Sunday, January 13, 2019

Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with[b] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

It certainly wasn’t the first case of mistaken identity.

In their heart of hearts, people were wondering if this intriguing figure in the desert was the Chosen One. And John the Baptist would be quick to correct them, setting them straight. But it certainly wasn’t the first case of mistaken identity in the Bible.

In Genesis 18 the Lord appears to Abraham and Sarah in the form of three visitors. The couple are gracious hosts, and the anonymous encounter is going extremely well until Sarah laughs at the suggestion that he will have a child in old age. But God (in disguise) is very patient, saying only “is anything too hard for the Lord?”

In Exodus 2 it’s the daughters of the priest of Midian who mistakenly assume that Moses is an Egyptian, based perhaps on his dress of the way he carries himself. And of course, much of Moses’ early life is a case of mistaken identity: raised by the daughter of Pharaoh—a Prince of Egypt with a secret—even to himself.

Joshua 5 gives us one of the strangest examples, with Joshua meeting an unknown soldier on the road to Jericho, sword drawn, ready for battle. “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” Joshua asks. The mysterious soldier says “Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” It’s the other passage where someone is commanded to take off their sandals, standing on holy ground, but we don’t talk about it much, God as an heavily armed soldier and all.

Mary in the garden (John 20) is another obvious example, through her tears asking where this unknown gardener has hidden the body of her Lord, but we know who he really is, and soon she will too, along with everyone who believes.

And before we get to Luke 3, there is one more example of mistaken identity relating to John the Baptist, this one from Mark 6. Jesus’ fame is spreading and old Herod hears about the miraculous things that are happening. Those around him say “maybe it’s Elijah returned,” or maybe some other prophet of old. “No,” Herod said, “it’s John the Baptist all right, raised from the dead!” But we know it’s not, although it’s a comfort to see Herod losing sleep over the John the Baptist and the terrible events at court that led to John’s death.

But that’s leaping ahead. The earlier case of mistaken identity is by the riverside, people seeking the Chosen One. They are anxious to accept this baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the hope that their wish will be fulfilled. And John, of course, understands this mistaken hope and clears things up:

“I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire.”

But just when we thought this passage exhausted the last bits of mistaken identity, there is one more. There, among the seekers and the pilgrims is the son of a carpenter, in the crowd, God in disguise. For now he is content to get in line, to accept John’s baptism and begin his ministry. God, however, gets the last word, clearing up (once and for all) this case of mistaken identity:

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

And even without God speaking to interpret what’s happening, we can find various ways to understand our baptism. Wise people tell us that baptism, like communion, is a visible sign of God’s invisible grace. It’s like that hand stamp that only shows up under a certain type of light—it’s there, but it’s not immediately obvious.

And it’s something we do together, a point I try to remember to make from time to time. The church authorizes me to baptize, but I’m just a stand in for you, the people of God, who are doing God’s work of baptism while I’m busy up here with the baby, or child, or occasional adult. This body, the body of Christ found in the church, is also a visible sign of grace, grace upon grace as the church baptizes the next generation of believers.

And in the United Church, perhaps uniquely, we have this conversation every few years about the place of baptism in our denomination. It always begins around the question of membership, and what it means to belong, and the extent to which the non-baptized are excluded from certain aspects of our common life. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, our enhanced sense of fairness and our desire to include everyone, or maybe it’s just our unique brand of Christianity, our focus on justice (another word for fairness) that leads us to have this conversation.

Whatever the reason, our desire to remain within the Christian church usually marks the end of the conversation (until the next time). We remember that since the beginning of the church, baptism has been the only rite of initiation into the body of Christ, and that it’s always more than a ritual or a mark of entry—it’s a transformational moment, entering once-and-for-all into something much bigger than ourselves or even one denomination.

And when we step into these kinds of definitional conversations, asking who we are or where we belong, it can be helpful to ask the thinkers and sages to remind us what it all means, why we do what we do and why it still matters. Karl Barth, as an example, would remind us that baptism is a matter of life and death. ‘The person who emerges from the water,’ he says, ‘is not the same person who entered it. One person dies and another is born.’ (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 193)

And he’s just getting warmed up, because Barth says don’t listen to me, listen to Martin Luther: “Your baptism is nothing less than God clutching you by the throat,” Luther said, “a grace-full throttling, by which your sin is submerged in order than you may remain under grace.” Maybe it’s good we don’t have a baptism today, since it’s starting to sound like a contact sport.

But then Barth takes us back to scripture, back to the source, to expand on this idea that at the moment of baptism we are utterly transformed, that a new person is born. He reminds us of Colossians 3: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

In other words, we exist within the life of God, we are folded in, hidden within the unfolding story of God in the world. We don’t simply walk in newness of life, we are hidden within life itself. In the ultimate case of mistaken identity, we may appear as our former selves, but we a new person altogether. Anyone in Christ is a new creation, the past is done, and new life has come. (2 Corinthians 5).

Baptism, of course, is not magic. It’s not a shield from trouble, or a spell that saves us from ourselves. Luther said our sin is submerged so that can remain under grace, but it’s still there. Baptized believers are not perfect, as anyone who reads the paper will tell you, or anyone with an ounce of self-awareness will know. Folded into the life of God, we retain our free will—we still live in the world, and we are live with others.

But there is one last layer of mistaken identity, the one that allows us to look at others and see God. Understanding the we have a secret life within God, we can appreciate that others do too. We can see Christ in others, in the vulnerable, in those who love and those who need love, in the very fabric of the earth itself.

In each case of mistaken identity we looked at a few moments ago, God was up to something: making promises, acting in human history, giving hope when hope was lost. At our baptism we became part of this unfolding story, something bigger than ourselves, hidden within life itself.

May God bless us and make us a blessing to others, as we remember our baptism and give thanks. Amen.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Epiphany Sunday

Isaiah 60
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land,
young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Sitting here, in a Victorian church, on the edge of a Victorian village, in a Dominion formed in the Victorian era, if follows that there will be symbols.

Take a stroll through the village and look for symbols: on the gable immediately below the roof, on columns, door frames, fence posts, and in the brickwork itself. What first appear as design elements may have deeper meaning, something the architect or owner hoped to express to the passersby.

A cherub, for example, symbolizes love or fertility. A lion’s head says nobility, or love for the mother country. An owl means wisdom or vigilance, which leads to the symbol of an open book, for wisdom or learning. The green man is another common symbol, a face emerging from a leafy background, and one that is hotly debated (like the Christmas tree) regarding it’s pagan background.*

Head over to the cemetery, and the Victorians had even more to say. A column represented the death of the pillar of the household, often broken at the top to indicate taken too soon. An urn represented someone cultured (and not cremation, which was not practiced in Victorian times) and a veiled urn represented the veil between this world and the next. Most complex is the clasped hands, which often symbolized a couple reunited in death. You can generally tell which hand is clasping which, and the cuff of that hand tells you whether husband or wife died first, leading the other to the afterlife.**

Back in the village, one of the most common, to the point that we hardly notice it, is the symbol of the sun and the sun’s rays. It’s an optimistic symbol, certainly the symbol of a golden age of progress and prosperity, and in our context, a symbol of empire. Every Victorian child knew that the sun never set on the British empire, illustrated by maps and stamps with the empire in pink or red. It was an optimism that would endure into the century that followed—until the shadow of war fell across the empire—but the symbol of the sun endures to remind us of that unique time.

And the symbol of the unsetting sun had an ancient pedigree. Throughout the ancient near-east—Egyptians, Akkadians, and Israelites—the connection between royal power and the sun that never set was common. A version appears in Psalm 72: “may your anointed live as long as the sun endures.” And then it’s reinforces this with a verse that you might recognize: “he shall have dominion from sea unto sea.” That last part is also our motto (“A mari ad usque ad mare”), though oddly omitted from the version we read in our hymnbooks today. That’s not very Canadian, is it?

And like our hypothetical stroll through the village, the passage from Isaiah invites us to “lift up your eyes and look about you...look and be radiant” as your heart swells with joy.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.

The darkness, in this case, is exile. Long ago, the people were carried into exile, the great city destroyed, all hope seemingly lost. But for God, all was not lost. It remained God’s desire to lead these exiles home, to restore the people to the land, to bring light to the shadowed places that were never forgotten.

But there was problem with this plan, a shadow that the passage hints at but doesn’t fully reveal. Some, we know, were reluctant to return to the ruined places, even in the midst of great joy that they were allowed to return. Some clinged to comfort, or opportunity, and some perhaps to the belief that this redemption would be short-lived. Whatever the cause, some need to be convinced to return, and that convincing can be found in the text:

3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the hip.

See the dual promise: the nations will be drawn to this new Jerusalem, kings in the brightness of a new beginning. And the children (we always worry about the children!) they will assemble and come along too! Sons from afar, and daughters ‘carried on the hip,’ a delightful turn of phrase that should get anyone out the door and back to the land of light.

Through it all, there is an abiding sense that the prophet is trying too hard. He’s overselling it: again a reflection of the very human tendency to choose the ‘devil you know’ over the uncertain promise of return. Hear what I mean:

The wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land,
young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

There is a reference here to something else you might be familiar with, but I’m going to set that aside to focus on the need to promote the very thing people longed for, prayed for, worked for, but some chose to ignore. Exile is a state-of-mind as well as a physical reality, and people needed to be convinced to make the trip. It was wrapped up in royal power, the promise that Jerusalem might become something it never was, and the sentimentality of taking the children home. It was a compelling message.

Again, why would you need to sell a return from exile? You would expect people to drop everything and run home, not wait around for a prophet to sweeten the deal. Doesn’t the promise of return sell itself?

There are a few things we should remember as we figure this out. First, the exile lasted decades, meaning many exiles were living in the only place they ever knew. Jerusalem sounded remarkable, but for most, it wasn’t home. Also, Babylon was world-class (as we would say today) and anyone living there might feel some pride being at home in such a great city. Finally, the exiles were hardly suffering in Babylon: they made lives for themselves, doctors and lawyers, and high places in the royal court such as our friend Daniel (of the lion’s den fame). They were the High Victorians of the ancient near-east.

Looking at the clock, it might be time for the ‘so what,’ the link to today that will help us put the whole thing together. And whenever the preacher talks exile, there is a moment when we need to complete the circle and decide who’s in exile today. Or, in the context of this passage, who is light-shy? As with all popular metaphors, there is a cast of usual suspects.

Some are in exile from themselves, and lack of sense of their true selves and who they were created to be. Some are in exile from the success and prosperity that many enjoy, and see no route to return or even begin. Some are in exile from any kind of higher meaning: they attach to status or things or the ‘perfect life,’ until they discover how truly fleeing these are. And some are just mad: mad at life, mad at the people around them, even mad at God.

Convinced that there are many forms of exile, and equally convinced that for many, it’s the only life they know, our task would seem to be light-bearers, or light-bringers, into the dark places we go. We are not the light, we bring the light, reflect the light, promote the light. “Arise, shine,” Isaiah said, “for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” We allow the light to rise upon us, that others may see a way home from exile.

Again, we’re not making the light, we’re allowing the light to shine through our lives to cast a pure light on others. They may or may not choose to see it, embrace it, follow it. But we can bear witness to the power of the light in our lives and see what comes next. God will do the hard work.

May God shine through us, into the darkness of an often weary world, and make all things new. Amen.


Monday, December 31, 2018

First Sunday after Christmas

Colossians 3
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
It’s an odd Sunday.

First up, I’m not sure why you’re here. Of course, I understand you’re here to worship the Most High, but aren’t you a little tired? Shouldn’t you be dozing somewhere in a turkey induced-slumber, and planning New Year’s resolutions related to that turkey-induced slumber?

Second, it’s an odd Sunday. Scraps of unsung carols get sung today, and the minister picks the obscure French carols that no one else really likes, because no one is supposed to be here. Controversial things may be said from the pulpit, based on the assumption that some things demand to be said, and are often better said when no one is supposed to be here.

Or perhaps all these things are precisely why you’re here: to worship the Most High, to avoid making New Year’s resolutions, to sing obscure French carols that you secretly love, and to hear something controversial because you know that’s how ministers roll. So thank you for coming, and let’s ignore the fact that we’re really here for the Christmas goodies that usually show up at coffee the Sunday after Christmas.

Before we head to Colossae (COLL-aw-see) and talk about virtue, I want to head to the coast, about 200 kilometres away, and meet one of the most famous sons of Ephesus, Heraclitus (Hera-CLE-tus) the Obscure. If you’re wondering why you don’t know Heraclitus, it seems the answer is in the name. But actually it’s not, because his epithet means “hard to understand” rather than unknown.

Heraclitus lived about 500 years before St. Paul, but his reputation among Greek philosophers is solid, owing to a handful of ideas and some really great quotes beginning with “no one steps in the same river twice.” He meant that the river, like everything else around us, is constantly changing, and therefore you never step in the same river twice. And like most philosophers, he had an rival, maybe a frenemy, by the name of Parmenides. And Parmenides, being a rival, took the opposite view, summing up his view with the profoundly concise “what-is, is.” So either everything changes or what is, is. You have to take sides, and you can do it over coffee, because either ontology matters, or you just like saying “what is, is.”

The other famous saying by our friend Heraclitus is another simple-yet-profound one, one that will take us back to the Colossians. Heraclitus said ​ethos anthropoi daimon​, usually translated as “man’s character is his fate” or simply “character is destiny.” It has elements of Paul’s later expression, “you reap what you sow,” (Gal 6.7) but it’s less behavioural and more about the essence of who we are and how that tends to determine what becomes of us.

So I won’t read the passage again, but I will turn it into a list of all the virtues that Paul commends to the church in Colossae: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, love, unity, peace, thankfulness, and gratitude. It’s a good list, and before we dig in, I wonder about the ordering. Paul does say “over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together,” so he does give priority to one over all. But what do you think? How would you order them? I’ll leave it with you, but we’ll give Paul is due and put love at the top.

It’s also important to understand that this list is aspirational in nature. Paul understood as well as anyone that congregations like the one at Colossae were filled with broken people, but he saw his task as setting out expectations—meaning this is what Christian community should look like. And he was also drawing a contrast with the way of the world, defining the nature of Christian community in opposition to the “nasty, brutish and short” life that most experienced.

While we’re doing quotes, the full quote is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and the seventeenth-century cleric that made the quote (I bet his sermons were fun) was trying to be candid about human nature, the very nature that Paul wanted his people to overcome. A recent scholar gave this summary of Hobbes’ view:

We are all basically selfish, driven by fear of death and the hope of personal gain, [Hobbes] believed. All of us seek power over others, whether we realize this or not. If you don’t accept Hobbes’ picture of humanity, why do you lock the door when you leave your house?*

So I’m going to do a little thought experiment, based on the ‘year in review,’ and see who pops into your mind as I make another list. Paul looked around and saw troubled people in a troubled time: lacking compassion, cruel, vain, rough, impatient, unforgiving, hateful, disunifying, warlike, unthankful, ungrateful, and intolerant— assuming that’s the opposite of showing forbearance.

Got a mental picture of anyone? I’m just going to leave that with you while I talk about another important part of the passage we’re looking at, and that’s admonishment. You might remember earlier in the year we looked at rebuking— back on “Get Behind Me, Satan” Sunday— also known as the Second Sunday of Lent. I was telling you about the various penalties we face for our ecclesiastical misdeeds, beginning with admonishing, then rebuking and eventually all the way to losing your spot on the roll. Serious stuff, and it all begins with the very advice Paul gives to the Colossians:

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

And just to be clear, I’m going to share from the other “good book,” the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of admonish: “To advise or warn (a person), esp. by way of correction.” I think it’s safe to say that few of us like to be admonished, we don’t seek correction, and we would rather people ignored our faults or misdeeds than pointing them out as a matter of Christian duty.

But Paul wasn’t kidding. One of the marks of Christian community is mutual accountability, opening ourselves to the occasional admonishment as we move toward the goal of Christian perfection. And of course it never fully works, because only God is perfect, and because we remain, well, human. Nevertheless, Paul insists that we have a duty to “to advise or warn (one another), esp. by way of correction.” They will know we are Christians by our love and our willingness to admonish and be admonished. It’s who we are.

So I want to play the same game, called “who am I talking about, really,” as I read Psychology Today’s definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.**

The hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat, and may be left feeling humiliated or empty when they experience an "injury" in the form of criticism or rejection.

In other words, you’re desire to admonish this person will not work. They are not wired for admonishment, and it will leave them feeling injured or diminished or rejected. And they need our love and support, but they shouldn’t be put in charge of any large institutions, or even small ones for that matter. They can exist in the church, because our doors remain open to all of God’s broken people, but it’s going to be tough for them.

It’s going to be tough for them because with love comes mutual accountability, and a willingness to “speak the truth in love,” another gem from St. Paul. I think Heraclitus was right—character is destiny—and that’s why Paul just couldn’t stop talking about virtue. He set out every specific expectations about belief, behaviour, and the way in which we remain our ‘brothers and sisters’ keepers.

There are people in power who seek to destroy Christian community, not by condemning it, but by co-opting it and using it to further their twisted aims. They exploit Christian virtue—patience, forbearance, and forgiveness—and convince them that this Faustian deal is worth it, trading common decency for the belief that the end justifies the means. Obviously Christians who support corrupt politicians are not blameless, but they need to understand how this ends, and the extent to which their choices hurt all people of faith.

Most importantly, we need to remember who we are: God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And willing to help each other remain these things, always, in a spirit of love. Amen.

* y-poor-nasty-brutish-and-short/ ** personality-disorder

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve (late)

Dr. Jim and I have this little ritual that unfolds each Christmas: I remember late in the week that I should ask him to read—and not simply assume that he’ll do it. And every year Jim agrees to read far too quickly, at least in comparison to everyone I ask to read, every other time we have a service. Sometimes I’ll add some kind of attachment to the request, maybe a flu shot or some random ache or pain, and he politely meets those needs too.

Our shared passion for John’s prologue, the first dozen-and-a-half verses of John’s Gospel, means that this service is a highlight of the year. John’s first section sets the tenor and tone of the whole book. It combines cosmology and context, some foreshadowing, and a direct appeal to the soul of the reader. It is a symphony of metaphor: Witness to the light, the true light, the Word made flesh, determined to live among us.

It’s also a manifesto, a passionate statement of intention, and it’s touched more lives than any other manifesto.

It’s the beginning of an epic, a story of signs and self-revelation, and it’s certainly touched more lives that the Iliad or the Odyssey or any other classical text.

It’s a worldview and a challenge to the reader, and it’s certainly touched more lives than an entire industry of gurus and guides.

And it’s a retreat from the comfort of shepherds and angels, clothing that swaddles and the puzzle of being sore afraid. John’s prologue doesn’t replace those stories, it completes them. It gives them meaning beyond a foundational story and shoots for the stars. It drags us back to the beginning when God-in-Christ and Christ-in-God birth the cosmos, reveal the light, and establish a realm of grace and truth.

Now the challenge: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” See the challenge? Can you recognize him? Can you let his light shine in the shadowed places in your life? In my life? Sometimes recognition is slow to come, but God is persistent. The Maker of Heaven and earth has returned tonight to ask for our lives once more. We should say yes. Amen.

Christmas Eve (early)

Luke 2
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Sometimes we just need a little good news. has published 99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2018, a wonderful counterpoint to the prevailing narrative that many of us have lodged in our head. We need a little good news, so here are just five of the 99 to share tonight:

Following China’s ban on ivory last year, 90% of the public indicate support for the ban, ivory demand has dropped by almost half, and poaching rates are falling in places like Kenya. (WWF)

Niger revealed that it has planted 200 million new trees in three decades, the largest positive transformation of the environment in African history. (Guardian)

The United Nations Development Programme released a new report showing that 271 million people in India have moved out of poverty since 2005, reducing the country’s poverty rate by nearly half in a single decade. (Times of India)

Adidas expects to sell 5 million pairs of shoes made from ocean plastic this year, and committed to using only recycled plastic in its products by 2024. (CNN)

A study of crime and related statistics in California has revealed that in the last generation, arrests of teenagers have fallen by 80%, murder arrests by 85%, imprisonments reduced by 88%, teen births down by 75%, school dropouts by half, and college enrolments are up by 45%. (Sacbee)

Sometimes we just need a little good news. Part of our human nature is the capacity to sour on people, ideas, and our world itself. Once soured, once convinced of a particular direction or narrative, it becomes increasingly difficult to reverse course. Distrust of institutions, failing relationships, even poor economic performance on a larger scale can often be traced back to a shift in perception.

So, 2018, how did that work out? I’m stealing from next Sunday’s sermon for a moment to acknowledge that the storyline of 2018, the ‘year in review’ that we hear this time of year is hardly something to write home about. I won’t trouble you with a reminder, since we’ve had these conversations already. It is enough to say that something has changed in the last couple of years, and there is a sense that 2018 was part of the narrative that ‘things may get worse, before they get better.’

Part of the problem of this push-pull of ideas is that it’s all very subjective. I can say a handful of things that most could find a way to agree with:

Things are getting better
Things were getting better, but now they’re getting worse
It was better in the past
The past was terrible: it’s much better now
Whatever I’m experiencing, someone has it worse and someone has it better.

So, for example, what about shepherds in their fields abiding? Better or worse? They received “good news of great joy” but did they need it? Were they being saved from something? Were their lives miserable?

Plenty of homiletical ink has been spilled about life in first-century Palestine, that near-eastern, Roman-occupied, more-or-less a backwater that God chose to enter our world. What was it like? Was it really so bad? And where do they fall within the question of better, worse, terrible, and so on?

So, what do we know? Looking at Jesus’ home in the Galilee, it wasn’t as rural or remote as we imagine. There were as many as 200 villages in a small region, and three Roman cities, one a regional capital and another a busy seaside resort. There was plenty of work for skilled people such as carpenters, and Lake Tiberius was rich with fish.

While the majority were poor, farmers, fishers, and day labourers, the archaeology reveals surprising things: Children’s toys such as “whistles, rattles, toy animals on wheels, hoops, and spinning tops have been found” by archaeologists. Graven images were forbidden, so there are no paintings to show the style of dress or colours, but the rule wasn’t strictly enforced, since dolls for children have been found.

Historians describe small family groupings—taking meals in common—with a favourite pastime being after-dinner conversation long into the night. Board games were popular too, perhaps for the young people or when conversation became too contentious. Early in the day people ate bread, olives and cheese, with the larger evening meal featuring lentil stew, more bread, and fish, of course, for the those near the water.

In other words, not so bad, and not unlike the experience of many of our families if we went back even a half-dozen generations. Our friends in their fields abiding enjoyed companionship, meaningful labour, and extended family networks. There was no fast food or big box stores, but even as I say this I feel like I’m making a case for the past. Medicine was a problem, along with conquest and war, but by in large, lives were lived in a way that we could recognize and perhaps even envy just a little.

So what was missing? At this point I need to be careful as I describe spiritual lives, since Judaism remains one of the world’s great religions. And Jesus—as a good Jew—would remind us that his program was reform rather than creating something new. Nevertheless, his own words provide the framework we need describe what was missing, and why tonight is so important.

For our shepherds, God was to be feared, and obeyed, but not really loved. Sore afraid was not uncommon, with a healthy fear of failure relating to God’s commands and the laws that governed this relationship. Insiders and outsiders were carefully delineated, with such makers driving people apart rather than drawing the community together as intended. Much later, Jesus would find an obscure verse in Leviticus to define the problem and define his project: love your neighbour as yourself.

But tonight, the message is a simple one, “I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.” If you’ll forgive me a little Greek, they announced a σωτήρ (so-tir), a saviour, a deliverer, a preserver. The message of this wee lad would take years to develop, but the meaning was immediate: God entered our world in a new way—to deliver us from estrangement, to preserve us for a life with God, and to save us from ourselves.

In other words, whatever nations rise and fall, however the Dow might rise or fall, even the vicissitudes of our own lives—these mean little in the arc of God’s desire to enter our lives. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is a source of comfort and joy, awe but not fear, forgiveness and reconciliation, all in the glory of God. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Advent IV

Luke 1
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’

Well, it’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, and I expect you’re a little curious about what you missed while you were busy enjoying yourself.

Between the White Gift service (including some very impressive kings), and the choir cantata, there were a number of readings that could have been addressed from this space, but were sadly missed. I’m not suggesting you went home thinking ‘the choir was great this morning, but what about that reading from Zephaniah? When’s the the next time Zephaniah will come up at all? And who’s Zephaniah anyway?’

And that’s just the beginning. We missed readings from Baruch and Malachi too—it was going to be a minor prophet festival of Bible books that most of us would struggle to find. Trade tip if you’re ever asked to teach Sunday School: ask the kids to find Baruch, Malachi, and Zephaniah, then kick back until it’s time for cookies.

There is, however, more to Zephaniah than a name that’s fun to say. It’s the counterpoint to Advent three’s trip to the River Jordan. Zephaniah promises that the Lord will take away judgments from you, “renew you in his love,” and exult over you will loud singing. Meanwhile, down by the river, John the Baptist said this:

"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

Preachers love John the Baptist. We’re yelling, but we’re not really yelling. And if the preacher is indeed faced with a brood of vipers (not here, of course) then the preacher gets to say ‘John said it, not me!’ He’s an essential ingredient to the Advent story, that remarkable mix of recrimination and hope that helps us prepare for tomorrow night. But John’s just getting started:

"I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

And just in case you missed it, we’re the chaff. But I want you to be chaff in context. Everyday since Halloween you have been confronted with society’s version of preparation: perfect homes, perfect children, perfect gifts—music to make you spend faster and feel good doing it—and the abiding sense that you deserve the best. That’s Advent out there. In here, we’re on a different path. We recognize that it’s not a season of joy for everyone. We understand that to make room for Jesus in our hearts we need to put a few things away or throw them out altogether. We only deserve what God promises to give us— and for that we have the minor prophets. And that brings us to Baruch:

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. For God will give you evermore the name, "Righteous Peace, Godly Glory."

Saint Augustine said “By loving me, God, you made me lovable.” God will take away the wardrobe of woe, and give us the robe of righteousness instead. We will be crowned with glory, and God will give us a new name, "Righteous Peace, Godly Glory." It’s the most Advent of names, and it would be the perfect bridge to angels and shepherds, but we’re not there yet. Advent has a couple more things to show us, so it’s back to the readings.

If you were here on Advent One, you will recall that I suggested that all of Advent can be summed up in a single verse, 1 Thessalonians 3.13:

May [the Lord] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

The journey through Advent is meant to strengthen us, to allow us to become upright and holy in God’s presence, and to be ready when Jesus comes with all the saints. And it’s this last part that deserves a second look. Who are these saints that will return with Christ? The answer, of course, is somewhere else in Paul.

And your pew Bible doesn’t want you to struggle, so the very title given to the passage we’re looking for spells out the answer, found at Colossians 3: “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ.” It’s a headline that more-or-less sums up the entirety of the Christian hope, and then Paul explains:

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

In other words, we are the ‘holy ones’ that will return with Christ in glory, even as we struggle to wait for his return. At baptism, you put on Christ, your life became hidden in Christ, and when he returns we shall return with him. Now some of you may not be ready for all this biblical paradox before lunch, but it defines who we are: redeemed sinners, saints in light, dead to sin and alive in Christ. As we wait for Christ we wait for ourselves, our true selves, or as St. Paul says, “you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col 3.10)

The final act of Advent leaves behind Baruch, Malachi, and Zephaniah, John’s eccentricity and Paul’s brilliance, my sin and your sin and the world’s sin and focuses instead on a relationship between two remarkable women: Mary and Elizabeth. And since I’ve clouded your heads with all these other readings, let me remind you of the reading Joyce shared:

In a loud voice Elizabeth exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you, Mary, among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’

Luke has shared that remarkable moment when Jesus in utero and John in utero greet each other, a portent of their bond, and another sign of the age to come. But that would be literally leaping ahead, because this encounter is about two cousins, one the new Sarah, given a child in her old age, and her young relative, overcome by the Holy Spirit and destined to be the mother our Lord.

It was my friend Jeff who reminded me that underneath the veneer of the miraculous—leaping babies and words of blessing—is the story of what we used to call “a young girl in trouble.” This older cousin would have a far greater sense of how young people generally find themselves in these situations, and how society will judge, and how her own reaction to Mary will define how the wider family is perceived.

But that’s not what happens. Luke creates two more minor prophets for our edification and comfort. This is not a story about scandal or family shame, but about two prophets willing to listen to God and echo God’s word for us. It is about Elizabeth’s willingness to open her door to Mary and open her heart to the Spirit, knowing that God makes all things new.

And once again, we find the heart of Advent, just as we are set to say goodbye to this season of preparation and hope. We are the saints in light, called to open our doors and hearts to those who speak for God. To see Christ in others, to see Christ in those who may be carrying Christ within them. And to give thanks: that we have room on our hearts for Jesus, the Word made flesh, who has come and will come again. Amen.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Advent I

1 Thessalonians 3
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Hands up if you have handwritten a letter.
Hands up if you have handwritten a letter in the last six months.
Hands up if your last handwritten letter was sent by text message instead.
Hands up if you long for the era of the handwritten letter but can’t bring yourself to actually write one.

While you are lost in longing, I want to remind you of some of the perils associated with the handwritten letter, relieving you—perhaps—of some of the anxiety you feel. There was a lot of steps involved: pen, paper, envelope, stamp, brisk walk, postbox, double checking the post box (admit it, we all do it) and all the uncertainty that comes with giving over your labour of love to Canada Post.

Or the hidden peril. Are you sending a card, or a postcard, or are you writing on paper? White or ivory? Paper or cotton? Fountain or ballpoint (I think you know the answer), and don’t even get me started on the envelope. In other words, if you’re writing on lined paper and using that old return envelope you saved, you might want to rethink the whole thing. Do you know their email?

Or the other hidden peril, in the actual act of writing. Pen and paper do not come with auto-correct. So you have to know how to spell. You have to consider how it looks on the page—no one likes untidy margins. And you need to know what you’re going to say, because there is no backspace key. Once you’re deep into a sentence there is no turning back—you can’t derail a train of thought without making a mess.

Yet even as I describe the somewhat facetious perils, I admire this who persist in writing notes. Yesterday, as numerous people described their relationship to the late president George H.W. Bush, they also mentioned some kind note he sent, and the fact that the note was now framed and displayed with pride and gratitude. So write that letter, even if all you have is some yellow newsprint paper with the gummy bits at the top.

I share all this because if there is a patron saint of letter writers, I sure hope it’s St. Paul. His letters make up a quarter of the New Testament, and taken together provide much of the framework for the Christian church. He was prolific, and attentive, and set a high bar for anyone who sits down to write something to promote the faith. But sometimes, we see peril. I want to reread the first line of our lesson today, and remind you what happens when you write in pen.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

This is when the kids say ‘awkward.’ I’m sure it sounds better in the original Greek. What we learn in a single awkward sentence is that unpolished Paul is authentic Paul, and that writing to the Thessalonians—widely considered his first letter—is an act of love.

There is a whole other sermon about writing a love letter, but for today we can rest in the knowledge that Paul loves the church in Thessalonica. And why wouldn’t he? He founded the church, along with his companions, but their stay was short-lived. He had quick success in the synagogue, among some gentiles, and as noted in Acts 17, among some prominent women of the town. But others were angry, seeing Paul and the others as a threat to the peace, so them stirred up a mob and claimed that Jesus—long dead— was trying to steal the throne of Caesar.

They were run out of town, not for the first time and certainly not the last, but there was something about his time there that prompted Paul to write. The clue, of course, is in our passage: “Night and day” Paul says, “we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” How do we read this? On one hand we might think he has heard something or learned something about the Thessalonians and how they are conducting themselves, but I think we’re reading regret. Paul and his companions were run out of town, and whatever lesson plan they had, whatever expression of the Gospel they had mapped out was interrupted and remained incomplete, lacking in their faith.

So, filled with regret, and recognizing that time and paper are in short supply, he tries to distill his message into something that they can take in and share, something that will make up for the hasty departure and the unfinished business of making disciples. But before he can continue, he prays that God in Jesus clears the way for them to return. And then he tells them two things, first:

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

The church is founded on love. Yes, there was conflict at the beginning of the story of the First Church of Thessalonica, but now the church must make sure that everyone in town knows ‘they are Christians by their love,’ both within the congregation and outside the walls, whatever walls they had. Amazing that 2,000 years on, this is still the mark of a faithful church: loving one another within the walls and finding ways to make this love known beyond them.

And don’t want my words to go to your head, but Friday night was an excellent example of welcoming friends and neighbours in and showing them the power of love. One of our guests came to me gushing about the spirit in this place, and I could only smile and agree.

So Paul expresses some regret, and some love, and then he completes the circle:

May [the Lord] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Basically this is every Advent sermon in a single verse. We have four Sundays to prepare, one short season to strengthen ourselves, to become blameless and holy in the presence of the Living God and trust in the promise that Christ will come again. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

But there is more to this season than resisting well-loved carols with every ounce of strength we have (and fail every time, of course). There is more to this season of becoming, this season of the Not-Yet, this season when we ‘make a straight path for him,’ and prepare the way of the Lord.

The More of the season takes us back to Thessalonica and the near-riot that began in the marketplace and threatened to spread throughout the city. It happened like this: The mob was searching for Paul and his companions, going house to house, then gave up and made for the town square:

“These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here,” they shouted, “and some have welcomed them into their homes. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil.

This might be the moment to draw a fine line between factual and truthful. So let’s look at the facts of the case. Paul and his companions don’t have the means, motive or opportunity to replace Caesar and install King Jesus on his throne. It’s just not factual. Jesus was and is with the Most High, busy interceding for us, not preparing to take over some shiny palace on the Palatine Hill or any other hill for that matter.

But here is where we cross into truthful. In truth, Jesus was plotting to overthrow Caesar, both in the age when the most powerful man in the world was wandering around in purple, and in the age to come. This was a revolution, lead by revolutionaries from that day down to today. And while it wasn’t factual, King Jesus encamped outside the walls of Rome, it was certainly truthful, plotting to enter our hearts, becoming Lord of All, and eventually returning to show all the world the glory of his name.

And that brings us to today. This double celebration, preparing for God to enter our world in a new way, and preparing for Christ to return, begins in the season of purple, a wink at where this is headed. Kings and rulers can try to feel comfortable on their thrones and in their palaces, riding on Rome One or Marine One, but our hearts belong to another ruler, ever coming and already here, seeming far off but always near. Soon he will don the purple, and take his place as Lord of All. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Reign of Christ

Psalm 132
At Ephrathah we heard God's ark was there;
we found it in the region of Jaar.
'Let us approach the place where the Most High rests,
let us kneel in worship at God's footstool.'
Arise, O God, and enter your resting-place,
you and your mighty ark.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness;
let your faithful people shout for joy. R
For your servant David's sake, do not reject your Anointed.
You made a sure promise to David,
a promise that will never be revoked:
'One of your own children I will set upon your throne.
And if they in turn keep my covenant,
the teaching that I give them,
their descendants too shall sit on your throne
in succession for ever.' R

As symbols of royal power go, this one has had a troubled history.

I’m speaking, of course, about the mace, that fancy gilded object that looks—well, like a mace—and is a symbol of the authority of the crown. It sits on a table in the center of the house, and reminds legislators that the Her Majesty (or her representative) is always present. Parliamentary fun fact: when the queen or her representative is actually there, the mace is draped with a velvet cloth, since it would be redundant to have it out.

The troubled history began during that time our town was captured by the Americans. Funny, we don’t seem to talk about it much, maybe we’re embarrassed about the defeat in April 1813, but one of the atrocities was the burning of parliament (then located on Parliament Street) and the theft of the mace. For 122 years it sat in the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, a prize of war, until FDR saw fit to return it.

Fast forward to 1849, and the replacement mace was busy serving the Parliament of the United Provinces of Canada in Montreal. Stolen by a riotous mob, it was returned. Threatened after a riotous mob burned parliament to the ground, it was saved. Moved to Ottawa when our shiny new dominion was formed, it lived a comfortable life after all that tumult only to be caught in the 1916 fire that destroyed the Centre Block, leaving the mace just a lump of gold and silver amalgam.

The great thing about symbols, though, is you can just make another one. The mace, the throne, even parliament itself can be rebuilt or replaced but the underlying authority remains. So too with the symbols of biblical kingship, beginning, of course, with the Ark of the Covenant. Constructed while the Israelites were wandering in the desert, this symbol of God’s presence became the unifying symbol during this period. It contained the shattered tablets and a pot of manna, representing God’s law and the God’s sustaining presence through bread from heaven.

When they entered the promised land, the ark led the way. The waters of the Jordan parted (more symbolism) and the feet of those who carried the ark remained dry. It was carried about the walls of Jericho seven times, leading the siege before the walls tumbled down. The ark then become an important tool of war, leading the army of the conquest, overcoming tribes and peoples until the day it did not.

Captured by the Philistines, much like our beloved mace, it became a prize of war. Apparently the Philistines didn’t have a naval academy, so the ark was toured around the land, now a symbol of the humiliation of the Israelites. Well that backfired. At Ashdod, it caused the holy statue of Dagon to fall. Outside the temple of Dagon, the people developed tumours, followed by a plague of mice, just because. Moved to Gath, then Ekron, it gave the locals boils. Moved to a nearby field, some made sacrifices before the ark, and seventy were smitten—not smitten like your first sweetheart, but smitten.

Needless to say, this particular symbol wasn’t working out for the Philistines, so they packaged it up and gave it back, return to sender. The Israelites, by this point used to fighting without the ark, sort of forgot about it. It wasn’t fully retired, but King Saul was too impatient to consult the ark or carry the ark and it began to collect dust.

Enter David. Former shepherd boy, budding poet, he quickly becomes a favourite in the king’s court, impressing Saul and befriending Jonathan, and the world seems good and pleasant. David kills the giant, and the old king begins to feel uneasy, wondering what’s next for this bright, young warrior, if it isn’t the throne of Saul himself. I’ll leave it to you to read 1 Samuel, the Bible’s own Game of Thrones, but the outcome is certain: David becomes King David, and we arrive at Psalm 132.

Power is an interesting thing. Often it’s easier to get than keep, and in maintaining to you need to have a narrative, a compelling story that becomes symbolic in its own way. And in the case of David, former shepherd boy, part-time poet, giant killer, there should be enough material to string together a myth or two that will help him maintain power. But it’s not enough.

Then he remembered the ark. Languishing in Kirjath-jearim, nearly forgotten, David decides to return it to the centre of royal power, in his new capital, a unifying (and rather convenient) symbol for the House of David. Hear the myth-making begin:

O God, remember David and all the hardships he endured,
how he swore an oath to you,
a promise to the Mighty One of Jacob.
'I will not enter my house, nor will I climb into my bed,
I will not give sleep to my eyes, not even let my eyelids droop
until I find a place for God,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.'

Ignoring the Dr. Seuss sounding poetry, the psalmist is setting the scene, making it transactional: David will honour God by finding a home for the ark, refusing to rest until God is returned to the centre of Israelite life (and near the throne of the new king).

But it’s not enough to make promises, or bring it back, the story requires a beginning, middle and end, so we learn more:

At Ephrathah we heard God's ark was there;
we found it in the region of Jaar.
'Let us approach the place where the Most High rests,
let us kneel in worship at God's footstool.'
Arise, O God, and enter your resting-place,
you and your mighty ark.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness;
let your faithful people shout for joy. R

The psalmist added a little Dan Brown here, ‘we heard where it was, we found it in the region of Jaar.’ The story of the moving the ark, the poor fellow smitten (not in a good way) when his hand touched the ark, David’s awkward and revealing dance—all of these details are omitted in the psalm because this is not history being written, this is myth.

My resident biblical scholar would interrupt me at this point to say that this is more than myth-making, this is a good example of rewritten scripture, taking the source material and adapting it to make a point or further an agenda. And overall, that’s what seems to be happening in Psalm 132. The story of David is being rewritten and set to song in an effort to add legitimacy to a fledgling dynasty. The psalmist has taken the long story of David, and specifically the promises God made to David in 2 Samuel 7, and turned them into propaganda (the good kind, to be sure, but still propaganda).

And just when the myth-making seems complete, and the promise of a perpetual dynasty seems sure, the psalmist does something unexpected. Remembering that in 2 Samuel God promises a ‘house and kingdom that will endure forever’ we hear this:

For your servant David's sake, do not reject your Anointed.
You made a sure promise to David,
a promise that will never be revoked:
'One of your own children I will set upon your throne.
And if they in turn keep my covenant,
the teaching that I give them,
their descendants too shall sit on your throne
in succession for ever.' R

Suddenly the psalmist is the real prophet, transforming the promise to ‘what God meant to say was ‘if they can keep my covenant, and the law’ then you can keep your throne forever. Kings shutter and governments pause because legitimacy is conditional, it requires faithfulness. What seemed like a sure thing, a perpetual throne and an eternal right is really no more than a contract after all.

At Westminster, the mother of all parliaments, the queen must wait before she can enter the Commons, the people’s house, owing to a little incident during the English Civil War when Charles I had his men enter the Commons to arrest some troublesome MPs. Today, in the robing room where the queen waits is a very unique document, framed and hanging in the wall: the death warrant of Charles I, the instrument signed authorizing his execution after harbouring the foolish idea that kings rule by divine right alone. It’s a symbol and a reminder, that parliament and the monarch are partners in our system, and must work together to serve the people.

The kingdoms of this world have everything they need to be faithful: the law and the gospels, the command to love God while loving neighbour, the words of prophets and seers in scripture and verse. All of these are known, and all of these are available. It doesn’t take a freedom of information request to know that governments know what is required of them. Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God. Do these, and kingdoms endure, Amen.