Author: Scott McAndless

“By What Name?” “What is on Second!”

Posted by on Sunday, April 21st, 2024 in Minister, News

Hespeler, April 21, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

I would like to start by reminding you all of what is probably the greatest comedy routine ever created. I am speaking, of course, of the one that goes kind of like this.

Costello: Look Abbott, if you’re the coach, you must know all the players.

Abbott: I certainly do.

Costello: Well you know I’ve never met the guys. So you’ll have to tell me their names, and then I’ll know who’s playing on the team.

Abbott: Oh, I’ll tell you their names, but you know it seems to me they give these ball players now-a-days very peculiar names.

Costello: Funny names?

Abbott: Strange names, pet names...Well, let’s see, we have on the St Louis team, Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…

Costello: That’s what I want to find out.

Abbott: I say Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: You gonna be the coach too?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: And you don’t know the fellows’ names?

Abbott: Well I should.

Costello: Well then who’s on first?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: I mean the fellow’s name.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy on first.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The first baseman.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy playing…

Abbott: Who is on first!

Costello: I’m asking you who’s on first.
Full routine!

Abbott: That’s the man’s name.

Costello: That’s who’s name?

Abbott: Yes.

Explaining Comedy

Now, I know that comedy shouldn’t need to be explained in order to be funny, but I would just like for us to reflect for a moment on why that particular routine works. Abbott and Costello are both using the very same words, but they mean something entirely different by what they say. That is the premise of the bit. But the reason why the humour works so well is because, through the genius of their writing and delivery, we, the listeners, are made to feel as if we are smarter than both of them.

We understand that every time Abbott uses the word “who,” he’s referring to a player’s nickname. But every time Costello uses the word who, he’s using it as an interrogative pronoun. We are smart enough not only to understand that but also to understand that the people on both sides of this conversation do not understand each other at all.

There is an inherent humour in that kind of situation where two parties are failing to understand each other despite using the same words. And it’s always funnier when we feel superior because we are in on the joke. And I actually think that this is the kind of humour that the Book of Acts has set up for us in our reading this morning.

Peter, John and the Council

In our reading, the Apostles Peter and John have been dragged in front of the council in Jerusalem who want to know something very specific about something they have done to disturb the peace. We didn’t read the whole story, so you need to understand that it all started when these two men were at the temple and were accosted by a lame man begging at the gate. Peter didn’t have any money to give him and so decided instead to heal him in the name of Jesus.

When a man that everyone knew had been lame from birth suddenly started walking and leaping and praising God, well, you can imagine that people noticed. A crowd quickly gathered. And Peter began to speak to them, preaching about Jesus, his death and resurrection. At this point the council had the two men arrested and brought in for questioning.

Now the reason why they arrested them was specifically because they were causing a disturbance by preaching to the people. They were riling up the crowd and the council was particularly upset because Peter had been accusing the Jewish leadership of aiding and abetting in the execution of Jesus. But Peter and John, apparently, thought that they had been arrested for something else.

The Misunderstanding

And that is where the Abbott and Costello routine begins. The council asks the apostles, By what power or by what name did you do this?” And since they brought these people in for disturbing the peace and stirring up the crowd, what they mean by “this” is obvious to them. They are asking who said that they could cause this trouble.

But what we don’t realize is that there are a whole bunch of social assumptions behind that question that are not apparent to us. That question meant something very specific in that kind of situation. But in order to understand that we need to understand something essential about ancient Mediterranean Society.


The most important social power in that society did not rest with kings or priests but actually with a group of people who were known as patrons. Patrons were wealthy and influential people. They were also usually men. And the more powerful a patron was, the more clients he had.

The patron-client relationship was very much a two-way relationship. The patron did things for his clients. He would get them jobs and favours and defend them in court. If the need arose, he would send his thugs to beat up someone who insulted his client.

But the clients also owed a great deal to their patrons. They would vote the way their patron told them. They would turn out and cheer anytime their patron did something in public. Whatever their patron asked of them, they would do. And, of course, if they ever disappointed their patron in any way, the punishment would be swift.

Behind Everything

Behind the scenes, almost everything in the entire Roman Empire was run by the patronage system. The most powerful patrons could count whole cities, towns and villages among their clientele. Indeed, the only thing that made the emperor so powerful was the fact that he had more clients than anybody else, including, of course, many powerful patrons in their own right.

Even more important, though, no one could escape this power structure. Everyone had to be a client of somebody. Even slaves, the moment that they were given their freedom, automatically became the clients of their former masters.

So, when the council asks Peter and John by what power or name they were acting when they caused the disturbance, they are asking who their patron is. They are essentially asking what powerful and wealthy person they need to complain to who will discipline these two unruly men for what they have done. They think that they are telling Peter and John that they are in deep trouble.

Peter and John’s Understanding

But Peter and John do not get any of that because they completely misunderstand the question in an Abbott and Costello way. When the council asks, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” they think they are asking about something else entirely. “Rulers of the people and elders,” they reply, “if we are being questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are being asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”

Did you catch that? As far as the apostles are concerned, they have been arrested, not for causing a disturbance and trash-talking the council, but for doing a “good deed” by healing a lame man. And, instead of being interrogated about who their patron is who can rein in their rowdiness, they assume that the council wants to know what name has the power to bring about such a powerful healing. They may be using the same words, but they are talking about something completely different.

Why the Writer is Doing This

And if this episode were written by a mid-twentieth-century comedy team, that misunderstanding would be stretched out for a while and hilarity would ensue. But the author of the Book of Acts is interested in more than just making us laugh. He does, however, want to make use of one element of the comedic scenario. He wants us, the readers, to be in on the joke. He wants us to realize that, in this situation, we are smarter than both sides of this conversation because we actually understand what each is talking about.

You see, this story is not just about the power of the name of Jesus to bring about healing in somebody’s life. It is about that, of course. But the author is using this story to expand our understanding of the power of that name. In fact, I believe that he has set up this whole comedy routine to get us to think about the power of the name of Jesus in a new way.

Showing Us Deeper Meaning

You see, the members of the council have asked a question according to their understanding of how power and authority work in their world. They’ve asked for the name of Peter and John’s patron. Peter and John have answered according to their experience of the power of the name of Jesus to bring healing.

But the very juxtaposition of those two quite different understandings of the meaning of a name is designed to make us ask a question. And that question is, what does the powerful divine name of Jesus do when it is put up against the powerful secular names of our world? It turns out, you see, that the name of Jesus might just be powerful in ways that even the disciples have not yet suspected.

Power in Jesus’ Name

I am not sure to what extent Peter and John have understood the power of Jesus’ name at this point. They know it is powerful to heal, that it connects with people where they are struggling and in need of help. But they just seem to be coming to understand something more about its power. It is not that Jesus is their patron (at least not in the way that the council would have understood that), it is that the name of Jesus calls into question the very system of patronage and its lines of power and authority. And so, Peter boldly proclaims that there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Now my purpose in talking about all of this is not to explain an ancient joke. Nor is it to give you a lesson about how power and authority worked in the ancient Roman Empire. That is, quite literally, ancient history that has little effect on life today. What I would like you to learn is not to do what the members of the council and, to a certain extent, Peter and John did. Do not underestimate the power of the name of Jesus.

More Power than You Thought

It is a name that is powerful to bring healing. Because Jesus entered into our suffering and weakness – especially doing so upon the cross – he certainly can meet us in our suffering and our struggles. And when we go out in that name to share love and compassion, we will learn firsthand the power that is in the name. That is what Peter and John had discovered in the temple.

But when they were brought before the council, they discovered the power of Jesus’ name to call into question the lines of power and authority in their society. They discovered that the name was stronger than the most powerful patrons. And I believe that we are greatly in need of discovering that power as well.

Our Power Systems

Though we live in a democratic country where, at least in theory, everything is not supposed to be controlled by a small group of wealthy and elite influences, we often discover that it doesn’t work out that way.

Wealthy companies and corporations certainly seem to have a lot of control over what we have to pay to get the basics of life. Influential developers seem to exercise a lot of power over what kinds of housing can be built and how much it costs in the midst of a housing crisis. Powerful influences seem to be at work to make sure that wages do not keep pace with inflation.

Now, none of these nebulous entities have official power. We did not vote to give them this influence. They tend to work in back rooms and behind the scenes much like the patronage system did in the ancient world. But their impact on our lives – often greater than that of elected officials – is undeniable.

Challenging Names

And I don’t know about you, but I am often dismayed by how this prevents us from building the kind of country and society that we actually desire and need. And I think that kind of dismay has become so common, that it has made us apathetic and prone to give in to despair about the possibility of anything ever changing.

If only there were a name that was powerful enough to call into question the hidden powers and authorities of our present world. Wouldn’t that be something if we could tap into that kind of power? Well, apparently that was what Peter and John realized they had tapped into on that day before the council.

That name still exists, and it is still that powerful. The question is, what wouldn’t we be able to do if we were able to truly believe that?

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“Is it a Sin to…”

Posted by on Sunday, April 14th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch Sermon Video Here:

Hespeler, April 14, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

In my free time, I often like to hang out in various online forums. And, as someone who is frankly fascinated by the Bible, I particularly like to hang out in forums where people discuss the Bible, its interpretation and its application in Christian contexts. And when I hang out in such places, there is a certain sort of question that comes up with annoying frequency.

People constantly seem to write to ask what I think of as the sin question. They want to know if something is a sin, usually asking about some specific action, attitude or way of being. They never ask about the ones that everyone would agree about, of course. Nobody writes to ask if it would be a sin to kill my neighbour because I don’t like the way that she planted her hydrangeas.

Oddly Specific

But they do ask about some other oddly specific things. “Is it a sin to jaywalk?” or “Is it a sin to live with my girlfriend or boyfriend?” They want to know if it is a sin to feel attraction to a man or to a woman, to not feel like they are the gender that they were declared to be at birth, to use someone else’s Netflix password. It is quite obvious, if you read through some of these questions, that these are not just hypothetical questions. They are asking about something that is or perhaps soon will be part of their life.

And the mere fact that these questions come up so regularly in forums where people can be anonymous tells me a great deal. It tells me that a lot of people really want to do the right thing. And, for many people, that amounts to following the right list of what is allowed or not allowed. Morality, in other words, can just be sorted out in a simple series of yes or no answers.

Simple Questions?

But I don’t really think that many of these are simple yes or no questions. Yes, sure, sometimes the sin question has to be answered in a firm and straightforward way. Yes, it would be sinful for you to murder your neighbour, not to mention illegal. But in other cases, a simple yes or no can be deceptive.

A simple yes or no answer to the jaywalking question, for example, could be unhelpful. If you do cross a street in an unsanctioned way because you are selfishly hurrying, not thinking of anyone else and you make a car swerve and cause an accident then, sure, I would call that sinful. But if you dash across the street, possibly risking your own life to push a child out of the path of an oncoming car, I think that most people would see that a bit differently. You might still get a ticket, but I’m not going to say that you are sinful for that act.

Relationship Questions

Of course, this all gets a lot more complicated when you are talking about questions related to sex or attraction, which affect us on a much more personal level. And I get that many people would just prefer to have a list of acceptable and unacceptable actions or relationships. It seems to make things so simple and orderly. But the more I see the way that works out in practice, the more problematic it seems to be.

I have seen more than enough relationships that have fit the traditionally acceptable parameters – the “right” genders involved, the “acceptable” activities engaged in – that turned out to be relationships that were abusive or dehumanizing to one or both of the people involved. And I’ve seen other relationships that didn’t fit the parameters but that were mutually affirming, and the people involved only brought out the best in each other.

If I’m going to call out the reality of sin in our relationships, I feel like I need to do much more that consult a list of dos and don’ts. What people bring to their actions – the respect and integrity that they act with – has to mean more as far as I am concerned.

Social Control

Another reason why people prefer to have simple answers to the sin question is because it is a form of social control. The person who can give that yes or no answer claims an extraordinary amount of authority. And even if they do so by referring to some Bible verse or another – even if they claim that it is the Bible’s answer and not theirs – the mere fact that they are the one selecting and interpreting the verse gives them power over other people. And so, the history of the discussion of the sin question has been a long story of people being forced to conform to certain ideas of what society is supposed to look like.

Now, I do think that we need to take sin very seriously. It is something that gets in the way of us all achieving our full potential. I know we often don’t want to talk about it, probably mostly because of how talk of sin has been used by authoritarians to impose their idea of order on others. So, we need to find ways of talking about it that get beyond all of that.

First John’s Approach

Our reading this morning from the First Letter of John might help us to find a better way of talking about such things. It might not seem that way at first, of course. In fact, this particular passage has caused no end of trouble on the issue of sin in the life of the church down through the centuries. For example, it offers a definition of sin that only seems to affirm the approach of people who obsess over the sin question. Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness;” it says, “sin is lawlessness.” I mean, if “sin is lawlessness,” is that not basically the same thing as saying that there is a list of approved and nonapproved actions that you can point to to tell people that some action or another is a sin?

But that is not the end of what John has to say. He goes on to say, “You know that [Christ] was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” He is not just saying, mind you that Jesus came to bring forgiveness of sins but to take them away altogether. And he explains that odd statement by saying, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” So, he is saying, not merely that sin can be forgiven; it can be completely eradicated from our lives!

An Infamous Verse

Now, you may not know this, but that particular verse has an infamous history in the Christian church. Autocratic Christian leaders have sought to create communities where believers can live out this promised sinless life. But, since they are still stuck with the definition of sin as following a list of approved behaviours, the only way they can accomplish that is by taking personal control of the list.

And guess how that usually ends – with the leader defining whatever they want to do and what their cronies want to do as “not sin” because they are abiding in Christ. Meanwhile, they use their power over the list to manipulate and control every aspect of everyone else’s lives.

I would not want to have to tell you how often this kind of situation has led to horrible outcomes like child abuse, exploitation and even things like murder. And I cannot believe that any of that is what was intended when the Apostle wrote this letter. The sin that he is talking about, the sin that Jesus has eradicated, has to be about more than a list of do’s and don’ts.

Acting in Righteousness

“Little children,” he continues, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” You see, what this is ultimately about is acting in righteousness. Doing the right thing. And the standard of that is not to be found in some list or set of laws. It is to be found in Christ himself.

Therefore, you must not allow anyone, not even the most pious Church leader, to take that power away from Christ. What he is promising is that, so long as we keep our gaze and focus fixed on Christ, we will find the way to righteous action. But it is not about controlling others, especially not about controlling them to our own ends.

Can You Live Without Sin?

Now, I do think it is important to note that this letter isn’t actually promising you that can make your way through this life without sinning. It is not promising you that you will always act in perfect righteousness. The promise is that, so long as we fix on eyes on Jesus and his righteousness, we will act right. But he also says, that What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

Jesus is not fully revealed, he’s saying, so we cannot fully perceive all that Jesus is. And if we do not fully see him or know him, we will obviously fail and fall short of true righteousness. So, even if he promises that we may live a sinless life, he is also saying that the fullness of that potential will only be realized when Jesus is fully revealed at the end of all things.

Acting in Ignorance

In our reading from the Book of Acts this morning, Peter confronts the people in Jerusalem with their sin in rejecting Jesus. But he sums it up like this: “And now, brothers and sisters, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” Sin is indeed often a result of ignorance – of our failure to see the true nature of what is right. We are deluded because we have been trapped into unhelpful ways of seeing the world.

God is gracious in forgiving us our sins, but, more important, God is willing to wipe out our sins as well. “Repent, therefore,” Peter continues, “and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

That is saying much the same thing as the First Letter of John. In Christ, God does not just want to forgive but also to wipe out our sin. That means it no longer has power over us because Jesus, in revealing righteousness, will ultimately obliterate our ignorance. It also means that God is committed to wiping away all of the damage and pain and sorrow caused by our sin both in ourselves and others. Hallelujah, all thanks be to God.

Finding Better Ways

The way we have become accustomed to talk about sin in the church, has not necessarily served us well. By creating coercive lists of acceptable and unacceptable activities, we have often encouraged people to become obsessed with the question of whether this or that thing is sinful. That only encourages a kind of unhealthy scrupulosity. And, if Jesus came to set us free from sin, that is not the kind of state Jesus wants us to be in.

Because of all of those kinds of problems that such an attitude towards sin has created, we’ve often gone to the other extreme and avoided talking about the concept of sin altogether. That’s not a helpful reaction either. Jesus came to set us free from the effects of sin, but also from the obsession with it. Jesus came to set us free from unhelpful feelings of shame or guilt that get in the way of us embracing our true nature in Christ.

First John’s Promise

As you do seek to live as a follower of Jesus in this world, you are definitely going to get things wrong. You’re going to act out of ignorance sometimes. Sometimes some of your baser instincts will get the best of you despite the best of intentions. This is a part of being human. But the promise of First John is that, as we fix our eyes on Jesus and the righteousness of God that he has revealed to us, sin doesn’t have to have power over us. It doesn’t need to dominate our whole lives. Jesus has wiped it away. Hallelujah, let us live in the freedom of Christ.

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That would never work

Posted by on Sunday, April 7th, 2024 in Minister, News

Hespeler, April 7, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

Is it bad that, when I read our passage this morning from the Book of Acts, my first response is to say, “That will never work”? I read about how “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common,” and all I can think is that someone was bound to abuse a system like that.

And how about the idea that “there was not a needy person among them”? What are the implications of that? If no one is ever afraid of poverty – of not being able to pay off their debts or put food on the table – then who is going to do the jobs that nobody wants to do? Everybody knows that it is only the threat of starvation that makes people apply for those really lousy jobs.

Red Flags

And if there was ever a big red flag, is it not this? “As many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” Do you realize the enormous amount of wealth and power being given to a small group of people there? Can you not see how they would inevitably use that to create their own tyrannical rule?

These, I must confess, are the kinds of questions and objections that come to my mind when I read that passage in the Book of Acts. I’ll bet they probably came to yours as well. And that is really kind of extraordinary when you think about it. I am quite sure that when the author of the Book of Acts wrote that little paragraph, it never occurred to him that any Christian might have a problem with what he was describing. He may have thought he was describing a goal, a utopia and something to work towards, but he didn’t expect anyone to have all these problems with it.

Did it Really Not Work?

Now, I do know that there are some people who would argue that the reason why we react like that is because this whole idea of how to treat property simply did not work out for the early church. We generally assume that all of these problems that I described did manifest themselves in this early church in Jerusalem and the whole system simply collapsed.

But there is actually no evidence for that at all. There is nothing in the scriptures that indicates that the people in that church didn’t work or contribute because they weren’t poor enough. There are no accounts of people mistreating the common property because they did not own it.

And far from all of this power going to the apostles’ heads, we are told that, as soon as some issues around fair distribution began to be raised, they were only too happy to give up this power and pass it on to a group of deacons who were empowered to make sure that any distribution was fair.

Who Actually Caused Trouble

In fact, there is only one story of anything going wrong with this way of organizing things. The only people who caused trouble in the system were a wealthy couple named Ananias and Sapphira. They sold some of their property and decided to hold back some of their wealth for themselves. And then they lied about it. Their greed made them lie and try to cheat the system. The problem, when there was one, wasn’t the poor people. It was the rich ones.

What Influences Us Most?

Now we are supposed to be people who take the Bible seriously – who allow the Bible to influence how we relate to the world. And that makes me think that there is something wrong when we read a passage like this and our first instinct is not to say, “Wow, we should find ways to take this story and apply it to the way that we try to do things today.” No, our first reaction is to think, “That would never work because poor folks would abuse any such system!”

And do you know what that means? That means that we have allowed the assumptions of our modern society and of our economic system to have more influence over us than the Bible.

Today’s Crises

Just look at how we talk about and try to respond to some of the huge crises that are affecting our society these days. We have a housing crisis. It seems that every year more and more people cannot afford suitable housing. We have an affordability crisis as people find that they cannot afford the basics of life.

Alongside of that, and certainly connected to that, there is a debt crisis with more and more people carrying a weight of debt that they will never be able to get off their backs before they die. That is, I realize, only a part of what we are dealing with as a society, but everyone agrees that these are deep problems that are affecting all of us to a certain extent. And they are certainly affecting the poorest among us most of all.

How We Respond

But it is very revealing how we talk about these problems and how we attempt to address them. Rather than talk about the availability and affordability of housing, we tend to focus on the proliferation of encampments and the dangers that they pose to property. When we talk about building more housing, the only way we can consider doing this is by getting private developers to build that housing. And, of course, any private company is necessarily going to be more concerned with its own profits than making sure that everyone can afford the housing they need.

Dealing With Inflation

And what about inflation? The causes of the inflation we are dealing with are complex, but there is no denying that a lot of it has to do with ongoing supply-chain issues, the continuing effects of the pandemic and a lack of competition in major corporations. It is not caused by rising wages for workers; they have largely remained flat for decades now in many cases. Companies and corporations have seen their profits go way up, but employees and workers have not seen their wages rise at anywhere near the same rates. In the past wages may have been a major driver of inflation, but today that is not the case.

Nevertheless, guess what economists are doing to address the problem of inflation. They basically only have one strategy and that strategy is raising interest rates. And if you ask economists how high interest rates fight inflation, they will let you know. High interest rates cause higher unemployment which tends to drive wages down. The only solution they are offering to fight inflation is to bring wages down. Apparently, there’s nothing they can do about competition or excess profit taking or even supply chain issues.

Our Ideology

All of that is simply an illustration that, when it comes to economic issues, we have an ideology. And it is the same ideology that says that the story in the Book of Acts would never work. The ideology of our society is that all economic problems are caused by poor people and by working class people.

We tend to think of poverty as a moral issue, that is to say that we assume that people are poor because they are somehow morally deficient. That’s why we blame them for economic ills and why the only solutions we can come up with are solutions that discipline the poor in some way. And we have heard this ideology so much that we cannot even imagine thinking about such economic matters in any other terms.

Thinking Differently

But then we open up the Book of Acts and we are forced to think in other terms. I think that is a very good thing. We all need to have our basic assumptions challenged from time to time. And I believe that our society is in great need of that challenge right now.

I am not suggesting that we could cure all of the economic problems in our society by abolishing private property and making it so that everything is held in common. I am actually quite sure that we could not make that work. But the reason why it wouldn’t work is not because of the laziness of the poor. It would be because of the greed of the wealthy that would not permit it to work.

What We Lack

But the other reason why it wouldn’t work for us is because we lack what the people of that early church had. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” What we are missing is the power of the resurrection and especially that “great grace.”

The Meaning of the Resurrection

I know that, when we talk about what the resurrection of Jesus means, we tend to think about it in terms of the impact it makes on another life in another world. We think of the promise that, because Jesus has been raised from the Dead, we also may be raised and so we can live to all eternity in the presence of God.

That is true; the truth that Jesus has been raised is a promise to us that God will raise us as well. But we do not need to wait until we come to the end of life in this world in order to have the resurrection of Jesus transform us. We can experience its power to transform our minds and fill us with grace now.


That is what happened for those early Christians that allowed them to live in such a radical way. They learned to look at their possessions and property in new ways and to realize that these things had no value if they could not be used to better the lives of their siblings in Christ.

And, because they were filled with a grace that came from God, they could see that, if some were poor, it was not because there was any deficiency in them. Yes, perhaps they had faced some adverse circumstances, or they had lacked the advantages that others enjoyed, but there was nothing wrong with them. They did not hesitate to share what they could.

That is what I feel we are often lacking – the transformative power of the resurrection and the ability to see one another with grace. Is that why it seems so impossible today to offer people a way out of poverty? Is that why we only seem to be able to set up the system so that the rich only get richer while the poor only get poorer?

Beyond Economic Systems

Economic systems, as far as I am concerned, are kind of morally neutral. Capitalism, socialism, communism, anarchism, they all have their pitfalls and their shortcomings to be sure, but they are not, in themselves, good or evil. I believe that any of them could work given two things: the transforming power of the resurrection that allows people to see possessions in a new light and the power of grace that allows you to see people without judgement.

Where I think we need to put our energy, therefore, is not into promoting this system or that system as a solution to all of our economic woes. The systems are broken and will remain broken until our humanity can be made new.

Why Jesus Came

But that is why Jesus came – not just to offer us a way to heaven or to teach us to worship God in some particular way. Jesus came to transform our humanity. And yes, I know, as his followers we are still caught up in a world where the greed of some will continue to trap people in perpetual poverty and try to blame them for it while doing it. But we don’t have to buy into that. We can choose to buy into the transformative power of the resurrection and we can choose to view people with nothing but grace.

By doing that, the church in Jerusalem offered a testimony to the world that things could be different. Just think what we could accomplish if we were half as courageous as them.

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The Last Page

Posted by on Sunday, March 31st, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch sermon video here

Hespeler, March 31, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Easter Day
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-18, Mark 16:1-8

The end of the Gospel of Mark has always been a bit of a mystery and a problem. It ends rather abruptly. The women come to the tomb on Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus, but they find it empty. A young man dressed in white informs them that Jesus isn’t there, that he has risen, and that they must tell the news to the others so they can all meet the risen Jesus in Galilee. But then the women don’t tell the others – they don’t say anything to anyone because they are too scared.

And that is it. The gospel ends right there. There are no appearances of the risen Jesus. There is only a vague promise that people will be able to see him at some point and that promise doesn’t even get passed on. It is a weird ending, isn’t it?

Alternate Endings

You are not the only people to think so. Right from the very beginning, Christians were very dissatisfied with the ending of Mark. So much so that very early on, people wrote their own longer endings that they tacked onto it – endings that we still often include in our modern Bibles.

But we are certain that those endings were not part of the original text. They do not appear in the oldest and best manuscripts of the gospel. And the later manuscripts disagree over which ending to add. Some even indicate that they don’t think that the endings they have included are the right ones.

So, as far as we can tell, the oldest manuscripts of the gospel really did end at verse eight. That means one of two things. Either the original ending was lost almost immediately after it was written, or this strangely abrupt ending was intentional.

I think that it is the latter. The author ended it that way on purpose. But to understand that purpose, you need to understand something about the author of this gospel and why he was writing it.

About the Author

The gospel was written anonymously, so we don’t know what the author’s name was. But the church decided to name him as Mark. That’s a convenient name, so let’s just stick with it. Most scholars agree that Mark wrote his gospel sometime around 70 AD and that it was the first of our gospels written. We know that Mark wrote it then because he makes references to contemporary events in ways that indicate that his readers should know what he is talking about.

And what are these contemporary events as Mark is writing? Mark is writing around the time of the great revolt of Judea against Rome. It was a dreadful period. There were wars and rumours of wars, an era of death and destruction. It culminated with Roman victory and the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy temple. And Mark was looking on from some distance while all of these terrible things took place.

Mark’s Reaction to Events

He reacted much like you or I would. He was upset and frightened. He was also angry with some very specific people. He was mad at the Jewish leadership who had chosen to follow the path of violent revolt led by bandits.

And he was also very mad at the leadership of the church – the disciples of Jesus, the women who had followed him and even the family of Jesus (his mother, brothers and sisters). He felt as if they had failed to lead the church in the path of Jesus at a critical time.

And so, Mark decided to do something constructive with his disappointment and his anger, something that no one had attempted before. He decided to write the story of Jesus’ life and death and to write it in a way that would help the people of his age navigate a world full of dangers and disappointments.

And as people who are often alarmed at some of the disturbing things happening in our world and often deeply disappointed by both our national and church leaders, I think that we might benefit from understanding why he wrote as he did and especially why he chose to end his story in such an odd way.

A Few Inches Left

Mark had been working and writing his account of the good news about Jesus for weeks. As he looked at the scroll of parchment that had cost him at least two months’ wages, he noted that there were only a few inches left on the end of the scroll. He would have to wind up this story quickly, but he wanted to make it clear to his readers what they were supposed to do with what they learned. He wanted to make sure that they were set up to do better than those who had failed to follow in the path of the Christ.

He had written this book to tell people the story of Jesus, of course. But he also wanted to make sure that the people he was writing it for – the people who were living through the same horrors as him – responded well. And maybe he kind of wanted to make sure that they understood who to blame for the present state of affairs. So, what really mattered to him what not just what Jesus had done and said, but also how people had responded to him so poorly.

The Barabas Incident

He felt as if he had perfectly encapsulated this in one of his favourite episodes that he had just written the other day. He told of how, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate offered the people a choice. They could either choose the way of Jesus and peace, or they could choose the way of violence and war – which Mark had personified as a dangerous bandit named Barabbas.

He felt pretty sure that his readers would know not to read that in a strictly literal way. I mean, the name Barabbas (which meant “the son of the father”) was clearly made up. And everyone knew that no Roman Governor would release a violent prisoner just because it was an important festival.

No, surely people would understand the deeper truth of that story – that the Jewish people’s choice to follow bandits like the zealots and the sicarii into an ill-advised war against Rome was the ultimate rejection of Jesus and everything that he had stood for.

Yes, he had communicated his disdain for the Jewish leadership very effectively! But he was even happier with the criticisms of the leadership of the church that he had slipped into his narrative.

The Failures of the Disciples

He knew some of those leaders personally – the disciples and the brothers of Jesus in particular – and he had been repeatedly disappointed by their lack of faith and of courage in these crisis times. Again and again, they had acted in ways that demonstrated that they really hadn’t understood what the message of Jesus was about.

And so, as he told the story of Jesus, he had made a point of playing up every incident in which Jesus criticized them – every time he told them to “be not afraid” or told them that they had “little faith.”

And every time that Jesus told them what the plan was – of his coming death and resurrection – Mark made a point of following up with an episode in which one of them rebuked him or a couple of them tried to jockey for more important leadership positions. Surely no one would be able to read this gospel without coming away with an understanding of how abysmally the disciples had failed.

Jesus’ Family

And as for Jesus’ family – especially Jesus’ brother James who had led the Jerusalem church through the crisis so ineptly – Mark had included an episode that he hoped would permanently discredit them.

You see, Mark had discovered that there was an occasion when Jesus’ mother and brothers decided that Jesus was deranged, and they tried to forcibly take him away to have him committed. Oh, you can bet Mark made a point of including that episode and contrasting it to Jesus saying, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

So, Mark felt as if he had thoroughly criticized leadership for their failures. But now he had about six inches of parchment left. The question was how he could end this in a way that would give his readers some hope for the future.

The Appearances of the Risen Jesus

Mark believed – he knew deep in his heart – that Jesus had risen from the dead. He had included three times in his gospel the prediction of Jesus that he would be raised. He also knew that the risen Jesus had made appearances to various people. As it was often repeated in the churches, he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7)

But he also knew what people like Peter, James and those apostles had done with their experiences. They had used them to fight with one another over who should lead and to pretend that their experiences were better than anyone else’s. And look at where that had led them all!

And so, Mark resolved not to include any resurrection appearances in his blockbuster ending. Why start any of those fights up again? And so, as he took up his pen, he decided that he would end instead with an invitation to his readers.

The Women at the Tomb

“When the Sabbath was over,” Mark began to write, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”

Yes, he realized, this was yet another dig against the followers of Jesus. Jesus had told them not once, not twice but three times that he would be raised by the third day. They should have known that he wouldn’t be in the tomb by Sunday morning.

But of course, they got it wrong. As far as Mark was concerned, almost all of those who had followed Jesus during his life had got it wrong. But these women were about to get the lesson of their lives, not to mention the biggest fright as well.

An Invitation

And so, Mark didn’t tell of an appearance of the risen Jesus to them. If they had one, he knew that they would only misuse the experience like the others did. And so, instead, he gave them a message and an invitation. “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

This was an invitation, not to believe someone else’s account of them seeing the risen Jesus, but to experience it for yourself. All you had to do was go to Galilee and you would see him.

Now what, exactly, Mark meant by “go to Galilee,” I’m not entirely sure. He may not have meant it literally in terms of travelling to a specific place. Maybe, in the turmoil of the revolt, he thought of Galilee (which had been ravaged by the Romans) more as a state of mind than a place. But I’m pretty sure that Mark was making a promise to his readers: you can and should experience the resurrection for yourself.

Message Interrupted

How do I know that? Mark tells us that this all-important message wasn’t passed on. He ends his entire gospel by saying that the women who had received this message “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Yes, as far as Mark was concerned, the original leaders of the church had failed one more time.

And, because they had failed, the earliest church had been forced to fall back on hearing the testimony of people like James and Peter who had seen the risen Jesus. But they were denied that experience for themselves. And Mark had seen how badly that had gone.

But now, you see, there was a possibility for a new beginning. The message that the women had failed to pass on had now been transmitted. Mark had transmitted it in this gospel. The church now had the message! And they could go to Galilee, whatever that meant, and they could experience the power of the resurrection for themselves. That is the final promise of the final words of the gospel of Mark, and, as far as I’m concerned, that is a pretty powerful promise.

Mark’s Final Challenge

The ending of the gospel of Mark does seem strange to us, especially because we have the other gospels that were written after it and that put such emphasis on the experiences of those who first witnessed the resurrected Jesus. I believe that Mark knew about those experiences, but he had been disillusioned because the people who had had them failed to be good leaders of the church.

Mark thought it was time for something else. It was time for all God’s people to experience the power of the resurrection of Jesus for themselves. That was the challenge and invitation he ended his gospel with as he was writing for people whose entire world was falling apart.

And I am feeling like we might be in need of something similar. As the world around us fills with chaos and fear, as we see the leaders – both political and spiritual leaders – who have disappointed us, what are we supposed to do? Do we give up because their way of doing things is failing? No, it’s time for a new approach. Instead of assigning power and authority to certain people because of the experiences they claim, it might be time for us to seek the power of the resurrection for ourselves. Will you come to Galilee to see him for yourself?

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The Streaker in the Garden

Posted by on Sunday, March 24th, 2024 in News
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Hespeler, March 24, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Passion Sunday
Mark 11:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Mark 14:43-52

There is one small incident in the Gospel of Mark that I have always found fascinating. I’m not the only one. People have debated for centuries about the meaning of the strange appearance of the young man in the garden who is wearing only a linen cloth and who then runs away naked.

The incident is mentioned in none of the other gospels, but it stands out with such distinctiveness in this one that people can’t just ignore it. It has led to endless speculation.


Some people suggest, for example, that this young man is an appearance of Mark himself, the author of the gospel, and that the author is saying that he actually was there either historically or perhaps symbolically. It is an interesting idea to be sure, but there’s really no evidence that that is who it is supposed to be.

Other people have noted that the appearance of this young man may be symbolic of the early Christian practice of baptism. Apparently, the common practice in the earliest church was for candidates for baptism to present themselves dressed in a simple white linen cloak and that, after the baptism had been completed, the robe would be stripped off and the newly baptized person would leave in the nude as a symbol of new birth. Interesting idea to be sure. I’m not going to suggest that it is a practice we ought to revive though!

People have also noted a very odd resemblance between this man in the garden and the young man who appears dressed identically in the tomb of Jesus at the end of Mark’s Gospel. Surely that cannot be a coincidence! Mark must want us to make the connection.

So, there is a lot of speculation, but no clear answer. And so, I set out to figure out what this strange streaker is doing in the garden. Scholars have written a lot about it over the years. So, I did a lot of reading and some of it was helpful.

Comic Relief

For example, I read this one paper in which this scholar argued that this guy is in the story as comic relief. And, you know, after reading it, I think I kind of agree, he is there to make us laugh. But do you want to know what the funniest part of all of that was? The scholar[1] took 14 pages of dense theological and literary argument to come to the conclusion that this episode is comic relief. And when it takes that long to explain a joke, you have to wonder how funny it really is!

The Importance of Following

The paper argued that the keyword in the little story may be the first verb: “was following,” as in, “A certain young man was following him.” The word is important because it is a keyword, repeated often in this gospel. “Following,” it could be argued, is the most important thing that anybody does in this gospel. The choice to follow Jesus is what makes all of the disciples into disciples. And that also seems to include the women who are said to have followed Jesus to Jerusalem. So, the mere fact that this youth is following Jesus puts him in important company.

The Grammar Matters

But there is more than that. Mark uses a particularly intensive form of the verb here – a form that essentially means to follow closely. He only uses that word in one other place in his gospel when he refers to three key disciples, Peter, James and John, following Jesus into the home of Jairus. This suggests a particularly close connection with Jesus.

And then there is the tense of the verb. It is in the imperfect tense which, in Greek, refers to an action in the past that is continuous. In other words, this youth did not just follow Jesus once on this occasion. It was something that he had been doing for some time. It can also refer to a habitual practice. It could even be saying that he was kind of obsessed with following Jesus.

All of this makes me suspect that Mark does not want us to underestimate the importance of this young man or to think of this incident in isolation. We need to see it as an essential part of his overall narrative. And so that made me wonder where else this young man’s following of Jesus might have intersected with the story of Jesus told in Mark’s Gospel.

Next in Line

Imagine that you are the person who is next in line to be baptized by John the Baptist when Jesus goes down into the water. Even though the place by the Jordan River is far away from any human settlement, people have come here from Jerusalem and all Judea to hear what the Baptist has to say and to receive his baptism of repentance. And nobody wants to be baptized by one of John’s disciples. They want the authentic experience and so they wait in line for hours to each get their few minutes in the river with John.

When Jesus Was Baptised

But when Jesus is baptized, everything suddenly grinds to a halt. There are some who say that clouds in the sky are ripped apart. And when a dove flies down from a nearby tree, many read that as a great omen as well. There are some who insist that they hear a rumble of thunder, which others identify as the very voice of God. But whatever signs each one sees, and however they interpret them, there is an immediate consensus that there is something different about this Jesus. Even John is rendered silent as he stares at the man walking out of the stream and, if you know anything about John, that is a wonder all its own.

And you are there next in line after Jesus. You have come out from a town in Judea. Ever since you have heard about what John is doing near the Jordan, you have been intent on coming. You even purchased a fresh white linen cloth – a symbol of the repentance and new beginning that John’s baptism represents – and wrapped it tight around your body. But now as you come to stand before John (whose mind is clearly still trying to process what has just happened) and John rather robotically goes through the motions of baptizing you, it does not really go as you had imagined.

Implications of Following

But you do not mind in the least. You, like everyone else, are totally focused on the man who was just baptized. And so, as you come up out of the water, without even pausing to take any of your possessions, you set out following Jesus as he climbs the riverbank heading towards the wilderness.

And now it is later. It is hard to say exactly how much later because the timeline in Mark’s Gospel is far from clear. But a lot has happened. And all this time you have followed Jesus as closely as possible. You are not one of those disciples that people talk about. You are not a Peter or James or a Mary Magdalene. But you have listened to everything that he has taught. You’ve tried to do your best to follow.

When, for example, Jesus had that encounter with the rich young ruler who wanted to know how to enter the kingdom of God, and Jesus told him that he needed to “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me,” (Mark 10:17) the rich young man could not handle such a demand. He chose not to follow.

But you did. You didn’t necessarily have a whole lot to sell and give away, but you gave what you could. You gave what you had left. And if it left you wearing little more than a linen garment wrapped around a naked body. But you were okay with that.

Final Test

And now he has come up to Jerusalem. And things have been looking real bad for about a week. When you are all together in the garden at Gethsemane, it finally comes to a head. There is an entire crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders and they are coming for him.

This is finally it. This is the great test of what it means to follow Jesus. And as you stand there, trembling with terror, you look to those big-name disciples. You look to Peter, James and John, and you see that they are all shaking with the same fear that you feel.

Who Will Follow?

But surely, you think to yourself, as terrifying as this situation is, they will not abandon him. He called them to follow him and that means even at moments like this – maybe especially at moments like this. But as you stand there, mouth agape, they do it. They break and they start to run in every direction. They are gone.

And you stand there amazed and terrified. Could it be possible? Could you really be the only one? And you feel a determination come over you. Yes, you will follow. You have to follow especially now. As they start to drag him off, you move with determination to follow closely.


A naked man running away (you can only see the legs!)

He turns and for a moment he catches your eye. And in that moment, you understand that he sees you, that he knows of your commitment and love for him. He knows that you will follow him anywhere. He nods his head in blessing, but then he shakes it, and you understand him to be saying that here you cannot follow. Not yet.

That is the moment when one of the ruffians in the crowd notices you trying to follow. There is a cry. Several hands reach out to grab your loosely wound linen garment. You turn and, as you turn, you can feel the cloth unwinding. In a moment you are free. You are running naked in the garden. The men cry out to you with mocking and cursing. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, none of them seems inclined to set out in pursuit. You are free, perhaps freer than you have ever been.

You know that, as you run, there are all kinds of things that you should be feeling. You should feel the shame of public indecency. You should feel the humiliation of being on display. But you feel none of it. Having let go of your last possession on earth, you feel as if every weight has finally dropped away. You feel as if you have come newborn into the world.

The Following Days

The next couple of days are very difficult. There is no place you can go where people will not reject you. You dare not go into the city or any settled habitation. You end up walking through the pathless wilderness and find a place to sleep in the hedges. The next days are spent wandering about, always being careful to avoid being seen by any passing humans.

The Burial Ground

Eventually, you are so desperate to find a little bit of shelter that late into the night you decide to head for the burial ground outside the city. Very early in the morning, before the sun has even started to rise, you look around the graves and are able to dimly make out what looks like a newly hollowed-out tomb.

Amazingly it seems to be open. The stone that would normally be placed at the entrance to keep out wild animals is rolled off to one side. And so, you enter in, glad to find the shelter. And there, in the place where a body would be laid – should be laid – you find nothing but a folded white linen cloth. Grateful to find something to wear, you quickly take it and wrap it around your body. For the first time in days, you feel almost normal.

That is when you hear footsteps approaching. A small group of women are coming to the tomb. You are amazed to recognize them. They are women who also followed him up to Jerusalem. As they approach, everything comes together in your mind and in your spirit and you know what you need to say to them.

A Stand-in for the Reader

Who was the strange young man in the garden who ran away naked? We may never know. But I don’t think that he is meant to represent the author of the gospel, nor any particular disciple. I suspect that Mark wrote him into the Gospel as a stand-in for you, the reader. He wanted you to imagine yourself in the scene. He wanted you to ask yourself what you might have done.

In particular, he wanted you to ask what it might mean for you to follow Jesus – to truly follow Jesus – and what that might mean in your life. This young disciple is all of us – or at least who all of us could be if we choose to follow him closely as a habit in our lives.

[1] Stephen B. Hatton, Mark's Naked Disciple: The Semiotics and Comedy of Following

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Should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’?

Posted by on Sunday, March 17th, 2024 in Minister
Watch Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, March 17, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Fifth Sunday in Lent
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 119:9-16, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

Can I be honest with you for a moment? This Sunday is not really every minister’s favourite Sunday in the calendar year. After worship today we will be gathering as a congregation for our annual meeting. And annual meetings are really important because it is important that the people of the church be given a voice and decision-making power on significant things in the life of a congregation – things like the budget, trustees, leadership and policy.

But, of course, in order to allow that to happen, we have to create some space in which dissenting voices can be heard and where people are allowed to disagree with one another. This, again, is healthy, normal and an essential part of a constructive meeting, but it is not always comfortable. And it can be particularly uncomfortable for those who serve as clergy. We know that things will be discussed that might affect our stipend and other aspects of our life that are very important to us just like they would be to anyone else.

Difficult Hours

So, as I talk together with my fellow ministers, we will often commiserate around days like this. That’s why the words of Jesus in our gospel reading this morning kind of spoke to me as I thought about what I would preach during this hour. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’?”

And I hardly mean to trivialize the very great challenge that Jesus knew he was facing. I hardly mean to create a false equivalence between what he suffered and the difficult hours that you or I may face.

He certainly wasn’t just dealing with the prospect of a meeting where people might say things he didn’t want to hear. No, Jesus had come down to Jerusalem and had a very reasonable expectation that he would be arrested, convicted, and killed in the most painful way possible here. When he feels troubled and considers asking to be saved from the hour that he faces, it gives us all a different perspective on any of the difficult hours that we have faced in our lives.

Minimizing our Struggles

But, at the same time, I don’t want to minimize any of these troubles that we do face. If you are suffering for any reason, you have every right to your feelings and your distress and you shouldn’t let anyone minimize it.

And you might get the impression that you should if you read this passage in the Gospel of John alone. I mean, yes, Jesus speaks about the trouble in his soul and his desire to be saved from the hour, but he certainly doesn’t seem to wallow in such feelings for very long at all. He immediately goes on to say, “No,” no I will not ask to be saved from this hour because “it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Does that mean that any negative feelings we may have or any desire to be spared we might express are all illegitimate? Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t feel or want such things? I am not so sure.

The Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

In the other gospels, Jesus expresses similar sentiments when he is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says to his disciples in eerily similar words, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death.” (Mark 14:34) And then Jesus goes over by himself to pray and ask very specifically that he might be spared from the hour that is coming, saying, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me.” (v.36)

So, we have almost exactly the same words that we find in John. But where in John, Jesus’ soul only seems to grieve for a moment and he quickly rejects the very idea that he should ask to be spared, in the other gospels Jesus remains in that grief and that desire to escape for a very long time – for an hour at least. And it is an hour of complete and utter agony as Jesus wrestles with God over what is going to happen to him.

And yes, he always ends his plea by saying, “yet not what I want but what you want,” (v.36) but you certainly do not get the impression that he comes to that reconciliation easily or quickly. His hour in the garden has got to be one of the worst hours of his life – only to be overshadowed, of course, by what is about to come!

Reconciling the Passages

You may well ask how we are supposed to reconcile what Jesus says here in the Gospel of John with the accounts of the Garden of Gethsemane, but I don’t necessarily see this as a contradiction. Sure, John may not want to dwell on Jesus’ desire to escape the fate that awaits him, and he skips over it immediately, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t dwell in it in the garden. The agony in Jesus’ heart was real during that hour. It is just that John wants to look at the agony of Jesus from another angle because he wants to teach us something very important about those difficult hours in our lives and how we can navigate them well.

In particular, John wants us to understand where Jesus landed after that hour of agony and how Jesus became to be reconciled to what came next. You see, there is always a temptation when you face a difficult hour. Your natural inclination, if it simply cannot be avoided, is just to grit your teeth and clinch your fists and get through it so that you can forget about it as quickly as possible as you get on with your life. We attempt to minimize those moments. That may be understandable, but it is not what Jesus does.

The Purpose of Such Hours

Jesus explains to the crowd that such hours have a purpose and that they are meant to bring you to a place where you finally understand one of the deepest truths of this life, a truth that he sums up like this: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

Now, it is pretty clear what this means in the light of what we all know that Jesus is about to face. He knows that he is heading towards something that will bring his death in a very painful way. And he also knows, and this is made clear many times in this gospel, that he will be raised from the dead. And so, he is the grain of wheat that dies and comes back in new life.

Not Just About What Happens to Jesus

But part of what Jesus is saying here is that his death and resurrection is not just for him. The new sprout that will come from the seed that dies in the ground is not just a new chance at life for him. The new life he is obtaining is for the whole world and for us as well.

At the same time, though, this is not just about what is going to happen to Jesus or what he accomplishes for us. Jesus is here proclaiming a universal principle and one that is central to the Christian faith.

The truth is that we as Christians only have one model for renewal, and that model is death and resurrection. Jesus has shown us the way, but we are all called to continue to walk in it. And that is the particular challenge we are given whenever we face a difficult hour, crisis or trial. We are called not merely to survive it but to have the faith to pass through it by dying to what we need to die to and being raised up to new life.

Your Relationships

Have you ever faced a difficult time in a key relationship in your life? Relationships are not easy and if any relationship is authentic, there will be times when you disagree or fight or even struggle to love the other.

And because such times can be so difficult, the temptation may be to merely survive them. You may avoid the conflict. You try not to talk about it, change the subject when the point of disagreement comes up. You think that if you ignore the conflict, it will go away on its own. And maybe sometimes it even seems to, but I’ll guarantee you that it will come back in some new form sooner or later!

Another strategy you may resort to in such a circumstance is using dominance and power (whatever power is available to you) to browbeat your relationship partner into just giving in to eliminate the point of conflict. Again, that may seem to make the difficult time go away, but it doesn’t really solve anything and only means that the times that come get worse as you go along.

No, if you really value your relationship, what you have to do is enter into a possibly even more difficult time when you risk yourself, where you choose to die to something in yourself that has been malignant in your relationship. Only in such death can new life be found for your relationship.

Other Difficult Hours

That is just one example, of course. I know we all face difficult hours in our lives and each one presents unique challenges. They may come in terms of health issues or medical treatments. They may come in difficult work-related issues or financial struggles. We’ve all been there and we will all be there again.

I think it would be helpful for all of us to hold onto the formula Jesus gives us in the Gospel of John. It is usually not helpful to just try and avoid such hours. Rather than seeking to be saved from them, we find our way through them, asking what we need to die to in order to be raised to new life.

Annual Meetings

This brings me back to where I started and the attitude that clergy may bring to annual meetings. Do they need to be difficult hours that we should seek to be saved from? Of course not.

And there’s no reason to think that this meeting will be a difficult one. Indeed, I do not expect that. My desire to be saved from such meetings is more based on past trauma than on the reality of our current situation. But that being said, it is not as if we don’t have some difficult questions to deal with as a congregation.

 And the reality is that, when that is the case, we might enter into such an hour with a “Father, save me from this hour” kind of attitude. Such an attitude might lead us to simply brush over or even ignore those issues that could cause tension among us.

In my experience, churches can be really good at doing that kind of thing. Whenever the hard topics come up, we just kind of change the subject.

The other temptation, the one that we often resort to when we are feeling personally vulnerable, is to become aggressive and maybe even take a bullying approach with others. We think that if we can just beat others in submission, we can impose a better situation for ourselves.

And then there are others whose instinct, whenever something feels a little bit controversial, is simply to back down and become completely passive.

These kinds of reactions may feel as if they work for us as if they are getting us through a difficult hour. But I do not believe that they lead to where we need to go and that is new life. We don’t need to be saved from a difficult hour, we need to be raised to new life.

To What Do We Need to Die?

So, this is what I would challenge us all to do, including myself, as we move towards an hour that could have some uncomfortable moments. Ask yourself what you need to die to in order to find new life.

As a congregation, I think there may be some attitudes that we need to die to. We need to die to an assumption we often easily make that we are somehow better than some other congregations, perhaps because they are dealing with struggles that we’re not right now. As a congregation and as churches around here, I suspect we need to die to the assumption that we can thrive on our own and that the loss of other ministries doesn’t affect us.

And maybe above all, we need to die to our tendency to think only in terms of what we can get from the church so that we can be born again to a new attitude concerning what we can all give to the work of Christ through the church together.

But understand this, whatever we may have to die to, there is a purpose. When the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, that’s not the end of the story. That is the new beginning. That is what Jesus was promising us. So, I will not pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour.’ I hope you don’t either.

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On Healing

Posted by on Sunday, March 10th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch the video here:

Hespeler, March 10, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

I really appreciate the opportunity that we have been given to focus on the important and necessary resources that are provided to people who are dealing with end-of-life care in our region through the hospice.

I would just like to spend a few moments in reflection on end-of-life care from a Christian perspective. We talk a lot about healing in the church – and for good reason. Many people are struggling with various illnesses, ailments and lacks. And when someone is wounded in mind or body or spirit, our default Christian response is to pray and to ask God for healing.

Moses and the Serpents

The story we read from the Book of Numbers this morning is a perfect illustration of that. The people of Israel are afflicted with a dreadful and frightening illness as venomous serpents spread through the camp and people are bitten and fall ill and die. And they cry out in despair for what? For healing. And Moses creates a powerful symbol for healing by making a serpent out of bronze and placing it on a staff. That symbol should be familiar, by the way. To this very day, the symbol of intertwined winged snakes on a staff is the international symbol for medicine.

And the promise of the story, of course, is that when people ask for healing, when they turn to the symbol of healing that Moses gives them, they will be healed. In our Gospel reading, that idea is taken and turned into a metaphor for the salvation we can access by turning and looking to Jesus.

Seeking Healing

And I am so glad to be able to turn to God and seek healing – to pray for and ask for God’s help. But, at the same time, I think we all recognize that healing – at least the kind of healing we may be craving for someone – is not always going to come. Sometimes someone has a condition that is almost certainly terminal. Sometimes people’s conditions are so bad that we simply don’t want them to keep on suffering. And, sure, miracles may happen, but I’m pretty sure we all understand that they don’t always happen just because we pray no matter how hard we believe. On top of all that, we have the undeniable truth that nobody lives forever.

Healing and End of Life

So how can we confess a belief in a God who heals and deal with the realities of end-of-life care? Well, let me put it this way: I do believe that God can always heal. But the healing that God brings, is not always the healing we are seeking. And it’s certainly not always the same thing as a medical cure.

What’s more, we tend to think of health in one dimension, as a condition of the body. But God always sees us as more. God sees the whole person, mind and body and spirit. God sees us within our relationships and community. And God, treating us as a whole person, is always able to bring healing, even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Even when somebody’s situation is dire, even when they’re undoubtedly heading towards death, I do believe that we can pray to God for their healing. And I believe that God heals. But the healing comes in different ways for different people.

Different Ways of Healing

For some people, the healing they need is some reconciliation with people in their lives. I have seen some amazing miracles where people found forgiveness and love that was able to overcome past hurts in their last days. That is vital healing. For some people, it might just be a little bit of peace and a little bit of relief from their pain.

For many people, healing is as much about coming to terms with the dying process, either for themselves or for their loved one, in some kind of comforting way. But wherever people are on that inexorable journey from birth to death, God’s healing power is able to meet them where they are. I believe that.

Hospice Waterloo

 And that is why I am so glad to be able to celebrate the work of Hospice Waterloo. In the programs and the facilities they offer, they make possible and create the space where so much healing can happen as people deal with the end of life. God is present in those places for healing. Sometimes acknowledged, perhaps sometimes not, but healing happens and for that I think we can all be truly thankful. And we certainly pray for the continued healing work of Hospice.

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My Client didn’t say it! And if he did say it, it doesn’t mean what you think it means

Posted by on Sunday, March 3rd, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, March 3, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

t is a pattern we have all seen by now so often that it has almost become routine. A report comes out that a popular personality – a celebrity or a politician or maybe it is an influential religious person – has said something horrible, awful and egregious – something racist or homophobic or a statement in support of an accused terrorist group.

And what is the first response? It is almost always a firm denial. No, they never said such a horrible, awful thing. Whoever said that they said it is obviously lying. Whoever reported it is only publishing fake news. Nothing to see here!

The Truth Comes Out

Shortly afterwards, almost on cue, what happens? The tape is suddenly released or an unimpeachable witness steps forward. Yes, it turns out, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the beloved personality really did say it.

That should be the end of the story, right? Now that the proof is out in the open, it cannot be denied. So, does the accused finally admit that they were in the wrong? Of course not! No, the next explanation we learn is that, okay, yes, they did say it. But everybody’s got it all wrong. They didn’t mean it like that!

So I guess it turns out that it’s actually everybody else’s fault because we all totally misunderstood what this very important person said. If there’s any apology at all at this point, the person will apologize for how everyone else misunderstood and misconstrued what they said.

Public Relations Confusion

How often have you seen that same series of events play out in public relations? Sometimes it leads us to real confusion about what the person actually said and what it meant. And sometimes it creates a conversation that might just lead to a better understanding of who they are – for better or for worse.

I was thinking about this kind of drama that regularly plays out in the world of public relations when I read our passage from the Gospel of John this morning. Because it turns out that Jesus himself was once accused of saying something terrible – something that you would think only a terrorist would say. He said that he would destroy the temple in Jerusalem – the central institution of Judean society and that he would rebuild it in three days.

Mark is Adamant!

And the very idea that Jesus could ever even dream of saying such a thing was so unthinkable that the writer of the Gospel of Mark, the first of our gospels ever written, went out of his way to deny it. When Jesus is on trial near the end of the Gospel of Mark, he writes, For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”’” (Mark 14:56-58)

Did you catch that? Mark is so sure that Jesus never said anything like that he insists twice that this was “false testimony.” Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I turn over to the Gospel of John who reports those very words on Jesus’ own lips: Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’”

False Testimony?

And yes, I realize that those are not exactly the words that Mark says that Jesus didn’t say. Perhaps they are even different enough that a public relations expert could spin it to say that Mark was technically correct in his previous denials. But is it really different enough for Mark to have insisted so strongly that it was all “false testimony”?

So, we are in that place where we so often find ourselves in the world these days when we are given conflicting reports about what some famous person said, and we are left to work out for ourselves what it all really means. And that is, by the way, exactly where the gospel writer of John wants us to be.

A Terrorist Act?

He has done this on purpose to get us thinking about the meaning behind what Jesus is doing. Jesus is, after all, causing a major disturbance in the temple. It is the kind of act that anyone, no matter how sympathetic to Jesus and his cause, would find troubling.

Imagine, for example, if some people went into the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem today and started turning over tables and whipping people. That would be seen, at the very least, as an act of terrorism. In the present context, it would probably open a new front in the ongoing war. Whatever Jesus may have said on the occasion, what he did in the temple was definitely radical, inflammatory and provocative. And yet, all four gospels agree that he did that.

This is one of Jesus’ more radical moments, and so we absolutely need to come to terms with what it means. The Gospel of John, by insisting that Jesus said what the Gospel of Mark insists that he didn’t say, is quite intentionally forcing us to come to terms with it.

Is it Practical?

So, what does it mean? Is Jesus attacking the temple? He may be doing so symbolically, but the gospel writer seems to want to make it abundantly clear that Jesus is by no means a practical threat to the temple itself. He underlines the fact that, at the time when Jesus’ ministry began, the temple had “been under construction for forty-six years.”

The rebuild had been started as a vanity project by Herod the Great and the work would not be completed for nearly as long again after Jesus came, at which point it would be destroyed by Romans, not by Jesus. So, the gospel writer seems to be screaming at his readers, “Do you know how big and complicated the temple complex was? The very idea that Jesus could destroy it is ridiculous!”

So, What did he Mean?

So, yes, the point is clear that Jesus cannot mean this literally. But we are still left with the question of how we can understand it. Fortunately, John clears that one up for us too. He tells us what Jesus really meant: “But he was speaking of the temple of his body.” He is speaking about his own death and resurrection that will be recounted at the end of this gospel.

But he’s also saying more than that. He is looking forward to the time when there will not be a temple in Jerusalem, and he’s promising that his own body will step into the role that the temple once played. The temple was the place where the people of Israel encountered their God, and Jesus is promising that his own body will become that point of contact between heaven and earth.

The Body of Christ

A little bit later this morning, we will be gathering around the communion table and remembering the ancient words of Jesus as we break the bread: “This is my body, given for you.” It is in our participation as a community in this meal, that we are able to find that same encounter with God that the people of Israel experienced in the temple.

So, this odd saying of Jesus that Mark had such a problem with that he insisted Jesus never said it, is suddenly laden with meaning for us as followers of Jesus.

But there is one more very surprising aspect to this objectionable saying of Jesus. The gospel writer tells us what Jesus meant by it, but he also admits that nobody understood that when Jesus said it. He writes, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Nobody Understood Jesus

So, the Jewish officials don’t understand what Jesus means, and neither do the disciples, not when he says it. In fact, they have to remember what he said for the three years of ministry that, according to the Gospel of John, are still ahead of Jesus at this point. They have to remember it until after he is crucified and then raised from the dead, and only then, only after the resurrection, will this saying of Jesus mean anything to them. So, what did they think that Jesus meant in the meantime? Did they think for three years that Jesus was making a terrorist threat against the temple? I mean, what else could they have thought?

The Resurrection Changed Everything

But this actually underlines something that is absolutely central to the whole Christian faith. It all comes down to the experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Very clearly, once those first Christians became convinced that Jesus really had risen from the dead, they went over everything that they remembered him saying and doing and all of it took on new meaning.

Previously vague statements about his relationship with his heavenly Father suddenly become indications that he was God’s Son in some unique way. Parables that were once incomprehensible became clearly about him and who he truly was. Nonsensical sayings became profound truths. Everything changed as it was seen through that lens.

How John is Telling his Story

And since the Gospel of John presents this story at the very beginning of his Gospel instead of at the end like the other three, the author is loudly announcing to us that he intends to tell this whole story through that lens. He is not merely going to tell us what Jesus did and said; he is going to tell us what his words and deeds meant in the light of his death and resurrection. And that probably explains why Jesus speaks so differently in this gospel as compared to the others. The writer isn’t just telling us what Jesus said; he is translating it all into the deeper meaning as he goes.

But, if that was true for the gospel writer, how much truer is it for us today? One of the things that unites us as Christians is our admiration for this man, Jesus. We admire his wisdom, his teaching, his care for the sinners and outcasts and the healing he brought into people’s lives. I would hope that all of those things inspire us as we do our best to walk in the path that Jesus has shown to us.

The Power of the Resurrection

But it is the experience of the resurrection of Jesus and its power that gives us the ability to keep going. It is the knowledge of that that transforms this simple meal that we will share into a spiritual feast of divine proportions. It is what gives us the hope and expectation that death is not the final word despite the fact that it often seems to reign in this world.

But I want you to note how I am phrasing this. It is about the experience of the resurrection of Jesus. I know there are some who would tell you that it is enough that we hear the news that Jesus is risen from the dead – that we accept the testimony of those first-generation Christians who saw him after his death. But I honestly don’t think that that is what it is about. It is not just a matter of coming to accept the intellectual knowledge that people saw Jesus alive. It’s not just about believing that it happened.

Firsthand Experience

The thing that changed everything for those early believers was when they experienced that resurrection for themselves. And, yes, some of them had a very direct experience of the risen Jesus, but not all did. But those who did not see him directly, didn’t just have to take other people’s word for it. They could experience the power of the resurrection for themselves.

They experienced it in the community of the church that came together and supported one another in the face of danger and opposition. They experienced it when they stepped out in faith to bring healing and hope to the people of their community. And they experienced it when they took on the structures of oppression in their society, much like Jesus attacked the temple institution in his day, and they survived. They experienced it when they gathered to share a common meal. And they especially experienced it when they saw new life coming out of death in many areas of their lives.

And so We Gather for Communion

In a little while, we will enter into a celebration of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And so, I will invite you to come to this celebration with an expectation. Don’t expect to merely hear a testimony to what happened to Jesus. Expect to enter into the experience of his death and resurrection for yourself. For the church community dies and is raised up to new life together every time we do this. And I would invite you to filter everything you have learned about Jesus through this  experience.

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Jesus and the Satan

Posted by on Sunday, February 25th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch the Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, February 25, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:23-31, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38

Did you know that there was once a high priest who served in the temple in Jerusalem named Jesus? He was, in fact, the very first high priest who was consecrated to serve in the temple that was rebuilt after the people returned from exile in Babylon. He’s mentioned in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. His name in Hebrew would have been Joshua, or in Aramaic it would have been Yeshua. But in Greek, the language of the New Testament and of the Old Testament that the gospel writers read, the name was Jesus.

Zechariah’s Vision

So this was a very significant person at a very significant moment in history. And in the Book of Zechariah, we are told of a vision that the Prophet Zechariah had regarding this priest, Jesus. (Zechariah 3:1-6) In Zechariah’s vision, he saw the priest Jesus being prepared to lead the sacrifices in the temple.

But then he was accused by someone called the accuser, or, in Hebrew, the Satan, of not being worthy of performing the sacrifice. The Satan said that Jesus was nothing more than a brand plucked from the fire,” That is to say, he was just an upstart from the streets. He was dressed in dirty clothes and not impressive like a priest was supposed to be.

But, in this vision, Yahweh, the God of Israel, rebukes the Satan and tells him that Jesus is worthy of making the sacrifice, that God will clothe Jesus in new clean clothes and a white turban. That God will make him worthy.

I realize that this is just a vision. But visions matter a great deal in the biblical tradition, so I’d like to dwell on it for a moment. Zechariah had a vision in which the Satan rebuked Jesus for wanting to perform a sacrifice and the Satan was rebuked by God for doing so. Does any of that sound familiar?

The Satan

Oh, and you’re probably wondering why I keep saying the Satan rather than just talking about Satan. It is because that is what it actually says in the Hebrew text. It is not a name, but rather a title. The Satan, according to much of the Old Testament, was not another name for the devil or the great enemy of God.

The Satan was actually someone who was on God’s heavenly team. He had a very particular job; he operated like God’s Attorney General. He challenged and tested the actions of various people to decide if they were faithful or not. He famously did that to Job at the beginning of the Book of Job and he seems to be doing the same thing to the High Priest Jesus in Zechariah’s vision.

Now, it is true that, over time, the figure of the Satan came to be mingled with another figure – the devil who operated as God’s opponent and enemy – but that was a slow process and that blending had not completed when the Book of Zechariah was written. And that makes me wonder. Where are we in that blending process when it comes to the mind of Jesus or of the gospel writer in our reading this morning from the Gospel of Mark?

Peter’s Good Mood

Peter had been riding high all week. Things had just been going so well. Jesus was growing in popularity. Larger and larger crowds were turning out and he was really starting to think that this whole movement was going somewhere. Everyone recognized him as a key leader. He began to dream that, as he rode on Jesus’ coattails, he would see his own influence and status grow. Things were good.

One day they were just all hanging out and shooting the breeze in Caesarea Philippi when something Jesus said suddenly made Peter realize what all of this fantastic success they’d been experiencing really meant. Jesus wasn’t just a really great teacher and healer. He was actually God’s Messiah, the Anointed One. And so he said so – said it right in front of everyone. And then, far from denying it, Jesus said that it was all a big secret that they would have to keep for a while.

Jesus Spoils his Day

But then, all of a sudden, Jesus just crushed all of Peter’s good mood. He started talking about how they would have to go down to Jerusalem and, when they did, he would undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and that he would be killed! He said more after that, but when Peter heard that much, he got so mad that he stopped listening.

What’s more, he could hardly wait to get Jesus alone so that he could tell him off for being such a downer. “Listen, Jesus,” he said, “we just can’t afford this kind of pessimistic thinking! You need to stop talking like that right now!” But Jesus rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”


I was rather surprised to notice the strong parallels between that famous episode in Jesus’ life and the less famous vision that the Prophet Zechariah had. Do you think that it is just a coincidence that those two passages echo each other so perfectly? I don’t really believe in that kind of coincidence when it comes to reading the scripture. I think there is a connection between those passages that we had better not miss.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think that that exchange between Peter and Jesus where each rebuked the other is just about something that happened once. It is not just about that time when Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen specifically to him and his disciples, and especially Peter, really couldn’t handle it.

What Messiah Means

I mean, yes, it is about that. It is obviously about what it means that Jesus is the Messiah. It is about how people like Peter had one idea about him being Messiah – that it was all about honour and glory and continual victory – and that Jesus had a very different idea, that it was actually about service and sacrifice.

And Peter tested Jesus. He didn’t test him towards evil; if that had been the case, Jesus would have called him the devil. But Jesus didn’t call him that; he called him Satan. He was saying that Peter’s rebuke meant that Peter wanted Jesus to take the easy way out – the path of least resistance. Peter was being enticing, but he wasn’t being evil.

So that was a significant moment in Jesus’ ministry and the development of it. But, like I said, it wasn’t just a one-time event. It happened in the time of the Prophet Zechariah too when that prophet had a vision of almost exactly the same thing happening to the priest Jesus in his own day. The two events are connected and that, to my mind, means that it is a kind of cosmic event that happened way back then and in the time of Jesus and that it just keeps happening.

The Spirit of the Satan

In other words, the spirit of the Satan is still active in the world today. And again, when I say the Satan, I do not mean it in the way that that is usually understood today. I am not talking about a great malevolent spirit who is at work in this world. I mean, sure, there may be a lot of evidence of that spirit at work in the world today, but that was not the spirit the Jesus was dealing with as he spoke with Peter. I’m talking about the spirit of testing that goes forth from God and tests all of our hearts as we seek to choose between what is good and what is better.

Priorities and Modern Life

No, I’m thinking about situations like this. You, everyday as you go through your life, are faced with a myriad of decisions. You are forced to prioritize certain things. In this world, we are often pushed to prioritize the things that will give us and the people in our family financial security. Indeed, that is one of the primary messages of our modern age. And there is indeed nothing wrong with doing that. We are living within a capitalistic society, and so we are pretty much forced to operate according to the capitalist system.

And so, for example, people often feel the pressure to prioritize work over family or more pay over their personal health and well-being. Of course these are good things, especially when we are doing things like creating security for the people that we love. And security usually means money in our society. And so Peter, or the Satan, is constantly coming to us and saying that we should just continue to prioritize these things.

God’s Priorities

But what if God is calling you to prioritize something else? In some cases that might be your own health, or it could be about spending some real quality time with the people that you love. In some cases, God might be calling you to embrace something that has more meaning than merely getting more money to participate in the economy. Maybe God is asking you to step out in ministry or service to others like he was calling Jesus.

And God may even be calling you to step out in a risky way to challenge what is wrong in the world right now, possibly at great personal cost. Which, of course, was also what God was calling Jesus to do.

The Satan Rebukes You

Whenever we consider any such things, whenever the call seems to be upon you to do such things, you can be sure that the Satan of this world, the people of this world who don’t want anyone to rock the boat or to prioritize something different will rebuke you.

You may be at such a moment in your life right now. That’s what I mean when I say that Zechariah’s vision continues to play out in the modern world just as it played out for Jesus. And will you, like him, have the courage to rebuke the accuser and choose the path of courage that is before you?

Corporate Priorities

But this is not only about your individual action. This is also about how we choose to act corporately in this world. I suspect that the church, for one, is also living out Zechariah’s vision today? We are still attempting to live out our models of success that we have inherited from the past, continuing to try and replicate past glories and past successes.

But many of them are not working like they once did. It is like the church has become a brand plucked from the fire,” a priest in dirty clothes. But whenever anyone suggests that maybe it’s time to try something new or different, what is the reaction? The Satan will rebuke us, will suggest that it would just be safer to do things as they have always been done. Will we have the courage to rebuke the Satan?

The corporate and business world all around us has become ever more fixed on profits. Every quarter they are expected to show more and more growth. That is the way of the world in which we live, after all. Corporations and businesses exist only for one goal and that is to produce ever more profits for investors. It doesn’t matter who is suffering, or who can’t pay their bills or can no longer afford to pay the rents so long as the investors are happy at the end of the day.

Telling the Satan to Get Behind

Now profit, in itself is a good thing. It drives investment and can create security and prosperity for many. But the Satan today seems to be telling the whole world that it is the only thing that matters and that all other things must be sacrificed to it. And when profit becomes the absolute priority, we have a problem. Will we rebuke Satan and tell him to get behind us?

You see, it still keeps on happening. The Satan, the accuser is still at work and testing us in this world. Zechariah’s vision is played out over and over again, but the response is simple, and Jesus shows us the way. It is time to put the accuser behind us and to step out in faith, choosing the better over the good, choosing service over security. We can all choose to play our part in the greater work that God is doing in this world.

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Utnapishtim or Why Stories Matter

Posted by on Sunday, February 18th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, February 18, 2024 © Scott McAndless – First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 8:20-9-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15

Once upon a time, a great city called Shurrupak was built on the shores of the Euphrates River. And as the city grew and filled with people, it became so noisy that even the gods began to complain about the din. The storm god Enlil was so upset that the city was disturbing his beauty sleep that he gathered all the gods and demanded that something be done about it. He persuaded them wipe out all the mortals in a great flood.

But the god Ea sent a warning in a dream to a man named Utnapishtim. With his children and hired men, Utnapishtim built an enormous boat with seven decks and filled it with supplies. The boat was launched, loaded with Utnapishtim’s gold, children, wife, relatives, animals, and craftsmen.

The Great Flood

Early the next day, a black cloud appeared on the horizon, and a great storm came – a storm so powerful that even the gods cowered in fear. The storm raged for six days and nights, but finally, with the dawn of the seventh day, the rains stopped, and the sea became calm. Utnapishtim opened the hatch of his boat and saw that he was surrounded by an endless sea. But there, in the distance, he saw a mountain rising up out of the water.

He sailed towards the mountain for six days and six nights. On the dawn of the seventh day, Utnapishtim released a dove into the air. The dove returned, for it found no place to land. Then Utnapishtim released a swallow, and it too returned. But then Utnapishtim released a raven that did not come back. Utnapishtim then opened the hatches and made an offering of cane, cedar, and myrtle on a mountaintop in a heated cauldron. And the gods gathered like flies over the sacrifice.

Babylonian Stories

When you live in a strange land, one of the best ways to get to know the people you are living among is to listen to their stories. These will tell you a lot about how they see the world and their place in it. And so, when the ancient people of Judah were taken away against their will and forced to live in the land of Babylon and work for the Babylonian people, they heard the stories of their captors, stories that taught them a great deal about this powerful and warlike people.

And the story of Utnapishtim and the great flood was one of those stories that they heard. We know that they heard it in the streets of Babylon because the story had been around for centuries before they ever got there. The story is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh and there are copies of that book that date back to 1800 BC – older than any of the writings in the Bible.

So what did the story of Utnapishtim teach the Judahites about their Babylonian captors? It taught them a lot about the kinds of gods they believed in – impetuous gods who were upset by things like the noise of a city. They were also gods whose default reaction when things weren’t exactly as they liked, was to lash out in violence and destruction.

But the gods also didn’t really think through these reactions. They clearly regretted it when they no longer received sacrifices from the people that they had destroyed. They suddenly realized, in fact, how dependent they were on these filthy and noisy mortals for everything, swarming around Utnapishtim’s act of worship as if they were starving!

The Babylonian Oppressors

And as the expatriate Jews heard these stories about the Babylonian gods, they looked knowingly at each other. These stories corresponded to everything they knew about their captors. The Babylonians were cruel and always ready to lash out in violence whenever anyone annoyed them or disturbed them. Indeed, they resorted to violence so quickly that they didn’t even think through the consequences of their actions.

But as the Hebrews served the Babylonians together with other captives, they also knew how dependent they were. If ever the Babylonians carried through on their frequent threats to wipe out the people they called noisy vermin – the ones who served them – they would be starving and scrambling for resources within days! They were just like their gods.

Jewish Story of the Flood

The Jews at that time had their own stories of a great flood, probably based on some shared ancestral memory of a great cataclysmic event. In their stories, the hero was called Noah instead of Utnapishtim, but the stories were so alike in many ways that, when they heard the Babylonian epic, many things sounded very familiar. For example, their story of Noah ended almost exactly the same with Noah sending out birds to look for land and a final sacrifice when he was able to disembark.

The Hebrews didn’t worship a whole bunch of gods like the Babylonians did; they believed that there was only one God worth worshiping. So, of course, their story of Noah only featured one God who determined to wipe out humanity but also chose to warn and save the hero. It is, admittedly, a more difficult story to tell when you have to explain everything according to the will of the same God, but their story did somehow manage to make sense of it all.

A Better Hebrew Story

The Hebrew story was better in some ways than the Babylonian version. The Babylonian gods’ decision to flood everything was basically a noise complaint that was taken too far. The God of Israel had a better reason. He saw how humanity had fallen into a horrible habit of responding to evil and violence with ever more, evil and violence. The flood, in their story, was a desperate attempt to break that never-ending cycle of ever-increasing violence.

That seems like a better motivation, even if the strategy is more than a bit questionable. Because the fact of the matter is that you can never solve the problem of violence and slaughter with more violence and slaughter.

The End of the Story

The Hebrew story also ended with a scene very reminiscent of the Babylonian tale with Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, smelling the pleasing odour of Noah’s sacrifice and regretting the wholesale destruction of the flood. Perhaps that was a dim echo of the more ancient Babylonian tale.

It also ended with a new promise that God made to the survivors, a promise that is very much focused on the spiralling problem of violence that had led to the flood in the first place.  “I will never again curse the ground because of humans, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.” Yes, human nature may not change, but God has learned that responding to slaughter with more slaughter doesn’t solve anything. Isn’t it time that we learn that as well?

An Inspired Priest

So, the Hebrews already had their own flood story, but that story was also influenced by its encounter with the Babylonian tale. One of them, we do not know his name, but he was probably a member of the priestly class, had an extraordinary experience as a result of encountering the Babylonians and hearing their stories. He was inspired by God.

I don’t know how it happened. It might have happened in a dream or vision. Or it may have come in the form of a deep conviction that the Babylonian way of relating to the world was wrong and that God wanted the people of Judah to see things in a very different way. But somehow, he came to see that God had laid it on him to add to their story of Noah.

A New Way of Seeing God

The priestly author had a very important insight into how the experience of the flood changed God’s approach – an insight that was truly brilliant and plainly inspired. You see, he added to the story the detail that God didn’t just like the smell of the sacrifice, but that God did something about the regret for the flood. God decided to make a covenant.

“As for me,” God said to Noah, “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

A God Who Cared

Now what did this newly inspired ending of the story do? It made something very clear to the Jews who had experienced the devastation of the Babylonian exile. It showed in unmistakable terms that the God that the people of Israel served was not like the gods of Babylon. Their God was not in it just for the smoke of the sacrifices. Their God was not just tolerating them, at least if they weren’t too noisy, for the payoff of receiving their worship.

No, this was a God who cared, who was in relationship with humanity and indeed with every living creature on earth. You only make covenants with people you are in a relationship with. What a remarkable contrast to the kinds of gods who were featured in the story of Utnapishtim.

But think about what that means for a moment. Because they had heard the Babylonian tale, because they had experienced living as exiles in the land of Babylon and seeing how the Babylonians lived out their relationship with their gods, the people of Israel were left with a new deeper and better understanding of who their God was, a God who made a covenant with them and indeed with the whole world and everything that lived upon it.

An Edited Story

That is the fascinating thing about the story of Noah in the book of Genesis. There are clear layers in its development. There is one version of the story for example in which Noah takes two of every kind of animal into the ark. And there is another story in which Noah makes a point of taking seven of every kind of clean animal into the ark. Somebody then intentionally edited those two stories together and we can still trace the seams between the stories.

The story developed over time. And I don’t have any problem with observing that. I don’t necessarily see a contradiction between observing that and believing that the Bible is an inspired book. After all, if God is truly that powerful, why wouldn’t God decide to inspire a series of authors over a long period of time to develop the various layers of the story.

And so we come to see the Bible developing over time as a living document of a people who are coming to discover who their God is through a great variety of experiences, including their contact with people like the Babylonians. What an amazing thing! And it is something that I think is much more helpful to us as we seek to work out our relationship with God than a story that was written once and remained fixed ever since.

Today’s Flood Story

Today we are being told a new version of the story of the flood. It is the story of a coming disaster. And I know you’ve all heard it. It’s not a story about gods, but it is a story about consequences for the excesses of human beings.

And do you know what the problem with the humans is according to this story? It’s not exactly that our cities are too noisy, nor is it really that human beings are too prone to violence, though honestly, we really haven’t gotten very far in terms of solving either of those problems. No, the problem is apparently that we have been burning too much carbon for too long, mostly because of our endless pursuit of more and more wealth.

And what is the consequence of this? The modern story is that the consequence is, among other things, that the glaciers will melt, and the flood waters will rise to devastating effect. That is one of the key and very frightening stories of our modern age. And we hear it all the time. And the question is what do we as people of faith and people who take the Bible seriously, do with that?

What Do We Do with Our Story?

Do we simply take the story of Noah’s flood as we’ve always understood it and leave it unadapted to this new threat? I do hear some Christians doing that. They say, “Oh, God promised at the end of Noah’s flood that he would never destroy the world again using water, so obviously what the scientists are predicting will never happen. The Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it.”

But I’m not sure that is what our response should be. The priestly writer heard the story that was being told in Babylon in his day, and that led to him being inspired by God to tell his old story in a new way. I think that is what we are being called to do as well today. This new story is challenging us all to rethink our relationship with God and this world that God created and all the things that live upon it.

How exactly should we tell and understand the story in new ways? I’m not necessarily going to tell you that. I think we need to live with this story in new and challenging times. If we do that, I believe that God will inspire us to new insights and new understandings of the commitment of our God to us and to this world. That is the amazingly fun thing about having a living book of stories like the Bible that helps to guide us into a deeper relationship with our God.

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