As Though They Had No Possessions (153)

We have come to the third in this series of sermons related to the way of life practiced by the early church. In the past two I’ve tried to show how these ancient disciples of Jesus were eccentric. They found the centre to their identity outside themselves. They believed their bodies were not their own but were intended as signs of God’s presence in the world and as descriptions of God’s character. Now we move to another chapter of I Corinthians, chapter 7. Our reading came from the second half of that chapter (vv. 29-31).

I Corinthians chapter 7 deals with a question the disciples in Corinth asked Paul about marriage and sexuality. One of the commentators I read this week, Israel Kamudzandu, ended his nice, calm exposition of this passage by saying in an off-handed sort of way that it deals one of the most divisive subjects in the life of the church. As I read those lines, after having decided to preach on this text, I felt a bit as did once when I bought a car. Several days after I bought the used vehicle I found myself marooned at a gas pump, having just figured out that the release lever for filling the car’s tank didn’t work. Things like these would be helpful to know in advance. Read more

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You are Not Your Own (152)

“You are not your own.” I wonder if there are many ideas that could be more upsetting to the way we think about our lives today. If the normal way of life is like a Jenga tower, the kind you build with rectangular wooden blocks, the idea that we are our own, that our bodies are our own, is one of the blocks on the bottom. Much of our how we think of ourselves depends on the belief that we own ourselves. You can probably imagine a disagreement between a parent and a child about, I don’t know, a haircut, tattoo or a new piercing. The child pushes back against the parent’s criticism, saying “It’s my body. It’s my decision.” Or maybe it’s an argument happening at the other end of the spectrum, an elderly parent is deciding whether or not to undergo some new life-saving medical procedure. “Come on dad,” the daughter says, “this will extend your life by another five years.” The dad replies, “No, it’s my body. It’s my decision. I don’t want it.”

The point doesn’t have anything to do with tattoos or medical procedures (maybe it’s the grandparent who want the tattoo or the wild haircut). I just want to point out how common it is for us to argue on the basis of the claim that our bodies are our own. Read more

Becoming an Eccentric People (151)

What would you think if I told you that being a Christian meant being eccentric? I imagine that sitting in a church, you might look around and say that seems about right.

The word eccentric can mean being a bit unusual or a little odd, peculiar maybe. Another way to define the word, and this is more helpful for our purposes here, is to say that something eccentric is off center or maybe that its center is found  beyond itself. My sermons in the next few weeks will explore a common theme: the way in which the lives of early Christians were ‘eccentric’ in just this sense.   Read more

As when Fire Kindles Brushwood (149)

A one-match fire in the snow is the test. An old-timer once told me a story of a time he failed. He and a buddy were making a long trek on snowshoes between two northern villages. The night was colder than they expected.  They were counting on a trapper’s cabin but couldn’t find it. They set up as best they could in the snow with spruce boughs and down sleeping bags. But they couldn’t get a fire started. Match after match, they went through almost every one they had. The flame wouldn’t catch. Read more

A Failure of Good Intentions

I stood beside an Indigenous man, an artist born on an Ontario First Nation. He was, oddly enough, wearing an Amish straw hat. I asked him about the prints he had displayed on the table in front of us. I could see the connection in his work to that of the widely-celebrated Ojibwa artist Norval Morriseau. He seemed pleased when I mentioned it. The story of the artist I was talking with, the little I know of it at least, is worth telling. But it’s not my story to tell. Our conversation drifted to the link he and I shared: his people had been sent to institutions known as Indian Residential Schools; my people had run them. Read more

Mind Control and Other Things (148)

If you are an average teenager you are apparently on track to spend almost a decade of your life on your phone. The problem is that your phone wants to control you mind. A couple of weeks ago the CBC ran a piece by Virginia Smart that described the way app designers make use of the latest in neuroscience to grab our attention and keep us coming back to their products. I doubt this only applies to teenagers. Read more

Together, the Saints and the Suffering (146)

Have you ever heard of someone ‘praying to the saints’? There may be some people who actually do this, but mostly it is a misconception. Protestants, Anabaptists included, have told tall tales about this sort of thing for a long time. The Bible calls all those who are in Christ ‘saints’. We have come to use the term more narrowly, though, to identify someone whose life is obviously holy. A saint is a role model, a hero of sorts. It’s a description we don’t use glibly. We don’t usually identify people in this way until years after they have died and some of the biases have settled out. In the wake of so many new allegations of sexual harassment and abuse this seems like good sense. Celebrity culture pushes us to admire public and powerful figures in a way that ignores their shadow side. The tradition of identifying saints isn’t perfect, but it is more patient. Read more

Jesus against Morality (145)

I wonder if you can imagine two neighbours. Let’s say one is a man, recently retired, the other a woman who manages a local bank. They both moved into the neighbourhood around the same time, and it happened that the leader of the neighbourhood association told the woman that she would be a “great asset” to the neighbourhood. This was not said to the man. The man felt slighted and so he determined to show his value to his neighbours, so he fertilized his lawn and planted some new perennials. The woman, though, was finally feeling as though she had neighbours who took her seriously. She wanted to keep it that way, so she had her driveway paved and her shabby mailbox replaced. But then the fellow built a new porch and replaced the siding on this home. The woman had dormers put in and added a picket fence. The man, then, bought some handsome carved lions for the end of his driveway. The woman decided to employ a handsome guard with a red jacket and a bearskin hat. The man bought a new car and then a second one, he threw a lavish Halloween party for the whole block. Then the woman . . . whatever. I think you’re seeing the picture I’m trying to create. It’s a picture of competition. It’s a picture defensiveness. It’s a picture of people driven by the sense that their acceptability depends on what they do. It’s a picture of competition and the sense that everything depends on getting this right and coming out on top. Read more

And to God the things that are God’s (144)

This past Sunday our congregation here in Ottawa had a special service celebrating the role music has in this church and in worship generally. Music can do a lot for us. Think about something as specific as the way we understand the Trinity. I’m reminded of the work of Jeremy Begbie, a theologian and professionally trained musician. He says that for centuries Christians have tried to think of the Trinity visually. This hasn’t been very successful. We can’t readily depict two things sharing the same space at the same time and not being muddled into something entirely different. With music, though, Begbie thinks we can do better. Read more

Blood, Justice and the Power of Thanksgiving (143)

Have you even been walking down the street and observed a couple of people arguing? Maybe they were standing beside a car, one person was about to get in, things were getting pretty heated. You thought, “Don’t get involved. This isn’t your problem.” We it’s not hard to imagine that, but what if one of the arguers looked over at you and asked what you thought? Or what if one of them reached out grabbed your arm and said, “You decide this. Who’s right?” This is just the thing that is happening in the beginning of Isaiah 5. Read more