Over the years I have long read the lectionary. I read it for two reasons. First for personal nourishment, and secondly to help guide my preaching over the years. I used the Western church’s lectionary, being a part of the Western church all my life, and in particular, the Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Then a few years ago I purchased a large volume, entitled “The Bible and the Holy Fathers, For Orthodox Christians.” I was caught by pleasant surprise. I read the words in the introduction that said, “The moveable calendar starts with Easter. The Orthodox Church marks the exultant emphasis on the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Feast of Feasts, as the epitome of the message of Christ.”
The Western Church begins its lectionary with Advent, and then moves on to Lent, and then to the resurrection. And while the Western Church places its greatest emphasis on the crucifixion of our Lord, the Orthodox Church gives its primary focus on the Resurrection of our Lord.
The Eastern Church seems to agree with The Apostle Paul when he says to the church in Corinth,
(I Corinthians 14:13ff) “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ — whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. “
If you are interested in exploring the significance of Easter, check out the 10 articles under the heading “Easter !”
When I was a child, I remember the pleasure I found in a kaleidoscope that was given to me as a present. Every minor turn of the tube would bring a different design, pattern and effect. I was fascinated by it all. Over the past 50 years of my journey of faith I have come to services of communion, having the same kind of experience. It seems each time I come to communion, it is in a different season of my life, and I come often for a different reason and experience a different outcome. As the weeks and months turn, it appears that the significance of this service has shifted too.
Communion is also like a diamond with many facets, each one transmitting the light differently. I can never predict what light shall shine forth from this many splendored thing, and so it rarely has become commonplace even when repeated frequently.
If you are interested in exploring the significance of Holy Communion, check out the 25 articles under the heading “Holy Communion !!”
Jesus was a teacher. Some have said that he was was one of the worst teachers, because he confused most of his hearers. He is cryptic in almost all the things he said. He speaks in parables, he says, so that outsiders will not understand, and the disciples will need lessons in exegesis. He appears to conceal the truth in paradoxical guise. He says things that sound utterly untrue. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” He might better have said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit heaven” or, “Blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth, for that’s the only way they could ever get it.” Even his non-parabolic teaching is cryptic. Read the Gospel of John if you want to hear double meanings and cryptic communication.
But I think Jesus was the best of teachers. That which is truly paradoxical cannot be adjudicated by reason alone. Jesus caused his hearers to think about life. He forced them to ask questions. He spoke so many outrageous things that had the ring of truth about them, that people were freed to think anew about old questions. Jesus was provocative and evocative. His intent was to evoke thinking and believing. The mark of a great teacher!
If you are interested in hearing more about Jesus the teacher, check out “Pesky Parables” on this website.
The Upper Room
Mark 14:12-16, / Luke 22:7-13 / Matthew 26:17-19
There are places that have become so meaningful, that to mention the place is to flood the mind with memories that move us to the very depths of our lives. That place may be a small cafe where two people knew for the first time that they loved each other. That cafe is forever changed in memory. For others it may be a sanctuary where God became real in our experience, and that place picks up a greater significance than any other place in the world.
An upper room in the city of Jerusalem became such a place, and for the rest of history, all someone has had to say is “The Upper Room” and Christian imagination floods with memories.
As we begin the Season of Lent it would be useful to explore the events that took place in that room one particular Thursday. The postings can be found under the Rubric “The Upper Room”.
Who Chose Who and Why?
Very early in his ministry, Jesus decided to gather disciples around himself. Many chose to follow him in those early days; men and women, young and old, people from the Galilee and from Judea. But Jesus chose from those who followed him, twelve to be his constant companions and co-workers.
But just in case the disciples are confused, Jesus reminds the twelve just before his crucifixion, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” We suspect Jesus did not just say on the day he chose his apostles, “eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Catch an apostle by the toe”.
So the questions must be discussed, why did they choose each other? Why did the 12 choose him, and more importantly, why did he choose them? Read further if you are interested, in the postings “Twelve Apostles”
For the first 15 years of my life, my family had no TV. But we had books; lots of them, thanks in part to a nearby library. Our entire family grew up to be book worms. Then, when Amy & I began raising our three daughters, we decided we would live a TV free life during their early years, so we stuck the TV in the closet and made the reading of great stories central to our family times. I must confess they also have ended up being a bit bookish as a consequence.
Some years later while pastoring a church I discovered the writings of F.W. Boreham. This British-Australian pastor and writer wrote around 50 books and published 3,000 articles besides. But it was his 5 volumes subtitled, “Texts that Made History” that made me a life-long fan of his. The books are titled, A Bunch of Everlastings, A Handful of Stars, A Casket of Cameos, A Faggot of Torches, and A Temple of Topaz. They 5 books contain the mini-biographies of 125 people who made significant impact upon their communities, their nation and the world. Being nudged by this man who became my mentor, I too began telling stories in the pulpit.
If you are interested in a good story, you may want to visit “Tell Me a Story” on prodigalprof.com
The book of Psalms is a hymn book. It is a collection of hymns that was used first by the people of Israel primarily for services of worship in the temple in Jerusalem and in the synagogues of scattered Judaism. In later years this book of 150 hymns was adopted by the Christian Church as one of the major components in its worship. It was the very first “Book of Common Prayer” used by Israel and the Christian Faith in corporate worship….
Those who do surveys on sermons, report that the psalms are used for the text of more sermons than any other book of the Bible. Those same surveys tell us that they are used more in private worship than any other Biblical book. Specific psalms have also been committed to memory more than any other portion of scripture, other than the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously the Psalms are deemed important by the church.
But this reading or singing of the psalms present us with a rather odd phenomenon. There has been a long tendency to skip verses in the public reading of some of the psalms. We do surgery on some psalms because they shock us. These acts of surgery are called “Psalmectomies” or “textotomies.” We cut out the offending words.
To read more, check out the essays under this heading that deal with these uncomfortable psalms, such as psalms of cursing, songs that express anger at God, psalms that lament God’s seeming absence, and others.
I remember the past 50 years, planning for the Advent – Christmas season each year, thinking about the 5 weeks at the close of the year, and asking what shall I speak about this year. I would look over the past years and ask, what have I not covered recently that I could turn to? It may be why I am mostly bald: pulling my hair out, trying to think with creativity, while staying relevant to a congregation’s needs.
So I thought it might be useful to post some of the sermons that I have actually delivered over those years, to hopefully prime the pump, and to get the waters flowing, in those of us who get to lead congregations during this high season. The sermons can be found under the heading, Christmas. But a word of caution: I am not suggesting that you plagiarise mine or anyone else’s sermons. But …
Over the past 50 years when attending conferences of Church leaders I hear the invited guests talking about things regarding which I am quite inept. I have planted no churches, I do not lead a rapidly growing congregation, I am not an expert in homiletics, or church administration. I am not an expert in Post-modernism and I have been unable to solve the worship wars that rage across the face of the church.
But there is one other area about which I am an expert. SIN. I have been a practitioner of that vice for over 70 years. There were times that I was an eager participant and other times I was a most unwilling perpetrator. I say this without any rejoicing in my sinnership. I have never “sinned boldly” as Luther has exhorted. I sinned covertly and ashamedly. In my first 20 years I sinned without repentance. In the past 50+ years I have sinned followed by penitence and self-flagellation.
You may want to read more; checkout the articles on the Seven Deadly Sins….
Intro to The Book of Revelation
For me, it all began when I taught a course at Maple Grove Family Camp in Thamesford, Ontario. I had been asked whether I would be willing to teach a course on Prophecy & The Second Coming. This was to be held in August 1972. I had never taught or studied much in this area, but fools rush in, where angels fear to tread and wise men never go. I said “yes”, and then was informed that the textbook for the course had already been chosen and ordered. The book happened to be “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey. Since I had two months to prepare myself for the event, I went ahead and read the text. I had not taken any courses in College or Seminary that dealt with this theme in any serious way. As I read the book, I wrote my reaction at the end of each chapter. After the first chapter I wrote “Do I believe this?” At the close of the next chapter I wrote, “I don’t believe this, do I?” As I continued to read my comments changed to, “I do not believe this! So what do I believe?” The next two months were invested in exploring the New Testament looking for any biblical texts that dealt with the theme. I ignored the textbook, taught the seminar, and my audience was kind!
3 years later, in 1975 I took a course in “Inter-Testamental History & Literature” from Dr. Richard Longenecker at the U of Toronto. This course proved to me to be invaluable. It changed my way of reading the four gospels and the rest of the N.T. and particularly the book of the Revelation. Then a decade later in 1985 I took another course while at McGill University in “Apocalyptic Literature” taught by Dr. D. R. Runnalls. This further stimulated my mind as I thought about this last book of the Bible.
Over the past 30 years since then I have taught on the Book of Revelation at least a dozen different times in college and seminary courses, and in church camps and conferences. I must confess to my impudence, however. I have sub-titled my approach; “How to save the Book of the Revelation from the hands of its friends.” The book has been maligned and mangled by those who love it best. I wanted to help restore it back to what it had been intended to be: a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
In the following seven chapters I do not hope to “explain” the details of this book. My only task will be to help you read this book as the first readers read it at the close of the first Christian century. If you are interested, read on.
If you want to respond to anything I say about this book, you may respond on prodigalprof.com or at my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I wish you joy in your journey!
Prof. David N. Ashton.