Tuesday, 27 September 2016

If it seems to tarry, wait for it.

For Oct. 2, 2016 Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, Psalm 37, 2 Tim 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10

This week I can't help but read these passages in light of the situation of Syrian Refugees.

Saturday, I spent the day with the family our church is sponsoring. They arrived in Canada 2 weeks ago, only speak Arabic, and there are 4 children under 10 years old. They waited 3 years in a refugee camp before finally coming to Canada. They are happy here, but it's going to be a long and difficult road to learn the language, find jobs, and start all over in this strange to them country.

We spent a fun afternoon at a community garden/farm, digging vegetables, playing with kittens, riding a horse, and eating together. In the evening, we had an interpreter and we could visit a bit over a cup of tea at the families new apartment. The father sent photos to his brother in Lebanon. The brother sent a message back, thanking us (not just me and Tim, our whole church community), for taking care of his brother's family. There are still so many people waiting in the refugee camps. Waiting to escape the violence and poverty. Waiting for a chance at peace. Waiting for help for their children.

Habakkuk says; "O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?" 1:1.  In chapter 2:2 the Lord answers: "Write the vision...if it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay." In Habakkuk, "help" is being sent in the form of the Chaldeans, the enemy. It is beyond understanding. But somehow, there is trust in God in the midst of the trouble. The problems are listed...then the writer says; "yet I will rejoice in the Lord..." 3:18

Habakkuk is a hard message. Obviously the waiting is interminable, and then there is this assurance that help will not delay. Perhaps God has a different timeline, but this is crazy hard to understand when the waiting never ends. I don't get how help comes with the enemy, when that enemy comes and creates more homelessness, more death. Our Syrian family has come here, but their extended families and friends and country is in the throes of violence and waiting. I can't understand the scope of the issues. I have trouble seeing where God is in all of this mess.

I can, however, rejoice in the bit of good that I see. The excitement of the children when they played in safety on the farm, the gratefulness of the parents and their family in Lebanon, and the gift of hearing a bit of this one family's story were all reasons to rejoice.

I don't understand the waiting or God's plans, but I do want to live in hope.

Psalm 37 highlights the theme of waiting and gives some practical advice.

"Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security."

It was amazing to speak with the family and share the incredible thought that their children have a chance to grow up in a peaceful country. That they will not have to lose their homes and run from violence.  That they will have education and opportunities. And that we will all be richer because of our friendship.

On Sunday, we will have speakers here who have worked for many years in the Middle East, working for the Mennonite Central Committee. It will be good to hear where they see hope.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Can't Wait!

Luke 13:10-17, Psalm 46. For September 25, 2016 at FMC

"I can't wait!" If you have driven somewhere with a small child you dread these words. You are familiar with the whole frantic discussion that ensues; "Can you hold it for 5 minutes? Why didn't you say something sooner? Why didn't you use the washroom before we left?"

None of the talk changes the fact that something must be done. It's not fair to the child to blame them and ignoring the problem invites worse issues. Sometimes there is a convenient and conventional solution, like a handy gas station. Other times you have to get creative-a detour, a ditch, a lone bush in a park....the situation simply must be dealt with no matter what passers-by might think.

Jesus treats the woman's situation with this "it can't wait" kind of urgency. He is teaching in the synagogue when he notices her. He interupts his teaching and calls her over, puts his hands on her, and she is healed. She immediately praises God. But this was a Sabbath, a day when good Jews refrained from work. The leader of the synagogue goes after Jesus for breaking with this tradition, berating the woman for coming on the Sabbath and categorizing Jesus' actions as work. This leader uses complex rules and regulations and theological understandings to argue about what and how and who...leaving a woman outside of the community.... for 18 years.

Jesus has a great response. He reminds the synagogue leaders that if an animal needs to be untied to be taken to the water on the Sabbath, they would do it. So why should this woman not be untied from her bondage on the Sabbath as well? She should not have to wait any longer. Jesus is thoroughly Jewish, accepted as a teacher, and is pushing traditional boundaries and understandings. He puts compassion ahead of proper "theology" as it was understood. Jesus pushes a deeper understanding of God's "rules."

Emerson Powery, a professor of Biblical Studies at Messiah College in Grantham, PA, says;

But this story is not told in order to discuss that theological issue. Rather this is a story about the role and function of our religious traditions, our claims about what could and should be practiced on the “Sabbath” or who is allowed within the walls of our synagogues and religious communities. Special religious practices may become hindrances to inclusion. We must be diligent to recognize what theological ideas we hold dear that disallow full participation from others.

I like Powery's question that urges us to think about how our traditions and ways we do things might become hindrances to us and actually block our effectiveness in responding to needs.

Our congregation is currently going through a number of changes, challenges, and re-examination of structures and ways of doing things. A visioning process is beginning. It is an opportunity to do things differently, but there is also a danger of simply putting a new cover on the same old book. How are we going to gracefully allow new things to happen so that we can allow Jesus to "untie" the things that cripple us? 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Big But

For Sept. 18, 2016. Ephesians 4:1-16

Does this explanation make my "but" look big?

Yes, yes it does.

In verses 1-6, Paul begs (his word) the faith community to live in humility, gentleness and patience. They are to make every effort to maintain unity and peace because they all have the same God.

Then in verse 7 we see the big but.

 I looked in four different translations, and all of them (NRSV,NIV, New KJ, NASV) have the but. Someone told me once that we can ignore everything coming before the but in almost any sentence. "You look nice, BUT those clothes aren't appropriate for a wedding." "The kids were good, BUT they wouldn't go to sleep at bedtime." "Her marks were great, BUT not high enough for getting into the program she wanted."  The important comment, the focus of the statement tends to come after the but. After a but, there is always work to be done, something has to change. The clothes need to be changed, the kids need a different schedule or less sugar, an alternative program choice has to be made. Buts always require adjustment, and usually it wasn't our first choice.

So when I read Paul's words, the focus is clearly on the grace that follows the but. The before the but stuff expresses a hope, an ideal, BUT he knows that it never quite happens so he has to move on he has to help people figure out how to make the best out of the reality of things not being perfect.

We get stuck when plans fail because we don't have a "plan B" for after the but. We so often do not follow up failures with concrete, life-giving ways of dealing with each other. Paul reminds the people that God's grace to our community is the abilities given to it's people. When people use their diverse God given abilities to build up the whole body, we find a unity and we stop being tossed to and fro by fads and selfishness. When the pastors, teachers, evangelists, and workers all do what they are good at, the body can grow.

What I take from this passage is simple, yet hard to implement. I see the see the hope expressed in the direction that humility and gentleness and patience can take a faith community and I want to set myself in that direction. Then I also see the reality that these are ideals and humanly we will always run into a but. How do we deal with our failings, our frustrations, our disagreements? Do we keep resetting to focus on hopes and dreams that never quite work out, or do we start working on the big BUTS and gracefully do the hard work of figuring out how diverse giftings and opinions can somehow build each other up into a unity?