Between Me & You

Join us Sunday mornings during Lent as we journey to the cross and empty tomb of Jesus together. This year’s Lenten theme is “Between Me & You,” a focus on biblical covenants culminating in the New Covenant promised in the Prophets and fulfilled in Jesus. How can we covenant together anew to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in our world today?

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Love, not Greed

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from February 11, 2018, on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:19-24. This is part of our second series this year on the Sermon on the Mount, this one focused on “Love as the Fulfillment of the Law.” The television commercial mentioned in the sermon can be viewed here. The sermon by Martin Luther King mentioned in the sermon can be read and listened to here.

And here’s a written excerpt, on Jesus’ emphasis on economic justice:

Over the last six weeks we have looked at the middle section of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This has been our guiding principle:

Jesus gives us a new Law, a Law which is really a Way, a way of life, the way of love.

Jesus says that he has come “to fulfill the Law and the Prophets,” to bring them to their completion, to their climax. Through his teaching about loving God and others, and through his life, death, and resurrection demonstrating God’s love for all, Jesus “fulfills the Law,” the Old Testament Law of Moses.

As we have seen, sometimes this “fulfilling the Law” looks like Jesus digging down below the external actions described in the Law and getting to the roots of those actions. Sometimes this “fulfilling the Law” looks like Jesus outright overturning a specific commandment from the Law that simply doesn’t fit with the law of love.

And sometimes, like in our teaching today, this “fulfilling the Law” looks like Jesus highlighting a prominent theme in the Law of Moses and bringing it home to our everyday lives.

Because that’s what’s behind all Jesus’ teaching about money: the Law of Moses. And there’s a lot of teaching by Jesus on money—it is, in fact, one of his most common topics. Behind all of it is the economic justice advocated in the Law of Moses.

Running right through the Law of Moses is a concern for the poor, including those poor who are most disadvantaged in society: widows, orphans, and foreigners. You can’t read more than a few paragraphs in the Law of Moses before hitting one or more of these words: “the poor,” “the widow,” “the orphan,” “the alien,” “the stranger.”

Moses’ Law was on the cutting edge of law codes in the Ancient Near East in terms of economic justice for all these groups. In the Law of Moses:

Charging interest on loans to the poor was forbidden. (Exod 22:25)

The poor were given cheaper options for sacrifices, allowing them to participate in Temple worship. (Lev 14:21ff.)

The edges of one’s fields in harvest were to be left for the poor and the foreigner, for them to gather. (Lev 19:10; 23:22)

The last of the olives on the tree and the grapes on the vine were to be left for the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan to collect. (Deut 24:19-21)

Employers were not to withhold wages from the poor or the foreigner who worked for them; they were, in fact, to be paid daily. (Deut 24:14-15)

The Law of Moses pronounces a special blessing upon God as the one who shows justice to the orphan and the widow, and who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing. (Deut 10:18)

The Law of Moses pronounces a particular curse upon those who deprive the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow of justice. (Deut 27:19)

Most radical of all in the Law of Moses was the year of Jubilee (Lev 25; cf. Deut 15). It was a special Sabbath year, every 50th year—the year after seven sevens. In that year of Jubilee:

Debts were forgiven. This ensured that no one would ever be crippled by debt—you couldn’t actually have any debt hanging over you for more than seven years.

Land was returned to the original family who owned it. This ensured that those who had to sell their land to pay off debts wouldn’t remain landless forever.

Jewish slaves were freed. This ensured that those who had to sell themselves to pay off debts wouldn’t remain enslaved forever.

For anyone mired in poverty, shackled by debt, the Jubilee year would have felt like being raised from the dead, like being blind and now seeing, like being lame and now leaping for joy!

So, yes, economic justice was a prominent theme through the Law of Moses. And it remained a prominent theme through the Hebrew Prophets. From Isaiah to Amos, from Jeremiah to Micah, the prophets highlighted injustice against the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner as particularly judgment-worthy sins in ancient Israel.

And so, Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets by following in their footsteps, speaking blessing upon the poor, pronouncing woe upon the rich, declaring into the cavernous wealth gap of his day that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

In fact, Jesus described economic justice as one of the main planks of his political platform, if you will, one of the defining features of his Messianic, kingdom-of-God ministry. That’s in Luke 4, where Jesus declares that the words of Isaiah 61 are now being fulfilled through him:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Did you hear that? It’s the year of Jubilee. Jesus declares that in his ministry he is fulfilling the promise of economic justice given in Moses’ year of Jubilee: “good news for the poor,” “release for the captives,” “freedom for the oppressed,” the “year of the Lord’s favor.”

In other words, Jesus comes to fulfill the Law—including its emphasis on economic justice.

The way of love is the way of justice for all, including (and even especially) economic justice.

This is probably a whole sermon series in itself. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot that can be done for us to pursue economic justice in our world today.

How does our economic system saddle people with debt in a way that Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus would deplore?

What would Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus say about our system of high-interest loans?

About the number of disadvantaged people struggling to support a family on less than living wages?

About our approach to property ownership?

Or to indigenous land claims?

All these are about economic justice, and the Law and the Prophets, and Jesus in fulfillment of them, have much to say about these things and more.

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Love, not Religiosity

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from February 4, 2018, on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18. This is part of our second series this year on the Sermon on the Mount, this one focused on “Love as the Fulfillment of the Law.”

And here’s a written excerpt from the conclusion:

So what’s to be done? How do we escape this toxic brand of insincere, exploitative, even oppressive religion?

If you’ve been listening the last few weeks, you won’t be surprised by my answer: the solution to hypocritical, harmful religiosity is Jesus’ way of love.

You’ll remember the overarching principle that’s been guiding us as we’ve walked through this section of the Sermon on the Mount:

Jesus gives us a new Law, a Law which is really a Way, a way of life, the way of love.

This is what Jesus does in all his teaching, even in the example of his life. He’s not giving an updated list of rules for us to follow. He’s showing us a way of being human in the world, a way of life, the way of love.

And one of the lessons in this way of love that runs all through Jesus’ teaching is this:

The way of love is concerned not just with external actions, but with the internal roots of those actions. The way of love nurtures our God-given desires, rightly ordered around faithful devotion to God and compassionate care for others.

External actions—including positive actions, spiritual, even religious actions like giving, and praying, and fasting—these external actions are not all that God is concerned about. God wants to dig down to the roots of our actions and get at the very desires of our hearts. And God wants to re-orient those deepest desires, those God-given desires, around twin loves: love of God and love of others.

This is why Jesus speaks so strongly against hypocritical and harmful religion. Religious piety that is insincere is an affront to God—it’s not loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. And religion that deceives and manipulates, that exploits and oppresses, is a sin against others—it’s not loving our neighbour as we love ourselves.

But Jesus’ way of love doesn’t just explain why this “religiosity” is wrong. It also points to the solution.

You see, true love loves the other person, warts and all. We can be completely unmasked, fully exposed, in the presence of love. There is no fear in love.

God loves us this way. If you don’t believe this, I encourage you to start over from the beginning, to be born again once again. Because this is bottom-line basic Christianity.

We fail, we fall, we blow it—we sin. Our lives are an ever-growing collection of if-onlys and what-ifs, of failures and regrets. We never know it all. We never have it all together. Yet God looks at us and loves us. God sees it all—even all that stuff we so desperately try to hide from others—God sees it all, and loves us.

Since we are loved by God in this way, we don’t need to impress God. We don’t need to earn God’s favour—we already have it. We don’t need to fake anything—God knows us for who we really are. We can be completely vulnerable with God—because we already are completely vulnerable before God.

Here’s the thing: this love is the very love that God calls us to. We are to love others in the same way that God has loved us. And that means fully accepting others for who they are, warts and all, and where they are, failures and follies and all. It means loving others in a way that casts out all their fear, that allows them—and us—to be real with each other, to be vulnerable with each other.

Here, then, is our new lesson in the way of love for today:

The way of love nurtures simple sincerity with God and others. It encourages mutual vulnerability with others before God. There is no place for pride or need for deceit in the way of love, including spiritual pride and religious manipulation.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is probably the hardest lesson of all so far. It takes tremendous courage to love—and to be loved—like this. But if we can do it, all those things that motivate the kind of hypocritical, harmful religiosity that Jesus warns against—all that fear of measuring up, that fear of not being admired, that fear of losing control, of not being in control—all this and more fades away, in the presence of true, and total, love.

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Love, not Violence

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from January 28, 2018, on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:38-48. This is part of our second series this year on the Sermon on the Mount, this one focused on “Love as the Fulfillment of the Law.”

And here’s a written excerpt, on Jesus overturning the notion of retributive justice:

Let’s start with Jesus’ saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” As we’ve talked about the last few Sundays, this is Jesus quoting from the Law of Moses: “You have heard that it was said.” And the Law of Moses not only allowed for retribution for a violent act committed against a person—it even commanded it.

The specific commandment is given three different times in the Law of Moses. Here’s the full quote of it from Deuteronomy 19: “You shall purge the evil from your midst. The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

Yes, it’s true that one of the reasons for this law was to minimize retaliation, to keep violence from escalating: only do to others what they have done to you, no more.

But it’s also true that this law of Moses reflects the myth of redemptive violence: violence serves a good purpose, in this case as a deterrent for others who may wish to commit violence in the future. This logic continues today, and it is commonly voiced by Christians advocating for the death penalty for violent crimes.

But this is not the way of Jesus—and there really is no way for Christians to get around that fact. Jesus rejects the use of violence as a deterrent, or as an equalizer. He rejects the whole notion of retributive justice, that justice is simply about evening the score, punishing in equal measure for the crime committed.

In fact, this teaching of Jesus points to a truth that’s proven persistently difficult for us to accept:

The way of love is never the way of violence. The way of violence is never the way of love.

The reason we find this so hard to accept is that we are thoroughly steeped in the myth of redemptive violence. But this is the way of Jesus. This is God’s way of love.

Pastor Michael has written several blog posts on violence and nonviolence. For more on this teaching of Jesus as “nonviolent resistance” see his post on “‘Turn the Other Cheek’ ≠ ‘Be a Doormat’.” If you’re thinking, “What about Jesus’ violence in the temple, or his teachings about swords?” check out Michael’s posts on “Does Jesus’ ‘Temple Tantrum’ Negate Pacifism and Nonviolence?” and “Jesus Was a Peacenik After All.” If you’re wondering, then, how we should read some of the violent stories and texts in the Bible, see, for example, Michael’s posts on “What Did Og Ever Do to You?” and “The (S)Word-Wielder.” 

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Love, not Lust

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from January 21, 2018, on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-32. This is part of our second series this year on the Sermon on the Mount, this one focused on “Love as the Fulfillment of the Law.”

And here’s a written excerpt, on the nature of lust:

What is the harm that Jesus is talking about here, in his teaching on adultery and lust? Let’s listen to Jesus’ teaching again:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

One of the keys to understanding this teaching is understanding what Jesus means by “lust.” Again, it’s not simply “desire”—it’s strong desire, even excessive desire.

But there’s something else that will get missed if we’re simply reading this in our English Bibles: the word for “lust” here is the word used in the New Testament to translate the last of the Ten Commandments. That’s right—Jesus is talking about a man “coveting” another woman.

You might remember that tenth Commandment. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house,” it says. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Now, there’s a strong flavour of patriarchy here that we can push against. In the biblical world, both Old and New Testaments, all these things belonged to the man, the male head of household: the house, the ox, the donkey, the slave, and yes, even the wife. Women were, legally speaking, men’s property. We can and should push against this idea, for “in Christ there is no ‘male and female,’” as the Apostle Paul so strongly asserts in Galatians 3:28.

But here’s the point I’m wanting us to see here: the language of “lusting” here, or “coveting,” carries within it the idea of “desiring to own” or “wanting to possess for oneself.”

That’s important, because it gets right to the heart of the problem of sexual lust. Lust dehumanizes the person it desires. It doesn’t see the other person as a person, as a human being created in God’s image. It sees the other person as an object, a thing to be possessed, to be controlled, something to be used simply for our own sexual pleasure.

And so we have another lesson in the way of love according to Jesus:

The way of love doesn’t treat others as objects to possess, or things that exist to satisfy our desires. The way of love treats all others as persons created in God’s image and loved by God.

For some additional practical thoughts on dealing with our own sin, see Pastor Michael’s blog post and sermon on “Dying with Christ, Being Raised with Christ.”

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Love, not Anger

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from January 14, 2018, on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:21-26. This is part of our second series this year on the Sermon on the Mount, this one focused on “Love as the Fulfillment of the Law.”

And here’s a written excerpt, setting this teaching on anger within the wider biblical witness:

Jesus’ teaching here is not the full and final word on anger. The Bible itself, in fact, gives a variety of perspectives on anger.

For example, Jesus himself got angry, a reality which the Gospels describe on at least two occasions.

One is the well-known story of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple courts. You bet Jesus was angry—angry at the rich and powerful for exploiting the poor and vulnerable, angry at the Temple insiders for keeping the outsiders out.

The other is the story in Mark 3, where Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. Jesus “looked around at [the religious leaders] with anger,” Mark says, because of the “hardness of their heart”: they were insistent that keeping the Law was more important than showing mercy.

In other words, Jesus got angry at injustice against the most vulnerable people. Jesus got angry at zealous religious folks who refused to show mercy. There is, indeed, a place for righteous anger. It can motivate us to a holy discontent with the way things are, a burning desire to see injustice overturned.

There is also a wider recognition in the Bible that anger in itself is not necessarily wrong. Ephesians 4:26 makes this quite plain: “Be angry, but do not sin,” it says. In other words, there is such a thing as a sinless anger, an anger that is not harmful but can even be helpful. And I don’t think this is just talking about that “righteous anger” against injustice or cruelty. It suggests the broader reality we’ve already recognized: that anger is a normal human emotion.

There are in fact appropriate times to be angry, and healthy ways to be angry. There are also inappropriate times to be angry and unhealthy or harmful ways to be angry. Wisdom—the way of love, the way of Jesus—is knowing which is which, and knowing how to deal with that anger when we experience it.

When you see injustice or cruelty in the world—on the news, on the playground, in the office, wherever it is—and you feel angry, don’t push that away. Allow that anger to motivate you, to spark you to do something—to pray at the very least, to reach out in compassion to the victim if you can, to seek change in the situation if you are able.

But beware: even “righteous anger” can stew until it festers, and then it only brings pain, not peace. At some point the fuel for that desire for change has to switch from anger to something else—compassion, hope, or simple resolve. If you don’t switch that fuel, if you keep burning your fight for justice on anger alone, you will be consumed and the problems will only be perpetuated.

And when you feel anger for less noble reasons—some pain you experience, some frustration or annoyance, out of fear perhaps, or for reasons you can’t figure out—allow yourself to experience that anger so that you can understand it, so that you can release it. Explore your heart in the midst of that anger, and try to put your finger on what it is that’s causing it. Talk to someone about it if you can. And find a healthy, non-harmful way to release that pent-up emotion. Be angry, but do not sin.

But again, beware: if you bury your anger, if you don’t try to understand it or to release it in some way, you risk that anger eating away at your soul, burning your spirit down to bitterness, resentment, and simmering rage, mixed with guilt and shame at where your heart has gone.

For more on the disordered desires and fear that are often at the heart of our anger and conflict, see Pastor Michael’s sermon on “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”

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Jesus Fulfills the Law—in Love

Here’s the full audio of Pastor Michael’s sermon from January 7, 2018, continuing our series on the Sermon on the Mount, beginning a new segment on “Love as the Fulfillment of the Law.”

And here’s a written excerpt from the conclusion:

Jesus oriented his life around love—not holiness, not purity, not strength or power, not truth or even wisdom, not even justice or peace. He oriented his life around love: devoted love for God and devoted love for others. And in doing so, Jesus demonstrated true holiness and purity, he showed true strength and power, he revealed true wisdom, he carved out the path toward true justice and peace.

In other words, all the things the Law pointed to—holiness, purity, wisdom, truth, mercy, justice, peace—Jesus fulfilled them all in love.

And likewise, when we orient our life around love, we too fulfill the Law. If we orient our life around striving for holiness or spotless purity, we will miss the fullness of God’s will for us. If we orient our life around some pure search for truth, we will miss the fullness of God’s will for us. If we orient our life around a relentless quest for justice, or even peace, we will miss the fullness of God’s will for us.

But when we orient our life around love in the way of Jesus—devoted love for God expressed in devoted love for others—then we discover true holiness and purity, true strength and wisdom, true justice and peace.

All the things the Law pointed to—right down to the last jot and tittle—all these are fulfilled in love.

I know, I know. Love can seem like a pretty flimsy foundation for a life of holiness, or for the pursuit of truth, or for producing peaceful and just societies. But this is what Jesus teaches, and the rest of the New Testament confirms it for us.

The question is, do we really believe it? Are we willing to put it into practice? Relentlessly, persistently, above all else, seeking to love God and others?

In this is freedom—freedom from trying to abide by a list of rules, freedom from judgmentalism when others don’t abide by our list of rules, freedom to have our first and always response to others be one of delight and respect and trust and compassion, not anger or lust or greed or fear. Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Over the coming weeks we are going to walk through each one of those antitheses Jesus presents—all those “you’ve heard it said/but I say to you” statements of Jesus. Each of those is Jesus putting this “love as the fulfillment of the Law” into practice.

We’ll see how Jesus reinterprets the Law of Moses, even overturning it if need be, in favour of God’s way of love which is the whole point of the Bible.

We’ll see, in some very practical ways, what this “love as the fulfillment of the Law” looks like in our everyday relationships and real-world struggles—in our conflicts, in our sexuality, in our religion, in our deepest desires.

In the coming weeks, we’ll find that this way of love doesn’t mean ignoring sin—but it does profoundly shape how we think about sin. The way of love leads to true holiness, true purity.

We’ll find that this way of love doesn’t mean being weak—but it does profoundly shape how we think about power. The way of love is the way of true strength.

We’ll find that this way of love doesn’t mean ignoring injustice—but it does profoundly shape how we think about evil in our world. The way of love leads to true justice, true peace.

It is, in fact, the narrow way that leads to life.

For more on the idea of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law, see Pastor Michael’s sermon “Not Under Law but Under Grace” from last July. See also his blog post called, “You Know, ‘Love One Another’ Really Is Enough.”

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