7 Oct 18 Communion

Psalm 26, Mark 10:13-16

Children equal before God

 

As we wrestle with tough questions, and uncertain answers, grant us the courage to ask what is on our hearts, and the loving-kindness to empathize with opinions we do not understand, and the wisdom to see fragrant violations of your will. Amen.

            Many Presbyterians, until about 30 years ago, like the disciples, understood that children were to be seen but never heard at church, never mind the Communion Table.

            I grew up in an age when Communion in the Presbyterian Church in Canada was a strict privilege reserved for adults only.  Banished from the sanctuary with a table covered mysteriously in white linen tablecloths, us children were intimated by the serverity of the men all dressed up in Morning Clothes, scowling and rigid.  The Communion Table was a terrifying thing to a five year old.

            Sunday School lessons emphasized the importance of Communion and the dangers to one’s immortal soul when adults dared to skip church, especially on Communion Sunday.

            We were not taught then as Jesus taught his students even though we were exposed to the same gospels. 

My plan for October is to look at some of the new lessons of theology which have emerged in the light of translations, alternative analysis, and a much deeper understanding of the times in which these gospels were written.  What emerged in the last 10 years are theologies that were neither available nor even considered when I was a Sunday School student in the 1960s of Canadian Presbyterianism.   The techniques, translations, and archelogies that have emerged in the last 30 years have appropriately evolved out theological take.

Today, we will think about our integrity and the rights of children.

            We say clearly we believe children are special.  We celebrate our birthdays here because we want to say publically that life is sacred.  We have been saying this for generations, and yet there was a time in Europe and the UK, a time that continues in other countries today where children are treated as cheap labour, marginalized, unimportant, and unessential.  In 1862, children of most working families of the United Kingdom lived in appalling social conditions compared to our time.   There were a few social activities radically challenging the status quo, often by subversive novels and songs and a personal risk.  One such social activist was a writer named Reverend Charles Kingsley.  And this is the good news of the gospel.  There are those who hear the values of our God as taught by Jesus of Nazareth and have taken creative, dangerous corrective action, sometimes at their own expense.

            Kingsley wrote a book called The Water Babies, which today, is very unpleasant to read because it reveals with its political tracts and scientific satires the casual prejudices of that age.  It exposed the prejudices that placed young boys of poor families into the miserable dangerous if not very short lives of the young chimney sweeps.  The good news is this book contributed to the 1864 Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act, which liberated countless children from unimaginable suffering.

            While our Canada and our Church have come a long way regarding the rights of children since 1862, evolution is slow.  God: be patient with us.

For example The Presbyterian Church in Canada offers an open communion and then in 1987 invited all baptized children to take communion. A re-examination of the place of children led to the inclusion of children at the Lord’s Table at the discretion of parents.  And yet thirty years later, it is estimated that about one third of our church congregations continues to exclude children from Communion.

            At the Saints, we went a lot further.  We took a position that children in Canada should have the same protection from assault as adults despite the law of the land.  We took our position to the local Presbytery, which we pressed successfully, against some very forceful resistance, for their support in sending the petition to the national church.  Last June it was successfully received and is in committee for study with a deadline for next June.  We put into action our belief in the sacred rights of our children and our expectation they be treated as Jesus treated them: “and he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”  We did this guided and encouraged by the Holy Spirit despite the law of the land.  This was not something we were taught in Church School. 

So we can say with the psalmist: We walked with integrity.  We trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. 

And we can pray with the psalmist: Test us, examine our hearts for we have been mindful of your unfailing love and have walked in faithfulness to you.

Let this be our homework reflection we take to the Communion Table today.  This is the reflection we might take to our families, and to their children and to their children down through the generations.  Let this be our thanksgiving communion gift to the society in which we live.

 

May God, our parent, protect and guide us, may Jesus, our brother, challenge and comfort us, and may Spirit, our friend, empower and sustain us, now and forever. Amen

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14 Oct 18

Ps 22:1–11, 14-15, 19-21. Heb. 4:12–16, Mark 10:17–31

Jesus and a Pinch of Humour

 

God of life, you call us to give of ourselves to you and to work towards your realm on Earth.  Sometimes, we cannot imagine your possibilities..  Sometimes, we do not want to give up anything.  Sometimes we feel abandoned.

Please help us to find the way towards living as you have envisioned.  Show us what we need to do to be closer to your dreams and hopes. Amen.

 

            So this October I am looking at things not taught in Sunday school of the last century.  Looking at the inclusive nature of eating with our teacher, we looked at the admission of children to the open communion table as now practiced by the Presbyterian Church in Canada. 

Next week I want to re-examine the capacity of insight of students of the teacher from Nazareth.  Church Schools has often tried to make the disciples out to be brilliant, a kind sort of super heroes.  What is not taught is that John, like other disciples close to Jesus, and much like anyone of us, had a lot of trouble understanding.  John, in some ways, like human beings everywhere, was as blind as a bat or maybe as thick as a brick.

Today, I want to remind us that the religious story is sprinkled with a pinch of humour.  Jesus was a master at sprinkling humour into His meals.

In that spirit, I have sprinkled a pinch of humour throughout our service today.  So, let me say with this:

A father was approached by his little boy who said proudly, "Daddy, I want to be an astronaut and I know what BIBLE means!" 

His father smiled and replied, "What do you mean, you want to be an astronaut and you 'know' what the Bible means?

"That's easy, Daddy..." the boy replied excitedly, "It stands for 'Basic Information Before Leaving Earth."

There are four main teaching techniques Jesus used effectively: healings, exorcisms, and two styles of teaching. 

            Inside these stories, there is a pinch of humour.  Consider the story of the exorcism which ended with the death of two thousand pigs running over a cliff.

            It is a bit funny because pigs do not graze, they root.  It is a bit funny because pigs do not stampede, they scatter when scared.  It is a bit funny because the owner of the pigs would have been livid.  Who owned the pigs?

The first way of teaching by words was the parable; telling a story with a parallel meaning.  We learn the story and we recall the meaning, or at least struggle to understand the meaning.

The second technique, actually used more often by our Jesus was the short pithy statement containing a pinch of humour.  These are the memorable one liners.

The gospels sprinkle for us over a hundred of these one liners.  They are surprising, unexpected, arresting, and slightly funny.  And that is why they make it into the collective public memory.  The pinch of humour also helps the medicine go down. 

It is hard to realize that the vision of God for humanity means a redistribution of the power and wealth so vastly accumulated in the hands of a relative few.  Europe colonized Africa and North America which had a great positive effect on those lands and a great negative effect on those lands.  While the dominant conquerors should celebrate that which was constructive in colonialization, they also, in reconciliation, need to be secure enough to take responsibility for the reprehensible oppressions within colonialization.

The story of the rich man shows how difficult it is to do that; because it means letting go opulent wealth and privileged power.  Jesus softened and immortalized that harsh truth with a pinch of humour:  It is harder for a rich man to enter an age of universal social justice than for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle.

He softened and memorialized harsh truths with one liners: God can turn these stones into leaders. Before you take the speck of dust out of your neighbor’s eye, take the log out of your own. You strain out the tiny bug, but swallow a camel.

The good news though is this: we don’t have to turn away from our social responsibilities anymore.  We don’t have to deny our errors anymore.  We don’t have to be afraid and live like that rich man anymore.  We can get over ourselves and laugh a little bit at ourselves.  We can move ourselves along with love and generosity towards a better world.

Indeed, are we not on that road: after all we gave our selves away by donating out of our own hard earned income in few short weeks nearly $3,000.00 for African desperate peoples?  So, yes, we do know that we have the responsibility from Jesus to heal our broken world?

So let this be our homework message to family, friends, colleagues, and neighbours.  With a pinch of humour, let us laugh at ourselves and yet take seriously our partnership to create a better world out of the dark chaos that recognizes not yet fully the beautiful light of the Word.

 

May you follow the road to God’s realm, with the dream of Jesus in your heart!  Go in peace, and with the assurance of the spirit, to love, to laugh, and serve God’s Companionship of Empowerment. Amen.

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21 Oct 18

Psalm 104: 1-9, Job 38:1-7, Mark 10: 35-45

The New Teaching is Hard to Do

 

God of mystery and majesty, you call all life into being.  Call us to the places where we may best serve you.  Call us to the service where we may follow you most closely, know you more clearly, love you more sincerely. Amen.

            So for the last two weeks I’ve been thinking about the lessons they did not teach us in Sunday School.              They did not teach us to invite children to communion with us, despite the constant teaching of Jesus about inclusion of the Creator as opposed to exclusion as is the way of the world.

            They did not teach us that throughout Scriptures God leads us through the waters-of-the-deep with a pinch of humour despite the evidence of story, laughter, and language of Jesus.

            Theology has changed since we were in Church School.  It has been transformed by better translations, the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the study of books about Jesus that did not make the cut, and the methodologies of Biblical study influenced by better sociology of patriarchal systems and evolutionary evidence.

            Thus we can see today with new eyes more clearly, know God more nearly, and love Jesus more dearly.  It takes time for wisdom, understanding, insight, and love to penetrate our sometimes thick rigid skulls.

            We should relate well to Peter, James, and John as they too were blind as bats or thick as bricks.  Sunday School did not teach us that the disciples were people like us and like anyone else they were slow to “get” Jesus.

It has never been easy to see that devotion to the way of Jesus means participation in His pathway leading through certain difficulty to a new earth in resurrection.

            Here the great news of the gospel is clear: Jesus, God the Son does not give up on us, the creative beloved children.  God, the Son knows the pathway for the broken world and He sticks to it.  Even though He has gone we were left with His Spirit as our partner and His Word as our teacher.  And it shows.  God’s love has been here when we step up with generosity of our giving for people hurting in Africa as we just did.  God’s insight shows up when we step up with generosity of our time for people in need.  Wisdom shows up when we take a stand that in Canada our children should have the same protection against corporal punishment as Canadian adults.

Knowledge shows up in the data that shows that over the last 20 years, the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty has been cut in half.  That number has been reframed to mean that every day for the last 20 years a million people per day have escaped abject poverty world-wide.

If we have got that far, how much further can we go?  What else can we see?  How do we search for peace in our difficulties, as opposed to living for blame?  Job had to figure out that peace has more power than blame.  And true it is not easy to realize that Jesus means not to assign blame in the past, but to participation in a future that leads through certain difficulty to a new earth in resurrection.

            Being a student of Jesus does not mean we sit in church as spectators in order to feel better about ourselves:  that is denial by self-centred avoidance.  And yet who among us has not done just that as did all the disciples? 

            Being a student of Jesus does not mean trying to get the best privileged place at the head table in order to look important:  that is denial by deflection.  And yet who amongst us has not done something like that as did J&J?

            Being a student of Jesus does not mean trying to get people to behave or dress in certain way: that is denial by intimidating with blame.  And yet who has not tried to do something like that as did Peter?

            Look also for whom the rebukes of Jesus are aimed.

            James and John skip easily over the Jesus’ death to focus on the glory and their own status.  And Jesus reacts at first only to James and John, but then he speaks directly to the rest of the twelve.  In the first warning the rebuke was aimed only at Peter and then Jesus rebuked to all twelve.  Jesus rebukes the twelve and then expands his words to all the followers in the second warning.  These warnings are not only for Peter, or James, or John, or the twelve, it is for all followers, all of us in our own blindness.  The participation in resurrection is a call to all the followers to lead like the Nazarene in a broken world.  That leadership looks nothing like the leaders of the broken world who seek only to be first.  Leaders in Jesus do not lead like the leaders of the world who try to be the biggest cheese on the block by bullying, misogyny, division, violence, mocking, strong armament, blaming, lying, deflection or denial. 

Jesus calls us to challenge that world of domination, and yet, we know how difficult it is to grasp the implications of that calling.  Like the first followers, we want to deny how hard it really is.  So with homework, how do hang on to our humbleness?  Let us try this:

How many of us have had trouble recalling a name or place or a word?  It leaves us for moment feeling a bit thick.  Let me suggest that the next time we feel a bit thick like that, maybe we can reflect on the difficult it is to understand most clearly the teachings of Jesus.

            Friends, we shall go with God.  We will not worry about our status or place in the world.   We will just be and God is with us.  Let us know that we are God’s beloved, and may God’s grace of God walk with us as a Holy Spirit with the wings of an angel.