A recent Sunday School lesson on the creation hymns found in our hymnal set me thinking about the theme of happiness that seems to run through almost all of our hymns. I am a rather passionate believer that our hymnals are the revealed words of God for our time. With the Bible a closed text, our hymnals provide space where modern day prophets can sing their praises of the Almighty as our ancestors did before us. Continue reading
The new Prime Minister of Great Britain made some trenchant remarks in her maiden speech outside 10 Downing Street, promising that the new Conservatives would represent all the people and not just the privileged few. While, I support her goals completely, I wonder just how she is going to achieve them in this new technology driven world. People have not suddenly become more selfish than they were in the past. Rather, what we are witnessing is the hollowing out of the jobs created in the late 19th century by the post-industrial revolution. Society is being divided into those blessed by this change and those cursed by it. The world of the mid-twentieth century has passed away. A new order is upon us. To promise, as she seemed to do, to turn back the tide sounded an awful lot like King Canute on his throne in the waves. Our new world is going to require a lot of hard thinking on all our parts and is not going to yield to simplistic political sloganeering.
Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader, founder and the chief executive of Everytable and the author of the forthcoming memoir “For the Love of Money” writes a powerful piece in the New York Times titled “How Wall Street Bro Talk Keeps Women Down.” He muses on how, “From the moment I began working on the Street, the crucial importance of fitting in was communicated to me. During my summer internship at Credit Suisse, the human resources representative told me that whether I received a job offer would not be based on my intelligence, but whether the traders liked me. It was a social test, not an intellectual one. The trading desk I worked on that summer consisted of 15 male traders, and one very junior female trader. To get a job, I needed to become one of the guys.” To stand aside, to be “ethical,” to be “Christian,” means that one is excluded, one is rendered powerless. To get power to be able to affect change one has to become part of the brotherhood but in so doing one is exposed to all the perils of belonging.
Everyone now and then a story crosses my path that leaves me profoundly shocked. This is one in Mother Jones is of them. Police shootings, they write, won’t stop unless we address this problem no one is talking about. They point out how our refusal to pay our fair share of taxes has forced cities and towns to turn to traffic fines to pay the bills. Were we to simply pay the cost of the government that we enjoy, the police would be freed from trying to raise revenue from the poor. And, maybe, these devastating shootings of black people by white police would stop. To demand government services but to refuse to pay for them, is tantamount to theft and is one of the most basic tenets of the Christian life.
Our minister preached a sermon this week on John 21:15-19. In that text, Jesus asks Peter, who just days before had betrayed him whether he really loved Him. Peter answers, perhaps irritably, “Of course, I do.” Jesus then bids him to feed His sheep. As our pastor rightly said, inherent in the text is forgiveness and with it comes a new life. Yes, Peter was guilty of betrayal but Jesus did not see him as an irretrievably and irreparably bad person. How often does one hear someone say that so-and-so is a “naughty child” and thereby condemning the child instead of saying that “wonderful” child “did” something naughty. Continue reading
Hung from the rafters this morning, we had two thin curtains that divided the sanctuary from the pulpit. Our pastor stood in front and talked about one of my favourite topics, thin places. And then the curtain was drawn aside to reveal a large and beautiful flower arrangement behind the communion table. One really had a sense of the curtain of the temple being torn asunder. It was a wonderful visualization of a thin place. Continue reading
Our service this morning focused on the Seven Words from the Cross. One of our young people read each of the texts while individuals from the congregation, again mostly young people, came up to the pulpit to give a five-minute sermon on what those words meant to them. After each meditation, we sang a hymn or chorus. Our resident euophonist played Were you there? after one of the meditations. It was a wonderful and very moving service.
Our text this morning was Mark 9:14-29, which is traditionally read as a healing of a boy with epilepsy. A father cries out to Jesus, “Master, I brought my son to you because he has a dumb spirit. Wherever he is, it gets hold of him, throws him down on the ground and there he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth. It’s simply wearing him out.” Our minister broadened it to include our teenage children. Sometimes parents get the feeling that their kids have been invaded by a “dumb spirit!” They might not all actually foam at the mouth but it sometimes it feels like that. The father bewails the fact that the spirit has sometimes thrown his son into the fire! Which parent, I wonder, has not wondered at times whether their child was playing with fire, metaphorically speaking. Jesus’ advice to the father and the bystanders at the end of the story rings down through the years, “This sort of problem,” he says, “can only be healed with prayer.” Amen. And perhaps a bit of hope and patience. Most of us grow up! All of us need a bit of prayer along the way.
Our sermon this morning took as its text Ephesians 4: 1-6, God is Father of all and talked about the unity of the church despite its lack of uniformity. I have always maintained that if God is anything then He is BIG! Bigger than our little minds can comprehend. I have imagined him to people as a giant, multifaceted diamond. Each of us is made in His image — or more correctly in one tiny part of His image. We are like the facets on that diamond. Our role in life is to keep our little facet polished so that the expression of His love that is us can be seen through us. And, since we are just one tiny facet, it behooves us to treat the many other facets around us with respect or, in Paul’s words, “with forbearing love.” And to allow others the freedom to polish their facet within the vision granted to them. Diversity within unity.
I have long since forgotten, if I ever knew, Proverbs 15:17. What a delight then to have it chosen as the text for this morning’s service. Freely translated it says, “it is better to eat vegetables with friends than steak with enemies.” In its own way, that short aphorism seems to capture the whole spirit of the gospel. Perhaps, one just needs to add a parable about a Samaritan that starts with the question, “Just who is my friend.”