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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Mary's choice

My sermon for Advent 4 was based on Luke 1:26-38.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

This Advent has brought back to the surface questions about choice for me, specifically Mary's choice to bear the Christ child, and how it relates to my choice to follow my vocation.

I got my call to ministry when I was a teenager, and I said no.  I was overcome one night out of nowhere with a feeling of absolute certainty that this is what I was made for...and I said, "Not interested, thanks".

Wouldn't it make a funny Pythonesque sketch if Gabriel has had to ask a few other women first, and Mary was just the first to accept.

Here is what sadly often gets dropped to the wayside when we talk of the Annunciation, and which has been made all the more poignant given the backdrop of the #metoo campaign in recent months: Mary made the choice to bear the Christ child.  She was not forced, convinced or coerced in any way.  Gabriel and therefore God gave her the option, and after some polite and prudent questions on her part ("How can this be?"), she answers, "I am the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to his word".

Mary made an educated and informed decision, despite the uncertainty of the future, despite the responsibility it brought on her (raising a child is a heck of a responsibility, much less God's child), despite the sure knowledge that it would lift her from what would otherwise be a life of obscurity.

But she chose to follow that path, and far from being a passive thing she did, it was a act of defiance in the context of a society that did not give women too many choices.

Sometimes, I think the world hasn't changed that much since the time of the Nativity: women still have to fight for control of their bodies, refugees are still poorly treated, tyrants still reign, and the poor and marginalized still struggle to fulfill their basic needs.

Over this Advent and Christmas season, I invite you reflect on how giving someone a choice, giving someone a voice is equally a sacred gesture, and an act of defiance.

Why John calling FROM the wilderness is significant

My sermon for this week was based on John 1:6-28.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

What did John the Baptist have that anyone wanted?

My sermon for this week was based on Mark 1:1-8.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

What to do while you are waiting

My sermon this week was based on Mark 13: 24-37.

I've said it before: I am not apocalyptic.  Was Jesus?  Maybe.  Are we both eschatological?  Yes indeed.

Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing, and of course they are in and of themselves loaded terms that are open to a fair degree of interpretation.

Apocalypticism referred originally to the gradual and ongoing revelation of God's will in the world, hence the reason why the Book of Revelation (singular!  Not "Revelations"!) is sometimes called John's Apocalypse...because God gave him a revelation.

The concept of the apocalypse has of course been shanghaied by certain religious elements, Hollywood and really bad authors, and that is easy enough to understand: the Book of Revelation is pretty vivid.

I personally belong to the camp that believes the Book of Revelation is not meant to be read literally, but this "Lake of Fire" concept of the apocalypse persists.

Eschatology, on the other hand, refers to the contemplation of the ultimate destiny of the human soul and of all mankind, culminating in our ultimate reunion with God.

You can see where there is an overlap, but I still think the two are distinct, at least in how they are lived out in the world.  Moreover, I think Jesus was the latter, and not necessarily the former.

Here's the thing: the world is going to end one way or another, either through the human inability to get along or we will get hit by an asteroid or swallowed by a black hole or our sun will eventually burn out.  This is simply a statistical inevitability.

I am not trying to be grim here.  I am merely pointing out that our time is limited.  In the back of all our heads, we are all aware that our individual lives are finite, and yet I think we all live like we are going to live forever, if not as individuals, then as a species.

A bleaker philosopher would state that we are all just waiting for an end of some kind.

Far from being grim, I think this actually a wonderful thing.  One of my favourite movies is Fight Club, and in one scene, Brad Pitt holds a gun on a store clerk and tells him to go back to school or he will hunt him down and kill him.  When asked why he did that, Pitt says, "Tomorrow his breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted".

How succulent life would be if we only lived like it was going to end!  And yet we get wrapped up in our own greed, selfishness and short-sightedness.  We pile grudges on our shoulders, we refuse to forgive others, we draw lines in the sand.

That's just bad for your soul, and bad for the souls of those around you, and that's what eschatology is all about.

We spend a lot of our time waiting: waiting in line, waiting for that special someone, waiting for an answer, waiting in traffic, and yes, some of us are waiting for the end of the world and/or the end of our lives.

I know some religious folks who believe that only they are holy, only they have the answers, and so far from going and reaching out to those very people that Jesus made it his vocation to bring God's love to (prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, widows, orphans), they seal themselves away from them in fear that they may be "infected".  They hunker down in fear, waiting for the bomb to drop.

But our lives are defined by what we do while we wait.  Do we strike out with courage and love in our hearts every day, or do we strike out with fear and hatred?  Make the time you are waiting count.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The punch line of the Bible

My sermon for this week was based on Matthew 22:34-46.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

Like most people my age, I am in a hurry. All the time.  I don't have a lot of time to read the newspaper or long articles on the internet.  I get impatient if a video on Youtube is longer than 3 minutes. In other words, I (and many other people, I am sure) want straight, to the point information, no beating around the bush.  We want to know the hook, the nutshell, the point, the punch line.

The Bible is not a short book (actually, it is a collection of books, but that is perhaps for another sermon), so it is no wonder even so few Christians have read it from cover to cover.  You might ask what the point of the Bible is, what is the hook, what is the punch line?

I won't claim to have THE answer, but I can claim to have MY answer, and it is one phrase contained in today's Gospel passage:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; love your neighbour as yourself".

My New Testament professor in seminary said that this was the beating heart and soul of what the Bible has to say; everything else is just commentary.  I tend to agree.

I you ever have read the Bible from cover to cover, you will note that there are a lot of rules, particularly in the book of Leviticus.  Lots of laws and regulation that you are probably not familiar with, but some of them you likely are.  The Ten Commandments, for example.  Most of us can recite at least 4 or 5 of them: don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, and so on.

In today's Gospel, Jesus is asked by a lawyer which Commandment is the most important.  This was and is still a great debate in religious and philosophical circles.  I think most of us would probably default to "Thou shalt not kill", but the problem is that when you do that, you necessarily de-prioritize the others, and that can get tricky.  They are not called "The Ten Suggestions" for a reason.

But this essentially what Jesus is being asked to do.  In other Gospel accounts of this event, the intent of the question is less hostile: the lawyer actually seems to be asking a genuine question so that he can be a wiser person.  Not the case in this Gospel.  The lawyer is trying to set Jesus up, hoping he will say something contentious so that the Pharisees and Sadducees can finally trap him.

In typical Jesus fashion, he doesn't chose any of the Ten.  Some people say that he invented an Eleventh, but this is not strictly accurate.  What he actually does is name the very foundation, the framework, the underpinning upon which all the Ten Commandments and all the other rules are actually based on:

Love for God and love for neighbour.

I would go so far as to say that the two are one and the same.

Think about it: if you really loved God and/or your neighbour, would you really have to be told not to kill them?  Not to lie to them?  Not to steal from them?  No.  That lesson would already be written on your heart.

We had to write these laws down and codify them because we are so bad at loving God and loving people sometimes.  I have said that good acid test for whether or not what you are about to do is right is to ask yourself, "Does this show love to God and/or my neighbour?"

If not, reevaluate.