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Archive for October 2016

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/

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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

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