Category Archives: Holidays

At taste of theology for Holy Week

Image by James Chan from Pixabay

What does the “torn curtain” mean?

It’s Easter Saturday. At our house we’re preparing for our Easter family gathering and my birthday. In the quiet of work done, and services ready for tomorrow, I have paused to think again about our Easter story.

In three of the gospels there is a small detail buried amidst the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. When Jesus says, “It is finished.” And hangs his head in death, the story says, a darkness descended and the curtain that separated the outer temple, where people came to worship, from the “holy of holies” that only the priest with the sacrifices was allowed to enter, that curtain was torn in two. According to scholars, that meant the separation between God and the ordinary human person was ended.

In Jesus’ day, people brought animal sacrifices to the priest. The priest’s role was to present the sacrifices to appease God’s anger with the people’s sins. There was an entire culture built around this practice. With Jesus’ death, came the belief that sacrifice was no longer needed. His death was the last and only sacrifice. From this comes the understanding that Jesus died for our sins.

For me, understanding God as angry and needing to be appeased by Jesus’ horrible and tragic death has always been difficult. Over the years after much discussion and study, I have come to believe that Jesus died because of our human fear, greed, and lust for power. God, in Jesus, loved us so much that Jesus was willing to give his life, not to appease God’s anger, but to show us God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For me, the significance of the temple curtain torn in two is, God gave us a new understanding of God’s love and forgiveness. We no longer needed a priest and sacrifices to feel God’s love. God’s love is there for us no matter what. There is nothing we can do to drive God’s love away. Most of the time we don’t deserve God’s love but God loves us anyway.

Even in today’s society, we like to think in terms of guilt, judgment and punishment. But God’s thoughts and ours are different. God’s love is bigger than any of that. God has loved us from our beginning. God will love us through our foolishness, through our cruelty, through our goodness. God just loves us.

Because of that unconditional love, I do my best most days to love others as I know God loves me. When I fail, I know I can pick myself up and try again. God is with me as my support, coach and parent, God wants me to be the best I can be. God celebrates with my success and cries with me in my failures. Always God loves me as God loves all of God’s creation. That is the blessing of our Easter story.

 

Tomorrow I will post my sermon that will be delivered at Lakefield and Young’s Point United Churches.

Love Covers A Multitude of Sins

Unconditional Love

On Valentine’s Day we talk about love, especially love for spouse. The stores tell us to buy a gift – usually an expensive gift – but at least a card for that special person in our life. Over and over, and not just at Valentine’s Day, we are encouraged to speak words of love to our children, our spouse, our friends. “Tell them you love them before it’s too late,” is the command.

The Bible adds another dimension to the discussion about love. “Above all love each other, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

“Love covers a multitude of sins.” What a beautiful thought. St. Paul is speaking of unconditional love. It’s not that love wipes away those sins. It’s that we love anyway. As human beings we are aware of our child’s, our spouse’s failings. Often those failings are aggravating, frustrating. We worry about their consequences. We believe this child has to learn another way. Sometimes those failings cause us or other’s pain. This short bible verse tells us that our love continues to flow in spite of what we do or say or think.

For me, this verse speaks about forgiveness – not forgetfulness, not acceptance – but forgiveness. I remember hearing a story long ago about a conversation between two people – Linda and George. They were discussing their spouses.

George said, “How do you cope with the fact that your husband squeezes the toothpaste tube in the middle. My wife does that. It drives me crazy.”

Linda answered, “When we got married I decided that every time I was irritated I would write down the irritation and at some point I would discuss it with Lenny. Once the irritation is on the list, I let go of it. Over the years, I’ve discovered there are many more important things to discuss, than some of the ones on my list. Important things like how we spend our next vacation, which house to buy, the time he lost his job through downsizing, my mother’s illness. That list of irritations never seems important enough to give it air time. Loving, caring for each other always takes precedence.

“Love covers a multitude of sins,” is a very important principle. It carries us through to forgiveness so that bitterness does not spawn and grown.

Valentine’s Day Is Coming Soon!

A Gift of Love

Valentine’s Day is coming soon. As a child, I dreaded the day. I remember writing a valentine for everyone in the class, even though I knew I would receive only a few. Although finding something suitable in the package of fifty my mom bought and the task of signing them all, was hard work in my mind, I didn’t want anyone in the class to be left out. No matter who they were it felt good to think they would receive at least one valentine. Taking care of the lonely, the excluded, has always been important to me.

Today, as a senior the only valentines I write are to my grandchildren and my sweetheart Tom. At Christmas it’s easy to think of others we don’t know, because the donation boxes and kettles are everywhere. On Valentine’s Day, the focus is more on me and who loves me. Think I’ll change that this time. In a bag in my room are four new pairs of warm men’s socks. Somehow they got left forgotten at Christmas.  I’ve decided rather than returning them to the store, I will take them to the Salvation Army along with two valentines. That feels like a tangible and valuable way to include the lonely and excluded this year.

What can you do to make Valentine’s Day, a day of giving love beyond your family? Is there someone in your church or at work or your senior’s centre that you believe will find Valentine’s Day a lonely experience. Can you make a meal, bake some cookies, create something in your workshop, buy flowers or a plant and bring it along with a card to brighten their day.

The reality of life is that we don’t have to wait for a special day. We just need to stop in the midst of our crazy lives and open our eyes and hearts to the people around us. We already know that bringing joy to someone else will bring healing and energy into our own lives. Remember Jesus’ words, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, you failed to do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45 NIV)

 

Happy New Year!!!

To Stumble or Walk with Purpose

For the last few months, I have been just stumbling along. For sure, I have accomplished everything that needed to be done. For sure, I’ve had some good times playing with Tom, and family. I have certainly been busy. But, underneath my busyness has been that wonder- what next? What is my purpose? I didn’t publish a book in 2018. Maybe I’m finished writing? I know that’s not true. Today, I read the reflection for New Year’s Day, in Our Daily Bread. It’s based on Ecclesiastes 9:10 – “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

What can my hand find to do, I wondered. I smiled and picked up my pencil and wrote:

  1. There’s your children’s story, “The Elephant at the Manger,” maybe it’s time that became a book. Immediately I thought, but I don’t have an illustrator. There are many avenues for removing that obstacle. It will require effort – “doing with all my might.”
  2. Last year you gathered a bunch of new biblically based short stories you have written over the years. Maybe it’s time you created a new short story collection. I chuckled when I thought, that too will require effort – “doing with all my might.”
  3. You’ve thought about writing a book for intermediate readers, even talked about it with your daughter and granddaughter. Maybe it’s time you gave that some real effort – “doing with all your might.”

I chuckled and said, “Okay Lord, I hear you. My purpose is to write and it’s time I got back to it on a regular basis.

Maybe this is an exercise for you, my readers to consider. As you enjoy the sunshine on this first day of 2019, pick up a pencil and start writing about the projects you might like to do, the things you would like to make happen this year. Just set your hand free to write. For sure, all of them will require real effort. You may believe you don’t have the time or energy to do any of them. Write them down anyway. For sure you won’t accomplish any of them if you just stumble along, wondering, feeling like something is missing. Take some time today to think about your life. Give yourself a chance to “Walk with Purpose” into 2019.

Happy New Year!!!

Trust – ‘Cause God Don’t Make No Junk!!

Image result for god makes no junkYears ago, I had a form of this poster in my office. I wanted people to know, that regardless of society’s judgement, or yours or mine,  that all human beings are valuable because God made us. No one is junk to be thrown away in the trash.

Today, as 2018 slips away, and I pray for family members who are walking the home stretch of their journey with cancer, these words carry an additional meaning. They bring the assurance of a new life beyond death. Faith in a loving God tells us that death is not the end, not the relegation of our beings to the trash heap.

My faith tells me that death is a transition into something new. Some faith traditions speak of reincarnation – an opportunity to return to this life as someone else – animal or human depending on how we have lived this time.

My christian tradition speaks of death bringing a new form of life with God where there are no more tears, sickness, hunger, thirst.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

Although none of knows exactly what is ahead, today this poster reminds me that we will never become trash. There will be a new life. I think about this next life as a new adventure filled with forgiveness, understanding, and joy. We are God’s precious children, conceived in God’s love, carrying a spark of God’s love within us. The future, like the new year brings mystery, for sure. We can step out in trust, knowing God is with us, creating us and God doesn’t make junk!

” For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13 NIV)

Try a New Habit.

Give Thanks in All Circumstances?

In the Bible St. Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.” (1Thessalonians 5:18 )  “Give thanks in all circumstances?” Impossible! Wrong! I can’t give thanks when I lose my job, my loved one dies. How then do we follow St. Paul’s words?

Check the prepositions. St. Paul says, “Give thanks IN all circumstances,” not “FOR all circumstances.” Search for the goodness of God, IN the midst of grief, fear, disappointment. There will be goodness.

When my daughter was badly injured, I wasn’t grateful for the accident. At first, I could only be grateful she wasn’t paralysed, and for the ER doctor who consulted the specialist in Kingston as soon as he saw the X-rays. As the days passed, I gave thanks for the young Mom who brought her two-week-old twins to my daughter’s hospital bedside. As Mom laid her baby on my daughter’s chest, I saw her first real smile, and knew healing would come. My gratitude list from that accident is long. When I opened my heart to the blessings, they were there.

In tough times, the search for blessings is easier if we have already developed a “gratitude habit” – a habit of seeking out and giving thanks for the blessings in our lives every single day. Internet research reveals the following two principles concerning developing a habit.

  1. New habits require over two months of repetitions and still they are fragile, easily discarded. Therefore, forget about the time required and do the repetitions.
  2. Make the commitment. Then failures won’t matter because you will just resume doing it. Neither your financial resources, your health, nor your age, nothing can steal your ability to give thanks once you’ve made the commitment.

Seeking out and recognizing our blessings is worth the effort and practice. This Thanksgiving, I suggest you develop a gratitude habit. It may not mean more money, or things, or success, but it will mean more joy in your life. The gratitude habit will shift your focus from not enough to counting your blessings.

Mother’s Day! What Do I Say This Year?

What else can I say about Mothers’ Day? Between preaching and writing columns, haven’t I already said all I have to say? I turned to my Bible.

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is human kind that your are mindful of us, human beings that you care for us?”         (Psalm 8:3-4)

The psalmist is overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe and the generosity and abundance of God’s blessings given to us. I thought of my moms, very different from each other, yet generous in their love for me. God blessed me through both of them.

Being a Mom is a commitment that continues even into the next life. What do mothers do for us? When we are little, mom’s job is physically exhausting: feeding, clothing, sleepless nights. Then, our troubles were small, the “fixes” simple. And, we returned her love with hugs and words of love.

Mothering teenagers is emotionally tougher. Our troubles are bigger and we don’t always want Mom’s help. She job is let go a little and watch us make mistakes. That process intensifies in our young adult years. We know everything, Mom, nothing. Our hugs are fewer and further between. We often don’t notice her in the background worrying, praying and trying so hard not to interfere.

I’m sure today it amuses both my moms when I struggle to keep out of the way of my own grown children. When I succeed, I can hear both moms cheering for me. When I interfere and offer unwanted advice, I feel them reach through that veil that separates us and say, “Yes, leaving them to struggle is tough, but you’re doing okay.”

Neither of my moms was perfect, but I was blessed by their love. This year I celebrate Mothers’ Day by remembering the work of their hands, the abundance of their love. This year I thank God who blessed me with their care, their example, their ability to stand back and let me fail, their joy at my success. This year I offer my poem of thanksgiving to God.

Thank You, God, for Mothers

When I consider your gift of mothers in this world,
Their caring, the work of their hands,
Their loving, the gift of their hearts,
I am humbled that you have created mothers for us.

When I consider how hard it must have been for them,
To let us make our own choices                                                                  knowing the pain those choices will bring,
When I consider the abundance of support we have received,
I am humbled that you have created mothers for us.

Thank you, God, for mothers, some more perfect than others.
Thank you, God, for knowing that we need a mother’s love.
Thank you, God, for being a mother for us all.

April Fool’s Day: An Interesting day for Easter Sunday

 

THE CROSS IS EMPTY. JESUS LIVES! HALLELUJAH!!!

Believing in the resurrection of Jesus is certainly considered foolish by some people. Even more foolish is my belief that Jesus still lives today. I don’t mind being foolish. I do believe that God calls us to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ, to be Christ alive and well in this world.

I believe in God the Creator, the beginning of all things, the parent of us all. I don’t know exactly how that works. The overwhelming beauty of our world, the amazing work of art that is a human being, an animal, even a tiny bug, all support my belief in God the source of creation. A leap of faith like that is foolish by today’s standards. I really don’t care. I believe it.

I believe that Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago. When Mary went to the tomb, on what we call Easter morning, Jesus wasn’t lying there dead, wrapped in a shroud, his body badly mutilated by his crucifixion. Jesus was alive and well, able to talk with her. I’m sure that is foolish too. yet I believe it. I know that Jesus is alive and well today because I believe in the Holy Spirit, that part of God that lives in each one of us. I have experienced that Holy Spirit often. How do I explain to you what I mean? Over and over again I have experienced the presence of Jesus (God’s Spirit) in others. I have seen God’s goodness, joy, compassion shine through friends and strangers alike. Yes, I believe in the Holy spirit. If that makes me foolish, that’s okay.

I find the story of Jesus’ arrest and death troubling. I know we are capable of such inhumane cruelty. I know fear and greed for power will lead people to do horrible things. That’s why I’m grateful the Easter story ends with Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a story of love conquering evil. My faith tells me that God will not be defeated. There is nothing that I or anyone else can do that God cannot use to bring goodness to this world. If that’s foolish in another person’s eyes, so be it.

For me, my faith gives me strength and courage for living. Every time I face a tough decision, I can trust that God will bring something good out of it. Every time I’m afraid, I can trust that God’s Holy Spirit is within me holding my hand. Every time I make a mistake, sin by commission or omission, I can trust that God’s forgiveness is waiting for me to change my ways and begin again. There is new life for all of us.

As St. Paul says, I can be a fool for Christ. I can love the unlovable. I can forgive the hurt that others cause. With God, I can be so much more than when I walk this road of life alone. With God I can be foolish enough to be the best I can be.

Yes, I think Easter on April Fool’s Day is just great. Let’s celebrate the foolishness of faith. Let’s have a party for Jesus this Easter.

George, My Friendly Icon for 2018

My friend George

The Christmas season is over. We’ve said good-bye to wishing strangers Merry Christmas. Spontaneous generosity is tucked away with the decorations for another year. For some of us, we’ve made our yearly pilgrimage to church for the Christmas Eve service. No need to go again ’til next Christmas.

Does it have to be over? Do we have to let go of that Christmas Spirit? That’s a familiar lament. As I wrote these words, I looked up to see the quizzical face of George the Giraffe peering back at me.

George the giraffe came, as a special gift of love last summer. Every time I look at him, I think of my son, Dave, our daughter-in-law, Joanne and our granddaughter, Jenna. I hear their words to me as they handed me the package.” When you came to visit us in South Africa, we went on safari. You wanted to see the giraffes. When we returned, you were fascinated with the beaded giraffes made by the African people. Instead of getting one for yourself, you bought one for Vanessa. We decided you needed a giraffe, too.” They handed me George. He’s adorable. With his face full of curiosity, George is my precious reminder of the love of this part of our family living far away in South Africa.

Christians over the centuries have used icons – images, things and even people, sometimes – that help us remember God is the source of everything and that God loves and accepts us just as we are. That’s what the Christmas tree, the songs, the decorations, do for us. They remind us of our Christian story, and Jesus’ lessons of love and forgiveness. This year, I’ve decided that George the giraffe, with his rainbow coloured beads, his big ears that stick straight out, and his long neck and legs, will be my icon to help me remember to live God’s Christmas Spirit all year long. I see George every time I sit down with my computer on my knees. Every time I walk past the living room and see George, peering at me with his quizzical expression I will think of God’s call to love and forgive others as God loves and forgives me.

As you start another year, I suggest you identify something in your home that is connected to love, something that you see every day. It could be a family heirloom (Mom’s china cabinet, Grandpa’s favorite chair), a gift you’ve received (a painting, a bowl, a knick knack). Choose something to remind you daily of the many blessings you have received, something to trigger words of thanks for your abundance, something that brings to your heart a response of love. That icon can help you keep God’s loving Spirit that thrives at Christmas time, with you all year long. You see, we don’t intend to pack away our love and acceptance, our joy in living with the Christmas decorations. We lose our Christmas Spirit in the busyness, the sadness, the craziness of everyday living. Let your icon be the reminder you need for 2018.

Happy New Year!!!!

Another year, another 365 days to  fill with laughter, kindness, generosity, gratitude and love. May you recognize the abundance of God’s blessings surrounding you. May you be a blessing to everyone you meet. Regardless of what comes your way in 2018, may you know the joy and love that comes with compassion, kindness and generosity. God bless you all. Janet