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

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the invitation to generosity

We read this morning from Deuteronomy, chapter 24: “When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back and get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. And when you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.”

Living-Generously-LogoIn that ancient culture, of course, there was no social safety net anything like what exists for us today. There was no tax-funded medical system with hospitals; there was no framework of employment insurance for when you got laid off; there weren’t non-governmental organizations providing skills training; there were no pension benefits for the elderly. In that ancient culture if there was any kind of social safety net, it was simply your family. It was through your immediate and your extended family that you had a home and property and protection and food and work. And so if you didn’t have a family, you were profoundly vulnerable – you were at risk. If you didn’t have a family you were without protection and without support and almost invariably without a livelihood.

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Deborah – A Mother in Israel

The Canaanites have more advanced weapons technology than do the Israelites. The Canaanites have iron chariots. Not chariots made completely of iron – but wooden chariots held together with iron strapping. And even if the book of Judges exaggerates the number of chariots King Jabin has, it has many more such iron chariots than the Israelites have.

At this point in history, with the book of Judges, we are at the end of the late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age. New technologies in metallurgy, and the practical application of those technologies, means a great deal in terms of the military superiority of one people over another.

And Israel is not only at a technological disadvantage in this context – they are also at a wider geographic disadvantage. The Israelites are largely peasants. They live in small villages. And theirs is largely a subsistence-level agricultural existence. The villages of Israel are scattered between the larger city-states of the commerce-oriented Canaanites.

So this military-technological advantage and this geographic advantage means that the Canaanites control the major roadways between the cities and through the villages. What is more, God’s people are living in a period of oppression as King Jabin of the Canaanites takes control of the roadways and cuts the Israelites off from participation in trade. They are isolated in their villages. Cut off from the resources they need. King Jabin outsources oppression and violence and abuse against the Israelites to one of his captains – named Sisera. As one verse in our passage for today suggests: “Village life in Israel had ceased.”

This reality and experience of oppression persists, as Deborah declares in her song in Judges chapter 5: “Until I arose, until I arose a mother in Israel.” Continue reading

shaped by remembrance

Final sermon in the Gospel and the Gazette series…

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This morning we are thinking about the act of remembrance – about an intentional looking back into the past. More specifically this morning, we are thinking about an intentional looking into the past by which we are shaped as the children of God here and now. This morning we are reminded that while the past is over and done with, the past is not done with us. The past is and can become a source of renewal and transformation by which we are shaped as the children of God here and now.

So we begin this morning by looking at words that we read together in our responsive Psalm – Psalm 105. Psalm 105 is a Psalm of praise and thankfulness to God. It begins with these words: “O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples…” And then it continues in verse 5 with these important words: “…remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered.”

Psalm 105 is a Psalm in which the people of God remember, in which they bring to mind, in which they rehearse, what God has done for them in the past. Psalm 105 is rather a long Psalm – we only read a small part of it. It speaks of God’s history with his people. Continue reading

Dare we sing the Magnificat?

My sermon from this past Sunday – the fourth Sunday in Advent.

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Exuberant.     It’s a wonderful word, isn’t it?    Exuberant.

It’s one of those words that carry their meaning so well. Even to say the word ‘exuberant’ is almost to be lifted into exuberance. The Mirriam Webster dictionary offers the following definition of the word: joyfully unrestrained and enthusiastic. Exuberant: joyfully unrestrained and enthusiastic.

The thesaurus in my word processor gives these possible synonyms for the word exuberant: enthusiastic, excited, high-spirited, lively.

We read in Luke’s gospel, the words of Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

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Biographies of Faith: Elizabeth Fry

A sermon in my continuing, brief series on biographies of faith.

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We continue, this morning, with our short series – biographies of faith. 

We have all-too briefly explored the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave us a sense of costly grace – of what it means to stand firm for Jesus Christ and his church; an individual who was martyred by the Nazi regime in 1945.

We have all-too briefly explored the life of Joni Eareckson, who gave us a sense of what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the midst of our suffering – who reminded us of our freedom to be honest with God; who reminded uElizabeth Frys also of our resurrection hope. Our hope for a world made new.

This morning we reach a little further back into history in order to answer those questions we have taken up – What does it look like when someone is following Jesus. What does a genuinely Christian life look like? And that equally vital question: What does it look like when I am following Jesus. Continue reading