Judas’ offence (Mark 14:10-21)

Judas’ offence (Mark 14:10-21)

This post was originally presented as a sermon at The Commons and published on their blog.

The gospels are not shy in their portrayal of the way the disciple’s struggle to understand Christ’s potentially life-changing lessons. Part of this difficulty is due to the offensive nature of Christ’s message. In most gospels, it’s not difficult to understand how Christ offends the teachers of the law. Less clear is the way Christ offends his disciples. In the Gospel of Mark, we find evidence of at least two disciples, Peter and Judas, offended by Christ’s teaching. The offence takes place in the moments leading up to and following Christ’s arrest.

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A Reflection on the word “Apostle”

A Reflection on the word “Apostle”

This reflection originated out of a request from The Commons to talk on my favourite apostle. 

The New Testament describes the way Christ’s disciples become apostles. This word “apostle” means, literally, “to send away.” In order to send someone away, he or she must first be with you. The apostles must have been at some point in the presence of Christ before he dismissed them before he sent them away. And it is this event — the send-off — from which their title is derived. Typically Christians focus on being with Christ, following close behind him, being “Christ-like.” However, to be an apostle means something a little different; it emphasizes a departure from Christ, a commission.

My two adorable little boys follow Jen and me everywhere as they learn, grow, and mature. But a day will come when they must be sent out from under our feet into the world where, as Leland likes to say, it’s “too sunny”. The shift from child to young adult or disciple to apostle is a significant movement. Continue reading

Apocalyptic Literature: A Primer to The Book of Revelation

Apocalyptic Literature: A Primer to The Book of Revelation

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.

I remember growing up thinking that the Book of Revelation was impossible to understand. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to acquire a “toehold” on the meaning of the text. This came through a better understanding of the history of apocalyptic writing and a few of its distinctive markers.

What does the word apocalyptic mean?

Often we think the word “apocalyptic” refers to the end times or the destruction of the world. This is partially correct. But a more accurate description defines apocalyptic as the transition between historical ages. As a description of a historical transition, apocalyptic literature describes the old age coming to an end as it experiences destruction and then the beginning of a new age.

Although there are many distinctive characteristics of Apocalyptic literature, I want to consider two: that it originates in oppressive situations and that it uses insider language.

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Belonging as Illustrated by Simon of Cyrene

Belonging as Illustrated by Simon of Cyrene

This post originally appeared on the blog Groundmotive.net

Simon of Cyrene, as his name suggests, was a visitor to Jerusalem. His story is found in all three synoptic gospels but is noticeably absent in John’s account. Each gospel account begins with Jesus mocked and beaten by soldiers, after which he descends to Golgotha. However, as he begins his descent, the soldiers force a man from Cyrene, Simon, to carry Christ’s cross on his behalf.

I want to draw your attention to three aspects of this story. First, Christ needs help, he depends on Simon. Simon, in a sense, saves Christ’s life. Without help, it seems, Christ would have died even before he was able to begin his march towards the place of the skull. Second, Simon is forced to help, although just a sentence or two in each gospel, each account makes sure to specify that Simon doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Finally, it’s noteworthy that the idea of carrying one’s cross is foreshadowed in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke Chapter 14, Christ tells his disciples that the cost of discipleship will require them to a) hate their family and ultimately hate their own life; and b) take up their cross and follow him. Although I don’t want to discuss the specific meaning of this verse here, I think it’s fair to say that Jesus, and Luke specifically, considered carrying one’s cross to be related to one’s sense of belonging to a particular family. With these three points in mind, let us consider a contemporary parallel.

Jean Vanier recently wrote an op-ed for The Globe and Mail that addressed the issue of assisted dying. Although some may be disappointed that Vanier doesn’t absolutely condemn assisted dying, I believe that he accurately describes a dangerous failure in our society that must be considered regardless of our views on this sensitive issue.
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Job, The Rich Man

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog .

XIR84999Although considered the oldest book of the Bible, the Book of Job was probably recorded around the same period as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Isaiah, during what’s known as the period of Exile. During this time period a number of Israeli tribes were taken captive by Babylon (Daniel, in fact, is one of these captives). At the time it was recorded many in Israel would have identified with Job. Like Job, the Israelites felt their current lot in life was unfair, that the scale of life was imbalanced. From their perspective, God shouldn’t have handed them over to their enemies, just as Job shouldn’t have been handed over to Satan.

Before considering Job’s suffering, I’d like to reflect on the imbalanced scale in my own life.

Last week I volunteered a lot of my time. I spent three and a half days helping my father-in-law replace the roof on his greenhouse, which is over a square acre in size. This was dangerous work. We had to walk the gutters between the peaks of the greenhouse roofs that were three stories high without harness or support. The slightest breeze could have easily swept the giant piece of plastic from the house and us with it. Then, yesterday, after helping my father-in-law, I went to my father’s and helped butcher turkeys. I’m not complaining, I enjoyed the hard work. It made me consider, however, the debts we owe one another.

We have a saying, Dad and me, that volunteer work among friends and family is “money in the bank”, meaning when you volunteer for friends and family the other is in your debt. Thinking about this, however, I realized that the balance of father and my father-in-law was pretty skewed to their side. I owe them so much that no amount of volunteer work on my part could ever satisfy my debt. This is true for many of us, we owe a tremendous amount to our parents or parent figures. For some, however, with irresponsible parents, the scales are imbalanced in the opposite direction, their parents actually owe them. And, it’s entirely possible that these irresponsible parents will never be able to atone for their mistakes. In general, however, I think it’s true that the youth carries a debt that will never be returned. It’s only because of the grace of our parents or past generations that we are free to live ordinary lives.

At best, our parents and our inheritance encourages us to live on, using what’s been given us. Through their mercy, we are freed from our impossibly large debt and blessed to transcend the gift given.

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The Homeless God

The Homeless God

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog.

Westview Christian Fellowship is located in the Queenston neighbourhood, a district in St. Catharines that has abnormally high rates of poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy. Westview has become a strong community partner through sharing its resource and expertise with a women’s Centre, Westview Centre4Women. The Centre provides refuge, community, and a variety of services for women living in the Queenston neighbourhood. Although the Centre was initiated by the church as a response to a need in St. Catharines’ downtown context, the Centre, in turn, responded to needs in the church when some of the participants became involved in leadership and support.  Last year a number of women from the Centre expressed interest in an introductory course on Christianity. After trying the Alpha program, an evangelistic program which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith, we decided to create our own curriculum to better suit our situation.

While considering this neighbourhood and the request for a course on Christianity, I was struck by one of the many compelling arguments found in Nik Ansell’s most recent book, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann. Simply stated, Nik argues that Scripture is a story about the work of God and humanity making a home, a place in this world defined by care, respect, and love—something many struggle with in Queenston. This got my imagination turning: if creation is God’s domestic homemaking skills at work, was God homeless before he turned on the lights? Does God experience similar feelings and challenges as those associated with homelessness?* It’s a strange speculative thought, that creation emerges out of a God forsaken space, a space Moltmann argues is within God, akin to a woman’s womb. Continue reading

Thesis Defence

Last Friday I defended my thesis. It went well, my examiners were gracious and insightful, helping me to better understand the issues and topics discussed in my paper. I was given the opportunity to prepare an opening statement which turned into a reflection on my thesis as a learning exercise. So, I thought it would be appropriate to share that statement below. Perhaps when my thesis is ready to deposit into the ICS repository I’ll share it here as well.

The things birth sets in motion seem to have an unlimited reach, extending far beyond the body that emerges from the womb. Few comparisons are fitting to describe the meaningfulness of birth. Over the course of writing this thesis I’ve had the opportunity to personally witness and experience the birth of two children, but also the birth of a mother, the birth of a father, and, ultimately, the birth of a family. This experience obviously “helped” shape my thesis in as much as it complicated the process.

Just as it would be remiss to overlook the importance of birth, I feel compelled to briefly discuss how this learning experience has transformed my relationship with religion. When you’re saturated from an early age in religious ceremony and discourse, as I was, the meaning of religious concepts and rituals can be obscured by how self-evident they seem. One can easily take one’s tradition for granted. My thesis brought this tendency to light for me especially as I grew to better understand some of the theory that underpins principles germane to religion, such as, forgiveness, confession, reconciliation, promises, freedom, and conversion. This personal transformation illuminated religious texts and practices that I find belonging in. In particular, I have become increasingly interested in how themes significant to my Mennonite inheritance such as pacifism, reconciliation, and forgiveness could benefit from an engagement with the philosophical tradition represented in this thesis by Hannah Arendt and Jacques Derrida.

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