Tuesday, September 24, 2013

As if by magic

Here's Sunday's sermon

It kind of links with last week's on grace, plus my post on 'sin', plus my last post on suffering, plus pretty much everything going on in my head at present...

Blurb from website:
The parable commonly known as the 'unjust steward' is one of the more tricky and difficult of Jesus' stories. Or is it? We wonder what it says about God, but perhaps it isn't trying to say anything. Perhaps it is just an interesting story to ponder. An exploration of the power, purpose and point of parables.

On Suffering

There are some days I really wish I had all the answers.

Or just a few more.

There have been a number of people who have responded to my blog post last week on Sin, and to my sermon on lost and found on Sunday a week back, and just in general discussions, and a few conversations people have requested.  Most get stuck at the question - how does God allow suffering?  If God is as gracious as I would (boldly and wholeheartedly) proclaim then how can God allow people to suffer?

It's not a new question. It's something Theologians and Philosophers have been struggling with for centuries.  Our Hebrew/Christian Scriptures also wrestle with it - as is entirely appropriate for books which contain God's revelation of Godself to humanity.  But there are no easy answers, no pat response.  At least not from where I am sitting.

Some traditions will say 'It's all God's will, so it's a mystery'.  I get the second part of that, but I (like so many) don't get the bit that somehow God wills people to suffer.  The idea that God puts people through tests, which can involve such pain as losing a loved one, suffering through illness, desolation and agony is, frankly, abhorrent.  And though some say "it's just an unpalatable truth that we have to be subject to God's sovereignty in these things" I would respond "baloney".  This of course is a deeply worked out theological response. Almost as profound as the idea of God's 'smite' button on the Divine PC!

I've mentioned before on this blog, probably a few years back, that I fear sometimes we imagine God to be like Gods of Olympus in the 1970s movies where Jason and his Argonauts were moved around like so many pieces on a chess board. Do we really have a view of God that just makes us pawns in some gigantic game? Those of us who wrestle with  discerning God's activity and who try to find meaning in good and bad, in the world around, in reading and learning from scripture find such a picture of what is manipulative and ultimately cruel divinity offensive.

The idea that God would actively harm people, even if to create 'strength of character' or to test them, or to teach them something suggests a fair amount of sadism on God's part.  On a purely human level, I might want to teach my kids a lesson, and sometimes that might mean stopping them doing something they enjoy - but punishing them by denying them hope, or love, or by physical violence is not 'teaching' it's abuse.  I know there are times when we feel a profound absence of God, and when we feel distant, or despair overwhelms us but I am skeptical of the idea of a God who withdraws from us, or distances him/herself from us.  On the other hand I don't believe God scoops in as rescuer either, but is alongside us in our suffering rather than giving us an escape route.

It's the presence of God, even when unfelt, that is for me the Christian response to suffering.  In a short blog post like this I don't even pretend to be able to work out an answer at length, or even of depth, but I profoundly believe that God is present and alongside us in our suffering.

There was a quote from Father Nathan on Twitter this morning which grabbed my attention:

This reminds me that suffering is not just an 'in theory' for God,  but that God knows what it is to suffer, and empathises and suffers with us.

The struggle I think many of us is to find meaning in suffering.  We as human beings look for meaning and pattern, for what is behind what is happening. We search for meaning.

We ask why, it's the way we seem to be built.

I wonder if sometimes, though, there is no 'meaning' behind suffering.  Is that harder to deal with?  That there is no purpose to suffering, but that suffering just 'happens'.  As a Theologian I can link suffering to sin - not to one person's sin, but to the brokenness of a world where sin prevents wholeness.  This is a creation 'groaning in travail' because of the darkness of the world that comes from the brokenness that sin brings to our world.

We can't draw a straight line between a person getting sick, or being in an accident, or losing something, or suffering and their own sinfulness - that only reflects a view of a God who is capricious and vindictive. But we can gain some meaning from saying that God has given us complete freedom, and so the world is as it is. What I mean by that is the gift of free will we have to take into account God not just 'allowing' us to make choices, but making a world in which absolutely genuine choice is possible. Now I'm not arguing for creationism in the narrow 'it took SIX days' form, but I do believe in God as a creator who had and has a hand in this universe.  My favourite description of this was my undergraduate lecturer who said his understanding of creation was God looking at nothing and saying 'know me' and everything going from there.  That allows me to understand a God who creates by God's word, and yet the infinite possibilities of a "big bang", a dynamic universe and the processes of evolution.

So we live in a world where earthquakes and volcanoes erupting happens, and people are hurt by that.  But without a dynamic, molten core the earth would be a dead planet.  We have weather which causes flooding, freezing, or cancers through sunshine - but without the dynamic meteorological system we wouldn't have the seasons that make growing, sowing and reaping, possible.  Though there is an ongoing discussion as to how much we are adding to extreme weather events by our care, or lack, of the environment....

We have a world which is alive with the possibility of absolute freedom.  This means that it is not a safe, easy, trouble free world.  We have a world which is dynamic, and wild, and dangerous.  We also have a human race which is prone to sin, that we mistreat each other, and ourselves and that can bring about consequences which harm us and one another.  Along with this I believe we have a God who is absolutely with or for us, but who rather than intervene in the world which s/he has made absolutely free, works in and through us, frail, fragile, fallible human beings in order to offer hope, life and healing to this world.

So what is our picture of God?  Is it of an interventionist God who causes one person to be ill, another to be well with apparently no justification one way or another - or even worse, to try and prove a point or test someone?  Is it of a God who has no concern for human life or suffering? Is it of a God who has chosen to allow humanity such freedom that we do get sick and die and we do live in a world that is dangerous and dynamic?

These are only my thoughts. I make no claim to having all of the answers.  I wonder if we are so keen on finding 'meaning' and clarity that we do find it hard to cope with mystery, or open ended questions?  I certainly think that church communities should be places we can wrestle with such things - and these thoughts, along with a challenging bit of Luke's Gospel and some deep conversations I have had recently had a profound effect upon my sermon for this week, which I will post in audio format very soon....

Please comment, please discuss. Join the conversation....

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back into the old routine (with some help from the Holy Sky Cactus)

This was yesterday's sermon - returning to the Audio Digital age thanks to Chuck! Some background might help with one mention....

We've brought back an 'introduction' to the theme for the day which the young people stay in for (rather than leaving for their own activities/learning/worship during the processional hymn). Yesterday Craig, our Families Minister, carried on the lego theme from last week by updating the 'parables of the lost' to include the lost lego piece - where the nave was searched diligently until the holy sky cactus was found... (see picture of last week's creation below to view the holy sky cactus in place - rh side, in the gap, just below the chap dressed in white, though it has ascended since that picture was taken).

So I mention lego in the sermon, at some point, if I remember correctly....

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kickin' It Old Skool

Ok, a made up title to get some attention :-) But there is a reason - since moving to St John The Divine I have had my sermons podcasted, which has meant even less attention has been paid to New Kid Deep Stuff than usual, and attention was, admittedly, pretty minimal anyway.
This last week our Sermon poster was beset by tech difficulties and then was away for a few days (well deserved, the guy does TONS of stuff around St John's) so it is time for me to revert to posting my sermon online in the tried and true method.

Some background - we handed everyone who came to church a block of lego, and then by the time we started the sermon I asked what they had built...

With one block

Then our young people gathered the lego together and made this by working together.

That might help.  

Proper 18 (2013) Year C RCL Principal

Count the cost.  Or not.

OK, how’s the lego – have you had fun building?  Show me what you’ve made… What do you mean you’ve not made anything???  Why is that?

Hmmm. So we will have to do something – any suggestions? 

Work together, now there is a good suggestion.  And if there are any young people, say, elementary and middle school kids, perhaps you’d like to go around the Church and ask folk if they would be good enough to give you their lego blocks.  I believe Craig is going to help you with some construction work at the back….

And for the rest of us.  What does this mean?  Why lego? [Continued here]

Friday, September 13, 2013

Whatever happened to sin?

Well, my first post for the Times Colonist went live on the website yesterday.  Those of you who have looked back through these hallowed pages will have read a version of it before a few posts ago, I thought it a relatively good introduction to myself with some reflection on who we think we are and who we project ourselves to be.  But you know what it's about if you either followed the link above or read 'Who Am I?' below.
There was at the time of writing this only one comment, and it is one that has caused me much thought in the past few hours.  It was a response that said 'I see no one who needs fixing or forgiving in any way' and made a case that grace is such that we are who we are and who we are meant to be - at least that is how I read it.  Go look, see what you think and let me know.

Whilst I would identify quite strongly with a more liberal understanding of Christian faith, and would consider us to be graced rather than cursed, blessed rather than condemned, I would hesitate to say there is nothing wrong with anyone.  I don't have to travel too far from this Church building to see the effect of a broken world, broken systems, the evil (yes, I believe in evil!) of those who push drugs, or abuse others.  I don't even have to get out of my chair to encounter a person who recognises alongside a deep sense of being loved and accepted by God that he is imperfect, (to a certain degree) damaged by the bad parts of life, constantly making mistakes and not good at discerning or following the way which God might intend for my life.

So I come to God with a sense of unworthiness - my imperfection in the face of God's perfection.  It's not a case of 'O wretch that I am' (though I feel like that sometimes too) but a recognition of need, of hope, of gratitude and above all, of grace.

Grace, of course, is freely offered, and to be freely accepted.  It comes with no strings, except the ties of love to a living and gracious God.

There was a comment by a wise colleague of mine about the Church being obsessed with a model of 'Medieval sin management' - where a sense of unworthiness translates into a way of controlling the masses, making people feel unworthy in order that the priest/institution can have control over them by parcelling out forgiveness at the price of allegiance, or obedience, or money!
 This isn't what I am talking about!  I recognise that my need for healing and forgiveness can be met by God alone, with no-one else needing to mediate that.  Just as my sense of worth comes from a God who loves me and gives me life.

For me the message of grace is not that we are all alright.  But that we're not, but that is alright.

Jesus himself was deeply conscious of that need to offer forgiveness, and of the sinfulness of all people. The story of the man lowered through a roof
or a woman caught in adultery show that (though I am always shocked that the one who was the other part of that adultery gets away scott free - which is a discussion for another time).  Also, no matter how I might understand what happened on the cross, there is and has been from the beginning a link in Scripture between all that Jesus suffered and the brokenness of the world.  I am not going to open up discussion on subsitutionary atonement or penal substitution here, but sin, theThe witness of the Bible is that we do fall short of God's intention, and we are broken.  But broken does not mean worthless.

Whether we hold to a doctrine of 'original sin' or 'original blessing', it is impossible to get away from the broken and battered world in which we are placed, and the structures of oppression and injustice in which we are (often unintentionally, but sometimes deliberately) involved, complicit and/or active.  We are not, as much as I see the positive in people as much as I possibly can, perfect.  Hence I believe it an important part of our worship to learn to leave behind the weight of our imperfection and brokenness liturgically with some form of confession.  This is a discussion we will be having at our church soon!  Again, not to wallow in a mentality that always says we are bad, but that there is wrong, sin, that we need to let go of, or be healed from.  This is, I believe, the human condition.

Yes we are graced, blessed, loved, accepted and precious, but to extrapolate from that we are perfect or have no need of God's forgiveness and healing is,a limited viewpoint and not one that comes - in my understanding - even from a broad and liberal reading of the Christian Gospel.  We proclaim healing, light and life in the face of a dark world, through the power of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.  We don't proclaim 'don't worry. be happy'.

God forgives us.  Forgive Others.  Forgive yourself.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Christian Education Canada

A local parish, St Peter & St Paul, Esquimalt, has undertaken to provide, from a number of sources, an online resource of Education for the Anglican Church called Christian Education Canada.  It's a big name, with a big aim, and is just taking shape around online discussions and a Google+ page they are constructing. At the moment videos and records of G+ hangouts are being hosted by the Parish page on Google - though I think there will be a G+ page for CEC.

Well, I have put my two cents worth in and made a pilot video which I hope to expand into some talks on the Creeds.... Actually my gifted and energetic colleague and friend, Craig Heibert, St John's Family Ministry Co-ordinator has.  This has been accepted by CEC and I am just planning to get my head around the idea of how to address the Creed, or indeed which Creed... I suspect my thoughts will be based on work previously done with colleagues from the Papworth Team Ministry on the Apostle's Creed.

Anyway, visit the G+ page or go via St Peter & St Paul's... but here's the video that Craig and I put together - or rather, he put together and I waffled through....
If that doesn't work, please do watch it on the page - here.
I've also discovered that SJD has a YouTube Channel which has lots of very interesting stuff here