You probably know someone that you don’t like very much. But you have to be around them. Maybe it’s a co-worker or someone in your family. You tolerate them, you grit your teeth, you try to be nice.Being with them is an exercise in patience.
But then one day something happens. You see another side of them. You see them being kind to someone in a way you never thought they could. Maybe they reach out and help you when you are down. Or maybe in conversation they reveal something about their past that sheds a whole new light on them for you.
I feel that’s what’s happening with me and the apostle Paul. Paul has been the writer of the New Testament that I’ve least liked to spend time with. I get frustrated with his arrogance, his big statements, his controversial writing about different topics that are dear to me.
But Paul is part of the New Testament family, and these past months while we’ve been studying the book of Ephesians. I’ve started to see a different side of Paul. The Paul who got knocked down by a blinding flash of light; a Paul who, because he was so wrong himself, is super eager to tell other people how they need to change.
Reading the Bible, and studying, and praying about this has changed my point of view! I encourage you to read through Ephesians before our service on Sunday, and get a feel for the letter he is writing. Maybe you want to come to church a few minutes early; there are booklets on your chairs with the whole letter in it.
This week`s prayer: God of grace, thank you for giving us Paul and his letters, help us to take to heart the counsel that he gives us.
This past week Jason and Murray and Alan and I got together and read pieces of the letter to the Ephesians. We are starting a sermon series on this letter, and each of us will be preaching. Reading together, praying for insight, and listening to each other’s thoughts are important ways that we absorb the gifts that this letter can bring into our lives.
Next week we will be starting a “Soup and Study” series on Thursday nights, from 6 to 7:30, where we will look at a chapter a week.
Why Ephesians? In the past couple of years, when I have had to do devotionals, or speaking engagements, over and over it’s this letter that jumps out at me, with strong words of wisdom. I wanted to delve deeper and learn more about what this letter has to offer. Studying it together as a community will, I think, be a rich experience.
As preparation for our service on Sunday, spend a few minutes reading through this short letter. What jumps out at you? What don’t you understand? What fills you with hope?
This week’s prayer: Bless us as we study together; draw us closer to you, and closer together as a community.
How often do you read your Bible? That’s a question that people react to quite differently. For some people, having that question posed to you, (especially by your minister), can result in a feeling that you might describe as guilt. The Bible is one of those parts of our lives that many people feel we should do more of. Just like we should eat healthier foods, and exercise more.
The theme of the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly I just attended in Vancouver was, “Dusting off the Bible for the 21st Century.” To talk about that topic presupposes that we can talk honestly about our relationship with the Bible. And I’m not sure it’s that easy to do.
Because many people feel that they should read their Bible, they may not always answer accurately when asked how often they read it (especially if it’s their minister asking). Sociologists have found that polling a population about church attendance rarely gets accurate results. That is, if people were really going to church as often as they say they are going to church, a lot more churches would have a lot more people in them. So ironically, one of the things we are most likely to lie about, are religious practices! (Incidentally, I had a friend who worked in a Christian book store, and they know from experience that the item most likely to be stolen, is the Bible! Who would steal a Bible?!)
People respond to questions about religious practices with answers they’d like to be able to give. In other words, what they are really saying is, “In an ideal world, I would be reading my bible regularly.” Or, “If I wasn’t so busy, I would be reading my bible more often.”
Just like we would all be exercising and eating properly! This week we are going to start tackling the topic of our relationship to the Bible. Dust off your Bible (if you have to), and come to church on Sunday!
This week’s prayer: For this book we give thanks! From all the people who love their Bibles, from all the people who would love their bibles if they had time, and from all the people who think they should love their bibles. Amen!
In our culture people don’t often call things holy, except in an irreverent way; “Holy cow!” “What an unholy mess!” or Robin’s famous line, “Holy cliffhangers, Batman!”
Yet we have a book, or maybe more than one copy of a book, in our house called “The Holy Bible”. What does it mean for a book to be a holy?
One woman told me that she went to a home where a small Bible was used under a table leg to keep the table from wobbling. Another man once told me of seeing a family use a big bible on a chair for a toddler to sit on, so they could reach the table. In both situations the observer told me how uncomfortable they felt, seeing the Bible put to a use like that… “It’s wrong! I was brought up to believe that the Bible is a holy book!” they said.
I think there’s a basic understanding that if you call something “holy”, you treat it with respect and reverence. In ancient Israel, the ark of the covenant was holy, and it was kept in a room called “The holy of holies”. It was so holy no one was supposed to touch it! Unfortunately in our world, too often people treat their Bibles that way, they don’t touch them for years!
Hopefully for us, calling a Bible holy means that we see it as a gift from God, a useful and important book in our lives. This Sunday I’m going to be talking about holy books; our holy books and the holy books of other religions. How do you treat someone else’s holy book?
This week’s prayer: Thank you for giving us the gift of the Bible; help us to realize what “holy” means!
When people are together for a long time they start to speak to each other with an inside voice. They use short forms and references that they don’t have to explain. For example in our church there might be an announcement about “MCC” and there won’t be an explanation that it is short for “Mennonite Central Committee”. We may talk about the story of the prodigal son, and not explain what we mean, assuming that everyone knows that story.
I remember participating in an inter-religious dialogue. A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian were all asked to share about the story of Joseph in Egypt and what it means to them. All three religions value this story as part of their scripture. I was asked to speak from the Christian perspective, and I shared about the importance of finding “good news” in this story, so that I could preach about it. I must have used the phrase “good news” fairly often, because after that talk a Jewish man came up to me. “You used that phrase ‘good news’ so often…what do you mean by good news?”
Meeting people who are different, who do not share our beliefs and vocabulary is always enriching and usually very challenging. These are people who walk in the doors of our church, and they are people we meet at work or at school. We have to give up our inside voice for a time, and get down to brass tacks! We have to speak in ways that everyone can understand. Sometimes when we do this, we realize that we have been using words without really being able to explain them. Sometimes when we do this, we realize in a new way how important the good news is.
This week’s prayer: Help me to be ready to witness to my faith with an outside voice; to share the good news I have received.
When I was a kid, I wrote the Queen of England once, asking for her autograph. You can imagine my excitement when I got a letter in the mail with a return address of “Buckingham Palace”. I was so nervous to open the letter. What would Queen Elizabeth have to say to me?
In the scripture we are reading this Sunday, from Jeremiah 29, the people of Israel are in exile, and they get a letter from the prophet Jeremiah beginning with the words, “Thus saith the Lord…” You can imagine their nervousness as they unrolled that scroll!
The words “Thus saith the Lord” are a bit antiquated. Eugene Petersen translates this into modern English, “This is the message from God…” If you got a letter from someone that began with the words “This is the message from God…” what would you think? Would you be eager to open the letter? Or skeptical that such a message would arrive? When you opened it, what would you be looking for?
This Sunday we’ll be thinking about messages from God, and how they match up with what we are looking for. I’ll see you there!
This week’s prayer: You are the one who is always looking for us; this week, help us keep our eyes peeled for messages from you.
I still remember story time at the library when I was a little girl. We would all gather round the librarian. She would sit on a small stool, and we would sit on little pieces of carpet all around her. She would read a story, and we would look at the pictures. She read the page and held the book up so we could all look at the picture, and then the page would turn, and then there was more of the story. As she read, it seemed like the room fell away, the children around me fell away, even the librarian fell away, and I was falling into the story. All I could see and feel and hear was the story. The book closing was an abrupt end to that little adventure in storyland.
Stories have the ability to draw us in, to carry us on. Stories that are real, that tell our history, are the most powerful stories. They remind us who we have been and who we are and who we can be. Refugees coming to this country hold on to stories carefully. A person who was well respected and established in their home country, suddenly becomes a nobody in a new country. They are displaced, disheartened, deprived of the ability to easily communicate. They often live in poverty. Stories are what hold them together, even when they are disregarded or treated with disrespect. They hold on carefully to the story of who they have been, who they are and who they can be.
This Sunday we’ll be talking about the power of the gospel story, particularly the gospel story told by Luke, the beloved physician. Take time to read Luke chapter 1 before you come to church. What adventure is beginning with this chapter? What does it say about who you have been, who you are and who you can be? I can’t wait to fall into the story and find out!
This week’s prayer: God, you are the Great Librarian, the Keeper of so many books, the Reader who tells the story we most need to hear. Draw us in to your story this week.