of maple leaves and chickadees

There is something so strange about the turning of the leaves each Autumn. From the perspective of our culture and our lives, there is something almost shocking about the leaves turning from green to yellow and orange and red.

It happens every Autumn, of course. As the temperatures begin to drop during the day, and the temperatures begin to drop over night, the production of chlorophyll slows down in the leaves. As the production of chlorophyll slows, the deeper colours of the leaves are slowly unmasked, and some new colours are created. The hills of our city and the parks of our city and the streets of our city become a canvas alive with fire and light. For just a few short weeks our world takes on new and remarkable character – we observe a beauty we could hardly have imagined just a few short weeks ago.

But why would I say that this changing of the leaves is strange? And why would I say that the turning of the leaves to yellow and orange and red is almost shocking from the perspective of our culture? Continue reading

this table – the shape of community

Over the next weeks and leading all the way up to Advent, we are going to be exploring Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians on Sunday mornings. It’s a remarkable letter in so many ways – it explores a huge swath of questions about what it means that we are followers of the risen Jesus. As you can see, I’ve entitled the series faith and body – I think the appropriateness of that title will become pretty clear over the coming weeks.

So this morning we start into this series, but this morning we aren’t going to begin at the beginning. We aren’t going to begin with chapter 1 verse 1. And we’re also not going to begin with an historical sketch of the city of Corinth or even with a sketch of Paul’s life up to the time of writing.

Rather than beginning at the beginning – and rather than beginning with the history and context of the letter – we are going to dive right into the middle of Paul’s letter. We’re going to start in the middle of chapter 11, which is where our New Testament lesson comes from this morning. Continue reading

Down by the riverside: Drawn from the water #moses #sermon

A river looms large in the narrative of Exodus. Exodus, of course, describes the suffering and oppression of God’s people in Egypt, and is the book where we read of their dramatic escape from slavery. Within Exodus, a river looms large – in fact it is the Nile River. And what we discover is that when the Nile makes its appearance in the narrative, it is often around themes of judgment.

This morning we are looking at a passage in the first part of Exodus, but later in the narrative we remember Moses making his appeal to Pharaoh: “Let my people go. Stop oppressing them. End their slavery.“ Of course Pharoah refuses to hear Moses out. He refuses to let the people go. The result of this refusal is the narrative of the 10 plagues. These 10 plagues are described as God’s response to the oppression of his people. The 10 plagues are the tool that God uses to change the mind of Pharaoh so that he will stop oppressing God’s people and will release them. And two of those plagues – two of these judgments against Pharaoh, implicate the Nile River. There is the plague of blood – when we read that the river turned to blood and “the fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.” And then there was the plague of frogs: “So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt and the frogs came up and covered the land.” The river is implicated in reality of judgment.

Earlier in the narrative of Exodus, in the passage we are looking at today, the Nile River also makes an appearance – but in that earlier instance, the River becomes a source of violence and harm against God’s people. In that earlier scenario, the King of Egypt, the Pharoah has become afraid of the Israelites. He had placed them under forced labour and under slave drivers. But the narrative tells us that over time, the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied. In other words, this slave people is a flourishing people – and the king is afraid of them. He is afraid that they will rise up against him. He wants to do something about their growing strength. Continue reading

Sermon: Doubt and Dogma (2)

A sermon preached in anticipation of a sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed. A few themes from this sermon are borrowed from Timothy Keller’s book, The Reason for God. (Sermon date: January 18, 2009)

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As we continue to prepare for a sermon series on the Apostles Creed, we turn from thinking about doubt last week to thinking about dogma this morning. And as we do so the first thing to notice is that our society’s perspective on doubt and dogma, are two side of the same coin.

 

       If, as we said last week, doubt is in fashion,            then dogma is very much out of                                                                                                   fashion.

       If doubt is considered sophisticated,                       then dogma is considered simplistic,                                                                                                       naive.

       If doubt is thought to be responsible                       then dogma is thought to be the height of irresponsibility.

 

 

In this vein we find Christopher Hitchens, the hyper-sceptic, the evangelical atheist, saying:

“To choose dogma over doubt is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”

 

For Christopher Hitchens, doubt is a nice bottle of California Pinot Noir,

                      while dogma is a juice pitcher full of 

                                           coloured sugar water.

 

Doubt and dogma are but two sides of the same coin. Our society’s doubtful attitude toward religion goes hand in hand with a refusal of religious dogma.

 

This week we take up the question of dogma for the same reason that we took up the question of doubt last week. We do so because the attitudes and perspectives of those who live around us have an impact on us. We don’t live in a bubble, sealed off from Canadian society. We are part of that society. We can’t expect ourselves to be immune from questions or criticism or different ways of thinking.

 

When it comes to the specific question of dogma, our society often sends the message that those who hold to religious dogma are out of fashion, are naive, or are even irresponsible. And in hearing this we very quickly begin to think that we are out of fashion, that we are naïve, that we are irresponsible. As we stand to speak the words of the Apostles’ Creed on a Sunday morning we may even feel that we are going contrary to what is acceptable.

Continue reading

Sermon: Doubt and Dogma (1)

A sermon preached in anticipation of a sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed.

Sunday 11 January 2009

 

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Today in Canada, as people think about the claims of religion,

Doubt is very much in fashion. 

Today in Canada, as people think about traditional Christian claims about Jesus,

Doubt is considered the sophisticated option.

Today in Canada, as people think about the beliefs handed down from generation to generation in the church,

Doubt is thought to be the most responsible position.

 

The fact is that we in western culture live with more than three hundred years of philosophical thought, of literary output, and of historical scholarship – much of which pushes toward doubt, which elevates doubt, which calls into question the things that Christians have confessed and believed for hundreds of years. Otherwise put, we live in a sceptical society – at least, a society that is sceptical about religious claims.

 

This doubt find expression in such books as those recently published by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins – their titles are God is not great and The God Delusion. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, of course, are products of their time. They are products of these more than three hundred years in which doubt first gained credence and credibility and in which doubt finally leapt to the front of the class. Today in western societies, doubt about Christianity is fashionable. Doubt is thought to be sophisticated. Doubt is seen as the only logical option for modern people.

 

In view of this great tradition of doubt, and in view of this general scepticism about Christian belief, is there any surprise that many of us wrestle with doubts. Let’s face it – many of us struggle with doubts and questions as we think about our Christian faith. We are described as a people of faith, but we often live with the reality of doubt. No less a figure than Mother Theresa, it has recently been revealed, struggled with decades of doubt and darkness – for so long she was without any sense of God’s presence with and for her. And in some respects, at least, doubt is our experience.

Continue reading