Posts Tagged ‘relationship’

SIN: Still a tricky topic

June 12, 2016

With David, everything has to be ‘an event’.  That is part of what it is to be the king, I suppose – see what you want, take what you want.  Consequences are for other people…ordinary people.  But we are told quite plainly “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord…” – and no wonder!

Uriah’s wife is “summoned” by the king.  There is every kind of problem with this rendezvous, but the biggest problem is this; Bathsheba is another man’s wife.

Uriah is called home to try and lend legitimacy to the child that will be the result of David’s indiscretion – I’m treading gently on Bathsheba’s role in all this, for it is difficult to refuse the king – especially difficult for a woman of the day.   I am quite content to follow the leading of the text here and paint David as the villain.

The punishment is severe – though Nathan assures the king that “the Lord has put away your sin…” still, the child shall die.

It is texts such as these that convince people that God must have a personality disorder – so many harsh judgements ‘back in the day’, set against the love and grace that Jesus points to as being God’s primary position.  How can we reconcile the two stories that the lectionary puts before us this morning?  I’m not sure I can…

A woman – a sinful woman – makes a fuss and disrupts an otherwise polite gathering of responsible men – no question who is at fault here, according to the customs of the day.  In a segregated, man-power society, this woman has got it ALL wrong.

Public affection…offered to a stranger (an important stranger – the guest at the dinner was Jesus – thus he was to be honoured AS GUEST, no matter who he was as a man)…and the whole room ‘knows’ that she is a sinner.

A word about that – the text does not really suggest what her sin might be – usually we assume that, because she is willing to offer such an intimate display, that her sin must have been physical (ie. sexual) in nature, but the greek word is used to describe someone who has “missed the mark” in terms of God’s favour or righteousness, so it could be any number of things that cause this designation

The incredible thing about this ‘new testament’ forgiveness party is that soon after, (Luke chapter 8: 1-3), we are told that a number of women have significant roles to play in the ministry of Jesus – these are supporters, providers, and those who have been healed.  Grateful people; influential people. The three opening verses of chapter eight say something remarkable about the path that Jesus ‘ministry’ takes  – against the prejudice of the day (against the pattern of the ancient near east) – a path blazed (in part) by the women whom had been shown mercy – revealed as fully human – by the love of God in Jesus.   So rather than ask ourselves “what does it mean to sin?” – a question that too often has been the preoccupation of the church – we might better consider “What does it mean to be forgiven?” – a question that is only rarely asked.

Sin is easier to talk about, because it seems easier to define.  There are lists, after all, of things that ‘are abominations before the Lord…”; things that we have been told separate us from God; things that we don’t understand and fear might ‘taint’ us; things that diminish us as human beings.  If we’re honest, we claim to know quite a lot about sin

But forgiveness is harder because it defies logic.  It comes without expectation; it is often offered against expectation, in fact.  Forgiveness does not limit all the damage (see David’s example) but it opens the door to further relationship – to further exploration, and yes, to repeated offences in most cases.  If our notions of sin are clearly defined (though constantly disputed), then our understanding of forgiveness is totally fuzzy, and that needs to change.

Faith isn’t founded on sin – but forgiveness.  That’s the simplest way to put it.

That’s the message of the gospel lesson – a woman who weeps and attends to Jesus in this extravagant manner has (in Jesus words) expressed faith like no other.  Faith that understands the scope of forgiveness is more resilient, gentler and more likely to attract than faith that is defined by the limits of sin.

The Christian church has a complicated relationship with both sin and forgiveness.  History convicts our exclusive, Imperialist tactics.  Encountering strange cultures as the new world was opened, we condemned what we didn’t understand, and calmly announced that our way was the best way.  It took nearly 500 years to recognize that our treatment of First Nations people, ‘in the name of Christianity’, was sin.  Our slowly changing relationship with First Nations has lead to relationships that enhance our understanding of the Divine.

We have had similar experiences around other long-held questions of sin.  Women in leadership?  The status of those who are divorced?  The physical and intellectual challenges faced by some folks were also once barriers to full inclusion in the body of Christ – not because Jesus doesn’t treasure people, but because his followers reject what they don’t understand; what they fear.

Now, in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the questions swirl around those whose sexuality is differently defined.  It’s sin, some say – as though that settles everything; but a church defined by sin is not the church of Christ.  To be sure, we are challenged by our encounter with the Risen Jesus to live changed lives – lives that honour the love God shows us; lives that recognize the delicate balance between good and evil, seeking good as we are able.  And the truth that allows us to live in that precarious balance is that God’s forgiveness is there waiting for us.

The cost of that forgiveness may be nothing more than a single tear – or simply won with a moments hesitation, or a sober second thought.  That forgiveness is liberating and life-giving; it allows relationships to form and to heal.  Forgiveness recognizes our humanity, and celebrates it.

The forgiveness Jesus offered this anonymous woman was hers before she entered the room; “Your faith has saved you…”, he says “go in peace.”  This is the faith rooted in grace – not limited by the constant reality of our sin – faith sure to save even the most unlikely among us.  Amen.

Trinity Sunday – 2015

May 31, 2015

Even among the Theologically trained there is uncertainty and perhaps a little dread when it comes to the Trinity.  Last week at the Presbytery retreat, we fretted together around the supper table about children’s stories and worship themes that might help us (as clergy) approach this week’s service.  But we don’t need gimmicks – we don’t need colourful illustrations.  We have surrounded ourselves with evidence and immersed ourselves in living examples/illustrations of what it means to say “God is One, yet Three-in-One”.

The creeds are the response of the church to the questions of the faithful – and so, from these long and occasionally complicated formulas, we learn that

“We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity,

neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.”

Makes perfect sense, right?

Our more common creeds and more recent statements of faith describe three “elements” of God – Three persons of the God-head – without shedding any light on how they came to that conclusion.  How do we tell the difference between God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and the Holy Spirit, whose creative power was responsible for Jesus’ conception?  The search for an answer has filled many libraries and caused otherwise sensible people to present us with such mind bending statements as we find in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.

But the church has organized itself around the central idea that God is “Three-in-One”, and the language we use and the way we gather we have answered the riddle of the Trinity in the best possible way.  We have focused on relationship: between and among ourselves; between the Creator and the Creation.  We call ourselves a family of faith, claiming the title “children of God” – and in this, I think, we have found an explanation for how the Trinity works.

The relationship between and among Father – Son – Spirit is the most important thing about any Trinitarian talk.  The Trinity is the model for the family of God.

No one more important than the other – each necessary to the completeness of the other, yet  at the same time independent in their identities.  A complicated relationship, to be sure, but one with great power to support the work of Creating – Redeeming – Sustaining.  It’s not magic, it’s family, and that’s something we understand.

Isaiah approaches that relationship with fear and trembling – in fact, the whole earth trembles.  Fear is the starting point for Nicodemus too, who comes at night, unseen by his colleagues, to ask Jesus for the answer to this most difficult question: “How does your connection with God work?”

“We know you are from God…” he says – but I don’t understand.  And Jesus explanation doesn’t make it any easier; “you must be born of the Spirit” – “born from above” into the family of God.  To be born in the regular way leaves only ‘regular’ options to pursue the tasks assigned to us.  To be born “from above”, to join the family of God, is to gain a different perspective.

Thomas Long, a teacher of preachers at Emory University in Atlanta GA,  puts it this way:

In other words, Jesus Christ…leads us into the joyful and loving life of God. This is why when people choose to follow Jesus and are baptized as new Christians, they are baptized not just in Jesus’ name but in the name of the Trinity. To be baptized is not just a ceremony but a rebirth into a new way of life, into God’s own life. To be a follower of Jesus is not just to ask “What would Jesus do?” but to be drawn into a communion with the fullness of God’s life. Just as a new bride soon realizes that she has not just married a husband but married into his whole family, just so, to belong to Jesus is to belong to his whole family, to be drawn through Jesus the Son into a deep and loving relationship with God the Father in the power of the Spirit.  (from Thomas Long’s sermon “The Start of the trail” – http://day1.org/3823-the_start_of_the_trail)

The same is true of the Sacrament of Communion; we come to the table, not as mourners at a funeral lunch, but as “members of the body looking to take Jesus into ourselves” – looking to be connected to God intimately, by taste and touch.

These Sacraments of ours each try to establish our relationship to this mysterious, three- personed God.  And while there is comfort and security in the familiar words and the common rituals, we should come to the table and font with our knees knocking, for the Sacraments draw us into a relationship of responsibility and power.

Long tells a story of a recently retired Presbyterian minister who remembered baptizing a two-year-old boy. After the child had been baptized with water, the minister, following the directions of the Presbyterian prayer book, put his hand on the little boy’s head and addressed him in Trinitarian language. He said, “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.” Unexpectedly, the little boy looked up and responded, “Uh-oh.”

Well, it was an amusing moment, and people in the congregation smiled, of course, but “it was [also] an appropriate response,” wrote [the minister], “… a stunning theological affirmation” from the mouth of this child. And indeed it was. That “uh-oh” was a recognition that everything had changed, that this boy would never be the same.

That is what waits for us at the font and the table; an invitation to be changed – to accept our role in the family of God; to live out in the world the kind of love and self-giving that goes on among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God for the mystery and privilege that comes from being in a family such as this.  Amen

Meditation on Luke 14: 25-33

September 8, 2013

 

According to this morning’s Scripture, I am not fit to call myself a disciple of Jesus.

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” – Jesus of Nazareth; the Gospel according to Luke 14:26.

Do any of you make the cut?  I hope not, for this is one of those passages that should not be taken at face value – that cannot be delivered out of context, but too often is used as a weapon in the world of religious certainty.

I am afraid that I speak from experience: at my first certification interview, on of the committee suggested that I should be prepared to go to Seminary in spite of any objections my wife may have (for that had been the position he took).  I watched classmates ignore their personal problems because their journey to  ordination “was from God” (as though nothing else in life may have been God’s gift)  It is too easy for a people who claim the Holy Scriptures as their guide,  to fall into a dangerous fundamentalism – this morning, I hope to avoid that trap.

These conditions for discipleship are part of a larger argument Jesus is making about the cost of following him in the ways of God.  He is, after all, suggesting a very personal, very different approach to a life of faith than his listeners have ever imagined.  Direct access to God’s mercy; A child-like reverence for God as a loving parent.  Not only that, this experience will affect the way we treat one another – love thy neighbour, and all that.  Jesus is urging them (and us) to abandon the self-serving attitudes that so often inhabit religious thought.  There will be a cost for this, he says – and that cost is considerable.

 Earlier in Luke, Jesus has warned that he came to start a fire – to bring, not peace but a sword (Luke 12:49 ff.)  He suggests that his approach will set loved ones against one another – and no doubt, that still happens.  But I don’t – can’t – believe that we are called to hate family in order that we might love Jesus;  there is something else at work here.

Everything we do, every action we take, comes at a cost to us.  This is a fact of life.  Love creates a kind of blindness in us – you see it in teenagers at the mall, or newlyweds at the front f the church – there is no one else in the world at those moments, and it is a powerful emotion.  It can also be destructive, and that (I think) is what Jesus is warning against.  The resolution is gently delivered – when compared to his opening statement, it’s no wonder that we miss it.  “So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Luke 14: 33)

It is, you see, a warning against what possesses us – a call to mind the commandments, and create no idols for ourselves (and love can do that).  Jesus only task is to keep the image of God before our eyes.  It is an image that provides a model for our behaviour; an image of such generous love, and such tender mercy, that we are fools if we don’t seek the same things in our personal relationships – so comes my insistence that I was called first to be husband, father, brother & son – so long as those relationships don’t seek to replace the relationship that God wants with each of us.

When one informs the other, it is healthy, and wonderful and glorious.

When one replaces the other, we may well hate life itself.

With the love of God guiding us, we are better parents, spouses and friends.  With a sense of God’s limitless love and mercy informing our relationships, we cannot be held captive by the idols we sometimes make of one another.  It is a delicate balancing act, and Jesus shocking words are meant to remind us where that balance might be found.  He calls us to a relationship with God that provokes love – that promotes mercy, and in the end, leaves us free to love in ways we could not have imagined.

It is the thing we say we want more than anything – true love – real happiness.  And here it is, offered in the gospel.  A gift of God, for the people of God.