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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The importance of knowing when to break the rules

As the saying goes, "There is the letter of the law, and then there is the spirit of the law".

The Anglican church, among others, is bound on all sides by laws: what do to, when to do it, and who can do it.

A perfect example is the Ten Commandments, which of course comes to us from our roots in ancient Judaism.  One of these Commandments is "You shall keep the Sabbath day holy".

This "law" was introduced as an assurance that people would have at least one day of rest a week.  Ancient peoples knew well that all work and no play resulted in a scene from "The Shining".

But somewhere along the way, this piece of advice which was meant to refresh people turned into a point of argument: what does it mean to keep the day holy?  Does this mean no work?  What constitutes work?  What constitutes non-work?  Is it work to go fishing or play golf?  Is it work to cook yourself lunch?  If your roof caves in and you are getting rained on, should you just wait until the Sabbath is over to fix it?  If the roof has collapsed on your children, should you wait until the next day to save them?

Ok, I'm going a little overboard, but not by much.

The point is this: some laws keep us safe from other people, and vice versa.  Generally speaking, the law protects us.

But some laws, some rules simply don't, and it behooves us to use a little critical reasoning when it comes to discerning the difference.

In today's Gospel passage (Luke 13:10-17), the miracle performed is actually the background to the more important point that Jesus is making: the women who came to the Temple had been suffering for 18 years.  Would it really be God's wish for her to suffer another 24 hours just so she does not transgress the law concerning the Sabbath?  Could our own sense of justice, compassion and mercy really allow that to happen, simply for the sake of adhering to a "law".

Blind allegiance to anything is not a healthy way to live, whether that be to the tenets of a religion, a law, a philosophy, a person, a cause, an ideal.  Jesus certainly did not.  There is a reason why we have the characteristics of curiosity, skepticism, critical thinking and discernment.

Use them.

To hear my sermon for this week, click here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Life of Brian

Like most priests, I am a huge fan of Monty Python's "Life of Brian", a movie about a man who gets mistaken for the Messiah.

Not surprisingly, the movie was banned in many places in the British Isles when it first came out.  It was branded heretical.

Years later, when the comedy troupe was interviewed about the movie, they mused that originally they wanted to make a movie which poked fun at Jesus himself.  After doing some research, however, they discovered that Jesus did not really open himself up to comedy because what he had to say was just good moral philosophy.

What they did think was funny was that Jesus said all these great things like "Love thy neighbour" and his followers spent the next 2000 years slaughtering and torturing each other because they couldn't decide how he had worded it.

This week's Gospel passage (Luke 12:49-56) is one example of a passage that is open to a fair degree of interpretation.

It speaks of fire and division, of things to come.  Pretty scary stuff.  But the problem with the written word is that it does not convey inflection or any number of subtle non-verbal nuances that Jesus' original listeners would have been privy to.

We could, of course, interpret this passage at a surface level: Jesus relishes the thought of a coming judgment and he relishes the thought of family members being at each others' throats.

That doesn't quite jive with me.

Like most people, I have an image of Jesus: tender, compassionate, forgiving.  The person speaking in this Gospel passage does not sound like Jesus if we assume that he is speaking with a tone of joy, triumph and/or anger.  However, reread the passage with a tone of sadness, of weary resignation, and we might be getting closer to the spirit in which the passage was intended.

Would Jesus relish the thought of families being divided?  I have my doubts.  However, being the shrewd judge of human nature that Jesus seems to have been, he must have known that even his message of peace, justice, love and compassion would cause rifts between family members who wanted to follow this new way, and those who wanted no part of it.

The fact of the matter is that we have all probably had to make difficult decisions in life.  We have had to do what we thought was right, sometimes at the expense of relationships with people who cannot journey with us.  Jesus certainly did: from other Gospel passages, it is clear that some of his family members thought he was insane, or at least an embarrassment.

But he had to do what was right.

Jesus was clear on a few things: there was such a thing as right and wrong, and there was very little wiggle room on either side.  Love, compassion, justice and mercy were right.  What showed love to God and to neighbour was right.  What did not WAS not.

When we are faced with having to make a difficult decision, one which may fracture relationships, we are faced with a conundrum: be true to ourselves and to our own calling, or be true to someone else and what they want us to be.

There is no easy answer, but if you are facing such a decision in your own life, I wish you grace and blessings.

To download my sermon, click here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Jesus is coming...look busy!

There was a great t-shirt I saw a few years ago that had a silhouette of Jesus on it, and it said “Jesus is coming…look busy!”

There is a phenomenon in psychology whereby test subjects tend to alter their behaviour when they know they are being observed.  For example, when given the chance to do something unethical, many test subjects will do just that if they don’t know they are being observed, whereas if they know they are being observed, they will take the ethical alternative.

So what is it about human nature that we feel we can do evil if no one is around to judge us?  Certainly, we are (or at least ought to be) our own judges.  Certainly many of us are our own worst critics.  We know what is right and what is wrong, we have consciences, so why do we choose to ignore them when we are the only ones watching?

Why, in other words, do we not always act with authenticity and integrity?

I wish I had an answer for that, but Jesus didn’t seem to have an answer for it either.  His only solution, which he tells in a metaphor in this week's Gospel passage (Luke 12:32-48) which is likely troubling to our modern ears, is to always try our best to act with integrity.

He uses the metaphor of a master who leaves his slaves in charge of his house while he is away at a banquet.  This metaphor likely troubles us because in this day and age, slavery is simply not acceptable in any shape or form, but we have to understand that it was quite acceptable in Jesus’ time.   He is not endorsing slavery; he is simply speaking of something which was a reality to him and his listeners.

Regardless, the slaves have two choices: either they can be derelict in their duties while their master is away, or they can be diligent.  And which will be the more rewarding?

This passage brings up the concept of reward, and this is where the metaphor falls down somewhat, or at the very least leads to some bad theology.  The metaphor has the master returning to his diligent slaves and rewarding them with a feast.  This leads A: to the notion that we are to be God’s slaves, and B: that God will reward us personally for our diligence.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus is challenging us to authenticity because it is its own reward.  We aren’t supposed to do this stuff because it pleases anyone else, but because it pleases us.  The fact of the matter is that when you do good, you feel good, and when you do bad, you feel bad.

It is really not that complicated after all.

To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.

Monday, August 5, 2013

You can't take it with you

One of the most enduring arguments in Christendom has to do with wealth.  More specifically, what Jesus' attitude was towards wealth, and therefore how we should approach it.

Today's Gospel passage (Luke 12:13-21) tells the parable of a wealthy farmer whose crops produce excessively one year.  Without a thought of sharing with friends, family or the poor and needy, his solution is to tear down his barns and build new ones to store his excess.

Given that it is not a true story, it is almost comedic that despite his preparations, the man dies without ever enjoying his harvest.  You can't take it with you, indeed.

The problem is that Jesus is ambivalent about actual money.  On the one hand, he says that it is easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God, but he says elsewhere that the worker deserves his wages.

I don't think that Jesus felt wealth or prosperity were evil in and of themselves, and I think that we deserve to be proud of whatever we have accomplished in like, but I do think that in his talks about wealth, Jesus was forever trying to draw us past the distracting allure of money and possessions to a greater "gold".

We spend time investing our money, but how much time do we spend investing in our relationships with family?  Friends?  Colleagues?  Our church?  Our community?  With God?  Essentially, what are we doign to invest in our emotional and spiritual well-being?

I don't think Jesus would ever recommend that we NOT invest in our financial security, but if we have more than we can possible use at the moment, why not experience the joy of giving to others?  That is where the true "gold" lies.  Go out and mine it!

To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.