Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Mid-week Reflection ----- 31 March 2020

Good day! I'm attempting to send our some more-or-less inspirational words and pictures in the midst of all this virus mess. I appreciate you reading this 
and I hope it really does something to raise your spirits and lift you in the Spirit.

I think Pastor Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about.

Storms will always come and the worst ones are inside us.

What did I say about storms?

Grace is a wonderful and mysterious thing. It has been called the very life of God.

“Death is a thing empires worry about, not a thing resurrection people worry about… As long as there’s somebody baptizing sinners, breaking the bread, drinking the wine; as long as there’s people confessing their sins, healing, walking with one another through suffering, then the Church is alive, and it’s well.”       Rachel Held Evans

It may be that each of us is a Book of Revelation.

A prayer from our National Bishop in a time of enforced separation.

Jesus, healer of our souls, have mercy on us.
Jesus, healer of the nations, have mercy on us.
Jesus, healer of all the world, have mercy on us.

...And of course.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

The Fifth Sunday of Lent ---- 29 March 2020

John 11:1-45
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." 8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" 9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." 11 After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him." 12 The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." 17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." 28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

"I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
·        The story of the raising of Lazarus is the second highest of the “signs” in John’s Gospel. This story is powerful and it is the high point of the Gospel leading up to the story of the Resurrection.
·        Here, Jesus raises his friend to life. Mary and Martha are present and Martha voices the concern any of us might have had. “Had you been here, all this could have been avoided. Still, God will hear your prayers.” We know that Jesus and Lazarus were friends; we’ve been told of meals at Lazarus’ house. We see that Jesus cannot hold back his tears in the face of his friends’ grief… and in the face of the overwhelming presence of death. Jesus doesn’t show a lot of emotion in the Gospels, but here he does, in probably the rawest possible form.
·        Jesus cries in the presence of all this dying because death is not the way things are supposed to be. The Creator deals in life, not death. God’s Word is life, not death. The power of God draws all things to life and not to death. Yet death exists. Sickness, pain, alienation, and loss exist and we and God have to deal with it.
·        So Jesus deals with death and fear and loss by tears and by prayer and by saying "Lazarus, come out!" And he does come out, all wrapped in the grave clothes. He come out of the tomb and out of death itself. Jesus tells the people around the tomb to unbind Lazarus and let him go.
·        For us, we need to remember that Jesus raises us to life from death in whatever way death show itself to us. We’ve all faced death in some way or other, whether it was our own death or the death of someone we cared about.
·        At present, we face a kind of death. The pandemic has made us face our own fragile lives, the reality of our own mortality, and even the nature of our society. We don’t know what’s next. Friendships and relationships are strained by distance and isolation. Jobs and livelihoods are uncertain because of the disruption of normal life; there is no more “business-as-usual.” We may feel helpless and powerless and even in some cases, worthless. No matter how much we’ve done, we wonder if we should be doing more. There is even anxiety over what the future will bring and what the “new normal” will be when this is over.
·        In the middle of all this, what we long to hear is our names called followed by the words “Come out!” and then “Unbind them, and let them go!” Don’t you want to be Lazarus?
·        Don’t we want to be raised from the death of fear, fear that keeps us from trusting and from moving?
·        Don’t we want to be raised from the death of loss and all the losses we’ve endured in our lives?
·        Don’t we want to be raised from the death of exile and separation from people and places we’ve loved?
·        Don’t we want to be raised from the death of any sort of slavery – physical, mental, or spiritual?
·        Don’t we all want to be raised to new life from death and all that death means? This is the greatest enemy and the source of all our greatest temptations, since we want to avoid death at all cost and we are often willing to make ourselves our own god in that struggle.
·        Jesus says I am the resurrection and the life. His statement is for the right now and not only for some unknown future. The raising of Lazarus is the sign of this and it also shows the power of God separate from the faith of all those around. Lazarus was raised to life and I’d wonder if anyone there expected that or even believed that Jesus could or would do it. They did not have to believe for Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Human belief does not to the job; Jesus’ oneness with the Father is the source. The power of God does not depend on our belief even though seeing things as the power of God might.
·        In this odd, odd time that reminds me of the strange time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we anticipate God’s power and grace, come what may. We pray that the “come what may” will lead to good, and in any event we pray that the future that is to be will find us coming to new life in the ever-present grace of God. That future begins now and builds on the present we live in now.
·        We might likely speak to Jesus like Martha: “Lord, if you had been here, this would not have happened.” Then we’d hope to hear Jesus’ words: "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
·        Amen and amen. Let it be so.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Mid-week Reflections --- 26 March 2020

O Jesus the Divine Physician, come to our aid!

Our province and our congregation continues to be under a "shut-down" because of health concerns. We cannot avoid this. In fact, it would be harmful to try to avoid this. It isn't primarily a matter of obedience to the law, but of concern for the community in which we live. We might feel fine, but we could unwittingly carry the infection to someone who might not be able to fight it off. With that in mind, it is a special time in the life of the Christian church in Canada in which we are called to extraordinary measures in Christian living. We cannot worship together as we might like, but we can...

  • Pray for one another.
  • Watch out for one another. 
  • Talk to one another even if only by phone.
It's odd to think that keeping our distance might be the most loving thing we can do!

Here are some more things that I hope will make you think.

Where is the church? Look around! The church is there!

"Each of us is a God-carrier, a tabernacle, a sanctuary of the Divine Trinity, and God loves us not because we are lovable but because he first loved us. This turns our values up-side-down – showing us that the Gospel is the most radical thing imaginable.”  - Archbishop Desmond Tutu

 Motives are important and sometimes they make all the difference.
"See how these Christians love one another!"

I like potatoes!
If humans can be so creative in cooking and serving them, what can God do with the cook and server?

If you're waiting to "clean up your act" before letting God use you for the Kingdom,
you'll be surprised when God takes you as you are! The Kingdom is "come as you are."
As the old hymn says "Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me."

From our National Bishop, the Rev. Susan Johnson
I like this enough to use it to close the devotional every time.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Something to think about until Sunday - a little Bible study

This psalm - Psalm 130 - is my favourite psalm. Years ago, in spiritual direction, my director, a Trappist monk, gave me this psalm to meditate on. He also gave me some insights into the meaning. I will be forever grateful.

Psalm 130
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
   Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,   
    more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
   and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

    The psalm starts as a prayer from the bottom of the psalmist's soul and situation. In Latin, the psalm begins "De profundis" ("From the depths") and the dictionary says it means "out of the depths of misery or dejection." If this is how we feel, the psalm is perfect for us to speak our piece. Sorrow, sadness, sickness, depression... all these come under this heading, and it includes sin as well. The cry is to the Lord and the speaker asks God to hear. The two phrases of verse 2 are parallels, both saying essentially the same thing. This is quite common in Hebrew poetry.

    The speaker then tells of sin and "iniquity", saying that no one could stand before God should God look at any person's sinfulness. Then comes the "But", and any phrase beginning with "but" says what came before is not true. (It's poetry remember.) With God there is forgiveness, for no other reason than for the praise of God ("So that you may be revered." Some English translations say "so that you may be feared.") The fear of God has more to do with "awe" than anything else. However, facing God would be more fearful than looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon. Anyway, the speaker is certain of forgiveness not because of his/her worthiness, goodness, wallet, piety, or any other reason; only because God is God and God is merciful for God's own sake.

    The speaker waits for the Lord and what the Lord will do with the Word of the Lord. The speaker waits for eagerly than those who watch for the dawn. If you've ever sat up on a camp's fire-watch as the last watch before the break of day, you know the eagerness and desire the watch knows. This is so strong, it's said twice. Hebrew poetry doubles thing for the sake of emphasis and here the exact same phrase is used! 

     "O Israel, hope in the Lord!" The speaker calls for the people of God to be hopeful. Why? Well, they need hope and the fulfillment of that hope can be found in the Lords. (In the Hebrew scriptures, "The Lord" is used as a substitute for the personal name of God, which is not to be spoken aloud. To say a name gives one power over the one whose name is spoken... and what truly devout person would take power over God?) The hope of the people will be fulfilled because "with the Lord there is steadfast love...and great power to redeem." This "steadfast love" is a translation of the Hebrew word "hesed" which really is almost untranslatable. In English, we use "mercy", "loving-kindness", or "kindness." The Hebrew carries the notion of a deep love given in unbreakable loyalty in covenant. It's a word that is much bigger than it sounds. "To redeem" has a lot to do with freedom and the deliverance from slavery or imprisonment. For God's people, God has always been the source and agent of freedom and life. Lastly the speaker says God will save the people, here Israel, from all sin and sinfulness. (There is a difference. Think about it.)

     This is one psalm I've memorized and I've found it worthwhile to pray it. It starts in the deepest pit and ends up on the highest plane. It goes from despair to utter trust and faith. Even if we're not able to "feel" that in our lives and we only know the pit, praying this psalm reminds us that the highest is possible because of the hesed of God. That reminder can be the start or re-start of trust and that trust will not be disappointed.

     This psalm has had many musical and literary settings. Luther wrote a hymn, "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich to dir" which is still found in our hymnal, translated into English.

     Something to think about in this time of depths of isolation, quarantine, sickness, and fear... which may be the most deadly of all, for any of us can fall into fear. Be in awe of God, pray for each other, love your neighbor, be good to each other... and wash your hands.

"... more than watchmen wait for daybreak"

"Three Hebrew Handholds!

Something to think about and remember in these trying times.


This article made me think and also helped me to understand how God is with us in all this weirdness.

John Goldsworthy
Pastor, St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Aylmer, ON

Sunday, 22 March 2020

The Fourth Sunday of Lent --- 22 March 2020

 John 9:1-41

1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, 7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." 10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, "Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." 12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." 16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet." 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." 25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." 26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" 28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34 They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36 He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." 37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." 38 He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see,' your sin remains.

Pioneer Tunnel mine, Ashland, PA (Stock photo)

Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see,' your sin remains.
·     Years ago, when my daughter was a toddler, my wife’s family came from Texas to visit us in Pennsylvania. As part of the visit, we took them to the Pioneer Tunnel, a working coal mine in the little town of Ashland. We went down into the mine into the side of the mountain in the “electric mule”, a small electrically-powered train the miners would ride to the coal face, where the mining took place.
·     Our guide – a miner himself – wore a battery powered light on his helmet. As part of the tour, we all stood still while the miner turned off the lights. (The mine was lit by small over-head lights.) The only light was from his lamp. Then he flipped off that tiny light.
·     We were plunged into a darkness so absolute that you could almost feel it. It was darker than the darkest night; I couldn’t see a thing... and I felt completely isolated. The miner spoke to us out of the darkness for a moment and then turned on his lamp. It was such a relief. Then he turned on all the lights and we went on with the tour. I think I’ll always remember that darkness.
·     The man in John’s Gospel today knew that same darkness. He was born blind and possibly never saw light in his life until Jesus put mud on his eyes and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Jesus had just finished calling himself the light of the world in response to his disciples’ question about the blind man: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
·     Since he was blind, he could not take part in society. He probably could not worship in the Temple because his infirmity would be enough to deny entrance. After all, his blindness was a result of someone’s sin, wasn’t it? Any infirmity or sickness was once seen as a punishment for sin, whether the sin of the person or of their ancestors. This understanding of sickness and sin would further isolate this man… in a darkness like I knew in the mine.
·     Jesus does not bring sin into the picture; others do. Jesus takes it in a different direction… and he heals the man of his blindness.
·     Of course, the place goes crazy. “Is this man the blind guy?” “How did he heal you?” “That’s all impossible!” “It couldn’t be that way!” We can file this under my mind is made up; don’t confuse we with facts. People see things through their own slant and their own focus.
·     The Pharisees refuse to believe this man was born blind, then they refuse to accept that Jesus healed him. Finally they throw him out and isolate him since he doesn’t fit their categories.
·     Jesus comes to the man and identifies himself as the one who healed him. He goes on to say I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.
·     John wrote this for a specific time and place. At the time of the writing, the early Christian community was being driven out of the synagogues and would no longer be identified as part of the Jewish people. (There were a bunch of political implications from this and that’s for another time.) In the end, the man born blind is all of us and in the end, he is abandoned by everyone but Jesus, who won’t abandon us either.
·     What John is focusing on is the darknesses that the blind man and the Pharisees lived in. One was a birth issue with no guilt involved; the other was an attitude that developed which saw guilt in the man’s blindness but no guilt in the spiritual blindness they lived in.
·     John uses very human experiences to reveal the Good News of Jesus.
Nicodemus visits Jesus at night; although a teacher, he cannot see.
The woman at the well asks Jesus for water, living water because she’s thirsty for more than a noon-day drink.
The man born blind sees better than everyone he encounters after he’s healed and when he sees Jesus for the first time, he believes and worships him.
Lazarus has the ultimate common human experience and the most troubling- death - and Jesus raises him to life.
·        Jesus is the one who fulfills all these needs and confronts the things that divide people – the isolations of sin, suffering, ignorance, and death.
·        At this very strange time in our lives, we too are faced with a blindness, a blindness that seeks to divide us along so many lines: the sick from the healthy, the old from the young, the East from the West, the rich from the poor, the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’.
·        May Jesus heal our blindness – whatever blind spots we have - and our isolations, bringing us to the Kingdom where we see all thing in his light and all the world’s wounds are healed.
The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, "Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight.

Friday, 20 March 2020

End of the week thoughts --- 20 March 2020

Yes, "The Church has left the building." We cannot worship in community as we'd like, but we are still the church. We may not gather as we have a few weeks ago, but we are still the church. We are in separate buildings for the most part, but we are still the church. The Church is the people... and we are still around!

Christ the Physician, Healer of the World; have mercy on us!
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations  (Revelation 22:1-2)

"Justified and sinful at the same time." a Reformation touch-stone.
Rarely seen as a playing card.

Meister Eckhardt was a German church teacher in the Middle Ages before the Renaissance. Some of his teachings were less than orthodox... but I don't think we can argue with this one.

"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'Thank You',
that will be enough." 

Is this what Heaven is like? Who knows? But why not! I think it'd like it!
We attempt to control things all the time, ALL the time. Maybe in the midst of all our fears,
we might use this time to re-learn faith and un-learn control.
And for Pastor Bonhoeffer, it did... literally.
From the Celtic Christian tradition of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Cornwall.
It is my heritage and lineage. I often use this as my night prayer.
(That first letter is a "G" in Gaelic script.)
One last little thought, one that I'll include every time I send this. The times are troubled and in fact, they've ALWAYS been troubled. We might as well laugh. Talk to each other - over the fence or over the phone. Watch out for each other. Bake, think, read, and pray. Remember our shut-ins and the folks who live alone. Remember the medical professionals, the fire fighters, the police, and the ambulance crews who must face uncertain situations every day. Remember the workers at grocery stores who are working hard and facing the virus in anybody who might come in. Remember the truck drivers who continue to deliver our food and other necessities. Remember the people in the military and the border services in all they do. Please pray a brief prayer for your pastor once in a while.

Pray... wash your hands... and laugh.