Thursday, 23 July 2015


Our worship theme for July 26, 2015 is Forbearance/Patience. Scriptures: Matt; 18:21-35, James 5:7-11, 1 Sam. 16:1-13

I had to look up "forbearance" in the dictionary. I thought it was something like patience, but wanted a more accurate definition. My Canadian Oxford Dictionary says forbearance is; patient self-control, tolerance.

Patient self-control. What a descriptive phrase. I often think of self-control in a sort of episodic way. I use self control to stop myself from an unwise angry outburst, from eating a dessert I don't need, or to overcome inertia and go for exercise.  All brief one time temptations I blast with a shot of self control, then it's done.

Forbearance is the ability to exercise these bits of self-control over and over again, maybe over days, months, or even years. Forbearance moves self-control from a few episodes to a whole series, from a one time attempt to better myself to better habit territory! It's not so much a blast as a steady stream.

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells Peter to forgive another member of the church 77 times. That sounds like a forgiveness habit, a steady stream! I want to have this habit of being a forgiving sort of person, however, I don't think a forgiveness habit should make anyone into a 'doormat.' Forgiving does not mean forgetting, and it does not mean allowing bad behaviour to continue unchanged. I can forgive my dog for eating my favorite hen (yes, it happened) but that doesn't mean I leave the dog with access to the rest of the chickens! Something had to change-he either had to learn to leave them alone, or he had to leave so that the flock would be safe. (The discipline worked-thankfully he did learn that chickens were off-limits for him!) Forgiving follows repentance and repentance means; "to regret one's actions." Repentance is, at least, trying not to repeat the thing that requires forgiveness!

We know it takes time to change bad habits or patterns into something else. Relationships and trust, when broken, are difficult and time consuming things to change. Many times people give up because the work is just too daunting, or maybe impossible. Forgiveness is a start, but saying'"I'm sorry", doesn't stop the wound from bleeding! Healing is a long process, and a habit of forgiveness is crucial for dealing with those times when old patterns resurface.

James 5 urges us to use patience in waiting for God. Patience is most definitely necessary in the whole 70 times 7 forgiveness habit! James also reminds us that God is the judge, so grumbling against each other is worse than pointless, it actually makes matters worse.

These passages are excellent reminders of the forgiving character we wish to constantly grow into as a community, and the patience and hard work required to get there. This is a calling of all people who belong to the church. What an amazing and hopeful thing. It's not only about being forgiving, but forgiven too!

Note: Our family is going camping, so I will not have access to the internet. (And I don't want access while on holiday!) The lectionary reflectionary blog will resume for the August 16 service at FMC.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Ifs and dependings

On July 19 the fruit of the Spirit we are looking at is Peace. (Romans 12:14-21, 1 Samuel 25).

Mennonites talk a lot about peace. We preach it, we teach it in Sunday School, we get involved in all sorts of programs around the world to work at peace, and its a favourite theme for conferences and workshops. We talk about it so much that I wonder if another sermon on it is of interest. I especially wonder this for people like me (and those younger) who have lived in middle class prosperity in Canada all our lives. Peace to us is normal, we have enough to eat, good places to live, and we feel safe. Of course, there's also the topics of interpersonal peace and inner peace, which we tend to individualize.

As I prepare to preach tomorrow, I've read through these two scriptures and found myself challenged. In Romans 12:18 the word "if" jumps out at me. "IF" peace is possible means that sometimes it is not. What do we do then? "As far as it depends on you..." puts a weight of personal responsibility on the reader, but it certainly doesn't offer any promise that the individual's efforts will solve anything. So, how do we move forward with this bunch of ifs and dependings?

The story of Abigail and David is not usually a story that gets looked at when preparing a peace sermon. David is a man of war. He and 600 soldiers are on the run from King Saul and living away from the city, out in the wilderness and farm lands. Likely, he is deeply resented by local folk. No one wants an idle army camped in their backyard! They take up space, harass locals, take food and things they need/want by force of arms. Even if (a big IF) David's men are well disciplined and ethical, they still need to eat. David's messengers come to Nabal with 'peaceful" words, but there's no disguising the threat that underlies the soft talk. They took on the "guarding of the sheep" without ever being asked or hired. This is a clear demand for protection money, Nabal is being asked to pay the 'mob' of his day so that they continue to leave him in peace.. He refuses, maybe even self-righteously refusing to deal with the "terrorists" of his day. (I also wonder if Nabal has become enamoured of his own wealth, power, and prestige such that he thinks he's untouchable!)

Abigail is horrified. She knows this means trouble. She gathers the requested supplies, (the tribute? the protection money? the ransom? All the nasty words might fit.) She courageously throws herself on David's mercy, offering herself in place of Nabal.  I am struck here, by her cleverness. Just as David's messenger's soft words hid a hard message, so Abigail informs David of a threat against him. If he allows his burning anger to turn into violence, he will be guilty of murder. She calls it a "staggering burden of needless bloodshed" and she reminds David that he is beholden to the Lord. It would be foolhardy for David to take on this reputation among people he hopes to rule as their King. It would be foolhardy for David to incur God's wrath. Abigail's words are gutsy and delivered in such a way that David is able to put his anger aside long enough to hear the truth in them. Abigail is negotiating with the "bad guys" to save herself, her people, and perhaps even to help David to become a better ruler.

(I can't help but wonder about how Iran is in the news this week and how republicans are going after Obama for being too "soft" on them. Is there a Nabal and an Abigail thing going on here too?)

Abigail really has no easy choices. She holds her nose and deals with the reality that they have to pay David's men to stay alive. Then later, when Nabal dies and David asks her to marry him, (a third wife), I doubt she has any real choice. The marriage might even be an "alliance" arrangement that gives Nabal's wealth over into David's control. I(Remember that at this point David is still an outlaw that Saul is hunting-Abigail may or may not have wanted this marriage!). All in all, Abigail brokers the best possible peaceful solution for everyone. "As far as it depended on her" she was living at peace with everyone, despite the cost to herself.

This story has no clear-cut choices for peace. Abigail has hard decisions on every side. She has to be brave. She has to do the best with hard situations and leave final judgement to God. Life gives her lemons and she makes lemonade. (But I think it might be a little sour!)

IF is a big little word. What happens when peace is not possible by our actions? The story clearly leaves the answer to that question in God's hands, not ours.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Lots of not happy, but joy is still the foundation.

Our summer worship theme at First Mennonite is; "The Challenge of the Fruits of the Spirit" For July 12, the theme is Joy and the scriptures we are using are: Gal. 5:22, 2 Sam. 6:1-15, Phil 4:4, Neh 8:10, and John 15:11.

Joy is an interesting concept, and tremendously challenging. I think it is very different from "happy". Happy seems an ephemeral emotion, situational and temporary. It's good to be happy, but I tend to experience it as episodic, it depends on my feelings about my immediate context. Joy is deeper, joy is a characteristic, a defining quality that is pervasive and permanent. Joy is a sense of purpose and rightness that is like an underground river that continues to flow no matter what events are happening on the land surface. True joy enables people to keep going in the face of hardship, to not give up, to have hope beyond themselves and the situations they are in.

When I read John 15:11; "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" or "Phil 4:4; "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice." I don't see anything that would make me 'happy'. Philippians is written from jail to a church that is struggling with disunity and disagreements about teachings. Lots of not happy! The surface certainly isn't pleasant, but Paul points the people toward their underlying cause for joy-the Lord is near, and peace will guard their hearts (v. 6-7). John records the words of Jesus as he encourages the disciples shortly before his death. He assures them that if they remain connected to God, they will "bear fruit". Their lives have purpose and direction through God, and that is a cause for deep joy, even when the presenting situation may not be happy.

God gives life purpose and direction, following God results in deep joy that life's crappy situations cannot ultimately destroy. I find deep joy in knowing that God is with us no matter the situation. Joy allows us to smile through times of tears, knowing that our foundation in Christ is solid.

The David story in 2 Sam. 6, is a bit strange applied to the theme of joy. When David thinks the ark is dangerous, he pushes it on other people. When he sees that it is a blessing, he takes it back. He dances exuberantly (with joy?) when the ark is brought into his city. I'm not sure how to use this story in thinking about joy. I don't think it reflects very well on David either. Any input from out there?