Archive for March, 2012

March 25th, 2012 – He Walks With Us

I remember during one class at seminary, someone mentioned the different perceptions we have of God. Some people see God as a vengeful God, one who is always ready to smite or punish his people. Some people see God as a loving God, one who is always ready to forgive. I suggested that maybe our perceptions are coloured by which section of the Bible we are reading, saying that the God of the Old Testament was more likely to smite. After all, in our reading from Exodus just a couple of weeks ago, were we not told that God is a jealous God? It seems to me that a jealous God would be more likely to smite or punish his people for wrongdoing. Well, that, as it turns out, was the wrong thing to say. Because, of course, that implies that the God mentioned in the Old Testament and the God mentioned in the New Testament are different gods, which we know is not the case.
However, my statement does show that each one of us can have a different perception of the same thing. I grew up in a paper town, where the forest was seen as a source of paper and of income. Most of our fathers – mothers rarely worked outside the home in those days – worked for the paper mill, and we all knew that, without trees, there would be no mill. The disadvantage to this was obvious one day in school, when my teacher got upset because I had – to her mind – wasted paper. She glared at me, and demanded: Do you think that paper grows on trees? Well, of course, the answer was: yes. My uncle, who also worked for the paper mill, was also a hunter, and he had a different view of the woods. He saw the forests surrounding the town as a place to hunt game, as a place where he longed to be during hunting season. Woodworkers looked on each tree as a possible piece of furniture, or as a possible work of art when put in the hands of a skilled carver. Friends of mine who were farmers looked at the forest as something to be conquered, to be eliminated, so that they could plant more land with vegetables or use it to graze more animals.
And, of course, the forest is all of these things. But it is a whole lot more. It is a place where we can see God’s hand at work wherever we look. It is a home for countless animals, birds, and even insects. If you have ever seen any of the countless documentaries on the rain forest, you will know that a forest is actually a microcosm for the universe, and a place of beauty and wonder, a place where we can see and hear the Good News.
Every Sunday, I am to preach the Good News, and sometimes it is easier than others. Given the readings today, it would be impossible NOT to do this. Let’s start with the reading from Jeremiah, which is not usually the place where we would expect to find good news. Jeremiah is known as the one who laments. In fact, at times the book of Jeremiah has been called: Jeremiah’s lament because it is so full of doom and gloom. But that is not the case today. Here, Jeremiah is telling the people of Israel about a new covenant which is coming between God and his people. He said that it will be radically different from the one which was made at the time of the Exodus. That covenant culminated in the Ten Commandments, which were carved on stone tablets, and which, unfortunately, the Israelites broke again and again. At the time of the new covenant, no teaching of the Lord will be necessary, because everyone will know him in their minds and hearts. To me, the last sentence in this reading is the most wonderful: For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. God will remember sins no more. Now, that is something I wish we all could do. I have managed to make forgiveness part of my life, but the forgetting – well, that isn’t quite as easy. I believe that this is part of the human condition, and a part against which we must constantly struggle.
Jeremiah is speaking to the people while they are still in captivity, and the tone of these verses is very different from what he said before. He has stopped scolding the people for their sins and for the times they have broken their covenant with God. Instead, he is now talking about rescue and release, about restoration and return. Despite the many times the Israelites have turned away from God, Jeremiah is bringing them a new message. Not only will God forgive them AGAIN, he will forget their sins. It will be as though they never happened at all.
God says, through Jeremiah, I will be their God and they will be my people. In his great book Theology of The Old Testament, Walter Bruggeman explained that God says this out of love, a deed, abiding love and grief – grief that his people have strayed yet again. But despite their straying, he still loves them. And if that isn’t Good News, then I don’t know what is!
Jeremiah’s words invite us to think about who God really is. When I was in seminary, and before and after, I was never able to describe God adequately. And I don’t think I ever will, simply because I am using human words to try to describe something that is so far beyond anything we can ever imagine. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. You have heard me preach on the various aspects of God – as Saviour, Creator, Shepherd, or King – but whatever I call him, it is still short of what he really is. There is an interesting thing to see in verse 32. I don’t know how many of you read the footnotes in the pew Bibles, but I always did, and there is one word which could be translated in a couple of different ways. In this verse, speaking about the Israelites being led out of Egypt, God says: They broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them. Now, the Hebrew word could have been translated as HUSBAND or MASTER, but, to me, neither word adequately describes God’s relationship with me. In fact, I would rather use the word PARENT, because that is how I see God in this reading. As a parent – and also as a child – I can totally understand God’s frustration when his people seem to be constantly messing things up. I can understand his anger, But most of all, I can understand his love. And that love is put into words a bit earlier in this chapter, when, in verse 20 God says: Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him. This is not the vengeful God so many of us have come to associate with the Old Testament. This is the God of love.
And the God of love gave us his son, so that we would have eternal life. It is important for us to recognize that Jesus was both God and man – not half and half, but fully one AND fully the other. There are some who cannot accept that Jesus was fully man, and this leads to some interesting beliefs. I am sure that most of you have heard of M. Scott Peck, the author of The Road Less Traveled, among other inspirational books. While I find some of what he says rather unusual, once in a while I find something in his books which I think will be interesting even to us Presbyterians. Peck, in addition to being a writer, is a psychiatrist, and many of his patients came to him because of religion. There was this one woman, who had been involved in what I politely refer to as New-Age movements. Peck says, “I asked her one day, ‘Tell me about Jesus . . . how he died?’
‘He was crucified.’ She answered. Something, perhaps the fact that she did everything she could to avoid pain, propelled me to ask, ‘Did it hurt?’

‘Oh no!’ she responded . . . . . I persisted ‘How could it not hurt?’
‘Oh,’ she replied happily, ‘He was just so highly developed in his Christ Consciousness that he was able to project himself into his astral body and take off from there.’”
Well, now, isn’t THAT interesting? But, you know, it isn’t only the New-Agers who come up with such things. I have heard main-stream Christians say that we really shouldn’t think of Jesus as divine, because, if we do, we can too easily ignore his suffering. We can say something like, well, because he was divine, none of it – the torture, the crucifixion, the death – hurt him as much as it would hurt a human. So that negates the sacrifice he made for us. Because, believe me, everything that happened to him – it hurt him just as much as it would hurt us. And we need to know this, because we need to know that following Jesus doesn’t always mean that things are wonderful. It doesn’t always mean that we won’t suffer. It doesn’t always mean that we won’t be sad. But, it does always mean that the rewards are worth it.
In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, which we heard just a few minutes ago, we were given a very real human picture of Jesus – a Jesus who suffered, one who cried, and prayed, and ultimately submitted himself to his Father’s will. Despite the fact that he cried, he was crucified. Remember, in the garden at Gethsemane, Jesus said: My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
I remember when my son was about four years old. He was helping us dig rocks out of our garden so that we could plant vegetables there. He was tossing the rocks as far as his little arms could throw, but once he made a mistake. Instead of throwing the rock ahead, he threw it up into the air, and it came down right on his forehead, splitting it open. After the initial panic, I drove him to the hospital, where he had to get stitches. Before getting stitches, of course, he had to have a needle right in the wound to deaden it. He was holding my hand, and crying, begging me not to let the doctor hurt him. But all of his tears and pleading were to no avail, as it had to be done. Alec probably felt abandoned, but I was right there.
In just the same way, when you feel abandoned, Jesus is there. Whatever you feel, Jesus has felt it, Jesus has experienced it. Think about a time in your life when you have been scared, alone, and troubled. Then think about Jesus in the garden, when not one of the apostles could even stay awake to pray with him, when one of his trusted twelve betrayed him. Think about the times in your life when you felt that you just couldn’t go on. And know that Jesus has experienced the same emotion. Then ask yourself why he allowed this to happen. After all, he was God. He didn’t have to do suffer any of this.
The answer, of course, is love. He moved among people on earth, ministering to the lowest of them, caring for all, because he loved us. I don’t know if you have ever heard the starfish story, but I am going to tell it again anyhow, just in case you missed it, when I last told it, a couple of years ago. There had been a storm at sea, and the great waves had washed up many starfish onto the beach, where they lay, dying. A small boy was walking along, picking up starfish, one by one, and tossing them back into the water. An adult watched him for a while, and then asked him what he was doing. The small boy said: I am rescuing starfish. The adult said that there were far too many for his efforts to make any difference, and laughed. The small boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the water. Then he said: It made a difference to that one.
And that is what Jesus did. He came to restore wholeness to those who lay helpless and stranded upon the shore of life because either the tide and wind had cast them there, or – as is so often the case with us, but not so often in the case of starfish, because they had thoughtlessly and foolishly stranded themselves on the shore. Jesus gave up everything for us, and that is what he expects us to do, if we are going to follow him. The power of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the compassion of Jesus, the joy and the sorrow of Jesus, and the life everlasting of Jesus, are all available to us – for the asking and the wanting, if we but follow him, if we are but willing to walk as he walked, and die as he died, in obedience to the Father.
Jesus said : Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life in this world will lose it, but the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Jesus was a seed, ready to die for us. Jesus was a starfish thrower, ready to save each individual person. And that is what he wants from us. He loved and loves us, and expects us to love others, for it is in this way that we will find his love. The Gospel – the Good News – is our call to follow him, our call to love others. We are asked to follow him in serving those who need serving, and you’d be surprised where you will find them. We are asked to follow him in standing up for the oppressed, and the mistreated, and those who are downtrodden. We are asked to follow him by fighting against evil wherever we see it. In following Jesus, we, too, may be rejected by others; we, too, may be scorned. Nobody ever said that it was easy to be a follower of Jesus. His way is the way of the Cross. But the promise of the Gospel is that, wherever we go, Jesus has already been, and wherever we go, he is there with us. Thanks be to God.

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March 18th, 2012 – Changed by Love

Today’s sermon is going to be a bit different, in several ways. First of all, I plan to start almost in the same way as a rabbi would, with some actual teaching, rather than preaching. This is appropriate because, after all, my title in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, in addition to being a minister of word and sacraments, is TEACHING elder. Secondly, I will be focusing mostly on the Old Testament – both the confusing reading from the Book of Numbers, and on the Psalm. Of course I will also reference the Gospel, but the main thrust of today’s sermon will not be from the New Testament.
Let’s start with some interesting facts. Many people know that the first five books of the Old Testament – often referred to these days as the Hebrew Scripture – are called the Pentateuch. But not as many people know that the Psalms are also divided into five parts. The psalm we used today is the beginning of the fifth book, which is a collection of psalms of praise and thanksgiving. And on this Sunday, which I earlier mentioned used to be called Laetare Sunday, this psalm is a particularly good choice for our responsive reading. You see, Lent has, for years, been regarded as a solemn time in the church, and we, as Christians, are caught by the contrast between what we know to be coming – the communion of the Last Supper, followed by betrayal; then the suffering and death on the cross followed by the resurrection. We are not sure what we should feel – eager anticipation or dread.
Suffering may be an inevitable part of the human condition, something we cannot avoid. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to accept it stoically. I remember being told, as a child, that when something bad was happening to me, to “offer it up”. Fortunately, we have moved far beyond that, and no longer believe that suffering, even though it does happen, is a required part of human existence. One thing we need to know – and admit – is that, often, suffering is our own fault. Suffering is caused by something we did, by some choice we made. But whatever the cause of suffering, we know, as did the Israelites, that God can relieve it.
It is unfortunate that we only read part of the Psalm this week, as the entire thing relates no less than four stories – four times when the Israelites were in trouble and cried out to God to help. And each time, according to the Psalmist, he saved them, after which they thanked him. Over and over again, the psalmist wrote: Let them give thanks for the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. The psalm itself begins with the words “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” What an appropriate way to being this Psalm, and even this section of psalms. Gratitude for God’s love permeates this psalm, just as God’s love itself permeates our Gospel reading. We’ll get back to that in a few minutes, but for now, let’s focus on suffering.
Many times, it seems to us that suffering is a mystery. Who knows why a tsunami happens? But, in this modern age, there are many professionals who can analyze suffering – explaining its cause, and pointing to ways to relieve it. We know that society’s emphasis on success doesn’t bring happiness nearly as often as we have been led to think. We know that THINGS don’t bring happiness, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to get more and more. Even though we live in the most scientifically advanced age of all time, we still don’t know how to be happy. Most of us work too much; in North America we eat too much; some of us drink too much, or turn to other drugs for satisfaction. We are familiar with the term shopaholic, which describes someone who shops in an attempt to find happiness, and not out of necessity, which is pretty well the only reason I go to stores. Many people spend too much time gazing at what my father used to call “the idiot box”, while others are constantly plugged into their iPods or other such devices. But what many don’t realize is that, because of these searches for happiness, we end up damaging, if not destroying relationships; we weaken our experience of intimacy; and even our own health is often destroyed. This leads to our personal sufferings being magnified and reflected in the world, which we can see every evening on the news or read about in the daily paper.
Like the Israelites of old, we are sick because of our sinful ways, and because our iniquities endured affliction; we loathe any kind of food, and we are drawing near to the gates of death. It is easy for us to look at others, and to say: Well, it’s their own fault. If people don’t eat properly; if people insist on smoking; if people refuse to exercise, then, we say: It’s their own fault. But we should rather say: There but for the grace of God, go I. Because, again like the Israelites of old, we cry out to the Lord to help us. There are some people who do not feel as though they have that option. But we know that we do. We know because of John 3: 16 – God so loved the world that he gave his only son that all who believe in him might not perish, but have everlasting live. We are loved, and that’s what today is all about.
Love is why we rejoice on this day, in the middle of Lent. Love is why we are able to bear the betrayal on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion on Good Friday. Love is what leads us to the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So now we move from the Psalm to Lent, to a time for us to begin again. Looking back to the past again, Lent was once seen as a time for repentance, and, while that is still one aspect of this season, it is not the only one, nor, in my opinion, the most important one. How many times have we seen God’s people repent? How many times have we seen them again turn their backs on God? To me, this often means that repentance is hollow, almost meaningless. But, if we look at Lent as a time for a fresh start, then our whole attitude will change. Rather than looking back on all the wrong things we have done, we will look forward to the person we will become, because of God’s love. The Israelites spent 40 years, wandering in the desert, looking for the Promised Land; Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his ministry; maybe we need to spend 40 days in a wilderness, even though it may not be a literal one. Our wilderness can be in our own homes. The point of it is to get away from our overloaded culture, away from the gadgets which take us away from God, away from everything which interferes with our relationship with our Creator. We need to take this time, a time of quiet prayer and reflection, to focus our thoughts and to recognize God at work in our lives.
And we also need time together, as God’s faithful people. One of the reasons we do the Psalms responsively is to show that they are representative of all God’s people, our joys and sorrows, our cries of lament and praise and thanksgiving. And a psalm is, above all, a poem. Poetry, no matter when it is written, or for whom or by whom it is written, contains a message for all time. Kathleen Norris, a Presbyterian theologian, is well known among scholars for her book: The Cloister Walk, one chapter of which deals with praying the psalms. In this chapter, she wrote: “The psalms are poetry, and poetry’s function is not to explain but to offer images and stories that resonate with our lives.” During this Lenten season, which began with the transfiguration, we also hope to be somehow transfigured, to be transformed, and one way to achieve this is to do as Norris did – to pray the psalms regularly, daily even. In this way, we can open ourselves to receive the gifts of God. Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in this church, immediately before the distribution of the bread and wine, I say: The gifts of the God for the people of God. The gifts of God for the people off God. We are the people of God, and his gifts are all around us.
In the same way, God’s gifts were around his people during their trek through the wilderness, whether or not they saw the signs. In many ways, the wandering Israelites remind me of cranky children who are going on a trip with their parents. There is a story about a three year-old who is being taken on a road trip by her parents. Well, first she wanted juice; then she wanted a cookie; and of course, after that, she needed a bathroom break. After the first hour of the trip the actual whining began. She wanted to know how much longer the trip would take; she wanted to know when she would go back to her friends at school. She needed to go to the bathroom yet again, and then she simply had to have the toys she dropped on the floor of the car. At her wits’ end, her mother looked out the window and exclaimed, “Look, sweetie! Do you see what that sign says?” The little girl excitedly looked at a sign that probably said something like “McDonald’s Drive Thru, Exit 45,” and demanded, “Tell me what it says! What does it say?” Her creative mother said, “It says ‘No Whining!’ ” The child believed her mother and immediately ceased nagging her parents. For the remainder of the trip, and for many trips thereafter, she would point to signs on the side of the road and say, “That sign says ‘No Whining!’”
In our Old Testament reading today, the Israelites are whining. In fact, in much of this book, the Israelites are whining. Despite the many time God has saved them during their wandering, they still think that they are going to die in the wilderness, and I suppose that is a good reason to whine a little. But where was their faith? Instead of realizing that every step was taking them a little closer to the Promised Land, all they could see what that they weren’t there yet – not unlike the little girl in our story.
Now, while they were in the wilderness, they must surely have encountered other snakes, so I wonder what made these so special? Maybe it was their reaction to the snakes, because they went to Moses and said: We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.
And what did Moses do? Well, this is the part with which I have the most difficulty. Moses, following God’s instructions, fashioned a snake out of bronze, and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. Now, to me, this almost smacks of making false idols. But the point of it was to show how the power of healing can overcome both the grip of physical suffering and, more importantly, the sense of being lost in the wilderness, wandering hopelessly and aimlessly. And the serpent was to help focus the Israelites at the time. One of the purposes of Lent is to help us focus, to help us recognize the consequences of our sins, upon ourselves and others. During this time, we can examine the wilderness behind and before us, and see how God can bring us through it. But we need to be focused to see this. Interestingly, years later, when Hezekiah was called upon to purify the temple, one of the things which was destroyed was the bronze serpent. This shows me how reform has to be a part of any organized religion, for, without it, we will stagnate and die.
But we are not about to stagnate and die. And it is because of Jesus Christ that this will not happen. I referred earlier to John 3: 16, which was read as part of today’s Gospel. I have that verse framed and hung in my study, because I think that it is one of the most important ones in all of Scripture, and I was able to find an interesting story about that verse to share with you today.
I am sure that most of you have heard about football player, Tim Tebow, and his in-your-face Christianity. Well, three years ago (2009), he wrote John 3:16 on his eye black while playing in a college championship game. Eye black is grease paint that athletes smear under their eyes to reduce glare from the sun or stadium lights. Sometimes athletes write a short message across their eye black. There isn’t much room there, but Tebow wrote “John” under his right eye and “3:16” under his left eye. Seeing him on camera, you would see “John 3:16” written across his eye black. Tebow’s idea, of course, was to use his “bully pulpit” to broadcast the message of God’s love. When Tebow wrote “John 3:16” on his eye black, within 24 hours, 90 million people did a Google search on “John 3:16.” In fact, for that 24 hour period, “John 3:16” was Google’s highest-ranked search term. Whatever you think of Tim Tebow, he is making a powerful witness.
The following year (2010), the NCAA, which regulates college football, created a new rule banning messages on eye paint. The NFL already had that sort of rule in place when Tebow moved from college to pro football––so he isn’t supposed to wear messages in his eye black. However, the message still gets through. When Tebow’s team––the Denver Broncos–– defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, Tebow threw 316 yards––and his passes averaged 31.6 yards per completion. Those 3’s and 16’s in Tebow’s yardage set commentators to commentating. Was that the hand of God? Tebow, of course, didn’t have any doubt! And he publicly shared and shares his faith. But we have millions of Christians who are content to hide their light under a basket. We have no shortage of invisible Christians. In fact, most of us are just that – invisible, hiding our light under a basket of a bush. During Lent, maybe it is time to become more visible, to proclaim to the world that we are Christians. Let them see the signs that we already see. Confident of God’s love, we can return to him and start anew. Like the people of ancient Israel, we can rebuild our lives and renew our church. Let us work towards a world and a church based on co-operation rather than competition, on respect rather than discrimination. We can do it, with God’s love. God so loved the world. Thanks be to God.

March 11th, 2012

If you looked at the insert today, you will have noticed that there is a photocopy of a picture. I hope I haven’t infringed copyright by using it in this way, but since it was free to grab on the internet, I figured it would be all right. The original of this picture was painted by Warner Sallman, and it shows a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus – probably the image that most of us have grown up with. According to Sallman’s home page, this particular image has been reproduced more than 500 million times, which is pretty amazing. There are other images of Jesus with which we are also familiar. Think of him holding a lamb in his arms, with other lambs and sheep standing around him. See him blessing the children. See him in the garden at Gethsemane, praying alone while waiting to be betrayed. In all of these images, the best word to describe Jesus is: serene. One of the first prayers I learned as a child started: Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, and that gave me a specific image of the man Jesus. But if these are the only images we have as Jesus, then it is no wonder that the story told today in John’s Gospel would cause us to sit up and take notice.
Picture it for a minute. This is the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem. This is the past of the temple which is open to everyone, Jew or Gentile, male or female, and at this time of the year – close to the feast of the Passover, it would be very crowded, indeed. A few years ago, I went to an outdoor presentation near Montreal called “A Walk To Bethlehem”. Members of the church’s congregation played characters who were somehow involved in Jesus’ life – from the angels announcing his birth to the soldiers crucifying him. One of the scenes was supposed to be the courtyard, and there were all kinds of people there, selling all kinds of things. With every step, we – the spectators – were besieged by people who wanted us to buy their wares, which ranged from breads to produce to live animals, which could be used for sacrifice. There were also money changers there, and we had to give them the coins we had been given upon entering the place so that we could get what they called “temple money”. It was loud, and confusing, but very effective, as it gave us a vivid picture of what it must have been like over 2000 years ago, when Jesus acted so out of character.
Now you are in the courtyard of the temple. You hear the people yelling, bargaining. You see, every devout Jew was required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem – at least once, and if possible, at the time of Passover. In those days, of course, animal sacrifice was an accepted part of religious life, as it had been in the days of the ancient Israelites. However, in those very early days, just about everyone was some kind of farmer, so it was no problem having live animals available for sacrifice. But by the time Jesus came along, more and more Jews were city dwellers, and I would imagine that most landlords would have frowned on them keeping cattle or goats or lambs or even doves in their apartments. So there were entrepreneurs who saw this tradition of sacrifice as a way to make a relatively easy living.
Also, the sacrificial animals had to be purchased with a specific kind of money, known as a sanctuary shekel, money which was only used in the temple. And the only way to get that money was to buy it from the money changers. Then, as now, there was a charge for changing money, and you can be sure that many of the money changers cheated the people on a regular basis.
This story about Jesus in the temple appears in all of the gospels, which is unusual in itself. As you know, John’s Gospel is different from the others, in that it is not a chronological account of Jesus’ life, but rather snippets and short stories about various events. According to the other three Gospels – known collectively as the synoptic Gospels – this happened near the end of Jesus’ ministry, just before he was betrayed. John, however, places it right at the beginning, right after the first miracle, when Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. But the fact that all four Gospels contain the story is enough to convince me that this cleansing of the temple did really happen.
What was happening in the courtyard that day was the same thing which happened on a regular basis there – whenever visitors came to town, and wanted to visit the temple, it was convenient for them to be able to do everything in one place. It’s like my brother, who arranges mortgages for people. In his building, he has a law firm and a real estate agency, and describes his business as: one-stop house shopping. And you know, on the face of it, there was nothing wrong with what was happening. The vendors and money changers were providing a service, but the service had gone wrong. Think for a minute about a teenager’s bedroom. Scary thought, for many of us. I remember shutting the doors on my children’s bedrooms – and not always quietly – so that I wouldn’t have to see the mess. But a messy room doesn’t just appear. It doesn’t happen overnight. In actual fact, messes build up slowly over time. We don’t notice a bit of dust here, a pile of papers there, a pair of socks that didn’t make it to the hamper, until gradually we are oblivious to the mess that is quite evident to others. The longer we live with a mess, the easier it becomes to live with it. The longer we live with a mess, the more difficult it is to do the housecleaning. And the Jews had been living with their “mess” for so long that they didn’t even see it any more. If you have ever watched the TV show Hoarders, you will know that a MESS can eventually overwhelm you, and possibly destroy you. In the same way, Jesus was that the temple system ended up destroying worship and reverence towards God. In the same way, Calvin and Knox and Luther and the other great reformers saw that the church system under which they worked was destroying reverence towards God.
So Jesus walks into the courtyard, and then all hell breaks loose. He makes a whip, we are told, out of some cords, and dashed into the middle of the animals which were for sale, setting them free. Not only that, he attacked the sellers of the animals, and turned over the tables of the money changers, all the while screaming at them. Not a gentle Jesus today; not a serene Jesus; not the tamed, domesticated Saviour we usually see, but a wrathful one, one filled with righteous anger. And that is the difference between his anger and most of ours.
Usually, when we get angry, it is different from the anger Jesus felt that day. His was a righteous anger, good anger, healthy anger. Abraham Lincoln angry at slavery. Martin Luther King, Jr. angry at racial discrimination. as righteous anger. Nelson Mandela was angry at apartheid in South Africa. Mother Theresa as the treatment of the untouchables in India. Calvin and Knox and Luther at the corruption they saw in the church. That was righteous anger. And we can feel it, too. When we see a bully beating up on a young kid, when we see a thief stealing an old woman’s purse, when we see a group of girls being catty and mean to another girl at recess, when a husband beats up his wife. The list goes on and on. The Lord God has wired us in such a way that most healthy human beings are angry inside when we see evil and injustice being done to someone. And Jesus saw evil in the temple, in the place people went to worship God. And he was filled with righteous anger.
We refer to what he did as “cleansing the temple”, which in itself is an interesting expression. And, interestingly, if the vendors had paid closer attention to the law which Moses brought to their ancestors, this need not have happened. At this time, let us take a closer look at the law, as brought down from the mountain, carved on the stone tablets, and let’s see if we are true keepers of the law. Because, you know, the ten commandments were not JUST given to the ancient Israelites. They were not meant to be ignored, just because Jesus came. Remember, he said: I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. True, he condensed the ten into two when he was asked what a person must do to win eternal life. He explained it thus: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and Love your neighbour as yourself. And the ten commandments are actually contained in just these two, if you look at them carefully. There are commandments referring to God, and there are commandments referring to people. In both cases, they talk about our relationship – our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other. And, rather than being meant to catch us doing wrong, they are meant as a guide to living the kind of life God wants us to live. As such, they really work, on several levels. First of all, they direct us towards the way we should live together, as followers of Jesus Christ, as believers in God. And secondly, they help us see ourselves honestly, as Luther said, as “sinners in need of God’s grace.”
And most of us figure that we follow the ten commandments, for the most part. Let’s run down the commandments, and see how well we stack up.
First, the one about having no other gods. Well, I think that I am OK there. I don’t pray to Baal or Jupiter or any of the host of other gods worshiped by other civilizations.
Second, not making graven images. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a golden calf, let alone made one, so that’s another one crossed off my list.
Not taking the Lord’s name in vain. Well, I have been known to use expletives on occasion, but never intentionally, so I am hedging my bets on that one.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Here we are, doing just that. Aren’t we good?
So these are the laws that pertain to God. How have you done so far? Let’s take a look at the others.
Honour your father and your mother. Sadly, mine are both dead, but when they were living, I honoured them, and now I honour their memories.
You shall not kill. As long as mosquitoes don’t count, I should be fine on that score.
You shall not steal. To the best of my recollection, the only time I stole was a quarter out of my mother’s purse when I was about 6 years old. I was too afraid to spend it, because I knew that the shopkeeper would realize that I had taken it. So I threw it into a field of grass where I suppose it still is.
You shall not bear false witness. Granted, sometimes, lying might be the easiest way out of a situation, but my memory isn’t good enough to allow me to lie. I think that I would forget which story I told which person, so it is just easier to tell the truth.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. I think I’m in the clear on that one, too.
But. . . . You KNEW that there was a BUT, didn’t you? This whole other god thing – If I am honest, there are often other things which get more of my attention than God does. I wonder if that qualifies as having OTHER gods?
Graven images? I wonder if that could mean those things in my house which we really value – like paintings or Lego creations? If so, we could be in trouble.
Maybe taking the Lord’s name doesn’t refer only to what some people call “cussing”. Maybe it refers to using the whole idea of religion for reasons other than it was meant. Maybe it means using religion to control or punish people. I still haven’t done that, as far as I know, but some people do.
Honouring the Sabbath could mean a whole lot more than coming to worship on Sunday morning. It could –and should – mean taking the time, no matter how busy we say we are, to let God into every aspect of our lives. And wouldn’t that be amazing?
Honouring our parents could be extrapolated to honouring those in authority, to co-operating with those placed in leadership roles in my life. And I wonder if that is something we always do?
At least I am sure that I haven’t killed anyone – yet. But how often have I sat silently when unjust killings have happened? It is so easy just to sign a petition, and yet, there are many times when I just don’t bother.
Adultery? Who remembers Jimmy Carter’s famous comment about lusting in his heart? And who among us has not looked at an attractive person with appreciation?
I felt really good about the not stealing commandment, until I read what St. Augustine wrote: Anything you have more than you need is stolen from the poor. Whoops!.
I don’t lie, I can assure you of that. However, like most of you, I can remember events in such a way that I am put in a more attractive light. I believe that is called being a spin doctor and I think that we are all guilty of this.
Well, I guess that I am not as good a follower of the commandments as I thought. But I definitely NEVER coveted my neighbour’s donkey. That much I can promise you. The law IS a good guide, but most of us are not able to follow it. No matter how hard we try, no matter how many promises we make, we are not perfect, and will never be perfect – not in THIS life.
But, this season of Lent is a perfect time for us to examine our lives, and our hearts, and then to repent and return to God. In our Gospel, Jesus chased the money lenders and vendors out of the temple to cleanse it, and we can now chase the things out of our lives which don’t belong there, so that we will be cleansed.
Paul said that, as Christians, we preach Christ crucified, and if we remember that, then we will know that we have been given God’s grace freely. For it is at the cross that our need and God’s love come together. During Lent, we are reminded of that, and we know that the one resulted in the other. Thanks be to God.

March 4th, 2012

Today, I deviated a little from the lectionary texts because this is a special day for our congregation. On this day, we will be holding our Annual Congregational Meeting, at which time we will celebrate what we have done, and look to the future. For this reason, although the reading from Genesis is a great one, and very appropriate for such a day, and the Gospel is also fitting, I chose a different reading for the Epistle. And it is this reading I am going to start with.
Let’s just look at some of it: Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Other translations render this: Consider your own call, brothers and sisters, and it is this translation which I want to draw your attention to today. For we are all called. Whether we are called to serve as a minister of Word and Sacrament, as a Ruling Elder in this congregation, as a part of the Board of Managers, or as a follower of Jesus Christ, we are all called. And that is the thing I want you to keep in mind today – and every day. We are all called.
Now, some people have issues with Paul’s writings, and this passage is a fine example of how he can upset his listeners. He went on to say: Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. Well, OK, maybe we aren’t of noble birth – after all, that doesn’t mean too much to us here in Canada anyhow. As for influential – we can become influential, if we do things a certain way. But, hang on a bit! Not many of us were wise by human standards? Isn’t that going a bit too far? And how does any of this fit what we have always been taught?
At this time of year, many students are preparing their applications for post-secondary education, or for summer jobs. And, before submitting their applications, they do research into the kind of school, or kind of company, so that they can tailor their resumés to fit. I hasten to explain that they are not lying, but emphasizing what will best help them succeed. Do they need to stress high marks? Work experience? Creativity? Extracurricular activity? Whatever it is, the applicant will be sure to push that part of the resumé, just to bring it to the attention of the prospective school or the prospective employer.
Last week, as you know, the youth group held its first retreat, and I was given the opportunity to speak with them on both a formal and an informal level. One of the things they discussed was the whole idea of recognizing God’s call for us, so I shared with them something which showed them how God’s selection criteria are different from ours. I would ask you to think about the people Jesus called to be his closest followers – the twelve, as we refer to them. There were fishermen among them and ordinary working people. There was even a tax collector. Let’s remember that tax collectors in the time of Jesus were considered among the lowest of the low, and fishermen certainly weren’t on the list of people to be invited to the palace. But Jesus called them, anyhow.
I would ask you to imagine, if you would, that Jesus were calling the apostles today. He would likely have hired some kind of consulting firm to take care of it for him, giving that he was so busy preaching, healing, casting out demons, and turning water into wine. So he would have asked for some kind of CV from prospective followers, which would have been passed on to the consulting firm. Just think about what you know about the first 12 followers, those who were in attendance at the Last Supper. These would have been some of the people who may have been interested in following Jesus. So, the CVs were submitted, and, after an appropriate amount of time had passed, he could have received a letter like this one: Dear Sir:
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.
The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.
As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.
It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new venture.
Sincerely,
Jordan Management Consultants
This fictitious letter, which was written by Tim Hansell, only helps to show that Jesus’ call to follow Him is not based on potential or promise, nor is it based in any human quality; it is based on something else, namely, God’s love for all in Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s go back to Paul’s letter, piece by piece.
The first thing he does is to remove our self-esteem, to tell us that it wasn’t because of anything special that we were or that we did that we are called. Instead of telling us that we were called because of who we were, he tells us that we were called because of who we were not. Now, there’s an interesting way of putting things. We were called because of who we were not. That is because he wants to remake us. Originally, in Genesis, we were told that we were made in the image of God, and now we are to be re-made in the image of Jesus. That is what makes us Christians, which is what we are all called to be.
Of course, Paul was speaking specifically to the Corinthians, and, as far as the rest of the near and middle east was concerned, people of Corinth were not particularly well educated. Overall, Corinth was not involved in the politics of the time. This was a port, and most of the people were content to do their jobs, and let the governing be done by others. Hence, they were not influential. As well, they were certainly not of noble birth. Many of the early Christians in Corinth were actually former slaves.
Now, Paul was not trying to insult the Corinthians, and he is not trying to insult today’s followers of Jesus. Rather, he is reminding them – and us – what kind of people we were when we were called. Paul is saying to the Corinthians – and to us – that God didn’t call us because we were brilliant or wealthy or powerful, but rather in spite of it.
Before you start wondering if the only people called by God are the lower classes, and the uneducated, I would bring you back to our text. Paul wrote: not MANY of you were wise; not MANY were influential; not MANY were of noble birth. The thing that Paul is emphasizing is that we don’t have to be wise or influential or noble in order to serve him. That, in itself, is pretty amazing. And what is even more amazing is that sometimes – more often that you might think – the people who are often called the meek and lowly of heart are the ones who reply to the call while others don’t, thinking that they are too important,
In looking for a story to use here, as an illustration, I have to confess that I couldn’t find anything that would be Christian oriented. However, I found a secular one for you. Mensa is an organization whose members have an IQ of 140 or higher. A few years ago, there was a Mensa convention in San Francisco, and several members lunched at a local café. While dining, they discovered that their saltshaker contained pepper and their peppershaker was full of salt. How could they swap the contents of the bottles without spilling, and using only the implements at hand? Clearly this was a job for Mensa! The group debated and presented ideas, and finally came up with a brilliant solution involving a napkin, a straw, and an empty saucer. They called the waitress over to dazzle her with their solution. “Ma’am,” they said, “we couldn’t help but notice that the peppershaker contains salt and the saltshaker pepper.” “Oh,” the waitress interrupted. “Sorry about that.” She unscrewed the caps of both bottles and switched them.
This is how God works, how Jesus works. It is often those who least expect it, those whom WE would least expect, those who maybe don’t want it, who are called to serve him. We know that Jesus didn’t come for the rich and powerful, but for the ordinary. We know, as well, that in ancient Israel, it wasn’t always the rich and powerful who were chosen to work for God. Rather, then, as now, God called sinners. Here’s a partial list which I found of people whom we KNOW to have been called by God:
Noah: Rejected from society. Built an ark for 120 years and had no converts.
Abraham: Offered to share his own wife with another man, not once but twice.
Joseph: Ostracized by his dysfunctional family; possesses a prison record.
Moses: A modest and meek man, but poor communicator, even stuttering at times. Murderer.
David: Affair with his neighbor’s wife; murdered her husband to avoid charges.
Elijah: Prone to depression—collapses under pressure.
Jeremiah: Emotionally unstable, alarmist, negative, always lamenting things.
Hosea: Wife became a prostitute.
Peter: Aggressive, hot-tempered fisherman, loose cannon who denied Christ.
I hasten to add that this list is by no means complete. There are many names which could be added – even from our own time. But anyone looking at such a list could be forgiven for thinking that, maybe, God needs to look at his selection criteria again. But God knows what he is doing. I have said this to you before, and I will say in again – God doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called.
Today, we read how Abram and Sarai were called by God – called to found a great nation. To mark their calling, God changed their names. They were to be known as Abraham and Sarah under the covenantal relationship they were going to have with God. These new names symbolize the promise God has made with them – the meaning of Abraham is “ancestor of a multitude.” Abraham’s identity and his relationship with God is wrapped up in his very name – who he is, is matched by the name he is called by God. He and Sarah have new names to mark this new time in their lives, to mark that they are now changed – they aren’t the same people they were before they had this encounter with God. Was this an easy thing for them? I don’t think so. Remember, they were quite old – Abraham was 100, and Sarah 90. I can’t imagine coping with a baby at that age. Of course, they did have servants, but still, they were the parents, and Abraham, in particular, would have been responsible for young Isaac’s religious training.
The disciples were called to follow Jesus, and we know that following Jesus is never easy. Jesus says that if anyone wants to be His disciples, let that person then deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him. We all have crosses to bear, trials we face, tribulations we endure. And so Jesus calls to us to follow Him. Understanding that life is not easy, Jesus says He will be there for you. Just listen to Him. Listen to Him speak to you in His Word. Receive His strength in your daily devotions. Feed upon Him in the Lord’s Supper.
And, like the apostles, heed Jesus’ invitation, hear His voice when he calls you by name, believe in Him as your Savior, and follow Him all the days of your life. Thanks be to God.

February 26th, 1st Sunday of Lent

We begin our Lenten journey with a covenant. If you remember, the call to worship this morning began by saying that God holds us in his covenant of grace, and our Old Testament reading talks about the covenant God made with his people after the flood. Since today was the day that Lise made a covenant with this church, and the day that she was accepted as a member of this congregation, it is particularly appropriate that we talk for a while about covenants. Many people seem to think that a covenant is the same as a contract, but there is actually a huge difference. You see, when we sign a contract, it involves two people or groups agreeing to certain things. I will do this for you if you will do that for me. It is generally assumed that the two parties in a contract are equal in most ways, and defaulting by one of the parties renders the contract null and void, and relieves the second party of any obligation towards the first.
A covenant, on the other hand, is a promise made by one person to another. The people involved in the covenant are usually not equal, and there is no hint of reciprocity in a covenant. And in the reading from Genesis, what we saw was the first covenant God made with his people – the covenant that he would never again destroy the world by a flood. And what did he ask in return? Nothing. Not one single thing. He made a promise, and didn’t exact anything from his chosen people. Not only that, he set a rainbow in the sky, as a symbol of this covenant.
Cal you remember telling KNOCK-KNOCK jokes as a child? There is one which goes like this:
Would you forget me in a minute?
Of course not.
Would you forget me in an hour?
Of course not.
Would you forget me in a week?
Of course not.
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
I thought you said that you wouldn’t forget me!
This is a joke, but, sadly, it is often true in our society. We meet people, and we forget them. We make promises, and we don’t keep them. And we don’t seem too worried about it. We make excuses like: Oh, I am just too busy to fulfill that commitment right now. I’ll do it when I get the time. But God doesn’t do that. He makes a promise to us, he makes a covenant with us, and he keeps it. And, just in case, he should get too busy with whatever it is that God DOES when he isn’t creating, he placed the rainbow in the sky as a reminder.
This covenant which God made doesn’t have any clauses in it. There are no conditions. Nowhere do we see the word “if”. God didn’t say: IF you love me, I will do this. He didn’t say: IF you keep my commandments, I will do this. There is no “notwithstanding” clause in God’s covenant with his people. It is, in fact, a covenant based on pure love, the kind of love that we can only know through God.
And we should be so thankful that this is the kind of covenant God made with us, because we are a forgetful people. If we take a look through the Old Testament, we will find story after story about God’s people forgetting him, worshipping other gods, and behaving in a generally not-so-godlike manner. But don’t get complacent, and say that we don’t do this. Living in the society in which we live, we see people turning their backs on God all the time. We see people removing God from public assemblies. In this province, which was once the most religious one in Canada, we see churches converted into libraries or condos, because there are no people worshiping in them any more. A friend of mine, who is an Anglican priest, once commented that he could spend all of his time deconsecrating churches, because they are closing at such an alarming rate. And yet, God will not forget us. And he placed a rainbow in the sky to remind him, just in case.
But what will remind us of God? Well, our youth group held a retreat this weekend, which was an important step on their faith journey. We come to worship most Sundays, some of us read the Bible more or less regularly. But I think that we need more. We need to be aware of God in our daily lives, and we need to make him an essential part of our daily lives. It is in that way that we will not forget him, and it is in that way that the rainbow will become a true sign of the covenant between two unequal partners.
During this time of Lent, many denominations advocate treating it as a time of penitence, and recommend that people give up something for the duration. I remember, as a child, giving up candy for the 40 days. It wasn’t as big a hardship as it might seem, though, as candy wasn’t as plentiful as it is nowadays – or maybe I just didn’t have the spending money children have now. But, for me as an adult, this paled, because I no longer look at Lent as a time of penitence. Rather, I look at it as a time of preparation, a time to get ready for what is surely the most important day in Christianity. No, it isn’t Christmas, which was a couple of months ago. Nor is it Good Friday. Both those days matter, of course, but without the joy that comes at Easter, neither of them would mean very much. So I spend time preparing the way of the Lord, just as did John the Baptist. For me, this means preparing myself, and making myself more conscious of God in my life on a daily basis. It means starting every day with a Bible study, and ending the day with a devotional from the books in the narthex. It means looking for God everywhere – whether in the water dripping off the roof as a sign that spring is really coming, or in the fresh snow falling to remind that winter isn’t quite over yet. All of these things remind me that God has made a covenant with me – a covenant of love which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
And this brings us to the Gospel reading. As I have mentioned to you, Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four, and one of the reasons is that he doesn’t give us a lot of detail. It is believed that this Gospel was the first one to be written down, and it is also the most concise. It seems to me that Mark is trying to tell us just the facts, and isn’t wanting to add any of the details which we find so interesting. For instance, we learned today that Jesus was baptized by John, but there was nothing about John’s clothes or his diet, and certainly none of the conversation recorded by Matthew.
Just listen to part of the reading: At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Two short verses are all that Mark gives this story, while Matthew takes 11 verses, and Luke takes 13. As well, Mark’s version, depending on the translation, begins with the word IMMEDIATELY or the words AT ONCE, again heightening the urgency which characterizes this entire Gospel.
But I can’t help but wonder why Mark only gives this 40-day trial in the desert only two sentences. The whole idea of the number forty occurs over and over again in Scripture, so there must have been something important about it. The most common connection, of course, is with the 40 years that Moses and the Israelites wandered in the wilderness on the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. But today, we make the connection with the Ark, and the rain which fell for 40 days and nights. This rain purged the world of sinful man, and left only Noah and his family to repopulate the earth afterwards. And I would imagine that, during that time, there was much reflection happening among the people of the earth.
In the same way, Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the desert, preparing, reflecting, praying, getting ready for what we now call Holy Week. And like Jesus, we will be spending today and the next five Sundays preparing, reflecting, praying, and getting ready for what is to come. But this is where I differ from Mark. I don’t want us to rush towards the cross and the resurrection. I want us to consciously slow down, to take time to see where we are, and where God is in our lives.
There are too many times when I identify with Mark, when I find myself anticipating something, when I find myself rushing from one event to the next, without taking the time to appreciate what is happening now. And I don’t want us to do that with Lent. I want our Lent experience to be one which lasts, one which will cause us to think seriously about what is happening.
Mark chose not to write about the specifics of Jesus’ time in the desert, and, even though I find it a bit frustrating that he didn’t, I think that I understand why he did this. After all, just think about your own life. Imagine if you had to remember all the minutiae which helped shape you, which made you the person you are today. Think about the times when you have felt alone, when you have not felt God’s presence in your lives. Even though these are not times we want to remember, they are all a part of you. Every single thing which happened – or DIDN’T happen – contributed to the person you have become. And, even more importantly, those things which are still to happen to you, will continue to shape you, will continue to change you.
In the same way, things which are happening in the world and in the church today will continue to shape the church, will continue to change the church. That is why we refer to the Presbyterian Church in Canada as: ALWAYS REFORMED, ALWAYS REFORMING, UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Jesus, if you will remember, came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. That is the difference between out and out change, and reformation. Reformation refers to a slow change, one which takes a long time to begin, and even longer to finish. And with Jesus came the most amazing change of all. Jesus came to make God’s final covenant with his people – the covenant of forgiveness. Long ago, God sent a flood to deal with his unrepentant people. Later, he sent his own son, to show his people that they were forgiven. And yet, and yet, like the Israelites of long ago, we still turn our backs on God and his love. But he remembers his covenant. Even though we have provoked God even more than the ancients, he will never again destroy the earth by a flood. Even though, as a society, we have sinned grievously, he still loves us and he still forgives us and he still remembers us. In Isaiah, God told his people – and us – that we are carved on the palm of his hand. I have often thought that this is why so many depictions of the crucifixion show Jesus with the nails going through the palms of his hands, rather than through his wrists.
So what is our response to God’s love? What do we say when we hear him knocking? What do we say about the two signs – the rainbow and the cross? We know what God wants. He wants us to accept his love, to open the door. And he wants us to see the signs, and to recognize that they are both signs of his covenant with us.
Jesus spent 40 days struggling with temptation, so he knows how we struggle. And, truth be told, I think that most of us don’t have the success that he had. There are times, I am sure, when we give in a bit too easily to temptation, when we turn away from God, however briefly. I am reminded of a story about a man who had been put on a strict diet by his doctor. And this man was one of those whom my grandmother would have described as being able to resist anything except temptation. So one day, he came into the office with a box of freshly baked pastries to share with his co-workers. One of his friends said: I thought you were on a diet. What are you doing with all these pastries? Well, he replied, I was driving past the bakery, and these smelled so good. But I knew that I shouldn’t buy them, so I prayed. I said to God: if is your will that I buy these pastries, I will find a parking spot right in front of the building. And, sure enough, I found one, on the 8th time around the block!
So resisting temptation is what this Lent can be all about. Sure, it is easy to give in. It is easier to indulge in gossip than to ignore it. It is easier to condemn than to forgive. It is easier to fill the garbage bag than to recycle. It is more comfortable to hang onto our sinful ways than to change them. But the good news is that, no matter what we do, God forgives us; that, no matter how we behave, God loves us; that, no matter how often we forget him, God remembers us. The covenants God has made will endure forever; they have not been and will not be broken. Whenever you find yourself struggling, remember the covenant, and know that you are not alone. Thanks be to God.