Worship for Sunday, March 14, 2021

Here is the link to this week’s worship video:

Scripture Readings

Luke 6:37-38, 48-49 (The Message)

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

“If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.”

Romans 12:1-2, 9-21 (The Message)

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

(Darrow) Learning Time: “Be Generous and Serve Others”

As research for today, I texted a good friend, who is a paramedic in York Region, and had time between calls, and asked him to remember back to when we first met. I asked him, “What did you think when you found out I was a minister?”  

He said he was terrified he’d say something to offend me. He reminded me that I’d already met his wife, while we waited outside the school for our kids, so he actually knew before he met me, and was already on guard.

I asked my friend how he got over being worried about offending me. At first he joked that he hadn’t, and then said he just got to know me and realized I wasn’t as uptight as he expected. 

Has that ever happened to you, when people find out you are a Jesus follower? Are people cautious, or expect you to judge them, or to be uptight? There are powerful ideas floating around, about what to expect from people of faith.

If you pay attention to movies, or tv shows, you may have noticed there are two typical ways Christians are often presented.

One typical portrayal of Christians is they are child-like about the world, and need protection from those who would take advantage of their kindness.  This picture of Christians, as naive, and  gullible, often kind of dumb, makes it easy to sideline us, when we ask questions, or raise concerns.

Back when the first permanent casino was being established, I was part of a group of faith leaders in Windsor, who met with government officials. We asked questions about the effects of a 24/7 casino on those who struggle with gambling addiction. We were basically told we were naive if we thought that concern for a few vulnerable people would stand in the way of this powerful economic engine, that would generate jobs and bring millions of dollars to the local economy.

 The other way Christians, and especially pastors are typically portrayed, is that we are harshly judgmental, and that we frown, or scowl a lot, especially when folks are having a good time. We are seen as heavily moralistic, and hung up on rules. This was also part of the way the pastor’s group was dismissed when we asked about the social effects of a permanent casino- we were told we should relax, and stop trying to impose our morality on other people.

 There is irony in this image of Christians as judgmental. We follow Jesus, who as we see him in the gospels, accepted everybody. Jesus made no distinction between holy person and sinner, respectable and despicable, popular or outcast. He would walk, talk, sit, eat, drink, visit with literally anyone, and had the same basic message for each- that we are all beloved children of God, and we should love each other. When the rules of religion got in the way of demonstrating that love, Jesus pushed back against the rules.

So how is it that those who identify as Christians and are part of a church, are so often seen as cranky, and judgy, and uptight?  If we make allowance for movie and tv and novel writers exaggerating for dramatic effect, we still have to grapple with the hard truth, that for much of the history of the organized church- it’s been true. We have made rules, and established codes of behaviour, and drawn lines about who is one of us, and who is not. These behaviours have done a lot of harm over the centuries, and not just to our reputation.

 We can trace this back to when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity an official religion of the Roman Empire, and basically took it over. He re-organized it along the lines of an army. Instead of generals, he appointed cardinals, who commanded bishops, who in turn controlled the platoons of priests. Constantine told his commanders to get together and make rules and standards for all believers anywhere in the Empire. He also gave them a taste of money, and power.

 The followers of Jesus were tamed, domesticated, and brought into line. Instead of being an underground movement that accepted anyone, and stood up for the poor and powerless, the church became an arm of government, and helped keep order.

 It became a mark of respectability to be part of a church. Historians call this Christendom, the rapid spread of the Christian churches into most of what was the Roman Empire and beyond. The good part was the church grew, in numbers, and in influence. 

The bad part is that the organized church, in most places, replaced the original Jesus movement, which was simpler, and if we are being honest, more true to what Jesus was actually about. The early Jesus movement did not have a lot of rules and codes of behaviour- it just had the revolutionary idea that God loves everybody, and that everybody matters.

 The early Jesus followers spread the Good News by taking care of their neighbours, sharing their food, offering clothing and shelter, visiting the sick and those in prison, and even helping to bury the dead, when families could not do it on their own. This kind of generous living was seen as the way for all believers, not just a paid, uniformed staff under the control of the empire.

 Things shifted, when the officially sanctioned church took over. When the Emperor paid to have church buildings put up for congregations, the local leaders found themselves busy maintaining the buildings, and trying to attract wealthier parishioners, to help cover costs. It became harder to speak out the way Jesus spoke out, against rules and systems that hurt people.

 The organized church began to teach, and promote values virtually identical with the biases and ideas of the Emperor, and his powerful allies. Which is how we wound up with Christian preachers who bought into the idea that it was okay to own slaves, to beat wives who disobeyed their husbands, and to treat all women and children as property. These were not Christian values- they were cultural norms, that the church absorbed, and promoted, and for which they scoured the Bible to find verses to confirm their biased views.

Tommy Douglas, considered by many in his time to be a crazy radical Christian, but now remembered as the father of publicly funded universal health care in Canada, once said, “The Bible is like a bull fiddle- you cna play almost any tune you want on it. ”

Instead of asking, “What does the Bible say?” I think we need to ask, “Does that sound like Jesus?”.

Comfortable, well paid, Christian preachers went along with the idea that white men could claim whole continents in the name of their white kings. This was thought acceptable because the local people these white men found in India, Africa, North and South and Central America, the Caribbean, Australia, Polynesia, well, actually, basically everywhere, weren’t like good church people. 

They were believed to be not exactly human, because they were uneducated, were not Christian, and their skin was darker in shade than their conquerors. Colonialism, and the exploitation of millions of people, and the theft of their resources, their land, their freedom, was supported by teaching of the Church. We are still trying to detox our theology of all that poison.

 We also have had a lot of Christian preachers who put far too much emotional and mental energy into enforcing rules about sex, and gender, and sexual identity, despite the fact that the references in the Bible to these things are few, and are far outnumbered by the references to love, compassion, and acceptance of all of God’s people.  

The church has done a lot of harm, to a lot of people, with rules that or the most part reflect more about the prejudices in society than they do authentic biblical values.

 So the reason we as Christians have a reputation with many people as being judgmental, is that historically, we have been. What can we do about that? I love the words we heard from Luke’s Gospel:

 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

There is a lot we can do to help people, to be generous, and kind, that does not involve putting folks down because they may not look, speak, think, believe, or act exactly like us.

The friend I mentioned at the beginning, who worried when he met me, about saying things that would offend, describes himself as an atheist, and has no use for organized religion. He was also one of the largest donors when I was collecting money for this year’s Coldest Night of the Year walk for the Downtown Mission, and he gave without my asking him.

Our reading from the Letter to the Romans, offers a warning against confusing the biases of our local culture with God’s view of things:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”   Amen

A prayer we used, remembering that this week included International Women’s Day: