Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sometimes even prophets struggle to understand

Who likes to play cops and robbers? Who likes to watch movies where the good guys win, and the baddies are made to look ridiculous, or are thrown into jail, or are blown into smithereens? Most of us love the idea that bad people are punished, and good people win. Even the prophet John liked the idea. As we just heard, he preached that someone was coming—Jesus—who would gather all the good people together, and would burn the rubbish with unquenchable fire. John’s preaching was so alarming that people came from all over the countryside to be baptised and to confess their sins. Yet John roared at some of them. He called them names—“You brood of vipers!”—and said that everyone who did not bear fruit, that is, everyone who did not live well according to God, would be chopped down with an axe and thrown into the fire. And the implication is that the axe, and the fire, are God’s punishment.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Scandal!

See Robert Lentz talk about this icon here.
If you identify as Christian, tonight’s reading quite possibly made you angry—and I’m warning you now, this sermon might make you furious! For like the older brother in the Prodigal Son, many of us Christians find God’s generosity a bit hard to stomach. What on earth am I talking about? 

Well, as we just heard, Jesus is crucified between two criminals. One mocks him; the other acknowledges his own sinfulness and asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” And what we hear is that one criminal died mocking and implicitly condemned; the other, having acknowledged his sin, died forgiven and was guaranteed a place in heaven. In other words, this second man never even gets to the field, let alone works a full day; and yet he receives the full reward. So the text has generated a lot of writing and a lot of sermons about Jesus’ scandalous act of forgiveness, since he forgave even the hardened criminal who, at the eleventh hour and while dying an excruciating death, turned to Jesus. Such forgiveness is certainly scandalous. But if we look closely, we might discover that it’s a lot more scandalous than that.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Keep Calm and Carry On


Is it the end of the world? A violent misogynist and serial liar, who shows naked contempt for women, people of colour, the democratic process, the office of the President, and the law; a man who deliberately muddies truth and fiction; a man who threatens to exclude 1.6 billion children of Abraham from his country simply because of their faith; a man who claims to represent the working class, yet flies in a gold-plated jet and pays no income tax himself; a man who feeds on and fuels the anger of a nation: this man has just been elected president of one of the biggest military powers on earth.

Then tomorrow night we will see a rare astronomical event: a perigee-syzygy, or a supermoon. This is when a full or new moon happens at the same time that the moon is closest in its orbit to the earth. This week’s full moon is the closest full moon the earth has seen since 1948: it will loom large in our skies. What with the violent threats of the president-elect of the United States, and the signs and portents in the skies, it would be easy to believe that the end of the world is nigh, and I am sure there will be preachers who will say so.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

True Stories at the Zacchaeus Tree


On Sunday at Sanctuary, Joel Rothman reflected on Luke 19:1-27. Here is his reflection:

This is a very well-known story isn’t it? It only occurs in the Gospel of Luke, but it’s in all the children’s Bibles. Me and my kids were reading it in the children’s Bible recently. We talked about taxes and kings and tax collectors. We talked about why the people hated the tax collector. Was it fair that they hated him? Was it his fault that that was his job?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pride and Prejudice


It is a truth almost universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a good fortune … is in the good books with God. One of the problems with growing up comfortable and in the church is that it is too easy to think this. For we are the good guys: the right sort of people who never do anything seriously wrong. Insulated by our wealth and our privilege, we glance over at all those ghastly people whose lives are a mess, congratulate ourselves for our nice morals and clean living, and assure ourselves and everyone else that we belong in God’s house. For we are not sinners like them. We never rejected God; we belong in the kingdom. Yet, week after week, in God’s house we hear stories which should challenge our assumptions, and this week is no exception.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gratitude, schmatitude

James C. Christensen Ten Lepers
Gratitude, schmatitude. I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit over the gratitude industry. Every time I go hunting for a gluten free recipe online, I seem to end up on some kale-and-quinoa-scented mommy blog which is panting with gratitude; and this usually triggers in me a powerful urge to shred a pair of yoga pants then run around shrieking obscenities.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hate mail or a love letter?

From a medieval manuscript. Reproduced at www.orthodoxportlandmaine.org

Lots of my friends don’t go to church. Some never had any experience of it; but many of them have sat through countless services at school or with their families. Yet they have, at some stage, rejected it. There are lots of reasons for this, but one I often hear is ‘hell’. Perhaps my friends could not affirm or even understand justification by grace through faith; perhaps they found it a bit medieval and abstract to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour; perhaps they were same-sex attracted or feminist or having sex without marriage—whatever the sticking point, many of my friends were given to understand that a fiery hell awaits them if they cannot conform to the teachings of some Christians on these and similar things. And having been taught this, the Bible reads to them like hate mail from God.

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