Worship service for Dec 13, 2020

The Advent theme for today was Joy. Today was also the day before our region moves into the “grey” zone, the lockdown level of Ontario’s COVID-19 response protocol.

The mood at church was poignant. People were happy to see each other, and were well aware this could be the last in-person worship service for the foreseeable future.

Here is the link to the YouTube video of the service:

https://youtu.be/S-2-WZ0ewGg

Learning Time: Joy

We’re 12 days away from Christmas. In a normal year, whatever that is, that might cause a jolt of panic. We might mentally re-visit our “to-do” list, and worry we’ve not found all the gifts, stocked up on all the goodies, or done all the cleaning, to get the house ready.

This is anything but a normal year. It’s a year that continues to surprise, and disappoint us, on so many levels. We, who are used to getting much of what we want, may be a little cranky.

This morning we lit the Advent Candle for Joy. We are grieving the deaths of those taken by COVID-19, and coming to terms with losing many of our usual holiday traditions, at least for this year. Is this a good time to talk about Joy?

Many of you know my father-in-law died this fall. Ten years ago, his wife, my mother-in-law Doris died.  I remember talking with Keith about how it was for him, to face each day without her.

Keith said he’d often have a good cry, and then tell himself he’d had such a good life with her, with so much for which to be grateful. He’d give thanks, and go on with his day.

For my father-in-law, grief and gratitude were two sides of a coin. He grieved because he’d had so much good in his life, for which he gave thanks.  When he took his quiet moment to remember, and practice gratitude, he found something deep within, that sustained him.

Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher has said, “Authentic joy is not a euphoric state or a feeling of being high. Rather, it is a state of appreciation that allows us to participate fully in our lives.”

I think that was true for my father-in-law, and I have seen the same kind of sustaining strength in others who live with loss and hardship.

The philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote, “Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self.”

The difference between happiness and joy might be like the difference between junk food and a nourishing meal.

When I give in to my belly’s gnawing insistence that I put something in it, now, a bag of taco chips might do the trick, until it doesn’t. The spicy pleasures and crunchy distractions don’t last, and I tend to feel worse later.

I might have to wait until meal-time for healthy food, but the nourishment iwill build up my body, and help me have the endurance I need to live, and do things that help others.

The 14th century mystic, poet, and hermit, Julian of Norwich lived through three rounds of the plague, and lost many members of her family, and her community to illness and death. Even so, her most famous saying is “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.”

These words were rooted in her sense that God was with her, that God is reliable, and that with God, ultimately, things would work out. This is was not a “head” knowing, but a “soul” knowing.

Rumi, the 13th-century poet, and Sufi mystic wrote: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

The soul, that deepest part of us, is the most connected to God, and most aware of what God has in store. Our soul can trust in God, even when our mind gives us every reason not to, and even though our feelings can change with every wind that blows.

Today we heard the story of Mary, a young woman who was promised to Joseph, but not yet married. She was therefore baffled and dismayed at the angel’s news, that she was pregnant. By the custom of her time, and by ordinary common sense, this was anything but good news. But something in her responded with joy, and trust and confidence in God.

Mary somehow let go of some of her own expectations, and fears, and embraced the enormous truth that she had a role in a story that was much bigger than her own. And Mary knew great joy.

I dropped by the community pantry this week, and saw the four board members of Project Hope hard at work, unloading crates of fresh vegetables, and boxes of non-perishable food, from their vehicle, and sorting it so they could re-fill the shelves, and the fridge. They were working hard, and their eyes were smiling. I could not see their mouths, because of the masks, but I could hear the sense of purpose, meaning, joy, in their voices.

These four are all related, and are members of a wider family that has known a lot of sadness during this pandemic time. That one family has suffered so much loss, and so much grief, and still there is joy. I drove away from my brief visit with them feeling better about our world.

True joy, true gladness, true meaning in life is found not so much in our own ambitions, plans, desires, but in the larger story of God’s hopes and dreams. When we live out of gratitude, and generosity, and when we reach out beyond ourselves, and recognize we are part of a bigger story, we get a glimpse of the world as God would have it be.  And there is joy. Amen

Second Sunday of Advent: Peace

https://youtu.be/14Oj_qBM6rM

Here’s the link to the YouTube video of this week’s worship service. The beautiful flowers on our communion table were given to us by the Bondy family after the funeral, and celebration of the life of Mr. James “Jim” Bondy. Our prayers are with his family, and friends, and all others living with grief and loss.

Here is the text of the Learning Time for this week: Making Peace with Joseph:

My wife, Lexie and I practice yoga every morning, stretched out on mats in front of a YouTube video. We used to go to the gym, but gave that up with COVID.  Whether in person, or on the flat screen, at the end of the session the cheery, energetic, and flexible instructor brings their hands to their heart chakra, and says “Namaste”.

Namaste can mean “hello”, or “goodbye”, or “peace be with you”, or “the divine in me recognizes the divine in you”. It’s kind of a greeting, or a salute, or a blessing, or a prayer, or wish, or maybe parts of all of those rolled into one. It reminds me of “Aloha”, or “Shalom” other words with multiple levels of meaning.

Shalom is related to our Advent word for this week, Peace. Shalom comes from Ancient Hebrew, a language in which words are built on roots of consonant sounds. The letters for the Sh sound, the L sound, and the M sound form the root for a family of related words.

When Ancient Hebrew was written down, they did not fill in vowels, just the consonants, so in the Bible, where the root word in the text is Sh L M, the meaning of the word, and how to say it, is interpreted, based on the context, with a range of possible shades of meaning.

Shalom means “well-being or peace”. Hishtalem means “it was worth it.” Shulam means “it was paid for”, Mushalam means it’s “perfect.” Shalem means “whole”.

When I wish you Shalom, I can be wishing you many things, all at once: wholeness, and security, and well-being, and happiness, and freedom from worries about debts, or obligations. We lose some of that rich texture with our English word “peace”, the meaning of which is often reduced to calmness, or quiet, or the absence of conflict.

I am all in favour of quiet calm. I have visited a few places in the world, and in our own country, that remind me that to live in relative peace, without the daily threat of violence is not to be taken for granted.

This Sunday, December 6, was the 30th anniversary of the murder of 14 young women at L’Ecole Polytechnique, often called the Montreal Massacre. This horrific gender-based hate crime stands as a reminder that even though many of us live in relative peace, there is much work, and growth, and healing needed before there is real peace for all.

Actual peace, or more richly said, shalom, takes a lot of work. People need to cooperate, share resources, act to promote and protect the well being of others. They must consider the common good when decisions are made.

When the yoga teacher says “Namaste”, it often feels sincere, because we have just spent our time on the mat, doing work that contributes to well-being. We are actually building peace, and helping folks get along better. It’s hard to be in a bad mood after yoga.

In the Letter from James it says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, it someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. if one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

With the pandemic, and the economic downturn, many people are facing hard times. I am glad our church is involved not just in this season, but year round, collecting food and other essentials for familiies in need. I am grateful to all who are helping us fill our quota of stove top stuffing and canned corn for the turkey hampers. When we help to feed others, we are making peace.

We are headed towards our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Because of decades of Christmas pageants, we have our memories of the innkeeper, who depending on the script, is played either a bit mean, and says, “no, there is no room for you,” or kind-hearted, and says, “you can take shelter with the animals”. Either way, the innkeeper is a good part. They only have one line, and it moves the action along.

I can’t remember if I have said this here before- there actually is no innkeeper in the Bible story. All the Gospel of Luke tells us is there was no room for Mary and Joseph. Somewhere along the line, a director added the character, maybe to create another speaking part. Which happens, because let’s face it, not everybody can be Mary or Joseph.

Speaking of Joseph, if I asked you, what was his profession of Joseph, what would you say?

Please, please don’t say inn-keeper!

Tradition says Joseph was a carpenter. That’s based on two places in the New Testament where Jesus is called the son of a “tekton”. (It is related to our word technician.) Tekton was a common term for artisan, craftsperson, or woodworker, but also stone-mason, builder, or someone who worked with metal. The word tekton has been found in writings from that period about a shortage of skilled artisans. This could suggest Joseph was a learned person, who taught his craft to others.

Even if he wasn’t, strictly speaking, a carpenter, I am drawn to the idea that Joseph worked with his hands, and showed others how to make things. Near the beginning of our service we watched an animated video on the Advent theme of Peace. It presented Peace as being like a tree that provides a place for animals to find shelter, and birds to build their nests. Shalom is wholeness, and safety, and security, and access to what we need to live and thrive.

Making peace is hard work. Peace is like a bird’s nest, safely tucked in the branches of a tree. It does not make itself, and isn’t achieved simply by wishing and hoping.

I like the idea that Jesus could have spent his early years around someone who taught others to use their craft to make things. That’s not that different from what Jesus grew up to do- to teach his students, his disciples, how to build something good- a faithful community of people who saw it as their mission to follow the Jesus way, to love people, especially those in need, in God’s name.

That’s essentially what we are about as a church- we encourage others, and show them what we have learned, about how to build good things. We use our hands, our hearts, our voices, our creativity, our passion, our courage, our generosity, our talents, to make peace in God’s world. Amen

Gift Bag Sunday School Week 2: Peace

We miss having the kids and young families at church for in-person worship and Sunday School. We are also glad that families are being safe, and taking care of themselves.

We are offering “Gift Bag Sunday School” for the kids. Their parents can register to receive the gift bag of supplies for each week’s lesson, and we will post the link to the YouTube video for each week’s lesson, which features some very talented people from the congregation, offering action prayers, craft lessons, scripture readings, and story time.

Here is the link to our video for the second week of Advent. The theme is “Peace”.

https://youtu.be/E5JHEw0IW0s

Confirmation: 1st Sunday in Advent

We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, for which the traditional theme is Hope, with the confirmation of Keira, Lilia, Ben, and Lauren as adult members of our Harrow congregation, and the United Church of Canada. We also shared in the sacrament of communion for the first time since mid-March. We also introduced the congregation to our newest online effort, Gift Bag Sunday School.

Here is a link to the video of the service.

https://youtu.be/Tu9plsIXAqk

Here is the text of the Learning Time:

This spring, while we were all learning how to live under lockdown, a highlight of my week, for almost two months, was the Thursday afternoon confirmation class. Ben and Lauren, Lilia and Keira and I got together via ZOOM. We worked through the chapters of a book called Jesus 24/7, which raised questions to talk about.

Is God real? What does God have to do with me? What do we know about Jesus? What does it mean to say that he died, and was resurrected from death? How do we follow the way of Jesus?

It will be of great comfort to you that we sorted out all those questions, and have all the answers. I am of course, kidding.

When I was confirmed, the process involved learning a catechism, made up of those kind of questions, with formal answers, using a lot of big words, that we were required to agree with, in order to become a confirmed adult member of the church.

The historic statements of faith are interesting, and worth knowing about. I shy away from the idea that people who wrote them actually knew more about the mysteries of God, and Jesus, and life and death than you or I.

Reading the creeds, like the United Church Creed, allows to see what has seemed to make sense over the centuries, but when it comes right down to it- Christian faith is not just about getting the words right. It is about doing the best we can, to follow the way of Jesus, and placing our trust in God, and having hope. It’s about loving God, and loving others as we love ourselves.

I said at a church board meeting a few weeks ago that I think there are 2 kinds of people- or at least two basic world views- maybe they are opposite ends of a spectrum, and we find ourselves at different places on the continuum, at different times.

At one end are the nihilists, who believe there is no meaning, nothing good, no point, no God, and if we are smart, we will be selfish, and live and scheme and do only for ourselves, and those close to us. Take care of yourself, load your weapons, and to hell with everybody else. We can see that way of thinking at work in politics, and in business, and in some people’s daily lives.

At the other end are those who place absolute faith and trust in God as they understand God, believe that life is about giving all we can to help others, and trust that God will take care of us in life, and in death. They believe that everything broken can be fixed, all injustices will be corrected, and all illness and pain can be relieved. We love people like this for their ideals, but also worry that they are not realistic, and will end up getting hurt.

Whatever statements of faith make the most sense to you, and whatever you have been taught about God and Jesus and all the rest of it, most of us live somewhere between these extremes. We try to navigate in the world- to take care of those close to us, and also do some good for others. We pray things can get better, and try to live as if they will. We can’t fix all the problems in the world, but we look for ways we can help, and we do what we can, nearby, and farther away.

A community of faith, like ours, is important, not only because together we can do more good in the world than we could on our own, but because we encourage each other, we inspire hope in each other. When Jesus sent out his disciples to share his teachings, he never sent them alone. He sent them out in pairs.

We need each other. When Keira and Lilia and Lauren and Ben were baptized, a community of faith promised their families they would support them, and encourage them.

Today we welcome Keira and Lilia and Lauren and Ben as full members of the church. We need them, and are delighted to have them. They are with us in the holy work of helping others, encouraging others, inspiring hope, and making a difference in the world.

Thanks be to God. Amen

Gift Bag Sunday School Week 1: Hope

We miss having the kids and young families at church for in-person worship and Sunday School. We are also glad that families are being safe, and taking care of themselves.

We are offering “Gift Bag Sunday School” for the kids. Their parents can register to receive the gift bag of supplies for each week’s lesson, and we will post the link to the YouTube video for each week’s lesson, which features some very talented people from the congregation, offering action prayers, craft lessons, scripture readings, and story time.

Special Memorial Service

Here is the link to our November 22, 2020 worship service. On the Christian calendar, the Sunday before Advent is the last Sunday of the year, and is often called “Reign of Christ”. It is a day to remember that even when life seems messy, and chaotic, that ultimately, God is in charge. We took our theme for the service from the last line of the Lord’s Prayer as we say it in many Protestant churches, the “doxology”: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOSYmDyM_14

This was also the Sunday we at Harrow United Church chose to remember the members of our congregation and community, and those close to us, who have died since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which we have not been able to do funerals, and offer support to grieving families, in the way we wish we could.

We believe

that neither death, nor life,

nor angels, nor rulers,

nor things present, nor things to come,

nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God

in Christ Jesus our Lord.     

(Romans 8:38, 39)

We lit candles in memory of those in our lives, our community, who have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Wanda Delight Cracknell

Sarah Roberta Jane McLean

Mary Fay Defour

Annegret “Annie” Metcalfe

Nelda Virginia Vollans

William Arthur Gorick

Nancy Jean Whyte

Ronald William Reese

Edna Elizabeth “Betty” Reese

William Richard Herniman

Keith Chamberlain

David Bailey

Our service included readings by Nancy Colenutt, and very appropriate music from Barry Mannell, and Larry Anderson.

Here is the text for my learning time, as well as a teaching about the spiritual practice of Silence.

Learning Time: “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever…”

Ever wonder why some Christians say the longer version of the Lord’s Prayer? The version we repeat most often in church, that many of us learned as children, includes a sentence that is not in the prayer as Jesus taught it to his disciples.

The extra line, which is sometimes called a “doxology”, was added sometime in the first 100 years or so after the earthly life of Jesus.

“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

Scholars think that wording is based on words found in the Bible, either in the Book of Psalms, or from the part of Second Chronicles we heard read today.

A doxology is a formal word of praise to God, often part of a worship service.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with Jesus encouraging his followers to think of God as loving father, and to ask God for very personal things, like food to live for the day, and forgiveness, and the strength to forgive others. 

The doxology traditionally added to the Lord’s Prayer conveys ideas about who God is. It’s God’s Kingdom, God is the one with power, and we give glory, or praise to God. 

Unlike an earthly parent, who has human limits, and gets distracted by small human concerns, and is subject to illness, and pain, and death, God is God. God is the one who creates the universe, and gives us life, and who gives us the love we need for this life.

The early Christians, who lived in the first 100 years or so after the earthly life of Jesus, were mostly poor folks, on the fringes of society. If they were Jewish Christians, they experienced persecution from the Jewish authorities, for following their new faith outside the temple and synagogues. If they were Gentiles, non-Jewish citizens of the Roman Empire, they faced persecution for not worshipping the official gods of the Empire.

Many of the early followers were day labourers who did not own their land. They depended on finding work each morning, to earn their daily bread. Many others were slaves, who lived at the mercy of their masters.

Many of the early followers faced life and death issues on a daily basis. Life was hard.

Some of the early followers also remembered that even before Jesus was killed on the cross, he had promised his first followers that he would return to them, to save them from evil, and pain, and their daily struggles.

In the first centuries after Jesus’ earthly life, it was widely expected that Jesus would be coming back any day, and that life as his followers knew it would end, and history would be interrupted. A cosmic do-over, or re-set would happen, and an earthly kingdom of God would be established. In this new Kingdom of God, there would be no more pain, no more oppression, no more suffering, no more death, and no more grief.

Everything would be turned upside down. It’s the vision of the world we will hear about in the Magnificat, Mary’s Song, in a couple of weeks, as we move closer to Christmas.

For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant,

and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed.

For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,

and holy is your Name. 

Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you.

You have shown strength with your arm;

you have scattered the proud in their conceit;

you have deposed the mighty from their thrones

and raised the lowly to high places.

You have filled the hungry with good things,

while you have sent the rich away empty.

If life is good, and you and your family are healthy and thriving, and have all you need, and all you desire, then the cosmic re-set is not all that appealing. But if life is hard, and your and your family have endured illness, and death, and grief, an interruption to history that restores all the good, and takes away all the causes of suffering may sound pretty good.

The hoped for cosmic do-over has not happened, so illness, and pain, and death and grief continue as part of our daily existence. Those of us who have have experienced grief and loss carry on, but we also may have questions.

Is my loved one who has died safe with God?

When will my sorrow, the pain of my grief be over?

When and how will things get better for our pandemic burdened world, where there continues to be oppression, and poverty, and war, and racism, and all the other ways people are cruel to each other?

We have questions, and the answers are beyond us, and we lean into God for hope, for comfort, and for compassion.

The answer, the reassurance we crave, is pointed to in our doxology, the words we add to the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

God is in charge. God who loved us before we were born, who is with us, and loves each of us, each of our earthly days, who holds us close, and is with us as we die, and who welcomes us home. God is in charge of the past, the present, and the future. God loves us now, and always, forever and ever.  Amen Thanks be to God

Spiritual Practice: Silence

Each Sunday morning since September, when we returned to in-person worship, along with the learning time we’ve had a teaching about a spiritual practice. This morning, during a service in which we are remembering family members and friends who have died, it seems appropriate to consider the spiritual practice of silence.

Silence is under-rated.

Anyone who has suffered a loss can tell you sometimes, rather than a lot of words, the best way to offer comfort is to just be there, even in silence.

When words fail us, it’s okay to be silent. We needn’t fill every moment with the sound of our voice.

One of my all time favourite hymns expresses it very well:

Silence is a friend who claims us,

                     cools the heat and slows the pace,

           God it is who speaks and names us,

                     knows our being, face to face,

           making space within our thinking,

                     lifting shades to show the sun,

           raising courage when we’re shrinking,

                     finding scope for faith begun.

We are deliberate about taking a moment of silent reflection near the beginning of each Sunday morning worship service, to help us grow in our comfort with silence, and to train ourselves to listen, into the silence, for the presence of God.

Is God a Cosmic Puppet Master?

This week’s learning time was another in the series on lines from the Lord’s Prayer: “lead us not into temptation…”

Here is the link to the YouTube video of the service:

https://youtu.be/Wc3yY9avk6U

Here is the script of the learning time, and a teaching time about the spiritual practice of Examen.

Opening Prayer:

As we travel through the bad and good,

           keep us travelling the way we should;

                     where we see no way to go

           you’ll be telling us the way, we know:

And it’s from the old we travel to the new;

                     keep us travelling along with you.

(adapted from Verse 3,  Voices United  639 One More Step Along the World I Go)

Learning Time: “Lead us not into temptation”

Last spring, Pope Francis made headlines when he approved a change to the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, as it appears in the Catholic church’s official liturgy books. “lead us not into tempation,” became “do not let us fall into temptation.” The United Church has not adapted that change, but we do occasionally use different versions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Whether or not we change the words, temptation is something worth praying about.

According to Wikipedia, temptation “is a desire to engage in short-term urges for enjoyment that threatens long-term goals. In the context of some religions, temptation is the inclination to sin. Temptation also describes the coaxing or inducing a person into committing such an act… “

The old version of the Lord’s Prayer asked God to not lead us towards these bad decisions, that may result in short-term satisfaction, but have long term negative consequences. I may be tempted to eat the second piece of pie, but I will carry the burden of that choice. I may be tempted to cheat on my spouse, but any short-term excitement or pleasure won’t be worth the pain and damage it would cause, to the people I love.

The Pope’s concern was that the words in the prayer suggest that this is something God does to humans- leads us off the good path, and into trouble. I have wondered about that myself. What do you think? Is God a Trickster? Does God deliberately set up situations to tempt us, make us choose?

Critics of the Pope’s changes to the prayer point to parts of  the Bible that suggest that God either does tempt us, or allows such tests to happen. They talk about Job.

Ever read the Book of Job? I would have Eleanor read it for us this morning, but COVID might be over before she finished. It’s 42 chapters. This long story gets rolling, when Satan, or the Devil, actually tempts God, saying something like, “Yeah, so your guy Job seems to be faithful, but look at his life! He’s got it all. Wife, kids, servants, riches, land, livestock. He’s living the good life. How hard is it for him to be faithful while he’s living in heaven on earth, happy as a pig in whatever makes pigs happy?”

God and Satan enter into a wager. Will Job still be faithful, if all hell breaks loose in his life?

In short order, Job learns all his livestock have been killed or stolen. His family dies, his crops fail, his servants abandon him. When none of this seems to make him turn from his faith in God, Satan afflicts him with sores, all over his body. Job spends his days sitting under a tree, scraping at his sores with the broken shards of a clay pot.

Job is further afflicted, by three friends who come to offer comfort him, but actually spend their time debating with him. They are baffled that even though Job suffers, and cries out, he never loses faith. In the words of the story, he never curses God. That seems to be Ancient World talk for saying, God, if this is what you have for me, I am done with you. Job never does that.

We aren’t exactly like Job, sitting under a tree, scraping at our sores, but we are waiting for the pandemic to be over. We are experiencing hardship, and loss, and grief, and lot of inconvenience. We also know a lot of folks have it worse than us. Businesses have closed, and failed, because of the pandemic. Travel is restricted, and we can’t visit people the way we would like. Mental health is suffering. People are tempted to do desperate, self-destructive things.

All these setbacks could be seen as temptations- thrown in our path to test us, test our faith, to see if as Satan expected to be true about Job, our faith is conditional on things going our way.

The Pope said that when he succumbs to temptation, it is because of his human tendency to fall. It’s not because God pushed him over the edge.

Biblical scholars, at least the ones I favour, look at the Book of Job as a sacred story, that encourages deep thought about our human situation, but not as an historical record about the adventures of an actual person named Job.

Job’s story can be read in the way some folks watch horror movies- to have the vicarious experience, to go through the feelings and thoughts we would have if the actual crap hit the actual fan, but with the comfort of knowing it’s not really happening to us. We can engage in the story as a way of asking ourselves- would I still be faithful, would I still trust God, and place my life and future in God’s hands, if what happened to Job happened to me?

The alternative, that I read Job as literal history, would require me to believe God would rip someone’s life to shreds, just for fun. Just to win a bet. Just to see what would happen.

If we believe the picture of God in the Book of Job is credible, then we can’t help but wonder- if God would do that to Job, just to see how he’d handle it- does that explain the crap flying around in my life?

A few weeks ago I spoke about the image of God as a cosmic clockmaker- who made everything , wound up the clock, set it to running, but leaves it alone. That’s a picture of a distant, totally removed Creator.

The image of God in the Book of Job is more like the Cosmic Puppet-Master, who pulls all the strings. This God could make us do things, make others do things that hurt or help us. This God might change the script in the puppet play at anytime, without warning, just because they can.

But in the puppet theatre of that sort of God, none of the little figures hanging from strings- like you and me, could really make our own choices. There would be no free will. Being tempted, and doing the wrong thing, or being faithful, and staying on the right path, neither would mean much, because it wouldn’t be us choosing, it would be the puppetmaster, pulling our strings.

God has better things in mind for us. God is busy encouraging us to be good to the people in our lives, good to ourselves, and to care for creation, to take care of our earthly home.

God sent us Jesus, and God sends others into our lives, to guide us, inspire us, point us towards the better choices. I don’t think God actually makes us do good things, or bad things. I don’t think God sets up to be tested, to see whether we will pass or fail.

Life can be hard. Life is full of tests, and challenges, and decision moments, but God is always rooting for us to make the best choice we can.

With the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught that we could look at God not as a distant clock-maker or a heartless puppet-master, but as a loving parent. Those of us who are parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, mentors, or adopted older person in someone’s life, we know that even though we may want only good things for our kids, grand-kids, the younger folks in our lives, we can’t make them want the right things. We can’t make them choose the right things.

What can we do? We do our best to offer our wisdom, our guidance. We do our best to equip those we love to make the best of their freedom to choose. We stand ready to help when they ask, but also learn to hold back, and not interfere, even when it pains us to not dive in and fix things.

We don’t set up evil tests like Satan did in the Job story, causing pain to see how our loved ones will handle it. We don’t lead the people we love into temptation.  Neither does God. Amen

Spiritual Practice: The Examen

This may be a good day to think about a spiritual exercise that originated with Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order. The most famous Jesuit these days is Pope Francis, who I spoke of earlier.

Ignatius was a military man before he became a priest. When he started the Jesuit order, he developed a discipline for training the young monks and priests, that included an exercise called the Examen.

Essentially, it asks us to take time to examine the events of each day, and our responses to those events.

When my daughter Naomi was doing the Shoe Box Sunday School videos, she used a version of Examen with the kids, in which they were asked to name the roses, thorns, and buds in their lives.

The roses are the fragrant, beautiful things for which we are thankful.

The thorns are the stinging, hurtful, or difficult things.

The buds are the things where there is hope, of something good to come.

As we mature in faith, we can learn to see all of these as occasions to pray, to turn to God.

We can see a beautiful rose moment in our day, and thank God.

We can experience the pain of a thorn in our lives, and see it as a reminder to lean into God, and ask God for the strength and courage we need, to carry on.

We can notice the buds of new life and growth, and thank God for the reasons we have to be hopeful.

The exercise of Examen invites to see God in the midst of it all.