Christianity 201

May 18, 2023

I Finally Preach a Sermon About Women for Women. Or Do I?

Thinking Through the Book of Ruth

by Clarke Dixon

Women have been a big part of the story, from Eve on. Women have not always been the focus of sermons, and I confess, that includes sermons by me. The majority of sermons in our Baptist circles are preached by men and when we do preach on women it is often either a sermon about a heroine of the faith, which all women should be like, or what the Bible says about the place of women in families and churches, which all women should pay attention to. So usually a sermon about women, to women is focused on how they should be better. Shall we follow the usual path as we focus in on the Book of Ruth?

Interestingly, the Book of Ruth is placed right after the Book of Judges which itself ends with women being a big part of the story. True, it is mostly about men being at war, but women become the focus when the tribes of Israel recognise that since the tribe of Benjamin was down to 600 men following a war against them, they would need wives so that the tribe would not be completely wiped out. Let’s pause and consider what happened to all the women of Benjamin.

You know how if you don’t show up to a meeting, the people at the meeting nominate you for a job you don’t want? The men of Jabesh-Gilead did not send soldiers to the battle so the other tribes destroyed that town, women and children included, all except for 400 marriage worthy women who were taken and given to the men of Benjamin. That leaves 200 men without wives. They were each told to abduct a wife from a festival at Shiloh. Problem solved. For the men.

If you think the Bible always teaches you how to live, you will run into trouble here. The Bible often records how horrible things were (and are), and how not to live, how not to do things. It also records here what attitudes toward women men are not to have. In the Book Judges men treated women like property. Men often treated each other badly, but generally it was safer to be a man than a woman. It still is.

The Book of Ruth offers a great contrast to the Book of Judges. In the Book of Ruth, Naomi and Ruth matter. Women matter.

While the book is about Ruth and Naomi, it is also about Boaz. Boaz is an example of a better attitude toward women than what we find in the Book of Judges. Fir example,

Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”

…When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”

Ruth 2:8,9,15,16 (NLT)

While Boaz recognised the kindness of Ruth toward Naomi, he responded with kindness of his own. Some may want to turn the story of Ruth and Boaz into a romance novel, but it really is more about how in marrying Ruth, Boaz ensured that Ruth and Naomi were provided for, fulfilling his responsibility as a kinsman-redeemer. Boaz did what he was supposed to do, but in doing that he stood in contrast to many men we find in the Bible who did not. May we who are men be more like Boaz, and less like the men we find in Judges.

The Book of Ruth also contrasts with another book of the Bible; Ezra:

Then Ezra the priest stood and said to them: “You have committed a terrible sin. By marrying pagan women, you have increased Israel’s guilt. So now confess your sin to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and do what he demands. Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from these pagan women.”

Then the whole assembly raised their voices and answered, “Yes, you are right; we must do as you say!” Then they added, “This isn’t something that can be done in a day or two, for many of us are involved in this extremely sinful affair. And this is the rainy season, so we cannot stay out here much longer. Let our leaders act on behalf of us all. Let everyone who has a pagan wife come at a scheduled time, accompanied by the leaders and judges of his city, so that the fierce anger of our God concerning this affair may be turned away from us.”

Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah opposed this course of action, and they were supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite.

Ezra 10:10-15 (NLT)

In the Book of Ezra the people recommitted their lives to God. That might be the gist of a sermon I would preach on this passage of Scripture. Look at how great these men were and the strength of their commitment to God! In the Book of Ezra the men recommitted their lives to God by sending away their foreign wives, plus children. Where did these women and children go? What happened to them?

Many Bible scholars think that the Book of Ruth, while set in the days of Judges, was recorded at the time of Ezra. We could sum up the moral of the story as; “Before we send our foreign wives away, let us remember Ruth, a foreign woman, a good woman, and the great-grandmother of king David. Foreign women matter.” Yes, commitment to God is commendable, but the path taken to show that in Ezra may not have been wise. Perhaps we sometimes make unwise decisions even in our attempts to be committed to God. The Bible doesn’t always tell us how to live, but records for us different voices as people wrestled with how to live well. May we who are men be more like Boaz, and less like the men we find in Judges, and Ezra.

Perhaps this is typical. I set out to write sermon about women, for women, and it ends up being about men, for men; Men, we need to be better.

If there is a message to women here, it could be; if the men in your life are like the men of Judges, who were not known for their commitment to God, or like the men of Ezra, who were…you deserve better.


Clarke Dixon is a local church pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec denomination; at least for a few more weeks, but is about to make a big change in ministry career and location. His previous sermon summaries can all be found at Thinking Through Scripture.

May 4, 2023

Confusion and Certainty on the Road to Emmaus; or Any Road

Thinking Through Luke 24:13-35

by Clarke Dixon

Are you ever confused about faith and/or the Bible? Are you ever quite certain about faith and/or the Bible. You are not alone! You will be able to relate to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus who were quite confused, and quite certain.

First, we can relate to the two disciples in our confusion and disappointment:

[Jesus] asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”
They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”
“What things?” Jesus asked.
“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.

Luke 24:17-21

“We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” Implied was, “but having been killed, it turns out he was not.”

Let us remember that when they talked about the rescue of Israel they were thinking of a messiah who will lead them to military victory over the enemies of the nation Israel. In that day it was the occupying forces of Rome. They had hoped Jesus would be the one to kick the Romans out and lead the nation to be a great world power. Instead, far from leading a victory over the Romans, having been handed over by his own countrymen, Jesus was killed by them. Hopes were dashed. Yet who, or what, was this Jesus who seemed to be from God?

We can feel like these two disciples in our relationship with God when we hope for one thing but it does not turn out as hoped. We might hope that God will rescue us from all suffering. We might hope that God will miraculously deliver us from an addiction, or heal us from a disease. But then reality sets in, we do suffer, we are not miraculously delivered or healed, and like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, hope is replaced with confusion and disappointment.

However, it was not long before an even larger reality set in for the two disciples. Jesus is alive! There is hope! But their nation was still not going to be rescued from the Romans. In fact the Romans destroyed Jerusalem within a generation. That being said, reality turned out to be better. There was a greater hope to hang onto. Jesus was not going to rescue their nation from the Romans, but he was going to rescue people from being like the Romans. He was bringing the kingdom of God, not with a military victory and restoration of one particular nation to world power status, but with a spiritual victory and the opportunity for all people to be restored to a relationship with God.

On the road to Emmaus the disciples moved from disappointment to hope. What they had hoped for was not as good as what was really happening. Are we open to God’s greater ways? God’s greater ways often require greater patience. Are we excited about God, about God in our lives even when it is not as we expected or might have hoped?

Second, we can relate to these two disciples in how we think we have it all figured out, but don’t.

The disciples thought they had things figured out because after all, they were taught what the Bible says. The religious teachers would have had no problem finding Bible verses to support the idea that God would rescue their nation from all enemies including, therefore, the Romans in their day. However, Jesus, reading the same Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament, came to a different conclusion:

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27 (NLT)

Then a little later, with all the disciples present:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:44-47 (NRSV)

“Written about me,” and not about their nation. “Repentance and forgiveness…to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Where the religious teachers of the day saw their nation, represented by Jerusalem, as being the end goal of God’s purposes as revealed in the Scriptures, Jesus pointed out that the Scriptures were really talking about the beginning. God had bigger plans, much bigger plans. Those plans included Israel, but were moved forward through Jesus.

The disciples thought they knew what the Scriptures meant, but Jesus led them to a fuller understanding. The Kingdom of God was not one nation becoming a great world power, but God’s power at work in all nations. The Scriptures were pointing to the Kingdom of God, and King Jesus, all along.

Jesus moved the disciples from misunderstanding to understanding. Do we need that too? Are we misunderstanding things? Our misunderstandings may not be things that we are currently confused about. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were confused about the identify of Jesus but they were not confused about the identity and purpose of the Messiah. They were quite certain about what they knew, but they misunderstood. Is it possible we might be misunderstanding things we are certain about also?

In conclusion…

The disciples were confused about Jesus, discouraged and disappointed by what had happened, but also certain about what they believed. They moved from disappointment to hope when they opened their hearts and minds to a new understanding of what God was really doing. Are we on a similar journey that includes both confusion and certainty? Are we ready to move further down the road to hope?


Clarke Dixon is a local church pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec denomination; at least for a few more weeks, before making a big change in ministry career. Previous sermon summaries can all be found at Thinking Through Scripture.

April 27, 2023

Can We Depend on God to Take Our Side?

Thinking Through Luke 18:1-14

by Clarke Dixon

Can we depend on God to take our side? We have been wronged. Someone or some people are against us. We turn to God in prayer with a plea for justice. Can we depend on God to hear us? Jesus told a parable with a clear answer:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

Luke 18:1-8 (NLT)

The answer is a resounding yes. Crying out to God in prayer is not futile when we face injustice. The main point of the parable is that if the widow could count on an unjust judge to do the right thing, we can count on God, who is just, to do the right thing. The justice of God shows up a lot in the Bible. Also, when we read about the righteousness of God in the Bible, that does not just mean that God is sinless, but also that God does the right thing with regards to justice. So yes, we can depend on God to grant justice when people are against us. If you are human being, you will face such moments in life.

This was great news for anyone feeling oppressed in the day Jesus said it. The obvious oppressor that would pass through people’s minds was Rome. The obvious lesson here was “keep praying to God about the Roman problem, God will come through and provide justice. We, God’s people, will be on top in the end. We can depend on God to do the right thing as we cry out to him.”

And yet, Jerusalem fell to Rome within a generation of Jesus’ speaking this parable.

Maybe the obvious lesson was not the full lesson. In fact the next parable from Jesus challenged such assumptions:

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 (NLT)

The lesson is again obvious; be humble, like the tax collector, and not proud, like the religious leaders.

We often think of these two parables alone, each teaching a different lesson. Noticing that they both speak of prayer, and of justice, or being justified, let’s think of them together. The religious leaders who were keen on crying out to God for justice in the face of Roman oppression were the very same ones who engineered the greatest example of injustice in history, and had Jesus killed. They were proud, too proud to let go of their assumptions about Jesus, about God, in the face of Jesus.

Holding both parables in our minds together, we see that the religious leaders were the oppressors, the proud ones, Jesus was the oppressed one, the humble one. Who ended up being “justified,” or vindicated? On whose side was God?

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV)

Jesus was vindicated. Jerusalem was destroyed. The lesson here goes beyond persistence in prayer for help when we are oppressed. It includes a commitment to never being the oppressor.

The connection point between these two parables is found in verse 8:

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:8 (NRSV)

We often think of faith here as meaning trust, but in the context it might be better to think of it as faithfulness. The religious leaders, crying out to God for justice in the face of Roman oppressors were not themselves faithful to God. They had become the oppressors.

Does God find us being faithful? Are we like Jesus? Or are we like the religious leaders; crying out for justice, yet also being the reason why others cry out for justice? Do we expect God to take our side when we side with oppression? Perhaps we might be like the Pharisees and not even realize when we do.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec denomination. Previous sermon summaries can all be found at Thinking Through Scripture.

April 20, 2023

The Kingdom of God is Closer Than We Think!

Thinking Through Luke 17:20-37

by Clarke Dixon

Do you ever wonder when God is going to do the next big thing? We might wonder when we get to celebrate the Lord’s return, the end of the world, a new beginning.

If so, we are not alone:

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Luke 17:(NLT)

Bible scholars tells us that when anyone asked about the coming Kingdom of God in that time and place, they were asking about a return to the glory days of political independence and of God’s people shining as a world power. So when will that happen according to Jesus? How did he respond?

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

Luke 17:20-21 (NLT)

Jesus responded with what the Kingdom is not, and what the Kingdom is.

What the Kingdom is not.

“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’” (NRSV). That is, the Kingdom of God coming would not be a single world event that you could someday read about in world news. Someone in Egypt wouldn’t pick up the daily news and read about Judah, under a new king, kicking the Romans out on the way to becoming a powerful kingdom, more powerful even than the Roman Empire.

Jesus went on tell the disciples that there would be a showdown between Rome and God’s people in Judah, and that people would think it was the Kingdom coming, with this or that leader being named the Messiah, but it wouldn’t be. In fact the showdown would go the other way:

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes. But first the Son of Man must suffer terribly and be rejected by this generation.

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all.
“And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building—until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day a person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.”

Luke 17:22-33 (NLT)

The next big thing would not be a good thing!

Next are two verses that if you have ever heard about the rapture, you would think refer to it. If you have not you would not:

That night two people will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour together at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.”

Luke 17:34-35 (NLT)

Given that the disciples would never have heard of the rapture, what would they have thought Jesus meant?

A person being snatched away is the kind of thing that happened when a foreign army invaded. Many people are snatched up and taken as slaves. Again, Jesus was pointing out that a showdown was coming, and it was not going to go well for God’s people. It would not be the Kingdom of Israel restored to former glory.

“Where will this happen, Lord?” the disciples asked.
Jesus replied, “Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.”

Luke 17:37 (NLT)

Bible scholars point out that the Greek word here for vulture also refers to an eagle. The eagle was the symbol of Rome. We could paraphrase, “where something is dead (perhaps referring to the religion of Jerusalem), there the Roman armies will attack.” Jerusalem was indeed besieged and destroyed by Roman armies within a generation of Jesus saying it would happen.

Jesus told the Pharisees and the disciples that the Kingdom of God is not as they expected. It is not bound up with a political entity, a nation, even such a special nation as Israel, being more powerful than the rest. It is not the empire of Rome being replaced by a new and improved Kingdom of Judah.

So what is it then?

What the Kingdom of God is.

For the Kingdom of God is already among you.

Luke 17:21 (NLT)

This verse has often been translated as “the Kingdom of God is…” “among you,” “within you,” or as the NET translation notes put it, along with N.T. Wright, “within your grasp.”

This is one of those moments where how you translate the words may depend on your theology and what you think Jesus was saying. Let’s think through what Jesus means here given the context of a showdown with Rome not being the Kingdom coming. To do so, we will want to remember everything that Jesus taught and modeled about love for one’s neighbour, which didn’t require a big final showdown between good and evil, about love for one’s enemies, which didn’t require a big final showdown between good and evil, and about picking up our cross and following in the way of Jesus, preferring to be crucified over crucifying, which didn’t require a big final showdown between good and evil. We could paraphrase Jesus here: “Don’t wait for God to do the next big thing – seek God’s Kingdom in everything.” The Kingdom of God is here when people live out that vision of love. That is possible here and now. It is within grasp. It is not something reserved for the future.

The apostle Paul gets at the kind of person that reflects the teaching and example of Jesus, the kind of person that reflects the Kingdom of God having come in their lives:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NET)

When it comes to the Kingdom of God, the question is not when, but how. How can I get involved? How can I reflect the Kingdom of God though my decisions?

When it comes to the Kingdom of God, the question is not when, but what. Not when do we get to take over this land,
but what does it look like when Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom life takes over my life?

None of this is to say that God is not going to do a next big thing in world history. It is to say that Jesus was not talking about that here.

The Kingdom of God is closer than we think. It is not a day, the Lord knows when, in the future when God changes everything in one extraordinary event. It is here when we lives as Kingdom people in everyday, ordinary decisions. When that happens, everything changes.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec denomination. Previous sermon summaries can all be found at Thinking Through Scripture.

April 13, 2023

Seeking a Sign From God?

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Thinking Through Easter

by Clarke Dixon

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.”

Matthew 12:38 (NLT)

Do you ever wish God would give you a sign? Many of us would love a sign. “God, if you exist, and if you love me, make it plain!”

But what kind of a sign are we looking for?

Any sign God might give, we could explain away. If we saw clouds form into letters saying “I am God, and I love you,” we would of course think that we were going crazy. No sign could be trusted.

If we do not want to believe in God, we will tend to find reasons not to believe. No sign will be good enough. If we do want to believe, we will tend to see reasons to believe everywhere. Every little coincidence might become a sign to us that God cares for us.

Religious leaders came to Jesus looking for a sign which is quite remarkable since Jesus had been doing signs and wonders all along. However, Jesus was also doing and saying things that did not fit the religious status quo:

So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

John 5:16-18 (NLT)

Given the kinds of things Jesus was saying and doing, the religious leaders wanted some hard evidence that Jesus was from God. All the signs so far could be explained away: “But the Pharisees said, “He can cast out demons because he is empowered by the prince of demons”” Matthew 9:34 (NLT). No sign would be enough for them as hard evidence.

Jesus went on to speak about a sign that would be given to them:

But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

Matthew 12:39-40 (NLT)

Jonah, who should have been dead, lived. He was alive to fulfill his calling and identity as a prophet. Jesus, who should have been dead, would be alive. He would be alive to fulfill his calling and identity as someone greater than a prophet. Of all the signs Jesus gave, the resurrection was the one that confirmed, not just that he was a good teacher, a wise person, a wonder worker, but really from God, the king, and in fact, King of kings and Lord of lords.

There is something very important we should notice about Jonah. God rescued Jonah so God could rescue the enemy. That is the reason Jonah fled in a ship in the opposite direction in the first place. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were the enemies of God’s people. Jonah didn’t like the idea that God would show the enemy any kind of kindness:

When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.

Jonah 3:10 – 4:2 (NLT)

Jonah was a sign that God loves the enemy.

Likewise, the death and resurrection of Jesus is a sign that God loves the enemy. In fact from all the conceptions of God that are available to us, from beyond, and within, Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus is a sign that the God that is, is the God that loves.

God gives the opportunity of being reconciled, even to enemies. That was the sign of Jonah. God would rather be crucified by the enemy than crucify the enemy. That was the sign of Jesus.

This is good news. If we ever find ourselves being an enemy to God, there is opportunity:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Romans 5:6-11 (NLT)

This is also challenging news. If Jesus is risen, then the God that is, is the kind of God that loves anyone we might consider our enemy. We are challenged to think of God’s love for our enemies but we are also challenged to love our enemies:

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT)

Are we going to be like Jonah and run from that challenge? Or are we going to be like Jesus and pick up our cross and follow?

Are you looking for a sign that God exists and loves you? You are not likely to get one, at least not one that you can’t explain away. But there was a sign given in history, the death and resurrection of Jesus. There are good reasons to treat it seriously as history, to give it some serious thought. There is a sign given by God, that God is, and that God is for you and not against you. Even if you are God’s enemy.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec denomination. Previous sermon summaries can all be found at Thinking Through Scripture.

April 6, 2023

Are You Often the One Who Gets Crucified?

by Clarke Dixon

Are you often the one who gets crucified? Are you ever the one who loses the fight? We might be thinking of conflict at work, drama at home, or troubles in any relationship. You might even be the innocent party yet you are the who ends up getting hurt. Jesus had something to say about being the one who gets crucified.

It began with Peter giving the most important statement yet on the identity of Jesus: “You are the Messiah sent from God!” (Luke 9:20 NLT). If Peter’s statement brought clarity, Jesus went on to muddy things up:

Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone who he was. “The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

Luke 9:21-22 (NLT)

To paraphrase: “yes, I am who you think I am, but I am not at all what you think I am.” Jesus affirmed that he was indeed the Messiah, or in Greek, the Christ, or in English, “the anointed one.” But Jesus also pointed out that the prevailing view of what the Messiah was and would do, was insufficient.

There are allusions to the Old Testament here that could take the Jewish mind of the day in two different directions.

First, Jesus called himself the Son of Man which on the one hand simply means “a human being,” but on the other hand was a veiled reference to the Son of Man spoken of in Daniel 7. Here are a few lines, some of which Jesus would quote at his trial:

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14 (NLT)

Included in this prophecy was the promise that God’s people would come out on top:

Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him.”

Daniel 7:27 (NLT)

The Messiah would reign and so would God’s people. This would be a comforting thought for those who were used to Roman rule and before that, Greek rule, and before that, Persian and Babylonian rule. When the Messiah comes, it will be their turn.

Second, the idea of being rejected could bring to mind the one commonly known as “The Suffering Servant” from Isaiah 52 and 53. Here are a few lines from this passage:

He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:3-5 (NLT)

Before Jesus, this passage about a suffering servant was not connected with the idea of a coming Messiah. While we Christians immediately think of Jesus, the suffering servant was usually thought of as referring to God’s people in exile. That is, the people who suffered the exile endured judgement not just for their own generation, but for the following generations as well. No one was expecting that the coming Messiah would suffer, be rejected, and killed. The Messiah would be a winner, and not a loser.

Naturally, the people around Jesus wanted him to be the winner, the victorious “Son of Man” who would make God’s people great again. They were not wanting a suffering servant, a loser. They wouldn’t even understand what that might mean. Perhaps it is human nature to want to be on the winning team.

Winning would have been on people’s minds when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Before that moment, it was really only the disciples who were clued in to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Jesus made sure everyone kept quiet about that up until his “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. In riding into Jerusalem the way he did, fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9, he was sending a clear signal for everyone to see, “Yes, I am the Messiah.”

In less than a week Jesus would be dead. Crucified. He was obviously not the victor here, but the loser. Evidently he was not the Messiah… or was he? (Tune in Easter Sunday to find out.)

Did Jesus lose by being crucified? Do we?

Jesus had said that if we want to win, we need to lose:

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?

Luke 9:23-25 (NLT)

It was assumed that the Messiah would rule and put God’s people on top, and he would use violence if necessary. It had always been necessary. That is how the everyone else had ruled, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans who ruled by the power of the cross, perfecting the art of execution, ruling through brutality and fear. Jesus chose to reign without using brutality. To do that he chose to pick up his cross, not to crucify the enemy on it, but to be the one crucified.

Do we make triumphal entries? When we enter into the room, into relationships with others, do we want to be the winners? Are we are willing to be brutal if we are not? If we follow Jesus in the way of the cross, taking up our cross daily, we will have a different kind of attitude: Here I am, but I would sooner be crucified than crucify. If manipulation, abuse, bullying, brutality, or violence is showing up in this relationship, I don’t want to be the one dishing it out. I’d far rather be the one taking it than giving it. I’d rather be the one turning the other cheek, than taking another swing.

That’s what it means to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

With crucifixions the one being crucified would, when able, be required to carry the cross beam to the site of the crucifixion. So to pick up your cross means to be willing to be the one who is going to be crucified, and not the one doing the crucifying.

It would be better if we lived in a world where no one is crucified, where no one gets hurt. However, when it happens, since it happens, as followers of Jesus we are to be the ones who would rather suffer than cause harm. If everyone had that attitude, if even just Christians had that attitude, it would change the world.

When Jesus spoke about being ashamed of him we might be ashamed to say our Lord modeled weakness. What Jesus modeled for us was not weakness, but love. Can we think of that when we want to be the one who wins, the one on top, the one who gets their way, the one who fixes everything and everyone?

People had an agenda for Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. Rescue us from the Romans, Jesus, and use violence if necessary. Get us on top. Make us win. Jesus did indeed rescue us, from sin, and from our need to win. Love was necessary. It still is.

If we are following Jesus we will often be the ones who get crucified. That’s where love leads.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec denomination. Previous sermon summaries can all be found at Thinking Through Scripture.

March 31, 2023

A Responsibility to You; An Act of Faithfulness for Me

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. – 1 Corinthians 4:2 NIV

Whatever the activity in which you engage, do it with all your ability, because there is no work, no planning, no learning, and no wisdom in the next world where you’re going. – Ecclesiastes 9:10 ISV

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. – Romans 12:11 NIV

In the months leading up to April 1, 2020, the countdown was on. After faithfully writing or procuring a fresh devotional post every single day for ten years, I thought we would scale back to six days per week or even five days a week. A series of notices were included at the bottom of four devotionals. “100 Days of Christianity 201.” Then, “75 Days of Christianity 201.” Followed by “50 Days…” well, you get the idea; and then 25. You would be forgiven if you thought I was ending C201.

And then something happened.

The world shut down due to… well, you know what it was due to.

Suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands. And I figured, so did readers. So I simply ignored the countdown we had done, and kept posting every day.

It’s now three years later, and I feel driven by the same sentiment. Because the world has never fully returned to what it was before, it seemed like a good idea to just keep going. But slowly, there was a realization dawning that I needed to be doing this, even if, as we posted two days ago, absolutely no one was reading it. (The subscriber list and daily stats do indicate otherwise.)

Sometimes I will check in my browser history to compare the time I first opened a new page draft to the time I completed the writing or editing of a single post. It’s usually between 40 minutes and an hour. That’s an hour spent thinking about the things of God, His word, theological and doctrinal matters, examining the spiritual reflections of others.

I don’t know that there is some other way I could commit that amount of time otherwise. This is the particular discipline that I need to keep focused.

Some of you know that another ministry venture which occupies my week is owning a Christian resource store (or shop for my British readers.) One day not long ago I looked around the inventory in our remaining store, which is well over $100,000 Canadian. I mentally added to that the amount of fresh inventory that is added every year, and factored in that we once had three stores, and then thought of the thousands of dollars that have been spent on rent in those locations.

And then it was as if God spoke to me.

‘Maybe this is what it took to get you to be the person you are today.’

In other words, all those thousands of dollars spent on Christian books, Bibles and other items was a necessary step in keeping me busy about Kingdom work, when I could have been occupied doing and thinking about other things. This is what it took, not unlike that sitting here composing and curating devotionals is also what it has taken for me to become who I am to be.

With the bookstore, and the various other ministry ventures Ruth and I have been involved with doing through local churches, and independently, another new thought entered my head in the last three years: the word missionary.

I had never thought that we moved to a small town from Toronto specifically to be missionaries, but as I tried on the word for size, it seemed to fit. Missionaries… and maybe this is what it took…

There is a saying and although the wording varies slightly depending on what you’re reading, it’s usually something like ‘Play with the cards you’ve been dealt.’ We tend to use this phrase where someone is facing a tremendous challenge, a physical handicap, a broken relationship, a chronic health issue, the loss of job, etc. In other words we tend to associate the phrase with coping with the negative factors that can creep into our lives.

But there’s another side to this.

In serving the Lord, it might mean taking the circumstances we’re in and the opportunities that lay before us, and then simply running with those realities and doing so, as the “The Preacher” of Ecclesiastes reminded us above, “with all our might.”

It might mean taking the ministry — to a community, to our friends, to our work associates, to our family — that has been entrusted to us, or stewarded to us, and being faithful with it, as Paul reminded the Corinthians in another verse above.

Or as he told the Romans (also above), it means never giving up (CEV), never lacking enthusiasm (AMP), never decreasing our devotion (GWT, ISV) in serving.

…So as we complete year 13 here at C201, I find myself where I was three years ago: released from the constraints of providing a daily devotional, but not — at this writing anyway — free to walk away from what it does to me to be writing here each day.

So right now it’s business as usual, but if I miss a day, know that we more than surpassed our ten year goal.

Thank you for reading and subscribing. Thanks to my wife Ruth and son Aaron for being available for consultation. Thanks to all the writers whose material we use, and especially to Clarke Dixon for his weekly contribution. Finally, thanks to BibleHub.com for being my go-to search provider for Biblical texts.

 

 

 

March 30, 2023

Dismissed by Many; Worshiped By Many: Is There a Better Way Forward With the Bible?

by Clarke Dixon 

Dismissed by many. Worshiped by many. You may think I am talking about Jesus but I’m not. I’m talking about the Bible.

One of the great challenges facing Christianity today is what to do with the Bible. People are doing with the Bible what people are doing with everything these days, going to extremes. On the one extreme people say the Bible is just all made up and is absolutely irrelevant. It ends up being dismissed as being of any use to know anything. On the other extreme people insinuate, or say, that the Bible came straight to us from the mouth of God. It is absolutely relevant, every word of it.

Is it possible we can become more interested in knowing the Bible, than knowing God? Is it possible our reverence for the Bible ends up being a kind of worship of it? It is held up, especially in our Baptist circles, as being the sole authority for faith and life. What that often ends up meaning, however, is that someone’s, or some group’s, interpretation is the sole authority.

Is there a better way that will not take us to the extremes of dismissing the Bible on the one hand, or worshiping it on the other? Yes there is and Luke helps us find it as he begins his account of the life of Jesus:

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.

Luke 1:1-4 (NLT)

Notice what Luke did not say; “God told me to write this and told me the very words to write.” Rather, Luke tells us that he was doing the work of a historian, an investigation into what happened. Luke did what historians do, he went to the earliest sources of information he could find, namely the eyewitness accounts from those who saw and participated in what happened.

This speaks to us about the nature of Scripture. Luke, and the rest of the Bible, is not simply a “God told me to say this” kind of a thing, but rather is a human response to events that occurred. Therefore we can take the Bible seriously as recording for us people’s honest wrestling with, responding to, and getting excited about, God. There is a human element to the Bible. We want to take Luke’s writing seriously as an ancient attempt to capture the facts about a key person in history, namely Jesus.

Does this mean that God was not involved, that somehow there is nothing special about the Bible? In 2nd Timothy we read,

You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NLT)

Here Paul was speaking specifically of the writings that make up what we call the Old Testament, but the same can be said of those that make up the New. The writings are “inspired,” or as some translations put it “God-breathed.” That is not the same as “God written.” They are described as “useful.” Many Baptists today would have chosen a much stronger word than that if they were Paul.

I think it was Peter Enns who appealed to the incarnation of God in Jesus as a model for understanding how the Bible works. Jesus was fully human, but also fully divine. So too with the writings that make up the Bible, they can be fully human, yet also be set apart from all other writings because God has been involved somehow.

If God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, then we can speak of God so loving the world that he ensured we could know about that. As I like to think of it, the writings that make up the Bible were penned by people, but God’s fingerprints are all over the final product. We can take it seriously as a window into spiritual truths, the Good News that Jesus is king, and that we can trust God with everything including our future. But that does not mean we give it a divine status that should only belong to God.

We do not say “the Bible is fully human” and therefore is useless to us as a source of truth. Neither do we say “the Bible is fully divine,” and therefore wise thinking and research is useless to us in discerning the truth it contains. These writings are what God has provided for us through human hands and minds, human hands which were handling history and theology the way people did then and there, human minds which were thinking in ways appropriate to their time and place. Therefore, wisdom, insight, and discernment is important for reading.

Since the Bible has a human element to it, we need a wise reading of Scripture. paying attention to how ancient people thought, and wrote, paying attention to genre, paying attention also to how “being Biblical” may not be wise. People have been hurt, or have hurt others, through trying to “be Biblical.” We could never really “be Biblical” as long as Canadian laws are in place. In reading the laws of the Old Testament, I’d rather stick with Canadian law anyway. I rather think you would too. Our goal as Christians is not to be “Biblical”, but to know and be like Christ. The Bible is useful in helping us do that.

In his opening lines Luke provides a challenge for non-Christians who would dismiss the Bible. Rather than simply dismiss the writing of Luke and the other writers of the Bible as being irrelevant, one could give thought to taking the writings seriously as works written by real people who had a real reason to write. Perhaps Luke wrote what he wrote, and, along with many others, believed what he believed, because these events really did happen. Perhaps God really was up to something remarkable in Jesus.

Luke also provides a challenge for Christians whose reverence for the Bible borders on worship. Take the writings seriously as works written by real people, worthy of all wisdom and discernment in reading and understanding.

Dismissed by some, worshiped by others. From Luke we learn to do neither, but to take the Bible seriously, as written by people, but with God’s fingerprints all over it.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec denomination. His writings can all be found at Thinking Through Scripture.

March 9, 2023

Your Faith Has Made You Unwell

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Because Clarke Dixon is a weekly regular here, he doesn’t usually get an introduction. Today, I thought I’d mix things up a bit. Clarke is a pastor in Ontario, Canada, and also a good friend. He blogs his sermon from the previous week at Thinking Through Scripture. His church is currently working through The One Year Bible (various translations), and he is preaching from the New Testament portions. As we say so often, click the title which follows to read this at source.

Thinking Through Mark 10:46-52

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)

“Your faith has made you well.” So said Jesus to Bartimaeus. I suspect that Jesus may want to say to some of us today:
“Your faith has made you unwell.”

Faith can make us unwell when we get the wrong ideas stuck in our heads and we live in constant fear. I’m not good enough. I don’t have enough faith. Or we live judgemental lives. Those people are not good enough. We are barely scratching the surface here, but whether it makes us ugly in our emotional well-being, or ugly in our relationships, faith has the power to make us unwell.

So what does it look like to have a faith that makes us well? Bartimaeus will help us think through that question.

Bartimaeus asked for help

Of course Bartimaeus asked for help since he was blind and wanted to see. Sure, he wanted to see as anyone in his situation would. However, not everyone would want the upheaval of life that would come along with such a miracle. The status quo might be awful, but at least it is known, safe, and in a way, comfortable.

Bartimaeus was not wiling to stay with the status quo. Contrast that with the spiritual leaders who were trying hard to protect the status quo, who did not want to see things from a new perspective.

Do we have the kind of faith that looks to get the best perspective? A faith that has initiative, that is willing to embrace change? Or do we get comfortable with the status quo?

A faith that makes us unwell embraces the status quo.

Bartimaeus did not listen to the crowd

The crowd tried to shut Bartimaeus down. He tried all the harder to get the attention of Jesus. Embracing change is hard enough but it is even harder when the people around us try to shut us down. It is hard for the addict to break the addiction in the company of other addicts. The people around us can keep us in the status quo.

That is how cults work, surrounding people who might think differently on their own with people who are too afraid to think differently. Sadly, some churches may be closer to a cult than a community gathered around Jesus.

Do we have the kind of faith that yearns for growth and is willing to embrace change, or do we allow the crowds around us to draw us back to the status quo?

A faith that makes us unwell listens to the crowds.

Bartimaeus had wisdom in knowing what to ask for

Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you?” Contrast that with the request of the disciples:

And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Mark 10:36-37 (NRSV)

Let us imagine how the spiritual leaders might have responded if Jesus asked what he could do for them; something like “Go fly a kite.”

Do we know what to ask for? Do we have wisdom in our asking, in what we are seeking help on? Or do we have a one track mind like the disciples. Or worse, blind spots like the religious leaders? Do we have the kind of faith that seeks light on our blind spots? Or do we just live with assumptions, assuming the status quo is just fine?

A faith that makes us unwell lacks wisdom in knowing what to ask for.

Bartimaeus knew whom to ask

When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark 10:47 (NRSV)

“Have mercy on me.” While Bartimaeus may have said that to anyone and everyone who passed by, he knew that asking it of Jesus would be life changing in a way that some coins thrown his way would not be. “Son of David” is not likely how he addressed anyone and everyone that passed by. Bartimaeus had insight into the unique identity of Jesus. Jesus was the one who could destroy the status quo.

When we celebrate the Lord’s Table we are reminded that Jesus changes everything for us. This man, being God with us, will have mercy. Do we have the wisdom to go Jesus? Or do we depend too much on religion and religious leaders who themselves are comfortable with the status quo?

A faith that makes us unwell lacks wisdom in where to look for help.

Conclusion

Does your faith make you well or unwell? Perhaps it might be a bit of both and faith has brought both beauty and ugliness to your soul. May Jesus say of us “your faith has made you well.”

 

March 2, 2023

Is Jesus a Product of Organized Religion?

Thinking Through The Question with Mark’s Gospel

by Clarke Dixon

Today’s scriptures are all linked outside the main article.

Reading through Mark’s account of Jesus there were two key responses to Jesus:

  • Just who is this Jesus? A response of amazement.
  • Just who does this Jesus think he is? A response of disbelief.

Which one of these represents best the response to Jesus today? Given the passage of time there is a new response to Jesus:

  • Just how do Christians expect us to take Jesus seriously when he is a product of organized religion, indeed one we don’t really care for?

Given the bias against organized religion today, it would be interesting if Canadians could read the account of Jesus written by Mark and think of it not as being part of the Christian Bible, a product of Christianity, but as a historical document, something written at a particular time and place in history. Now, why was it written?

Did Mark and the other Gospel writers write what they did in an attempt to start a new religion? Or was Mark simply capturing what he had learned from Peter and others about their experience of Jesus? Why did Mark write what he did, and why was there a community of people willing to live and die for what was captured in writing by Mark about this Jesus? Why were people rethinking everything?

Mark gives us some clues, so let’s dig into a section of Mark paying attention to what he really wants us to know about the identity of Jesus:

  • In Mark 4:35-41 we read about Jesus calming the storm. Just who is this guy, that the winds and the sea obey him? “The Messiah” does not come immediately to mind as the answer to anyone, nor would it.
  • In Mark 5:1-20 we read about Jesus healing a man possessed by many demons. No one was able to chain this man down. Jesus did something better, he set him free. On people’s minds would have been “who is this that spirits obey him”? We can note that in verse 19 and 20 “go and tell your family what the Lord has done for you” becomes “he went and told everyone what Jesus did for him.” There is a hint there about what Mark, at least, is thinking about the identity of Jesus.
  • In Mark 5:21-43 we read about Jesus raising a girl from the dead. Just who is this, that can raise the dead? Again, “the Messiah” would not come to mind.
  • In Mark 6:14-29 we read about the death of John the Baptist beginning with a discussion of who Jesus might be. We can note that “the Messiah” does not make the list. Also not making the list was “Jesus is God incarnate” or “Jesus is the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.” No one was expecting that to happen. Indeed the idea was ludicrous.
  • In Mark 6:30-44 we read about Jesus feeding thousands from very little. Who can do that? Mark gives a hint with the sheep without a shepherd reference plus the fact that Jesus made them lie down in green pastures, reminiscent of Psalm 23 which refers to God.
  • In Mark 6:45-52 we read about Jesus walking on water. Who can do that?
  • In Mark 6:53-56 we read about people being healed simply by touching the clothes of Jesus. Just who is this?
  • In Mark 7:19 Mark throws in a comment that Jesus had declared all foods clean. With long established religious rules about clean and unclean foods, set, according to the Book of Leviticus by God, who can do that?
  • In Mark 7:31-37 we read about the healing of a deaf man including a bit of a summary; “he does all things well.”

Just who is this Jesus? Jesus was a person in history because of whom people had to rethink everything. Mark records for us the reason why Peter, James, and so many others, went way beyond thinking “this Jesus might be the Messiah,” to “this is God with us – and this is good news.”

Because of their experience of Jesus, people, regular people, normal people, were willing to rethink everything they thought they knew about God, about God’s people, and about themselves. The people who were invested in organized religion had trouble rethinking. They, the scribes, Pharisees, and other religious leaders, were thrown off by Jesus not meeting their expectations of a holy man, a man from God. This can’t be the Messiah for he is not doing what we expect the Messiah to do according to our religion, and besides, he does not seem to be very religious.

What do people think about the identity of Jesus today?

People are quick to give opinions about Christianity, sometimes based on what is seen on TV or in politics, but sometimes based on the experience of hypocrisy. “You talk a lot about love, but…” Opinions about Christianity often determine people’s opinions about Jesus.

What if people could start from a blank slate? Where did the belief that Jesus is actually God come from? From Mark we learn that this belief came not from the organized religion types, but from the experience real people had of Jesus. The religious types had no interest in starting a new religion, they were all about protecting the one they had, while the non-religious types, like Peter and the disciples, had no interest in starting a religion because, well they were not that into religion. Christianity did not create Jesus, it sprang up because of the experience of Jesus.

The people who were there, like Peter, the disciples, and so many others, were sharing their experience of Jesus before Mark, and others, wrote it down for future reference. They were willing to rethink everything, and to live and die for what they came to believe about Jesus. We have Mark and the other Gospel accounts, not because organized religion types made Jesus up, but because normal people experienced Jesus. We still do.

February 23, 2023

The Marketing Strategy of Jesus vs. Our Marketing Strategy as Christians

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Would you say that Christianity is popular in North America right now? Especially among younger generations? Yet research shows that the younger generations are perhaps more open to spirituality than we think. However, they are not as open to organized religion as we might like. Mark’s account of the life of Jesus may help us here including this story:

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said.

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning: “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

But the man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone what had happened. As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn’t publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him.

Mark 1:40-45 (NLT)

In reading the first few chapters of Mark we will notice just how popular Jesus was. Word about Jesus spread rapidly. People constantly sought him out. Crowds gathered. Big things happened. Jesus tried to keep a lid on it but the excitement couldn’t be contained.

As we consider this popularity let us take note that Jesus did not need a marketing strategy. He did not work on creating brand awareness, or generating hype. In fact, his strategy was to try and keep things quiet.

The popularity of Jesus then reminds us of the popularity of Christianity today, right?

When the Gospel of Mark was written there really wasn’t a promotion of Christianity in the way we think of it today. No one was saying “take up the religion of Christianity and pick our church to attend or our denomination to adhere to.” Rather, the earliest Christians did what Mark did in his Gospel account, they simply introduced people to Jesus. In the earliest days people were not saying “the Christian religion is a better religion than mine, so I think I will join it,” but rather “I need to pay attention to Jesus who changes everything, including my religion, so I will join him.” Christianity did not become popular, Jesus did.

Perhaps that thought challenges us today. People are not into organized and institutional religion like they used to be. To be honest, neither am I. However, perhaps we can have a renewed focus on introducing people to Jesus, letting interest in religion follow excitement about Jesus.

I wonder if we sometimes try too hard to promote the Christian religion with the expectation that interest in Jesus will follow. However it might be that it is interest in theology that follows, or interest in the Bible, more than interest in Jesus.

Is it possible to focus too much on generating hype about the Bible rather than letting interest in it follow excitement about Jesus? Some think it would be wonderful to find Noah’s ark on a mountain, Egyptian chariots at the bottom of the Red Sea, the stone tablets of Moses in the lost ark, and so on. Then people would have to believe and become Christians. However, our focus is not on proving that every word of the Bible is literally true, but rather that Jesus is real. Because Jesus is real, God’s love is real.

In introducing Jesus to people today there is a roadblock; when we who claim to be excited about Jesus, just aren’t. Instead we are actually more excited about Christianity or the Bible.


Before they appear here each Thursday, Ontario, Canada pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

February 16, 2023

Could God Not Have Done This Better?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Could God not have done this better? That is a question which may arise when thousands upon thousands of people lose their lives in one earthquake. We might blame the buildings not being up to code or the building codes not being up to snuff, but God created the world with plates that move along fault lines. That’s on God. Jesus said the wise man builds his house on a rock but it seems that even the rocks cannot trusted. Could God not have done things differently? Could God not have designed a world where the rocks can be trusted?

Thousands have also lost their lives in the war in Ukraine. At least with war you can pin people losing their lives on leaders losing their minds. But a disaster because the ground is not solid? That’s on God. Could God not have built a natural disaster proof earth? And a cancer free world? A diabetes free world? A virus free world?…and on we could go.

People could have asked the same question when Jerusalem was destroyed just one generation after the resurrection of Jesus:

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”….

“The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again.

Matthew 24:1-2, 15-21 (NLT)

When these events happened, you can imagine people saying “This is the very centre of our religion and religious practice. Could God not have done things differently…in a way that would avoid disaster?…in a way that would save the innocents?” It is interesting that Jesus pointed out how terrible it would be for pregnant women and nursing mothers. If there was to be judgement, could God not strike those at fault with lighting, and leave those who were innocent alone?

Jesus knew that Jerusalem would be destroyed. Yet he did not stop it. At his arrest Jesus said he could call thousands of angels to protect him. He could have done that to protect the innocent people of Jerusalem too. That was not a miracle the miracle worker was willing to grant. Why not?

Not too long after Jesus spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem, he stood before Pilate with the religious leaders calling for his destruction. Could God not have done that differently also? If God wanted to reveal himself to us did he have to do it by being all too human, in weakness, stirring controversy, and picking fights with the religious leaders?

Yes, Jesus did miracles, but could he not have done miracles that would have erased all doubt as to his identity, especially among the religious leaders who brought him to Pilate to be killed? Could Jesus not have given those religious leaders proof beyond all doubt? Today people still wonder why God won’t give them proof beyond all doubt.

Here is the bottom line. We’ve got questions. Hard questions.

There are answers.

There is a theological answer as to why Jerusalem was destroyed. There was a major shift from the Old Covenant to New. But still, could that not happen in a way that was not disastrous for pregnant woman and nursing mothers?

There are theological answers as to why Jesus was destroyed too. The most powerful, indescribable, indestructible force beyond and behind the universe, God, came to us in the weak, describable, destructible man on the cross, Jesus, and in doing so we got to see the powerful, indescribable, indestructible love of God. Our sin could not kill the love of God, our hatred could not stop it. But still, could that not have happened in a way that convinced everyone, then and now?

There are answers. But not always. Even when there are answers, there are still questions.

There is a church in the United States with a different kind of statement of faith. Our friends at Open Table Communities will be looking at their four statements as conversation starters over Lent. The first statement is “God is a mystery to be explored, not a doctrine to be espoused.”

That statement resonates with me, especially when there are big, deep, good questions. While there are answers, it is okay to not have all the answers. It is okay to have questions. I have faith, not because I have got God all figured out, but because I’m okay with mystery.

I have often used the example of faith being like a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces come together quickly and are easy to figure out. Some pieces seem to fit, but not really, and later you end up changing your mind on them. Others, well who knows where they go. If we keep at it a beautiful picture forms. Some people start with the hardest parts and give up before they get the picture. Others begin with the easier parts and are happy to keep working at it despite not knowing how it all fits together, despite the mystery that remains.

Could God not have done things better? So that thousands would not perish as they slept in their beds one night? Perhaps, but this is the way things are. The ways things are is often marked by great beauty if you have the eyes to see it. That beauty is enough to know that God is, and that God is for us and not against us. Some questions, good questions, go unanswered. An earthquake will break our hearts, but it need not shake our faith.

Before they appear here each Thursday, Ontario, Canada pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

February 9, 2023

To Such as These Belongs the Kingdom of Heaven

by Clarke Dixon

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Matthew 19:13-15 (NRSV)

These verses are well loved and help us form the opinion of Jesus that he is very loving and kind. However, keep reading in Matthew’s account of Jesus and we will come across an entire chapter where Jesus rips apart a certain group of people. Here is a sampling:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?

Matthew 23:13-15; 27,28,29,33 (NRSV)

The entire chapter goes on like that!

What happened to “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” as some people like to describe him?

Is Jesus a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Was he prone to snapping, like some of us regular folk do? Actually there is a common thread here, and a consistency to Jesus. Whether Jesus was kind and welcoming of the children, or vigorous in lambasting the spiritual leaders, he had in mind the kingdom of God. “To such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven.” That could be said of the little children. It could not be said of the spiritual leaders. Yet they were the very ones who were supposed to be helping people move toward the kingdom of God, to living life as God’s kingdom people. In fact, they thought that if everyone would obey them, God would have to bring the kingdom. Yet to such as these does not belong the kingdom.

There are at least two ways in which the little children and the spiritual leaders are quite unalike.

First, the religious leaders were hypocritical, putting on a religious show for others while their character could be lacking. Whether they are being perfect little angels, or, let’s just say less than perfect, little children tend to be genuine. Little children are great at just being themselves.

Second, the religious leaders were also quite religious. When we think about it, little children are really not religious. They don’t become religious unless someone teaches them religion. The spiritual leaders were so religious that they got lost in the weeds of religion and could not smell the flowers in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus was not pulling a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde between welcoming the children and dressing down the spiritual leaders. Jesus was being consistent. In each case Jesus said what could and should be said with regard to the kingdom of God. The little children modelled life in the kingdom. The spiritual leaders were supposed to help people experience kingdom life but instead they only helped people experience their religion.

Matthew records for us how Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit. This is symbolic of how the religion was not bearing good fruit. The city of Jerusalem, for all its religion, and being the centre of people’s religion, was not helping people experience the kingdom of God. A lot of that had to do with the spiritual leaders.

Not long after that Jesus told the religious leaders the parable of the bad tenants and said: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (Matthew 21:43 NRSV). This is a very important moment where the kingdom of God is defined as a people marked by what their lives are like, a people of whom you can say “to such as these belongs the kingdom of God.” This leads us to the words of Jesus as Matthew’s account draws to a close:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

In teaching people to obey Jesus the disciples were not to help them trade getting lost in the weeds of one religion, Judaism, for getting lost in the weeds of another, Christianity, but rather to help people get what life looks like in the kingdom. Obeying the commands of Jesus is not about a new set of religious rules, but following the way of love. We are to trade the weeds of religion for the flowers of the kingdom.

In Conclusion

Are we like the little children who were welcomed by Jesus or are we more like the spiritual leaders who received a dressing down? Little children are better representatives of what life is like in God’s presence. They are genuine, not very religious, even playful. Little children are not perfect, nor even innocent. But they are real. The spiritual leaders, on the other hand, tried to give the impression of perfection, but Jesus knew better. So do many non-church-attending people in our day.

Are we good representatives of what life is like in the presence of God? Does the expression of our faith help people experience the kingdom of God? Or do they just experience our religion? Do people say of us “to such as these belongs the Kingdom of God”?


Before they appear here each Thursday, Ontario, Canada pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

February 2, 2023

The Surprise, the Scandal, of Jesus

That Time Jesus Gave a Woman the Cold Shoulder

by Clarke Dixon

Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile [Greek: Canaanite] woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”
But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”
Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”
Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Matthew 15:21-26 (NLT)

We might be surprised to find that Jesus gave this woman the silent treatment. Then to make matters worse he denied her request with a put-down! As surprising as this might be, this incident had a much greater surprise for the earliest readers of Matthew’s account of Jesus.

What shocked people then was not what shocks us now. In fact when Jesus gave this woman the silent treatment, he did what anyone in that time and place would have expected Jesus to do. There was a common belief that God had given the land to the descendants of Israel. Here, however, was a descendant of Canaan. Beliefs lead to attitudes, and while there was an attitude of disgust toward foreigners generally there was an even worse attitude toward the indigenous peoples. This Canaanite was a reminder of the failure of the descendants of Israel to completely take the promised land.

That Jesus gave this women the silent treatment was not a surprise. Indeed the disciples thought she should be driven away, betraying the belief that her people should have been driven out hundreds of years earlier. What was shocking here is that Jesus engaged in conversation. What was even more shocking is that Jesus commended her faith and granted the miracle.

She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”
“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

Matthew 15:27-28 (NLT)

Let us take note that this descendant from Canaan gave no hint that she wanted to break with her people and identify with the descendants of Israel instead. The faith that Jesus commended was not faith in the Jewish religion, but in Jesus himself. That was truly shocking!

Let us take note also, that Jesus did not instruct the Canaanite woman to become Jewish, to identify with the descendants of Israel, to make their, and his, religion hers. Rather he does a good deed, an act of love; he healed her daughter. As shocking as Jesus’ cold shoulder might be to us today, the positive engagement with Jesus, and the affirmation of a Canaanite woman’s faith in himself is what was truly shocking at the time of the incident.

Some of our church members are following along with me in reading through the New Testament using the One Year Bible. In our readings this past week there have been a lot of surprises on top of this incident with the Canaanite woman. Jesus walked on water leading the disciples to connect Jesus with the divine: “You really are the Son of God!” (Matthew 14:2 NLT). Jesus taught that character was more important than ritual purity leading the Pharisees to be offended (Matthew 15:1-20).

The word for offence in the Greek is a word that has come into our English language; scandal. Jesus was not just full of surprises, he was full of scandal too. In a further surprise for the earliest readers, Jesus brought clarity about his identity with Peter’s confession that he is the Christ, the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-19). So surprising, so scandalous, and so dangerous, was this idea, that Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone (Matthew 16:20).

Then there was that weird incident we call the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9) where it was made evident that Jesus is greater than the law, represented by Moses, and the prophets, represented by Elijah. What, or who, can be greater than the law and prophets other than God? Again another surprise, another scandalous thought, another dangerous idea.

Matthew will go on to tell us more shocking things than these, such as Jesus being killed, usually a sign that one is not the Messiah, and that Jesus rose from the dead, a sign that Jesus is not your usual idea of a Messiah. And never mind healing a Canaanite women, the Book of Matthew ends with a huge surprise:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

Everyone is invited to this party, including Canaanite women!

So what does this have to do with us today?

First, do we feel the shock, the scandal of Jesus? Or have we become rather blasé about it all?

Have we become so accustomed to the stories of Jesus that they have lost their shock value? Have we become so accustomed to the teaching of Jesus that nothing surprises us? Perhaps we need to put ourselves back into the shoes of the first readers of Matthew’s Gospel, or the people actually there with Jesus at that time, and be shocked.

Or are we not shocked by Jesus because he is not at the centre of our faith? Perhaps some of us need to pay less attention to Paul, or Calvin, or (insert your favourite Christian teacher here), and pay more attention to Jesus?

Or is it possible that we have just fallen into Christianity because we are Canadian and there happens to be a lot of Christianity in Canada? Or our parents and grandparents just happen to be Christians so we just happen to be Christians too? Is Christianity a religion we subscribe to, a box we tick off in a census, or is God the God who has shocked us and rocked our world in Jesus? If Jesus has truly shocked us we will not want to hold onto Christianity as a religion we practice, but to Jesus as the anchor for our souls, the wisdom for our lives, and the hope for our future.

Have we experienced the scandal of divine love?

Some think the idea of divine love is crazy and scandalous because of suffering. With all the troubles of this world and this life, how could anyone believe there is a God who is for us and not against us? Yet beauty has a habit of breaking through. There was great ugliness when hateful people strung Jesus up on a cross. Yet beauty broke through. That was a surprise.

Some think the idea of divine love us crazy and scandalous because divine judgement might seem to be more important and makes more sense. But in Jesus “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” becomes “’this is my body broken for you,’ and I’m not going to break your body. ‘This is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins’ and I’m not going to shed your blood.” That was a surprise.

Do we have the audacity to believe in divine love, that God is, and that God is for us and not against us?

Second, do we continue the shock, the scandal of it all?

Does it ever surprise people that we are for them and not against them?

In Conclusion

It is possible that we have made Jesus, and Christianity, boring. What has been shocking in our society is not Jesus and the idea of divine love, but unmarked graves in religious residential schools and pastors whose sins have found them out.

Let us get back to the most surprising, the most shocking, the most scandal ridden person in all of human history – Jesus. Let us follow in his footsteps with some surprises of our own.


Before they appear here, Ontario, Canada pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

January 26, 2023

What Jesus Said About Our Biggest Influencers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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How What Jesus Said Has Helped Me As a Father of a Gay Child

by Clarke Dixon

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…

Matthew 10:34-37 (NRSV)

These may be the most surprising words of Jesus. It seems out of character, not Christlike. However, when read with everything else, of course Jesus said it.

Let us remember that Matthew in presenting Jesus to us has already pointed out that the current leadership, both political and religious, is lacking. Jesus is the better leader. Matthew has told us that Jesus faced opposition from those other leaders, and his disciples will face the same. Which leads to the next point Matthew makes as he continues to introduce Jesus to us, namely, we face a choice. Given the leadership credentials of Jesus, will we follow him? Given that we may face opposition, will we follow him?

We can follow the status quo leadership and experience the status quo, or we can follow Jesus and experience big disruption in our lives. To paraphrase Jesus as he speaks about the division that following him brings, even to families: “Follow me and it is going to get messy!”

Thinking of what Jesus said about our love for him being greater than for our families, when we see the word love we may jump to the idea of “having affection for,” or “having compassion and concern for.” Is Jesus asking us to have greater affection for him, or concern for him? It seems to me that Jesus can take care of himself. As for our sons, when they were younger, not so much.

Family relationships and love within family relationships are about more than affection, compassion, and concern. They are about being formed, influenced, and affected by. Our families probably have greater influence on us than anyone or anything else. My Mum had an expression which I often heard growing up, “you get like the people you live with.” If we are not careful we will pick up attitudes and habits without even knowing it, which can include judgemental attitudes, overly pessimistic or overly optimistic attitudes, misuse of alcohol, and bad financial habits to name a few.

When Jesus says love me more than your family, he does not mean have more compassion and concern for him than your family, but allow your relationship with him to have greater impact on you. What he is in effect saying is “Don’t fall into being just like your family, lean into me and be more like me instead.” We tend to have a deep relationship of influence within our families, even when we don’t think we do. Jesus wants us to have a deeper relationship of influence with him and experience a greater impact from him. He is the wiser and greater authority on life than our family members. The way of Jesus is way better than the ways of your family.

Some will read these verses about disruption coming to family and will think “see we are following Jesus well because my devotion to Christianity has brought division to my family.” There is no more obvious example of this than when a child comes out as gay. Some well meaning Christian leaders call upon parents of gay children to try to get them to change their minds, to straighten them out. If that does not happen, don’t allow a significant other into you home for that will send the wrong signal. If they get married, don’t attend the wedding because that will send the wrong signal. If they do get married, don’t allow your child to bring their partner for Christmas dinner, again because it will send the wrong signal. Following this kind of advice will obviously bring disruption to family relationships and indeed one’s child will pick up the signals and will likely not want to show up for Christmas dinner thank you very much. This family disruption is proof, for some, that one is following Jesus well. “See I love Jesus more than my child!”

Moving further along in Matthew we come across some words of Jesus that have been very meaningful for me:

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Matthew 12:9-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

The religious teachers were quite adamant that to be godly one must never work on a sabbath. Yet Jesus points out that even they knew that sometimes it is better to ignore their own teaching on righteousness in order to do the right thing. The sheep needs rescued. The religious rules just don’t work in this instance. Following the religious rules is unwise when there is a sheep in a pit.

There are a whole group of people in a pit. They hide, sometimes for years, sometimes forever, something very important about themselves from religious parents. They try to change themselves and despair when they can’t. Some are kicked out of their homes. Some take their own lives. The religious rules make gay children, teens and adults alike, feel not at home at home, not at home in their home church, and not at home with themselves.

I know what the Bible says about same-gender sex (which happens to be way less than what it says about the Sabbath), but people in a pit need our help, and I know what Jesus said about that.

It has been important for my wife and I that our gay son feels at home at home. Being the father of a gay child has not been difficult. Being the father of a gay child and being a Baptist has. Having a gay child has not led me to have all the answers, but it has led me to good questions, and to a greater awareness of some really bad answers. With so much being said among Baptists in our day on such matters perhaps part of the solution going forward is for less pontification from religious leaders like me, which ends up sounding like Pharisees pontificating about the Sabbath, and more giving parents and those who are gay alike the resources and space to figure it out. When it is your sheep that falls in a pit you have the eyes to see the wise thing to do. The Bible says that sometimes the religious rules just don’t work. Or at least Jesus pointed it out.

The way of Jesus is way better than the ways of our religion. Let us put Jesus and the way of Jesus at the centre. Sometimes religion doesn’t and sometimes religious leaders don’t. Let us not unthinkingly fall into religion and the religion of the religious leaders but let us lean into Jesus.

So in introducing us to Jesus, Matthew begins to present us with a choice; to put Jesus at the centre of our lives or not. We may think we do, but family and/or religious leaders may be there instead.


Note from Clarke: Some time ago I put together a series of videos on my experience of being a pastor and the father of an openly gay child. The project is unfinished, and in hindsight could be better, but it is what it is, I did what I could, and if it helps anyone, it can be found here. The full sermon from which this bog post has been taken can be seen here.

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