The Preface to His Prayer

Matthew 6:1-18,  Luke 11:1-13

The disciples of Jesus had prayed all their lives.  They belonged to a culture and to a religion that had taken prayer very seriously.  Prayers in the homes, prayers in the synagogue and prayers in the temple were ongoing activities.  The scriptures were filled with prayers for almost every possible occasion in life.  These disciples knew how to pray.  Or so they thought.

1.         The Problem of Prayer

Then they met a man who was wired very differently.  He too prayed.  But prayer had a significance in his life that it did not have in theirs. 

The practice of Jesus was to pray in secret.  Prayer was a private practice.  He would leave his friends rather frequently and head off to the mountains alone. He left them so he could pray by himself.  There were those many mornings when they awoke a great while before day only to find him missing. They would look for him and catch him praying in a solitary place.  That’s why Judas knew where to find him on that Maundy Thursday.  He would be praying in Gethsemane.   Jesus had taken his friends with him, but even there he leaves his disciples near the entry way, while he went off to a quiet corner to pray.  We know from his teachings that He encouraged his followers to pray in secret, in the inner room with the door closed. 

For months the disciples were aware of his practice of prayer.  It puzzled them.  They were puzzled by its frequency.  Puzzled by its effect upon him.  What does he talk about for so long?  How come he gains such pleasure from his time spent in prayer?

One day they see him praying off in the distance.  They talk among themselves about his practice.  Perhaps they express to each other the difficulties they have in praying.  Perhaps they agree together to talk to Jesus about it.  When he rejoins them one of them speaking for the group makes a request.  “Lord, teach us to pray.”

As I’ve said.  These men had prayed all their lives.  But not like he did.  They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray.  They wanted to be instructed too.

2.         A Pattern for their Praying

Jesus takes them up on their request.   And in the next few moments gives to them a model or a pattern to use in their praying. Listen to his words found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6.

“When you pray do not be like the hypocrites standing out in the open, speaking their prayers out loud to be heard by others.  You pray to God, not to the crowd. Find a private spot and pray there.”

And secondly, he says, “When you pray, do not be like the gentiles heaping up empty phrases, piling words on top of words trying to impress God with your fervent piety.”  Instead, he says, “Pray like this, or pray in this fashion.” And then he gives them the Lord’s prayer.

But he does not want them necessarily to pray these words every time they pray.  These words are not a new incantation to repeat endlessly and mindlessly.   His words are a perfect synopsis of legitimate prayers.  The Lord’s prayer is an outline that needs to be filled out by our own words.  This prayer is a skeleton which needs to be fleshed out.  The prayer is a guidance system.  He is saying, “There are some things you need to include in all your prayers.  Do not rush into praying simply by impulse or instinct.  Do not just run off words by the hundreds and the thousands and not know what you said after you had said it.  Here is an outline for your praying. 

I wonder if this was the pattern that Jesus Himself followed? I had always imagined him praying so spontaneously that a pattern would have been an imposition.  I have always seen him as a free spirit from whom prayer poured forth rather easily.  But on second thought I think he may have used the pattern himself.   It may well have been the way he prayed, with a bit of alteration for his followers.  Why do I think that?  Because if the pattern for praying is good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.  If the pattern did not assist him in his praying, why would it help them?  They had seen him praying, and wanted to pray like he did.  He may be giving them then the pattern of prayer that he himself followed in his times of normal praying.  

But a pattern is not a straight jacket that binds a person. This pattern comes out of his own experience in prayer.  A pattern for someone making a suit is not a hindrance.

Did you hear the story about the wonderful tailor in this small village in Europe?  He made clothes for his customers.  The word on the street was that he could tailor-make clothes that could fit perfectly any shape or size of body.  No challenge was beyond him.

One of the wealthier residents of a nearby village heard of his fame and decided to have a suit made to his own specifications.  He entered the shop and was measured for the fit.  He chose the fabric and was asked to return in two weeks when the suit would be ready.  Two weeks later he entered the shop, and began to put the suit on.  But the pants did not seem to fit very well.  One leg had this strange twist to it that made his leg feel odd.  The other leg was very tight, and the waistline was really constrictive.  He tried on the jacket.  But the arms came out of the body of the jacket at strange angles.  The padding on one shoulder was enormously thick and made his whole body look lopsided.  But finally, he had the suit on, after considerable contortion, and came out of the change room.  He did not want to say much in criticism to this world-famous tailor, but he did say that the suit was a bit binding.  The tailor assured him that would soon disappear with wearing the suit a few days. 

The customer paid the bill and left the store.   He could hardly walk with the pants binding him.  His arms came out of the jacket at strange contorted angles.  His one shoulder was six inches higher than the other. He managed to make his way to the car, but could hardly bend to sit down behind the wheel.  But as he was closing the car door, he heard someone on the sidewalk say, “That tailor is a marvelous tailor.  He can make a suit to fit any body, no matter how misshapen.” 

And the pattern for prayer that Jesus offers is not one that forces prayer down strange channels.  It is not a pattern that restricts the body, mind or spirit.   The pattern was created by one who knew how to pray.  

Why do we need a pattern?  Some of us find prayer difficult because we have been wearing a suit of clothes that causes more discomfort than help.  We have donned a suit of our own fashioning and wonder why it doesn’t fit well.  

We need a pattern for our praying, if only to give balance to our prayers.  What do I mean by balance?  Most of our faces are fairly normal.  We are even attractive in that we do not attract undo attention to ourselves.   But take the most beautiful face you know and put one of its features out of balance.  Double the size of the left eye, and you have instant ugly.  Double the size of your right ear and people will remark every time they see you, “Did you see that ear!?”  To have one feature out of balance can make beauty turn ugly.  Make one leg of your kitchen table one inch longer than the rest and table becomes unstable.  

And when prayer is unbalanced and any of its features become exaggerated, a thing of beauty can become a bane.  So Jesus gives us a pattern to bring balance to our praying.

3,         The Structure of this prayer

Let me give us a fast overview of the pattern of this prayer.   A bird’s eye view will give us a chance to see what the whole prayer looks like. 

First, it begins with praise to God and ends with praise to God.
There are 68 words in the traditional prayer. 37 of them are words of praise to God, that is, 54%.
There are 31 words that are petitions for ourselves. 46% of the prayer. 

Immediately that speaks volumes to me. At least half of our praying should be giving, not getting; praising not petitioning; adoring, not asking. 

But let me clear up a point of confusion here.  There is no power in praise.  We do not praise God to butter Him up so we can then hit him up for what we want.  We do not praise him so that we can pry more things out of him.  That would be shear flattery.  There is no power, no leverage, no manipulation brought about by praise.  Insincere flattery is not praise, it is presumption, the presumption that we can con God into giving us more than his wisdom and goodness would grant.  

There is no power in praise, but the praise of God is what those bring to God who have seen God’s goodness and greatness and come with adoration and affection and thanksgiving.  All healthy praying begins and ends with the praise of God.

Does that make God vain? Conceited?  Oh no!  The praise of God may very well be intended to help redeem us from self preoccupation, and self adulation.  

4.         The Content of this Prayer.

The First lines begin with the reminder of the One to whom we pray. I would draw our attention to three items in the very first line.

His name is Father.  He is the Father who is in Heaven. 

He is “OUR” Father.  That is another reality in this first line. He is not “MY” father. He is ours. And notice the ongoing litany: “Give US our bread…Forgive US our debts…Lead US not… deliver US from evil.”  This prayer has no place for selfishness. If you come alone, please don’t come!  If you come with others on your heart, by all means come boldly to the throne of Grace and find help.

This prayer has 6 petitions all together.  It is interesting to see how they are divided.

The first three requests are concerned with the praise of God. They are prayers that we are to help fulfill. They are prayers that the church and world are intended to fulfill. 

Hallowed be Thy Name
Thy Kingdom Come
Thy Will be done.

The last three requests are concerned with the needs of the family. They are prayers that we are asking God to fulfill.

We ask for bread, for forgiveness and for safety. 

But notice these three more closely.  

The request for bread is a present tense concern.
The request for forgiveness is asking God to deal with our past. 
The request for safety is a concern for the future. 

That says to me that as I pray, the past, the present and the future of my life is to be brought before God.  Nothing is to be left out.

But I also notice that only one of these requests deal with the needs of my body, while two of these requests deal with my spiritual needs.  It is interesting that the needs that are so paramount in our culture are only a minor part of this pattern for prayer.


When I lower this pattern over my own prayers, I immediately sense that so much of my praying is lop sided.  Some things get far more emphasis in my prayers than in this prayer.  It is at that moment that I feel like saying with those first 12 disciples, “Lord, I have been praying for a good part of my life, but would YOU teach me how to pray.”  

Hymn #435 “What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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Isaiah 53

Isaiah Chapter 53

This section of the Book of Isaah is a strange passage.  In its original intent it was a poetic description of the godly Israelites who had paid a high price for the sins of their fellow exiles in Babylon, though they had not been deserving of that exile.  But during the 70 years of exile they had kept faith with God, and had kept the faith of the nation intact during its ordeal.  Shortly they were going to lead the lost people of Israel back to the land of Palestine.  It was a miracle.

Years later the church looked back on this same passage and found it to be a remarkable portrait of Jesus.  I’d like to lead us in our thinking through this remarkable prophesy.  Let me read it for you. 

Isaiah 52:13-15 & 53:1-12

13 See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.

14 Just as there were many who were astonished at him
—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals—

15 so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

53 Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account. 

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.

They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth. 

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.

11  Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors. 

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The Significance of His death – Our Healing

Isaiah 53:3-6   James 5:13-18

1.         The Controversy

Today I want to touch on an issue of great controversy.  For most of this century there has come to the fore a debate over “Divine Healing.”  

There are those in the church that have said that all the miracles ended with the death of the last apostle.  Miracles of healing do not take place anymore.  Healing comes through a combination of good nutrition, healthy exercise, the skill of the medical community and positive thinking.  In the ancient world where all doctors were witch doctors, the words from the book of James to the early church were: “Is any sick among you, Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him.”  But in the modern world the words can now read “Is any sick among you, let him call for the doctor and let her give you a prescription.”  That is one position.

Of course, there are other voices who take the contrary view. They say, God has not changed.  He did miracles of healing in the Old Testament.  He did them throughout the life and ministry of Jesus, He did them in the time of the apostles, why on earth then would we think that God does not do them now as he has always done.  God has not changed.  Divine Healing still takes place today.

To that debate there have been added even stronger voices, that not only affirm that healing takes place today, but have gone further and insisted that Divine healing is not only possible, but that Divine healing should be the norm.  No Christian need suffer from disease or illness.   God is willing to grant healing directly, to those that have faith.  Of course, that position has heated up the debate to furious intensity.

In this controversy Biblical texts have been extricated from the Bible to use in the arguments against one another.   Some focus on the passages that connected our healing with the death of Jesus, and used the phrase “Healing is in the atonement” and thereby inferred that not only are all of our sins forgiven through his death, but all of our illness were healed too, and we will receive forgiveness and we will receive healing, if we only have enough faith. 

Those on the other side of the debate have focused on the Biblical passages that reminded us that God can say “no” to our prayers for healing.   And Paul’s thorn in the flesh, Timothy’s frequent illness which needed wine and not water for his relief, the sickness of Trophimus, the friend of Paul and Elisha’s death by illness, are all quoted in evidence that God does not heal all. 

I must confess that I feel fairly uncomfortable with any of these positions.  If you argue for one side of this teeter totter of debate, I will take the other side.  If you take the other side, I will move to the opposite position.  For the truth always lies half way between the two extremes.  

This may be unwise of me, but let me reveal what I think is the position that best expresses the truth of the matter.

1.         God is God and can do whatever He wills.  

2.         There are times when God heals people miraculously.

3.         Most of the time people find healing through what we call “natural means”, through the use of medicines, through a change of lifestyle and through the skills of science and medicine. Of course, all of these are the gifts of God to the human race too.

4.         There are times when God chooses not to intervene in the healing of a person, by any means, whether natural or supernatural.  

5.         We cannot discern the reasons why God chooses different outcomes for different people.  There is no pattern which says, if you are deeply spiritual you will get healed, but if you are a barbarian you don’t have a prayer.  We just do not know why one person finds relief and another doesn’t.  We will just have to live with the mystery of His ways.

But after saying all of that can I enter a bit deeper into the debate.  I do have some moments of anxiety about the issue of Divine healing.

2.         Our Culture’s preoccupation with healing.  

We are all aware that there is a preoccupation with health in our culture.  We spend a major part of our national wealth on health care.  We spend enormous amounts insuring ourselves against the high cost of ill health.  We spend billions on vitamins and supplements and health enhancing exercise equipment, making sure that we eat the right cereals, and the right fat free products.   And all of that is fine.  It makes sense to stay healthy.  But here is the problem. Very rarely is there any similar attempt to ensure the health of the mind and of the spirit.  Very little is spent to ensure the health of human relationships.  Very little is invested in spiritual health.  

The body is the focus of our contemporary culture.  Health for the body at all costs.  And then we add a few billion more to make the body not only healthy but beautiful. We try to procure the most efficient shaving cream, shampoo, deodorant, cosmetics, and then buy the right clothes and jewelry that will add to our physical attractiveness.  And pretty soon we are healthy and beautiful, at least in our bodies.

But we are more than bodies.  We have minds. We are spiritual beings.  We live in relationships.  To have our bodies healed, but to leave our minds ill, to be sick in spirit, to live out our lives in fractured relationships, is to be ill at the center of our lives.  And much of the illnesses of our bodies is due to the deeper illness within.  Science has been telling us that for decades.  Much of what happens in our bodies is due in part to what happens in our spirits. We have heard the words spoken in anger “You make me sick.”   It’s true.  We know that worry and anxiety can chew on the digestive system and cause illness.  We know that anger can increase blood pressure and stress can take its toll on our bodies.  We know that feelings of guilt can wreak havoc in our health. 

Internal unhealthiness can poison the body.   And so, to cure the body and not the spirit would be a very hollow victory.   If much of our illness is caused at the psychological and spiritual levels, we will need to be healed there first if any degree of physical wholeness is to be maintained. Jeremiah the prophet (6:14 / 8:11) complained about the leaders of Israel in reference to the wholeness of his people. He says it twice, “They have healed the hurt of my people only slightly.” They have not gone far enough.  The healing has been superficial.  

God wants to heal from the center to the periphery of our lives, and not simply let us settle alone for a health on the outside.

3.         Is Healing in the atonement?

But back to the great question that has been raised, “Is healing in the atonement.”  Does the death of Jesus Christ affect our health?   There are two passages of the scriptures that leave that impression.

Listen to the words of St. Peter (I Peter 2:24) 

“When Jesus was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but entrusted himself to the one who judges with justice.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds we have been healed.”

It is obvious that the last words are taken from the prophet Isaiah’s words about the Suffering Servant of God.  

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases…. 
But he was wounded for our transgressions, 
bruised for our iniquities, 
upon him was the punishment that made us whole, 
and by his stripes we are healed.”

What Jesus did on the cross that day broke the back of illness and human suffering as it did human death and human evil. That does not mean that sin and death, suffering and illness have been eradicated from the face of the earth.  Obviously not.  But it does mean that the antidote was released into the world.

Then how does his suffering & death help us in our suffering.

1.         First it tells us that God has suffered along with us.

Injury and illness have always been shared by God.  The cross tells us that God has never stood aloof from our hurt.  Richard Jefferies in his novel Bevis writes about a young boy who in perusing a book came upon a picture of the crucifixion, “The picture of the crucifixion hurt his feelings very much; the cruel nails, the unfeeling spear:  he looked at the picture a long time, and then turned over the page saying, ‘If God had been there, He would not have let them do it’.”  

But God was there, in Christ, at that very moment. God had always been there, feeling along with us the slings of outrageous fortune.  When we are ill, it is not a sign of God’s absence, but the promise of His presence.

2.         His suffering helps put our own sufferings in focus.  

He suffered and died.  But out of that experience great good came for all humanity.  His suffering brought great value into life.   And our suffering need not be seen as absolutely meaningless either.  Our own suffering may also end up being helpful in our own lives and that of others. 

Listen to Wordsworth the poet: He writes

“How strange that all
the terrors, pains and early miseries,
regrets, vexations… interfused
within my mind, should ever have borne a part,
indeed a needful part, in making up
the calm existence that is mine….”

Wordsworth became aware, like the Apostle Paul, that suffering and illness can we used by God to make us more whole.  Strange conundrum! But illness can be the means to a healthier end.

3.         Sin & Sickness are connected

But that is not the whole answer to the question, how does his suffering help me in mine?  There is another response.  There is, all the way through scripture, a very close connection between sin and suffering.

Before Jesus came the theology of the nation of Israel had always insisted that “Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people.”  Therefore, if you are suffering it must be the judgement of God.   They felt that when a person does something bad, God zaps them with a mini version of the Egyptian plagues. Suffering was seen then as the punishment sent by God. 

But Jesus began to change that.  During his ministry they came upon a man who had been blind from birth.  The super-orthodox disciples ask the question, “Teacher, who sinned?  This man or his parents, that he was born blind?”   Jesus answered, “neither this man nor his parents, but since he was born blind, let the mighty works of God now be revealed in him.” 

But the feeling was that God brings judgement down on those who sin, in the form of illness or tough circumstances.   The New Testament answers that question quite differently.  Our sins bring their own hurt into our lives.  Our anger does its own kind of damage.  Our fear brings its own paralysis.  Our grief wears down the health of our bodies.  Our own selfishness damages our relationships.  And the Bible may want us to examine our hearts and the way we live our lives if our bodies remain sick.  That is not to add guilt on top of grief or add insult  to injury, but to probe beyond the physical illness to see if its roots might go deeper.  Why do I say this? Look at the tendency of the scriptures.

When Solomon is praying God says to him, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will Forgive their sins and heals their land.” Forgiveness first, which will then lead to the healing of a nation.” (II Chronicles 7:14.)

In Psalm 103:3 the psalmist sings that God “Forgives all our iniquities, heals all our diseases.”  He desires to forgive the wrongness of our lives, and healing will also result.

When Jesus is teaching in a house, a man who is paralyzed is lowered down by his friends for Jesus to heal him.  Jesus first words are “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And then later he is healed of his illness. There may be a connection between the inner and the outer.

The most crucial passage that deals with healing in the New Testament is a passage found in the book of James. To the early church he offers this counsel:

“Are any among you suffering, let them pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.  Are any among you sick? They should call the elders of the church, and have them pray, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed, for the prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective.”  

But did you notice the intertwining of taking sin as well as health with utmost seriousness. 

Does the death of Christ bring healing?  Oh yes.  Healing from the terrible things that cause us hurt and injury to one another.  Healing for the internal fracturing that takes place.  Healing for the attitudes that chew up our lives, rob us of peace.  God wants to bring healing to the nations.  Healing to our families.  Healing to our relationships, and healing to our lives.


So what do we do when illness comes?   We are not masochists who take delight in suffering.  We should take steps for its removal.  See the doctor.  Take the medicine.  Eat right. Live right.  Ask for prayer from those who take prayer seriously.  Illness is not the preference of God for us.  The life of Jesus gives evidence for that.  He went about and brought healing to the hurting.  

But when the medicines do not work, and the prayer does not seem effective, commit the whole matter to God with prayer, and pray something like this: “O lord, do not let me waste this difficult time in my life.  If health doesn’t come, let your grace come instead.  Let some good come out of this.  If healing does not come for my body, then please bring it to my spirit.”  For this we know about God, The Christ who transformed the cross can transform our hurt so that it does not bring us harm, but brings us healing at the deeper levels of our life.

Can God use the illness of our bodies to accomplish that end?  Oh yes!  Can God use our suffering to bring wholeness into life?  Oh yes, as he brought great good out of the great evil of the suffering and crucifixion of His Son. 


As the Kingdom of God grows in the world, the toe hold of evil is weakened.  And what does not get resolved in time, will be fully resolved in heaven where the healing of the nations will be complete. 

But the death of Christ released into the world an entirely new understanding of the purpose of our lives.
If God loves us that much, then surely we can become workers together with him for the healing of the world.

If he cares that much about us, why not listen to his instructions on how to live life better.

If Jesus cares that much for us, then it is right to care for one another.  If he would give his life for our healing, let us give ourselves to the binding up that which is broken in our world.

For there flowed from the cross, a community that began to bring healing to the hurt, healing to the sickness that came from the distrust of God.  There came a resurgence in concern for the well being of all persons, with widows and orphans being given special care, with the homeless and the hungry being looked after.  With the impetus of the Love of God expressed in the Cross, the followers of Jesus went out to create hospices and hospitals and clinics.    And just as the church of Jesus was at the forefront of the move to educate the mind, and to free the slaves, and to bring a new dignity to marriage and family and childhood, so from the cross, through the servants of God, there came an impetus to bring healing to the world.

Hymn #405       “My Faith has found a resting Place.”

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Consumers or Communicants?

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21.  Isaiah 58:1-12

I Corinthians 11:20-22, 33

1.         Shrove Tuesday

This coming Tuesday is called Shrove Tuesday.  Sometimes it is called Pancake Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras.  

The New Orleans festival of Mardi Gras is world famous.  It is the day of the big splurge.  It is the day to be both gourmet and gourmand. The gourmet eats only the best of foods with an eye for quality.  The gourmand just eats lots of food with an eye for quantity.  

It is a time of carnival.  The word carnival is from the word “carne” as in carnivorous. It is the word for meat.  It is the celebration of eating foods that will be forbidden during the season of Lent. The carnival was the time to eat, drink and be merry. A time for parades, costumes, games and any activity that inhibitions had suppressed before.   It was the feast of permission to debauchery for too many celebrants.  It is the festival of excess.  It was almost the permission to sin without restraint, and then you would have forty days to be sorry for it.  Some have suggested that the wearing of masks and costumes would hide the identity of the revellers so there would be less identifiable and perhaps less inhibited in their actions of excess.

Some cultures had little desire for the wild goings on of a Mardi Gras or carnival. For them this day may have been called Pancake Tuesday.  This was the day to eat up all the eggs and the fat which were in the house.  These were things which would be given up during lent.   And pancakes were a good way to eat up the eggs and the fat.  It is, by the way,  the reason we have Easter eggs.  All the eggs not eaten over the forty days of Lent ended up being good only for games. Except the fresh ones which would be enjoyed as the first meal on Easter Sunday morning.

But its real name in English is Shrove Tuesday.  The word has nothing to do with eating pancakes or meat.  It comes from the word “to shrive or to be shriven.”   Of course that doesn’t help us.  What does Shrive mean?  It is the act of confession and the receiving of forgiveness.  On the Tuesday before lent began, those who wanted to begin Lent with a clear conscience, who wanted to take spiritual renewal seriously, started the season one day earlier,  They came to their priest to confess their sins or failings so that the priest  could tailor make what things they needed to do or what things they need to give up during the season of lent.   It was the start of giving up something for lent.   But it was more than giving up something.  It was an act of giving themselves afresh to God. 

2.         Consumers & Communicants

It is interesting to note the great distinctions in the use of that Tuesday.  Some became consumers.  Eating everything they could.  Tasting of every pleasure, whether forbidden or allowed.  

These consumers went kicking and scratching into Lent, lamenting that eggs and meat would be withdrawn.  They went into Lent lamenting the fact that they would have to do without some delicacies. They were so afraid they would die of meat deprivation that they stocked up the day ahead hopefully so they could go for forty days and forty nights on the virtue of that one big meal. 

And while these were consuming, others came seeking communion with God.  They came to confess their failings.  They came sensing their weakness.  They came wanting a conscience clear and their sins forgiven.  They came to eat and drink with the people of God in the presence of God.  They came to share in the service of holy communion.

These people came eagerly to the season.  They could have waited until tomorrow, but some were saying “Why wait for Spring, do it now.”  And looking forward to the possibilities of grace they came to church on Shrove Tuesday to get a good head start.

Then on Ash Wednesday they were ready to take up their cross and follow Christ.  Willing to pray against temptation as He did for 40 days.  Willing to fast and pray as Jesus their Lord did for 40 days.  

But the forty days had another significance.  It was the long practice of the church to baptize new Christians on Easter Sunday.  The church asked all new Christians to prepare themselves for this great event by taking the forty days before Easter for prayer and fasting.  Then others who had been Christians for some time felt the need to renew their own vows to deny themselves, to take up their cross afresh and to reaffirm their intent to follow Christ.

3.         Conclusions & Communion

There is a choice before each of us too.    We can maintain our primary identity as consumers.  Or we can be identified as Communicants. 

There is something in me that resents being called a consumer.  The government’s immigrants policy is being defended by some who say “but this brings 250,000 new consumers into Canada each year.”  I have no problem with the numbers.  I do have trouble with the idea of their being consumers their primary value to Canada,   When journalists or the market place calls us consumers instead of citizens, I resent being so mislabelled.  It is true that I do consume.  But that is not my primary identity.  Part of our global difficulty is that we in the West consume far too much of this world’s resources.  We have become devourers of the world’s wealth.  And perhaps one of the values of Lent is to urge us to consume less of the resources of this planet, to give it a chance to heal.  Perhaps one of the values of Lent is to consume less so that others can sit at the table to have a fair share. 

I do not want to be a consumer.  But I do want to be a communicant.  It is of interest to note that when we take communion the bread we eat and the wine we drink are in such small quantities that no hunger or thirst of our bodies can be satisfied by these elements.  They are so miniscule that no physical appetite can be satiated by them. 

There is an interesting account that Paul writes about to the Christians in Corinth 
(I Corinthians 11:20-22, 33)  Some have been coming early to the communion services where the quantity of food was greater than it is today.  And some were drinking so much wine they were getting drunk, and eating so much of the food that they were depriving others.  And Paul says to them,  “If you are hungry, eat at home.” They had become consumers at the Communion table and were missing the entire significance of communion with God.  They wanted their bellies filled instead of their hearts.  Instead of finding the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their lives by the presence of God, they found themselves adding sin to sin. 

This morning, as we in 1994 begin the Lenten season, it would be good if we said “no” to self-indulgence, “no” to consumerism, and “yes” to God’s desire for us to enter into these seven weeks of spiritual renewal.   

Hymn #325       “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face” 
To tune #249. “Spirit of God, Descend upon my heart”

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Easter !

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 !”

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A Kaleidoscope

A kaleidoscope

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 !!”


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Pesky Parables

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.


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The Upper Room

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”.


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The Twelve Apostles


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


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Tell Me a Story

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



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