10 June 2018

Psalm 138

            Our Psalm reading is clearly a psalm of thanksgiving.  It shows up at the end of the fourth book of Psalms as a summary psalm to assist the reader transit to the final chapter of the psalms.

            The reader is grateful that the horrible period of refugeeism to Babylon is over, and yet is also aware that chaos and danger lurks in the background…watch for the words: “trouble” and “foes”. 

By placing God as the center of life, the writer feels safe from the ongoing chaos as much as he feels gratitude for the deliverance from the refugee camp.

            The beautiful art in this psalm is located by a frame placed around the inner message and we can see the frame in the repetition of the phrase: “Your steadfast love” at the beginning and then again at the end.  You might also look for, in the short middle section that there are 3 reasons for the felt gratitude.  Why is he grateful?  Watch for these words: 

The writer is grateful because God leads or exalts

to inspire Courage,

to serve with Compassion, and

to invite personal intimate Connection.


 

1 Samuel 8: 4-11, 16-20

            The book of Samuel is like a historical novel, not quite true, but filled with ideas and theological beleifs based on the events of the time.  Our reading is part of a collection of these books written between 630 to 540 BC comprising Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings.

            At this point the provinces of Israel have a very loose coalition of leaders and representatives.  These people were non-elected receiving their authority by inheritance.

            The results though did not provide the security many people thought could be achieved by a strong central authoritarian leader and there was big pressure to create a monarchy.  We can find this debate: for and gainst establishing a monarchy in Samuel.  Our reading represent the anti-monarchy argument.  The anti-monartchist believe there is already a king and that king is God alone.  This is a stunningly accurate condemnation of any domination system of governance.  To see this condemnation watch for the repetitions of the line:  “He”, meaning the king, “will take…”


 

Mark 3: 20-26

            All the gospels keep reminding us that the heart of the Jesus message is not easy to accept either emotionally nor intellectually.  Never more pronounced is this difficulty to get Jesus is found than in our next reading.

            The earliest stories of Jesus and his teachings are stories of outrage and rejection, likely based on real fear in a fearful society.  This radical cousin of the rebellious speaker John the Baptist draws a lot of attention with oh wow events: he exorcisms demons caused by the deprivations and trauma of the day, and he heals those overwhelmed by illness typically found in poverty.  He then to the delight of working struggling colleagues, friends and neighbors challenges the rigidity of those in power over the rules related to eating and the Sabbath. 

Crowds followed him but his closest friends and in fact his own family declared him crazy.  They were terrified: Are you crazy Jesus?  Stop this stuff you are doing, you are making too many real enemies.  His family says: Jesus is out of his mind.  The authorities tell the crowds he is possessed by a demon.  Neither his family or his teachers understood Jesus.  What they understood was an oppressive ruthless injustice destroying and killing Jews just like them.  If you rock the boat you will be tortured.  Thus, Jesus, keep quiet: you have to be nuts to rock that boat.

These people had every right to be terrified.  At the time this book was written everyone would be internalizing the terror because the violence by the occupying
Roman Army left everyone terrified as they either victims themselves or direct witnesses of physical and psychological suffering on a national scale.

 


 

10 Jun 18

Ps 138, I Sam 8:4-11a, 17-20

Mark 3: 20-35

Courage, Compassion, and Connection

 

We thank you, Creator God, for your vision for justice and wholeness for our world.  May our choices promote that vision of justice, as we seek to transform our world to the wholeness you intend!  Amen.

 

            The study of Leadership continues to enjoy a lot of attention.  Leading groups or nations or political parties remains part art and part science.  Its challenges today are as complex as they ever were.  I believe in the case of leadership, nothing is new under the sun.

            Our readings this morning take us to the study of leadership, and I submit that its issues are timeless.  Comments (Steven Colbert) about some elected leaders today can be found written in Scriptures about leaders of ancient Israel 2,500 years ago and about the leaders of the era of Jesus, some 2,000 years ago.  The politics of power are nothing new.  The timeless first mission of a politician is to achieve power over people.

And yet, in contrast to the politics of the power seeking self-centered leadership there stands timeless values well-articulated in Holy Scriptures.  I submit these values counter-balance and over time prevail over the chaos of greed and self-centredness.

            The psalmist of 585 BC captured 3 of the 4 principles of servant leadership that were so well written by Stephen Covey of 1991.  Covey’s four comprise security, guidance, wisdom and power.  Obviously influenced by faith, the fruit of Covey’s security is compassion, the fruit of Covey’s wisdom is connection and the fruit of Covey’s power is courage.  Covey defines the fourth, guidance, as the foundational sensations we internalize from our lived experiences.  The psalmist claims for his/her own guidance, God’s unfailing love and faithfulness.  On that basis we might paraphrase our psalmist like this:

On the day I called, you, God, answered me; you increased my capacity to empower.  Yea, though I walk in the midst of trouble, you, God, enriched me with wisdom to preserve my spirit.  Although the Lord is exalted and I am lowly; God is my security.

            Samuel noticed how quickly wanna-be-leaders seeking power for the sake of power internalize the world’s attitude that leadership is fear and domination.  In Samuel’s book we find both the pros and cons about having a central Monarch in charge.  On one hand short term security and prosperity can be achieved by submitting to a vicious ruthless dominating human King because the King must have been appointed by God.  And we know that in times of poverty, imposed humiliation, and lack of security, the king system of domination has worked well.

            On the other hand, Samuel sounded the alarm about the domination system.  Samuel warned: the king will take your children, your money, your land, your produce, your employees, your livestock, and your freedom.  You don’t need a King appointed by God; you have God as your king. 

The people said no to Samuel.  They had been guided by the ways of chaos in the world.

            Five hundred years of a continuous domination, left ordinary people brutalized, impoverished, and enslaved.  And yet when Jesus called for a better system based in God the King, a servant-leadership just system of governance, His students thought he was insane, his family called him crazy and the system leaders demonized him.  Had these leaders and wannabe leaders been so guided by the ways of chaos in the world, they could not hear the divine message?

            Samuel, the Psalmist and Jesus were aligned.  For them productive, sustainable societies called for just leadership guided by Divine-centred values.  They gave us the three C’s: Courage, Compassion, and Connection.  We can use the three C’s for our homework. 

            In the context of so much political intrigue around our world this last week this homework is not at all difficult.  Oh my goodness, we have plenty of material to use:  G6 plus 1, The Singapore Summit, Trade Wars, Mueller’s inquiry into the Presidential Campaign, and ultimatums in the Middle East.  Let our homework be an intentional effort to measure world leadership today against the timeless 3 C’s.

Sometimes, as many have recently commented to me, it can be hard to give high 3 C scores to any of the choices of any election.  It can happen that most of the candidates are guided only by the seduction of power in a broken world.   It can happen that the outcome does not yield leadership based in Divine values and the 3C’s.  But that too is not new: remember the people of Samuel said no and the students of Jesus thought Him crazy.  I guess that too, sadly, is the reality of the chaos creeping into our lives.

            Nevertheless, God keeps in front of that chaos God give us the timeless values of the 3 C’s:

Courage, compassion, and connection. 

And let us pray that our internalized faith in God guide us towards leaders of courage, compassion and connection.

 

Go into the world ready to see God there, ready to discern whom to follow, ready to listen to the prophets’ voices.

As you go, may God be your sovereign, Christ be the leader whose path you follow, and the Spirit be a known presence always with you. Amen

 


3 Jun 18 Communion

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18

 

Our God has never been described as some kind of abstract Divinity that is far away acting like super all seeing all controlling human despot.

Our God, is one who gets involved in the messy business of human life. (hands dirty). 

Now the results are not as fast as we would like to see; but none-the-less we adore a Creator whose passion is justice and character is compassion. That passion and character wills that the world chaotic dirtiness be formed into creative positivity.

            In the first half of Psalm 139, the key word is the word “know.”  The first six verses is a soaring majestic song showing stunning poetic skill.  We, the readers, are led into remarkable poetry that tells us the writer believes that God knows people in a way beyond our understanding.

That knowledge comes from an intimacy that is mystical because it crosses the boundaries of birth and death.  This is connection that is a light shining we feel even in the darkness.  Our intimacy with God means we sense at a most sensual level that God, the maker, placed life into order and will continues to maintain/develop that order.  Our human task is to celebrate joyfully that intimate connection and know we are living in the mind of God.

            Psalm 139

 


 

Mark 2: 23-26

            As you know the first written account of the life of Jesus is the basic book of Mark’s gospel.  It is written as if it were the short aide memoire of a professor.  So, it is reasonable to expect that it would be pretty accurate.

            So it is a surprise to study this next reading from Mark because it is filled with factual errors.  We do not know if Jesus was misquoted here or if Jesus got his facts wrong.  In either case, the reality is this:  there are real errors of fact.  In fact these errors are so evident that any opponent of the gospel would have had a field day turning Jesus into a figure of ridicule.  The words of Jesus about David come from an account you can find in I Samuel 21: 1 to 6.  In the one sentence of our reading there are 7 errors:

David had no companions, he was alone

David does not enter any house of God

The priest is Ahimelech, not Abiatha

David is not concerned about the holiness of the bread.

David commandeers the bread and does not eat it.

The bread is not reserved for priests, but for male celibates.

David distributed no bread of the Presence to anyone

            Mark 2 23-26 is so filled with these errors that we, the readers, must look again, must reflect, and have to seek deeply for the heart of its message.


 

3 Jun 18 Communion,

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18, Mark 2: 23-26

The heart of the message

God of ordinary time, God of extraordinary presence, we come into your presence today, open to hear your call, to wonder at your knowledge, ready to proclaim your message.  Help us to sense the heart of your message and give us the courage to proclaim it all over again. Amen.

            Why is reading the Word of God not enough to sustain our connection and belief in God?  Why do we need more than just reading our Bibles?  Why do we need each other to discuss our thoughts and doubts?  Why do we need aids such as music and ambience?  Why do we need the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion?  Why is reading the Bible not good enough?

            It is not enough because we are not intellect alone.  We have desires, needs, sensations, and wants that even the stories we love to hear will not fulfill.  We are restless for our future.  We long for the mystical, the spiritual, and the sensational.  The heart of the message is not in the black and white words in our Bibles alone.  The heart of our message is much more intimate, more poetic, more musical and more spiritual than that.  God’s intimate connection as we experience through the psalmist is much more than the words on the paper.

            So, for that reason, it is good news indeed that this piece of Mark’s gospel is filled with 7 errors.  The errors are so evident, they deliberately force us, the reader to look deeper, to do some homework, go back to Samuel and be like the first recipients of this story.  The Word of the Gospel of Mark here is not enough on its own to bring us to faith and the will of God.

            The first readers, more familiar with David than most of us, would sense by this reading, that the Nazarene was subversively stretching their dreams and imaginations about a better life on earth.  Jesus challenged the world of power and greed with a subversive message that His followers needed to feel it inside themselves as much as they needed to comprehend it. 

So we look again at this reading; we see its errors afresh, and we will spot a trickster teacher who reminds us of the fugitive young rebellious David.  We will spot the trickster Jesus, who became, like young David was: a popular coyote-cunning like figure living by faith and wits alone when powerful kings, priests, and emperors sought to take Him down.  This was the Jesus who survived for three years, and yet. all that time subversively preaching in favour of a nonviolent transformation in favour of the divine, more excellent way.

The first readers would have known that young David, a mentor for our Jesus, was wanted dead by oppressive King Saul.  This David, in fact, lied to the priest about being King Saul’s special servant to survive.  To survive David lied to the priest about his soldiers being celibate, for there were no soldiers present.  David, at this point, was seeking God’s justice and compassion for Israel in the face of a horrible cruel King Saul.  David was a trickster living by faith and wit for the sake of the little working powerless people of Israel.  And the recipients hearing Jesus speak would have sensed the heart of the message, not by intellect alone, but also by the spirit of young David.

So this is the heart of this Jesus message for the people of the way.  The powerless little people would see a new champion for justice in this Jesus. 

Are we not the new generation of powerless little people who are struggling to be all God has created?  Let us be the little people in this poem:

 

And the little people would resonate

With this trickster to survive.

A parable rare we need to hear

Oppressed but still will thrive.

How do we interpret sacred lore

A new dream to empower?

Subversive wisdom is tricky stuff

With a logic as strange as a winter flower.

            God’s Subversive wisdom is tricky stuff

With a logic as strange as a winter flower.

            That’s why we need more than just the Bible for our faith.  God’s Subversive wisdom is tricky stuff; with a logic as strange as a winter flower. 

So as we take the communion let us savour physically the Wisdom of God.  As we commune with each other in community let us sense spiritually the Wisdom of God.  As we eat together, laugh together, lament together, and support one another let us experience the Wisdom of God.

            Our homework is this:  let us take the bread and wine of communion today.  And as we do that maybe we can very aware that we are intimate with God by the sum of all we do with God.  Let us reflect on how intimate we are as God’s beloved creatures.  Let us be open to all the routes together: communion, Word, prayer, reflection, dialogue, affections, study, sensations, logic, humour, and music.  The sum of these things gives us the heart of the God’s Wisdom.

 

            We go from here and we know the creating, sustaining breath of God flows around us and through us.  We go out to be God’s voice for transformation in our world. Amen.


27 May 18

Psalm 29

            Like all psalms of the first Book of Psalms, it is a whole church service all by itself.  Notice it opens with a call to worship, then from verse 3 to 10 it gives the reasons for human praise of God, and then verse 11 it closes with a blessing.

            This psalm is actually quite unique as it is addressed to the heavenly hosts and not to anything on earth.  And these heavenly hosts are brought by intense poetry from self-centeredness to God centeredness.

We know it is intense Hebraic poetry by its repetitions and what we call echoes.  Watch for “the voice of God” repeated 7 times which is imagery for the roll of thunder as storms far more powerful than any other voice in heaven or in earth approaches.  The voice of the Creator alone is that powerful.  So powerful it sets order to the chaos, and brings its readers to humility in the face of overwhelming creation with its majesty.  This poem was obviously influenced by the creation story.

This psalm rejects outright an idea once popular in ancient Canaan.  That same notion is today held in Western Democracies when it regularly acts as if nature is here for human exploitation and is consumed, in greed, simply for the joy of consumption.  This psalm rejects that notion by placing God Lord of Creation and nothing else at the centre of life.

 

 


 

Verses 1-2

L: Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,

R:  ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

 

L: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;

R:    worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

 

Verses 3-10

L: The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,

R:     the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.

 

L:  The voice of the Lord is powerful;

R:    the voice of the Lord is majestic.

 

L:   The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

R: the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

 

L: He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,

R:     Sirion like a young wild ox.

 

L: The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.

R: The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.

 

L:  The voice of the Lord twists the oaks

R:    and strips the forests bare.

 

L;  And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” 

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

R:    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.

 

Verse 11

L:  The Lord gives strength to his people;

R:  the Lord blesses his people with peace.

Isaiah 6:1-8

            You have to love these kinds of writings.  As soon as we encounter writings with visions, angels or in this case mystical creatures like seraphim, each with, not one pair, but three pair of wings in settings of smoke, earthquake, etc. you have to know we are dealing with an imagination that has a metaphorical truth.  There is a style of writing in ancient texts called apocalyptic, which means a tiny tear in the curtain between earth and heaven.  Into this tiny tear we can peek and this is what we see.

            In this case we see into the call heard by Isaiah, a call that is so awesome it nearly overwhelms this ancient preacher.  Watch for the sensation of awesomeness.

            The poetic power in literature like this helps us sense God over and above out intellect.  It touches both sides of the brain both the linear and the non-linear.

            Watch in verses 4 to 8 alone for the words about verbal communication: sound, mouth, lips, voice, saying, and said.  The interplay here brings about a transformation in Isaiah that empowers him.  Isaiah is free from demons of narrow mindedness to hear and then speak the same sounds to those who have not the freedom to hear this awesome voice.

            Listen to God’s Call as it cleans, frees, and empowers an ancient prophet to speak truth to power.

 

 


 

John 2:23 to 3:8

            Just as a reminder, John’s gospel dates later than the first three more factual gospels.  John is a theologian and his focus is on interpretation of the acts of Jesus and the empowerment from the Holy Spirit.  We begin in metaphor:  “The Spirit was with God and the Spirit was God.  The Spirit was with God from the beginning.”

We immediately meet John the Baptist and then his cousin Jesus.  Jesus then starts to build His team, goes to a wedding and there is His first sign, a miracle, as recorded by John.  John then skips ahead three years to the beginning of the last week of the life of Jesus where he is in Jerusalem for the Passover, a time when He had become very popular.   There we get a welcomed act of defiance against the domineering Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and the theology of resurrection as metaphor.

So we understand this story of Nicodemus actually started in the second chapter of John.  Nicodemus is a well to do educated leading Jew who is open minded enough to take the teacher from Nazareth seriously.  Jesus laments that people believed in Him only because of the signs and miracles.  In other words He complained that His teachings of Jesus became secondary to the shows of exorcisms and healings.  “Not good enough!” says John the theologian.

            Watch for the phrase: born from above, or born again.  The Greek word “anothen” can mean either.  Nicodemus thought it meant “born again”, Jesus corrects him showing that meant “born from above.  Listen carefully for the correction Jesus offers Nicodemus.

            That answer is very clever:  Jesus answers by dismissing the ludicrous crass words of Nicodemus about entering a mother’s uterus; and then re-uses the word “enter”, referring to an entry to the companionship of empowerment envisioned on earth as it is in heaven. 

            Listen carefully to the Gospel of John

27 May 18

Psalm 29, Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3:1-17

Birth of a New Day

 

In the noisiness of our age, may we, Our God, be ever attentive and listen for your voice, ready for the transformations that frees us from complacency, fear, and distraction. Amen.

 

            Rev Wm Brown began a small church about a mile from here some 62 years ago.  It was so tiny a mission the treasurer of St. David’s had to ask him not to cash his pay cheque until after the offering the next Sunday was confirmed. 

Two mission churches struggled not far apart one from another.  Peter Wotherspoon prayed and developed the other pulpit, the one known as St. Martin whose first services were held in Manor Park School.

Then fifty years ago these two mission churches of Ottawa came together to form a new mission here at 444 St. Laurent Blvd., once property Beechwood cemetery.

            Rev Dr. Peter Wotherspoon, being the minister in the two point founding churches of St. David and St. Martin, once said the Presbytery was too optimistic to start two missions this close together, and was installed as the first minister of this amalgamated mission.  He saw this community blossom through the sixties and seventies, when the public looked to put multiple churches in every neighbourhood, most of which were well supported.  At the end of his ministry, though he noticed a certain cooling off of church popularity, and told me personally at his home on Chelsea Drive, how concerned he was about the stress facing young ministers just entering the profession.,

He was here until 1984.  Rev Dr. Jim Sauer of the “Sauer power” fame followed for 7 years, succeeded in 1991 by Rev. Ian Grey.  Jim used to pace at the back of Presbytery meetings, especially during certain debates which he found to be uncreative, if not unethical.  Yes he had a bad back, but he told me some meetings upset him because there was a change coming and the church was too slow to see it.

Ian Grey felt the pressure of changing public perceptions of the church, as the influence of Pierre Berton’s prophetic book “The Comfortable Pew”  began its fulfillment.  Ian clearly said how he resisted certain movements of the church as he saw them as gimmicks that would make no difference to the cooling down of popularity of Christianity in Canada.  Ian enjoyed a wonderful ministry here until 2003. 

Rev Wayne Maynard, my immediate predecessor, took the helm until 2010, during a time that it had become clear that we were not living in the same culture as we once did.  Like most others, he was ill prepared for such a change.  He explained to me he tried hard to overcome the looming public apathy by focusing most of his energy on the few numbers of young families, regardless of their potential to manage or lead the church.

Personally, I’ve been blessed to be part of this amazing creative loving community of empowerment for 8 years now, and yes we are feeling the stress of changing demographics and cultural norms in regards to religion in Canada.  But praise God, what we decided to do though, is lean on God’s will to work with the neighbouring young families, primarily African Caribbean immigrants as best we can.  We do this ministry with prayer and partnership with the Holy Spirit.  Thus we promote spirituality with music from Africa all blended carefully with European traditions upon which we have built this church.  We have also decided to take a mature adult realistic and responsible position.  We voted to continue on as long as we can in prayer without beating ourselves up, without stressing ourselves out, without dramatic changes, and always with the belief we are here already, in the sight of God to look out for each other and any families that seek us out.

            All our readings today point to a divine intervention for transformation, a course correction, as we say in the navy.  This was the stated mission of Jesus in Israel, and became the stated mission of the Body of Christ for the rest of us.

            The Psalmist reminds us that the voice of the Creator is a course correction creating order out of chaos.  If then; why not now?  The ancient prophet Isaiah claims the sounds, mouth, lips, voice, sayings of God brings about a course correction that empowers Isaiah to be God’s voice in a world of chaos.  If then; why not now?

Indeed, why not see today’s trend comprising a public rejection of the institutional churches as we know it as a divine course correction.  Nicodemus”, Jesus said, don’t be ridiculous; being born from above has nothing to do with your mother.”

Maybe our Jesus is saying:  “Church of year 2000: don’t be ridiculous: the mission from above has nothing to do with popularity.”

            So let us go tell our friends and family who have lives without church that we have here a great community that empowers each other and all those coming in the door.  We are not here to become the largest congregation.  We are not here to recruit people as if we were a service club.  We are here to show we can be people of the most excellent way, we are here to carry on the mission of Jesus, we are here to invite every person to the divine comradery, regardless of their religion, gender, colour, country of origin, education, income, wealth or status.  We have had 62 years of practice at mission, hospitality, comradery, empowerment, and openness, and we are good at it!  May God help us invite everyone in the neighbourhood our most excellent way!

            In Isaiah’s vision, God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”   As we go into our homes, our neighbourhoods, into each of the places we go this week, may we be surprised by God’s spirit at work in us!