A Sermon: We are an Easter People

Delivered at Tyndale University College & Seminary Chapel
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5)

February 29, 2004. A leap year. A terrible day in my own life. I had spent the previous week on vacation at a Wilderness Medicine Course – in downtown Toronto. They do call it the concrete jungle. I arrived home from the course on February 29th, and discovered that hours before, my father had unexpectedly died. God was merciful in allowing me to find him, which was far better than if my mother had.

That evening, my mother, brother and myself found ourselves sitting around the kitchen table, surrounded by a group of friends, police and paramedics talking to the coroner. This particular coroner was very personable and explained what would happen next with my fathers body. What caught my attention was how she described the purpose of the coroners office. She said the purpose of a coroner was to ensure that no death went unnoticed.

An important and vital task to be sure. To ensure that anyone who dies is seen and is treated with respect afterwards. That if anything systemic in nature contributed to their death, an inquest is called to try and prevent it in the future.

This is, I think, similar to the mission of the church. We are called to minister to the lost, the hurting, the marginalized… We are called to make sure people are seen and are known. That they know there are known by one who created and loves them. Most importantly however, we bear witness to death. One specific death in particular. And, not just that death, but the overcoming of death. The overcoming of death for all. The church is Christ’s hope for the world. His hands and feet. His prayer and action. His love made visible and his presence made real.

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:55-57)

Stanley Hauerwas writes:

“…consider how death is reported in the news. Those that produce the news seem to know that we have a morbid desire to know how someone died because, as Tolstoy observed, a passion for finding the “cause” of someone else’s death can be a way of satisfying ourselves that they died accidentally or fortuitously by virtue of special circumstances affecting the one who died (but not me). It seems that we are at once obsessed by death while striving in every way possible to conceal its power over our lives. Accordingly, we ask those charged to care for us when we are ill to do everything they can to get us out of life alive. This is yet another form of self-protection, as it means we then get to blame health care providers for any miseries related to keeping us alive at all costs. Yet the reality of our deaths is hard to repress for a life time.”

It’s not been a kind month for Canada. In early April we lost members of the Humboldt Hockey Team in Saskatchewan in a traffic collision. Two days ago we learned of the devastating attack on pedestrians on Yonge Street. Death isn’t new to me, there’s lots of it when you work in EMS, as I did from 2000-2009. Death is an rude interruption. I remember the first event that really shook me. The first event that sent me looking for the company shrink. I was out with one of those solo paramedics you see driving around in the SUVs. We were dispatched to a car accident. A single vehicle, driven by a young man with his girlfriend beside him. They were driving too fast down a hill and slammed into the corner of a building. Looking at the near lifeless bodies, I was in shock. I don’t know why exactly. Like I said, I’ve seen death before. But this was traumatic. I’ll save you the graphic descriptions, but horrific is a not too exaggerated word. I managed to go to work the next day, but I wasn’t much use.

When I was still in EMS, a frequent questions put to me was “what’s the worse things you’ve ever seen”? I know what they meant, but really? Do they really want to know? Do you want to know what it means to be the stranger who is the last person someone speaks to? The mother holding the dying baby, the suicides, the murders, the executions, the traumas… Do they want to understand the depths of human suffering and misery that exists in the world on a daily basis? I think not. Do you know we used to bury people in our backyards in family plots? Then it moved to cemeteries in town and then some places, to cemeteries out of town. We’ve so sanitized ourselves to the reality that life has a counterpoint called death, that we are uncomfortable even putting a will together.

We get into our patterns and our brains construct models of how we believe the world should work on a daily basis. The floor will stay solid under our feet, the walls will stay up, and the other drivers will stay on their side of the yellow line. These mental models are how we get through life. Even though we know tragedy happens, when it does happen, particularly so close to us, emotions can hit us that don’t normally come up when a similar tragedy seems too distant.

The world will have its own response. But, us, here, in this place, our mission is different. It is in fact, unchanged. Our response is to witness in the best sense of the word. To BE a witness to the violence of this world, to cry the tears, to feel the pain. We are so immune to violence that we don’t always do that. But it’s our job to be witnesses to the suffering of the world and respond to it in love. To show people that this is not how it must be. That there is one who overcame death to show a better way.

If we are disciples of the one who died on the tree, the one who gave up His throne, to come to earth and FEEL (scandalously FEEL) what it means to be human and to suffer, to hurt and love, then we must not turn away from the suffering of others either. Today is the 4th Wednesday in the Easter Season. 4 weeks ago we celebrated the death and resurrection of God’s answer to pain and to tears. Because we have the hope in the one died and rose again to do away with all of it.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. – Revelation 21:4

The world NEEDS to know about Christ. It NEEDS to hear the good news. And it needs to hear from humble, loving Christians. As Billy Graham said “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and our job to love.” It’s our job to love.

In the Gospel of Matthew it says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:4”. Blessed in this context could be otherwise translated as “O, the happiness of OR hail to those”. It denotes a privilege bestowed by God or a recipient of divine favour. It’s a proclamation of exaltation. The least shall be first. God is never closer to us then in these time of uncertainty. To “mourn” communicates that they are not mourning for their own sins, but rather because of the power of the wicked, who oppress righteousness.

God is ever so close when we recognize the powers raging against others. It is in these times where we feel helpless to do anything to help, that we must rely on God as He mourns alongside us. It is a gift to us that because of Christ we know the nature and source of these evil powers. The world believes them to be a product of a deranged individual, a sick mind, perhaps a twisted ideology.

In Ephesians St. Paul tells us that the struggle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12).

So much are we to engage in this spiritual battle, that we recognize our role is different than the worldly response when dealing with our fellow human beings who have committed evil acts.

Again, we turn to the Gospel of Matthew:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

1 John tells us that “17 If God’s love is made perfect in us, we can be without fear on the day when God judges the world. We will be without fear, because in this world we are like Jesus. 18 Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love takes away fear.
19 We love because God first loved us.” It’s our job to love.

In a public address Pope John Paul II said “We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. **“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”. **

Bob Sweetman, a professor at the Institute for Christian Studies writes:
“Halleluia!” we all sing in Eastertide, and “Halleluia!” we mean. But Christ’s victory does not mean our lives become all larks in the shadow of Death. We may fear no evil, or wish we did, but Death is woven like threads into the very fabric of our existence.

“We are creatures whose beauty, whose original very goodness, is fragile. In and of ourselves, we are mortal. Our harmonies are all bound by time and thus only for a time. Everlasting life is not ours by right, as if by virtue of our constitution. The glory of endless communion to be received in Joy can only come as gift. For Thomas Aquinas, the gift was so huge and unimaginable within the confines of our present existence that he couldn’t even imagine it as Grace. No it had to be an even greater thing: surpassing love wrung from the very heart of Glory. We can put his intuition quite dramatically: But for God’s glorious extravagance we would live with Death woven into our sinews even to the end of the age.”

“There is no way of coming into God’s living triumph except through death. Nevertheless . . . “Halleluia!” We people of faith persist in our witness every Easter that God’s love in Christ refuses to accept that stubborn, last barrier; Christ’s resurrection manifests the potency of this divine refusal. Death is conquered, we sing, warmly, year in and year out.”

“We are indeed an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”.
Alleluia
Alleluia
Everyone together… Alleluia

Please stand for the benediction: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

What do we own?

038 038 Christ Ordaining The Apostles

For those who are on up their Catholic networks, we have a network in Canada called Salt and Light Media (similar to EWTN in the US). I picked up a free copy of their magazine today; it was a special issue to commemorate the election of Pope Francis earlier this year. I was reading the article about where Francis came from before his election, etc. One pericope caught my attention in particular:

. . . the Pope is Peter’s successor, the Church’s shepherd and a living example of charity, the guardian of a treasure that does not belong to him: the depositum fidei which it is responsibility to pass on to others . . . 

I thought this was such a great description, that I rewrote it to make it apply more generally to all Christians:

Christians are called to be living examples of charity, guardians of a treasure that does not belong to them: the depositum fidei (deposit of the faith) which it is their responsibility to pass on to others.

That’s a fantastic description of our responsibility and a wonderful reminder that the Gospel we hold so dear, that is so precious, is not ours to hold onto, but it is a gift to be shared, given away; it is the greatest responsibility we can ever take upon ourselves.

Losing Christ and finding Jesus

Losing Christ and finding Jesus

I have modeled my life not after the celestial spirit whom many Christians believe sacrificed himself for our sins, but rather after the illiterate, marginal Jew who gave his life fighting an unwinnable battle against the religious and political powers of his day on behalf of the poor and the dispossessed – those his society deemed unworthy of saving.

This is an interesting take on how one man is following Jesus as man but not divinity.

Read the rest here.

Change wisely

Mountain Church Lisri

This is great article that outlines much of what the struggle I’ve been having with church these days. While I am eternally grateful for my current church for introducing me to Jesus, I crave more. I want deeper, more sacramental, more mystery and majesty, more awe and wonder than my current church can provide. Right now I find the answers in the ancient churches that aren’t so concerned with being hip and with it. If a movie theatre works for you, that’s wonderful, but I think they’re ugly, dark and a bit depressing (a friend recently described it as oppressive going to church in the dark of a theatre), I want beauty, stained-glass, and a crucifix to focus on when I worship, and solemnity and reverence. Then, when that’s over and I’ve been filled with Christ and renewed for the week to come, send me out, put me in the game, I’m ready to serve the world around me.

Andrea Palpant writes:

For more traditional congregations that struggle to keep youth in the pews, take heart. The old model isn’t necessarily lost. Praxis and churches like it have a place — they draw people who would otherwise never set foot in church, people who have a legitimate contemporary aesthetic that appreciates informality and mainstream music. But your church has a place, too.

Consider the changes that people go through between age 22 and 32. Consider that some of us in time renew our appreciation for the strengths of a traditional church: historically informed hierarchy that claims accountability at multiple levels, historically informed teaching that leans on theological complexity, and liturgically informed worship that takes a high view of the sacraments and draws on hymns from centuries past.

You can read the rest here.

Nationalism Remixed

nationalism_20100901083816

Nationalism Remixed

Back in Colossians Remixed Sylvia Keesmaat and I called (in the tradition of Wendell Berry) for an ethics of secession. There are all kinds of ways in which we need to secede from the empire, and refraining from nationalist celebrations would be one of them. You see, not only does nationalism have no biblical merit, any doctrine of ‘exceptionalism’ – whether American, Canadian, Israeli or any other sort – is a decidedly demonic doctrine that will always bear the bad fruit of violence.

Read the rest here.

Given that Canada and the USA are celebrating their respective birthday’s this week, this is a timely post. I’ve often struggled with this notion. On one hand I want to believe it with my whole heart and have refrained from celebrating Canada Day or other national holidays (thanks for the day off with my wife though). On the other hand, I don’t see Christians running to renounce their earthly citizenship. And why should we? The Apostle Paul clearly made use of his Roman citizenship [Acts 22].

So, the real question is this: how do we balance the need to recognize our newfound reality as citizens of the Kingdom of God first and perhaps alone, while still holding an earthly citizenship and apparently not being called to give it up. Do we engage in politics and if so how? If I am a citizen of another country, to what extent do I have the right to critique another country’s policies? How much do I work to change them? Should I? Lots to ponder this week.

When silence speaks louder than words

Pope Pius XII  the people of Rome

Jamie Arpin-Ricci has written a great post about the absolute need to not remain silent in the face of evil. He writes: “what truly stains our hearts is our consistent failure to stand for what is right, in word and in deed.”

He makes an especially important point near the end: “I know that silence has its place and the speaking out can be inappropriate in certain contexts.”

We often forget this.

Occasionally in its history, the church and its leaders have chosen subversive action or overt words in order to accomplish its task. During World War II Pope Pius XII chose refrain from outright statements, while working intensely behind the scenes to save Jews from extermination. At the time he was loudly praised for his actions, but later in more contemporary times came under attack for not issuing more public denials (though he certainly spoke up at times). These attacks are largely understood to be fabrications of Germans and Russians.

“The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas. He is about the only ruler left on the continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all.” – Editorial, The New York TImes. Dec 25,1941.

He didn’t issue them because when he did people died in retaliation. He once sent a letter to read in German church to an Archbishop in Germany (forget which one), and it was immediately destroyed by the Archbishop who sent a reply back saying: if we read this, people will die. In the end his actions saved countless Jews by hiding them in churches, monasteries, and even the Vatican itself. All this with Nazi’s on its doorstep waiting to kidnap him. The Church issued baptismal certificates to Jews so they could claim to be Catholic and they were taught liturgical practices so they wouldn’t “look” too Jewish to the authorities.

This isn’t to say all the actions were appropriate and historians will forever be debating whether he did all he could, but speaking out loudly and vociferously does not seem to have been a useful tool at the time.

“There probably was not a single ruler of our generation who did more to help the Jews in their hour of greatest tragedy, during the Nazi occupation of Europe, than the late Pope” – The Jewish Post. Nov 6, 1958.

The truth must out, but sometimes speaking is not the only way to promote the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ certainly was not afraid to speak up, but he also used actions as well as words. When he was being arraigned in front of the Jewish council, he barely spoke a word. When He raised people from the dead, it was His actions more than His words that raised eyebrows. When we consider our call to promote peace as ambassadors and witnesses of the King of kings, we must consider that we were given a body with multiple ways of engaging with the world. We are also given creative capacity which when we engage it, can produce incredible good or incredible evil.

Whichever way you feel led to promote the cause of peace – do promote the cause of peace. Never remain silent against evil, whether it be with your voice or your actions.

The self-flagellating church: When repentance goes wrong

Image

It has become de riguer these days for the church to apologize for all its various sins, usually the mistreatment of others and to recognize how these actions have set-up walls against evangelization. This is good and necessary work, we’ve brought it on ourselves, but I fear it comes with a dark side.

There are at least three potential downsides that I see:

  • We do it just because it has become culturally expected of us, even if we don’t actually believe we need to repent of anything, and thus we become hypocrites;
  • We repent of something we do acknowledge we have done wrong, but then feel a sense of pride at our actions, thinking we’ve done something extraordinary that deserves accolades; and
  • We see repentance as a one time event and move on never giving it a second thought. Rather, we should see it as a process and the very work of Christ is too lead others to repentance by using our brokenness as an example. Not because we are enslaved by it, but because we are freed by it.

So, yes, we have much to repent of as a church, but we must not wallow in either the misery of it or the pridefulness of doing it. There is work to do.

My wife didn’t like Star Trek: What this teaches us about how we do church

Star Trek movie poster

 

My wife has never been into sci-fi which is heartbreaking because I love it. After hearing of several woman I know who generally didn’t like sci-fi, but did like the 2009 Star Trek reboot, I convinced my wife to watch it with me. My wife was a trooper. She didn’t complain, she didn’t whine, she didn’t say a thing. There was just one consistent question throughout the film: where are we now? There is an awful lot of planet hopping and time travel, not to mention two different Spocks’.. All of this can be very confusing to someone who has no real exposure to the Star Trek original series franchise. I tried to explain to my wife and keep her caught up with the plot, but it was pretty much a loosing battle. Now, my wife is very intelligent woman, but she didn’t have the interest, experience, or insight to know how to understand and interpret what was going on in the movie. Some might say, she didn’t have the hermeneutical key.

I’m sure you can understand how this applies to the church. Are our services decipherable to the newcomer? The unchurched or the lapsed-whatever?

Often times we think these problems are relegated to our brothers and sisters who are a part of the more liturgical traditions. Nay, says I! We all have “issues” in this regard. A young man once walked into the theological bookstore where I work and asked to buy a bible. But, he asked, are the old and new testaments two separate books or one? He had no clue. He didn’t know the first thing about the Bible, Jesus, etc. It was heartbreaking really (this anecdote actually happened to my wife).

Having said that, there are two tensions at play. A church that is really good at handling new comers with kid gloves and introducing them to the faith, in my experience, is often poor at helping those same people, or the people who have lots of experience, go deeper and feel stretched. This is the twin challenge of church. How do you help introduce someone to Jesus and then help those who have long walked with Him, to go deeper in their relationship with HIm and His people.

So, that’s our challenge: How do we introduce my wife to Star Trek, while keeping it interesting for a long time fan like myself?

Hey World, thank you for rejecting ugly Christianity

Hey World, thank you for rejecting ugly Christianity

I have often struggled with the way the world rejects Christianity, historically and to this day. I ask myself why does the world not see beyond the sins of Christians and simply focus on Jesus. Surely, if they were to do that they would be able to step into a love and peace that is beyond their hopes and dreams.

 

I don’t completely agree with some of Steve’s statements, but I think he does hit on something important here.

Christians, don’t blog angry…

Don’t blog angry…

Despite the connections made and lessons learned online, controversy remains the lifeblood of the blogosphere. Indeed, polemics have a long, grand tradition within church history. But when Martin Luther called heretics “asses,” his motive of upholding doctrine wasn’t mingled with the side benefit of driving traffic to his site through sensationalist headlines and reader outrage.