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Living the Lectionary

A starting point from week to week in my Journey from A-C

Is Christmas a Charade?

pope_francis_malacanang_6

“It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war,” Pope Francis said. “A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war, piecemeal though that war may be—a little here, a little there—there is no justification.”Pope Francis

Pope Francis is loved by many, Catholics, Protestants and Atheists alike.  He is a humble man of peace and love, with deep concern for the world.  This concern seen in his recent comments about Christmas.

I think that this is one of the only times you will hear me disagree with him on a subject.

Christmas can be a charade on many levels, but the fact that the world is at war is nothing new.  The world has been at war since the beginning of humanity. And in fact, I would argue that Christians need to celebrate Christmas BECAUSE the world does not know the way of peace.

The gospel writers are sure to paint a picture that shows that when Jesus was born the world was far from peaceful.  The Israelite people were oppressed by the Roman rule. The story is told of  “the slaughter of the innocents”, in which Jesus own family become refugees fleeing to save Jesus life.

So as we begin the advent season, looking toward the celebration of the birth of Jesus and wait for his coming again, we wait with hope and not despair.

Luke 21:25-36 record Jesus teaching about the signs of the time.  It’s part of the response Jesus gives to the disciples when they ask what the signs will be.

We get all caught up in predicting events and times, but the reality is that what matters most is what we do with the time that God gives us, while we are waiting.  Do we put away Christmas this year because we are not at peace in the world, or because as human beings we may never understand the way of peace?

Jesus says “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

So maybe it is right to light the lights, put up the trees and nativity scenes and dance with joy, because we know that although peace is far off…that indeed our redemption draws near.

Note: Year B was pretty much a bust for me on this blog, but hopefully year C will be better.

Photo Credit: By Benhur Arcayan (Malacañang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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The Kingdom of God, beyond my understanding a reflection on Mark 4:26-34

It’s been a while, sorry about that.  After taking a break over the Lenten period I just couldn’t get back into blogging each week.  But here I am again.

I have to admit that I don’t understand much about gardening or farming.  I have no idea what time you’re supposed to sow the seeds; I don’t often don’t know the difference between weeds and the actual plant.  I’ve grown some potatoes the last 2 summers because they are pretty much fool-proof.  You put the planter potatoes in the ground and leave them there and then at some point you have potatoes that you can dig up.  I also recently grew some oat grass for my cat to eat.  I have no idea how it happened but it grew.  I dropped the seeds in the peat moss, added a bit of water and now have grass.

I have had these minor successes, but I have never really studied the science of plants, so I don’t understand beyond the very basics at all how things really grow; neither does the sower in Jesus parable.

That’s the point, the harvest grows even though the farmer doesn’t really understand how.  There are certain things that are beyond the control of the farmer when it comes to the crop, even today there are variables that are beyond human control.

For me this morning, the image of the sower is a bit of an ego check, because I think that part of what Jesus is saying is that the kingdom of God is not within my control, though I might plant seeds of faith, ultimately I have no idea how the kingdom will be affected or not by my efforts.  I think we have to trust that no matter what the kingdom of God just grows, and it grows beyond what we can think or imagine.

I have no idea, but I will keep on sowing and trusting.

I want to see Jesus

One summer, AC/DC played a show in Winnipeg.  My Dad and I were driving back home after dropping my brother off downtown, and we drove past the location where the concert was being held.  Because the concert was at the outdoor stadium even out on the road you could see parts of the stage and hear the music.  There were people sitting on their roofs and standing along the sidewalks or parked in nearby parking lots, all people trying to get some kind of experience of the concert, but without paying the cost.  It’s amazing what people will try to do to see someone famous.

John 11 tells the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it seemed to be a climactic moment.  Everyone was looking to see this man, everyone wanted to experience the prophet who could raise people from the dead for themselves.  By the time the reader gets to chapter 12:20-36 we can see that even the Greeks in the area want to see and understand what they have heard. So they approach Philip and say, we want to see Jesus.

So Philip tells Andrew and then the two of them go and present the request to Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t really answer the question.  Instead he predicts his death, and it gets me wondering, do you want to see Jesus?

Do you really want to see Jesus?

We often have no idea what we’re asking when we pray to the Lord.  It is my sense that through his seeming lack of response that Jesus is telling the people around him that if they really want to see him then they must look to the cross.

As Jesus is lifted up he draws us to him, it is in the darkness of his death, that the light is most evident. The cost is great, but through the death of Jesus Christ, we are able to be called children of the light!

Do you want to see Jesus?

(note: I’ve run out of time before my Lenten break starts, so there will not be a post for the Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday readings, see you after Easter)

He Breaks the Power of Cancelled Sin

One of my favorite hymns is Wesley’s O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.  The Hymn was written a year after his conversion, it contains his testimony of faith.  My favorite verse is this:

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

But I have often wondered how sin that has been cancelled can have any real power at all.  But then I remember, I remember the times growing up where I had done something wrong. I was afraid of facing the consequences to my actions and so would try to hide what I had done, what remains hidden surely cannot be exposed, right?  The problem though is that I knew whatever it was at the time was there.  I had never been able to hide my faults from myself, so even though I had gotten away with the crime it would still hold me prisoner in some ways.

We often give power to powerless things.

John 3 contains some of the most known words of the scripture found in verse 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”.  We quote those words often, but we forget to move on to the rest of the verses in that chapter and they contain within them a painful truth. That is that there is judgement in this beloved chapter.

There are those who face condemnation, but it is not Jesus who condemns them.  Rather it is their deeds, they refuse to step out into the light for fear of being exposed.  We don’t want the light of Jesus to expose who we really are, you know when no one is looking.  Yet, there is an invitation to walk in the light and so we must choose.

Yes, we will be exposed; but we will also be restored facing no condemnation because in walking in the light we will learn to walk rightly with him who is lifted up.

Where is God Now?

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I can remember as I was growing up in the church, the altar at the front of the building.  It’s still there in many Salvation Army corps, and we call it the Mercy Seat.  As young children we were taught that this was a very holy place and we were not to touch it if we were not there to pray.  We were not to dare sit on it, allow things to fall on it, or run around it because it was a sacred space.

What this kind of teaching did for me, was to make me afraid of the space in a way. If it was misused, my fear was that God was going to strike me down in some way.

I’ve grown since then, and I understand the significance of the Mercy Seat in the lives of many.  I can respect that it can be a very sacred space where people meet the very real presence of God.  I also remember though, that when all is said and done it’s still just a piece of wood at the front of a chapel.  (Though I do still cringe if I see someone using it as a seat).

People meet with the Lord at the Mercy Seat; people can also meet with him at their bedside, kitchen table, in the car, on a walk, or wherever we find ourselves from day to day.

God is accessible anywhere and anytime through Jesus Christ.

The fact that God is accessible anywhere was a very important truth for John’s audience.  The gospels were written after the temple had been destroyed and was lying in ruins. If a person had grown up being taught that the very presence of God could only be found in the temple, then it stands to reason they would wonder how they would be able to experience his presence again now that the temple has been ruined.

Right at the outset of his gospel in the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, John offers a word of hope to his readers reminding them that the presence of God is not out of reach, but indeed can be found in Jesus.

So we who are so far removed from that time, can also find the presence of God in the living Christ.  (I know I said living Christ before the Lenten season is over, that’s what happens when you know how the story turns out).

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need!  I love The Rolling Stones, don’t you?

Before the Lenten season began I binge watched (over three weekends) Call the Midwife on Netflix. I really like the show, it’s about a group of nun and nurse midwives serving in the east end of London in the late 50’s.  I’ve included the link if you wish to read more about the show.

At this point Netflix only carries the first three seasons.  The season 3 finale was very poignant, and a reminder that what we choose and where we are called will not always be accepted by everyone.  Chummy, one of the nurses has a difficult relationship with her mother.  It seems to me that they have never been particularly close, but this distance between her and her mother is intensified by Chummy’s decision to work as a midwife in the east end, and her choice to marry Constable Noakes.  In this episode, Chummy however must deal with her mother’s terminal illness and it is difficult.  Yet, there is some healing that happens in the relationship due to some nudging by Sister Monica Joan whose own experience resembles that of Chummy.  Sister Monica Joan has been shunned by her family for her, at the time, radical decision to become a nun and midwife.

It seems strange that people who choose callings such as the characters in this show, should be rebuked for their calling especially when it seems so noble.  I can’t imagine not having the support of my own family in obeying my calling.  But in some families support is not given.  Perhaps it is simply because we all have hopes and dreams not only for ourselves, but for the people we love as well.  When those dreams are not met in the way that we expect then it can be hard for us to accept the alternative, as good as it might be.  We can’t always get what we want.

In Mark 8:31-38 Jesus let’s his followers in on a little secret; he informs them that his life is going to be marked with suffering and death.  Mark records him as saying this quite openly. This is not the outcome that the Jewish people who had been waiting and hoping for a Messiah who was going to rescue them from oppression and from the Roman rule, yet here is Jesus saying that the Son of Man will suffer and die.  Peter expresses his opinion on the matter and rebukes Jesus for saying such things.  Jesus however tells Peter (after calling him Satan?) that he is setting his mind on earthly things instead of heavenly things.

The kingdom of God is not like what many expect it to be.  Some will be disappointed in the call, others will be aggressive toward those who heed the call, and yet still many choose to walk in the way of the kingdom because though it calls for sacrifice it also leads us in the way everlasting.

Oh you can’t always get what you want, but indeed you will get what you need.

Into the Wilderness

By Oxh973 (Own work by Jennifer Balaska) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Lenten season is here once again. Why is it that people give things up for lent, a fasting of sorts?  To be completely honest I’m not sure I fully understand it in the traditional sense.  I come from a tradition that, well at least as I was growing up, never really had an emphasis that I can remember on these traditions of the church.

As I first discovered the practice of Lent, I used it as a personal challenge to see if I could give something up for the period of 40 days. It was usually something to do with food and the goal was not to draw me deeper into my faith, but to work toward a weight loss goal or something like that.

Over the last few years I have either chosen a fast only to give into my craving a day or two into the Lenten journey, or not fasted at all because I have not been disciplined enough in the past.

This year is different for me, I will be fasting from electronics during the Lenten season not because I want to challenge myself and see how well my will power will perform this year, but because since Christmas time I have been feeling the nudging of the Spirit toward the wilderness. There are of course a couple of exceptions that will need to be made for work purposes, but for the most part I will enter the wilderness during this time.

I will feel disconnected I am sure, I might even feel lost at times without my cell phone as an extension of my arm, or my games on iPad, or the TV to pass time.  I will not be lost however, because Jesus has already gone before on this journey and will be present as I do as well.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t give much detail into Jesus wilderness experience, but it comes before he steps out into public ministry.  Every Christian is in some way a “minister”, and perhaps we just need this time in the wilderness to prepare us once again for work in the Kingdom of God.

I don’t know if I have it right, but I know that God will meet me there!

(note: this blog will be published automatically over the next weeks during the Lenten season).

Healing and serving: Mark 1:29-39

It’s been a crazy few weeks in my world, and I haven’t been on the blog in recent days.  Now that things that slowed down though, I hope to be back at the weekly reflection as I do find it helps in my sermon preparation.

So on to Mark 1:29-39.

I had my gall bladder removed a few years ago, back when I was working in a different job.  The doctor who did my surgery advised me that I would feel better within about a week, but that I needed to take two weeks off work to ensure that I didn’t aggravate the healing.  So I did, and I felt a bit guilty when I started to feel better but still was not returning to work.

I was also not to lift anything heavy for at least 6 weeks following the surgery.  Sometimes though part of my job included lifting heavy boxes containing mailings going to the post office.  For the most part I let the guys around the shop do that as I healed, but I also began to lift smaller items that were a bit heavier and as I did I could feel the strain on the wounds from my surgery.

I learned that they tell you to take it easy after a surgery for a reason.

It seems strange to me on a couple of levels then that as Jesus enters the house of Simon’s mother-in-law, that after he heals her of her fever she gets right up and starts to serve the men.  Knowing what I know about the need to take it easy after a sickness, should the woman be up and immediately serving?  However, this woman has no trouble doing her work.  It seems that the healing that Jesus offers the woman is full and complete, and it restores her to immediate health.

The other thing I find strange, I guess it’s the partial feminist in me, is that I wonder does Jesus heal this woman just so she can get up and wait on him?  He doesn’t seem like the type to be pushing anyone into restrictive roles…but then I remember that I read the text with a 21st century experience, and that in Jesus day he was doing more than just healing this woman so she could cook dinner.  He was healing her and restoring her role, her purpose in this life.

Today Jesus might touch someone’s life and bring healing to them so that they can get back to being a mother or wife.  He might also heal to restore a female CEO to her position, or a preacher to hers.  The purpose of Jesus healing is to restore us all to serve in whatever capacity we are needed.

I’m more than OK with that.  Are you?

May it be to me as you have said

For a lot of people Christmas is full of worry fear and dread.  We worry about those travelling (especially in snowy regions), health, money, family harmony, time…the list can go on and on.

I’ll admit right here and now, that I am a bit uptight, but I am slowly learning that I have to loosen up and just trust.

The perfect reminder came for me this last Sunday.

I am not actually using the lectionary readings over advent, but instead am doing a series.  So this week’s reading actually came last week for our congregation.  An added bonus for me was that we had a guest speaker.  She focused on the fact that we often want a very pretty Christmas and we want things to go just so but the reality is we’re not going to have a perfect Christmas, life is pretty messy, it’s ok though because Christ stepped down into the mess of our lives and makes it right.

I can’t summarize in full her words, but they were powerful.

The thing is that for me, it took all day for them to sink in.  That evening we had our memorial service and tree lighting.  I was much more prepared for the service this year than I have been in the past, yet right before the service every last thing started to go wrong. I was delayed starting the service, and then when I went up on the platform to start I could not find my Bible even though I had just had it in my hand.  I looked all over, and had to run over to the house to get it (there is benefit to living on the church parking lot). Then I got up and had no order of service, we were already 15 minutes late starting at this time.  Needless to say I was very flustered for the first part of the service and it took me a few minutes to regain my composure.

The service was short, it is meant to be, and we had our tree lighting.  Following the tree lighting we were supposed to go carolling around the community, but it was raining so we couldn’t.  Instead, we decided to go back inside and just sing some carols and favourite songs for a little while.  Completely unplanned on the fly.  Let me tell you it was one of the best services I have ever attended.  It was then that the message from the morning hit home for me, everything did not have to be perfect.

So in many ways when I read Luke 1:26-38, Mary reminds me of myself. She is perplexed at the appearance of the angel. When he makes his announcement, Mary wonders how it can be possible. It takes a moment for it to sink in and some convincing that this is of God.

In the end though, Mary speaks in faith and says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” or as we so often read it, “may it be to me as you have said”.

Even though the circumstances seem unimaginable, and far from perfect, faith and obedience are still realistic.  Trusting that even though we may not fully grasp where life is headed that God will work it out. As a wise woman recently said something like this to me, “faith is not faith in the good and perfect times, but instead it is in the mess of life where true faith is defined.”

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