Why Keep a Sabbath?

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The Deuteronomy reason for Sabbath-keeping is that our ancestors in Egypt went four hundred years without a vacation (Deut. 5:15). Never a day off. The consequence: they were no longer considered persons but slaves. Hands. Work units. Not persons created in the image of God but equipment for making bricks and building pyramids. Humanity was defaced.

Lest any of us do that to our neighbour or husband or wife or child or employee, we are commanded to keep a sabbath. The moment we begin to see others in terms of what they can do rather and who they are, we mutilate humanity and violate community. It is no use claiming “I don’t need to rest this week and therefore will not keep a sabbath” — our lives are so interconnected that we inevitably involve others in our work whether we intend it or not. Sabbath-keeping is elemental kindness. Sabbath-keeping is commanded to preserve the image of God in our neighbours so that we see them as they are, not as we need them or want them.

From Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson

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The Explanation of the Parable of the Sower; Short Sermon

It’s a good thing to learn how to preach short sermons.

At Wycliffe College, every third year student has to preach at least two 5-minute sermons at morning or evening prayer. This past month I was assigned to preach for 5 minutes on Matthew 13:18–23. The sermon would have benefitted from sticking with one main image/question from the outset that clearly and obviously related to the main point. I think I made the five minutes enjoyable, but that’s not the point of a sermon.

So, if you read this, please comment and summarize what you think the main message was in a sentence or two. After that, feel free to ask or comment anything 🙂


Read: Matthew 13:18–23

Prayer: Jesus, may our eyes be blessed and see and our ears be blessed and hear.

I love parables.

In my first tutorial for New Testament, here at Wycliffe, with Terry Donaldson, we were asked to introduce ourselves and to share what our favourite gospel was, and why. I said, “Luke,” because I like all the parables.

But why? What’s up with my fascination of parables?

I imagine that it is, in part, a holdover from my childhood. I can still picture myself in Sunday school, with my friends and teacher reading and teaching the parables of Jesus. The metaphors and similes from nature and common life, their vividness or strangeness drew my thoughts then as they do now.

A farmer went out to sow his seed…

What is the seed?

We read in Matthew: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom…”

We read in Mark: “A farmer sows the word.”

We read in Luke: “The seed is the word of God.”

Some falls on the path, some in shallow rocky soil, some among thorns, and some on good soil.

Our text today explains the meaning:

Some people hear and don’t understand: and the evil one (devil, or Satan) takes the seed away. Some people hear, embrace it, and grow: but once hard times or persecution come their way, the plant withers. Some people hear, receive it, and grow: but they grow alongside the desire for the pleasures of this life, alongside the deceitfulness of wealth, and worries of this life. This plant bears no fruit and never matures. Some people hear, receive, and flourish: they understand, keep it, persevere, and produce a crop a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.

The first three explanations make a whole lot of sense from an agricultural standpoint.

Nothing is going to grow on a path. Shallow, rocky soil will only support short-term plant life. Thorns can choke out a plant.

But the last one is simply ridiculous.

No farmer is going to believe that any seed will produce 100 times what was sown, let alone 60 times or 30 times.

Not in ancient Palestine. And not in modern mechanised industrial farming with high-yielding varieties with increased nitrogen absorbing potential. It’s just not possible.

When I was younger, I failed to grasp that parables are both prophetic and apocalyptic. That they witness to the new age begun in Jesus. That they offer both redemption and judgement at the same time.

It almost feels silly to ask the question that the parable begs us to ask:

“What kind of soil are we?”

The Apostle Peter’s responses to Jesus often make it seem like he is on the path or in shallow rocky soil. So often is Peter ready to jump ON a lake for Jesus or declare him Lord. We too can be so eager to follow Jesus, but are we, like Peter, really sure what kind of Messiah Jesus is? Are we ready for the things to come—even what Jesus warns us of?  Are we sure we know the cost of discipleship?

Jesus has already said in Matthew 6 that you cannot serve both God and money. Jesus is insistent on this point. Here he is reiterating the fact that the Word cannot flourish among those who continue to care for and are shaped by the things of this world. It’s not an easy lesson for his disciples and it’s not an easy lesson for us.

When I was younger, when I was ignorant about judgement in parables, I assumed I was in the good soil. I lived a moral life, I read my bible, and went to church with decent, kind, and hard-working people. But this is not just a thought from my youth. This is an assumption all Christians have to keep in check.

The good soil produces 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown. We can thank the disciples for being good soil—without them, there would be no church.

Do we believe the ridiculous claim that seed can flourish 100, 60, or 30 times in good soil? Do we see this fruit in our lives? Or, do we scoff at the idea… do we think it’s just not possible. Can the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually work in our lives, in our relationships, in our churches, and in the world?

Maybe our church growth strategies simply have too much money—and so our imaginations are choked.

Maybe we’ve fallen into sentimentality, and crafted idols for ourselves.

Jesus, may we hear the message of your kingdom and receive your word and understand it.

May we be possessed by the joy of the kingdom, like the man who found a hidden treasure in a field or the merchant who found one pearl of great value, both sold everything they had.

Jesus, help us be good soil.

When dealing with creationists…

I wouldn’t begin with scientific arguments. I’d start with the biblical text and with Christian interpreters of the past.

Listen to the words of Origen (185–254):

Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day, and the evening and the morning existed without the sun and moon and stars? And that the first day, if we may so call it, was even without a heaven? And who is so silly as to believe that god, after the manner of a farmer, “planted a paradise eastward in Eden,” and set in it a visible and palpable “tree of life,” of such a sort that anyone who tasted its fruit with his bodily teeth would gain life; and again that one could partake of “good and evil” by masticating the fruit from the tree of that name? And when God is said to “walk in the paradise in the cool of day” and Adam to hid himself behind a tree, I do not think anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblance of history and not though actual event.

– Origen, On First Principles, ed. by G. W. Butterworth (New York, Harper and Row, 1966), p. 288

On Community and Camp Crossroads

I read the introduction for the Month of October in Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals this morning, and I had some reflections I thought I’d share.
(Scroll down if you wish to skip the excerpt)

Formation in the Way of Christ

For many of us, the judgmental, arrogant, legalistic Christianity we knew growing up has created a suspicion of discipline and order that can lead to a pretty sloppy spirituality.  Reacting against the institution’s sickness, we easily find ourselves with little to help us heal from our own wounds, create new disciplines, and carve out a space where goodness triumphs.  People who are afraid of spiritual discipline will not produce very good disciples.

Community is pretty hip these days.  The longing for community is in all of us.  We long to love and be loved.  But if community doesn’t exist for something beyond us, it will atrophy, suffocate, die.  Discipline and disciple share the same roots, and without discipline, we become little more than hippie communes or frat houses.  We easily fall short of God’s dream to form a new humanity with distinct practices that offer hope and good news to the world.  Like any culture, we who follow the way of Jesus have distinct ways of eating and partying, different from the culture of consumption, homogeneity, and hedonism.  Our homes, our living rooms, even our parties can become places of solace and hospitality for those with addictions and struggles.  But it doesn’t happen without intentionality.  Dorothy Day said, “We have to create an environment where it is easier to be good.”

Suggested Reading for the Month:

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Rule of St. Benedict

St. Francis of Assisi is a model for us not only of what it looks like to follow hard after Jesus but also how we can celebrate the disciplines that have been passed down to us and become the church that we long for, even among people who’ve given up on “church.”  Our communities should be places where people can detox, where that be from alcohol, tobacco, gluttony, shopping, or gossip.  We long for a space that tips us toward goodness rather than away from it, where we can pick up new habits – holy habits – as we are formed into a new creation, transformed by God.

It was the line, “We have to create an environment where it is easier to be good,” that reminded me of what I’ve heard from friends and their experiences at Christian camps.  Camp Crossroads is a place I’ve spent many summers attending as a camper and subsequent summers volunteering and working as staff.  In both situations, friends were aware that this was a good place, and that it was easy to be a good person (or Christian) at camp.

Camp Crossroads is to be commended for this.  The Christian community that it is, built by many people who have worked long and laborious hours over many years, alongside much prayer, has continued to flourish since its inception in the early 1980s.

Campers and staff have daily disciplines: meals together (with very delicious food), morning exercises, breakfast devotions (“Wheaties from the Word” though I think it’s called something else now), staff prayer, PQT (personal quiet time), morning chapel, “lets talk time” (group discussion on chapel), evening chapel, and every activity under the sun (and moon) filled with fun, laughter, and skills building together.

Teenage campers, particularly those from non-churched homes, can more clearly see a dichotomy between the “world of fun” at camp and outside camp.  Younger staff, myself included, have expressed that they feel this difference too.

Friends often lament that they will leave, afraid that their lives will fall back to patterns that they would rather not follow.  They recognize that there is a better way to live, that Jesus really is an important guy (i.e. God), that He really did show us a better way to live, and that another world is possible (i.e. the Kingdom of God).

The difficulty here is that camp is a short-term, intense, 1 week experience at camp.  Patterns, relationships, and disciplines are quickly formed by the community.  Leaving camp usually entails a descent from a “spiritual high”.

There are many reasons for this; two obvious ones: they cease following patterns (disciplines) that were making them into better disciples,s and they leave the community that helped them become better disciples.

Enter the local church.  Churches often have Sunday Services, Small Groups/Bible study meetings once weekly, Youth group meetings once a week.  Some churches are successful with creating a space for youths to enter into disciplines and patterns that help form them as people in the Christian community.

But for the Church overall (this would include Christian camps): people, Christian or not, recognize that their lives could be better and, indeed, that the world could be better.  Toward the end of the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, the dichotomy I mentioned earlier is made quite plain – though it sounds somewhat awkward for our ‘modern’ ears.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

(Ephesians 4:17-32 ESV)

When we participate in the body of Christ, joining communities that follow in the way of Jesus, offering hospitality, healing, and hope to the world, while participating in the disciplines, practices, and hard work that holy habits take, we open ourselves to be formed into new creations.  We also open our lives to taste the Kingdom of God.

I want to encourage those who have experienced the goodness of the life that Christ offers and have left Christian communities to find them again, to again form holy habits and disciplines.  I want to encourage churches and places like Camp Crossroads to continue to do the work they do.  That they may work harder and harder to do their best to practice the disciplines that make their communities easy places to be good, offering hope and good news to the world, where they may be continually transformed by God, helping others be transformed by God.

Reading in the Economy of Grace

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Much of John Webster’s Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch has been ridiculously dense for me to read through.  I might yet actually write something about what I’m reading, but I’ve found this chapter “Reading in the Economy of Grace” easier to read and beneficial.

In discussing the creaturely act of reading Holy Scripture (a.k.a. the Bible), Webster says:

We do not read well; and we do not read well, not only because of technical incompetence, cultural distance from the substance of the text or lack of readerly sophistication but also and most of all because in reading Scripture we are addressed by that which runs clean counter to our will.  Reading Scripture is thus a moral matter; it requires that we become certain kinds of readers, whose reading is take up into the history of reconciliation.  The separation of reason from virtue in modernity has made this acutely difficult for us to grasp.
Nevertheless, a Christian theological anthropology will envisage the act of reading Scripture as an instance of the fundamental patter of all Christian existence, which is dying and rising with Jesus Christ through the purging and quickening power of the Holy Spirit.  Reading Scripture is thus best understood as an aspect of mortification and vivification: to read Scripture is to be slain and made alive. And because of this, the rectitude of the will, its conformity to the matter of the gospel, is crucial, so that reading can only occur as a kind of brokenness, a relinquishment of willed mastery of the text, and through exegetical reason’s guidance towards that encounter with God of which the text is an instrument.

p. 87-88

Joel Houston on FOXnews

Video

http://video.foxnews.com/v/2296942312001/hillsong-united-preaching-faith-worldwide-/?playlist_id=2296942312001

Joel Houston on how his church is making huge waves using music to spread a message.

I wrote my final paper on Hillsong United last year.  Interesting how something like that is now mainstream news.  It’s cool to be ahead of the curve.

You can read my paper here.

The Human Race and the Body of Christ

Aside

We know the Human Race.
We know the Body of Christ.

Are we as a church, aware of our body?
Each of its members, all of the parts, the structure and interdependence of it all, its flexibility and ability to grow.

Could we describe humanity as a community or body?
Could we describe the church as a community or body?

Is the world in chaos.  Are we literally a race to be alive today?  A race for comfort, health, supremacy, safety.

Does the church reflect this “race”?

Or, are we as a church, an actual community, an actual body.

How Healthy is the world.
How healthy are we?

Sportianity: Sports instead of Jesus

Sports as religion?

Sports like religion?

Though I would mostly disagree with the claim that sports are literally a form of religion, as some scholars would attest, I certainly believe that sports – specifically professional sports – have characteristics of and fulfil some religious functions.

Myths, legends, ritual and tradition, sacrifice, sacred sites, ineffability, and community. These words conjure up thoughts of experiencing religion just as much as they do of sports.

I’m curious if Christians are aware of and if they should participate in the “religion of sports”.


Following a team: the stats, scores, and players (and their twitters’), being glued to the TV, Internet, or a smartphone (yes, there’s an app for that) for the latest information on trades, rumours, news, prospects (reading the paper and sports magazines works too), wearing a jersey (or something more extravagant), regularly attending games (often with a rather high ticket price),

making an event or a whole day out of a game and the traditions/rituals that come a long with it, having a sense of belonging, ownership, friendships and community built around a team, and an emotional connection.  All these things, and more, are the ways that people invest their time, money, and energy into sports or a specific team.

None of these things seem inherently bad.

But, as a Christian, I question whether professional sports are taking too much our time and if it is a god – how much do these things mean to us?

I question whether we should be proud of, cheering for, and supporting organisations that: spend (tens or hundreds of) millions of dollars on players salaries, commodify people (athletes), promote violence or suffering of self for ‘winning’ (though making money is actually the goal of the organisation), as well as promote the sexualisation of women, the achievement of stardom, and the ethic of winning above all else.

What do you think?


To note: I’m very much in favour of sports on a local and/or amateur level.  Fitness is important and there is plenty of fun to be had!  I love playing intramural hockey and ultimate frisbee.

A thought on suffering and the call for Christians

A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, “When a baby dies alone in a Calcutta alley, where is God?” She responded to him,

“God is there, suffering with that baby.  The question really is, where are you?”

This quote came up in a sermon I just read from a friend.

I don’t want to be cliché, nor do I want non-christians to be offended, I’m looking at Teresa’s response as a call for Christians.  Christians are called to a rather high standard: love your neighbour; give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back; welcome the strangers, feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.

Where are we when there is such suffering?

In Tom’s sermon he discusses how we are called to the margins, called into relationship, called to equal relationships where barriers are broken down.  We are called to have reciprocal relationships where we “walk with” the other, don’t have defined rules that can stifle the spirit of Christ to work, care, and show gentleness.

I like what Tom has to say about our society, our comforts, and the call of Christ:

One of the major faults of Jesusʼ society and ours is that
we push people out. We see certain people as having more importance and others as having less. This simply will not fly for Jesus. If there is any group or individual that we devalue, that is exactly where Jesus will go. This therefore is where the church of Christ and his followers must also go in order to serve.

We like to be with those who are at the centre. We like
to be with those who we know, those who aren’t struggling with money, who are self-sufficient upstanding citizens.

So the call to be yielded to Christ is a very scary one because we very much know where it will take us.

What do you think?

A Response to “Lady Gaga vs. Religion?” (From: Jesus- meetpopculture)

For the original post from “Jesus-meetpopculture“, click this link.


Gaga has certainly amassed an immense fan base, and has, as you say, a ‘religion’ (I’d say she certainly preaches a gospel) based on inclusivity, tolerance, peace, and love.

There are certainly positive associations with Gaga’s ‘religion’ (e.g. inclusivity), along with other that aren’t too terribly positive.  But the negative ones (e.g. sexualization) aren’t articulated too often in popular circles, which I would say is a commentary on society/popular culture as a whole.

I find it interesting that you ask the question whether or not Gaga has created a ‘religion’ or a ‘non-religion’.  I’m not sure whether you addressed if her ‘religion’ was actually non-religion in your post, but I would say that it is certainly not non-religion.  Her persona/message – a gospel if you will – is full of religious qualities: outlining a belief system, including narratives/symbols (her own or stolen), and promoting a certain lifestyle.

Peaceful Future T-shirt graphic

She, as you say, envisions a future with a more peaceful religion for the younger generation.

Jesus too, includes poor people, women, Samaritans, lepers, children, prostitutes and tax collectors – outcasts – not only to listen to him, but he invites them into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This can easily be seen as a gospel of inclusion.

I would also say, strangely, that Gaga, when envisioning a more peaceful religion, echoes Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  Specifically when he teaches his: “You have heard that it was said…  but I tell you…” message.  He contrasts the ‘old’ ways and teachings: “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy”, with “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” (Matt. 5:43-44)

In these two ways, Gaga shares similarities with Jesus.  And if Christianity is the by-product of followers Jesus, I’ll be fascinated to see what ends up with followers of Gaga…

Of course, there is that whole thing with Jesus dying, resurrecting, and being the Son of God… that helps with establishing a lasting following.

—-

Many Christians, myself included, struggle with the problems of religion, in the same way that Lady Gaga does. (I like the interview a lot, I also like how she separates the church from religion, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation)