Thursday, August 26, 2010

Will that be the beef or the chicken?

There once was a couple who were making wedding plans. They went and hired a coordinator who took them to an expensive hotel to plan their reception: a dinner of finest food, using the best china, plants, big band, and the works! The couple was asked to pay out $30,000. Then, shortly before day of the wedding, the groom got cold feet, and called the wedding off. The would-be bride was furious! She went to cancel the party only to be consoled but told, "You signed a contract. You can either give up the money or go ahead or have a party." The woman thought about it, and decided, having once been homeless and down on her luck, to have that party. She sent her invitations to all the homeless shelters and mission places in city where she lived. The Bride and her invited guests – the least the last and the lost - they partied with the tuxedoed waiters and everything. There was only one change made for the festivities: the bride changed the meat for the meal from roast beef to boneless chicken in honor of the groom.

We worry about our status, personal and corporate all the time. We worry about what we will wear and how that will make people respond to us and what they will think of us. We concern ourselves with where we live and what our homes look like, especially making certain that we keep up with those who around us and what they are doing and when we cannot we become envious of them and want what they have. We live, because of our culture, in a constant state of comparison and flux. How many of you would, if Pepsi™ were the most expensive pop on sale at the local store still buy it because it is Pepsi™ instead of buying something cheaper? How many of you would not be satisfied or your thirst quenched after drink something less expensive? We not only buy into the idea that one product is best and the rest are not, we are conditioned to pursue that which the world says can satisfy: to go ahead and break the rules and live the way we want to and have brighter clothes and whiter teeth. Yet we find ourselves feeling empty at the end of the day. Have you ever wondered why?

Is it possible that we are looking in all the wrong places for things that cannot satisfy us; that cannot fill the hole we need to fill? The Gospel calls us to see things differently. We are challenged to not give into the automatic assumptions of our age, “that this is the way things are and that they have always been this way” and “We have always done things this way and there is no hope for change.” We need to recognize that we are seated with and found with Christ in the heavenly realms. We need to know that we can see things as he sees them. We can see our priorities and how they lead to the cross and the death of life. We can also see that there is a path away from the grave and into new life and new creation if we are only willing to walk it.

The thing is, we don’t like to hear that what we want, what we think is ours, what we believe is right is not enough to satisfy God. We like to celebrate our limitations and complain that we always seem to be at them. We moreover, seem to think that by confessing our limits that God will forgive us for having our priorities in mind and not thinking or doing anything about His work. We lull ourselves into thinking that mediocrity is not merely acceptable but that it is normal. The cross rises above this weakness to break us out of the ruts that we have put ourselves in and it is why some wanted Jesus dead in the first place.

Jesus came to establish the new creation and the new life through his own. He did not come to create committees or to agree with us in our thoughts and opinions. He came to confer a dignity upon us that we cannot gain for ourselves so that we in turn might offer it to others. He lived life in such a way that others were thought of first and as better than self. He taught so that others would learn to follow him to seats of honour and learn to come to table. And he died that we might become the kingdom people, regardless of who we are and he rose again that we might the strength to live that kingdom filled life.

So what kind of church do you want to be? We rush for our favourite spots in the pews. We like to be at the back of the Church, the head of the line and the center of attention. And so long as things remain the same, everything is okay and we are safe. The threat comes when we cannot do that and that one poor Sunday in terms of congregation and in terms of what is given is going to be the ruination of the church. Ought we not to ask ourselves who it is we believe in and who we really trust? We are called by Scripture to love each as family and to be hospitable even to those we do not know. We are expected to care for those who are in prison and for those who are suffering, imagining that we are in their places. We are asked to respect all relationships, marriage in particular, and in doing so to keep one’s self holy. We are to free ourselves from the love of money while learning to be content with what we have. And we need to imitate the faith of those who taught the faith to us so that we might deepen our own. We do these things not because of any list or order; we do it because we see and know that Jesus is faithful and just. We do it because we see Jesus and we see him do it. We compare ourselves to him, instead of each other.

There is a feast and it is about ready to begin. You have been invited and there is beef on the menu. The Groom calls you to come and join his happiness and his family. Will you come?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Living out the promises in freedom

I had an encounter with an old friend the last time I was home from Christmas several years back now. I recall the encounter because he was one of the players that seem to always run afoul of me when I was refereeing hockey. He was nice guy but he seemed to spend a lot of time in the penalty box despite early and repeated warnings not to do what he was going to do. Not just because he had been detected doing something that was against the rules in the course of playing the game, but also for the colourful ways in which he expressed himself and his thoughts about the call, my refereeing in general and occasionally about my lineage as we made our way to the “sin bin” or the penalty box. I recall this off-ice encounter because this friend came to me and in the course of conversation apologized for his words and actions back the in the good old days. He told me that in times after that, when he was refereeing games, he was treated in the same manner and then though of his own actions. I assured him that what had been done was both forgiven and forgotten or in hockey terms – “it was all left out on the ice.” I was there to help everyone play by the rules and to have some fun if possible.       

Seemingly it appears that we like our church and our faith the same way. We like to know what the rules are so that we can keep them and have everything on an even keel thus having “fun” or religion. Thus the maintaining of the rules becomes a way of life. We want to call that way of life tradition but in the process we inadvertently make church and faith about wrestling with sin and about sin management. We worry about how to avoid “the bin”. We want to learn how to deal with sin and how to be good. We want to avoid wrong doing and wrong being but never quite seem to get there. We need to realize that the only thing that stands between us and the coming kingdom is our own transformation.

We like our systems but those same systems also serve to isolate us make us lonely and grim people. We like our institutions and systems because we can tell who is in and who is not. And because we like our systems and institutions that way it becomes a free for all and everybody works for themselves. People will only gather when they agree with one another or when they can come to a consensus that they disagree with someone else.
Why do we come to Church? Is it not to be encouraged to live the life God calls us to and at the same time see other people set free to live that same life? Do you go to do your duty or do you go that someone else might be set free. Isn’t that what shall happen on the Sabbath? The Sabbath is at least as much about being free and seeing that others are freed as it is about having a rest. Should we not celebrate our freedom in Christ so that God can be praised for his mighty acts, his healing of people and the salvation he has provided through Jesus Christ? How can we choose to honour ourselves and rest while there is someone sitting beside us who is bound up or bent over and do nothing about it while claiming some level of spirituality? The Sabbath and the Day of the Resurrection are meaning for setting people free so that they might worship and serve God. Allowing our friends and neighbours, our brothers and sisters to remain bound for the sake of tradition and social norms shows that we still want the Law and need to hear the message of the Gospel again.     

And at the same time, we ought to be careful about labeling other people as the problem. The man who led the synagogue where Jesus was teaching was working to be faithful and pass on what he had been taught. The president of the synagogue believed he was being faithful to the Scriptures and that what was being taught was correct. He was not used to seeing this kind of faith in action. He was not used to this kind of teaching. Jesus doesn't undermine all that has been said and done before but rather shows how what he is teaching fits into all that they believe. Jesus shows the people that it is right to set people free on the Sabbath just as it is okay to tend your animals because they needed to be untied and led to water to drink and to be fed. It is right to help a child of Abraham to straighten up and praise God in the midst of the community and see, praise and worship God as we all should. Isn’t that worth going to church for?  Not only is the women set free of a long standing evil in her life but the leader of the synagogue has seen what God can do and is invited to come and participate in that. Ultimately he will decide whether he will or he won’t. We as children of Abraham are called not to tell God about our frailties and shortcomings – he already knows them and it is all too easy for us to do that. God still calls us not to live a life bound by limitations but strengthened by the promises he has made to us. We are called to live out those lives for the sake of those who live around us that they too would discover what God has done and how they might live out the promises too. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stir the Church up... again

I have always found it interesting that around Labour Day we have this particular Collect, and usually on the Sunday of the Long weekend itself that calls us to be ready for revival. The Collect reads,

“Stir up O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that richly bearing the fruit of good works, we may by you, be richly rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.”

So why is it necessary for God to stir up his people again? Is it because we are back from summer break and the year starts again for the Church. Perhaps this is true in part. But we are not going to be shaken out of a blissful summer slumber. We have been busy throughout the summer and there are ways that we have made the kingdom known. And yet we ask God to blow through us like a freshening breeze blows through the sails of a two-masted schooner that is ready for the fishing grounds and needs to leave her port.

We need to remember that the Church was born of wind and of flame not to sweep us up into heaven but to send and guide us down the hot and dusty roads of this word so that we might lift up the downcast, heal the broken, reconcile what has been lost, and bring peace amongst the unrest (Garth House). God moves and breathes to lift us up again that he might make us instruments of his new creation.

We have been noted as faithful people but we are not permitted by our faith to rest on our laurels and what we did yesterday. It is necessary for God to renew in us the strength and the zeal that makes us ready to serve him this fall and in this moment. We need to be stirred up because can get tired and restless. We can lose focus and confidence in God, in each other and in ourselves. So we need to be stirred up again in this long green season so that we might continue to offer ourselves in service of God. In this way we can make known to the rest of God’s world that the God with the skin on is here.

Here comes the wind of God, ready to lift us up that we might glorify him.

Following in Faithfulness

We only hear of the Virgin Mary at points throughout the Gospels. But they are at critical points in the life of Jesus. She is there in the birth narratives of Jesus of course and in the story of Elizabeth and her son, John. Mary is there when Jesus finally begins to reveal himself to the world around him who he truly is through turning water into wine at a wedding. She comes to claim her son when people start calling him a crazy man for some of the things he claims, including that he is the Son of God, only to watch him heal a man and raise him from his mat. And she is there at the Cross and the grave to witness the yawn door that has been opened to bring out life from the grave.

So why do we take the time to consider her today? What is there about her that we should take notice of? The Gospels show her to be one of the first to really believe in God and in the coming salvation that he would work through his Son. She holds on to the memories of who her Son is and holds out the hope that God is going to do something marvellous through him that we cannot see. She is the one who allowed the Word to become flesh in her life so that the Word could become flesh for all life. She was and remains the prototypical Christian for others to imitate. Mary is portrayed as being ready to hear, prepared to receive and willing to serve as the Lord has led.

And more than that, we should be prepared our own selves to do as she has counseled others, “Listen to him. Do whatever he tells you to do.” We are expected to listen. That means we need to not only talk when we pray but also take time to listen. In this way God can speak into the quiet of our hearts the things that he wants to say. Listen in turn helps us to receive the word that God wants to speak into us, to help us growing in the formation of our Christian character and to mature as believers in his Son. We need to be filled to the brim like those jars of old that we might have the water of life but also be filled with the new wine of the Spirit. We would also do well to consider that nowhere in Scripture is Mary called perfect. Mary has her fears and struggles. She doesn’t always get it right. We know that because she thought that she had to bring Jesus home at one point because, from her point of view, things were getting more than slightly out of hand. Nonetheless, she is open to what God desires for. She treasures up in her heart things that are going to be important not only for her but for those who will follow in the years to come. Mary reminds us that we are not called to be perfect or to be even good. She reminds us that we are to be faithful in whatever we say and do. Faithfulness is not so much about the rules we keep or the journey we walk, as it is about the people we are becoming. Who do we love and keep as a neighbour? Who do we put our trust in? Whose glory do we seek, God’s or our own?

We can be like Mary and put our trust in God and say, “Let it be to me as you have said.” We can choose to hear the voice of the Master and trust him in the ways that we should go. After all, as someone once pointed out, the Church was born out of wind and fire, not to sweep us up heavenward like a tall tower but to send us down the dusty roads of this world so that we may lift up the downcast, heal the broken, reconcile that which is lost and bring peace amongst the unrest.

Let us take up the challenge to hear Christ this week and to be prepared and ready to go where we are sent and to do what we are asked to do and in the process make Christ known to those around us.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Food, you want to talk about food?

Here we are in the wild and wide and Jesus wants to talk about food. How can he want to talk about food at a time like this? We are here in the open and exposed to the elements. We are in a place of sorrow and tears and he wants to talk about bread. What’s up with that?

It’s quite simple actually: he wants you to remember where your bread and thus your life comes from. It doesn't come from the kitchen and it doesn’t come from a store. It doesn’t come from the clergy and it doesn't even come from a spiritual great like Moses. It comes from God and God alone. God caused the wheat to grow, the water to flow, the salt to supply in the earth. We ground the wheat to flour and carried the water and dug the salt from the earth and we add the yeast to make it rise but we received these things from God’s hands. Our hands were empty and God filled them. We are reminded that our bread and therefore our life, comes from God. Such a reminder is important in a place like this; where we remember, where we are exposed and know that we are in a place of sorrow.

And we are prompted to recall that without our bread, our Christ, we cannot be sustained. There may be a solitary existence but there will not be life – not full life as God intended it to be. And certainly new life in the new creation remains impossibility without our living Bread. Only in Christ is the hungry heart satisfied and the restless soul finally at peace. We are reminded in this particular place (at this particular table) that bread must be broken before it can be offered. In this place we realize what it is we proclaim – that there is bread that leads to eternal life. That the Bread of God was broken and offered for us that we might eat and live. We come to this table to recall that there is hope in the life that God offers and we need to take hold of it. That we are called to that great table together with those who have gone before us to feast in the presence of God and truly live. We have a choice and the lives of our loved ones ought to remind us that we need to make it; to live every day and to do so for the hope and the life that is within us because his life, his grace, his hope is within us. He is within us.

We ought not to forget that – we are what we eat! Christ is within us and he will raise us up at the Last Day. We need to recall that he is the resurrection and the Life. We need to be drawn into the life that is offered – even if it means that we are drawn in haltingly and with resistance. Surrender is never very easy for us. Nonetheless, lets us remember that even here at this table, in this exposed place, where our life comes from and where our lives as Christian people are going. And let’s eat and live! 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Stuff about stuff

Have you ever noticed that money has no real value in your bank account or in your wallet until it leaves your hand and goes to another? Many when they read the story of the rich framer will think that it could be wrong to have money. Many will think that it is unfair for this man to work hard most of his life only to discover that he has hours left before his life comes to an end. Then his things, his land, his crops and his current barns will become someone else’s property; someone else’s stuff.  And there will be people surprised to learn that there are 500 verses in the Bible about prayer, less than 500 verses about faith and more than 2000 verses about possessions and “stuff”. From time to time over the nineteen years plus I have spent in full time ministry I have had people counsel me that it is a bad idea to talk about money and stuff. It makes people upset and they might stop giving the money they do give to the Church. I remember in my last parish being told not to tell people that I should not tell people to honour God by coming in from their cabins for public worship. That it was their duty and responsibility to be present for worship of God almighty in the summertime. My predecessors had done it and caused a lot of pain for the people and in turn for themselves – it was better not to do it.

The story of the rich farmer tells not of a man who work hard all his life and didn’t get to enjoy it. Rather it speaks of our foolishness in forgetting God in the midst of life. We work in the mistake belief that things can insulate us from the harsh and cruel life around us and if we work hard we can have just a little more of the plenty that is out there to be had. The farmer was foolish for put his trust in his wealth and in himself because he had earned so many things. It was only in the last hours of his life that he realized that he had valued the wrong things – things that won’t make him rich before God. Money will buy a bed but not a good night’s sleep. Money will buy books but not brains or the use of common sense. Money will buy food but it can never satisfy the appetite. Money will buy the fine things but it cannot beautify or enrich the soul. Money can purchase a house but it cannot make it a home. Money can buy medicine but not improve our health. Money can buy luxuries but those comforts are fleeting at best. Money can buy a time of amusement but it cannot hold on to happiness. It can buy wood from which a cross can be fashioned but it cannot get a Saviour or salvation. Money can get the use of a church pew but it cannot draw someone to new life and to the new creation which is coming in God. And at the same time let us be clear and be aware that money is not the root of evil – it is the love of money which is the root of all kinds of evils.   
So if when you woke up this morning with a roof over your head, clothes to put on to come to church and had a meal from your own kitchen, you are richer than 80% of the rest of the world in this moment. the question is how will you use your giftedness is week?  Every time I celebrate the Eucharist I say to you “The gifts of God for the people of God”. This little bit of liturgy reminds us of who is giving and what is being given. God offers all of the good things that Christ has won for us through his death, resurrection and all other benefits of his passion. And not only does this bit of liturgy tell us who gives and what is being given, it also tells us who such things are being given to. All of these good things are offered to you and I that we might make God and his coming creation known to all the people of the earth. The Eucharist is not just what we get week by week – it is about what we can offer week by week to those who are around us. To think that receiving the Eucharist is just about us is self centered which is the opposite of what the Eucharist is about. If we refuse to be generous with what God has given us then it negates the powerful proclamation of the Gospel and it robs us of both our sincerity and our security.  The Christian life isn’t about what we can get out of it for ourselves; it is about what we can offer to those around us from the abundant riches of God’s grace. A gift can be given and it can be received but it can be gotten. The price of a gift is paid for by another.

So let us remind ourselves this week that time is short and we are free to live for Christ. And let us go and give and find life in Jesus name.  

Choose the better dish

Jesus boldly told a harried Martha, “Mary has chosen the better “dish” and it will not be removed from her.” It makes one stop and think – or at least it should. Last Sunday we were told to go and love and serve our neighbour. This Sunday we are told to sit down and listen. So which should we do? Should we be like Martha and get busy doing likewise or should we sit down beside Mary and listen for a while. In fact would submit that we need to do some of both.  We need to stop and to listen to the voice of the Master and then we need to apply ourselves to serving God and our neighbour and the working out of our faith.  

We need to consider first that Mary was sitting at the feet of the master and being taught by him and he did not reject her. Women were not in this kind of position is culture. That is to say they were not considered to be disciples because they were not men. So Mary finds herself in an unusual place. Martha is exasperated by the lack of help that she is getting from her sister who is an unusual place. She complains openly to Jesus about this. Jesus points out to Martha that she is worried about a great many things when she only needs to concern herself with one thing. Jesus wants her to come and join her sister at his feet so that she can hear him clearly for her own self – there will be time for serving and hospitality later but now he needs his word to be heard.  Mary has chosen the dish that needs to be eaten now and it will not be taken from her.

So how does this apply to us? When did you last stop to listen to the voice? When were you last still to know that God is God? How come you have been too busy to enter into the presence of God fully in the last while?  Oh, yes we take holidays or vacations and we get away from it all for a time and fill our time with other things. After all isn’t said that, “a change as good as a rest?” How does one have conversation with someone who will not sit still? It is important to take time to be with God because in those moments we can hear him speak to us and to comfort and renew us for the tasks that are ahead. We need to hear his word and the voice of the Spirit speaking to us. Otherwise how do we know what to do and where to go as individuals and as a church? Failing to listen to the voice that calls us forward makes us as individuals, and as community, absurd. We not only end up doing things our way, our community degrades and suffers. If one is going to push the edges of the envelope then it is necessary to stop and to listen to what it is that God is saying to us. And in doing so we will find that we are not alone: that God will draw others to us and to the places and spaces where he wants and needs his church so that the kingdom can be signed by our actions and proclaimed by our obedience to the voice of the Master.

Come, sit and eat – the dish is hot and the Master is calling you to come to sit and to be with him for awhile. Come and dine!