Let’s not cheat ourselves. Encountering Jesus. 3/5

The gates of Jerusalem are busy places. There are so many people coming and going – whether for religious festivals, or for trade and commerce, or for administrative purposes. The flow of people is almost nonstop at these gates – through these portals into the city.

There is a pool near one particular gate of the city – and that pool near the sheep gate – is also a busy place. But this pool is busy not so much on account of the religious festivals, or on account of those traveling for trade and commerce, or on account or the administrative needs of the city or of that Roman colony more widely.

The area around that pool is busy because there is a tradition of healing associated with it. There is a tradition that when the waters are stirred – when there is some movement in the waters, as if stirred by an angel – the waters have healing or medicinal properties.

And so the area around that pool – the five porticos or porches that encircle the pool – they are filled with those looking for healing. This space is a kind of ancient hospice or hospital. By definition this is a group of those who are broken in some way; their bodies in need of healing in some respect. According to John’s gospel, those gathered around the pool are the blind and the lame and the paralyzed. And of course we know that in that culture, on top of their particular physical challenges, each of these individuals would also have faced a high degree of social isolation. So they seek healing in this pool – they seek healing in the stirred waters – they seek healing of their bodies and souls – a healing in their physical being and in their social identity. Continue reading

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seeing jesus – a beautiful collusion (2/5)

Weddings are very often a feast for the senses.

Our ears are filled with so many sounds. Guests raise a cacophony of conversation over dinner tables. There is always music – whether a mariachi band or electronic dance music or the latest pop hits. Into the night, there are shouts and animated conversation – and then very late the sounds of dishes piled, tables pushed aside.

Weddings are very often a feast for the senses.

Not only sounds, but our sense of smell is engaged. The fragrance of flowers. The tantalizing smells of dinner wafting from the kitchen – crab soup at a typical Vietnamese wedding – the smell of sautéed mushrooms and gravy at your typical Canadian wedding – the savour of herbed gnocchi at a typical Italian wedding. The aroma of a full-bodied red wine.

Weddings are very often a feast for the senses.

Not to mention our eyes. There are beautiful dresses. Have you seen the glorious prints on the women at a Cameroonian wedding? And then there are beautiful flowers adoring hats and lapels and tables and even desserts. There are women and men looking their best – beards trimmed – hair up – earrings dangling – shirts pressed – shoes shined. Continue reading

convenient pieties — holding Christ at arm’s length

King Ahaz of Judah has a problem.

Actually, King Ahaz of Judah has a number of problems. But the most pressing problem is that two neighbouring nations are threatening war against him. The northern kingdom of Israel, under King Pekah, and the neighbouring nation of Syria under King Rezin have made an alliance and are threatening to attack. It is no idle threat. We read in Isaiah chapter 7 that when they heard about this military threat, “the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”

King Ahaz and the people of Judah are afraid. King Ahaz is not confident in the strength of his own forces. He’s not confident in the capacity of his soldiers to repel this military assault. He is deeply fearful that this will mean death and destruction and defeat for himself and for Judah. “The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”

Into the middle of all of this comes Isaiah the prophet. And he comes with a word of challenge and a word of warning. His message from God to Ahaz is this: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” Continue reading

a beautiful branch – wisdom for life

We have these amazing texts preserved and handed down to us in the prophet Isaiah. Beautiful texts that speak about the transformation of our world. Beautiful texts that remind us of what we are waiting for. We are waiting for God to come in judgment and grace to his people, a waiting that infuses every moment of our lives. Last week we explored one of these texts – one of these songs.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Ain’t gonna study war no more.

This is huge, world–transformative stuff. It’s about politics, and about the life of nations, and it’s about the possibilities for peace in the world – it’s about what happens when the kingdom of God comes in all its glory.

This week we get more of the same as we turn to Isaiah chapter 11. This week we read these astonishing words:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain. Continue reading

stewards of mysteries

Paul writes to the church in Corinth:

You seem to think Apollos and I are pawns to be played on the chessboard of your church battles. You seem to think that Apollos and I will carry your flag into war – that we are little more than figureheads who will represent your cause against brothers and sisters in Christ.

You have your petty squabbles with one another. You are divided from one another on theological grounds. You are divided from one another on cultural grounds. You are divided from one another on ethical grounds. And you have so obviously tried to conscript Apollos and me into your divisions, as if that’s all we’re good for.

But if this is who you think we are, then you are so badly mistaken. If you think we can just be conscripted into your battles in this way, then you need to hear another word. It’s about time that I give you a reminder of who we are. Continue reading

division, baptism, unity — or, who we are

Let me begin this morning by reading again just a few words from 1 Corinthians chapter 1. For me these particular words are more than a little odd – they almost stick out like a sore thumb – and for that reason I want to start with them. Paul writes these words to the church in Corinth: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.” Aren’t these curious words? “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.”

These words become astonishing when we realize that Paul is the one who founded the church in Corinth. These words come from the apostle who went to that city and who debated in its marketplace and synagogue, with the result that women and men came to faith and were baptized. These words come from the pen of someone who lived with the Corinthian church for 18 months – leading them and caring for them and teaching about their new life in Christ.

To this church, to this group of people with whom he has had such a significant and personal relationship, Paul writes: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.” Strong and strange words. Continue reading

“may I have a word” — confession and correction #sermon

Has anyone every pulled you aside and said: “You know, what you are doing is really not a great idea.”

Has anyone ever pulled you aside and said: “You know, you better stop and think about what you’re saying.”

When someone pulls you aside it’s generally because they care about you – they want to put the brakes on something you’re doing or saying before you get carried away. They care about you, and so instead of speaking to you publicly in a way that might make you look back or shame you – they gently pull you aside to have private word with you. Continue reading

Christian spirituality, it doesn’t start with you – Sermon 4/5

It’s not uncommon today to hear people talking about spiritual things – or talking about spirituality. Not every uses this kind of language – and not everyone is comfortable taking about spirituality. But there are plenty of women and men in our culture who believe that spirituality, or spiritual things, are important to life – and who are interested in exploring such questions.

As with many other subjects, it’s a challenge to discuss about spirituality because there are very different ideas out there about what it means to be spiritual. But I want to begin this morning by reflecting on what I think is one of the most common approaches to spirituality in our culture. And to do this, I’d like to begin with some words I found on the website of the Wellness Centre at a Canadian University. It seems to me that these words capture a very common understanding of spirituality that is “out there” today. So here on the screen is the definition given:

Spirituality is unique to each individual. Your “spirit” usually refers to the deepest part of you, the part that lets you make meaning of your world. Your spirit provides you with the revealing sense of who you are, why you are here and what your purpose for living is. It is that innermost part of you that allows you to gain strength and hope.

As this quotation makes clear, spirituality in our culture has to do with our deepest identity. Spirituality has to do with finding meaning and purpose in your life. Spiritual questions are questions that relate to something deep inside you – the core of your being, where you find energy and hope and joy.  Continue reading

the Spirit of freedom – sermon 3/5

Who doesn’t want to be free?

There is something so compelling about the idea of freedom. In our lives, in our culture, and in the wide world there is a desire for freedom – a desire that comes to expression in so many ways. Yes there are sometimes different ideas about what it means to be free – in some cases there are conflicting ideas about what freedom looks like, exactly. But even so, the compelling nature of human freedom is expressed powerfully when we ask that simple question: Who doesn’t want to be free?

This past week we have celebrated Canada Day, so perhaps a way into this subject is by way of the freedoms we enjoy here in Canada. There are the general freedoms we enjoy – freedom to work and to travel and to raise a family. More specifically there are the freedoms that are given to us and outlined for us in the 1982 charter of rights and freedoms: the freedom of conscience and religion (the first of our freedoms); freedom of thought and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of association; freedom to move within the country; freedom to leave the country and return.

These freedoms, and others with them, are basic to Canadian culture and basic to many other societies – in many cases these freedoms are written into constitutional frameworks. But then of course there are and have been many places where these basic freedoms haven’t been granted – where certain groups are or have been excluded from sharing in such freedoms. In such contexts the call for freedom becomes particularly compelling. Continue reading

the Spirit of the future – sermon 2/5

Let me begin with a question this morning. When you think about the future, what do you imagine? When you think about the future, what do you feel or think or imagine? We could answer this question in terms of our own immediate future – in terms of what’s going to happen in my and your life in the next 5 to 10 years – what do I feel or think or imagine in terms of my own future. But this morning I’m inviting us to think more widely about the future – to think in terms of the future of our society.

Let’s think about Canada 100 years from now, in the year 2114. If you were to think about what Canadian society might look like in a hundred years, what do you imagine. On Canada day, July 1st, 2114, what will Canadian society look like?

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 2.43.42 PMMaybe we can help ourselves think about this by doing so in terms of a question you might be asked for a poll, for a sondage. You might get a phone call at home, and be asked a series of questions – and one of the questions might be something like this. Are things in Canada getting: Much worse, worse, better, or much better? What would you say?  When you think about the future, what do you imagine? Continue reading