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Living the Lectionary

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

On Car Accidents and Comfort.

In my early 20’s I had a pretty serious car accident that was my fault.  In down town Winnipeg there are street lights on every corner.  You have to pay special attention when travelling down town because you might go through one light that is green and the next one could be red and you have very little time to respond.

One night I was dropping some friends off late at night, after a church hockey game and as I was going back to my parents’ house in their van which they had let me use and for a second my attention was distracted. It was icy and I ran a red light, and despite my best efforts there was a collision.  There were three cars involved, and after the impact and the car finally came to a stop I just sat there in disbelief and shook.

Thankfully no one was hurt, we all walked away that night, but there was a great amount of damage done to the cars.  I totalled one of the other cars, and my parents van. The police came and I told them what happened, and they phone my folks to come pick me up, only it was after midnight and there was no answer, so I got a ride home in the police car.

It seemed like the longest drive back to the house and I was nervous about waking my parents to tell them that they no longer had a vehicle. I figured I would be in trouble, my parents were forever warning me to be careful on the roads.  I was expecting at least a reprimand.

The reprimand never came though, my parents knew that this was not a time for me to be punished.  They were just glad I was ok and did what they could to bring me comfort and calm. Imagine if I had spent the whole way home preparing for the comfort I would receive from my parents.

Israel had done wrong, and they had faced their punishment, but in Isaiah chapter 40 it is not time for punishment.  The price for Israel’s sin has been paid for, double actually.  It is a time for comfort.

The prophet instructs the people to prepare for the coming comfort, he tells them to make straight the highway in the desert.  The glory of the Lord is going to be revealed.  They are also instructed to trust in the Lord, because even though the grass withers and flowers fade the word of the Lord (Christ), stands forever.  In him we can put our trust, he will bring comfort in dark times.

Advent is a season of waiting, but it is not an idle wait; instead we prepare for the coming of our Lord.  We prepare our hearts to receive him.  He the everlasting God is coming, he is on the way and will restore all things to himself.  If that’s not a message of comfort, then I don’t know what is.

 

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Ready or Not

I grew some potatoes this summer.

Actually I didn’t do anything, a man from my congregation set them for me in a garden box that he made for me. All I had to do is wait for them to grow, and watch for the signs that they were ready.  It began first with the shoots appearing over the dirt.  I knew this was a sign that they were growing, but I knew when the small leaves began to appear that they were not ready to be picked.

These are my growing potatoes
These are my growing potatoes

Later in the summer though, as the leaves began to get bigger and bigger I kept asking, when do I know that they are ready to be picked?  Can I pick them out now?  The key is waiting until the right time to pick them, so that you have some good potatoes.

So I waited and waited, until the stalks began to wilt a bit, and then I knew (because I had been told the sign) that they were ready to pick.

I got out my gloves, got up on the little hill and began to dig and pick the potatoes from the ground.  I cooked some up that night and they were delicious.  I was glad I had waited until the right time to pick up the potatoes.

I was glad that someone told me the signs to watch for, or all of the potatoes would have been very small.  Although I did not have to do much with the potatoes once they had been planted, I had to keep watch on them to make sure the soil did not get too dry in the hot summer heat.  I had to watch to see when they were ready.

The finished product
The finished product

Advent is actually all about the wait.  As we prepare to celebrate Christmas we also recognize that we are waiting for the return of Christ.  In Mark 13 Jesus tells his followers about the signs, and he charges his followers to keep alert because they won’t know the time.

So keep watch, live in the now.  Don’t be consumed wondering is this going to be the day, or is that going to be the day?  The truth is none of us knows, they key is to live like today is the day.

Keep awake.

The Reign of Christ the King

I just saw a meme on Facebook that reads,

If you want to keep Christ in Christmas
Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty
welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies
and do unto others as you would have done unto you.

I shared it immediately to my own wall.

This Sunday is known as ‘The Reign of Christ the King’.  That phrase alone will get at least an amen from Jesus followers in many churches, and so it should because we recognize and celebrate the reign of Christ.  The thing about the phrase is that as we celebrate this Sunday, we recognize that Christ already reigns.  Jesus doesn’t need his followers to put him on the throne, he is already there.

We get caught up in the battles just the same.  We go to war about whether or not we should say ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Merry Christmas’.  I can remember a time not so long ago when I myself went to war, over a public event that was held by my own denomination where the name of Jesus was not mentioned. I still feel fairly torn about it but I also feel at that time, maybe I missed the point. We are offended that prayer is no longer allowed in our schools, and any time something bad in the world happens we are quick to connect it with the missing prayer. We can no longer hold church services outside in public places. Christianity is long gone from the public sector, and many Christians feel threatened.  It’s almost as though we think that if we don’t react swiftly and strongly that Christ is in some way going to fall off of his throne.

Let me point again to a fact that should relieve that burden, Jesus Christ reigns, and always will.  His reign is not dependent on people.

Christianity is not a weapon to be used, but a way to live.  We can see that in the passage that is chosen this year for this Sunday.

In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus is recorded as telling about the separation of the sheep from the goats when the Son of Man comes in his glory. In this passage, Jesus is clear as to who is in and who is out.  Sheep win and goats lose.  The thing to note about this passage every time is that neither group knew why they fell into the category they did, because their action or inaction is simply part of who they are as people, it is part of how they live their lives.

Those who are counted among the ‘sheep’ have no clue as to what it is that they have done. They might think that they were never really big into evangelism, they never stood in a picket line or signed a petition and they wonder what it is that they did for the kingdom. They have simply lived their lives in a way that cares for other people above themselves. Not because they are trying to earn brownie points, or get the best seat in heaven but simply because it’s the right thing to do.

While the goats might wonder how it was that they were not invested in the kingdom.  They were the ones maybe, who fought to keep Jesus in school, and to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. Perhaps those are valid things to pursue, but maybe in getting caught up in all of that is what causes those who find themselves labelled the goats to miss the real need of their neighbour.

If I sit down and think about it, I think I often fall into the goat category. I’m often fighting for a cause instead of just living out the life of faith, allowing love and generosity to be so a part of me that I can do nothing else but to share it with others without even realizing I am doing it.  So this week as I contemplate the reign of Christ and the coming advent season my prayer needs to be like this verse from the song Hosanna:

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

Let’s really keep Christ in Christmas, shall we?

 

Always Be Prepared

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This weeks gospel reading (Matt 25:1-13) brings us to the parable of the 10 bridesmaids.  5 are wise, and 5 are foolish.  I know a lot of people who are like the wise bridesmaids.  They seem to always ready with whatever is needed and never find themselves unprepared, they even seem to have extra.  They carry those things around with them “because you never know”.

Those are the kind of people I like to have around, the kind I can ask for a Tylenol, or Tums, or a pair of scissors….whatever I might find myself needing in the moment they will have ready.  Because as much as I want to identify with the wise bridesmaids being prepared in any situation, I often find myself more like the foolish bridesmaid who isn’t quite prepared enough.

An example comes to mind as I recently wrote a mid-term exam for a course I am taking.  Though it took me a long time, and though I often find myself behind where I would like to be (there is no actual set schedule, it’s distance education), I did all the readings that I was to do and listened to all of the lectures through the school website. I took notes of things that I thought were important and spent the last week and a half making sure I memorized all unfamiliar terms, or concepts of the subject matter.  I was as prepared as I have ever been for an exam (despite popular belief about my study habits).

The thing about it though is no matter how prepared I was there were still questions on the exam for which I was not prepared.  I passed the exam well enough, but I did not get 100%.

There are often times in life where I have prepared for something, yet there will be that little thing that I have forgotten, that piece that takes me by complete surprise even though I did my best to be ready.  So I feel for the foolish bridesmaids who are shut out of the party, because if I am honest, I would be in that group.

I think our tendency can be when we read this parable, to scorn the foolish bridesmaids, after all they were unprepared and they are simply getting what they deserved.

The thing about it is, however, that if we read the story carefully we see that all of the bridesmaids, wise and foolish, fell asleep as they awaited the bridegroom, moreover, these foolish bridesmaids were indeed prepared for the wedding they just weren’t prepared for the delay.  Yet they seem to be treated mercilessly because they were not over prepared.

So what to make of this?  Personally, I’m not overly sure to be honest. Some will focus on the apocalyptic tones of the text, but in doing so we have to remember the context of the Matthean readers.  They were expecting Jesus return just about any day at first and as time went on I imagine that it got hard to wait.  Now over 2000 years later we are still waiting and waiting is sometimes hard.

Maybe the text means that while we wait we make the most of life here, live it to the full and be prepared in every circumstance to welcome the bridegroom.  He will come.

Book Review: Genesis Revisited-The Creation

I believe that every person, whether atheist or creationist and all people in between at some point wonders how the universe began.  In his book Genesis Revisited: The Creation, Donald Arlo Jennings attempts to explore these ideas from a fresh Christian perspective. He explores different ways of thinking about the creation to include the probability of creation not being limited to just our earth.  Throughout the book Jennings asks some good questions and has obviously given the matter of creation some very deep thought.

Jennings does seem somewhat tied to a literal Genesis account, but compensates this view with things like the fact that because of the earth’s age that it is then imaginable that some of the current population comes from other worlds.  Another example of his seemingly literal take on the Genesis narrative can be found in the fact that Jennings treats the flood as a literal event, but believes that it is possible that others survived the flood to help repopulate the world.

In some ways I believe the ideas in the book are simply grasping at straws, and yet in other ways it’s a different perspective worth considering.  In either case, I did not really enjoy the book and the written format.  Although some of his ideas are interesting, I don’t find them well presented or laid out.  It took me several tries to read through the book and I finally just pushed through so I could just be finished with the book. I would recommend it for those looking for a completely different perspective, but I’d rather be able to have a conversation with the writer about these ideas than read his written word.

I give the book 2 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Giving it up

By Bibi Saint-Pol (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I have this problem of not being able to let things go.  If I am involved in a debate of any sort I generally feel the need to prove my point.  Some points however, just don’t need proving.

I can remember back when I used to work at a fast food joint after high school and before college; there was a manager named Craig who knew I was a Christian. It wasn’t because I was very vocal about my faith, it was because I had booked a couple days off for a church event and Craig picked up on that and decided to engaged me in friendly debate about faith.  He was, at that time at least, an atheist.

Our debates were warm and friendly, but neither of us had any real interest in the side of the other person.  Craig was much quicker than I was in debate however, although he was friendly enough, I sensed at times he was trying to trap me into admitting that faith is not reasonable.

I have to admit that I did not always have an answer for his questions, and at the time I felt like a horrible Christian because I did not have an argument for every question.  I’ve since learned that not having all of the answers, all of the time is perfectly OK.  My ability to answer critics does not in any way limit my ability to give to God what belongs to him, which is my whole life.

I’m not preaching on the passage found in Matthew 22:15-22 this week, but I think we all could learn a thing or two by the way that Jesus handles those who challenge him in this section.  He knows they are out to trap him and he basically turns the question around on them, what do they think.  Who’s image is on the coin?

Jesus asks them the question and stops the argument.  Really he can tell them to give to Caesar that which belongs to him and give to God what belongs to God because no matter what it all belongs to God anyway.

Does science have to be in contrast with faith as my friend Craig tried to assert?  No, I can give credit to scientific discovery because in the long run it all belongs to God anyway.  There is no need to feel trapped in the questions of the day, provided I give to God what belongs to God.

What I Know About Weddings

I’m not married, but I have been to a few weddings in my day. The experience of the wedding varies based on how well you know the couple of course. There have been some weddings that I have been surprised and honoured be invited to attend; then there have been some that I would have of course been sad had I not been invited to attend; and there have been some that I have been in the wedding party, the most recent being my sister’s wedding. I have also officiated a wedding, so though I have not had my own I’ve learned a thing or two about weddings.

I’ve learned that it is incredibly bad form to respond to a wedding invitation and without good reason not show up. Sometimes things happen of course; people die, work calls and you have to go in, houses flood, accidents happen. One year my family did not make it to a wedding reception because the streets were blocked and we did not know an alternate route, we tried for a long time driving around, we did not intend to miss the party.  There are people out there however, who having said they will attend, just “don’t feel like it” when the day comes for the wedding. It’s bad form not only because it is rude, but let’s also consider that the couple has paid for your meal at their wedding feast.  They’ve slaughtered the fattened calf so to speak.  The least a person can do is to inform the wedding party that they will not be intending so that an invitation could be extended to someone else, perhaps that person you didn’t know all that well when you were planning the wedding but wish you had invited anyway.

I’ve also learned that no matter what you do or how you plan your day someone is going to be offended. People will be offended that they were not invited despite the fact that they play no real part in the story of the life of the couple.  People will be offended at the table assignments. People will be offended that a bigger deal wasn’t made of them and their attendance at the wedding. I think this is because for some reason, people assume the wedding is actually about them and not about the happy couple at all.

It seems strange to me, but these are some of the dynamics that are at play when someone decides to get married.

It’s up to the couple to not let these things affect their day and to celebrate with the friends and family who have come for them, to celebrate their day.  After all, we’d all do better to remember the day is about the couple.

So what does this have to do with the gospel lesson assigned for this week (Matthew 22:1-14)? Right now I can’t say for sure.  The text is difficult and it’s not all that pleasant.  There are those who offend by their lack of attendance, so the king packs the house with those who will.  Then there is the strange parable within the parable where someone who has come in, and is not wearing the proper wedding attire and therefore is thrown out. Maybe this guest has lost sight of what the celebration is all about. Maybe this guest has lost sight of the reason for the celebration and is being arrogant, making it all about me, who knows.  What I do understand, is that in this case there seems to be a proper response to the invitation, and not many seem to be getting it right.

Don’t Kill the Messenger?

I read a fantastic article this week that spoke of the fact that we tend to eat each other up, on issues where we have different opinions.  You can read the article at this link.

By Phillip Medhurst (Photo by Harry Kossuth) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
It struck me as I read it, and then read again the passage for this coming Sunday Proper 22 year A, that nothing has changed.

Jesus tells a parable of the wicked tenants who keep killing those who come to collect his rightful share, but every time the landowner sends his slaves to collect the tenants beat, and kill and stone the slaves.  So the landowner decides to send his own son thinking surely these tenants will respect him, and instead they kill the son thinking then they will receive his inheritance. Jesus uses this parable to highlight that every time God has sent his messengers into his kingdom, that those trusted with its care have been beaten or even killed.

Jesus ends off by telling the religious leaders that the kingdom of God is going to be taken from them and given to those who will produce fruit.  Of course this is not a welcome message and will be part of what leads to Jesus death.

Not only did this parable strike me after reading the above mentioned article, but it struck me that this is the gospel lesson for World Communion Sunday.

Admittedly, I don’t fully understand what World Communion Sunday is all about, since I belong to a tribe that does not to participate in the ritual aspect of the sacraments; I do however understand that the purpose of World Communion Sunday is to encourage Christian unity.

We’re supposed to be united, we’re supposed to be producing the kingdom fruit; but instead at times we are beating each other down.  While we might not be literally killing each other we kill each other in spirit.  Looking for examples?  How about the way liberal Christians attack people like Mark Driscoll or Phil Robertson for their views on issues like homosexuality and the place of women in the church etc.  Or on the flip side, there is the way conservatives will attack those who see those issues differently, like Rachel Held Evans, or Vicky Beeching.  Those are just some familiar names who have been beaten down, but don’t be mislead, just because we might not be famous, we’re doing it to each other on a smaller less public scale too.

I’m all for everyone having the right to their own opinions, and I believe that we should indeed question views that don’t seem to line up with what we believe Christ to be about, but in some ways we have gone far beyond that and we tend to drag people through the mud, calling for boycotts, loss of jobs and whatever it is.  A quote from the article I mentioned says: “The real enemy has been unchallenged because Christ’s army is too wounded from friendly fire to crawl out on the battlefield for the real fight.”

We can tend to be like the wicked servants, and rather than concentrate on producing fruit we are so interested in being in charge that want to kill the messenger.

I feel a bit more negative toward the gospel passage for this week, and if you’re still reading you might have noticed, but I am working it through, trying to produce fruit and praying to God that I recognize his Son in it all, I hope you’ll join me.

May the Lord help us in our task, and may Jesus Christ be praised!

Let’s Hear it For the Riff-Raff

It’s a well-known fact that many in the service industry hate working the Sunday shift, especially those who work in restaurants, but I’ve even heard Wal-Mart greeters say they hate the Sunday shift.  Why? Because it’s when all the Christians show up after church and treat them like dirt.  In the restaurant business it is an accepted “fact” that it’s the Christians who are poor tippers.   I can’t verify the truth of a statement like that, but I would imagine there is some truth to the statement.

We’ve seen examples posted all over the internet people leaving notes on food bills that say, “I give God 10% so why do you get 18%?” or well-intentioned Christians who leave tracts that look like money instead of a tip, or notes that condemn assumed behaviour.  Granted some of these have been proven to be hoaxes but many of them are true.  It begs me to ask the question, what is it in fact that we DO with our Christian witness?

I hope my friend if he ever reads this, doesn’t mind I used a recent discussion on his Facebook page as an example.  He had posted the latest article highlighting Phil Robertson’s controversial comments on his page.  He basically said that Phil Robertson, doesn’t speak for him or for a lot of Christians; and of course there was some mild push back on the opinion that he shared.  In his responding comments he drew a contrast between someone like Phil Robertson and Ellen DeGeneres.  Phil who seems to be using his fame to cut down or bring shame to certain segments of society or even spread hate with comments like “convert them or kill them”.  Ellen DeGeneres, seems to use her fame to help, and to build up the community.

I remembered that discussion this week as I read the passage for this week from Matthew 21:23-32.  I wonder if sometimes a lot of Christians aren’t like the son, who tells the father that he will go and work in the vineyard but never winds up going to do the work.  Maybe sometimes it’s the case that like the religious elite of Jesus day, if we’re not careful we can tend to show up to our church buildings from week to week and involve ourselves in ritual…but then never really become involved in the work of the kingdom.

At the same time there may be those who appear to have said no, but go about the work anyway.

We might be surprised at just who inherits the kingdom of God.

So my thoughts start there this week, I have no idea how I will share my thoughts with the congregation this week.

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