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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Even the mustard seed needed help

My sermon this week was based on Luke 17:5-10.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

So this week I have to go ahead and disagree with Jesus.  I totally get the point he is trying to make in this Gospel passage, and there are times when it is absolutely true, but there are also times when it is not.

I want to first address the question "Can we increase someone else's faith?"  The Gospel begins with the brief Lukan version of the Parable of the Mustard Seed where the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith, to which Jesus' response ("If you had faith the size of a mustard seed...").  This response implies to me that Jesus thinks his disciples have no faith at all.

How could Jesus possibly increase something that does not exist?  Zero times any other number is still zero.

Jesus then adds a parable that seems like a non sequitur (and it may well be as many commentators believe this whole chapter of Luke is a series of more or less random reminiscences about Jesus on the part of the author rather than a coherent narrative), the Parable of the Master and the Servant.

The short and dirty interpretation of this Parable is this: don't expect to be thanked simply for doing your job.

This Parable frames what it was like to be a servant.  Servants were expected to do their duties around the property, whether that was gardening, harvesting, tending sheep, etc.  In the evenings, it was their job to come in from the fields and cook supper for their master, THEN they could eat and enjoy some leisure time.

What master, Jesus asks, would ask their servants to sit down after a day in the fields and cook supper for them before he himself had eaten?  In other words, what master would thank his servants simply for doing what was expected of them?

None, that's who.

Jesus uses this Parable to make the point that his disciples and we as people of faith ought not expect thanks or rewards for doing what is expected of us.  And what is expected of us?  Simply to lead a good, moral and upright life.

We shouldn't expect thanks from the cops for following the speed limit or thanks from the government for paying our taxes, because that is what we are supposed to do.  We should not expect thanks from our employer for doing our job because that is our job.

But here is where I have to disagree with Jesus.  Yes, he's right, we should not expect thanks for simply doing our job, but with so much negativity in the world and with so little affirmation, with so many people lashing out at people under the guise of "constructive criticism" and with so few people letting others know that their efforts are appreciated, perhaps we ought to rethink this lesson.

Here is where the question that I opened with comes in: can we increase someone else's faith?  I would say no, BUT we can create an atmosphere where someone's faith can grow.

For example, many of us who are in paid or volunteer positions in the church only hear feedback when we screw up or make a mistake.  Very rarely do we hear random thanks or affirmations.  No, we don't do what we do to receive thanks, but it is nice to hear that every once in while.

Let me give you a fictional scenario stitched together from actual comments I have heard in churches:

It is your first time at a new church.  As you walk in the door, you overhear the greeters complaining that someone has worn jeans to church.  The greeter hands you a bulletin and says, "There's usually a lot of mistakes, but you should be able to follow along".  You take a pew and someone comes up and says, "That's actually Mr. and Mrs. X's seat, you should sit somewhere else, they go crazy if someone sits in the their seat".  This person goes on to explain, "If you sit at the back, you won't hear the sour notes the choir hits, but you won't be able to understand the priest because he has a terrible accent".

Does this sound like the sort of place you would want to plant the root of your faith?  Does that sound like a safe, positive, affirming environment in which to explore your faith?  Does this sound like a place that is living the love and joy of God?

Obviously not.  No faith could grow in such soil.

However, an environment that practices affirmation, positive feedback, that shows forth love, charity, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation is a place in which faith can actually be planted, be fed and watered, and that is the responsibility of the church.

Don't get me wrong, church is important and it deserves our best, even if we are just volunteers, however we should always remember that we are volunteers for the most part, and that what we do is an act of love and dedication to both our community and to God, and perhaps a little support would go further than criticism.

Today, I invite you to see the best that people have to offer, to see the effort that people are making and not the mistakes they make.  See Christ and them and let them see Christ in you.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The currency of the Kingdom

My sermon for this week was based on Luke 16:1-13.

So some people know that I restore antique cars as a hobby.  I recently put on up for sale on Kijiji, and almost immediately got a reply that set off some alarm bells for me.  It went something like this: "I love the car, and want to buy it.  I am out of town but I will send you the money via Paypal with a hold on it until my friend comes to pick it up, and then I will release the money".

Now I may be born again, but I was not born again yesterday.  Nobody, but I mean nobody buys any car without seeing it in person and kicking the tires.

I farmed this out to my FB community, and the scam was explained to me this way: they pick up the car and basically never release the money, so you are out a car and whatever money you thought you were getting.

At first I thought, "What a low-down dirty thing to pull", but my second thought was, "That's brilliant!"  I got to thinking about what kind of person would do something like that.  Poor moral choices aside, this person has to be pretty diligent (they must be scanning the internet waiting for suckers), has to be pretty good with people (we had a very nice conversation as they pumped me for more details and reeled me in), has to be a self-starter, have good computer skill, think on their feet, be inventive and knowledgeable about cars.

In short, this person has some pretty marketable skills!

I can't help but thinking what the ostensible scammer could accomplish in life if only they turned their energies towards good or at least legitimate things.  I think they could do really well for themselves and for others, if only they weren't a criminal, if only they turned those energies towards helping people rather than ripping them off.

The Gospel passage for today touches on a similar theme.  It's a tough one, no question, so if you are having trouble with it, don't feel bad, so do I.

A merchant finds out he has a dishonest manager who has been skimming off the top  for a while, so he says, "Call in all your bills because you are fired!"  Understandably, the manager is panicked: he is too old to do manual labour and too proud to beg, so he hatches a scheme.  He decides he will fudge the bills that are owed to his master to endear himself to them.  He takes a bill for 100 jars of olive oil and makes it 50.  He takes a bill for 100 bushels of wheat and makes it 80.  What he hopes is that when he is out on the street, the debtors will remember his generosity and take him in to their homes.

So basically, he screws the merchant twice: first he has been stealing from him, and then he cheats him out of what he is owed.  Whereas I think most of us would be reasonably angry all over again, astonishingly, the merchant commends the manager for his shrewdness.

This is a challenging passage, and like so many passages in the Bible, there are a number of possible interpretations.  What the passage is asking me to reflect on today is: what do I do with the resources at my disposal?  Am I using my gifts, talents and energies for the betterment of my family, church, community, workplace, etc, or am I using it for my own interests?

One could rightly argue that the manager is certainly acting in his own best interests, but the corollary is that the debtors get cut a pretty big break.  They are helped by his actions.

We all have gifts, talents and gifts, and we all have a choice as to whether we apply those things to good ends or evil ends.  Imagine, for example, what Europe and the rest of the world would be like today if Hitler had been a humanitarian.  Imagine what the Middle East would be like if al qaeda, isis, daesh or any of their many splinters were good people.  Imagine what Walmart could accomplish in their communities if they actually paid their employees a living wage (please note I am not placing these three examples on the same level of severity).

None of us are fascist dictators, religious zealots or owners of multi-billion dollar corporations, but we have our own power, perhaps more than we know or are willing to acknowledge.  We have the power to wield enormous influence in our homes, communities, churches and workplaces.  We have the power with our words and deeds to lift people up or grind them down, to support or undercut, to affirm or shame.

Sadly, some of the most energetic people I have met are habitually negative or critical.  They hurt people, put them down, undermine them, and just generally suck all the air out every room they are in.  I cannot help wonder what they could accomplish if  they would only turn those prodigious energies towards more constructive activities.

I hope that today, you and I can take stock of our talents, gifts and abilities, and that we can redouble our efforts to make sure that those gifts are dedicated to performing acts of goodness, kindness, mercy, justice and peace.  These things are the currency of the Kingdom, and the only currency a Christian should ever carry or trade in.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The hatred in my heart

My sermon for this week was based on Luke 15:1-31.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

The best advice I have ever received about how to read the Bible was: "Read the Bible as though it is a story about you".

The stories of the Bible are not meant to just be idle chatter or gossip.  We are actually supposed to locate ourselves in the stories of the Bible, to identify with a character and to learn the lessons they learn.

In just about every Bible story, we can probably identify at least one character that want to be, and more to the point of my sermon, at least one character we don't want to be.

My favourite example of how to do this is the story of the Prodigal Son.  There are three main characters in the Prodigal Son: the Prodigal Son himself, his father and his older brother.  I can list in numerical order the person I most want to be in that story to the person I least want to be:

1. The father: he was tender, loving, merciful and forgiving, and he welcomed his son back despite the injury he caused him.

2. The Prodigal Son himself: despite his failure, he had the humility and the wisdom to realize he was unable to cope on his own.  As humiliating as it must have been, he went back home.

3.  The older brother: I actually don't want to be this guy.  He was unable to join in the celebration when his brother came back,  He was selfish and resentful,

Of course, we all read the Bible through our own "lenses", through the experiences of our own lives.  I spoke to someone who thought the father was actually an idiot and the Prodigal Son was a manipulator.  Her son was a chronic drug addict who would steal from her, disappear for a few months, turn up on her doorstep apologizing, she would let him back in, and the cycle would continue.

I knew someone else who felt that the older brother was the only sane one in the bunch.  She had always felt that her parents loved her sister more, and that despite her many accomplishments, she could never quite live up to her.  She had always felt that she had never been celebrated, and so resonated with the experience of the older brother.

Regardless, when we read a story like the Prodigal Son, we can all identify the characters we would like to be and the people we would not like to be.

This week was the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and I have spoken with a number of people over the years about this incident, where we were and what we felt when it happened.  I was doing my MA at Laval in Quebec City, and I had slept in that day.  I woke up, made a cup of coffee and checked the phone messages.  There was one from my roommate who said, "Turn on the TV, someone has flown an airplane into the World Trade Center".

I have to admit, I didn't even know what the World Trade Center was or where it was, and I thought someone had flown a pleasure craft into it by accident, so I didn't turn on the TV for another little while.  Once I did, it did not take me long to understand that what had happened was far more serious.

By the time I turned on the TV, pictures of a man named Osama Bin Laden were being shown.  I had never heard of him.  He was linked to an organization called Al Qaeda, which I had also never heard of.  This man and this organization were being linked to Islam.

I had heard of Islam.  I had a number of Muslim friends when I was doing my undergrad at Ottawa U, and we are still in contact today.  We didn't really talk religion.  We drank, played cards and just generally did what university students do.  All that to say, even though I knew they were Muslim, I didn't really know what Islam was all about, what it stood for, what it represented or what it preached.

I am not proud to say this, but as I watched TV, I felt hatred growing in my heart.  I saw Bin Laden and I hated him.  I heard about Al Qaeda and I hated them.  I saw Muslims and I hated them too.

In retrospect, I think this was only natural.  A terrible thing had been done to innocent people.  I was angry, I was grief-stricken and I hated the people that did this.  I was not thinking rationally (because hate is not rational) and I threw the net of my hatred far too wide, because briefly I even hated people who had nothing to do with it.  I was apparently not the only one because in the hours that followed, there was a rash of anti-Muslim hate crimes: mosques were desecrated and Muslims were being attacked on the streets.  Sikhs and Hindus (who are not Muslim, by the way) were also being persecuted, just for having skin that was not white, just because people with hatred in their hearts fail to distinguish between the guilty and people who resemble them.

As I witnessed these acts of misguided recrimination against people who I realized had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocities of 9/11, I was brought up short and this made me reign in my hatred.

I thought, "I don't want to be that guy.  That's not the person I want to be".

John 3:15 tells us that if we have hate in our heart, we have already committed murder.  Whether someone uses a gun, knife, car or airplane, it is actually hatred that kills, and this is why I don't want to be that guy.  I don't want hatred to even be planted or take root in my heart because of where that could go.

There was a line from the Jeremiah reading for this week that stuck out to me: "My people...are skilled at doing evil , but do not know how to do good".  This is an interesting concept: good and evil are skills, and like any skill, good and evil require practice.  If we practice something, it becomes more natural, easier to do and we get better at it.  If we fail to practice something, we lose that skill, it becomes more difficult, and we don't get any better at it.

I don't want to be the guy with hatred in my heart, because I don't want to get any better at it.  I want to be the guy with love in my heart because that is what I want to get better at.  Love is what I want to plant, take root and grow in my heart, and I just don't think I can do that if hatred is in my heart.

How much hate, how little love must have been in the hearts of the men who perpetrated 9/11?  How far from grace and anything Godly must they have fallen to take it upon themselves to do that?  I can't even begin to contemplate it.  I don't want to contemplate it.

I want to contemplate how I can treat people better, how I can help heal people, how I can make the world a better place, how I can show God's love to his creation and its inhabitants.

Today, I hope that we are all able to decide who we want to be like and who we don't want to be like.  I hope we are able to make room for love in our hearts so that there is no room for hatred.  I hope we can hone our skills of goodness, and let our skills of evil atrophy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Things which matter most

My sermon for this week was based on Luke 14:25-33.

This week, I opened my sermon by asking people to raise their hands if their spirituality was one of their top 5 priorities.

I then asked for a show of hands if they would say that spirituality was their number 1 priority.

I stopped them before anybody raised their hands and explained that for your spirituality to be your number 1 priority would mean that it is your first thought when you wake up in the morning and your last thought before you go to sleep at night; it would mean you spend more time contemplating the state of your soul than you spend contemplating your finances, your career, your human relationships; basically, that your spirituality is the aspect of your life which informs all your other decisions, and from which all other considerations flowed.

Nobody raised their hands, not even me.

The problem is that even as a priest, my own faith and spirituality is expendable, disposable or at least a secondary consideration to the "busy-ness" of my daily life.  I worry as much as the next person about finances, my marriage, my career, my skills and abilities as an expectant parent, and so on.  I work at improving or balancing all those things, but my faith end up neglected and sometimes forgotten almost entirely.

I prioritize food, sleep, water, exercise, free time and quality time with my spouse, friends and family, but at the end of the day, that does not leave a whole heck of a lot of time and energy for prayer, meditation and spiritual well-being.

I think many of us have the equation backwards, and I know I certainly often do: we think that if all these other things are going well in our lives, then our spirits will be well.  But in my experience, the reverse is actually true: if all is well with my spirit, THEN all these other facets of my life tend to go better, more smoothly, or at least I have greater strength, patience or wisdom with which to approach them.

Jesus uses some pretty harsh words in the Gospel passage for today to make this very point.  He says, for example, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple".

Now, if you have actually read ANYTHING else Jesus ever said, it would be pretty obvious that Jesus did not actually want anyone to hate anyone.  Jesus even calls his listeners to forgive someone 7 X 70 times, and to pray for our enemies.

Rather, I think what Jesus was trying to convey is that our relationship with God should be our first priority, before even our relationship with our parents, spouse or children, to the extent that compared to our relationship with God, all other relationships should pale.  You know how some people say, "You have to love yourself before you can love someone else"?  For a person of faith, that could quite accurately be changed to "You have to love God before you can love someone else".

The reason is this: Christ, God, the Divine, whatever it is you call the source of your spirituality, is for the Christian the source of all love, justice, mercy, forgiveness, tolerance and peace.  If God is at the top of your priority list, then all your personal relationships, how you go about your job, how you approach your finances, how you deal with your problems, frustrations and worries will be informed and guided by these principles.  Otherwise, we tend to just be taking stabs in the dark and reacting out of our baser impulses.  I don't know about you, but when I act out my baser impulses, I usually end up having to make apologies.

But how do we go about prioritizing our faith and spirituality?  I will share with you some simple steps that often help me get back on track and get my head straight.  Try this for a few weeks: 

1. When you wake up, set just 5 minutes aside and sit quietly contemplating the day to come.  Ask for guidance, wisdom, strength, humility, patience, whatever it is you think you need to get through the day.

2. As many times as you need to throughout the day, take a mental time-out before, after or during certain events, and ask for these things all over again.  Ask yourself in all things what the most graceful and productive way to respond to your daily challenges would be and act accordingly.

3. Upon retiring at night, take a "grace inventory" of your day: go over it again and note the things you are grateful for, felt good about or are proud of yourself for.

This is perhaps the simplest and most foolproof way to keep your faith at the top of your priority list, and to live your life according to spiritual principles.  It will take practice, it does not solve everything and it does not make everything in your life ok, but it is something that helped me.

I could also add one more step:

4. Contemplate your cross.

Jesus says one other thing in this Gospel passage that really sticks out for me: "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple".  What does it mean to  carry the cross?

Well, although this incident happened well before Jesus was crucified, we know that people who were convicted of crimes and sentenced to death by crucifixion were forced to carry their own crosses to the place of execution.  The cross was seen as emblematic or their crime, and those carrying their crosses were thought to be dragging the weight of their crime in the form of a cross.

But what does that mean for us?  What is our crime, what is our sin, why would we need or want to pick it up, and to where should we drag it?

This is where I think you and I need to contemplate our own crosses.  I am from a Protestant tradition, and you may have noticed that most Protestant churches do not portray Christ crucified.  Only Catholic churches have that.  I am simplifying the issue here, but that is because Catholic theology traditionally has placed the emphasis on the sacrifice and suffering of Christ, while Protestant theology has emphasized the resurrection and conquering of Christ.  For Catholics, the cross is, as the old hymn goes, "an emblem of suff'ring and shame".  For Protestants, Christ is no longer in the tomb, much less nailed to the cross, and so the cross becomes a symbol of life, resurrection and redemption.

So when Jesus asks us to take up our cross, what is he, in fact, asking us to do?  Is he asking us to shoulder our burdens of sin, shame and regret?  Doesn't sound too Jesus-y to me, and I don't think those are the things Jesus would see us yoked to.  Rather, I think he is asking us to cast of those burdens and take up the "burden" of the cross which represents love, joy, forgiveness, life and freedom.  I think he is asking us to take up the cross as our new yoke, a yoke which he promises is easy and light.

I hope that today we would be able to pick up our crosses, and to let the virtues that the cross represents inform our thoughts, words and deeds.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The best seat in the house

My sermon this week was based on Luke 14:1-14.

Dinnertime at my house is usually pretty casual.  Although we have vowed to sit at the table when we have children, my wife and I usually eat in front of the TV.

When I was a kid, dinnertime was a little more formal: no TV, no radio, and we all sat at the table and usually talked about our day.  Our table was round, all the chairs were the same, and the table was in the kitchen.

My grandparents house was much different.  They had a small table in the kitchen that they ate at on a daily basis, but when family visited, dinner was served in the dining room.  The table was long and rectangular.  My grandmother sat at the end nearest the kitchen so she could shuttle food and dishes back and forth, and my grandfather sat at the far end.  His chair was the only one that had arms on it.

In perhaps a mild way, my grandparents' house was reflective of a certain cultural protocol when it comes to seating arrangement: the host (my grandfather) sat at the head of the table, which was recognized as the most important seat in the house, although no one actually ever said that out loud.

We don't have the same kind of protocol in our culture, but we do have seating arrangements: have you ever come into church and found someone sitting in "your pew"?

Seating arrangements in Jesus' time were much more formal.  The host would still sit at the head of the table, but the most important guests were seated closest to the host, and the least important were seated further away.

In today's Gospel passage Jesus is invited for dinner to the house of a Pharisee, and he notices how people are following that traditional seating pattern.  He warns them against assuming their seat without invitation: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you."

He issues this warning because "all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

When we have a formal dinner in our culture, it can be pretty clear who the most important people are.  At a wedding, for example, we usually have a head table that consists of the couple, their parents, the honour party, and so on.

But if we were to sit down at God's table, who would be the most important?  Who would be, metaphorically speaking, invited to sit closer to God?  Would the rich, powerful and famous be seated closer to God?

Jesus would say no.  According to the Gospel for today, the people who would be invited to sit at God's table should and would be "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind", and these should be the very people we invite to our table.

There are several possible explanations for this.  Maybe Jesus is trying to encourage people to be humble.  Maybe he is trying to convince us to sit with people we wouldn't normally associate with.

I think he is trying to make a point about inclusiveness.  Society still has a way of dividing us: haves and have-nots, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, black and white, sick and well, etc, etc.  The dinner table in Jesus' time acted almost as a microcosm for this: those most important to the host sat near him, and the least important were seated further away.  The table perpetuated divisiveness.

Outside the dining room, society is divisive, and it was certainly so in Jesus' time as well.  The poor, crippled, lame and blind were sidelined and excluded, as they still are today.

But here's the thing: if we are to be Christians, these are the exact people we should make an effort to include, and what Jesus revealed to us about God is that these are the very people God would invite to sit closer to him.

Think of it this way: the wealthy, healthy and whole are already doing ok.  They already have so many advantages and things working in their favour.  They don't necessarily need constant reminders of God's love and presence because evidence of that should be all around them.

Don't get me wrong, I do not believe for one second that God "blesses" or "curses".  I don't think that because you are wealthy, that means God prefers you to a poor person, and just because you are poor that God dislikes you.

But those who suffer poverty, physical or mental illness, addiction, injustice or isolation already have the deck stacked against them.  They are precisely those who need to be shown love, acceptance and hospitality, and that is what we are called to do as Christians.

It is only natural to want to be around those who are like us: those who think like us, look like us, act like us.  This is not in and of itself a bad thing.  It only makes sense, and I think it is pretty endemic to the human race.

Where this becomes an issue is when we reject, isolate or sideline others as a result of our actions.  We have all seen cliques when we were in school, in our workplaces, at church or even in our own families.

Christ would call us to deliberately override this tendency.  Christ would call us to be inclusive, and in fact to show a preference to those people who routinely don't get a seat at the big table.

This week, I hope we can all have the courage to step out of the comfort zone of our friendship circle, that we take the time to talk to someone we wouldn't normally talk to, to show them God's love and to invite them to his table.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Physician, heal thyself: the story of Super-Christian Patrick

My sermon this week was based on Luke 13:10-17.

Do download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Many of us can probably relate to feeling like we have a weight on our shoulders.  Whether it is the weight of worry, depression, hatred, sorrow, anger or illness, most of us can probably relate to feeling like there is something in our lives weighing us down, and we can also likely relate to feeling light and free when that situation is resolved.

Today's Gospel passage has to do with Jesus healing a woman who is bent over double, and the image I get in my head is of someone who is literally and figuratively bent over by her problems, and of someone who can finally stand up straight again and enjoy life when that weight is lifted off her shoulders.

Now this woman was physically ill, so despite the ancient belief that physical illness was the result of sin, I don't think any reasonable person can indict her or anyone who has a physical illness.

But it seems to me like there is someone else in this Gospel who is carrying a weight that is quite literally of his own making, and he fails utterly to shrug it off, and that is the Synagogue leader.

When I was a teen, I worked at a Christian summer camp.  I would not have called myself a Christian then: I did not go to church, I was not asking the big questions, I was not interested in God, and in fact I considered myself an atheist.  But I had no objection to the religion of others, I needed a summer job, and several of my friends worked at the camp.

Part of what we did every day was Chapel.  This happened right after breakfast, and it consisted of a little morality story and some energetic songs to get the kids pumped for morning activities.  I played guitar, so I was one of several people who led the music for chapel.

Super-Christian Patrick was another music leader.  He was about my age and was as faithful a person as I have ever met, hence the reason I called him Super-Christian Patrick.

Although I liked Patrick as a person, there was something that bugged me about him.  At chapel, I would glance over at him as we were playing guitar, and although I was having fun, Patrick was LOVING it.  His eyes were closed and he was smiling and blissed out as we sang these songs about God.  He was loving God and God was loving him.

The thought in my head was, "You idiot".  I thought he was thoroughly naive and brainwashed, and at first I thought I pitied him for this.

As the summer went on, I came to realize that I was actually jealous and angry at him.  I was jealous and angry because he was happy.  He knew that God existed and loved him, and he loved him back.  I didn't have those things, and I have to admit, I wanted them.

My self-absorption robbed me of the ability to rejoice with Patrick.  My own feelings of anger and jealousy prevented me from being happy for Patrick that he was so easily able to bask in God's light.

What a weight I was carrying!  And what weight must the Synagogue leader have been carrying!  Rather than stand in awe of God's power, rather than sit down and learn at the feet of the man who had performed a miracle, rather than rejoice along with the woman who had been freed from her ailment, he instead rains on everyone's parade, accusing Jesus of breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath.

Maybe the leader was jealous because Jesus was able to do something he couldn't.  Maybe he was angry because God seemed to be working through someone other than him.  Maybe he just didn't like sharing the limelight.

Either way, one of the truths about human nature is that sometimes we resent the successes and joys of others.  We feel somehow that their success or joy takes away from our own.  We feel like if we are not happy, no one else has a right to be either.  We feel like there is a limited amount of joy and recognition to go around, that God has only a finite amount of love to divide up between all of humanity.

Nothing could actually be further from the truth.  Love, joy, success and recognition are not finite quantities, and I think we would actually find that we can derive great joy from celebrating with others in their own joys and successes.

The weights we carry prevent us from enjoying our own lives and from celebrating the joys of those we love.  Much of the time, these weights are of our own making, and can just as easily be unmade.

I hope and pray that whatever weight we are carrying around on our shoulder, whether it is sadness, depression, fear, anxiety, jealousy, a fractured relationship, that we can make a decision and take steps to come out from under that weight.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bridges, not walls

My sermon for today was based on Luke 12:49-56.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Before I was ordained a priest, I worked in a drug and alcohol rehab for teens and young adults.  I am not proud to admit this, but every once in a while, a kid would come into the program that I just didn't like.   There was one kid in particular, let's call him Chris.

Chris was just weird.  He dressed weird, he did weird things and said weird things.  He had a weird sense of humour and he interests were weird.  I could find nothing in common with which to connect to this kid, and I am usually pretty good at that.

At one point, I was talking to the boss about how I felt about this kid, and I expected him to agree wholeheartedly with me.  What he actually said brought me up short.  He said, "Sound like you are the one with the problem".

"What do you mean?", I said, not really appreciating his tone.

"Well, he's just being who he is.  If you have a problem with that, it's YOUR problem, not his".

He recommended I make an effort to get to know him, so I took him out fishing for a couple of hours, and as it turns out, he was actually a pretty neat, smart kid.  But had I been left to my own devices, I would have left that wall between us and missed out on the opportunity to get to know him.

The Gospel passage for today speaks of walls, of how we connect and divide ourselves from one another.

I have trouble with the Jesus in today's Gospel passage, incidentally.  I have an image in my head of Jesus, tender, meek and mild, the Prince of Peace who suffers the little children to come unto him and so on.

The Jesus in today's Gospel passage speaks of dividing families and bringing fire.  In have trouble putting the two images together.

The reality is that we can't catch inflection and tone of voice in the written word.  I don't think Jesus is saying these things gleefully while rubbing his hands together like a mad scientist.  Rather, I think he is saying it in a tone of weary resignation, with the realization that no matter how much peace and love he preached, human being would find a way to screw it up, that even families would be divided over how to show love.

And how religion has divided us over the years!  How did we do this?  How did we take the fundamental message of most religions, that we are all one, and turn it into an excuse to judge, condemn and divide?

Do we really think that God cannot tolerate a little difference?  Do we really conceive of a God who is so small and so petty that he cannot handle different viewpoints, different worship styles, different interpretations of Scripture?

I think Jesus came to help us embrace and celebrate our differences, but he was aware that doing so takes a fair amount of courage, far more than many people seem to have.

The problem is that it is so easy to build walls and say, "You are not of me, you are not of us".  We do it all the time.  We do it to women, LGBTQ+, immigrants, refugees, other religions, other ages.  I did it to Chris.

I suspect the real reason we build walls is not that we really have an objection to other people, but because we lack the courage to embrace their differences.

When we stop and think about it, how much reason is there really to build walls between other people?  People may have different skin colours, recite difference creeds, have different political views or sexual preferences, but in reality, we all love our children and our parents, we are all afraid of the future, we all laugh at pretty much the same things and cry for pretty much the same reasons.

In reality I would say that are more things that make us similar than make us different.  I am pretty sure if we could just get past the walls we build around ourselves and others, we would find great gifts in other people.

The bricks we use to make walls can also be used to make bridges.  I pray that today we would all have the courage to tear down walls and build bridges with them instead.