Sunday, September 27, 2009

the galilee emails

Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum is currently hosting an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is hard to drive around the GTA without seeing a bus-stop sign or a billboard promoting this important event. Recent work, from lesser known scholars than those who brought the Dead Ssea Scrolls to public attention, has unearthed another interesting set of documents. The Galilee emails seem to represent a dialogue between the John the disciple, and Jesus.
Subject: unfair competition

Dear Master;

Several of our local area managers have observed someone casting out demons, and claiming to be from our company. I directed our representatives to take the appropriate action to have them cease and desist. I thought I’d better keep you in the loop.


Subject: your note

Dear John;

Thank you for your note. I am always happy to hear from you. As to the situation you describe:
Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.


Subject: acting in your name

Dear Master;

With respect, I have discussed the situation with a few of the other regional management team, and we feel there are some issues you may not be taking into account. What about copyright infringement? If we allow an unlicensed operator to use your name and image, we could lose exclusivity.


Subject: good works

Dear John;

I can see that you are giving this matter a lot of attention. I appreciate your concern, but wish to remind you of the following:

Whoever is not against us is for us.

Peace be with you,

Subject: financial implications

Dear Master;

I know it is not my role in the company to set policy. I would never question your thinking. But I have to say that we are all more than a little concerned down here at the office. What happens if one person doing deeds in your name multiplies into two, and then five, and then ten? How do we do quality control? And what about the revenue stream? Some of your followers have been very generous in supporting the ministries. What happens if these upstarts also begin to collect in your name?

Your loyal servant,

Subject: abundance

Dear John;

You have always been such a good friend. I can see how much this is bothering you. Please, trust me on this! Don’t worry. Remember:Whoever is not against us is for us.

Yours in love,


Sunday, September 20, 2009

the fifth page for September 20, 2009

In her book “Not Counting Women and Children- Neglected Stories from the Bible”, the Roman Catholic theologian and story-teller Megan McKenna reflects on her experience working amongst people who lived in small villages and towns in Northern New Mexico:

“They spoke of their childhood, of belonging to all the adults in the town, known by all, and told by each what to do—when not to do something, to go home, to fetch, and to do errands. They carried water, firewood, and slops, emptied chamber pots, and were sent on errands by their parents, grandparents, and neighbours. But they spoke too of belonging to all the people, of being accepted, cared for, loved, and protected. Home was not a house, but a place of relationships, of extended family, a place that looked out for others needs and considered it normal for children to obey and serve. When this passage (the one from Mark about “who is the greatest?”) was discussed in small groups, it dawned on the participants that this is childhood in the kingdom—service combined with belonging, obedience given in love, servant-hood that is both joyful and hard, expected and appreciated. It revealed a relationship that bound the community tightly together and an atmosphere that share responsibility and privileges across family ties. It was home. “ (p.74)

Later in the same chapter, McKenna wrote:

“Home is going after the lost, the little ones, the children of God. One old woman, a grandmother of many, told me that if we want to behold the face of God always, we find it in those little ones, the lost, the ones needing to be found, taken in and taken care of, the least, the poor. She knew the wisdom of God and put it bluntly. The face of God looks remarkably like the face of the least of the lost in society, the little ones, beloved, and most favoured children in the kingdom that Jesus brings.” (p. 77)

McKenna does a marvelous job of weaving together the “child” threads in the gospel stories. Jesus uses the image of a child to call the disciples to understand true “greatness”. Jesus is presented as the “child of God” who makes himself vulnerable to the suffering and hardships of the world. Jesus brings the message that our identity as children of God is linked to how well we welcome and embrace, and listen, to the weakest and most at risk people in our world.

Monday, September 14, 2009

the fifth page for September 13, 2009

On most Sundays my sermon begins with some kind of story that may provide images to reflect on, or return to later on, or which is a direct illustration of some point I want to make, or some issue I want to address. Over the years, I have realized that beginning with a story is often a good way to draw people into listening. (At least, that's what I hope is happening!)

There are risks with using stories, especially true stories. I am never sure what part of the story will come across as the most interesting or memorable.

This Sunday I began by talking about officiating at a wedding in a nearby church. I mentioned that in my preparation for speaking at the wedding, I had been thinking about two things:

1) What do I have to say that will be useful wisdom to the couple being married?

2) What do I say to a "congregation" of family and friends, the majority of whom are not regular church attenders?

That second question was the one I really wanted to work on. My hope was to get people musing about it on their own- what is it about church involvement that they value?

Even as I was preaching on Sunday, I was aware that I had described being in a full church, that holds about 80-100 people, and being able to identify only 3 people who are regular church-goers. I don't think this low percentage is necessarily an accurate reflection of societal trends- but it definitely feels like it is! People who regularly attend, and give of their time and resources and skills to support a church, are in the minority.

I chose not to dwell on the "negative" picture in my sermon. I did not want those listening to get depressed, or caught in the "survival blues". You know what I mean, "How will we ever carry on....."

There are lots of theories about why church attendance is not what it once was. There are also lots of prescriptions offered, to help churches reverse the trend, and "fill the pews". I am not aware of any "quick-fix" plan that actually works.

I think that rather than finding or creating the formula that will "get them back in the pews", we might be better off if we reflect on the question of what is we ourselves value about our church involvement.

Hopefully it is something more than just keeping our congregations going.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

the fifth page for September 6, 2009

There were two underlying themes in the lectionary readings for this Sunday that just leapt off the page at me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and shook me. The first was about privilege.

In Mark’s gospel we read the story of an encounter Jesus had with a Syro-Phonecian woman (a gentile). She asked him for help, and he responded with the infamous line about not feeding the dogs (the gentiles) until the children (the Jewish people) have had their fill. Her answer was brilliant: “But even the dogs are allowed the crumbs that fall from the children’s table...”

This story is part of a set of stories that push at the traditional boundaries between Jew and Gentile. We may not divide the world into those categories, but that does not mean that we see all people as equal. We certainly do not treat everyone with equal regard for their dignity. In the United States, there has been a lot of criticism of the federal response to the damage caused to the city of New Orleans, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Many have suggested that if a similar disaster had befallen a “more white” area, things would have been different. I don’t think we need to look that far afield to see examples of the power of privilege.

The other issue, related to the first, has to do with our treatment of “the poor”. The selection from Proverbs included these words:

“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.
Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.”

After 4 weeks of vacation, during which my family and I enjoyed the luxury of time off together, in beautiful settings, and during which we spent money freely and ate very well, I feel very aware that I am not poor. I may not be “wealthy” compared to some of my neighbours here in Oakville, but I need to remember that I live in one of the world’s most affluent communities. Does that sound like an exaggeration? Do we really live in one of the world’s richest towns?

I have not done my homework on this one. I cannot prove my claim statistically. I am pretty sure everyone reading this can think of a “richer” place.

My claim is based on having viewed a video called “The Miniature Earth”,

which I included in the Sunday morning service. The video asks what the world would look like if it were a community of 100 people. Who would be there? What would they look like? How many would look like you and I?