Image you know someone who has always dreamed of visiting the Great Wall of China. It probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that someone would want to visit the Great Wall. Parts of that wall were built as long as eighteen hundred years ago by the first emperor of China – most of it was built about 500 years ago during the Ming Dynasty. It’s an historic, long and winding wall that was first built for the purposes of security and defense, and later was used as a means of regulating trade along the Silk Road. The oldest parts of the wall were made of earth and stone and wood – while the majority was constructed from brick and stone. The Great Wall of China now measures 9,000 kilometers or more in length and of course is a UNESCO world heritage site. There are tens of thousands of people who dream of seeing the Wall – this amazing feat of human engineering – tens of thousands who dream of having those ancient bricks and steps beneath their own feet.
So imagine this person you know, who has dreamed of visiting the Great Wall of China – and imagine they are finally able to make the trip. They save up enough money to pay for the airfare. They put together an itinerary; they make reservations at hotels; they book a seat on a tour bus. And the day arrives when they finally get to the wall – they step out of the bus and walk up to the wall. Oh it is glorious. They see it stretch of endlessly in one directly and in the other – they walk up the few steps onto the wall, and for a few minutes they look this way and that.
And then they turn around, go back and get on the bus, and take their seat. “Okay, I’ve seen it, I’m ready to head back to the hotel whenever you are.”
Now that would be a very strange ending to the story, wouldn’t it? That great dream; that hope of seeing the Wall; those months of saving and planning. Only to get there, have a quick look, and turn around to leave. Continue reading
I begin this sermon with excerpts (including a few minor edits) from the first chapter of a novel entitled Galore. The novel is written by Michael Crummy, who is a is Newfoundlander, and this particular novel is set in a fictional Newfoundland town, a coastal town, called Paradise Deep. Galore won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for best book and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Aware for fiction a few years ago. So as we begin, some excerpts from the opening chapter of Galore.
Most of the shore’s meager population – the Irish and West Country English and the bushborns of uncertain provenance – were camped on the grey sand, waiting to butcher a whale that had beached itself in the shallows on the feast day of St. Mark. This during a time of scarcity when the ocean was barren and gardens when to rot in the relentless rain and each winter threatened to bury them all. They weren’t whalers and no one knew how to go about killing the Leviathan, but there was something in the humpback’s unexpected offering that prevented the starving men from hacking away while the fish still breathed. As if that would be a desecration of the gift.
They’d scaled the whale’s back to drive a stake with a maul, hoping to strike some vital organ, and managed to set it bleeding steadily. They saw nothing for it then but to wait for God to do His work… The wind was razor sharp and Mary Tryphena lost all feeling in her hands and feet and her little arse went dunch on the sand while the whale expired in imperceptible increments. Jabez Trim waded out at intervals to prod at the fat saucer of an eye and report back on God’s progress. Continue reading
The image presented here is of a painting by the internationally known artist Makoto Fujimura – it is entitled “Golden Sea.” (To the right is a poster version we have purchased, and which hangs in the church entranceway.) And for this sermon I would actually like to do something a little bit different. I’d like to explore the question of baptism partly by looking at this painting. And rather than beginning with my own reflections, we are going to begin by viewing a short, 6-minute documentary video. It’s a video that gives a little bit of a sense of who Makoto Fujimura is and of the meaning and significance of his work – specifically of this particular work. One important aspect of his identity that I would point out ahead of time is that Fujimura is a Christian – he came to faith as a young adult and today he is a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
Our New Testament reading for today is from a letter the Apostle Paul sent to Christians living in the city of Rome. In that letter the apostle offers a foundational statement about who we are – a foundational statement about the identity of those who belong to Christ. Now the truth is that Paul doesn’t spend a lot of time on the question of baptism in this letter – just a few short verses. Yet in his very short discussion of baptism, we discover that baptism captures almost every aspect of Christian faith and life. Here is one key statement that Paul offers on the subject: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…” Continue reading
I almost didn’t get to Easter Morning Prayer, which I happened to be leading. I stepped out the front door of my house at 6:15 a.m., only to take a very quick step backward. For there on the driveway (between me and my bike), rummaging through a messy smear of garbage, was a skunk. This, of course, was not your lovely Disney-skunk named Flower – this was a waddling, foraging fellow from whom I wanted to keep my distance.
It didn’t take much to scare him off – a bit of banging and shouting and he went scampering behind the neighbour’s house. But this was not the auspicious start to Easter morning that I had been hoping for. I was reminded of John Visser’s recent assertion (I wholeheartedly agree) that natural metaphors simply can’t capture the truth of resurrection. The skunk proves it!
On the other hand, I was confronted this past weekend with a more hopeful natural metaphor – by way of my Tomato seeds. Our CSA farmer (community supported agriculture) has the most delicious variety of cherry tomatoes. So in the Fall I decided to take seeds from a few tomatoes, dry them, and plant them this spring – which I did almost two weeks ago. But after almost two weeks, there was no sign of growth. I even dug out one of the seeds to see if there was any action. Nothing! So I stopped watering. Continue reading
My sermon from today. In this I follow Tremper Longman’s interpretation of the ‘framing’ of the text by a second voice – his interpretation of the ‘conversation’ between Koheleth and this second voice.
Last week we began with the tree – and we are beginning there again this morning. We know that trees are remarkable biological systems that are able to draw water up from the soil, along with mineral nutrients that are essential to the life and growth of the tree. And we know that a part of a tree’s life is transpiration – the release of water vapor from the leaves, through the small openings called stomata. As water evaporates out of leaves, a negative pressure is created in the treet that draws more water up from the soil.
Of course there’s a lot more going on within leaves and within trees than simply the movement of water – there is also that whole process of photosynthesis, where light energy from the sun is absorbed by the tree and changed into a form of energy that the tree can use – and from there we have the formation of organic compounds that are vital to the tree.
As is always the case in biology, we can look at the tree all on its own – as a beautiful and intricate system. But we can also take a step back and look at the tree in terms of its wider context or environment. For example, this morning we want to think briefly about the tree in terms of the earth’s water cycle. You’ll remember those drawings from elementary school – with clouds and with rain falling on one side of the page – arrows pointing down. And then on the other side of the page is the water evaporating up from a lake – or water evaporating into the atmosphere from frees – the arrows are pointing up. This is the water cycle – the continuous and cyclical movement of water from the air and from clouds to the soil and trees and creatures, and back to the clouds and air – and then back to the soil and trees and creatures. Continue reading
We don’t know a whole lot about Mary Magdalene. In fact, before we get to the last chapter of Jesus’ story, there is only one clear reference to Mary Magdalene in the gospels. Almost in passing, Luke tells us that once when Jesus was travelling around preaching with his disciples, there was a group of women travelling with him. And among these women was Mary Magdalene, says the text, from whom seven demons had gone out.
We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene. At the same time it’s interesting that when we get to the last chapter of Jesus’ life, Mary Magdalene is suddenly everywhere.
Three of the gospels indicate that Mary was present at Jesus’ crucifixion.
Two of the gospels point out that Mary Magdalene was present when Joseph of Aramathea placed Jesus’ body in the tomb.
All four of the gospels have her among those who discovered the empty tomb.
Three of them have Mary Magdalene as the first witness of the resurrection. Continue reading
It is a peculiar thing that Jesus’ followers don’t recognize him after his resurrection. In the narrative of John’s gospel, think of Mary Magdalene, who comes first to the empty tomb – she turns around and there is Jesus. But she doesn’t recognize him. She mistakes him for the gardener: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.” Also in John’s gospel, you may remember that the risen Jesus appears to his disciples some days later. It is just after daybreak on the shore of the sea of Tiberius when Jesus appears, but the disciples don’t recognize him.
We could also turn to Luke’s gospel, to the familiar story of two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus comes and walks with them along the road, but they don’t recognize him. He speaks with them about the scriptures and everything that has happened, but they don’t recognize Jesus.
What a peculiar thing that Jesus’ disciples and followers don’t recognize him. Perhaps the problem is that they are so convinced Jesus is dead (and why wouldn’t they be convinced of that) – they are so convinced Jesus is dead that their minds can’t accommodate his presence.
Jesus is dead. This just can’t be Jesus. Continue reading
Some quotations, set at odds:
Seneca: “What is the body? A weight on the soul to torture it.”
Epictetus: “I am a poor soul, shackled to a corpse.”
Paul: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in…the resurrection of the body”
Today is a day of paradox – a day of tension.
And the tension of this day comes from the fact that the church calendar lets us choose between two different themes or liturgies for today.
Is it to be the Liturgy of the Passion? Do we focus on the suffering of Jesus?
Or, is it to be the Liturgy of the Palms? Do we focus on the triumphal entry?
If you look at the purple insert that we read together at the beginning of worship today you see at the top it says Palm – slash- Passion Sunday. So we have to ask: Which is it to be? What do we mark today? To what part of Jesus’ story do we turn our gaze?
Passion or Palm?
A sermon preached at the induction of the Rev. Greg Davidson into pastoral ministry in the congregation of Briarwood Presbyterian Church. References to Kierkegaard are from his Practice in Christianity.
An open letter to Jesus.
February 8th, 2009
It’s me again – no doubt you’re more than familiar with my handwriting by now. I only hope that it hasn’t gotten to the point that you groan in discovering yet another missive from yours truly as you thumb through the morning mail. And yes Jesus, I know, I don’t have to write to you – my ancestors in the faith did well to teach me that I can speak with you directly (the temple curtain is torn in two – gone are the priestly vestments). But somehow it’s easier for me to put things in writing, to put pen to paper in sorting through my thoughts, in sorting out questions of faith. No doubt this predilection for the pen and paper also comes from my ancestors in faith. I beg your patience, then, Jesus, as I once again spill out my thoughts and frustrations and questions to you.
This week I was thinking about those early days of ministry – of your ministry – when John the baptizer was still in prison. I sometimes wonder whether it frustrated you that the holy man clothed in camel-hair didn’t know that you were the one for whom he prepared the way – he’d heard about what you were doing, but still wasn’t sure you were the chosen one. But that’s a question for another day.