12 Nov 2017
Psalm 78: 1-7
This is a poem designed to teach ancient Israeli tradition. It’s one of the psalms of Wisdom, hence the term at the beginning A Maskil. All that we will read together this morning is the introduction to its lesson in poetry. After the introduction there are two reminders of God’s acts for Israel: one: the time wandering the wilderness before entering the Promised Land and two: the prequel which was the escape from Egypt.
We will see that the introductory verses show what the poet intends to do in this psalm: and that is simply to teach the importance of knowing our background with God.
This is a song that creates the historical memory of God’s acts for Israel which are intended to provoke one word: Halleluiah! The lessons of wisdom require intellectual work, like solving a riddle or doing a crossword. Solving the riddle leads to a transparency open to all generations.
Later we will also read a parable by Jesus which appears straight forward. Like all parable it has within it inconsistencies, intentionally included, to force the reader to think again and to see the riddle and to solve the riddle of the parable.
But first let us read together the Wisdom about partnering with the Spirit of Creation through showing God’s amazing Word to our children and their children down through the generations.
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-15
The book of Joshua is known as a history book about the Israeli people crossing the river Jordan, like Moses crossed the Reed Sea, the conquering siege of the City of Jericho, and the division of land. Since there is no evidence that this is an actual history, scholars tend to think it was written to encourage the people returning from the disastrous exile in Babylon to remember that God can be their partner should they so wish
We jump to the end of the book to read a summary of the theology of this writer, which is very similar to the theology of the Psalm writer written down about the same time.
We will hear that this writer believed God was with Joshua as partner, just as God was with Moses before him. The writer clearly respects the choice of the people as they establish themselves, but he also clearly states wherein lies his loyalties; and why he chooses Yahweh over the other faith possibilities. The reason for that loyalty is found by recalling what God did through Moses: the escape from Egyptian slavery, the lessons of the dessert and finally their occupation of the promised land.
Matthew 25: 1-13
Here we will read a parable about ten women about 15 to 20 years old; the perfect age for being married off in order to conceive and bear children. Modern scholars are showing, and I agree, that the Christian religious institution has, since about 300 AD misinterpreted this parable at the people’s expense in order to serve the human power of the institution over the people. I will get to that shortly.
Matthew, who is writing to the newly converted Jewish Christians, positions this parable beside a second parable about the investments of talents by three servants. One well study next week.
He co-locates both parables to the end of times speech that we looked at last week. It is told as Jesus sat upon the Mount of Olives, Tuesday morning after Palm Sunday. The day when the disciples asked: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of your return, and signs of the end of the world?”
During Holy week, Jesus pointedly repeatedly challenges the system whereby his religion has sold out to the top Jewish families as colluders with Rome in order to maintain status, power and wealth. These are a few families exploiting the marginalized farming communities in Judah, Galilee, and Israel. Problem is that this challenge by Jesus is 100% inconsistent with this parable. This parable at its face appears to judge those most exploited women of this story, the so called foolish bridesmaids.
However, are not parables meant to pose riddles to be solved? To solve this parable we have to listen carefully and intelligently for the inconsistencies or riddles within this reading of the Word of God:
12 Nov 17
Psalm 78: 1-7, Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-15, Matthew 25: 1-13
Oh to be foolish again!
God, kindle a flame within my heart to keep me fresh and wise, ready always to seek and follow the ways of compassion. Amen.
On its face, for centuries, this parable has been tied to a so-called judgement day and the second coming of Christ. The moral we have been taught by our forefathers is simple: Be ready for the judgement day, because it could happen any second now. Furthermore, if you are not at peace with God, self and the world at that moment, the doors to eternal life in heaven will be closed forever. So be afraid for your soul, come to church, come to the priest and submit to divinely appointed authority. This was especially popular in medieval times, when life was short and miserable for the working peasants. The church easily proclaimed itself the only pathway to the better eternal life after death and used this parable was used to promote its We know this from its prevalence in church writings, architecture, art and music. Just look at how this theme is depicted to promote fear in these stained glass windows.
But I say to you that that interpretation served only to maintain the power of those human religious institutions over the people by using their fears against them. Indeed I say to you that traditional interpretation is 100% inconsistent with the mission of our Christ.
Let me list the inconsistencies found in this riddle:
First of all why would Jesus try to teach anyone about the second coming, when clearly not one of his most immediate students understood his first coming?
Secondly, the women were not named as brides, but are actually unexpectedly called bridesmaids, which the Jews, to whom Mathew was writing, would immediately see as an indication that there is a deeper meaning here than meets the eye.
Thirdly, it is a blatantly patriarchal male dominated power story, but it comes from the teacher who consistently preached against the injustice of the male dominated power system. That riddle would tell the students of this rabbi that there is a deeper meaning here than meets the eye.
Fourth, the five so called wise girls are portrayed as self-centered wealthy arrogant selfish hoarders of oil, ready to sell out their generosity for their own interests. Making women like that role models to be emulated is a riddle, suggesting again there is deeper meaning here than meets the eye.
So let’s do what parallel stories do, let’s solve the riddle by turning the face value interpretation upside down. What will we see?
Let us say first of all that the bridegroom is not the God of Creation, but is a metaphor for Caesar of Rome, who called himself: the son of god. This would be a man unlike Jesus. This bridegroom is more like the King Herod, or Pontius Pilate, or Caesar Tiberius who couldn’t care less how long the women had to wait for him because they cared for only for their personal needs and timetables.
And then suddenly the 5 cunning bridesmaids are now like the temple supported kingly families of those Israelis selling out to Rome. These would be people with no compassion or empathy or hope or vision for the hard working poorer women: people hoarding all the oil for themselves.
Now we find ourselves identifying with the girls of the working families who are left in the oil poor margins. These five women become people struggling to make ends meet and simply too poor to be able to save any oil. Our five so-called foolish bridesmaids would be like all those exploited for their labour, disempowered, left with sickness, trauma and the enslavement. Indeed it was for such as these our Rabbi was murdered and offered a hope to them, one beyond understanding by the resurrection that turned the world upside down.
It gave the foolish marginalized people, who constitute the vast majority of the people in Jesus time a voice against the tyranny of the few who exploited them. It gives the most helpless amongst us hope, optimism and a strong voice here and now against those institutions who are so aligned with the most powerful that they defend indefensible injustice even today. Oh to be foolish again!
And now the parable of the ten bridesmaids is 100% consistent with the rest of the actions and teachings of our Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth.
So now what can we do with this parable?
We can now use it, not to scare people, but rather to remind people the great news that we are invited to promote hope and lives well lived, here and now on earth as it is in heaven.
We can use this story to remind those of the next generation that the acts and teachings of our Jesus consistently advocate an alternative to the abuse from the way of human domination unchained.
Sure: people can chose the gods called the slave masters of oppression through unrestricted gun freedom, sure people can chose the gods called the power hungry by any means possible. People will chose what they will: true, but we, like Joshua have chosen the God of Creation, Compassion, and Justice.
Prepare yourself to share the gospel of Christ. Make sure that there is oil enough for everyone’s lamp, and enough fire to go around so the foolish and the wise can live their lives as an expression of the work of God. Amen.
5 Nov 2017
Ps 107: 1-8
This psalm is the first psalm of the fifth and last section of the Book of Psalms. This section promotes practical day to day issues like going to work, making a living, business ethics, starting a business, productivity of work, raising children, running a household, responsible use of authority and seeing God’s hand everywhere in a materialistic day to day manner. Such songs make sense for a people re-starting their nation after being enslaved and dispersed in Babylon. It starts with a psalm, one of the longest, to recognize a good thing when it happens.
The first verse has two foci, like an ellipse. There is human thanksgiving and the object of that thanksgiving: God’s love.
This poem is gratitude of the people of Israel who likely lived in the age when their exile in the Babylonian Empire, where oppression and abuse was normal, had come to an end. Written and first sung around Year 538 BCE.
We’ll read that this poet believed that our human cries for help and God’s response have no separation; that our cry for help walks hand in hand with our divine partner. Then in great poetic imagery we are walking hand in hand on a pathway to safe city, where we can rest.
Matthew 24: 3-8
This next reading is one well known about the end of time. It was written for Jews who were dancing with the stated Mission of Christ to free the slaves, liberate the oppressed, help the blind see, and heal the afflicted. It was written to help People of the Way completely disorientated by the destruction of the Jewish temple during the crackdown of 70 AD. This writer was obviously influenced by the events of this destruction which included war, the rumours of wars, national destruction, ideological violence, home destruction, hunger and disease.
It could be that this end time prediction taught by Jesus, and edited by Matthew after the 70 AD was used to emphasize that the sole measurement of God in this life or in any life is ground in the compassionate character of God, with a Divine passion for justice.
This passage is found amongst parables that say: if there is a final judgement by God, what do you think would be the criterion by which God measures humanity? When Jesus answered that question, he challenged the widely rigidly held beliefs notions of his day and likely every day. That challenge resulted of course in His execution.
Jesus was teaching that God’s judgement in this life or any life does not care about membership in any group or wealth, or status, or class, race or religion. God’s judgement in this life or any life does not care about keeping oneself pure, or following certain rules of behaviour. God’s judgement in this life and any other life is based on deeds of compassion and justice.
In this reading Jesus reminds his disciples to remain calm, stay focused on the Mission despite the world chaos. Then at the end of the age of chaos, after the birth pains, it is always be the compassionate who will successfully give birth to new life of stability with a constructive future. Listen carefully to the Word of God:
5 Nov 17
Ps 107: 1-8, Matthew 24: 3-8
God, may I learn how to empower people to think for themselves to know in their hearts to be correct, that which is correct and that which is an error. Teach me God, through scripture, reflection, and prayer. Amen.
The family Cox lost 13 of its members at Vimy Ridge 100 years ago. Those men and their families must have thought it was the end of times, the end of the age on the eve of that horrifying chaos 8 Apr 1917.
Imagine the men waiting for the dawn, when at the end of this underground tunnel the entrance would be blown open and they would attack one of the most dangerous places ever created by human beings in history: Vimy Ridge. While waiting people carved stuff on the walls of this underground passage.
Passing through these trenches, these Canadians, people like the family Cox would have endured shelling that created craters as deep as two story building, and had to battle up this hill to take the ridge where our monument now stands.
At the end of the battle, captured at horrific cost of life and limbs, they would have the high ground looking east towards the invaders from Germany in France.
Today Mother Canada in perpetuity looks towards that same valley, weeping eternally for her children sacrificed. If ever there was a moment that stands for the end of the world, the end of the age; that was it.
We know of course, that the Armistice was signed at Compiegne on a rail road car, and the war to end all wars was over…well at least until 1939.
There is a great cycle in the affairs of human kind, a wheel, which spirals around and around. And likely that is what and why the end-of-time scripture readings resonate so deeply across the ages, including our own. With the talk of terrorism, terrorism attacks, and rumours of nuclear war, once again leading the news, we are being subjected to the same stressful talk facing the first people of the way: the Jewish followers of Jesus’ teaching around 65 C.E.
Highly influenced by the war that destroyed the Jewish temple, the people of the way would recognize our worries. And they needed to know that this seemingly endless circle of oppression and violence was not the mission of God. That rather humanity would cycle through a series of end times like this, and yet with each end time, take a small step closer to God’s vision as taught by the Son: a vision we call the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The people of the first century needed to feel that vision, and we the people of the 21st century also need to feel that vision.
Matthew remembered to write that God teaches that the cycle is not a circular eternity of hell on earth, but rather it is a creative spiral leading towards the companionship of God on earth: “All these are the beginnings of birth pains.”
We remember the sacrifice people like the Cox family have made, thirteen poppies, as the beginnings of birth pains leading to a new heaven and a new earth, especially when there exists such threats as we are experiencing in our own time.
So when we stand silent next Saturday at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, let us remember that hell on earth is a small part of an ever spinning creative spiral, led by the Holy Spirit in partnership with humanity. As horrific as these are, in the biggest picture, these are a smaller part of a spiral ever leading towards the promised companionship of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Then like the psalmist we can realize that our prayers for help during end times stand right beside God’s positive response. We can remember well the service and sacrifice in end times such as have been experienced by the men and women in the Canadian Forces and RCMP in Europe, Korea, Africa, Afghanistan, the Golan Heights, Haiti, Cypress and so on. In that memorial we pray to God for relief and we are assured that with each end time, God creates all things new again, and God starts with us: “All these are the beginnings of birth pains.”
God, help us to take risks when the time comes, grant us the courage to risk our pride to remain prophets in a dangerous time; help us Holy Spirit share God’s love in the dark places, and name the injustices perpetuated by those in power.
Psalm 90 1-6
If I could identify the center of the wheel of all the Bible, I might chose Psalm 90. Maybe written by Moses at the end of his life as or maybe it was written much later when Israel just returned from Babylonia: A debate the scholars like to embrace. Fact is there is no definite proof one way or another.
As popular as that debate may be, it doesn’t really interest me. I am much more interested in this psalm as a living Word, whose meaning adapts itself to me as if it were something alive. Here we find two theological beliefs that we can adapt with great benefit directly to our lives.
In the first two verses you will hear the ancient belief in the ultimate and absolute central Jewish Creator God which is written in Hebrew as Yahweh.
Then in the next 4 astounding verses we see clearly the stated radical difference between Yahweh and all of us, all of humanity. This poem disorientates us all by reminding humanity that on one hand there is God and on the other there we are; and we are not God.
People tend to forget that life itself is transitory, brief and can fall deep into the trap to take it for granted. And then suddenly we are 60 or 70 or 80 or 90! And that is a shock. This poet wants to disabuse us of our illusions about life before the birthdays or medical news shock us. A poem of disorientation of our “oh so arrogant take for granted” ideas.
Human beings will say good-by; human institutions such a governments or religious organizations will say good-by, and yet God will not. Humanity measures time and space; God couldn’t care less about boundaries of time and space. People come and go; God, by contrast, just is. Listen carefully for these themes in this center point of faith. Psalm 90
I Thessalonians 2: 6b – 14a
This letter has the distinction of being the first letter ever written by Paul about 52 CE, a mere 20 years after the death of Jesus. It was written likely right after this small community had been set up.
In this section of the letter Paul is re-establishing his credibility and the credibility of missionaries of Jesus. It is an over-the-top emphasis, probably overstated for effect, on the intentions, hopes and merits and credibility of Jesus and His missionaries. This Jewish Roman brilliant scholar adopted as his sole purpose in life to ensure the teachings of the astounding Jesus would not die, but would continue for ever as a vibrant, ever evolving living Word.
This was incredibly difficult task to accomplish, and yet he did it. Here we are 2,000 years later, reading, studying, and perpetuating a legacy of hope for all creation. In partnership with the Holy Spirit Paul left a legacy of hope that is unlike anything human, it is a legacy eternal outside time and space as is God.
To do so, Paul’s credibility was always on the line, especially by the early Jewish and non Jewish people in these early little churches. Hence Paul wrote these words:
Deuteronomy 34: 4-9
The fifth book of our Bible is likely a series of sermons written by religious leaders around 700 BCE with the purpose of motivating the conscripted armies of Josiah to fight the nations threatening the existence of Israel. We know how important these sermons where to the survival of Israel existence because Moses himself is given the credit for these sermons, even though evidence suggests that he did not.
This reading is a sermon in which we are exposed to a metaphorical dialogue between God and Moses as Moses lays on his deathbed. It is the time to say good-by: Moses is not God and despite his greatness, it is his time to say good-by. Even this great freedom fighter, the founder of Israel, even with his evident partnership with God’s Spirit, Moses is not God and it is time for him to say good-bye.
His death is sad and sweet. In this reading God laments the death as beloved friend; and God celebrates that Moses’ work is left behind to become the legacy of the establishment of the promised land.
His life of wandering, teaching, fighting and organizing became a legacy for the next generation.
As Moses says good-by, his compassionate friend, God, takes him to a high point and shows him the land that lies at the end of all that wilderness journeying. Moses sees his own legacy as he says good-by.
Psalm 90 1-6; I Thess 2: 6b – 14a; Deut 34: 4-9
Lord, your Word is one legacy you set before us. Give us the grace to receive your truth with faith and love that it might illuminate our path of understanding and grant us wisdom for our journey; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Presbyterian Church calls the last Sunday in November Stewardship Sunday or Legacy Sunday. On these Sundays preachers are expected to remind the congregation that the church does not run on air.
We can package this focus in any number of ways, but the bottom line, pardon the pun, is the same thing. The church needs money to pay the bills, support its mission, help local charities, maintain a minister, and look out for the building.
Church essentially has seven sources of income: one from good use of the property by way of rent. These are important, and opportunistic. Brigil and parking were critical sources of income for us these past 2 years. We know such income is prudent, but we know also it is not the center of faith. The source of church income is faith in generosity: God’s, yours and mine.
We, here, are really blessed with great management: wise, prudent and ground in faith. We are fortunate indeed to be a community that lives close to the edge because not only do we always meet our bills, but we generously give our money away to serve God’s creation. We are not in the business of accumulating capital; we know we are the body of Christ. Money, like water, for us is life only in its movement.
Faith Generosity shows up in six ways. It is also has two forms, like running sprinters and marathoners. We respond to special needs by Urgent need calls for money in disaster relief: a sprinter. Number 2 is the primary marathon generosity of regular giving. This is the week by week donations; often done with direct banking system we call pre-authorized monthly giving (PAR).
Three: there are a occasions in the year when free will offerings increase: such as our Celebrations of Life events for the Memorial Fund or our Easter services or Communions or Christmas. 4. Special regular projects such as Christmas Baskets, Shoebox, White Gifts, and Easter gifts are sprinters. 5. Our water project, completed 2 years ago was an excellent example of a targeted major mission short marathon fundraiser.
And the sixth source of our fiscally generosity is our legacy gifts. This is leaving money through our last will and testament. It is saying good-by with a fiscal legacy. Over the last 10 years we have been blessed by such legacy givings 4 times; receiving $50K from the estates of beloved congregants: Jack Osborne, Helen Hoye, Archie Cowan and Barbara Cowan. God bless each of them for running their generosity marathon to one last act.
Our national church, like other charities is so keen to raise money in legacies we are partners with a professional well researched official group called the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. Our church has a well-developed legacy promotion in place as you can see by the insert placed there for your information.
Today let’s take a closer look at the idea of a Christian legacy as taught in our Scriptures. It is true to say that in our time and place, fiscal wealth is a real tangible preferred concrete way to leave monuments as legacy. It is expect $751 B will be released by estates between now and 2025. Why should the church not receive some of that enormous wealth? And yet should we not ask the unpopulart question: is this consistent with the economic visions of our God, taught by Jesus Christ and enabled by the Holy Spirit?
I would say “not really” because it is only a tiny part of the economic theology of the Gospel lessons. Our western materialistic consumerism with a strong middle class is only 150 years old. Advertising for fiscal legacy came on the heels of societies with a mature middle class a social reality for only a portion of the human race today. Indeed, throughout history Christ’s beloved had no money for planned legacy giving. And there are huge numbers of people who today have no money for legacy.
Yet those without much wealth have left great legacies. We have lost many dear companions over my time here and each of one of them has left rich powerful legacies, most of which have nothing to do with monetary wealth.
Moses had no known grave or monument. The writer points out that the legacy of Moses was far greater than a tombstone; or a huge monument bought and paid for by money.
God took a dear friend, Moses on his 120th birthday, to a mountain and showed him his legacy: the Promised Land for the next generation. If God did that for Moses, why would God not take us as beloved friends on our birthdays and show us the legacies that we are leaving for the next generation in the promised land?
So for homework this week: When we come to our time as individuals or as a congregation to say good bye, what legacies has God shown to us to leave for future generations entering the promised land?
Our responsive psalm is found in the fourth section of the six sections of the Books of the Psalms. The fourth section is a commentary on the first three sections.
Psalm 99 is known as an enthronement psalm, enthronement psalm. There are 7 such psalms, and they are clumped together because they call God: a King. They put God on a throne as it were: hence the name enthronement.
Here we meet the belief that God is God and we are not God. In fact the word “Holy” referring to God occurs 3 times in this psalm and it simply means separate from all creation. The word is also used to show the end of an idea expressed in the psalm. First idea: God is enthroned and inspires awe.
Secondly, the psalm goes on to express the belief that the love or passion of God is justice.
In the third section we find the affirmation of the belief that God answers. In the day, it was not certain the gods would answer: however this expressed the belief that the God of Israel, even if very separate is accessible, and will actually answer the telephone of prayer, in person, as it were. Psalm 99….
Exodus 33: 12-23
As we discussed a few weeks ago, this is the section of Exodus that focuses on a lifestyle that places the Divine Contract at our centers. Moses struggles loudly with God in these 20 verses. He is a mouthy won’t take “no” for an answer kind of guy.
Moses insists that it is not good enough that God rescued Israel from Egypt; it is not good enough that God makes a deal with Israel with the 10 commandments. It is not good enough that God sends out a mere guardian angel.
For Moses, unless God is Present, Immediately accessible, all bets are off, as terrifying as that might be.
In other words: “no Holy Spirit of God on the road, not only with me, (meaning Moses), but with all Israel, then no deal.”
But even there Moses does not let up: “This is the deal breaker dear God; and even more, dear God, show me you mean what you say.”
This is a very tense awkward dialogue. Scholars say it, rightly, reflects a climate of mistrust, uncertainty, anxiety about the reality of God, a climate which has occurred repeatedly in history, and indeed may very well be occurring in our own time. Exodus 33: 12-21
22 Oct 17
Psalm 99, Exodus 33: 12-23
Basking in the Afterglow
Draw closer to us, God our Creator, for sometimes in our desire to be accepted and loved, we try to be someone else; forgetting that we are wholly loved and uniquely made. Amen.
It is deeply human for us to desire and seek positive affirming relationships. Sour relationships are toxic, whereas affirming relationship are life giving, joy giving, and results I creative afterglows.
There are afterglows, often very visible physically and shows up on the heels of those great affirming moments when another human being genuinely sees us, loves us and wants to be with us.
This afterglow was indeed so evident in the face of Moses that there is the text of afterglow: Moses face was radiant because he had spoken face to face with God.
And of course there is an amazing afterglow: after-all God said the words that we all yearn to hear again and again from those we love and those who love us:
“I will be with you as you ask because I love you, and truly see you personally by name.”
For Moses, this meeting was about all that mattered, God’s own integrity in all creation. It was a meeting that for Moses and God had to include the four essential dimensions of connection: emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical. No wonder there was afterglow: of course there would be afterglow!
Indeed we too know about these four dimensions from our own lives and experiences. Starting with our infants the critical bonding that is essential and necessary for a person’s whole life development is defined when we 1. successfully communicate needs: intellectual; 2. when we ensure comfort, being dry, satiated, not-smelly, and calm: emotional; 3. when we know each other intuitively: spiritual; and 4. when we derive empowerment from cuddles: physical. We find all four dimensions very evident in all healthy life giving relationships: emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically.
We know that when these are present we are not alone. We feel empowered. We sense we can cope with anything life and chaos can throw at us. We are connected.
Indeed this our capacity for such life giving relationship starts and is nurtured when we are young Julien’s age and before. Some even argue reasonably that all four dimensions start pre-natal: even when we are forming in our mothers’ uteri.
The Sacrament of Baptism is a way to declare that healthy four dimensional relationships comes from our earliest experiences of each other, our God, and continue throughout our lives. The objects of our relationships comprise not only that which are found in God’s creation, but also in God, who is found beyond creation or using the language of our Psalm: in the realm of the Holy One. The objects of our relationships comprise not only our partners, our children, families, friends, colleagues, caregivers, and neighbours and so on, but the object of our relationship is also the mystical Holy God as partner: present, and accessible. And so we can say out loud our capacity to connect in four dimensions started before we are born, is manifest in every relationship we grow throughout life, and then it continues after our death.
How do know we have well connected in four dimensions: we know by the afterglow? These moments of afterglow may be very brief or may last for a while. No matter how brief, when we are touched in four dimensions: emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually we will know it by afterglow.
Like: mothers rejoice in the feel of their new born in their arms after hours of hard labour and pain: afterglow. Couples shine with an afterglow when their love for each other hits a certain point and is affirmed as genuine. Grandparents glow after grandchildren marry or graduate or something like that. We glow after our friends do something kind and affirming. We glow after a total stranger shows us an uncommon generosity or unexpected random act of kindness, like giving a free UBER ride.
Even today, despite the grief and horrible stressors of our own community dealing with serious illness and passing of dear friends, we will glow in the church hall as we were connected in four dimensions to each other and to God in the Sacrament of Baptism. That is the great news announced by God’s teachers including the Rabbi from Nazareth Himself.
So, let us head out to enjoy the afterglow in the church hall. And let us acknowledge with ourselves, each other, our friends, family and neighbors that afterglows are gifts of God, tangible, measurable, authentic real indications that God is fulfilling the promise to Moses:
Although God is separate, Holy as the psalmist says, God answers those who call upon the Divine name, and the world knows God by the afterglows.
Psalm 106: 19-23
Scholars have for a long time now divided the Book of Psalms into five sections called books. This psalm lies at the end of the fourth book, which starts at Psalm 90. The fourth book has been called the “Moses” book. The last two books are considered to be commentaries on the first three books, a deeply interpretative set of Coles notes as ikt were.
Written in the 6th Century BCE for the temple people scattered due to the Babylonian army invasion and the used in the restoration in Israel, this psalm was designed to convey purpose, meaning and protect the tradition of Israel. This psalm is a glance backwards to help the Israelite re-build their temple and faith after the destruction at the hands of the invading Babylonians.
This section clearly reminds us that Moses stood firm before God to say: you promised us, so don’t you dare give up on your beloved creation, just because they are have acted badly. This is a hymn the fully acknowledges that the people of Israel were perversely unfaithful to God and yet God remained divinely faithful to them.
God: don’t you dare give up on us.
And the result: God lets go anger in favour of compassion beyond human
understanding for the beloved creation.
This is not like human reaction, this is beyond human reaction: this is the Word of God.
Philippians 4: 4-8
This letter written about 60 AD to the church he founded in Philippi about 10 years before, is the most personal penned by the missionary we know as Paul. Paul writes in a time when he is personally deeply frustrated, unable to continue the work he is compelled to do because he is in jail in Rome. Paul was likely facing a death sentence for treason against the ruling government of Rome. Paul is by now an older man, having completed most of the journeys we know about.
It is a letter of a man in deepest trouble who should be angry and frustrated, yet in this letter he remains free of the bitterness and discouragement that one would expect. If any letter writer influenced Nelson Mandela, this would it.
In this reading of his letter: Paul’s personal beliefs and values are most clearly spelled out for us. For him the spirit and teachings of his beloved Jesus are here now for anyone to grasp and enjoy, love and emulate.
The joy here is the same joy one meets when one understands that despite the perverse infidelity of people towards God, God show infinite compassion for the beloved creation.
Exodus 32: 1-2, 7-14
Understanding Exodus 32 is the key to understanding the whole of the people of God. This well-known great classic iconic story of calf-making is the constant temptation that we and all humanity lives with, and at one time or another temptation to which all fall prey. It is the key to tensions across the spectrum of life and faith. Herein lies four characters: God, Moses, Aaron, his first lieutenant, and the people.
Moses is a tough, intellectual, no holds bar mouthy advocate and leader who understands the Divine Contradiction. He intercedes, coaxes, stands firm, insists, and does not let it go, standing up directly to God with the result that God re-embraces the Divine mind of compassion.
Aaron is the peacemaker, the arbitrator and is one left in charge and he is caught in the crossfire of infidelity and fidelity. He chooses to appease the crowd, hoping it would mitigate the rising discontent. He calls for their wealth as if they could bribe the gods.
And the finally the crowd, the people, all of humanity as it were tired, fed up impatient, angry, restless, directionless, hungry and thirsty who turn in their vulnerability to a more immediate apparently concrete leadership, like the multiple gods of chaos of Egypt: the golden calf as it were. Make us great again they cry as they elect empty false gods as represented as the proverbial golden calf.
God is presented as God should be: a contradiction of fierce demand for loyalty and an infinite compassion for us to have yet another chance at getting life right. It is beyond human reason to hold in the same place warning and promise; unbending demand and unfailing forgiveness; death and life; crucifixion and resurrection. And yet here it is in Exodus 32.
Ps 106: 19-23; Phil 4: 4-8 Exodus 32: 1-2, 7-14
In which Community are you?
There are lots of personality assessment instruments around. Developed in the 1920’s they are very poplular for leadership training, self-reflections, vocational interests, and at a very sophisticated level mental health diagnosis.
They range from the whimsical to the most significant, requiring a Ph.D. level to administer and interpret the results. The more whimsical like the famous Myers Briggs always come with the advice, these are only indicators to be considered at home. One must not take serious life decisions based solely on the test. All these tests assume we can model ourselves against certain original models such as the world of extroversion or introversion, information style: sensing or intuition, decision making: thinking or feeling, structure style: judging or perceiving. So one could say after taking the test which is a set of questions I am in four letters “ISTP” with each letter representing the four sectors.
The great story in Exodus gives us three very different kinds of relationship with God. These three characters which place God at the center are archetypes. These archetypes are broad based, recurrent original way of relating to God upon which we might measure ourselves.
Given how fundamental and central the calf-making story I thought it might be worth doing something inside the story. What we can do is locate ourselves within each of these communities on a scale between weak to strong. And why do that? We would do that to help us understand the meaning of this story and better understand what it mean to us on a personal level?
Now it’s true we could enter the debate as so many have done so from the classic question: “Did this story really happen?” This is a great exercise that calls on our human emotions, thoughts and opinions. It is a debate worth having from time to time.
Another debate though is the one which calls for a partnership with the Holy Spirit. This is the debate about meaning and purpose: “What does this story mean to me”, or “What is God teaching me today in this story?”
It is this second exercise we can
explore by trying to see how far into each of the three communities we might
Following the typical model of assessment instruments, let’s say we have a scale between 1 and 5, where 1 is a bit inside and 5 is very much inside for each community. At the end of your discernment you might say my relationship to God today based on these three communities is “Moses3,Aaron2,People4”
Now the questions:
Let’s start with the Moses community?
Do you entrust your responsibilities to others when you go on a journey?
Do you feel you have to repair the damages they have done while you are away?
Do you forcefully intervene with authorities on behalf of those you serve?
Are you frequently shaped by a lively regular relationship with God?
If you were to guess, what do you think your average score might be?
Do you take on responsibilities when other leaders are absent?
Do you try to keep all things calm with appeasement to those following you until the other leaders return?
Do you shift loyalties away from the other leaders in their absence?
Do you try to make friends with followers by morale boasting parties during the time you are on watch?
If you were to guess, what do you think your average score might be?
The People Community
Do you lose your cool when things go wrong in the absence of the boss?
Are you impatient in a time of crisis or threat?
Do you think material wealth could be used to make better relationships?
Do you use parties as a means of coping with stressful situations?
If you were to guess, what do you think your average score might be?
Now the results are only indicators to be taken home for prayer and reflection. They are not to be used to take serious life decisions.
By reflecting on these questions, we have entered the Word of God to find its meaning for us in our place and time. And as always, the good news is this: regardless of the results, we can start again if need be or we can help others start again, and our eternally demanding God with infinite compassion will make that happen as we know by our witness to crucifixion and resurrection.
8 Oct 17 Thanksgiving
Ps 19, Matt 22:34-40, Ex 20: 1-2, 7-8, 12-18 Paraphrase
Love: Flip the negative
For most of us, for most of our lives we have felt the power of the ten commandments in this way: as a list of the no-no’s. A quick glimpse at all ten commandments, the Decalogue as it is known shows in 8 out of the ten we are told no. “Thou shalt not do this!”
The problem with this approach is twofold. One: when someone focuses on the reverse of an idea, they tend to complete that idea, and so that approach is doomed to failure. It is like saying to a child feeling lousy. Don’t cry. What normally happens? Indeed the child cries louder. But if you say with a grin on your own face: whatever you do, don’t smile, chances are high, they will comply. The problem of putting focus on the reverse of an idea is that the word remains active in our mind.
And Two: a no-no based system is a fear based system of compulsion, manipulation, and coercion.
If you do this: you will be hurt, and so out of fear people refrain from certain things. So let’s see how well this has worked by asking the question: how many people have rejected murder as an option because they might go to jail? People don’t reject murder because they are afraid of jail; they reject it because it is wrong. That’s why we are so shocked at the murder and mayhem in Los Angeles this week.
While the ancient religious institutions including 3,000 years of the synagogue and 2,000 years of Christianity have normally understood the Decalogue as list of no-no’s, there have been attempts by serious theologians who have realized that seeing the law in a fear based systems of no-no will end in failure. Hence we have the reforming theologian we call Jesus reframing the law to one based in love as taught in Mark, repeated in Mathew, Luke and in John.
Not only did Jesus well understand the problems of the Ten Commandments as he had received them, but instinctively most of us do too. As adults we are not motivated far more by a love based system of constructive choices than by a fear based systems of no-no’s?
Most of us prefer to make other positive, life enhancing choices based in the gift of love, the central blessing for which we know the most profound thanksgiving. We know in our hearts that all the commandments hang on the backbone of the greatest gift: Love God and love God’s creation with all our mind, body, heart and soul.
As homework, try flipping each of the commandments over from fear based to love based. Murder is the sixth word on the tablet of commandments.
Let us flip it over to a love based commandment. When we love flip the sixth commandment what do we see? Well we see life and we see living life at its fullest. We see helping each other to achieve all we can achieve by empowering each other. Focusing on the growth in Christ, love based means letting go power over others in favour of empowering others to be more. Anything else reduces life, disempowers people, disrespects the wishes of people competent to make their choices, and who encultured by Jesus in partnership with the Holy Spirit would ever be able to do such harm intentionally?
The really good news is this: as Jesus taught, we, the human race, those still seeking to control by murder or fear or terror do not have to be this way, they can chose rather to live out the love story in the sixth commandment in partnership with the Holy Spirit.
Want to try to love-flip another? Let’s try the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet.” Love-flip the tenth commandment and what do we see? We find self-soothing and peace in one’s heart. Love-flip the tenth commandment and celebrate with laughter, and music the achievements, the milestones, the joys, the loves of our neighbors, and their positive contributions towards healing a broken world. Letting go our own insecurities and fears in favour of celebrating the growth, life and joys of neighbours brings about an internal peace that passes human understanding, and we will sleep better.
Anything else reduces the quality of our lives, disempowers ourselves and others people. It disrespects the wishes of people competently growing and contributing, and so again who encultured by Jesus in partnership with the Holy Spirit would ever be able to do such harm intentionally?
The really good news is this: as Jesus taught, we, the human race, those still seeking to possess at the expense of other people do not have to live this way, they can chose rather to live out the love story in the tenth commandment by partnership with the Holy Spirit.
So homework this week, pick a commandment, love-flip it, and then tell someone what you discovered.