Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A New Target

I made my Easter weight target. Which wasn’t that much of a, er, stretch. Which means that Stephen Harper will have to look elsewhere to fund his anti-Ignatieff attack ads.

So, I’ve given myself another target: 20 pounds by June 30 @ 12: 00 pm. I’m not giving myself an incentive or disincentive. Just the target to shoot for.

Will keep you updated.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sermon: Easter

If you’re looking for a clean, happy, ending to this Jesus story, don’t bother looking to Mark. It’s like he finished his gospel in mid-sentence, as if the pen was ripped from his hands right before he got the his main point. The story feels stilted, stunted, smaller than it should be.

It looks like something’s missing. It doesn’t make sense to finish the gospel by saying,

”Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

You can almost hear the dot-dot-dot after the word “afraid.” There’s no resolution. The story sounds incomplete. This ending leaves us wanting more.

But this is where the earliest and most reliable manuscripts end the story. This is Mark’s final sentence. His conclusion. All that other stuff you find in your bibles after this verse wasn’t in the earliest known versions of this story.

For Mark, there’s no...(whole thing here)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bonhoeffer died this day in 1945

Remembering Bonhoeffer and his cost of discipleship.

Good Friday

Dvorak's Requiem...

Good Friday Reproaches

"My people, My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you answer me!

I led you out of Egypt from slavery to freedom, but you have led your Savior, and nailed Him to a cross.

Hagios OTheos, Hagios ichyros,
Hagios athanatos eleison himas.
Holy is God, Holy and Strong,
Holy Immortal One , have mercy on us.

For forty years in safety, I led you through the desert, I fed you with my manna, I gave you your own land, but you have led your Savior, and nailed Him to a Cross.

Hagios O Theos, Hagios ichyros,
Hagios athanatos eleison himas.
Holy is God, Holy and Strong,
Holy Immortal One , have mercy on us.

O what more would you ask from me? I planted you, my vineyard, but sour grapes you gave me, and vinegar to drink, and you have pierced your Savior and pierced Him with a spear.

Hagios OTheos, Hagios ichyros,
Hagios athanatos eleison himas.
Holy is God, Holy and Strong,
Holy Immortal One , have mercy on us.

For you scourged your captors, their first born sons were taken, but you have taken scourges and brought them down on Me.

My people, My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me!

From slavery to freedom I led you, drowned your captors. But I am taken captive and handed to your priests.

My people, My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me !

Your path lay through the waters, I opened them before you, my side you have laid open and bared it with a spear.

My people, My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me !

I led you, held securely, My fire and cloud before you, but you have led your Savior, hands bound to Pilate's court.

My people, My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me!

I bore you up with manna, you bore me down and scourged me. I gave you saving water, but you gave me soured wine.

My people, My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me !

The kings who reigned in Canaan, I struck way before you. But you have struck my crowned head, and struck it with a reed.

My people, My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me !

I gave you a royal scepter but you gave me a thorn crown. I raised you up in power, but you raised me on the Cross.

Hagios OTheos, Hagios ichyros,
Hagios athanatos eleison himas.
Holy is God, Holy and Strong,
Holy Immortal One , have mercy on us.

- A Poor Clare Colettine Nun

Lenten Reading Mark 15: 33-47

Mark 15: 33-47

Have you ever seen someone die? I have. It doesn’t look like it does on TV. I read somewhere that the line between life and death is very fluid. That the only distinguishing feature is that the heart has stopped breathing.

I don’t know if that’s true, you’d have to ask a doctor or nurse about that.

In my job, I’m occasionally called upon to sit with a family as they turn off the respirator in the ICU. Or to say prayers as a loved one breathes so slowly that their slip into death is almost unnoticed.

Jesus’ death wasn’t like that. It was horrible. Painful. Lonely. Being in eyesight of his mother he probably felt for her grief, which would have added to his agony. Jesus’ death was violent and unjust.

Someone said that every death is a violent death. I think there’s something to that. Death, no matter how quick or quiet, is a emptying of a life. A presence. A relationship.

I think that’s why Jesus’ died so willingly. Not to satisfy the wrath of an angry god who can only be appeased by the death of an innocent. But because the only way to defeat the violence of death was to conquer it from within.

So, Jesus’ death wasn’t just the execution of social and religious radical. But the death that defeated Death. When his head dropped and his spirit left him, Jesus won a victory for the whole world.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lenten Reading: Mark 15: 21-32

Mark 15: 21-32

Reading this story at the beginning of Spring creates a small conflict in me. So much suffering amidst so much beauty. Life and death, beginnings and endings. Splendor and pain. It’s as if the relentless march of life is indifferent to death. When people suffer, shouldn’t the backdrop shade what’s happening around us? To me, flowers at funerals and cemeteries in the spring mock our suffering and bereavement

I’m wondering of that’s what Jesus’ disciples thought as they watched their friend hang from a cross as the sweet sent of lilacs wafted passed their sorrowing noses. I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt as his life slipped away from him.

Maybe that’s why he cried out in frustration, My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you mock me? Why don’t you answer me!?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lenten Reading Mark 15: 1-21

Mark 15: 1-21

I don’t know why Jesus doesn’t say anything when Pilate interrogates him. If Jesus’ intention was to announce the kingdom of God then proclaiming its arrival in the presence of regional head of the Roman Empire would have made a tremendous impact. It would have shown his followers that this whole Messiah thing was true. With a word, he could have conquered the principalities and powers that dominated God’s people.

But Jesus just stood there. His lips sown shut.

It could be that Jesus knew that Pilate wouldn’t have heard him. Pilate wouldn’t have understood what Jesus was talking about.

It could be that Jesus knew who had the real power. He knew that the cross was stronger than Pilate’s imperial might.

I think the lesson for us here is to trust that the cross does mean power. The power of self-giving love over domination.

Too often, Christians mistake worldly power for God’s power. At a local Christian bookstore, a sign stands over the theology section that commands, “Defend Biblical Truth" against, who, exactly?

I don’t think “Biblical Truth” (whatever that is) needs to be defended. The demand for one's "Truth" to dominate looks like a power grab. Jesus never said, "Go out into the world, defend the bible, demand the world adopt a 'Christian worldview." If that was his agenda, then he would have stood up to Pilate. Instead, he simply stood silent.

Perhaps the best way to witness to the “truth” of the bible against an sort-of-believing world is not to get into arguments or debates, but to point to the cross. Just like Jesus did.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Paging Chief Wiggum

So, I went to the local constabulary to report that someone's been messing with my tires. Here's how it went:

Me: I want to report that someone's been messing around with my tires.

Lethbridge's Finest: What? H'uh? What are you talking about?

Me: Someone's been loosening, and in some cases, removing the bolts that keep my tires on.

LF: On your car?

Me: Yes.

LF: Do you know who did it?

Lenten Reading: Mark 14: 27-72

Mark 14: 27-72

In his book Silence, the Japanese writer Shusako Endo tells the story of a 17th century Portuguese missionary named Rodrigues, who goes to Japan to save souls. Preparing himself for this mission, he spends a great deal of time contemplating the face of Christ, in which he sees every quality he himself wishes to possess: courage, serenity, wisdom, faith. It is an altogether noble image, only it remains just that for Rodrigues – a silent image that does not offer him guidance or consolation. When he arrives in Japan he is quickly in need of both.

Walking right into a national uprising against Christians, he soon finds himself in prison where his captors order him to renounce his faith. Sustained by the brave faith of Christ, he refuses, hoping to be martyred on the spot. Instead, he is returned to his cell, where he listens for some word from the Lord. All he hears are the cries of his fellow prisoners – and a strange, snuffling sound he assumes is the snoring of the guards.

When he is yanked from his cell again the next morning and refuses once again to renounce his faith, he learns that the strange snuffling sound he heard in the dark is the laboured breathing of Japanese Christians.

They have been crucified upside down, their heads half buried in pits of excrement. They will hang there like that, the guards tell him, until he renounces his faith.

Rodrigues is paralyzed. Shall he betray Christ or the Christians? That is his choice. If he chooses Christ, he leaves his fellow Christians in unimaginable suffering. If he chooses the Christians, he turns his back on Christ and just may lose his soul.

While he agonizes over the decision, the guards bring a metal image of Christ into the room and place it a Rodrigues’ feet. They tell him to trample, to put his foot in the middle of the Christ image and grind it with his toe. Looking down at it, Rodrigues sees that it is already crushed and soiled by the feet of those who have gone before him. It bears no resemblance to the face he has adored all his life, the silent face to whom he has prayed his desperate prayers.

Torn between his loyalty to Christ and his loyalty to those snuffling in the dark, he is hung between the two when he hears the voice of Christ, coming to him from the image at his feet. “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know the pain at your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on…that I was born into this world.”

The silence of God is broken. Christ speaks, not from some safe place outside of human suffering, but from the very heart of it. He is the trampled one, soiled and crushed, whose loyalty to us leads him to endure all that we endure – right up to and including the silence of God. (based on Barbara Brown Taylor, When God is Silent)

I think Peter could relate to this story.

Lenten Reading: Mark 14: 1-26

Mark 14: 1-26

Leah was living under house arrest for stealing a car when I met her.

I visited with her each week for about six months. We talked about her life, and how God fit into it.

One day, as I was leaving one of our visits, she hesitated, and then asked, “Next time you come, can you bring Communion?”

I could have smacked myself for not thinking of it sooner. After all, that’s part of my job, isn’t it? To bring communion to those who can’t come to it?

The next week, I brought my communion kit and laid it out on her kitchen table. I apologized in advance for the stale wafers and cold red wine that had been left in my car over night.

Then, I look the bread in my hand and reminded her that:

In the night he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took break, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying ‘Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’

And after supper he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to all to drink saying, ‘This cup is the New Covenant which is shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.”

I handed her the bread and gave her God’s promise: This is the body of Christ, given for you.

Leah burst out crying. She grabbed a Kleenex and dabbed her eyes. “For ME?” she asked.

“For you,” I said.

She received the bread in her hand and put it in her mouth.

I took the cup and said, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Leah brushed the hair from her face, dabbed her eyes again, took the cup, and put it to her mouth.

I was surprised that she, then took a wafer from the jar, and said, “The body of Christ, given for you, pastor.”

And handed me the bread.

Then she took the cup and placed it to my lips saying, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

I took her hand and said, “May the body of blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen us and keep us in his grace. Amen.”

“Amen,” she said.

To the casual observer, this encounter looked like just another pastoral visit, two people doing what church folks are supposed to do.

But to God, to me, and to Leah, this was the biblical story jumping out from the pages.

Even though the bread was stale and the wine too cold, we shared communion not because of fancy church words or because one of us was wearing a dog collar, or even because we ate bread and drank wine, but because God was present, .

We shared communion because God made it so. God turned our eating and drinking into a feast of shared humanity; broken, frail, and in need of healing and forgiveness. That day, in her little apartment, I had the opportunity and privilege to see her as God sees her – as a beloved child.

Or I like how internet sage, Real Live Preacher puts it, “If the wafers are going stale for you, be the bread yourself. Break yourself open and nourish the world.

“If the communion table seems cheap and tacky, become a table yourself. Be a resting place for the weary.

“If you feel there are no more angels, pick up the phone and spread your own [glad] tidings.

“Gather your bread. Set your table. Shout your good news.

“Do these things in remembrance of him.” Or maybe, in remembrance of her.

Lenten Reading: Mark 13: 1-31

Mark 13: 1-31

Jesus paints a picture of the end of the world, and it isn’t pretty. This section is referred to as Mark’s “Little Apocalypse.”

The word “apocalypse” tends to conjure images of fires, bombs, horrible deaths, mass atrocity, etc. Many TV preacher spend their whole ministries trying to connect news events with bible prophecies, such as this one, often with the hope that God is, in fact, destroying the earth and will come back and rescue righteous believers, lifting them to a heavenly realm.

That is NOT what this passage is about. In fact, “apocalypse” is actually a literary genre well known to people in New Testament times.

“As a literary genre, ‘apocalyptic’ is a way of investing space-time events with their theological significance; it is actually a way of affirming, not denying, the vital importance of the present continuing space-time order, by denying that evil has the last word in it. It is only when such literature is read without a fully historical understanding that it is in danger of being mistaken for the Stoic philosophy, which unlike early Judaism, really did envisage the space-time universe being dissolved at a later date” (NT Wright, The New Testament and the People of God p. 392).

So, these passages, the foretelling of the Temple’s destruction, the coming persecution, the false messiahs, and the coming of the Son of Man, are really stories about God ultimately triumphing over evil. And Jesus was using common images and familar bible stories to make his point.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Caught in time...this time.

You may remember last year when our front tire almost came off when my wife and kids were driving on the Deerfoot in Calgary. Well, it’s happened again. Yesterday, the car started making an awful noise. So, when we pulled over we saw that there were only two bolts holding our front passenger side tire on.

I called the dealership and had them take a look at it.

“Looks like someone’s been messing with your car,” the service guy said when I picked it up.

The blood drained from my face.

“You mean the bolts wouldn’t have shaken loose on their own?”

“Nope. We use machines to put them on.”

“Maybe there’s a problem with the threads,” I said.

“No, we didn’t have any trouble putting the new bolts on. The only way to get these off is with a wrench. Someone’s been loosening your tires.”

So, if looks like either my family has an enemy. Or someone’s been trying to steal the tires. Either way, a phone call to the police is in order.

Lenten Reading Mark 12: 28-44

Mark 12: 28-44

Allyn, at this morning’s bible study, pointed out that to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself” implies that one has love for one’s self. That’s a great point. I think many of folks struggle with this passage because they lack a healthy sense of self-love. Not a selfish love, but an appropriate sense of self-respect.

The other side of this is that God expects us to love ourselves appropriately. I think, too often in Christian thinking there is a sense that humility means that we put ourselves down, rather than see others in the world as equals. Humility doesn’t mean thinking we are less than others, humility means that we don’t think of ourselves as better than anyone else.

And out of that respect for others grows a servant attitude, that we see each other as people valued by God, and so in need of the same love that we’ve been given.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Pastoral Letter from ABT Bishop Ron Mayan

Bishop Ron asked that this be made available to folks, so here it is. Brief commentary at the bottom.


Regarding The “Confessional Ministerium” And “We Believe in the Gospel”

1 April. 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

In recent weeks you may have become aware of two groupings of rostered professional church workers who have launched initiatives to speak to our Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada about theological and pastoral matters that are of pressing concern to them. Both groupings emanate from the ABT Synod. This pastoral letter is meant to inform you of these groupings, and to assure you that they are continuing a dialogue and debate that has been on-going in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for many years. While narrowly defined as the debate over same-sex blessings, the broader debate is about the authority of Scripture, the interpreting of Scripture for today’s context, and the theological and confessional integrity of our Church as defined in Article II of our Church Constitution – Confession of Faith.

The “Confessional Ministerium” is a grouping of traditionalist clergy who organized in the fall of 2008, with the blessing of this bishop. What drew them together was a shared concern that the ELCIC was setting a course which departs from the traditional teachings of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church --- the faith once handed down to us, and borne witness to, for two millennia. The Statement of the Confessional Ministerium can be found at their website: www.confessionalministerium.ca . The Confessional Ministerium is an open, public and transparent group raising their concerns to the Church in the way Lutherans have traditionally done that, namely, by preparing and signing a theological statement or paper. This is how Lutherans have always discussed and debated controverted matters.

“We Believe in the Gospel” is a public, open and transparent group of rostered workers originating in ABT Synod who are more liberal in their understanding but who nevertheless bind themselves to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. They are concerned that progressive Lutherans in the ELCIC not be portrayed as people abandoning the Gospel, and they wish not to be misrepresented in their beliefs. Their contribution to the debate is a theological paper entitled “We Believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ” which can be found at their website: http://webelieveinthegospel.org . This group also met with, and has the blessing of, this bishop, precisely because this is the way we discuss controversial issues.

Groups within our Church with different understandings express themselves to each other in the form of theological statements and papers, and in so doing invite theological response. This is meet and proper. Review the Book of Concord for the written evidence – especially the Formula of Concord.

The items in dispute are not easily resolved, as our recent church history confirms. The rise of the Confessional Ministerium as well as the We Believe in the Gospel group manifests the sincere and deeply-held convictions of our rostered workers and their commitment to the faith. In my view, that this discussion is now in the public forum is the proper process.

This pastoral letter is to provide information to the rostered workers and congregational leaders of the ABT Synod in order that, if so inclined, they can follow the above-noted links and engage in respectful discussion.

Meanwhile, I urge the Synod and its member congregations to keep the Main Thing the main thing: we are here to offer the Gospel of Christ to a hurting world and to tell the story of a God whose love for fallen humanity would not allow God to let us go, until reconciliation had been won with Good Friday’s Cross and Easter’s Empty Tomb. May we hold fast to the Truth, and may we be found faithful!


+Ronald B. Mayan, Bishop
Synod of Alberta and the Territories

Full Disclosure: As you'll see on the website, I'm one of the signatories of the "We Believe in the Gospel" document. I signed it not because I'm a "liberal" (as Bp. Ron suggests) but because I think the Lutheran Confessions have to be interpreted to meet today's pastoral context.

This doesn't mean throwing away all those things the culture doesn't approve of (as if there is any cultural consensus on anything!) but it does mean that I strongly disagree with the assumption that to be theologically conservative is to be courageously Lutheran.

I was deeply troubled by the tone and some of the theology of the CM. First and foremost is the invocation of "tradition" as a form of revelation. As a Lutherans, we confess sola scriptura or "scripture alone" as the only means of knowing God through Jesus. To invoke the "traditional understanding of marriage" raises tradition to a place where it doesn't belong, which, in turn, moves us away from our core Lutheran identity. It's what distinguishes us from our Roman Catholic and Anglican friends.

"We Believe in the Gospel" has been signed by clergy and church workers from all sides of the scripture debate, not just so-called "liberals." To my mind, what we have in common is that our faith is in Jesus for our's and the world's salvation, and we put no doctrinal barriers in front of the gift that God has lovingly and graciously given us.

Lenten Reading Mark 12: 1-27

Mark 12: 1-27

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” Good question. Especially given the context. Roman coins had Caesar’s picture on it. And since Caesar declared himself a god, to carry a coin around, using it as currency, could be (and was) interpreted as idolatry - worshipping false gods.

You might notice that Jesus DOESN’T have a coin on him. He has to ask for one. And in doing so exposes the corruption - the hypocrisy - of the religious leaders, who were challenging Jesus’ teachings while carrying an unlawful coin.

This story is sandwiched in the middle of a some resurrection stories; the parable of the wicked tenants and questions about what life will be like after the resurrection. I think Mark was trying to say confirm Jesus as the true authority, over and against the religious leaders and the corrupt temple religion they represented. Jesus was calling people back to faith in God, through him, and not through the official religious channels.

I think this means, for us, that we have access to God through Jesus, and we don’t need outside authorities to mediate between us and God. We gather as God’s people to share in this relationship, not because the Church is the gatekeeper to God, but, through Jesus, the Church worships God and follows where Jesus guides.