Category Archives: Reflections

When is Enough Enough? Ian Sowton’s August 9th Homily

Readings: 1 Kings 19:1-5;  Psalm 34:1-8;  Ephesians 4:25-5:2;  John 6:35, 41-51

 

WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH?  Homily: Ian Sowton   

ELIJAH: THE SAGA OF ELIJAH PITS ELIJAH, PROPHET OF YAHWEH AGAINST QUEEN JEZEBEL, SPONSOR OF THE GOD BAAL AND HIS PROPHET-PRIESTS.   THERE IS A SAVAGE WAR GOING ON.  KAREN ARMSTRONG ARGUES IN HER RECENT BOOK FIELDS OF BLOOD THAT RELIGION HAS A BAD RAP AS A PERENNIAL CAUSE OF WARS.   WARS ARE MOSTLY FOUGHT, SHE SAYS, OVER POLITICAL POWER, OVER ESTABLISHING THE AUTHORITY OF A SECULAR REGIME WHICH, BECAUSE RELIGION IS SO IMPORTANT TO SO MANY PEOPLE, IS ALL TOO OFTEN VERY WILLING TO INVOKE AND CO-OPT RELIGIOUS PRESTIGE AND PRACTICES IF AND WHEN CONVENIENT.    WHATEVER YOU THINK OF AMSTRONG’S THESIS—WHICH OF COURSE I’M DRASTICALLY ABRIDGING—IN THIS PART OF THE ELIJAH SAGA IT’S CLEARLY APPARENT THAT THERE IS A MERCILESS POWER STRUGGLE GOING ON BETWEEN THE ELIJAH/YAHWEH AND JEZEBEL/BAAL FACTIONS.   WHOSE GOD IS MORE POWERFUL?  BOTH GODS ARE LOCAL, TERRITORIAL DEITIES.   BOTH JEZEBEL AND ELIJAH HAVE BEEN TRYING RUTHLESSLY TO EXTIRPATE THE OTHER’S FACTION OF PROPHETS.   JUST BEFORE THE EPISODE IN THE ELIJAH SAGA THAT WE’RE CONCERNED WITH TODAY YAHWEH HAS WON THE LATEST ROUND OF THE CONTEST WITH BAAL IN A DAZZLING DISPLAY OF POWER IN ANSWER TO ELIJAH’S PRAYER.  AND ELIJAH HAS JUST TOLD THE ASSEMBLED MOB OF ISRAELITE WITNESSES TO TAKE THE UNFORTUNATE LOSERS—THOSE “400 PROPHETS OF BAAL WHO EAT AT JEZEBEL’S TABLE”— DOWN FROM MT CARMEL TO THE BROOK KISHON WHERE HE, ELIJAH, BUTCHERS THEM HIMSELF…..

TURNING TO OUR THEME WORD ENOUGH, WE CAN NOTE THAT IT HAS TWO ASPECTS: ONE NEGATIVE, WHICH IS DESPAIR, AS IN ELIJAH’S “ENOUGH! I’VE HAD IT!  I GIVE UP”; (OR AS IN GREED, FOR INSTANCE, WHICH IS DESPAIR AT NEVER HAVING ENOUGH).    BUT “ENOUGH” ALSO HAS A POSITIVE ASPECT, IN FACT A DOUBLY POSITIVE ASPECT: THANKSGIVING FOR ENOUGH IN THE WAY OF PROVISIONS AND GRATITUDE FOR ENOUGH PROVISION, OR EVEN FOR ENOUGH PLUS A SURPLUS.   IN THE EPISODE OF THE ELIJAH SAGA THAT THE LECTIONARY INVITES US TO CONSIDER TODAY WE ENCOUNTER ENOUGH IN A DESPAIRING MODE: ELIJAH’S “ENOUGH! I’VE HAD IT!”    IN THE FACE OF JEZEBEL’S VENGEFULNESS HE HAS PLUNGED FROM THE HIGH OF MT CARMEL TO THE DEPTHS OF TERRIFIED DESPAIR AND FLED FOR HIS LIFE.   IT’S TRUE THAT ELIJAH IS PROVIDED FOR, INDEED PROVISIONED WITH ENOUGH SUSTENANCE FOR A NON-STOP 40 DAY HIKE.   BUT THANKS AND GRATITUDE ARE NOT MUCH IN EVIDENCE AT THE MOMENT.

PSALM   PSALM 34 IS A HYMN OF THANKSGIVING AND GRATITUDE, FEATURES THAT WE’VE ALREADY ASSOCIATED WITH ENOUGH PROVISION, THOUGH IN THIS CASE THERE IS ONLY A BRIEF, METAPHORICAL ALLUSION TO PROVISIONS AS SUCH—“OH TASTE AND SEE THAT YAHWEH IS GOOD.”    NONETHELESS AS A VERITABLE PAEAN OF THANKFUL GRATITUDE PSALM 34 VERY STRONGLY SUGGESTS THAT IT’S FAIR TO INFER AN ENOUGH, INDEED AN ENOUGH + A SURPLUS IN THE OFFING.   FOR ONE THING, IF THE SUPERSCRIPTION TO THIS PSALM IS TO BE TAKEN SERI0USLY, DAVID IS PRESUMABLY BRIMMING OVER WITH GRATEFUL THANKS AT HAVING JUST ESCAPED THE CLUTCHES OF ABIMELECH BY FEIGNING IMBECILITY.

EPHESIANS   THE NEW TESTAMENT LESSON DOES NOT SEEM TO LEND ITSELF TO THE THEME WE’RE CURRENTLY FOLLOWING.    WHAT WE HEARD FROM PAUL TODAY IS MOSTLY A SERIES OF INJUNCTIONS FOR THE CIVILIZED CONDUCT OF LIFE IN A RELIGIOUSLY ORIENTED COMMUNITY (WHAT IS ELSEWHERE CALLED THE RUDIMENTS OF CHRISTIANITY).   A LOT OF HIS INJUNCTIONS, IN THIS PASSAGE ANYWAY, WOULD BE EQUALLY RELEVANT TO THE RULES OF CONDUCT IN ANY RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY.    IN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE I WILL MERELY NOTE BY THE WAY THAT I WOULD PASS THE TEST OF THESE INJUNCTIONS WITH A GRADE OF PERHAPS C+–MY SCORE BEING SEVERELY COMPROMISED BY FLUNKING THE INJUNCTION IN VERSE 35 ABOUT FORGIVING.   THERE ARE MAJOR POLITICAL LEADERS STILL EXTANT AMONG US WHOSE PERFOR- MANCES IN WORD AND DEED I CERTAINLY REMEMBER AND AM NOT YET ABLE TO FORGIVE—EVEN THOUGH THEY PROFESS CHRISTIANITY AND MUST THEREFORE BE ACCEPTED AS ENROLLED IN THE HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH.   MEA CULPA!

GOSPEL   TURNING TO THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, I MUST CONFESS—AGAIN IN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE—THAT I HAVE MY DIFFICULTIES WITH THIS GOSPEL, TWO GENERAL ONES AND A PARTICULAR ONE.   THIS IS NOT THE PLACE TO INFLICT MY GENERAL DIFFICULTIES UPON YOU.   MY PARTICULAR DIFFICULTY IS THAT SO MUCH COMMENTARY ON THIS GOSPEL TREATS WHAT JESUS IS SAYING AS HISTORICALLY VERBATIM.    WHAT IS GOING ON IS A SERIES OF THEOLOGICAL MEDITATIONS ON THE PERSON AND MINISTRY OF JESUS THAT THE AUTHOR COUCHES IN THE FORM OF DISCOURSES BY JESUS.   THERE’S NOTHING ILLEGITIMATE ABOUT THIS, NOTHING ABOUT CLAIMING TO HAVE FLY-ON-WALL PRIVILEGES OF OVERHEARING; IT IS A STANDARD PROCEDURE OF THE TIME, EVEN IN TEXTS PURPORTING TO BE HISTORICAL, TO PUT WORDS INTO THE MOUTHS OF THEIR SUBJECTS THAT THE AUTHORS COULD NOT HAVE BEEN THERE TO HEAR AT THE TIME.   BUT IT IS NECESSARY, FOR ME ANYWAY, TO KEEP THIS CONTEXTUAL SITUATION IN MIND AND TO REFLECT ON THE TEXT IN AN UP-FRONT MANNER FROM WITHIN THAT CONTEXT.

ALL THAT BEING SAID….OUR GOSPEL PASSAGE FOR TODAY IS ANOTHER PART OF ONE OF THE LONG DISCOURSES THAT ‘JOHN’ PUTS INTO THE MOUTH OF JESUS—THIS ONE BEING ABOUT JESUS IDENTIFYING HIMSELF AS THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN, THAT HEAVENLY MANNA WHICH CONFERS ETERNAL LIFE.    YAHWEH PROVISIONED THE IRAELITES IN THE WILDERNESS WITH ENOUGH MANNA TO LAST FOR THE DAY AND TOLD THEM TO COLLECT ENOUGH ON THE SIXTH DAY TO PROVIDE ENOUGH FOR THE SABBATH—THE DAY OF NO COLLECTION.    WHEREAS JOHN HAS JESUS BOLDLY INSERTING HIMSELF INTO THE TRADITION OF THE TORAH BEING THE WORD OF PERPETUAL NOURISHMENT AND CLAIMING THAT HE HIMSELF IS THAT HEAVENLY FOOD, MANNA OF THE EVERLASTING ENOUGH.    SO HERE WE HAVE THE IDENTIFICATION OF HIS BODY WITH BREAD.    EVERY SABBATH WE REMEMBER AND CELEBRATE THIS CRUCIAL PROVISION: THE BODY BROKEN AND DISTRIBUTED WITH ENOUGH FOR EVERYBODY.    EVERY SABBATH SERVICE WE REACH THE LITURGY OF THE BREAD AND CUP DURING WHICH WE COME TO THE EUCHARIST ITSELF, THE GREAT THANKSGIVING IN BOLD FACE AND LARGER LETTERS.    THE HEART AND CLIMAX OF HOLY COMMUNION IS A GREAT BIG THANK YOU!!, A COMMUNAL EXCLAMATION OF GRATITUDE.  THIS ACTION GOES BACK TO THE LAST SUPPER, WHEN JESUS IN PAUL’S ACCOUNT BLESSES THE BREAD; AND ALSO TO THE BLESSING, SAYING OF GRACE, BEFORE THE ENOUGH OF THAT MEAL IN EMMAUS.   THE JEWISH BLESSING BEGINS WITH THANKSGIVING AND GRATITUDE FOR THE RICH PROVISIONS OF CREATION—FOR ALL ITS ENOUGHS.   AS FAR AS I CAN DISCERN IT, THE WORKING OF GRACE IN OUR EUCHARIST IS “DO THIS” WHENEVER YOU WANT BOTH TO REMEMBER ME AND ALSO RE/MEMBER ME—(PROACTIVELY RENEW OUR MEMBERSHIP IN CHRIST); “DO THIS” WHENEVER YOU WANT BOTH TO RECALL ME (REMIND YOURSELVES ABOUT ME) AND ALSO RE/CALL  (CONFIRM THE PRESENCE) OF THE CHRIST WHO IS IN EACH OF US, BETWEEN ANY TWO OF US, AND AMONG US ALL.    THIS EUCHARISTIC ACTION OF GRATEFUL THANKSGIVING YIELDS ENOUGH BREAD FOR THE IMMEDIATE JOURNEY AND ALSO A SURPLUSTHIS SURPLUS IS HOPE.    GREED (eg) AND ELIJAH’S SEVERE PANIC ATTACK, ARE IN THE MODE OF DESPAIR, WHILE GRATITUDE AND THANKS ARE IN ENOUGH’S SURPLUS MODE OF HOPE.   THE CHRIST WHO IS IN, AND BETWEEN, AND AMONG US IS NOT ONLY IMMEDIATE PROVISION BUT ALSO ALWAYS AND ALREADY OUT AHEAD OF US.    EVERY EUCHARIST IS ALSO ENOUGH’S FUTURE-ORIENTED OCCASION, A HOPEFUL ERNEST OF THE PEACEABLE KINGDOM, WITH THE CHRIST OUT AHEAD OF US BEING THE LIVING SIGN OF OUR HOPE, THAT SURPLUS ENOUGH WHO SUSTAINS US ON OUR LONG TERM, OFTEN DIFFICULT JOURNEY TOWARD THE COMING PEACEABLE KINGDOM.

(Homilist’s Notes: [i] After the service a member of the congregation pointed out to me that in Ephesians 4:27 Paul prohibits thievery, saying that one must work hard and honestly with one’s own hands so that there may be “something to share with the needy”.  She apologized for making such a small point, but her point was not small but entirely appropriate and to the point: work so that there’s not only enough but enough plus a surplus to share.  [ii] Thanks also to Bill Whitla, who during last week’s homiletic discussion, noted Jesus’ bold insertion of himself into that Torah tradition.  Ian)

Disrupting Empire – Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as political theatre

Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

texts: Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed; Zechariah 9:9-10; Mark 11:1-11

As Canadians and Christians we feel a lot of social pressure to be nice. To not cause trouble. Especially for folks who seem nice. Nobody should be distressed. Let’s keep everything, on the surface anyway, agreeable and pleasant. Well that’s nice isn’t it? Sometimes it’s even a good thing. But sometimes what is required is real honesty. Whether that’s telling our true feelings to a friend who needs to know, or speaking a difficult truth to those in power. Or even challenging our own assumptions.

However, that desire to smooth things over can be overwhelming at times. We may choose silence or couched words over challenging conversation. Or we may avoid someone or something altogether rather than offering a challenge and engagement that might spark personal growth or a healed relationship. Continue reading Disrupting Empire – Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as political theatre

On the Edge of Wilderness

Isaiah 58:1-12, Mark 1: 1-13

You and I, we are standing on the edge of the wilderness with Jesus; you and I, on this first day of Lent, driven by the Spirit; you and I, on this Ash Wednesday, made of earth and water.  Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Today, whatever our justice ministry, we are invited, reminded, compelled, driven to enter into the wilderness to confirm our identity, to remember our names, and to reclaim our integrity, finding each other along the way.
Continue reading On the Edge of Wilderness

Like Watchers for the Morning: Temptation

Tay Moss, incumbent at Church of the Messiah, is producing a Lenten reflection series for the Anglican Church of Canada. As a visual backdrop, he is filming churches at night. Quite a fascinating process. I worked with Tay to film Holy Trinity as the setting for the second installment. I had no idea at the time what the text would be. In watching this today, I found his take on temptation quite interesting. You can watch below or follow the whole series at the national web site.

Re-Membering: Rights and Relationships

Advent 4 – December 21, 2014
by Marilyn Dolmage

Today’s two Bible readings involve Faith and Mystery.
The Doxology in Romans tells the faithful that God “alone is wise.”
And we read in Luke that “Nothing will be impossible with God”:

Here, Mary and Elizabeth faithfully accept the mystery that pregnancy involves for every woman, but especially for them.
Their babies will fulfill predictions in the Old Testament.

How puzzling that the Messiah will come – not as a King…
but as a baby born into very humble and risky circumstances.
We know that the message he will one day communicate will be full of tensions, riddles and paradoxes.
People who are poor, sad, insulted, isolated, and persecuted are to have high status in this new kingdom … how can that be?
The Gospel radically challenges relationships of power. Continue reading Re-Membering: Rights and Relationships

“Not in the Bible!”

This past week, I posted a short note on the Holy Trinity e-list with observations from my past weekend at Canterbury Cathedral – the ‘Mother Church’ of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

As we are in the midst of a conversation here at Holy Trinity on liturgical formation – how we shape and express our faith in worship services – Lee very kindly invited me to share a few thoughts from Canterbury this morning. We will continue the conversation after the service in our adult forum. Continue reading “Not in the Bible!”

‘Our work, as Christians in Canada today, is dissent’

I stumbled across a great article online. I think it puts the struggle to be faithful today in a helpful light:

Our job is to offer the wisdom of scripture: “Seek justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.” …

Admittedly, it is a very wide mandate. So much justice-seeking to be done – justice for the land, suffering from runaway oil and gas exploitation and factory farms that are anything but kind. Justice in the face of agri-business that seeks a quick profit, not the long, slow, humble walking with the seasons and the soil that sustains it for our grandchildren. Justice for workers, suffering from anti-union legislation and secret trade deals that disempower them. Justice-seeking as new security legislation threatens to turn CSIS into a secret force, policing those whose legitimate protests – against a pipeline, say – might be construed as “interference with critical infrastructure.”

Read the whole article at EssentialSpirituality.com.