Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sermon: Advent 1A

Freedom” is a program I recently installed on my computer. It helps me get more work done and to better focus. In fact I used Freedom to get the first draft of this sermon written. 

Freedom has one simple task: to disable my web browser for as long as I want or need it to. In other words, if I set Freedom’s clock for 60 minutes, I can’t access the internet for one whole hour. No email. No Facebook. No Twitter. No message alerts No downloading sermons to listen to. No internet radio. Not even my beloved blog. Just cyber-silence. (do people still use the word ‘cyber’?) If I want to access the internet, I have to go through the hassle of re-booting my computer. So, for that one hour, I have “Freedom.”

It’s beautifully ironic that the program is called “Freedom.” After all, the internet was supposed to free us. Now we have to be freed from it. The internet was supposed to make us more productive, it was supposed to help us better connect with each other, it was supposed re-create our lives, giving everyone access to the world, a platform for even the weirdest and most extreme views to find an audience. The internet was supposed to be democracy in action, where everyone has a voice if they chose to speak. The laissez-faire marketplace of ideas.

And it’s true. The internet is all those things. And more. But like most tech users, I let the medium redefine my life, at least what I call “freedom” The internet re-defined “freedom” on its own terms. And not only “freedom” but also words like “friends” “connections”

We’ve also let it re-define “work” and “time.” I’ll respond to email while waiting in line at the grocery store. I cruise bible commentary sites while watching football (Go Alouettes!). I’ll text in between hospital visits. I’m continuously connected, tethered to technology, always available. 

It’s no wonder that I need “freedom.”

The people of Judah had the same problem. They needed freedom. 

They were in the...(whole thing here)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sermon: Reign of Christ the King

This morning we meet a paradox, or tension, or even a contradiction. On this Reign of Christ the King Sunday we sing the great triumphal hymns proclaiming that “Jesus Shall Reign!” before we “Crown Him With Many Crowns!” Music so strong and confident that we are swept up in the glorious majesty of the divine. 

But then, a few minutes later, we find Jesus dying between two thieves. Naked. Humiliated. Tortured. Terrified.

The sign above his head proclaiming him as king was meant to mock him, but it was really an announcement for those who had eyes to see. If you were looking for a king who would crush his enemies, then you might want to divert your eyes. This king forgives his enemies. And he doesn’t raise a finger to protect himself against those who would kill him.

It looks like we have two kings competing for our attention and adoration. Two contrasting visions of who we say God is. Two wildly divergent understandings of how we believe Jesus brings us salvation. 

We have a king who is high above the heavens ruling over the universe with a strong arm. And we have a king whose throne is a cross, and whose crown was made of thorns.

This contrast is nothing new. This is as old as the gospels themselves. Just listen to the...(whole thing here)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sermon: All Saints

The condo-development where my mom lives backs on to a local cemetery. In fact, this cemetery has the distinction of being one of the only cemeteries in Canada that has a highway running through it. In that small strip of highway the feverish pace of southern Ontario life connects with the stoney stillness of history and death without stopping to reflect. 

A few years ago, while visiting my mom, we were feeling a little cooped up in my her house, so Rebekah and I took the kids for a walk through the cemetery. 

“What are those rocks sticking out of the ground?” Sophie asked. 

“Those are headstones,” I replied, “They tell us who is buried there and when they lived.”

Sophie is still trying to figure out the whole death and dying thing. She knows that my dad is in heaven, as is our dog Zooey. And she can’t figure out how people can be buried, yet still be alive in somewhere else.

But I wonder if any of us have that really figured out.

As we walked through the cemetery, we noticed how some graves were immaculately kept. The grass around the headstone was neatly trimmed, even if weeds on the pathway covered our shoes. 

Some graves looked abandoned. Or forgotten. Someone whose memory has been left to whither.

Others were decorated with mementoes. Objects that meant something to the deceased. Or told a story about what that person loved to do: A nine iron. A construction helmet. And in one sad instance, a Teddy Bear. Relics of a life lived well or not so well lived; or maybe just simply lived. 

I’ve been told that it’s morbid to walk through cemeteries. That it’s better to live life than to brood about death.

So maybe I’ve got a bigger...(whole thing here)

Monday, November 01, 2010

Church Unplugged

Sometimes I think that, if I were to start a church from scratch, I’d go unplugged. Not the mid-90’s fad where every girl with a guitar went acoustic. I mean that, in worship, I’d leave out the PowerPoint, the high tech sound system, the band, and maybe even the organ. Worship would be bare bones. Perhaps sing a cappella. Liturgical al fresco.
And while I couldn’t TOTALLY unplug, I’d do the best I could get away with.
Here’s why: sometimes I worry that churches are too worried about “relevance.” We have to prove that we have something to say because we use tools that the culture would recognize.
Becoming a disciples of Jesus is like learning a new language, and through that language, seeing the world completely differently from how you saw it before. Being a Christian is about being enveloped in a story that is not your own making, but you have a part in it nonetheless. Following Jesus means living according to a different set of values than that which the world gives us.
I’d throw out the tech stuff the best I could because iPads, PowerPoints, theatre seating, etc scream “POWER!” In other words, in trying to speak the culture’s language, we tacitly admit that they have true power to which the gospel message genuflects. We say, “Look, we’re using the latest gadgets to prove we’re relevant. We’re cutting edge. We’re cool. You won’t be threatened because you use these same toys!”
When people come to church they should feel it in their skin that they’re entering a different world. Church should be alien territory to those outside the faith. 
But wait, you say, what about hospitality? What about welcoming the stranger as we welcome Christ? 
Good questions. 
In response I’d ask: what are we welcoming people into? Are we welcoming people into a place of comfort or a place of challenge? Are we welcoming people into a place that looks like their living room, but with a cross on the wall? Or are we welcoming people into a space where God’s people are gathered to be changed by God’s grace?
Yes, we are called to be welcoming. But being welcoming means being gracious, inviting people into a different world, and guiding them along the way. Church should be uncomfortable for those non-believers. We bring people to hear the Word proclaimed, and Luther said that scripture is like a surgeon’s scalpel. That doesn’t sound very comfortable to me.
The same kind of discomfort you feel when visiting a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. Mexico wasn’t being unwelcoming to me by speaking spanish when I visited there. They were being who they are and invited me to participate in their world. And I began to see the world differently because of my discomfort. 
I don’t know what all this looks like. I can’t paint a concrete picture. I simply sense that we’re so far steeped in the traditions and expectations of the culture that our proclamation is being diminished. And I wonder if we need to go in the other direction, to stand in contrast to the secular world to make our unique message heard and received, to more effectively bear witness to a different reality running loose in the world.
(NB: Yes I get the irony of posting this on the internet)