"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

In whom do I place my hope (Trump, Clinton, Jesus or close air support)? Version Final

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Remembrance Sunday 13 November 2016, SJE Edmonton ©2016

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Ps 144, Matthew 10:16-19

There is a long tradition in reformed denominations that the goal of preaching requires engagement with the world, so a preacher should always have the bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.  So here is the intersection between the faith of a soldier and the newspaper.

Two momentous things to engage: our international day of remembering of those who served and suffered because of war, and a day to reflect on the US election.  Those topics may seem disparate, but I’ve found some surprising common ground – you will know I’m usually preaching this day, and that I use my 20 years as a soldier to speak about faith in the context of service and sacrifice.  One of the facets of the soldier is little tolerance for weasel words and deception…there is something about the interaction of bullet and bone and blood which leaves the soldier impatient for those who are unwilling to mediate truth.  So here is some prophetic truth.

I have seen people who profess faith in Jesus Christ now moving into the space where they consider that either the apocalypse has begun, or that God has richly blessed them.  It may very well have begun, and God always richly blesses us, but this is a problematic place for the believer.  We could easily add another line to Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, a time to elect a deceitful liberal, and a time to elect a misogynist.”  My point throughout this first bit is not to address the election outcome because that is not the issue, but rather to talk about how people of faith have become politicized to the extent that they no longer discern against the cross of Christ, but rather discern against the world.

This is not the proper dwelling place for the Christian. In spite of the huge influence which secular political systems have over our daily lives, we are not actually citizens of this nation, but a nation of believers subject to a different king.  That king commands us to love as the Father loves.  So it is clear we no longer have the option to demonize people whose political or personal lives are offensive to us.  As soon as we make an attempt to claim the moral high ground, we open ourselves to the dynamic of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector…I thank you God that I am not like that sinner over there, that tax collector…And which one was righteous in God’s eyes?

This is a particular facet of our post-modern discourse, manifested specifically through the medium of social media.  There is a line of reasoning around the idea of ‘white privilege’ which automatically means that the voice of any white person is discounted because of their privilege and power within the culture.  They are literally non-people before they type a word, merely because of the race into which they were born.  I will rebuke this gently, but very firmly, as not being a safe place for a Christian to dwell.  If you are one who follows that line of reasoning, it is a good time to get back into Scripture and look for God’s perspective on any thought which marginalizes any group of people, white, black, yellow or red.  At this point I’m usually rebuked as speaking from a place of white privilege which, aside from being frankly racist, is incorrect.  Listen when I tell you that as an indigenous Christian whose family heritage was stripped away because of the racism of mostly white, protestant settlers, if someone had a right to point a finger of condemnation at white men and women, it is someone in my shoes.  Why don’t I?  Because I repented of that line of thought and Christ washed me clean with His blood.  It is not about blame, but all about reconciliation.  My call is as an agent of peace and truth, not anger and hatred.

It is a truly perplexing time in this post-modern era.  Post-modernity at once proclaims that words only have the meaning that we assign, and any attempt to define truth is really just an effort to hold power over another.  So in an era where there is supposedly no absolute truth, we find that people are even more highly polarized than before, a polarization that is paradoxically the result of even more strongly held absolute beliefs.  This is a hallmark of the irrationality of this age, something made plain through the election campaign.

This leads into a second aspect of equal concern, the number of American evangelicals who endorsed Trump and demonized Clinton.  The evangelical movement in the US has long since moved into a place of seeking secular power through the political system, but this has been nowhere clearer than in this recent election.  This is an exceptionally dangerous place for a person of faith to rest, and it leads to outcomes like we have just seen.  If we are to understand the evangelical leaders who endorsed Trump, apparently the Godly choice was an unrepentant man who openly celebrated the sexual assault of woman.

Christianity Today identified that there is a new sort of prosperity gospel going on, one that focuses on maintaining certain political systems at any cost. In a related article, Jason Foster described it this way: “It’s the one that worships America, the one that worships freedom, the one that worships “rights.” It’s a gospel premised on the idea that Christians should have an easy existence, and it’s as false a gospel as has ever existed.”[1]  And so it is less distasteful to endorse a candidate like Trump, who is expected to fill the Supreme Court with conservative judges and to repeal some laws and bring in others which will reassert order and prosperity particularly for the Christian.  This new prosperity gospel says that we must do everything we can to protect the Christian worldview, even if that includes voting for a distasteful candidate. Theologian Robert Fossett notes that Trump is a pornographic version of Hillary Clinton who will do anything to get what he wants.  “At least it isn’t Hillary,” they will say. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were quite familiar with this dichotomy. It’s a choice between your moral beliefs and a short–sighted pragmatism.”[2] This is the “Patriotic Gospel, the American Civic Gospel or maybe even the “Duck Dynasty” Gospel”.[3]  This should be a caution to all of us.

This is the extension of a pattern of thought that has been growing in the Western world from the Enlightenment. It states that unless we work to bring about God’s New Jerusalem on earth, it will never happen.  So we shift the onus for the reconciliation of all creation from its proper place with the Lord into our hands.  And we do so within a framework that sounds Christian enough that we believe we occupy the high moral ground.  We believe that we are righteous, when what we are really is idolatrous.  This is manifest in a number of ways:

* The war on terror, described by George Bush Jr as a time to ‘take off the gloves’ and to wage unlimited war on those who seek your destruction.  This is a thought pattern which was continued unchecked through subsequent US administrations.[4]  Taking off the gloves also meant the moral limits on warfare were removed, which is why we can now carry out drone strikes on enemies of the state even if it involves killing their entire extended family.  This also led to  torture was legitimized.  This is not the way of Christ.

* A misunderstanding of the nature of sin.  We are all sinful people through and through, and that will not be changed by trying really hard, or finding the right social legislation, or electing the right leader.  It will only come through our submission and surrender to Jesus Christ, which only happens once we admit we are dead to the world so that we can live in Christ.

* Jesus himself has been transformed from a God of power and might into a mascot for our belief that we are the ultimate force in creation, supporting our desires for the maintenance of a particular social-political, cultural or racial identity.

* Finally, instead of a leader who washes the feet of his followers, what we are seeking is a leader who manifests the best attributes of the culture …narcissism, greed and deceit in the unrestrained pursuit or power.  If only we could get the right things done we could remake the world into the New Jerusalem…and so we strive to find the right political system or leader which will bring about this utopia.[5]

Now, I will stop for a moment to make it clear that this is not a condemnation of Trump or an endorsement of Clinton for there are huge issues with either of them, Clinton’s are just a bit better concealed.  What this presents to us is a lens through which we see illuminated the results of a centuries-long process of drift away from God.  American philosopher of history Russell Kirk, in his work the “Roots of American Order” set out that America as a nation was created in the image of four historic city-states: Jerusalem provided morality, Athens provided philosophy, Rome gave law, and London, culture.  Of those four cities, the west has been most successful at removing any linkage to Jerusalem.  Combined with the violent absolutist relativism of post-modernism, it leaves no anchoring framework for moral thought.  The realm of the moral has been cut lose from its anchor, and allowed to drift across the sea of post-modernism.  Our anchor in that sea is in the person of Jesus Christ, and not by placing our hope in secular rulers and systems.  So, when our political leanings try to move us into a place where we desire a government which reflects our beliefs, we need to be reminded that this is not the natural place for a Christian to dwell.  As Christ tells us in the Gospel, the expected relationship between a follower of Christ and the secular authorities is one marked by being dragged into the streets and flogged in the synagogues.  Lest we fall into the trap of post-modern triumphalism about our own nation of Canada, recognize that our values are not so distant from those I’ve been speaking about.  The major difference today is that much of our polarization is cloaked in gentile Canadian politeness.  I would argue we are as polarized, we’re just better at hiding it.  Turning to the topic of remembrance, the place I see this clearly is in the treatment of our soldiers.

Last year at this time I referenced a Globe and Mail investigation where they had found 54 suicides of Afghanistan veterans, updated this week to 70 suicides.  The Globe and Mail investigation searched national obituaries for deaths of retired and serving military members, and then contacted the families directly to find out the actual cause of death.  This is the hallmark of a broken system, a system more concerned with riding itself of distractions than actually dealing compassionately with wounded warriors.  The Globe and Mail collected the stories of 31 military families whose loved ones took their lives after military service, describing the outcome, “Together their stories paint a disturbing picture of delayed care, ineffective medical treatment and insufficient mental-health support.  The 31 accounts are the most comprehensive public record of Canada’s Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide – unwitting monuments to a system that is failing too many vulnerable soldiers and veterans.” Corporal Tony Reed, who died by suicide in December 2012 told his mother, “I cannot go to sleep, Mom, because as soon as I close my eyes that’s what I see, okay?  People being blown up.  Little kids with grenades.  The blood.  You can’t imagine the blood that I’ve seen over there.”  While our new government has started addressing this, a plan won’t be ready until the fall of 2017.  Until then, unrecognized suicides from military service will continue.

Romeo Dallaire has just published a new book, where he recounts his struggles with PTSD, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD. First light is a significant image for a soldier.  First light brings the hope of dawn, and a confirmation that you survived the night.  First light also brings the likely time of attack.  MacLean’s wrote a powerful article on Dallaire’s new book where he asserts that the covenant between soldiers and the state is broken.  Before you feel smug about the state of Canada versus the USA, listen to this:

There needs to be a new covenant between the military and the nation, Dallaire argues, in part because of his belief that PTSD is not just a physical or psychological injury, but a moral wound.

He tells a story in his memoir. After hearing of a massacre in a village, Dallaire sends a patrol, Canadian soldiers as it turns out. They find a rape site, a ditch full of dozens of mutilated women and girls, most but not all dead. Later, Dallaire sums up the situation with his 26 international contingent commanders: there are no medical supplies; the dying are too injured to be moved and there is no means of transport anyway; the risk of HIV infection is very high. What orders would they issue: do what you can, or move on? Only three countries—Ghana, Holland and Canada—say to intervene. But the Canadian patrol leader never gives that order, because he never has time. His soldiers—“young men, just 19, 20, 21”—have already broken ranks, and are in the ditch trying to provide what comfort is possible.

That is the kind of army Canada has, says Dallaire, because that’s the kind of nation Canada has evolved into. We have an army that, precisely because it “carries our moral norms into immoral situations,” will be sensitive to the shock and trauma presented by those sorts of conflicts. “There’s been a breaking of the bond between the nation and its military,” he says. In recent years, “we have practically had to beg for the help we need.” If Canada is going to send its armed forces to help the world’s vulnerable, and Dallaire fervently believes it should, “we need a new cradle-to-grave agreement” that Canada will take care of these soldiers, who have suffered injuries on Canadians’ behalf, right up to veterans’ retirement homes. And suicides should be numbered among the war dead.[6]

So how did we and the Americans end up here, in spite of the commandment to love God and to love our neighbours as we do ourselves?  I think the German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche summed it up perfectly in his parable titled ‘Madman’.  What the madman actually proclaims is that our lack of belief has killed God, and so released ourselves from moral moorings:

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.[7]

When we proclaim in our homes, our businesses and our institutions of learning that there is no truth except that which we make ourselves, and when we believe that salvation rests in the hands of humankind, and when we spend our time trying to find who is best to blame for the confusion and strife, and when we believe that words have no meaning except that which we wish then to have, we should not be surprised that the result of all this empowerment is the death of God.  Without that anchor for our souls, we instead are tossed on the waves and billows of cultural relativity.[8]  We are called to be about different things.

An appropriate place to end this reflection is with the story of a soldier, and a Christian, who died after an attack in Afghanistan.  The narrative places us back in right relationship with the Almighty, because regardless of what might happen to our physical bodies (death, torture, persecution, disease) we are members of a transcendent yet imminent kingdom into which we will be welcomed.

He returned from a February 2008 transportation security mission to hear that another convoy mission in Afghanistan had been hit with an IED, a convoy that included his good friend Jonathan.  He also learns that his friend was badly injured in that attack, and was near to death.  He obtains permission to leave his unit to visit his friend (mbo: because of course the first freedom surrendered when you put on the uniform is freedom of movement).

He enters the hospital to find his friend, missing both legs, lying on a hospital bed covered with bandages.  Tubes coming out of other tubes leading to God knows where.  I walked over to him biting my lip to hold the tears back, Johnathan looked up at him and smiled and said, “You should see the other guy.” (mbo: because humour is one of the ties that binds people together in combat).

As he was coughing and having trouble breathing, I stayed with him for about 10 or 15 minutes.  It was clear that he was near death from blood loss and fatigue, so I asked that God would receive his humble servant, and that Jonathan might spend an eternity in God’s presence.  Jonathan was a part of the kingdom of God, long before I was.  As I prayed Jonathan suddenly stopped, looked up towards the ceiling, as if shocked into life whilst observing the heavens.  Jonathan’s greatest gift to me was his last words of life which have become a cornerstone for the love of Jesus Christ that has enveloped my heart.  He looked up and said, “Wow…wow, it just looks exactly the way they always told me it would.”  A smile stretched across Jonathan’s face and he was gone.[9]  Amen.


THE MADMAN—-Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” God is dead, we have killed him.


Christianity Today article: Michael Horton, “The Theology of Donald Trump”, March 16, 2016.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/theology-of-donald-trump.html

Huffington Post article on why God and Country is just another prosperity gospel:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-god-and-country-christianity-is-just-another_us_57e0324ee4b0d5920b5b32db

“In many churches, the good news has subtly changed into good advice: Here’s how to live, they say. Here’s how to pray. Here are techniques for helping you become a better Christian, a better person, a better wife or husband. And in particular, here’s how to make sure you’re on the right track for what happens after death. Take this advice: say this prayer and you’ll be saved. You won’t go to hell; you’ll go to heaven. Here’s how to do it.  This is advice, not news.”

~N.T. Wright, Simply Good News

Other texts that cover the believer’s obligation to the secular authority: 1 Peter 2; Romans 13:1-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Ravi Zacharias: “We now learn to listen with our eyes and think with our feelings. . . . We are meant to see through the eye, with the conscience; when we start seeing with the eye devoid of the conscience, all kinds of belief can invade your imagination.”

As has happened numerous times since I started listening to Ravi’s daily podcasts, I owe a debt of thanks to him for providing direction to the starting of some of the thought paths I’ve followed in this sermon. In this case it was a three-part series titled, “The loss of truth” (for the reflection on moral frameworks) and a four-part series titled “A deliverer is born” (for the story of Jonathan the US soldier).

A deliverer is born: http://ca.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/a-deliverer-is-born-part-4-of-4-2/

The loss of truth: http://ca.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/the-loss-of-truth-part-1-of-4-2/

William Blake:

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.

American philosopher of history, Russell Kirk in “The Roots of American Order”.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) Parable of the Madman

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/nietzsche-madman.asp

Robert Lewis Fossett’s commentary, “The Madman’s Time has Come”

http://www.rlfossett.com/entries/2016/10/11/the-madmans-time-has-come

On the new suicide numbers for the Canadian Forces (Globe and Mail investigation):

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/number-of-soldiers-vets-who-died-by-suicide-after-afghanistan-on-rise/article32673192/

A review of Dr Antoon Leednaar’s 2013 book, “Suicide Among the Armed Forces”, https://www.suicideinfo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Military-Suicide-Book-Review.pdf

Review of Romeo Dallaire’s new book, “Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD”:

http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/inside-romeo-dallaires-brutally-revealing-new-memoir/

Donald Trump on asking God for forgiveness:

http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-on-god-i-dont-like-to-have-to-ask-for-forgiveness-2016-1

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/


Fire, Malcolm Guite

He cannot stop these memories of fire

Crackling and flashing in his head.

Not just in fevered dreams; the fires break

Into the light of day. He burns with shame,

But still he screams and shakes, because the dead,

Are burning too and screaming out his name.

 

They told him his condition had a name,

But words can’t quench the memory of fire,

Nor can they ever resurrect the dead.

They told him it was ‘all inside his head’,

That post-traumatic stress need cause no shame.

The army gave him time for a short break.

 

But that’s what he’s afraid of. He will break

And break forever; lose his life and name,

Shake like a child who’s sickening with shame,

He who had been ‘courageous under fire’

Who always stemmed the panic, kept his head.

And now all night he wishes he were dead

 

And cannot die. Instead he sees the dead

In all their last contortions. Bodies break

Under his wheels, a child’s severed head

Amidst the rubble seems to call his name

Over the clattering of rifle fire,

Stuttering guns that shake with him in shame.

 

He’s left his family. ‘Oh its a shame’,

The neighbours said, ‘That marriage was long dead-

-You cant live with a man whose shouting ‘Fire!’

All night like that.- His kids needed a break

And in the end she had to change her Name.’

‘They’ll never fix what’s wrong inside his Head.’

 

‘Some people seem to cope and get ahead,

The army makes them better men, a shame

He couldn’t cope.’ Now he has lost his name

And his address. He only knows the dead.

He sleeps on benches but they come and break

His sleep. They keep him under constant fire.

 

And come November, when they name the dead,

He waits in silence for his heart to break

And every poppy burns with hopeless fire.


Daniel 2:20-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

20 Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;

 

[1] Huffington Post, “Why ‘God And Country’ Christianity Is Just Another Phony Prosperity Gospel”, 19 Sep 2016

[2] Robert Lewis Fossett’s commentary, “The Madman’s Time has Come”

[3] Huffington Post.

[4] This comes from BGen Dr. Stephen Xenakis, Omar Khadr’s military psychiatrist, when asked at a public talk about what it was that allowed the US to fall into so much immoral activity (Abu Ghraib prison, waterboarding, Gitmo).

[5] Derived from the Christianity Today article.

[6] http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/inside-romeo-dallaires-brutally-revealing-new-memoir/

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) Parable of the Madman

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/nietzsche-madman.asp

[8] https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/331

[9] The story of US Army soldier Jonathan (as told by Ravi Zacharias).

Written by sameo416

November 12, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In whom do I place my hope (Trump, Clinton, Jesus or close air support)?

with 4 comments

First draft, very long, but many threads of complicated thoughts interacting.  I’ll leave this as the published version, even while I will have to cut about 2 pages from the delivered version.

Remembrance Sunday 13 November 2016, SJE Edmonton ©2016

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Ps 144, Matthew 10:16-19

Pray.  Two momentous things to engage today, our international day of remembering all those who served and suffered because of warfare, and a day to reflect on the US election.  Those topics may seem disparate, but I’ve found some surprising common ground – you will know I’m usually preaching this day, and that I use my 20 years as a soldier to speak about faith in the context of service and sacrifice.  One of the facets of the soldier is little tolerance for weasel words and deception…there is something about the interaction of bullet and bone and blood which leaves the soldier impatient for those who are unwilling to mediate the truth.  That aspect of my military formation carries forward logically into my prophetic ministry in this community, for the role of the prophets has always been as God’s truth teller.  I’m also well aware of the long tradition in reformed denominations of preaching with the bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.  So here is the intersection between the faith of a soldier, and the newspaper.

One of the aspects of the entire election experience that has left me somewhat dismayed is how many people who profess faith in Jesus Christ have moved into the space where they consider the apocalypse has begun.  It may very well have begun, but that is not the proper place for the focus of a believer.  I’ll loop back to the reading from Ecclesiastes several times today, but one could easily add another line to the preacher’s words, “For everything there is a season, a time to elect a progressive, and a time to elect a misogynist.”

In spite of there being a time under the sun for everything, including for war and peace, this is not the proper dwelling place for the Christian.  Why?  Well, in spite of the huge influence which secular political systems have over our daily lives, we are not actually citizens of this nation, but a nation of believers.  When you read 1 Peter 2 concerning submission to the lawful authority it is clear why we are called into that role: “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[b] whether it be to the emperor[c] as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people… Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”  What is particularly fascinating about that passage is the reason why Peter directs submission to the secular authority is because this will serve as an illustration of God’s kingdom – by honouring everyone we silence the ignorance of foolish people.  When that is added with the command to love as the Father loves, it is pretty clear that we no longer have as an option the demonization of people whose political or personal lives are offensive to us.  As soon as we make an attempt to claim the moral high ground, we open ourselves to the risk of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector…I thank you God that I am not like that sinner over there, that tax collector…I tithe 10% of everything and keep the feasts.  And which one was righteous in God’s eyes?

This is a particular facet of our post-modern discourse, manifested specifically through the medium of social media.  There is a line of reasoning around the idea of ‘white privilege’ which automatically means that the voice of any white person is discounted because of their privilege and power within the culture.  They are literally discounted even before they type a word, merely because of the race into which they were born.  I will rebuke this gently, but very firmly, as not being a safe place for a Christian to dwell.  I’m not going to pull this apart because there are larger things to look at today, but if you are one who follows that line of reasoning, it is a good time to get back into Scripture and look for God’s perspective on any thought which marginalizes any group of people, white, black, yellow or red.  At this point I’m usually rebuked as speaking from a place of white privilege.  I may look white, but I’m not.  So listen when I say that as an indigenous Christian whose family heritage was stripped away because of the racism of mostly white, protestant settlers…if there is anyone who has reasonable cause to point a finger of condemnation at white men and women, it is someone in my shoes…and yet I don’t.  Why not?  Because I repented of that line of thought years ago, and Christ washed me clean with His blood, so it is no longer about blame, but all about reconciliation.

We are called by Christ to be about different things, and this does not include demonizing people who have different opinions than those we hold dearly.  It is a truly perplexing time in this post-modern era.  Post-modernity at once proclaims that words only have the meaning that we assign, and any attempt to define truth is really just an effort to hold power over another person.  So in an era where there is supposed to be no absolute truth, we find that people are even more highly polarized than in past history – a polarization that is paradoxically the result of even more strongly held absolute beliefs in an era when there is supposed to be no absolute left.  I will return to this thought in a moment, for it is a hallmark of the irrationality of this age, something made plain through the election campaign.

This leads into a second aspect that is even more concerning, and that is the number of evangelical supporters in the US who endorsed Trump for election.  Quite apart from racial lines, the one thing that marked a majority of supporters was their declaration of evangelical beliefs.  This included the support of a number of evangelical leaders including Franklin Graham.  The evangelical movement in the US has long since moved into a place of seeking secular power through the political system, but this has been nowhere clearer than in this recent election. Consider this quotation from an interview earlier this year where Trump was asked if he had ever asked God for forgiveness, “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.…I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.”

I’m not going to single out Trump for that attitude, because there are lots of notional Christians in our communities who follow a similar ethic.  That is, I am basically a good person who sometimes makes mistakes, but I can fix those mistakes through my own wisdom, and have no need of asking for God’s forgiveness.  Without pulling a punch, that’s nothing short of heretical.  I don’t have to strike an argument why, as I can just quote Paul, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1)  So how is it that a religious movement that should know better ends up endorsing someone like Trump?

Christianity Today published an article recently on the election, and identified that there is a new sort of prosperity gospel going on, one that focuses on maintaining certain political systems at any cost. And so it is less distasteful to endorse a candidate like Trump, who is expected to fill the Supreme Court with conservative judges, to bring in laws that will reassert order and prosperity, particularly for the Christian.  This new prosperity gospel says that we must do everything we can to protect the Christian worldview, even if that includes voting for a distasteful candidate who at least is on the right side of the political spectrum. Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress illuminated this thinking by saying, “We need a strong leader and a problem-solver, hence many Christians are open to a more secular candidate.”[1] What the election has particularly highlighted in the evangelical movement is how secular it has become in its quest for relevance and continued power within the political establishment.

This is in many ways just the extension of a pattern of thought that has been growing in the Western world ever since the Enlightenment. It is a thought which tells us that unless we work to bring about God’s new Jerusalem on earth, it will never happen.  So we shift the onus for the reconciliation of all creation from it’s proper place with the Lord, onto our laps.  And we do so within a framework that sounds Christian enough that we can do so believing we occupy the high moral ground.  We believe that we are righteous, when what we are in reality is idolatrous.  This is manifest in a number of ways:

  • The war on terror, described by George Bush Jr as a time to ‘take off the gloves’ and to wage unlimited war on those who seek your destruction. This is a thought pattern which was continued unchecked through subsequent US administrations.[2]  Taking off the gloves also meant the moral limits on warfare were removed, which is why we can now carry out drone strikes on enemies of the state even if it involves killing their entire extended family.  This also meant torture was legitimized along with the end of due process in justice.
  • A misunderstanding of the nature of sin. We are all sinful people through and through, and that will not be changed by trying really hard, or finding the right social legislation, or electing the right leader.  It will only come through our submission and surrender to Jesus Christ, which only happens once we admit we are dead to the world so that we can live in Christ.
  • Jesus himself has been transformed from a God of power and might into a mascot for our belief that we are the ultimate force in creation, supporting our desires for the maintenance of a particular social-political, cultural or racial identity.
  • Finally, instead of a leader who washes the feet of his followers, what we are seeking is a leader who manifests the best attributes of the culture…narcissism, greed and deceit in the unrestrained pursuit or power. If only we could get the right things done we could remake the world into the New Jerusalem…and so we strive to find the right political system or leader or law that will bring about this utopia.[3]

Now, I will stop for a moment to make it clear that this is not a condemnation of Trump or an endorsement of Clinton.  What this presents to us is a lens through which we see illuminated the results of a centuries-long process of drift away from God.  American philosopher of history Russell Kirk, in his work the “Roots of American Order” set out that America as a nation was created in the tension between four historic city-states: from Jerusalem came it’s moral categories, from Athens came its philosophical categories, from Rome came it’s law, from London came its culture.  What has happened with the removal of the idea of morality, tied to some absolute framework of values, is the realm of the moral has been cut lose from its anchor, and allowed to drift across the sea of post-modernism.  If we are placing our hope in the secular rulers and systems, we have lost the central focus of the follower of Christ who told us repeatedly that when we live as Christians we will not be welcomed by the world, but rather reviled.  So, when our political leanings try to move us into a place where the government reflects our beliefs, we need to be reminded that this is not the natural place for a Christian to dwell.  “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Now, lest we fall into the trap of post-modern triumphalism about our own nation of Canada, recognize that our values are not so distant from those I’ve been speaking about.  The major difference today is that much of our polarization is cloaked in Canadian gentile politeness.  I would argue we are as polarized, we’re just better at hiding it.  Turning to the topic of remembrance, the place I see this clearly is in the treatment of our soldiers.

Last year at this time I referenced a Globe and Mail investigation where they had found 54, then 59 suicides of soldiers after serving in Afghanistan.  In the last few weeks they have updated their investigation to 70 suicides.  The reason this required an investigation is because the Canadian Forces is still not tracking the health outcomes of people after release, and quite frankly are continuing to mislabel the deaths of those still in uniform.  The Globe and Mail came up with that number by nationally searching obituaries for deaths of retired and serving military members, and then contacting the families directly to find out what was the actual cause of death.  This is the hallmark of a broken system, a system more concerned with riding itself of distractions than actually dealing with wounded warriors with compassion and care.  The Globe and Mail has collected the stories of 31 military families whose loved ones took their lives after military service.  The article describes the results this way, “Together their stories paint a disturbing picture of delayed care, ineffective medical treatment and insufficient mental-health support.  The 31 accounts are the most comprehensive public record of Canada’s Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide – unwitting monuments to a system that is failing too many vulnerable soldiers and veterans.” Corporal Tony Reed, who died by suicide in December 2012 told his mother, “I cannot go to sleep, Mom, because as soon as I close my eyes that’s what I see, okay?  People being blown up.  Little kids with grenades.  The blood.  You can’t imagine the blood that I’ve seen over there.”  While our new government has started addressing this, a plan won’t be ready until the fall of 2017.  Until then, unrecognized suicides from military service will continue because there are inadequate supports and tracking of those soldiers after release.  As a personal footnote, I’m a client of Veterans Affairs because I am a disabled veteran – with 36% impairment resulting from chronic pain.  I last spoke to my case manager in person in 2009, and I’m not suffering from a serious psychological illness.  In fact, if I did want to speak to a case manager, I would have to call through the Veteran’s Affairs call centre, justify why I wanted to speak with him, and then wait for him to return my call.

Romeo Dallaire has just published a new book, where he recounts his struggles with PTSD that continue to this day, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD. First light is a significant image for a soldier.  First light brings the hope of dawn, and a confirmation that you survived the night.  First light also brings the likely time of attack.  Macleans wrote a powerful article on Dallaire’s new book where he argues that the covenant between soldiers and the state is broken.  Before you feel smug about the state of our nation versus that of the Americans, listen to Dallaire’s words:

There needs to be a new covenant between the military and the nation, Dallaire argues, in part because of his belief that PTSD is not just a physical or psychological injury, but a moral wound.

He tells a story in his memoir. After hearing of a massacre in a village, Dallaire sends a patrol, Canadian soldiers as it turns out. They find a rape site, a ditch full of dozens of mutilated women and girls, most but not all dead. Later, Dallaire sums up the situation with his 26 international contingent commanders: there are no medical supplies; the dying are too injured to be moved and there is no means of transport anyway; the risk of HIV infection is very high. What orders would they issue: do what you can, or move on? Only three countries—Ghana, Holland and Canada—say to intervene. But the Canadian patrol leader never gives that order, because he never has time. His soldiers—“young men, just 19, 20, 21”—have already broken ranks, and are in the ditch trying to provide what comfort is possible.

That is the kind of army Canada has, says Dallaire, because that’s the kind of nation Canada has evolved into. We have an army that, precisely because it “carries our moral norms into immoral situations,” will be sensitive to the shock and trauma presented by those sorts of conflicts. “There’s been a breaking of the bond between the nation and its military,” he says. In recent years, “we have practically had to beg for the help we need.” If Canada is going to send its armed forces to help the world’s vulnerable, and Dallaire fervently believes it should, “we need a new cradle-to-grave agreement” that Canada will take care of these soldiers, who have suffered injuries on Canadians’ behalf, right up to veterans’ retirement homes. And suicides should be numbered among the war dead.[4]

So how did we end up here, in spite of the commandment to love God and to love our neighbours as we do ourselves?  I think the German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche summed it up perfectly in his parable titled ‘Madman’.  This is the story usually misquoted by Christians and others from which comes the line, “God is dead”.  Rather than an assertion that God is dead, what the madman in the tale proclaims is that we have killed God, and so cut ourselves free from any moral moorings:

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.[5]

When we proclaim in our homes, our businesses and our institutions of learning that there is no truth except that which we make ourselves, and when we believe that salvation rests in the hands of humankind, and when we spend our time trying to find who is best to blame for the confusion and strife, and when we believe that words have no meaning except that which we wish then to have, we should not be surprised that the result of all this empowerment is the death of God.  Without that anchor for our souls, we instead are tossed on the waves and billows of cultural relativity.[6]

An appropriate place to end this reflection is with the story of a soldier, and a Christian, who died after an attack in Afghanistan.  The narrative places us back in right relationship with the Almighty, because regardless of what might happen to our physical bodies (death, torture, persecution, disease) we are members of a transcendent yet imminent kingdom into which we will be welcomed.

The story of US Army soldier Jonathan (as told by Ravi Zacharias):

His friend returned from a February 2008 transportation security mission to hear that another convoy mission in Afghanistan had been hit with an IED, a convoy that included his good friend Jonathan.  He also learns that his friend was badly injured in that attack, and was near to death.  He obtains permission to leave his unit to visit his friend (mbo: because of course the first freedom surrendered when you put on the uniform is freedom of movement).

He enters the hospital to find his friend, missing both legs, lying on a hospital bed covered with bandages.  Tubes coming out of other tubes leading to God knows where.  I walked over to him biting my lip to hold the tears back, Johnathan looked up at him and smiled and said, “You should see the other guy.” (mbo: because humour is one of the ties that binds people together in combat).

As he was coughing and having trouble breathing, I stayed with him for about 10 or 15 minutes.  It was clear that he was near death from blood loss and fatigue, so I asked that God would receive his humble servant, and that Jonathan might spend an eternity in God’s presence.  Jonathan was a part of the kingdom of God, long before I was.  As I prayed Jonathan suddenly stopped, looked up towards the ceiling, as if shocked into life while observing the heavens.  Jonathan’s greatest gift to me was his last words of life which have become a cornerstone for the love of Jesus Christ that has enveloped my heart.  He looked up and said, “Wow…wow, it just looks exactly the way they always told me it would.”  A smile stretched across Jonathan’s face and he was gone.

Amen



Sources and things that started the musing several weeks back:


 THE MADMAN—-Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” God is dead, we have killed him.


Ravi Zacharias: “We now learn to listen with our eyes and think with our feelings. . . . We are meant to see through the eye, with the conscience; when we start seeing with the eye devoid of the conscience, all kinds of belief can invade your imagination.”

As has happened numerous times since I started listening to Ravi’s daily podcasts, I owe a debt of thanks to him for providing direction to the starting of some of the thought paths I’ve followed in this sermon. In this case it was a three-part series titled, “The loss of truth” (for the reflection on moral frameworks) and a four-part series titled “A deliverer is born” (for the story of Jonathan the US soldier).

A deliverer is born: http://ca.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/a-deliverer-is-born-part-4-of-4-2/

The loss of truth: http://ca.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/the-loss-of-truth-part-1-of-4-2/

 

William Blake:

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.

 

American philosopher of history, Russell Kirk in “The Roots of American Order”.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) Parable of the Madman

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/nietzsche-madman.asp

Robert Lewis Fossett’s commentary, “The Madman’s Time has Come”

http://www.rlfossett.com/entries/2016/10/11/the-madmans-time-has-come

On the new suicide numbers for the Canadian Forces (Globe and Mail investigation):

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/number-of-soldiers-vets-who-died-by-suicide-after-afghanistan-on-rise/article32673192/

A review of Dr Antoon Leednaar’s 2013 book, “Suicide Among the Armed Forces”, https://www.suicideinfo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Military-Suicide-Book-Review.pdf

Review of Romeo Dallaire’s new book, “Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD”:

http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/inside-romeo-dallaires-brutally-revealing-new-memoir/

Donald Trump on asking God for forgiveness:

http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-on-god-i-dont-like-to-have-to-ask-for-forgiveness-2016-1

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/

 


Fire, Malcolm Guite

 

He cannot stop these memories of fire

Crackling and flashing in his head.

Not just in fevered dreams; the fires break

Into the light of day. He burns with shame,

But still he screams and shakes, because the dead,

Are burning too and screaming out his name.

 

They told him his condition had a name,

But words can’t quench the memory of fire,

Nor can they ever resurrect the dead.

They told him it was ‘all inside his head’,

That post-traumatic stress need cause no shame.

The army gave him time for a short break.

 

But that’s what he’s afraid of. He will break

And break forever; lose his life and name,

Shake like a child who’s sickening with shame,

He who had been ‘courageous under fire’

Who always stemmed the panic, kept his head.

And now all night he wishes he were dead

 

And cannot die. Instead he sees the dead

In all their last contortions. Bodies break

Under his wheels, a child’s severed head

Amidst the rubble seems to call his name

Over the clattering of rifle fire,

Stuttering guns that shake with him in shame.

 

He’s left his family. ‘Oh its a shame’,

The neighbours said, ‘That marriage was long dead-

-You cant live with a man whose shouting ‘Fire!’

All night like that.- His kids needed a break

And in the end she had to change her Name.’

‘They’ll never fix what’s wrong inside his Head.’

 

‘Some people seem to cope and get ahead,

The army makes them better men, a shame

He couldn’t cope.’ Now he has lost his name

And his address. He only knows the dead.

He sleeps on benches but they come and break

His sleep. They keep him under constant fire.

 

And come November, when they name the dead,

He waits in silence for his heart to break

And every poppy burns with hopeless fire.



[1] Michael Horton, “The Theology of Donald Trump”, Christianity Today, March 16, 2016.

[2] This comes from BGen Dr. Stephen Xenakis, Omar Khadr’s military psychiatrist, when asked at a public talk about what it was that allowed the US to fall into so much immoral activity (Abu Ghraib prison, waterboarding, Gitmo etc).

[3] Derived from the Christianity Today article.

[4] http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/inside-romeo-dallaires-brutally-revealing-new-memoir/

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) Parable of the Madman

http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/nietzsche-madman.asp

[6] https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/331

Written by sameo416

November 11, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Amos – Judgement on Judah and Israel/Judgement on Us (final draft)

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Pentecost 23, 23 October 2016  SJE ©2016 Amos 1-2 (preaching series), Luke 18:9-14, Psalm 84:1-7

We’re starting a sermon series today with an extended trip through the minor prophet Amos.  This is simply awesome.  Aside from the reality that the Hebrew prophets are some of my best friends, our regular schedule of readings almost completely misses the minor prophets…and there is much of great worth in their words.  While reading through Isaiah or Jeremiah can be intimidating, you can consume one of the minor prophets while you’re waiting for your annual physical or the metro line LRT to arrive.  Now, that said, these texts are challenging, and one of the reasons I love the prophetic canon is because it continues to rebuke me, and us, in our lives even today.  You may find these prophetic words have some particular weight in today’s context, as we watch a US election achieve new heights of debasement.

I read an apocalyptic novel recently written by a Roman Catholic author, Michael D. O’Brien.  These words stuck with me as I was reading Amos:

Of man, the creature most blessed, most beautiful, and yet most capable of destroying, there is much to say. That he fell, and fell most grievously in a headlong plunge toward the bottomless dark, is now known by few. That he is rising of his own accord, in inexorable ascent to power and glory, is believed by many and is a feature of his continued descent. Little remains to enact. The consequences of his self-belief are hidden from his eyes. He will declare defeats victories. He will call darkness light, and depths heights. He will gain nothing and call it everything. He will lose everything and call it nothing. He will worship, as all created things must worship. Yet as he strains to worship himself he will come, without knowing it, to worship the father of lies.  –Father Elijah in Jerusalem, Michael D O’Brien

This is certainly the context into which Amos writes, and it is a context at home today as it was in 760 BC.  One of the things you should have heard listening to the text was the shock with which a Jew in Judah or Israel would have heard the words.  As we go down the list of the enemies of God’s people, you can see the assembled crowd cheering: take that Damascus, Gaza and Tyre, you show em God!  And then the text turns to Judah, which leaves the Israelites happy in their righteousness until the final judgement turns to them.  God’s chosen people placed on the same dung heap with their enemies, why?  Because they had deliberately ceased living the law of God (love your Lord, love your neighbour).  The Soviet dissident and Nobel Laurette Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (sol ja nit sin), reflecting on why the Jewish people had suffered so much over history wrote this, “The reason for our misery is that we have forgotten God.”  So Amos, rather than an interesting historic footnote, is spookily prescient of our post-modern context, prophets who still work to call us back to the One true God.

A bit of history to set the context.  Amos was no one famous or powerful.  He was a shepherd of sorts, but a part of the upper class of shepherds if there could be said to be such a thing.  The Hebrew more precisely describes him as a breeder of livestock rather than a keeper of the flock.  Amos himself will later describe his vocation as a ‘dresser of sycamore-fig trees.’  (7:14)  His home was in Tekoa, a village about 16 kilometers south of Jerusalem.  It is likely he travelled as a part of his work, since sycamore trees do not grow over 1,000 feet above sea level while his home is almost at 2,000 feet MSL.

This is the period in the history of God’s people known as the divided kingdom. David’s flawed rule has ultimately led to the nation Israel splitting into a northern and a southern kingdom that were frequently at war with each other around 1,000 BC.  Israel in the north, Judah in the south, each ruled by a king, each who vied to rule the other.  They existed in the midst of expansionist nations who were constantly seeking to claim this territory, and we have a constant series of invasions, wars, deportation of Jewish leaders and what we would describe today as horrific crimes against humanity – the Assyrians were particularly known for skinning captives alive.

Most of the kings of Israel and many of the kings of Judah were not seen favourably by God, and if you read the accounts in 1st and 2nd Kings, and 1st and 2nd Samuel, you will often see a chapter beginning with the refrain…”And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father.”  (1 Kings 15)  There is a recollection of God’s covenant with David because David had been promised to always have an heir on the throne.  When Solomon went the way of all kings, that is bad, Jeroboam 1st was allowed to pick 10 of the 12 tribes to rule, while David’s heir was left with one, so that God’s covenant would still be honoured in spite of the royal mess David had left behind. (1 Kings 11)

Amos writes under the rule of Uzziah in Judah (790-741 BC) and Jeroboam 2nd  son of Joash in Israel (793-753 BC) which places his prophetic ministry around the 760s BC.  The massive earthquake he mentions is also recorded in both physical evidence and other historic sources.  Jeroboam follows with many of the bad kings, as we hear, “24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.” (2 Kings 14).  But, in spite of not meeting with God’s approval, Jeroboam 2nd brings in a time of great prosperity for Israel.  Combined with the lack of invasion or war with their neighbours, including Judah, this would be a not bad time to live in Israel…as long as you were a person who had access to the power structures.  If you were not within the privileged few, it’s not really any different from any other time in history…you’re not starving or fleeing because of the Assyrians or the Babylonians, but because of your own nation.  And when you’re starving does it really matter who has brought it about?

One of the things I have found immensely frustrating and ultimately lacking in any hope, are the many strident discussions about Canadian or American politics that I see on social media.  Why are these lacking in hope?  What I see is an immense polarization of opinion, ultimately devoid of any connection with fact, and marked only by the loudness of the shouting of a particular pundit or commentator.  I’ve stopped reading such posts on Facebook…primarily because most of them have so little logical consistency that they’re not even worth reading – they are not about truth, rather they are about feelings.  This is not the place that a Christian may safely dwell.  I’ll speak more of this in a moment, because this is one thing that Amos is also on about. Amos’ is cautioning us: if you are looking for righteousness or salvation through a particular political leader, party or ideology you need to read through Kings, Samuel and Chronicles and ask yourself the question of how different we are today?  If you learn nothing else it is this: secular rulers will ultimately always stray and will never be able to bring their nation into a place of righteousness.  Placing our hope in secular rulers as the solution to the fallen nature of the human heart is, in fact, something we Christians like to call idolatry…and is exactly the same dynamic that Israel and Judah experienced over and over and over.

One last note before we step into the text is to notice how concerned the prophecy is with social justice.  The Old Testament is sometimes rejected by modern Christians because it depicts what Richard Dawkins describes as a bloodthirsty despotic god.  Yet here, and elsewhere in the prophets, we hear clear sounds of the teachings of Jesus, that the real measure of a nation is not power or territory, but how they deal with the weakest people in their society.  The Old Testament manifests the same God of love and compassion which we see in the New Testament.  Don’t fall into the trap of segmenting the Scriptures because it makes you feel comfortable as this is not what Scripture is about.

A final word about prophecy.  It is a rare spiritual gift, and one that is still present in the midst of believers today.  Prophecy has two aspects.  One is the foretelling of future events.  The second is the interpretation of present realities through God’s eyes, and the chastisement of people of faith to call them back to the path that God has set for them.  Neither of those activities are designed to endear you to the people around you, and often result in your rejection or ejection from the community.  Prophets in Scripture almost always end up dead in nasty ways.  This tells you something important about the testing of anything which is sold as being a ‘bold new prophetic move’ by a person or a church…and particularly if it comes from a church leader.  If that ‘bold new prophetic move’ does not make you want to revolt, it’s probably false prophecy, because prophecy by definition is always calling us back from idolatry, from a loss of focus on God’s love and love of neighbour, which means it always comes as a critique of us or our nation on a fundamental level.  There is no need for a prophet when everything is consonant with God’s will.  So beware of those who try to sell things as bold new prophetic moves if it is met with approval by the church or the nation.

Amos’ main attack through all of these writings is on idolatry and social justice.  While both Judah and Israel were theocracies, the faith was only superficial and was no longer connected with the core of God’s being.  So people overtly worship other Gods, people worship other idols like money, prosperity, safety, power, family, a new car every three years and so on.  Everyone worships somewhere, even if they never darken the door of a church.  Basically, exactly the same context we are in today.  What keeps us grounded is our focus on the cross and on the image of God, because this is what makes us truly human.  When we replace that right focus on God with a focus on other idols we lose our link to our humanness which opens the door for violence and injustice.  If we do not see others as intensely human, beloved of God and therefore necessarily beloved of us, it becomes very easy for us to do violence to those others.  Worst of all, our idolatry with notional faith in God allows us to cloak our violence in false righteousness, by convincing ourselves that we are good, therefore all of our actions are also good even when it can be demonstrated that our actions cause violence to others.

Here’s a contemporary example.  This is an iPhone 6S, my work phone, and an indispensable part of my professional life.  If you’re like me, it is impossible today to imagine how I worked 2 decades ago without such a tool.  The Washington Post published an article in September that demonstrated 60% of the world’s supply of cobalt comes from the Congo, what you might call ‘blood cobalt’.  Apple admits that up to 20 percent of the cobalt in its batteries has been sourced in the Congo.  So my use of a modern tool of business, and anything with a lithium ion battery, is an act of violence against subsistence miners in the Congo.  Do you see what Amos is speaking about and how it applies directly to our modern context?  Does this also change the equation for someone who has become a religious environmentalist, subscribing to the idolatry of environmental dogma, and proclaiming their righteousness after purchasing, for example an electric car?  We buy ourselves false righteousness through such actions, made worse by our insistence that we are justified by our worship at the altar of environmentalism, while sustaining economic violence against other peoples.

Edmond Burke once stated that people were qualified for civic freedom in exact proportion to their moral inclination to restrain their desires.[1]  That moral inclination can only come from one source, and that is a source external to ourselves, so skilled are we at convincing ourselves that we are truly righteous in our thoughts and perspectives.  It is only the person who knows that they are not free, and know they are prone to error, and who choses that moral referent external to themselves in humility, fear and trembling who can become a true moral agent for transformation.  This is why we so badly need God, He allows us to be situated in an external, absolute moral framework that, if we are willing to listen in humility and obedience, will protect us from the idolatry of self which justifies so many horrors and so much violence in our world today.

One quick example.  Our new government is keen to get our troops ‘peacekeeping’ again.  Why?  It looks good, gives us leverage internationally, and gives the world more of what we know it needs which is Canada.  A feel-good story all the way around.  I have to say that quite contrary to the dominant narrative that Canadians are ‘natural peacekeepers’, the reason our soldiers do well in all sorts of conflict situations is because they are very good soldiers.  ‘Natural peacekeepers’ is a government trope designed to cover up the reality of the sorts of places they deploy our troops.  So, this feel good story about peacekeeping.  Contrast this with the story earlier this week that there are 11,500 outstanding claims with Veterans Affairs for released or releasing soldiers with military-related injuries.  What that means is those soldiers will probably not have their disability benefits in place before they leave uniform.  The military finds them unfit for continued service, but they need to make a separate case before Veterans Affairs to obtain disability benefits.  When you realize that there is no such thing as ‘peacekeeping’ in the way that Pearson* conceived it, and that these new soldiers are entering into low- if not medium-intensity combat in what our government has falsely called ‘peacekeeping’, how moral is it that we generate more injured soldiers when we can’t care for the ones we already have?  (I mistakenly said Diefenbaker in the first version, and someone was kind enough to point out that it was Lester B Pearson who had led the move for peacekeeping).

Amos highlights all this, and when you listen to his condemnation of God’s people: Israel sells the righteous for silver, the needy for a pair of sandals, a man and his father share the same prostitute, and they corrupt the offering at God’s altar by taking it for their own use, it doesn’t sound that far off our present advanced age.  Os Guiness points out that the problem facing the west is not wolves at the door, but rather the complete loss of a moral framework on an individual level, which he describes as termites in the floor.  Our foundations are shuddering under our own neglect.  Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s (sol ja nit sin’s) critique of the west from his 1978 address at Harvard is that we have lost our courage because we have exchanged a central belief in the supremacy of truth as the key to true freedom, with a relentless legalism that asserts that individual freedom is the real holy core value, and if anything shown to be legal it is also acceptable and good.  This is what is guiding all of our corporate church’s discussions on doctrine now – that relentless legalism.  Anyone who opposes that assertion is branded as evil and worthy of the full weight of condemnation which Facebook and Twitter can bring upon them.  This is manifest in the immediate and violent condemnation of anyone or anything which does not fit the post-modern model of fashionable correctness, which is a moving target.

Solzhenitsyn’s (sol ja nit sin’s) tells us that freedom without an anchor of virtue ultimately turns into something hideous and evil, a place where the poor are consumed and the creation of the disposable person is immediately blamed on the victim.  That is, freedom without virtue absolutely anchored external to the individual, leads to fascism… fascism which is violently defended by its practitioners as morally righteous. As long as our focus is on appearing externally fashionable to the culture over internal integrity anchored in Christ, we will be subject to falling into the pattern of first world fascism.[2]  The words of Amos cut to the heart of our first world society and call us back to again renew our covenant with the Most High, and to refocus our lives on the two great commandments: to love God with all that we are; and to love our neighbours as ourselves.  We can do neither while we insist on presuming that we are righteous of our own strength, for that removes any possibility of humility which also removes any possible acknowledgement that we require obedience to the truth of Christ if we can ever hope to be a force for God’s good and not our good.

As a final note, Amos speaks about fire and destruction as the outcomes of a failure to follow God’s law.  Do not assume because your life seems pretty good that you are righteous; that because you do not have fire and brimstone each morning you must be mightily blessed.  Personally, the one thing that ministry has convinced me of over and over is that there is no one in the world as depraved as I am, and no sinner who needs our Saviour’s redemption more than I.  This is another mark of a sincere believer.  While God’s judgement may not come in fire, it may instead come in indifference. When we seek something strongly enough, God steps aside and allows us to pursue that goal, even if it is contrary to God’s will or desire for us.  This is not approval but the consequence of God’s gift of free will.  Sometimes the judgement of God may be permitting unrestrained deterioration, and giving us over to the consequences of our desires.  That is something I see clearly present in the world around us today,

Now, the point of hope that we will come to hear clearly in Amos in the weeks ahead, is there is always the possibility of a return home to the Lord for God will always welcome us.  All it takes on our behalf is our admission that we are not righteous without His redemption, that we can only truly live in him; and are otherwise dead to the world.  Amen.

 


For the first time in a long while, the divided north kingdom of Israel and the south kingdom of Israel were not at each other’s throats. And the superpowers of Egypt and Assyria were giving their imperialistic expansionistic policies a break. With this stable political climate, there was now money around— a lot of it.

But you know how it goes: the majority of the money was for the top 2%. Not much of a middle class, and lots of poverty. Hardly the vision for the Kingdom of God for which the LORD God, Creator of heaven and earth had planned for his people Israel/Judah.

But this state of affairs didn’t come about by accident: it was the result of a decline in paying any attention to their covenant with the living God. But attention was being paid to other spiritualities: the fatally attractive fertility gods and goddesses. So the LORD God speaks to the error of injustice and spiritual apostasy. He sends a prophet to the royal palaces of the rival kingdoms. In true Godly irony, the prophet sent to the lavish palaces is the farmer/shepherd Amos. His words—the word of God to our distorted social, economic and spiritual states —are potent and timeless, and worthy of attention for all times and places and people.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s address to Harvard: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/alexandersolzhenitsynharvard.htm

“The response at Harvard hurt him more than all the years of torture in the Gulag” [when the Harvard students booed him for mentioning God]

Solzhenitsyn reported that his grandfather, in response to the question “why has our nation suffered so much” replied, “The reason for our misery is that we have forgotten God.”

Funeral of the last of the Hapsburg emperors, Zita.  We all stand as sinners before the Almighty, regardless of the laurels we won or lost in this physical world:

The titles were read aloud: “Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia. Queen of Jerusalem. Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow…”

“I do not know her,” said the father.

A second knock and “Who goes there?” brought the response, “Zita, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.” Again the reply, “I do not know her.”

When the inevitable question was put a third time, the answer was simply, “Zita, a sinning mortal.”

“Come in,” said the priest, opening wide the door not for royalty, but for a faithful member of the Church, whose life had finally reached its end.

http://people.com/archive/europes-heads-crowned-and-otherwise-bury-zita-the-last-habsburg-empress-vol-31-no-15/

Did the archbishop have friends and relatives whose lives violated the commandments? Perhaps in the beginning he had meant only to be kind, to evangelize with empathy. Then, because of the adamancy of God’s laws, he had fallen into the dilemma of kindly men who lack courage to speak the truth in love. Their natural sympathies told them one thing, and their faith told them another. Thus, internally divided, these pastors strained for a resolution. They were further weakened by long years of endless nuances, by reading disordered theology and feeling helpless whenever they were confronted by the tears and reproaches of those who found moral imperatives too hard. Add to this their discussions with like-minded peers, people they admired, clever people who chose to manipulate opinion as they sought to deconstruct the Church and rebuild it in their own image. These dynamics, combined with a hidden thread of pride, had led the archbishop to the conclusion that orthodox Catholicism was simply no longer feasible, could no longer function as it had for two millennia. Primitive Christianity, such men believed, must evolve into something inclusive, nonjudgmental, and nonconfrontational. Above all, it must never offend. –Father Elijah in Jerusalem

Wikipedia history of Judah and Israel is not bad… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Judah

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Israel_(Samaria)

A Washington Post story on the mining of cobalt in the Congo. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/business/batteries/congo-cobalt-mining-for-lithium-ion-battery/?tid=ss_fb

Outstanding VAC claims, CBC 3 Oct 2016:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/veterans-benefits-backlog-1.3781470

Son, never trust a man who doesn’t drink because he’s probably a self-righteous sort, a man who thinks he knows right from wrong all the time. Some of them are good men, but in the name of goodness, they cause most of the suffering in the world. They’re the judges, the meddlers. And, son, never trust a man who drinks but refuses to get drunk. They’re usually afraid of something deep down inside, either that they’re a coward or a fool or mean and violent. You can’t trust a man who’s afraid of himself. But sometimes, son, you can trust a man who occasionally kneels before a toilet. The chances are that he is learning something about humility and his natural human foolishness, about how to survive himself. It’s damned hard for a man to take himself too seriously when he’s heaving his guts into a dirty toilet bowl.
― James Crumley (A non-Christian source, but colourfully relates the need for humility nicely. One of the reasons I clean bathrooms and cat litter boxes, it reminds me of my proper place in the world.)

[1] Referenced in Gustav von Hertzen, “The Challenge of Democracy”, January 2009, p. 93.

[2] This idea is partly taken from a series of podcasts by Ravi Zacharias titled ‘Character Counts’ that I’ve integrated with some other sources.  The five podcasts are well worth listening to, as he starts with the kings of Israel as an example of character failure because of a lack of integrity in Christ.    http://rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/character-counts-part-4-of-5-2/

Written by sameo416

October 22, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Future of the Professions

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This book was recommended at a conference on engineering accreditation as support for why the engineering education system needs to be overhauled.  (Oxford University Press, Daniel and Richard Susskind, 2015).  They outline why professions need to be developed or be rendered obsolete by tech like AI and the internet.  I’m a skeptic of such claims.

Since they consider one profession I’m a member of (clergy) and a second that is related to another of my professions (architecture, a close relative of engineering) I thought I should take at least a quick look.  (They don’t deal with my third profession, the profession of arms, although there is a better argument for cyberwarfare being able to replace segments of conventional warfare).

As I was trying to formulate a critique of their hypothesis I noted that I had been cut off at the knees while still in the introductory material.  Pg 43…”Some professionals are likely to reject our thinking…Often this response will be rooted in important anxieties and concerns…But much of this resistance will flow from common biases that inhibit professionals from thinking freely about their future.”

As the Susskinds are what you might call professional predictors of the future, my logic tells me that the same assertion likely applies to the authors as well.  Such saws always cut both ways, and if my critque is invalidated by my intrinsic anxieties and biases I have to wonder the same thing about them.  Merely asserting that their view of the future is free of such biases, while my criticism of them is flawed, is no argument at all.

Richard Susskind is an IT professor by trade, who has focused on technology and the legal profession.  His books on the future of the legal profession are interesting,  but I am not sure that his theories there scale nicely to all professions.  The only science he includes in his analysis are health care professions.  There is some interesting work being done by expert diagnostic systems which have already started to transform the medical profession, and this will continue, but AI and the internet will not replace the role of healers.

The same words apply to their predictions about clergy, and I’m not sure reading the prediction if they really understand what clergy do.  Online presence is one thing, amazing access to all sorts of scholarship for all people of faith are transformative to be sure…but sitting with a family who have a loved one on brink of death is not an action that broadband access will change much.  There will be no technological replacement of healers or prayers.

I think the lack of science professions is telling because the sciences are always in the midst of transformation by technology as a foundational value.  The scientific method (although my chemist daughter tells me it is no longer used) presupposes that the state of the art is always developing which in turn transforms the profession.  Scientists are used to having foundational belief overturned every few decades…perhaps with the exception of classic biology.

Susskind’s comments about architecture I think border on the irrational.  The use of automated design software and robotics is used to demonstrate how the stranglehold on building design is borken.  It is one thing to talk about a family dwelling built with 3D printing, bur quite another to talk about serious load bearing structures like bridges, tunnels or high rises.

The reason engineers are so rigourously trained in classic design is because of the failures we have already seen in over reliance on design software.  You need to be smart enough to know when your expert program is going to kill you.  That has also been learned in spades through some of the disasters in cockpit automation.

A simple example from a few months back.  I generated a finite element model of a metal structure to study thermal response for a forensic case.  I was using a good purchased FEM package that included automatic meshing.  Because I am trained in numerical analysis, I know enough to recognize that automatic meshing systems need to be closely supervised, because if the mesh is off the solution can be outright whacky.  In a few days of work I spent most of my time correcting errors introduced by the automatic mesh generator.  Over 3/4 of my runs resulted in incorrect results…some were clearly wrong, but others were close enough to look correct while still not being an accurate representation of reality.

All this to say, I don’t think there is any danger that bridge design will be automated and done by anyone with access to a good FEM package…unless we are willing to have lots more bridges falling down.

So, an interesting read, but a book that would be good to take out of the library.  It is ultimately unconvincing.

As a footnote, I suspect the legal profession is already in the midst of massive transition.  That has to do more with them pricing themselves out of the market domestically, while there are lots of other common law jurisdictions around the world.  $600-$1,200 an hour down the street, or a flat rate of a few hundred dollars from overseas?  Seems an easy choice.

While engineering is also being offshored, we haven’t priced ourselves out of the market because engineering is a commodity.  While engineering can be done overseas, there are a host of standards and regulations here which must be complied with, which ultimately requires that licensed domestic engineers be involved.  The same can’t be said for at least a portion of legal work, which is only ultimately tested if challenged in a court.  That’s a different situation than a bridge or a refinery, tested everytime a truck drives over, or a barrel is processed.

But I’m probably reacting out of my professional anxiety…

 

 

 

Written by sameo416

October 15, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“The labourer deserves his wages.”

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Pentecost 20, October 2, 2016 SJE ©2016  1 Timothy 5 (preaching series on Timothy)

Continuing in our study through 1st Timothy, we’re in chapter 5 today, which we might describe as instructions for relationship within the community, and particularly how to deal with widows and ‘elders’, where ‘elders’ is the translation of the Greek word presbyteroi, variously translated as elders or priests.  Paul is continuing offering detailed instruction to his student, Timothy, on how it is that a Christian community is to conduct itself.  I’m going to start by talking a bit about ecclesiology, that is, what it is that we understand the church to be in the world.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, one of the things that this community is to help us do in our lives is to move from the cultural obsession with the individual to learned selflessness.  How does that happen?  First by coming here to engage in an act of worship of the Living God.  Worship that which is not you is an act which places you in proper relation with the creation.  Second is by merely being here in community, as this emphasizes for us that we are more human, more real, when we are a part of the Body of Christ.  I stay in this sometimes challenging and frustrating community, because it is only coming forward on my knees that I gain a real understanding of who I am, because the community lifts me from myself and reminds me where I stand in relation to our Lord.

There is a wonderful song by a woman named Jenny Moore that came out of her living in the community of St Benedict’s Table in Winnipeg, titled “I am Coming for You”.  The song is a direct comment on the role of the community for a Christian, and the line that always catches me is this one:

And the meal will fill you
And the wine will calm you
And the company will remind you
That I see you.

And the meal will fill you
And the wine will calm your nerves
And the company will remind you
You are alive and well.

The body of faithful, which is the blessed company of all believers, exists as a reminder to us that God sees us each, and that we are alive and well.  In spite of what might be going on in our individual lives, and in our greater social circle and families, this is a place of anchoring and grounding.  We come here because the company reminds us that we are well, because we are in Christ by being with each other, and there all things will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

The reason Paul focuses on the seemingly mundane aspects of community life for the believers in Ephesus is because he understands the importance of that community as the physical manifestation of Christ in the world.  Part of our witness to that world is the way we live differently than the balance of our culture, and part of that difference is the emphasis on community.

The Body of Christ counters the forces in the culture that seek that we comply with what the culture has deemed to be important and necessary.  While this involves an unhealthy fixation on the individual, it also carries with it a dysfunctional imperative to comply with the thoughts of the collective.  In many ways this trend has become the political correctness movement on steroids, and scarcely a day goes by when some public figure is not being castigated or called on to apologize for some perceived slight that they may have made against some issue that the collective has defined as worthy of protection.

The Body of Christ brings resolution to those cultural pressures through making us truly human when we are within the community, but also by bringing us great individual value, beyond anything that earthly laurels might provide.  And why is that?  The Body of Christ does not form us into a collective of like-minded and like-living individuals who are marked by the lack of difference between us.  Rather, in the Body, we are each celebrated because we are given particular gifts that are necessary for the building up of the Body.  Our individuality is redeemed in Christ, not because being an individual is holy in itself, but rather because our calling makes each of us a particular organ within the Body of Christ.  By contrast to society’s understanding of membership, organs within the Body of Christ have an inter-dependency and complementarity that binds us together in a way which the world can not, and will not, understand.

This counters another dysfunction of the post-modern era, the presumption of equality of all.  Within the Body of Christ, all are infinitely worthy, but each person has his or her own calling to live out which assists the Body to greater or lessor degree depending on the person’s calling.  This is the reason why there is no such thing as ‘private religion’, because the faith life can only, is only, and has always been lived out in the context of a faith community.  “I don’t need to go to church because I worship God in my private way.” Is no real faith of worship at all.  Likewise, the Body of Christ puts to death the lie that there is a such a thing as private sin, “What I do in my own life does not matter, because I am not hurting anyone.”  Aside from the usual lies about this – that the consumption of something sinful invariably involves the exploitation of someone somewhere, in the Body of Christ there is no such thing as private sin.  If you think of all of us as particular organs in the Body of Christ, this makes perfect sense…for a broken bone impacts all of your body’s systems to some degree, so it is with sin within the Body of Christ.  This in itself is a powerful teaching, and should cause you to pause before following any path of obvious sin…you are not just impacting yourself, but indeed everyone within the community of faith.

This is why the Body of Christ reflects far more the reality of an extended family, then membership in a community organization.  Each member of your family has a particular identify, and a particular role, and carries particular worth within the family.  There is a fundamental inequality within families, as the elders carry wisdom, the middle-aged provide financial support, and the young energize the family with exuberance and new directions.  You could not remove a member of your family and say afterward, we’ve just lost one member, but we’ll find another, precisely because of this uniqueness that each organ brings into the Body of Christ.  This is why there is a particular pain in the community of faith, when a long-standing family moves away…Gillian and Grant from the 0915 community, or Ian and Margaret from the 1100 community.  There is a palpable emptiness left behind, because one of the organs on which we are interdependent has been pulled from this local context, even while they still remain a part of the larger Body of Christ globally.

Within this Body we are constantly in the process of ministering to each other in the form that each organ is called to.  We are constantly teaching and learning, forgiving and being forgiven, interceding before Christ for others, while they in turn intercede for us.  In the Body, we bring Christ to others by seeing them as He sees them, and they in turn bring Christ to us, by seeing us as Christ sees us.  Our true value as individuals comes not from within us, from our individual accomplishments, but because God’s calling to each of us to live into our role in community, into being fully the organ that God calls us to be, results in us finding our infinite worth reflected from the mirror that is Christ. Our value as individuals comes entirely from Christ, which is why Paul says elsewhere that he counts all in his life as rubbish but for his being in Christ.

This was a bit of a lengthy excursion to set some groundwork for the reading today, because under Paul’s seemingly direct and simple instructions is a deep understanding of the reality of the Body of Christ.  Starting with the treatment of widows, Paul outlines some interesting guidelines for who should receive the community’s support.  He sets out two tests for widows, that determine what the community’s role is to be: one material and one spiritual.  From the material perspective, Paul draws a line between those widows who are self-sufficient because they have families, and places the onus for their care back with their families.  Paul identifies that we have an obligation to care for those in our families, and particularly those who have been left with few added supports of their own.

In the age that Paul was writing this was particularly important, because a widow would typically have to rely on her children, or her husband’s brothers if she had no children, to provide her support.  We saw this reality as Christ hung on the cross where he assigned responsibility for his mother to another disciple, because he knew with no son and no husband she would otherwise be left destitute.  So the material test is to ensure that the community of the Church provides support only to those widows who have no other recourse.  Even more interesting is the description in verses 9-15 (not included in the reading today) of which widows should be enrolled in the church.  If you read these additional verses you may hear in the entry criteria some echo of the test for who will make a good elder or bishop for the community – indeed these widows in particular which are to be enrolled are those who have been called into a particular role of ministry within the community.

I find this particularly interesting because we often think about the day when we will arrive at some mythical destination when we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labours, surrounded by grandchildren and the bounty we have earned.  That is not the image that Paul portrays when he describes the role of widows within the community.  Indeed, their widowhood, combined with a life of service to others, appears to have been in preparation for a future role ministering to others within the Body of Christ.  The entry into widowhood, carrying with it the grief of loss that we know so well, is in fact the starting point of a whole new holy calling for some.

This reflects a fundamental truth of our lives as followers of Christ.  My experience certainly has been that there are many ‘arrivings’ at expected or unexpected destinations, but none of those have been the end of the journey, for each arriving inevitably sets off the start of a new journey, a journey for which you have only been prepared because of the last arriving.  Our lives as followers of Christ is therefore a continuous series of callings, and resolutions of calling, followed by an entirely new calling.

That sounds like a really glorious example of God’s grace manifest in the Body, and it is, but it means that we don’t always end up where we think we should end up.  An older man lying in a hospital bed says to me, “what did I do wrong that made God so angry with me that he has put me here?” is asking the wrong question.  The right question is one that you learn from being within the community of faith for decades, because you learn it from that inter-dependency with the other organs that make up that body.  What is the right question to ask, from that hospital bed or from whatever destination (happy or grief-stricken) which God calls you to?  “How am I to use the blessing of this present reality to worship Almighty God?”  We learn this in community by watching our brothers and sisters weather both joy and despair in community.  The birth of a child, the marriage of lovers, the death of a spouse, the slow decline of faculties with age, the switching of roles: from child to adult to caregiver for failing parents.  With each transition within the Body of Christ we learn to ask anew, “How would you have me use the blessing of this moment to do your will?”

I saw this clearly in the life of a friend with pancreatic cancer.  He was going through many surgeries and hospital visits, came to near death many times, and ultimately succumbed to the illness.  He to me one day that he looked forward to his hospital stays because he knew each time that God would make use of him in some new way, be it a roommate that he could minister to, or the nursing staff that he could bring joy to in some way.  This happened in the community of faith.  What did I learn from him?  On the days when I wrestle with my chronic pain, the witness of him and others in this mystical Body of Christ turn my suffering into something like, “Lord, thank you that you have blessed me with this pain.  How do you wish me to use this gift to your greater glory?”

So the community becomes the place of ultimate transformation, where others prop us up when we can no longer stand on our own, and our sufferings in turn teach others about what it is to suffer as a child of God.  This is a truly amazing gift given to us through this Body of Christ, for it converts even our dying moments in a hospital bed into a chance to serve God, even if it is only in silent prayer in intercession for God’s people.

Paul moves on to speak about the high calling of the elders, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. The word elders is, again, the Greek presbyteros, which is sometimes translated as priest or elder, but describes various leadership roles within the community which are manifested in different ways depending on the particular era.  He sets out the high calling of those who preach and teach, and adds some protections for them.  Calvin commented about those who presume to minister and noted that even when they are successful they will never avoid “a thousand criticisms.”  I know in my ministry it seems that I make a business of failing to meet other’s expectations…usually because I am striving first to meet God’s expectations, but that is interpreted by others as a lack of caring.  A recent example for me is shifting my ministry work to St John’s from a variety of places I would fill in…it was clear to me that my primary calling in this community is the support of those in full-time ministry, and that I was not honouring that call by filling in in other places.  But, in spite of having clearly told some places that I am no longer doing supply ministry, I continue to get regular calls asking me if I’m available.

It’s a cautionary tale about the expectations we place upon those in leadership roles within the community.  One of the things I realized early in ministry is that I would always be letting someone down…and I suspect one of the reasons that we have so many clergy totally stressed out is because that’s not taught in seminary.  What I’ve realized with prayer (and a dose of courage from God) is that my role as a minister is serving Christ, which sometimes means I rather dramatically fail to align with the expectations of others.  Those expectations are emphasized by Paul with his caution about not being hasty in the laying on of hands…that is, before you commission someone or ordain them to ministry, make good and sure that they’re actually really called to that ministry!  Not because they’re good in school, or really nice people, or really sincere in their belief that they should be ordained, but because God is truly calling them.  When I was at the national selection process for ordination, called ACPO (Anglican candidates for postulancy for ordination) one of the first questions the interview panel asked me was ‘why do you want to be a priest?’  I was really disappointed in the shock on their faces when I said, “I don’t.”  Disappointed because it meant to me that they were expecting earnest eagerness from me…maybe as a late-life vocation that eagerness had already been replaced by a bit of wisdom, but I knew a bit of what such a call entailed, and I wasn’t eager to go down that road…but as I said to them next, I’m not sure I have any choice because this is God’s call to me.

Paul calls the elders into discernment before undertaking such steps, and emphasizes that while some sin is apparent to all, there are those who are seemingly of good character but full of hidden sin which will eventually become manifest.  That discernment is supposed to be tied with pure impartiality, so that you show no favour except the favour which God calls you to display.

All of this instruction by Paul is intended to establish the community in right relationship, with competent leadership, fair impartial and discerning commissioning of those into leadership roles, and to build a place where people can grow into God’s particular calling at various stages in their lives.  It is within the community that we find our true individuality and our true worth in Christ, not because of who we are, but because of who we become in our role within the Body of Christ.  That role within this part of the Body of Christ calls us into mutual ministry, where our living in community serves to manifest Christ to others, who in turn manifest Christ to us.  While that is sometimes (or always) a challenge, it is the greatest place of blessing within the creation.  Amen.


1 Timothy 5: Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day,but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,[a] 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and,“ The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.


I Am Coming For You by Jenny Moore.  One of my favorite songs from St. Benedict’s Table in Winnipeg.

O woman, you are not forgotten
Take up your harp, play your song often

O man, you have forgotten
Your love is strong, forget this wasteland

For I am coming for you, I am coming for you
You will see me in this town some day
I am coming for you, I am coming for you
You will see me in this town some day

 And the meal will fill you
And the wine will calm you
And the company will remind you
That I see you.

And the meal will fill you
And the wine will calm your nerves
And the company will remind you
You are alive and well.

A Washington Post story on the mining of cobalt in the Congo.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/business/batteries/congo-cobalt-mining-for-lithium-ion-battery/?tid=ss_fb

A life-cycle environmental assessment for photovoltaic systems.

http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs-wm/17733.pdf

Pope Benedict on the need for a return to reason: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2016/09/17747/

Material on page 2 and 3, particularly around the ecclesiology of the whole and the individual is heavily draw from CS Lewis’ essay, “Membership” found in the collection “The Weight of Glory”.  If you dig around on Amazon you can find Kindle collections of Lewis’ work really inexpensively. https://www.amazon.ca/Complete-Works-Lewis-Autobiography-Christianity-ebook/dp/B01FDK7KNG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475356684&sr=8-1&keywords=complete+cs+lewis   (for $0.99 although it does not include more obscure works such as “Why I am not a Pacifist”)

The later thought on pages 3 through 5 is largely drawn from John Stott’s excellent book, “Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus.”  If I have achieved anything it is because I have been able to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Written by sameo416

October 1, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Anglican Indigenous Bishops’ Response to Marriage Issues

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I’ve mentioned before that the corporate Anglican Church’s treatment of indigenous voices in the marriage debate has a strong overtone of colonialism about it.  It was clear to me that no one was really interested in listening to what they had to say, in the past or in more recent days or in engaging in a discussion that honoured the indigenous method of achieving understanding.  Reconciliation requires a mutual commitment to walk together, which means not deliberately invoking injury to your brother or sister.

Three of our indigenous bishops were asked to write a response by an Indigenous circle that meet to discuss the decision of Synod.  In obedience to the discussion in that circle, they produced this letter which sets out the problem facing them.  This is a classic collision of disparate world views, and the world view with the power (in the legal process) is once again having the final word.

If that’s not colonial, I don’t understand the meaning of the word.


A Statement by the Bishops Mark MacDonald, Lydia Mamakwa, and Adam Halkett

We are writing to the Church and our communities in light of the General Synod’s decision to take the first steps towards the changing of the marriage canon. As we wrote to the commission and stated at the Synod, we do not agree with the decision and believe that it puts our communities in a difficult place in regards to our relation and community with the Anglican Church of Canada. This statement was requested by an Indigenous circle that gathered after the final vote on the marriage canon was revealed.

We write this, of ourselves, acknowledging that we do not speak for all Indigenous Peoples, though we have consulted broadly and deeply with many. Although we note some difference between urban and reserve contexts and, less so, by regions, we believe we speak to and from what we have witnessed as a broad consensus of Indigenous Peoples. It is our hope that what we say will ultimately serve all, even those who may disagree.

Our land has a Charter of Rights and our laws support these rights. These rights are recognized and endorsed by the Church in its teaching and practice. These rights that First Nations enjoy and use to reaffirm traditional and inherent rights are the same rights that same sex couples use to be granted marriage rights and privileges. In the case of the Church, these rights grant the freedom to complete its pastoral work in marriages. In regard to Indigenous Peoples, they specially guarantee that they are self determining with regard to basic cultural and social matters. This is fundamental to the Nation-to-Nation relationship which is at the base of Indigenous Rights, reconciliation and a promising future for all of Canada.

Indigenous churches have these basic freedoms, under Law and under God. Supported by the courts and affirmed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, our freedoms set the course for our churches and their pastoral leadership in our communities and, specifically, in regard to our pastoral and social ministry for marriage. We are deeply disturbed and disappointed that so little attention was paid to our pastoral and social self-determination and the right to free, prior, and informed consent.

Our elders need to be actively involved with the conversation regarding these changes. Earlier discussions of these matters have never been translated into Indigenous languages, neither has This Holy Estate. That out elders have not been a part of this conversation, it seems to us, is a flaw in the process.

We voted “no” to changes in the Marriage Canon. We do not take this stand as a statement against any person or persons. In this, we simply affirm our right to express our cultural and spiritual understanding of marriage in the context of our own community life and according to God’s holy Word. Though some may see the “opt in” option in the proposed changes to the marriage canon as allowing all to have freedom in this matter, the change in language in the first part of the canon is a deeper problem for many of our communities.

It is our understanding that, while homosexual persons have always had a place in our societies, same-sex marriage, itself, has not. We find in both our reading of Creation and Scripture the unique relationship of Man and Woman. The difference between the two, coming together in the miracle of a unique spiritual communion, is essential to the way we understand marriage – but not only marriage, it is the way we understand the Land, the way we understand Creation.

Without commenting on Canadian Civil Marriage, we assert the unique right that Indigenous communities have to set their own way of life and their own way of speaking of marriage. Although the canon does not force anyone to do anything, the language of the revised canon changes the fundamental meaning of marriage to make it gender neutral. This is both a significant and unacceptable change to our communities, who still find male and female as essential to their understanding of the marriage ceremony.

We will discern what will be our way forward in the days ahead. We do know that we commit to the following:

We will continue in our conversation with the Anglican Church of Canada in regards to self-determination and mutual cooperation in our Anglican Christian ministry.

We will proceed towards self-determination with urgency.

We will seek ways to continue our conversation with the LGBTQ communities and individuals, affirming our earlier statements of love and welcome. ·

We call for the Church to seek ways in which to 1) further our self-determination and 2) to specifically address our self-determination in matters of cultural and social matters related to our communities. In this regard, we will seek ways for our communities to pursue and enact their own cultural understandings of when different from the rest of the Anglican Church of Canada. ·

We call for the Church to establish an inquiry into the process this decision was made. This was not the best for Indigenous Peoples, we can only believe it is not the best for others.

We believe that this entire incident calls for a review and rethinking of the ways that the Church conducts its business. We have resolved to work with you to see that we never have to be in this kind of situation again. For many of us, the silencing of our elder at the end of the Synod conversation – though understandable in Western process – was the most painful moment of all. We strongly feel that an apology to our Elder is in order.

We are deeply sad that, at a time in which the Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples of the Anglican Church of Canada warmly embraced each other and a new future, that we came to such divisiveness. We are deeply sorry for any ways that our actions – words and acts of sin by doing and/or not-doing – contributed to this outcome and will seek to do our very best in the future to embody the reconciliation that we see in Jesus. We believe that Christ is present among us, by His own power and promise, and we will look for Him to guide us into a better future. We, finally, pledge our very best attempts to remain brothers and sisters to all Anglicans, living out our baptismal covenant in the bonds of affection and mutual faithfulness.

Written by sameo416

September 26, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“…to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost…”

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Pentecost 17C 11 September 2016 1 Timothy 1:1-17  SJE Edmonton ©2016 (updated for delivery)

Pray.  We’re starting a sermon series today concerning what it means to be part of “the Body of Christ” based on Paul’s writing in 1st Timothy.  It’s always appropriate to reflect on the question of what it means to be a part of this mystical body, and particularly so when we’re in the midst of search for a new associate priest, and just finished welcoming a new youth pastor.  In engineering when you’re faced with a problem no one has previously solved, our usual option is to return to “first principles”, foundational concepts that are the base of all derived work.  Reflecting on our membership in the Body of Christ requires us to engage theological first principles.  In doing so we ask the question which Christians throughout history have asked: what does it mean to us locally, when we assert that we are members of His mystical church, which is the blessed company of all believers (prayer of thanksgiving from the BCP Eucharist)?

In this regard we have this letter to Timothy in Ephesus.  That distant place and time was not so different from today – an ethnically diverse and belief-diverse community.  In some ways, more spiritually diverse than what we experience today – with temples to many gods available everywhere.  Paul begins this letter with a caution against false teachers and returns to a first principle, Paul’s salvation through Christ Jesus.  That principle, the person of Christ and His work on earth, is Paul’s consistent focus in all writing and teaching.  Not surprising considering that was the turning point in Paul’s life, the literal and total remaking of the person he had been…and it’s difficult to find a parallel to that conversion as an example today.  It would be something like a religious leader of the Taliban or ISIS, set on the murder of those who do not believe properly, suddenly showing up on our doorstep today and asking to preach about God’s love.

OK, into the text.  My first comment has to do with 1st Timothy overall.  As we heard today, there are portions of the text which you may fine directly challenging of your convictions.  Much ink was spilled in explaining why Paul didn`t really mean what he wrote.  Even more ink was spent on arguments that this text was not really written by Paul, but by an author who was seeking to use Paul`s authority to make his own point.  This movement to identify the `true` author of a given text has been very popular for the last few decades, most famously by the Jesus Seminar.  I was listening to a New Testament professor speaking on 1 Timothy this week, and part way through her presentation she asserted that most of the Bible had been written by other people than those credited.

I find these discussions highly problematic and I won’t spend any time on this aspect of Timothy.  There are two primary objections that keep me in a place where I`m willing to accept the canonically-assigned authorship.  1) The arguments about authorship are all based around what you might call `derived` sources…that is, using historical criticism or form criticism, by saying things like, ‘This is not the way that Paul would have written.’  This approach leaves much opportunity for personal biases to enter into the analysis, and at least a part of that movement exists for the intent purpose of removing or blunting difficult readings.  Secondly, those who formed the canon of Scripture in antiquity saw fit to include these letters ascribed in authorship to particular individuals.  There is good evidence that 1st Timothy was used by the group known as the apostolic fathers, early theologians of the 1st and 2nd century.  I`m not sure how I or any other reader 2,000 years downstream can presume that we can do a better job than those early Christians.  I would call that the height of cultural arrogance.

I am immediately suspicious of any work with Scripture that makes me more comfortable with what is written.  My desire is always to seek that which makes me feel righteous and if it can permit me to do those things which I ought not to do, all the better.  I recall a conversation I had with a seminary classmate about the story of the adulterous woman in John`s gospel (John 8).  Recall the story, the woman is about to be stoned for being an adulterer.  The Pharisees bring the woman to Jesus and ask about the Law of Moses.  Jesus replies, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’  As he writes in the dirt, all the accusers drift away.  Now comes the punch line.  Jesus asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”  My classmate quoted this and then said, wasn`t it wonderful how Jesus accepted the woman in her sin, saved her from the religious apparatus of the day, and allowed her to go about her life?  Jesus didn’t judge her like the Pharisees did.  Did you catch the bit of the punch line that was missing?  I said to my classmate, but you’ve left off the end of the passage…and she said what?  When I told her that Jesus’ parting word to the woman was ‘Go forth and sin no more.’ She grabbed a bible to look up the passage, and then said, “I’ve never read that part before.”

That is such a good example of what I’m illustrating, that it is so easy for us to snip out the bits of a given text that hit us right where we need to be hit.  As a more humorous example there’s a scene in the Monty Python film the Life of Brian where the crowd is listening to the Sermon on the Mount.  The characters on camera are way back in the crowd, and so they mishear Jesus’ words about peacemakers, and instead hear, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”  One asks the other – what’s so special about the cheesemakers, and his friend replies, “It’s obviously not meant to be taken literally, it means any manufacturer of dairy products.”  //  The ancient theologican Tertullian highlighted this when he describes how believers, then as now, seek an easier path, “A better god has been discovered, one who is neither offended nor angry nor inflicts punishment, who has no fire warming up in hell, and no outer darkness wherein there is shuddering and gnashing of teeth: he is merely kind. Of course he forbids you to sin – but only in writing”.  And we know all about restrictions in writing, like how easy it is to take subtle (or not-so-subtle) liberties on your taxes each year.  So there are lots of things written in Scripture, but what do we do with them when they counter something we hold very dear?  This is a critical question for each of us when we’re confronted by something in Scripture that we’ve never heard that way before, or when our first urge is to find some way to blunt the sharpness of what we’ve just heard or read…give up all that I have to follow Christ?  That’s fine as an abstract concept, but I live in the real world, meaning the world where I do as I wish. Our call is to stay in that challenging place.

We continuously seek to mold Scripture to our desires and wants, and we often do the same with our theology which is one of the real dangers of being a human within the Body of Christ.  There are two roads which can be followed from within this Body, one that leads to the fulfillment of our human desires, and one that leads to the fulfillment of God’s desires.  Ideally those two roads are the same path, for a Christian who is following God will ultimately end up right where they are supposed to be.  But, I know the truth for me is I continuously trip over my own feet as I’m following that road, and sometimes I take side trips off into the underbrush because something shiny caught my eye.

What we do understand is that Scripture, read and discerned within community and anchored in the great tradition of 2,000 years of interpretation, brings us closer to God.  This is true whether those texts fuel our hopes or bring us to our knees.  We live in this tension, summed up beautifully by the mystic saint, Julian of Norwich, who wrote, “Some of us believe that God is almighty and may do everything; and [some believe] that he is all wise, and can do everything; but that he is all love, and will do everything – there we draw back.”  While God’s touch is blessing, it is never less than burning, and not a smidgen under our control (Reynolds Price, Letters to a Man in the Fire).  While we like the intellectual appeal of a God of love and compassion, a God who might, at this very moment, be intimately involved in all aspects of our lives.  That is entirely different!

Paul’s words to us come home in a context that is not at all unlike when it was written: competing beliefs in the culture that lead to different doctrines which cause damage to the Body of Christ.  This comes through clearly in the opening caution about false teachers.  Note that Paul does not identify a particular doctrine, but rather speaks in general terms about what marks improper doctrine: it arises from speculation rather than faith; it is marked by a devotion to myths and endless genealogies; by teachers swerving into vain discussion who want more to be seen as teachers of the law rather than those who follow the law.  And this gives us a good test of anyone who presumes to be a teacher in the Body of Christ: do they submit themselves to the same challenging teachings and expectations? (this is the risk inherent in preaching)

The first warning sign for me of those who promote false doctrines or teachings is to look at the possible outcomes of the teaching.  There are a number of things that mark the discernment of God’s Word and will for the Body of Christ, all marked by the reality that these are all independent of how we might feel about the teaching.  Catholic author Peter Kreeft sets out that we should be soft hearted and hard headed, wise as serpents and harmless as doves, identifying that there are errors in either being too soft-hearted or too doctrinal.  He sums this up by saying, In our hearts we should be “bleeding-heart liberals” and in our heads “stuck-in-the-mud conservatives.””

Equally important in our discernment of God’s will for the Body of Christ are actions that force us to look external to our personal will, or even to the will of a particular community in a particular time.  We are all prey to the dominant thoughts in our culture, as much as we try to remain apart, and we must be aware that decisions made in the lifetime of one person may not consider God’s actions being worked out generation to generation.  Think about the people of Israel, moving from slavery to wandering in the desert to the Promised Land over several generations…the cultural winds would shift depending on what part of that narrative you happened to live through.  This is why discernment is a task of the community over generations.

True discernment requires we look at a number of different sources, all held in tension, but which should have some degree of agreement: the witness of Scripture; the teaching of the church, not in what is being taught right now, but what has been taught right back to the first witnesses?  the thoughts of great thinkers and teachers throughout history; what human reason tells us; what prayer reveals; what the discernment of a faithful community reveals.  If there is objection from one of those sources, it is a time for caution.

As a final test of God’s will, look for the presence and growth of the fruits of the Spirit as the outcome.  If the teaching results in the growth of love, joy and peace in the community this is a sign that it might be the action of the Spirit.  If it results in division, pain and grief, it is time to be very cautious.  This highlights another aspect of being in a faith community, that even if we believe God is calling us in a particular direction, if that movement begins to cause pain and suffering for some of our brothers and sisters, the call to the Body of Christ is to withhold from change lest we cause the faith of some to falter.  The strong believer is called to restraint lest their actions cause a weaker believer to falter in the faith which is to sin against those weaker believers.  (1 Corinthians 8)  This is a key aspect of discernment within community-that it is discernment in community…whatever you might individually feel as a result of a particular teaching is not the discernment of the community, which is the company of all faithful believers.  This counters the constant pull of our culture to individualism and the supremacy of the person…here, it is all about ‘us’, not ‘me’.

What Paul identifies as at the heart of all wrong teaching is a misapprehension as to the nature of God, which is why after the opening verses about false teachers, he immediately turns to talk about his call.  Remember that Paul was previously first among those who persecuted Christ and His followers, we hear Paul say in Philippians 3, “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”  This is a direct illustration about what Paul has just written about false teachers – by restating that he was a false teacher, a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent before he was saved through Christ.  This is the key message of this first part of 1st Timothy, for it is the witness of Paul’s life, and particular his willingness to admit his failure to be who God called him to be, that adds credence to his witness.

This is a radical departure from the values Paul’s place and time, and from ours as well.  What would you think if you went to visit a physician, or an investment advisor, and the first thing they did was describe to you all their failures?  Yes I’m willing to be your physician, but you should know that some of my patients didn’t get better…or I will invest your retirement savings, but you should know that I filed for bankruptcy last year after I made a series of poor investment decisions.  How long would you stick around in that office?  In the case of the Body of Christ  this is a key test and the reason why Paul is so forthright stating how he was saved from himself, from the magnificent person he had created through his own efforts, and how that all became for nought when he encountered the living God that day on the road.  While you may not want to be treated by a physician who says, “I’m the most diseased person in this city” when you are looking for leaders in a faith community, always start with the one who sincerely states, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.”

As a final illustration of this, there was an article about Omar Khadr and King’s University making the Facebook rounds this week. It highlights the journey of the King’s community in accepting the call to minister to the prisoner, even to the point it places them at risk.  When this story was posted on Facebook by a classmate of mine, he added a comment, “It may seem strange for an atheist like me to share this article; some of my friends might also remember that I am not a fan of religious universities of any stripe. However, there’s good happening here…”.  One true test of belief is what it does to those around us – does it result in the growth of fruits of the Spirt and the building up of the community?

So, as Christ held himself up on the Cross as an example for his followers to embrace, so too Paul holds himself up as a sign of what it means to be a teacher of the Law by the way he has lived his life.  This is the way we are all called to live together in sometimes difficult community, in this place and abroad, as it is the measure of how we live our lives in Christ that illuminate Christ for those around us.  May be ever be mindful of this holy calling, as we join together as brothers and sisters in the faith.  Amen.

 

 


Omar Khadr story: http://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/welcoming-omar-khadr-kings-university/

Monty Python cheesemakers clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xLUEMj6cwA

“For 1 Timothy reminds us what Scripture is and what Scripture isn’t. Scripture is not just a list of easily apprehended propositions with which we can agree at all times. Scripture is not just a collection of sayings that might guide our daily walk. Scripture is not just a perfect text free of discomfiting content. Scripture is as human as we are. But we also trust that God speaks through these texts, whether these texts resonate with our hopes or create a dissonant sound in our midst.”  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3034

Reynolds Price, Letter to a Man in the Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care? “We can ask for relief, for healing and respite; we can beg for our loved ones.  But the hands we’re in, at all times, are neither predictable nor intimately knowable.  They may cushion us, even deck us out with unasked-for gifts; but they’re never less than burning to the touch; and they acknowledge no guidance, no compass but their own.”

Peter Kreeft, on discernment: http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/discernment.htm

  1. Have a soft heart but a hard head. We should be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” sharp as a fox in thought but loyal as a dog in will and deed. Soft-heartedness does not excuse soft-headedness, and hard-headedness does not excuse hard-heartedness. In our hearts we should be “bleeding-heart liberals” and in our heads “stuck-in-the-mud conservatives.”
  2. All God’s signs should line up, by a kind of trigonometry. There are at least seven such signs: (1) Scripture, (2) church teaching, (3) human reason (which God created), (4) the appropriate situation, or circumstances (which he controls by his providence), (5) conscience, our innate sense of right and wrong, (6) our individual personal bent or desire or instincts, and (7) prayer. Test your choice by holding it up before God’s face. If one of these seven voices says no, don’t do it. If none say no, do it.
  3. Look for the fruits of the spirit, especially the first three: love, joy, and peace. If we are angry and anxious and worried, loveless and joyless and peaceless, we have no right to say we are sure of being securely in God’s will. Discernment itself should not be a stiff, brittle, anxious thing, but—since it too is part of God’s will for our lives—loving and joyful and peace-filled, more like a game than a war, more like writing love letters than taking final exams.

I wrote about holy discernment in a blog two years back that presented thought similar to Kreeft:

https://sameo416.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/tests-of-doctrinal-faithfulness/

“I have known cases where what the patient called his “God” was actually located – up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it – to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him. You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keeping it steadily before his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers “Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be”, our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their merely subjective nature, and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it – why, then it is that the incalculable may occur. In avoiding this situation – this real nakedness of the soul in prayer – you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose.”  -Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

Also influenced by Arthur Manuel’s book, “Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-up Call” which I’m reading this week.

Written by sameo416

September 9, 2016 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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