Monday 13 January 2020

Living in Exile - Jan. 8th, 2020

Please excuse any typos or grammar problems. I don't hire an editor for Sunday messages or spend a long period of time looking for mistakes. 

Our reading from Isaiah comes to us from a time when the people were living in Exile. To be exiled is to be in a time of great upheaval. It is to live in a time when the familiar and well loved is lost to you. It is to live in a time when change is forced on you, change that you did not want. It is time of grief over what is lost and a time of fear as to what the future might bring. It is time of questioning – who are we and is there really a God to whom we belong.   
The Holy words passed down through the generations said they were God’s very own beloved people, but then why were they living exiled far from the land of promise, the land God had given their ancestors. The big question became:  Is there truth in what we have been taught: is God really with us.   
Into such a world comes the prophet Isaiah, he comes with the promise that God will act to bring them justice. Their exile will end. Things will be put right again.  – like people today, they were not so concerned about justice coming to others as they were about experiencing justice for themselves.  And here is the fly in the ointment.  For true justice to come and stay, we need to be concerned about more than ourselves.  
Isaiah spoke of one who would come, bearing God’s own spirit.  Isaiah spoke of this servant of God as bringing forth justice in the way a midwife brings to birth a child. Lasting justice comes from within and when it is brought to birth, must be cherished and protected or it will be lost.   
I love these words from the Isaiah reading: He will not cry or lift up his voice; a bruised reed he will not break; a dim candle he will not quench.    
A people in exile are bruised; the light of hope, the light of faith in their lives grows dim.  
Some of us here today know what that is like.  We know what is to be bruised.  We know what it is to have our faith challenged as we live with problems that are too big for us to solve.    
Sometimes, the people around us, tell us that if we had only had the right kind faith or were positive enough then all would be well. These well meaning people bruise us further.  They cause the candle of hope and faith to grow even dimmer.  Their words, coming from a position of strength do not make us stronger.  To be made stronger we need someone to come alongside who understands what it is to be overwhelmed by seriously challenging life events.  Only one with understanding and sympathy can avoid causing further damage to the bruised reed or to the candle of hope that has grown dim.   
I remember being part of something very disturbing. I had gathered with women from various churches to plan a future gathering for women. One of the women who had come had been through a horrendous time. Someone brought her to be with other Christian woman because they thought it would be good for her. Sadly, it wasn’t.  They were trying to be helpful, but they couldn’t do it, because what she needed most of all was for someone to listen and hear her pain without offering cheap and easy words. had gotten seriously ill and would remain so for the rest of her life, her husband decided he didn’t sign up to care for a sick wife and be the main caregiver for their children, so he left. Recently she had to give the children into the care of Social Services. She did not have the money or the health to care for them properly. Her life was a revolving door, - in and out of hospital, unable to do the one thing her heart most yearned to do – care for her own children.   
For the women gathered there, such terrible things did not happen to good people, to people with the right kind of faith. They spoke honeyed words of judgement. They told her she was speaking too negatively. Not one of them could listen without giving unhelpful advice. They had never been through anything like she was going through and could not even imagine it.  Their lives had never exiled them so far from the land of promise.  
They lived in the promised land, the land where you are able to stand in your own strength and care for your own loved ones. Their words did not encourage the flame of hope or heal the bruised heart. I doubted their words were what God would say to this woman who was trying so hard to keep the faith in such difficult times. 
The one God sends comes in tenderness, with understanding of the cost of such a struggle, to take our hand and gently lead us to that place where the healing light of God dwells. God sends us Jesus, Jesus who knew what it was to be despised and rejected as he hung naked on a cross. Jesus comes to us from God in human vulnerability to show us the tenderness of a God who offers us grace, mercy and unconditional love. Jesus spoke angry words, and he spoke words of judgement, but they were always for those who felt they were righteous, people who believed that others suffered because of a wrong they had done, while they themselves were blessed because of their righteousness. 
The bruised reed and those whose candle of hope grows dim found in Jesus a love that heals, an acceptance that helps them see themselves in a new light, and a promise that one day their troubles will come to an end.  Jesus is so different from other priests and prophets, people, who sometimes, with the best of intentions bruise the already wounded, and cause the flame of hope to grow even dimmer.    
It was clear that Jesus would be a different kind of leader when he came and stood in a line of sinners and waited with them to be baptised. In Jesus baptism we see one who is not going to stand above us dispensing wisdom  in words that sound like another form of judgement. Indeed we see a leader who bends down and with tender words of encouragement lifts us up.   
Several years ago I heard a story of a divine healing. Whether it was true or not – I don’t know, but this was the story. A teenage girl suffered from brittle bone disease.  Her bones were not strong enough to support her weight and she spent her life hunched over.  Her internal organs were in distress because of the pressure put on them. She sat in a wheelchair, with her head laid on a pillow placed on her lap. This teenage girl had a great deal of faith.  She believed that Jesus was coming to heal her. According to the story – Jesus came. He knelt down beside the girl and looked up into her face with his hand tenderly laid on her shoulder.  I don’t know if the story is true, but if it is then this is exactly how it would happen. Jesus would not stand above, so that the girl could only see his feet, but he would kneel down and tenderly up look into her eyes as he healed her broken body.   
This is one of the things that Jesus baptism tells me. It tells me of one who is willing to be humbled that we might be lifted up. It tells me of one whose love is willing to meet us where we are and lead us to where we belong.  
In baptism, Jesus comes to us in our weakness, to share with us the power of God to be born into a new way of being.  Jesus came to be our servant so that we might join him, our servant king in serving this world that God so loves.   
So whether you are in a land of exile and life is a struggle, or whether you are in the promised land and all is well with you, or perhaps you have one foot in the land of promise while the rest of you is still in exile, look to Jesus, trust in him, and let his words, his truth, his Spirit live in you, that you might be a blessing wherever you are.   Amen 

Sunday 30 September 2018

Esther: A Story for our Time

I remember a Sunday School lesson about Queen Esther when I was a little girl. The message I got from it was that Esther got to be Queen because she was good and did what she was told. Reading the story of Esther as an adult I see that this is not really a story suitable for children. It is a story about women who are victimized by the men in their life and a story of racism putting at risk the lives of an entire people. 

The story of Esther starts out by telling us that the king held a party where the men of the kingdom drank heavily for seven days.  When he was drunk, the king started bragging about how beautiful Vashti, his wife was. “Is she really that beautiful?” the men asked. “I’ll prove it to you,” says King Ahasuerus. 

Vashti is commanded to come before the party-goers wearing her crown and nothing but her crown. Other passages in this short book of the bible talk about the robes people wore, but robes are conspicuously absent here. How else was the King to prove her beauty other than by demanding that she wear nothing when she appeared?

Vashti refuses to come before the men. What else can she do? Refusing to attend could mean her death. You risked your life if you went to the King without being invited. Imagine how much more dangerous it was to not appear when the King commands it. Not going might lead to Vashti’s death, but so might appearing naked before the men of the kingdom. Once the King sobers up, he won’t be happy and like a lot of tyrants into of blaming himself, he will blame Vashti.  The Queen chooses the option that allows her to keep her dignity. 

The King’s advisers tell him he must put Vashti aside for refusing the King’s command. Otherwise this deed of the Queen will be known by all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands and rebel against their demands. Perhaps, while he is still half drunk King Ahasuerus renounces Vashti as his wife. We are not told if she survives this renunciation, but just that the King begins to regret losing her. Meanwhile he has sent a letter throughout the Kingdom declaring that every man should be master in his own house. 

His advisors come up with a new plan to help the King get over his loss. They will gather the most beautiful virgins in the kingdom into the haram, woman who will undergo months of beauty treatments before being brought to the King’s bed. The King is to choose one of these virgins as his new wife. 

Now, lets be clear this book tells the story of vying for political power. One way to have influence was to get a family member into the royal household. Young women often understood this and were willing to offer themselves for the sake of their family, others were used as tools without regard for their happiness or their need to love and be loved. 

The virgins, after being taken to the King’s bed are taken to a after taken to a second haram where they stay for the rest of their lives. They never again go to the King again unless he remembered them and asks for them by name. Gone is the chance to have a home and family of her own. 

The orphaned Esther is taken into the haram and finds favor with the King. She becomes Queen, but her married life is nothing like we imagine. After a while the King loses interest. When Mordicai asks for her help to save the Jews she tells him that the King has not called for her in over a month. The King was willing to perpetuate injustice on an entire ethnic group for financial gain. The Jews in the Kingdom were to be killed.

The rest of the story is about how Esther finds the courage to go to the King and convince him to change his mind. It was not without risk, and we see her reluctance to go. She is afraid that it might end in her death. She asks her uncle Mordecai to get the people to fast and pray for her. 

The key message in this book is spoken by Mordecai. “Do not think that in the King’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who know? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”  

As I thought of this story this past week I could see in it echoes of what is happening right now. It is a story of how heavy drinking leads to actions that one regrets. It is a story of young women being used and abused. It is a story of how a young woman finds the courage to act and stand against the power of those who have no principles. Esther did not have any real power of her own, but she did what was in her power to do. She did what she could and saved a whole people because of her courage. 

Monday 27 August 2018

Bad religion

In our reading from Samuel we hear of how the prophet goes on God’s behalf to choose a new king. Samuel had been instrumental in Saul’s choosing, and he had high hopes for Saul, as the first King of Israel, but things didn’t work out between Saul and God the way he hoped and so Samuel is sent by God to anoint a new King. 

Samuel is sent to the family of a man named Jesse whose sons are brought before Samuel one at a time, starting with the oldest. Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me,” but God had not chosen Eliab.   Seven of Jesse’s sons were brought to Samuel, but not one of them was chosen by God. Samuel doesn’t understand what’s going on. This was the place and the family he’d been sent to. He asks, “are all your sons here?” In turned out the youngest was not. It never crossed his father’s mind that David might be the one Samuel came to find.  David had seven older brothers who were all very capable, who from a human standpoint would be a much better choice. But God’s ways are not our ways. God often chooses the person we would not. God has a long history of choosing the most unlikely people to accomplish God’s will. 

This passage from first Samuel about a prophet hearing from God to go choose a new king, made me think of posts I was getting on my FB feed in 2016, during the American election.  I had a woman on Facebook who was quite convinced that Donald Trump had been chosen by God because of prophesies by certain church leaders. She would post links to these prophesies on my FB feed. Once in a while I tried to read them, but it was like trying to read a foreign language. In my opinion they were gobbly gook that made absolutely no sense. I deleted them and eventually unfriended the woman who was trying to use my FB feed to influence people to her point of view. 

As I was reading about the prophet Samuel hearing the word of God and then anointing first Saul and then David as King I started to think about those prophesies and the church movement behind them. I wanted to know where they came from and so this week I started to do some research. What I discovered floored me and since I think it is important for people to know what is going on in the world them, I’m sharing what I discovered with you. 

What I discovered was the New Apostolic Reformation movement that is often referred to as Dominionism. It was been born out of Pentecostal and Vineyard churches, but now supporting ministers can be found in a variety of denominations. One of the key differences between people in this camp and regular Pentecostals like my mother, is that my mother believed in premillenialism in that she believed Jesus would return and following that there would be a 1000 year reign of peace on Earth. Dominionist believe that Jesus cannot return until the church establishes a World Wide movement that will bring Peace to the Earth for a thousand years. Dominionists believe Christians need to take power and rule; but not just any Christians will do, they must be people chosen by a select group of self-appointed apostles. Leaders in this New Apostolic Reformation see the election of Donald Trump as a necessary step in bringing this future time of peace to the Earth.  Now at this point I’m not clear as to what roll they see Donald Trump as playing, but I think they see him as destroying current structures so that new ones can rise out of the ashes.  So to the best of my ability to understand what is going on they see Trump’s role as bringing about the Apocalypse that will then allow true Christians to gain control and usher in a new world order. I actually don’t think they are totally clear themselves what they believe, or that they agree with one another, which makes it hard to discern what it is this religious movement it about. One thing for sure is they do not call themselves dominionists.  That is a name given to them by others trying to make sense out of this movement. 

But generally speaking, Dominionist theology states that humans are commissioned to bring the entire world under the dominion of Christianity, by force, if necessary, and then hand over the Christianized world to Jesus when he comes again. 

Key to this new world order is the recognition of Apostles, who have been appointed by God to reveal Present Truth – meaning they will have mystical experiences and revelations from God that might supercede the word of God in the bible.  For these people the bible is no longer the measuring stick that it has been in the past, but the words that these Apostles speak will carry absolute authority whether their words agree with the bible or not. Leaders in this movement are working toward a multi level and world-wide movement based on cell groups operating through churches in every nation and continent on Earth through which they can share what they call Present Truth.  Some of the leaders in this movement claim to have had prophesies telling them that Donald Trump was chosen by God to be president of the United States.  They claim he is the President for the end times.  That time when life as we know it will be destroyed. This is why Trump could, as he claimed, shoot someone on main street and get away with it. They are not supporting him for what he will build, but for what he will tear down. 

One reason they will never turn away from supporting him, is because doing so would mean admitting that they did not hear from God and they can’t do that. To do so would be to lose their power and influence. They have been instrumental in getting their people in key positions in the government. Often in positions that they have a history of acting against.  For example, Betsy DeVos has not been a supporter of public education but she has been given responsibility for that area of government. Scott Pruitt has been named to the Environmenatal Protection Agency even though he has a history of working against environmental protections. 

What has this got to do with us in Canada, you ask? This New Apostolic Reformation movement is the fastest growing church movement in the world – particularly in third world countries. But this movement’s influence goes beyond the churches directly affiliated with them. People could be attending a Pentecostal, Baptist, Alliance, Catholic or a church of any other denomination where the leadership is affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation and the people who worship in the church may not know it. One of the churches here in town could have a connection. 

Some leaders in this movement call for parents to send their teenagers to Kansas City where a man named Mike Bickle claims to have prophesies and visions that come from God. The teens and young adults who go there are prevented from have anything to do with people on the outside. They are told to prepare themselves to be Martyrs in God’s army.  One young man was subjected to 7 hours of interrogation for reading the words of a Christian leader outside of their movement when he began to have questions. Where young people in the past were trained to engage in missionary movements focused on saving souls or meeting people’s spiritual, emotional, and physical needs, these young people go out with the mandate to work towards supporting bids for political power by people endorsed by this movement. Here are just a few of the American politicians said to have a connection with this group. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Mike Hucklebee Sam Brownback, and Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is on record of accepting Mike Bickle’s endorsement.

I watched a video clip of Mike Bickle. His words were not biblical, but he claimed they came from God. They were about what God was going to do with the Jews. Bickle said God would first send fishermen for the Jews and then hunters for the ones who did not turn to Jesus. He said these hunters would kill 2/3rds of the Jews living at the time.  

Dominionist churches use a lot of military imagery. It has been reported that they have been active in infiltrating the American military. Dominionist leader Bill Gothard set up paramilitary camps for children. Michael Farris is recruiting home schoolers for CIA type training.  Presumably they envision a day when they may be forced to take or keep power through violence. In fact, some of them have said as much. 

Now I’m not opposed to the idea of a Christian nation, a nation that builds on the teachings of Jesus would be something lovely and grace filled and a place where justice and mercy meet, but what these people would build would be more akin to what fundamentalist Muslims would build. It would be more akin to what the Taliban would do than what I believe Jesus would do. There would be no room for diversity. No room for grace. No room for deviation from what they see as right and true. Prisons would be full of people who have an ideology or a lifestyle different from what they believe right.  Their political opponents would end up in prison or dead. You might well see a return of the inquisitions of the past.

I know that what I am telling you sounds very far out. Perhaps that is why this movement and its impact on politics has gotten very little media attention.  As I read about the New Apostalic Reformation I realized I have recently participated in a worship services led by people who have been influenced by this movement.  If people are talking about or you are asked to sing about the latter rain, Joel’s army, restoring the age of apostles, you are likely in a church that has been influenced by this movement.  Somewhere, recently, I was in a worship service where we sang about restoring the age of apostles and I wondered what the song was about. 

Some of you want to keep politics and religion separate. I can appreciate that desire, but should we be silent when it is the church that is shaping the political landscape. What I can’t do is stick my head in the sand when I see what bad religion is doing in the name of Jesus. Too me it would be irresponsible not to make people aware of the forces that are shaping their lives without them knowing it. 

I don’t think Jesus calls Christians to help bring in the end times. In the past the church understood its mission as seeking to bring salvation to those who had lost their way and healing to those who had been wounded by the world. But dominionist Christians see their role as establishing an earthly kingdom by taking political control. Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world and his call has always been for the church to draw people to him, so that in him they can discover the goodness and mercy of God. 

In our reading from Mark, Jesus talks about the Kingdom starting with the smallest of seeds and when it puts out its branches the birds of the air make nests in its shade. What a beautiful image. It stands in opposition to those who believe they can bring in the kingdom through violence. In the book of Romans, Paul says the Kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Righteousness and peace and joy will never be brought to birth by using violence to establish a new world order. 

What can we do? We can make ourselves aware, which is what I’ve done this week. It is easier to resist evil when we know what face it wears. Then we can remain faithful to the mandate Jesus has given us of drawing broken and wounded people to the love of God. The kingdom Jesus came to tell us about is not of this world, and it will never be brought into being by the use of deception and power politics. The Kingdom of God cannot be built on hate, for God is love. We are called to walk in love and seek justice not just for ourselves and for others like us, but for people of all faiths. We are called to reach beyond those things that divide us to join hands with all people of good will to build a world where justice doesn’t depend on the color of your skin or where you come from or how you worship God. If we were to do this, then the kingdom of God would come near. 

We were commanded to love with a love that reaches wide.  In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that when the end comes and we are judged, it won’t be on how well we held onto the truth, but on how well we loved. 

Blessed be the name of our God and of Jesus Christ who came that we might be part of God’s kingdom or peace, where the birds of the air will find shade, and the lion and the lamb lay down together. Amen

Monday 6 August 2018

Everyone Gets Angry, Even God

A message like this was preached at Hope United Church on July 15th. Please excuse any spelling and grammar mistakes you find. 

Everyone gets angry. Even God. In scripture we are told that the 'The LORD is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression. God is slow to anger, but according to scriptures, God does get angry.  Jesus got angry. Who can doubt that Jesus was angry as he used a whip to throw the money changers and their animals out of the temple. 

To ask whether anger is good or bad is like asking whether hunger is good or bad. It simply is.  What is good or bad is what we do with it. Aristotle was a wise man. One lengthy sentence of his probably says more helpful things about anger than any other in print.  Anyone can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way, Aristotle says, is not easy.  

Contrary to what many people think anger in and of itself is not a sin. In its right place anger is a useful emotion. There are many social programs that got their start because someone was first made angry by injustice or oppression or the unnecessary suffering of some of God’s children. Anger rightly directed has often been the catalyst for change. The bible tells us to be angry, but sin not. That is the hard part.  There are few things that lead us as quickly to sin, as anger. It's almost like a reflex action. We get angry, we sin against God, and against other people. 

The bible tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. If we keep anger in our heart it is terribly destructive. If psychologists were asked to name the two major sources of unnecessary human suffering, they would likely name fear and anger. They form the basis for most of our unhappiness. Therefore, our mental health demands that we take steps to free ourselves from the destructive power of these two emotions. It demands that we learn to forgive and set ourselves free from the power of anger and hate.  When we hold onto anger, the person we are angry at does not suffer, but we sure do.  I’ve experienced this in my own life. I’ve had some sleepless nights because of anger. 

I had a vivid example of what happens when anger takes up permanent residence in someone’s life when I worked at Central United.  A drifter named Dave came into my office and we talked for about an hour. I asked Dave if I could tell others his story and he said yes. Dave had recently been released from jail.  He had been in prison for violence against his girlfriend's daughter. Dave told me that he did not want to stay downtown in the hostels because they were too violent. I suspected that Dave had likely been banned because he was the one who was too violent.  The roots of Dave's current problem began in his family of origin.  His alcoholic father would beat his mother and when he finished with her, beat him. Dave said he hated his father. He also hated his older brother who Dave said believed himself to be superior. Dave said: It didn't matter what I did, my brother could always do it better, and I hated him for it.  

Dave had written a poem when he was a young man which he still remembered.  He shared it with me as we talked.  I asked him to write it down so I could share it with others.  Please listen:
         If I be a man of hate
         Let the world stay from my gate
         Let me live my life alone
         with a heart as hard as stone.  

         But if I be a man of God
         let me spread joy where're I trod
         let me love my fellow man
         and live my life as best I can

         Then heaven's gate shall open wide
         To show where peace and joy abide.

Dave was in touch with a profound truth. Joy and peace comes to that person who loves, but alludes those who hate. That person who holds onto anger until it freezes into hate will certainly end up isolated from others and very much alone. 

As Dave shared this poem with me, he realized that he had become a man of hate and that he did live his life alone with a heart as hard as stone. There was no one who cared for him and no one who shared his life.  

Dave is an extreme example. However, I can almost guarantee that there are people in the congregation today whose lives have been adversely affected by an anger that you have not been able to let go of.  There are likely people here today who have broken relationships within an extended family member or with someone who was once a friend. All of us likely know people who do not have peace of mind, but experience a great deal of inner conflict and suffering because they have held onto anger and been unwilling to forgive. 

In the gospels Jesus tells us a parable of a servant who is forgiven a great debt by the king.  He goes out and meets someone who owes him a much smaller debt.  He refuses to forgive.  The king hears about it and throws him into prison where he is tortured. Those who refuse to forgive and hold onto anger still enter into a prison of the mind where they experience torment.  Forgiveness is a requirement for peace of mind and heart.  Some might say; but you don't know what I've gone through.  It is not possible to forgive. Perhaps it would help if we first state what forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is not overlooking the wrong or saying that what happened was not of consequence.  Forgiveness is not excusing the wrong. It's not saying that what happened was O.K., because sometimes it was not O.K.  Sometimes it was very wrong and you have good reason to be angry.   Forgiveness is honestly facing the wrong and the hurt and the pain.  It is facing the anger and the resentment that we carry, and recognizing it's destructive power in our lives.  It is choosing to let go of hurt and resentment.  It is choosing to be free from any desire to see the other suffer as we suffer.  

I always know that I am coming close to truly forgiving when I can pray for the person who hurt me without hidden agenda's and just ask God to bless that person.   Sometimes the deed done was so terrible, and/or the hurt so deep and/or the anger so entrenched that it seems impossible to ever be free of it.  However we are not without help.  We can call on Jesus and ask for God's help to do what we cannot do on our own. All that is required at this moment is that we are willing to be made willing and are open to the work that God would do.  Many people speak of the power of God, which enabled them to do what they believed was impossible.  Corrie ten Boon and her sister Nollie found this to be true. Their family hid Jews during the Second World War.  They were betrayed by two of their Dutch countrymen.  After the war, the two men were taking into custody and put on trial for their part in what happened to the ten Boon's and to the others they betrayed. Nollie ten Boon wrote to the two men, and told them that in spite of the fact that their betrayal led to great suffering for Nollie and Corrie, as well as to the death of their father, sister, brother and nephew, she and Corrie had forgiven them.  

I have my doubts whether it is possible to forgive such hurt in our human strength. We need a power greater than our own; we need the power of God. 

Rosamond E. Herklots expressed how important it was to forgive in a hymn:
         Forgive our sins as we forgive,
         You taught us, Lord to pray
         But you alone can grant us grace
         to live the words we say.
         How can your pardon reach and bless
         The unforgiving heart
         That broods on wrongs and will not let
         Old bitterness depart?
         In blazing light your cross reveals
         the truth we dimly knew
         what trivial debts are owed to us
         how great our debt to you.

Several years ago I was at a conference.  I sat down next to a man and we began to talk. He had recently been through a painful divorce.  For the first time in his life he was coming to terms with how growing up under the control of an abusive father had affected and still was affecting his life.  As we talked it became clear to me that not only did he have problems with his father, but he was also angry at God.  I shared with him my belief that sometimes we need to forgive God. Was it God's fault that his father was abusive?  No, his father, like all of us, was a wounded man, but he was also a man who had a free will and choices to make.  Was it God's fault that his marriage broke down?  No, both partners had free will and had made choices.  However, knowing that did not change the fact of the man's feelings. He felt that God had let him down and he was angry that God would allow him to experience such a terrible thing. 

It is a scary thing to be angry at God. It is difficult to acknowledge that the anger is there, even to ourselves. However, when we have hidden anger it affects our relationships.  It puts a distance between ourselves and others. Some people need to forgive God.  Has God actually done something wrong that needs to be forgiven?  No, however, it is possible to be perfectly angry at a perfect God.  If we are angry, we need to recognize it and then we need to let go of the anger and forgive the God who has disappointed us. 

God sent Jesus to tell us how much God loves us and how willing God is to forgive us.  The question is, are we willing to forgive God.  

Anger destroys relationships.  Anger is an emotion that is very destructive of the inner person and can interfere with all our relationships.  The key to freedom is forgiveness.  May God give us the wisdom and the power to forgive one another, ourselves, and if necessary God. We need the freedom that forgiveness brings. Jesus came to set us free, we can only fully claim that freedom when we are able to forgive. Don’t let anger ruin your life. Be free to be who God created you to be. And remember the forgiveness that is a free gift given to you by the God of amazing grace. Amen

Saturday 4 August 2018

A message something like this was preached at Hope United Church on July 29th. We read the story in the bible of how King David takes another man's wife, and then arranges to have her husband killed before this message was preached. Please ignore any spelling and grammar mistakes. When I write books I hire an editor, but I am on my own for the messages written to share in church. 

Some time ago David Clendenin wrote an essay that caught my attention. It was called Befriending our Brokenness: Lessons from the life of Maurice Sendak.  
Sendak was born into a family of Polish Jewish immigrants and grew up in lower class Brooklyn. He was a sickly child, who spent many hours alone in bed drawing pictures. The Holocaust cast a terrible shadow of death upon his family. Growing up gay in that time and place was also very difficult. He said, “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents would be happy.”   
Sendak was lucky in many ways.  He lived with a partner he loved for 50 years. He earned international fame by writing books. One book in particular which many of you will have heard of:  Where the Wild Things Are.  
In spite of the huge success, and the praises and prizes he received, the happiness he knew in love, Sendak never got over the feeling that he was deeply flawed.  He said, people say awfully nice things, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a stinky person inside. He said this feeling of being stinky stuck to him from childhood regardless of the success he enjoyed. 
The first time I read through the Old Testament I loved it. I loved it because it spoke of seriously flawed people, stinky people, that God was somehow still able to use. The hero’s of our faith were often not very heroic. This is certainly true for King David. 
The things that touched me as an adult were not stories that we tell to children. To children, we tell stories of how little David battled the mighty Goliath and won.  We might talk about how David was chosen even though he was the last person anyone but God would choose. With children we do not talk of how David stays home while sending his troops off to fight a war just because it was the spring of the year – the time when Kings go to war.  We do not talk about what it means to ravage another country.  We do not talk about how he plotted the death of a man whose wife he lusted after and made pregnant.  These parts of the biblical story are for adults.   
The bible is a book, which cannot be compared to other ancient books.  It does not follow the practice of ancient people who divinized their kings and sanitized their faults, presenting a picture of a king who was God-like.  Instead the bible invites us to see its characters as flawed people who make personal mistakes and live as part of a culture that is also flawed.  
We are not asked to see everything in the bible as happening because it was God’s will that it happen.  It was not God’s intent that people go to war just because it was spring and the time when Kings go to war.  It was not God’s design that David arrange the death of an honourable man after David sleeps with his wife and makes her pregnant.  The Bible presents the story as it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly and asks us to see in it a God who is at work to redeem and save in spite of human failure and sin.  
This is good news for some of us who grew up feeling very stinky. We love how God is able to take flawed and broken people and use our lives for good. 
If the bible told the story of super hero’s who never made a mistake and never said or did the wrong thing then the bible would not have the power it does to touch our lives and transform us.  But the story of how God can take flawed people and help them do great things in spite of their brokenness has the power to stir us to do greater things then we ever felt we were capable of.  This story has the power to help us go through the painful process of being reborn and finding a new identity as children of God who can make a difference in the world.   
In my ministry I have met many beautiful people that I would have liked to be more like.   It always came as a great surprise to find that a fair number of these physically and spiritually beautiful people do not have a positive self image. Some feel like stinky people. This feeling of stinkiness does not come from who they are today, but it comes from the experiences of childhood and youth that stuck to them like glue.    
In my life I’ve meet many difficult people. Some of those difficult people have even been in the church.  Many had a story of great wounding, a story that they often never tell to anyone else.  They try to tramp the pain down and keep it secret, but it has been my experience that the more people try to hide their story the more it comes out indirectly in words and actions that hurt other people. Their woundedness causes them to wound other people. 
Part of the hero’s quest that God calls us to, is a quest to learn to love the unique individual that God has created each one of us to be. Part of the hero’s quest is to work with the Spirit of God to heal those parts of us that are wounded and broken. We need to do this, not only for ourselves, but for those around us.  Wounded people help create other wounded people, and this sense of being a stinky person is passed down from one generation to another.    
There is sin in our world, and by that I mean that we do not always live in the way God intends every minute of the day.  We do not live always in the light of God’s love. No one does. Not me. Not you. Not biblical characters like David.  We all cause hurt in the world by the things we say and do.  When we recognize this we need to do what David did.  We need to confess our sin before God with all honesty and seriousness and open our hearts to the Spirit of God that we might receive power to change our lives. We need to try to make amends for what we have done that has brought hurt into the world.  
We are both sinners and the sinned against.  We have been wounded by our own sin and the sin of others, and in ways both intentional and unintentional we have wounded others. Some of the sin that wounded you and me has been brought into our lives by people we have never met. It comes to us through the generations, it flowed to us through our parents and grandparents who were wounded by the people in their lives. We can name some of the ways our lives have been warped and wounded, but other wounds lay beyond our ability to recognize and name them.  They have woven themselves so completely into the fabric of our lives that we are incapable of  recognizing how our lives have been warped.  
By grace we are saved through faith. We start there and recognize our need to open our hearts to God the healer who can be at work in us to make us a new creation, with an increased ability to bless and not wound the world around us. 
God has no perfect people to use to bless the world, no superhero’s who do everything just right. What God has is people like David, who when he was given the power of kingship misused it. What God has are people like you and me. We don’t always get it right and sometimes our own brokenness gets in the way of being a blessing in the world. However, if anything good is to happen it will be because people like us do it. 
The world is full of pain and hurt and we need to be God’s agents of healing light.  We need to be a place where the love of God meets the pain of the world to bring hope and healing. God is able to do miraculous things through the most unlikely of people. This is the story the bible tells us as it tells us the story of God at work through people like David. .  
God sees the reality of who are we. God sees those times we consciously sin against our brother or sister. God sees the brokenness we are blind to, but more important than that, God sees the beauty in each one of us, the ways we bless the world around us just by being alive in it, and the potential we have to be even more of a blessing. 
God thinks we are wonderful. Worth sending Jesus into the world to redeem. Worth sending the Holy Spirit to be our companion as we journey through life. Believe in this God who believes in you, open your hearts more fully to God’s spirit and let God help you become more fully the Hero of our Faith that God believes you can be. Amen. 

Saturday 17 March 2018

It seems that what captures our focus as we read the bible are those words and phrases that we experiences as negative while at the same time we overlook the positive. Take this passage from Exodus as an example. Many of us stumble over the words: I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation. This sounds harsh.  And for many of us it is what we hear when this passage is read. The sad thing is it is sometimes all we hear. We do not hear the next part of that verse: but I show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.      

I wondered how many ancestors each one of us would have if we went back a thousand generations. With every generation the amount doubles. Two becomes four, four becomes eight, becomes 16, becomes 32, becomes 64, becomes 128, becomes  256, becomes 512, becomes 1024.  By ten generations each of us have 1024 ancestors.  I used a scientific calculator to try to discover how many ancestors we would have in a thousand generations. The number was astronomical.  It was more than a trillion.   More than I know how to name.  We likely have a million ancestors by the time we go back a hundred generations. Scriptures tells us God shows mercy to the 1000th generation. 

Among our ancestors going back a thousand generations, we must all have at least one person that loved God and did their best to keep God’s commandments. One person for whose sake God shows mercy on us.  

Most of us don’t have to go back very far before we find a saintly ancestor whose love made a tremendous impact on those who bore witness to it.  I think of my grandmother Annie Sims, who didn’t say much about her faith, but lived it in so many ways. I bless my grandmother’s name, for her sake and for the sake of all my unnamed ancestors God has mercy on me. I think of my grandfather’s mother who ran a nursing home in a time and place where there were few doctors and no hospitals. Her favorite bible verse was 'as is your day so shall your strength be.' My mother remembered her singing hymns as she went about her work. 

If I go back six generations I find a William Sims who fought in the American Revolution, whose heart was warmed by the Wesyan Methodist movement. Family lore tells us a man whose faith moved him and caused him to become involved in the Underground Railway. For his sake God will certainly have mercy on his ancestors.  And then there is my mother. She didn’t always get it right, but she loved God and she loved us, and everyday she and her husband would name each of us in prayer. 

Many of us have trouble with the words jealous God.   I wish I could read and understand Hebrew to have a sense of this world in the original language, but what is expresses is God’s desire that we put God first in our lives.  When we do so, others don’t suffer, for it is God’s express purpose that we love others and ourselves.  Loving God, loving ourselves, and loving others provides life with balance and harmony.

When I thought about the words punish to the third and fourth generation it spoke of a reality that I see lived out in the world.  A reality that has nothing to do with God’s punishment, but is a natural consequence of living in a broken world. Broken wounded people, raise broken wounded people, who raise broken wounded people. Children raised by an alcoholic parent are more likely to become an alcoholic.  A daughter raised in a home with family violence is more likely to marry an abusive man. If you look into the histories of many folks in jail, you will usually, but not always, find a missing or abusive parent. 

One man in jail, decided to try to earn money, by making father’s day cards to sell to other prisoners.  His cards never sold.  The reason?  Most male prisoners, either had no father figure, or a father who was abusive and provided no positive influence.  The sins of parents are truly visited on the children,  and have nothing to do with the acts of God.  It is just the way life works in this world.    

It is into such a world that Jesus comes. He comes to make the grace of God known.  He comes to be one of us that he might make us one with God. He comes to show us a better way to live. He comes to break the power of this generational curse.  If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation, the bible tells us. Over my life time, I have met many people who have had a terrible history.   They have experienced things that can leave a person badly scarred. They came to the God who forgives and with God’s help were able to forgive those who wounded them and in doing so they found freedom. In Jesus they found a new well from which to drink.  They no longer drank from the bitter waters of rejection and betrayal, but they drank from Christ, who named them as God’s very own beloved children.    

The cross can seems like foolishness, but many can testify to the power they found to change their lives when they looked to the cross and saw on it a Word from God.  The word made flesh reveals that nothing in all creation, not sin, not even death, can separate us from the love of God.  In the cross of Christ, God communicates forgiveness and love in a language that goes beyond mere words. In Jesus words on the cross, 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do, we hear God’s word to us.'  There is a power in forgiveness, a power that sets us free to walk a different path than the one destiny laid out for us.  

If the cross is foolishness then it is a foolishness that communicates that God understands what it is to suffer rejection and pain. If it is foolishness then it is a foolishness that communicates that God can take what was intended for evil and bring something good and redemptive out of it.  The cross as the foolishness of God has helped many a person, shamed by the world, find a new identify as one that God so loved. The cross as the foolishness of God, has helped many a person burdened by sin, real or imagined find peace with God and the power to forgive themselves. The cross as the foolishness of God has helped many a person forgive the one who has hurt them as they listen to the words of Jesus.  Father forgive them for they know not what they do.  God’s foolishness is indeed wiser than human wisdom.  Thanks be to God.  

Saturday 4 February 2017

Ghandi, Macrina Wiederkehr and the Sermon on the Mount

This is part of my message from Sunday January 29th, 2017. Please excuse any typo’s or grammar problems you find. 

The Sermon on the Mount is a description of what the Christian life should look like, but rarely does. In this sermon Jesus reveals to us the values of the kingdom of heaven and invites us to live in the kingdom way here and now.     
Among the people who listen to the Sermon on the Mount and try to understand its message for today are Hindus in India. They study this scripture because it was important to Mahatma Gandhi. 

Gandhi, studied the Christian faith and was thinking of becoming a Christian, but was turned off by the failure of those who name themselves as Christian’s to live out the teachings of Jesus.  He did not become a Christian, but he did fall in love and stay in love with the person of Jesus Christ. Gandhi pointed to the words of Jesus that we read this morning (Matthew 5: 1-12) as one of things that inspired him to develop the non-violent resistance movement that helped India gain independence from Britain. Gandhi said, “I found one whom I could follow. I just couldn’t stand his followers.”  

Yet there is a sense in which Gandhi became a very good example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus even though he remained a Hindu until the day he died. What is it about the Sermon on the Mount that so influenced Gandhi that he put these words on his wall that he might see them always?   

The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, had a different impression. He read the Sermon on the Mount and thought it was the stupidest fraud that had ever been perpetuated on human beings. Neitzsche said you will become a human sheep if you follow this. I am told that Alfred Rosenberg, who was influenced by Nietzsche, was asked by Adolf Hitler how he might keep all the German Christians and still do what he wanted to do.  Rosenberg cut about 80 percent of the Sermon on the Mount out of the Bible and handed it back to the German church and said they could preach the rest. For the most part they did. Some of those who dissented were rounded up and put in prison. What was it in the Sermon on the Mount that the Nazi’s found so very threatening?   

What is it about this passage that makes it so dangerous to the status quo?  What is it about this passage that makes it so subversive, so capable of inspiring action that changes the world? These words seem at first glance contradictory. We do not normally think of the poor, the sad, the meek and the thirsty as the ones who are blessed.   

Macrina Wiederkehr says these teachings of Jesus are for people who have their hearts set on the Reign of God. They are a way of life designed for those who want their lives to be a blessing.  Beatitude people are kingdom people. They have a kingdom on their minds that won’t let them rest until all the world is striving to be just, compassionate and single-hearted. They call us forth from the cosy ruts of daily living and call us to be Christ in the world. They tell us that the Reign of God is already in our midst if we bless the world with beatitude-living.     

Let us look briefly at each of the beatitudes. The first is blessed are the poor in spirit.

Macrina Weiderkehr writes these words: 
I turned to the empty ones
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? I asked
Is there anything good about being that poor? 

The poor in spirit replied:
Can God fill anyone who is full?

Being poor in spirit has something to do with being open to God, when we are too full of ourselves and our own opinions we cannot hear what God would say to us. The poor in spirit are blessed because they know heir need for a wisdom and power beyond their own – they know their need of God. They are open to hear the word that God would speak to them. 

The next beatitude says blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. The word for mourn here is that kind of grief that one feels from having lost the most beloved person in your life. It is that sorrow so deep that it shakes your whole life, making you wonder if ever you will get over it. 

How can we say someone who mourns is blessed? Well firstly, mourning is related to love. People who have never mourned, have never loved. For love always involves loss.      

Macrina Wiederkehr says this
What does it mean to mourn?  
I asked those who were sorrowing
An old man stepped forward,

To mourn, he said, is to be given
A second heart
It is to care so deeply
That you show your ache in person.

To mourn is to be unashamed of tears
It is to be healed and broken all in the same moment. 

Blessed are you if you are so full of compassion
You see the need before it’s spoken.
Blessed are you if you can offer to others
A heart that feels their sorrow
A Heart that can wait quietly beside them
A heart that doesn’t try to hurry the healing. 

To mourn is to forget yourself for a moment
 and get lost in someone’s else’s pain
and then, finally to find yourself
in the very act of getting lost.

The next beatitude says blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. In our experience this is anything but true. The meek are not the ones who inherit, or win or gain a promotion or get elected president or prime minister, except maybe for Jimmy Carter. The meek are usually the ones who are left out, while the assertive and the aggressive get what they want.  We see meekness as a weakness, a character flaw. But this is not the kind of meekness that Jesus is referring to. The kind of meekness Jesus is referring to is strong. It is not thinking too highly or lowly of one’s self, but it is found in keeping a good balance, on seeing yourself as God sees you. The meek of whom Jesus is talking about here are persons not driven to step on everyone else to get what they want. They are humble before God, appreciative of the countless blessings they already have. They feel no need to be anything more than they already are, but they are also open to change, when change is required. What they inherit is a state of well being, of peace, of love, of being loved by others.  

Macrina Weiderkehr says
And to the meek, I said:
Tell me about this beatitude
It doesn’t sound like a blessing
To me, it looks like the face of weakness.

A face from the crowd of lowly ones
Shone forth with strength
Her smile reached the door of my heart
Then this lowly one spoke. 

To be meek is to be so full of truth
That everyone is comfortable
In your presence. 
It is to have a spirit young as the dawn
A heart as old as the evening.
It is to know yourself so well
And live yourself so fully
 that your very presence
calls forth gifts in others. 
It is to be comfortable
With your anger
And with your compassion.

The meek one grew silent for a moment
Then lifting her eyes, she said:
When you are meek
You don’t need a lot of followers
You just need a lot of truth. 

The lowly ones are able
To stand out in the open
And speak the truth
Sometimes quietly
Sometimes loudly.
The truth will be spoken
Even if no one listens
Even if no one hears.

For the meek person doesn’t need followers
The meek need to be true to themselves.