News Blog

Christianity under attack

Posted by on Sunday, February 2nd, 2020 in Minister

Hespeler, 2 February 2020 © Scott McAndless
Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15:1-5, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

My friends, my brothers and sisters, I have some dire news for you this morning. The Christian faith, the Christian church and everything associated with the name of Jesus Christ is under attack. What is worse, the forces that are attacking it are likely to succeed in destroying it because they are unlike any other foe that we have ever faced.

A fist punching through a wall.

So, what is this enemy? What is this foe unlike any other? I know that some of you think that you know what I am going to say. You think that I might be warning of the dangers of secularism. You may be thinking that the greatest danger facing us has to do with the rising tide of people who are pleased to orient everything in their lives without any reference to God, without any reference to divine authority or writ. You may be thinking of the tendency of society itself to make every decision without giving any consideration at all to questions about God or religion.

Now, I will grant you that there are certain difficulties that the general secularization of society has created for the church in our times. Things were definitely easier for the church when the society deferred to it and when it reserved certain days of the week for the almost exclusive use of the church, for example. Things were easier when society and government listened when the church spoke simply because it was the church speaking. It was easier when being a Christian, in name at least, was the natural default for just about everyone. Oh yes it was easier! But surely the lack of ease is not possibly something that could bring about the destruction and end of Christianity. If it were as fragile as all that, Christianity would have passed away long ago. So, no, I do not think but the forces of secularization could possibly be the thing that is bringing about the demise of Christianity.

Ah, but some of you might say that the real threat that is destroying the faith today is the reality of pluralism. Pluralism is the name we give to the phenomenon of what we find ourselves in today: a society in which there is a plurality of religions and faiths. Where once, in North America, there was only Christianity in its various forms and almost nobody who belonged to another faith. I mean, there were a few Jews here and there but that’s about it. But today, it seems, it is far more likely that your new neighbours will turn out to be Sikhs or Muslims or Hindus than that they turn out to be Baptists or Catholics or Presbyterians. The mere fact that people who are followers of non-Christian faiths (or even no faith at all) are all over the place in our society means that Christianity no longer has that first place and the privileges that go with it.

So, is that the foe that will destroy our Christian faith? Is pluralism going to be what brings us down? No, that is not the danger I am talking about. I realize that the loss of privilege and a first place within society is hard. Sometimes it even feels like persecution. But actually, the simple fact that Christianity has to deal with some competition in the spiritual marketplace today should not worry us. Surely the Christian faith is strong enough that it can endure in the face of a bit of competition for the hearts and minds of people.

So, if it’s not secularism or pluralism, what is it? The true threat does not come from atheism or science or even from changes in societal morality. No, the true threats, the ones that are attacking the faith head-on, are Christians. And it’s not even that they are bad Christians – at least I don’t think most of them are – they are just frightened Christians. You see, they feel as if Christianity is under attack from all of those things that I’ve mentioned – the secularism, pluralism and other various trends that we see in the world. They feel as if they must fight against these things, must engage in what is called cultural warfare. The ironic thing is that by doing that, they are attacking the very essence of the Christian faith itself.

Let me show you what I mean. Just recently, Liberty University, probably the most important Evangelical Christian Education Institution in the United States created a new thinktank called the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty. It is a way to bring together Christian intellectuals to set the theoretical basis for the church’s interaction with the outside world.

Here is a part of Falkirk’s mission statement: “Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough and turning the other cheek in our personal relationships with our neighbors as Jesus taught while abdicating our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield is no longer sufficient. There is too much at stake in the battle for the soul of our nation.” Now think, for a moment, about what it is they are saying there. They are saying that in order to defend the faith against the things that are attacking it, things that they collectively call “leftism” (which I think is a very unhelpful term) but which includes things like secularism and pluralism – that, because these things are attacking Christianity in their view, we basically have to abandon the very teachings of Christ in order to fight back.

Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek; they’re saying that that’s foolishness and we ain’t going to do that. So, what is the real threat here? Is it the forces of secularization or “liberalism” if you prefer, or is it the people who are abandoning the very teachings of Christ and teaching people that they must abandon them because they feel threatened by these things?

The Apostle Paul predicted that this would happen, as he wrote to the church in Corinth: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The simple truth is that the message of Jesus Christ is seen to be ultimate foolishness as far as the world is concerned. The message of the world is that the only way to defeat what is evil in the world is through strength, power and violence. It is the oldest story ever told but it is also the story that we keep telling all the time.

It is the plot of about half of the movies that are made. When there is something wrong, some evil that is being done, somebody is called upon to make it right. And whether that hero is James Bond or Iron Man or the Mandalorian, how do they make everything right again? Generally, they come in with guns blazing and start blasting away until all of the enemies have been destroyed. That is the wisdom of this world: only violence can answer violence, only power defeats the power of evil and the only way to win is by fighting back.

And, you know what, if that is how you see the world then, I’m sorry, but the message of Jesus is complete and utter foolishness. I’m not surprised that Christians who feel that they’re on some sort of battlefield have decided that they need to abandon everything he stood for.

But that is the very thing that threatens the foundation of the Christian faith, not only because it is a denial of everything that Jesus stood for, but even more because it robs us of the true power and wisdom that should be ours. For the kingdom of God will never be realized until we learn to live up to what Jesus called us to be.

We read one of the most famous passages in the Gospel of Matthew this morning: the beatitudes of Jesus, part of the Sermon on the Mount. The ideal of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus presents here is another example of the approach to the faith that some Christians are rejecting because they feel that they cannot afford it because the faith is under attack. But it is also more than that. What we have in this passage is the antidote to the line of thinking that led us into this problem in the first place. In many ways, the beatitudes represent the height of foolishness.

The key word, “blessed,” is a translation of the Greek word Maka,rioi. It is a word that indicates a state not only of blessedness but also of happiness and good fortune. Many years ago, when the Good News translation of the Bible first came out, they actually translated the beatitudes like this: “How happy are the poor in spirit...” People reacted to that translation at the time and said that they didn’t like it. I was just a kid at the time, but I still remember someone reacting to that translation and saying, “That doesn’t make any sense; being ‘poor in spirit’ means that you are unhappy! How can you be happy to be unhappy!”

But since that time, I grew up and studied Greek and biblical translation and I can absolutely tell you that “How happy are the poor in spirit” is actually a pretty good translation. It is what Jesus meant to say. He was congratulating these people. And he also meant for people to react in exactly the same way that that man from my church did; he wanted them to say, “this doesn’t make any sense.” That was the point of all of these teachings; none of it made sense according to the philosophy of the world.

But, by telling people to be happy because they were poor and meek and hungry and thirsty and despised, what Jesus was doing was redefining victory; he was redefining winning. You see, the mistake that defenders of the faith are making today is that they are defining the success of the Christian faith in the way that the world defines it. They are defining it in terms of power, in terms of dominance and in terms of influence. Jesus taught the opposite. He taught that the victory that mattered would come through service, through submission and through vulnerable weakness. When he said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” What else could he have meant?

That is also what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” But think about what that means, it means that every time we think of the church getting ahead in terms of exercising power and influence within society and the world, we are actually self-defeating. Every time we try to win in the way that the world works, we move farther away from the success that God actually wants us to have. And the reason why this is so hard for us is because for something like the last sixteen centuries, that has been exactly what the church has been doing in Western society.

And, what’s more, the church was pretty successful at it as far as the world was concerned. We had the power and we had the influence and it was great! We even actually did do some good with all of that power and influence. The church created some of the best education systems, health systems, some of the most beautiful music and art the world has ever seen, just to name a few things. We should not be overly critical of that legacy, but that was never how Jesus defined success for his church.

Today it seems as if that has all changed and the church struggles with that loss of power and prestige. Of course, it does create some hardships, but it also creates a great promise. For the first time in over a thousand years it would seem as if the church has an opportunity to seek the kind of victory and strength that Jesus had in mind all along.

There are places in the world where Christians are under attack or facing persecution. Of course, we should do what we can to support them and help them and pray for them. But, generally speaking, North America is not one of those places where the faith is being threatened. It is not under attack except by those who would betray who Jesus was and what he stood for because they feel threatened by some of the ways in which the world has changed. The church is and always been in the hands of its only King and head, Jesus who is God’s anointed one. To suggest that Jesus cannot preserve his church despite some changes that may be occurring is the failure of faith on our part. And if we renounce the message of Jesus because of our fear and failure of faith, that will be the greatest failure of all.

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That ain’t fair

Posted by on Sunday, January 26th, 2020 in News

Hespeler, 26 January 2020 © Scott McAndless
Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 4-9, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23

Zebedee was getting old. He’d been at this fishing trade for a long time – maybe too long. His hearing wasn’t what it once was and that was probably why he didn’t hear when the man came walking down the shores of the Sea of Galilee and spoke to his sons who were sitting at the other end of the boat. He didn’t even look up from the rather difficult knot that he was struggling to get out of the net.

Old man alone in a boat

Besides, he was busy talking – something that he seemed to do all day every day – something that his two sons, James and John, were so accustomed to listening to that they generally responded with nothing but nods and the odd grunt.

“Have you heard about what happened up Capernaum way the other day,” he had been saying to them. “You know Peter and Andrew, the two brothers who have a boat up there? Well, they were out casting their nets just a little off from shore when that new young man – you know, the one that just moved down from the hills in Nazareth – came along. He apparently called out to them across the water and he told them – get this – he told them that they should stop fishing for fish and start fishing for people instead.

“But that’s not the really crazy part, oh no! The really crazy part is that they actually listened to him. They jumped off their boat, leaving behind a pretty decent catch of fish in the process, and swam to him and then started following him. Can you believe that?

“They left everything behind. I mean, I realize that there’s not a lot of good money in fishing these days. I know better than anybody how hard it is to get by, but these are men who have people depending on them. Peter’s got a wife and a couple of kids. Andrew is taking care of his mother and his sisters. I mean, it’s just not fair that they should leave those people behind and go off after somebody just because he’s got these crazy ideas that maybe mean something to them. It’s just not fair that Jesus would even ask them to do something like that.

“Well, at least I know that something like that is not going to happen to me. I know that I can count on my boys to be there for me and to keep this old fishing boat going when I get too old to go out there on the water day after day. You boys know that it wouldn’t be fair for you to leave me and… boys? Jimmy, Johnny? You guys are being pretty quiet back there in the stern. You wouldn’t be playing a joke on your old man now would you? Boys, boys?”

Now, obviously I don’t know if it went down like that. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story very briefly with little detail. Maybe James and John did have a good talk with their father before they got up and left and the old man was in agreement. But I certainly don’t get that impression from reading the gospel story. The point of the story seems to be that they just got up and left. And I can’t help but think about what that meant for their father – how he must have thought it was all unfair.

Last fall in the auction, I put a sermon up for the bidding. I said that I would give the person who bid the most the opportunity to tell me what to preach about one Sunday in January: this Sunday. The winner was Andy Cann. And after, I am sure, that Andy flirted with the thought of making me preach something that would probably end my career, he finally suggested to me the title of this morning’s sermon: “It ain’t fair.” Which, frankly, could still end my career if I don’t watch out.

Now, Andy was thinking about some particular things that happen in the church when he suggested that topic. He spoke about some of the ways in which the burden of the work of the church tends to fall unfairly on certain people. He spoke, for example, about particular case (that I won’t spell out because I don’t have permission from everyone involved), but it was a case where a small group of people were supporting an important mission of the church – something that we are all supposed to be part of – mostly out of their own pockets. That, Andy pointed out rightly enough, that ain’t right.

I don’t really need to get into specific cases in order to explore what Andy was getting at because this is actually something that happens in the church all the time. I don’t know how many times over the years I have had somebody come up to me talking about some very similar situation – a situation where somebody feels as if they (or somebody else) are unfairly loaded with some burden, cost or duty in the church. I don’t know how many times I have heard people complain that others aren’t pitching in and doing their part. And of course, there generally is a lot of truth to what is being said because it is almost never true that the burden of being the church is evenly distributed among all the people.

And part of me wants to use Andy’s question to stir people up, to get them to all step up and pitch in – to make sure that we all collectively own and support the good work that the church does. And, of course, that is a noble goal. But I do generally find that, before we ask people to act differently – to share the load differently – we need to ask why it is that people behave the way that they do now. If you don’t understand that, chances are you will not be successful at bringing about the changes that you would like to see.

The first question, I think, is whether or not fairness is actually what we should be striving for. The answer to that question might be no. When Jesus came along and stole Zebedee’s two sons away from him, the two sons that he had been depending on to take over the family business, do you think that Jesus was aware of the hardship that he might be causing for the old man? I think that he was. I think that he was aware that, to a certain extent, it was unfair of him to deprive Zebedee of the family supports that he had been counting on.

But why was Jesus there? He was there to proclaim a message, and that message was, Matthew tells us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus was announcing that something so big had arrived that it had changed everything. What’s more, he declared that the arrival of the kingdom demanded a particular response: repentance. The word that Jesus uses there – the word that is translated as repent – is a Greek word that actually means to change one’s mind and one’s heart. Jesus was saying that, because God had turned up on the scene to do something grand, that it was time for everyone to start thinking about life and just about everything else in completely different ways. Apparently, that included thinking differently about things like the expectations that society placed upon you.

What James and John did, getting up and walking away from their lives, may have broken all of the expectations that society had placed upon them, but it was actually the perfect response to the new reality that Jesus had brought into being. All of that is a way of saying that our human notions of fairness, that idea that everyone else should live up to the expectations we have of them, may have been superseded by something greater, something more important, by the kingdom of heaven which blasts everyone’s expectations out of the water – apparently literally in the case of Peter and Andrew.

Now, does that mean that there should be no expectation of fairness in the life of the church? Of course not. But it does mean that we are supposed to look at the bigger picture and not just the fairness of a particular circumstance.

I’ve always been a bit puzzled by our reading this morning from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Addressing the church, he says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” But then, only a couple of lines later he says, “for all must carry their own loads.” Now just wait a minute here, Paul, which is it? Do we carry other people’s burdens or just our own? Surely you cannot have it both ways.

But, of course, Paul knew exactly what he was doing when he put those two contradictory sentences so close together. He was trying to get our attention. He was actually trying to show us that, when we focus on what other people are doing or contributing, we will go astray. That is why, in between those two contradictory statements, he slips in this little gem: “All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride.”

You see, if we only focus on what other people are doing (or failing to do), the church can never become what it needs to be. Focussing on what other people do, Paul warns us, is the cause of pride. Pride is a difficult concept for us to understand sometimes. Pride can sometimes be a good thing like, for example, when someone takes pride in doing a job well. When you set out to do something and you put everything you can into it and get the results you are trying for, of course you should be able to feel good about what you have accomplished.

Paul is not here warning about that kind of pride because it is a pride that that is related to testing your own work, focussing on what you can do. The problem comes when you try to feel good about yourself by focussing on other people – by putting someone else down so that you look better or by criticizing somebody else’s best efforts. That, Paul is saying, is what is very destructive for the church and in many other areas of life. And I will say that, yes, that is something that I have seen often enough in the life of the church.

Sometimes, for example, the very people who carry the heavy loads at the church, and occasionally righteously complain about it, are trapped precisely because they have this problem. They might well say, for example, that they want somebody else to take on their burden, but what happens when somebody actually steps up to do so? Well, they don’t do it right, do they? They don’t do it in the way that it has always been done, so they can’t take over. And so the person who tries to take on their burden gives up in frustration and they end up still carrying that burden and (even better) still being able to complain about how unfair it is. That is all about a dangerous kind of pride, all about feeling better about yourself by criticizing others and it has no place in the logic of the kingdom of heaven.

Paul suggests that the only way for you to avoid this kind of pitfall is to focus on what you can do, how you can contribute by bearing the burdens of others rather than on who ought to be bearing your burdens and who ought to be doing what and how and so falling into the pride that puts others down. The result of all of that is not always going to be fair in the sense that the burdens will always be equally distributed. But the kingdom was always about more than what feels fair in the moment, it is about changing the way that we look at everything because God has suddenly shown up on the scene.

I feel for poor Zebedee left alone in his boat. The aftermath of all of that cannot have been easy for him. But he also had his role to play and a burden to bear in the great thing that God was doing. I have to believe that he came to realize that, even if it took some time. We all have our roles to play and our burdens to carry. As we all focus on what we can do to carry the loads of others, we will come to find the true strength of the message that Jesus brought.

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Hespeler Arts Palooza Kick-off!

Posted by on Sunday, January 26th, 2020 in

Plan to join us on this special Sunday as we kick off our Hespeler Arts Palooza!  This will be a period of 6 weeks when we will have numerous opportunities to explore our creative side.  Sign up sheets for the various workshops/lessons will be available on this last day of sign up.  Included in HAP will be:
  • Start your week off with a 30 minute walk; Monday mornings, January 27 - March 2, in the gym from 9:15 am - 9:45 am.  Walk at your own pace.
  • Explorations in Music for kids (and one for everyone) - 5 weeks from Sunday, February 2 - Sunday, March 1.
  • Watercolour workshops led by Debbie from Debbie Ellis Watercolours, for adults
  • Birdhouse building workshop for kids and their parents
  • Knitting & Crocheting lessons on Tuesday mornings, from January 28 - February 18
  • Milk Bag Weaving, also on a Tuesday morning
  • Hymn Sing & Tea
  • Open Mic Rehearsal
  • Open Mic
  • Master Class with Laura Pudwell, accompanist: Gregory Gibson
  • Mini concert & gallery
Watch your bulletins and newsletters for more information./
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Workshop with Rev. John-Peter Smit

Posted by on Sunday, January 19th, 2020 in

Next Sunday, on January 19, 2020, we will be joined by the Rev. Dr. John-Peter Smit. Rev. Smit is the Regional Minister for Congregational Health with the Synod of CNOB (our synod). He will share his wisdom with us during the worship service by preaching the sermon and then, immediately after worship, we will move downstairs for a workshop. He will help us to better envision our future together as a congregation and how we can all participate together in bringing that vision to light. Rev. Smit has a long history of successfully helping congregations do this kind of work and so we hope that you will plan to come out and fully participate in this workshop. This workshop is for everyone (not just the leadership groups) and we hope that everyone will take part. Coffee tea and some light snacks will be put out to sustain us through the process but the workshop will not extend far into the afternoon. Quiet activities for children will be available in the nursery during the workshop.  
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The Voice of the Lord

Posted by on Sunday, January 12th, 2020 in Minister

Hespeler, 12 January, 2020 © Scott McAndless
Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

I believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. I believe that he is the Son of God and the one who has revealed God to us in a uniquely powerful way. But holding such belief can be a challenge sometimes. Being a believer doesn’t mean that you never have doubts or questions. Being a believer is not the same thing as being certain. And so I have thought, as I’m sure you have also thought at times, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to know rather than simply to believe? Wouldn’t it be nice to be presented with the evidence right there before your eyes and be put in the position that left you with no room to doubt?

Wouldn’t it have been nice, for example, to have been there for that episode we read about in the Gospel of Matthew this morning? There doesn’t seem to be any room for doubt in that scene. John the Baptist is so certain that Jesus is the one that he’s been looking for, that he even protests that it would be inappropriate for him to baptize Jesus because that would imply that, in some sense, Jesus was less important than John! But even the certainty of John is blown out of the water by what happens immediately following the baptism: just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Now, wouldn’t it have been something to witness that – to see the Spirit of God descending just like a dove flies down from the sky, to hear that voice speaking so clearly? I mean, surely that’s about as close to proof and evidence as you can get. And there clearly must have been a lot of people who were there. The gospel writers speak of large crowds going out to see John the Baptist despite his remote location. So hundreds, if not thousands, could have witnessed the incredible event. The result of such an experience must have been that huge numbers of Judeans and Galileans left that day in the certain and secure knowledge of exactly who Jesus was and what he had come to do.

Except, well, if you continue to read through the gospels from this point in the story, that’s not quite what seems to have happened, is it? Oh, there is no question that people are very interested in what Jesus does in his ministry. He is able to gather huge crowds most everywhere he goes. But, as interested as the people are in Jesus, they hardly seem very certain about what he represents. In fact, I seem to recall an episode later in the gospel, when the disciples report back to Jesus about what the people have been saying about who he is and there are all these crazy ideas floating around – “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14) So apparently there were a lot of people speculating about who Jesus was, but, with all of that talk, no one seemed to be saying anything about the words that reverberated from heaven in front of all those witnesses. It wasn’t being rumoured all over the place that he might be the Son of God.

And, what’s more, we are told that even John – even the Baptist who Matthew tells us was so certain when Jesus was standing in front of him – was soon racked with doubts on that very subject. We’re told that, later, when he was in prison and waiting for his own execution, he became so discouraged that he sent word to Jesus asking him outright whether or not he was the one. Is that the kind of thing that you would ask after hearing the voice of God booming directly from heaven telling you exactly who Jesus was? I mean, if you have heard the voice, you have no need to second guess what you see Jesus doing afterwards, do you?

So, the story of the baptism of Jesus with its very public confirmation of who Jesus was, leaves us with a big question mark. If it all went down like that, why wasn’t everyone completely certain about who Jesus was throughout his ministry? I can think of two possible answers and I suspect that both are correct to a certain extent.

The first answer is that proof is not the fix for all our faith issues that we think it is. Just because, at some moment in your life, you are confronted with something that absolutely convinces you that God is real and that God is present in some powerful way, that doesn’t mean that you will never again doubt such realities. It is simply not true that, the more proof you have of something, the less doubt you will have about it.

Doubt is something that is simply in our human nature. And it is actually a gift and a very good thing. Doubt is what makes the researcher not just accept the established results of previous science, and instead push on and keep asking questions until a new theory and better answer is found. If humanity had never struggled with doubt, we would have struggled with far more ignorance as we settled for insufficient answers.

But we are sometimes tormented by doubt too. Even when you have been convinced of something that is really important to you – when you have been given ample proof, for example, that somebody loves you – you can still be racked with doubts about their love. Why? Simply because the answer to the question, “do they love me?” is so very important to you. Well, the things you believe about Jesus fall into much the same category. They are the kinds of beliefs that people build their lives around. And, because of that, it may not matter how much Jesus proves to you that he’s there and committed to you, you may still doubt it just because it matters that much.

So actually, I do not find it impossible that John and the others gathered at the Jordan River really did hear a voice booming down from heaven that identified exactly who Jesus was and yet could have still walked away from such an experience doubting what their eyes had seen and their ears had heard.

But that is all based on the assumption that everything that happened by the Jordan was plain for everyone to see, but as I look closer at what the passage actually says, maybe we ought not to be assuming that. Matthew is actually rather careful in how he describes the events of that day and the more I read it, the less certain I am about who saw and heard what.

In fact, you can kind of get lost when you delve into the grammar of Matthew’s description. “The heavens were opened to him,” it says, “and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” But who is he in that sentence? And is the he who saw it the same him upon whom the Spirit alighted? I suspect that Matthew quite intentionally kept all of that rather vague. Matthew doesn’t actually tell us who saw what.

Even more strange, he also doesn’t actually tell us who heard what either. All he writes is, “And a voice from heaven said…” You’ve all heard the classic philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, Matthew kind of leaves us with a similar philosophical query. What does it matter what a voice from heaven says if we don’t know who heard it?

But an even better question is what does the voice of the Lord resounding from heaven sound like, and how would you recognize it? There are, of course, many stories in the Bible of people hearing God’s voice. The Old Testament prophets, for example, are always talking about how God told them this or God told them that. And I always used to imagine that just like any other conversation except that you couldn’t see God when God was speaking, only hear. But the more I study the prophets, the less convinced I am that it worked like that.

As you look at how they operated, you realize that, most often, when they speak of what the Lord said to them, they are reflecting on the events happening around them or in the larger political sphere and are detecting some message from God in those things. It would seem that hearing God’s voice is a little bit different from most every conversation you have ever had.

We read a psalm together this morning, the beautiful 29th psalm, which is all about hearing the voice of the Lord. “The voice of the Lord is over the waters;” it declares. “the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” But, as you continue to read, you start to wonder what exactly the voice of the Lord is as it does things like break cedars trees, make forests and mountain skip, flash with fire, shake the wilderness and make oak trees whirl. Soon it becomes clear enough, what the palmist is actually describing is a powerful thunderstorm and the effects it has on the countryside.

What the psalmist is saying is that, at least sometimes, the voice of the Lord can appear in the form of a powerful storm. But think of what that means for a moment. If God can speak through a powerful storm, then it is quite possible for one person to witness that storm and think, “Wow, that is a powerful storm,” and somebody else might see that same thing and respond, “Yes, Lord, I have heard what you are saying.”

The voice of the Lord is always and has always been open to interpretation. I have thought about that a lot recently as I have reflected on what has been happening in the world. Speaking of storms and God speaking through storms, how about the firestorms that have swept through Australia over the past few weeks. They have been huge and unprecedented. As of last week, an area of that country as large of all of Southern Ontario – from Windsor in the west to Tobermory in the north to Peterborough in the east – all of it has been destroyed by fire. That is huge – some would say apocalyptic – in scale.

There is no question that something significant has happened in Australia, but whether or not there is a message in it is a matter of interpretation. One person (such as, apparently the Australian Prime Minister) might look at the devastation and say, “Wow, that is terrible and horrible and everything, but we don’t really have to change anything about how we live.” And somebody else looks at the same thing and may hear the voice of the Lord saying, “Maybe it is time for everyone to make some serious changes.”

Now, one way of seeing this might be right, and the other might be wrong. Presumably either God is speaking or God isn’t. And I certainly have my thoughts about which interpretation is right. But, because everyone has a stake in what the interpretation is, there is no answer that is unmistakable, by which I mean people always seem to find ways to make mistakes when it comes to the voice of the Lord.

So, if you are looking for certainty about God, about Christ and who he is, the answer seems to be that it doesn’t quite work like that. If you were there on the day when John baptized Jesus (an event that I certainly believe really happened) I’m not sure what you would have seen. Maybe you would have seen a dove fly from a nearby branch, maybe the clouds formed some unusual formation. Maybe you might have even heard thunder or some other unusual sound rumbling from the sky. Somebody who was there saw all of that and heard the voice of the Lord in it, but would you have? And if you did, would you have believed? Maybe. I hope so, but still that would be different from being absolutely certain about who Jesus was.

I understand why you would like to be certain. It is natural. But clearly that is not how God works. And there is a good reason why. I actually don’t think that people operate all that well from a position of certainty. When people are completely certain about their position, that is when they turn into tyrants. That is when, even sometimes with the best of intentions, they can easily become persecutors or oppressors of those who disagree with them.

There is a humility that comes from struggling with doubt (at least when you’re honest with yourself about it) and so God doesn’t give us certainty. God invites us to faith and though it may be harder, I do believe that it is better.

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Hespeler Arts Palooza

Posted by on Friday, January 10th, 2020 in News

Stay tuned for lots of opportunities to explore your creativity! Starting on Sunday, January 26th and running for 6 weeks. Something for everyone, adults and children, week days and weekends. Musics and arts!

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