Category Archives: Reflections

Getting to the Heart of It

Let us pray: O God, the season is bearing down on us, bringing with it the angst of Palms and Passion and the ways that tangible hope was turned into incomprehensible condemnation. We struggle under the yoke of polarization and decision making. May we truly understand what it means to live with your law written on our hearts. May these words weave a path through the trouble and the worry. Amen.

I think there’s a sense – based in an understanding of the human psyche – that as we move through a time of reflection and deep searching, that things will get better.

We start our Lenten journey, aware that it might be difficult, aware that it may involve some deep soul searching, but also confident – because we are people of faith and people of hope, that the journey will at some point start to come out of whatever depths we will encounter.

Last week’s theme, despite being Laetare Sunday – rejoice Sunday, pointed to the difficulties that life can present to us – and certainly a theme that Lent addresses. The answer that was offered was a message of grace – of undeserved and unconditional love. It’s a mark of the Christian faith, and a strong theme for this whole season of readings – as they tell of covenants upon covenants.

Even there though, the story is a complicated one. We began this year’s Lenten journey with a covenant marked by the appearance of a rainbow and a one-sided promise that God would always keep the covenant and the rainbow would remind God of that. The people did not have any responsibility related to this covenant, it was a covenant promised AND upheld by God. It’s the kind of covenant that’s hard for us – God’s people to break. And one might wonder how or why we would need anything else.

But we heard the following week of yet another covenant. Again, this covenant seems tilted toward God – not in favour of God, but for God to work harder at. It was a promise of multitudes of descendants for Abraham and Sarah – sporting new handles to remind them of this promise. Again, why would there need to be anything else – if God has the major responsibility to keep this covenant.

But again, there is word of yet another covenant. A set of laws written on two stone tablets. And this time, it’s much more of a mutual covenant – or a case could be made that it’s tilted more towards the people. These are laws or commandments that they are required to obey. The covenants are getting more personal. They are starting to require greater involvement of the people.

And each time, the reason for the new covenant is proposed as being a gift from God for disobedience. Presumably, since the earlier covenants weighed most if not all the responsibility on God, this disobedience could not be ascribed to a failure to uphold the promise.

Now the idea of disobedience is not hard to understand. It’s part of the human condition that we wander – wittingly and unwittingly. That we serve other gods, that we honour different impulses and attractions – to the detriment of community life and positive relationship. But the idea that it is failure to keep the covenant when the responsibility is all on one party – in this case God, is a bit mysterious to understand.

Today we heard what might be the culminating response. Jeremiah speaks to the people and tells them that this time the law will be written on their hearts. That’s the kind of promise that is hard to escape. Tattooed there. Inescapable. Bound to be part of every decision making moment.

The journey – at least as pointed to by the passages for each week – is not really getting easier. It’s getting deeper and at some point we might start to wonder if we’ll ever be able to dig ourselves out. And yes, as I said last week, it’s not going to get easier in the coming days. We are a week from the disillusionment of Palm Parades and the pain and sorrow of betrayal, denial, changed minds and hearts and political execution and religious martyrdom.

I’m serving as the chairperson of the Yellowknife Ministerial Association for this year. It’s something I said I would do, having avoided it for all the other dozen or so years I’ve been a part of it. That position provides a small opportunity to give some direction for the community and to employ some of the skills and resources I’ve learned in my time in ministry.

At February’s meeting – anticipating the beginning of Lent in a week – I invited the members to check-in to the meeting with a few words about how they mark Lent. I think it was a good exercise as we heard stories from different traditions and different branches of the Christian church and from different theological perspectives of ways that these leaders engage in spiritual practice as support and grounding for the work they do with their community of faith and the wider community.

I recall adding to the discussion myself by saying that I have used different ways of observing Lent over my life. I have used Lenten devotional resources and not all that successfully I have tried both giving things up for Lent and I have been somewhat more attracted and successful at taking something on for Lent.

This year, however, my Lenten confession is that I haven’t specifically given something up or taken something on, and yet I would say that this season of Lent has been particularly significant for me. I can’t say exactly why. I could posit several different factors which might have led to that sense and feeling, but not one of them seems dominant. And I want to leave some of the reason up to the presence of mystery.

I have not chosen a particular Lenten discipline this year, but it seems, and here is where the mystery comes in, that some of them have found me.

I was leaving my office to go home a few weeks ago – I can’t remember if it was for lunch or supper, but as I looked at my bookshelves a book suddenly had some focus. It was just there with all the other books – many of which I’ve read and perhaps many more that I bought with the intention of reading, but for some reason this one just stood out. It’s a small book written by the well known Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall. He’s quite famous in theological circles and he’s one of ours – born and raised in The United Church of Canada. I’m sure the title of the book was part of why I noticed it. The Future of the Church. It probably helped that I’d read something recently quoting Douglas John Hall, but I’ve also walked by that particular shelf many, many times over the past years without even giving it a second thought. But that day I took it off the shelf, took it home with me and read it in about three sittings.

He wrote it in 1989, my final year in theological college. It’s based on a series of lectures he gave. It’s like he could have written last week.

In the book he writes of the humiliation of the church – and that was 1989 – think about the increased humiliation that has occurred in the intervening years. Our involvement in the Residential School system has been exposed and acknowledged. Our numbers have plummeted. We are anticipating a major change in governance at the end of this year. We need to cut massive amounts in our national church budget and we hear each year that we didn’t quite meet the Mission and Service Targets even though they were reduced from the previous years.

But surprising I would not say that this so-called humiliation is taken as a bad thing in Hall’s thinking – and he is gifted and insightful thinker – but merely a fact of life, and in some ways of consequence of becoming too big for our britches. Hall writes may times of the Constatinian Church and by that he means the major change that happened to the church when Constantine was converted to Christianity and the church went from being a counter cultural, society critiquing community to a state sanctioned community. It took a long time, but power and influence went to the churches head, we might say and things got taken for granted and a good deal of the edge that the church maintained was taken away.

We know about that in The United Church of Canada. We were formed by a Parliamentary Decree after all. Not much chance of anything like that happening in this day and age. Many branches of the Christian church in Canada would not want to have much to do with the Canadian government and if you believe an article from Thursday in the National Post – the Canadian government does not want to have much to do with the Christian church either. The United Church of Canada might be a singular exception – but even there, there is some question and events both recent and over a few decades bring that into question.

Hall, if I’m reading his book correctly, is actually arguing for a smaller, edgier church. A church that is not co-opted by the reins of power and the sense that our word is being held with great respect and weight by the powers that be. He argues for a cruciform church – a church that is marked by a cross – and the heavy journey that that implies and the call to justice and bearing our own crosses that is part of a cross centred church.

That’s not the only way that Lent has called to me this season. As I prepared this worship service this week I was led to another scholarly work – an article in an academic journal by some social scientists that makes a good case that growing congregations in mainline Protestant Canadian denominations are dominated by conservative theology, both in the church attendance and membership and in the pastoral leadership.

No consequence of this finding is stated, but it is a thinly veiled allusion to the idea that in order to grow, churches should be moving to a more conservative perspective. Or conversley that there is something inherently attractive in conservative theology that leads to growth.

As it turns out, one of the researchers is quoted in that National Post article I mentioned a few moments ago.

The presumption is that the church is about growth. It’s not a bad presumption. I don’t know of anyone I’ve ever met in the church who would not hope for growth. But as I read the article I found myself asking “growth at what cost”. Growth at the cost of forsaking our deeply held beliefs? Growth at the cost of forsaking what our heart is telling us is right? Growth at the cost of following a path which leaves rationality on the wayside.

A consequence of the writing that Douglas John Hall did in his book to me is a much smaller but stronger church.

I recall the words of Clifford Elliott – former minister at Timothy Eaton Memorial United Church in Toronto. When I was young, more than once I heard that Cliff Elliott was one of the best preachers in the United Church. T Eaton Memorial had a reputation of calling great preachers.

I didn’t hear Cliff Elliott preach when he was in his prime, or when he was writing a monthly column in The United Church of Observer, but after he retired he came to live at St. Andrew’s College as Pastor In Residence for a year. He accepted preaching invitations all around Saskatoon that year and eventually he came to preach at the church I attended. His notoriety as a good preacher was well deserved. I particularly recall one of the illustrations he used at the beginning of his sermon. He was giving a little autobiographical introduction and he told about being called to one of his earlier churches. He said that when he arrived there as something like four hundred members and by the end of his time there he had preached that membership down to about one hundred and fifty. Of course he got a lot of laughs, but they were those kind of nervous laughs that happen when we know that something funny is also true.

And remember that was when the church was much more in its heyday. And his point was two fold. The church, even then was declining and the people that remained were the faithful, deeply faithful remnant – the ones who were there because of the call of Jesus in their lives, the mission of the church in the community and in the world, and not because it was the thing to do.

And I remind you that was a few decades ago.

David Ewart a retired ministry colleague from British Columbia and a former national United Church staff person is quoted in the National Post article in this way. “A report titled “Welcome to the Last Days of the United Church of Canada,” by Rev. David Ewart, reported that the number of worshippers fell from 338,000 in 1990 to 151,000 in 2013. The study predicted that by 2025, attendance would hit 34,000.”

I’m sorry if that hits hard. David Ewart has been writing about these things for many years. I’m sure there are more recent statistics and I don’t know whether they are better or worse and I am not even sure that I know what better or worse even means.

What I know is that in “The Heart of Christianity” by Marcus Borg which I read a few years ago, that I found hope not in the promise of thousands of people coming to the church again or anew, but in the promise of a remnant, faithful, deeply committed, heartful church, a church that dared to challenge the powers and principalities, a church that spoke from the edges, a church that spoke about inclusion, and acceptance and embracing faith expressions of many different kinds, a church that put peace making and peace keeping and peaceful resolution of conflict at the forefront. A church that worked at eliminating systemic poverty and injustice, that recognized corporate sin and spoke out against entitlement and hierarchy and racism and sexism and heterosexism.

That’s not necessarily a bigger church. But it is a church that puts heart at the centre.

Lent is a hard journey and it’s getting harder. But please keep walking. Put your heart into it. Amen.

Down and Up

Let us pray: Guide these words and use them, O God. Amen.

We all know that life can be hard. Just how hard and in what ways can differ, but I doubt there is one among us who has not experienced hard times.

Lent is a hard times kind of season. I think we do our best to stay away from this idea, but when it comes right down to it, we are stuck with it.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. We joke on Ash Wednesday about what we’re giving up for Lent – choosing something that we are quite happy to do without, rather than something that will invoke the kind of ascetic – hardship of doing without – sense that is part of the original intention of the “giving up something for Lent” tradition.

We replace the negative ascetic with a positive taking something on. They both work – but I think we have to admit that adding something we enjoy doing to our schedule of Lenten disciplines is somewhat easier than trying to do without something for a whole forty days.

There’s nothing wrong with being positive. It’s the way I want to be most often, and I fully expect that you are the same. Put on a happy face, despite the face that you are feeling inside.

I’ve been intrigued, and I think this has been even more poignant since we moved North of Sixty, by the ways in which the Church Seasons interact with the calendar Seasons.

I don’t know how Australians and New Zealanders and anyone else who lives in the Southern Hemisphere do it. They really should switch things up – so that their Christian calendars and their regular calendars match up in mood and theme. It is pretty clear that our church seasons are Northern Hemisphere constructions to weave spiritual themes into themes prompted by the weather and the seasons that are happening in creation around us. I really wonder what it would be like to experience Lent in the middle of a bright and warm summer.

But even for us, as the Call to Worship pointed out, there is a paradox– especially as Northerners, when the days are getting longer – and made even more noticeable on this “Spring Forward Day” for our clocks and watches. The days are getting longer but the mood in our worship lives is getting more dismal or darker (although I am becoming less enamoured with the darkness and light dichotomy). We are called to keep going deeper even as the light around us is increasing.

At least that’s the way I felt this week. These are hard passages we just heard. The commentaries echoed this as well. Some of them reflected on the way in which the road gets harder as we move deeper into Lent, and that as much as we may want to dispel the notion that going deep doesn’t mean some painful self discovery, we discover that this just isn’t true.

Life is hard sometimes. And Lent is a season that honours this truth even as it guides us to do something about it.

I don’t believe in magic. Commentaries try deftly to draw our attention away from the belief in magic as it is described in that reading from Numbers that we heard today. They want to draw our attention even higher than that bronze snake on a stick, but on a week in Lent that follows the previous week when we were asked to consider the Ten Commandments and when the first four Commandments go out of their way to make the point that we should love God and God only, forsaking any graven images and idols, it is for me a stretch to then say that a bronze snake with apparent magical healing powers is anything but a graven image.

Apparently I am not alone – many centuries later when Hezekiah acceded to the throne of Judah this bronze snake image was smashed and decried as an object of worship. It seems that they reflected on the Ten Commandments as well.

As a story about how our ancestors equated sinfulness and hard times it’s important, but the solution just doesn’t work any more for us as rational people.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t make similar kinds of connections in other aspects of our lives.

Are there times when we slip into the kind of thinking that motivated the ancient Hebrew people? When we equate hardship with sinfulness? When we judge people for the choices they make and the consequences they endure?

The reading from the letters today is one that works hard to dispel those notions. As we heard, the writer of the letter to the Ephesians, which very likely was not Paul, but a Paul follower – a person who was in the tradition of Paul – reminds the church in Ephesus that “God has us where God wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.”

Yes Lent is hard and despite our best efforts to make the reflection and the spiritual exploration a positive experience, we know that the journey can lead to difficult places.

But into this, God injects grace. Into our worries and concerns about magic and graven images and the incorrect connection between disobedience and poisonous snake bites, we have a word of hope and a reminder that it’s not all up to us.

John the gospel writer, remembering the story of the bronze serpent from the long ago story of the Hebrew people, used it as a symbol, a reminder. He pointed out that Moses lifted up that bronze image and then invited the church members to look up even further, to remember that Jesus was lifted up as well. And talk about a hard image to recall, remembering a crucified Jesus on a cross.

But this is a little Easter – every Sunday in Lent is a little Easter and especially this Sunday – traditionally named Laetare Sunday – or Rejoice Sunday – to make the point that even in the deepest of hard times, even when the road seems grown over and hard to navigate, we have a promise. We are people living under the covenants that have been part of our other Sundays in the season of Lent.

The journey wont’ get any easier in the Lenten days that remain. Four weeks in and we still have a ways to go – the letdown of a Palm Parade that didn’t work out the way people hoped, the sorry story of betrayal and denial that dominates the Passion story, and the utter failure (or so it seemed) of Good Friday.

Can we be lifted up – to focus our gaze a little higher from the hard steps we have to take? The letter writer thought so. John the gospel writer thought so. I’m sure that we can think so too! Amen.

Breaking the Rules

Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

A few years ago there was a poster that began appearing on bulletin boards and in various other places around church halls. I’m not sure who produced it, but it emanated from the multi-faith dialogues that were springing up all across the mainline denominations in Canada. The purpose of the poster was to make a point that moral codes are not specific to one religion, and perhaps the point was most importantly made to those Christians that had the opportunity to see and read the poster on the bulletin boards and announcement spaces of churches.

The poster had on it a version of The Golden Rule as it was variously described by a large number of world religions. Of course, Christianity was there, with its familiar: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Clockwise around the outside there were versions of this rule for Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Sikhism, Unitarianism, Native Spirituality, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Judaism, Islam, Baha’i Faith and Hinduism.

Of course it was meant to be a bridge builder for people who might be wary of a faith expression that was not well known, and as a way to connect in a tangible, opening way to people of other faiths.

It also, I think, particularly served to convince Christians, who are prone to triumphalist thinking, that the Christian faith is only one of many different ways to live a faithful life.

It also made the point that the purpose of faith is to set a moral code for the ways we live together – whether within our particular faith expressions, or with those who practice their faith another way.

Also made important by this poster is the point that an important element of peaceful, respective living is tied in with the way we treat each other.

You could say that the Christian version of that Golden Rule, is another way to express at least a portion of the moral code that was described by our reading from the book of Exodus this morning.

As you heard in the introduction to that reading, it is commonly held that the so-called Ten Commandments were divided between two tablets, with one tablet making the point about the importance of loving God – and giving a series of commandments that would help people to know how that was acted out. The other tablet, with the remaining six commandments, occupied itself with describing the proper way to live in community, the way we should treat our neighbours. As you also heard, these two tablets needed to be considered together – even though they concerned different aspects of faithful living, they were inextricably linked into a connection that told the listeners that the path to faith was to love God and to love neighbour as oneself. You can’t have one without the other.

I think it is natural part of the human condition to have an ambivalent reaction to rules. As much as we may agree with those ten commandments, there is a part of us which says, hopefully with an inside our head voice Don’t tell me how to behave and don’t tell me what to do. We are particularly more likely to rebel against it when when the rule is called a commandment.

In addition, we seem constantly to be presented with examples that show in the words of Mr. Bumble, as written by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, that the law is an ass – an idiot.

Yet another take on the law is provided by Otto Von Bismarck who said that anyone who loves the law and sausages should not watch either of them being made.

Of course that was a send-up of legislators, and we know that in general the sentiment can be so often true.

Laws are often laughably outdated, or have unintended consequences.

There are lots of paradoxical references to the law in scripture. There are passages which extoll the virtues of keeping the law and in particular God’s law. There are also passages which tell us that through faith in Jesus and in God as followers of Jesus, that the law has been superceded.

But laws are important for establishing the way we treat each other and the consequences that are due when we fail to treat other properly. And of course, when whole books of the bible are dedicated to the law, we are reminded of the way that the law is meant to direct community and faithful living.

In the other reading we heard today, breaking the rules, takes prominence.

This scene inside the temple is one cited very often to fill in the picture of just who Jesus was and is. While there are places in the gospel record where Jesus takes verbal aim at various people and groups of people, this is the most obvious example of Jesus’ anger being physically directed towards others. Last week we heard him address Peter as Satan, and there are places where he calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers. But in the reading we heard today, his anger boils over, as he sends the money changers running for the way in which he feels they have desecrated the temple.

It’s a curious story, for my research would suggest that there were no real rules being broken. In fact, the money changers were offering a valid and important service. Roman coins could not be used for temple offering, so there needed to be a coin exchange. Pure animals needed to be presented for offering, and the general population of livestock from the surrounding pastures could not be guaranteed to be pure as required. So, some could say that the vendors and money changers were there to help the faithful keep the law.

Had they gone too far? Was the interest they were charging too much? Was the noise of the market place too deafening for the Gentiles – who could only worship in this part of the temple?

Clearly for Jesus, the answer to these questions, or perhaps other questions, was that it was all wrong. We heard how his anger exploded in both word and action.

The issue underlying all of this reflection on the law, the rules, the commandments, is that laws are made for a purpose. They are created to set limits, to help define boundaries, and to draw lines around the way we understand that community should work. We can discern what is important to a community – in the present and we can discern what was important to a community in the past – by considering the laws that were created for that community. Of course some of that sense that the law is an ass comes about when the rules don’t change as quickly as the community it is meant to guide. Purity was of huge importance to the ancient Hebrew people, and so their laws reflect that desire for purity. It could be said that in our present time that diversity and acceptance are of huge importance and so our laws must reflect that.

It’s a difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law.

There is a healthy Christian tradition of civil disobedience – breaking the rules to make a point, to show up an injustice, to demonstrate that thinking has changed.

Most often when the law comes under scrutiny in the scripture record it is to show that the letter of the law – unreflected application of the law without consideration of the spirit and the context that led to the making of that law – is suspect.

Rules and legal codes are important, and even more important is to recognize the spirit of community, the spirit of treating others with respect and with love. When the letter of the law and the spirit of the law come together to make that happen, God is pleased and God is praised. Amen.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favour is better than silver or gold. Proverbs 22:1 (NRSV)


Let us pray: You name us and know us, and claim us as your own. Claim these words and make them your own as well. Amen.

One of the blessings and outcomes that derives from almost thirty years of ministry is the opportunity to gather resources that are helpful in the seemingly endless number of opportunities to chair meetings and committees.

A number of years ago, someone opened a meeting with an invitation to the gathered people, to say something about their name.

As far as I was concerned, I thought it was a bit of magic. It seemed to act like a lubricant to make the meeting go better. Everyone had something to say about their name, and it did not matter whether they were a shy participant at the gathering, or someone who finds it easy to speak freely.

And so thus began for me, an opportunity to employ the same technique in any number of meetings. It is especially helpful for a group of people who do not know each other well.

I often introduce the method by telling people that I am going to ask them to check in to the meeting by talking about something upon which they are the leading expert in the world. Talking about your name is an opportunity to express your uniqueness – whether it is because of the circumstance by which you came to be named what you are named, first name or surname, middle name or nickname.

Not only that, it is usually a fascinating story time. People like to talk about their names – after all it is something they’ve had their whole lives, and talking about your name gives you an opportunity to lift up whatever part of your story is important to you, and thus it becomes an insight into personality and history.

Sometimes the story is about baptism. Sometimes it is about marriage. Sometimes it is about family. Sometimes it is about travel. Sometimes it is about important relationships. Sometimes it is about culture and heritage.

Is it any wonder that names and naming are such an important part of the biblical record?

Names are like these little orbs of tightly wound story that hold something of who and whose we are, something of what is important to us and to the ones who named us. They are symbols of meaning, tokens of memory, amulets of circumstance or reminder of special occasion.

And so what we heard today in our readings is imbued with all this deep meaning attached to names and naming.

There are the stated ones. Abram becomes Abraham. Sarai becomes Sarah. We could spend some time talking about this re-handling (as in: they were given new handles) of the forebears of the generations that were promised in the covenant that God declares to them.

But hidden in this passage is another interesting piece of information with regard to naming. It is lost in translation, but the reference to God in this reading is the very first occasion in the bible of the use of the name El Shaddai as a term to describe God.

Commentators and exegetes have spent a lot of time parsing this description for God, including such things as spelling – two “d”s or just one – to explore the meaning that can be ascribed to this particular way of addressing the Holy One.

As huge as the English language is in terms of the number of words in it, it is often a very terse language as well. As the hymn we sang a while ago can attest – there are many names by which we can address and imagine God, yet many of the English translations of the bible seem to choose only a few: God, or the feudally inspired Lord, and in so doing diminish the depth and breadth by which we can imagine the divine presence in the world and in our lives and so often confine or limit the ways in which we think about dare I say it: God.

We also know that naming can be a tool of oppression. We know that naming can contribute to claims of ownership and the assertion that land and/or people belong to a particular culture or nation.

One of the questions that I ask in marriage preparation sessions is the question about what name the partners will have following the marriage. In a surprising number of situations it turns out to be something the partners haven’t talked about, and discussions have sometimes centred on assumptions that were not held by both partners in the relationship.

What does what we say about the name of the place we live, the names of the physical features, the territory or province or country, tell us about what is important or what we want to deny or obscure?

Many of the conversations I’ve had over the past couple of weeks have centred on how things were going in PyeongChang. Perhaps the title of this reflection took you there as well. It’s not why I chose that particular verse from Proverbs, but it was a happy piece of serendipity just the same.

An interesting thing happened during the Gold Medal Hockey game. Game analyst Ray Ferraro was commenting on one of the teams in the final and used the term Russians and then caught himself, resulting in a little pause as he corrected what he said to “Olympic Athletes from Russia”. Was Ray Ferraro following protocol as a commentator for the CBC coverage of the Olympic games, was he following a protocol established by the International Olympic committee, or was he expressing his own point of view with respect to the controversy related to the participation of athletes from that country?

The point is that naming is very important. Obviously the International Olympic Committee, in establishing the policy that Russian flags would not be flown and that athletes from that part of the world would be competing as OAR (Olympic Athletes from Russia), thought that this was a decision that had impact, that not naming the country during the games was an important symbolic and disciplinary action.

How do names influence us? Do we think about the names we use for places and people? Do we indeed “bring many names” when we ponder the divine presence in our lives?

Lent is about this. It’s about going deeper. It’s about asking questions that might not have ever occurred for us before. It’s about searching the reasons behind what we say, how we name people and things, how we imagine the world based on the names we use, how we are called (called – is but another word for naming is it not?) – how we are called to think and feel more expansively about the way that (hmmm – what name or word should I use here) the Holy One, God, El Shaddai, Mother, Father, Mother Bear, Eagle, Daddy, Mommy, Shekina, Wisdom, Ruach, I Am, Elohim, Adonai, Abba, Spirit, Son, Child, Jehovah, YHWH (a name that cannot be pronounced – because it is too holy to say!), G-d, pick one or add your own – for that is the point really, how we are called to think and feel more expansively, about that presence in our lives.

Bring many names. Let those names fill your heart and your head to overflowing. Amen.

The Bow in the Sky

Let us pray; The signs of your presence are all around us, O God. May we see with eyes and hearts that are tuned to see them. May these words be ones which aid in that focus. Amen.

Between September 1993 and June 1995 I drove the highway between Jasper and Calgary many, many times. I drove it just as many or more times after that, but the trips between those two years are particularly memorable. One might think that driving the same four hours of roadway many, many times would lead to a sense of boredom, or over familiarity.

That was never the case on that stretch of road, particularly the portion from Jasper to Banff, that has been named one of the most beautiful drives in the world. There are many, many places of breathtaking beauty on that highway. It climbs over two major high points of land – one at the Columbia Icefields – a feature which gives name to the road – the Icefields Parkway and another at Bow Pass.

Not only did I drive that highway many, many times, but I also cycled the part from Jasper to Banff and I remember – not all that clearly perhaps, but such memories are keenly etched in the deep parts of our mind – that once the hard slog up Bow Pass from the north was over, there was a good deal of coasting available to the tired cyclist – about forty kilometres of not having to peddle much at all.

This reminiscence of that most beautiful part of the world, and the incredible blessing we experienced in living there, matched equally but differently in many ways by the time we’ve lived here in the north, was prompted by the story we heard from the book of Genesis, and in part by the words of today’s psalm.

In particular, though, I remember a trip to Calgary in those two years I first mentioned, when I was on the final stretch heading out of the mountains that had dominated the vista on both sides of the highway. There is a series of curves in the highway as it heads out into the foothills and plains and at one of them is a beautiful little lake, Lac Des Arcs – Rainbow Lake. On this particular trip, I rounded a curve at Lac Des Arcs and right in front of me, stretching from one side of the road to the other was a gorgeous rainbow. One end of the bow was so close that I was pretty sure there would be a pot of gold, if you trust that old proverb.

Well, you know why that experience came to mind. It provides a mind’s image for me of the rainbow described in today’s reading.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for the ancient dwellers on the earth? Pounding rain, perhaps with lightning and thunder – just ask your pets how that is for them. It can be a pretty frightening experience, especially in a time when such events were interpreted as some kind of divine judgement. But then, as the clouds clear and the sun comes out – a coloured arch appears in the sky, an impressive sign from Creator that things are getting better.

The shape of that arch was significant as well. It resembled the bow – which when combined with an arrow – was a common weapon. But this bow faced upward – away from creation, away from people – pointed to the sky. Any arrow flying out from this arched bow would fly harmlessly into the sky.

Can you see how the rainbow – this delightfully hued beacon of sunny days to come, and pointed to the sky – would easily be seen as a symbol of covenant with the Holy One. Just as another symbol – that of swords being made into ploughshares – moves us to imagine a peaceful time, this bow in the sky signals not only peace for creation, but peace between creator and created.

There are some other very important things to note in this story. The rainbow is described as a reminder of the covenant that God was making with the people on earth. It was the string around the finger. But if you were listening closely, you may have noted that while this would serve as a reminder to the people, more importantly it was a reminder to God. Every time God witnessed a rainbow – it would be a reminder of the covenant God had made with the people.

Does that sound interesting? God who needs to be reminded.

And not only that – it is described as a covenant – which is just a fancy name for promises made between humanity and God. But we would normally think of a covenant as something which outlines rights and responsibilities of all parties. I will do this, God says, if you keep up your part of the covenant. That’s how we might normally think of a covenant. A kind of ledger of action on one side and positive consequence on the other, with each party in the covenant having some of each on both sides.

But this is a different kind of covenant. It is a one sided covenant with all the responsibility on God’s side. Whenever a rainbow appeared in the sky – God would be reminded of the covenant God had made with the people and God would be reminded that never again would God bring disaster on the earth as punishment.

Have you heard of such a gracious promise? You don’t have to do anything to receive my blessing and my love. And when things seem to be getting off track with that promise, well, the rainbow will remind me of the promises I made.

It’s an interesting way to begin the season of Lent – a season which traditionally, or typically is one in which we are encouraged and reminded to go deep – to consider our relationship with God and spirit, to make promises that will deepen that relationship.

But this covenant is one in which God goes deep.

​_What a way to start – does it not encourage us? Does it not strengthen our own resolve? Does it not inspire us?

I think so. I feel so. Amen.

Touch and Bless

Let us pray: O God, guide these words and use them. Amen.

I invited you a few moments ago to gauge your reaction to the story of Jesus at the home of Simon and Andrew. Did you cringe at having to accept another miraculous story of healing? Did you feel yourself reacting to what happened to Simon’s mother in law after the fever left her? No sooner had the fever left than she was up fixing dinner for them. Some of you might have felt yourself figuratively or actually shaking your head with dismay as yet again, a stereotype is played out – with the newly recovered woman returning to the kitchen to prepare dinner for the men. I have to admit that was my first reaction. But as I delved into the commentaries on this passage, a different perspective was offered up. Now of course some of that different perspective was offered by men – and so you might rightly keep on shaking your head, but it was at least enough to get me thinking. And in fact the most positive take on the actions of Simon’s mother-in-law came from a female commentator who emphasised the choice of the unnamed woman to serve – as contrasted with the response of the men (other than Jesus) that appear in the story. The word used in the original language is related to the same word that we use for one stream of ministry to this day – diaconal ministry – which commissions people to a ministry of service.

In fact, this story from Mark’s gospel is a template for ministry. Taking the story from last week and the one today together we see this sequence of events: Jesus comes to the synagogue – the place of worship. He preaches and then he heals. Then he moves to a home – the home of Simon where he continues to heal – or at least makes a path for healing to occur. And then the woman, whose fever has left her takes it upon herself to serve.

That’s the way ministry is framed in Mark’s gospel – word and service.

It reminds me of one of my favourite Commissionings for the close of worship. It is a bit of a play on words – one of the reasons I am attracted to it, but also because it describes an important element of the Christian faith.

Here’s how it goes – Worship is ended, now let the service begin. Of course it takes a common description – Worship Service and splits it into those two elements that we encounter in today’s gospel reading: Worship and Service. And as people describe: Simon’s mother-in-law enacts these two elements – just as Jesus did earlier that same day in the synagogue.

While this emphasis on the results of the healing is important, and also important to understand a variety of perspectives on the response of Simon’s mother-in-law, the commentaries spend as much or more time on the other situation that might cause us to cringe in this reading, namely the apparent ability of Jesus to facilitate the departure of a fever.

We must always, especially with respect to stories of healing, be aware of the context. Our understanding of illness and disease has changed completely since the time of these writings. That’s one thing to keep in mind. We also know that these stories of miracle and healing are metaphorical.

New Testament scholars have noted the idea of dis-ease – out of sorts, but in a deeply spiritually sense – not centred, not grounded might be one way to describe the condition, or perhaps using another modern term: stressed out.

And so biblical healing stories, rather than being about the curing of an illness are about bringing spirits back to equilibrium – healing troubled spirits rather than ridding the body of destructive, viruses, bacteria or infections.

This perspective doesn’t answer all the questions, but at least in my mind it helps. It provides a rational handle to grasp on to.

Another aspect of healing stories was addressed by one of the commentaries I used this week. Let me quote, “One cannot dismiss as insignificant the number of times the Scriptures refer to touching. In the text Jesus came and took Peter’s (Simon’s) mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up and the fever left her. …It might be said that in Scripture, touch is a metaphor for intimacy, for presence, for relationship.

We didn’t read it today, but today’s reading from the letters – like those of the past few weeks – are taken from a letter from Paul to the members of the church in Corinth. The letter could be summed up as instructions for how to build and maintain a faithful, cohesive, strong community.

The same commentator described a recent experiment designed to test the efficacy of prayer on patients suffering from comparable illnesses. The members of one group, located on the east coast of the United States were each assigned the name of an ill person on the west coast with whom they were not acquainted and instructed to pray every day for the person’s health. The members of another group were each given the name of an ill person who was a member of their own church. Similar instructions were given, to pray for the ill people every day. The patients who had no intimate relationship with their prayer partner showed no significant difference in improvement from the general public, whereas members of the group who had developed a social relationship with their prayer partners indicated a decided difference in improvement and quality of life. 1

Community is important. Touch – whether the touch of one spirit to another known other, or physical touch – exemplifying caring, community and intimacy, is important.

This is why Healing Touch is so important and why Healing Touch programs are part of faith community in so many different places.

When we touch, we bless, and when we bless, grace is made real.

Of course I am talking about invited, appropriate, respectful touch.

The same writer, closes, as will I, with this story from physician Richard Selzer:

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face post-operative, her mouth twisted – palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed … to remove the tumour in her cheek. I had cut the little nerve. The young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private… “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asked. “Yes”, I say “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.” He bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close that I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate her, to show her their kiss still works…I hold my breath and let the wonder in. 2


1 P. C. Enniss, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1 (Westminster John Knox Press), p 334.

2 Richard Selzer, Moral Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery (New York; Simon & Schuster, 1974) 45-46.

Free for Freedom

Let us pray: You put within us, O God, the power to choose, the power to contribute, the power to serve. May these words be ones which help us to better understand these gifts and which lead us to a faithful response. Amen.

Consider the dilemma of the preacher and the decision of which passage to consider. Having heard each of the passages that were just read, which one would you choose? A story from the Hebrew Bible about the way in which a prophet to succeed Moses would be chosen. A psalm of praise for God’s wonderful works. A story from Mark from near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when things get a little chaotic, or that strange passage from the letter to the Corinthians as Paul writes to the people of the church in Corinth about how to respond as Christians to the practice of sacrificing meat to idols. What would you choose?

I don’t quite understand the process myself, but for one reason or another, each week, a particular passage rises above the others, inviting consideration, almost requiring that it be addressed. I described this exact situation a couple of weeks ago, as a particular passage was one that spoke from its context to the present day #metoo and #timesup context. In that case, I could do no other, despite my reluctance, but make the connection.

This week it was a bit different. I read each of the passages, and a wonderful resource I’ve been using in this lectionary year called “Feasting on the Word”. “Feasting on the Word” is an edited set of essays and reflections for each Sunday in the church year. Each passage is considered by four different writers who write from a theological, a pastoral, an exegetical and a homiletical point of view. Theological – what the passage has to say about God and God’s presence. Pastoral – what the passage has to say to the community. Exegetical – what the original language and its use has to contribute to the understanding of the passage. Homiletical – what the passage has to say to a preacher considering how and what to preach with reference to this passage. So, there are four passages each week and four reflections on each of the passages. It is a wonderfully rich set of sixteen different takes on the lectionary readings for each week in the year.

I could see myself using this resource for many, many years of preaching. I’ve only purchased Year B – but there is a set of volumes for each year, as I’ve already mentioned. Sixteen reflections for each week times three – that’s a whole lifetime of sermon writing.

I want to read the beginning of the homiletical perspective offered by William J Carl III in response to that passage from Deuteronomy – regarding the choice of a new prophet for the Hebrew people.

I happened to read that passage on Wednesday morning which was coincidentally the morning after the Yellowknife United Church board on Tuesday evening. During that meeting I informed the members of the board of my plan to retire somewhere between the end of June and the end of November this year. Yes, you heard it correctly. Sharon and I have done lots of thinking and for several reasons, the time feels right for this decision.

We don’t plan to leave Yellowknife for a couple of years. But of course it will change our relationship with Yellowknife United Church.

But we have time to consider what that all means. I will say more about this at the meeting that follows today’s worship, but in the strange and mysterious way that the Spirit works in and among us – and in this season when we focus on “call” stories – I found myself being “called” to tell you this, right here and right now.

And then in the continuing mystery of the way in which the Spirit speaks to us and through us – it was not that passage that I was drawn to speak on this morning.

I read all the passages and all sixteen of the reflections – four times four. And when I was all done the reading, for reasons that mostly escape me, it was that reading from Corinthians that was calling out for me to address.

In 1975, Fred Kaan – a prodigious hymn writer, who sadly died a few years ago, wrote a hymn which begins this way:

God has set us free for freedom,

for responding “yes” or “no”.

Freedom is our gift and calling,

God has let all people go.


Freedom is to people

what air is to the birds.

Freedom is belonging,

breaking bread, sharing words.


Words Copyright © 1975 by Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL ( for the USA and Canada; and Stainer & Bell Limited, London, England, ( for all other territories.


That opening line: God has set us free for freedom just kept running through my mind like an earworm all week.

Taken literally, one might wonder how that passage could possibly have much to say to us. The practice of eating meat offered to idols and whether or not to do it, is not something that occupies any space in any news sources of 2018, as far as I know.

But we are not literal interpreters of scripture. Even though Paul was writing to the Corinthians at a literal level – because as much as it is not part of the news sources of 2018, we can assume that what to do about meat offered to idols was a part of the news in the first century Mediterranean context.

Let me sum up the argument that Paul makes. A spiritual practice in Corinth that fell outside of the Christian context was apparently to offer meat to idols – meat that was then consumed in some kind of ritualistic way. Some people in the church at Corinth argued that there would be no problem eating meat offered to idols because as Christians they did not believe in the idols and therefore meat was just meat. It didn’t have any more significance than something they might have prepared for their own daily meal.

Paul states that this argument is correct. We don’t believe in idols and therefore anything offered to an idol is just ordinary. But then Paul offers a limitation to this freedom. Yes you can eat meat without breaking any rules – but consider some of the other church members in Corinth who haven’t quite grasped the “we don’t believe in idols” concept. If they see others eating meat offered to idols – it would leave them confused.

So, Paul in the interest of building up the community as a whole, suggests that it is wiser to not eat the meat offered to idols – not because it is wrong, but because it removes any possible confusion.

If you think about it – it is a position that limits freedom in the interest of building up community.

To me that sounds a propos to our present day context – a context that is highly aware of personal freedoms – often at the expense of the building up of community.

God has indeed set us free for freedom, for responding “yes” or “no” and somewhat surprisingly, the freedom to say “yes” can actually take away the sense of freedom for others – perhaps in perception only – but does it make any difference if someone perceives a lack of freedom or actually experiences it?

As usual, the discussion does not end there. As commentators in my resource suggested – what are the consequences of this tension between personal freedoms and the desire to keep community strong.

There can be a tendency to limit the community to the lowest common denominator. Limiting freedom – like freedom of speech, or freedom to consider other ways in interpreting the faith, or interpreting scripture can have the effect of maintaining the status quo, suppressing innovation and diversity.

On the other hand, a strong community can strengthen diversity and innovation.

The life of a prophet can be a very lonely one. Having a community to support you can actually supply courage to speak out even more freely, and as example of the benefits that come with the freedom that God supplies.

So, as we so often discover, answers are not clear – and context is a huge determinant in the ways in which we come down on one side or the other in this tension between freedom and community. We also know that a so-called tension is often a false dichotomy – that there is no such thing as only two sides – each pulling against the other. No – the situation is not about one side or the other. It is not a call to pull harder or change sides, but a call to go deeper – to make decisions based on knowledge, experience, and tradition and how each of them in relationship to each other and to the truth we seek from scripture – such as this story from a letter to the early church.

God has set us free for freedom – as we experience it individually and as a community – and the depth to which the spirit calls us as we discern how we will move forward in God’s mission for the world. Amen.

The Short Straw

Let us pray: May the words I speak be ones which help us to find your way in the midst of all the ways which lie before us, O God. Guide them and used them. Amen.

I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Jonah. It could be because in my very limited thespian career I was cast in the lead role as Jonah in a play that we produced while I was at seminary. I don’t recall much about the play, and the particular take that it had on the story of Jonah, except that the title had something about a dog in it, and a line that Jonah repeated throughout the play, which went something like this: It should happen to a dog. The music we used to introduce the play was a quirky piece recorded by Jane Siberry, Everything Reminds Me of My Dog.

So, yes, that’s part of why I have a soft spot in my heart for Jonah, but it’s more than that. Jonah is a very human character – perhaps the most human (have you ever noticed that the characteristic of being human usually refers to the fact that there are very apparent flaws in character!) – the most human of any of the biblical prophets.

As was mentioned in the introduction to today’s portion of the reading of the story of Jonah – it is unfortunate that the lasting and most memorable aspect of the story of Jonah is that he was swallowed by a big fish, although many interpretations substitute a whale for the fish. While this is a curious little detail of the story, there is much more to take from this interesting story of a reluctant prophet.

A purpose of scripture and a significant reason for us to gather as a community of faith is to consider our story and learn from it, that we can make changes in the way we live and be transformed to be more faithful followers of God.

And so, stories like that of the story of Jonah, are ones that help us to learn.

I think it’s easy to learn from Jonah because we can see ourselves in him. We can understand his reluctance. We can understand why he might want to run (well, float really) the other way. He was more willing to test the wrath of God than a whole city (and the story tells us it was a very big city). Have God angry with me, or have a whole city of Ninevites angry with me? Not an easy choice, but if we believe in a forgiving God, then it might be easier to take the next boat to Tarshish, risking God’s ire, than to travel the other way and risk the ire of thousands of Ninevites.

Well, we heard how that turned out. God, at least in the understanding of the story writer, could summon up quite a bit of power, to express opposition. Jonah might have heard God’s voice summoning him to Nineveh, but God had much more to work with. All it took was a big windstorm to get the message across that God was not pleased with Jonah’s decision. Bad choice Jonah. Afraid to give a difficult message to thousands of Ninevites, but avoiding that choice meant that the Tarshish bound boat and its crew were in great risk of sealing their fate in Davy Jones locker.

Jonah conveniently hid himself down in the ship’s hold. You can run, but you can’t hide, especially in a boat! Jonah was hauled up on deck, blamed for the problems they were having to deal with, and then as luck would have it, he draws the short straw – meaning that he’s the candidate for going overboard.

But with certain death staring him in the face Jonah demonstrates that he has more compassion than it first appeared. Was it the closeness of the sailors that changed his mind? It’s one thing to think about thousands of angry Ninevites on his case, but when the sailors and their imminent demise was staring him in the face, Jonah was willing to lay down his life for them.

Are you starting to get an idea of the kind of human being that Jonah was? Do any of the choices he has made so far in the story resonate with you? Have you ever found yourself changing your mind, especially when the context changes? Most likely you’ve never had to make a decision with that kind of consequence, but I’m willing to suggest that we have all found ourselves moving from reluctance to acceptance and even gret courage at different times in our lives.

But the story is not over. There’s more that’s going to happen. Jonah offers the ultimate sacrifice and gets thrown overboard. That might have been the end of it.

This is where the story takes a bit of a mystical and mysterious turn. Enter a big fish. A man eating fish. Even a record breaking Great Slave Lake lake trout would not qualify. There are lots of reasons why going overboard could signal the end for poor Jonah, but getting swallowed by a fish would probably not be in the top ten of them. But even if it wasn’t on the list of ways to die, it certainly would most likely spell Jonah’s demise.

However, as it turned out, getting swallowed by a fish was Jonah’s good fortune. And enough to change his mind.

Long story short, Jonah agrees to go to Nineveh, that great city, and tell them about God’s displeasure. Whether he thought it was a useless exercise, or a risky venture, we don’t really know. Perhaps he thought his words of warning would be like whistling in the wind, or perhaps he thought that the Ninevites would actually listen and then turn against this pushy bearer of bad news. Either way it did not seem like a good use of his time.

Who knows why it turned out to be just what the Ninevites needed to hear? Was it the convincing rhetoric of this reluctant prophet? Was it the strangeness of the bearer of the message and the message itself that caught the ear of Ninevites all the way to the top?

Whatever the reason, the message took.

Having repeated a warning that God was not pleased and having promised the Ninevites that their disobedience would result in their own demise at God’s hand, the Ninevites changed their way.

And then Jonah’s humanness shows itself again. Rather than being pleased for these people whom he had successfully warned, and who then had resolved to repent, Jonah expresses his anger.

Was it because he lost face? Having promised one thing, he was shown up. His words of doom were greeted by a repentant people and a repentant God.

Did I mention that I have a soft spot in my heart for Jonah? Poor guy. Given a mission, which he ultimately accepts and then the promised culmination of that mission gets changed, and Jonah looks like a fraud.

Look what you put me through, God! Look what I had to endure! Yeah it took some doing and an epic tale of survival, but I did ultimately do what you wanted me to do and what do I get for it?

A city full of transformed people. A God who thankfully, graciously, lovingly, does not keep promises.

The story ends without a complete resolution. Jonah is still angry with God for the change of mind. You might think that having changed his mind a few times himself that Jonah would get it.

Did I mention that one of the endearing things about Jonah is his humanness?

Stubborn Jonah. Human Jonah. Gracious God. Does the story strike any chords with you? Amen.


Let us pray: May these words and the thoughts and actions they inspire be faithful to you, O God. Amen.

The story of the call of Samuel, as we heard a few moments ago, is a classic, full of meaning, story about one way to experience the urging of God. We could spend the whole reflection, and probably several more weeks addressing the various threads that are available to us from this very rich story. For example, we have the thread repeated elsewhere and often in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that God does not choose according to human criteria. Leadership arises from unsuspecting places and through unsuspecting people. Today, the surprise revolves around the age of Samuel. Samuel is still a young boy and even though the previous verses have set us up to expect that Samuel would be the next great prophet – the story of how that came to be is still one which carries a strong element of surprise and disrupted expectation. We learn that age is no barrier to being called to serve.

Another thread that is sitting there ready for us to grab, is the theme, again repeated elsewhere in scripture, that being able to see does not necessarily revolve around good eyesight and the presence of revelatory light. Samuel is called in the middle of the night and God’s voice is discerned by Eli whom we are told is one whose vision is fading – at least vision that comes from the physical ability to see. We learn from the story that Eli’s prophetic vision is still very clear.

There’s another thread about the courage to speak out and to speak plainly with truth to power. Samuel does not have a good message to give to Eli. It’s the kind of message that could be subdued by virtue of power differential – with Eli as the senior mentor, the wise and respected elder, and the potential for hurt, if not even more severe consequence. But we learn in this story that an aspect of being called is the courage to speak truth to power.

Those are just a few of the threads that this story offers to us – each of them a thread leading to insight about the character and nature of God and God’s relationship with humanity.

But there were other readings as well. And they too, offer a deep well of other insights, and threads to follow.

Let’s skip to the reading we heard from the gospel. This too, is a story of call. It is, in my opinion, a minimalist masterpiece. In a sense the whole story could be summed up with the opening phrase as Nathanael asks: Can anything good come from Nazareth? Right away, we know that this story is not going to follow a typical path. The very question lets us know that assumptions will be broken down. You don’t ask a question like that in a story without knowing that it is going to be deconstructed. What follows is this mysterious little encounter between Nathanael and Jesus which hints at a depth of insight and the ability of Jesus to see through to the heart. Unlike the story of the call of Samuel, there does not seem to be anything particularly compelling or atypical about Nathanael. He’s not young, or seemingly unfit for the office of disciple. It’s not really about Nathanael – it’s about Jesus and the knowledge that Jesus discerns about the suitability of Nathanael from a very brief and distant encounter. Was there something special about Nathanael that Jesus discerned from afar – despite the disparaging of Jesus’ Nazareth roots? Or does it tell us that we could all be a Nathanael? That all we need is someone to recognize our talents and abilities, to be able to draw us, to call us into a life and ministry of connection with the mission of God.

Two quite different stories of call, that each give us insight into the ways and means of a loving God.

You could say that the other two stories are also about call, although it might be more appropriate to classify the psalm as one about presence more than call. You God have searched me and known me.

Paul is issuing a collective call to the Corinthians to become more discerning about what “freedom in Christ” means. Unconditional grace could mean unconditional freedom. If God is a completely gracious and graceful God – and if we are always offered forgiveness, then surely that leaves us open to live our lives in whatever way we want. At least we can imagine that this was the mindset of some of the Corinthian Christians that Paul was writing to. The issue addressed in today’s portion of the letter is the way that this freedom was interpreted in terms of sexuality.

However, it is not this aspect of call that I want to address this morning.

I struggled with this passage this week. It was screaming out to be preached all the time while I resisted. Not exactly a Samuel situation. Samuel was not reluctant, just not aware. But even so there was some parallel for me this week. This reading needs to be addressed – and no, I don’t want to go there. This reading needs to be addressed – and no, I don’t want to go there. This reading needs to be addressed and no, I don’t want to go there.

One of the clearest ways of discerning whether it is a call or not, is the inability to keep on resisting. Samuel’s resistance was due to inexperience. My resistance was due to reluctance.

It’s pretty clear that a story that dominates our news cycles these days is the one that has resulted in the #metoo campaign. The ripples that started with the spectacular fall of Harvey Weinstein just keep circling out. This week it was the Soulpepper Theatre Company and the Golden Globes – and that speech by Oprah.

One simply could not read Paul writing to the Corinthians about sexual misconduct in their day and not apply it to what is going on in our day in such a public way.

The boy Samuel was called to speak the truth to power, letting Eli know that the actions of the old man’s sons were going to bring the whole family down. It’s the kind of message that we could easily expect Samuel to tone down, if not suppress completely. But as we heard, Samuel promised to give Eli the message and he did, and Eli received the message with more grace than we might have expected.

Women in the entertainment world have been emboldened to speak truth to power. It’s very likely not over. And that is good. It’s a sad fact that the actions and situations they’ve been exposing have been so much a part of the culture that there is not likely to be an end in sight for the foreseeable future. At least we hope that this sort of thing does not blow over, a flash in the pan that carried with it the hope of a new way, only to be usurped by other stories and retreat into old patterns.

It feels like we could be on the edge of something big. That speaking truth to power in one area might actually open the door for speaking truth to power in other realms.

Unfortunately, despite the learnings we have from today’s readings, scripture is implicated in promoting patriarchy, normalizing the mistreatment of women, and overlooking, if not condoning sexual misconduct, sometimesin the guise of the idea that “oh well, it was all part of the plan anyway” and victimizing the victims even more.

Now don’t get me wrong – like today’s readings – there is lots in scripture to hint at a different way, to let us know that God’s economy is based on a very different value system, that surprise and the deconstruction of stereotypes and commonly held understandings are God’s way.

A young boy called by God – and then called even further to share a difficult message to his revered and respected elder.

Nathanael called by God – as metaphor for the ways in which we can all be drawn into a deeper and more committed relationship with the Holy One, or as example of the kind of insight that people like Jesus can have as they see the presence of the Spirit within others.

Peter called by God to step out of his reluctance and make the connection between Corinth and film sets, theatres, performance halls, and pretty much every place where men with power interact with women

In Between

Let us pray: O God, guide these words and use them, that may be words that expand our understanding of your presence in our lives and in our world. Amen.

It is natural at this time of year to think about beginnings. We just put fresh, new calendars on our walls with an expanse of days represented by 2018 just ready to be filled. Is it by coincidence, or design that today we also address beginnings in the cycle of the Christian year? Yes, we began the Christian year about a month ago, and my Christian calendar is already on its third page, but as we witnessed in the reference to the scripture passages a few moments ago, the readings today are about beginnings as well. First of all we have the opening verses of the bible – as one of the creation stories of Genesis is told – describing the symbolic first day of creation when light and dark get separated into day and night.

That’s one of the beginnings. The other is the baptism of Jesus by John at the Jordan river – representing the beginning of Jesus time of itinerant ministry around Galilee.

It is interesting and exciting to think about beginnings. It is like having a blank slate, a fresh workbook, an uncharted path, waiting for us without any restrictions on what we can do, what we can write, what we can accomplish, where we can go. It is a hopeful, resolution filled space. Forgetting the past is just a little bit easier as we focus on the path forward – and all the opportunity and promise that come with it.

We soon realize however, at least it is my experience that this happens, that the freedom to do whatever we want, to have unscripted time and space, does not always work out in the ways we imagine.

Time marches at the same rate as it did before, and pretty soon that open space that we saw ahead of us – represented by blank calendar pages and the freedom to do whatever we want – gets caught up in the regular patterns of life – some of them familiar, friendly and helpful, and some of them too familiar, and too confining and frustrating.

It’s great to have beginning times, but as the hymn we sang at the start of worship reminds us, it is the “In Between” that really adds substance to the way we go about our lives and the way we respond to the prodding of the spirit and the ways in which we keep on keeping on.

The words of the hymn are based on a poem by theologian Howard Thurman who captures the value of this “In Between” with this line: When the song of the angels is stilled and the kings and the shepherds have found their way home – the work of Christmas is begun. The beginning represented by the birth of a baby is lived out in the way that baby grew to speak and preach a message of justice, a message of upside down-ness, a message of faith discovery in the last and the least, the most unexpected and surprising people and places.

“In Between” is where the rubber hits the road. “In Between” is the largest expanse of time – the days and months and maybe even years between the celebration of beginnings and endings. “In Between” is a time to be savoured and utilized, a time of elbow grease and implementation, a time of connection and pattern making, a time of open space and work – life balance.

Hooray for holidays. Three cheers for celebrations. Yay for feasts and parties.

But thanks be to God for “in between”, for the goodness of daily ritual and routine, for the lowered pressure of just being and doing, and for the time when we can put in the work and appreciate the leisure of ordinary time. Amen.