Sunday, September 17, 2017

Proper 19

Exodus 14
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed[b] the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

As the film festival finally goes away for another year, we hear one of the most cinematic passages in the Bible.

By cinematic, I mean frequently appearing on film and narrated with all the action and adventure that quickens the heart of screenwriters everywhere. So, we’ll step into the Red Sea in a moment, but first we should do a bit of a survey of Egypt in film.

It all begins with The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff as the mummy, inadvertently brought back to life and determined to find his lost love. Building on the fame of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut, the story takes the myth of the Pharaoh’s curse, adds a dash of Frankenstein and drop of Dracula (pun intended) and creates the perfect vehicle for Karloff, who seems to have invented creepy.

By the 1950’s, popular interest in Egypt remains strong, but must compete with a renewed interest ancient Israel, sparked in part by the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Enter Cecil B. DeMille, whose Ten Commandments (1956) combines the spectacle of Pharaoh and his court with the pious story of Moses’ journey from Hebrew baby to Prince of Egypt to God’s liberating prophet. And all shot in VistaVision and Technicolor.

By the late 70’s, when people thought the epic filmmaking was finally over, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg took a vacation together. According to cinematic legend, the two where building a sand castle together when Spielberg mentioned he might direct a James Bond film. Lucas scoffed at the idea, and said if you want to do an action film you should take up my idea for an adventurer named Indiana Smith. “Smith? I don’t like Smith,” Spielberg says. “Okay,” Lucas says, “how about Jones?”

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982) truly has everything. Evil Nazi archeologists, the Ark of the Covenant used to hold the Ted Commandments, a secret chamber in the Egyptian desert, and snakes, lots of snakes.

This collision between ancient Egypt and ancient Israel remains as fascinating as ever. In part, it’s the compelling nature of the story, freed slaves and a demonstration of the power of God. It’s also our fascination with objects from the past, with some of the most famous discoveries of the 20th century being Tut’s tomb, the head of Nefertiti and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And, it’s the cinematic character of the story, Moses’ God-given ability to stretch out his arms to part the sea—the wall of water to the right and to the left as the Israelites pass through. And the Egyptians—formerly resigned to losing these slaves—decide to pursue them instead, only to have the wheels of their chariots jammed by the God of the Israelites. And then a moment of insight comes, as an Egyptian marks the climax of the story:

“Let’s get away from the Israelites!” the Egyptian says, “The Lord is fighting for them against us.”

This is one of those something-is-not-quite-right moments in scripture that causes us to pause. The Egyptian says “The Lord is fighting for them against us.” Well, what Lord? The Lord of Israel? It’s seems very unlikely that this horseman or chariot driver would worship or even acknowledge the God of the slaves that were busy making their escape. Egyptians were notorious polytheists, with various gods with various roles and interconnections much like the Greek gods.

One suggestion is that there was brief period of Egyptian monotheism, about a few years before the time we associate with Moses—so maybe this insightful Egyptian soldier was a follower of that former tradition. Some scholars have suggested that the whole idea of “one God” may have begun in the Egyptian court, with vestiges of that old tradition influencing the young Moses.

Whatever the source, there is clearly a moment in time when God takes sides. “Let’s get away from the Israelites!” the Egyptian says, “The Lord is fighting for them against us.” Why this wasn’t obvious earlier—say during the river of blood, frogs, locusts, lice, boils, hail, and the rest—is another mystery. Nonetheless, there is a moment in the story when it is clear to everyone involved that the God we call the God of Israel has chosen a side.

What this does—beyond move the story of the Israelites forward—is give birth to a theological problem. We want God to be the God of all. And we want God to be love. This God, whose “got the whole world, in his hands,” is the God we want, not the warrior God sticking sticks in chariot wheels and drowning horse and rider with such aplomb. And it’s even worse that that:

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

It has a matter-of-factness, a cold recounting, that I would suggests says more about the emotional state of the author than the nature of God. Part of this passage is catharsis, a writer who needs to give his people both triumph and vindication, needs to see Egyptians suffer in the way his people suffered under Egypt.

So there is that. But there is no denying that our very modern wish for fairness and neutrality, the well-being of all, and a happy-ending will not be met by the God of Israel. Even Jesus, when he speaks both for and as God, turns away from our wish:

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'"

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Jesus takes sides against the overly-righteous, the sacrilegious, the inhospitable, those who follow the letter of the law and those that separate him or the little ones who adores. He takes the side of the oppressed: by disease or addiction, or situation, or station in life. He is defined by the company he keeps: tax collectors and sinners, and everyone that ‘the best people’ think are abandoned by God.

And notice the built in safety valve and reality check for those who follow God, and particularly God-in-Jesus. As soon as you become too proud, too self-assured that you are one of the ‘best people’ that God will adore, you run the risk of joining the overly-righteous, the inhospitable, and those that would separate God from the vulnerable ones that God adores.

Those who separate themselves from the God of Israel will suffer the fate of being separated from the God of Israel. Forgiveness is possible, and available for everyone—when the desire to no longer be separated from God has ended. Through God all things are possible, yet freewill says some will ultimately choose another path. Perhaps those who reject God are the ultimate vulnerable group—and paradoxically God’s most treasured.

May we strive to imagine the God we struggle to comprehend, and may God find us, vulnerable in our understanding, now and always, Amen.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Proper 18

Matthew 18
15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Never trust a politician who begins by saying “I think we can agree...”

Ditto for “let me be crystal clear” and other verbals tics that fall from the mouths of those we elect.

To be fair, being a public figure in the age of Twitter and Youtube is perilous. Comments can be misinterpreted. Mistakes can be amplified. Today’s offhand comment can become tomorrow’s hashtag. Gone are the days when a politicians “word salad” will be mended prior to publication in the newspaper of record.

And the source of all these annoying phrases and tics is simple: we expect instant answers to difficult problems, given in complete sentences, comprehensive but not dense, comprehensible but not simplistic, and including at least one “sound bite” for the 10 o’clock news.

“I think we can agree” and “let me by crystal clear” are little more than delaying tactics, an alternative to “ums” and “ahs” that allow the speaker more time to formulate that articulate answer we demand. The one exception is the politician who says “believe me” all the time (no names mentioned). In this case, don’t believe him.

Sometimes, however, “I think we can agree” is an important point to make. More than verbal filler, sometimes the speaker needs to remind his or her audience that there are some things on which we can agree. An appeal to common set of values, facts that are commonly known, even shared emotions in the face of events can be acknowledged with “I think we can agree.”

And this, of course, takes us to the oft-neglected second half of our reading. The first half, Jesus’ own conflict resolution strategy is well-known both inside and outside the Christian church. It’s a touchstone for us, but it’s also the basis for many secular policies around organizational conflict. It finds the balance between honouring the individual and protecting the organization, and has therefore stood the test of time.

So that’s the first half. The second half of our reading, three seemingly distinct ideas, is more of a challenge for those who live in pulpits and try to speak in complete sentences. Jesus has just given us a comprehensive policy in four sentences, and then this:

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

The first idea—binding and loosing—is a restatement of something Jesus said in chapter 16. In that case, he first gave St. Peter the “keys to the kingdom” and told him that ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” and so on. Here, he picks up the same idea of binding and loosing and gives it to the twelve disciples (and presumably everyone listening).

This, of course, will be very familiar to Roman Catholics, who regard Peter as the first pope. The papal symbol includes a set of keys—the keys referred in Matthew 16—underlining the authority of Rome to articulate binding tradition down to today. The reformers took issue with this, of course, and were more inclined to see the keys reseting with the whole church, as described in Matthew 18.

And this seems to lead to the second idea, that “if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” It’s hard to know the exact context of this promise, but it seems to come from some controversy in the previous chapter. Jesus heals a demon possessed boy, but only after the disciples have failed to do so. Jesus rebukes them for their failure, and suggests they lack the faith needed to do it. Truly I tell you,” he tells them, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.”

If these two ideas are linked—having faith means moving mountains and if you agree about anything it will be done—we can imagine that part of the power given to these disciples depends on internal agreement, finding a common mind. In this sense, it’s more about shared faith—faith in and through each other—than the strong faith of the individual.

And then the final idea, the one we know best: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Taken together, we begin to see a pattern. What is at first glance a set of three distinct ideas may be a single idea about the power of God in community. How would this work?

Assuming that Jesus has restated the power of binding and loosing to include all the disciples, it requires agreement. The same two that must agree, and the two or three that gather, summon the Risen Christ to their midst. In other words, the work of the church—healing, encouraging, strengthening—requires cooperation and agreement. The work of the church never falls to the individual disciple, leader, or believer—it’s a corporate effort born of achieving a common mind.

It’s a tricky thing, this idea of the power of God in community. In some ways, we almost want to invest power into leaders and individuals, if only to have someone to blame if something goes wrong. Like the politicians we trust until we grow tired of them (and toss them out) we want to be able to blame someone other than ourselves for the direction of the church and the work we do or fail to do.

Having the power of God in community means constant discernment, testing what we do against the biblical record, the urging of the Spirit, and full knowledge of the mistakes of the past. And this discernment must be based on agreement—two or three or more who can agree that what we do is faithful and just. It requires a variety of spiritual gifts—knowledge, insight, prophecy—and a conversation that applies gifts to the situation we find ourselves in.

It’s also important to note that having the power of God in community is not the same a being God. It seems self-evident, but many traditions that fall under the Christian banner are quick to condemn people and cast them into the outer darkness, when this belongs to God alone. And the fact that God is very likely unwilling to do this at all will prove a great surprize to them. Still, the power to bind and loose has more to do with the ability to forgive than the ability to condemn, something that more Christians should learn. And yes, condemning fellow Christians for condemning others is ironic, so I’ll begin to wind up.

Having the power of God in community is related to the other thing we often say, namely ‘we are the hands and feet of Christ.’ The latter is more active and less formal, more relational and less based on concept that have an uneasy relationship with—that being power. Claiming the power of God seems overwhelming and more than a little arrogant.

In truth, whenever we undertake that things we are commanded to do—forgive each other, love our neighbours, feed the hungry—we are demonstrating the power of God to transform lives. We are more than just hands and feet: we are agents of the Most High. Acting together, we bring the power of God to our community, our homes, our very selves. It’s daunting, and that is no accident. We should tremble whenever we do what God would have us do.

May our worship and work be blessed with God’s own power, in community, and in our hearts. Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Proper 11

Romans 8
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[c] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There’s nothing like a good motto to really sum things up.

Take New Hampshire, as an example. Their motto, “Live free or die” seems to sum up the fierce independence of this tiny northeastern state, and the rest of the country too. It’s a borrowed motto, of course, with similar mottos in a variety of places such as Greece, Catalan and revolutionary France.

Or our beautiful province, with the motto “Loyal she began, loyal she remains.” Settled by refugees from the same conflict that gave birth to “live free or die,” we see how these mottos can be weirdly interconnected and often political in nature. And we won’t even mention “Je me souviens.”

Other mottos put aside history and politics and and try to be more aspirational, like our own “A mari usque ad mari.” It’s from the same Bible verse (Ps 72.8) we talked about after Dominion Day, and translates “from sea unto sea.” Or our friends to the south, who adopted “In God we trust,” in the 1950’s, partly to find unity beyond politics and partly to wag a finger at the Soviet Union, officially an atheist country.

And beyond simple mottos, there are key phrases and ideas that seem to sum up a place or people. So “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is one example, with our own “peace, order and good government” held up as a counterpoint. In some ways, these phrases become a sort of national DNA, part of our makeup, and the heart of who we are (or seek to be).

The Bible too, is filled with mottos and sayings that sum up individual characters and their work. So for Moses, we might say “Let my people go,” (Ex 9.1) the words God commanded him to say to Pharaoh. Or King David, described in 1 Samuel as “a man after God’s own heart.” (13.14) Or his son Solomon, applauded for saying “a good name is more desirable than great riches.” (Prov 22.1). Of course that’s rich, coming from a guy who collected a billion dollars in tributes each year.

Switching testaments, we could point to John the Baptist and his key phrase “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” It is what he preached in the desert and the concept for which he became known. Or Peter, named by Jesus as “the rock on which I will build my church” (Mt 16.18) and an idea the Bishop of Rome still clings to.

With Jesus, it becomes more difficult to identify one idea or saying that we could describe as a motto. “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8.11) would have to be a leading contender, along with “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” (Mk 1.17) Or perhaps a summary of his program is better than a motto, making it “Love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 22.37ff)

Finally, we get to St. Paul, architect more than a founder of our faith, and certainly the most important figure in Christianity after Jesus. And on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we might point to verses that Luther turned to from Paul, such as “you are saved by grace through faith” (Eph 2.8) or “the righteous will live by faith” (Rom 1.17) which Paul actually borrowed from Habbakuk.

Both strong candidates, but I’m going to nominate another, suggested by N.T. Wright and part of the key to understanding our reading this morning. You’ve heard it countless times here, since it’s one of my go-to assurances, the words that follow our confession of sin.

“Anyone in Christ is a new creation, the past is done, and new life has come.” (1 Cor 5.17)

So before we look at Romans 8 again, maybe we should unpack this idea of the ‘new creation’ and why it’s part of the key to Paul. It begins (according to Paul) at our baptism, when we baptized into the death of Christ. As we go below the water (by symbol at least) we are joined in Jesus’ death on the cross. We are buried with him and raised to new life with him (2 Cor 4). The old self is gone, and our new self is joined to Christ to be part of this new creation. Listen to Paul’s more complete description of the new creation:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

And this is other important part of being a new creation: that we are a new creation to others. We enter a fellowship (the Greek is koinonia) whereby we are utterly transformed by this new life in Christ. We no longer live for ourselves alone, we live for each other in Christ. “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” means we no longer view them as strangers or competitors, but as potential brothers and sisters in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3.28)

So we can (at long last) turn to our reading for the day. I’m going to share a few select verses to refresh your memory:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”
“The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

Before I go on, I should acknowledge that the idea of creation and ‘new creation’ call to mind the current state of God’s creation, and the modern movement that would have us safeguard the world God made. In some ways, it is just another way we can be joined to God—to protect the environment and seek to restore it to something resembling God’s intention for our planetary home.

But it’s never without controversy. After the first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970, conservative commentators noted that the date was also the 100th anniversary Vladimir Lenin’s birth. The FBI launched an investigation, and Time quoted a lobbyist who said "subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them." Imagine that. Clearly, the recent brand of crazy down south is not new.

Creation waits in eager expectation. Creation will be liberated from bondage. The whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And to these I might add one more motto, something else we will share in our service, in a few moments time: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

As N.T. Wright has said, the God who make heaven and earth intends to bring them together at the last. This is the eagerness, the groaning, the long-awaited liberation: that the world and everyone in it will be transformed by God in Christ, and that long-expected kingdom will come.

So what do we do in the meantime? One scholar said we should “preach repentance and practice patience” (John P. Meier) and that seems as good advice as any. Preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was John’s starting point, and it allowed people to prepare in their hearts room for the message that would follow: the kingdom of God is among (or within) you.

We seek the “freedom and glory of the children of God,” but we also recognize that it is here in our midst. We are already transformed by life within the body of Christ, a reconciled fellowship that can be new life for others.

Anyone in Christ is a new creation, the past is done, and new life has come! Amen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Proper 10

Matthew 13
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

The great Benjamin Disraeli once said “Never complain, never explain.”

The equally great Agnes MacPhail said, “Never apologize. Never explain. Just get the thing done, and let them howl.”

And Mark Twain (or was it Samuel Clemens) said, "The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it."

Clearly there is some issue with explaining yourself, and explaining things generally. Disraeli and MacPhail, both politicians, seem to be talking about power. In the political realm, explaining yourself can be seen as weakness—something your opponents will exploit.

The Twain quote ("The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it”) is about clarity, and the extent to which lengthy explanations may be a sign that you weren't being clear in the first place. Or people couldn’t understand. Or both.

As writing tips go, it’s a good one. Unless you are being paid by the word (like Charles Dickens) you should try brevity and simplicity over the opposite. Taken another way, there is the possibility that an explanation will confuse the matter, or even distort the original meaning. And today, we have a case in point:

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

This is the second half of today’s reading, Jesus’ interpretation of his own parable, explained for whoever has ears. The problem with the passage—and the reason I didn’t share it earlier—is that the follow-up has the effect of narrowing the ways we interpret this passage, closing off other ways of seeing. I’m not saying Jesus didn’t say it—only that there are problems with the interpretation that should give us pause. Within the liberal tradition we believe that context is important and that scripture judges scripture, two ideas I want to turn to now.

The first part of the context is Jesus own hesitation to offer explanations. In this sense, he was closer to Disraeli and MacPhail, especially MacPhail. He was a “get things done guy,” more than willing to act and then let them howl. Or rather, more than willing to share a seemingly oblique parable and let the audience sort it out.

In fact, only three of his many parables are given with explanations: today’s seed parable, the parable of the weeds, and the parable in defilement. All the others, including the biggies (prodigal son, workers in the vineyard) are offered without explanation.

The second part of the context is future persecution. It will cast a long shadow, even over the work of the later Gospel writers Matthew, Luke and John. The seed that falls on the path has no root, and so when “trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” That’s a lesson for fifty years later, and not for the day Jesus sat in his boat and shared the parable.

So then there is the idea that scripture judges scripture, that what we know about Jesus and his way can be the template we use to assess other parts of the story, even words that are attributed to Jesus. How does this work?

The people described in the explanation section first fail to understand, then fail in the face of trouble, then are consumed by the worries of this life. So who does this sound like? Who else was slow to understand, or fled in the face of trouble, or consumed by worry?

His disciples come to mind. Time and time again Jesus expresses frustration with the twelve, saying “O ye of little faith” and praising those unlike Thomas, those who don’t need to see his hands and his side. And at the end—as Matthew says so clearly—”all the disciples deserted him and fled.” Even the great Peter, the rock, would deny him three times. And worry? These are the ones who worry about the seats in glory, and who will be at the right hand of Jesus. They are consumed with worry, even in the storm with Jesus in the same boat.

So having gathered twelve imperfect people to him, and entrusted the future of this movement to them, how can Jesus condemn everyone who shows the same faults when seeds are being scattered? I would argue he can’t, and won’t since the church would be empty if we excluded everyone who is slow to understand, or flees in the face of trouble, or is consumed by worry. Yes, there are “good soil people” who hear and understand every time, but they are the saints of the church, and then there are the rest of us.

So let’s try another approach, listening to the parable again (and not the explanation), and focus your attention on the sower and not the soil:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Scattered and fell, scattered and fell. Our garden is filled with perennials, so there is very little sowing of seeds. But if we did, I expect it wouldn’t be a case of scattering and falling, more poking the earth and planting. Seeds are precious, and not something to be scattered about. So what if the parable is about the act of sowing, and the care we take as we share the word?

Case in point: the twelve, for all their faults, were carefully selected to perpetuate the act of sowing, to take this message of the kingdom of God out to whatever good soil they could find. They were trained and provisioned—told what to say and what to bring. The message was a simple one and the list of items needed was short. And the recurring theme, the advice that appears again and again is “shake the dust off your feet.”

In some ways, this sounds harsh to our ears, too judgmental for people who love second chances. But for Jesus, and the disciples who set this movement in motion, it was about stewardship of resources. When your message is welcomed, stay and share. When you meet a hostile crowd, leave town, and literally ‘shake the dust’ of that town off your feet. Find better soil.

Summer is not just peak growing season, it’s also peak travel and meet new people season. Routines are disrupted, invitations extended, and new places explored, even if it’s just the other side of town. Maybe you’ll find yourself on that long bus/train/plane ride sitting beside a stranger. Maybe you’ll meet some distant relation you never knew you had.

And when we get into longer conversations, this place may come up. I find that people are generally open to hearing about church, unless they’re not. Occasionally I will meet the person who’s openly hostile, or find the whole thing ridiculous. So we change topics, or I express regret for their experience. So ‘shaking the dust’ isn’t rude as the topic moves on, it’s just being polite.

But for the people who are open, who genuinely want to know more, we have discovered the good soil for sharing our story. And maybe they will simply come away with a better impression of the church and what we do. Or maybe we will act as a counter-narrative to all the negative (and often justified) stories in the media. Or sometimes a conversation will produce a crop—a hundred, sixty, of thirty times what was sown.

A life of faith begins when someone opens the door, literally or figuratively, and shares a message of the kingdom. This can happen through words or actions, intentional or unintentional, because the Spirit will blow where it wills. And our task, as sowers and disciples, is to look for good soil, the people seeking new life. The hard work belongs to God, the work of turning hearts to prayer. We can make the invitation, but God does the work.

We pray, then, for good soil and the opportunity to share a vision of God’s kingdom, of new life in Christ, and the movement of the Spirit, now and always. Amen.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Proper 9

Matthew 11
16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

It’s time again to play “What on earth is he talking about?” The rules are simple: I will give you a series of clues, from the obscure to the obvious, and we’ll see who can guess first. Here we go.

Some people have it, and some do not.
Overall, the world needs more of it.
It’s a virtue, and is also the name of a book in the Bible.
Someone clever might call it sagacity or sapience.
They say it comes with age.
Thomas Aquinas called it the “father of all virtues.”
It’s symbol is an owl.
Athena and Minerva are goddesses of this virtue.
The OED defines it as the "capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct.”
Solomon had lots of it.

Well done for guessing wisdom, the virtue de jour. And while I didn’t know if you knew the word sagacity (the quality of being sagacious or wise), you should perhaps have got it at sapience, since it’s who you are. We are “homo sapiens,” literally wise men and woman—a species name that doesn’t always translate into practice.

(Just as an aside, researchers confirmed last year there are were occasions of contact between homo sapiens and Neanderthals, and one thing led to another and we ended up with some Neanderthal DNA. So when someone does something decidedly unwise, we can just say they got mixed up with the wrong crowd.)

So we are homo sapiens—wise men and women—who try our best to live up to the name. We try to demonstrate the "capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct” and try to increase it over time. Our friends at the Collins English Dictionary say that wisdom includes “knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight,” a comprehensive list to be sure. You could obviously spend the entire day defining and debating these aspects of wisdom, but it feels like a good list: knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.

Just act according to this list, and you get Jesus’ saying brought to life: “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Or perhaps you prefer Luke’s version (7.35): “wisdom is proved right by all her children,” meaning the things she gives birth too, like knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.

But Jesus pithy and someone puzzling aphorism is far for the first word on wisdom found in the Bible. In fact, entire books are dedicated to wisdom, including (of course) the Book of Wisdom found in the Apocrypha. The others—Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Sirach—round out the formal group of “wisdom books” but still don’t encompass all that scripture has to say on the topic. Paul has plenty to say on the topic, as does Jesus himself.

But before we return to Jesus and Paul, we should do a bit of a survey and begin at the beginning:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it too. (Gen 3.6)

Considering what comes next (shame, banishment, general badness) we can say that gaining wisdom in this case was decidedly mixed. Next up is Solomon, and the author of 1 Kings 4 is definitely a fan:

29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34 From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.

And, of course, after the famous episode with the baby and cutlery (ask me later), his most familiar work is found in Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For through wisdom[b] your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. (Proverbs 9.10-12)

No one likes a mocker. They mock, and it’s not right. But it’s that first line (“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”) that we also heard in our Psalm, and is attributed to Solomon’s son David. Even though few scholars believe David had a hand in many of the 150 Psalms, it’s nice to think that this one was inspired by his father, maybe something he heard around the palace.

Curiously, there is a well-known section in the Dead Sea Scrolls that echoes these sentiments, described by some as the “the beatitudes of the DSS,” and known more technically as 4Q525.

(Oddly, the DSS is not as readily searchable as the Bible online, so when I searched for 4Q525, the first suggestion was a morning flight from Kabul to Kandahar.)

Blessed is the one who has attained Wisdom,
and walks in the Law of the most High.
He directs his heart towards her ways,
and restrains himself by her corrections,
and always takes delight in her chastisements.
He does not forsake her when he sees distress,
nor abandon her in time of strain.
He will not forget her [on the day of] fear.

The common thread between Solomon, Psalms and the DSS fragment is wisdom through a healthy fear of God, or faithfulness to God’s ways in the midst of fear. In some ways it’s the usual reminder that God is God and we are not (Is 55.8) and being mindful of God’s commands (translated as fear) is both faithful and practical.

Leaping over Jesus for a moment, we get to St. Paul, and the seeming complexity of his relationship with the idea of wisdom. So at first it seems rather straightforward, with Paul commending the very thing we have looked at so far:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Colossians 3.16).

In other words, if we internalize the words of Christ, and back up those words with psalms and hymns of the faith, we cannot help but impart wisdom to others. Paul’s advice makes Jesus the bridge between ancient wisdom and the work of believers. So far so good. Then this:

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 1)

Here, wisdom is sharply divided between ‘worldly wisdom’ and the ‘wisdom of God,’ a distinction that would be particularly apt for someone like Paul who travelled through Athens and came to know some of the worldly wise. For the wise ones of Athens and elsewhere, speaking of the wisdom of God or the ‘wisdom of the gods’ would have elicited nods of recognition and agreement, but speaking of Christ crucified, and the power of God through weakness (and even death) would bring shock and derision.

And this seems to be the overall theme of our reading. He recounts his ministry and that of John the Baptist (“We played the pipe for you/we sang a dirge”) using the image of children on the playground. He observes (or complains) that there is no pleasing some people, and that the wise ones of the world will tune their ear to neither the playful Jesus or the mournful John. Neither message sticks, not the ethical program demonstrated in friendship nor the command to repent shouted in the desert.

So what works? What can reach the so-called wise ones of the world, or at the least the rest of us who try our best? The answer—to follow Jesus’ own logic—is watch the children. Or perhaps more accurately, let the children watch. What does this mean?

Small children, the pre-school crowd, are profoundly visual. They are watching the world around them for clues, for ways of understanding, and for anything unusual they can attach their expanding brain power to. So, if you want to distract a toddler, do something unexpected, something visual, something that will cause them to stop and think. Jesus says the very same thing:

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

The ‘hidden things’ are revealed in the seeming end of Jesus’ story, weeping in the garden, forgiving us while he dies on the cross, being raised on the third day, These are the visual elements of a story revealed and fully understood by spiritual children. It’s more than an ethical program or a call to repent (as important as these things are). It’s a visual reminder of the wisdom of God—that the weak shall be strong and the crucified will open a path to life.

And here, basking in the summer warmth, we tend to overlook the four most important months of our life together. From December to April we watch the story unfold, from incarnation to resurrection, and we see the unexpected thing God does to draw our attention. Like little children pondering something new (each year) we see God in our midst, and watch God (in Jesus) submit to the inevitable and finally we lean in and see that the tomb is empty. It’s this visual journey that gives us wisdom, and allows us to see the wisdom of God. It’s a stumbling block to some, and foolishness to others, but for us, it’s the very heart of who we are.

May God continue to grant us wisdom—to allow us to see, and be transformed. Amen.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Proper 8

Matthew 10
40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

On a weekend dedicated to all things Canada, it seems fitting to make some local connections.

My new favourite historical fun-fact is the connection between the Tyrrell family and Central. Joseph Burr Tyrrell, who discovered a dinosaur named Albertosaurus, was a child of this congregation. Searching for coal in central Alberta, he stumbled on the fossilized remains of a rather nasty looking bipedal predator, and became the accidental father of palaeontology in Canada. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is named for him, along with the prehistoric name for Hudson’s Bay, the Tyrrell Sea.

And then there is E.A. Pearson, father of Lester B. Pearson, who served Central in the 1880’s. Baby Lester was born while his father was serving in Newtonbrook, but we can still claim a connection to the Nobel Peace Prize, the CPP, Medicare and our flag.

And, of course, we claim Edgerton Ryerson, who served here in the 1820’s, and went on to found the public education system in Ontario. His model of free and secular learning, locally available, became the model of education for the new nation of Canada too. The Ryerson window, located in our Milner Room, celebrates this connection. How Jacque Cartier snuck into the window is a bit of a mystery, predating the congregation by 250 years. Perhaps his role in gleaning the name Canada from the First Nations people he met merits an appearance in the window.

I’m trying to make connections between other famous Weston people and Central, but more research is required. Dr. Vera Peters, leading cancer researcher and recipient of the Order of Canada was born Methodist, but seems to have belonged to the church in Thistletown. We’ll claim her anyway. She pioneered a treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease, previously considered untreatable, and made significant advances in breast cancer research.

All of our resident historians, Mary Lou, Eric, Douglas, will tell you that history is more interesting when you can make local connections and bring the lives of individuals to life. And they will tell you that we are writing congregational history all the time, through our activities and decisions we make. So, for example, the meals served downstairs, or over at Weston Presbyterian, are part of the unfolding story of the churches in Weston. Future historians will ask, “why did they do it?”—and I expect part of the answer will be found in Matthew 10:

“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

The topic is mission, and the context is a conversation about reception, how the work of the nascent church will be received. But underlying this question of reception is the command to “proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Then cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.” The cup of water is metaphor for the work of the church, and an early expression that will get a more complete treatment in Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

The first part of our passage this morning (“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”) is just another way of saying ‘when you did these things for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did them also for me.’

The task of the church, then, is to interpret and reinterpret the mission mandate of the church for each new generation. Some tasks remain relatively unchanged—visiting the sick comes to mind—but some require reimagining as circumstances change.

So if we took the scope of the history we celebrate this weekend—Canada 150—we can chart the ways we have tried to live our mission. There are, of course, advances and failures in this story, something I’ll look at a little later on. But from the beginning the church sought a role in the story of Canada.

In the earliest period—we’ll call it the nation-building period—the work of the church and the business of the nation were hard to distinguish. Growth and expansion, the settlement of the west as an example, was mirrored by the birth of new congregations and missions. Welcoming the stranger meant becoming the anchor institution in each new community, a process that repeated countless times as the Dominion expanded.

The next period—let’s call it character-building—began around the time of the Great War, when this “nation forged in fire” began to define itself. The church emerged in this period as a voice for change, with religionists pushing for rights for women, prohibition, and work for the relief of poverty—particularly in urban centres. This project, often called ‘the social gospel,’ propelled ministers and members to enter the political realm, like Nellie McClung, J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas. As this period drew to a close, the mission of the church and the work of the nation (relief for seniors, medicine for everyone) seemed to come together once more.

The last 50 years—let’s call it identity-building—saw the church and the country struggle to maintain old certainties. The Quiet Revolution in Quebec led to the decline of the church in that province and to the vexing question of the place of Quebec in Canada. All the mainline churches outside Quebec also began declining in the late 1960’s, even though we wouldn’t fully see it until years later. On some topics we were ahead of the public—LGBT rights, the apology to First Nations—and on others (such as Sunday shopping) we were largely ignored.

What will happen in the next period? For the churches? For Canada? We are entering a yet-to-be-defined age that seems to be willing to address old wrongs, or at least give people a hearing. Protests this week on Parliament Hill, where First Nations voiced their discomfort with this celebration of Canada, are part of this emerging trend. We can celebrate Canada and Canadian values, but need to examine ourselves when our actions—past and present—violate our own sense of what it means to be Canadian.

At its heart, Canada is an idea. It is an idea that seeks to contain a variety of voices, that ‘welcomes the stranger’ in the best possible sense, that strives to maintain a “safety net” befitting a compassionate people, and that tries to admit mistakes. And through it all, we try not to think too highly of ourselves, leaving claims of “greatest nation on earth” to others.

Like the ‘middle power’ that we are, we can measure ourselves and know that we do better than some on the Matthew 25 mandate—caring for the most vulnerable—yet fall behind others. Some countries have less inequality, some have better approaches to societal problems, and some—like Germany—have done more to address the mistakes of the past.

For the churches, I think the next period requires at least two things going forward. The first is making the next generation of noteworthy Canadians, people who begin in a local congregation and take a life-giving message out into the world. We need to inspire ourselves and others to be their best and see the best in the people we meet. And we need to work together on faithful activities that will strengthen the realm of God.

The second is certainty in the message we share. This is not being triumphant or superior, but confident in who we are and what we believe. It means learning our tradition, and learning how to articulate the message Jesus taught us to share. It means practicing all the elements of a Christian life: confession, reconciliation, proclamation and prayerful action. And it means finding the vulnerable and giving them a cup cold water.

We Christians are in the world but not of the world. We are dual citizens, belonging to the Kingdom of Canada and the Kingdom of Heaven. And as such, we have rights and obligations from both. We enjoy the benefits of belonging to both, but understand that God is the author of all that is good.

May we continue to be blessed, as we are a blessing. Amen.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Proper 7

Matthew 10
26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Summer driving makes me judgy.

Yes, judgy is a word. According to Oxford, ‘judgy’ means “overly critical” and “judgemental,” which I think is unfair to all the people who are judgy. So whether you are a driver, passenger or pedestrian, you might recognize some of these summer drivers.

You’re going to the cottage at 150 km/h. How is that relaxing?
You have your windows down and the tunes cranked. No song should have that much bass.
Your motorhome is pulling an SUV, dirt bikes, bicycles and an armada of small boats. No one can manage that much recreation at one go.
A small car and a big canoe. How can we be certain you can see where you’re going? And when you get to the lake, do you just flip the whole thing over?
Your car is full of gear, children, dogs, inflatable bric-a-brac and things you couldn’t possibly do without for 48 hours of weekend. You know you’ve forgotten something, right?

Maybe we should add cranky to judgy. But it shouldn’t be this way. Summer is time to re-create, re-lax, re-new. You shouldn’t be disgruntled, you should be gruntled! Yes, gruntled is a word, meaning ‘pleased, satisfied and contented.’ Gruntled. So that’s our summer challenge, to end the warm months thoroughly gruntled, and ready to enter the fall.

Meanwhile, we meet Jesus in Matthew 10, and he sounds far from gruntled. You might even say he sounds judgy:

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

You get the sense that he could have went on. Already by chapter ten Jesus feels the need to confront divided loyalties, and the extent to which people are willing to follow within a narrowly defined set of parameters. Jesus wants his followers to be “all in,” but there seems to be a lot of bargaining implied in his comments. So it’s Jesus first—we get that—but does it have to sound so harsh?

In many ways he is simply acting as predicted. Way back in chapter three, our old friend John the Baptist gave his summary of the time to follow, a summary we tend to overlook or dismiss:

11 “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming...he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Of course you know it, but if it sounds like something we have heard recently, you’re right. It’s the gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Advent, that last preaching opportunity before Christmas, before the preacher gets preempted by the Sunday School and the Senior Choir. However, it’s just as well—the tone is decidedly harsh for the time leading up to the big day.

Some might even argue that John the Baptist is wrong. The Jesus he predicts in Matthew 3 seems to be replaced by the Jesus of Matthew 5, blessing the poor in spirit, the merciful, the pure in heart. Barely a harsh word passes his lips, or so it seems. But look closer, and you see glimpses of John’s Jesus—maybe not with fire, but more than a little judgement:

5.29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.
5.30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.
6.24 No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and mammon.
7.1 Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

The last one seems a little ironic. Judge and you will be judged. Judged to be judgy and the judgy one will judge you. Suddenly my summer driving rant takes on a new dimension, where judgement begets judgement and some sort of loop ensures. So I’m going to take the whole thing back and suggest that I should get the Douglas Fir out of my own eye before I reach for the sliver in the eye of others.

Having stumbled on the famous command “don’t judge, so you may not be judged,” it occurs to me that this might be the key to unlock the meaning of one of the most vexing parts of the reading Taye shared. It’s back to Jesus and the family, a series of verses that I find particularly troubling:

35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Some have argued that this a reference to future conflict, conflict between church and synagogue, where literal and metaphorical families will be divided as the Jewish-Christian movement separates from the Jewish tradition. This may be the case, but Jesus is also speaking of his immediate followers, those who will try (for the first time) to embrace this vision of the Kingdom Jesus sets out—those who try to live as he lived.

It would be an understatement to say judgement begins at home. Those we grew up with, those we lived with from the beginning, those who continue to live with us as the generations move forward—these are the people we tend to judge first and most. Why did mom and dad let him away with that? Why did she do that? What are they doing now? Why won’t you leave me alone? Or one of my favourite lines from It’s a Wonderful Life: “Why do we have to have all these kids?”

Does any of this sound familiar? Into that caldron of judgement called family, Jesus injects this: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” So suddenly a man and his father, a daughter and her mother, a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law are not only judging each other but judging each other for judging each other. See the problem? Jesus has added a dimension of inter-filial conflict that didn’t exist before—the sin of excessive judgement and the judgement it brings upon us.

Obviously, we need a way out of this loop. And Jesus seems to be pointing to a way forward on this too: “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” In other words, only by spreading this message of non-judgement, can we hope to end the never-ending loop of judgement.

Christians in particular have to tone down the judgemental rhetoric, since that seems to be the stereotype that defines us in the popular imagination. And even as we begin to protest and insist that judgment is the purview of those Christians over there (or anywhere else), we fall into the very same trap.

The missing part of this equation, of course, is the very thing we proclaim (in the United Church) when we recite our new creed: “to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.” Judgement is necessary and desirable when God in Jesus is doing the judging. When the ethical program of Jesus is the yardstick by which we measure human behaviour, judgement moves from that sinful thing humans do to the faithful thing believers do. But it has to be thoughtful, and prayerful, and done in the context of the Jesus who is “all compassion,” and “pure, unbounded love” (Wesley).

So, go gently back into your summer Sunday, and be kind to the people you meet, even on the highway, judging less than our human nature demands, and open to the one who “works in us and others by the Spirit.” Now and always, Amen.