Archive

Monthly Archives: March 2011

One month ago Christina, Bourbon, Baby and I moved to a little community on the east side of downtown Toronto (Riverdale) with three other folks. Our purpose for doing this was multifaceted. I’ve addressed some of the issues specifically on this blog in the last number of months but also, more generally speaking, a number of the themes that I have been thinking/writing/talking about over the last 3-4 years have also shaped this decision.

In some ways we see this as an attempt at resistance. Each of us in the house recognize that there are various powers at work in society. Many stories are being told and these stories form us and shape us. To paraphrase William Willimon, we do not live in a secular society but rather a pagan society. All this means is that many of the stories that are told, that shape us, are detached from the Author of all that is. It’s not that we’re not in communion, we are. It’s not that we aren’t being formed, we are. It’s that all too often the stories that shape our culture are stories of communion that leave out the Creator. And so we worship creation and are thus formed by what we worship, but those things we worship and give our allegiance to are less worthy causes (to be sure, these aren’t necessarily bad things in-and-of-themselves, but when we forget that everything is gift then we can never truly appreciate and love that which is given). So, recognizing that this is indeed the case, one of the reasons we have chosen to embark on this journey is in order that we might begin to consciously resist these patterns that are so prevalent in modern Western culture but which often go unnoticed (or are understood simply as “given”). To the patterns of life that are ultimately dehumanizing we say, together, “no”.

There are, however, more proactive reasons why we’re engaging in this. We don’t want to simply resist (this is reactionary) but we also want to begin to engage in alternate ways of doing things and living in communion. To acknowledge my cards up front this, for us, is something grounded in a firm conviction of what it means to be creatures of a Creator and what it means for these (fallen) creatures to be redeemed and reconciled in the 2nd person of the Triune God, Jesus of Nazareth. The gospel confronts us in such a way that it demands a response. This, for us, is part of that response, a response not just with our minds and our lips but with our lives. How can we re-order and re-callibrate our lives in such a way that as a community we are but a sign, pointing away from ourselves towards the redemptive work of God in Christ Jesus. To be sure, this desire to live in a way such as this is not something generative but rather responsive. We are not naive enough to think that we can build the kingdom of God with our own hands. However, we are naive enough to believe that even now in the midst of death and decay God’s kingdom is indeed bursting forth (and has already arrived in the person of Christ and his beloved community). So then, ultimately, our moving into a house to live and pursue a particular kind of life together is a response to the overwhelming grace of God in Christ, something which we are graced to participate in through the Spirit.

Alright, let me now return to where I began. It has been one month since we moved. Looking back on this first four weeks I am struck by a number of things that I thought I’d briefly share with y’all.
1) Expectations. Coming into this as 5 unique people there were/are, inevitably, a number of expectations (both said & unsaid). One of the things that I have had to realize is that perhaps some of the expectations I was coming with were agendas. Now many of these expectations were good and healthy, however, am I willing to lay down some of my expectations (hold some of them loosely perhaps) in order to allow community to develop more organically. One of my desires for Victor House is that it would be a place of deep prayer both for one another and for our neighbourhood. So then, if this is something that I desire, if this is indeed an expectation that I have, how can I work to cultivate this sort of atmosphere organically, from “the bottom”, rather than in a heavy-handed fashion from “the top”? The same can be said for all of our expectations and perhaps for particular expectations that you may have of others. Are we willing to sacrifice some of our expectations for others? And, for those expectations that are important to us, how can we go about cultivating those as servants rather than as masters? On a related note, this past Tuesday evening we had our first solid time of prayer together, intentionally, and it was one of the highlights (for me) from our first month.
2) Conflict. Last night was another first. We sat down to flesh out some underlying conflict that was building up in our midst. As a community living within the redemptive story of God in Christ how can we deal with conflict in a way that testifies to this redemption of God in Christ? Conflict, generally speaking, tends to drive folks apart and hurt if not destroy communion. How can we come to conflict differently? How can we welcome conflict as something that actually nurtures and deepens communion with one another and with God? I think at least part of the answer is to be found in being a community of reconciliation. David Fitch suggests that reconciling conflict is “Ground Zero for the inbreaking of the Kingdom” and I could not agree more. Conflict, then, should be welcomed: “It’s a sign of the Kingdom telling us we are engaging in new territory we haven’t had to struggle with before…whenever we gather to bring the issue for discernment, we must recognize we are submitting to Jesus as Lord…and so when we submit to one another trusting the Spirit to speak, illumine, and guide, Jesus as Lord is present, the Kingdom breaks in…” Yes! So then, in conflict we learn to “nurture mutual submission to Jesus as Lord”, we forsake “managing” conflict and submit to the work of the Spirit, and we ask “what is God doing here” and observe. May we be people who welcome conflict and humbly listen.
3) The Christ hymn in Philippians 2 is quickly emerging as what I consider to be a central passage of scripture for what we’re engaging in. As folks united in Christ (v1) through a sharing in the Spirit (v1) we strive to be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind (v2). Because of this we will strive to do nothing out of our own selfish ambition but rather will seek to value others above ourselves in humility (v3). And so we abandon our own interests and look to the interests of others (v4). In so doing we press towards the mindset of Christ Jesus (v5) as fleshed out in v6-8 knowing that God exalts this sort of life as He did Christ’s (v9-11). As servants imitating Christ and putting others before ourselves we will do everything without grumbling or arguing (v14) so that God working in us (this is His work after all) will fulfill his good purpose (v13).

So, in conclusion then, it has been a great month and I think each of us have already grown in ways we were not expecting. I’m looking forward to the coming months and traveling deeper into this life together. We have some exciting initiatives we want to partake in this summer that I’m sure I’ll update you on. If you pray, pray for us that we may continue to be a community that is formed by Christ Jesus the Lord, and that lives abundantly together for the good of our neighbourhood and city.

Advertisements

Last night I had been reflecting on a particular Collect (prayer) for Ash Wednesday. As I got into bed I got out my phone and quickly typed out “God hates nothing which He has made” on my Facebook status. I didn’t think twice about doing as I consider it a beautiful and insightful truth. However, before long it had generated over 70 comments and some strong words.

This blog post is to address some of the objections that folks had made and see if we can’t iron some of this out a bit. To put the statement in context though, here is the full text of the Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou has made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1. In saying “God hates nothing which He has made” we are not saying that “there is nothing that God hates”. Of course there are many things which we can say that God hates. God hates sin, wickedness, and evil to name a few. But notice that what we proclaim is that “God hates nothing WHICH HE HAS MADE”. Is sin the work of God’s hand? Are evil and wickedness? Surely not. God is good and can do no evil. Therefore, God can create no evil. Sin and evil are, therefore, not “part” of God’s creation. We can, therefore, proclaim that “God hates nothing which He has made” and “God hates wickedness” without contradicting ourselves.
1.a. What about Satan and Hell? Well, if “Satan” and “Hell” are created realities then as absurd as it may sound, these things are created good. “Hell”, as a part of God’s good creation is not meaningless in light of God’s plan and purposes for the world. Likewise, the traditional understanding of “Satan” or “the Devil” has been that he is a fallen angel. Thus, created good.

2) Creation itself is an act of pure love and grace. This is important to try and understand so I’ll try and tease it out a bit without being too convoluted. God is distinct from creation. There can be no confusion here: God is not found “in” any part of creation because then God would be bound somehow by creation. God is utterly and totally *free*. So then, strictly speaking, God did not create because he needed to create for if God had some need outside of Himself then He would not be God. God is never nor can He ever be in a position of need.

Because God is totally free and had no need to create we are then confronted with the question, “why did God create?” Our answer here must be, and can only be, “love”. Creation itself is an act of pure love motivated by no external need but only as a result of the outpouring of God’s great love, namely, His own inner-life. Creation, then, is a gift. Another way of saying this is that creation is all grace. Grace “goes all the way back”, literally.

Yet, some of the responses on my Facebook status included:

“in God’s goodness he loves a few of us. But to us it appears every one has the potential to receive God’s love.”

“I think God hates all sin and loves some sinners.”

“God may have loved all he made but doesn’t mean god loves all he has made.”

God loves only a few of us? It only appears that everyone has the potential to receive God’s love? God loved (past tense) all he made but He doesn’t love (present tense) all he has made? Really?

If Creation is an act of pure grace and love as it most surely is then the simple fact that you exist and are able to read this means that God loves you. God cannot hate you. Why? Because He created you and creation is a gift, it’s pure grace all the way down.

3) Some commenters rightly noted that Christ is the proof that “God does not ultimately hate what He has made”. This is bang on. In light of God entering into creation in the flesh there can be no denying that God loves all that He has made.

Hopefully this has cleared up some objections. Perhaps not? For those who would still object perhaps you can point with clarity to something which God has made that He hates.

A Daily Collect for Lent.

[Read Psalm 51]

You alone bring order to the unruly wills and affections of sinners:

May we love what You command, and desire what You promise,

so that, among the swift and varied changes of this world,

our hearts may be fixed where true joy is to be found.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

– From Venite: A Book of Daily Prayer.

Lent is a season where we reflect on our own mortality. Our own sinfulness. Our own inability to live up to our calling to be image-bearers of the One True God. Lent is a season of repentance, of returning to the Lord.

Yet repentance is rather unfashionable in society today (and in the church no less). I wonder if this has not always been the case regarding repentance. For to truly repent is to acknowledge that because of our sinfulness our “wills and affections” are “unruly”. Oh how hard it is for us to admit this. To say that our “wills and affections” are unruly is to say that our “wills and affections”, our desire, is often misplaced. But rarely do we stop to meditate on our desire. Rather, we generally assume that whatever desire we may have, whatever our “wills and affections” may be, these are good and healthy and normative. This, however, is not the case. As sinners who have abandoned our Creator, who alone is the true end (telos) of our “wills and affections”, our “wills and affections” have become undone. They are unruly. It can no longer be assumed that our desires are necessarily good and healthy and normative.

The beginning of repentance is to acknowledge this, and further, to acknowledge that “[Christ] alone” can bring order to our “wills and affections”. We must therefore submit all of our desires, all of our wills and affections, to Christ Jesus alone. We must place everything about us, all of the distinguishing features (both good and bad) that we might use to identify ourselves , under the authority of Christ Jesus. To find ourselves we must first lose ourselves in Christ. We must claim nothing for ourselves. This is the way of repentance. There is no other way.

It is only then that human creatures can have any hope of “loving what God has commanded, and desiring what He has promised”. So then, as the world runs to and fro seeking out true joy but never quite finding it, the hearts of those whose lives are marked by repentance “may be fixed where true joy is to be found”. Namely, in the presence of Jesus the Christ and His community the Church.

To the glory of the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is a sermon preached in the Church in the City/Beach community in Toronto on Sunday, March 6, 2011.

_______________

In the Church calendar we are about to change seasons. Today is significant for it is the final Sunday of Epiphany before we begin our journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Epiphany means “manifestation; appearance”. This is the time of year when we reflect on the fact that the “man born to be king” will rule not by force but by love, not from a throne but from a cross. Epiphany is the season of compassionate encounter.

I’d like to being this morning by posing the question “Who is Jesus?” Well, I suppose the answer you get will depend on who you ask. Is Jesus another prophet of God in the same line as others like him? Is he a revolutionary figure come to liberate the poor and the working class? Perhaps he is the key to a successful life, to hidden riches? Maybe he’s our “homeboy”? Is he a guru with deep spiritual insight into how to connect with the energy in the world around us? Or is he a sort of divine psychologist, come to address our felt-needs and help us see life more positively? Whether or not we pay attention to and listen to Jesus will be dependent on who we think he is.

The gospel writers are trying to tell us something, something particular, something about who Jesus is. Matthew writes as a witness, so to speak, testifying to who Jesus is. Now, writing after the resurrection Matthew obviously has insight into just who Jesus is that the disciples would not have had prior to Jesus’ resurrection. So, working from this position, Matthew wants to guide his readers to a particular picture of who Jesus is. Our gospel text for this morning is Matthew 17:1-9 but before we get there…

About a week prior Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” There was not a concise answer. Some were saying he was John the Baptist. Others were saying Elijah. Others still thought he was Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But then Jesus personalizes his question to address the disciples. It is as if Jesus says, “OK, that’s who others say I am, but who do you say that I am?” Peter initially gets it right, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Yes, it is true that Jesus is the promised Messiah, but when the disciples find out just what sort of Messiah he is they seem unable to accept it. “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering…and be killed, and on the third day be raised,” (16:21). Jesus’ mission takes him to Jerusalem and the rest of Matthew’s gospel focuses in on this journey. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth the One True God is hidden in weakness and suffering. Perhaps this is a clue to where we may find God today? But Peter and the disciples do not yet understand, and so Peter rebukes Jesus, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Well, we know how that worked out for Peter (“Get behind me, Satan!”). At this point Jesus extends an invitation, a call. You see, the journey to Jerusalem is not just Jesus’ journey, no, it is the inescapable journey which his followers must also take (16:24-28). To follow Jesus is to follow him to Jerusalem. It’s to follow him to his agonizing death outside of the city walls. And it’s to bring our crosses and die alongside of him there. However, death is not the end of the story. Viewed from the perspective of the resurrection to lose ones life is to gain life and one day those who die in Christ will be glorified in Christ with new, resurrection life.

This is the setting for Matthew 17. Matthew tells us that 6 days after this happening, after Peter rightly recognizing him as Messiah, after finding out that this Messiah must suffer and die, and after hearing the call to pick up their crosses and follow him there, 6 days after this, Peter, James and John (the “inner-circle” from among the disciples) find themselves trekking up a mountain alongside Jesus. Now mountains are of no small significance to the people of Israel. Israel’s history is peppered with significant moments of encountering God on mountaintops and surely this would have been in the minds of these disciples. There was Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, Moses on Mt. Sinai and Elijah on Mt. Carmel. Now, on top of this mountain, Peter, James and John get a revelatory glimpse into the glory that belongs to Jesus the Christ. Jesus is transfigured “before them”, for their sakes: “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white”. Then, suddenly, Moses and Elijah are there talking with Jesus. Matthew does not say what they spoke about but Luke tells us that they spoke with him “of his departure” coming in Jerusalem. Peter, rather nervously I’m sure, decides that this is great and offers to build some dwellings for the three of them, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. How quickly Peter forgets that Jesus must journey to Jerusalem, there is no time to set up camp on a mountaintop. The words were still on Peter’s lips when all of a sudden “a bright cloud overshadowed them.” The brightness of the cloud matches the brightness of Jesus’ garments. Immediately we see a connection between Jesus and the cloud. A voice comes from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased”. This proclamation ought to harken us back to Jesus’ baptism. Here, as Jesus begins his journey towards Jerusalem his mission is confirmed once again by his Father as it was at his baptism. Only here, more is said: “Listen to him!” This is the focal point of the narrative. Jesus is the Beloved Son of God. Listen to him.

At the utterance of these words from the cloud the disciples are so terrified that they have no choice but to fall to the ground on their faces. Matthew tells us that Jesus “came near and touched them.” The Greek word here translated as “touched” literally means “to fasten to; adhere to”. The Beloved Son of God did not just lay his hand on the disciples. No, he fastened himself to them. He then says to them, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And they were not afraid. Not because they found some strength and bravery within themselves but because they received a courage and peace from Jesus. The ability for them to “be not afraid” arose when Jesus fastened himself to them. Then something striking happens. The disciples look up and the NIV tells us that “they saw no one except Jesus”. However, the original text really emphasizes that Jesus was the only one they saw, literally that “they saw nothing if not Jesus himself alone.” They saw nothing. Just Jesus. Himself. Alone. Moses and Elijah were gone. The transfiguration reveals that Jesus is distinct from Moses and Elijah. Truly, Jesus is the Beloved One, the “Son of the living God” as Peter had declared a week before. Only this Son is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

Here, Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. In these two men Israel’s story is signified. This is Israel’s story. When the disciples look up and see no one but Jesus there is a deep truth being revealed. The Law and the Prophets, Israel’s story, their past, present and future are fulfilled in Jesus the Christ, the Beloved Son of God. This is not to say that the Law and the Prophets are done away with for as Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill,” (Mt. 5:17). This is true for Christians today also. For as Christians we have been grafted into Israel. Israel’s history is now our history. Their story is now our story. In fact, Jesus is the key to all history. The past, present and future of the world are fulfilled in the 2nd person of the Trinity, Jesus of Nazareth, the Beloved Son of God. Paul echoes this in his letter to the believers in Colossae: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” (Col. 1:15-17).

To conclude, we return to the mysterious voice from the cloud: “Listen to him!” For the disciples (and more broadly for Israel) the Law and the Prophets are good gifts from God but they have served their purpose, they have pointed to the coming Messiah who has now arrived. Now that Jesus is present they should listen to him. In a world of competing voices, whose do we listen to? In a world of competing narratives, which story are we rooted in? You and I were created through and for the Beloved Son of God. In him our lives and destinies are fulfilled. “Listen to him!” Perhaps for us today Moses and Elijah are lesser figures. We see less of an immediate connection to our history. But we in the modern Western world have a history too. Many of the ideals and values of modern Western culture often go unchecked. Perhaps we tend to think that the way we do things in the West is simply “the way things are”. Is the view of human beings as autonomous individuals simply “the way things are”? Is globalization and the advancement of mega-corporations around the world simply “the way things are”? Is the growing divide between the rich and poor, both nations and people, simply “the way things are”? Is the advancement of an unrestrained capitalism guided only by the “free-market” simply “the way things are”? Is the oppression of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and the injustices and hardships they face simply “the way things are”? Our answer must be a resounding “no!” Things need not be the way they are, certainly they will not stay this way forever, for one day the Beloved Son will return and fully and finally put the world to rights. And in light of this Beloved Son of God everything needs to be radically re-understood, for all things were created for him.

Culturally we are conditioned to love ourselves before loving others. In fact, culturally, love is a confusing matter. In our modern Western culture love is sexualized and sentimentalized. It is significant that the title of our recent series has been “What Does Love Look Like?” You see, love looks like something. Love is visible. Love is less a feeling than an action. It is fitting then that this morning/evening we have looked at Matthew’s account of the start of Jesus’ ascent to Jerusalem. For Matthew, love looks like the Beloved Son of God journeying towards death in Jerusalem. Jesus is the primary revelation of God’s unconditional love for all people. For Matthew, to love this Jesus is to listen to this Jesus, even though it means we too will end up picking up our crosses to follow him to his death, and indeed our own death. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. For the next 40 days we have the opportunity to consciously journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Are we willing to do this? Are we willing to journey with Jesus, not towards a fantastic and worry-free life, but towards death? Are we willing to lose our lives for the sake of Christ Jesus? Are we willing to lay them down for the sake of our brothers and sisters, our friends and our enemies? Because this is the way of Jesus. There is no other way. Love looks like a life poured out for others, a life lost. Love looks like a life that claims nothing for itself but loses everything for others. Of course, we can never, nor can we be expected to, emulate the unconditional love of God. Far from being a discouragement this ought to be a source of great hope. No matter how great our love may be, God’s love for us in Christ Jesus is exceedingly and infinitely greater still. Love looks like Jesus. Specifically love looks like Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. It looks like Jesus hanging on a Roman cross outside of the city walls. It looks like Jesus raised to new life, the first-born from among the dead, leading the way for the rest of us. And because love looks like Jesus we know that a life poured out, a life lost, is not in fact a life lost. No, it is a life found. For just as the resurrection of Jesus to new life affirmed the pouring out of his life so too our resurrection to new life on that glorious day will be an affirmation of a life poured out for others, for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord, the Beloved Son of God. Amen.