Thursday, March 15, 2018

That Lonesome Valley

When it comes to great old spiritual songs, sometimes the music is so good, it trumps the theology. That’s the case with one of my favourite spirituals, “That Lonesome Valley.”

I like the song so much that I never really thought about what it says about God and our relationship with God. That is until some turkey re-wrote the lyrics.

These new lyrics were so diametrically opposite to what we believe that I knew we couldn’t use it. (And I won’t bother pasting the words here.) So, this turkey (me) re-wrote the re-written words… and that is what we will sing today during communion.

Essentially, the song says that everyone has to walk that lonesome valley (that is, life) all by ourselves. At one level it is true—I can’t walk your journey and you can’t walk mine. But, if the Bible tells us nothing else, it tells us that we are never alone. God is always with us—that, what happened to Jesus means that we are never alone—that, in that ultimate trial, Jesus is our Advocate and God, our Father, is judge. The odds are stacked in our favour, so much so that we cannot lose, the battle has been won.

My re-writing doesn’t fit the cadence perfectly, but the theology is scripturally sound:

Jesus walked this lonesome valley;
He had to walk it by him-self.
Oh, nobody else could walk it for him;
He had to walk it by him-self.

And we have a lonesome valley
That we travel on our own
Oh, It's a life of joy and sorrow
That we will walk all of our days

We will each stand on trial
But we won't stand there alone
Oh, for we will have our Savior Jesus
By his wounds he did atone

Jesus walked that lonesome valley
One he walked all by himself
So that every-body walking through it
Knows that they are not alone

As we approach the end of Lent we cannot help but hear the distant strains of organs, choirs and tambourines preparing to sing, Alleluia!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Rose Sunday by any Other Name

Now-a-days, we call the Fourth Sunday of Lent, “the Fourth Sunday of Lent.” Such imagination we are blessed with. This day used to go by different names. It is still known, in some parts of our communion as Mothering Sunday. It is celebrated as such, by many Roman Catholic and Anglicans in some parts of Europe. Traditionally, it was a day when people could visit their "mother" church, but it became an opportunity to honour one’s mothers by  giving her a greeting card and presents. In the UK and Ireland, Mothering Sunday is celebrated like Mother's Day is now. My mother, who grew up in Newfoundland, would have celebrated Mothering Sunday.

This day is also known as Laetare Sunday, a term used by many Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. The word comes from the Latin laetare, "to rejoice". It is from the traditional introit Psalm sung on this day.
Both traditions, coming almost in the very middle of the austere season of Lent were a kind of respite, freeing people from the Lenten fast and rejoicing in their faith.

It was also known as Simnel Sunday (after a light fruit cake with almond paste or marzipan). And it was known as Rose Sunday because the liturgical colour (for the stoles, frontals and veils) was pink or rose in colour. These things were rose coloured to show that this Sunday was a kind of break from rigors of the Lenten season.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

World Class

With the Winter Olympics ended and the Paralympics about to get underway, I was thinking: not one athlete, no matter where they placed, was a couch-potato. Each one practiced, trained and studied to achieve the level of play that brought them to the pinnacle of their game.

World class athletes are not the only ones who train to get to the top of their profession. Nearly everyone we can think of, who’s at the top of their profession or at least a contender—trained. They trained very hard and the results are visible. They may have placed last in a speed skating heat, but they were there ahead of thousands of other athletes who didn’t make it.

Even a couch potato has to spend a lot of time on a couch, in front of a TV, to be called a couch potato. And although there maybe lots of couch potatoes, only a few have made it as world class couch potatoes. I’m only supposing, I can’t find the statistics to support my couch potato theory.

So, if we expect people to put of effort into be considered really great, why do we expect so little of ourselves on our journey of faith?

Developing a spiritual discipline is a good thing. Abiding by the Ten Commandments is a good thing. Prayer is a good thing. Loving God and one another is a good thing. Training and practice benefit the Christian on his or her journey as much as it does the Olympic athletes.

We know that, it is only by God’s grace that we are saved, and the Apostle Paul knew this when he admitted that he does the things he doesn’t want to do, and doesn’t do the things he knows he should. Paul was not talking about things like riding his camel too fast in a School Zone. He meant things like the 10 Commandments, which Paul followed and in which he believed he was blameless. He came to understand that all that really mattered was a relationship with Jesus Christ. Now let’s be clear—I’m sure Paul would advise anyone to follow the commandments (because they are good and purposeful). However, if adherence to the rules in some way inhibits love of God or one another then love ought to trump the rules.

The Olympic athlete trains his/her body so that the unusual movements of the sport become second nature. The body responds quickly and without the slowness of the brain to send instructions: what was unnatural becomes natural, or first nature.

Following the commandments, prayer and worship, are the training tools for making God’s love and forgiveness, God’s mercy and justice, our first nature. Our goal is to be world class practitioners of the faith.

Coaching helps. Many say that the success of other nation’s Olympic curlers is due in no small way to their Canadian coaches. That may be true, I don’t know. The fact that people are saying so is because we all recognize the important role of coaches and mentors in our training. That is why the community is so important to Christians—we can help develop the skills we need to be world class practitioners of the faith.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Symbols Transform

Most of us would think of a cross as a symbol of hope and salvation. For those who knew Jesus, and who might have witnessed his death, it was anything but a symbol of hope. It was a very real tool of torture and death. For them, decorating a place of worship with crosses would have been as offensive as decorating with electric chairs is to us.

If they used any symbols at all, they used a fish, as a kind of secret indicator that the house was a safe place for followers of Jesus Christ, or followers of the Way, as they called themselves.

Yet, the cross itself was transformed. The implement upon which the Saviour of the world was put to death became a symbol of hope and salvation. It was part of the path that lead to the resurrection. Much like the fact that we started calling Good Friday “good,” we started to see the cross itself as a powerful symbol of hope.

Today the cross is not just a transformed symbol but is a symbol of transformation. Yes, God loves us, in all our sinful, ungrateful selfishness, but God’s love is filled with a hope that we will be transformed.

At one point Jesus speaks of this transformation as being born again. What he really said is that we are to be born from above. In other words, we don’t have to remain sinful, ungrateful and selfish, or whatever other characteristic might describe us. We can, by the love of God, be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

I don’t know that anyone has ever criticized a Christian for being too Christ-like. We could always do with being more loving, forgiving and bent on seeing that justice and mercy are realities.

Rather than assuming Church-communities are places of rules and judgment, people could think of us as places of love and grace.

Today, we face concerns our parents and grand-parents never dreamt of. The assumptions they had of their church and community simply don’t apply any more. We need to be transformed by the Gospel, shedding our old skin and embracing the new thing God is doing in this generation.

Fiscal responsibility is necessary; bean-counting is inevitable; member tracking happens: but all these things can make us loose our perspective on our vision and mission. God has called us, we believe, to show the transforming love and justice of God in action.

If living our vision and mission is left to just a few of us, then we will likely fall short. However, together we can grow in this vision and mission and we can grow as a congregation. The question is; do we want to? In all seriousness; do we really want to grow as a congregation?

I have encountered too many congregations who say they want to grow, but who are unwilling to put the effort into the things that will bring fullness of life to their congregation. My feeling is that St. Paul’s is not one of those congregations—we are willing to put in the effort needed to be the fullness of the living Gospel in this community. It’s not necessarily easy or happy work, but the benefit to us and the world is immeasurable.