October 1979 and October 2009

Our wedding at St. Jude’s Anglican Church, Thornton, Ontario – October 13th 1979.

Official welcome by the Rev. Ken Burningham at a pot luck lunch held for us at Church of the Acension, Arborfield, Saskatchewan – first Sunday in November, 1979.

Our ‘little house on the prairie’. We lived in Arborfield from November 1979 to August 1984.

Our 30th wedding anniversary supper at the Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon, October 13th 2009.

Pot luck supper with some of the folks at the Church of the Ascension, Arborfield, October 15th 2009, to celebrate the 30th anniverary of our arrival in the community that would become so special for us and for our family.

Sermon for Thanksgiving Weekend: Matthew 6:25-34

Joy, Trust, and Focus

(I got a lot of help with this sermon from Tom Wright’s little book Matthew for Everyone).

In our Gospel for today there’s one word that gets repeated over and over again: the word ‘Worry’. Not that worry is something that Jesus is recommending! Rather, it’s something that he’s warning us against. He says in verse 25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear”. And again in verses 27-28: “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothes?” And again in verse 31, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’” And finally in verse 34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today”.

Now if you’re like me, you find this a little hard to take. C.S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia stories, was a devout Christian, but he admitted that his whole life long he struggled against a tendency to be a worrier. Commenting on this passage, he often wrote to his correspondents, “If God wanted us to live like the birds of the air, it would have be nice for him to have given us a constitution that was more like theirs!” I’m sure that you can sympathise with Lewis; I know I can. Like him, I tend to be a worrier. “Don’t worry – be happy” sounds great in theory, but how do you actually put it into practice? Many of us have become compulsive worriers, and the habits of a lifetime are hard to break. To us, Jesus’ saying in verse 25 – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life” – sounds like a pipe dream.

I think we need to begin by recognising that, in this as in every other instance, Jesus practised what he preached. He does not seem to have been a person who worried a great deal; he lived his life on the principle of trusting his heavenly Father, and he tried to teach his followers to do the same. And I would go so far as to say that this made him, so far as we can tell, basically a happy person.

Yes, I know, there’s an old prophecy that said the Messiah was going to be ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’. We know that when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and when he went to his death on the cross, the whole weight of the suffering of the world seemed to descend on him, so that his spirit was as dark as the sky around him. And we know that he wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and that he was sad when people refused to trust God and see the wonderful things God was doing.

But these moments are exceptions. As we read a passage like today’s gospel, we should see that it flows straight out of Jesus’ own experience of life. And I would like to suggest to you this morning that there are three basic attitudes that are at the heart of Jesus’ experience of life, three attitudes that are reflected in this passage: joy, trust, and focus.

Read the rest here.

C.S. Lewis on the Bible

I’ve been gradually re-reading my copy of the three volume ‘Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis’. Lately I’ve come across a few of his thoughts on the authority and inspiration of the Bible – thoughts that seem relevant to a discussion some of us have been having over at connexions. I post Lewis’ thoughts here (hopefully I don’t run into copyright trouble!).

First, in a letter to Mrs. Johnson, written on November 8th 1952, Lewis says:

It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our ancestors too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and read without attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.

Second, in a letter to Janet Wise on October 5th 1955, Lewis has this to say:

My own position is not Fundamentalist, if Fundamentalism means accepting as a point of faith at the outset the proposition ‘Every statement in the Bible is completely true in the literal, historical sense’. That would break down at once on the parables. All the same commonsense and general understanding of literary kinds which would forbid anyone to take the parables as historical statements, carried a very little further, would force us to distinguish between (1.) Books like Acts or the account of David’s reign, which are everywhere dovetailed into a known history, geography, and genealogies, (2.) Books like Esther, or Jonah or Job which deal with otherwise unknown characters living in unspecified periods, and pretty well proclaim themselves to be sacred fiction.

Such distinctions are not new. Calvin left the historicity of Job an open question and from earlier, St. Jerome said that the whole Mosaic account of creation was done ‘after the method of a popular poet’. Of course I believe the composition, presentation, and selection for inclusion in the Bible, of all books to have been guided by the Holy Ghost. But I think he meant us to have sacred myth and sacred fiction as well as sacred history.

Mind you, I never think a story unhistorical because it is miraculous. I accept miracles. It’s almost the manner that distinguishes the fictions from the history. Compare the ‘Once upon a time’ opening of Job with the accounts of David, St. Paul, or Our Lord Himself. The basis of our Faith is not the Bible taken by itself but the agreed affirmation of all Christendom: to which we owe the Bible itself.

Thirdly, in a letter to Clyde Kilby on May 7th 1959 (written in answer to Kilby’s asking for his thoughts on the Wheaton College statement on the inspiration of the Bible), Lewis says:

To me the curious thing is that neither in my own Bible reading nor in my religious life as a whole does the question in fact ever assume that importance which it always gets in theological controversy. The difference between reading the story of Ruth and that of Antigone – both first class as literature – is to me unmistakable and even overwhelming. But the question ‘Is Ruth historical?’ (I’ve not reason to suppose it is not) doesn’t really seem to arise until afterwards. It would still act on me as the Word of God if it weren’t, so far as I can see. All Holy Scripture is written for our learning. But learning of what? I should have thought the value of some things (eg. the Resurrection) depended on whether they really happened: but the value of others (e.g. the fate of Lot’s wife) hardly at all. And the ones whose historicity matters are, as God’s will, those where it is plain.
Whatever view we hold on the divine authority of Scripture must make room for the following facts:
  1. The distinction which St. Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 7 between ‘yet not I but the Lord’ (v.10), and ‘I say, not the Lord’ (v.12).
  2. The apparent inconsistencies between the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 2: between the accounts of the death of Judas in Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18-19.
  3. St. Luke’s own account of how he obtained his matter (Luke 1:1-4).
  4. The universally admitted unhistoricity (I do not say, of course, falsity) of at least some narratives in Scripture (the parables) which may well also extend to Jonah and Job.
  5. If every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights, then all true and edifying writings, whether in Scripture or not, must be in some sense inspired.
  6. John 11:49-52. Inspiration may operate in a wicked man without his knowing it, and he can then utter the untruth he intends (propriety of making an innocent man a political scapegoat) as well as the truth he does not intend (the divine sacrifice).

It seems to me that 2 and 4 rule out the view that every statement in Scripture must be historical truth. And 1, 3, 5, and 6 rule out the view that inspiration is a single thing in the sense that, if present at all, it is always present in the same mode and to the same degree. Therefore, I think, rule out the view that any passage taken in isolation can be assumed to be inerrant in exactly the same sense as any other: eg. that the numbers of O.T. armies (which, in view of the size of the country, if true, involves continuous miracle) are statistically correct because the story of the Resurrection is historically correct. That the overall operation of Scripture is to convey God’s Word to the reader (he also needs His inspiration) who reads it in the right spirit, I fully believe. That is also gives true answers to all the questions (often religiously irrelevant) which he might ask, I don’t. The very kind of truth we are often demanding was, in my opinion, never even envisaged by the Ancients.

Lewis’ statements here seem to me to embody his usual sanctified common sense, and they have helped guide my own reading of the Bible for some time now.

St. Francis

Steve London preached about St. Francis at the ordination service at our cathedral Sunday night. It was an inspiring sermon – probably one of the best ordination sermons I’ve ever heard. And it got me thinking about Francis again, which I haven’t done for a while.

Marci and I have a history with St. Francis. Back in the early 1980s, when we were living in the little town of Arborfield, Saskatchewan, we first read his story and heard some wonderful songs about his life by John Michael Talbot. We were inspired by the simplicity of his life, and we actually gave away a lot of stuff and tried to live in the Franciscan spirit ourselves. Later on I had friends who were members of the Third Order of St Francis and I was blessed and challenged by the way they lived their lives. In more recent years I have been touched and inspired by the Anabaptist way of following Jesus, which bears a lot of similarities to the way of Francis.

In his sermon, Steve drew out the most obvious and impressive feature of Francis’ life – that is, the degree to which he followed the teaching of Jesus and put it into practice. He literally sold all his possessions and gave all he had to the poor, and then went and followed Jesus. He embraced ‘Lady Poverty’ and lived as a beggar, while joyfully preaching the gospel of Christ and caring for the poor and the sick. It was this mark of joy that Steve stressed; Francis and his followers embraced a life of poverty and suffering, and yet in the midst of it they found the extravagant joy of Christ.

But Steve also brought out the challenge of Francis; he admitted that he admired and loved Francis ‘from a distance’. He said that when he thought of the things that gave him security – his home, his pay cheque, his pension plan and benefits – and then thought of what might happen if Jesus asked him to give them up, he was not sure what he would do. And yet, he said, Francis has moved over that line and given up everything.

Of course, Francis didn’t live his life of Christian discipleship in the midst of family responsibilities, which is what makes him such a troubling figure for people like us. He talks of literally following Jesus, selling everything, giving to the poor, living the mendicant life, and holds it up as the ideal, the best way of following Jesus. We are inspired by him, but few of us literally follow his example. In some ways, it would be easier if we could. What we try to do is to live by the spirit of Christian discipleship which he exemplified, but in the context of our very different responsibilities in the world.

As I reflect on this I’m reminded of one of Richard Foster’s books, Money Sex, and Power. In this book Foster reflects on the three traditional monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; they are, he says, a response to the three issues of money, sex, and power, and the response is ‘no, no, no’! But is it possible to give a more measured response to the question and yet still be a faithful follower of Jesus?

This issue was of course also a part of the spirituality of the early Anabaptists. Like Francis, they sought to live a life of following Jesus in close obedience to his teaching and example. However, unlike him, they did not follow a monastic model or take monastic vows; they continued (with a few notable exceptions) to live in their own homes and families, but tried to follow the gospel principles of simplicity, honesty, and love for enemies in a life of Christian discipleship.

Steve’s sermon challenged me to think again on the example of Francis, not only as a way of discipleship but also as a model for Christian ministry. Francis’ simplicity, his love for God, his obedience to the teaching of Jesus, his joyful proclamation of a gospel which he himself was living out – these things touched thousands of lives in his own day, and have touched millions more since then. I could do worse than to try to live my own ministry in the spirit of Christian discipleship exemplified by St. Francis.

Sermon for October 4th: Marriage and Divorce (Mark 10:1-12)

I was going to speak to you this morning about the work of Philip the evangelist, as the last sermon in our series of ‘More Bible People You May Not Remember’, but then I read today’s gospel and realised that we couldn’t really read it unless I also preached on it. This is because, for some of us in church today, the words of Jesus here will come across as words of condemnation and not words of hope. And while it isn’t part of my job as a preacher to protect you from the words of Jesus, it is part of my job to make sure we’ve heard those words accurately.

So let’s start by acknowledging that, for many of us, Jesus’ words that we heard a moment ago were very painful. For some of us who are living with the pain of very difficult marriages, his words seemed to close a potential escape hatch for us. For some of us who have been divorced and are now remarried, his words seem to condemn us to living in sin for the rest of our lives. Some of us have a different kind of pain; we have been the victims of frivolous divorce. We didn’t abuse our spouses or cheat on them; they simply found someone younger and prettier than us, and so we were traded in for a newer model. And some of us are the children of divorce, grappling with the fact that statistically we are far more likely to go through divorce ourselves than are the children of lasting marriages.

Jesus wants to spare us pain by teaching us how to live in accordance with God’s original intention for us. We need to try to find a way to hear this text today as a word of life and grace, not condemnation. So let’s turn in our Bibles to Mark 10:1-12 and take a closer look at it.

Read the rest here.

Bryan Moyer Suderman sings songs of faith for small and tall at St. Margaret’s.

What: Songs for Small and Tall- all ages music & singalong

Where: St. Margaret’s Anglican Church: 12603 Ellerslie Road

When: Friday, October 2nd at 7.30 pm.

Bryan Moyer Suderman is a musician in the Mennonite tradition; his music company is called ‘Small Tall Music’, because, as he says, he writes ‘worship songs for small and tall’ – for children and for adults (see his website here). Bryan has produced several CDs, including songs for Vacation Bible School and Christian Education programs, worship songs, songs about stewardship, and a new CD based largely on texts from the prophets you can find our more about his CDs and here some samples here). This concert is jointly sponsored between St. Margaret’s Anglican Church and Edmonton First Mennonite Church, and it will be an all-age event. Admission will be by donation at the door, with a suggested donation of $10 per person or $25 per family.