A Sermon on Unemployment

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Here’s Sunday’s sermon on Unemployment.  Just in time it seems. On Friday a Global TV reporter asked me if we intentionally timed the sermon with the release of the national jobs report. If only we had that much foresight.  Then this morning I tweeted the sermon to Nick Purdon – a CBC reporter who just did a great piece on unemployed Albertans last night – and he retweeted it to all of his followers.

Aging, time flying, and preparing for eternity

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The other day I spoke with my parents about the phenomenon of how time seems to fly as you age. I’ve been noticing it for a few years now; events that played out 10 years ago feel like they happened 4 or 5 years ago; weeks and months seem to get shorter and shorter the older I get.

I wondered out loud, to my mom and dad, if maybe this perceptual change is intentional; something God has built into us in preparation for the timelessness of eternity.

Now, no one really knows for sure if time will exist when heaven and earth come together. The book of Revelation talks about no sun or moon or day or night (that God will be our light), but that doesn’t mean that time in some made-new form won’t be there. Whatever it’s going to be like, part of me thinks that increased timelessness (and spacelessness) would be a fitting facet of a heaven-on-earth existence where humanity would live in perfect relationship with a timeless and spaceless God.

We’d be more like him in his timelessness if we weren’t limited by time.

Assuming this possibility, ‘time-speeding-up’ makes sense.

Even as we increasingly don’t notice the passage of time as we age, so too will we not notice the passage of time in a timeless heaven on earth. Is this is what heaven will be like; our existence so filled with the presence of God that a day will seem like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day? Will a state of increased timelessness make room for this kind of experience of God’s fullness? It does make some sense. For all we know, the feeling of increasingly losing our sense of time that we feel today, will intensify exponentially in heaven; as we become more and more timeless for the rest of eternity. Again, all to make room for knowing a timeless God.

All of this dreaming makes me think of Mihalyi Csiksgentmihalyi’s phenomenon of ‘flow’. Flow is that beautiful moment when you lose track of all time and space and get totally lost in the meaningful thing that you’re doing. I imagine that this is what heaven will be like; totally caught up in the everlasting love of God.

If less awareness of the passage of time as I age is preparation for that reality, then let time fly!

(image – Prague Astronomical Clock – Wikimedia Commons)

 

The things that come out of your mouth at a baptism

Baby is touching window with her hand. It’s a rainy day hence the droplets of water on the outside

So this morning I’m baptizing two beautiful 10 month old twin girls and I get to the part of the service where I ask the congregation their question. In the official liturgy the question goes like this;

“Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive these children in love, pray for them, help instruct them in the faith, and encourage and sustain them in the fellowship of believers?”

Usually I go off script and add add something like this;

“Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive these children in love, pray for them, help instruct them in the faith. Do you promise to teach them if you are serving in Kidz zone, keep an eye out for them if they are heading for the exit door, lead them in a youth group, etc…  and do you promise to encourage and sustain them in the fellowship of believers?”

But this morning the question took on an even bigger perspective;

“Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive these children in love, pray for them, help instruct them in the faith. Do you promise to teach them if you are serving in Kidz zone, keep an eye out for them if they are heading for the exit door, lead them in a youth group, etc…  And do you promise to work hard as you provide political leadership in this city or in whatever capacity you serve, and as you contribute to our local economy so that we’ll have tax dollars to build schools that they can attend, and do you promise to be a active part of the building the city of Calgary so that they’ll have a place to live and have their being? And do you promise to encourage and sustain them in the fellowship of believers?”

Seems that the vision of the everywhere God moving in everything has even taken over ‘The Form for Baptism’ in our church.

The Jesus who speaks through miracles (and the universe)

Dura-europos-paralyticReading the story of Jesus healing the paralytic man this morning, I’m struck by something Jesus said. After he forgave the lame man’s sins, and the religious leaders questioned his authority to do so, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier; to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority to on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:8-11).

Then the man got up and walked home!

What struck me was the connection between the Jesus who performs miracles and the Jesus who speaks through creation texts today. The same Jesus who has authority to override physical reality when it’s broken (i.e. heal lame limbs) is the Jesus through whom all physical reality came to be (everything made through him – John 1:3, the whole universe – Hebrews 1:2), and the one in whom all physical reality now holds together (Colossians 1:17). It takes a lot of faith, and a very expansive view of Jesus’ authority over physical reality to believe in miracles; about as much as it takes to believe that Jesus can speak through the universe he made (and everything that fills it)!

Which, to me, is illumining. Because whenever I discern his voice through a supernova, song or a biological truth, it feels pretty miraculous. Every time it happens I’m reminded of Christ’s authority over all things! That Jesus really does have the authority to speak through whatever he wants to! Every miracle is a testament to this fact.

(image – The Healing of the Paralytic – the oldest known image of Jesus,[8] from the Syrian city of Dura Europos, dating from about 235, Wikipedia)

 

How did Jesus come up with the Beatitudes?

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After reading the Beatitudes this morning I got to thinking about how Jesus came up with them, and how his process might point to another whole other set of blessings!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:4-12, NIV

So, I’m thinking that, maybe, for a few days (or weeks) Jesus thought about the most important things that he wanted to teach. In so doing he blessed our human capacities to remember, ponder, and consider. Then he must have spent some time working out a top eight (or nine) list of ‘places in life’ that are very close to God – being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, etc…  In doing this he blessed our ability to order, weigh and prioritize our thoughts. Then, like a poet, or a gifted speaker, he must have imagined the best way to communicate these truths; “Maybe a series of concise sayings…  each starting with the word ‘Blessed’… creating a kind of meter or cadence… and ending with the most mysterious and upending blessing”. In doing this he honored and blessed our abilities to imagine, create, form and shape. Plus he affirmed the blessings of eloquence and beauty. And then, for all we know, he may have gone back to his first draft and edited it, cutting out that blessing that didn’t quite fit, and re-crafting some of the language; “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will know God… no… for they will hear God…  nope…. for they will see God…that’s it!” And if he did self-edit, could he have been blessing the gifts of process, self-analysis and reconsideration?

As I think about each of these things they all seem so human. And I wonder if every time I engage these processes I’m utilizing creation-gifts that have been blessed by Jesus (in his using).

(image – Portrait by Gustave Courbet, 1848, Wikipedia)

Excellence vs. Community?

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How good is good enough when it comes to doing what we do in church on Sundays?

It’s a tough question to answer. I’m sure it’s one that churches everywhere struggle with. We all want things done well but well is a relative term. Well depends on the people who make up your community (their gifts, their numbers, their availability). Well is measured by whatever metric matters most (inclusion, excellence, grace, beauty?). Well varies from Sunday to Sunday even for the ‘most gifted’ preachers, musicians, and tech operators (everyone has good weeks and bad).

And is ‘doing well’ what we’re going for in church? If our faith is about grace (and not works), shouldn’t doing well be based on God’s take on us – a perfect Heavenly Father who chooses to love the heart of every completely out of tune 4 year old singing in the children’s choir? Let’s face it, compared to God’s perfection we’re all just yelping.

But in the bible, excellence and beauty seem to matter a lot to God. He made a perfect creation. He gave amazing (and often celebrated) artistic, musical and leadership gifts to people. But on the other hand God also used stutterers, runts and self-righteous prigs. His power is made perfect in weakness right?

So, again, its all so confusing to me. Do you just do the best you can with the people you have, trusting that God is good with that? Let the best speakers speak and strongest singers sing and wisest leaders lead and find a way to speak the truth in love when it comes to discerning which is which?

Do you try to improve going forward as a faith community; knowing that you’re made in the image of a God who does all things well?  I think you do. But the moment that that thought translates into action, and I have to tell someone that their voice isn’t good enough, or that they don’t have the technical aptitude, or that they’re not called to preach or teach children, my confidence ebbs. Who am I to make those kinds of calls?

I suppose it’s not up to me to make those choices. Decisions that strike the right balance between excellence and grace need to be communally made. But I’m not sure how that happens. Do musicians make music decisions or does the rest of the singing community? Or should church leaders make those calls? I suppose it needs to be a mix of all of the above. Which only adds to the complexity.

Maybe the answer is less about where you draw the line and more about when you do.

Jesus called a motley crew of untrained fishers to be the foundation of his church. He started with very average people and transformed them into very powerful leaders. This took years. I suppose taking the time is the most gracious (and costly in terms of energy expended) way of having the conversation. Give people every chance to succeed and find their way. Do this in love and with compassion for both the person and the congregation. Don’t be too quick to judge. Have faith that God can create a kind of community where excellence and inclusion aren’t seen as mutually exclusive. Imagine a community so defined by love, so marked by humility, that everyone is able to come to the same conclusion about ‘who’s called to do what’ all at the same time.