Back in May, I went to the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour. I have, consequently, been listening to what I think is one of the greatest albums ever made (although maybe only U2’s second best) off and on ever since. I listen to it in the car on the way to work, in the headphones while I’m writing, and while sitting with friends on the patio on warm late spring evenings. It’s crazy how an album I’ve been listening to off and on for thirty years doesn’t seem to get old.
A few nights ago, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came through the little Bluetooth speaker on the patio table. As the song approached its lyrical and musical climax, the familiar words soared through the spring air:
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Therefore God lifted him high,
and granted freely to him
the name above every name,
so that in the name of Jesus
every knee would bend,
in heaven, on earth, under the earth,
and every tongue constent.
So began today’s morning reading in the prayer book that I sometimes use. The words are familiar, as they represent an alternative wording of the famous Christ hymn of Philippians 2. Many scholars believe that this hymn represents one of the earliest liturgies of the early church, possibly even going back to a few decades after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. It thus gives a fascinating window into both how the early church worshiped, who they understood Jesus to be, and what it all meant.
Therefore, God lifted him high… Read more
As human beings, we tend to want God on our own terms. We want what we want from God when we want it. We want God to validate our assumptions, our preferences, our view of how the world works or ought to work. We want to drape all of our aspirations and self-understandings and projects and identity constructions with divinity. Anne Lamott once remarked that one sure way to tell if you’ve created God in your image is when he ends up hating the same people you do. I suspect that the opposite is also true. I am suspicious when God ends up loving only and always the things that I do in precisely the ways that I love them. Read more
Some churches have the best locations. When I lived on the west coast I would gaze longingly at the sight of little churches with ocean views or in the heart of leafy green neighbourhoods with fruit stands and local markets and beaches nearby. When I’m in the Alberta Rockies, I often sigh plaintively at the sight of houses of God that dwell in the shadow of snow-capped mountain peaks. During my travels in Europe or South America or the Middle East, I frequently marveled at majestic cathedrals in historic cities or sturdy stone sanctuaries in quaint seaside towns or humble chapels in the midst of touristy cities devoted to more hedonistic pursuits. It would be so much easier to serve the Lord and his children in such impressive and inspiring surroundings, I often wistfully imagined.
My church, as it happens, is a stone’s throw from a meatpacking plant. Read more
I finally got a chance to see Silence over the weekend. The film arrived late in our town, and even then only in the second-run theatre (I imagine its themes were probably deemed “too religious,” and therefore not profitable enough for mass consumption). The film is Martin Scorcese’s long-awaited adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, and is set in the context of the 17th century persecution of Japanese Christians by the Inquisitor Inoue. It is a masterfully made film based on a beautifully written novel that asks hard questions about the nature of martyrdom and faith and fidelity and suffering, and, of course, about the silence of God. Read more
God of our salvation, all our longing is known to you, our sighing is not hidden from you…
So begins one of today’s prayers in the prayer book I use. Quite appropriately, as it turns out, for I do a lot of longing and a lot of sighing. Indeed, it seems like the older I get, the more longings I accumulate. I took an hour to make a partial list today. Read more
I often spend Monday mornings ruminating on the sermon I didn’t preach on Sunday. There are, of course, only so many things that can be said, only so many avenues to explore in a given text or texts in 15-20 minutes. There are usually many ideas and/or questions that never make it past the Saturday evening cutting floor. Sometimes it was because I didn’t have the courage to tackle them in public. Sometimes they weren’t relevant to the point I was trying to make. Sometimes there just wasn’t the time. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Read more
So, the world is today waking up bleary-eyed and incredulous to a Donald Trump presidency. Most of the people in my social media orbit are stunned, shocked, angry, grieving, horrified, anxious, fearful, and whole host of other grim adjectives. I can’t recall encountering this volume of doom and gloom before breakfast in quite some time. The once-laughable prospect of someone as reckless, crude, ignorant, arrogant, childish, and spiteful as Donald Trump ever occupying the White House has now become a reality. Read more
Most pastors know that the time immediately following a service can be a black hole for anything resembling deep conversation. This is probably appropriate, on some levels. A busy foyer full of people and conversation is not exactly the best time or place for existential crises or deep queries into the meaning of life. It’s a time and a place for cheerful banter and connection with friends and talk of weather and sports. Or, less cheerily, it’s a time and a place for the shuffling of feet and awkward attempts to say something polite about the sermon or to itemize one’s ailments and medical appointments for the week ahead or to complain about this or that. Either way, it’s a place for the ordinary chatter that is part of the glue that holds together any human community. Read more
The prayer book I use for Ordinary Time operates on a four-week cycle of prayers, beginning with a daily movement through the sentences of the Lord’s Prayer—the words given by Jesus in response to a request as simple as it was (and is) drenched in desperate need: “Teach us to pray.” This morning’s sentence was a very timely one: Forgive us our sins. Timely because, well, I can’t really think of a time when I don’t need to forgive or to be forgiven. Read more
I was warned, this afternoon. Me and a few hundred others who had gathered for a funeral. Me and a few hundred others who sat, silently, grimly, in a cavernous and spare sanctuary while a stern man in a black suit stood in an elevated pulpit and admonished us with grave fingers wagging. I was warned that death was coming for me and unless I renounced the ways of the devil and repented of my worldly pride and attachments, that my fate would be a fiery and tortuous one. I was told that there was nothing good in me and that I could never stand before the righteous judge of the earth. I was told that God has his elect and we must never question God’s ways. I was warned to keep watch for the temptations of Satan because Satan likes to provoke criticisms and doubts during times of death. Read more
Easter is a ridiculous thing. Come to think of it, there is a ridiculous quality to so much of what we as Christians claim.
Christmas—God-in-flesh, born in a feed trough to a teenaged peasant girl. Ridiculous.
The Sermon on the Mount—an idealistic approach to life if ever there was one, a recipe for little more than getting taken advantage of and abused. Naively ridiculous.
Palm Sunday—the “triumphal entry” of a king… on a pitiful little donkey… talking about peace. Laughably ridiculous.
Maundy Thursday—a master who washes feet. Weirdly ridiculous.
Good Friday—a self-proclaimed Messiah, executed like a common criminal, going out with hardly a whimper. Pitifully ridiculous
And now, Easter— the defeat of death, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26? Well, “ridiculous” barely seems to cover it. Read more
When we think of the kingdom of God come near, we often think of Jesus’ acts of healing and deliverance and justice for the oppressed. We think of the deaf hearing, the mute speaking, the lame walking, the dead rising. We think of the powerful and the arrogant being brought down low and the lowly being raised up. When we read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, we’re used to Jesus arriving on the scene to declare that God’s kingdom is about all that is wrong in the world beginning to be made right.
We’re perhaps not as used to the kingdom of God being the announcement of party! Read more
So, terror remains on everyone’s minds. Paris, of course. But also Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya, and the countless other less glamorous places in the world, places deemed unworthy of inspiring memes and hashtags or temporary profile pictures or any of the other ways that we express our compassion/outrage and brand ourselves appropriately during dark and fearful times.
This is the world we live in. Read more
We are bargain hunters, all of us. We make bargains with God, with reality or the cosmos or karma or whatever. We are convinced someone or something out there is keeping score, and that our lives are like a bet we are daily making that the things we do are somehow a reliable indicator of the things we will get. Read more
I spent part of today listening to good stories. Our church hosted the AGM of MCC Alberta and, not surprisingly, much of the conversation throughout the day centered around the work that MCC is presently doing with the Syrian refugee crisis.
But we also heard stories of what MCC has done for other groups of people in other parts of the world. Saulo Padilla, an immigration educator with MCC USA shared of his own refugee journey from Guatemala to Canada, and the many twists and turns that his story has taken along the way. And he made one comment that has stuck with me throughout the day. Read more
I have a bone to pick with Christians this morning. Not all Christians. Not even the majority of Christians in my (limited) circles. Not by a long shot. No, my concern is with a smaller subset of Christians that tend to make a disproportionate amount of noise. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of conversations with Christian people about the Syrian refugee crisis. I’ve observed a lot of reaction and response from Christian people online. And I’ve noticed some of these Christian brothers and sisters buying into the fear and the hysteria that attempts to convince us that we need to keep our nation’s doors resolutely closed to refugees from this part of the world. Read more
Yesterday’s worship service at our church was based on the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11. It’s one of my favourite passages in all of Scripture (I reflected on it recently here). It’s one of those texts where you feel like the main task of preaching is to simply say as little as possible by way of “explanation,” to simply get out of the way and let Mercy do its work. The story is the sermon. It is a concrete embodiment of Jesus’ words elsewhere in the gospels (borrowed from the prophet Hosea), “Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).
So, yesterday my words about the passage itself were relatively few. I did, however, attempt something of a remix of the story as an invitation to the communion table later in the service. A number of people have since asked about this, so I thought I would throw it up a lightly edited version of it here. Read more