Lenten Devotion Day Two Feb 23, 2023

The Good Courage devotion for today invited us to notice the gifts of nature, and to consider what they may tell us about the Creator.

I am about 12 hours later than I’d planned, in posting this today, because nature gave us an ice storm last night, and a power outage. It also gave us a significantly quieter, and simpler day.

We are even more grateful this evening, now that power has been restored, that most days we don’t have to think about whether the house is getting too cold, or how will we cook. We are very comfortable, and aware that many are not.

I spent time in the yard this morning, piling broken branches, and sawing at tree limbs. Our neighbour has a very tall white birch that split in several places, and some of it landed on the roof of our shed. It’s a beautiful tree, and it was sad to see it harmed.

It was also remarkable to see how far the tree limbs are able to flex under the weight of the ice. As the day warmed, and the ice melted, I watched the branches recover some of their former stance.

There are, of course, parts of the tree that did not survive. We have pieces of white birch on our back lawn, that will be cut down into generous lengths for Christmas decorations we are already planning for next winter.

Lenten Devotion Day 1 Wed Feb 22, 2023

The reading from “Good Courage” on this first day asks a challenging question. What am I devoted to?

“Devotion is a practice, not only a feeling. Devotion is how you spend your time and what you give your attention to.”

What do we spend our time on? Spend is an apt word, because our time is a valuable, irreplaceable resource. Ever watch a terrible movie, and at the end think, “That’s 2 hours I will never get back”?

The writer of today’s reading suggests this spiritual practice:

“Make a list of things that you practise daily- the things you care for and love. Write them down and offer them to God in a prayer.”

This suggestion sparked the memory of this old song. I remember the version by the Steve Miller Band. The clip below is Seal, from the soundtrack for Space Jam.

Time keeps on slipping
Into the future
Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping
Into the future

I want to fly like an eagle, to the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly (oh, yeah)

Fly right into the future

I want to feed the babies
Who can’t get enough to eat
I want to shoe the children
New shoes on their feet
I want to house the people
Living in the street
Oh, there
There’s a solution

I want to fly like an eagle, to the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly (oh, yeah)
Fly right into the future

Time keeps on slipping
Into the future
Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping
Into the future

I want to fly like an eagle, to the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly (oh, yeah)
Fly into the future
Fly like an eagle
to the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly
Like an eagle
Fly into the future
In a sky full of people only some want to fly, isn’t that crazy
Ah ah ah
Fly like an eagle
Fly like an eagle, fly
Fly like an eagle, fly
Fly like an eagle, fly

Mountain Top Experiences: Learning Time for Harrow United Church Feb 19, 2023

Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot while he stood on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The Baptist minister and civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike. The clip below is the very end of a speech he gave the day before. His words are powerful. 

If you’ve never watched the whole speech, Google it! It’s well worth it.

We might wonder, as we hear King’s words about whether he would live or die, did he have an inkling that within 24 hours, he would be dead? The people on his team knew there were credible death threats.

Does it change the way we hear his words, knowing what lay ahead for him?

Three things came through for me as I watched:

King was a person of deep faith, who lived with the conviction he was an instrument for something much greater than himself. He was connected to God, in a way that changed his life, and the lives of many others. It’s easy to see why he’s thought of as a modern day prophet. He’s been compared to Moses, leading his people in the journey towards a promised land.

He’d been given a glimpse of how things could be, that was so compelling, he was prepared to risk all, to help it happen for his people.

He spoke of standing on a mountain top. That’s a powerful, ancient metaphor for having a direct encounter with God. 

When people believed the earth was flat, and covered over by a dome that separated us from the heights of heaven, the realm of God and the angels, it made a certain sense that the higher you climbed a mountain, the closer you came to God.

Moses had his first direct encounter with God in the form of a mysterious burning bush that glowed like fire without being consumed by the flames.

After he responded to the call from God, and led his people in a revolt against those who held them in slavery, and they were on their way to the promised land, Moses went up a mountain for conversations with God. 

The Hebrew scriptures say when Moses came down the mountain, he looked different. He glowed. 

We heard a story today of Jesus climbing a mountain with a few of his closest friends. There are versions of it in Matthew, Mark and Luke. 

Biblical scholars, knowing Mark’s Gospel is the oldest, theorize that when a story shows up in all three, the writers of Luke and Matthew had Mark’s version to work from. Like all good story tellers, the gospel writers took available material and shaped it, and worked with it, to suit their audience.

Matthew’s audience were people mostly like him. Jesus followers who’d grown up in the Jewish faith, but in a part of the Roman Empire in which Hebrew, the language of the Jews, was no longer spoken or read, except by an educated few. They spoke a form of Greek that was the common language of the Empire. 

That’s one of the effects, and strategies of colonization. The forces of the empire work to separate those they enslave from their own culture, their own stories. It makes them easier to control. 

It reminds me of the official policy of our own federal government when it came to First Nations people. The goal was to assimilate the people, to eliminate their languages, spirituality, customs, way of life, connection to the land, break their spirits, and make them as white as possible. You can’t organize and fight for your culture to survive, if you no longer know anything about your culture.

Matthew’s gospel was written for an audience of people who were at risk of being assimilated by the Roman Empire. They were used as a source of labour and tax revenue, and required to bow down to the Emperor as a God, knowing they could never be more than second class citizens.

Jesus’ early followers saw God when they looked upon the face of Jesus, and listened to his words. It makes sense Matthew would make such strong connections between Moses, who God used to liberate the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, and Jesus. 

People who heard the story the way Matthew told it saw in Jesus a living embodiment of a tradition that says God always takes the side of the poor, the suffering, those who are oppressed, those who long for freedom and fairness. 

When people in Matthew’s time heard about Jesus on a mountain top, chatting with Moses and Elijah, it reminded them God gave Moses the tablets of the law, that described how people were meant to treat each other. They would remember God also sent prophets like Elijah, to challenge people in power, to live up to their responsibility to rule with justice and kindness.

People in Matthew’s time would also recognize what we might have seen, and felt, when we watched that video of Martin Luther King, standing up for freedom and fairness for his people, in the face of great danger. The powerful vision from the mountain top that inspires, also represents a threat to those who do not want change to happen.

In Matthew’s Gospel, before Jesus and his friends had their mountaintop experience, they had several run-ins with the scribes and the Pharisees, who were unhappy with Jesus’ message and methods. Jesus told his disciples that it would not be long before he has to go to Jerusalem, and face those who opposed him. And then they climbed a mountain, and Jesus’ friends saw him in a whole different light. Amen

“Stay Salty” Learning Time for Harrow United Church, Feb 5, 2023

I saw familiar faces when I went to the Portuguese Club this week to donate blood. My least favourite part is when they insert the needle into my vein. My most favourite is going to the snack table afterwards, to grab my crunchy salty snack. 

The body uses salt to help it manage and retain fluid. Apparently the average person loses about 3 grams of salt with every blood donation.

I learned some things about salt, which is an electrolyte, when I trained for and ran marathons, and half-marathons. At every race there were people who were not careful enough with their intake of water and electrolytes, and had to be helped off the course, oftentimes carried off the course. My running partner for my second marathon beat me to the finish line, but ended up in the medical tent, and then in a hospital emergency ward.

Salt can be a matter of life or death. It is no exaggeration to say wars have been fought over access to salt. 

Salt has also been used as part of non-violent efforts to make change.

When the Indian National Congress asked Mohandas Gandhi to organize non-violent civil disobedience to launch their campaign to end colonial rule in India, he chose to protest the Salt Laws, which the British created to give themselves exclusive right to produce, sell and impose tax on salt.

Even people who lived near the ocean were prohibited by law from doing what Gandhi proposed, which was to make salt by evaporating sea water. It’s the same kind of colonial control that was exercised here in Canada, which banned First Nations people from hunting, fishing, farming, leaving the reserve without permission of the Indian agent, and even speaking their own language. 

Gandhi chose salt because it is basic to human life. It is needed by every person, rich and poor, Hindu or Muslim, Christian or Jew, or Sikh or Budddhist. Gandhi said,

“Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.”

This common staple of life has been used for thousands of years to flavour and preserve food. Before the world became connected by ocean freighters and transport trucks, proximity to salt  determined where people could live.

Some scholars think the word “salary” derives from the latin word salarium, which was an allowance paid to Roman soldiers to buy the basics, like food and salt, to live. It’s where we get that phrase about a person being “worth their salt”- are they doing enough to justify what they are paid, or is the salt wasted on them?

Salt is serious stuff. In the ancient world, they may not have had a scientific grasp of it’s nature and properties, but they knew that it was powerful, necessary, and almost magical in its powers.

That may help us understand why the reading from Leviticus made mention of including salt when a person places an offering on the altar for sacrifice. Salt was a gift from God, given back to God. Giving back something valuable was a way of expressing the magnitude of your gratitude.

We often encounter salt as tiny little crystals, but when Jesus told his disciples to be like salt, it was no small thing. He was telling them to remember that they had important, life and death work to do, that would change the world.

I mentioned Gandhi earlier. On March 12, 1930, Gandhi and about 80 others from his community set out, on foot, for the coastal village of Dandi. They walked a little over 10 miles a day, and reached the sea in 23 days. The route was planned to pass through many villages, towns and cities. They gathered more followers everywhere they went, and more attention was gained for their cause.

They did simple, basic human things. They walked, and talked to people. They slept when tired, and ate when they could. 

When they reached the coast on April 6th Gandhi picked up a lump of mud and salt and boiled it in seawater to make the commodity which no Indian could legally produce — salt. 

Gandhi and his followers did the simple human things they could do. They lived out their commitment and courage, and passion for the well-being of others.  They were arrested for the crime of making salt. Many were attacked and beaten by soldiers under the command of the Viceroy, who acted to uphold not only the salt law, but the authority the British had claimed to rule, and control every aspect of the lives of their subjects, who were not granted the same dignity, respect, or rights as British citizens.

Gandhi’s followers were trained in non-violent protest. They did not resist when arrested, and did not retaliate when attacked. Their non-violent response underlined the brutality and injustice of British rule, and shone a bright light on the poor treatment of the people of India, and ultimately, on the legitimacy of the cause of independence. People around the world paid attention. 

It is no small thing, to answer the call to be faithful, to do what is right, to do what you can, to make a difference in the world. To take a risk, to make a sacrifice, to go out of your way to help others. To give of yourself. 

We aren’t all leaders and prophets, and profound teachers like Gandhi, and Jesus. But without followers, no matter how amazing, wise and divine the messenger is, not much happens.

For us, the question is not so much can we be amazing, and do something huge. For us, the question is, what can we do, that we probably already know how to do, that will help another person, help our church, help our community.

It might be making a valentine for a lonely person. It might be telling me you’d be willing to make a few phone calls every week, to check in on folks from the congregation we have not seen for a while. It might be making an extra donation to the church, because it’s been a hard few years, and now we have to fix the broken water line going into the building, and we need help. It might be giving blood next time they set up at the Portuguese Club. It might be something else. 

Look around in your life, in your family, in this community. There is something that needs doing. You’ll find it, if you open your heart, your mind, your eyes, and take a look around. Anyone worth their salt, can find a way to help someone else. 

Jesus’ call to be the salt of the earth comes from a collection of his teachings about what it means to be blessed, and to be a blessing to others. In some translations, the word “happy” is used instead of the word. “blessed”. 

“Happy are those who are humble;  they will receive what God has promised!

“Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!

“Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!

In my message for the annual report I offered a quote from Frederick Buechner,  a Presbyterian minister and author who lived to be about 96. He wrote about calling, and how we can get a sense of what God is asking of us. He said, 

“By and large a good rule for finding out is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”.

It’s good to be reminded of the great joy, and purpose, meaning and actual happiness that comes, when we set ourselves aside, and do for others.

What does God require of us? Learning Time for Jan 29, 2023 Harrow United Church

It’s that special time of the year again.  We received our first record of donations by mail the other day. Soon we will receive our T4 slips, and other statements of income. 

Tax season is upon us. I use a tax program to sort out and file our returns. It is so much easier than doing it all by hand. But whether I work at it with a calculator and a sharp pencil, or the software, the object of the exercise is to calculate what is owing. 

I am happy to pay my fair share. I am grateful for my life in Canada, in Ontario, in Essex County. I recognize that much of what it takes to live comfortably, to trust the water and food supply, and to feel safe when I venture outside my home, costs money.

I have the sense that not everyone sees things that way. There is an undercurrent in our society, a murmuring that encourages us to pay the least possible amount for anything, and do even that grudgingly. Some of our friends, family members and neighbours look upon earning and having money not as a gift or privilege, but as an undeniable right. I sometimes get the sense that some people would like all the rights, but without the responsibilities that are part of the package.

We are, in so many ways, consumers. We purchase products, and consume, or use them, mostly for ourselves, and those closest to us. It’s the same with services and experiences. If we have paid for it, we expect things to be done for us.

The consumer mindset has seeped into many of our relationships. Our posture in the world too easily becomes one of entitlement, and expectation, and demand. “What do I get?”  is a more common question than “what can I contribute, what can I do to help?”

If we are sick, we go to the doctor for a prescription, a literal magic pill to make us better. If the doctor says, hey, what you really need is to go for a walk every day, and cut back on snacks and desserts, we might ask, isn’t there an easier way? Can I see a specialist?

The same murmuring that tells us to get the maximum bang for our buck, to pay the least, and get the most possible, will also tell us that this is the power of the consumer. We can make demands, and ask for more, and bargain, and threaten to withhold payment, or even sue, until we get what we want.

That can feel like power. But it is also, if you really look at it, giving responsibility for our own happiness, well-being, satisfaction to someone else. We place someone else in charge of making us happy, because we have paid for it.

I am not suggesting we let people take advantage of us, or not deliver on what they have promised. Accountability is important. 

It’s also important to look carefully at ourselves, and our own priorities for life.

There is danger in the mindset that we can always buy, and demand what we need to be satisfied.  I believe it’s a danger that Jesus warned about.

We heard part of the Beatitudes read out loud today. I appreciate the version we heard today from The Message. Especially where it says,

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

It’s good to be reminded that we can’t actually buy happiness, or contentment, or meaning for our lives. That there is so much more to us, and to life than what can be bought or sold. 

That’s not saying life is easy, even though some preachers have tried to sell us faith in a kind of transactional way. If you sign up to follow Jesus, you have done your part, and God will do the rest. You will be blessed in many tangible ways. There is a brand of Christianity called the Prosperity Gospel, popular with the TV preachers, that doesn’t even beat around the bush. They actually say, pray this prayer, sign up with us, and you will have it made.

That may sound good, until it doesn’t. Life inevitably surprises us, and disappoints us, and hurts us. There is sickness and death, change and loss. Things do not always go as we hoped, and being a Jesus follower does not insulate or protect us from hard things happening- ask, well ask anybody in this room. We know that life can be hard. We may also have experience with our faith helping us, even when, maybe especially when life is hard.

I am pretty sure that’s not what Jesus was getting at. I don’t think he was trying to sell anybody on anything. 

The reading says, “When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions.”

The passage is part of a talk he gave, not to a big crowd, but to the inner circle of the group of disciples he was gathering.

I think it was more like Jesus was offering them their job description. Follow me, and this is how it’s going to be. He was telling them about a life that was not passive, but active. He wasn’t reading them a consumer’s bill of rights. He was saying, “here is a way to live that will be hard, and in which you will feel alive, and part of something bigger than yourself.”

Jesus invited his closest friends, and each of us, to a life in which we are blessed, as we bless others. The blessing he was talking about was not just saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, but actually helping people, caring for their physical, emotional, spiritual needs. 

Jesus said:

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Amen

“Kings and Cakes and the Promise of a Child” January 22, 2023 in the Season of Epiphany

Do you know who Baby Yoda is? He is a character on a Star Wars related tv series called The Mandalorian. He’s an infant of the same alien race as Yoda, who was a mentor to Luke Skywalker in the early Star Wars movies. The baby on The Mandalorian is actually named Grogu, and he is being chased by the bad guys in the story, who work for the Evil Empire, who are out to capture him, and dissect him, to learn about, and exploit his powers. Little baby Grogu looks helpless, but carries within him the capacity to harness and use the force, the mystical energy of the universe, and do a lot of good.

He is a special child, whose potential power is a threat to those with vested interests, and who is at the same time vulnerable, and will not survive without kindness and help.

The Mandalorian is a bounty hunter assigned the task of capturing the special child. He broke his contract to protect the child. He wears armour, and carries weapons, but was defenseless when it came to the vulnerable child, who opened his heart, and inspired love.

Much of the story takes place on a desert planet that looks like it could be Israel or Egypt.

It’s easy to see parallels between the wondrous child Grogu, and little baby Jesus, whose earthly protectors were forced to escape to Egypt, after Joseph was warned in a dream the evil King Herod was after the newborn. Joseph and Mary fled with the child, and took refuge in Egypt until the evil king died, and was no longer a threat to the child. Matthew’s Gospel says:

When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,  where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”

At Harrow United Church during Advent we heard different stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood that did not make it into the New Testament. (non-canonical gospels) These stories were written for particular communities, and were told with details and images that would speak to people in those places.

Scholars believe Matthew wrote for fairly educated, Greek speaking Jews. He drew on images and themes from the Jewish Scriptures that were available to him, in a Greek translation called the Septuaguint, which was prepared for Jews who did not speak or read Hebrew.

When Matthew quoted a line from the book of the prophet Hosea,  “Out of Egypt I called my son,” he was referring to the Hebrew slaves who escaped from Egypt, and were lead by Moses on a journey to a promised land, where they established a new nation. This is the origin story of the nation of Israel. It’s the story of how God reached helped people who were suffering and oppressed in slavery. God was with them as they found new life, out from under the grip of a cruel empire.

Matthew was quite deliberate in connecting that story of resistance, to the story of baby Jesus. Matthew paints a picture of Jesus as Moses for a new generation, sent by God to free the people of Israel, who lived under the oppressive and exploitative rule of the Roman Empire.

Jesus began life as a vulnerable child, and grew up to offer hope and new life, because he had caring and brave protectors who hid him from those who wanted to kill him.

According to his origin story, Moses was born during a time when the King of Egypt, the Pharaoh had commanded all the male children born of the Hebrew slaves were to be killed. The Pharaoh feared the Hebrews were becoming a threat to his power.

The newborn Moses was hidden by his mother for three months. When she could no longer hide him, she coated a papyrus basket with tar and pitch, and set the child floating in the basket, among the reeds along the bank of the Nile river. His big sister was standing at a distance when the daughter of the Pharaoh came to the water to bathe, and found little baby Moses in the basket. She opened the basket, and found a little crying baby, and felt sorry for him.

(Baby Grogu’s hover-pod looks a lot like a basket.)

The Pharaoh’s daughter knew what was supposed to happen to Hebrew baby boys. But her heart opened, and love won out, and she took the little one home, and he grew up to become part of the royal household. She gave him the name Moses, which meant, “drawn up out of the water”.

It’s interesting to think about how Jesus’ public ministry began after he was drawn up out of the waters of the river where he was baptized.

Moses, Jesus, and little baby Yoda. In each story the special child is hunted by the forces of evil, and is saved, and survived because of protectors bound to them by love. The child of promise survives to fulfill their mission, in a world that can be cruel and scary, and in which there are powerful forces of which you must be wary. That’s the story we celebrate at Epiphany.

In Mexico, and many other places influenced by Latin culture, like New Orleans, the King Cake is a big part of the celebration of Epiphany.

A couple of years ago Lexie and I had friends come to our house with a king cake. They are circular, and often decorated in bright coloured sprinkles and icing to make them look like a crown. 

Show this slide of King Cake when prompted

The king cake gets its name from the story of the three kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus. 

Somewhere inside the cake there is a tiny little baby Jesus, sometimes wearing a tiny little crown. He was hidden in the cake to keep him safe, and if you find him, it’s up to you to carry on the tradition, and at the next Epiphany party, you bring the cake. In some cultures, whoever finds the baby King gets a prize.

In 2021 there was a minor controversy in Mexico. Companies started selling king cakes for the Epiphany season in which they’d hidden, not little baby Jesus, but Grogu, little baby Yoda. Some church officials declared it disrespectful of tradition.

Of course, when that happened, sales of baby Yoda cakes went up. Predictably, some religious conservatives became even more irate. Baby Yoda, who is already quite loveable, found an even bigger place in the hearts of some folks who already felt picked on and looked down on by the same religious conservatives who want to tell you what can be in your party cake. 

Baby Yoda cakes became a playful symbol for the LGBTQ community, which was even more annoying to some of the more conservative religious folks. You can imagine that cycle going around and around, like the circle of a king cake.

What appeals to me about this story, is that in the midst of a clash between people who want to keep the upper hand, and those who just want to live their lives, we find the figure of a tiny, vulnerable baby, who has the power to win hearts, and encourage us to love, just by being there. Amen

Neighbours: Learning Time for Sunday, July 24, 2022


The word “neighbour” often makes me think of Mr. Rogers, and his song about a beautiful day in the neighbourhood. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who encouraged whole generations to be neighbourly. That was his ministry.

In 1969, there was tremendous uproar in many American communities after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled swimming pools could no longer be segregated by race. Fred Rogers invited an African American actor named Francois Clemmons to come on his show, in the role of a uniformed police officer. Mr. Clemmons was reluctant, because where he grew up, police were seen as the most dangerous people in the neighbourhood.

Fred Rogers convinced him to do a scene set on a hot summer day. Mr. Rogers had his feet in a wading pool and invited Officer Clemmons to join him. The police officer became a recurring character.

Years later, Francois Clemmons reflected on his first appearance on the show.

Speaking of that moment when Mr. Rogers offered him a seat, a place for his feet in the wading pool,  and a towel, Clemmons said, “My God, those were powerful words. It was transformative to sit there with him, thinking to myself, ‘Oh, something wonderful is happening here. This is not what it looks like. It’s much bigger.'”

He continued: “Many people, as I’ve traveled around the country, share with me what that particular moment meant to them because he was telling them, ‘You cannot be a racist.’ And one guy … I’ll never forget, said to me, ‘When that program came on, we were actually discussing the fact that black people were inferior. And Mister Rogers cut right through it.’ … He said essentially that scene ended that argument.”

Mr. Rogers invited his friend to join him in the pleasurable act of soaking hot and tired feet in a wading pool, and in a very low key, everyday sort of way, put a story out into the world that still gets told today. A story that will need to be told, and re-created, over and over again, until it doesn’t.

The image of the two men with their feet in the pool, and one handing the other a towel reminded me of the time Jesus washed the feet of his friends.

This morning we re-created the story of the Good Samaritan.

Very often, when we hear the words “Good Samaritan”, it is in connection with someone coming to the rescue or doing a good deed. In many jurisdictions there are Good Samaritan laws, that provide legal protection to those who try to help someone- so they can’t be held responsible if they cause harm. The laws are meant to encourage people to be helpful, especially when someone’s well-being or life are at risk.

The name of these laws comes from the story Jesus told. It’s a good story, and it was a really good thing that the Samaritan in the story helped the person who’d been beaten and robbed. But the point of the story is not that we should help others. That’s an excellent moral, and a good teaching, but it’s only tangentially related to the reason Jesus told the story.

Jesus had been challenged, twice, by a teacher of the Jewish religious law. The First Nations Version we heard this morning calls him a scroll keeper, which I love.

“Wisdomkeeper,” he said. “What path must I walk to have the life of the world to come that never fades away, full of beauty and harmony?”

He answered him, “What is written in our tribal law about this? Tell me, how do you see it?”

The scroll keeper spoke from the words of the law, “You must love the Great Spirit from deep within, with the strength of your arms, the thoughts of your mind, and the courage of your heart, and you must love your fellow human beings in the same way you love yourselves.”

“You have answered well,” Creator Sets Free (Jesus) said back to him. “If you walk this path you will live.”

But the scroll keeper, wanting to look good to others, asked him, “Who are my fellow human beings?”

Creator Sets Free (Jesus) answered him with a story.

The first challenge to Jesus by the Scroll-keeper was, “do you know the letter of the law?”

Jesus answered the legal question, by inviting the scroll keeper to quote the law.

The second challenge, “who is my neighbour?”, was about the spirit, or deeper meaning of the law.

It called for a story, a parable. We who’ve listened to, and wrestled with Jesus’ parables know they are sneaky, dangerous, subversive stories, that don’t settle for illustrating a simple moral like be good or help others. The parables make us wonder, make us question, and if we allow them, they upend our worldview.

There are only a few characters in the story.

There is the victim of violence. That’s the person we identify with first, because we meet them first, and our hearts go out to the under-dog.

Then we meet the perpetrators of violence, the anonymous robbers, who prey on vulnerable travellers, and leave them for dead. They represent the overt, or obvious cruelty and evil in the world.

There are two religious figures, who represent the upright, and proper, and virtuous temple folks, who follow the letter of the law. If you draw a circle, they are the insiders, right near the centre, shining under the light of respectability.

The two so-called holy men are symbols of a more subtle, more insidious kind of evil at work in the world. We see it in our own lives, in our own time, when it is possible to be popular, polite, acceptable in society, and still be indifferent to the suffering of others.

The two who walk by without stopping represent the voice of “What can I do, it’s a hard world. There are winners and losers, and I can’t possibly get involved.”

The last character in the story is the Samaritan. The people of Samaria exist far outside the circle of approval and favour. The Samaritans are culturally related to the insiders, but lost their respectability because of issues of race, and language, and ethnicity. The Samaritans were descendants of Jewish ancestors who inter-married with folks from other tribes, other religions.

We call this the story of the Good Samaritan, which is its own kind of irony, because it’s unlikely that anyone in Jesus’ original audience would see anything good about a Samaritan.

I wondered about a contemporary parallel and realized it depends on how you were raised to see the world, and whether or not my biases about people line up with yours. The Jews in Jesus time were taught to hate the Samaritans.

In the time when Mr. Rogers got his feet wet with Officer Clemmons, for a lot of people, a “good Negro” would have fit the bill. That’s the polite version of the word that might have been used. More recently it might be a good Russian if we re-created this story in Ukraine.

Who were you taught to hate, or at least to fear, or be suspicious of? Take a moment and be honest with yourself. I’m not asking you say it out loud. Just think about it. Most all of us have been taught biases against someone, some group, someone other than those in our small circle.

When I was growing up, the categories of people we were taught to fear, or at least not trust, included First Nations people, although we called them Indians, and homosexuals, and we would have used different words for them as well.

Whichever group of people you were taught were furthest outside the circle of respectable neighbours, they are the people that Jesus wants to surprise us with and shine his light of love on. His story tells us the people we despise the most, are right there in the circle with us.

In fact, what Jesus is saying, is forget about the circle.  There is no them and us, no bad and good. We are all capable of amazing goodness, and of every kind of evil. Seen the way Jesus is teasing us to see, with this story, from God’s perspective, there are no in or out, there are only people.

That’s the story Jesus told, and that’s the story we are called to keep telling, to keep re-creating, by our words, by our actions, with our lives, and with all the loving we do in God’s name. Amen

Learning Time about the Golden Rule, July 10, 2022

Gospel Lesson: Luke 6:46-49

“Why do you call out, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi,’ but don’t put into practice what I teach you?  Those who come to me and hear my words and put them into practice—I’ll show you who they’re like:  they are like the person who, in building a house, dug deeply and laid the foundation on a rock. When a flood arose, the torrent rushed against the house, but failed to shake it because of its solid foundation.  On the other hand, anyone who has heard my words, but has not put them into practice, is like the person who built a house on sand, without any foundation. When the torrent rushed upon it, the house immediately collapsed and was completely destroyed.”

Learning Time: “Thoughts about the Golden Rule”

According to the King in the old Wizard of Id comic strip, that would be “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.” We know how that usually works out.

We also know how much better things are when we work together, and find common ground, and remember to treat others as we would wish to be treated.

In Canada we have rich and diverse spiritual and religious traditions that inform how we live together. I looked up the most recent census data to identify the traditions most represented, and then I found their versions of the Golden Rule. They were read this morning during the Essex Fun Fest Service by Mayor Richard Meloche and some of the town councilors. Because I assigned the readings, I was in the interesting position of putting words into the mouths of some local politicians, and in a municipal election year, no less.

The Golden Rule in Christianity:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Golden Rule in Islam:

Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others
what you wish for yourself.

The Golden Rule in Hinduism: 

This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.

The Golden Rule in Buddhism: 

Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

The Golden Rule in Sikhism:

I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me.

Indeed, I am a friend to all.

The Golden Rule in Judaism:

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.

The Golden Rule Indigenous in Spirituality:

We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.

Two things I have been thinking about, about the Golden Rule. The first is that many of the expressions of it that are found around the world, appeared before the time Jesus walked the earth. So this teaching has been part of human wisdom for a very long time. This suggests to me that the Spirit of God has been working in humans, well, always.

The other thing that catches my attention is that all these different faiths, around the world, teach kindness to others, and that in most places, we humans do not always remember to be kind to each other, to treat others with the compassion and respect we would like to receive from others.

As a religion, Christianity has not always remembered to be kind to other religions, and show the basic respect we would want. There have been, and still are, groups within Christianity who seem to forget how Jesus teaches us to be with others, and they choose to be mean, judgmental, and disrespectful of other people, other religions, even though Jesus never did that.

Jesus never asked anyone to change religions. He invited them into a closer relationship with God, who he taught us we could call Abba, which in his language was more like Daddy, than Father, with all the intimate, personal, kind tones that come through with that word.

Jesus was interested in each person, how they were doing. He taught his followers to build a life based on their close connection to God. If your sense of who you are is built on the foundation of your relationship to God, there is no need to try to put anyone else down, or prove you are better than anyone else. You don’t have to have the best clothes, house, car, kids, job, education, even religion. All you really need is that God connection, and to be loving and kind- you know, to treat others the way you like to be treated. Amen

Learning Time for July 3, 2022

Audio recording of Scripture reading and Learning Time

Gospel Reading:  Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 (The Inclusive Bible) 

Jesus appointed seventy-two others, and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.  He said to them, “The harvest is rich, but the workers are few; therefore, ask the overseer to send workers to the harvest.

 “Be on your way, and remember: I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves.  Don’t carry a walking stick or knapsack; wear no sandals and greet no one along the way.  And whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be upon this house!’  If the people live peaceably there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will come back to you.  Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you, for the laborer is worth a wage. Don’t keep moving from house to house.

“And whatever city you enter, after they welcome you, eat what they set before you and heal those who are sick in that town. Say to them, ‘The reign of God has drawn near to you.’  If the people of any town you enter don’t welcome you, go into its streets and say,  ‘We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God has drawn near.’

“Anyone who listens to you, listens to me. Anyone who rejects you, rejects me; and those who reject me, reject the One who sent me.”  The seventy-two disciples returned with joy, saying, “Rabbi, even the demons obey us in your name!”  Jesus replied, “I watched Satan fall from the sky like lightning.  Look: I’ve given you the power to tread on snakes and scorpions—even all the forces of the enemy—and nothing will ever injure you.  Nevertheless, don’t rejoice in the fact that the spirits obey you so much as that your names are inscribed in heaven.”

Learning Time: “What is our Mission?”

Our daughter Naomi just graduated from her Master’s program in Library and Information Sciences from Western. She was not able to attend the ceremony since she’s moved to Halifax for a job at their new central library.

Our family had a Zoom celebration in her honour. Naomi and her partner Max, and Joel in Waterloo, and his girlfriend in Vaughn, and Lexie and I in Kingsville all ordered sushi, and we ate together, with purple and white decorations all around us.

Lexie reached out to some of Naomi’s friends, relatives, and co-workers, and asked them to send memories, best wishes, and words of advice. Here are some of my favourites:

Take the opportunity to travel (or maybe even live) internationally if you can. That was from a family friend who currently lives in Egypt.

Be sure to find room for joy. Invest in loving relationships. Seek out genuine community.

Know that you are amazing.

Let happiness be the great surprise of your life, rather than a daily goal.

If you ever have leftover cake, try making French toast out of it!

Lexie reminded me of advice I have always given our kids, and almost anyone else who asks, which is “make your world big”. By that I mean stretch beyond convention, push boundaries, take risks, and work to have a wide range of interests and relationships in your life. That way if one area in your life is not going well, you have other sources of confidence, affirmation, meaning for your life.

What we heard in the gospel story was Jesus giving the 72 he sent out, some words of advice before they hit the road.

They were sent out in pairs to every town and place Jesus intended to visit. It’s a good strategy. Send out advance scouts so you know what kind of reception your larger group may expect. They could also cultivate relationships, so when Jesus and his whole group arrived, they would have an idea about what kind of hospitality, and support might be there.

Jesus encouraged his missionaries to embrace the adventure but be smart about how they travelled. He told them he was sending them out as lambs in the midst of wolves. I am grateful no one said that to Naomi!

Jesus told them to travel in pairs, which was safer than going alone. They were to carry nothing of value, like a walking stick or a bag, or even sandals. The roads they walked were hunting grounds for bandits. Remember the situation described in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Jesus encouraged them to make friends and accept hospitality when they arrived at a village or town. He specifically told them to eat or drink what they were offered. It could be that a host would offer something outside of what was normal for Jesus’ followers. They were to open their minds, their hearts, and their mouths. Set aside scrupulous adherence to the dietary laws of their faith, just be grateful. Set aside their misgivings about new foods, and just dig in.

Right after the first mention of food, Jesus told his missionaries not to keep moving from house to house. I wonder if that was a way of saying- don’t go looking for meals you are used to, just accept what is given. Don’t worry so much about doing things the way you’ve always done them.

Jesus also said to tell the people in each new place the reign of God has drawn near to them, and to heal those who are sick. 

They had real work to do, helping people along the way. They weren’t only advance scouts, they were part of the Jesus movement.

They were to teach people, by word and deed, about God’s love, and how love could change how they connected to God, what they believed about themselves, and how they treated one another.

Did the missionaries ever wonder how they could live up to the role, of representing the love of God? Did they feel up to it? Did they see themselves as part of the reign of God, the Jesus movement spreading from town to town?

Even so, and likely because they were the real deal, Jesus warned them they would face opposition. He said,

“If the people of any town you enter don’t welcome you, go into its streets and say,  ‘We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God has drawn near.’

It’s beautiful language, that may inspire each of us to remember moments when we have felt drawn near to the reign of God, when God, and God’s love have felt real in our lives, and that has made a difference.

We are all gathered here this morning because in some way, we have heard the call of God’s love, through the message of Jesus. Someone in our life first brought us to this church, or another one, or taught us about the love of God, maybe at their house, or out on a tractor, or beside a lake, or out in a backyard under a blanket of stars. Somehow, we got the message, and we joined the movement.

It matters enough to us that we come here, even on a hot, sunny Sunday on a holiday weekend. Maybe we come out of habit. Maybe we come because we crave community. Maybe we come to get our spiritual batteries recharged. Maybe we come to be reminded that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

We are part of the Jesus movement, that has the job of loving the world in God’s name. Jesus keeps inviting us in, and sending us out again, to spread the word. Amen