BOOK SALE! Theology, Biblical Studies, Youth Ministry, and more!

I have too many books. There I said it. It’s an utterly heretical statement for a seminarian to make, but so be it. I need to downsize my library, so this book sale is a start.

The majority of these books are in good to excellent condition. The price of the books ranges between $1 to $8 (but I’m willing to haggle a bit) + shipping. I also have a sizable collection of philosophy books as well, so if there is something you’re interested in, I might have it.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from theology, to biblical studies, to leadership, to youth ministry.

Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views
AGAMBEN, Giorgio, The Church and the Kingdom
ALLENDER, Dan, To be Told: God Invites you to Coauthor Your Future
ANNAN, Kent, Following Jesus Through the Eye of a Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously
ANKER, Roy, Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies
AULEN, Gustaf, Christus Victor
BARTHOLOMEW, Craig, et. al., Behind the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation
BAVINCK, Herman, Reformed Dogmatics (Abridged in One Volume)
BEAL, Timothy, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book
BECKWITH, Ivy, Formational Children’s Ministry
BENSON, Robert, In Constant Prayer
BERARD, James, et. al., Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture
BERNARD, Jack, How to Become a Saint: A Beginner’s Guide
BINZ, Stephen, Abraham: A Transforming Experience with the Word of God
BLOCHER, Henri, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis
BROCK, Rita Nakashima and Rebecca Parker, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of this World for Crucifixion and Empire
BRUNNER, Emil, The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation
BUCHANAN, Mark, your Church is Too Safe
BUDDE, Michael and Robert Brimlow, Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business is Buying the Church
BUSCH, Eberhard, Drawn to Freedom: Christian Faith Today in Conversation with the Heidelberg Catechism
BUTLER BASS, Diana, Christianity for the Rest of Us
CARLSON, Kent and Mike Leuken, Renovation of the Church
CARROLL, Jackson, Bridging Divided Worlds: Generational Cultures in Congregations
CARY, Phillip, Good News for Anxious Christians
CHASE, Kenneth (ed.), Must Christianity Be Violent?
CHILDS, Brevard, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture
CHILDS, Brevard, The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture
CLAIBORNE, Shane and John Perkins, Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical
CLAPP, Rodney, Border Crossings: Christian Trespasses on Popular Culture and Public Affairs
CLAPP, Rodney, Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels
CLARK, Chap and Kara Powell, Deep Ministry in a Shallow Word: No-so-Secret Findings About Youth Ministry
CLARK, Chap and Kara Powell, Deep Justice in a Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrongs Around Them
COLE, Neil, Organic Leadership: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are
CUNNINGHAM, David, Reading is Believing: The Christian Faith Through Literature and Film
DARK, David, Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons, and other Pop Culture Icons
DUIN, Julia, Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do About it
GREGORY, Brad, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society
EAGLETON, Terry, After Theory
ENNS, Peter, Telling God’s Story: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching the Bible
FITCH, David, The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church
FOSTER, Richard, Celebration of Discipline
FOSTER, Richard, Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation
FROST, Michael and Alan Hirsch, ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church
GHEZZI, Bert, Adventures in Daily Prayer
GUITIERREZ, Gustavo, The Power of the Poor in History
HABERMAS, Jurgen, The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Historians’ Debate
HAHN, Scott, Kingship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises
HARDING, Vincent Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero
HEATH, Eliane, The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach
HENDERSON, Jim et. al., The Outsider Interviews: A New Generation Speaks Out on Christianity
HIRSCH, Alan, The Forgotten Ways Handbook: a Practical Guide for Developing Missional Churches
HIRSCH, Alan and Lance Ford, Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People
HOEKEMA, Anthony, The Bible and the Future
HOUSMAN, Brian, Engaging Your Teen’s World: Become a Culturally Savvy Parent
HUNT, Stephen (ed.), Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco
JENNINGS, Theodore, Transforming Atonement: A Political Theology of the Cross
JENSON, Michael, How to Write a Theology Essay
JOHNSON, Robert, Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue
JONES, Tony, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier
KEEL, Tim, Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Choas
KELLER, Catherine, Apocalypse Now and Then
KINNAMAN, David, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity
KIRSCH, Jonathan, A History of the End of the World
KNIGHT, Douglas and Amy-Jill Levine, The Meaning of the Bible
KUGEL, James, the God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible
LEWIS, C.S., God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics
LEWIS, Robert, et. al., Culture Shift: Transforming your Church form the Inside Out
LIVERMORE, David, Cultural Intelligence: Improving your CQ to Engage our Multicultural World
MARSHALL, Paul, Heaven is Not my Home
McKNIGHT, Scot, Fasting
McLAREN, Brian, We Make the Road by Walking
MORSE, MaryKate, Making Room for Leading: Power, Space and Influence
MOUW, Richard, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport
MYERS, Joseph, The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups
NOVELLIE, Michael, Shaped by the Story: Helping Students Encounter God in a New Way
OGDEN, Greg, Leadership Essentials: Shaping Vision, Multiplying Influence, Defining Character
PELIKAN, Jarosalv, Whose Bible is it?
PERKINS, Mitali, Ambassador Families: Equipping Your Kids to Engage Popular Culture
PINCHES, Charles, Theology and Action: After Theory in Christian Ethics
RAINER, Thom and Jess, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation
RICE, Charles, The Embodied Word: Preaching as Art and Liturgy
RICHARDSON, Rick, Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey
RIDDERBOS, Herman, The Coming of the Kingdom
ROBINSON, Anthony and Robert Wall, Called to be Church: the Book of Acts for a New Day
ROLLINS, Peter, The Fidelity of Betrayal
ROLLINS, Peter, The Orthodox Heretic
ROSSING, Barbara, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation
ROXBURGH, Alan & Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader
SAWLER, David, Goodbye Generation: A Conversation About Why Youth and Young Adults Leave the Church
SCHWEIKER, William, Responsibility and Christian Ethics
SINE, Tom, The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time
SMEDES, Lewis, Union with Christ: A Biblical View of the New Life in Jesus Christ
SMITH, Christian, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers
SOBRINO, Jon, Spirituality of Liberation: Toward a Political Holiness
TEN ELSHOF, Gregg, I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life
THOMAS, Gary, Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God
VANDEBEEK, A., Why? On Suffering, Guilt and God
VANDERBROEK, Lyle, Breaking Barriers: The Possibilities of Christian Community in a Lonely World
VANDERWELL, Howard (ed.), The Church of All Ages
VAN SLOTEN, John, The Day Metallica Came to Church
VON RAD, Gerhard, Old Testament Theology (2 Volumes)
WEBBER, Robert, Ancient-Future Evangelism
WEBB-MITCHELL, Brett, Christly Gestures: Learning to be Members of the Body of Christ
WEBER, Eugen, Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages
WILSON, Jonathan, Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry, and Mission in Practice
WILSON-HARTGROVE, Jonathan, God’s Economy: Redefining the Health & Wealth Gospel
YODER, John Howard, Revolutionary Christian Citizenship

A Faith for the Dogs: A sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost

A sermon preached at St.Andrew’s-by-the-lake (Turkey Point, ON).

I.
When it comes to their children’s health and well-being, parents can be desperate creatures. There is little they will not do, going to great, even absurd lengths, in the attempt to bring comfort and relief to their sick child. Parents know all too well the plight of the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel reading. Here is a parent who is desperate for her child to get better, going so far as to stalk, yell and beg at an out-of-town teacher and faith-healer from a different religion. This is desperation at its fullest.

II.
Prior to being pestered by the Canaanite woman, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees. The problem was that apparently Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands before eating. To our modern ears, it is easy to assume that the Pharisees were rightly concerned with personal hygiene. However, this is not the case; the Pharisees were actually concerned about ritual purity. You see, according to the Pharisaic interpretation of the Torah, hand-washing before all meals was mandatory. Those who did not wash their hands were considered symbolically unclean and, therefore, were in violation of both the Torah and covenant.

Jesus insists that this accusation is nonsense because it has nothing to do with honoring God and everything to do with honoring the Pharisees who had created a rather large list of rules that they felt helped people follow the Torah. You see, the Pharisees saw themselves as the religious elites; they were the truly faithful Jews, the ones who kept Torah and were, therefore, the ones who truly deserved God’s favor.

However, Jesus tells them that their additional rules have nothing to do with keeping Torah; their additional rules actually miss the point of Torah entirely. Of course, the Pharisees were offended at Jesus’ response. Yet, Jesus’ point sticks. Consumed with following their own rules, the Pharisees were completely blind to the fact that keeping Torah is not about being ritually pure; keeping Torah is about protecting one’s heart against evil and directing it toward the worship of God. Their faith in their own piety and morality kept them blind to recognizing Jesus as Israel’s promised Messiah and Lord of the universe.

III.
Unlike the Pharisees, the Canaanite woman knew exactly who Jesus was – shouting that he is both “Lord” and the “Son of David”. It is not unlikely that she had heard of Jesus. However, is her address an authentic expression of faith or is she, as a desperate parent, simply trying to get the attention of a person who might be able to help her daughter?

Jesus’ response to her is silence; he ignores her shouts. This is not the response we expect from Jesus, who is known for showing compassion to those in need. After all, he recently fed over 5,000 people!

Jesus’ silence is born of his experience growing up as a Jewish boy in Galilee where Jews were an ethnic and religious minority who were often economically exploited by the Canaanite majority. Furthermore, we know that the rivalry and even hatred of Canaanites by the Jews goes back to the story of Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land. Old antagonisms do not die easily.

Remember, Jesus is in “the district of Tyre and Sidon” (Matt. 15:21), which is Matthew’s way of saying that Jesus is in pagan territory. Once again Jesus finds himself in a place where he is amidst old adversaries, a minority in the midst of a powerful majority who exploit minorities for their own gain. Jesus’ silence is a kind of prayerful reflection, a discerning of this woman’s intent: is she truly expressing faith in him or is she trying to exploit him for her own ends?

But the woman persists with her shouting to the point that the disciples ask Jesus to send her away. It is at this point that Jesus breaks his silence. However, his response is nothing short of offensive: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:26). What are we to make of this response, particularly when Jesus himself said earlier in Matthew that ““Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Matt. 11:6)? What are we to make of this response, especially when Jesus just finished telling the Pharisees that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person (cf. Matt. 15:11)?

Jesus’ abrasive words are meant to get the attention of all those who are within earshot, including those of who read and hear them today. His response to the woman is directed to her as much as it is directed to the disciples. If we attempt to explain away Jesus’ response as a kind of ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink’ joke or as pure bigotry, we become deaf to what Jesus is trying to teach both the woman and his disciples. Implying that the woman and, by extension, all Gentiles, are dogs is offensive to our modern ears. However, we must be careful that we do not impose or project our modern sensitivities onto the text lest we tame Jesus in to a “gregarious social worker”, thereby concealing his claim “to being the truth of God” (Hauerwas). We need to hear Jesus’ words in the full context of the story and remain open to what Jesus is saying. The rhetorical force of Jesus’ words is meant to open our ears to the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom.

IV.
The Canaanite woman is on her own turf, surrounded by her own people, close to home. In his response, Jesus is teaching the Canaanite woman what it is like to feel excluded and marginalized.

The Greek word Jesus uses literally means a ‘house dog’. In other words, he is calling her a pet dog. Jewish people considered dogs unclean, so they were not kept as pets in Jewish homes. And yet in this image, Jesus is implying that the house of Israel has dogs for pets. At this point the disciples are getting a bit uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the sting of the insult remains; Jesus is saying, ‘OK, you can have a place in the house, but, remember, you are a dog – you have no status, power, or privilege. You do not get to eat the same food as the people of the household’.

The disciples would have agreed with Jesus’ insult toward the woman. But the sting of the insult is also directed at them and their rush to get rid of her. Remember, the Israelites were the descendants of Abraham, the one from whom God promised to make a great nation that would be a blessing to all people. Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s chosen people forget their calling to be a blessing to the nations. Moreover, this is exactly what is at the heart of Jesus’ earlier criticism of the Pharisees – they were legalistically obeying Torah as a means to their own ends rather than following Torah as the foundation for what God was calling Israel to be in their relationship with other nations. Jesus is saying that dogs actually do have a place in the house of Israel.

Time and again, Jesus’ disciples, both then and now, get caught in the trap of thinking that the gospel is for them alone, that they alone are the people chosen for salvation. Jesus’ disciples, both then and now, have a tendency to exclude and marginalize those they assume that don’t belong as ‘one of us’, those they assume don’t deserve to hear the gospel because of a moral fault.

In his response, Jesus is testing the disciples to see if they will speak out against his insult, to call Jesus out; their silence implies their agreement with the insult and they fail the test.

However, it is the woman who speaks up.

Though his initial silence and abrasive response, Jesus was discerning this woman’s intent; he got his answer in her response.

Not only does she endure the experience of being marginalized, she sees an opening in Jesus’ metaphor and uses it to push back, turning the insult into a blessing. Seeing that she, a Canaanite, is in the house of Israel, she responds: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27).

She completely turned the tables on Jesus, leaving him with nothing to say but “Woman, great is your faith!” (Matt. 15:28).

What is also remarkable about the woman’s response is that she specifically identifies the food to which Jesus refers as bread. Whereas Jesus makes no mention as to what kind of food she is referring to, the woman, who has arguably heard of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000, makes an explicit connection to bread.

Remember, the wider context of Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees and the Canaanite woman is two miraculous feedings: the feeding of the 5,000 occurs previously and the feeding of the 4,000 afterward.

After the feeding of the 5,000, which took place in Jewish territory, there were 12 baskets of leftover bread, which symbolizes the 12 tribes of Israel.
The feeding of the 4,000, however, takes place in Gentile territory, the home of the woman who is identified as a Canaanite, the ancient enemies of the Israelites. There were seven baskets of leftover bread, which symbolizes the seven Canaanite tribes that God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to “utterly destroy” in Deuteronomy 7:1-6 (7:2).

Do you see what has happened? Do you see the picture St. Matthew is painting of God’s Kingdom?

God’s kingdom is one in which all people are invited to feast, Jew and Gentile alike.

God’s kingdom is one in which there is a reconciliation between nations, where enemies are transformed into friends.

God’s kingdom is one in which there is movement from rejection to embrace and affirmation, where the Canaanite woman is initially excluded only to find that she, and her people, are embraced and welcomed into the kingdom.

God’s kingdom is one in which those who are outcast and marginalized are invited to find their true identity as God’s beloved children.

V.
The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman is rooted in a long history of hatred. However, by the end of the story, there is healing, not only for the woman’s daughter, but for all of Canaan as indicated by the symbol of the seven leftover baskets of bread.

The bread that Christ offers is for both Jewish and Gentiles because all are God’s beloved children.

The Pharisees were blind to Jesus’ identity. However, through her faith, the Canaanite woman saw Jesus as the one who provides bread for all people; she saw him as the bread of the world.

Whereas Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, was chastised in chapter 14 for being “of little faith”, here in chapter 15, a Canaanite woman is praised for her “great faith”.

Her faith is great because it is audacious. She is not concerned with personal decorum; rather, she persistently and desperately follows Christ, shouting after him, and unafraid to get on her knees to beg for help – “Lord, help me!”
Her faith is great because she knew that Jesus Christ is the one who is able to feed and heal the world.

Her faith is great because of the one in whom she places her complete trust, the one who welcomes outcasts, feeds the hungry, and transforms enemies into friends.

Faith in Christ is not for the proud, the morally self-righteous, or self-sufficient, self-made people who rely on themselves; faith in Christ for those who recognize their need for God’s healing and forgiveness and desperately pursue it in the one who is ready and willing to turn the tables on us in order to invite us in to God’s up-side down kingdom.

Let us pray.

Lord, we thank you for the great faith of the Canaanite woman and the example she sets for all those who follow you. Help us to recognize our need for your grace and salvation; help us to follow you persistently and desperately with an audacious faith through which we see your kingdom where all are invited, all are fed, and all are loved.
Amen.

With appreciation and thanksgiving for the work of folks whom I am privileged to call friends:
Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat (and Grant LaMarquand) – http://www.thebanner.org/features/2011/01/genocide-or-healing
Dr. Nik Ansell – http://www.thebanner.org/features/2011/01/jesus-on-the-offensive
Shiao Chong – http://3dchristianity.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/going-to-the-dogs/

9th Sunday After Pentecost (A): A Sermon

I.
Jesus’ disciples mistake him for a ghost on more than one occasion.

However, considering that the disciples have witnessed Jesus do the impossible again and again – calming a storm at sea, turning water into wine, making blind people see and paralytics walk, and feeding thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish – the disciples should be used to expecting the impossible. And yet, here we find them in the middle of a storm completely terrified because they think they’ve seen a ghost.

Despite Jesus identifying himself, the disciples remain paralyzed by fear, unsure if what they are seeing is truly real. So, Peter demands certainty in order to calm his fear: “Jesus, if that’s you, then call me to come out to you”. Jesus calls him and Peter gets out of the boat.

However, Peter’s demand for certainty will not be satisfied in a situation like this because certainty is concerned with the limits of the possible. Walking on water is impossible. So, Peter’s fear gets the best of him and he begins to drown. It is only when Jesus reaches out and grabs Peter that Peter’s life is saved. It is only when Jesus gets into the boat that the disciples’ fear disappears and their faith in him is restored – “Truly you are the Son of God!”

II.
It is easy for us to criticize the disciples for their lack of faith in these stories. The disciples know who Jesus is and what he is capable of doing. Yet, time and again, the disciples are shown to have a flimsy faith that is often overwhelmed by fear.

You see, the opposite of faith is not doubt. Rather, the opposite of faith is fear.

Jesus’ most repeated command to his disciples was “Do not be afraid”. Throughout his ministry, Jesus continually told his disciples to neither worry nor be afraid. Yet, once again, the disciples are consumed with fear. They are not having intellectual questions or doubts about a particular point of doctrine; they are scared out of their minds! It is precisely their fear that prevents them from seeing Jesus. Fear distorts the sight that comes through faith, the sight that fixes itself upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. Fear is fixated upon the unknown because the unknown is beyond the limits of possibility. Therefore, anything that appears to be impossible must be an illusion or myth. Fear refuses to accept that with God all things are possible (cf. Matt. 19:26) and assumes that the limits of the possible are within my personal control.

The life of faith is learning to give up control, learning to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ.

This means that the life of faith is an ongoing process of conversion, of turning away from our fears and turning toward Christ, meeting him face-to-face and allowing him to touch us, healing our fear.

Amidst the storms of life, both staying in the boat and getting out of the boat are risky. The decision to stay in the boat is an attempt to control our environment in the midst of chaos; after all, the boat is the safest place to be, right? However, the reality is that in the storm, things are out of our control – the boat can capsize at any time, regardless of our sailing abilities.
The decision to get out of the boat requires a radical trust, a singular fixation on the one who calls us out of the boat, the one who comes to meet us. Drowning is only a possibility for those who allow fear to take hold of them. The beautiful risk of faith is the willingness to do the seemingly impossible because one’s eyes are fixed on Christ.

There is a back-and-forth relationship between fear and faith is at work in all of our lives. This dynamic is heightened by the fact that we cannot see Jesus; he is not physically present with us the way he was with the first disciples. Nevertheless, all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus find ourselves in the same situation amid the storms of life: out of fear we can stay in the boat or out of faith we can get out of the boat.

III.
I cannot offer you a 5-point list on how to get out of the boat because there is no such list; God has already given us everything we need to worship him and follow Christ in and through the practices of the Church. One of these practices is the gift of witness, of sharing how God is at work in our lives, healing our fear and bringing us closer to him.

Although I grew up going to church every week and was raised by Christian parents, I intentionally spent my first two years of university outside of the church. I would occasionally visit various local congregations of different denominations, but, like many of my peers, I assumed that identifying as ‘spiritual but not religious’ was good enough. After all, I was too intelligent and too modern to believe the Sunday School stories I’d grown up with were actually true. In order to hedge my bets, I figured it was best to vaguely identify myself as a person of faith; not a particular faith, mind you, but a kind of faith in faith; the kind of faith that doesn’t require anything of me other than a positive assessment of faith itself in a general sense and, perhaps, going to church once and a while.

Looking back, I can see how this time of wandering and drifting was an important part of my faith formation. I experienced a profound sense of lack and meaninglessness in my life. Sure, life on my own terms was lots of fun, but even that got boring after a while. However, I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t even in the boat; I was drowning. It was with this realization that God pulled me out of the water and into the boat.

In the summer between my second and third year of university, I spent my time growing in my faith and made the resolution to immerse myself in a Christian community back in university. After some searching, I found a great community and a personal mentor, Graham, our university chaplain, who guided and challenged me in my faith. I was back in the boat; all was well and life was comfortable.

Everything changed one day during my third year of university. As I was walking past the library, I heard a voice in my head saying “You are going to do an M.Div. because you are going into the ministry”. I stopped in my tracks; I had no idea what an ‘M.Div.’ was. Plus, the idea of an audible voice in my head? That’s impossible; that’s something that happens to crazy people.

So, I stayed in the boat, content to ignore the voice I’d heard. But after a while, my curiosity got the better of me, so I researched what an ‘M.Div.’ was and learned that it is a Master of Divinity, a graduate degree for those preparing for ministry. Clearly this wasn’t my vocational path since I was preparing for law school. But the voice kept echoing in my head, so I sought Graham’s counsel, who affirmed my gifts for ministry. I, on the other hand, remained skeptical. However, by the end of my final year I applied to the M.Div. program at Regent College in B.C.

Upon my acceptance into the program, I panicked. There was absolutely no way that I was cut out for parish ministry. After all, I was way too young to lead a church. So, once again, I decided to stay in the boat. I applied to an M.A. program at the Toronto School of Theology, telling God that I would make a better professor than pastor, that I was too young, that I needed more time, that I needed to stay in the boat.

Thankfully, God is patient and once again used this time to form my faith. Once again God placed a person in my life who worked to gently nudge me out of the boat. The Academic Dean, who also happens to be an Anglican Priest, told me that despite high grades, academic work was not my true calling because I’m focused on where-the-rubber-hits-the-road; she suggested parish ministry was the place I was called to put the rubber of my theological training onto the road of life.

Upon returning home from two years teaching English in Japan, once again, that voice was back. On the advice of a close friend, I applied for and was hired as the Pastor of Youth and Outreach. I figured that this must be good enough for God. I learned a great deal in 16 months at that parish before moving to Newmarket where I was hired by a different church. Once again, I figured that this must be good enough for God. Once again, I learned a great deal. And yet, once again, the voice I heard when walking by the library started to echo.

The voice began to get louder as my time at the church in Newmarket was drawing to a close. Resigning from that church, I conditionally took an offer at another church. I knew it was the wrong decision to make, but it was the decision I made because I felt most comfortable staying in the boat; I was afraid of what would happen if I got out of the boat.

God is patient. But by this point, he was ready to push me out of the boat. At the advice and encouragement of parishioners, friends, and family members, I turned down the job offer and enrolled in the M.Div. program at Wycliffe College in Toronto. In faith, I stepped out of the boat, completely unsure of what the future would hold. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that learning to walk on water is difficult; it is hard and often exhausting because it requires a full and complete trust in the one who calls me out of the boat. There are times when fear does start to creep up, threatening to drown me. There are times when I want to run back to the boat. But I’m learning to walk on water by focusing on Christ alone, trusting that he will give me everything I need to follow his call.

All Christians share two similarities: the one who calls us and the calling to which we are called. Christ calls all of his followers to get out of the boat and join him on the water.

Not everyone is called to be a parish priest; yet through baptism, we become part of what the Reformers call the priesthood of all believers. The Reformers argued that having faith in the faith of the parish priest was not adequate because Christ calls all those who follow him to participate in his mission of reconciliation, to be his body on earth. We are to have faith in the faithfulness of Christ, to put our trust in him alone and his promise to be with us always, never leaving or forsaking us.

So, the question is: where is Christ calling you to get out of your comfortable boat and to take the risk in following him on to the water? How are you called to minister in your daily life at home, school, work, and play? With whom are you called to share the gospel? Who is the person in your life that is hungry to know Jesus?

Learning to walk on water is learning to rely on the God who makes the impossible possible. However, we do not walk alone – we walk with each other and we walk toward the one who is walking toward us, the one who will not let us drown, the one who provides us with everything we need to follow him onto the water.

Come, let us take the beautiful risk of faith by getting out of the boat and learning to walk on water.

Come, let us learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (cf. Heb. 12:2).

Amen.

Zombies in Church – A sermon for Pentecost 9 (A)

A sermon preached at St.Andrew’s-by-the-lake (Turkey Point, ON)

I.
Zombies; The Living Dead; The Walking Dead; rotting corpses partially returned to life. Existing somewhere between life and death and having no emotion, personality or individual identity, zombies limp and shuffle along, limbs bent out of join, mouths agape, emitting guttural groans as they hunt for their next meal of human flesh.

Not exactly a topic you expected to hear about in church, eh? Perhaps some of you are confused and maybe even offended. While zombies are a standard fixture in popular culture, what place do they have in the church? After all, zombies are the stuff of horror movies, not the gospel! However, if we are willing to immerse ourselves in our Scripture readings from today, we will see that there is a place for zombies in the Church.

II.
The key to understanding the relationship between zombies and the gospel is in our reading from Isaiah. You see, chapters 49-55 of Isaiah were written during Israel’s Babylonian captivity. Once again, the Hebrew people find themselves living in the shadow of empire, this time under the power of the Babylonians. As you can imagine, the Israelites are completely disoriented in the midst of their exile. All of the primary markers of their identity are now gone: the land is seized, the Temple is destroyed, and the Ark of the Covenant disappears. This disorientation results in a profound experience of despair: where is God? Are we not God’s chosen people? Has God abandoned us? Who are we? What are we supposed to do now?

The Israelites identity as God’s people is supplanted by their identity as slaves. Once an independent nation, the Israelites are now a conquered people whose identity and worth is entirely based upon their economic value to the empire. Once they were a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation (cf. Ex. 19:6) called to be a blessing unto the nations, now they are nobodies – powerless and utterly disposable objects – who exist at the destructive whims of their conquerors, those who have the power of life and death.

Indeed, the existence of the Israelites is that of all people who are enslaved to an empire: they exist somewhere between life and death, not really alive and not quite dead.

The Israelites are the walking dead; they are zombies.

III.
This morning, I want to suggest that like the ancient Israelites, we too are living in the shadow of an Empire. This Empire goes by many different names, but it is an empire that easily recognizable. While it is true that ours is captivity that is completely different from that of the ancient Israelites, it is captivity nevertheless. Our captivity is evident both in the language we use and in the practices that define our daily lives.

We are captive to an Empire where a person’s identity is determined by their possessions and their worth defined by their economic output; where ‘somebodies’ are those with the most stuff and ‘nobodies’ are those who are unable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is an Empire that is driven by the fear of scarcity, to which the solution is increased consumption; an Empire driven by the fear of becoming downwardly mobile to the point of becoming a ‘nobody’; an Empire where having ‘enough’ is never an option because ‘more’ is always available – but supplies are limited!

Like all Empires, this empire demands my total allegiance. It dictates that since my desires are most important, I must look out for ‘number one’ above everyone else, regardless of destruction this requires of creation or other human lives. My whole existence is defined by my desire to not only keep up with the Jones’, but to surpass the Jones’ because the one with the most toys wins, right? Therefore, I must ensure that I am properly educated so that I can competitively enter the rat race so that I am able to exit the rat race at a reasonable age with enough money and stuff to ensure a comfortable and, therefore, prolonged life until my eventual death. Such is the ‘good life’ defined by our Empire.

However, is this truly a ‘good life’ when I am expected to frantically and competitively rush through my life driven by the fear of scarcity, down-ward mobility, and the lingering reality of my death? Are we not zombies ourselves as we pursue this kind of life, devouring one another to satisfy our personal desires? The truth of the matter is that because ours is a comfortable captivity, it very difficult to see it as captivity, to see ourselves as zombies. Furthermore, the pursuit of a good and comfortable life makes it difficult, indeed nearly impossible, for us to hear the good news that both the prophet Isaiah and the stories of the loves and fish describe.

IV.
Our inability to hear God’s word to us is precisely why we need the prophets. The prophets address God’s people, both then and now, in language that refuses to pull punches because they are single-mindedly focused on describing the reality of God’s truth. Therefore, prophetic language is often uncomfortable and offensive to those to whom it is addressed. The prophets call us to challenge the myths of Empire, myths that insist the status-quo is simply the way things are. Furthermore, the prophets invite us to imagine the world through the lens of God’s Kingdom in defiance of the wisdom of Empire.

Isaiah 55 begins with a short word that is easy to disregard. Listen again to verse 1: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price”. You see, ‘Ho!’ is a word that was used to get the attention of the dead in funerary laments. God prophetically addresses his captive people as the living dead, as zombies, for that is exactly what they are within in the shadow of empire; in one small word, the prophet describes the entire situation.

However, God’s address does not end there. In Isaiah 55, God’s people in exile are given a divine word that addresses their fears and offered a new hope rooted in God’s promise of provision and forgiveness if the people return to him. New life is possible for God’s people because God refuses to leave his people enslaved, to leave them living death in the shadow of empire. God refuses to do this because God is the one who liberates captives and resurrects the dead. God is the God of exodus and resurrection.

However, in the midst of captivity, God’s promises sound too good to be true – how can those who have no money buy food? How can they buy wine and milk without money and without price? Is it another way of life really possible where we no longer need to work to buy things that can never satisfy? Cynicism and distrust are the default settings of those living in captivity.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 55 gives God’s people a glimpse of the freedom and new life that God offers to his people if they would but return to him, living within the promise and provision of his kingdom.

V.
The glimpse of the freedom and life God offers his people in Isaiah 55 finds its fullest expression in the person and actions of Jesus Christ. Standing in the middle of the wilderness, with no markets nearby, Jesus tells the disciples to give food to the thousands who followed them into the wilderness, to feed them with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. The disciples respond with cynical distrust rooted in the myth of scarcity, the myth that tells us what we have is never enough. And yet out of this meager supply, Jesus feeds the multitude not only to the point that they were filled, to the point where there are leftovers.

To our modern ears it sounds like a fairytale, utter foolishness believed by the weak-minded, an embellished story that is too fantastic to be true.

But what if it is too fantastic not to be true? What if it is so fantastic it must be true?

The abundance of the freedom and life God extends can be overwhelming to the point where it seems absurd, sheer fantasy. It is easier to live in the comfort of captivity than to follow Jesus into the wilderness. Following Jesus into the wilderness is an act of radical trust where we place our lives in his hands and where we learn “to want the limitless things God gives us in Jesus…[and] to take the right things for granted” (Wells, 5, 11).

The economy of God’s kingdom is completely different from that of Empire because it is defined by generosity, not scarcity, by the restoration of life, not its destruction, by relationship in community, not autonomous self-expression. In God’s kingdom, people are identified as God’s beloved children through the gift and promise of baptism.

Because their appetite can never be satisfied, zombies continually feed on the living, and in so doing they produce nothing but death. However, in feasting on Christ, the living bread, our appetites are satisfied as we receive the life that comes from the one who died and rose again. In feasting on Christ, we learn a new way of life outside of the shadow of empire where scarcity abounds and inside the light of God’s Kingdom where overflowing abundance is the norm; a new way of life where God gives us everything that we need to worship him: bread and wine without cost, ordinary items through which God offers spiritual nourishment and abundant life.

The good news is that no longer must we be zombies, enslaved to empire; in Christ, we are offered a new life where freedom and provision are abundant, and we are invited into a community that is learning what it means to trust, receive, and embody Christ’s generous and self-giving love. The community of those who follow Christ into the wilderness, a community called the Church, learns how to trust, receive, and embody Christ’s love through the practices God gives the Church: baptism, Eucharist, prayer, reading Scripture, preaching, teaching, hospitality, confession, sharing peace, washing feet, and giving praise (cf. Wells, 6). These are ordinary things, but through them God does extraordinary things. By faithfully performing these practices, we are shaped into a people who, empowered by the Holy Spirit, strive to make the entire world into a Eucharist where the living dead may receive resurrection life and become transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Dare we trust that the super-abundance of Jesus Christ is too good not be true? Dare we trust that in him we will truly be satisfied?

Come, let us feast on Christ.

Amen.

(The book quoted is Samuel Wells God’s Companions – a remarkable ‘must read’)

Weeds and Wheat – A Sermon for Proper 11 (A)

Preached at St.John’s (Port Rowan) and St.Andrew’s-by-the-lake (Turkey Point)

When I was growing up, the May long weekend meant one thing: gardening.

Every year my parents, siblings and I would spend the entire weekend in the dirt, preparing and planting our garden.

While planting the garden was truly a family affair, tending the garden was not.

Although the children were allowed to water the garden as we grew older, we were not allowed to weed the garden.

Weeding the garden was my mother’s responsibility.

Mom knew that if she let us weed the garden, we would have pulled the garden bare.

You see, as children, we didn’t know the difference between weeds and garden plants.

In order to protect her garden from her overzealous and uninformed children, mom reserved the title “Executive Weeder of the Postma Family Garden” for herself alone.

In our gospel reading for today, we see that God bears the sole responsibility for taking care of the weeds in the world.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s back up and take a closer look at this parable.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus does the majority of his preaching through parables, stories that use everyday imagery to convey a deeper spiritual meaning. However, Jesus use of parables is strange: in spite of the large audiences he attracted, very rarely did Jesus explain the meaning of his parables to the crowds.

Moreover, it is only when Jesus’ disciples ask him to explain the meaning of the parables, that he does so, although always privately.

The parables are, in Jesus’ words, for those with ears to hear (cf. 13:43); the parables can only be understood by those who grasp the deeper reality about which the parables are about.

The parables are about one thing: the kingdom of God.

Therefore, the parables are not solely addressed for the crowds and disciples gathered around Jesus then, they are also addressed to us today.

The parables are not meant to entertain us or to offer us advice.

The parables are windows into the kingdom of God through which we are invited to imaginatively see what the kingdom is like.

However, we must remember that the parables are windows. We cannot piece them together in order to get the whole picture and we cannot assume that a single parable fully represents the whole of the kingdom. The parables offer us the briefest glimpses into the kingdom.

Because the parables describe what cannot be fully described by human language, we must be careful that we do not interpret them literally or read our own assumptions into them. If the disciples had to have things spelled out for them, we should not be too hasty in jumping to our own conclusions about the meaning of the parables.

Moreover, even when Jesus does explain the meaning of the parables, one question still remains: so what? If the parables describe what the kingdom looks like, what difference does this picture make to how we live?

This question is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It is a question that we are to continually ask as we engage with Scripture.

Through the parables, Jesus describes the world through the lens of the kingdom; he expects that his followers will learn to see the world through this same lens. It is in learning to see the world through kingdom eyes that we learn to live under the reign of Christ.

Jesus is the kingdom of God in the flesh; he is the key to understanding the meaning of the parables in terms of how we are called to live a kingdom way of life.

Therefore, the cross and the empty tomb stand at the centre of our kingdom vision and way of life.

The parable about the wheat and the weeds has less to do with the future and more to do with the current state of affairs in the world as they exist in the light of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The fact of the matter is that evil is real. We need only turn on the news to confirm this reality.

Not only is evil real, it seems that evil is the dominant force in the world.

The powers that perpetuate evil know how to justify their actions to make them seem anything but evil.

However, in this parable, Jesus is cutting through the lies and calling out evil for what it is: a malignant and parasitic force that preys on life.

You see, the weed that Jesus refers to is darnel. Darnel grows all over the world; it is a universal weed. If it is ingested, it is toxic and sometimes fatal. It is easily infected by a certain kind of fungus that quickly spreads, destroying an entire wheat field.

Another thing about darnel is that until the ear appears, it looks exactly like wheat, which is why the farmer and the workers had no idea that the field was contaminated until the ears started to appear.

Jesus’ point is direct: inasmuch as evil is real, no one should ever self-righteously assume that they are the wheat because in so doing, they’ve actually identified themselves as weeds.

The implication is that although the wheat and the darnel weed look nearly identical, the difference is that weeds will always justify their actions, whereas wheat will always recognize its need for grace.

Wheat is wheat not because of its own moral superiority; wheat is wheat because it is the good seed planted by the farmer, because it recognizes that its very existence is due to the farmer, the same farmer who patiently waits until the harvest to separate the wheat from the weeds, lest he lose his entire crop.

God is the Divine Farmer; he is the one who bears sole responsibility for weeding the field. The good news is that this God promises to deal with evil once and for all.

But that is in future. What about now? So what? If this parables describes what the kingdom looks like, what difference does this picture make to how we live our lives? How do we live in the midst of evil?

We must recognize that pulling up the weeds – attempting to eradicate evil – is not an option because the result is that the entire field will be uprooted. It is not our responsibility to liberate creation.

Rather, we are called to follow the example of the farmer whose response to the weeds is to forgive them. You see, when the farmer says “Let both of them grow together until the harvest”, in the original Greek, the word translated as ‘let’ is the exact same word translated as ‘forgive’ in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”; forgive the weeds who sin against us. The farmer is forgiving because he is patient; he is patient because he has things under control.

Because the Farmer has things under patient control, we are called to be patient. In Romans 8:25, Paul says that those who live by the Spirit are called to “wait with patience” (8:25). They wait with patience because they have hope that the whole of creation “will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

This liberation is achieved through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; Christ alone is the means by which the farmer will deal with the weeds.

The wheat does not get to dictate to the farmer how to till or plant. The wheat is not responsible for the care of the soil. The wheat does not tell the farmer when and how to harvest or how to deal with the weeds.

Wheat exists in the midst of weeds; it cannot uproot itself and seek to move to a different part of the field and it cannot seek to destroy the weeds.

This means wheat lives at the mercy of the farmer, trusting that the farmer will deal with the weeds and will harvest his crop.

As those who are called to be wheat in the world, we need to recognize our own propensity to be weeds; it is the recognition of and acceptance of God’s forgiveness that the divine farmer can turn weeds into wheat. It is a sheer act of grace that this miraculous transformation is possible.

Therefore, it is not ours to worry about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ of the kingdom. We need not worry about the weeds; our responsibility is to be wheat, to grow in Jesus Christ and to bear seed where we are planted, even if this means living next to weeds.

We do this by focusing on the patience of the farmer, by seeking first his kingdom, by learning to see through kingdom eyes.

However, in a world where evil wrecks havoc in the world, it is easy to get impatient and seek to take matters into our own hands. It is easy to place our trust in shallow optimism that through sheer effort of human will-power that the world will get better if only we try to be better people.

Patience is an important virtue. However, it is also more than a virtue; it is the kingdom way of being in the world; it is the modus operandi of the Church.

We do not threaten evil people with eternal damnation or attempt to enact God’s justice on our terms. Rather, we seek to overcome evil by doing good (cf. Rom. 12:21). The weeds are enemies; but they are also neighbors. Christ calls us to love our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves.

We refuse to give up ground to the weeds. Rather, we patiently resist the weeds because we, as wheat, exist in and through the one who will set the world to rights. We refuse to succumb to the weeds, yet we forgive the weeds as well, reminded of our own similarity to the weeds.

We patiently endure because the world is not ours to save; the world, including the weeds, exists under the stewardship of the divine farmer.

We patiently resist and endure because we have hope that Christ, not evil, gets the final word. It is through his power, not ours, that the world will be liberated from bondage to evil.

We learn the way of patient love and forgiveness in the world where weeds grow by ordering our lives according to the kingdom.

We cannot learn kingdom patience flying solo, but alongside other stalks of wheat who are learning to see the world through kingdom eyes.

We learn kingdom patience through regularly participating in the communal practices of the Christian community – baptism, prayer, reading Scripture, worship, Communion.

It is through the patient repetition of these practices – over and over and over again – that we grow and begin to bear seed where we are planted.
It is through the patient repetition of these practices – over and over and over again – that we are slowly shaped into the likeness of the divine farmer.

Let us pray.

God you are the Patient Farmer who cares for his crop. May we be the wheat you plant in the world. Help us to grow in Christ so that we may bear seeds of the kingdom. Help us to put our trust in you so that we may patiently resist and endure the evil of the world, responding to it with the same love and grace that you extend to us through your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

5th Sunday After Pentecost (A): A Sermon

Preached at St.Andrew’s-by-the-lake (Turkey Point, ON).
“All persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State… shall be – then, thenceforward, and forever free”.

These are the opening words of the Emancipation Proclamation, written by President Abraham Lincoln during the height of the American Civil War. There are four characteristics of the Emancipation Proclamation that are worth noting:

First, the Proclamation was immediate: The freedom of the slaves took effect at 12:00AM New Year’s Day 1863. Therefore, regardless of whether or not the newly freed slaves knew they were free, they were free at that exact moment.

Second, the Proclamation was unconditional: the freedom of the former slaves came freely. It was not something that was purchased; they were free because they were declared to be free.

Third, the Proclamation was permanent: the newly freed slaves were guaranteed that they would never be slaves again.

Fourth, the Proclamation freed all who were enslaved: all slaves, every single one, were free, no longer condemned to a life as someone else’s property.
In many ways, the Emancipation Proclamation brings to mind St. Paul’s description of the gospel.

In Romans chapters 5-7, Paul describes the way in which all people – every single person – find themselves caught in the web of sin, enslaved to our selfish desires.

However, in Romans 8, the climax of his argument, Paul makes a great reversal, signaled by the word ‘therefore’.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).

In one word Paul completely overturns everything in chapters 5-7. He moves from stating that everyone is under the condemnation wrought by sin to – “there is therefore now no condemnation of those who are in Christ Jesus”.
What is going on here? What does this mean?

Listen again to verse 2: “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set [us] free from the law of sin and death”.

We who were once condemned by our sin are now free because Christ “condemned sin in the flesh” (8:3).

In other words, through Jesus, God definitively says “No!” to sin and death and, therefore, definitively says “Yes!” to those caught in the web of sin.

This is the good news of Christ’s liberation.

Similar to the Emancipation Proclamation, there are four central characteristics of Paul’s description of the gospel in Romans:

First, the gospel is immediate: whereas we were previously caught in the web of sin, “there is therefore now no condemnation” (8:1). The ‘now’ indicates the present state of affairs. Our previous identity as slaves to sin no longer defines who we are because now we are in Christ Jesus; our identity is defined by him and him alone.

Second, the gospel is unconditional: There is nothing we can do or need to do in order to purchase our freedom; it is, as Paul describes, a “free gift” (Rom. 5:15) given to all people through Jesus Christ.

Third, the gospel is permanent: nothing can undo our liberation; Christ’s condemnation of sin and death is final. Moreover, we have the promise that “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to [our] mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). Never again will we be enslaved to sin.

Fourth, the gospel is for everyone: As Paul explains at the beginning of his argument in Romans 5:18: “Just as one man’s trespass [Adam’s] led to condemnation for all, so one’s mans act of righteousness [Christ’s] leads to justification and life for all”.

But wait a minute – the gospel is for everyone? Really?

What about those who, in Paul’s words in verse 9, do not “have the Spirit of Christ” and do not “belong to him”?

Does this mean that they are not chosen by God? Moreover, does it mean they are rejected by God?

Is Christ’s liberation limited to those whom God has chosen, to the so-called ‘elect’?

Doesn’t God love everyone?

The fact that God chooses particular individuals is undeniable. The question is: why?

Why did God choose Abraham?

Why did God choose Isaac over Ishmael? Jacob over Esau?

In the face of all the options, God’s choices seem arbitrary, and therefore scandalous.

Why did God choose the people he chose? Abraham frequently lied to save his skin, Jacob was deceptive, and the people of Israel had a penchant for worshipping false gods.

God’s election of particular individuals and people is for the purpose of fulfilling his redemptive project; the only way to make sense of God’s choice of particular people, is within the context of his promise to restore the cosmos to original shalom and to bring people back into perfect fellowship with him and each other.

God maintains and fulfils this promise through those whom he chooses; election – the doctrine of God’s choosing particular individuals and people – has nothing to do with who is going to heaven and who is not and everything to do with God’s redemptive project here and now. “God elects for the sake of bringing his plan to fulfillment; he does not elect in order to recognize or champion our efforts and projects” (Reno, 219).

As arbitrary and scandalous as God’s election may seem to us, it is good news precisely because God does not elect people on the basis of any “earthly measure”, “human standard” or “calculation of merit” (Reno, 219). God chooses whom he chooses according to the priority of his grace as “he works toward the consummation of all things” (Reno, 217).

God’s choice of particular individuals is good news because it emphasizes God’s love for humanity; God does not love us in a generic, purely transcendent way; he loves us in our particularity. Moreover, God’s election of particular people demonstrates God’s willingness to become deeply involved in human history; God does not leave us to fend for ourselves while he watches from a distance, hoping that things work out for the best.

Furthermore, like God’s election, God’s love defies all reason. It seems arbitrary and indiscriminate, but this is because it is not on the basis of any human standard. God’s perfect love is without limit or boundary; it is immediate, unconditional, permanent, and it is extended to all people.

So, God chose Abraham to be his covenant partner, to be the one from whom God would make a particular people called to be a blessing to all people (cf. Gen. 22:18). God chose Abraham’s descendants to be the particular family who would help bring God’s redemptive plan for the entire cosmos to fruition.

Therefore, the answer to the question: ‘why did God choose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?’ – is simply: ‘Jesus’.

God sent his Son to become incarnate, to become God with-us and God for-us, in a particular time and a particular place in a particular human body, to be a descendant of a particular family: Abraham’s.

Jesus is the one elected by God to be the representative of humanity, to bear the violence of sin and death, and to set us free through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Just as the logic of God’s electing love defies human logic, so too does the logic of how Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension achieves human freedom.

Therefore, attempts to figure these things out are exercises in futility; rather, our response should be awe and gratitude at God’s choice to emancipate humanity through his beloved Son.

What also defies human logic is Jesus’ choice about who would continue his ministry after his ascension.

Why did Jesus choose the disciples he did, uneducated working-class men who had a tendency to doubt and betray?

Why did Jesus choose Paul, a murderous fundamentalist (cf. Acts 9:1)?

Why did Jesus choose us, the Church, prone to division and distraction?

Once again, there is no human logic Jesus’ choice. But that is exactly the point! The good news is that God’s redemptive plan will unfold on God’s timeline according to God’s ways, despite the best efforts of humans to frustrate these plans.

Nevertheless, Jesus chose the disciples, Paul, and the Church to proclaim the gospel – the good news that Christ has freed us from the web of sin and death and offers us the freedom of life in him.

Jesus chose us, the Church, to recklessly sow the seeds of the gospel, the good news of the liberation of all people. Our task is simply to sow the seed. We need not worry about the soil for the soil remains God’s responsibility alone for God alone is the one who can turn rock into rich soil and uproot thorns (cf. John Chrysostom). God alone is the one who can and has already defeated the evil one who attempts to subvert the freedom of the gospel.
Yes, there will be those who will choose to reject the gospel. Nevertheless, this rejection does not negate the liberation Christ offers. In fact, nothing can annul this freedom.

The gift of Christ’s freedom remains for all people precisely because God’s love “does not depend on what we do or what we are like. He doesn’t care whether we are sinners or not. It makes no difference to him. He is [patiently] waiting to welcome us with joy and love” (McCabe, 157). It is in this embrace that we find true freedom and true humanity. Everyone is offered this freedom in Christ, a freedom that is immediate, unconditional, and permanent.

Today we celebrate Holy Communion, where Christ unites himself with us so that we may be united with him in freedom.

This is the freedom that Christ offers: healing and wholeness, life and peace in and through him.

Come let us taste our freedom in him.

Amen.

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost (A): a sermon

Preached at St.Andrew’s-by-the-lake (Turkey Point, ON). Admittedly, it’s a bit long, but I felt the Romans text warranted an deeper look (and the conclusion rambles, but I wanted to close on a high note).

I’m sure we’ve all seen pictures or cartoons of the little devil and little angel sitting on someone’s shoulders, urging the person to make a decision, either for good or for evil, each stating their case with a compelling argument.

Appealing to the sense of pleasure that will surely follow, the devil usually wins the argument more often than not. Showing its displeasure, the angel vanishes until the next time the person is faced with a decision.

Although the angel and devil on the shoulders are typically used for comedic effect, I think it is an image that perfectly captures what Paul is getting at in Romans 7.

Paul is exploring the depths of the human heart.

What he finds is the human heart at odds with itself.

What he finds there is nothing short of chaos.

Paul does not mince words in making his point: all humans find themselves in the same situation: we are under the influence of sin.

Sin is result of the human propensity to mess things up, a propensity shared by all people.

The effects of the human propensity to mess up are best illustrated in the recent television series Breaking Bad.

This show follows high school chemistry teacher Walter White who, as his name indicates, is an all-round decent guy. He is married with a teenage son and new born daughter.

Walt is soon diagnosed with incurable cancer. With no health insurance, Walt decides to take drastic measures into his own hands. Working with one of his former students, Walt becomes a manufacturer of Crystal Meth.

The show follows Walt’s transformation from mild-mannered teacher and family man to violent drug king-pin. Walt’s transformation is not linear; but as he becomes more involved in the drug trade, his true character becomes manifest.

As the show progresses we come to realize that the ‘nice guy’ Walt appears to be is merely a façade for who he really is: a ruthless man driven by his desire for power and control.

Of course, Walt justifies his actions: “Everything I do, I do it for the family. To provide for [them] when I’m gone”. It’s a justification that sounds noble, particularly since Walt’s cancer will leave his wife a widow and his children fatherless. Moreover, his death will leave his family penniless, in debt to health care providers.

I won’t offer any spoilers as to how the show ends for those who’ve have yet to watch it other than this: despite the noble justification for his actions and his nice-guy façade, the effect of Walt’s actions spread like a cancer through his community and beyond, doing incalculable damage to numerous lives. Walt is a retched man; he is nothing less than a monster.

It is easy to point the finger of condemnation and disgust at people like Walter White. However, Paul’s point in Romans 7 is that people like Walter White are no different than you and I. There is not a clear division between ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’. No, the division goes straight through the heart of every individual.

Yes, we can point the finger at Walter White, but in so doing we are pointing the finger directly at ourselves.

Each and every one of us is Walter White; each and every one of us is the “I” Paul refers to. The “I” refers to those who are descendants of Adam (cf. Rom. 5). In other words, the “I” refers to every person who has ever lived.

When we read this text, we read it in our own voice as our own words: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it”.

This is an ugly and uncomfortable truth: that deep-down inside, we all have the capacity to become monsters.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote: “it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your soul than it does for a solider to fight on a battlefield”.

I would rather believe that I am a decent person that to admit and accept that I am a fundamentally broken person. After all, I go to church, I love my wife and kids the best way that I can. I try to do nice things for others. I’m not involved in the illegal drug trade. I am an overall good person, aren’t I?

It is difficult to take a good hard look at myself; I am full of secrets, lies, and addictions that I don’t want to see the light of day. I know that I am not innocent; I have caused damage to myself and to others. I am selfish; I think not so-good thoughts about others. I use words to bring others down.

Let’s go a bit deeper. How good would I really be if there were no laws and consequences? How good would I really be if I could do certain things knowing that I could get away with them?

It is difficult to take a good hard look at myself because it inevitably leads to the conclusion that I cannot save myself from myself because, despite any outward appearances to the contrary, deep-down inside I am a mess.

My refusal to take a good hard look at myself is ultimately the result of my stubborn refusal to accept God’s love, grace, and forgiveness; my refusal to look at myself is rooted in my insistence that I can fix things on my own if I try a bit harder, if I’m a super-nice guy, if I do all the right things and follow all the rules.

However, in Romans 7 Paul is also cutting through the type of thinking that suggests that human wickedness will be overcome if people simply ‘do the right thing’ and ‘just love each other’.

This is impossible, says Paul, because the human propensity for cruelty and violence remains; we know this is true from what we see on the news and from our own life experiences.

The root of the problem, as Paul suggests, is that we are “of the flesh” (Rom. 7:14).

But what does this mean? Is Paul arguing that the problem is simply a result of the fact that we are flesh-and-blood creatures? Is Paul suggesting that the root of all our problems is our physical bodies?

Absolutely not. When Paul speaks of “the flesh” here and elsewhere, he is talking about disordered desire. To be of the flesh is to be, in the words of St. Augustine, “curved in on oneself”.

I am of the flesh when I selfishly put my desires first with no regard for others.

I am of the flesh when I abuse the humanity of others for my own gain, when I “inappropriately use power” to set myself above others (Keck, 186).
In other words, to be in the flesh is to be caught in the web of sin, a web that all people are caught in where people are turned against God and each other.

None of my efforts, no matter how good or well-intentioned, can undo or free me the web of sin or reverse its effects.

Paul sounds like a pessimist; no one likes to be brought down and told how awful they are. Being confronted with my sin is never a comfortable or painless experience. Nevertheless, despite his refusal to mince words, Paul is not a pessimist precisely because he “views the human condition from the standpoint of what God has already done to overcome it” (Keck, p. 185).

Paul takes sin seriously because God takes sin seriously; God takes sin seriously because of his boundless love for all people, those created in his image.

God’s definitive response to sin and death is “No!” a response he gives through the death and resurrection of his Son. God’s judgment against sin is the good news that we are liberated from the power of sin through Jesus Christ.

It is like a doctor giving a diagnosis; initially the news may not sound good and the remedy difficult and painful. However, it is only in naming the cause of the problem that the appropriate treatment can be offered. If we refuse to hear the cause, we cannot accept the cure.

The human heart is the place where God and sin collide, a place where sin often wins the battle.

However, the good news is that the war is already won in and through Jesus Christ.

In Christ, we are restored to proper fellowship with God and given a new identity as God’s children.

Christ takes upon himself my guilt and fear in order to liberate me from sin, freeing me to try again and fail again…and again (cf. Spufford, 166).

Christ overwhelms sin with the only things that can defeat it: God’s love, grace, and forgiveness.

Every person in the world knows sin and its effects; we are all “knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery of the world” (Beuchner). Sin and death remain real forces in the world and we continue to struggle against them. However, as Christians, we know sin defeated; we know Christ stands with us in the muck and misery and therefore we have hope and assurance that sin and death will not get the final word.

Our response to sin is confession.

When we confess, we are admitting that we are caught in the web of sin; that we are “of the flesh”.

When we confess, we are opening ourselves to receive God’s embrace.

When we confess, we are taking Christ’s yoke upon ourselves.

We take on Christ’s yoke because he took on our yoke – the yoke of slavery to sin – and destroyed it.

We take on Christ’s yoke because his yoke is nothing less than our freedom, the freedom of knowing and experiencing God’s boundless love and forgiveness.

Christ’s yoke is easy because it means that we no longer have to rely on own attempts to untangle ourselves from the web of sin. Christ’s yoke is easy because he is the one who bears the burden of our sin; he alone is able to do the work of restoring our true selves in fellowship with God.

We can give up trying to be good because we rest in the one who is the embodiment of goodness. Morality does not save me; listening to the angel on my shoulder does not lessen the chaos of my inner-self.

Taking on Christ’s yoke means that I give up control. No longer am I the one calling the shots. Rather, I let Christ assume control and walk beside him.

Giving up control is a difficult thing to do, especially in our culture where the will of the individual reigns supreme.

However, as Paul reminds us, insisting that I am in control is nothing but an illusion that leads to all kinds of problems.

Taking on Christ’s yoke is the difficult process of dying to my selfish desires and fixing my eyes on Christ, the author and finisher of my salvation.

The fundamental struggle of every person is between sin and grace, between the insistence that “I am in control” and the acceptance of God’s forgiveness.

Taking on Christ’s yoke means that I am bound to him, the one who binds himself to me. My identity – who I am – becomes entangled with Christ. In him, I am made and remade into his likeness.

No longer am I oriented to myself and my past mistakes; I am oriented to Christ and to the future, of being perfected in and by Christ.

Being yoked to Christ means that we see the world through gospel eyes.

We see that the world retains the blessing of original goodness, but that it is also marred by sin.

We see that God has not left the world to its own devices, but that he has liberated it in Jesus Christ.

This means that we who are yoked to Christ do not think and act according to a list of abstract moral principles or guidelines; we think and act according to the gospel – the good news that God says “No” to sin and “Yes” to those who are caught in the web of sin.

This means that we think and act according to the way that God treats us: with love, grace, and forgiveness.

This means that we think and act according to God’s will: to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.

In the end, we should not be surprised at human propensity to mess things up because it is shared by all people. Yes, the depths of human cruelty and violence seem to know no bounds, but despite our best efforts, our own morality and goodness cannot untangle us from the web of sin.

What should never cease to surprise and amaze us is the unfathomable love of God expressed in his Son, Jesus Christ, who lived with and for us that we might live with and for him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May you accept the good news of God’s “No!” to sin and “Yes!” to sinners.

May you know and experience the liberation Christ offers by taking on his yoke and walking alongside him.

May you know and experience the working of the Holy Spirit in your life as you are formed into Christ-likeness.

Amen.