Tag Archives: Church

Advent Through the Centuries – the fourth century

I missed yesterday! here is the update for the 3rd and 4th centuries of the Church. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 3
The third century of the Church

Scripture:
Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26

Yes, people of Zion living in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will be gracious to you when your cry for help rings out; as soon as he hears it, he will answer you.

When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the water of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes.

Your ears will hear these words behind you, ‘This is the way, keep to it,’ whether you turn to the right or the left.

He will send rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the bread that the ground provides will be rich and nourishing. That day, your cattle will graze in wide pastures.

Oxen and donkeys that work the land will eat for fodder wild sorrel, spread by the shovel-load and fork-load.

On every lofty mountain, on every high hill there will be streams and water-courses, on the day of the great slaughter when the strongholds fall.

Then moonlight will be bright as sunlight and sunlight itself be seven times brighter — like the light of seven days in one — on the day Yahweh dresses his people’s wound and heals the scars of the blows they have received.

Reading: 
Origen, Homily on Luke. Full text not online – expanded text here.

Now let us turn to that part of the prophecy which also concerns the coming of Christ and see whether this too has been fulfilled. The text continues: Every crooked way shall be straightened. Each one of us was once crooked; if we are no longer so, it is entirely due to the grace of Christ. Through his coming to our souls all our crooked ways have been straightened out.

If Christ did not come to your soul, of what use would his historical coming in the flesh be to you? Let us pray that each day we may experience his coming and be able to say: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Jesus my Lord has come, then. He has smoothed out your rough places and changed your disorderly ways into level paths, making in you an even unimpeded road, a road that is absolutely clear, so that God the Father may walk in you and Christ the Lord make his dwelling in you and say: My Father and I will come and make our home in them.

One of the earliest Christian inscriptions, dating to the 3rd century.

One of the earliest Christian inscriptions, dating to the 3rd century.

Prayer:
Attributed to Cyprian of Carthage, c.200-258

Most gracious Father, bless with Thy special care all penitentiaries and homes of refuge. Look with pity upon those who are housed there. Guide and protect those who have returned to the world. Grant all of them true contrition for past sins, and strengthen them in their good resolutions. Lead them along from grace to grace so that by the help of the Holy Ghost they may persevere in the ways of obedience and humility, and in the struggle against evil thoughts and desires. Grant the Holy Spirit to those engaged in teaching and training them, that they might have a right judgment with respect to those entrusted to them. May they labor for love of Thee with deep humility and singleness of purpose, purity of heart and life, and true zeal for Thy glory and the salvation of souls. Give them faith and love to sustain them in disappointment, love and patience toward those under them, and in Thine own good time crown their work with an eternal recompense. This we ask in the name of Thine only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

Sunday, December 4
The fourth century of the Church

Scripture:
John 1:1-5

Matthew 3:1-12

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he proclaimed this message in the desert of Judaea,’Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.’

This was the man spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said: A voice of one that cries in the desert, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’
This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather loin-cloth round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones.

Even now the axe is being laid to the root of the trees, so that any tree failing to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is more powerful than I, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

Reading: 
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45, c.380 AD. Full text here.

And that was that the Word of God Himself, Who is before all worlds, the Invisible, the Incomprehensible, the Bodiless, the Beginning of beginning, the Light of Light, the Source of Life and Immortality, the Image of the Archetype, the Immovable Seal, the Unchangeable Image, the Father’s Definition and Word, came to His own Image, and took on Him Flesh for the sake of our flesh, and mingled Himself with an intelligent soul for my soul’s sake, purifying like by like; and in all points except sin was made Man; conceived by the Virgin, who first in body and soul was purified by the Holy Ghost, for it was needful both That Child-bearing should be honoured and that Virginity should receive a higher honour.

He came forth then, as God, with That which He had assumed; one Person in two natures, flesh and Spirit, of which the latter deified the former. O new commingling; O strange conjunction! The Self-existent comes into Being, the Uncreated is created, That which cannot be contained is contained by the intervention of an intellectual soul mediating between the Deity and the corporeity of the flesh. And He who gives riches becomes poor; for He assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the riches of His Godhead. He that is full empties Himself; for He empties Himself of His Glory for a short while, that I may have a share in His Fulness.

art of the healing of the bleeding woman, from the fourth century.

Art of the healing of the bleeding woman, from the fourth century.

Prayer:
Basil of Caesarea, 329-379

Arising from sleep I thank you, O Holy Trinity,
that, for the sake of your great kindness and long-suffering,
you have not had indignation against me,
for I am slothful and sinful,
neither have you destroyed me in my transgressions:
but you have shown your customary love towards man,
and have raised me up as I lay in heedlessness,
that I might sing my morning hymn and glorify your sovereignty.

Do now enlighten the eyes of my understanding,
open my ears to receive your words
and teach me your commandments.

Help me to do your will,
to sing to you,
to confess you from my heart,
and to extol your All-holy name,
of Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
now and for ever,
and unto the ages of ages.

Amen.

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Advent Through the Centuries – the sixth century

Friday, December 6
The sixth century of the Church

Scripture:
Jeremiah 33:14-16

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Reading: 
Caesarius of Arles, c.470-542 This was written sometime after 501. Full text here.

And although it befits us at all times to be adorned and resplendent with good works, most chiefly on the day of our Lord’s Nativity ought our works (as Himself also says in the Gospel) to shine before men. Consider, I entreat you, brethren, when any man in power or of noble birth desires to celebrate his own birthday, or that of a son, how diligently for many days before he looks to what is filthy in his dwelling, and orders to be cleansed whatever he sees filthy in his house; ids what is trifling and unbecoming be cast away, and what is useful and necessary set forth; the house, too, if it be dingy, is whitewashed; the floors are swept with brooms, and strewed and adorned with various flowers; and whatever serves to gladness of mind and comfort of body is provided with all care.  And why all this, beloved brethren, but to celebrate with joy the birthday of some perishable mortal?  If, then, you make such preparations on your own birthday, or that of a child, O how many, and of what kind, should be your preparations for the Birthday of Your Lord?  If you prepare this for a mortal, what ought you prepare for the Eternal?  Whatever, then, you would be unwilling to find, so far as you can help it, in your dwelling-house, strive that God find not in your soul.

Were some earthly king, or master of a family, to invite you to his birthday feast, with what garments would you study to go adorned-how new and clean; nay, how gorgeous-that so neither their oldness, nor their homeliness, nor anything filthy about them might offend the eyes of your host!

As often, then, as you lay yourselves out to celebrate either the Lord’s Nativity, or any other solemnity of the Church, before all things flee drunkenness, withstand anger, as if it were some sort of raging beast; drive out of your hearts all hatred, as ye would some deadly poison; and let there be among you such love as reaches not to your friends only, but to your enemies as well; that so you may say, in the Lord’s Prayer, with a safe conscience, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. For I know not how a man came come clear to the Lord’s Altar, who is conscious of owning a grudge to any single person; more especially when St John the Evangelist exclaims, in fearful words, Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.  And I leave it to you to judge, whether a murderer, before he has done penance, should venture upon receiving the Eucharist.  Holy John, too, cries aloud, saying, He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. And again, If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he who loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? Whoever, then, cherishes hatred or anger in his heart, and by thunders like these is neither frightened nor awakened, is to be accounted not asleep, but dead.

Sixth century Coptic icon depicting Christ and a monk.
Sixth century Coptic icon depicting Christ and a monk.

Prayer:
Attributed to Columba of Iona, c. 521-597

My dearest Lord.
Be Thou a bright flame before me.
Be Thou a guiding star above me.
Be Thou a smooth path beneath me.
Be Thou a kindly shepherd behind me.
Today and evermore.

Advent through the centuries, preamble

Tomorrow morning this blog roars back into action! Make a bookmark! Dust off your RSS readers! (Does anyone use an RSS reader any more?) Tune in! Subscribe!

This is going to be the plan for the next 24ish days. Every day at 7:30am (starting tomorrow!) this blog will have a series of readings related to Advent. Each day will follow a century of Church history, starting tomorrow with 0-100, continuing on Monday with 100-200, etc. each reading will have a short passage of scripture, a reading from a theologian from that century, and a prayer that originated in that century. So, for example, tomorrow’s post contains a reading from Romans, a reading from the Didache (an early church document originating around 70AD), and the Lord’s Prayer.

These readings are usually going to be reflections on Advent specifically, but not always. A wide variety of theologians and prayers will be used – I’m trying to cover as wide a swath of denominations, etc. as possible. Please read along, comment, and share them on Facebook – I’m really excited about this.

See you tomorrow! (PS, if you have a favorite theologian from between 500 and 600AD, let me know?)

Patriotism to Yahweh: The Shema – Deuteronomy 6:4-15

This is a sermon I gave this morning at Emmanuel Mennonite Church. I had a lot of requests from people that wanted to read it, so here it is, slightly edited for ease of reading. I should have an audio recording up in the next week as well!

 

update: the sermon can be listened to here: http://www.emmanuelmennonite.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/July-14_2013-message.mp3

Don’t Forget: Patriotism, Table worship, and the Shema

This morning I’m speaking on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and a little bit past that as well. To be honest, I wasn’t that excited about this passage when I first began to look at it. I thought that it was obvious – Love God. Great, thanks. Well, that’s the shortest sermon ever. But as I read it over and over, and as I spoke about it with others, new depths were revealed.

 

One note before we get started. We all come to the text with biases and baseline observations. One of the biases that I have is that I see the entire story of Scripture as being a story of redemption, of God drawing His people into a relationship with Himself. I see this everywhere I look, from Genesis to Revelation. God desires to be known by us, to be father and friend and king. And this passage that we’re looking at today, the very heart of Old Testament theology, is a prime example of this. ‘Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, The Lord is One.’

 

First, we’re going to start with a look at the passage itself. If you have your Bibles, you can turn to Deuteronomy 6, and we’re starting in verse 4. I’ll also have the passage up on the screen.

‘Hear oh Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.’

This is a fascinating passage. So simple, but with so many layers. It can also be read a number of different ways – for example, an alternating reading is ‘Hear oh Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord alone!’ or ‘Hear, Oh Israel, The Lord our God is the Only Lord, or even Hear oh Israel, The Lord our God is One Lord.’ This declaration, called the Shema, which is the Hebrew word for ‘hear’ or ‘listen’, is, as I have said, the very center of Old Testament theology. Here, Moses is claiming not only that Yahweh is the God of Israel, but also that he is the ONLY God. In saying this, Moses is simultaneously elevating Yahweh and claiming that faith in any other gods, such as Baal or Molech, is incompatible with worship of Yahweh. This makes a lot of sense, really – At this point in time, the Hebrew people are still wandering the wilderness, a landless people amongst foreign tribes. And soon, they will be entering Canaan, and the temptation will be to intermarry with the locals, taking on their customs and even their gods. Through cementing this declaration at the very heart of Hebrew theology, God, working through Moses, is attempting to prevent his people from being led astray by their neighbours.

But love for Yahweh is not simply about ceremony, or about an emotional experience, but rather about orienting the entire being towards Yahweh. This can be seen in verse 5, which is probably rendered in your Bible as You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. While this is textually correct, we miss some of the nuance here from a straight reading. Let’s start with ‘Love the Lord your God with your whole heart.’ In ancient Israel, the intellect, what we would think of as the brain, was thought to reside in the chest, in the heart. And so talking about the heart was not about an emotional response to Yahweh, but rather an intellectual one. You could say ‘let every thought you think be oriented towards Yahweh.’

The second clause, ‘love the lord your God with all your soul’ is again, about much more than a spiritual experience. The Hebrew people had no concept of a separation between the soul and the body – they were one and the same. And so the best way to understand ‘love with all your soul’ is to think ‘love God with your whole being, with everything that makes you you.’ We could say ‘with your entire consciousness’ or ‘love God with everything that you are.’

The third clause is a little more straight-forward. Loving God with all your might could be understood as ‘Love God in everything that you do, with all the works of your hands’.

So we have ‘Love God with every thought in your head, every fibre of your being, and with every movement you make.’ So, in full, I think this paraphrase helps us capture the meaning of the Shema: ‘Listen, you people, God, your God, is the Only God, the One True God – Love him with every thought, love him with every breath, love him with every movement. Orient your whole life towards Him!’

Not only were the Hebrew people to love god with everything that they were, but they were also to teach others to do the same. ‘Teach [these words I command you] to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fasten them as symbols to your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’

This reinforces the teaching of orienting your entire life towards Yahweh. At every moment God needs to be present – in all your actions, remember him and do what he asks! And there was good reason for this teaching – Israel was about to face challenges unlike anything they had seen before.

‘Then when the Lord your God brings you to the land he promised your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you – a land with large, fine cities you did not build, houses filled with choice things you did not accumulate, hewn out cisterns you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – and you eat your fill, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, that place of slavery. You must revere the Lord your God, serve him, and take oaths using only his name. You must not go after other gods, those of the surrounding peoples, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a jealous God and his anger will erupt against you and remove you from the land.’

God knew what the people of Israel would face when they entered Canaan. He knew that they were going to be installed into a place of power, into a kingdom they did not build, and that power so easily corrupts an unwitting population. It was going to be so easy for Israel to become just like any other nation, to give up the distinctive whole-body worship of Yahweh and to replace it with a ceremonial practice, disengaged from real life. And so God is saying here, again, ‘Remember! Remember the story! Remember how I saved you! Remember how I brought you out of Egypt! Don’t leave anything out! Tell the whole story!’ Unfortunately, It doesn’t appear that Israel paid much attention to the words of Yahweh, as their devotion to lavish temples and a pagan-styled monarchy eventually show. They claimed that Yahweh is the one true God, but all too often they did not act like it. They did not understand that the rule of Yahweh is different than that of any other God. Only after the Temple was destroyed and they were scattered into exile did they begin to tell the story again, and that story kept them rooted in Yahweh. Even today you can find this story being told over and over again every Passover. It’s a story that Jesus would have heard: ‘Remember, we were once slaves in Egypt, and God, the only God, saved us. He is with us, and we must remember him in all we do!’

Why should we care about any of this today? What does it have to do with us, living in the 21st century?

First, the Shema is more than a prayer, and more than a statement. It is a pledge of allegiance. Here in Canada we’re not particularly patriotic, at least compared to our neighbors to our south. But I think the point still stands. When I walked through downtown Vancouver on Canada day, I saw a lot of red and white. Like most things, love of country is not necessarily a bad thing, but it must be kept in perspective. We must remember – there’s that word again, remember – that we are members, first and foremost, of the Kingdom of Heaven. We have no king but Jesus, no Father but Yahweh. Do I love the fact that I can speak my mind and that I have free healthcare? Absolutely. But my love of Canada must come a distant second to my love of Christ and his Kingdom. Anything else is idolatry. Canada will pass away, kingdoms will rise and crumble, but the Kingdom of Heaven will remain, and will thrive, and will restore the world into something incredible and beautiful.

I am patriotic about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Shema is my pledge of Allegiance – ‘Hear, oh Emmanuel Mennonite Church, The Lord our God, the Lord is One! We will love the Lord Our God with all of our intellect, with all of our being, with all of our strength!’ And, to paraphrase Jesus – ‘We will show our devotion by loving our neighbors – our poor neighbors, our rich neighbors, our homeless neighbors, our addicted neighbors, our Hindu and Muslim and Sikh and Baptist and Calvinist and Charismatic neighbors, our homosexual and bisexual and transgendered neighbors, our black and white and brown and every other skin color neighbors – we will show our devotion to God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, as we love our own flesh and blood. I pledge allegiance to the Cross, to the Stone rolled-away, to the empty tomb, and to the Saviour for which it stands! Amen? Amen.

The second thing I think we can pull out of this passage is the difference between what can be called Temple worship and Table worship. I wish I came up with this, but I didn’t – There is a wonderful pastor in the states named Brian Zahnd who inspired these thoughts. See, at Temple worship, the ceremony becomes the thing, and it falls on just a few men to perform the ceremony. Temple worship isn’t about daily living oriented towards God; it’s about atoning for sins and participating in the system. Now, I’m not saying that atonement doesn’t matter – Jesus has absolutely done that work. But what I am saying is that when worship becomes a system through which we attempt to get holy, I think we’ve missed the point.

The Shema teaches Table Worship. Table worship is about orienting every moment of our lives towards the love of God. Table worship means inviting everyone to the table – it’s family dinner, keep one foot on the floor! There’s always room for more. My family is famous for this – I remember multiple times my dad picking up hitch hikers and bringing them home to dinner – having 15 or 20 people crowded around our old dining room table was a common occurrence. This is what I see God saying: ‘Come to the table! Eat! There’s always room. Of course there’s room. We’ll bring in some more chairs, don’t worry! This is what you were made for!’ And Jesus is there, with us, passing the potatoes. We show our love to God by loving others, by giving them a seat at the table, by not requiring more of them than what Jesus required. Remember, Jesus was constantly getting in trouble for eating with tax collectors and sinners. A prostitute washed his feet! And Christ, being God on Earth, by definition perfectly embodied the Shema. His entire life was oriented towards Love of Yahweh, and so He is the perfect example of what this kind of life looks like.

 

Finally, how do we practically connect this with loving the poor and marginalized? I have three suggestions.

First, we need to reclaim the sacred act of hospitality. I want to be honest: It’s really easy to exclude people. It’s really easy to say that we don’t have time or energy to include others, and I am totally complicit in this. My wife and I are huge homebodies. An ideal evening for us is a nice home-cooked meal and an evening of movies or video games. It’s so easy to close the curtains and turn inwards, and pretend like the world doesn’t exist. But what I realized is that when we invite others into our space, and when we accept the invitations that others extend, our lives become so much more incredibly rich. Eating and cooking with friends and neighbors is awesome. When we open our doors, amazing things can happen. Yes, there is risk – relationships and community are always risky – but there is so much joy to be found as well. Let’s engage in hospitality again. The Kingdom of God includes the poor and the marginalized, and not just off in some ministry to the poor, but front and centre. We need to be giving them a place at the table.

Second, we need to embrace the poor by killing the idol of security. Christ brought a new kind of Kingdom, one based on faith and mercy rather than on security and wealth. We need to be saying, ‘yes, in our backyard. If anywhere, we want the poor in our backyard!’ We need to stand up against dehumanizing tactics such as the kind used by this city very recently, from spreading manure on campsites to petitioning safe and affordable supportive housing. I work in a supportive housing building, and I can tell you that they work. They really do. There are some cases where silence makes us complicit in the actions of others, and this is one of those cases. Is Abbotsford going to be a place of refuge for those that have been abused and traumatized throughout their lives, or is it going to be one more place where they are simply not welcome?

And finally, we need to teach our children vigorously what it means to live a life oriented towards Yahweh. We need to show our children what radical hospitality looks like. One of the reasons I was able to move into the Downtown East Side was because my parents prepared the way for me. I spent my childhood with fishermen and loggers, hippies and rednecks, and all were welcome at the table. All were treated with respect. And because my father respected them, they respected him. Everyone was treated as a human, and this taught me to look for the humanity in everyone I meet, no matter what they look like on the surface. I watched this, and learned. We need to be showing our children how to love – otherwise they are going to learn from the world how to hate and discriminate.

So, listen, Oh Emmanuel Mennonite Church, listen, Oh Abbotsford, the Lord Your God, the Lord is One! Love the Lord your God with every thought in your head, every fibre of your being, and with every movement you make. Remember the stories, and tell them constantly – when you eat, and when you sleep, and when you wake and when you walk! Don’t forget! Thank you.

Why do we judge?

This past weekend was the weekend before Haloween, and as such, Gastown was flooded with people. I had the privilege of guiding some college students around the DTES, introducing them to my friends and to my neighbourhood. As we walked back and forth from Hastings to Gastown on that wet rainy night, we saw the crowds gathered, engaging in their vice of choice. On Hastings, the drug pushers and the addicted interacted, exchanging money and favours for a little bit of rock or a shot of heroin. On the streets of Gastown, in front of the Blarney Stone, the Whiskey Bar, and many others, crowds stood in the rain waiting for a chance to enter and imbibe. The girls wearing their ‘sexy’ costumes, the guys staring at them and playing along with the hope of some action (perhaps bought with a few rounds of drinks? hmmm.), the bouncers and the bartenders looking on, ‘just doing their job’.

Are we really that different? Is the upscale really less hurting because they happen to still have some room on their nearly-maxed credit cards for a few rounds of drinks? Besides the legality of the action, I don’t see a lot of difference. This isn’t just about alcohol though; it’s about filling a void.

While for some it’s alcohol, and for another it’s crack, for someone else it might be shopping, or work, or porn, or food. We hurt because we isolate ourselves, and because we have been hurt. We lack compassion because we don’t understand that compassion is being shown to us, if only we are able to accept it.

After a night of revelry, some will return to their rented beds in high-rises, and others will return to their shelter, or SRO, or chunk of cardboard under an awning. In the morning all will be hung over, all will be filled with regret. One group, however, is glamorized for its indulgences, while the other is criminalized.

It comes down to this: Who do we serve? the desire to serve the god of Self is strong. ‘I need this.’ I need that.’ ‘Finders Keepers’ ‘The Early Bird Gets the Worm’ ‘There’s no ‘I’ in Team, but there is an ‘M’ and an ‘E’.’ We are an egotistical and self-indulged people. We have no time for one another, no patience for anyone who thinks a little bit different, no care or mercy for the one who was abused and raped and molested by the very people that were supposed to care, protect, and love.

Why? Why can’t we look past the ends of our noses? Why can’t we engage the other as friend and ally? Why have we built an entire society which believes that helping one another out financially is wrong? I don’t know. I just don’t know. What I do know, however, is that God calls us to each other. He calls us into community, a community that transforms rather than condemns. A community that loves incredibly, stupidly, even at risk to itself. A community that gives passionately, and that loves unequivocally. Our commandments are these: Love God, and love the person in the ditch. The person that hates you. The person you despise. That’s your neighbour. Love them.

And yet our churches are full of ‘good’ people wearing nice clothes and singing songs that have the word ‘I’ in them more often than the word ‘We’… or even the word ‘God’, often. We talk about God ‘blessing’ us, about tithing so that we get something back, about how great we are and how terrible THEY are.

God forgive us. Please, show your mercy.

Christe Eleison
Kyrie Eleison
Christe Eleison

Amen.

Mark 1.16-31

We’re back in Mark – The beginning of Genesis is a lot of information all at once – I think it’s best to take it slow. We’ll come back to the second creation story later in the week, I think. I also need to gather some resources – my memory of OT theology is fading fast.

Anyhow, back to Mark. Here’s the second part of the first chapter of mark – already action-packed. Mark doesn’t take his time! Here it is, from the ESV:

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

This passage has always been very important to me. I grew up in a small village on the west coast of Vancouver Island – a village founded on fishing and logging. Many of the people in my church were fishermen, and my dad worked on and around fishing boats for most of my life. One thing I realized is that fishermen are fishermen (excuse the sexist language) pretty much everywhere you go. Working men, gruff, hardened by a hard life of manual labour. But beneath the hard and sometimes seemingly simple exterior often lies a man of great depth and deep thought. Fishing means keeping to a different cycle of life than others, and it means always smelling funny. Even more so, I would imagine, in the days before proper hygiene and good rain gear.

When I think of Simon (later Peter) and Andrew, and of John and James, these are the types of people I think about. I think about Randy, almost always smiling and working hard on his little boat. I think of his brother Shane. I think of my dad, running his prawn boat up and down the BC coast. I think abou the slightly bawdy jokes told with just a hint of guilt, and the strain of muscles and bones when a haul is being brought in. I think of deep discussions in the middle of the night, talks about life and death and anything else in an attempt to stay awake. I think about the wariness to new ideas that these types of men often have; they have been doing the same thing their whole lives, as have their fathers, and their fathers’ fathers.

And yet, despite the fact that these fishermen were probably fairly traditional in their way of life, they were eager to follow Jesus. It seems like they didn’t need much convincing. Now, maybe they thought Jesus was a revolutionary, come to overthrow the Romans and their oppressive taxation and pagan gods; or maybe they thought he was simply an itinerant preacher, spreading teaching that would traditionally only be accesible by the upper class. Regardless, they followed, because they saw something true, something honest.

21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 

I’m curious who ‘they’ are in this passage – the fishermen brothers? Or others in the synagogue? I’m thinking it’s the brothers, as perhaps this would have been their synagogue – maybe they had come for sabbath learning every week of their lives, taught by the same old men who taught off the scrolls, with no passion in their eyes or true understanding in their hearts. But Jesus… Jesus was something different.

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him andcrying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

This is interesting – The demon is the first besides God to claim that Jesus is Holy. John alludes to it, but here the demon outright says it. Contrast this with the questioning onlookers: ‘What is this?’ Well, the demon seemed to know.

29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

And right away we have the first healing. This is incredible – within half a chapter we have: the Spirit of the Lord descending like a dove, a man teaching with great authority, a demonic exorcism, and a healing. And we’re just getting started. Stay tuned!

Apple, Evangelism, and why I wouldn’t make a good pastor.

Today Apple hosted one of their (seemingly) increasingly common Special Events in California. This time the announcement was a slightly smaller iPad, a slightly thinner iMac desktop, and a slightly higher resolution for their 13-inch macbook pro.

This post is not about any of that. I really don’t care that much about it. A few years ago I would have cared a great deal. I have always loved technology, and to this day Gizmodo.com is one of my most-visited sites. The latest trend became a big deal to me, but over time I have lost a great deal of interest, especially with Apple. They haven’t really been innovative for some time, and in the end, I just want a computer that works. If that’s a mac, fine. If it’s not, it’s not going to break my heart.

This is not what Apple wants. Apple wants me to love my mac, to cherish my phone – it’s even in the name: iPhone. mine. my precious. Not only does Apple want me to cherish their products, they want me to tell other people to cherish their products. In short, Apple would be overjoyed if I (along with everyone else who owns an Apple product) became an evangelist for them, spreading the good news of Mac.

While the content of the Apple Special Event did not interest me, the delivery did. As I watched, something strange stirred within me. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, came to the stage wearing a collared shirt and black slacks.. There was a small cheer, which he quickly quieted. He then began to talk about how amazing the launch of the iPhone 5 was last month. The inflection was on amazing. He gestured with his hands, and gave a very precise and practiced monologue on the virtues of the iPhone 5. As I watched, I began to have deja vu. I had seen this before, somewhere, but could not put my finger on it.

Mr. Cook then introduced a video with some highlights of the iPhone 5 launch weekend, set to a catchy song – Run Run, by The Rival. My jaw dropped. I got it. I knew where I had seen this before. I turned to my wife.

“It’s a sermon.” I said. She nodded in agreement.

Watch it for yourself (you’ll need to download Quicktime if you’re on a PC). Watch the hand movements. Listen to the cadence of Mr. Cook’s voice. Then watch the video he introduces a couple minutes in. Is this not just like any high-powered summer camp promo you’ve seen? Here’s one I found on the web, a promo for a summer camp in the UK. This is just one example, but there are many, many, many more. Watch it here.

Here’s a couple sample sermons, in case you don’t get what I’m talking about. Here’s one by Mark Driscoll, at Mars Hill Church. And here’s one by Greg Boyd and Bruxy Cavey, two very experienced pastors as well. And finally, here’s one by Jeff Bucknam at Northview Community Church in Abbotsford. Coincidentally, and completely by accident, Mr. Bucknam’s random sermon that I linked to is about preaching, or proclaiming the gospel. Listen to the cadence, watch the body language. I’m not talking about the content here, but the delivery. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… but who is imitating whom here? What’s going on?

Maybe there is simply a good way to speak in public and a bad way. Good speakers, regardless of content, speak using an open body posture, by talking with their hands (just a little, not too much), by placing inflection on important words and terms. They talk about past successes (300 baptisms! 200 million iPhones sold!) and future plans. Bad public speakers do none of these things. Perhaps that’s all that’s going on here. They’re all using the same medium (public speaking), and so the message (Jesus, or iPhones) is a moot point – it isn’t affected by the medium.

Prior to moving to the Downtown East Side, and prior to going to Bible School, I went to school and received a two-year certificate in Applied Communications. During those two years I studied video and radio production, desktop publishing and photography. While many of those skills are non-transferrable into my current line of work, they did help me develop a critical eye towards media, and introduced me to a very, very important phrase: The Medium Is The Message.

This phrase was coined by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian media critic and philosopher (and devout Catholic, incidentally). McLuhan was alive during a fascinating time for media, the mid-20th century. He watched radio and TV take hold, and predicted how media would impact the future (there is a fascinating clip of him predicting the fundamentals of the Internet in the documentary ‘McLuhan’s Wake – worth seeing if you can find it). His most famous phrase was the one I just mentioned: The Medium Is The Message. What this means is that the method of broadcasting information actively changes the information being broadcast. The two, the method and the information itself, become intertwined, inseparable. It’s easiest to explain this using an example.

A man and a woman, let’s call them Bob and Jane, walk into a bar and sit down. The bar is crowded and noisy, so the two sit close to one another. Bob says to Jane, ‘I’ve had a busy day, but I’m glad I get to talk to you now. How was your day?’ Bob looks into Jane’s eyes with care and attention; Jane smiles back. Jane replies, ‘My day was fine, but I’m tired.’

Let’s try this again, but different.

Bob is in his car, Jane is at home. Traffic is bad. Bob calls Jane on his Cell, and she answers. ‘Jane, I’ve had a busy day, but I’m glad I get to talk to you now. How was your day?’ Bob is looking ahead, watching the road, talking on his hands-free device. Jane is sitting on the couch, phone to her ear. ‘My day was fine, but I’m tired.’ He can hear a smile on her lips through the inflection of her tone. This makes him happy.

And again. Bob is in his office, Jane is walking home from the grocery store. Bob opens up his email and types.

From: Bob
To: Jane
Subject: Long day

Jane, I’ve had a busy day, but I’m glad I’ve got a few seconds to write. How was your day?
<3, Bob.

Jane, walking home from the grocery store, gets the message on her phone. With one hand, while walking, she replies.

From: Jane
To: Bob
Subject: re: Long day

Fine, Tired now. 🙂
As you can see, the perceived information being sent and received (both had a long day, both were glad to hear from each other) was the same in all three cases. However, due to the change in medium (a crowded bar, a cell phone, an Email message) the message is changed and distorted. In the email response, not knowing Jane’s context, Bob could assume that she is being short with him for some reason. Hopefully you get the idea. The change in medium actively changes the message – in fact, the medium is the message – the message could not exist without the medium.

The same is true here. The medium actively alters the message. We adopt certain media because we believe that they help us convey our message, or because they give us power, or reach a wider audience, or have more convenience, or because it’s the way things have always been done and we just haven’t thought about it. Personally, I think the last statement is the most true when it comes to sermons and presenting the Gospel through a sermon.

Which brings me to my point. I don’t want to be a Christian who spreads the Good News of Jesus Christ through a medium developed and perfected by corporate America. The single-presenter-plus-powerpoint may work perfectly for hyping iPhones or selling computers, but Jesus Is not a product to be sold or hyped. I am not about to go onstage and tell the world how great my wife is… but if you asked me, or if you and I were talking together, I would surely tell you that she’s incredible. I think the same is true about my relationship with Jesus.

This makes me  think about a post my friend Chris Lenshyn posted the other day (Chris is an associate pastor, by the way). I commented on his post about Mennonite Megachurches that we must decide what church is for: Is it information distribution, or is it relationship development? For a long, long time, we have treated church as an information-delivery mechanism, simply an effective medium for transmitting the message of Christ to as many people as possible.

If that is what church is for, how is the church different from Apple? Are we not simply hawking different wares? The question I must ask myself is this: is there something fundamentally different between my relationship with an object (a phone or computer) and my relationship with a living person? If there is a difference, why would I advertise and talk about both in the same manner? Why would I use the same tools to ‘sell’ Jesus as I would to sell an iPhone?

This is especially relevant for me as I am speaking my first sermon at my church in Abbotsford in November. I am going to stand behind a pulpit or a music stand with a microphone, and transmit a message to a roomful of people waiting to receive my transmission. But I’m going to be talking about people! About my friend and saviour Jesus! How do I turn that into a 20 minute information transmission? I could do it by watching Driscoll or Tim Cook – both are masters at information transmission.

If that is what it takes – if being an effective pastor takes being an effective salesman – I’m out. I will not sell Jesus as if He were simply a set of information. I will not trivialize my relationship with him in that way. My relationship with Jesus is not about information transmission – it is about friendship, about trust, about comfort. It is about looking into the eyes of another person and seeing dignity and worth. It is about drinking coffee with a drunk man; it is about playing scrabble with someone who has no home. It is about joy, and peace, love and hope. Is there information involved? Sure. But that information quickly becomes meaningless when removed from the context of relationship. If I introduce you to Jesus, I want to at least know your name first.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense. Let me know what you think – Should there be a distinct difference between the way we communicate our relationship with Jesus, and the way that iPhones are sold? Should we, as Christians, care about the media that we use to communicate? Or am I making a mountain out of a molehill?