Archive for the 'Sermons & Studies' Category



02
May
09

Beyond the Cross – Mark 1:8-15

We can get so used to hearing the longer versions of this story in the other gospels that we forget how very brief, but fulsome, this version is. It is the paucity of words that this story of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness that opens it up to us to make it our own. We can at times so easily get caught up in the frantic performance and goal-directed activity of 21st century life. And then, perhaps, we have created a soothing routine that runs along automatically so that we avoid the need for decisions. Only the secure knowledge that on Monday there is chicken for dinner, friends to call in the afternoon, or news to watch at 6:00. On Tuesday it might be book club or classes. On Wednesday, maybe it’s the weekly shopping. We could rely so heavily on routine that it robs us of the times necessary for reflecting on our own journey – for spending our forty days in the wilderness. Continue reading ‘Beyond the Cross – Mark 1:8-15’

01
May
09

The Winter of Our Discontent

A SERMON BASED ON MARK 1:40-45 & 1 COR 9:24-27

“She came out … just in time to see her young son playing in the path of the gray, gaunt man who strode down the center of the well-worn road like a mechanical derelict. For an instant, her heart quailed. Then she jumped forward, gripped her son by the arm, snatched him out of harm’s way. The man went by without turning his head. As his back moved away from her, she hissed at it, “Go away! Get out of here! You ought to be ashamed.” Thomas’s stride went on, … but to himself he responded, “Ashamed? Ashamed?”

“He saw that the people he passed, the people who knew him, whose names and houses and handclasps were known to him – he saw that they stepped aside, gave him plenty of room. Some of them looked as if they were holding their breath. Women, who had at one time chosen to flirt, recoiled from him as if he were some minor horror or ghoul, and he felt a sudden treacherous pang of loss. His inner being collapsed, as it did every day.”

This is an account in the day of the life of a leper. Thomas is the lead character in Stephen R. Donaldson’s series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and he is a fictional twentieth century leper – albeit one based on a real person’s experiences. When I read the series many years ago I remember thinking, “People don’t react that way anymore. The world is not that archaic.” But, perhaps it is. Continue reading ‘The Winter of Our Discontent’

30
Apr
09

Mary & Martha – True Disciples

Reading: John 12:1-8 

Stark contrasts and interesting characters seem to be the order of the day for the readings this morning. Sandwiched between passages about life and death, we have a seemingly simple vignette of a dinner party. The hosts and guests of the party are intrinsically related to what has come before and what will yet be.

The setting:

Bethany – the home of Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus. There are a few scriptural references about Jesus, Mary and Martha – and most of them include closeness – an intimacy of friendship. Bethany, it seems, was a frequent stop for Jesus and, from what we are told, it seems like this is where Jesus may have come to regenerate – to relax a while – a place to be Jesus the person as opposed to Jesus the Messiah. Jesus still taught – people still listened, but there appears to be a kind of intimacy in this house that draws Jesus.

The story before the reading: Continue reading ‘Mary & Martha – True Disciples’

28
Apr
09

Sermon for Healing and Comfort

THIS SERMON, WITH ALTERNATING SCRIPTURE AND REFLECTION IS MEANT FOR A HEALING SERVICE.

Psalm 22:1-3a:  God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy.

Preacher:       Throughout Hebrew scripture, especially in Lamentations, the lament has a prominent place. They are not pretty; people in all kinds of pain express themselves in some very painful ways. The primary function of the lament is to give voice to human pain and suffering, and to seek the mercy of God. Lamenting to God is a form of confessing – God knows the pains, griefs and afflictions being experienced – and God knows the frustration, anger, discouragement and disillusionment usually accompanying them. Continue reading ‘Sermon for Healing and Comfort’

24
Apr
09

The Parable of the Sower – Matt 13:1-23

SOWING OUR SEEDS

“Listen!”  That’s a word meant to prick up the ears of the hearer; a word meant to get people to pay attention. And where do we hear, “Listen!”, but in Jesus’ first parable in the Gospel of Matthew. (You can read the passage here.)

The parables, for me, represent in blazing color the fact that scripture is not to be taken simply at face value. It is meant to be worked through, to be wrestled with, to be mined for meaning and relevance. The parables not only defy an easy understanding, but they are designed to be thought about and reflected upon. How do we know that? From the word itself. The Greek is paraboley, and means to compare – literally “to put things beside each other”.

With this parable, we have a little easier time than with many. While the parables, in general, use concepts that would have been very meaningful to people of that time, but not so clear to us today, this one makes use of symbols that are just about universal. We hear about seed, paths, rocky soil, fertile ground – in short, we hear about agriculture. That should make it easy to understand – right? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Continue reading ‘The Parable of the Sower – Matt 13:1-23’

22
Apr
09

Calvin’s Spirituality – Not an Oxymoron

Within the first few pages of Elsie Anne McKee’s John Calvin – Writings on Pastoral Piety, I was stricken with disbelief. Incredibly, McKee used ‘piety’ and ‘spirituality’ interchangeably.[1]  “Now I know piety and it’s not spirituality,” I said in no uncertain terms as I looked it up in my dictionary and read “having or exhibiting religious reverence; earnestly compliant in the observance of religion; devout.”[2]  Hmmm. I then thumbed to spirituality and found “the quality or state of being spiritual; pious; heavenly-mindedness.”[3]  It appeared my negative understanding of piety as rigid, dogmatic and judgmental belief was based far too much on my early experiences with the somewhat puritanical Christian Reformed Church in Australia. Continue reading ‘Calvin’s Spirituality – Not an Oxymoron’

21
Apr
09

Integrity over Doctrine – A Brief Look at Erasmus

During the Renaissance, an age when tensions and aggressions were rising in the church, many were seeking to cling to their positions of power, prestige and wealth within the ecclesiastic structures. Reformation was brewing, both inside the Roman Catholic Church and outside, and a new age of appreciation for classicism and scholarship was developing. Critical alliances were being created and restructured between various feuding parties and the religious rift called the Protestant Reformation was materializing. Orthodox doctrine and traditional praxis were the most significant religious dimensions necessitating debates, with ecclesiology and sacraments being key elements in the discussions. At risk were the equally important treasures of eternal souls and temporal assets. Within this fray stood Erasmus, a great religious mind, exegetical thinker and biblical scholar, being courted by both sides of the battle but aligning himself fully with neither. Continue reading ‘Integrity over Doctrine – A Brief Look at Erasmus’

16
Apr
09

Witnessing to Our Own Culture

The reading: Luke 24:36-48.

The women returned from the tomb to tell the other disciples what they had seen and heard – Jesus was gone. They had been told by angels that Jesus had risen to fulfill what had been foretold in the law and the prophets. The women believed. But the rest of the disciples did not believe. Peter went to see for himself. We’re told that he saw the empty tomb and left questioning what had happened. Later it is recorded that Jesus appeared to him.

The disciples were still discussing this when the two disciples returned from Emmaus and related their interaction with the risen Christ. The man they met opened up the scripture – the resurrection foretold in the law and the prophets – he opened them up in their minds. They recognized the man as Jesus when he broke bread with them – they too saw, heard and ate with the risen Jesus. The disciples declared that, “Christ has risen indeed.” The fact of Jesus’ resurrection was incontrovertible – there were just too many people who had seen and heard – too much evidence.

Then in the midst of this discussion – immediately following the declaration that all believed in the resurrection of Christ – Jesus appears to them saying, “Peace be with you.” And, of course, all immediately recognized Jesus as the risen savior – they were all in wonder at this fulfillment of what had been foretold, they all saw for themselves what they knew to be true. Right?

Wrong! Continue reading ‘Witnessing to Our Own Culture’

12
Apr
09

Resurrection – Pain & Joy

Ah!  Easter Sunday!  Christ has risen.  Alleluia. 

I always imagine the early morning Easter sun breaking through the darkness of the night.  I picture the angels Mary saw dressed in white.  There she was, standing in a garden filled with the color and the smell of Easter lilies, hyacinths, and azaleas.  Okay! So it’s not exactly accurate, but it is, for me, a brilliant and dazzling scene – a scene that inspires me and brings hope.

There are substantial differences in the four Gospel versions of the resurrection story. Much has been made of these differences – perhaps more than has been made of the other differences that exist in scripture.  There are enough differences that, while each depicts a brilliant and dazzling scene, it is tough to know which, if any, may be historically accurate. Continue reading ‘Resurrection – Pain & Joy’

29
Mar
09

Road Trip to Love

When driving on a long trip, the route I take depends on whether I am driving for pleasure or expediency. If my schedule is tight, needing to travel a long distance in the shortest time possible, I prefer to travel on the interstate. I want to get where I’m going quickly; I print off a map, set the cruise control, zoom past the sights and stop only when absolutely necessary. But when time is not a big factor, and the sun is shining, my priorities change. Then, I avoid the interstates whenever possible – they’re boring. I drive on state routes and even occasionally back roads, enjoy the scenery and occasionally stop in interesting towns even if I don’t need to gas up. I always have several options for getting from one place to another.

When Jenna is with me, a third way to travel sometimes develops. You see, Jenna is kind of averse to going too far without stopping to see something interesting, or to enjoy a moment of peace. Generally, she reminds me that I also need this kind of break in the journey – generally. Continue reading ‘Road Trip to Love’

24
Mar
09

The Fullness of Communion

For those who are unfamiliar with the significance of the Lord’s Supper or Communion, I’d like to offer my thoughts. Since Communion is a sacrament observed by the Church, it is a little risky to assume what someone does or doesn’t know about Church, Church Mission and Membership. So, before moving into the discussion of the Lord’s Supper, I’ll spend a little time unpacking the luggage with which it travels.  This is necessary because communion doesn’t exist as a separate ritual, but as an integral part of the life of the Body of Christ. It is also necessary because many ask for a quick explanation of the meaning of communion which, for the life of the church, is like asking for a short answer to the meaning of life. Without communion, church may largely lack meaning. Much of this is sourced directly, or interpreted, from the PC(USA) Book of Order. Continue reading ‘The Fullness of Communion’

20
Mar
09

Post-Exilic Community in Haggai & Zechariah 1-8

While there seems to be little disagreement over the dating of the prophesies of Haggai and Zechariah[1], the same cannot be said about conditions of the society to which they were delivered. To a large extent, the differences stem not so much from the content of these Biblical books as from varying ideas about the nature of the Babylonian exile of the Judeans. Knowledge of the number and societal standing of the exiles would, of course, have great bearing on the current understanding of both the returning exilic population and those remaining in Judah during the course of the seventy year dispersion. The details relating to the Judean society that can be gleaned from the pages of these prophetic books must be examined in light of the range of ideas that prevail about the previous period. Continue reading ‘Post-Exilic Community in Haggai & Zechariah 1-8’

16
Mar
09

Many Tribes or One Nation?

The Concept of Nation in Relation to Israel in the Period of the Judges.

In discussing the concept of nation within Israel’s political, social and/or religious structure during the period of the Judges it becomes imperative, first of all, to remove the obstacle of modern concepts of nationhood from the equation, in favour of attempting to determine the nature of the unity expressed by the final author(s) of Judges. To this end, this paper will try to ascertain the characteristics of the “nation” being claimed in the finished work and then decide, using existing scholarship about supporting and/or contradictory evidence within Judges, whether the claim appears valid. Separating early or core stories from the redactions that followed will help in focussing on the most likely circumstances that existed, as well as the nature and extent of the rhetoric and propaganda used by the redactor(s) to recast the period in a different light.  

Modern concepts of nation, for westerners at least, serve to confuse the issue when considering the question of whether Judges-era Israel was tribally structured or nationally united in some manner. Nationhood, in the sense of countries having sovereign and fixed national borders and central governmental structures, is a relatively modern concept for Europeans, occurring in the West only over the last three to five centuries, and one that may yet be more idealistic than true. Continue reading ‘Many Tribes or One Nation?’

14
Mar
09

Christology – Borg vs Wright

If I can be allowed a brief introduction, I have a comment about the perceived theological location of each of the authors. During 2003/2004, while attending Westminster College, Cambridge, I heard three out of four lectures given by N.T. Wright about “New Perspectives on Paul”. More interesting than the lectures was the diatribe from the various seminaries regarding Wright. The Evangelical Anglicans, conservative as opposed to traditional (self-description), denounced him as “apostasy on two legs”, while the Anglican Catholic half of the Church of England considered him a defender, albeit somewhat radical, of traditional theology in the current age. The United Reformed Church (Westminster), a mixture of very traditional (reformed) to very conservative, generally considered him to be a liberal Catholic. (All that being said, the lecture hall was packed to the rafters.) Overall, the book we’re now reading was described in Cambridge seminaries as a conversation between liberal (Wright) and very liberal (Borg). The book’s cover, claiming representation from liberal and conservative camps, seems to be heavily dependent on one’s point of view. Very few conservatives in Wright’s home country view him as anything but liberal. Still, overall it appears that both authors fit somewhere in the less-than-extreme centrist majority of the imaginary liberal-conservative spectrum and, as such, posit stands most Christians should be able to get their heads around.

Continue reading ‘Christology – Borg vs Wright’

12
Mar
09

Book Review – Between Vengeance and Forgiveness

How do nations or societies respond after periods of mass violence, indescribable episodes of systematic torture, rape and slaughter of minority or marginalized populations, or even ethnic cleansing and genocide?  Historically, of course, the most common response of populations freed from such oppression has been retaliation in at least equal measure, if not more profoundly violent and obscene in character. Despite the world, in the twentieth century, experiencing atrocities of more magnitude and frequency than ever before, Martha Minow somewhat optimistically details several societal responses aimed at seeking collective healing and reconciliation. After discussing the poles of vengeance and forgiveness, Minow expounds on the strengths and limitations of legal remedies, truth commissions and efforts at reparation, before finishing with other possible efforts for reconciliation. Continue reading ‘Book Review – Between Vengeance and Forgiveness’




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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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