About twirlingjen

I am a Diaconal Minister in the United Church of Canada. I live in Yorkton with my family where I minister with the folks at St. Andrew's United Church. Please feel free to use and adapt the resources you find here.

Do You Trust God in the Desert of life?

Pasture at At-TuwaniBelow is the story of the manna and quail from Exodus 16:1-18 as told by someone following Moses into the wilderness:

Two months ago, Moses arrived at the Pharaoh’s palace in Egypt. Hekept bugging pharaoh to let the people go. As long as Moses was around, bad things kept happening to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. Pharaoh would tell us we could leave. Then he’d change his mind. Something bad would happen. He’d tell us we could leave. Then he’d change his mind again. This went on for a couple of weeks. Finally, Pharaoh relented. We packed our belongings in a hurry—only what we could carry. We headed out. Again, Pharaoh changed his mind and his army chased us with chariots. I was so afraid as we fled. Then we stood in front of the Red Sea and wondered how we would cross. That army was getting closer. Moses stood at the front of our group and prayed to God. The waters parted, and we walked across. Before the army could follow us, the water closed again. We were safe. I prayed and gave thanks for being out of that place and away from the army. Finally, after generations of suffering, we are free.

 

We followed Moses out into the desert. I’ve been hungry for days. My family hasn’t eaten, and I’m getting worried about what will happen next. We complained to Moses and his brother Aaron, but they don’t seem to care or be able to do anything. All of us will starve to death if something doesn’t change soon. Maybe that was their plan all along. Bring us out of Egypt to destroy us. Maybe Moses isn’t really the leader we think he is.

Just a minute, something’s happening. Aaron is getting ready to speak on Moses’ behalf. What kind of a leader doesn’t get up and speak directly to the people? Here’s what Aaron has to say. “Why are you complaining to us? Why are you angry with us? God is the one you should be angry with. God led you and us out here into the wilderness. It’s not our doing but we have prayed to God, and God will provide. Tonight before you sleep, the quail will fill the camp, and you may eat. In the morning, there will be bread. When you get up in the morning, gather enough bread for everyone in your tent for one day. Do not gather more or less than what you need.”


In this story, the people complaining. They are afraid of the unknown in the wilderness. They are uncertain of what to come. They blame Moses and Aaron for leading them into the unknown. They blame Moses and Aaron for not providing for them. When they complain to Moses and Aaron, they are really complaining about God. It is God who has led all of them into the wilderness. It is God who has not provided.

The people left Egypt with limited resources. Now they find their resources dwindling and what are they to do? They complain a bit. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it probably makes them feel better for a few minutes. After some complaining and after Moses has a conversation with God, there is a promise of food. The food will appear every day except the Sabbath—quail for the evening meal, bread for the rest of the time. They are to gather only enough for one day and only enough for their tent. Would you trust in the middle of the desert that there would be food available every day? I might just be out there gathering a bit more than I need—just in case.

But a strange thing happens in the story. Many people follow my logic. They gather more than they need. When they measure it, the amount is the same as people who gathered less than they needed. If they tried to save it for another day, it spoils. It can’t be saved. In this way, there was enough for everyone. No one went hungry. No one went hungry while others ate their fill.

When might think about our resources we could ask ourselves: What is enough for one day? Can we trust that there will be enough each day? Can we give thanks for what we do have? If we trust that we will have enough, we can be generous with the world around us.

We often feel like we might be in a desert with lack of resources—either inner resources or external resources. I think sometimes that congregations are prone to this. We complain about lack of people. We worry about having enough money. Do we trust and believe in what God is doing in and through each one of us?

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_______ (insert your name here) and the Burning Bush

Shepherd and sheep

Exodus 3 & 4 tells the story of Moses’ call by God. Moses started life during a time when the pharaoh of Egypt wanted all the male Israelite babies killed. To protect him, Moses’ mother placed him in a basket and put him in the Nile River. An Egyptian princess found him and raised him as her own. When Moses was a young man, he saw some Egyptians abusing an Israelite slave.  Moses was outraged, jumped into the fray and killed an Egyptian. Moses had to flee for his life. He ends up as a shepherd, looking after his father-in-law’s sheep.

That’s where our story picks up today.

I want to offer this story as an opportunity to reflect on God’s call in our own lives. I invite you to imagine yourself into the story. Take a few deep breaths. Allow your mind to drift into the hills. This is marginal land. The land is sandy and rocky. The grass is more like scrub than grass. See the scene in your mind. See the land. Feel the heat of the sun. Touch the sheep’s wool. Smell the dust in your nostrils. Taste the dryness in your mouth.

You are the shepherd. There’s no one else for miles. You’ve been grazing the sheep for several hours. You have wandered a bit higher onto the hill than usual looking for some new grazing land. Out of the corner of your eye, you catch sight of some colour and movement. You turn fully to see a bush on fire. You walk closer to the fire. What does it look like as you approach? What do you feel as you approach? You walk closer and then you hear a voice—a voice calling your name. Listen to that voice. You respond. “Here I am.” The voice tells you to take your shoes off because you are standing on Holy ground. You take your shoes off, and the voice continues, “I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Sarah and Abraham, of Rebecca and Isaac, of Leah and Rachel and Jacob. I am the God of your parents and grandparents. I have observed the oppression of my people. I have hared their cry. I know their sufferings, and I have come to deliver them from their oppression. The cries of my people have come to me, and so I will send you to free my people.”

You think about this for a few minutes and then ask, “Who am I that I can free your people? If I go to your people and tell them that the God of our ancestors has sent me they will ask, “who is this God?” What shall I say?”

The voice from the bush speaks again and says “tell them I AM sent you.  I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Sarah and Abraham, of Rebecca and Isaac, of Leah and Rachel and Jacob. I am the God of your parents and grandparents.”

You wait for a moment. Why do you hesitate? What is it that prevents you from responding to God? Is there something that feels inadequate? Is there something that feels lacking? Perhaps there is already too much in your life? Voice these to I AM. How does I AM respond to your questioning?

What message does I AM have for you?

When you have heard I AM’s message, take a step back. Give thanks. Put your shoes on and return to your flock. When ready, slowly open your eyes.

What God will you Serve?

 

bulldozed home

How do we serve faithfully when we find ourselves in difficult places? How do we trust in God in those moments?

Since the creation story last week, we skipped several stories but Genesis continues to be concerned with figuring out who God is and defining the relationship between God, humans and the creation. Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14 is a very dark story. We might find it offensive that God would command someone to kill their own son as a sacrifice and it creates some challenges for us.

 

In the time that this story comes from, most cultures believed in many gods and it was not uncommon to perform human and child sacrifices to appease those gods. So in the story, we see Abraham heading off with his son, Isaac to offer a sacrifice. You might remember that Isaac is the child of Abraham and Sarah’s old age. He is the child that was promised to them—the child that would produce a great nation.

One commentator, B.W. Anderson suggests that this story was included “to justify the Israelites’ break with other ancient cultures’ practice of child sacrifice.” (Inclusive Bible, Footnote Gen 22:1). The book of Genesis is concerned with the relationship between God and the creation. This story sets the relationship up as something unique and different. This is not a God who demands child sacrifice. That’s not to say that God won’t ask difficult things from us or that we won’t find ourselves faced with difficult choices.

I suspect that as Abraham and Isaac were walking, they both had questions. I imagine Abraham arguing with God is his mind: You promised me a child who would produce a great nation. Now you are going to take that child away? What kind of God are you that makes promises and then breaks them?

Isaac voices his question out loud. “We’re going to make a sacrifice, but we have nothing to offer. How could my father be so unprepared? Even I know that you have to take something along to sacrifice.” The characters question. We might also question God. There are times when we just don’t understand what it is that God is up to. We don’t understand what God is asking of us or how something will work out in a way that is actually life-giving.

When we participate in baptism, we offer trust in God. We don’t know exactly what God is up to in our lives. We don’t know exactly what God will do through us, but we affirm our belief in a God of love who is mysteriously at work in us and the world. We affirm our belief in a God that is in a relationship with us. We affirm our willingness to serve that God in the world. Just like Abraham who didn’t know exactly what God is up to we serve, stepping faithfully into the unknown.

In the Beginning…God saw that it was Good!

 

We’re starting at the beginning! The first story of creation. It is one of 2 creation stories in the Bible. There are two stories because even in the beginning there wasn’t consensus on how things happened. Our Bible is very good at holding multiple viewpoints and multiple stories in tension. When we read scripture, we need to remember this important concept. There isn’t one version of the story. The Bible does not have one perspective but rather gathers multiple responses to God into a collection of writings. When we read the Bible, we need to listen for all these voices and then figure out how we make sense of them for our time and place.

We start at the beginning. There is a formless void and darkness. Some translations use the word chaos. But in the center of this chaos is God. God isn’t out there at a distance but at the center. And from this central place in the chaos, God creates. God sweeps over the waters. In this story, God has the ability to act and to speak. It is God’s action that creates. God said, “let there be light.” And God saw that it was good. Day and night are created. Then God separates the sky from the water. Then God separates the water and the land and God saw that it was good. Then God created all sorts of plants and trees and God saw that it was good. Day and night and seasons are created next–sun, moon, stars. And God saw that it was good. Then there are creatures–birds, fish, land animals—every animal you can imagine.

And then God made people. The Inclusive translation reads: “let us make humankind in our image, to be like us. . . . Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them.” In Hebrew, the original language of the Bible, God is actually a plural word. It could mean that the original authors were imagining God with an angelic court or, as was common at the time, that there were actually many gods involved in the creation. It also means that when God is creating humans, there are many images of God being reflected. In this version, men and women are created together and that God is reflected in a community of people.

God offers a blessing to the humans: “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” We need to think carefully about what these words mean. I attended a Canadian Theological Schools conference when I was a student. I remember talking about these words with other students. One of the people involved in this conversation, said that God gave the earth to humans to subdue and have dominion over. Therefore we can do whatever we want with it. It was a gift to be used however we see fit. I was shocked and horrified. I have always understood this passage as having an implicit message of care for creation. In light of climate change and degradation of the earth’s resources, where we start with our reading of scripture matters. This first story sets to the tone for everything that comes after.

If we see this story with humans at the center with the God given right to use the earth without concern, to rule over the earth, it sets us on a path that depletes the earth’s resources, and creates havoc with the earth’s natural systems. We need to rethink this original story. We need to understand that it is God—not humans—at the center of everything that is. It is God—not humans—who calls creation into being and forms life from chaos.

The inclusive translation puts the blessing this way: “bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the earth—and be responsible for it! Watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things on earth” (Gen 1:28) I like this translation because it is explicit in naming our responsibility as humans. Caring for the earth is no longer optional. It is part of the creation story—an expectation given to us at the very beginning. When hear about climate change and other natural disasters, we need to ask ourselves whether we are being responsible stewards of the earth we’ve been given. Are we using our voices and our power to protect and sustain the earth or are we using our power to destroy the earth?

Christianity has done much to destroy the earth because we have misread this original story and skewed our role in the story. Many other spiritual paths have stayed much closer to this original story. First Nations traditions have been close to the land. Through colonization much of the knowledge and understanding that Indigenous people have about what it means to steward and care for the earth was lost. The video we saw a few minutes ago, show one program that helps Indigenous and non- indigenous people relearn that knowledge.

The story gives hope. As God creates, the writers repeat a mantra making clear God’s intention: And God saw that it was good. God continues to see that creation is good. God continues to see good in humans because we are created in God’s image. One of the central themes of scripture and of the Christian story is that of repentance—meaning to change direction. The work being done through the Paris accord requires us to repent, to change direction. To follow through on changing our lifestyles and our actions is actually faithful living because it reminds us and the creation that we are created in God’s image and God sees that it is good.

Christianity: Cause of Brokenness and Source of Healing

9723852665_0e4058295c_o_arrWednesday was National Aboriginal Day. Sometimes we forget that the history with First Nations in Canada is tied in with our theology and how we read scripture.

Passages like Galatians 4:1-7, 5:16-26 contributed to some of the history. The passage begins by saying, “heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.” In the early relationship, Europeans saw that even though First Nations lived on the land they didn’t use it or manage it in the way Europeans would. This led to an understanding that they needed guardians and trustees to manage their land and resources. This, in turn, led to the Indian Act and reserve system which is still in place. One of the first pieces of legislation related to First Nations was the “Civilization of Indian Tribes Act” in 1857. According to this legislation, if an Indian man could prove English language skills and the ability to manage his own affairs he would be able to vote and own land as long as he gave up his identity as an aboriginal person. Our scripture could be interpreted to support this belief.

This passage also makes reference to people who are enslaved by elemental spirits. In Paul’s time, there were some who wanted to return to local deities and worshiping the sun, the moon, the animals. In early Canadian history, the traditional aboriginal teachings were seen as worship of the elements. This worship was seen as against God and therefore needed to be stopped. There was genuine concern for the souls of aboriginal people, a want to bring them into Christianity and to “civilize” them. Out of these beliefs and values came the residential schools.

Christian theology was instrumental in creating and supporting the broken relationship that has developed between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Christian theology also holds hope for a future that looks different from what currently is. This passage goes on to tell us that the fruits for the spirit, the things that come from living faithfully are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the things that lead to healthy communities and relationships. We need to love our aboriginal neighbours. We need to seek peace. We need to have patience with each other as we tell stories, listen and learn from each other. We need to be kind. We need to be generous as we seek to live faithfully with our current reality. We need to speak and act with gentleness and compassion. We need to practice self-control as we look for ways to walk in a good path.

We need to understand that, as Christians, we do not have a monopoly on the sacred or on God. The traditional teachings of indigenous spirituality are very necessary as we learn how to care for the earth. Those of us who are immigrants and descendants of immigrants have much to learn from indigenous peoples. Our scriptures and theology have been used to tear down and destroy. Now we need to use those same scriptures and a new theology to build and to heal.

All are Welcome

 

There’s conflict in the early church again! In Galatians 2:11-21 Paul has been working with a congregation for several years and in that time they have welcomed people regardless of their religious background. Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians are working and worshiping together and the community is flourishing. But then they have some visitors from outside the community. These visitors feel that by having Jewish Christians sharing the table with non-Jews, they are breaking the purity code of the Jewish tradition. Cephas has been part of the community and has been comfortable sharing the table with many different people. Once these visitors come, he starts to distance himself and refuses to share the table. Then others join in and the community is divided. The Jewish Christians aren’t about to eat with sinners who don’t keep the law.

Paul goes on to argue that everyone, whether Jewish or not, is sinner. To identify as a sinner isn’t always a comfortable place. To have sin pointed out to us isn’t always comfortable but sin simply means that we have missed the mark, that we have made a mistake, that we haven’t lived up to who we are meant to be. Sin may be very personal but it also has impact on community.

Sometimes it is difficult to identify the sin. Initially, in this story, the sin is seen as breaking the purity code and not following the tradition of a segregated table. In order to resolve this break in the code, the Jewish Christians refuse to eat with non-Jews. Paul challenges this and suggests that the real sin is refusing to share the table. Paul flips the idea of sin on its head. The people who are accusing others of sin become the sinners.

We want to keep nice neat boxes which allow some people to be insiders and others outsiders but the Holy Spirit is messy and doesn’t conform to our ideas of who should be welcome in our communities. The sin for which Paul holds people accountable is the sin of exclusion and division. We continue to struggle with this challenge. Any time we tell someone that they are unwelcome, we sin because it breaks the body of Christ. It is easy to point to others and say that they are sinners and should be unwelcome but neither Christ nor Paul would support that attitude.

This video from the United Church of Christ shows what happens when we believe we are better than others and want to maintain a closed community without sinners.

When you watch this video, where do you see yourself? Do you think you are one of the ones who might get ejected or would you be the person who moves further down the pew so as not to be in the way when people are tossed out? If would could eject people from this congregation, who would you eject? Where would you stop? Perhaps someone would eject you. If you were the one being ejected, how would you feel? We need to have compassion for each other.

The point of this story is that in God’s eyes we are all equal. None of us is more or less worthy to be a part of the community. None of us should live in fear of being ejected because of something we have said or done or because of who we are. We are all special and we are all loved. The church is Christ’s body and all of us are members of the body. All of us are welcome.

 

A Spirit for Change

Pentecost is an ancient Jewish celebration. Pentecost means fiftieth day and there were several fiftieth days or Pentecosts in the tradition. From Passover to the Pentecost of New grain was fifty days. From that date to the Pentecost of new wine was fifty days and then another fifty days to the Pentecost of new oil.

In Acts 2, the disciples have gathered to celebrate the Pentecost of new grain. They are celebrating the way they do every year. There is nothing out of the ordinary. But suddenly there is a violent wind and flames have appeared out of the sky.

The crowd that has gathered is from many different places and they speak different languages but they can understand what the disciples are saying. Just like in this version of the Lord’s prayer. It sounds different but the words have similar meanings regardless of language. We can experience the Holy in multiple languages. We can speak of God, of Gitchi Manitou in several first nation languages, of Allah in Arabic but we end up in the same place…the Holy, the one who is creator and sustainer of life.

In this Pentecost experience, that creator sends a spirit of action and animation among people who have already had experience of the person of Jesus and of the risen Christ. This experience of Pentecost, of being filled with the spirit then sends them out into the world to act for the Risen Christ.

Skip forward about 60 years to the story of Paul. You might remember from a few weeks ago when we heard the story of Stephen’s stoning that Saul was watching and approved of the killing. Saul had an experience of the Risen Christ in which Christ speaks to him and asks why he is persecuting the Christians. It is an ah ha moment for Saul. He becomes Paul—a Christian missionary who travels around establishing churches everywhere he goes.

The second scripture is from Galatians and Paul is describing his life before and after the moment of his conversion. Before he met the risen Christ, he was devout in his belief. He was actively engaged in seeking to destroy any Jesus followers he could find. In Paul’s time, it was important to maintain the status quo. Change was actively avoided and Saul was part of that active resistance. The fact that Saul had an experience that changed him so profoundly would met with a healthy dose of skepticism. He would have to be able to justify the change. In the passage we heard this morning, that’s exactly what he does.

He says, “God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles.” When broken down this statement picks up various passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah. You might remember Jesus also picking up themes from the Hebrew scriptures and applying them to himself in order to find credibility amongst people who knew their Bible well.

Paul claims that this change within him was a result of his experience of the risen Christ and a call directly from Christ. He claims that God knew him before he was born and that God was revealed to him in his vision of the Risen Christ and the he is sent to proclaim God to everyone everywhere.

One of the things that is fascinating about this is that Saul/Paul’s sense of call went from maintaining the status-quo and removing anyone who threatened that status-quo to a call to change the world. He went from trying to keep people thinking, believing and practicing their faith in the same way as they had for centuries to being an voice that changed how people thought, believed and practiced their faith.

Paul didn’t start life as an advocate for Christianity. As new information presented itself, he was able to be open to a God that continued to speak to him and unsettle him. That God, completely changed the direction of his life. We need to be open to a God that continues to speak to us in many ways. We don’t always know how the Holy spirit will speak to us or touch us. We don’t always know what the spirit will say to us.

Things that we think are true and right, may not be so. People that we think are our enemy, may not actually be our enemy. The spirit turns our world upside down and inside out. It is difficult to remain faithful by maintaining the status quo, by keeping things the same. The world changes, our lives change. God calls us as individuals to different things at different points in our lives. We might have a moment where we can look back and say…it changed there. Sometimes the change is more gradual and we find that we are in a completely different place from where we thought we would be.

The church is no different. God calls the church to change over time. We are changed by people who come and go. We are changed by events in the world around us as we seek to respond faithfully. If Constantine hadn’t made Christianity the official religion of the roman empire, if Martin Luther hadn’t posted his theses, if no one else had challenged the beliefs and practices of Christianity, it would not have evolved into the faith we have today.

The Holy Spirit inspires and encourages us to be bold and faithful for Christ. It encourages us to seek ways of living that respond to challenges in our world and yet are grounded in who we know God to be. The spirit is among us—moving and faithful.