Rev. Robin Jacobson speaks at Trinity United Church, Vernon BC.
Veronica – Towards the Restoring of a True Image of God, of Jesus, of Self
I’m finding that today’s text addresses at least 3 huge questions that we all live with to some or other extent. I wonder how they resonate with you?
What new thing are you – even now – are you being curious enough, humble enough, teachable enough to notice and to embrace during this time…
What new thing is God up to and wanting you to notice?
What distorted images of Jesus, of God, of ourselves are we clutching or being clutched by that we should lose that a truer image (VERA-NIKA) may emerge?
What are we to do about that – for what particular purpose are we currently being prepared & commissioned?
What new thing?
And so to that first question: I wonder what it is about little ones that Jesus said makes them especially open to the ‘things of God’ – that apparently are so difficult for the ‘wise and intelligent’ to embrace? I wonder if it has to do with their innate curiosity, their open receptiveness, and their easy teachability. Children do SO have that ability to soak things up. As a parent, ever argued in front of your children and then caught those little faces worriedly looking up at you? It’s their ability – both beautifully and tragically – to absorb/ to become what they are exposed to… Deeply impressionable, with impressions that can last a lifetime. Is that something of what Jesus had in mind here: our being soft & receptive/malleable with the things of God…?
But there’s more: We know that with an infant mortality rate of up to 40% by puberty [i] – those early biblical communities were not sure whether their children would survive childhood. It’s only once they’d celebrated their Bat or Bar Mitzvahs in their early teens that children gained any individual standing in the community. And so, in addition to being deeply impressionable, marked by an insatiable curiosity and wonder-full receptivity, children also had no special status. All they had in their lives, was given purely by grace, and their communities knew that!
And so, What new thing are we being encouraged to become – like a child – curious, impressionable and humble enough to notice and to embrace during this time? Perhaps, it’s a genuine willingness & ability to see God’s gracious hand at work outside of the formal & familiar?
At a time when most of us are seriously missing our gatherings in the traditional sense, it’s us becoming open enough, curious and humble enough to recognize God in the most surprising places: in the work and words of heroes such as our wonderful Dr Bonnie Henry, or any of those who are putting themselves on the line standing up against the pernicious effects of this virus. Psalm 91 speaks of God putting ‘angels in charge of us to protect us wherever we go’ – is that what this means? There is all those many many people who are constantly noticing and caring, reaching out to the most vulnerable in our societies?
How about God within that which is arising from within all of us – religious or not – all who are saying ENOUGH to systemic racism: DO YOU SEE GOD THERE? Where are you being given this child-like ability to notice holiness? What blinkers are keeping you obliviously indifferent to what God is in fact currently doing…? Oh, may we be given child-eyes to see God’s hand in all of these ‘outside-of-the-church’ places and so come ever more deeply to appreciate how God is still very much with us and is still so very beautiful! For that IS somehow who Jesus actually is and who Jesus reveals God to be …for those with eyes open enough to see…
What distorted image?
Which brings us to the second question: What distorted images of God, and of ourselves should we be losing – that an infinitely truer image may emerge? I’ve always loved the name ‘VERONICA!’ because of what it means: VERA-NIKA: TRUE IMAGE! It is associated with the 6th station of the cross, that 1st Century woman who became St Veronica – who after handing Jesu
Gift Of Grief: Lamentation
Psalm 13/ Psalm 22
We celebrate Canada Day on Wednesday next week – and how weird not to be doing so with all our usual mass gatherings and parades. But what a privilege to be here in this land where – despite our mistakes, both current and historical: our atrocious relationships with indigenous communities, we lament our failings, we are wired to want to be better. It’s right there in one of the verses of our national anthem:
Ruler Supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our dominion within thy loving care;
Help us to find, O God, in thee, A lasting, rich reward,
As waiting for the Better Day,
We ever stand on guard.
God keep our land glorious and free!
We stand on guard for thee.
John Cleese of Monty Python fame, wrote a satirical series for BBC TV in the late 1960s, called ‘How to Irritate People’. His fundamental key is not to allow people to vent! Get them to be annoyed but only to the point where they can stand it, because the minute someone is allowed to erupt all their hurts and frustrations, is when they start to feel better and you will have to start annoying them again from the start. The very serious point to take from this is that the venting of our feelings, our expressing whatever we are otherwise allowing to build up inside of us, is not only good for us, it’s essential for our good health and sanity!
I can’t complain
I’m always a little unsure when we answer ‘how are you’ with the usual ‘I can’t complain’ because it’s just not true! WE CAN COMPLAIN! Our good health REQUIRES that we complain! I’m not talking so much about always being miserable about something or another – but about how, when we are going through what’s rough, we must CREATE opportunities to express our pain! …if not to some people that we trust, then at least to ourselves, certainly to God! And that’s exactly what our texts are doing today! We’re speaking about the gift of lamentation. It’s the gift of being able to react, to grieve!
Some [i] argue that as much as 55-60% of all the sentiment expressed in Psalms which we know were the Hebrews’ hymnbook, are doubt, frustration, anger, hurt, and lamentation. And not only in the Psalms, we hear this response to hard life events all through scripture: e.g. the Book of Job, where he was feeling desperately miserable after all he’d been through and had no qualms about expressing it: “Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11). As do the prophets, crying out to God, “Why is my pain continuous, why does my wound seem incurable…?” (Jeremiah 5:18). The whole of the OT book of Lamentation is dedicated to just that – the people of Judah weeping as they expressed their pain at losing their land after being taken into Babylonians exile.
We see it the New Testament where suffering people cry out to Jesus for help. “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” shouted Bartimaeus, the blind roadside beggar, (Mark 10:47).
Or even Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, so terrified and overwhelmed before his betrayal and arrest: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me…” (Mark 14:36). As well as from the cross as he was dying, owning the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…?”
IT’S PROFOUNDLY BIBLICAL! These MUST be our prayers as we go through rough circumstances, and we MUST be allowed to pray them: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130:1) “O my God, I cry out by day, and you answer not; by night, and there is no relief for me” (Psalm 22:3). “How long, O Lord? Will you utterly forget me?” (Psalm 13:2), “Why, O Lord, do you stand aloof? Why hide in times of distress?” (Psalm 10:1)
And yet, despite how scripture presents lamentation as a vital and therapeutic part of any faithful response to when life is hard, we seem to have lost touch with it. Or worse, we think that by expressi
This is Life!
Today is National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, celebrating the original inhabitants of this land of Canada, whose presence here goes back for many 1000s of years. It’s also when we acknowledge the pain and suffering they have faced as a result of their unjust and racist oppression at the hand of privileged settlers. As the Church, instead of always acting with the inclusive and empowering love of the Gospel, we confess and repent of our own complicity in that – both in the past as well as the present – with our prayer and commitment towards healing, and hope, and reconciliation in the future. Dear God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
It’s also Fathers’ day, when we honor all the Fathers and Father-figures in our lives. One of the most famous fathers in scripture is Joseph, the husband of Mary, and the father of Jesus’ youth. We don’t know too much about him, but I wonder to what extent it was as a result of Joseph’s influence that Jesus was so easily able to call God the very familiar Abba – his daddy?
And so, Dear God, we pray for your steady, healing, comforting, Abba-like presence in all our lives. We pray especially for those who have suffered because of circumstances and attitudes of others beyond their control. We hold up Canada’s Indigenous people O God, and we pray for all of us: giving thanks for the best of our father-influences, and asking for healing and forgiveness when they – and we – get that so wrong. We pray, deeply grateful for your healing presence of life and love which abides with us today and always, in Jesus’ Name, Amen
Will Willimon points out how: When we sign on with Jesus Christ and his mission, something is gained, but something is lost as well. To embrace Christ – to live in Christ – is to die to many of our old habits and infatuations. That’s something of what Paul means when he writes of how “You also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.”
Being a Christ follower is about so much more than simply buying into a particular philosophy or belief system; it’s about our embracing of – or perhaps better, our being embraced by – a whole new way of seeing, being, living. It’s about our acknowledging a whole new reality – a much more real reality than what is always immediately obvious, and then our living into THAT reality. As Mark Malek said, our faith, according to Paul, is not so much about “a philosophical point of view, something for us either to accept or reject …as a reality that now lives in us, with the potential to live through us!
Remember HG Wells’ Country of the Blind which tells of a sighted person’s arrival into a country where no-one has eyes, and his attempts to make them appreciate a reality that is so much greater than the very limited grey and wooden thing they’d created for themselves ina survive in darkness: ‘There’s Sky… Colour… Light…’ Of course they didn’t appreciate having their reality challenged and so tried to ‘fix’ him by make him like them – removing his eyes [i].
WE are so often those people who learn to survive in the darkness we create, with CHRIST as the one who saves by exposing his most real reality – infinitely truer and more beautiful than whatever we could ever create for ourselves in order simply to survive!
That’s the ‘ABUNDANCE’ that Jesus speaks of in Jn.10:10! ‘The thief comes only to steal and destroy (your life), but I have come that you may (discover how you) have life in all its abundance!’ But for some reason we seem to want to stick with the dark opacity that we know!
We are all, always, serving something, following some or other guidance or leading: and that something is either feeding us or killing us! Remember how Bob Dylan sang it back in the late 1970s, how everybody’s gonna have to serve somebody… I can’t imagine a much more tragic circumstance than when we allow the worst of ourselves to lead us in
June 21, next Sunday, is National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and our denomination is marking this Sunday as a day of prayer for Indigenous people everywhere. We are choosing prayerfully to acknowledge our own complicity in the oppression of indigenous people and of all minorities in Canada. That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is stirring up in us all. Our prayer is that God would use this time to sensitize us to the reality of white privilege and release the healing and hope for all those who have suffered and who still are suffering the most as a result of this insidious evil. Dear God, in your mercy, hear our prayers…
Today’s text brings together so much of what Paul understood to be the whole point of Jesus’ work! Theologians describe this as ‘Soteriology’. It’s about how Jesus SAVES us!
How are we different now as a result of our having been impacted by God in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ?
It seems that there are various understanding this. We typically assume that whatever we believe must also be true for everyone. In fact, what some may believe is good and true about Jesus and his work in us may actually seem offensive to others. I know what I believe has significantly evolved and grown over the years – and I’m deeply grateful for that because I find that I am now more certain of loving this Jesus Christ and of being loved by him, while also increasingly stretched by what he is revealing of himself, and of God, and of creation – but perhaps especially of myself. And while we may not exactly sure about where he is leading as we grow in our faith, what we MUST know is that WHATEVER He is revealing of himself is constantly always bigger and better & deeper & more beautiful than anything we could ever have known before…
But getting back to today’s text: It seems, historically [i], that people have developed various theories – doctrines – to understand who and what Jesus is and does. Most describe Jesus as the lamb that God needed to have die in order to destroy the power of evil over us – by satisfying some great debt owed either to Satan, or to God. Jesus is understood then to be acting on our behalf in order to change God’s mind about a sinful humanity – getting between us and God’s wrath. But surely that can’t be the whole of it – as Richard Rohr so often stresses – ‘it was never God’s mind that needed changing about humanity, so much as our minds that need changing about God! God loves us, always has, always will, that doesn’t ever change!
The bottom line in understanding today’s text is that God, in Christ, is about something quite wonderful for all creation, bringing us into awareness BOTH of who and what God actually is as well as what we, and all of this is, as well – and what we have always been intended by God to be. Jesus demonstrates what ‘righteous’ or ‘being-made-right’ living – ‘us-aligned-with-God’ living – is actually all about. He is what makes it possible for us to know that even the very worst of ourselves is no longer ever able to dominate & define us – and certainly NEVER able to separate us from God’s love!
The truth is that most of us – no, all of us – allow the best of ourselves to become trapped in prisons of some kind: some we build for ourselves, some we allow others to build into us! I’m thinking about the crippling effects of guilt! Victimhood! Broken self-image! …all designed to be keeping us as less than ourselves…
The tragedy is that we then go on to fool ourselves enough that we think we come to feel safe within those prison walls, like ‘Red’ in the movie The Shawshank Redemption – remember his thoughtful words while gazing wistfully up at the granite from inside the prison courtyard?
“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.” Or like that p
Great Commission – Trinity Sunday
This is our 12th online Sunday worship gathering and our hope is that we ARE just beginning to make some real progress in coping with this pandemic, in BC anyway. But, how shattering the exposure of all this racial division in the US has been for all of us, and especially as we know that racism isn’t confined to south of the 49th parallel, it is right here with us as well. A dear friend confessed with heartbreak to me this week her conviction how what is happening there: ‘is a picture of the darkest recesses of her own heart…’ We HAVE to notice it! We HAVE to go there! We go there so we can deal with it! Former professional basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote recently of how ‘Racism …is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands.’
And so we light the Christ candle acknowledging how we need to be aware of Christ’s purest and clearest light shining every day into every part of our lives: exposing/ challenging/ comforting/ healing…
Our Pacific Mountain Region President Jay Olson also wrote this past week, of how there are no words are adequate to explain the horror of an African-American man dying with a white police officer’s knee at his neck. We weep for George Floyd and his family. But closer to home, she writes also of how ‘we weep…for an Asian elder kicked to the ground and left on the street. We weep for Indigenous peoples still treated as second class citizens. We weep over the truth that racism remains embedded in Canadian life and is still active in the Church.
Christos Kyrie Eleisan – Christ, Lord have mercy.
As we watch cities disintegrate in flames of the pain of injustice, let us be renewed in our courage to stand against racism and learn to relate to all others as a children of God. It must be so if we really are the body of Christ.
Dear God, as we gather now, online,
so we also continue to pray against the awful effects of this Corona pandemic,
even as we continue to pray against
the worst and most insidious effects of our own pernicious racism…
…and yet, though grieving, we continue to pray with hope,
for we are praying in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day we recognise when we, as Christ followers, according Matthew, received our marching orders: The Great Commission.
In a 2017 interview Eugene Petersen shared how he wrote The Message bible translation as an initial response to the race riots of Baltimore in the 1960s: “… people were worried about what was happening in the city. I was worried about what was happening in people.”
THIS IS SOMETHING WE ALL NEED TO FACE, AND TO ACT AGAINST. Nike gets that. Have you noticed their latest marketing campaign that instead of saying ‘Just do it’ now stresses for us NOT to do it: “Don’t pretend there’s not a problem… Don’t turn your back on racism. Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us. Don’t make any more excuses. Don’t think this doesn’t affect you. Don’t sit back and be silent.”
‘The Great Commission’ is about Jesus telling us NOT to be silent! He is defining what we, as Christ followers, are primarily to be ALL about! This is our main purpose and function, and it’s not to be about making our what’s good for just ourselves – but to be MAKING DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS – if whatever we do is not somehow about that – we’re missing the point!
Notice how we are never told – anywhere in scripture – to make converts!
In fact, passages like John 6:44 tell us just the opposite – how no-one will ever be able to be ‘converted’ unless God decides to do it!
Conversion is God’s business!
‘Proselytizing’ defined as ‘actions attempting to convert someone from one religion, belief or opinion to another’ is always odious and offensive! It’s also disrespectful and an invasion of other
Dear God, on this day of Pentecost,
as we remember your empowering of us and of all creation
with the very holiness of You,
may we be given fresh insight into who and what you are
as well as insight into ourselves,
as we respond to Your grace.
We pray in Jesus’ Name
Our reading (Acts 2:1-21) begins with us being told – specifically – they were all together [i], and in one place. We know from Matthew 18:19 that there is something very special about people meeting and agreeing, being of one mind, as opposed to the Medusa mythology that warns of how having too many thoughts all flying in different directions immobilizes us – turns us to stone – individually as well as a community. All together in one place implies their being of one mind!
(When) ‘suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting’ – evocative of Adam’s [ii] inspiration.
And then ‘Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them’. Resting on each – individually. We can imagine so many bottles being individually funnel-filled as opposed to having buckets of water sloshed over them. Those people were being individually ‘funnel-filled’ with God’s Spirit, as marked by those individual tongues of flame over each one of them…
And the effect of that filling was how the many different languages which were being spoken were now suddenly all understood. People began actually to understand one another. Some see this as the reversal of the Tower of Babel curse of Genesis 11 [iii]. 13 But not everyone, because ‘some others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” Kind of like our easy contempt for whatever we don’t understand – or perhaps feel threatened by.
And then came Peter’s sermon recalling that awesome prophecy of Joel, how God said: 17 ‘In the last days … I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and our children shall prophesy, young men see visions, and our old men dream dreams. …in those days …21 when everyone who calls on the name of the Lord SHALL BE SAVED.’
‘The effect of the Pentecost-poured out Holy Spirit in our lives is our ability better to embrace what was achieved for us by God in and through Jesus Christ – THAT’S WHAT WE UNDERSTAND BY ‘BEING SAVED’
THERE IS SO MUCH IN OUR LIVING THAT WE ALLOW TO STEAL OUR LIVES!
…to steal our IDENTITIES! And our PERSPECTIVES! And our whole sense of PURPOSE!
What do you allow to decide your IDENTITY?
…your career perhaps: We do that! We so easily allow our sense of self & self-worth to be decided by how successful or unsuccessful we believe we are, or have been, in our working lives! If ‘successful’ with lots of trophies and recognition, we may feel good about ourselves. But if, in our own estimation, we feel we’ve underachieved, or under-appreciated, well, not so good.
Or how about our relationships – both present and past relationships? To what extent do you measure yourself by the number of people you’ve let down, or whom have let you down? I’m thinking of marriages that deteriorated, or eroded family connections. Our rejection of, or by, friends?
How about the things we have or have not done? Substance abuse issues perhaps? How about those hateful yet lurking racist tendencies – that awful self-protective tribal instinct that we allow sometimes to arise within us? In Romans 7 Paul seems to be totally exasperated by the extent of his constantly letting himself down: ‘even though I want to do the right thing it seems my actions are constantly sinful and trip me up’. Can you relate to that? DO relate to that? Is that what you allow to influence your sense of identity? All it takes is just one bad health report, or the effects of one mistake/ one out of control tantrum, being forced to go into social isolation as a result of this pandemic…
OF COURSE our sense of self is affected by any or al
Really enjoy listening, especially in these times of isolation.