Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

Month: August 2012

Back to Mark with a vengeance!

September is almost upon us, with another season of Lectionary musings in preparation for Sunday’s worship and sermon at Cedar Park.

This week, after a summer long lectionary diversion into the Gospel of John, and a Cedar Park month long diversion into a sermon series on Psalms,  we are back to the Gospel of Mark.  And boy, are we back!!  The text for this Sunday is a dream come true for preachers who will want to tell their congregation how ‘evil’ they all are.  I’m not one of those preachers, and you’re not those ‘evil’ people.  So we have quite the challenge on our hands to find “Good News” in this text that shows Jesus stiff-lipped and unfiltered in an argument with the Pharisees.

If you want to read the text, click this link:

If you got lost in those purity laws, couldn’t find the ‘parable’ or were disgusted by the catalogue of heart-hidden evils,  I don’t blame you.  My working title for this week’s sermon is “Dirty hands and a dish of red herrings”  – the text is full of them.   It’s also filled with typical Markan bluntness and exaggeration, a prime example being “for Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat without ritual washing of hands.”  Not all first century Jews engaged in such rigorous ritual practices, nor is it even a Biblical injunction for ordinary people (there is a stipulation  in Exodus 30 that temple priests wash before touching food offered in sacrifice).  Another ‘exagerration’ occurs in the NRSV translation: ‘unclean’ and ‘defile’ are strong, suggestive words, and perhaps misleading, because the words they translate are “koinos”  and its related verb, which means “to make ordinary” or “common.”   In other words, this isn’t a lesson in hygeine, but a fogged -up window into a religious culture far removed from our own, in which people wanted to come close to God’s house in a state of preparedness to meet the holy. But all this is a ‘red herring’  or a Markan ploy to set up such a strong contrast to the teaching Jesus is about to offer.

Trouble is, with the cultural and religious distance of 2000 years, we spend so much time trying to understand the distractions, we can easily miss the point.  Which I hope to uncover on Sunday in worship!  See you there? Or read the sermon on the Church website next week!.

News Item from General Council

Off topic for the usual posts on this blog, but for those who want to know more about the Anglican-United Dialogue work that I do for the UCC, you can watch this great interview with Bruce Myers, who is part of the Anglican delegation to the Dialogue.


Summer Psalms

Cedar Park is ‘into’ Psalms this August!

The Lectionary  we normally follow is in the middle of a long cycle of readings chronicling the life of David, and it seemed awkward to  try to jump in at mid-life,  so to speak, so we’ve decided to take the opportunity to open a window into this amazing collection of Hebrew song and poetry.

Some readers may well be aware that during my teaching ministry as an academic,  my graduate research centred on the how the Psalms were sung, prayed, interpreted, and translated during the tumultuous societal and religious changes of the period of the 16th Century Reformation.  Usually, the more frank of my friends will ask bluntly, “Why? What does that have to do with us now in the 21st century?”

In a tiny nutshell, here’s part of my answer; the 150 Psalms of our Bible are a songbook compiled over centuries, by people who were looking for the right words to express their relationship to God – known to them as Unknowable Mystery, Creator of the Universe, King, Lord, “Yahweh” -the Verbal God who is busy in the world alongside us. For upwards of three thousand years, new generations have discovered that these songs help them give voice to their own relationships with God, one another and the world, and that’s what fascinates me; the capacity of ancient songs to be sung in a new context of faith and life.

More than any other literature I know, the Psalms portray an honest relationship with the Divine, at times praising God’s handiwork, marvelling over God’s rescue of their ancestors, sighing with relief at God’s sustaining presence. At other times these song/poems express with poetic richness human  gratitude for healing or restoration,or forgiveness for the seemingly unforgiveable. But even more significant (to me at least!), this collection of Psalms is peppered with fear, outrage, anger, distress, agony, hatred, frustration, about life’s tragedies and injustices,  all expressed to the Divine.

I have often asked myself why it is that we rarely speak like that to God anymore?  Why do Christian communities behave as if God shouldn’t be exposed to our deepest hurts and agonies?”  How emotionally or spiritually impoverished have we become as humans because we have silenced our lamentation, denied our deepest doubts, and tamed our jubilation?”

Unfortunately, one answer to these questions lies in our worship habits.  The Presbyterian and Anglican denominations have maintained a stronger use of the Psalms in their weekly and daily worship services, but for many in our United Churches, the Psalms are often relegated to a ‘responsive reading’ in between two other Scripture readings, and that ‘reading’ is usually only a truncated portion of the ‘nicer’ psalms. Rarely do we get the chance to use them as poetry, or prayer, or song.

Soooo….!! For five weeks we’ll take this opportunity to discover the complexity, and richness of this spiritual lexicon of honest faith and doubt, dressed in powerful poetry.  Expect not just to hear or speak these Psalms, but to ‘taste and see’, and to touch and feel them in worship that will mine the riches to be found in the book of Psalms.

If you’re away on vacation,  you can read the posts  on this blog, check out the ‘extras’ on the “Summer Psalms” page (click the tab at the top of the screen)   AND you can catch up with the sermons on the CPU website at

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