didache - training in the way

The mark of Didache (pronounced “did-a-kay”) means “teaching”, “formation”, “training”.  It is a mark of Christian community because the church is a school. In it we are taught the Way of Jesus Christ in the same manner that apprentices are taught a trade – through lifelong practice in repentance and confession, in forgiveness and reconciliation, in servanthood and sacrifice, in pastoral care and in social witness. Didache is less about learning a body of knowledge and more about becoming a new people. A congregation that bears the mark of didache is not a “come as you are, stay as you are” church. Resistance to the notion of conversion is dwindling in such places for these are communities in which people increasingly long to be converted from the anxiety-producing ways of the world to the peaceable Way of God’s kingdom come. In their desire to learn a new way of life – to “learn Christ” (Ephesians 4:20) – such congregations evoke memories of the name claimed by the early Christian community: “The Way” (Acts 9:2). Here Christian education is not simply a matter of teaching children to become belief-ful adults. Here the whole congregation is made up of disciples – students – who are learning a new life as adopted children in the household of God. Here it is clear that once we have heard the kerygma – the good news – nothing can stay the same.


galatians - week three

Here is the introductory page for Galatians chapter three and week three of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...

In preparation for our time together read Galatians, chapter three. Note your own questions and insights. Bring them with you to our conversation. Consider these questions:

In verse one Paul says: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified!” We have glimpses of the description that Paul offered of the events of Holy Week in I Corinthians 11:23-26 & 15:1-11. What is your reaction to Paul’s focus on the cross and resurrection rather than on the life and teachings of Jesus?


children of the promise

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

It is a primal story, an odd story, our story. Paul names it as a taproot gospel story. It is the story of Abraham. He and aging wife Sara have left home and family, risking everything on God. Still there is no child, no home, no sign of the future God has promised. Now the LORD appears in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abraham, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Abraham is the great-great grand-father of the faith. Abraham is the primal figure of faithfulness. When God promises Abraham safety and a future we expect Abraham to say “Yes, Lord”. But, no. Abraham questions God’s integrity: “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless … You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” Abraham puts God on the witness stand and pokes holes in God’s testimony. “Oh, really”, says Abraham, “and on what basis am I to trust your promise since there is no child yet? In case you hadn’t noticed, we are not getting any younger.” We expect the story about the progenitor of the faith to portray him as confident, sure, as - well - trusting. But it does not. It makes a point of noticing that Abraham struggles to trust in God’s promise of an improbably blessed future. All the evidence suggests that Abraham and Sara are not the beginning of a new people in whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Everything points to them being the end of the line. Abraham and Sara are proto-types. They are proto-types for all those who follow their footsteps in the faith - in the trust - that God will birth a future out of barrenness. It turns out that it is proto-typical for believers to disbelieve.


kerygma - the message

Kerygma, one of five marks of the church, is at the heart of the church’s life. Kerygma means “proclaiming”, “announcing”, “preaching”. A congregation lacking kerygma is a community without the extraordinary news – “The Message” – that is the church’s reason for being. The kerygma is not simply a neighbourly commitment to generic values of hope, faith and love or to peace and justice. The gospel is not the best of humankind’s attempts to reach out to God. It is, instead, the incredible announcement that, in Jesus Christ, God has broken into history to save and redeem the Creation. The good news is a cruciform story of God’s capacity to bear the world’s suffering and to overcome the powers of death. A kerygmatic congregation is learning that the glory of the God it meets in Jesus Christ is, paradoxically, revealed in weakness. To paraphrase Paul, believers long for proof that God is real (signs) while unbelievers expect a reasonable contemporary spirituality (wisdom) but the church announces Christ murdered (crucified), a scandal to believers and idiocy to unbelievers (I Corinthians 1:22-23). The church that God grows springs from the seed of the cross and resurrection. Where this message takes root and comes to flower one finds a people undeterred by hardship, unsurprised by tragic loss, unprepared to give up on the least and the last because it is coming to trust in the power of God to make new.


galatians - week two

Here is the introductory page for Galatians chapter two and week two of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...



Luke 4:1-13

How appropriate it is that we celebrate Caleb’s baptism today, the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is the church’s great season of formation and little Caleb is deeply into formation in this first year in his life. When Lent began it was the culmination of the preparation of adults for baptism that would take place in the early morning hours of Easter Sunday. It was a baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Caleb is also baptized today into Christ’s death and resurrection here, already, at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross and empty tomb.


after velcade, a breather

After forty weeks and eight cycles on Velcade and dexamethasone today marks the beginning of my break without treatment. Normally I would have been at St. Paul's hospital this morning for the first of my four weekly injections. It also means that I am not taking any steroids for the next eight weeks. Even though I only take a dose of dexamethasone once a week I still find that this is a challenge (much less than four times a week as when preparing for the stem cell transplant, but a challenge nonetheless). I am looking forward to living without the ups and downs that are the side effects of dex. I will be living normally, without treatments, at least until April 8 when I next see my hematologist. Between now and then I am planning on eating well, getting exercise and just generally enjoying life.


2013 online daily lenten devotional

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the day when Christians begin the season of Lent, a forty day preparation for Easter. Those who take the time to count the days from now until Easter Sunday will note that it actually totals forty-seven days in all. That is because the Lenten season of preparation and fasting does not count the Sundays. Sundays, for us, are always mini-Easter celebrations. For University Hill Congregation this is the twelfth year in which we have marked Lent by creating our own home-made Lenten daily devotional book. In the early years it was a hard-copy printed booklet for use within our congregation. Now it is an online resource used by our congregation and others who join us in the practice of reading, hosting and praying scripture as a means of continuing our formation as faithful witnesses to God's grace revealed in Jesus. You are most welcome to join us in this practice and are invited to spread the word to others who may be interested. Here is the introduction to this year's devotional, along with a link that will take you to it ...


galatians - week one

Once again this year we at University Hill Congregation have co-ordinated our weekly study groups so that all of us are hosting the same scripture together through the season of Lent. Some in our congregation are unable to get to one of the weekly gatherings but still wish to participate. To help them - and others who may be interested in joining in - we post materials related to our conversation here each week. Here is the introductory page for chapter one of Galatians and week one of our congregational conversation ...

with unveiled faces

This sermon owes its structure and content to a sermon on the same texts found in "The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann" (pp. 65ff). While I regularly read sermons and commentaries in preparation for preaching I always find them jumping off points not landing places. In this case, though, I could not imagine a better tribute than to simply borrow Walter's riff on the texts and play it as best as I could. Here are the notes I cribbed and then used in my improvisation ... (thanks Walter!)

marks of the church god is calling into being

An eye opening moment for us in University Hill Congregation came when we were introduced to five marks of Christian communal life. We discovered them in Maria Harris’ book “Fashion Me a People: Curriculum in the Church”. In it Harris testifies that the creation of educational curriculum in congregational life involves a holy participation in God’s fashioning of a people. She posits that the medium which is the material of God’s artistic endeavour in forming the church are a set of forms – or marks – of Christian community that are first named in the book of Acts (Acts 2:42, 44-47): “There we find in one place the most detailed description of the first Christian community doing what will in time become the classical activities of ecclesial ministry: kerygma, proclaiming the word of Jesus’ resurrection; didache, the activity of teaching; liturgia, coming together to pray and re-present Jesus in the breaking of bread; koinonia, or community; and diakonia, caring for those in need”(p. 16).


changed from glory into glory

It is Wednesday. Half-way to Sunday's sermon. At this point in the week I habitually chew on the text for this coming Sunday, meditating on it, fretting, wondering what it is saying to me, to us. This week there is a phrase hidden away in the passage from II Corinthians 3:12-4:2 that intrigues and puzzles me: "And all of us, with unveiled faces, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory into another". I recognize something here. This is the source of an odd phrase in the classic hymn "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling". It is what Charles Wesley alludes to when, in the final verse, he writes "changed from glory into glory". Paul is, speaking of the transformation of the community that focuses its attention on the glory - the energy or presence - of God seen in Jesus. But I am not really sure how to describe these differing degrees of glory. What does a glorious church look like? Are congregations really being transformed - as the King James Version puts it - "from glory to glory"? What evidence is there? Later Paul seems to answer, saying: "So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (II Cor. 4:16-18). Paul writes to the pastor in me who is tempted to measure glory by what can be seen on the surface of congregational life. He invites eyes that see beneath the surface. He also writes to all of us who live with chronic incurable illness and others who suffer all manner of pain renaming it a "slight momentary affliction" that it is, somehow, preparation for an experience of God's glory that is "beyond all measure". The text is puzzling to me. I am not sure how to give voice to it on Sunday. I am glad it is Wednesday.


glory redefined

The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany celebrate the good news of the birth, baptism and ministry of Jesus. At the crucial turning point from the story of Jesus’ birth and beginnings to the story of his journey to a cross stands Transfiguration Sunday. It is, at once, the culmination of what has gone before and a glimpse of what lies ahead.

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is dramatic, fantastic, spectacular. In a word, it is glorious. There is Jesus radiating divine energy on the mountain top while speaking with Israel’s most famous prophets – Moses and Elijah. Then comes the cloud of God’s presence and the voice of God adding three words to the ones spoken from heaven at Jesus baptismal anointing: “Listen to him.” And then, in a flash, it is over. No more radiance, no more prophets, no more cloud of presence or voice from heaven. Just Jesus and his trio of apprentices, climbing down, with instructions to say nothing of this “until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matt. 17:9).


in a riddle

"through a glass darkly" by craig brewer
I Corinthians 12:31b- 13:13 You have to pay attention. In the midst of this beloved ode to love there is a riddle. These verses seem so clear, so straight forward. No wonder they are chosen by so many brides and grooms. The poem seems anything but puzzling: “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude”. It sounds like accessible greeting card theology. You can almost picture the image of the honeymoon couple walking into the sunset.