Friday, December 25, 2009

Sermon: Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve 2009 Semon from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.

Text here:

Joseph had to make his way to his ancestral home. And I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it. It was long trip. His wife was pregnant. He probably didn’t have a whole lot of cash in his wallet. But the government wanted him where his family tree was planted.

We’re often told that we’re supposed to be “home” for Christmas. But sometimes I wonder just where that should be. As one whose lived in three different provinces, moved into countless apartments and houses, paid rent to way too many landlords, I wonder what “home” really looks like.

Tonight is a reminder that “home” is kind of fluid. It’s not as fixed as we might like to think. Some of us might not even know what we mean by “home.”

Sometimes, by “home” we mean a sense of the familiar, a feeling of safety and security. A place where we can be truly ourselves, we can forget to wipe our feet at the front door. We can belch at the dinner table and someone will still pass us the potatoes, although with a snide remark. Home means stability. A rootedness that we don’t find anywhere else. A connection to our past.

If that’s what we’re looking for then I wonder if Christmas is really the place we find it. Christmas is a story about...(whole thing here)

Merry Christmas! Here's St. John Chrysostom's Christmas Sermon

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Like Any Given Sunday

Every year Christmas sermons get harder to write. At least that’s been my experience. Christmas is the Super Bowl of church, the one day of the year we can be guaranteed a full house. Don’t say Easter gets people through the door. I’ve preached at half-empty churches on Resurrection Day.

Some pastors like to say that Easter is the High Point of the church year, the game seven of world series, the Stanley Cup finals of the ecclesial world, opening night on Broadway.

That may be true theologically, but it’s not true practically. Some theological wags say that Christmas is less threatening than Easter because Christmas is about a baby, and what’s so scary about a baby? While Easter is about God turning the world upside down, defeating the forces of sin, death, and devil, the inauguration of the New Creation ; an event that demands a response from the worshipper. After all, how can one be confronted with the powers of the Almighty hitting alt-ctl-del on the world, and NOT respond in faith?

Sheesh. These folks need to get over themselves. I think Christmas is more popular than Easter because we get stuff, not because people are threatened by resurrection. Presents make the holiday. Not the story.

It would be nice if it were the reverse. But, sadly, I don’t think it is. Not in our culture.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into an anti-consumerist keep-Christ-in-Christmas, Jesus-is-the-main-thing rant (although that would be fun). I can’t get on my high horse because I like getting stuff at Christmas too. Everyone does. We grouch like Charlie Brown over the consumer-driven holiday, but still dutifully line up at the Wal-Mart checkout. We whine about the corporate take-over of Christmas, but come Christmas morning, the homes of most Christians look like a Sears commercial.

That’s why sermon writing gets harder for me each year. I have trouble penetrating the celebratory fog that obscures the Nativity story. Even my own fog.

But one year, two beloved and long-time members of the church died the morning of Christmas Eve. That day, the sermon wrote itself because I had to think about what the festival of the Incarnation really means for us. If Jesus is Emmanuel - God with us - then what did that say about the grief we were all feeling?

And then I got thinking that, even if visitors to our little congregation didn’t know the two women who died that morning, they were bringing their own pain and grief with them. They came to hear the story and sing some songs.

And maybe the the bible readings and Christmas carols were mere accessories to make their Christmas celebrations complete, they came to CHURCH to hear them. They were compelled to be with a community of God’s people to listen to God’s sacred story; and with in story they hear the Word proclaimed. The Word does it’s job when it reaches peoples’ ears.

So, maybe that’s where I have to begin this Christmas - at the intersection of the Christmas story and peoples’ lives.

But then again, how is that different from any given Sunday?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Another Quote of the Day

When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the embraces, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my senses in the creations of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me.

For a long time, I looked for you within myself, and crept into the shell of my soul, protecting myself with an armour of unapproachability. But you were outside—outside myself—and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others.

The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them, for it awakens the unconditional Yes to life. The more I love God the more gladly I exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible well of life, and life’s eternity.

—Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, p. 98

Quote of the Day

...I am concerned that something might come to be and perhaps flourish that calls itself Protestant yet in essence has very little to do with [the] classical Protestant heritage and may in fact represent religious and moral assumptions antithetical to that heritage. I am concerned, too, that that heritage should not be reduced to a traditionalism that is nothing but “the dead faith of the living.” Stewarding the Protestant tradition means listening attentively to the “living faith of the dead” so that the present community of discipleship may find its way into the future.

- Douglas John Hall, Bound and Free p. 108, with a hat tip to Jaroslav Pelikan.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Many of you know already that I have, in the last month, separated from my wife. We realized that we were making each other miserable, so, for the sake of our respective sanities, and the welfare of the kids (who shouldn’t have to watch mommy and daddy fighting so often), we decided on a trial separation.

We don’t know if reconciliation is possible. But we’ll see what the future holds when we get there.

I changed my Facebook relationship status from “married” to “it’s complicated” (there’s no “separated” option. Being “separated’ is not quite “single” and not quite “married.” It’s a relational limbo that people interpret for themselves.) as a way of starting to tell people. I have told close family and friends, as well as my congregation and a few colleagues. So people are starting to learn of R’s and my separation.

I have been hesitant in telling people because of the requisite feelings attached to a failed marriage: grief, shame, embarrassment, anger, etc. It’s hard telling people that what was supposed to be a lifetime commitment disintegrated after only 9 years. It’s hard being THAT statistic which people like to throw around so carelessly.

But I also have a sense of possibility for the future. New doors opening and avenues to explore. I imagine that my wife is feeling the same complex of emotions.

I appreciate the support I’ve received since the news got out there. Most people have been kind, gracious, and generous. Especially from within my faith community.

I covet your prayers for my family, specifically for the girls. If praying’s not your thing, send positive vibes our way. And feel free to buy me a beer.

I’ll keep you updated....

A "Full Communion" Christmas Greeting

Two Thoughts:

I don't know why, but Bp. Susan always looks comatose in these video greetings. Odd, since she's usually so full of life.

And I think ArchBp. Fred gave me the kernel for my Christmas Eve sermon. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sermon: Advent 3C

Advent 3C from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.

Although we missed Part One of John the Baptist, today we’ll jump to Part Two. And it isn't a pretty picture.

If all we knew about John the Baptist was that he asked us to prepare the way for the Messiah's arrival, then that would be something we could easily handle. In fact, we're doing just that. We've decorated the sanctuary, put up the tree. We’re rehearsing the Christmas pageant. We're planning our Christmas celebrations. We're buying the gifts and organizing the Christmas meal. We've decided what charity we'll support over the holidays, and maybe we've decided to volunteer a little extra time helping the less fortunate.

What else need there be to do?

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John the Baptist bellows at us last week, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

So far, so good. A familiar passage to most of us. Some of us even sing along to Handel's Messiah version as we hear this being read.

But flip over the page and...(whole thing here)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon: Advent 1C

Advent 1C from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.

Text here:

While I haven’t yet seen it, the new movie 2012 is built around the ancient Mayan Prophecy that the world will end on December 21, 2012, which is said to be the end date of the 5,125-year-long Mayan Long Count calendar of one age and the beginning of another.

While the Mayans were long on math, they were short on details. Leaving many scientists to believe that the calendar doesn’t predict the end of life on this planet. But it simply marks a turn of the calendar. No different from when we change the cute 2009 calendar with the cute puppy 2010 calendar.

But that doesn’t stop the doomsday sayers. End of the world prophecies are VERY popular. They’re romantic, even sexy. They provide drama to a boring life. Power to an insignificant life.

After all, what is more important than the end of all things, the destruction of the planet, the finale to all existence? And if we have some inside information, we possess knowledge that most people don’t have. Giving us a sense of power.

2012 doomsday advocates don’t have to look far for support that the world will end some day. Today’s gospel provides some pretty heady predictions that sends the heart racing of everyone worried about whether the world will end by next commercial break. Jesus says that...(whole thing here)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sermon: Christ the King - Year B

Reign of Christ the King - Year B from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.

The folks who put the lectionary know what they’re doing. The lectionary being the series of bible passages that we read each week at worship. I certainly don’t choose the bible readings. Most churches around the world read the same bible passages. It’s something that unites us.

I don’t always agree with how they divide up the texts. They leave important passages out and often (I think) distort the meaning of the readings by how they lump them together.

But this week I can see twinkles in their eyes as they assign the reading from John on the one hand, and the readings from Daniel and Revelation on the other.

In John we get Jesus and Pilate bantering back and forth. Pilate representing worldly power and authority. And Jesus representing God’s dominion over the world. Jesus is the one who ends up dying a horrible. Pilate just washes his hands.

But in Daniel and Revelation we hear about God’s presence burning like fire while thousands of thousands attend to the Almighty’s every need. We hear threats of universal judgement and promises of everlasting kingdoms. We get unbridled power. Overwhelming omnipotence. Unrelenting strength.

So, John gives us Jesus on the losing end of a trial. Daniel and Revelation give us divine glory. Utter defeat verses total victory.

Which is it? What are we supposed to do with this?

And this isn't a question for cranky preachers up way too early on a Sunday morning. It's a question for...(whole thing here)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost 23 - Year B

Pentecost 23B from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.

Text here:

“The building is our idol,” our esteemed bishop said in his report at yesterday's Southern Conference Convention. “Some churches, if they had a choice,” he said, “would rather be without a pastor than a building.”

I immediately knew what he was talking about. My first church was like that. They had been without a pastor for about two years before I arrived. And when I was moving into the parsonage a couple council members made it known to me that they were happier without a pastor.

At first I thought they were saying that being without a pastor energized the congregation, that ministry was happening among all God's people, not just the ones wearing dog collars, that people were empowered to live out their baptismal calling through Word, Sacrament, and service. I thought they meant that being without a pastor meant that they were forced to flex their ministry muscles.

No. That's NOT what they meant...(whole thing here)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reformation Day Sermon

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities;” Paul says, “for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good.”

On what planet was Paul living on when he wrote that? “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.,” he says.

Really? Is that so?

Paul should know better. After all, as a Roman citizen he knew what the Roman government was capable of. He was eye-witness to brutal executions. The empire-building on the backs of slaves. He watched as people were forced to worship Caesar. No matter what religion they were.

In Jerusalem, he knew all about Herod's slaughter of 1000s of innocent children. The corrupt, puppet governments. The two-faced, double-dealing leaders.

This passage makes no sense when you think of where Paul came from. Or where any of us come from.

And this passage defies logic when placed along side of the rest of Paul's message. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul rails against the “rulers of this age.” Earlier in Romans, Paul demands that Christians confront the “principalities and powers” of this world. Not to submit to them.

This passage seems shoe-horned into this letter. As if it's not meant to be here. It feels out of place. Like someone put words in Paul's mouth.

In fact, a small group of scholars say that's exactly...(whole thing here)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 13: 11-14

Romans 13: 11-14

Paul thought the world was going to end soon. And Christians ever since have followed suit. It seems that every TV preacher likes to say that we’re living in the End Times, that Jesus’ return is going to happen before the next commercial. If we’re not careful, we’re warned that we may be “left behind.”

So, we better watch what we do. We don’t want to be caught sleeping when the Day of Salvation comes.

Every generation seems to believe that it is the last. But now with weapons being kept out of terrorist’s hands by a padlock. With the polar ice caps melting. With droughts every increasing around the world. We (or at least I) fear that this might be the generation that sees the End of All Things.

If that’s true, or even if it isn’t, Paul is saying to be alert to what God is doing. And live as if it is your last day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 13: 8-10

October 19 Romans 13: 8-10

I had a friend in university who, although a Christian, had a visceral dislike for poor people, government, Bill Clinton, liberals, and secular music.

When the Ontario Provincial government cut welfare payments by 22% before closing a major psychiatric hospital in Toronto, sending 1000s of people on to the street (literally), because, the government said that they needed to bring down the deficit, this fellow gloated.

“How can you be so gleeful about mentally ill people forced on to the streets? Haven’t you read Matthew 25 where Jesus said that Christians should make helping poor people a priority, or the Old Testament prophets who spoke on behalf of the most socially vulnerable in society?

He responded, “Haven’t you read the part in the bible where it says you should never go into debt?”

I’m assuming he paid cash for his house.

He was thinking of Romans 13: 8 “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves one another has fulfilled the law.”

I think he forgot the second part.

But I found his attitude appalling. He was, in effect, saying that homeless people and the mentally ill should pay off the deficit.

He’s not alone. We tend to think that we shouldn’t be asked to pay for anything if it helps someone other than ourselves. We don’t like love to cost us anything.

But Jesus shows us how much love costs. It cost Jesus his life. Should we expect that we should pay anything less?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 13: 1-7

Romans 13: 1-7

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for their is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (13: 1)

How could Paul make such a stupidly naive statement? So, God put Hitler in charge of Germany? Stalin in the USSR. Pol Pot in Laos? And the Christian’s duty is to subject themselves to this authority?

What happens to the prophetic voice, advocating on behalf of the powerless? The voiceless? The oppressed?

The Christians in Rome WERE the voiceless, powerless, and oppressed. Which makes Paul’s comment all the more jarring. Either he’s offering practical political advice (keep your heads down, don’t draw attention to yourselves. Just do what you’re doing quietly so as to not arouse the ire of the empire).

OR Paul is recognizing that the Roman empire was doing some good in the world. Yes, they were an oppressive regime. But they also created much needed infrastructure to the areas they conquered.

But is NOT saying to be subservient, but he is saying to participate in the city’s civic life. The prophetic role is not diminished, but then enhanced, as the Christians in Rome play a role in the on-going life of the city.

Christians are not islands, separated from the rest of the community. But rather, to be at the heart of community life.

Some may say that this leads to the domestication of the church. And they may be right. But it would also make our voices heard more clearly when we speak from our unique perspective.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 12: 9-21

Romans 12: 9-21

Whoever said that faith was reasonable didn't read today's passage from Romans. While we find echoes of this passage in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel, chapters 5-7, we tend to throw this sort of message in the back seat. We don't keep it next to us as we navigate our daily encounters with others. In fact, if our Foreign Affairs Minister followed Paul's advice in devising foreign policy, he would be out of a job by lunch time.

I think there is a part of us that doesn’t really care about what Paul was saying. There are times when I’m not terribly interested in following his advice. When I’m more interested in fighting, getting angry, exacting revenge. When I don’t want to live peaceably. When I want justice.

Christians are often know for how we fight rather than how we make peace. But Paul is reminding us we serve a God who reconciles with enemies rather than defeats them.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 12: 1-8

Romans 12: 1-8

We often hear this passage as a stand-alone exhortation on Christian moral behaviour. But I think this section is a response to the last. The word “therefore” is a giveaway.

It looks as if Paul is saying, “ALL of Israel will be saved. Those pesky Jewish folks who don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah will find their way into covenant with God. So don’t think you’re any better than them. You are one body. Dead in sin. Alive with Christ. You just have various roles to play according to your gifts. One gift is not any better or worse than another. So live your gifts in unity with each other - Jew and Gentile.”

Despite Paul’s best intentions, we tend to see some gifts as better than others. We’ve elevated the preaching office above all others, where Paul sees it as one gift among many.

We (rightly) celebrate at ordinations. But I wonder if we should similarly celebrate at other occasions as well. A lesson well taught. A bathroom expertly cleaned. Numbers deftly crunched. Every gift that comes from God is to God’s glory. I think Paul is asking us to remember that each of us plays a pivotal role in God’s enduring mission.

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 11: 25-36

Romans 11: 25-36

Here Paul concludes, albeit a little condescendingly, that, yes, ALL of Israel will be saved. And God is only saving Israel because “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29). Irrevocable for US and for GOD. Paul seems to suggest that God saves Israel grudgingly, but only after all the Gentiles find their way into covenant with God (v. 28). But I wonder if his choice of words are more his own discomfort with God saving his fellow Jews without Christ, than in God’s dutibound conscience.

Don’t you hate it when God chooses someone that you wished God didn’t. You may have seen on CNN the Baptist preacher in Arizona who preached sermon a called “Why I HATE Barack Obama.” where he says “he prays everyday that Barack Obama will die and go to Hell.”

Nice, eh? But Paul’s response would be, Pray all you want. God chooses who God chooses. And God NEVER breaks a covenant.

God’s grace is the great leveler. We’re ALL in the same boat when it comes to sin and grace. When God establishes a covenant with us, that covenant will remain solid. No matter what we do to try and break it.

But after Paul’s embittered concession that God hasn’t rejected Israel Paul breaks into a stirring doxology that reminds his readers that we mortals cannot understand God’s thinking. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blogging Through Romans 11: 11-24

Romans 11: 11-24

“...remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root supports you” (v.18b)

In the early church there was a movement to expunge the Old Testament from the bible. The reasoning was that the older covenants no longer applied, and that God has moved divine favour from the Jews to the Gentiles, since the official Jewish establishment didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

Later, in history, many church folks tried to take Jesus’ Jewishness from him. They tried to prove that Jesus wasn’t really Jewish, even though the gospels are pretty clear that he was.

It looks like some Gentile Christians in Rome were trying to do the same thing. Paul was responding to a group of snooty Gentiles who looked down their noses at Jewish non-Christians.

Paul was having none of it. In this passage, he is saying, “If you’re a Christian, thank a Jew. You cannot understand Christianity without understanding Judaism. The Jews were the first ones God had chosen to be lights to the world.”

Since the beginning, Christians and Jews have had an uneasy relationship. We Christians often find it unsettling that Jews don’t recognize Jesus as a Messiah, and I wonder, if deep down, we worry that the Jews know something we don’t know.

But, Paul then reminds us that there is no distinction, in God’s eyes, between Jew and Gentile. We are sisters and brothers of Abraham. The Jews simply were first. And Jesus was the way we Gentiles were brought into covenant with God.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost 19B Romans Series

Pentecost 19B Romans Series from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.

Romans 10: 5-17

What will the church of the future look like?

Will churches resemble what we have now? Will churches have pews and pastors, committees and councils, hymns and hierarchies?

Will leaders be trained in seminaries? Will there be a clergy/lay divide? Will we have buildings?

Probably “yes” to all these things. Some churches will hold on the current ways of being and doing church. Why fix what isn't broken? After all, it's worked for hundreds of years. If God didn't want the church to run this way why would God have established it like this? Right?

But also a big “NO.” I think God is doing something among mainline churches, those United, Presbyterian, United, and Anglican, churches that have some roots in the Reformation.

It's hard to say exactly what God is doing. But something is happening. There must be something that God is telling us as God has...(whole thing here)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

This is test....

...only a test. Please go back to bed.

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 10: 18-21

Romans 10: 18-21

Here Paul jumps back in his hole, getting his fellow Jews mad at him. Paul is saying that all Jews need to do is look at their bibles and they’ll know who Jesus is. They have heard the faith that he talks about in the previous section.

Paul is trying to open the doors to all gentiles while slamming it in the faces of his fellow Jews.

At least that’s the way it looks in the surface. If you read further, you’ll see that Paul is setting his readers up for another expression of grace in chapter 11.

This is why we can’t read scripture simply by pulling out a verse here and there. Especially not in Paul’s writings. Paul has a way of writing that makes you think he’s saying one thing, then pull the rug out from under the reader. It’s a specific rhetorical strategy that he uses to reinforce the power of his argument.

That’s why we shouldn’t doze off while listening to him. And it’s also why he’s been so badly misunderstood by some people.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 10: 5-17

Romans 10: 5-17

You may have heard about the “Romans Road” method of evangelism, where the would-be evangelist takes the unbeliever through scattered verses in Romans and ends up on 10:9: “...if you believe in your heart and confess with your lips that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved.”

Makes it easy. Salvation just means confessing and believing. All you need are the right tools.

The problem is, this method puts the onus on the non-believer, not with God. This popular verse of scripture ignores the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation event. And that confessing and believing means that “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13).

After Paul talks about confessing and believing as the mode of salvation in verses 9-13, he then asks:

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?”

I don’t think this passage is a call to evangelism, even though we use it that way. In fact, this was my ordination text. I read it as a summons to proclaim the good news as my life’s work.

But now I think Paul is speaking rhetorically. He ends this section with another popular verse (especially among Lutherans, since this was one of Luther’s favorite bible passages), “So, faith comes from what it heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

So, faith isn’t something we can argue people into. Faith always comes from outside ourselves. Faith comes from hearing and receiving God’s Word, which is Jesus Christ.

Paul is saying that we can't debate people into faith, we can’t prove the validity of faith scientifically, and we can’t use our best sales tactics to bring people to faith. This also means that our programs, gimmicks, tools, and methods, may bring people into church, but they don’t bring people into faith.

“Faith comes by hearing,” Paul says, “and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

Our job is to tell people about Jesus. It’s God’s job to do the rest. I don’t know about you but that lifts a HUGE burden off my shoulders!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 9: 30-10:4

Romans 9: 30-10:4

Paul digs the hole deeper. He calls his fellow Jews “ignorant” and “unenlightened” for not having faith in Jesus. Paul confesses a desire that they be saved, but he seems to suggest that chasing after works of the Law as a means to righteousness is, in fact, a form of faithlessness.

Which, in a sense it is. After all, if they’re pursuing righteousness through obedience to the Law, they are saying that it isn’t faith that makes them righteous, but obeying the Law does.

But also, Paul also seems to be saying that such an act of faithlessness is worse than other forms of faithlessness. Either the Jews have been chosen or they have NOT been chosen. If faith is a gift then the people of Israel can’t be faulted for not having that gift.

Christ may be “the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (10:4) but does that also mean that obedience to the Law is sinful? I’m not saying that we SHOULD be under the Law, but Paul does seem to suggest that the Jewish Christians are “unrighteous” because of their insistence on obeying the Law’s demands.

Paul seems to be needlessly creating an Us vs Them attitude toward Jewish non-Christians. This is why Jews today see Paul as anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. They counter Paul by saying that the Law was never meant to make them righteous. They aren’t in obedience to the Law so they can be in a good relationship with God. They obey the Law because it is a gift from God to establish them as a unique people, beloved by God. The Law gives them stability and identity, not righteousness.

They might even agree with Paul when he says that the Law does not justify. That’s not the Law’s job. But they would disagree with Paul when he says that the Law condemns. They say the Law gives them life.

Paul may have been responding to a specific fight in the church between Jewish Christians and their gentile brothers and sisters. But we’ve universalized this fight, and in doing so, misrepresented what Jewish people believe today about the Law.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 9: 19-29

Romans 9: 19-29

This is where Paul gets into trouble with some of his Jewish friends. A big part of his theology is that Christ is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel. And now Paul is saying that, because many of his fellow Jews haven’t recognized Jesus as Messiah, God is going to cut them loose.

At least that’s what it sounds like he’s saying. And a lot of Christians decided that Jews were fair game for aggressive evangelism because of this passage.

Paul quotes from the prophet Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not my beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”

God is opening the doors to all people. God’s Messiah will be for all people. First for the Jew, then for the gentile.

It doesn’t make sense to say, on one hand, that God chooses an elect, then on the other hand, God rejects them because they don’t have the proper faith. If God chooses then God chooses.

I think Paul is having an argument with his earlier self about how Jesus fits into Jewish thinking and believing. But even more than that, Paul is arguing with some Jewish Christians who don’t want gentiles in their fellowship.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Is Social Media a Fad?

What does this mean for faith communities?

The Diversity Culture? As opposed to what? The Conformity Culture?

Clearly, I'm not the target audience for this book. I don't find the idea of diversity controversial. In fact, I find it astonishing that the notion of “diversity” is even under discussion. Especially to the point where Matthew Raley needs to guide an anxious reader through it.

I'll save you the twenty bucks. The book can be summed up thusly: people are more than the boxes we put them in or categories we create. So, throw away your stereotypes and prejudices and love people like Jesus did (does).

Stop the presses.

While Raley tries his darndest to assure the reader that the “diversity culture” isn't really as bad or scary as they might think, I couldn't help but think as I was reading, “The problem isn't 'diversity'! The problem is the culture of compliance that is your primary audience! The problem isn't this 'emerging' culture. The problem is that some Christians confuse cultural and political power with God's power!”

According to the book jacket, “A new culture has emerged. It preaches spiritual openness, moral flexibility, and social diversity – and its making evangelicals feel uncomfortable. Threatened. Excluded.”

What “new culture” is he talking about? The “diversity culture” may be “new” to some evangelicals who've secluded themselves in the suburbs for the last half century. But for anyone who's been paying attention since the 1960's will note that diversity is not “new.” Nor is it an ideology to resist or to be guided through. It's a present reality due to the fact that self-expression is the cornerstone of what it means to live in the 21st century western world.

Raley means well. But I wonder if this book should have been written 40 years ago. The fact that this book apparently needed to be written tells me that there's a problem within some evangelical/conservative/red state thinking.

If they're feeling “threatened” they need to ask themselves WHAT is being threatened. Is it loss of privilege? Trouble finding their place in a changing world they had no hand in creating? The loss of safety in the majority? The disappearance of a past that never really existed?

I don't know if I'm encouraged or saddened by the fact that they're just figuring out now that we don't live in a binary universe, that traditional rural values do not equal historic faith, that Christ's mission is not to create a “Christian culture” but a New Creation, that our job as Christians is to love people without an agenda.

If any of the above is news to you, then you might find Raley's book helpful. Even challenging. But those who've had their eyes open for the past four decades might want to take a pass on this one.

NB: This review is part of my Viral Blogging obligation.

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 9: 6-17

Romans 9: 6-17

“I have loved Jacob. But I have hated Esau.”

I like to make fun of my Presbyterian friends because of what church reformer John Calvin made of this and similar passages. Calvin (who’s writings influenced the Presbyterian Church) talked about “Double Predestination” which means that God decided before the world began who was destined for eternal bliss in heaven, and who better load up on cosmic aloe vera. He, like Paul, called folks headed for heaven, the “elect.” The people destined for Hell, Calvin called “reprobate,” Nice, eh?

But I think Calvin made too much out of this passage. I think Paul was merely reiterating what he said earlier that we are not in control of our being righteous before God, that it’s because of faith that God declares us righteous.

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” God says, “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

In other words, God decides who God will choose to be righteous.

But does this just send us back to God deciding who sleeps under the divine palm tree and who ends up roasting in the eternal bonfire?

Not necessarily. Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall says that God doesn’t choose people for salvation, but for vocation. Just as God chose the people of Israel to be a “Light to the Nations” God chooses us as Christians to be the “Light of the World.”

You have been baptized, named, claimed, and chosen by God to shine with God’s holy light. As Jesus says, “Light your light so shine before others, so they may see your good works and glorify your God, who is in heaven” (Matthew 5: 16).

And when God’s New Creation finally comes in it’s fullness, the dead shall rise, and everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost 18B Romans Series

Pentecost 18B - Romans Series from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.


"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

We know that, do we? That's something we can ALL agree on, is it?

We know that all things work together for good or those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose.”

There are days when I don't like this verse. Not because I don't think it's true. But the days I don't like this verse are the days when, it's misused, when I hear it as a cop-out, a way of protecting our beliefs against the mystery of suffering. When its used to push aside or even dismiss other peoples' pain from someone who's uncomfortable with strong feelings. When it's used as an easy answer to life's hardest question.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose.”

If only it were that easy. If only we could always trust that it were true. If only those words worked like a magic formula when pain arrives at our front door.

But there are days when it's hard to make sense of what Paul is saying.

When staring at the...(whole text here)

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 9:1-5

Romans 9: 1-5

Clearly, Paul’s new Christian vocation is rubbing hard against his Jewishness. He knows something has changed. Either he has changed or his fellow Jews have. Paul evidently still feels deep kinship towards his fellow Jews, even to the point that he wishes “that I myself have been accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”

But, of course, he can’t. Paul spends a good amount of time in the chapters leading up to this demonstrating how he is bound to Christ. Christ’s Church is now his family, whether he likes it or not. Jesus put him where he is. And even if Paul wanted to go back to his earlier life, he couldn’t. Saul is dead. Paul is alive.

I can relate to Paul. I know what Paul is feeling. Often, when I spend time with non-Christian friends from home, I feel a sense of loss. Sometimes I think that the “old” Kevin has been lost, and the “new” Kevin is a diminished version of the old. I remember the excitement of questioning, or exploring new ideas about who God is, the challenge of being confronted with the God of the bible.

But I can’t go back. God has changed me and is changing me. I came to realize that “new” doesn’t mean “diminished.”

The same is for you. God is busy transforming you into a new person. That means that the old has passed away. It often means saying good-bye to an old life, an old, comfortable way of looking at the world and relating to others.

But God didn’t say that being a new creation would be easy. The best description Paul could come up with was child birth. And anyone who’s been in a delivery room while a baby is being born will tell you that bear new life is not pretty or pain-free. But out of that suffering, a new life emerges.

How is God changing you? Do you see evidence of transformation? What do you miss about your “old” life? What would you like God to change in your life?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Blogging through Romans: Romans 8: 1-17

Romans 8: 1-17

Here Paul’s Greek education is rearing its ugly head. Not that his Greek education was bad, but that it moved him away from his Hebrew roots.

The Hebrews believed that God was present on earth, in people, plants, animals, things. The Greek believed that the earth was evil and that heaven was good. They made a distinction between the “spirit” which was good. And the “flesh” which was bad.

Sound familiar? It sounds like Paul was reading Plato rather than Moses when he wrote this chapter. He talks about the spirit as “life” and the Flesh as “death.”

This is called dualism. And it’s VERY common in popular spiritualities. Cruise the spirituality sections of the bookstore and there’s a plethora of books dedicated to helping us transcend our bodies and commune with God in the spiritual realm.

But God was more interested in how reaching us on earth then in getting us to heaven. We pray “Thy Kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in heaven” rather than praying for US to go UP to God. God comes down. The fullness of God and heaven was/is present in Jesus - the Word made Flesh.

But if you notice, when Paul says “You are not in the flesh; you are in the spirit” he’s not talking literally. He’s saying that God has renewed you because the same Spirit that brought Jesus back from the dead is inside you as well. So go and live your resurrection life!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 7: 14-25

Romans 7: 14-25

In the book (and movie) Lord of the Rings, the character Gollum struggles with both the good and evil living inside him. The good side of him wants to obey his master, Frodo, but that evil part wants to murder his master and his friend. There’s a scene where Gollum struggles with both sides of his nature, fighting until one side vanishes.

I think we too, struggle with the good in us - the part made new and which loves God. And the evil, selfish part that that just won't go away.

Paul is under no illusion that we human beings become perfect and pure after coming to faith in Jesus. He knows the evil we’re capable of. He sees within himself (and us) a war between those two natures, fighting for dominance.

Luther called this simul iustis et peccator. Badly translated, simultaneously saint and sinner. Both Paul and Luther knew that the Christian life was NOT one upward climb until we reached perfect holiness.

They knew that we will always fight with our sinful selves, until that day when God will make the whole world new, and finish what God started when Jesus burst from the tomb, the firstborn of the new creation.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 7: 7-13

Romans 7: 7-13

On the surface, he’s talking about the Law of Moses, Jewish Law. But underneath all that he’s talking about all those unnecessary demands that we heap on people.

Lutheran theology talks about three uses of the Law. Actually two, the third being rejected by the ELCIC and for good reason.

The 1st use is – and I LOVE this term: Civic Righteousness. Even the heathen can do this, Luther says. This is good governance, making sure the street lights work, garbage is collected, and your neighbour can't steal your car. This is civil law. It's what we need to make sure we're not overrun by chaos.

The 2nd use is called the Theological Use: This is what Paul is talking about in today's passage when he says that “No human being will be justified in God’s sight” by deeds of the Law for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” That’s his way of saying that the only thing the Law can do is condemn us. That’s the Law’s job. The Law is to rub our noses in our sin, to drive us to the cross for mercy and forgiveness. Paul is saying that the more we try to obey the law, the more we fall into sin.

So, stop trying. He says. And stop making others live by the law. You have been set free from the Law. Now, live by the grace and forgiveness that God has given you as a gift. God is transforming you from the inside out. No longer do you have to worry that you fail, or if there’s sin in your life. Jesus took you sin, your failure, even your death with him to the grave and rose again in victory.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blogging through Romans: Romans 7: 1-6

Romans 7: 1-6

How would you identify yourself? Who makes you who you are? For me, I can say that I am a member of the Powell/Eckert family, husband to R, dad to S and N; pastor at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Canadian, etc.

It’s tempting to want to self-identify with those parts of our lives that we have some control over. Where we work, who our family is, who our friends are, where we live.

But Paul is saying that we no longer bound to the relationships of this world, that we are bound to Christ because we have died and risen with him in baptism.

Does this mean that our relationships don’t matter? Does this diminish the quality of our connections? No, but that they are only temporary. Our relationship with God changes the way we see the world and ourselves. Because we have died and risen with Jesus, we see the world with Jesus eyes: dead to sin and free to serve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CIBC Update

Update on this post.

I just got off the phone with a CIBC rep. They're accepting my pay stubs and a new card will be coming in the mail in the next week or so. They said they'll be talking with the other rep I dealt with, and will review their policy on private information.

But the best part was that they contacted ME. Apparently, they found my screed on this humble blog and wanted to rectify the situation.

I knew this blog would pay off some day.

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 6: 15-23

Romans 6: 15-23

“Grace is not a license to sin,” I often hear. But the implication afterwards is “so don’t sin.”

As if it were that easy. We like to condemn sin. We like to make sure that this whole grace thing doesn’t get out of control. We like to put boundaries around peoples’ behaviour.

Because boundaries mean power. Whoever puts the lines around peoples’ lives gets to control what people do.

I think that’s why we hear more law than gospel from most preachers. It’s easier and more empowering to condemn others than to set them free. It puts us in the position of God. If we trust God’s grace then that means that we have no part to play in governing peoples’ lives - which we LOVE to do.

But we will ALWAYS sin. We will ALWAYS be slaves to something that’s not God. That could be power, money, sex, control, work, whatever. And, as Paul notes, Only God’s redeeming grace can set us free from our slavery.

Monday, September 28, 2009

CIBC Sucks

(for an update on how this was resolved, click here)

I've been banking with CIBC for over a decade. My wife and I have our family credit card with them. As well as our retirement plan.

Last month I applied for a new CIBC VISA card. As proof of employment, they wanted copies of my last two pay stubs. Which I faxed to them.

I waited. Waited. And waited.

After about three weeks I called to check on the status of my application. Here's how it went:

Me: I'd like to check on the status of my VISA application, please.

(went through the usual reference number, name, address, phone number etc.)

CIBC: Sorry, Mr. Powell, but we need some more information to finish your application.

Me: What information? I sent you everything you asked for.

CIBC: Your pay stubs have been rejected.

Me: Rejected! Why!?

CIBC: Your pay stub was dated for August 31 and you faxed it on August 28. You can't send post dated pay stubs because you may be unemployed for the three days between you sending the pay stub and the date that is marked on it.

Me: You're kidding, right?

CIBC: So now we need to see your T-4 slip. I'm assuming you're not self-employed.

Me: No, I'm not. But why can't I just send you two more pay stubs? Why do you need my T-4?

CIBC: Because your previous pay stubs were rejected.

Me: But what does one have to do with the other?

CIBC: We can't now trust your pay stubs. We need a T-4.

Me: I faxed this information to you almost a month ago. Why wasn't I told the pay stubs were rejected?

CIBC: The departments don't communicate with each other.

Me: I was mailed a notice ASKING for the INITIAL information. Why couldn't you do the same with asking for MORE information?

CIBC: We don't mail material with private information. Someone could steal the letter and the information.

Me: But you send me my other VISA bill every month. And that has personal information. Even my credit card number.

CIBC: Yes, but we don't send letters with personal information when someone is applying for a VISA card.

Me: Why not?

CIBC: In case a husband is applying for a card and doesn't want his wife to find out.

[I kid you not]

Me: I beg your pardon?

CIBC: We don't send letters containing personal information through the mail in case one spouse is trying to hide the card from another.

Me: You're kidding.

CIBC: No, sir. That's our policy.

Wow. Just Wow.

I'm reconsidering my relationship with CIBC.

Sermon: Romans Series (Romans 6:1-11)

Pentecost 17B Romans Series from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.


“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?”

Seems like an odd question, don't you think? Should we continue to sin so that we'll get more of God's love and mercy? Should we continue to hurt one another so that we'll receive more of God's forgiveness? Should we continue to inflict pain on ourselves so that we'll receive more of God's healing?

The answer seems as clear as the shine on my head.

But apparently, this wasn't just a rhetorical flourish on Paul's part. It was a real problem in some churches in Rome. People were “sinning” in order to get an extra dose of God's loving kindness. They were breaking God's Laws, intentionally seeking condemnation, simply so they would feel God's warm, forgiving embrace.

(Well, that was their story and they were sticking to it. The cynic in me wonders if that's just what they told their fellow churchies. “Ummm...yeah, I stole my neighbour's pig, but that was just so I could have another experience of God's amazing love, not because I needed to fill my freezer with tasty, tasty, bacon.”)

I had a little trouble following Paul's logic at first - “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” - I had troubling figuring out...(whole thing here)

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 6: 12-14

Romans 6: 12-14

The first sentence of this passage ( “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions”) needs to be read in light of the last sentence of last passage (“The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”).

It’s almost as if Paul is saying that we have complete control of our sins now that we have been made a new creation in Jesus. But what I think he’s saying is that we don’t have to see ourselves as sinful beings anymore, but as forgiven people, cleansed, made whole.

Because, for me, I KNOW I still sin. I still do things that hurt other people, myself, and God. I still break the promises I made in baptism and confirmation.

But God didn’t break those promises. It’s because God kept those promises that we can now see ourselves as brand new people, and also seen by God as pure and untarnished, whose sins will not be held against us.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 5: 15-21

Romans 5: 15-21

For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.

Paul is saying that God’s grace is ALWAYS stronger than sin. No matter how much we sin, God’s grace is always greater. Even though we sin, God will always forgive us. Not because we deserve forgiveness, but because God won’t allow sin to win out in our lives in the world.

To me, this section reads almost like a battle story, where sin tries to have dominion over our lives and world, but God is always defeating the powers of sin and death.

In the apostles’ creed, we confess that Jesus “descended into Hell.” What did he do there? Luther said that it was in hell that Jesus defeated the power of “sin, death, and the devil.” In fact, it was this part of Jesus’ story, I’m told, that helped folks in Norway come to faith in Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross was OFFENSIVE to viking culture because it portrayed Jesus, not as saviour, but as weakling.

BUT, they COULD worship a God who would go into enemy territory and emerge victorious. The fancy term for this is the “Christus Victor” theory of atonement. It says that Jesus’ victory wasn’t just on the cross, but also in Hell, when he defeated God’s enemies so that God’s people could could be free from Hell’s tyranny.

That’s what I see happening in this passage: a battle between sin/death and grace. And because grace is ALWAYS stronger, sin and death are defeated. God has claimed a victory on our behalf.

This means that we have no control over our destiny. But that Jesus has defeated all the powers that keep us from God. And now we are free to live as beloved children of the one who created us, called us by name, and gave us new and everlasting life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 5: 12-15

Romans 5: 12-14

Here Paul distinguishes between sin as disobedience to the Law, and sin as being disobedient to God. It seems like a small distinction, but he has to deal with the existence of sin as brought into the world by Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, BEFORE the Law was even established.

But also, Paul is trying to bookend the history of sin. Sin and death were brought into the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and was defeated - ended - by Jesus’ death and resurrection. A new world, a new humanity was born when Jesus’ eyes opened and his tomb stone was rolled away.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 5: 1-11

Romans 5: 1-11

“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (vv. 3-4)

“I don't wanna die without any scars...” Tyler Durden, Fight Club.

I think Paul could have used the word “wisdom” instead of “hope” and it would have worked just as well. Suffering CAN produce wisdom. It can also create compassion.

It seems to me that suffering is something that find us, instead of us going out looking for it. Often, especially during Lent, it feels as if Christians extol suffering as something to be achieved, rather than something that happens to us because we live in a fallen world. I think that it’s our scars that make us who we are. Our scars help us to connect with others in their pain. It’s our failures that bring wisdom, our diseases that help us connect with our bodies, and our grief that tells us that we have loved.

Paul seems to be encouraging a persecuted Roman church, saying that their suffering is not happening in vain, that their suffering has meaning, because their hope is in the one who suffered and died for them, so they too may receive resurrection on the last day.

When you suffer, can you find meaning in it? Do you find Paul’s words encouraging? Or do you think Paul is trying to find meaning in what is a meaningless experience?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Name of the Anti-Christ Revealed!

Love this little bit of exegesis. Love the disclaimer at the end even more.


Blogging Through Romans: 4: 13-25

Romans 4: 13-25

“If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.”

Paul is saying that we are heirs of Abraham and Sarah because we have the same faith in the same God, not because we follow the same Law that Abraham and Sarah did. God blessed Abraham and Sarah by making them the “parents of many nations” because of their faith, not because of their obedience to the law. God blessed them because that’s what God wanted to do. Not because they worked hard to achieve their status as the parents of the Jewish people

While all this sounds good, some days I’d rather have the hard work. At least I know what’s expected of me. I have some control over the direction of my destiny. There are time when I would prefer that to have my life and destiny in the hands of an unseen God, guiding me through life and beyond life.

But that’s what happened to Abraham and Sarah. They started their new life with just a promise that God would be faithful. They didn’t see the fruit of that blessing, they simply trusted that God was guiding them.

That’s hard. But that’s the challenge of faith.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 4: 9-12

Romans 4: 9-12

Paul continues with the Abraham story. He’s citing precedent with his Jewish readers. By telling Abraham’s story he’s saying “Hey Folks, I’m not making this up. What I’m telling you was true from before our people began. Check the bible.”

Paul points out that “It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised”(vv. 10b-11).

So, why does this matter? I think this part of important because we often put requirements in front of participation. We say that a person needs to be baptized and/or confirmed before receiving the Lord’s Supper, despite the fact that the bible has no such stipulation. Our constitution says that someone needs to become a member of Good Shepherd before entering into a position of leadership, as if membership itself confers special authority, or that God’s work and will is limited to those whose names written in our membership book.

Paul was worried that the circumcision requirement would needlessly turn people away from Jesus. What other things do we do as Christians or as a church that might be stumbling blocks for people coming to faith in Jesus?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 4: 1-8

Romans 4: 1-8

Paul pulls out the big guns. He invokes the story of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. He does this because he wants to show God chose Abraham, not because Abraham deserved to be father to many nations, but because God wanted Abraham for this job. Not because Abraham did anything to deserve or earn such an honour. Why God chose Abraham is a mystery. But then again, who is righteous enough to earn God’s favour?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 3: 1-8

Romans 3: 1-8

I once had an argument with a clergy colleague over a social justice issue and how Christians are to faithfully respond to injustice.

I saw God’s justice through the lens of Luke, Isaiah, and Micah, where justice means liberating oppressed peoples, protecting the most vulnerable among, lifting the poor from poverty and challenging social and economic structures that privilege some people over others.

He saw God’s justice as God’s wrath against sin. “If we invoke God’s justice,” he said, “we invoke God’s wrath.”

So who’s right? Was *I* right to say that God’s justice was about proclaiming good news to the poor and setting the captives free?

Or was HE right by saying that God’s justice is punishment against sin?

I think we’re both right. Because God’s justice is about bringing about a new person, forgiven of sin, and brought into a right relationship with God, through Jesus.

AND God’s justice is about transforming the world, where our sinful choices hurt other people.

Paul was reacting to those who don’t think that God cares about sin. As if sin was something relegated to the past or a vehicle for God’s grace to shine. Paul was saying that sin still hurts us and the world. Sin is still a living reality in our lives.

Blogging Through Romans 2: 25-29

Romans 2: 25-29

In this section Paul is confronting outward appearance verses inward conviction and personal commitment. This may seem like a silly argument, left in the dusty pages of a 2000 year old document. But male circumcision was a BIG deal in the early church. Whether male gentile converts to Christians needed to be circumcised was THE most controversial issue of the time. Even more controversial than the debates over homosexuality is in our ELCIC.

Paul is hinging the argument of his whole letter on this little passage. For Paul, the debate all comes down to HOW or IF gentile converts to Christianity needed to observe Jewish Law. And Jewish Law specifically and clearly said that men needed to be circumcised as a sign of their covenant to God (ouch!).

For Paul, it didn’t make sense for people to go through the motions of religion yet lack faith and commitment. And that’s how he saw some of the Jewish Christians. As those who put meaningless demands on those who came to faith in Jesus as saviour.

What demands do WE put on people? What do WE make people conform to in order for them to be part of our community? What things do WE love more than the people God loves?

It’s a hard question if you think about it. Just as Jewish Law and practice defined what Judaism is and was, we Lutheran Christians have our doctrine to define us. We have our non-negotiables in our tradition - those things that make us who we are.

But what happens when those things become stumbling blocks to people? At what point do our traditions need to die in order that people may live?

I think that’s the question Paul was asking in this passage.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 2: 17-24

Romans 2: 17-24

Here, Paul’s primary audience is identified: Jewish Christians who aren’t obeying Jewish Law (or are really lazy in their observances) but who insist in teaching it to others. And more than that, these Jewish Christians derive tremendous national pride in as being observant of Jewish Law.

But Paul seems to be saying that pride in being observant is misplaced. It’s their value as God’s chosen people that’s to be the centrepiece of their lives, not on how well they observe Jewish Law.

Christians are not exempt from misplaced pride. We’ve heard of some Christians who seem to be proud of being “bible believing Christians” rather than God’s people of grace. They seem more interested in believing the right things according to the bible rather than living in God’s mercy and forgiveness.

I think that’s because it’s easier to control peoples’ behaviour than to let God be God. But Paul says “NO!” to anything that smacks of bible worship, directing us instead to the one whom the bible proclaims, and from whom we find our identity as God's people: Christ crucified and risen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 2: 12-16

Romans 2: 12-16

This section is an aside, a parenthetical comment between the previous section (chapter 2: 1-11) and the next one (chapter 2: 7-29).

When Paul says later in the letter, “there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (3: 22-33) he's repeating this section. There is no distinction between the Gentiles who broke the “law written on their hearts” and the Jews who live “under the law” knowing full well what God requires of them. Paul is saying whether you are a Jew or Gentile, you have broken the covenant God made with you.

Paul could be responding to a church fight between Jews and Gentiles. Each of them believing the other has sinned more robustly than they have. Jews were bragging about how well they kept God's Law, the Law of Moses, and the Gentiles were boasting about how free they were, and living how they wanted.

We see this playing out in our churches, especially within the ELCIC. Some folks see themselves as defenders of doctrine, protecting the historic faith (as they define it) that they believe has arrived at our doorstep untarnished by centuries of preaching.

Others see themselves as liberationists, emancipating the bible texts from 2000 years of cultural interpretation, allowing the bible to breath after being constrained so long under the tyranny of authoritarian Christian leaders.

But Paul is saying “You're BOTH wrong. You BOTH sinned. In fact, your fight is sinful. No one is better than the other.”

I hate it when Paul makes this argument. I'd rather be better than the other guy. I'd rather look down my nose at those hurting God's church.

But Paul tells me to take a breath, suck it up, and remember that we are ALL under the same sentence of condemnation.

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 2: 1-11

Romans 2: 1-11

Paul is piling it on thick. It's like he's reveling in his telling the Roman Christians how awful and sinful they are. Not only were they guilty of every sin mentioned in chapter one, but they were also guilty of being judgmental hypocrites!

Paul's condemnation reminds me of the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector found in Luke 18: 9-14:

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

For Paul, the Roman Christians' greatest sin was believing they were less sinful than others. Jesus could have easily summed up chapter 2 when he said, “Judge not, so that you may not be judged” (Matt 7:1).

But this is easier said than done. We like to think we're farther ahead on the righteous path than others. Whether we believe our doctrine is purer than others, or our behaviour more moral, our personal choices more in line with God. We like to think that maybe church-going brings us greater favour from God, that our bible knowledge makes us more spiritual. When we do this Jesus asks why we see the “speck in our neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in our own eye” (Matt 7: 3).

Today I encourage you to ask God where you feel superior to others, and ask the Holy Spirit to bring you greater humility to relate to a fallen world of fellow sinners in need of forgiveness.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blogging Through Romans: Romans 1: 18-32

Romans 1: 18-32

This is hard text for many people. Myself included. Paul starts in verse 18 talking about God's wrath against certain people. But what people? Who is Paul referring to? All he says is that these people “knew God, they did not honour God as God or gives thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (vv. 21-23)

Clearly, Paul is talking about idolatry and pagan worship by those who should know better. The consequences of such worship:

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

“For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (vv. 24-27).'

There is no consensus as to what this means. Some say that this passage is a clear condemnation of homosexuality. Others say that it's not a simple as we might think. They point out that the presenting issue is idolatry, and that the homosexual behaviour that Paul was talking about was in the context of pagan worship.

Or they might say that Paul equated homosexuality with lust, and that this condemnation doesn't apply to those gays and lesbians who want to get married, since marriage is built on commitment, rather than sexual desire.

Others point to the word “unnatural” in verses 26-27 and point out the other things that Paul calls “unnatural.” In 1 Corinthians 11: 14 – 15 Paul says, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.”

I don't know many people who would say that long hair on men is “unnatural” or that long hair on women is “to her glory.” Especially when I see so many women in our churches with short hair, and not a few men with long hair.

This leads people to suggest that Paul's notions of sexuality was based on his cultural understanding, not upon scripture. Or else he would have quoted the appropriate Old Testament passage.

And as we proceed down to verses 29-32, we find that we're ALL indicted and deserve punishment. Paul says

“They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”

Who among us CANNOT find ourselves condemned in at least ONE sin on that list? So, Paul concludes this section in tomorrow's reading: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things” (v. 2: 1).