Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

Category: Lectionary Readings (page 2 of 2)

Earth Day April 22

Worship at Cedar Park tomorrow (April 22) will celebrate Earth Day, alongside organizations, groups and events in 175 countries around the world.   See you there!

The Moderator of the United Church of Canada, Mardi Tindal, will be hosting a live interactive webcast at 3pm Eastern on Sunday.  You can find the link to the webcast here:   The page also includes links to sites that suggest various ways to rise to the Earth Day challenge of living with respect in creation.

Resurrection happens!

On Easter Sunday morning, the congregation were agents of transformation and resurrection.  We had used a plain cross for our Palm-Passion Sunday  and Good Friday worship services the week before, but on Easter morning, each person in the congregation came forward with a daffodil to transform the symbol of death into a glorious testament to the Resurrection.

After the Service, the cross stood proud and joyful on our lawn for the rest of the day.


Thanks, Tom Kingsbury, for this photo.


Palm…. or Passion Sunday…. or both?

A version of this blog post appeared during Holy Week, 2010. I hope you’ll find it useful as we use our worship Service this coming Sunday (April 1) to “Walk through Holy Week.”

21-palm-branchesWhen I was a child, “Palm Sunday” was one of my favourite Sundays… children joined in the choir procession, we got to wave palm fronds (a decidedly romantic-exotic item in our Northern English parish), sing “Hosanna” at the top of our lungs.  It was the one Sunday  of the year where we kids were allowed to be heard as well as seen!  I think the sense of forboding of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, just a week before his execution, was lost on most of us under the age of 12. We truly were part of a jubilant crowd having no thought or concern for what would follow in the days ahead.

But, Palm Sunday in my childhood parish was also the beginning of a weeklong marathon of Church services:

  • “Stations of the Cross” on Wednesday night, (a Roman Catholic tradition in which parishioners walk around the church and stop to meditate and pray at various “stations” – graphic depictions of the events leading from the Last Supper to the placing of Jesus’ body in the tomb).
  • Thursday was “Maundy Thursday” with its bizarre ritual of footwashing.  (“Maundy” from the latin “mandatum” meaning “command”, it’s a reference to Jesus telling the disciples  (John 13:32) why he washed their feet, as a sign of the servant-love of Jesus, which we too must exercise: “A new commandment I give you; love one another”). You may want to check out the sermon for March 11, 2012 “It begins with a Towel”
  • “Good Friday” – a day drenched in sadness.  The Good Friday service was long, painfully so for a small kid, but nevertheless enthralling, graphic, tangible. crown of thorns While we read the version of the story from Luke in my home parish, Mark’s normal brevity is replaced by graphic bluntness in chapter 15. Mark even tells the time all the way through, “the third hour, the ninth sixth hour”… and so on.  When Jesus’ last words on the cross were read (15:37), the church bell rang slowly, nine times. Not another word was spoken, but a series of actions took place which spoke volumes:  the gold coloured altar cross was taken down and replaced with a very graphic ‘Crucifix’ complete with dying Jesus.  The organist played Stabat Mater  (an ancient hymn about Mary standing at the foot of the cross) while all the church banners were taken down, and women in the congregation covered all the statues (it was a Catholic church) with deep purple cloth. Even the baptismal font was emptied of its water, and draped in black cloth, something I found particularly sombre, full of forboding and dread.   We filed out of the church in silence, an unspoken rule that no-one conducted church business or gossip on the steps on this day.
  • Good Friday was also a ‘day of fasting and abstinence’ in my tradition. We ate no meat, no treats, no dessert. We made (but did not eat) Hot Cross Buns, the cross symbolism self-evident, the spices symbolic of the spices used on Jesus’ dead body, the raisins symbolic of the blood he shed.
  • Holy Saturday.  Was a long, draggy day, brightened only by eating the Hot Cross buns for breakfast. (In our house, still no meat on Holy Saturday).  Nothing happened that day until long after my normal bed-time, when we would be bundled back to church for the Easter Vigil, beginning at 10:30 pm, a service with lots of kneeling and silent prayer in a darkened church lit only by four small candles.  …Then…… ( What happens next belongs to Easter Sunday, so you’ll have to wait til next week for that!!)

The drama of Palm Sunday and Holy Week was powerful, visceral, evocative, dramatic, ‘liminal’ (hovering on the edges of holy and ordinary), and it had a profound impact on my faith, not only as a child, but I suspect also as an adult.  Although my understanding of God’s role in the ‘passion of Jesus’ has undergone transformation, it is still a story central to who we are as followers of “the Way” of Jesus Christ.  I am grateful to have grown up in an era  and in a tradition that ‘walked’ so graphically through Holy Week.

Perhaps all this liturgical drama was unnecessarily sombre?   I’ve wondered, but I don’t think so.  Life isn’t easy, while it has its measure of joy, delight, growth and wholeness,  it is as full of chaos, malevolence, injustice, hurt and hatred, suffering, grief, loss, despair.  This Gospel  narrative of Jesus’ last week, is the story of the hard side of human living. Perhaps this is the hardest part of the Gospel, one that on our best days we wish wasn’t there at  all, but it’s Gospel – “Good News” –  for the worst days.

At Christmas we celebrated the birth of Jesus as this miracle of God-with-us.   This week’s narrative tells us  that God-With-Us  will walk to the gates of Hell with us, will suffer injustice with us, will hurt physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally with us. God-With-Us. No Matter What.  It’s worth walking with God-With-Us, right through the palm-waving throng  best days, right through the last meal and betrayal  worst days, the dying days, the empty silent Saturdays, because when we do, we will, we most assuredly will, find ourselves on the threshhold of Easter…… but that’s next weeek!

Please can we have our Gospel back?

Well, it’s been quite the busy season at CPU!  So much for posting weekly reflections on the lectionary readings for Lent.  I do apologise to those of you who enjoy BeyondWoodand Stone  with a morning coffee. I hope you’re finding the Words for Faithful Living pages interesting as you ‘join in ‘ with the Wednesday evening Lenten Series via the web.

Last Sunday (March 18th) I preached on the John 3:14-21 text,  (the sermon: “Please can we have our Gospel back?”  is on the CPU website) and promised an explanation on this blog of some of the translation and textual issues.  Keep reading this post and you’ll find them here. But first a preamble.

Why the sermon title? “Please can we have our Gospel back?” is, in case you were wondering, polemic.  Even though I’m new to the role of congregational minister at Cedar Park, we’ve known each other long enough for me to be blunt once in a while (okay, a lot of the time!).   I am to be counted among those people who find much of what passes for Christianity in North America to be narcissistic, narrow minded, prosperity-oriented, bigoted, fear-driven.  So much so that I can sympathize with many of you who get a little nervous about the word “Christian.”   Quite a few years ago now, I decided that my model for being a ‘progressive’ Christian in North America would be the little child who stuck a finger in the dyke to stop the waters flooding the fields.   I am determined not to cede our land to a form of Christianity that threatens to overpower our culture with its narrow-mindedness.  This means that for me I will continue to use the moniker “Christian” even if it means I have to follow it immediately with a series of adjectives to distance myself from restrictive, exclusive religiosity.

So, when the lectionary gifts us with “John 3:16” I know I have a task on my hands:  is it possible to rescue this incredible Message of limitless, self-giving Love, from those who use it as a fence, and a battering ram.  I WANT the Gospel of this passage back!!  I want to be able to give it back to those who gather at CPU on Sundays, and those who ‘watch us via the web’, who join us, hoping that God has Good News for us.

Let me first give you the verse in question, in the KJV, since this is the one most of us learned by heart:

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now to promised word studies which I didn’t do in the sermon.  John3:16 has a few words that have not one possible meaning, but many.  1.The first on the list is “so” (KJV and NRSV translate the Greek ΟυΤω (outo) as “so”.  The trouble is, “so” has itself changed meaning in the 400 years since the KJV was printed.  Back in 1611 ‘so’ normally meant “in this way”, rather than the meaning it often has now, as an emphatic of degree, as in  “She loves her daughter ‘soooooo’ much….”.   For us to get a true sense of the opening phrase now, we need to translate outo   as “God loved the world in this way”.   This sets us up to read the next as a description of ‘the way God loves the world.”

2.”the world” sounds easy enough, until we realize that in John’s Gospel “the world” is code.  For the community of John, living in a time of great turmoil and persecution, from both Rome and from the Jews,  “the world” was code for all that was hostile to the newborn community of Jesus’ followers.  Perhaps to put it in terms we can grasp, it’s as if John writes “God loved all who are hostile, who are enemies, who haven’t a clue about Jesus, who are scared by his message, who’ve never heard his message, all who follow the rules of Empire……..”  –  Well, doesn’t that put a spanner in the works! God’s love is shown ‘in this way’ to all who DON’T get it!!  This isn’t the way God shows love to ‘insiders’, but to ‘outsiders’.

3.”gave” is right.  The Greek verb is not “to send”,  but rather the verb “to give” as one would give a birthday gift to a loved one. It’s a verb of love, intimacy and grace.   This is important when you see that in some parts of the Christian tradition, there is a sense that God “sent” Jesus to die on a cross because that ‘nasty world’ needed him to atone for all their nastiness.  Try imagining what it feels like to see this little verb ‘gave’ as a new parent holding out a newborn baby to you so that you too can hold that baby close to your heart.

4.”his only begotten son” is also right on.  The Greek takes two phrases, “the son, the only begotten”.  Again, imagine the intimacy of this statement.  A loved, only child.  We are not being set up for a contractual transaction, but for a beautiful love-scene.

5. “believe”.  A tricky little word because it can mean so much to so many.  There’s a long-standing tradition that “believe” is static. You’re presented with a series of propositions (many of them incredible!), and you are then asked to choose “do you believe this lot, or not?” The Greek noun/verb pistis/pisteuein is used a lot by Paul, and very rarely by John, so we have to be careful not to assume John means the same as Paul.  In John, the verb isusually one of “choosing to trust”  – so perhaps it means here “anyone who chooses to trust God”, which is ever so slightly more expansive in possibility than someone agreeing to a set of propositions.

6. “everlasting life”  or “eternal life”.  After two thousand years of Christians spending a lot of time on ‘the afterlife’, ‘heaven’ (or hell), ‘salvation’ or ‘damnation’, we would be forgiven for thinking that this term refers to what happens to the ‘believer’ after she dies.  It doesn’t.  In John 10:10, Jesus speaks of his coming so that ‘everyone may have life and have it abundantly’  – fullness of life is how we often refer to this.  The meaning in 3:16 is similar,  a life that is full.  This life, that is full, complete, or as I described it in the sermon: as if one instant is filled with eternity.   You may recall what it felt like in the first flush of true love, to spend what you thought was 3 seconds holding hands on the porch, only to discover that 3 hours have flown by in one another’s company.  Conversely, that a life-time of  loving can be so completely summed up when your beloved looks at you on your 86th birthday and says “I love you.”  There’s little doubt that for John,  ‘eternal life’ meant NOW as well as in the future, after death. BOTH/AND.


I’ll leave it to the sermon for you to see how, for me, this one verse is not a message about judgment, and ‘who’s in’ in a limited schema of salvation. But rather it is “GOSPEL” – Good News of the self-giving love of God for ‘the world’ -all of it.  The choice to trust is the only limitation placed in or on this verse.  God’s self-giving love is for all time, for all things, completely.  When we let go of limitation, and trust that God’s love is for all time, for all things, completely, we get one of those timeless instants of recognition that eternity, and love are now and for always.

It just takes some serious unpacking of baggage to see this beautiful treasure box, wrapped in the tissue of faith, ready for us to open.

God Blesses!!!





Lent 1: Singing in the Wilderness

Short post to include the paraphrase of Psalm 25:1-10 read in worship at Cedar Park for the First Sunday in Lent.  This psalm was likely written in the time of the Babylonian captivity, or shortly thereafter.  While not obvious in English, this psalm is an acrostic psalm, meaning that each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  We all know this is a helpful way to remember a long list, or a set of instructions, so we assume that it served a similar purpose with this psalm too.  One other feature of Psalms is their ‘doublets’ (not Shakespearean style costumes), or ‘echoes’.  Not content with saying something once, the psalm repeats an idea with slightly different phrasing: this is still obvious in the psalm, and this paraphrase makes it even more obvious. Enjoy!

  Psalm 25: 1-10
To you, Holy One, I lift up my soul.               
In my God, in you I trust,
I trust you to keep me safe from shame, 
and from the triumph of those who would do me harm.
                 Yes, keep me safe from falsifiers, those who can’t be trusted.
Set my feet on the right path,  Holy One,
                Yes, teach me which way to go.
 Lead me forward towards wholeness and truth,
                Teach me the paths,  O God of my salvation.
I put my trust in you, and wait the days long.
Don’t remember all the ways I’ve mis-stepped,
                God, forget the waywardness of my youth,
Instead, for the sake of your goodness, remember me.
                Because you are steadfast, remember me, not my faults.
Be teacher and Guide to me, all the days of my life,
                Lead me in the way that is good from this day to life’s end.
For all your paths are paved with steadfast love and faithfulness.
                Your covenant is the ground upon which we walk.

Naaman the Mighty Warrior!

First, thanks to the Healing Pathway ministry team for a spectacular dramatic reading yesterday in worship!   We will have to reprise this one day for the children of KidZone.

Now, to the text at hand. It comes from 2 Kings 5: 1-15.  This was a period in the life of the people of God when all their attempts to ‘be like everyone else in the region’ were falling flat.  Larger powers with more might, more soldiers, more firepower, were threatening on all sides. Among those threats, to the North, was Aram.  At first blush the story seems inconsequential, personal, a side-plot, and to some degree it is, unless we see it as one way to establish the ‘authority’ of the new prophet Elisha, who had (literally) assumed the mantle of that great prophet of the age, Elijah.

As so ably portrayed in our dramatic reading yesterday, it’s a mighty strange way to show Elisha’s authority. He says and does next to nothing in the story. Sends a couple of messages, but that’s about it.  But oh, what those messages do!!  The first is typically Old Testament prophetic; he tells the feckless King of Israel to stop throwing a hissy fit over something that he can’t do anything about!  “Power to heal doesn’t rest with you, Majesty, but with God!”  In similar fashion he takes Naaman down a few pegs too.  Naaman – the Mighty Warrior was used to people jumping to attention when he so much as coughed, so to be virtually ignored by this “man of God” doesn’t sit well with the leprous legionary.  Nevertheless, in two text messages, Elisha manages to lift the story into the realm of the mysterious Creator-Redeemer God, whose influence isn’t bounded by politics or geography, or by human notions of ‘power’.   The drip of water from healed hands signals the infinited capacity of God to mend, restore, heal, make new.

That’s worthy of our attention, don’t you think?


It’s almost over! (Reign of Christ Sunday)

A little known fact, even among Christians is that we work from a different calendar than the typical 12 month one. For Christians the “year” begins on the first Sunday of Advent, and runs through until “Reign of Christ Sunday.”  Which is this week, so yes, our Christian Year is almost over.   Perhaps it’s fitting then that the Gospel text for this Sunday is Matthew’s vision of Christ in Judgment at the end of time.   The end of a year is a popular time to ‘judge’ the year just passed,  but when we associate the word “judgment” with Christian religion, it takes on a much more ‘scary’ tone.

This passage (Matthew 25:31-46 has inspired artists to paint it in all is glory and horror (just do a google image search and you’ll see.   What I find even more frightening however, is the way that this text has been used within the Christian tradition to generate fear, to browbeat and guilt-trip people into submission in a way that runs completely counter to the original intent of this passage, which was to portray in vivid terms the Dream of God, which is the reconciliation of all creation to Godself.

Matthew doesn’t make this easy for us to see however, because he has a tendency to overdrawJesus’ teaching about judgment.  We have to remember that this particular Gospel was written in a climate of persecution and fear in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in CE 70. Matthew’s community was predictably defensive, and wary of both Rome and the Jewish communities which attacked them for their allegiance to “the Way” of Jesus of Nazareth. They were sensitive to the judgments of others, and desperate to show that their “Way” was in accordance with the teaching of Jesus.

Jesus is likely the originator of this vivid portrait, precisely because he is steeped in the Old Testament prophetic understanding of God’s Kingdom, where justice, the practice of mercy, and the protection of the poor are benchmarks of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people, and of the people’s faithfulness to God. As God has done for us, so God calls us to do for others.

Portrait is a good word to describe this text.  Unlike what most of us have been led to believe, this text is not a description, nor a prescription, nor yet a prediction of “what will happen.”  It is a parable. Yes. Let me repeat that. It is a parable. A word picture using vivid extremes to fuel our imaginations about what the Kingdom of God come among us looks like. The kingdom come among us is when not only God, but we are busy feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the prisoner and tending the sick. Those who are citizens of this God-Dream-Come-True are doing what God has been doing for us all along.  By contrast, the second half of the parable describes what the opposite will look like, and it is so ridiculously awful that no-one would choose to go there.

And that’s the point of a parable. Opening an imaginative window of possibilities that allow us to imagine ourselves in God’s Dream, and then to change or reorient our lives to make that dream come true.  Jesus tells the parable so that we have the opportunity to imagine and to choose to weave dreams with God and to build the kingdom of peace with justice, of compassionate love, along with Jesus and the company of the ‘blessed.”  This is a GOOD NEWS picture, if only we can jettison all that fearmongering that has encrusted it for so long.







Jesus the Jew.


This Sunday’s Lectionary reading from the Gospel continues the narrative crescendo of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ final week. You can read it at this link, or use your own Bible to look up Matthew 22:34-41.

He is in Jerusalem, and while wildly popular with ordinary folk from the villages, he has become a political and religious hot potato.  We need to remember the context of a tense truce in Judea.  The Roman occupiers allowed the Jews to hang on to their monotheistic religion – their worship of YHWH, rather than submit to the polytheistic religious machinery of Rome, but the price was high.  Anything that threatened that truce was treated as a threat to be quoshed.  Jesus’ Good News of the kingdom of God was treading very close to the line, if not overstepping it, and so not only Romans, but Jews who wanted to keep the peace were – to say the least – on edge.

This is why Jesus was hounded on all sides while in Jerusalem; he had come right into the epicentre of the complex accommodationist relationship with words and actions proclaiming God’s kingdom – a religious and political double whammy.  No wonder he was checked out from every angle: would he upset the fragile status quo, or not? The previous weeks’ passages see him fielding questions from all sides, but this week’s reading saves the best for last.  The Pharisees – the most devout, intelligent keepers of Torah within the Jewish religious landscape, sent one of their best –  a scholar of repute, to test Jesus: was he a righteous Jew or not? Did he know his Torah or didn’t he?  Was he leaving his religion behind?  Their question is both simple and significant, and gets to the heart of the matter: “Which is the greatest commandment? ”

A child of only a few years of age could have answered this question correctly.  Following the injunctions of the Torah, as laid down in Deuteronomy, every Jewish family made a point of teaching their children at a young age the central affirmation or prayer: the Shema (see above).

Hear O Isreal, the Lord our God, the Lord is One (the Hebrew is hard to translate into English: it can also be translated “the Lord our God, is God alone” implying no others, just God.). You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind.”  Or as Peterson puts it  You shall love God with all your passion, prayer and intelligence.

Mary would have taught Jesus this at her knee almost as soon as he could speak his own name. He would have prayed it at least once every day of his life. (He may have followed the practice of covering his eyes with his right hand as he said it, too).

Why would it take an eminent scholar to ‘test’ Jesus with such a simple question? What would have happened if he had not known, or chosen not to respond, with the right answer? Often the hardest dilemmas are best met with the simplest of questions.  This is the case here. Was Jesus a Jew? Was he something else?

For many Christians, to say Jesus was a Jew sounds ‘wrong’. But it is of crucial importance not only to Matthew’s (predominantly Jewish) community, but to the followers of Jesus ever since.  The God whose kingdom, whose dream is ‘at hand’, or “close by” or “among us”, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Sarah, Rebekah, Miriam.  The God whom Jesus addressed with the most intimacy possible, was the God of Isaiah, Jeremiah, of Nahum and Habbakuk.  The Covenant God, the Creator God, the Rescuer and Redeemer God, the One, true, only God.

To dismiss the Jewishness of Jesus’ response is to cut ourselves (as Christians) off at the knees, and our understanding of God will be radically diminished.  Jesus’ “Jewish” response is vital to who we are as his followers, for we too become inheritors of the faith tradition that formed him, his stories of faith become ours, and we find ourselves anchored into a three millennia testimony to the faithful connectedness of God in the lives of God’s beloved human creatures.  No longer are we exposed and vulnerable to our own little stories, but we find ourselves, like Jesus, rooted in a deep, deep tradition of God’s faithful love.  And with that it’s easier to face down the bombardments of questions and fears in our own lives.

May it be so (Another way of saying “AMEN!”)


Embodying the Lord’s Prayer

Two versions of the Lord’s Prayer are found in the New Testament: Matthew 6:9-13  and Luke 11:2-4.

Here’s a wonderfully helpful description from Paul Bosch of how to put our whole body into praying the “Lord’s Prayer”.   (Thanks to Mary Hess for the link)

It’s nopsalm 63t just great for Kidzone- age folks, but for us “older” children of God too.

Maybe we should try it out  sometime?

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