Category Archives: Theological Ramblings

Water Creed

I believe in almighty God,
Creator and Divider of waters:
Salt and fresh,
Running and still,
Falling and frozen and fog;
Holy liquid, without which we would not be.

I believe in Jesus, the Christ,
Holy Child of God,
who was infused by the Spirit into the waters of creation,
who was nurtured and grown in Mary’s womb-water,
who entered the river-water with John,
who restored the storm-water to calm,
and who shared living-water with the woman at the well.

This was the One
who was condemned by the political sea-scape of the day,
whose blood-water was spilled on the cross,
whose breath-water was released back to God,
and who was placed in the ground to return his life-water to the earth.
But who, after three waterless, lifeless days, returned,
splashing us with heavenly identity
and holy promise.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
who hovered over the waters,
who pours God’s very self into us,
who unites us with each other in the regenerating flow of love,
who restores our parched souls with reconciliation,
who promises life,
and who pledges that we will never be thirsty again.

Amen.

(Feel free to use in any appropriate setting. I just ask that you let me know! Thanks.)

Christmas Blasphemy

I always seem to get a little blasphemous at Christmas.

[Blasphemy (blas-fuh-mee).
Impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things; irreverent behaviour toward anything held sacred, priceless, etc.]
From Dictionary.com

Don’t get me wrong. I like Christmas. The story, the traditions, the memories, the liturgies, are all wonderful ways we connect with our past, and remind us, at least in part, who we are.

At the same time, the relentless cheerfulness, the insane stress we put on ourselves, and the competing story that inundates us 24/7 which tries to tell us that we are what we buy or get or consume (which are admittedly there all the time, but which are exponentially ramped up at this time of year) all combine to make me just a bit cynical about it all.

Just a bit!

So, as I was reading through the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s gospel this year, I was struck by the first couple verses.  They are frequently skipped over, or ignored, and sometimes they aren’t even read. But they did something for me this time.

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor [aka Caesar] Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Luke 2:1-2

That’s it. Just those two simple time markers.

But what came to my mind when I read them this time was the (admittedly somewhat blasphemous!) statement, “Keep Caesar in Christmas!”

The second thing that that came to mind was the equally blasphemous “Keep Quirinius in Christmas!”

(I think the first has more impact, because Caesar was far more important to the story, and to history, than Quirinius, but I must say, the alliteration of the second is rather nicer!)

The story of the birth of Jesus is a major political statement, in which the big guys turn out to be less than pawns in God’s ultimate chess game. THEY are the ones who are captive; in this case, captive to their own understanding of what Power is, and what it is for.

Meanwhile, God is free, working in the shadows to bring light. God is free, working in the hidden corners to bring into the open; in the middle of powerlessness to demonstrate true strength; in the middle of vulnerability to bring assurance; in the middle of un-named masses to bring true identity.

We need to remember Caesar and Quirinius, for they not only locate the “Jesus event” in time, but also in political realities which affect how the story plays out, and which make this story Good News for those under oppression, for all who live under the thumb of Caesar or his myriad current-day offspring.

The freedom Christ brings is not just a “spiritual” freedom, which somehow applies in all situations (but which, in reality, impacts none of them). Freedom in Christ has real-world, political ramifications; not partisan, but most definitely public, most definitely part of life, most definitely engaged in the concrete struggle for justice.

The church in Europe during the 20’s and 30’s forgot that.  Most Christians  allowed themselves to be convinced that “religion” was “spiritual” (i.e. all about heaven) but in the mean time, they had more important things to do.  And at the top of that list was obeying the government.

In many ways, we are still paying for that.

That’s why I think it might be helpful to have a new figurine added to our nativities, dressed in a toga and issuing orders which Joseph and Mary are legally obligated to follow. We need this reminder that Caesar was “In Charge,” doing “Important Things,” and building the glory that was Rome.

Perhaps then we will be more open to the God who comes in vulnerability, to un-important people, who are doing completely ordinary things, and who are therefore in a position to discover reasons to challenge the claims our current day Caesars might be making.

Keeping Caesar in our Christmas story is a way to make the story real, concrete, and relevant in a world which increasingly wants to dismiss any who challenge the status quo.

Challenge the status quo! Keep Caesar in Christmas!

Spirit poem

Pentecost
Holy Spirit
Power
Gifts
Abilities
Strength
Sent
Outreach
Ministry
Service
Calling
Justice
Faith
God
You
Me
Us
Partners
Together

Disciples? Students?
No more!
Apostles Now
Sent Ones
Empowered Proclaimers
Living Examples
Love Carriers
Hope Deliverers
Solidarity Enactors
Blessing Distributors
Community Organizers

For the sake of the Stranger
For the sake of this Community
For the sake of God in this world
Go!

None of us knows exactly where we’ll end up
Nevertheless
Go!

Blow, Spirit, Blow!

This Pentecost

Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 2014

This story of Jesus’ dealings with the Canaanite woman is one of those that many of us would probably rather not have in our Bible! Jesus just comes across as unfeeling, uncaring, and even rude! So today we are going to do a bit of a Bible study on this story, to get behind what’s going on. And, like all good sermons, we will have three major points!

The First Point – Matthew is known as “the Jewish Gospel.” He wrote it for Christians who had grown up in the Jewish tradition. The vocabulary he uses, the stories he tells, the way he structures his gospel, are all designed to reach an audience which has a strong Jewish background. Matthew’s community is a Jewish Christian one, and so he’s going to make use of Jewish understandings, he’s going to address Jewish concerns, he’s going to use Jewish points of reference in order to get his message across.

That’s the First Point.

The Second Point – A number of years ago, at a National Church Convention in Regina, the delegates were split up into small groups who were sent out into the community to discover what Regina was about. One of the places my group visited was a Synagogue. The woman who was our guide was entirely welcoming, and very informative!

One of the things she talked about was the process a non-Jew has to go through if that one wants to become Jewish. This doesn’t happen a lot; the Jewish tradition doesn’t usually seek out converts. But, like Christianity, they will certainly welcome them! The thing that struck me was that the tradition expects you to say you want to begin the process THREE TIMES before they let you begin the process!

Now, there are different ways of being Jewish, just as there are many ways of being Christian! Different Jewish traditions will enact this in a variety of ways, but, from what she said, this is the basic tradition from which all of them spring.

You go to the Rabbi and say, “I would like to become Jewish.” The Rabbi says, “No.”

You go back a second time and say, “I would like to become Jewish.” The Rabbi says, “No.”

You go back a THIRD time and say, “I would really like to become Jewish!” THEN the Rabbi says, “This it he process you will need to go through.”

This tradition of needing to ask three times, according to the woman in the Regina Synagogue, comes from the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible. I’d like to read part of the first chapter to you.

Ruth 1:1-18

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the … wife was Naomi…. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years, both of the sons also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard that the Lord had had consideration for his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughtersin-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’

There’s the first time Ruth says she wants to stay with Naomi.

But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

There’s the second time.

So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’

There’s the third time.

When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Ruth says she will stay with Naomi three times, in SPITE of the fact that Naomi says, “No.” And, finally, after the third time, when Ruth expresses her desire to stay with such wonderfully poetic language, Where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God, THEN Naomi allows Ruth to stay with her. And, in FACT, if you read to the end of the book, Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of David, the King.

That’s the source of the Jewish tradition, and following this tradition is EXACTLY what Jesus is doing with this Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel! Let me read the story again.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’

There’s the first time.

But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’

There’s the second time.

He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’

There’s the third time.

Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

The way Matthew tells this story, Jesus is simply showing his Jewishness! He’s adhering to the tradition of how “outsiders” can come “in.” And this would entirely resonate with the Jewishness of Matthew’s Christians. This is part of their self-understanding of how the universe works, and how things are supposed to happen.

That’s Point Two. Matthew’s Jewish Jesus does things the way they are supposed to be done, according to the Jewish tradition.

The Third Point – Most scholars agree that Mark’s gospel was the first gospel that was written down. Matthew was written some years later, and Matthew almost certainly used Mark as one of his sources.

Mark has this story as part of his gospel, but it’s a very different version! Mark has the woman being of “Syro-phoenician” origin. This is a Greek term, which comes from the time of Alexander the Great, when his armies conquered the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, including what we today call Syria and Israel.

But Matthew changes everything by saying she was a “Canaanite” woman. That’s a term which had not been used in generations, but which very specific meanings for Jewish audiences.

After the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, and after they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, they entered what they called the Promised Land: Canaan, which was occupied by the Canaanites. The Israelites moved in to Canaan and kicked the Canaanites out.

According to some Hebrew biblical writers, the Israelites were told to kill off the inhabitants. In some cases they did; in some they didn’t. The Canaanites who survived, and who lived next to the Israelites, were seen by some as a threat, because they lived different lives, and worshipped other gods, which the Israelites were told strictly to avoid. In many ways, the Israelites failed to do this, and the Canaanites were seen as a dangerous influence on the Israelites for many years.

In a very real sense, the Canaanites were the Israelite’s first enemy; and they were religious as well as political enemies, which made them twice as threatening! They were not only enemies of the people of Israel; they were enemies of Israel’s God. They were outside the pale; the lowest of the low. In some Jewish writings, the worst insult you can make is to call someone “a son of a Canaanite dog!” Which are basically the words Matthew puts in Jesus’ mouth!

The other thing to keep in mind is that, over the years, the Canaanite people had basically ceased to exist! Through centuries of invasion and enculturation, through occupation and religious imperialism of myriad invaders and conquerors, Canaanite civilization had become extinct centuries before Jesus. The word, “Canaanite,” was a word without meaning… except as a reference to the past. And as a warning: You go up against THIS God, and you and your entire people will disappear…; and you will have deserved it!

A Canaanite was a complete waste of a human being, and the Canaanites, as a people, hadn’t been around for centuries! And it is precisely one of these enemies of God and God’s people, one of those who deserves not to exist(!), that Matthew says approached Jesus!

What is Matthew saying here?

That God wants to redeem our past, not just our present?

That God needs to restore our HOLY and even RIGHTEOUS history, and not just our “mistakes”?

That God’s forgiveness even extends to “those people”?

That God’s family is supposed to include even those who oppose God’s family?

That God is out to reconcile ALL people, even God’s first enemies?

That God’s reign is even open to those who no longer exist?

Point One – Matthew is a Jewish Gospel.

Point Two – Jesus is completely Jewish.

Point Three – God’s reign is bigger than ANY of us can imagine. God’s reign includes Jews and Gentiles, males and females, old and young, faithful and unfaithful, friends and enemies, family and stranger, believer and unbeliever, those who exist and those who don’t, in the past, the present AND the future.

In fact (and this is the real point!), God’s reign is SO big, so unimaginably vast, that it EVEN… includes us!

Thoughts about Easter 7

The first reading for this coming Sunday.

Acts 1:6-14

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.  When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

This passage strikes me as a wonderful description of where we spend most of our lives – In Between.

We live In Between our baptism into Christ and the culmination of our hope.

We live In Between the promise of the reign of God and the fulfillment of that promise.

We live In Between “In the beginning” and the final “Amen.”

We live In Between the Alpha and the Omega.

The question for us is not, as the disciples tried to ask, when will all of this happen? When will we no longer be In Between?

The question is, How are we to live IN this “In Between”? How are we to live as people who have received a promise, but who have to wait for its fulfillment?

The disciples, for all their failures, get this one right. They gather, they pray, they support each other, they go through the In Between together.

One thing we might need to remember is that, even though Pentecost eventually came with all of its Spirit-driven hurricane-like impact, the disciples were still In Between. The Spirit came, but the church was still only “on the way.”  It had not arrived.  We still haven’t.

And that’s ok!

We are called to embrace the In Between.  Even as we have been embraced IN the In Between.