"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for April 2012

You say there is no resurrection of the body…

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20 April 2012, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Easter 3
St John the Evangelist, Edmonton

The books I mentioned are:

The World Turned Upside Down, Melanie Phillips

The Cruelty of Heresy, C FitzSimmons Allison

We are continuing in our quick walk through 1 Corinthians 15. Last week we heard Don talk about the essential elements of the resurrection, and we continue on that theme this week. Paul writes a systematic defense of the existence of bodily resurrection. He begins, with the text Don dealt with last week, by setting out common ground and reviewing the evidence. This week he undertakes a dismantling of the heretical teaching of the Corinthians (that there was no bodily resurrection) using formal logic. Next week, Paul argues the reverse position.

Just to review, Don talked about what had happened in Corinth – the belief in a bodily resurrection had been replaced with a spiritual resurrection. The Corinthians had come to focus on spiritual existence over the physical, and were rejecting the physical resurrection. You can understand how a believer falls into this thought pattern – this physical body, winding down, aging, who would want to keep this for eternity? So they instead adopted the image of a spiritual resurrection, a form of angelic existence where the body was not needed or wanted. You can understand the desire to rid oneself of all the badness that the physical world contains: decay, sickness, disease…but to do so at the expense of Christ’s physical body is to commit a grievous error, something the church since the earliest times would have considered a heresy – wrong belief. Although it is considered somewhat of a swear word today, you’ll hear me mention heresy – wrong belief, lots.

Paul’s attack on this wrong thinking is presented in rhetoric, an argument formulated in formal logic. You can tell that Paul is well educated, and schooled in the art of argument, for in our reading today he argues the consequence of the Corinthian’s denial of the resurrection of corpses. If you have studied formal logic, you can see that verses 12 through 19 can be nicely diagrammed to represent a well-structured logical argument. So, I’ll start by talking about that argument, and then finish with some talk about the impact that wrong belief, heresy, has on the believer. Our thought about God, about Jesus, about resurrection and salvation has real impact on our lives – and it can form for us a source of great joy and freedom, but also can be a source of great shame. The way of heresy is death and despair.

Let there be no doubt that Paul is discussing bodily resurrection. He uses the Greek word (νεκροσ – nek-ros’) which describes a physical body, dead, whose soul is in either heaven or hell. This is the root word for several English words – necrotic, necropsy. Paul is literally describing the resurrection of corpses. I suspect, given the wrong belief of the Corinthian Christians on this part of the faith, Paul is doing this deliberately to hammer his point home. He is using language offensive to the Corinthians to emphasize his argument. They would have heard this as corpses getting up and walking around, which is not what we understand as resurrection – which is the literal remaking of all we are, through Christ, into eternity.

Paul sets out a logical premise in verse 13: if there is no resurrection; then not even Christ has been raised. And, if Christ is not raised then (comes the logical conclusion to the argument):

– Our preaching is in vain (useless)
– Your faith is in vain (useless)
– We misrepresent the faith (we are liars)

Paul uses the word translated “in vain” many times to make his point that without the bodily resurrection, all that has been said and taught is empty and useless. At the end of chapter 15 we’ll hear him say that in Christ our labours are not in vain; and Paul wants to know that he has not run the race in vain; and that by holding fast to the faith, he will know he has not laboured in vain (Gal 2:2; Phil 2:16). Paul keeps using the word over and over because of the great darkness that ultimately comes from the Corinthian’s heresy: a life that is empty, meaningless, wasted and worthless. If the resurrection isn’t true, Paul asks, why bother? Indeed, if the resurrection isn’t true, then the Body of Christ here today becomes more like a civic club than an actual place of physical and spiritual transformation. Church or Toastmasters – they’re just about the same.

Paul then restates the argument from the perspective of the dead: if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised. And, if Christ has not been raised, then:

– Your faith is futile

Your faith is futile, and Paul builds on his previous use of the word vain here. The word means idle, empty, useless, powerless, and is an accurate description of a faith which has no resurrection. Again Paul asks the question. Why bother? He goes on. If Christ has not been raised then:

– You are still living in sin (no forgiveness)
– The dead are lost for ever

The result of the Corinthian’s wrong belief in a spiritualized resurrection led to consequences that cut the heart out of the faith. Most significantly, their loved ones who had already died were gone for good; and their sins continued to have hold over them. Why? If Christ did not physically go to shatter the chains of death, by breaking down Sheol, those who died before the Corinthians great spiritual awakening are gone. This also brings us back to the first chapter of Corinthians where Paul talks about the message of the cross being foolishness to those who are perishing by reason of their wrong belief (1 Cor 1:18).

If Christ did not physically, in human person, bear the sins of the world on the cross, then there has been no propitiation, no substitute to relieve the debt that was owed for our sins. Again we hear Paul’s implied conclusion: if that’s what you believe, why bother? Finally he ends with the kicker:

– We are of most people to be pitied.

That last line is very specific, and the word to be pitied draws us into Revelation 3:17, in the letter to the church at Laodicea. This is a rare word in the NT. It is a significant conclusion that points to the nastiness that goes along with wrong teaching about the nature of Christ, the nature of God. Listen to how the same Greek word is used in Revelation: “15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” If the resurrection is not true, Paul asserts, then we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.

Paul’s idea of the kingdom points to the central importance of the resurrection. Without that important fact, a physical resurrection of a physical God, the intellectual and false spiritual world of the Corinthians must collapse. The Corinthians appeared to think they were leaving their physical bodies behind, and were becoming spiritually perfect beings. They manifested gifts of the Spirit, with no doubt, but those gifts came into a flawed community (as they always are), by God’s grace. Thanks be to God for that. But there are consequences for wrong belief.

We don’t know exactly what it was that was believed in Corinth, but we can infer it from Paul’s argument and the context. As Don mentioned, Corinth was very much influenced by Greek philosophy, which divided the world into the physical and the spiritual. The physical world was imperfect, and at times downright evil; while the world of spirit, thought and idea was perfect and pure. This world view placed the physical body into the realm of corruption, and the ultimate goal was to transcend the physical so as to become a perfected spirit being. The Platonists believed in an immortal spirit, but a perishing body. Paul has commented on the reception of the resurrection in other places, in Athens Paul talks about the resurrection, in response we hear some mocked, while some were interested in this new idea (Acts 17:16-34). There’s little doubt that Paul is engaging the thought of the Greek world throughout his writing, “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’”

The problem in the Corinth church sounds like a very well-known heresy, a form of Gnosticism called Docetism, that is very much alive in the world and in the church today. The formal definitions of heresy arose a few hundred years later, but it is worth talking about because our world view as believers is important. Docetism sees the person of Christ as a spirit being that only appeared to be human – it denied the incarnation, the coming of God in human form. He did not suffer, or if he did suffer, this was only an illusion. Jesus becomes a spirit being who reflects for us what we can become if we manage to escape the shackles of this corrupt physical world. This heresy is attractive because it feeds our need to escape this troublesome world. It allows us to seek God’s image, without having to conform ourselves first to Christ, including his suffering, death and resurrection.

The heresy of Corinth carries with it some serious problems, for once you deny the physical resurrection, you deny the physical crucifixion, which, at its core, is the denial of Christ’s suffering. Suffering is a hard part of the Christian message, so you can see the appeal of a philosophy which allows us to escape Christ’s image, and go directly to God without the intermediate steps of suffering, death and resurrection. What this does is remove the redemption of suffering from the Gospel, and this is a change that can cause considerable damage. Imagine bringing pastoral care to a person dying of a painful disorder, and the best you can offer them is this: well, this is all illusion. If you were more enlightened you would see that, and you wouldn’t be suffering so. In any event, your pain has no meaning. Nice. Contrast this with a soundly orthodox Christian view, where all of our suffering, and the birth pains of this troubled world, are brought into clear meaning through our understanding of the suffering of Christ. Suffering, even while we seek to flee from it, ultimately has meaning within God’s great creation by reason of Christ’s suffering. Do you see the damage that heresy can do to our lives?

On this point I speak from some personal experience, as a person who experiences chronic pain from a lower-back nerve injury. Believe me when I say, that one of the things that allows me to continue to function with constant pain is a clear vision of how my existence is brought into a specific context in the suffering of Christ. I don’t like it, sometimes I don’t understand why I am on this path, but I always know that I’m in holy company with this thorn in my side (or lower back, in my case). (cf. 2 Cor 12:7)

The ultimate consequence of heresy, wrong thought, is despair unto death. At the root of all heresy is an attempt to separate Christ’s human and God natures: some, like the Corinthians, see the goal as becoming spirit; others at the opposite end see Jesus as the one human who achieved perfection, who we, if we only try hard enough, will be able to follow. For Corinth, the result of their wrong belief was the end of freedom from sin and death – as Paul argues, without a bodily resurrection of Christ, this undoes the freedom from sin by grace at baptism; the continued access to forgiveness; and makes the goal of going to glory a lie. Without a bodily resurrection the Corinthians have done themselves out of freedom and joy past, present and future. If we follow the opposite path of ascribing to Jesus full humanity and no divinity, we will conclude the world is awful and we through our own merits will have to fix it. This is the result of heresy: despair, for without the resurrection of the physical body, all faith falls. In Christ, our humanity, our death, and our ultimate resurrection are inextricably bound together.

Now, this is a really critical point, because it tells us something about wrong thought, about heresy, when it comes to belief. We are sometimes quick to adopt thoughts that are heretical, ultimately because we’re trying to make the faith something that is more comfortable, less challenging, and more like the way we would have designed the system if we were God. Heresies feed into our hearts innermost, very human desires: to avoid suffering; to avoid the need for a real change in life or behaviour; to avoid the consequence of a God who knows us better than we know ourselves…including all those deep dark secrets we are loathe to even acknowledge to ourselves. Heresy attracts us because it presents reality to us in the way we would have it; rather than the way God has provided it.

We like to think that we are greatly advanced in terms of thought today, when in many ways we’re right back with the Greek schools of philosophy in Corinth, debating many enticing thoughts, teachings that satisfy our itching ears. Today, under post-modern influences, our culture accepts that there is a plurality of truths, none absolute, but all equally valued. That world view permits us to hold great error in our understanding of God. Julius Caesar was reported to have said, “People willingly believe what they wish.” This is exactly what Paul is facing in Corinth. It is instructive to us, for the siren song that drew in the people of Corinth still works to draw us in today. We don’t talk about heresy much anymore, both because it offends our very polite Canadian approach to disagreement with others; and because of the very post-modern lie that all truth is relative, and all thought has equal validity. This is not what Paul is arguing before the church at Corinth, some comfortable, middle-of-the-road, broad circle that somehow manages to encompass both orthodox Christian belief and the pantheon of new age spirituality, rather Paul is arguing the very reality that is the foundation and the core of our faith. From his letter to the Galatians we know that the physical resurrection and crucifixion of Christ has direct impact on our physical being: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 There is a physical reality about this that changes us, and changes how we live.

One of the characteristics of heresy is its enduring nature, and we can easily find any of the major heresies of the 4th and 5th centuries alive and well and present in the church and the world today. If you’ve read the best seller, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield you’ve seen that heresy at work – if only you find the right road to perfection, through hidden secrets, you will leave behind the physical and become beings of pure spirit. Nope. A recent book in a similar line of thought had this recommendation: find out how to enter the, “New Jerusalem, a city “not built by hands,” to reveal the flawless master plan for healing every unwanted condition, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth! [This book] is for light beings everywhere, and the time has come to realize your true potential.” Such heretical thought is alive and well today, and while it seems comfortable it really brings death.

I talked at Easter about the Vancouver church that had changed the words of the hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” to “Glorious Hope is Risen Today” as they wanted no more talk of the resurrected Christ, which they had disposed of as so much superstitious knowledge, and having no place in modern thought. Theologian FitzSimons Allison calls this the “Roger Bannister doctrine of the Atonement” Before Bannister ran a 4-minute mile it was widely believed that such a goal was impossible as the human body could not physically accomplish such a feat. When Bannister did it, everyone believed. For those who gut Christ of his divinity, he becomes a great man who demonstrated that by living the right kind of life you could become divine. Jesus becomes instead the perfected person, who stands as an example of what we can achieve if we but succeed in our quest for goodness. Jesus broke the 4-minute mile, and you can too (if only you train hard enough)! This is the way of despair.

The reason we need to reflect on these questions is because our concept of God reflects how we live our lives. If we believe in a limited God, and have adopted thought that brings us short-lived and limited comfort in this world, this will ultimately leave us in despair and hopelessness. Listen to Paul’s argument, and see if he is speaking to you. Does your belief fulfill Christ’s promise, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”, or does it instead bring hopelessness?

As we hear Paul arguing with the Christians of Corinth about their wrong belief, take this time to consider what it is that you believe. Is Jesus the Son of God, created before all things, the Christ? Do you believe he can save you from yourself? Does the Spirit of that risen Christ dwell within you as we speak? It is my prayer that God will write these truths on our hearts, minds and souls. Amen.

————————————— snip

Bits that didn’t make it off the cutting-room floor:

Heresy, at its core, is a problem of the will. That is, we chose to believe something that gives us a particular benefit. Heresy usually involves some analysis to depict how a particular wrong teaching is supported. Orthodox thought, by contrast, is a matter of the heart, and cannot be mended with logical thinking. Paul attacks Corinth on the same ground they have likely used to develop their over-spiritualized wrong thought, by using withering logic. Orthodox or correct thought about God can start with learning, and logic and reason, but is ultimately a matter of conversion of the heart. When in the 18th century John Wesley, after years as a failure as an Anglican priest, “felt his heart strangely warmed” and realized that God had indeed saved him, that was a conversion to orthodox thought. Heresy, by contrast, is always linked in some way to sin.

Why does this matter? Another very post-modern thought is the right of everyone to hold whatever thought they want, and to be free from interference. I can chose to believe what I want. In one article about this thought, an ethics lecturer is stunned when one of his students asserts that she is not obligated to follow the teaching of science, for she has the right to choose to believe what she wants, even if it is contrary to fact. This lecturer was talking about abortion, and found that student after student preferred either comfortable unawareness or bold-faced denial of plain fact. Read more: http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=19-07-023-v#ixzz1si4pr4W5

Samantha: Yes, but what science says doesn’t matter.
Me: (silent, unsure of an appropriate response to such an assertion)
Samantha: Just because something is true doesn’t mean you have to believe it.
Me: Okay. (I write her last sentence on the board so it’s plain as day.) Are you sure that’s the argument you want to make to defend a right to abortion?
Samantha: Sure. I can go through my life denying what science says is true. I have that right.
Me: Yes, I guess you can. I can refuse to believe, for example, that the world is round. I can insist it’s flat.
Samantha: Exactly.

One other aspect of this I want to emphasize is something that is at the root of all heresy – all wrong teaching ultimately seeks in some way to split apart Jesus from the Christ…to make Jesus all man, with some spiritual aspects; or to make him all spirit with only some phony human aspects. The Corinthians were attempting to make the question one of only spirit, to remove the human, and Paul tells them the ultimate impact of that thought: they continue to be dead to their sins. Without a very human Christ, who dies on the cross on our behalf, there is no real washing clean from sin. The problem with heresy is, at its root, it is fundamentally cruel. While we grasp those ideas because they allow us license to be something other than that which God would call us to, those same ideas, those idols, rather than bringing us freedom instead bring us death.

Just looking at the two extremes, you can see this to be true. If Jesus becomes all human, and blessed by God, we are left with a God who does not really know us, who never became us, and never paid the price for our sin. We instead turn to endless attempts to become a perfect human. A path to despair as it places all the weight for our salvation on our own shoulders, an endless path of trying harder to be good, an impossible task. If we instead opt for the Jesus who is all spirit, and only appeared human, we now have a God who is isolated from the physical and the earthy. This drives us into a place where we focus on nothing but the experience of the spiritual to the exclusion of the physical (much as the Corinthians). Jesus never suffered, and therefore he has no part in our suffering. What a message of despair – rather than seeing our path to a holy death, through holy suffering, to be a preparation for glory and a sharing in the Creator’s suffering, it becomes empty and proof positive that God does not care.


Written by sameo416

April 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm

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Samantha Shrugged

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I’ve been reading this really timeless piece from Touchstone magazine, this time considering the aspect of heresy or wrong thought, and how the human mind is so good at adopting heresy in place of a real understanding of God.

The particular twist in our present era is the post-modern assertion that objective truth does not exist, and that assertions of truth are ultimately all about trying to assert power over others.

Here’s a clip that talks about the place of truth (truth from science in this case):

Samantha: Yes, but what science says doesn’t matter.
Me: (silent, unsure of an appropriate response to such an assertion)
Samantha: Just because something is true doesn’t mean you have to believe it.
Me: Okay. (I write her last sentence on the board so it’s plain as day.) Are you sure that’s the argument you want to make to defend a right to abortion?
Samantha: Sure. I can go through my life denying what science says is true. I have that right.
Me: Yes, I guess you can. I can refuse to believe, for example, that the world is round. I can insist it’s flat.
Samantha: Exactly.

Now, I’ll be one of the first to assert that I’m not sure science is an arbiter of truth, at least not in the sense that I’m using. Science uses a controlled system of observation to validate hypotheses about the world. With much proof, time and the work of many, those hypotheses become theories which are then used to explain the why of the world around us. These form a type of truth, but it is always a truth that is transient and mutable.

However, if a person can dispense with a “truth” of science, what about the real truths in life, those absolute truths that guide our existence? If one can be so fundamentally irrational, I would not have high hopes that any more rigour in thought would come through on big issues like salvation or the question of evil.  (as one scientist said, “Science reserves the right to be proven wrong with each new morning”)

There is a problem of equal danger in today’s world, and that is the use of science to form dogma. The response to the leader of the Wildrose party asserting she did not believe the science on climate change was settled was interesting – she was mocked. Those who did the mocking, I’m certain, did not see the irony in their actions. She was guilty of a modern heresy, the denial of climate change, and that mocking was the treatment given to one who had not yet been ‘converted’ to the new religion. I’m sure the mockers would argue that they were on the side of science, and therefore reason and rationality…even while they were treating that science as something perfect and exact, in spite of the multitude of other voices. Finally, the ultimate irony is that those post-modern thinkers would respond with violence if anyone suggested they were wrong, since all truth has equal value (unless that truth is contrary to what everyone knows to be true, duh!).

NT Wright on the question of Greek philosophy and the culture into which Paul was preaching. There was no resurrection, and also a sharp divide between the perfect spiritual world, and the corrupt physical. We see this thought today in Gnosticism.

Written by sameo416

April 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm

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Easter Hymns

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This one was pointed out by my friendly neighbourhood parish priest. Powerful words written and set to music by: Sidney Lanier, 1880.

Into the woods my Master went,
clean forspent, forspent,
into the woods my Master came,
forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to him.
the little grey leaves were kind to him,
the thorn tree had a mind to him,
when into the woods he came.

Out of the woods my Master came
and he was well content;
out of the woods my Master came,
content with death and shame.
When death and shame would woo him last,
from under the trees they drew him last,
’twas on a tree they slew him last
when out of the woods he came.

Written by sameo416

April 17, 2012 at 7:34 pm

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30th Anniversary of the Charter

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A weekend radio show was discussing the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The show was called ‘Cop Talk’, and is two serving members of the Edmonton Police Service. I quite enjoy the show, partly because it offers an interesting window into the perspective of police officers.

They posed a question – do you think the Charter was a good thing (or something like that). They were very careful to not express their opinion, but I thought they were suggesting it may not have been the best thing…partly because of the number of guilty offenders who had gotten off based on Charter violations.

As an aside, at one point one of them mused it would be better if the Criminal Code was like the 10 Commandments – short statements written on tablets with no case law, as this would make things much simpler.

I almost called in to point out that there is a huge body of “case law” surrounding the 10 Commandments…Hebrew religious authorities have been writing interpretations of Torah (the Law) for thousands of years. There is a huge body of “case law” that relates to how the Law is to be interpreted and applied. The amount of material around Torah makes our Criminal Code, even with all the case law, look pretty straight forward.

It was an interesting discussion, and it made me wonder about the alternative. Would life in Canada be better without the Charter?

It is good to answer that question at least initially by looking at distant history. There was a time in English law when arbitrary detention and torture were common practices. Consider the number of executions for treason (thinking of Henry VIII’s wives here). The Charter assures us of security of the person, which the courts have used to hold law enforcement to an extremely high standard…most recently was an interesting case where the provisions for emergency wiretaps was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Just a few minutes reviewing the case law demonstrates that there is little latitude for law enforcement when it comes to actions that impinge on security of the person (including detention, arrest, search and seizure, breath samples, wiretapping and surveilance). Law enforcement are expected to get it right, or the case will be thrown out.

That’s an extremely unforgiving standard, and I can understand how frustrating it must be for the police. Police operate in a world that is unpredictable, sometimes hostile, and always chaotic and complex. In that dimly-lit, rapidly evolving, “organic” environment, the peace officer also has to be thinking about fundamental rights, and proper process. A huge challenge.

But, and a big but, I’m not sure the alternative – no Charter, no security of the person – is really Canadian. The usual argument is that police can be trusted to not abuse their authority. Unfortunately, even recent history shows that not to be true…we’ve recently seen police being less than truthful about things they’ve done. Those are in the great minority of interactions, but they still happen.

In my business, we operate with a presumption of honesty. That is, we don’t swear witnesses under oath, because we presume that appellants tell the truth. My last police encounter (reporting a minor accident at a station) evolved into the constable telling me that he had determined the minor damage on my bumper was old damage, and could not have been caused by a collision a week earlier. When I told him I didn’t appreciate being called a liar (and attempting insurance fraud) he got very angry, and turned and walked away. I come to report an accident, as required by law, and the presumption was of dishonesty.

Police are human, and will make mistakes, and will have bad days, just like me. Until they achieve a degree of perfection, we should probably continue to keep the Charter around.

Written by sameo416

April 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm

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Easter Homily: Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, 407

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(translation: André Lavergne)

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary from fasting?
Let them now receive their due!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the feast!

Those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.

Those who have tarried until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.

To one and all the Lord gives generously.
The Lord accepts the offering of every work.
The Lord honours every deed and commends their intention.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward.
Rich and poor, rejoice together!

Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!
You who have kept the fast, and you who have not,
rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!

Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s goodness!

Let no one grieve being poor,
for the universal reign has been revealed.

Let no one lament persistent failings,
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Saviour has set us free.

The Lord has destroyed death by enduring it.
The Lord vanquished hell when he descended into it.
The Lord put hell in turmoil even as it tasted of his flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, were placed in turmoil when he encountering you below.”

Hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed.
Hell was in turmoil having been mocked.
Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed.
Hell was in turmoil having been abolished.
Hell was in turmoil having been made captive.
Hell grasped a corpse, and met God.
Hell seized earth, and encountered heaven.
Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see.

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are cast down!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life is set free!
Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead.

For Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Christ be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!

Written by sameo416

April 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm

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Schedule of Readings Easter – Trinity

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For the season of Easter, we’ll be working through 1 Corinthians 15 as our focus. For the season of Pentecost (10 June to 2 September) we’ll be working through 2 Corinthians by chapter and verse.

April 15, 2 Easter; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:19-31

April 22, 3 Easter; 1 Corinthians 15:12-19; Luke 24:13-35

April 29, 4 Easter; 1 Corinthians 15:20-34; Luke 24:36-49

May 6, 5 Easter; 1 Corinthians 15:35-49; John 21:1-14

May 13, 6 Easter; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; John 11:23-27

May 20, Ascension; Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:46-53

May 27, Pentecost, Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-16:15

June 3, Trinity; Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17

Just in case you wanted to read ahead. The date names are taken from the liturgical calendar, that breaks our year up into church seasons which reflect the major feast days and broad thematic focuses. Trinity Sunday marks the first Sunday after Pentecost.

In the ‘mainline’ churches, the readings are normally taken off the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which provides a listing of readings throughout the year by season. That lectionary (or schedule of readings) is used by most liturgical churches (those that follow a set pattern of worship). This includes Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, United, Baptist (I think) and others. The cycle is three years long (Year A, B, C) and then repeats.

The RCL was intended to provide a consistent focus across denominations week by week. I’m not sure why that was a salutary goal. At St John’s we often leave the lectionary to follow a thematic season of teaching. We just came through reading Mark cover to cover, will focus on 1 Corinthians 15 (all about Jesus, so an Easter theme), and will read all of 2 Corinthians through the season of Pentecost.

The RCL has some problems – it leaves out big chunks of the Bible, and has a tendency to snip out difficult or challenging passages. It also frequently fragments a reading so badly that violence is done to the overall context. At times it is difficult to pull a consistent teaching theme across more than a few Sundays, as the readings also tend to jump around. It is very powerful to preach a series based on a comprehensive look at a book of the Bible. My own experience preaching through Mark in the past 4 months is that there were things I had never picked up on before, because the RCL fragments the book and leaves some parts out all together. The RCL also prefers some gospel accounts over others, so as you’ll see below Mark’s parable of the sower is left out.

Just by example, here’s what the RCL leaves out of of Mark:
Mark 3:1-5 Lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
Mark 4: 1-25 Parable of the sower/mysteries of the kingdom
Mark 6: 1-13 A prophet is without honour in his hometown
Mark 8: 1-26 Feeding of the 4000, missing loaf in a boat, healing of the blind with spit
Mark 9:1 I tell you, some will not taste death before the kingdom comes
Mark 10:1 Where they were walking
Mark 11:20-end The withered fig tree, questions of authority
Mark 12: 1-27 The owner of the vineyard and the evil tenants, taxes to Caesar, seven brothers

The sad thing is that the RCL has become in most circles an unalterable rule (from bishops) that is passionately defended (by some preachers). It is a rule of man, made to build up the Body of Christ. If it is not building up the body, or a particular community has different needs, it is alterable. Unfortunately, the RCL has become an issue of idolatry for some. I have learned so much from our preaching series at St Johns (speaking as a preacher), that I’ve been fully converted as to the power of thematic series.

Written by sameo416

April 9, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Are You Getting Ready for Glory?

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Preaching through Mark. 8 April 2012, Mark 16, Easter
(updated to reflect the delivery – web links are mostly in the post below)

Recall the most frequently asked question by children on a long car trip: “Are we there yet?” Today I can answer that question “We’ve arrived.” “We’re here!” And as Christians have greeted each other for centuries, so too I greet you: Alleluia, Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia). Today, on the great feast of Easter, we’re finishing our walk through the Gospel of Mark with chapter 16 – the resurrection and the ascension, along with first appearances of the risen Lord and the Great Commission. We’ll talk more about that question “Are we there yet?” a bit later, as we discuss our journey of belief.

This focus arose out of an article about a Vancouver church that had changed the words to the great resurrection hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” to “Glorious Hope is Risen Today.” When a reporter asked the pastor why, her response was that her community had no time for miracles, just morality. The main focus of their community was on how they would, through their human efforts, transform the world into heaven on earth. This is heresy, if that slipped past you, and not the sort of think a Christian would proclaim. Our focus on belief today is to counter some of the danger that arises from a culture that is hostile to believers, and from other believers who are hostile to the faith once given and received.

What we will do today is walk through the reading to talk about some of the things that are said, and how they are said, for those details provide us rich earth to mine as we consider what exactly this resurrection means to us. After that I’ll step us back and talk about the real issue that comes before us as we are confronted with our Lord’s Easter spectacle – what is it that you believe? This may be challenging, but it cuts to the heart of who we are as the Body of Christ. As Paul was a witness to the truth (Acts 10:34-43), we too are called to be witnesses to the truth of Christ.

This is one of the places that anti-Christian voices attack the faith, by seeking to transform what we’ll talk about today into mystical, metaphysical and moral truths or quasi-scientific conclusions that can be disposed of, as someone like Richard Dawkins attempts to do. I’m thankful for Dawkin’s shrill voice at times, because he offers up in plain view an attitude that helps us look inward, to ask ourselves the central question for a follower of Christ – what is it that I believe? What do you believe? Do you believe that what you believe is really real? Or have you taken on a safe faith, that is based on Jesus the good teacher, an extraordinary man to be sure, but by no means the Son of the Living God? Do you respond to the Gospel, along with Bart Millard by singing, “Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?” or do you, along with many people of ‘faith’ consider the story of Jesus to be nothing more than “An Honest Account of a Memorable Life” but not the incarnation? (with apologies to Reynolds Price) Or do you, along with Eckhart Tolle and the “new age” spirituality, only extract only the parts that you find useful and discard the rest?

With those quite simple and non-threatening questions hanging in the air, let’s look into the text.

When we read through Mark chapter 16, one of the first things that strikes me is how it reads like a historic narrative. I’m a great fan of military history, and I could easily place chapter 16 alongside many narrative accounts of personal experience. Without even starting on textual analysis, the first 13 verses read like someone’s account of actual events, events that can be placed on the timeline of history – not abstractions, or metaphysical archetypes, or symbols, but an account written to document events.

Listen to the language used: when the Sabbath was past, three named woman (the two Marys and Salome) went out very early, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. This is not far off the standard we would expect in a police report. It continues: the woman’s first concern is not metaphysical, philosophical or abstract, but the very practical question – what are we going to do about that honking great stone blocking the entrance? Their goal that morning was equally practical, their leader and friend had been murdered, and the purity laws prohibited them from making the proper burial preparations. He had been buried with dispatch, but not with devotion. As their last physical act of love, they were going with a bunch of spices to finish the preparation of Jesus’ body. There is no talk about God, about the Messiah or about a coming age of glory for Israel, but about the harsh realities of this world, which we know to be at times a place of great sorrow, this ‘vale of sorrows or tears’ as the psalmist calls it. These brave women enter into the tomb, the place of death and loss, only to find that it contains nothing but life.

When they arrive at the tomb they are confronted with a series of unexpected events, which are reported in the same factual manner: the very large stone is rolled away, a young man is sitting in the tomb, on the right side, dressed in a white robe. There is no interpretation presented to help us understand the account, any suggestion that this might be an angel is left to our own minds. This again reads like a police report: when I attended at the tomb I noted a single young adult male, seated at the right side of a stone bench located on the adjacent wall. The young male was wearing a one-piece white garment of unusual brightness. That young man answers with facts: You seek Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here. Look where his body was laid. Go. With each encounter, the end is a sending: go, tell.

This factual accounting can be a challenge if our faith is based on comfortable nonsense about the person of Jesus. It is difficult to permit that comfortable nonsense to rest unchallenged faced with such an account. Rather, this blunt, stark historic narrative pushes us into a place where we either have to accept the account, or we reject outright as a fiction or metaphor. I don’t see there being a safe middle ground here – either we accept that the two Marys and Salome encountered this young man clad in white, or push it into the realm of fiction. How we view this narrative, casts a bright light back on our own faith. If we are labouring under a faith that is syncretistic, a nice way of saying we’ve created our own faith by cobbling together bits that are satisfying to us, today’s reading should be a challenge. This honest account continues in a similar factual vein, offering us a listing of appearances of the risen Christ: first to Mary Magdalene, next to two of them, and finally to the eleven. How do I know this is true? Well, we’re told that many saw him after they knew he was dead. I’m not going to follow this with an apologetic as to the historical truth of Mark’s gospel – this has been well-done by many others. I have no problem, along with St Paul, accepting the truth of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-11).

After the encounter at the tomb, these three women flee in trembling and astonishment, and they tell their story to no one because of fear. A reasonable response – think about arriving at the graveside of a family member just buried, or looking for the urn of ash after a loved one’s cremation, and instead finding a young man dressed in white who says: why are you looking for the living among the dead? Our response would likely be trembling, astonishment and fear – and yet, that encounter is the one we should expect as Christians, for that is what we are travelling towards. Our Mike Chase captured this nicely in his song Mrs Smith when, much to the surprise of the congregation, one of their own is resurrected after three weeks in the crypt (you can find it on iTunes). That is what we are waiting for, and that is what we are about today.

After Jesus the Christ appears to one of the Marys, she tells the disciples what had happened as the three women had originally been commanded. The response of the disciples is the response of the world, “When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.” They mourned and wept, stuck on and grieving a past image of Jesus that was no longer true. They would not believe it. // What do you believe?

Next Jesus the Christ appears to two of the disciples, who go back and tell the rest what had happened, and receive the same response. They would not believe them. // What do you believe?

Finally Jesus appears to the whole group, the eleven, and rebukes them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen. // What do you believe?

Yet on the heels of that rebuke comes what we call the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Christ’s conclusion to the Great Commission is a simple summary of the entrance test to join the Body of Christ. As much as we try to complicate salvation, and to make the faith a thing of intricate complexity, it comes down to the simple truth of Christ’s words: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Our test of faith? Baptism and belief (and I’ll note that baptism does not always literally mean a pouring of water is necessary). The reading from Acts tells us that those who believe in Jesus will receive forgiveness of sins through Christ’s name. Belief is the key. What do you believe?

What we’ve been reading is not metaphysics or metaphor, but about particular things that happened, in a particular place and in a particular time, whose impact we continue to feel to this day. It’s the reason we’re all here right now. The most important thing that happened was this incarnation, the coming of God in the flesh, to do the one thing we could never do ourselves: saving us from sin and death. That claim turns on one point, which is consistently attested throughout the New Testament and was accepted without question in the early church and by those who had been first-hand witnesses: God raised Jesus from the dead. That incredible truth, by reason of its existence, brings home another incredible truth for all of us: that same promise is made to each one of us.

Now, let’s talk about what we’re all about by building on this foundation of belief. Belief is ultimately a calling to preparation, and the answer to the question ‘Why are we here?’ is very much ‘to prepare’. This follows closely on Don’s message from Good Friday: the purpose of living a Christian life, a holy life, is ultimately to prepare us for a holy death and the promise of the resurrection of the body that follows. Over the past few months we heard watchwords many times in Mark’s writing: Keep alert! Be aware! Do not sleep! Keep watch! For you do not know! The call is to preparedness, and the image Mark paints is of a believer poised in the starting gate of a downhill ski race, every muscle poised for the start. Get ready!

I started out by mentioning the one question associated with travel and children, “Are we there yet?” and I return to is as this question marks the core of our faith. My friend Joe Walker captured this beautifully in a piece he wrote for Holy Saturday last Easter, just before he began his own walk into glory, where he drew a powerful parallel between family trips, and the question repeatedly shouted to the Father, “Are we there yet?” His answer, ultimately, “I am here. Soon, I will come for you.” This is still up on Joe’s blog, and it is worth a read as it is one of the most beautiful pieces of prose I’ve encountered. This yearning for arrival is what defines us, and the reason we worship, sing praises, pray, read Scripture, listen to sometimes tedious preaching, and live in sometimes challenging communities of faith is because this is the journey, our journey of preparation for that arrival. The question on our lips to the Father is always, “Are we there yet?” and His answer, at least this side of our own glory, is “I am here. Soon, I will come for you.”

Singer Ingrid Michaelson captured this beautifully. I don’t know of her belief, but as I was writing the text about “Are we there yet?” I was shocked to hear the lyrics from her song, “Are we there yet?” playing on my computer. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives gentle suggestions, and other times it hits you in the middle of the chest. The chorus contains a refrain full of yearning and great expectation:

They say that home is where the heart is
I guess I haven’t found my home
And we keep driving round in circles
Afraid to call this place our own

And are we there yet?
And are we there yet?
Home, home, home

That refrain reflects the refrain of the believer’s heart, our constant petition to the Father, “Are we there yet?” and our sense of longing for the home promised to us, that house of many rooms where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. What we are to be about in the meantime, I found captured in a different song, by Carolyn Arends, and sung by Steve Bell, “Getting ready for glory.” The song was based on a story told by Steve Bell about his grandmother. After thinking how she must be lonely all day, Steve Bell asked her a question. He asked, “Gee, Nanny, what are you doing with your time these days?” She replied that she was actually quite busy, learning as many Psalms and great old hymns as possible, preparing for Glory. Carolyn Arends wrote that into a song:

She’s getting ready for glory

She knows all of the verses to How Great Thou Art
And her soul, it doth magnify often
And she’s gonna keep learning the Scriptures by heart
Till the day she is laid in her coffin
She wants to be sure when the angels come take her
That she’s got some greetings for meeting her Maker

She will tell us if we’ll only listen
It’s not about dying, it’s all about living
And whether you’re young or the end’s getting near
There’s just one reason why God has us here

We’re getting ready for glory

There is no better focus for us this day, on our high feast of Easter, than to consider our own belief, and to ask how are we getting ready for glory?

The urgency we’ve heard in Mark’s gospel over these past months, the terse images, the challenges and miracles, the watchword to “Keep watch” have all been driving to one point – the fulfilment of Christ’s earthly ministry with his death, resurrection and ascension. This message also tells us that we are to be all about the preparations for glory.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:16-21)

Snips that did not make it into the final version:
More on this in a moment, as we need a quick side trip here.
What follows is a list of some of the things that mark those who believe: casting out demons, new languages, poison drunk, healings, and the handling of poisonous snakes without fear. I just wanted to comment on this text, as this has led to some prescriptive interpretations…for example, it is common in some faith traditions to require some specific signs to confirm belief like speaking in tongues. This is an area that demands some caution – spiritual gifting is what we’re talking about, and these are given to members of the body of Christ to fulfill the needs of that body. To expect a particular gift to be held by all as proof of belief is not consistent with Paul’s teaching in the epistles – that’s not how spiritual gifts work. Some of us may have the ability to drink poison, not suggesting you test that out today, but it is not to be expected that those gifts are displayed by every member of the body…rather, those gifts ‘accompany’ those who believe for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.
We do know this, in Paul’s words in Galatians, that Christ’s crucifixion was about us. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Written by sameo416

April 8, 2012 at 4:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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