it’s all about us.; we know better, but we choose not to do better. We are willful and (sometimes) awful where devotion and obedience is concerned. And since we (humans) cannot be relied upon to be solid citizens, God occasionally rummages through the rubbish heaps and dark places and ‘reclaims us’. This may be true, but it doesn’t tell the full story. It presumes that God only looks when we have made a complete hash of our lives, or completely turned from our true purpose. In other words, God waits for us to fail, so God can rescue us. I’m not saying that doesn’t seem to happen, but it paints a slightly cynical picture of God as a redeemer, doesn’t it? (Think – “Amazing Grace’ lyrics) – Does God really sit and wait? wait to be called (in distress) wait until it’s almost too late, and then arrive in triumph (or judgement) to save the day?
In a word – NO.
Yes, we are encouraged to call on God in our distress, and to seek God when we are lost (though we don’t always do that, do we…) – but it’s not because God is waiting for us to act. God’s action is preventative – premeditated and entirely proactive. We are not God’s ‘lost and found’; we have been searched and known.
Samuel is drawn from innocent service to divine spokesman; why? because God reached out in the night, whispering his name and describing the judgement on Eli’s family that would hand Samuel the ‘top job’. Nathaniel is astounded that Jesus ‘saw him under the tree before Philip called him’. Is Jesus just more observant that most people (probably), or is this another suggestion of the desire of God to seek and know even those who don’t give much thought to the things of God…
But it is this morning’s Psalm that make the best case for what I’m suggesting – that God is constantly seeking us out; constantly reaching out to enlighten us and encourage us to acknowledge our own need of God’s presence etc. It has long been among my favourite sections of Scripture – full of images that resonate with my own search for the meaning of all this. The message of the Psalm is simple and elegant; you can’t run – you can’t hide – God is bigger (and smarter) that our desire to escape observation; there is nothing we do that God does not notice (uh-oh), and there is (ultimately) no reason for us to try to give God the slip. Embrace the notion that God want’s us more than we want God. No escape – deal with it.
Now, when I first came to this conclusion, I was terrified; who wouldn’t be afraid – The idea of ‘no escape’ from a being who seemed fierce about the rules of behaviour is not comforting if you spent any time at all on the wrong side of the rules (and there were so many rules) …
but our terror is unfounded – God’s purpose is not to possess us or intimidate us, or even to ‘keep us on the straight and narrow’. God desires relationship. God’s devotion to this relationship is inexplicable; Nothing the Psalmist has tried puts God off his trail. Why? Because the Creator knows his work intimately and completely; nothing we do that surprises God; and the only habit that can damage our relationship is our habit of trying to escape God’s notice.
Why do we think we can outsmart the King of Creation? Why does it seem like a reasonable idea to eliminate God from our thinking (except on Sunday morning during worship, when we feel we must think about God?) It is true, that one of the tasks of the church is to consider better ways to share the good news – but mostly, we talk about why people won’t come to us to hear what we have to say. When you leave this place, do you take the message with you, or do you return to a game of ‘hide and seek’ with God?
I know that people expect me to be ready willing and able to think about, talk about and care about the things of God all the time (You’re a minister, after all) – and I suspect that there are some who can’t believe that I actually enjoy it – but it is the task of all of God’s people (and we are all God’s people) to share the joy, the love and the wonder that we have discovered in our worship together. And it helps me to know that it is not my (our) job to ‘seek the lost’; God has been doing that all along – Our job is to recognize that God wants to find us.
If God knows us – and is actively seeking us – are we ever really lost? That is the good news, friends – a word of hope in hopeless times. It means that desire or ability) to change our ways (aka repentance) is not a condition of our God loving us or desiring a relationship with us (aka salvation)
Our desire to change – to turn from evil and seek God’s righteousness and peace – is a reaction to God’s great love for us in Jesus.
Lost? probably. Found? Eventually; but only because we are so deeply loved and so intimately known by God who will not – who cannot – give up the search for us.
Thanks be to God. Amen

I’m not the Messiah…

December 14, 2014

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. This is the news that John the baptizer is presumed to bring. And John’s Gospel weaves the story of the Word – the Light – the Son of God, together with this messenger – this puzzling preacher – this ‘other’ John in a very deliberate way. Yet John the baptist is not the figure we want to hear from. Ten days remain; the desperation is starting to creep in to our preparations. There’s not enough time left for the baking and the decorating – some shopping remains undone, and some of us have yet to mail our Christmas cards…John the Baptist does not fill us with ‘tidings of comfort and joy’, but his is a voice we really must hear. The baptizer will ensure that we are fully prepared for Christmas, so when he appears in the midst of our annual rush I, for one, am relieved.
Jesus’ story cannot be separated from this strange, insistent figure in the wilderness. Luke’s gospel suggests that there is an actual kinship between the two men – their mother’s are related by blood – but whether or not they are related, where John is, Jesus soon follows; it’s only natural, then, that when he is questioned, John the Baptizer takes Isaiah’s words and apply them to himself:
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’

John isn’t found wandering about shouting these words like one who has lost touch with reality. In John’s gospel, the Baptizer appears rational, sensible and fully aware of his surroundings. It is the questions posed by the religious authorities that draws this prophetic description from our hero.
The people have seen John at work, and it is their appeal to the religious experts – the priests and Levites – to discover if this is a man sent by God. These are not evil, authoritarians; they are interested in this new voice, and hopeful that it might represent the one they have been waiting for.

John’s gospel takes us right to the heart of their discussion. “Who are you?” they want to know; John’s response is, at first, baffling;

“I’m not the Messiah. I’m not Elijah. I’m not ‘the prophet’ ” This is not ordinarily how you answer authority. If a lawyer, or a police officer asks you your name, would you say “I’m not Stephen Harper.”? (perhaps you would if you were interested in a free ride and a night’s lodging…) – but John wants to be clear; he knows that there is more to their question than just a request for basic information. He shares their heritage, and he shares their desperate longing for the salvation of God – he is not going to manipulate their expectations, or feed them a story designed to elevate his own activities (quite the opposite, in fact). John (the baptizer) knows his role, and he wants to be sure everyone is clear about what he is doing, and (more importantly) what God is already doing.
I’m not the Messiah. I know that’s what you want, but we’re not there yet. In your haste to examine me, you betray your anxiety – your impatience – but God’s ways require infinite patience and the utmost endurance. All must first be prepared; your patience will be continually tested; your flaws will be examined and your excuses exhausted, until you are open and eager for the new way that the one coming after me will pursue.
This is the reminder that we need – here in the middle of December; with our patience exhausted, and our preparations in chaos – John speaks truth to our delusions, and we should listen.
John is more than just an echo of the ancient promise. He is that voice of preparation – the reminder that every generation needs, calling for an awareness of God’s presence in our chaotic reality. Our current preparations – the buzz that starts as early as mid-November for some – are geared toward what we call ‘the holiest of nights’; and we have turned it into something else. We don’t know what we’re waiting for, and we don’t know what to expect when this long-promised redeemer finally appears in our midst. John called those he baptized to repentance, and he calls us in our anxious waiting to remember what it is God promised.
God’s people are still caught in systems of oppression who, as a result, are exiled from the peaceful presence of God. God would have us back, but on God’s terms, not ours. Seek justice, do mercy, walk humbly, says the voice of ancient wisdom – yet this is not what we have been preparing for. Our preparations exalt ourselves – satisfy our cravings – justify our personal sense of power and authority. Yet the one who is to come – who has come – who is coming – is more powerful than any and all of us; Messiah has the power to reconcile us to God.
I’m not Messiah. I am a messenger – as are all who dare to call themselves God’s people – witnesses to the slowly unfolding promise of God that always finds us unprepared, yet nonetheless urges us to recognize the beauty, the gravity and the remarkable freedom that promise holds. The joy of this blessed season is in our hope of discovering the truth about the One John proclaimed, for in Christ we meet the promise of redemption – a word which here means we are welcomed as full partners into God’s continuing works of justice, mercy and peace. These surely are tidings of great joy, for all people.
Thanks be to God. Amen

I love a parade…

March 24, 2013


Parades are connected with celebrations, in our time –

happy moments marking victories, or holidays.

So we are inclined to read accounts of Jesus making his way into Jerusalem,

with the Passover celebrations looming as ‘just another occasion to celebrate.

We imagine a triumphal parade, complete with palm branches and singing crowds –

some churches will re-create that parade this morning

but the truth about this morning’s parade is more sinister.


Jesus is making his way toward Jerusalem motivated by terrible purpose.

He is at odds with the authorities – he has baffled even his closest friends –

and this final stage of his journey leaves no doubt that he is making a fatal statement.

Jesus has taught and told the story of this new kingdom all around the territory.

His bold proclamation – the company he keeps – and the parables he offers

all propose a wildly different way of doing things.

And because of this, trouble is coming.


He has said so, more than once.

“Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.’ But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” [1]


So let’s review – Luke has brought Jesus to the edge of the city,

telling tax collectors that they have found salvation[2], and he follows Zaccheus’ story  with a horrifying parable about a man who would be king [3].

His actions and his words have been deeply critical of the current kingdom –

a kingdom ruled by folks who are desperate

to maintain power in the region and over the people.


And Jesus’ entry to the city openly mocks those desires.


He borrows a colt – un-trained and therefore unpredictable –

and descends on the city surrounded by singing, waving and shouting.


It is the opposite of an impressive sight;

this parade is laughable, given the reality of the power that controls the city,

but Jesus point is apparently made.

The Pharisees are nervous.  Too much attention is being drawn to the crowd –

by the crowd.

“Teacher, order your disciples to stop”, they say.

But there is no stopping this.

“…even the stones would shout out.” Jesus famously says,

Thus endeth the lesson – but the statement made by Jesus at this moment

continues to speak across time. –


Only at the cross, and then at the empty tomb, will Jesus make a bolder statement.

He has, by his teaching and his mock parade, declared to all who would listen

that the kingdom he proclaims – the kingdom God has promised –

has no use for the usual symbols of power, or the ‘ordinary’ trappings of authority.


***(the parable that precedes Luke’s telling of the palm parade,

suggests that the man who would be king will not stand for criticism,

is a singularly greedy, demanding overseer, whose mission is only to establish – without question – his personal power and authority.

Yet Jesus, proclaimed as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord” comes in humility (on a colt) surrounded by joy, rather than those who trembled before the return of the “king” in fear [4])


And so Jesus’ entry really is a triumphal one –

but the celebrations are muted, for the moment.

Jesus will triumph over the prevailing ideas, the prevailing fear,

But he arrives knowing that his presence (and the manner of his coming)

will provoke a negative response –

such is the price you pay for proclaiming freedom in the midst of oppression,

and joy in the face of fear –


But Jesus does all of this confident in the power of God,  not to protect him from harm,

but to prevail over the power that holds all people captive.


Sin, in all its forms, is about to be given a fatal blow

(not swept away/banished, but robbed of its power).

That includes the sin of pride – of greed – of oppression and judgement.

All the things that make people think they are strong

are diminished as Jesus makes his approach in humility –

and they are further frustrated by the power of God that sees Jesus raised from death.



All this is present in this morning’s parade,

though perhaps we choose not to see it.

Our celebrations will be interrupted by betrayal, abandonment and crucifixion –

The power of sin will not be overcome by waving and singing,

but the celebration is coming.

Those once ruled by sin will meet a new master,

And soon – very soon – the power of God shall be revealed

in ways that will leave the followers of Jesus speechless.



[1]  Luke 18: 31-34

[2] Luke 19: 1-10

[3] Luke 19: 11-27

[4] Luke 19:21

“On falling short of the glory.”

August 5, 2012

It’s an anticlimax, really. “I have sinned..”, Says the king. No kidding!

David has, in short order, seen a woman bathing and decided she should be his.

He summons her to the residence – takes her to his bed –

then arranges to put her husband in harms way.

Once Uriah is ‘out of the way’, he marries Bathsheeba and goes on about his royal business.

I have sinned, he says.

We are quick to acknowledge that this kind of behaviour,

as common as it now seems among the famous and powerful,

should not be rewarded, but we are less likely to call their behaviour SIN.

We reserve that word for special circumstances:

the outrageous behaviour of the privileged people of the world, we accept with a shrug.

That is the way they are – there s nothing to stop the mighty from exercising their might.

We do not give SIN it’s due – we have lost sight of the true nature of SIN.

We speak generally of our sins, hoping that our religious observance might excuse them,

but we are soft on SIN.


So what is SIN – what have we forgotten; what are we missing?

Let’s pretend that this is another time,

and that the key to life is answering this one question correctly (What is SIN) –

because if you can identify is, you can avoid it,

and then Heaven is yours – gold medal – top of the class.

So – here’s the task; Answer the question – what is SIN?

Is the question too big?

The classical definition – the theologian’s definition – is that sin is the separation from God.

So apply that to David’s situation: What is David’s SIN?

Sex? Murder? Pride? What???


David’s confession does not help us determine how he went wrong.

He was rich & powerful…not a sin

He was (as a young man) handsome – still no sin.

He is described as a man after God’s own heart! Is it a sin to be human then?


As much as we are fascinated with finding new ways to behave badly

(and as happy as we are to catalogue the sins of others)

these typically human behaviours that David exhibits are not SIN.

Sex & murder are two of humanities favourite pastimes,

and we have found ways as a society to make our pursuit of these pastimes completely legitimate.

Both are sanctioned under civil law –

under the heading of mutual consent where sex is concerned,

and in the name of national defense for murder.


The act is not the SIN,

the sin is the desire that drives us to want what is not ours, or to want more than we can use.

The sin is to covet our neighbours goods, or status, or contentment, or self-assurance, or peace.

When you consider it like this, it is easier to answer the question “what is Sin”,

and much more frightening too.


David’s SIN? Jealousy.

Uriah’s wife was the most beautiful woman of the moment, and shouldn’t the king have only the best?

David’s SIN? The competitive urge to “improve your standing”; to be better than the next fellow in every way.

A distance from God that made David think that god-like status was his right – all these encompass David’s SIN, and this is our SIN too – the foundational SIN, if you will.

If it has one name, it is desire – a compulsion to want


Do we understand SIN better now? Are you uncomfortable yet?

I am. For I have sinned: yesterday – today – and tomorrow, unless I miss my guess.

Not only that, but I live in a time and place where I am encouraged to SIN –

dare I say, expected to sin.


Commercial enterprise depends on my wanting things I don’t need.

Societal expectations are strangely arranged to criticize those who do not want to improve themselves,

to defy time and look (and act) younger than we are.

It begins at a very young age, as even our children are urged to succeed at everything

beyond the ordinary range of ambition.

We have moved beyond encouragement to something darker –

a sense that it is no longer enough to be competent and capably – we expect everyone to be outstanding.


To love what you do, and striving to do your best –

these are admirable things but we have been infected by the myth of constant improvement –

no limits on excellence – and that has left us in an impossible situation.

The culture of success at any cost has become the constant reminder of our SIN –

it is – for better and worse – very much a part of who we are –

it creates our heroes and our villains.

(and in the middle of an Olympiad, it is tempting  to make the connection between this SIN and our obsession with success in athletics…)


And because it is so much a part of what makes us human,

we might think it normal – even a desirable trait –

until we meet Jesus.




Jesus. Who helps us understand that nothing is more desirable than the love of God.

Jesus – who suggests that not even a miraculous multiplication of loaves & fish

can compare to the steady supply of grace that God provides.

Our desires become hurtful when they ignore the needs of our neighbours

when we selfishly seek that which will satisfy –

Our desire can lead to good and gracious acts – lasting relationships – work that benefits, rather than harms –.

but when it springs from a place of self-protection, or from a flawed self-image,

it produces bullies instead of benefactors: dictators rather than difference makers.


Jesus would help us love ourselves as we are –

by meeting our anxieties, and our desire for superiority head on

with the gentle compassion of one who knows that control, or power,

or superiority in any thing (or in everything) are properly given to God –

thus lifting the worrying pursuit of the impossible off of our shoulders.

Jesus delivers us from the sin of desire – the sin of wanting what is not ours –

by reminding us that God has provided all we need –

there is no “first second or third” in the kingdom of God – there is no “us”, no “them”.

There is God, and that is enough.


Violence against the innocent…

April 22, 2012

In our culture, it is common to complain about rising violence, and perceived dangers – especially in “big cities” – but it is rare for an instance of violence to touch us personally. When it does touch us – as with the death of Amber Kirwan,

or the steady stream of news from the Tori Stafford murder trial,

or, this past week Raymond Taavel,

our ideas of safety, of justice, and even our faith are challenged.


It is violence and the death of the innocent that brings out in us the highest emotions –

the sharpest sense of the need for justice (or vengeance).

While every death is a cause for sorrow,

the violent death of the innocent and the hands of the powerful

sharpens our sorrow into action and outrage.


But we feel powerless, don’t we…no amount of worrying, no amount of vigilance,

not even hundreds of prayers and pleas for peace, healing, deliverance or justice –

nothing seems to change the fact that those individuals (or institutions) intent on doing harm

will eventually have their way.

We dream of another reality – we long for a better world for our children and grand-children –

but the urge to oppress is to strong – prejudice is too deeply rooted –

the ‘us versus them’ pattern is too much a part of the “way of the world” to ever be overthrown –

and so the innocent continue to die – old prejudices are re-ignited – new fears are formed;

all because the world we inhabit fails to live up to the world as we imagine it should be.


The answer for some is to stop dreaming.


They argue that since my actions, my prayers, my desires seem to have no influence, I accept defeat.

With this attitude, neighbours ignore neighbours –

parents cloister their children – schools become fortresses –

the blame is dispensed among government agencies

and the general notion that “the world is changing” becomes an excuse for inaction.


We who would follow Christ have no such excuse.

That the world is changing is precisely the message that Jesus brought to his disciples in life –

and his resurrection confirms his teaching.

There is no going back – no hiding behind old prejudice – no running from the truth

in this changed and changing world that is revealed in the gospel according to Luke:

“And Jesus stood among them and said to them ‘Peace be with you.’

And they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:36b)


We cannot really understand the sense of astonishment that Luke is trying to convey.

Dead is dead, after all. And particularly violent death, like Crucifixion, brings mortality into sharp focus.

But to these gathered disciples, the idea of mortality has been torn to shreds.

Jesus lives – he should not, but he does.

Walking – talking – eating – comforting and yes, still teaching.

Jesus returns to a world gripped by violence – captive to an attitude of fear and resignation –

and calls us to reach out – to touch his risen body – and claim the dream of a world changed for the better – a world changed by the power, grace, and mercy of God.


That is the lesson of the resurrection.

Jesus , Luke says, opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

He showed them that the way of the world was no match for the persistent grace of God –

revealed in the faith of their ancient ancestors, and the proclamation of the prophets –

But most importantly, Jesus affirmed the triumph of Divine love

over human tendencies to selfishness, violence,and hate.


That is a lesson that we are especially ready to hear.

We have been beaten down by the seemingly constant stream of stories of human despair.

The current wisdom advises us to keep our heads down, our noses clean, and our own safety and best interests at heart – isolation is the only safety; that is what our experience in society tells us.

But our experience with Christ should tell us something else –

our willingness to live lives that are open to hurt and honest about pain and fear

will lead us to an experience of the living God – whose activity was not deflected by the violence of the cross, or the lonely finality of the tomb.

Our willingness to be involved in what the world calls lost causes –

things like the battle for equality – the fight against racism, sexism –

the ongoing struggle to come to terms with diversity of thought, lifestyle, religion,

and the urgent need for compassionate care for the mentally ill –

all of these things will put us in harms way –

but our devotion to the gospel of Christ compels us

to open ourselves to harm, ridicule and difficult personal choices, that God might be revealed.

“Thus it is written that Messiah is to suffer…”

to show us the way to the grace-filled kingdom of God –

that is found, not on some lofty cloud in some distant dream –

but in the midst of this hurt and harm.


The violent death of an innocent person –

in Jesus case, it galvanized people around the power of God.

It moved disciples and friends to speak out in favour of repentance, forgiveness and love,

in spite of threats and persecution and ridicule and death.

Jesus death and resurrection opened a new conversation about the ways of God

that has continued – unstoppable – for two thousand years.

Which is why, in our current cycle of distress within the institutional church (about our future)

and the questions from outside about the usefulness of the church,

we need not fear.

The conversation that followed the horrific death of Jesus of Nazareth is still going strong.

His story still inspires – and God still moves people who hear it to lives of service and devotion.

This story is still able to change lives – to encourage repentance and renew faith.

It is our story, and it will continue to calm fears and open eyes

to the glorious possibilities of God’s promise.