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Archive for July, 2015

Sermon – 2 Corinthians 2:16-3:6

On Sunday I had the privilege of being able to preach at both services as part of my internship – a first for me! Another first was preaching within a series – we have been going through the various styles that we experience God (e.g. mystical, ascetic, sensory) and linking that with Paul’s writings in 2 Corinthians. I have edited the sermon as some of what I wrote is specific to this community. I had significant help and coaching from my supervisor for which I am really grateful and this was a good experience. It was really encouraging to hear people’s feedback as people commented on the various things that I have really been working on to improve. Sunday affirmed for me that preaching is something that I want to be doing, however hard it is.

One of my tasks was to rely less on the script and make eye contact. So this isn’t exactly what I said. I also had images to illustrate and there were pauses that the script itself doesn’t allow you as the reader to hear. But some have asked for it – so here it is.

Introduction

Today we continue our journey through 2 Corinthians and looking at the various styles that we experience God. Today’s passage allows us to reflect on the sacramental style which looks to patterns and symbols of what God has done to draw us closer to Him.

Potential Problems

Just as with the other styles that we have looked at, there are very valid concerns and risks that come with this style.

  1. Idolatry

First, for those of us who strongly resonate with the sacramental, there is a risk of idolatry. Our worship can become focused on the traditions and practices that are meant to lead us to God but become ends in themselves. Some fear that icons bring us dangerously close to worshiping Mary or praying to the saints. More subtly, we may become so attached to our particular liturgical practices that we are not open to other forms of worship.

2) Hard for newcomers

Another valid concern is that the sacramental style can be hard for people to enter who have no background in it. The high sacramental style will not allow the traditions to be changed or polluted by the ways of the world, often creating a sense of disconnection for those who haven’t learned about or embraced the beauty of the sacraments.

I want to set aside these problems and have a look at a familiar space but perhaps in unfamiliar ways.

The Mall and Other Spaces

[Showed a picture of the Eaton’s Centre]

Here we have a space which people come everyday, with many making repeat trips. The large glass atriums invite people into the space to purview a number of recognizable spaces that are part of an international community. If you are unfamiliar with the space, there is a map and people to direct you. There is constant noise in the common spaces that urges you to walk into the side chapels. Here you see models of what the good life is, dressed in attire and symbols that changes with the seasons. An usher is there to greet you and show you to the items you need in order to follow the good life or to let you wander in as you are comfortable. An offering is made as you hand over money and receive the item that will bring you closer to the good life. Some people wander in knowing exactly what they want. Others do not know what they are looking for – but know when they have found it.

James Smith uses the example of the everyday shopping mall to demonstrate that we are worshiping beings – whether we are Christians or not. We worship what we love. Our lives contain items that serve as symbols – whether conscious or not – that tell us how we are to act, believe or worship. Let’s look at a few more examples.

Hockey Arena – There is a goal that is clearly defined. The audience stands for the national anthem, cheers for their team and celebrates the victory. The players know the rules of the game and where they are supposed to be and act.

Transparent pulpit – preaching of the word of God is the highlight of the service. The service builds around it. The lectern is clear symbolizing that nothing stand between the word and God.

Coming from a Salvation Army background, we purposely avoided sacraments and symbols in our worship. And yet, we had our own symbols – the uniform, the band, the songsters – that defined who we are and what was important to us.

Thanks be to God who always leads us (vs 14-16)

The Roman world had symbols and practices that had certain meanings as well. When they overcame an area in battle, they would often have a processional through which the triumphant general would follow the captives in a parade. This was often preceded by the practice of the burning of incense and/or a sacrifice which would signify that the triumphant general had arrived. The purpose of this procession was to celebrate with the victors the victory and remind them of the rewards that lay ahead.

Paul gives thanks to the God who leads us in triumphant procession. Elsewhere Paul refers to us as slaves to Christ, and we parade before God as we celebrate the victory of Christ over death into the resurrection life. This morning we re-enacted this as we processed through the church. Many churches do this on a weekly basis as a weekly reminder of the victory of Christ.

Paul says that God uses us to spread the aroma of Christ. NT Wright describes this well:

[those] who are in the procession, are wafting the smell of victory, the smell of triumph, to people all around. To those who are being grasped by the love and power of the gospel and who are responding to it, the smell is sweet; it means victory, joy, hope and peace even in the midst of present troubles. (Wright 24-25)

It is like freshly baked bread that fills the house with its sweet aroma. It is inviting, comforting and enjoyable. Paul emphasizes that we are called to be that sweet aroma and yet asks who among us is worthy? We will return to this important question in a moment.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? (v1)

Paul then addresses what seems to have been on his heart when writing this letter. It seems that the people of the Corinthian church were asking Paul for a reference letter for himself. This was common practice when accepting new people into a Christian community. Perhaps the Corinthians did not feel that Paul was a real apostle as he was not there when Christ lived and died, a claim that Paul has dealt with elsewhere. Paul anticipates this when saying that he – along with the apostles – speaks from sincerity, from God, in Christ, in the Sight of God.

Paul does not provide self-justification. Instead, he claims that the Corinthians are Paul’s letter of commendation. This letter is not written with ink or on tablets of stone but written on the hearts of the Corinthians themselves. How interesting given that Paul spends much of the letter dealing with the short comings of the Corinthian community. Paul is saying that the Corinthians – through their lives, words and actions, however messy – speak of the type of leader Paul is. Paul is saying, “I don’t need a letter – I have you” and instead turns the gaze from his own life to the lives of his followers.

In the same way – YOU are our letter. You encourage the Pastors here as you grow, change, witness and disciple others. You make the struggles and toil of ministry worth it with every step towards Christ you take.

Our Confidence is from God (vs 4-6)

This may seem like a risky move on Paul’s part! If Paul was looking for a glowing recommendation, it would have been much safer to choose a few people who were shining exemplars of the the work he had done.

Paul returns to his original question – who is adequate for these things?

The truth is none of us are. Only God is. And only God can make anything in us adequate for him.

Paul is so bold in calling the Corinthians his letter because of his confidence in the work of God in Jesus Christ. Paul is not qualified in any human sense – No one is adequate but God. But Paul knows the God who works in our hearts, changing us and working with our desire to be more like him. And in doing so, the Corinthian church bears witness to Paul’s care and leadership.

Application

How do you evaluate effective Christian leadership? Not by titles. Surely not by their own testimony. but what is written on the tablet of human hearts.

The measure of effective ministry of any kind – Sunday school, church leadership, community involvement, neighbourliness…

The measure of effective ministry is written on the tablets of human hearts. On how people are changed to be more like Jesus.So what is written on the tablet of your heart? Who gave you that? God of course, but what people did God use to do that? Who encourages you to have confidence through Christ before God? Who helps you to be competent?

When was the last time you thanked them. You likely have no idea how embattled they are – or were. A simple word of thanks could encourage them by building their confidence and making them more competent in Christ.

If you are in leadership of any sort, what is it you hope God will write on human hearts. Seriously – stop and think about that. What differences do you really want to make in the people you lead? Is how you are leading consistent with what you hope God writes on their hearts?

Celebrate what God has written on the hearts of the Rez and how he is using you to write on others’ hearts. I first came here because [the Pastor] said it would be a good place for me to rest and recharge my batteries. You provided that for me. It is because of you that I had the courage and strength to return to Wycliffe. And now I am loving what I am doing. Thank you! You have written yourselves on MY heart. And I will be forever thankful.

Prayer

May we pray

Ministry of the Barista

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Something I have often reflected on is how baristas have an important ministry.

I am a pastoral intern in an established church and doing pioneer ministry in a church that was closed down. Much of what I do is try to get to know other people. I try to remember their names, remember what they tell me so I can follow up, I pray for them, I try to find ways that I can care for them. Sometimes I can have a whole day where I try to meet people and that flops. And other days it is a success in terms of numbers. I have a team of people and I try to keep up morale even when I get a bit discouraged with how slowly things are going.

As a pastoral intern, I have been reflecting on who I am – and who other people expect me to be. I have discovered that I am often not just Elizabeth – I wear a pastoral hat. I am a leader. I am on the pastoral team. I hear stories that I may not hear otherwise. It’s a privilege. And it’s beautiful. But I am not used to it – and with change and new things, there are always challenges.

Today I walked into the local coffee shop near my new place.

I am just Elizabeth here. They already know some things about me. They know I work at a youth drop in. They knew last night that we were offering free ice cream with all the works.

When I walked in, I was greeted with a huge smile and a welcome. I was asked how it went last night. We didn’t have youth join us, but we gave out a lot of ice cream.

And then the barista encouraged me about how new things develop slowly – and that they need to.

The whole experience was what I needed this morning. Today, the person who ministered to me was my local barista. He doesn’t know this. I think most don’t. But they offer more than a good cup of coffee.

Categories: Uncategorized

Everything – A reflection on Matthew 13:44-46

A short reflection that I preached for a Taize service on Sunday.

Introduction

Anh Cao knows something about doing everything he can to attain a degree from the University of Toronto. He is a Vietnamese student who had straight A-plus marks and received numerous prizes upon graduation. The surprising thing about this gifted scholar is that he lived in a homeless shelter in order to pursue his degree. His studies were so important to him that he gave up everything for one thing.

Tonight’s parables are short descriptions of the kingdom of heaven that shift from the giver of salvation to our response. In each parable, the seekers sell all that they have in response to the treasure they have found.

God gives the treasure

In both parables, the treasure is already hidden. The treasure is already in the field and the pearl is already out there. The person who finds the treasure is not responsible for its creation. In the same way, the treasure of salvation has already been given to us. Christ has given his life for us so that we can have eternal life but also experience joy and peace in this world.

Response in the Parables

In the first parable, the person happens to find the hidden treasure and realizes that he has been looking for it all along. He then sells all that he had to buy the field. In the second parable, the person is searching for the finest pearls and finds what he is looking for. When he finds it, he realizes it is worth selling everything he has in order to buy it.

For Anh, he sought a university degree with all that he had. He gave up the comforts of home when it was the choice between living in a shelter or continuing his studies.

But for Christians, we have a treasure far greater than any university degree could give us. We have been given the promise of salvation and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We have found a treasure that gives us peace and joy that transcends all understanding and circumstances.

The merchant likely had other pearls that he had collected – each of them probably worth something and beautiful in their own right. Like the merchant, we might need to discern between what is good – and what is better.

Our response

I wonder what it would look like to give up everything for the kingdom of God – if you and I gave up everything we had to love God and love our neighbours. I wonder what things we would need to let go? How would our days be ordered differently?

Perhaps we are not ready to give up everything? Maybe our own comfort stands in the way. Maybe we are afraid. Maybe we would rather dip our toes into the water before jumping in with both feet. But I wonder how each of us can take a step closer to giving all we are to God.

Conclusion

I’d like to close with the words of one writer:

“Each of these tales requires everything. And each requires just one thing. The price for the treasures of God is everything we have.” (Nancy Rockwell)