25 Feb 18 Lent 2
Psalms are called psalms because they were sung with stringed instruments. The whole book of psalms is really a collection of collections. Indeed there are five sections in all. The first book of psalms runs from psalm 3 to 41. In the middle of this section there is our psalm which is classified as a combined psalm: lament and praise.
There are 5 types of Psalms: Wisdom, King David, Thanksgiving, Praise, and Lament.
The first part of psalm 22 details the complaint of the weeping writer. The second part starting where we will read is both praise and gratitude for the resolution of the troubles.
It is the voice of one with a new start in life filled with new promise, a person who cannot keep quiet about this complete reversal of fortunes: from abject misery to well-being. Watch for the ever widening circle to whom the speaker speaks. Initially there is telling the brothers, that is the family, then the assembly, that is the synagogue, then the whole village. The gratitude equally grows until a final great festival to which even the marginalized and the non-Jews are invited.
Finally the festival invitation is extended not only to all living in creation, but to those already dead and those not yet born.
So typically in Jewish liturgical style, under which Jesus was raised, a concrete single act of God becomes a source of universal joy and promise.
This is first of the Markan three predictions while Jesus moves from the country to the Eternal City. They are all the same.
Watch for this in the reading: 1. Jesus warns about the inevitable reaction in Jerusalem, His execution. 2. The twelve fail to accept his wish to continue; and then 3. the teacher’s open response which is a promise of the hardship needed to fulfill God’s mission.
Watch Peter who in this reading is bluntly opposed to Jesus. Then watch the Jesus response which is a brutal public retort.
Peter rebukes Jesus. Rebuke is a word that is about as blunt and strong a word could be. The counter-rebuke though is brutal and public.
It is not meant for Peter alone though: it includes an ever widening circle: peter, the 12 and then the whole crowd. Watch for the words of this widening circle.
The last bit directed to the widest possible audience starts with the words: “If you want to become my followers…” Here the Markan core belief about Easter is clearly stated. Here it is publically stated being Christian is not for sissies, it is dangerous. Following Jesus, He makes absolutely clear, means being alongside Him in His quest to fulfill the promise in God, being strengthened by the Spirit.
If you look for the Jesus who goes to the cross alone to atone for human sins so that we today do not have to do anything, you will not find that Jesus in Mark’s gospel. You will find here it is written that the promise of God can be attained, but the way there means followers must let go, i.e die, to the old chaos before embracing the new heaven and new earth.
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
The beginning of the people we call the Hebrews making a deal with God starts in the 12th Chapter of Genesis, which is likely dated to 650 BCE as support for the land claims of the Jewish landowners who stayed in Judah during the Babylonian exile.
Chapters 1 to 11, written down prior to that is like a primeval prologue to the life of Abram and his wife Sarai. The story of this original single mythological Hebrew couple then occupies 28% of Genesis. In the middle of those chapters we get the story of the rebirth of God, Abram and Sarai. This is what we read now.
Note that God gets a new name right away. “I am God Almighty” or “I am called El-Shaddai.” This new name comes from the Hebrew word meaning breast and the Almightiness of God is theologically belief in the Divine ability to nurture and feed creation. It is promise of spiritual food for evolution of the human species.
Changing one’s name was considered like a new start. Here we can watch for God renaming the father and mother of the race we call the Hebrews, the founding family of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Finally watch for the key theological promise, a deep seated belief of the ancient Hebrews: From Blessed Abraham and Sarah God promises will come the world’s leaders.
This big promise is repeated for both partners and is done within two repetitive moments; the change of name is the first. Secondly, there is for both partners, similar expectations. Expect life to be productful and purpose filled and that abundant life is to be sustained down through many generations. We see these expectations in the phrases containing these words: fruitful, descendants, and nations.
25 Feb 18 Lent 2
Psalm 22:23-31, Mark 8:31-37, Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
My name is Forgiven
God, you made promises to Abraham and Sarah,and we are living into them still today. May wehold tight to the name you have given each of your children, “beloved,” and live into it as heirs to the covenant made for us before. May we, as your people now, honour those who went before and those who come after. Amen.
So last week, we determined that God’s promise could be like a vow to be fulfilled. We also determined God’s Promise could be like the promise of a flower in a bulb, or a rainbow in a storm.
Either way, the big potential or a vow of God for us Christians has to be Easter itself. But then again what does Easter mean? The event of the empty tomb has no more value than any other empty cave until people fill it with meaning.
The meaning placed in that empty tomb likely began with the story of Abram and Sarai, written down some 600 years before. The first story of the first faith family began with new promise from a God who came and went and came again by invitation into the life of this ancient mythical couple.
Look at the elements: here we see the presence of God start with a single miserable weeping childless couple and ends with a festival of fruitfulness, healthy thriving children, and purpose for all the nations.
The symbol of the transformation is God’s assumed new name: Almighty which, as you now know, is directly tied to breast feeding all humanity as a mother feeding her babies. I suspect after that tidbit insight you will hear the call to Almighty God with an altered perspective, I know I did.
The first couple too are symbolically reborn, raised from their old dead selves, with new names: Abraham and Sarah. This is a new start from the God whose name could very well be: Forgiven.
I like three things about this story. First of all Abram and Sarai are not the Brady Bunch. They have really difficult lives; they know trauma and hardship, loss and aloneness, confusion and hunger. They like anyone of us were not protected from the ravages of life, age, disappointment, health issues, and stress. They like anyone of us know what it means to hurt, to lament, to rant, to make mistakes, to have foibles. In that chaos, they like anyone, cried out to God who has been absent. They go, as it were with Jesus, knowingly to the place of death in faith to the God whose name is Forgiven. They were followers of the same theology we meet in Mark.
And that takes me to the second thing I like about the story: the re-birthing, the beginning of God who feeds new life with new names to those who have walked the walk to the cross because they know God Almighty’s name is Forgiven. Like the psalmist, like Abram and Sarai, the followers to the cross at great personal risk let go the power, the wealth, prestige, and the rigid dogmatic that stops up the flowing milk from God Almighty whose name is Forgiven.
Consider Frederick Douglass, born 200 years ago an
African-American slave, who was the strongest voice of slave abolition and
anti-racism in his day. Widely credited
with agitations to support equity for Native Americans, immigrant Americans,
black and slave
Americans, and women, he was often run out of town and attacked for his views on reasoned dialogue, abolition of the death sentence, free public education, land reforms, tax reforms and above all equity.
Consider a group of students at the University of Queensland in Australia, in 2016, put on a bake sale. They called it the Gender Pay Gap Bake Sale, and they priced their cupcakes higher for men than women to illustrate Australia’s pay equity gap. The fierce social media back lash against these pioneers for justice was so crude, misogynistically horrific it made international headlines.
Markan theology wants us to believe that following the mission of Jesus is to go to Calvary with Him, like these people did and that is not an easy path.
The third thing I love about the story of Abraham and Sarah is the final audience to which this story is aimed. The audience evolves in an ever widening circle as so well put by the psalmist. This is a ripple that starts with one person and spreads to include all nations, all genders, all orientations, all colours, all races and all religions.
So how do you and I follow a just cause or an act of compassion? Well, we may not be the center of the movement like this girl Rebecca Schofield who speaks out for compassion from the dead, but we can be one of the crowd who turns on the porch light.
The Christ pathway to Jerusalem welcomes even those who have died, and yes halleluiah those not yet born. The name of God Almighty is Forgiven. That name indeed invites even you and me.
18 Feb 18 Lent 1
Ps 25: 1-10
This psalm is another acrostic poem where each letter of the alphabet starts a couplet. Poems written like that read like vegetable soup, where one thought is not connected to its predecessor. Its structure is not in the thought; it is in the format. This is not our normal way; thus leaving English readers bit confused.
The writer is someone in dire straits who confidently expects God to step into life and fix it. We understand the absolute nature of the confidence of the petitioner from the repetition of the word: “wait”.
Why such confidence you might ask? The source of that confidence the petitioner explains comes from the experience of God’s steadfast love, a phrase repeated 3 times in our reading.
The confidence is so clear that without fear, the petitioner admits to his errors and waywardness knowing full well God’s character is compassion and promises a new start. Adult acceptance of failures, errors and waywardness is an act of faith. The Presbyterian Church three thousand years later continues to ascribe to that same theology of confession and indeed practices it as part of our worship.
After an expression of petition to God, this psalm offers a faith that is so healing, so powerful it begs to be shared across the full rainbow of life in the world.
I Peter 3:18-22
Preachers tend not to preach from this letter because it is dense; it is better to treat it as a long complex academic study. Its date and authorship are essentially unresolvable. It was written to first generation Christians living in modern day Turkey sometime between 84 AD and 115 AD by someone using Peter’s name.
By this time Christians were seen as enemies of the Roman Government because they challenged Caesar’s claim to be the Son of God. The letter was written to support those facing persecution, even onto execution, for their Christian beliefs.
We will read a section that was a statement of belief like the Apostle’ Creed. Indeed, this is one source of the sentence: “He descended into hell” in order to tell the good news to the “spirits in prison”. It is called the “Harrowing of Hell”.
Then, leaning on the myth of the flood and Noah, the writer offers a theology of baptism as new promise, a new rainbow, which is not for the Jews alone. We know it is not for the Jews alone by a very opaque sentence. Watch for the phrase “removal of dirt from the body” which refers to Jewish circumcision done on the eighth day when a symbol of the unclean, the foreskin, is removed.
The survivors of the mythical flood numbered 8, the same number of days after birth for circumcision. We actually see that metaphor for divine promise in many Baptismal fonts which traditionally were 8 sided octagons.
Watch finally for the “angels, authorities and powers” at the end because these refer to those unpleasant governors, who, contrary to the will of God, are persecuting the lives out of the Christians in Turkey. Here the writer says the resurrection of Jesus promises that these horrific enemies of the persecuted Christians are not victorious.
The story of the flood and Noah’s ark first appeared in another set of documents call the Gilgamesh Epic. It is not Hebraic in origin at all; it comes out of Babylon and pre-dates what we will read in Genesis by between 600 to 800 years. While a few look at this story as history, most scholars see it a parabolic myth to teach a theology of the promised relationship between the Maker and Creation. It shows the character of God as compassion and the obsession of God as justice. It is written up in the section of the Bible which acts as a sort of theological primeval preface to the stories of Abraham down through Moses and beyond. We know it is not a story, but rather a poem, not unlike the epic poems of Homer because the depiction of the flood is filled with repetitions.
The original form, which is not seen because of the limitations of our English was actually a brilliant poem that is shaped like this: It is called a chiastic poem. Let me add the words from our reading. First part and second part.
In the center of this poem we meet this beautiful image: the rainbow arch. Listen for this shape as the reading unfolds.
This arch to the ancient Jewish farmer was a well-known symbol of the very dome that holds together the fabric of heaven and earth. From the perspective of humankind it looks like a great arched bridge. Thus the center of this poem, like the spiritual center of creation itself is the symbol of the deal that holds together the fabric of God and Creation. We call this deal the rainbow promise: a symbol that holds not us creatures to account, but it is the symbol holding God to account.
18 Feb 18 Lent 1
Ps 25: 1-10 I Peter 3:18-22; Genesis 9:8-16
Promises! Promises? Really!
Since Christmas we have been studying the Divine Call through the acts of the Nazarene. The actions we studied were summons, exorcisms, healings, and visions. These actions are different way that we can hear the Divine Call, the bath qol: the daughter of a sound which penetrates deep into the human soul. There are two other ways he acted with the same outcome: One being the big miracles, as I call them: water walking, wine making, and food production. The second is the restoration to life for the dead. Everything he did was metaphor for the bath qol, the Divine Call to see, no to feel or sense the Promise of God.
That call, as explicitly stated by the Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth is just like the hymn we sang last week: in the bulb there is a flower. In the call there is a promise. We can be the companionship of empowerment on earth as envisioned by God.
Promises, promises, promises! the number of Divine promises written in scriptures are far too many to count. In fact there are so many promises; people grow weary of hearing yet another promise, especially if they think most have been broken. Trusting the promises of God, like trust in anything, requires four things. When any one of these four things is absent, trust is lost:
3. Positive expectations in spite of contrary evidence.
4. Confidence in conflict resolution
That makes the prayer of the psalmist that much more remarkable. Who can trust in God like that writer? What kind of saint can do that? And how can I a mere mortal trust the promise of God with such passion and confidence?
I tend to believe we can, but to do so requires a perspective that is not natural to our western sensibilities. It requires the mystical perspective of Hebraic poetry and spirituality. Remember the rainbow promise God made was not aimed at humanity, it was aimed at God. The promise of God is not like an oath at all; it is more like potential.
Look again at this sonogram. What promise is there in this girl? Will she solve an ancient mystery of mathematics? Will she lead a nation? Will she be a firefighter and save lives? Will she provide companionship of empowerment that inspires a nation as did our own mixed double Olympic curling gold winners? What promise do we see in this photo?
May be the promise of God is like the promise of this lovely human girl, waiting to be born!
The poetry of Noah is felt in its mystical spirit filled structure: maybe we can see the promise of God if we see it in the same way. Let’s try it: The shape of the rainbow promise is a giant X that looks like this. We sense rather than see the rainbow promise as if it came from somewhere else, like a Holy Spirit.
So using the four ingredients of trust maybe we can feel or even visualize the promise of God as the potential for which the psalmist waits.
God is dependable
God is consistent
God expects great things
Great things will be my legacy
Consistency is my name
Dependability is my choice
Now let’s take the next step and turn this outline into a new psalm for Lent.
You are the Great healer who passes over the unformed trauma lurking deep in soul;
From the Beginning Your Word creates within and without a Holy unexplained Calmness and Order.
Leader: You are the Lord my God in whom I trust.
Response: As regular as the tide comes and go, Your Word waxes and wanes in my soul.
L: You are the Spirit of Creation for all that was and is and will be;
R: Your messages of hope and compassion are the guiding stars for my journey from Galilee to the Eternal City.
L: Yours is the Wise Wind, from which I learn
R: Yours is the Song that raises me to be more.
L: You lie within my belly waiting for the Light of Birth,
R: In the Bulb, there is a Flower, in the storm there is rainbow.
L: The visions of heaven carry us up on the back of the great snowy owl.
R: Ancient is that which You, oh God, give for my meditations.
L: Valentines and Justice pour down from heaven
through your prophets
R: Your name is whispered as I rise to meet the sunshine.
L: As night turns into day and day into night, I believe;
R: Your choice for positive creation is my pillow; Your desire for my growth is my blanket.
L: When my eyes were clouded over, and my ears filled with a rattling tympani, and when my bones ached without mercy.
R: Your rains cleared the shadows in my eyes, your love cleansed my ears and your companionship steeled my frame.
We start today on the way to Jerusalem as if we were with the teacher as He makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Like the disciples, we are deadly afraid what will be when we get there. We know too many people in power are threatened by the promise inherent in our teacher’s claim. He holds the significant potential of the alternative way that threatens the existence of the power-hungry narcissistic self-centred elite who are hiding.
These are those hiding behind armed guards or self- serving laws with many even hiding in sacred spaces.
And yet do we not sense the promise of God in this man.
So our task this week is this: go and intuit rather than look for promise. Feel the promise in athletes like this 17 year old Gold Medalist. See the promise in babies even before they are born. Feel the promise here in our living and we will know, like the psalmist, that we can wait on the Lord and feel the promise of Easter.
11 Feb 18
Psalm 46: 4-11
Martin Luther, the father of the protestant church, pointed out that poetry and music should be emotional enough that is makes people thirst for more God. This three part hymn did exactly that. It was designed to make them thirst for the visions of God which they deeply believed were to be found in the second temple built in city of God: Jerusalem. It is a song of an independently documented musician guild of the Second Temple founded by the family Korah.
We will read today the last two of three stanzas. You’ll know when the second stanza ends, because it ends with a chorus and silence.
Watch for certain words repeating in both stanzas, these words help us follow the thinking. The words “earth” and “nation” link the stanzas. The word “earth” here refers to the chaotic earth; the earth is where the darkness continues to be. So here when we read God destroys the earth, it means God is desolating the darkness.
The theology here is simple and lies at the heart of all faith. Amidst the chaos corrupting the earth, there flows divine streams of living water nurturing creation by overcoming destruction. Regardless of the horrific conditions, God is in and God creates order out of the international disorders called “uproar” and “totter.”
This is a hymn of vision that sees God bringing victory on the earth by desolating the earthly unformed chaos, its wars, its militarization, and the resulting destruction. Such divine vision, as the poet says, calls us to stillness.
This vision lies behind 12 hymns in our hymn book; so obviously this is a visionary poem that continues to make us thirsty for God.
Aside from the great visions of the book of revelation, the vision reported on the day of Pentecost is one of the most famous in Christian literature. Peter uses the spectacular event to his advantage and preaches on a vision hundreds of year’s old coming from the prophet Joel, who in turn borrowed the same images from earlier texts including Ezekiel and Numbers. The vision here including the darkened sun and the blood red moon, Biblically, do not referred to the end of time as many think, but they refer to events that have changed the world such as the fall of Babylon around 550 BCE or the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, or the day Sputnik flew in 1957, or the Commodore 64 computer of 1982.
Luke carefully modifies Joel’s vision in this passage written about 15 years after the Jerusalem temple is destroyed, to point to his way of thinking about God. Watch for these shifts in the theophany as we call such visions.
Luke adds the words “in the last days” which has the effect of emphasizing that the gift of the Spirit is the ultimate and final gift humanity will ever need to co-create a new heaven and a new earth. He adds the phrase: “they shall prophesy” to indicate the Holy Spirit empowers people to tell the world, with real effect despite the dangers, the great news taught by Jesus of Nazareth.
Watch for words: “wonders above” and “signs below” describing the work of Jesus in the past and the apostles in the near future. Scholars cite this as evidence that Luke believed the resurrected teaching of Jesus are actionable now. This vision is a call to respond to God as teachers and activists in the new Body of God on earth, the Body today we call the church.
The next reading is also a major vision or dream and is reported in the three gospels: Mark, Matthew and Luke. We call it the transfiguration of Jesus. Mark and Luke write it up as if James, John, and Peter, actually experienced the moment, and Matthew writes it up more like a vision. We could debate, as people have done for centuries, whether it was an actual event or a vision. Yet as interesting as that is, for me it is more interesting to understand the meaning of the event. Events by themselves have no value, their value only comes when we ascribe to it meaning.
Like most theophanies there is the blinding light where Jesus’ glowed, changed. The disciples were then treated to a vision that placed Jesus in a very exclusive club: the club of Israel’s prophets, those few who had seen God, glowed, and lived to tell the story: Elijah and Moses.
Elijah had another commonality. Both Elijah and Moses, called by a quiet voice of the spirit, were well known as action figures effectively challenging the Egyptian slave owners of the Hebrews or the infidel King Ahab. Both prophets vehemently advocated listening for the character and will of the Maker. All the disciples are clearly meant to follow that same pathway and to do so knowing full well that this route was very dangerous in a world where powerful people worshipped absolute wealth, power over everything, and privilege. This was the lure for a better future in partnership with the spirit and supported by the people of God who had gone before.
And then finally, listen carefully for Peter’s reaction. He liked the mountain so much he, like so many men chained to a need for immediate action, tried to stay! How human is that?
11 Feb 18
Psalm 46: 4-11 Acts 2:17-20, Mark 9:2-9
Thirsty for God
In talk therapy, for those afraid to take necessary new steps or life-altering creative decisions, the therapist can help by transfer positive emotions onto negative events using a wonderful effective technique called task directed imagery. In TDI we are asked to imagine ourselves in a safe place, a happy place. After sitting in that vision-like space for a while we may report the emerging real emotions we start to feel. The key element is patience: wait long enough in that dream for its emotions to emerge. Then, in that dream-like state we can imagine transferring those positive sensations to situations that we do not like. In doing so, people overcome their fear and do what they had been afraid to do. In God talk, this technique uses our inner gifts, intuition, reason, and imagination to transform us from inaction to action. We can be thus transformed, changed: in fact we should say empowered by imagination to take action.
How this happens in therapy is not really well understood, it is still mystery of vision. There remains something intangible that plays a part in such life-altering transformative moments.
This morning, with the gift of music, for a moment we were transported into a Rainforest with rain drops, buzzing insects, singing crickets and rustling wind flowing in the great green canopy above our heads. We were there and we were here. This is the intangible mystery found in imagination as ancient as our Bible.
That intangible thing is described well by the vision we call the transfiguration of Jesus in the mystical luminosity of Jesus, the cloud on the mountain top and the voice that says “Listen to my Son!” St. Paul called this intangible thing a partnership with the Holy.
In the dream, Peter, James, and John, and indeed Jesus could not stay with Moses and Elijah on that surreal mountain top. They had to return to the reality in which they lived because the creation had not yet been completed. They were called, empowered by what they had seen, to continue the dangerous pathway trod by Moses and Elijah towards putting in place the companionship of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Visions, like the exorcisms, and the healings are powerful vehicles by which we are called to follow the teachings of God’s beloved Son.
Like the exorcisms and healings the call by vision takes those who so heed it along the same dangerous pathway as that followed by the master and the prophets before Him.
It is not easy to challenge big authorities to do the right thing in service of a new world where refugeeism would no longer be necessary.
It is not easy to challenge the man of the household to surrender their ego in service of the #metoo movement.
It is not easy to persuade certain governments to re-allocated public funds away from military might to social justice issues. It is not easy to sacrifice profits to reverse the suffering of our planet.
It is not easy to transform as Jesus calls us to transform.
The dreams seniors dream and the visions young people imagine may not be easy to realize, but they are the calls of transformation.
And are they not visions or dream that we too can see by listening carefully to the Living Word of God? As tempted we may be to park ourselves on the mountain top, hearing/seeing the vision, we simply cannot abrogate our responsibility to come down and get on with God’s work. It becomes a matter of doing the work rather than talking about the work.
So here is our homework: let us go to the mountain top, see our Jesus all lit up walking in the company of the great prophets of action. Let us find a dream we can dream, a vision of enlightenment we can imagine. We all have our own from the personal to the global. Today these are some of mine:
We can dream of the day domestic violence and mental illness will be effectively eradicated. We can dream of the day societies will overcome addictions and safe injection sites are no longer needed. We can dream of the day Syrians can live well in Syria. We can dream of the day native Canadians will no longer live in substandard houses. We can dream of the day parents will no longer hurt the souls of their children perpetuating abuse and violence. We can dream of the day.
If humanity dream such dreams and see such visions long enough, in partnership with God’s Spirit these too will come to pass and we will truly know the meaning of the words: “be still and know that I am God.”