Driving home from the U2 concert this morning I turned to my wife Fran and said, “I love the way this sermon is coming together! It just seems so right… that church happens in this way.” I had just received an email from Tim in Edmonton passing on 12 of his concert photos for use in my powerpoint on Sunday (Fran was answering my email!). Then Brandon posted a comment to my FB page saying he loved Bono’s line from the previous night, “Don’t put your faith in a cloud.” “I need to include that line in my message”, I thought. Then I get a belated text message from Gary (our church music guy who’ll be doing 4 U2 tunes for worship on Sunday). He was trying to find us on the field the night of the concert (we take sermon research seriously at New Hope, I was there, Gary was there, Keith our tech guy was there – mostly ogling the sound board I’m sure, and a few of our church leadership team attended as well.)
Then, as I’m carrying all of these stories in my mind, I was reminded of the 20 different people who posted comments on my blog, or emailed me with their thoughts on how to preach the band this week. I said that I was planning to use U2 lyrics to tell the Creation, Fall, Redemption, Return story, and asked if people could send me lyrics that coincide with either of the four narrative segments. Tons of great insight resulted.
And it all felt so right. The community of God writing the sermons of God. Church playing out in all spheres of life. No lines on the horizon… no lines anywhere… the earth and everything in it, belonging to God.
This Sunday Calgary’s Mayor is going to be one of the sermon texts I’ll be speaking on. What do he and his policies tell us about the nature of God? After the message we’re going to have a 15-20 minute dialogue about what it might look like to be better citizens. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7, TNIV The Apostle Paul wrote, “The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation.” So we’re called to be ‘for’ our city. What does this mean?
Here’s the question we’re going to be discussing Sunday,
“Given what you’ve just heard about God’s heart for government leaders and our city, how do you see the church (& yourself) contributing to the building of a better Calgary?” (You can either comment here, text a response on Sunday, or step up to the mic and talk then)
“This concert experience was totally different because of what we did at church this morning,” said Kailey, a fellow New Hoper who sat (stood dancing) beside me at the Arcade Fire explosion last night. She’s right. It was… for me too. I must have seen twenty of the the same people who were in church that morning, that night at the Corral. And there really was something about the correlation between what happened Sunday morning and what happened Sunday night. That morning we’d sung/listened to four of same songs they played that night. That morning I spoke about the “child-like” authenticity, forthrightness and integrity of the band. That night I saw it expressed in each of the band members, via their dance, their voices, and their intense facial expressions. That morning I spoke about AF’s stinging indictment of the modern man – our empty, sleepy, suburbs; our weak worldview capitulated lives; how we’re all in line for a number but we don’t understand – and that night all of the prophetic power of those sentiments came down to bear on that Calgary crowd.
That morning I spoke of listening to the music and, at times, feeling the Spirit of God hovering over the lyrics. That night, as Arcade Fire sang Intervention, church organ keyboards in the background, it felt like Jesus was in the room… indicting the “faithful” for their failure to love others as they love themselves. That morning I took three quotes from the song and interpersed them with three quotes from Jesus (directed at the hypocritical, judgmental Pharisee religious leaders);
“Working for the church, While your family dies
You take what they give you, And you keep it inside” Arcade Fire
“Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you let [people] disregard their needy parents.” Jesus in Mark 7:10-12, NLT
“Who’s gonna throw the very first stone? Oh! Who’s gonna reset the bone? Walking with your head in a sling…” Arcade Fire
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus, John 8:7, KJV
“Been working for the church, while your life falls apart. Singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart, every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.” Arcade Fire
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to….you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness… You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean… “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Jesus in Matthew 23, various passages
And then after I read all six quotes I said, “Jesus speaking back then – directly – and today, via Arcade Fire… ” That night, as I stood there scanning the congregation, it felt like the scenes were reversed! That morning we brought Arcade Fire into church. That night Jesus showed up at their concert. Powerful.
This is what makes me cry. On a day when nothing seems to be moving fast with either the book or my level of sermon inspiration, I make this Arcade Fire/Biblical text connection. In a new song called ‘City with no Children’ I hear, “I feel like I’ve been living in a city with no children in it, a garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside a private prison,” and the words just grab me… and I can’t move on. I keep thinking “no children in the streets… no children in the streets.” And the image of a ruined garden just hovers in my mind… the parallel to our ‘East of Eden’ world palpable. So I head off into the Old Testament prophets, knowing that it’s there somewhere, and find these words from Jeremiah;
“For death has crept in through our windows
and has entered our mansions.
It has killed off the flower of our youth:
Children no longer play in the streets,
and young men no longer gather in the squares.” Jeremiah 9:21, NLT
And I lose my breath for a moment… at God’s amazing parallels, at how he’s above time, and authors all truth, whispering it to prophets old and new.
And then, after I come down from the mountain, a Google Alert surfaces with a link to a national news story on the book, and then I get an email request to come speak on the topic, and… the beauty of it all is; in recent weeks I’ve been thinking about how I need to balance my day job/real calling and the book – that I really need to put my heart into continuing journey into the idea, developing it, growing it, and living it FIRST… the rest will take care of itself.
This Sunday I’m preaching on the connection between the biblical concept of ‘joy’ and the psychological concept of ‘flow’. I need some help. When does time stop for you? When do you find yourself doing exactly what you want to be doing, and never wanting it to end? Is it painting, or making love, or playing volleyball, or talking before a group, or rock climbing, or listening sympathetically to someone else’s troubles? (These questions come from Dr. Martin Seligman, Postive Psychologist) If you have an answer to any of these questions, post away!
One day I’d like to preach on the justice system; how God is revealed through our society’s laws. Yesterday I found a great sermon introduction in the person of James Lockyer…
Lockyer is a defense lawyer famous in Canada for his work in freeing those unjustly imprisoned. Reading a short biography of the man in the Globe and Mail this weekend, I couldn’t help but think about how Lockyer’s heart is reflective of God’s.
“Each time he accompanies an exonerated murder defendant out of a courthouse and into a crush of reporters, James Lockyer lives a sublime moment that most lawyers can only dream of experiencing. As Mr. Lockyer stands off to one side, content and vastly relieved, his startled client – so recently reviled as the worst of the worst – struggles to describe what it is like to be welcomed back to the human race.”
Surely this is God’s heart of justice for all of us!
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
laughing at God
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 12 2009 @ 12:03 AM PST
Wow, I was hoping if I left this a few days someone might comment…
I guess not!
The main thing I get out of her song (which is probably the most obvious
thing) is the idea that when life is peachy keen we don’t need God, and so
the idea of a creator and saviour is laughable. I mean, who needs God when
you’ve got more money than you need, a perfect house, delicious food, and
all the fun you can handle? It’s like the man who stored up all the food in
his barns and thought “I’ve got it made.” In our affluence it is easy to feel
like we’re in control and that we can handle anything.
Of course when things go wrong it’s like the floor falls out and people
wonder what they’ve done to deserve it. All of a sudden they HOPE they’re
not in control, because they have no idea how to fix it. That’s when the idea
of God maybe isn’t so laughable or unneeded. All of a sudden it’s like
“Somebody save me!” Of course when things go well again it’s just as easy
to forget the one that helped you out. You can convince yourself it was
But back to the guy that built up his barn… we can’t forget that God said,
“You FOOL! Tonight you die, and then what will become of your wealth?”
That line makes me think of “we’re laughing with God.” Maybe we think
we’re laughing at him, but ultimately he is in control and maybe he is
laughing with us because of our ignorance. Not that I think he would take
pleasure in our suffering or ignorance, it’s more the meaning behind the
words than the literal interpretation.
It’s easy to believe there is no God when you walk through life meeting all of
your own needs and feeling like you’re the center of the universe. Maybe
another Galileo needs to come along and say, “Um, actually, you’re not in
the centre. You’re just a part of a huge galaxy.”
Again, this seems to be the very base, surface meaning of the song, but that
is what hit me about it first, so I thought I’d share since no one else did. I
know there are probably a lot deeper interpretations out there and I hope
someone posts one or two!
laughing at God
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, November 22 2009 @ 06:00 PM PST
This song tells us to always have fellowhip with God–not just when we need Him.
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, November 28 2009 @ 03:51 PM PST
I have always enjoyed your site and this article is no exception. I have never commented here before but thought this was a good time to give you some props. Keep up the good work.
“What do you think God is saying through the parable of Susan Boyle?” This was the question I asked a group of pastor-wannabes at a preaching workshop on Saturday morning. I’d just finished laying out the theological argument for a God who speaks through the events of history, and now figured we could apply the idea to a modern day circumstance…
Why is this 47 year old, more than average, Scottish singer’s story resonating so deeply within so many souls? (64 million downloads according to CBC radio this morning!) Obviously the little guy in all of us is vicariously thrilled when an ordinary person is recognized as extraordinary. It’s the typical underdog myth retold; Cinderella in a Scottish… village frock, a butterfly breaking out of her chrysalis.
And that song, I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables; surely it is the perfect soundtrack for this contemporary fairy tale. Originally it was sung by the despairing character Fantine as she realized that her life had fallen sadly short; and that her dreams would not be coming true. To a great extent, this is the lamenting lyric of all of our lives. Things are not the way they fully could or should be.
When I asked those pastors in training the question, one responded, “This is about God using the weak to shame the strong.” (referencing St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:27 – “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”) We were all so wise as we pre-judged Susan Boyle, as we pre-judge all those other losers and outsiders that surround our lives, as we – ironically and insecurely – even pre-judge our very selves. Come on, we all felt it; first the judging, then the shame.
But then we felt something more. I hate to admit it, but I’ve watched this thing six times now, and each time I find myself brought to tears. I full-on wept the first time I experienced the video! Why?
Over the past week I’ve been catching bits of Susan Boyle’s back story. Single, never been kissed, bullied as a child, for many years she cared for her recently deceased mother, and really not much of a life story (from a worldly point of view) beyond that. It was the bullying comment that got me thinking though; thinking about the idea of belonging.
I think the Parable of Susan Boyle is a parable of belonging. Here we have the consummate outsider suddenly becoming the biggest insider imaginable, all in one miraculous fell-swoop. The grace of this transformation is astonishing. One of the most ‘insignificant’ people on the planet now one of the most significant! Susan Boyle is arguably the most popular person on earth today. The girl who was relationally locked into the grade school closet is now the home coming queen. The person who belonged least now belonging the most.
So what is God saying though this global home coming phenomenon. I think he’s saying, “You are meant to belong. Only in a much greater way than this little parable communicates. You are meant to belong to me… and the sense of belonging that Susan Boyle now feels is nothing in comparison to that!”
Perhaps, through this parable, God is reminding us of who we are; as both shameful judges and future recipients of glory.
So what is it about Barack Obama? Why the huge attraction to this political phenom? Some say it’s his charismatic oratory. No doubt that’s true. The man can talk! But the bigger draw may lie in the content of his message; his hope for reconciliation.
In a world shattered by schism – war, racial divide, ideological conflict, religious fundamentalism, socio-economic disparity, and partisan bickering – Obama preaches reconciliation. He dares to dream of the possibility of something greater, something more. He’s young, idealistic and foolish enough to hang on to the power of hope…
Our jaded and cynical world needs this kind of naiveté.
We yearn for this kind of saving message. Deep inside, we want to believe that reconciliation is possible; that things can be made right.
Obama embodies this reconciliation.
Physiologically he does. In a nation plagued by a history of racial tension, Obama’s mixed heritage brilliantly unifies. A black Kenyan dad and a white Kansan mom; can you see the power in this image? African blood that, this time, crossed the Atlantic of its own free will, on a jet, to go to university, as opposed to unwillingly traveling in the belly of a slave ship; Hollywood couldn’t script this any better!
Obama’s ideology is also reconciliatory. His thoughtful, articulate, post partisan, post modern, post black and white lyric is wholly refreshing to, and representative of, the post baby boomer generation. Many have grown weary of the, “you’re either with us or against us” mantra. They won’t live inside of that kind of camp mentality any more. The simplistic extremes of fundamentalism, left and right (both of which Obama takes issue with!), are just not relevant or attractive today; the complexities of life are much more grey than that.
And Obama’s followers know that he knows that. When he’s willing to see the good in a Republican idea, willing to meet face to face with an international “enemy,” when he’s both honest and self effacing about his own foibles and fallibilities; that makes him both real and believable.
In his best selling book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama uses very uncharacteristic language for a politician; words like listening, empathy and humility. In his prologue he honestly expresses his personal concern with avoiding, “the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, [and] the fear of loss,” that come with serving in public office.
What kind of American politician talks this way? By being this kind of leader, Obama bridges another huge gap; the one between the politician and the populace. To many a citizen this guy seems refreshingly authentic and genuine. His honesty reveals character; a character we’d like to possess more of and follow. We’re yearning for leaders who can wisely stand above the fray in this way.
Obama also embodies socio-economic reconciliation. Raised by a single mom for most of his life, he knows what it is to want. He grew up playing with poor kids in Indonesia. His wife Michelle grew up on the poor, South Side of Chicago. Both of them understand where they came from and both of them are now living the American dream. Within their own lives they’ve bridged a big societal gap, economic disparity; their life experiences now allowing them to speak authoritatively to both sides.
Is it any wonder people are attracted to this political candidate?
It’s almost as though his reconciliatory message, his reconciliatory self, his reconciliatory hope, is perfectly suited for such a time as this. And the people know it!
In his chapter on the American Constitution, Obama speaks of Abraham Lincoln’s profound wisdom in engaging the deliberative function of a democracy in a very divisive time,
“I like to think that for Lincoln, it was never a matter of abandoning conviction for the sake of expediency. Rather is was a matter of maintaining within himself the balance between two contradictory ideas – that we must talk and reach for common understandings, precisely because all of us are imperfect and can never act with certainty that God is on our side; and yet at times we must act nonetheless, as if we are certain, protected from error only by providence.”