James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
“Debates and Other Distractions”
I only have a vague memory of the grade in school (I think it was grade 7 or 8) when we learned how to engage in a formal debate. I remember that the topics were assigned, and we didn’t even get to choose whether we would argue “pro” or “con.” But we did our research, made our lists of convincing points on our side, anticipated the other side’s points, and planned our rebuttals. And then the competition began.
Debating wasn’t my favourite experience in school. It was stressful for a pretty shy kid. And it never felt like the process got us to a good conclusion on the topic in question. The most skilled and confident debaters always won, even if they were arguing for something ridiculous.
I have to say that I felt even worse about the so-called debate between the federal party leaders that took place last week. Like the disciples arguing on the road, there was a lot of attention given to which one of the leaders was the greatest (or definitely NOT the greatest), and there was very little light shed on the policies and priorities of the parties to … Read more »
2 Kings 2:1-12
“Transfigure us, O Lord”
I haven’t often preached on the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop. My first congregation in Saskatoon had a long-standing tradition of holding a special service about the ministry of Presbyterian World Service and Development on the Sunday before Lent each year. Then they would raise money for a PWS&D project as part of their Lenten discipline, and that worked well. But it meant that we always skipped the Transfiguration, so it’s only recently that I’ve had to grapple with this strange and wonderful story.
On this last Sunday of the Season of Epiphany, and the Sunday before we begin the Season of Lent, we hear one of the most spectacular epiphany stories. As you may know, “epiphany” means “showing forth” and this story “shows forth” and reveals Jesus as a prophet par excellence, and above all, as God’s Beloved Child.
The SALT Lectionary commentary helpfully describes the importance of the passage, making me wonder how we could skip over it for so many years. It explains that “The episode takes place at almost the exact midpoint of Mark’s Gospel, as well as its highest geographical elevation.
“In broad strokes, the first eight chapters … Read more »
“The Song of Superwoman”
The first time I preached on today’s Scripture texts was 15 years ago when I was preaching for a call to St. Andrew’s Church in Saskatoon. I remember thinking at the time how funny it was that on the day I was being considered for a call to my first congregation that the scriptures included an argument between the disciples about who was the greatest and a section from the proverbs beginning “a capable woman, who can find?”
I was grateful that it wasn’t actually a competition that day – that they weren’t deciding whether or not I was the greatest – but just discerning whether I was the one being called by God to minister with them at that time.
The fact is that competition is all around us. Despite the fact that I grew up in the era when we were exploring “co-operative games,” when children were encouraged to work together, and winning and losing were de-emphasised, I, (like most people) can easily become caught up in competition.
Even ministers can find themselves competitively comparing our congregations or feeling proud when our sermons seem to inspire and encourage those who listen. So I think that perhaps … Read more »
Earlier this week, as I was reading about and reflecting on the Gospel story about Jesus’ transfiguration, I titled my sermon for today, “Spitting Image.” I hadn’t written the sermon yet, but I was thinking about how the transfiguration on the mountaintop served as a revelation for the disciples. It was an apocalyptic event – an experience in which something that was previously hidden was gloriously revealed to them for the first time.
And that new understanding was the reality that Jesus was God’s very own son. Not only did his clothes shine with a heavenly light, and the great prophets Moses and Elijah appeared with him in splendour, but God’s voice clearly declared to the disciples, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him!”
They had already witnessed some pretty amazing stuff from Jesus with miracles, and healings, and wise teachings that baffled them. But now, his true identity was being revealed in a way that they could not ignore. Jesus is God’s own Beloved Son. He is the “spitting image” of the Creator, standing right in front of them on the mountain, and walking beside them day by day.
This morning the choir sang, “Soon and very soon, we … Read more »
“Choosing to Serve”
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
This morning’s scripture readings are overflowing with wisdom about how to live day-by-day as followers of Jesus and communities of God’s people.
James encourages us to make ourselves pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. He calls us to submit ourselves and all our decisions to God, to resist the devil, and draw near to God who will help us with this high and difficult calling.
Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, tells his disciples and all who would follow him, that if we want to be first, we must make ourselves last and be servants to others. Showing them a little child (a vulnerable, unimportant person) Jesus teaches them that welcoming the lowly ones and the least in our societies is the way that we can welcome and honour Jesus himself.
These are words of wisdom that we have heard many times before. But, I imagine, we all continue to struggle in living by them. They call us to true humility, allowing God to direct our actions and our decisions so that we are focussed on the good of others rather than ourselves, and … Read more »