we do not live to ourselves

A sermon preached on Sunday, September 14, 2014 at a Memorial Service for Elizabeth Ellen Tabler Lemen (November 12, 1931 – September 5, 2014)

- Romans 14:7-12; Psalm 146; Matthew 5:1-12

Ellen was clear. We should not gather today to pay her tribute. Rather, we should mark her life and her death by paying tribute to God. For it was God who made her and God who sustained her. In God she lived and moved and had her being. How fitting that the epistle lesson read in multitudes of Christian churches all over the world today includes these words from the apostle Paul: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.” This is an odd way to speak in an age when individuals prize autonomy. We like to imagine that we are not beholden to anyone else, that we live to ourselves and die to ourselves. In such a world we quickly find ourselves wondering how we measure up. In such a world we pay high tribute to some and judge others are not worthy of tribute. But Paul declares that in Jesus Christ we have learned that our primary identity does not come from our own record of rights and wrongs. In Jesus Christ we discover that our primary identity lies in the knowledge that we belong to God.


continuing good news

There is continuing good news further to the good news health update from two months ago. Since then monthly blood tests have shown that the protein free light chains are remaining relatively stable. It means no need yet to begin a new set of targeted chemotherapy along with a return to the steroid dexamethasone. This summer without treatment has been a real gift. Now my final autumn before retirement is beginning chemo-free. I am aware that one day the news will not be so good. In the meantime, I am grateful.

By the way, September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. In gratitude I am making a donation to continuing blood cancer research. You can make a donation through Myeloma Canada, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society or by specifying the blood cancer clinical trials program at Vancouver General Hospital. Since I will one day likely participate in the clinical trials at VGH I am sending my donation there.


70 x 7 = ?

Matthew 18:15-35

“If another member of the church sins against you …”. You wonder if someone might have thought before selecting this as the gospel reading for the first Sunday back after the summer. Here we are welcoming one another, looking forward to a new season together meeting new students and welcoming new neighbours. Is now really the time to be talking about sin breaking out in the church? Well, as those who have been here through the summer will know, we have been working our way through the Gospel According to Matthew. As it happens, the second half of Matthew’s gospel reads something like an instruction manual for the church. And today we find ourselves in a crucial section. Come to think of it. Perhaps it is a good thing that this particular passage was not a mid-summer reading, when many of us were out of town. Perhaps it is good that many of us are here, at the beginning of the semester, ready to receive instruction from our instructor, rabbi Jesus.


the call

- Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28

Moses is minding his own business. He is tending his father-in-law’s flock when, so says the text, “he led his flock beyond the wilderness.” Beyond the wilderness? In other words, he is way out of bounds, far beyond civilization, out in the marginal places. Perhaps somewhere far up the west coast, far from voice mail and internet access. Or maybe down an alley littered with needles and broken lives. Or maybe it is an inner place, beyond the wilderness of grief, in a place of great risk and possibility. This is what Moses discovers. He learns that beyond the wilderness lies the mountain of God, the place where an angel of the LORD appears in a flame of fire. It is an odd discovery. There is a bush on fire, a tumbleweed across the valley. At first he does not take much notice of it. But he looks again later and sees that it is still burning. And later it is burning still. The bush draws him closer. It should be consumed by the fire but it just keeps on burning. My friend Doug was raised in the Presbyterian church. It is from the Presbyterians that we in The United Church of Canada have received the burning bush as one of the four symbols on our church crest. Doug is the one who taught me that this is how Presbyterians think of the church. They notice that it is always in the process of falling apart, burning up, surely dying out … and yet, against all logic and against all odds, the church continues to burn. It is not consumed. It draws us in closer, close enough to hear the voice - the voice that is not the voice of the church but the voice of God.


good news health update

I was in to see my hematologist this week. My last appointment was in early March. I have been off of targeted chemotherapy (bortezomib) and steroids (dexamethasone) since mid-February. In the meantime, my free light chain count has risen slowly (up from 100 in mid-February to 178 currently). The doctor does not think that this warrants beginning the next treatment at this time. Yay! He is thinking that when the count is closer to 300 we will start with pomalidomide and dexamethasone.


will god provide

The text for the sermon this coming Sunday is Genesis 22:1-14 - the binding of Isaac. It is at once a strange and yet foundational text for a people of the Bible. As I wrestle with the text (or, more to the point, as it wrestles with me) I am reminded of the last time I preached on this passage. It was June 29, 2008. Here is the sermon from that occasion ...


our refuge

Psalm 46:1-11

“Selah”. Don’t know what it means? Neither do I. “Selah”. It is a mysterious instruction, written in the margin of this – and other – psalms. No one knows how to translate the word “selah”. Perhaps it means “Amen, we agree, that’s right”. Those who have thought about this much more than I argue that it stands for “chorus” or “refrain”. That is how Gerald Hobbs lined out Psalm 46 when he translated it for Voices United. Notice the letter “R” for “Refrain” repeated three times in the 46th Psalm (p. 770). In each case it appears in place of the word “selah”. And, in each case, the refrain – like the word “selah” – comes at a turning point in the song. So here is how we will host the text this morning. Each time the sermon is about to turn a corner from one section of the Psalm to the next we will become the choir singing the refrain:“The God of Jacob is for us a refuge strong and sure.” That’s one way to be kept on our toes. Listen for the “selah”.