What does real repentance look like anyway?

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Sermons and audio

Men working in a fieldThe Pharisees probably expected the tax-collectors to repent and become their disciples, in essence to become just like the other Pharisees. But that didn’t happen. And so they wouldn’t believe that the “repentance” being claimed was 

What do you think repentance looks like? Do you expect a penitent life to look just like yours? Is that realistic?

In the sermon below I’ll try to answer that question – or at least try to explain what Scripture says a repentant life looks like. (And how we often judge wrongly when we see one.)

You can view the sermon directly here.

In the Kingdom of God there is plenty for everyone

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workers in the field at middayAccording to gaming theory, any economic activity where both parties fully understand what is happening is a non-zero-sum game. We forget that a lot. We tend to think that buying and selling is a cut throat competition. Which it is if you’re not being honest with each other. But if you are, you both win when you buy or sell something. Think about that.

The key is being honest and transparent.

The Kingdom of Heaven is exactly that. A non-zero-sum game. There can be no tragedy of the commons here. There is no winners and losers. There is simply the body, and when one is exulted, all are exulted. And when one suffers, all suffer.


You can go directly to the sermon here.


A loving God who consigns to torture?

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A man moving in a darkened graveyardThere’s an apparent disconnect between the God Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount and the God imagined in this parable. Or is there?

Notice that once the evil servant enters the social web of revenge and debts and debtors, the evil servant if forced by the system to face the consequences of what his is doing. The King treats him differently, but he is not willing to live into that form of relationship with others afterwards.

Because he treats others badly, the world treats him badly. And then the Lord forces him to live with the consequences of his life and actions.

It is only by living in a relationship of forgiveness with others that we can hope to escape having to live in a world of revenge and blood price. Anyone who’s been together in a relationship with someone else, for any length of time, learns quickly that the hardest thing in a relationship is the fear that you won’t be forgiven for doing something wrong.

The direct link to the video is here.

A new community is dawning in a broken age

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Oblique facade of the US Supreme CourtAll three of the readings assigned for this week are about relationship. The Hebrew Scriptures speak of the first Passover and the new covenantal relationship between God and the children of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The Gospel, read from St. Matthew’s account, tells us about how to live with one another when conflict arises in the community. And the third reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, is about the guiding principles of the community and its internal relationships in this present age.

It’s Paul’s writing that I focus on this week, but in the larger context of what he writes just before the text assigned. In the lead up to his admonition to be a loving community that is a witness to the wider world of who Christ is and of what the Holy Spirit is accomplishing, he tells us that it’s important for us to obey the authorities that are persecuting that nascent body of believers. It’s that tension between what our internal and our external life should look like that is the theme of this week’s sermon.

Or actually was the theme of the sermon I preached three years ago on these texts. (I’m just coming to the end of my yearly vacation, and though I’ve been good about violating the terms of my vacation covenant and writing and posting sermons for the past few weeks, this week, I’m going to repost something.) We’re getting to the point where I can do that on occasion.

You can find the direct link to the sermon here.

God chooses to love us, and invites us to do the same

Sermons and audio

A bush burning in the desertUnselfish giving is defined as love. Literally it is what we mean we say that Agape is love.

In one of John’s epistles we find the one “is” statement about God. St. John writes that “God is Love.” (Actually it’s: God is AGAPE.) 

We know about God because of God’s choice. And the fact that we as finite creatures have encountered the infinite in a comprehensible way means that the infinite has freely chosen to self-limitation. That limitation is not something that brings gain to God. It’s a totally, for us ultimately incomprehensible, unselfish action. It is only for our own benefit – since we want to be like Gods – now we know how we can do it.

If we want to know what it would be truly like to be gods, we now know where to look. We look to Jesus and we see completely. If we imitate him, we can be a little like him. He is the Christ, we can be the little christs, the Christians.

(You can view the sermon directly at this link.)

What it means to be a true Church

Sermons and audio

Binding and LoosingThere are some startling implications to be drawn from the Gospel passage this week.

Jesus proclaims the nature of the Church and seems to tie it intimately to the recognition of the Creator in the Incarnation which is given to us by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Once again in this theophany, this unveiling of God’s nature, we see the actions of all three Persons of the Trinity.

What you bind will have been bound already

Look carefully at what Jesus promises.

You will act in accordance with God’s will.

What you bind on Earth is being bound in Heaven. What you loose on Earth is being Loosed in Heaven. The greek tense contains a great deal of information here that many translations fail to give the flavor of.

(God will not be bound by what you say to make my point explicitly.)

This is not just a trivial point. It reinforces the truth that God is different than we are, and that God’s freedom cannot be limited by us. (We can’t force God to do something. That would be magic and the Church does not do magic.)

The really, to me, interesting thing here is the way that the Confession of Jesus as God incarnate – and the vehicle for the reconciliation of our human nature with the Divine – is how the narrative immediately turns to the ethical. Binding and Loosing is all about declaring actions “in bounds” or “out of bounds”.

(You can view the sermon directly by using this link.)

Calling all citizen scientists! Lunar photos needed for climate research.

Climate Change / Science

New moon illuminated by light from the EarthAn old friend of mine, Peter Thejll, a senior scientist with the Danish Meteorological Institute, is asking for help on a project (#NewMoonSnap) that will help to measure the reflectivity of the Earth (its albedo). The observations will be used to improve our present climate models. This project is being done along with a research program being undertaken by a Danish astronaut who is presently on the ISS.

You can read more about the project here.

What is needed are good pictures of the new moon taken in RAW format. (Details and how to do that at the link above). You can find out when the next New Moon will be (and when it will rise and set as well) at this handy site.

It’s important to use the RAW or NEF formats – JPEG images are compressed to save disk space and the data won’t be suitable for this project.

If you can get a suitable image post it to social media with the tag #NewMoonSnap. If the image will work for the project, the researchers will contact you to get the original image. (When you post something online it’s ALWAYS compressed, and useless for this sort of work.)

There’s some interesting science behind all of this. We’ve measured the Earth’s albedo for years by measuring “Earthshine” on the Moon’s surface. But that measurement is noisy since it’s taken through the Earth’s atmosphere. Taking pictures from space and from the Earth at the same time will help to “calibrate” the historic Earth based observations an improve the accuracy of climate models – and improve our understanding of what climate change might do as the atmosphere heats up.

Peter Thejll explained it to me thusly:

The first 20 years of data collected have shown that [the] Earth has been getting darker, and that this corroborates what the satellites see! Darker = Warmer! But – and this is important – that is just a qualitative argument. We do not really know if the darkening is the cause or a consequence of climate change. Some climate scientists will experience different mileage on this question, but many have not really considered the causes and consequences of the globe’s darkening, yet.

Briefly – one reason for the darkening could be that mankind learned not to use so much dirty coal and oil in the last 20 years – the amount of sulphur aerosol has been reduced, or so it is thought. It is like a geo-enginneering experiment that was un-planned!

Your pictures could really help push this forward. Thanks!

(If you have questions, ask them in the comments here on the blog and I’ll either ask Peter to answer them, or try to myself.)

We worship a God who conquers by being conquered

Sermons and audio

a small dog under a table eating scrapsI don’t like the idea that Jesus could be defeated.

I think I know why it bothers me exactly. I suppose it has to do with who I believe Jesus to be.

If Jesus can be tricked, or changed by a witty remark, is he still God? Can the person who split the waters be beaten at a game of the dozens? Does salvation come down to who comes up with the most clever remark?

That would work if Noel Coward was writing the story. But he’s not.

Any attempt to protect Jesus though, ties us up in knots

Jesus was defeated in this encounter with a Canaanite woman advocating for her child.

The thing is that any attempt to explain away Jesus’ apparent defeat at the hands of this woman just don’t work.

So I’ll have to get over myself. God who allows us to defeat him. Huh?

The woman’s faith allows her to believe that she can best Jesus. Because she trusts he’s willing to be bested.

God conquers by being conquered…


You can go directly to the video using this link.

Here’s why Rhode Island is the only state that celebrates Victory Day | WPRI.com

Current Affairs

Here’s why Rhode Island is the only state that celebrates Victory Day | WPRI.com:

“If ever a state was at the center of the American war effort in World War II, it was Rhode Island,” veteran political reporter Scott MacKay wrote in a 2010 essay. “From Westerly to Woonsocket and everywhere in between, Rhode Island was focused on winning what has become known as, in Studs Terkel’s famous words, ‘The Good War.’”

The Navy had a huge presence in Rhode Island during the conflict, and three future presidents — John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush — all did some of their training in the state. “During World War II, Rhode Island was an armed camp,” Christian McBurney and Brian Wallin argue in a recent book about the state during the war.

The local manufacturing industry also went into overdrive, supplying everything from ships and blankets to medals.

Victory Day in Rhode Island isn’t just something we do to get an extra day off at a beautiful time of the year. It’s because the war formed modern Rhode Island. And the military and defense industry are still major employers here.

But being formed by a war isn’t something to celebrate – war is much too terrible for such a thought. If you do have a moment to reflect, spend it praying that such a time is never repeated.

The tragedy of the commons is a false and dangerous myth | Aeon Essays

Climate Change / Current Affairs / Religion

A dystopian landscapeI’ve certainly read people who quoted from Garrett Hardin’s 1968 paper in Science “The Tragedy of the Commons” often enough. It’s a cautionary tale about how, if humans are left unchecked, our selfishness will destroy the environment and the resources that are our common wealth.

But it appears that this paper has some major flaws that I’ve not seen laid out before. There are deep lines of eugenic thoughts going through it and his subsequent work. And, more importantly, it turns out that it’s a much too simplistic and dystopian view of human nature. Human nature is complicated.

This post on Aeon delves into the work of one of the chief critics of Hardin’s work:

The tragedy of the commons is a false and dangerous myth | Aeon Essays:

Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.

The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions.

The essay goes on to detail examples of how this works in practice, particularly in African nations that are managing their natural resources and domestic and wild animal herds in keeping with what she suggested.

This line of thinking can be a tonic to climate change anxiety or despair, and a call to a course of action that’s been proven to work

It’s worth a read today on this, hopefully lazy, August Sunday.