Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

Category: Gospels (page 1 of 2)

Summer Sundays

IMG_3278I’m sitting outside on my deck as I write this, listening to a noisy cardinal, and the squeals of delight from children in a neighbour’s pool.  I’m also reading into the lectionary texts for these Summer Sundays, and I find myself almost (but not quite) wishing I could preach them all – but I’m thankful for a few weeks’ respite from the pulpit, and chance to simply enjoy reading the texts for their own sake.

If you want to try doing the same, while you’re away on vacation, sitting on your own decks, or by a lake, or on a beach, here’s a link to a lectionary website where you can follow the sequence of texts for the July weeks we are in Sabbath mode.

Some of my own musings on some of the texts are below.  Add your own questions and comments at the bottom of the page!

July 14 – Luke 10:25-37.  The Good Samaritan.

Cedar Parkers will know we snuck this reading in early, on June 16, as the text for our celebration of the KidZone year. The children and some of their teachers did a wonderful dramatic presentation of the story – with Sami McLaren as the “Samaritan Woman(!), and Will Smith as a convincing ‘lawyer’ outsmarted by Jesus.   The “aha!” from the dramatic presentation of this text for me was about how we get to love God and neighbour with our whole heart, mind, soul, strength;  it looks like a stranger stopping to help out another stranger.  Haven’t we seen that in spades in the last week or so, in places like High River, Calgary, Canmore, and closer to home, in Lac Mégantic?  How might you be using your heart, mind, soul, strength to love neighbour (and stranger), during these summer weeks?  I am certain you are!


July 21 -Luke 10:38-42  (Martha and Mary) and Genesis 18:1-12  (Entertaining Strangers at Mamre)

– News Flash!  I am preaching at St John’s for this Sunday.

I am so glad I get to preach this week, because the Genesis reading is one of my favourites (I know, they’re all my favourites!).  First, Luke.  Very often we use the names of these two women who hosted Jesus at their home, as models for Christian women.  Are you a Martha? (Practical, hospitable, doing the dishes while everyone else natters into the night?)  Are you a Mary? (Serenely sitting at the feet of Christ, contemplating the mysteries of faith?) Does Martha get a bum rap in this story?  Can we allow ourselves to be not a little ticked at Jesus for apparent ingratitude towards the apron clad Martha?  All great questions.  Here’s a few more….. Is this only a win-lose story, or are there other legitimate interpretations? Is this a story about focus or distraction? (Even the best Marthas, who begin so well  by busily serving Jesus, can get worried, flustered and overwhelmed when the busyness takes over and causes us/them to lose sight of the reason why we’re busy serving Christ in the world in the first place.  Isn’t that the story of the churches, in every age?!!  What do you think?

As for the Genesis reading – Sarah laughed!! So would I if I were to overhear the strangers speaking to her husband while eating at her table.  Her laughter is poignant, sad, perhaps embittered laughter at the incredible, outlandish, ridiculously stupid (to her) promises these strangers are making.   Hers is the cynical laughter of one who cannot see a way forward against impossible odds, directed at those who can, and directed at God.   Where do we see ourselves in this story?  What impossible promises of God do we laugh at? Can we imagine God’s fidelity in the face of the real crises of our life? How might this story help us to rekindle faith. (Clue: read  Genesis 21 and see what happens to Sarah’s laughter!).

Let me know what your questions are about this text, and they will help me prepare for my sermon for July 21.


Enjoy your Summer Sundays!


What a lot of wonderful wine! (John 2:1-11)

Without giving too much away about this week’s sermon,  it reflects the boggling of my mind when I read in a commentary how much wine 6  times 30 gallon purification jars can hold!

John is the only Gospeller of this story, which makes some grey-brained scholars very skeptical about its basis in historical fact.  That may be so, but let’s for pity’s sake, not p**p the party!!  This story of wine-filled happiness, abundance and blessing is trying to tell us religious folk something we’re long overdue to hear.

Wine makes many appearances in Scripture, almost always as a potent symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness AND,  God’s determination that life be graced with abundance and joy.

I had occasion a few years ago to walk with a vinter through his ripening crop.  The ground was baked hot and hard, and was filled with small rocks. The wizened, gnarly plants crawled bare stemmed out of the ground up a trellis of rusting wire. If you look at the lower two to three feet of a vine trellis, you’d be convinced that nothing much would come of such a spindly, scrawly start. But at shoulder height it all changes.  Leaves larger than my palm exploded from the vine, rich and green, veined and succulent… no wonder the Greeks learned to make dolmades with them, they look and are tasty! In among those luscious leaves is the jewel in the vine, hefty purple pearls bunched in clusters, each one an explosion of sugar sweet tart juiciness.

No wonder this amazing fruit, that can squeeze water from the rock of dusty, arid, rocky clay, or sandy loam and turn it into gold or purple juice,  has become the symbol bar none of the way God blesses this world.  The vine doesn’t need succulent perfection to make its fruit, and neither does God need perfection from us in order to shower is with blessing, and more to the point, turn us into wine for the world!

Leaving aside, with respect, the temperance heritage of our UCC ancestors of the Methodist persuasion for just a moment, if wine is permissible in your household, pour yourself a glass with dinner tonight. Savour its bouquet, taste, and remember,…. this is what grace tastes like, what blessing looks like.  Be blessed and enjoy!




Advent 3: John the Baptist

His name is John.
A tough life he’s led,
        partly by choice,
        to be sure.
His daily companions, honey bees,
and a rude belching camel,
who, when she finally breathed her foul-mouthed last,
gave up her pelt to cover his back
through the icy chill of  desert nights.
        Oh yes, the desert freezes.
The sun beats down, baking to a crisp all day,
chapping lips and drying tears, and salting cheeks
so that the night frost can then bite to the marrow,
and chill the soul to a new awareness of mortality.
John is his name,
wildman his calling.
It’s no wonder,
      given his birth to a silenced priest and a wise crone
      both convinced by an angel that he was
formed awefully,  fearfully in his mother’s womb
expressly to overthrow
the comfortable numbness of quietism,
to uproot hypocrisy with scorching speech as searing as the desert sun
and to foretell divine judgment with the icy candour of a desert moon.
John is his name
“Repent!” is his logo.
Prophet is his uniform:
mat-haired, stick-ribbed John.
Baptizer is his trade.
Waist deep in the rocky Jordan,
thrusting  heads under brackish water,
clutching slick, newborn hands
grasping for air,  for life,
all the while scanning the
desert sands for that narrowest of highways
upon which the sandalled feet of God’s Anointed
would trample
all injustice in his Advent.
                                                                 ©Elisabeth  R. Jones, 2008, 2012

It’s almost over!

We have two weeks left in the year! (The lectionary year, that is). Next week “Reign of Christ” marks the end of the lectionary journey which began late last November with the season of Advent, the time of anticipation of the birth of the Christ child. After a short season of “AHA!” (Epiphany) and celebration of God’s coming here in flesh and bone, we moved quickly through Lent to the death of this man Jesus, to be surprised again on Easter Sunday with the news that death was not the final act, but the beginning of a world-changing faith.  Pentecost filled us with the light and firey inspiration of the Spirit of God,  and launched us into the looooong season after Pentecost, where we explored Mark’s Gospel account of a Jesus on the move, in a burning rush to proclaim the Dream of God, and now, all of a sudden, it’s almost over!

Mark’s Gospel has been a rough and tumble read, Mark’s Jesus is not a patient or gentle soul, but a passionate one, on fire with conviction that God’s Dream – of  human communities mirroring God’s compassion, jGod’s ustice, God’s gift of equity based on common humanity, rather than humanly constructed inequity based on greed –  was the only way to live in a world of empires, selfishness and fear.  We might hope for a simple summary from Mark, a moment of quiet teaching and encouragement from Jesus, but not. What we get is “a little apocalypse”.  (Mark 13:1-8) Rumours of wars, end-time signs, a real sense of ‘imminent danger’ a code-orange type text deliberately designed to unsettle… Thanks at lot, Jesus, via Mark!  I hope you can join us on Sunday to see what we do with this apocalypse; if you can’t you will find the sermon posted on our church website by mid week.

Meanwhile, perhaps you’ll find encouragement from the second reading for this Sunday – Hannah’s Song. It’s in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, and you can click the link here.  If you hear echoes of Mary’s Magnificat in this song, you’d be right.  I like to imagine that Hannah’s song was passed down from mother to daughter for generations, a precious pearl in the spirituality of women, shaping a womanly awe at the God-given miracle of every human birth.  For those of you who are mothers, or the husbands or sons of mothers, imagine the miracle of your own birthings, and see if you don’t find yourself written and sung into the verses of this song.  What verses might you add from your own experience??


Daily Bread

This Sunday we finish our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer.  You can find all the previous sermons on the CPU website,  This  Sunday we look at the deceptively simple petition ” Give us this day our daily bread.”  Until reading John Dominic Crossan’s book on the Lord’s Prayer, I had not fully appreciated the radical nature of this  request for daily bread.  Jesus’ prayer petition for daily bread is set in the context of his own “mealtime ministry” which itself is set in the context of Roman policies of  food taxation, where “daily bread” was anything but a certainty for most.

Crossan shows that Jesus’ repeated shared meals, in which he is seen repeatedly “taking, blessing, breaking and sharing” the food staples of the region, serve to remind everyone that  the bounty of creation is God’s, given for the good of all, (rather than to be taken by Roman and given to a few).  We see this clearly in the feeding of the multitude parable-miracle stories in all four Gospels, and most clearly in Mark’s first feeding narrative in Mark 6:32-46.  While it has been a longstanding interpretive tradition to ‘spiritualize’ these stories, but in the fragile food security of first century Galilee, and 21st century global food crises, these stories are about real hunger.   What is even more striking in Mark’s narrative is the way Jesus never takes away the responsibility of the disciples to respond to that hunger with what they have.   It is by disciples -then and now – taking what we have, blessing it (acknowledging that it is a gift of a creative generous God, breaking  and sharing, that the staples of the earth  can be distributed equitably, for the common good, to the hungry.

In today’s sermon I invite Cedar Parkers to think of the ways in which we too  already “take, bless, break and share” God’s gifts  of daily bread in our ministries both within and beyond our wood and stone.  AND, to imagine how Jesus is showing us new possibilities for living this very concrete, practical, petition in the Lord’s Prayer, to “Give us (i.e. all people), this day our daily bread.”

Use the comment box to share your insights, questions, proposals.  I look forward to your responses!

The Kingdom of God on Earth

This Sunday, Oct 21, we continue our Sermon Series on the Lord’s Prayer.

What comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘kingdom’?  Is it knights in shining armour, or the pomp and circumstance of a royal wedding? Or something less romantic – sinister even? Images of traditionalism, classism, even sexism? Not for nothing does the writer of the Old Testament book of Daniel insist on using the term “kingdom” to describe the  Dream of God.   He knows his listeners and hearers have imaginations stuffed full of empires past and present, of fiercely armed warriors from Persia or Macedonia, of parades of military might, and social oppression of 95% of the population.

“BUT”, he says, “the kingdom of God is like none of these! Where you see might and violence, God’s kingdom is one of peace. Where the kingdoms of this earth oppress the poor, God raises them up to a place of honour….” and so the picture goes on.

This Danielic vision fuelled the spiritual imagination of Jesus of Nazareth. When came back from the wilderness, preaching that the Kingdom of God is here, close at hand, he too set up the vision of God’s kingdom in direct contradistinction to the ruling Empire of Rome.

If this is the case, then whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer ” Thy kingdom come”, we have some imaginative reversals to conduct before we can grasp the import of what we’re saying. Asking for God’s Kingdom to come has nothing to do with mighty armies, or structures of governance, or violent overthrow.  Jesus’ images of the Kingdom of God on earth involve widows and a tiny coin,  small seeds that grow into trees, the yeast that leavens a loaf of bread, the catch of fish that has all sorts of species, great and small, of night-time prayers, and roadside meals. The kingdom of God is populated by lepers, mentally ill, physically disabled, foreigners, widows, children, and tax collectors. The kingdom of  God works subversively under the nose of oppressive regimes to create fellowship and freedom.

As you pray for the kingdom of God on earth, of what does your heart’s prayer consist? For what do you hope and pray?

Comments will be a wonderful addition to this post.  Please add yours!

Jesus the Pastor

This coming Sunday (Sept 30) the Middle Zone kids will be exploring the Gospel of Mark 9:37-50.  You can read it here:

There are two scenes in this episode in the life and times of Jesus the Preacher of the Dream of God (Mark 1: )we see Jesus the pastor and then preacher in action. (I’m not going to talk about Jesus the preacher in this post, I’ll save that for later!)

The first scene, where Jesus is pastor, is comical really, in the way that great comedy points through humour to a deep truth.  He’s making headway teaching the disciples about this upside down dream of God where the last are celebrated, and the little people are treated like kings, he’s teaching them that the sick and old and young are not to be cast aside – as happens in a kingdom where the human is valued only for her or his capacity to produce or work.   He’s sent them off to ‘live the dream’ – to heal the sick, to welcome the outcast, and he’s probably sighing contentedly, only to have that interrupted by John, who comes rushing up to him in a tizzy.

“Hey, Jesus, there’s this man who’s doing kingdom work, only he isn’t wearing your logo! You’ve got to tell him to stop!!”  Jesus’ answer is what we’d expect: ” Why would you stop someone doing good in the world, just because they are not ‘one of us’?”   We get the wisdom, we get the consistency of message…. but do we really?   It got me thinking about how  I have tended to criticize certain global outreach organizations because they don’t share my theology…..and of the tendency to assume that the Seminary I was teaching at was the only one that could do the job right…… and of the possibility that we might think that the Gospel is really only happening where ‘we’ are, and not where ‘those others’ are.

You see where this is taking me?  It’s all too easy to want to see our way astheway.    But when we do,  what do we lose?  We lose a sense of the expansiveness of this dream of God, we lose a sense of the possibilities of it actually making a difference if we share the dream with people who dream it slightly differently.   We lose a sense of being part of a much larger movement for healing wholeness than can possibly be contained in our tiny corner of the world.  We lose the ground for hope.

Why did I say Jesus was “pastor” in this incident? Because his response to John was truthful and challenging, but the way he offered truth and challenge was also empowering and encouraging. Jesus opened up for John a broader, more hopeful disposition to the world, and that, at heart, is the ‘role’ of the pastor.  To point to the dream of God and invite others  to become part of it in ways that enrich their own lives, as well as the life of the world.

Thank you Jesus, for reminding me.


Identity matters (Pentecost 16 Sept 16)

The Gospel for this coming Sunday is Mark 8:27-38. You can read it at this link:

There is so much going on in this text it’s hard to know where to begin, or stop! I’ve said before Mark is not a waster of words, so every one in this passage is like an iceberg, deep and holding a LOT of water! What follows is a ‘stream of consciousness’, snippets of thoughts that may provoke your own.

Jesus is on the road -again! this time in the Roman ‘model city’ of Caesarea Philippi. Built over an older town, this piece of Herodian hubris was built to impress the locals with his Romanized power, and to try to impress the Romans with his emulation of their style.  Jesus’ question “Who do (those) people say I am?”  is worth asking in that context;  who do the Romanizers think Jesus is? People looking for hand-me-down power from Rome are not likely to think too highly of this preacher, healer, teacher of the very Hebrew God. All his talk of a kingdom of God is as oppositional as the current round of sovereinty talk in Quebec.  Fans and haters. Few on the fence.

And what’s with that condemnation of Peter for getting it right, for once??  8 chapters and finally someone gets it – Jesus is the Christ – God’s anointed one!  Jesus should be ecstatic, not ‘stern’, and certainly not vitriolic!   Something’s going on here, and this is likely where my sermon will take us on Sunday, so do come and see where this question leads us.

Another question that puzzles me is the connection between that initial question about Jesus’ identity, and his sermon in the second half of the passage about ‘denying self’ and ‘losing life’.  Often the two parts are divorced from one another, and I’m not at all sure that they should be.   I’m less convinced that this is about ‘sacrificial Christianity’ than about choices we make about our identity.  Are we going to be defined by “people”  or by “culture”,  constrained by the values of whatever society we live in,  or is the question of identity a call to look deep within, to that place where we know ourselves to be a unique, beloved child of our Creator?  What happens when society’s definition of us is not consistent with this essential core?  (You’re ‘old’ , when you don’t feel old, for example).

Yet again this Gospel digs really deep, while at the same time remaining firmly grounded in a real, flesh and bones world of choices and consequences.

Thanks for reading!




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!.

It’s that Shepherd again!


The fourth week of Easter is always “Shepherd Sunday”, in all three lectionary years!!

(Those compilers of the Lectionary must have really liked this metaphor of God and of Jesus!)

This Year B version of Shepherd Sunday uses as its texts,   John 10:11-8 and Psalm 23. You can find them(and the passage from Acts)  at this link:

It makes life as a preacher a bit challenging though…. how many times can you preach on ‘dumb, ornery sheep’ without it getting, well, repetitive??    This time last year, our interim minister, Rev. Ron, was off on sick leave, and I stepped in to preach…”Shepherd Sunday”, so I’ve already done the “sheep are stupid, and we’re the sheep” sermon.  I don’t think I should do it again so soon, do you?!  So here I sit, Friday morning, asking myself what I shall discover in the texts this year.  The danger, for someone with a very low threshhold for boredom (that’s me), is to seek novelty for novelty’s sake, rather than “host the text” long enough for deep wisdom to emerge in our mutual encounter.

I used that phrase last week “hosting the text.”  It’s a gift from a friend and colleague from BC, Rev. Ed Searcy, who attributes it to his mentor, Walter Brueggemann, one of my favourite authors on the interpretation of Scripture. “Hosting” these texts for a few weeks has helped me to appreciate the beauty of the cadences of the  23rd Psalm, and its power to speak into the Shadowed, Death Valleys a word of confidence in God.

The Gospel reading it seems to me is a double layer cake (rich dark chocolate, with subtle hints of coffee, and red wine).   Although John situates this “I am” statement of Jesus in themiddle of his teaching and healing ministry, and therefore before his death, it is really a word of ‘confidence in God’ (like the Psalm), spoken to the small, embattled, newborn, community of John in the years after  Jesus’ death, and also likely after all hell broke loose in Jerusalem, Judea and Palestine in the wake of the Roman destruction of the city, temple and any last pockets of Jewish (and new Christian) resistance to Roman rule.  Those were tough times, they were fraught with anxiety and danger. Followers of Jesus had no friends to protect them from Rome, or from the continuing Jewish religious movement.  Where would they go? Was Jesus still worth following in this climate of persecution?

In this context, the promise that the risen Christ is one who has already laid down his life to keep God’s Dream of abundant life available to all, takes on fresh potency.  God’s Dream is worth the agony for them, as it was for Jesus.  (This is NOT about Jesus paying some hostage price, but simply living passionately a dream, and a love for God and God’s people so intently that he would  spend his life for this passion and dream.)  Resurrection is only powerful if people somehow experience the power of life over death and fear for themselves, and these words are meant to help that first community, and ours,  ‘connect’ with that power of life over fear and even death,  the power of Love and Life that outlasts crucifixion and funerals, that we experience in the aftermath of the death of a loved one,  or even a revered one, such as a Martin Luther King.


Shepherd was a metaphor that worked for Judeo-Christians in the first and second century. Perhaps it’s not such a ‘realistic’ analogy in our day, so we have to work a little harder to get the fullness of its meaning and potential.  “I will never leave you, or lead you astray” is at the core of this message from the risen Christ to them, and to us.     If that’s what it means, I’m okay after all, that “it’s that Shepherd again!” He’s a welcome, presence after all.


See you Sunday, or on the comments page!



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