God’s House

2sam7We’ve been following the story from creation, through slavery in Egypt, to wandering in the wilderness and receiving the 10 commandments. Through this time the people have been nomadic—wandering from place to place, conquering the people already in the land. The judges have acted as God’s representatives. Now we are moving into the time of the kings. Last week we heard the story of Samuel’s birth. Samuel became the last of the judges and the first prophet. He anointed the first two kings of ancient Israel—Saul and now David.

Now, in 2 Samuel 7:1-17, the community is becoming more settled. The story begins with King David, who is now living in a cedar home, realizing that the Ark of the Covenant is still living in a tent. When the ten commandments were written on stone, the were placed into an ornate guilded wooden box with carrying poles. This ark was carried around as the people moved from place to place and housed in a tent when they were not travelling.

David wants to do something about this. Why? Is it because he feels bad that God is living in a tent? Is it so that God will continue to support his reign and continue to bless him? Did he want to build the temple out of gratitude? Was he trying to pay God back for the blessing so far? Was it so he would be recognized as the great king who built God’s temple?

Nathan—the prophet at that time—tells him to go ahead and build God a house.  That night Nathan has a dream and realizes that he got caught up in the moment and excitement of building a temple—a house for God. After he dreams, Nathan must go back to David and tell him not to build the temple. David doesn’t need to build a house for God so that God will build his house.

David is already living in a house of cedar but God is going to give him a new kind of house. The Hebrew word we translate as house also means: palace, household, temple, family, dynasty and even a prison.

God is already with David and has placed him on the throne and protected him from his enemies. As part of the promises God makes to David, ancient Israel will receive a place of safety. According to Nathan’s dream, David will have an heir and one of his descendants will always be king.

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. (2 Samuel 7:12-16)

This is in no way dependent on anything David will or will not do. It is not dependent on David building God a temple. It is not even based on David’s descendants being faithful. There are no conditions to this promise.

When we get to the gospel of Matthew a few centuries later, the writer of Matthew takes great pains to trace Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to David because of this passage. We sometimes hear Jesus referred to as the Son of David. The writer of Matthew wanted to give Jesus credibility and create an image of him as the fulfilment of the promise made to David.

David was by no means perfect in his leadership or in his personal life and yet God remained with him and that love continues to endure and be made known in Jesus. Just as God’s commitment to David was unconditional, Jesus’ and God’s love for each of us is unconditional. We don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. God’s love isn’t taken away from us when we make mistakes but God is always building something new in us: a home within our hearts and our world that is filled with love and compassion. It is a home built on the hope and trust in God’s promise to always be present and always love.

Hannah’s Song of Faith

Here is another story of a woman who desperately wants a child (1 Samuel 1-2:10). Like the story of Sarah from a few weeks ago, Hannah is in a situation where the other women in the relationship have children and she does not. As a result, Hannah feels as if God has abandoned her. Because she is childless in a world where a woman’s value was measured by her male children, Hannah prays for a child—a child that she will give up. She weans this child, Samuel, and leaves him at the temple for God.

In our context, it is unusual for parents to give up a child unless there are reasons why they can’t care for that child. For Hannah, just giving birth to the child was enough. She didn’t need to raise the child or look after him once he was weaned. So often when we receive something that we long for we want to hang on to that person or possession but Hannah has something to teach us. She reminds us that there is value in letting go. Hannah birthed Samuel and then let the priests and life in the temple shape him and form his life. But she didn’t just let him go. She placed him into God’s care—into an environment where the focus of his life would be on God. She prayed before he was conceived. She prayed after he was born. She prayed when she let him go. She let him go into God’s world.

You would think having a child that she wanted so much and then letting him go would be heart breaking. Instead Hannah praises God. Because she chose to give her child to God she was able to give thanks and witness to God’s work in the world. The words we find from Hannah in this passage are very similar to the words that Mary offers when she realizes she is pregnant with Jesus. These women share a sense that God transforms things. God has the ability to transform things that should be painful into something else that might be a blessing.

Hannah wanted a child so badly—something painful. She received that child—something joyful. She gave up that child—God worked through Samuel as he anointed the first 2 kings of ancient Israel. We see Mary finding herself unexpectedly pregnant—something painful. But in visiting her cousin Elizabeth she recognizes the miracle of life—something joyful. Her baby, Jesus, went on to change the world.

Once Hannah had the child she so dearly wanted she saw what God was doing as about so much more. She could see that God would not just change her life but change the world. And her prayer reflects that vision: (Paraphrase from Laughing Bird)

You, LORD, disarm the powerful,
and redistribute their strength to the helpless.
Those who consumed to excess are now queuing at soup kitchens,
but those who were deprived now feast in splendour.
Infertile couples are having children, one after the other,
while those who flaunted their children
find their families falling apart.
You, LORD, can make us or break us;
you can put us on a pedestal or knock us off.
You lift up those who have been trodden into the dirt;
you put the poor and outcast back on their feet.
You give them a place among the guests of honour,
a seat with the dignitaries and celebrities.

This prayer reflects a vision where the world is turned upside down and the unexpected happens. It reminds us that the world will not always continue as it is. The hope is in God’s ability to transform the unexpected. Sometimes the transformation happens when we are able to let go. In order for change to happen in the world, we need to be able to let go of what we treasure most.

Hannah’s song alludes to this.  In order for those who are hungry to have food, those of us who are fed will have to give up some of our food. In order for those without power to have a voice, those of us with power will need to listen and let go of our power. In order for the stranger to be welcomed, those of us at the table will need to extend the circle.

stewardship2Both Hannah and Mary challenge us to do these things. They see that a world with extremes cannot be viable. You can hear their frustration and their hope. As we look around our own world we might also hear frustration and hope in the voices of people around us. We might hear our brothers from White Spruce Training Centre wondering how they will survive when they get released. The cards are stacked against them. Can the world change for them? Is there any hope that life can be different? Many of them have made difficult choices and like Hannah have given up many things in hope of something better.

There are so many layers and complexities. There is no one reason why they are in jail but usually multiple layers. Some of these reasons relate to personal choices and circumstances. Some of these reasons have to do with the structures of our society that keep some people poor because of race, mental illness or disability. It has to do with poverty and addictions, access to education, good support systems. When we give up on people, when we give up on changing the world, hope ends.

Scripture tells us over and over again that the world changes. It tells us that the people who are weak become strong and the strong become weak. It tells us that those who are fed become hungry while those who are hungry are well fed. It tells us that those who are excluded will be included. It tells us that the world we live in is not a perfect world but that God is always at work transforming the world into something better.

Today is world food day. We look around and see that there are people in our own communities who are hungry. We look further away and see that there are people hungry in other parts of the world and many of us have an abundance of food. How can this reality be transformed? How does God work through us to create a more just world? It might require us to give up some of our food and some of our power.

Hannah’s song also relates to stewardship. It requires us to decide where we want to spend our resources. When we let go of our resources and send them out into the world, do we want them to go towards maintaining structures that oppress and harm people and the earth or do we send our resources of time, talent and money into places in the world where lives can be transformed and where ultimately, the world will be transformed by God’s grace.

What are We Worshiping?

Pick an action figure—any action figure. Can it love you? Can it give you a hug? Can it make you feel better when you are sad?

The people Exodus 32 lost sight of God. Moses, their leader, had gone off to visit God and they were left alone. They couldn’t see God anymore. Before they left Egypt they saw signs of God in the plagues. They followed God out of Egypt by following a pillar of fire and smoke. Now God seems to have gone and they are alone in the wilderness.

All they seem to have left of value is the gold and wealth that they carried out of Egypt. They have nothing left to lose. They want something that will make them feel better and less alone. They really miss God’s presence so they try to make God tangible by using what thy have left. They take the wealth that they have and transform it into something that reminds them of God’s presence. The translations of this passage are uncertain. Some scholars think that they were trying to create an image of the God they already know as a way of focusing their attention or creating a centre point to draw the community around. We do the same thing when we build big churches with stained glass and pipe organs. The intent is not to create something to replace God but something that represents or reflects God and acts as a rallying point for God’s people.

The wealth that the people carry out of Egypt provides the resources they need to create something that draws the people together. In the same way, the people who built the St. Andrew’s building and contribute to its upkeep and various renovations have done so as a way of enhancing the community’s ability to worship and serve God. We always need to keep in perspective that neither the money that allows us to maintain this building nor the building itself replaces God.

The people in the wilderness got themselves in trouble—not because they created the golden calf—but because they worshiped and sacrificed for it. They were no longer worshiping God and sacrificing for God. They lost sight of God again.

We get ourselves i100_1479nto trouble when we hoard our money or possessions or when our church building becomes more important than our worship and service to God. Its all about keeping things in perspective. Money on its own isn’t a bad thing. Having a big ornate building isn’t a bad thing. Worshiping and serving these instead of God is a type of sin that harms ourselves and our community.

That’s part of why we do stewardship every fall. It helps us to put things in perspective. It’s a chance to re-evaluate our priorities. Are we worshiping and serving God as individuals and as a congregation or are there things we need to do that allow us to be more faithful? Are we worshiping
our resources and the things we create from them or are we using those resources to serve God?

Our money and our building don’t love us back no matter how much energy and time we put into them. The people around us offer love and companionship on life’s journey as we seek to follow God faithfully. When we serve and love each other, we serve and love God. May we seek those opportunities to worship and serve the love of God.

Salt and Light

saltlight-its-here-300pxThis week, the congregation I serve is beginning a time of learning about stewardship and congregation giving using a resource called “Salt and Light”.

If we look closely at the reading (Matthew 5:13-16) one of the first questions we might ask is: How does salt lose its flavour? Table salt is stable and maintains its flavour but Dead Sea salt could leave a bad taste in your mouth because of the other minerals in the water. Jesus and his followers lived around the Dead Sea and may have been used to salt that was contaminated with these other minerals. In Jesus time, there would be no way to separate the minerals so the contaminated salt would be thrown out.

We also know that our bodies need a certain amount of salt to function properly. Too much or too little and we might find ourselves with health problems. We need salt in moderation. Our bodies need it. It can also be used to preserve food. It is used to help bread rise. It is used in healing remedies. Salt has many purposes.

Jesus tells us that we are salt. We have many purposes and are necessary. Sometimes it can be hard to see the value and worth in ourselves or others. Sometimes it can be hard to see that we bring many gifts to the world. Sometimes, we can get caught in grief or anger that consumes us. It becomes difficult to see ourselves except through that lens. Sometimes we become unhealthy—physically, emotionally or spiritually—and have trouble seeing ourselves as salt. We have trouble seeing ourselves as people who can heal, can bring out the best in others, can help to create a better world.

Jesus also calls us to be light. We are called to let the light of Christ that is within us shine for the whole world to see. The spark of God is within each one of us. We don’t turn on a light and then put a box over it to hide the light. We turn on a light so that there is light. God puts light within us and so we cannot hide that light. Sometimes we need other people to reflect our light back to us so we can see it clearly. Sometimes it is hard to see our own light but watch for people in your life who can help you see your own light. Imagine a dark room. Imagine lighting 1 candle. It will give you a pinprick of light. Now imagine lighting more candles. The light spreads more and becomes brighter. Imagine a Christmas candle service. Maybe that’s why we like those services. It reminds us of how we are light in the world.

In my own life, I haven’t always had a sense of my own light or the gifts I bring to the world. I’ve needed other people to reflect light back to me and to help me identify what I have to offer. What I have come to know is that as I use the gifts I know about, I find others that I didn’t realize I had.

We all have something to offer the world. Some of us have an abundance of time and talents. Some of have an abundance of financial resources. We are called to use whatever gifts we have been given in the world God has created.

I am passionate about the life and work of St. Andrew’s and I love being in ministry in this congregation and community. Part of what makes this such an amazing congregation is that I am not doing ministry in isolation. I am blessed with other co-workers who also share their gifts. We bring different gifts and yet what we offer enriches this congregation. In addition to the staff, this is a congregation with a high level of lay participation. People are excited by their faith and by the ministry that we are doing within the congregation and the community. These are examples of salt and light. Many people are letting their lights shine and so the congregation shines brighter and is able to do more effective ministry.

I also believe in the work of Mission and Service because God works beyond this congregation. There are needs in other places in Canada and around the world that we wouldn’t know about or that it would be difficult to support as individuals. Mission and Service allows us to pool our resources as a church to better serve God’s people.

In addition to time and talents, I support the work of St. Andrew’s and Mission and Service with financial gifts. Even though my spouse is no longer working full-time, we believe that these ministries are important and have committed to increasing our givings in the coming year. We give to the church and Mission and Service through PAR because it is convenient. In our busy lives it is challenging to remember to write cheques and pay the church regularly but it is also a sign of the priority we have for these ministries. I invite you over the next few weeks to consider your own priorities about the church and the ministries that happen through this congregation and Mission and Service. Supporting the church with our time, talents and financial resources will allow this congregation to flourish for many years to come.

Too Many Stars in the Sky?

We’ve skipped a few centuries from last week. Humans have started to develop from the creation story. Again, we need to remember that these stories are being written and created not as they are happening but in hindsight. Following the story of creation there is the story of Cain and Abel and the first murder—the first act of violence, then the story of Noah and the ark. Several generations later, Abram appears.

The basic story of Abram goes like this:

Abram and Sarai are very elderly and Abram is lamenting to God the fact that he and Sarai have no children and that his slave will end up inheriting everything he has. God speaks to Abram and tells him that he will have as many descendants as stars in the sky. Abram and Sarai travel around a bit. They spend some time in Egypt. They wander a bit more and then God and Abram have another conversation and again Abram laments that he has no children of his own.

Sarai had a slave girl named Hagar. Hagar had a child by Abram and named him Ishmael. Sarai becomes jealous of Hagar and her son and has them expelled from the camp. They wander in the desert. They are out of water and Hagar thinks they are both going to die. God speaks to Hagar and tells her that from Ishmael will come a great nation. Muslims trace their lineage to this story, to the child Ishmael, and then back to Abram.

Sarai still really wanted a child of her own. God and Abram have another conversation. God again promises Abram that he will have many descendants. At this point, his name is changed to Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah. God appears to Abraham and Sarah and announce they will have a child. Sarah laughs and laughs because she is so old—there is no way she could have a child. Isaac is born and Abraham now has two children to fulfill the promise God made.

Image from:  http://arttrak.blogspot.ca/2013_09_01_archive.html

How many stars are in this picture? Can you count them? How did they get there? All these pinpricks of light in the sky brighten the night.

There are 7.4 billion people in the world right now. It seems that God’s promise to Abram to create many nations and have many descendants did indeed happen. I imagine the people writing the stories of Abraham and Sarah (several centuries after Abraham and Sarah were alive) trying to figure out how there came to be so many people in the world. Their conclusion, which we see in this story, is that God was fulfilling a promise.

But what does the planet do with so many humans? How does the earth sustain so many humans let alone other life?

The original invitation at creation was to till the earth, to care for it and enjoy its abundance within limits. There was wisdom in setting limits and boundaries. But while the earth is abundant, it cannot continue to sustain so many creatures indefinitely—especially if one species consumes and destroys so many resources.

What do we do with a promise like the one made to Abram thousands of years later? Is the promise still valid? Part of the way many humans make sense of life is to look towards a new generation of ourselves. We often look forward to children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In our culture, this often means making sure that children have advantages. Perhaps it means giving things up so that the next generation can have more. Most of us have heard stories of parents who went hungry so their children could eat. There is value in continuing life. But where do we draw the line between what we need and what we want. Many of us are comfortable. We have good, healthy food. We have homes and vehicles. We have technology and appliances of various kinds. I like being comfortable but I am also conscious that, even in Canada, we have people who live much closer to that survival line than I do.

In many First Nations cultures there is a concept of the Seventh Generation. In this tradition, every action and decision is considered for how it will impact descendants seven generations into the future. I wonder if we would live differently if we could combine the seventh generation teaching with the concept of boundaries and limits in our relationship with the earth? Could we bring healing?

We see the earth struggling to sustain life. We see humans struggling with each other. God’s promise to Abraham was many descendants. God seems to have come through on that. How do we live up to our original covenant to care for the earth and observe limits? When we covenant in relationships, we agree to be in relationship and to work on the relationship. It doesn’t necessarily end when one person makes a mistake or breaks the covenant. There are opportunities to come back and try again. We continue to be in a covenant with God. The boundaries were broken but the boundaries are still there. There continues to be a responsibility to live within the limits.

My invitation to all of us is to reflect on the limits we find in the earth and to reflect on how we live within those limits as individuals and as a society. As we rediscover the limits, may we be open to changing our own lives so we live well in the creation.



In the creation story, humans are given one boundary—to not touch the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But they did touch that tree, and with it came knowledge. We have inherited that knowledge and the responsibility that goes with it.

15 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.


The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ge 15:1–6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Breath of Life

With the Narrative Lectionary this fall, we are starting back at the beginning of the Biblical story with a creation story. There are two creation stories in Genesis and this reflection is based on part of the 2nd story.

What we need to remember about the creation stories (and many other Bible stories) is that they are true even if they are not fact. It is true that God created. It is true that humans are part of that creation. It is true that there is sin (brokenness, pain, suffering) in the world.

Most scholars agree that the creation stories were written thousands of years after creation actually happened. They were written after slavery in Egypt, after wandering in the wilderness, after the Hebrew people had conquered surrounding lands, after king David, after the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles. After all this happened the people started asking questions and telling stories about the beginning of their relationship with this God who had led them through all these ups and downs. The stories of creation evolved into what we have today.

In this second story, we hear how God created an earth creature. This is the first act of creation in this story. The word translated as earth being comes from the Hebrew adama which means soil. This is where the name Adam comes from. It simply means earth creature. And it is this clay figure that God breathes life into. Breath, spirit and soul all share the same Hebrew word. God animates this living being with soul and breath.

In the first creation story, God speaks and things happen. In this creation story, God fashions and forms the humans and all the creatures. This is a God who has gotten their hands dirty in the mess of creation. This is a God, playing in the mud and the clay.

Take a handful of modelling clay. Touch it. Squish it. Imagine that this is the clay that God formed into humans. See if you can make something out of your little bit of clay. What does it look like? What does it feel like? It might be something, but is it alive? It is simply a lump of clay. If you breathe on it, does it also breathe? There is something special about the breath of God that breathes life. There is nothing else quite like it in the universe.

This story speaks to the uniqueness of God’s breathe, God’s spirit and the ability of God’s spirit to infuse the creation with life. Within this creation, the humans were given one task: to till and keep the earth. They are given permission to eat from every tree—except one—the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Is this too much responsibility—to care for the earth, to eat and enjoy its bounty within limits? Is it too much to ask? Within this abundance and responsibility, we find the first brokenness in the world. Following the creation of humans, the giving of abundance and boundaries we hear another story. The story of the snake. There is an interaction between the snake and the first woman that goes like this:

The snake goes to the woman and entices her to eat from the one tree that is off limits. “Come on, it will be ok,” says the snake. The woman tries to resist but she knows she wants that fruit, it looks so good hanging there. So she takes it and shares some with the man. This is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And when they ate this fruit, their eyes were open. Just like we hear stories in the gospel of Jesus healing blindness, there is a moment where everything changes and suddenly, there’s no going back to not knowing something, to not seeing something clearly.

This moment in human history brought with it the ability to recognize good and evil. It brought with it the ability to choose right and wrong. It was also a moment when the boundaries were broken for the first time. This moment in human history brought the humans more responsibility. Up until this moment in time, their responsibility was to till the earth and care for it and enjoy the bounty of creation.

Because we have inherited the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of the boundaries and the task of caring for the earth, we have also inherited the responsibility that goes with the knowledge. As humans, it is often greed and our inability to accept boundaries that puts us into conflict with other people and with the creation.

How many wars have been started over land, oil, power, water? How much of our human greed causes environmental destruction: the pollution of air, water, soil, the destruction of wildlife habitat, the extinction of species? As a race, we have forgotten whose breath is within us. We have forgotten our task. We have forgotten our boundaries.

Our faith invites us to return to who we are meant to be. We are called to an awareness of God’s breath and spirit within us. That’s why we breathe in silence at the beginning of worship. It takes us back to that place of creation. It takes us back to the breath of God that is within us and around us. When we have a sense of that breathe we are better able to navigate the choices of good and evil. We are better able to recognize the abundance of the creation and we are better able to accept the boundaries and limits of that creation. May it be so in us.

The Story of Job, the Story of Grief

The book of Job is 42 chapters long. The song above does a pretty good job of summing up the book. Job was very good and very wealthy. Apparently, God and the other heavenly beings notice Job. So they have a bit of a contest to see if Job will curse God. The only rule is that Job can’t be killed.

So first, all of Job’s property is lost – the livestock and servants killed, his children dead. Job prays and is pretty philosophical about these events: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Next Job becomes very ill. His wife says to him: “Curse God, and die.” Job continues to pray and speak for God. Job’s friends hear about what’s happening to him and come to sit with him. Job laments. This means that he pours out his thoughts and his prayers. All of the anger, the rage, the wishing it were different. He pours it all out to God. He wonders why these things have happened to him. Why has God given him darkness? In the midst of his turmoil and grief God speaks to him. God reminds him that “human beings are born to trouble, just as sparks fly upward.” Pain and suffering are a part of the human condition. It doesn’t mean that God has gone away, only that there is sometimes trouble in life. Job and God have this conversation for several chapters.

His friends get in on the conversation saying that his children or himself must have sinned in order to cause these terrible things to happen. Job or his family brought this tragedy upon themselves. Job responds by defending God. He maintains his innocence saying: “I am blameless; I do not know myself.”

Job’s friends and his wife spend the book, trying to convince Job that he is responsible for these terrible things and that God has abandoned him to his fate. Job refuses to be moved. He spends most of the book defending God and maintaining that he didn’t do anything to cause these tragedies and still pouring out the anger, the pain and frustration of deep grief.

It isn’t uncommon for us in times of grief, in moments when we walk with death to ask these questions. Where is God? Why is God causing these terrible things to happen? If I did such and such would God heal and restore? Could I have prevented a death, a terrible illness, a tragedy? I’ve asked myself a lot of these questions in the last few weeks. If God is all powerful, God could prevent tragedy, death, illness. Since God doesn’t prevent these things, what good is God? Why do we bother to have faith at all in the face of death and tragedy?

The easy way to respond to God in the midst of tragedy is to walk away. To curse God, to believe that since God didn’t prevent the tragedy God must not be watching, not care, be punishing or maybe not even exist. This is what Job’s friends tried to convince him of.

Job saw another path. He maintained that even though these terrible things happened, God was not the cause. God became the place where Job poured out everything that he was thinking and feeling, while maintaining a relationship with God. He asked God the hard questions: Why? Where are you? and then he listened for the answers. God responded by showing Job the wonder of creation. Job came through this tragedy. He had more children and built up his wealth again. His life did not end with tragedy. He trusted God enough to hold all the strong emotion of grief. He trusted in the goodness of God and recognized tragedy for what it is—something that happens in the world.

When we experience death, illness and tragedy in our own lives it can be difficult not to stay present with God. It can be difficult to ask God the hard questions. It can be hard to pour out all the anger and pain so it no longer consumes us—in body, in mind and in spirit. Job was able to do this and found fullness of life beyond his tragedy. God’s love continues to surround us and hold us even in the face of profound pain. Don’t give up in God in tragedy and death. This is when God’s love for us is strongest and when we need it most.