When “Yes” Also Means “No”

A sermon by Michael Pahl on June 30, 2019, called “When ‘Yes’ Also Means ‘No.’” It is a reflection on the “hard sayings” of Jesus in Luke 9:57-62.

Here is a written excerpt from the introduction:

Well, this is awkward.

Three people, all set to follow Jesus. They’ve heard the altar call, they’ve responded to the invitation, they’re ready to go. And instead of making things all comfortable and easy for them, Jesus issues some warnings.

Just so you know, I’m poor and homeless. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” No time for family funerals, we’ve got kingdom work to do.

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” I told you, there’s kingdom work to do!

Seems a bit harsh, no? What happened to all that love and mercy, Jesus?

Gospels scholars sometimes talk about the “hard sayings of Jesus.” I think it’s fair to say these difficult words are some of these “hard sayings.”

I think a helpful way to make sense of these sayings is to recognize the simple truth that saying “yes” often also means saying “no.”

I don’t mean that we should be deceitful in our speech, talking out of both sides of our mouth, saying one thing to one person and the opposite thing to someone else. As Jesus says, we are to “let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’”—and then strive to follow through on those commitments (Matt 5:37).

What I mean is this: often when we say “yes” to something or someone, we are at that moment also saying “no” to other things and other people. In choosing one course of action, we are also closing off other possible paths.

Saying “yes” often also means saying “no.”

Posted in Michael Pahl | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tell the Story

A sermon by Michael Pahl on June 23, 2019, called “Tell the Story.” It is a reflection on the story of Jesus’ healing the Gerasene man tormented by the “Legion” of evil spirits in Luke 8:26-39.

Here is a written excerpt:

Our own personal stories work the same way: they can be powerful, which means they can be liberating. That’s especially so when our individual story is woven into the larger story of the gospel, the good news story of Jesus—just like the man in our Gospel story this morning.

15th century woodcut by an unknown artist

His story is a story of personal deliverance: Jesus has liberated him from evil powers that had dominated and destroyed him. His story is a story of personal healing: Jesus has made him whole again, restoring his dignity, his humanity.

But this man’s story is part of a larger story, the good news story of God’s work in the world through Jesus.

I mentioned earlier that there were three clues in the story that point to a deeper meaning than what’s on the surface. Here’s the third of these clues: the demons that possess the man call themselves “Legion.”

Now, we might think “legion” simply means, “a lot,” as in, “There were a lot of demons in this man!” But for anyone hearing this story back in Jesus’ day, they’d be thinking of the Roman “legion,” the Roman military unit made up of ten cohorts of up to 500 soldiers each.

Add to this that the demons named “Legion” ask to be sent into a herd of swine (unclean animals according to Jewish Law), and then these swine all rush down into the sea (the symbol of chaos in Jewish Scripture), and you’ve got a heap load of symbolism going on here.

Here’s the gist of all this symbolism: the evil spirits that possess this man are a reflection of the deeper powers of evil that plague this world, forces of injustice and greed, violence and domination, of which the Roman Empire and its mighty military was just one example.

In other words, this is not only a story of one man’s deliverance from his own demons. It’s also a story of humanity’s deliverance from all the powers of evil at work in our world.

We can be set free from the cycles of violence that have spun through human history—and through our own lives. We can be set free from the will to dominate that has stamped its image on human societies—and on our own hearts. We can be set free from the selfish greed and fear of the other that has fueled so much of this violence and oppression in our world—and in ourselves.

This simple, good news story of a man healed by Jesus turns out to be a powerful, liberating story for us all.

Posted in Michael Pahl | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fellowship of God

A sermon by Michael Pahl on June 16, 2019, Trinity Sunday, called “The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” It is a reflection on the threefold benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:13 as a way of exploring the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

Here is a written excerpt:

Some of these sorts of passages [that speak of God in a three-fold way] might prompt thoughts about what God is like in God’s very essence or being. So, for example, Matthew 28:19 refers to God as “the name,” which is a very Jewish way of talking about God: hashem, “the Name.” But it is “the name,” singular, “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” One Name, yet three being named.

Many other passages talk about what God does, God’s actions or functions. In fact, this is the most common way the New Testament talks about God in a threefold way:

God delivers us from sin and evil
through Jesus, the crucified Messiah and resurrected Lord,
by the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the world.

But our text, 2 Corinthians 13:13, focuses on God’s relationships, even God in relationship. Our text suggests that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a God of charis, agapē, and koinōnia. God is a God of grace, love, and fellowship. God is a God of unearned favour, self-giving good, and shared togetherness.

In other words, the Three-in-One God is a God of relationships, the One-in-Three God is a relational God. One might even say that the Triune God is eternal relationship.

But what does this eternal relationship of God look like? How should we understand the “fellowship of God,” the sharing together of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

As soon as we ask a question like this, we need to recognize that we’re in the realm of metaphor and analogy. This is the only way we can speak about God, actually. We are created in God’s image, so we can speak about God. But God cannot be captured in any image we might make, so there’s always an element of mystery and even a good dose of ignorance in our language about God. The best we can do is metaphor and analogy.

Many of you have probably heard the common analogies for the Trinity: God as three-in-one is like the three leaves of a single clover; or like an egg as yolk, white, and shell; or like water as solid, liquid, and vapour.

But these sorts of down-to-earth analogies focus on what God is and not who God is. Yet the Bible never talks about God as a what; the Bible is much more concerned with who God is and what God does.

So, these analogies may be helpful as far as they go, but they de-personalize God, they miss the personal and relational dimension of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Solid, liquid, and vapour are not three persons in relationship with each other and with others! Yet that is the dimension highlighted for us in 2 Corinthians 13:13, with God described in these terms of grace, love, and fellowship.

So let me suggest some fresh analogies for us, analogies which highlight who God is, not merely what God is, seeing God as a God of relationships, even God as eternal relationship. (I say these are “fresh” analogies, but in fact each of them has been suggested along the way throughout Christian history, often through art.)

First, to help us imagine the Three-in-One God, imagine a Banquet.

This banquet is an intimate affair with the glow of candle-light and sincere conversation. Some of this conversation is serious as life’s harsh realities are explored, yet it’s not without its explosions of riotous laughter as stories are told and jokes are shared.

The host is attentive to her guests’ every need, pouring wine as glasses are emptied; the guests in turn pass the overflowing platters around for seconds, compliments to the host echoing around the table. Bonds of affiliation and affection are strengthened as the meal is shared, food mysteriously transformed into friendship.

It is one of those times of true fellowship which we’ve all had, which—when we’re in the midst of it—we might wish would never end. An eternal Banquet.

Now imagine a Dance.

This dance is along classical lines: music from a live orchestra floating fluidly through the air, choreographing the dancers in their intricate give and take. One dancer follows another’s lead, yet the lead is so sensitive, so subtle, that an observer cannot tell who is leading and who is following.

All is beauty in this moment; the movements are so smooth, so effortless, the dancers so intent on the music, on one another.

It is one of those moments of real grace which we’ve all witnessed, which—when we’re in the midst of it—we might wish would never end. An eternal Dance.

Finally, imagine a Family.

There is no dysfunction in this family. Relationships are characterized by a healthy interdependence, not a detached independence or a sticky codependence. Members of this family support and appreciate and enjoy one another, they don’t compete with each other for favour or manipulate others for their own ends. They are together through thick or thin.

This family has the aroma of intimacy without possessiveness, it has the flavor of affection without fawning, it has the texture of selflessness without shame.

It is one of those experiences of genuine love which we’ve all tasted, which—when we’re in the midst of it—we might wish would never end. An eternal Family.

A Banquet, a Dance, a Family.

These are images of our Triune God: a servant host, gracious guests, growing bonds of affection as time and space are shared together for eternity; movement and response, give and take, beauty and grace, all woven into the fabric of an eternal melody; giving and receiving care, encouragement, and support, in relationships that last through an eternity of whatever may come.

Eternal fellowship, grace, and love, to use the words of 2 Corinthians 13—this is our Triune God.

Posted in Michael Pahl | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pentecost Sunday and Sunday School Celebration

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday as well as our Sunday School Celebration to mark the end of our Sunday school year. Join us as we give thanks for another terrific year of learning and growth in the words and ways of Jesus, and as we share communion together at the Lord’s Table. Then join us afterward at about noon for a church-wide picnic in Rampton (Nelson) Park to the north of the church. Please note that the service is in the sanctuary, and that the picnic is bring-your-own, with dessert and children’s games provided.

As we head into the summer, often a time of travel and rest, sometimes of endings and new beginnings into the unknown, may you know the blessing of this Celtic prayer, a prayer fit for Pentecost:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you
wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

Posted in Michael Pahl | Leave a comment

Tabitha, Disciple of our Lord

A sermon by Michael Pahl on May 12, 2019, called “Tabitha, Disciple of Our Lord.” It is a reflection on the story of Tabitha, also called Dorcas, in Acts 9:36-42.

Here is a written excerpt:

We read the Bible to follow Jesus. And, in following Jesus together, we learn to read the Bible better.

And so we don’t only read those biblical statements and commands that seem to put women in their place, limiting their role in church and society.

We also read about Miriam and Deborah, prophets and leaders even in ancient Israel (that’s Exodus 15 and Judges 4-5). We read about Phoebe and Junia, patrons and deacons and apostles (that’s Romans 16). We read about Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s grandmother and mother who first taught him the faith (that’s 2 Timothy 1). We read about “the chosen lady” in 2 John, an anonymous woman who was the leader of her house church.

We also read about the Pentecost Spirit coming down on all flesh, so that God’s “sons and daughters” all prophesy, both “men and women” sharing in the same Spirit that gives insight into the gospel of Jesus Christ and courage to proclaim and live out this gospel in the world (Acts 2). We read that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, ‘male and female’”—we are all adopted and gifted by the same Spirit of Christ, regardless of ethnicity, class, or gender (Galatians 3).

Most of all, we look to Jesus. In the Gospels we read about Jesus describing Mary of Bethany as the ideal disciple, learning from her Rabbi what is most needful (Luke 10:38-42). We read about Jesus repeatedly commending women for their faith and piety, often in contrast to the over-zealous religious men around them. We read about the resurrected Jesus commissioning Mary Magdalene with the task of an apostle: the first to bear witness to his resurrection (John 20:17-18).

We don’t pull specific statements and commands out from the Bible and build a wall with them to keep a whole class of people from fully participating in the life of the church.

Rather, we read the Bible to follow Jesus. And, in following Jesus together, we learn to read the Bible better.

And as we do this, we find ourselves not building walls to keep people out, but building longer tables to invite more people in, to feast in God’s kingdom.

And what a feast it is! The church has been enriched immeasurably by the fullness of God’s presence in the lives of women—as mothers, as grandmothers, as wives, as sisters, as daughters, as nurses and doctors, as teachers at home or in school, as pastors and theologians, as scientists and singers, as quilters and crafters and potters and painters, as professors and gardeners and homemakers and more.

Simply as women.

Posted in Michael Pahl | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Faith and Life Choirs Spring Concert

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Breakfast with Jesus

A sermon by Michael Pahl on May 5, 2019, called “Breakfast with Jesus.” It is a reflection on John 21:1-19.

Here is a written excerpt:

Earlier I asked the question, “What if I had been Simon Peter?” How would I feel then about this breakfast with Jesus?

It turns out, though, that we’re all Simon Peter in this story. Me. You. Each one of us.

We all have our times of triumphant faithfulness, but we also have our moments of bitter failure. We all have gifts and strengths, but we also have our flaws and weaknesses. We are good people, most of the time, but we sometimes sin, and even sin badly, deeply wounding others in the process.

We may not deny Jesus as literally and directly as Peter, but we all in different ways deny Jesus’ claim on our lives.

And Jesus calls to us across the water, he calls us out from the familiar, the comfortable, the secure, and draws us to himself. He invites us into the warmth and light of his love, and he feeds us, he forgives us, he restores us, he takes up our gifts and transforms them into purpose, he says to us, to each one of us, to me, to you: “Follow me.”

I wonder: What would your breakfast with Jesus look like?

What memories would Jesus evoke for you—beautiful memories, painful memories?

What hidden wounds would Jesus heal? What haunting sins would he forgive?

What words would you most need to hear from Jesus, repeated until they are implanted deep in your soul?

What everyday and ordinary gifts do you have, what loaves or fishes would you bring, to give to Jesus for him to feed others?

What purpose would Jesus set before you, what particular path for you to follow, walking in his footsteps?

What would your breakfast with Jesus look like?

Posted in Michael Pahl | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment