For a collective narrative: The time is nigh

audio for sermon “For a collective narrative: The time is nigh”

“The time is near!”[1] The words from Jesus strike an ominous tone.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it.” The refrain from a song by American rock band R.E.M. first came out in 1987. But it’s the end of 2022. At the tail end of a worldwide pandemic which among other things has rocked this world, we may feel it really is the end of the world as we know it.

Do you remember the famous words of hockey star, Erik Karlsson—EK65—when the Ottawa Senators began rebuilding the team five years ago and it was rumoured that he was on the trading block? When Karlsson leaned into the microphone to speak, his first words were those ominous: “The time is nigh.” And then the trade was announced. What was feared. What was expected to happen. What was dreaded, and anticipated, finally came to pass.

During the pandemic many young people have suffered through significant mental health challenges. Many youths I know have also a keen and vibrant imagination. Listen to the following scenario born out of anxiety about end times. It’s pure fiction, yet still a scene similar to what has likely played out in the imaginations of many young people …. 

The house had kept warm even though we were in the depths of a sub-zero winter. The electricity in our small town had been out for days. I’ve lost track counting. Each day has blurred into the other without much change. For some inexplicable reason, the gas fireplace still operated. And my family gathered around it for hours daily, warming our mittened hands. The natural gas lines underground were still left undisturbed. But for how much longer? 

It would likely give out soon, as suddenly as the lights did that first night when the howling first began. The virus had mutated. It actually happened. The zombie apocalypse.

We used our small solar panel to charge the camp lantern for light. But we used it sparingly not just because we wanted to save battery power. We also didn’t want to attract unwanted attention. We lived in a small town, so there weren’t too many people. We didn’t know what our neighbours were doing, where they were. No one ventured onto the street. We had all locked our doors, barred our windows, retreated into defensive postures.

That night when we sat huddled around the fireplace there was a thump on the door. Peeking through the covered drapes, I saw the shadows at the front of the house. But they weren’t swaying or twitching. Four shadows, standing still, unmoving. That was a good sign.

Slowly I opened the door, feeling the rush of icy wind around my ankles. And what a relief it was to see the faces of our neighbours from across the street, folks we hadn’t spent much time getting to know before the apocalypse. “Our supplies have run out. And the pilot light on our gas stove can’t restart. We’re cold.”

“Come on in.” We all gathered around the fireplace. I felt better knowing we weren’t alone. There were more of us now, facing the coming battle ahead together.

Young adults have the biggest market in the book-selling industry[2] – and of this segment the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ continues to be a prominent theme. When the word ‘apocalypse’ is spoken today it’s usually said in the same breath as zombies.

In the Gospel today, Jesus gives a speech about the end times. We find this apocalyptic genre in scripture in the Book of Revelation, the last book in the bible, and in other spots throughout—such as in the book of Daniel and the Gospels. Often these texts contain vivid, supernatural, and extraordinary images of destruction, upheaval and end-of-the-world stuff. The purpose of this type of reading, for one thing, is to remind us that all things, even good things—like the beautiful stones of the temple in Jerusalem—come to an end.

The COVID pandemic at the beginning of this 21st century brought the reality of impermanence to our minds. Nothing lasts forever. Doing without. Not satisfying every compulsion that our culture would otherwise tell us to pursue. Putting at bay indulging ourselves all the time. We are conditioned to believe that we should get whatever we want, whenever we want it, and as much as we want. To be in a position otherwise would be less than ideal, undesirable and indicative even of a disadvantaged life. 

Just look at how we struggled against the limitations and restrictions to contain the pandemic. We’ve had a hard time understanding our mask-wearing, for example, not primarily for our own sake, but as something we do for the sake of the other, out of love for those who are vulnerable in our midst. 

Remembrance Day this past Friday was an opportunity to mark a time of remembering another very difficult, violent time in history.

And in the last couple of years on Remembrance Day, I have asked myself: Why do I wear a poppy? I wear it not only to remember the lost, the wounded, the killed, not only to remember and pray for all our veterans for the service they gave. 

I wear it also to remember the sacrifice that they made for a cause greater than their private, individual needs. They believed in the higher good in making their sacrifice: For God, for the sake of their nation, their world, others.

It is part of our collective identity, that there are times in history when individuals like you and me are called to a higher purpose, to serve a wider interest, to give of ourselves for the common good. Remembrance Day is for me about upholding and affirming a collective narrative. That sometimes, our individual interests must be subjected in order to serve a greater good. That’s why I wear a poppy.

These times are scary indeed. Talking about ‘end times’ is frightening. Yet our faith is in God who comes into our lives during these scary times. And Christ knocks on the doors of our troubled hearts. Shall we open the doors, take the risk of letting the neighbour in and travelling the rocky road ahead together?

“It’s the end of the world as we know it,” are not the last words in the refrain for that popular R.E.M. song. If you know it, you can’t sing this refrain without finishing with the words, “And I feel fine.”

It’s a statement of faith. And all shall be well, expressed Julian of Norwich in the 14th century during the bubonic plague. “And all shall be well”, “And I feel fine” are not to mean that life doesn’t bring you tragedy. It means you will be well in spite of the pain and suffering. 

You’ll find your way through when you reach out to others in love and trust. And God will continue to be with us through it all. That is the hope and the promise of Jesus in the Gospel.

[1] Luke 21:8


Your face in the story

Reflections in the Fall
(photo by Martin Malina, 19 October 2022 over the Niagara River, Canada/USA border)

I’m not the only one who has felt the weight of the world with bad news coming from all quarters. It seems it hasn’t gotten any easier for many people in a world where precious little makes any sense at all: How do we catch a break, fall into a bit of luck, experience a miracle?

In other words, how do we find the grace of God?

Indeed, we often yearn and long for grace during tough times when things aren’t going well. Maybe these days you find yourself in a rough patch, for whatever reason.

This parable[1] gives us a clue to how we find and discover that grace. But only if we bring this parable closer to our lives. 

We are tempted, I think, to keep this story at arm’s length. It’s a parable, after all, about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray—and no one in this room is a tax collector nor a Pharisee; and we are not in a temple. So, it’s easy to make it a heady story about people in history with whom we have little or no connection. Therefore the story has little effect on our lives.

And yet Christians throughout the ages have resisted this objectification of the story, and they have sought to bring it closer to their own, personal lives. Today, over two thousand years after Jesus first told this parable, we bring this story close to our hearts, which is what Jesus would have us do I believe, by seeing our face in both the tax collector and the Pharisee. 

When medieval cathedrals and churches across Europe were built, scenes from the Gospels were often depicted in artwork on the ceilings and walls. This art was called a fresco.

When a cathedral or local church was being frescoed, a painter would come to town to a meeting of those who decided what stories from the bible would be painted. 

But the meeting also decided who would be the subjects for the paintings that were being commissioned for the church’s walls and ceilings. Whom would the painter use for their artistic models?

Most often, the painter wandered the local streets, interacted with the villagers, and decided whose faces they might portray. One day you might go to church and find yourself in a fresco listening to Jesus preach. Maybe your face would represent one of the disciples, or one of the women who cared for Jesus. Perhaps one of your children would be listening to Jesus teach. In any case, you would be placed right in the story of the Gospel; your face would actually be central to the story.[2]

Sometimes we are the Pharisee. And we have to confess that we have been conditioned in our upbringing and culture to compare and compete, like the Pharisee does in the Gospel. And so we may use unkind, ungenerous and condescending words about people who are less fortunate than we are, who are very different from us. We are the Pharisee whenever we comfort ourselves by pointing a finger in judgement at the homeless, the working poor, the struggling youth, the refugee, the newcomer to Canada, the racialized and two-spirited, LGTBQIA+. How do we feel when we see our face as the face of the Pharisee judging the tax collector of today?

Maybe like me you, too, have been taught that bit of competitive wisdom as a child when you learned this rhyme: “Good, better, best. Never stop to rest. Until your good is better. And your better, best.” Most of us, I gather, have a Pharisee lurking within us, ready and willing to step over someone else in order to get ahead.

At the start I asked how we find the grace we so long for in our lives. We must recall the purpose of the parables is first to dislodge us from our comfort zones and knee-jerk impressions. That’s why and how Jesus told these stories in the first place. When the proverbial rug is pulled from underneath us, then we arrive at a startling conclusion: 

The only way out—out of your bind, out of your predicament, out of your particular suffering whatever it may be—the only way out is the way through. For example, the only way out of grief is the way through it. We cannot spiritually bypass the rough patches.

Jesus concludes this parable with the words: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”[3] How do we arrive at this authentic humility? How do we humble ourselves? And so, find grace?

It is first to confess and weep over what the Pharisee in us does and says. And this is not easy. But the only way out is the way through. The only way out of our pride and our judgement is to honestly own our own part in and contribution to the problem. 

To confess the ills of our competitive and dog-eat-dog mindset is the first step to open the heart and to receive the grace of God. Because when we are in competition, we are not in love. When we compete, we can’t get to love because we are looking for new ways to dominate. 

But God does not deal with us like this.

Then we see our face in the face of the tax collector, too. The tax collector has lost the privilege of his reputation and standing in society. You could say he has nothing left to lose. He has come to the point of recognizing that he didn’t attract God’s favour by the strength of his persona, his ego and hisinflated self-righteousness.

Article Four in the Augsburg Confession, written down in the sixteenth century during the Protestant Reformation, articulates the central, Lutheran doctrine of Justification. We are made right, Martin Luther claimed, we are justified before God not by anything we can do, not by our works and efforts to be right. But we are made right by the grace of God alone.

Martin Luther interpreted the bible, even difficult passages in scripture, by using the measure of God’s love and grace. In other words, how and where is God’s love demonstrated in a passage of scripture? When we acknowledge our face in the face of the tax collector, we know we are on a journey with God that never ends. 

We come regularly into the presence of God knowing that we can only go on because God is a forgiving, loving God who makes something holy out of our mistakes, our suffering, our not knowing all the answers. God doesn’t compare us with others. God doesn’t say to us, “Look over there at that good person who has it all together – be like them!” Rather, we experience an all-embracing God who sees and loves the divine image in each one of us.

The Psalmist sings a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord. Because now the Psalmist knows of the promise of God to forgive always. “Happy are they whose strength is in you,” the Psalmist prays, “whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.”[4]

We are never completely rid of the Pharisee in us, as long as we inhabit this earthly existence. But perhaps on the journey, the pilgrims’ way, each time we are aware of the pain we cause on ourselves and others and come to confess this, we also become more and more strengthened by the reality of God’s grace to carry on, with hope and joy.

[1] Luke 18:9-14

[2] Richard Rohr, “An Ordinary Prayer” Daily Meditations (, 7 October 2022).

[3] Luke 18:14

[4] Psalm 84:1-7

Love, love, love

Freedom (photo by Martin Malina, Long Beach WA, August 2022)
audio for sermon: “love, love, love” by Martin Malina

Love, love, love. Love is the theme in the last year of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s “Living the Faith” series for spiritual renewal.[1] Love. How we love needs to be the driving force behind any method, means and strategy for our lives, individually and collectively.

The word evangelical is in our church name, both nationally and locally. The word evangelical derives from the Greek word meaning “gospel” or “good news.” The Greek root word is used in the New Testament[2] and was popularized in the first centuries to distinguish the love-centric movement of Jesus followers, distinguish it from the violent Roman Empire that often made its own “good news” announcements to celebrate military victories.[3]

The love-movement from the beginning of Christianity onward has at its root always distinguished itself–or at least tried to– from a dominant culture more interested in competition, comparison and often violent aggression in promoting itself. History shows Christians have often failed at love.

You might not think that the parable in the Gospel reading today demonstrates a truth about love. But I think it does, albeit in a subtle and not often registered way.

The dead man who was rich on earth wants to make sure his family doesn’t make the same mistakes he did when he was alive. He cares for them. He loves them. “I beg you to send him to my father’s house … if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”[4] You could say that even in death he is loving them, expressing his concern for their spiritual well-being.

The divine answer highlights the truth—and the pain—of being distant, cut-off from our loved ones by an impassable abyss. “Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 

In effect, his love can no longer control others, influence them. And this is hard for us to take. But, the truth is, love is not something we can control. Never has been. Not true love, anyway. A dimension of true love emerges in this parable, precisely at this point when the dead man arrives at the limits of his influence, when he can no longer manage others’ decisions any longer. A great chasm keeps us apart.

Sometimes we feel alone, when we are separated from those we love. Sometimes we may feel unloved, because no one or certain people are not physically beside us and doing what we want them to do for us. But is this true, that we are unloved in these situations?

Here is another paradox: In recognizing our limits in relationship, and in freeing those whom we love to live their own lives, we demonstrate abiding love. Because love inevitably finds a way to express itself, without our words and without our control. Love inevitably finds a way, even across the barriers that separate us, barriers of distance, time, and even death. Through the power of prayer. In the positive energy we put into the world. In the warm heartedness of our intentions and actions. This is faith, hope and love.

What is called forth from us, is a deep trust, shown first to us in the God of the cross. Religious people may be prone to think of God as speaking and acting from above—as an authoritative voice micromanaging everything that happens in the natural world.

But Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross paints another picture altogether: God enters our lives on earth more intimately, more lovingly, from below: the meaning of the cross, the meaning of our faith, the meaning of love.

Might God be less involved in controlling or directing than in accompanying, giving space, coming alongside, like a parent providing loving support to a growing child?

Might we find the highest expression of God’s love in a somewhat reckless gamble God takes in making the world a “free partner” in its own creation? 

Might God largely let the world operate without always directly intervening—trusting its natural powers and responsibilities to evolve into something beautiful?

This is God’s freedom. And God gives the world its freedom. 

“However, God must love with God’s heart in his throat at times.”[5] God must shed tears and grieve. God must grieve at what God sees at times in our behaviour so rooted in the dominant culture of comparisons, competition and even violence in relating with others.

We can be consoled, I hope, in the words of the poet in Psalm 139: “Where can I flee from your presence?” The Apostles Creed goes so far as to affirm that in Jesus God even ‘descended into hell’. God participates and loves us even in our struggles, loves us even in our suffering and death, coming alongside us from below.

God wants us to be free to make choices and decisions. This is the expression of God’s love. To trust us, because God has empowered us in creating us. And so we can pass it on: To love another is to let them be free. Not to force them to conform to the way we are and want them to be. But to let them, in a safe space, express the unique beauty emerging in their own lives, to let them make their choices even if you disagree or wouldn’t make the same choice yourself. That is love. 

And God is there, even in our letting go. Trusting in God. Trusting God has given us enough—enough resource, enough skill, and the heart-capacity as a community to live out God’s good and loving intention for all creatures great and small.

[1] Initiated by Bishop Susan Johnson in 2018, this four-year series began in year 1 with focus on prayer, year 2 on bible, year 3 on worship and year 4 on love.

[2] In the writings of St Paul especially (e.g., Ephesians 4:11, 2 Timothy 4:5) and Luke (e.g., Acts 21:8)


[4] Luke 16:19-31

[5] Beldon C. Lane, “Taking the Great Conversation Seriously” The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019, kindle edition), p.263

Listen to the voice of creation

Hanging on in faith (photo by Martin Malina, Rialto Beach WA, August 2022)

Every year in September the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada invites members and congregations to join with Christians of various traditions in celebrating a Season of Creation.[1] 

This year’s focus on this theme is: “Listen to the voice of creation.” Our faith calls us to listen to God, and one another. But have you ever considered listening to the voice of the earth, its trees, animals, wind, water? What would creation have to say to us?

Having been outside a lot in the last couple of months, I’ve experienced the beauty and wonder of creation—along rugged coastlines, pristine beaches, in towering rainforests and on peaceful, freshwater lakes. I’ve clapped my hands at astonishingly beautiful sunsets. My heart sang in seeing and hearing the song of a sea lion swimming close to where I stood atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. I can say with gratitude that I am fortunate to have heard a happy voice from creation.

This perspective is positive. It’s like a certain perspective on God—that God should come and be heard and known in holiness, in splendour, in riches, in wondrous miracles, in universal truth, in high, moral standards. You may have looked to hear God’s voice here. As I have in the cathedral of nature. Of course, God is present in all these.

And yet, if ever you’ve camped overnight in a tent listening for the cracks of thunder during a wicked lightning storm, canoed across a wind-churned lake with whitecaps smashing into the hull of the boat, threatening to capsize you into icy cold water, or come across the silent threat of bear tracks on your backcountry hike, you will also know that nature can be chaotic, horrific, threatening and terrifying as well.

What does this say about God? What is God saying to us through the bad things, the scary things, the uncomfortable aspects of nature?

The reality of our lives does not permit only the good, only the glorious. We know, some of us more intensely than others, that life is not just peaches and cream. Even a good life. And our relationship with God, as with nature, is not just some romantic vision bathed in radiant light, some utopian perfection where there is no suffering, no pain.

“God is more feral and blood-spattered and painstricken than most Christians are ready to admit,” confesses American writer and theologian Belden C. Lane.[3]

In other words, both/and. We also have to learn to accept that while we live in the light as people of God, the light always casts a shadow. That’s just reality. There’s always a shadow in the light, and we have to live with both.

An important feature about the parables of Jesus is that he uses this Jewish way of conveying wisdom (called the mashal) and turns it upside down. We notice this especially in today’s Gospel. Because rather than stay in the familiar world of talking about conventional morality, he moves his listeners beyond the safety zone of pleasantries into a world of radical reversal and paradox. He transforms the traditional proverb into parable—which isn’t the same thing as a moral lesson.

The parable’s job is not to confirm but to uproot. You can imagine the effect that had on his audience. Throughout the gospels we hear people saying again and again, “What is this he’s teaching?” “No one has ever said anything like this before.” “Where did he get this?” “Where did he come from?”[4] We feel this tension in the story of the shrewd business manager.[5]

He is a thief and a manipulator. Shrewd, yes, but dishonest and slippery in his dealings. And yet, the rich man commends his manager’s actions. “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,” is the parable’s instruction. The rich man is no example of righteousness himself: He decides to fire his manager before asking for an accounting of the manager’s work. Finally, the “children of the light” are relegated in the parable to a lower status than the more shrewd “children of this age”. 

What are we to make of this harsh word to us? Aren’t we supposed to be all goody two-shoes? Is Jesus justifying immoral behaviour? While our behaviour, good and/or bad, is often the substance—the grist for the mill—of most parables, maybe that’s not the endpoint of the parables. Even this one.

What came to my attention this week is a theme that weaves throughout the bible, and just below the surface in this story as well. Did you notice it? 

We don’t know what happened to those clients of the shrewd manager whose bills were reduced by almost half: The hundred jugs of oil owing became fifty; the hundred containers of wheat owing became eighty. Imagine if your banker came to you today and told you your mortgage is suddenly reduced by half? Imagine your total debt slashed in half! How would you feel? What would you do? Pretty good news, no?

God makes something good out of nothing. Even here. God makes something good out of something that is broken, weak, sinful. God takes a bad situation, a dishonest dealing, and does something good out of it for someone else.

The cross of Christ is the mark of our salvation. And the cross casts a long shadow through history and to the present day. So, it is in the vulnerability, the weakness, the suffering, the loneliness, and the dying of our lives that God comes to us. And makes something good. God has entered our pain and our losses in Jesus, in order to touch us and save us. This is not to romanticize suffering, idealizing it somehow. It is accepting the reality of our lives, even as Christians. 

“There is no pain so great, no loneliness so vast, no vulnerability so low, and no weakness so extensive that it will escape God’s presence,” writes our national bishop, Susan Johnson.[6] There is nothing as bad, as terrifying, as horrifying that will escape the grasp of God’s grace and God’s love. Nothing and no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. That’s the message of the cross of Christ.

All physical shadows are created by a mixture of darkness and light. We cannot see inside of total light or total darkness. As Jesus says to the rich young man, “Only God is good.”[7] And all created things are a mixture of good and not so good.

This does not mean we stop loving other people. In fact it means we actually begin to truly love people and creatures. It means finally accepting and fully owning both our gifts and our weaknesses; they no longer cancel one another out.

We can eventually do the same for others too. We do not let another’s faults destroy our larger relationship with them. While hard work to do this, to perceive it this way, it makes love, forgiveness, and patience possible.[8] God doesn’t need much to make something good out of it. The children of the light only need to offer a small spark for God to get the fire going.

Creation has a lot to say to us. Let’s listen.

[1] Visit for information and resources.

[2]  p.262

[3] Belden C. Lane, “Conclusion: Taking the Great Conversation Seriously”, The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019, kindle edition), p.262-264

[4] Cynthia Bourgeault, Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2008), 23-24,27.

[5] Luke 16:1-13

[6] Donald W. Johnson and Susan C. Johnson, “The Second Article: On Redemption, Day 23, Tuesday”, Praying the Catechism; Revised and Expanded Edition (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2021), p.62

[7] Mark 10:18

[8] The conclusion of this sermon is adapted from Richard Rohr, “A Change of Consciousness: Forgiveness” Daily Meditation (, 13 September 2022)


audio for sermon “Hole-in-the-wall” by Martin Malina

One of the most anxious moments I experienced as a parent was when our youngest went on her first school trip to the local winter festival. She was ten years old. And her class rode a school bus half an hour to Pakenham in the Ottawa Valley.

The class was instructed to pair up with a partner at all times and for all the activities. At the end of the day-long outing they were to board the bus at the appointed time, bound for home.

Except Mika wasn’t on the bus. Upon arriving back at the school and noticing her absence, the teacher-in-charge immediately drove her own vehicle back to Pakenham where, thankfully, Mika was still waiting but in another part of the park.

I remember empathizing with Mika how it felt to be cut off, isolated and by herself—apart from her community. Disturbing, to say the least especially for a young child. And for her parents! Perhaps you too can relate a story from your own life about a time when you or a loved one was lost, left behind, or inadvertently separated from family, friends and community …

On the Pacific North West coast there’s a famous beach called Rialto Beach. Part of the reason it is a popular destination is the ‘hole in the wall’—a passageway carved out of one of the seastacks (the rock formations, like little islands out in the water near the shore line). 

The hole-in-the-wall forms a tunnel that can be accessed by hikers navigating the coastal trail. In fact, it first appeared to me the only way for hikers to continue their beach walk. Because besides the small tunnel underneath, a large, mountainous rock wall blocks hikers from making their way up the beach. To access the hole-in-the-wall, you have to turn towards the ocean and walk out on slippery, uneven and sharp rocks to get to the hole, walk through the tunnel, then back to the beach on the other side.

The trick is, you can only do that at low tide. When the tide comes in, the hole-in-the-wall is filled with water swirling through and crashing into the seastack. At high tide, it is impossible to get through. Hikers on both sides of the hole-in-the-wall are cut off from each other and the path.

This is especially significant for those on the north side where you find most of the camp sites and the trail continues for tens of kilometres up the beach. If you are on the north side at high tide, you’d have to wait several hours before getting through and out of the park. You can be stuck on the northside if you need to get out quickly for whatever reason.

When we visited Rialto beach we didn’t check the tide schedule for the day. We were only concerned about getting to the small parking lot on the southside as early in the day as possible to avoid the crowds. Fortunately, when we hiked the first couple kilometres to the hole-in-the-wall, the tide was very low and we had no problems getting through to the other side. We weren’t intending to hike far up the coast, so we made it back through when the tide was just starting to climb up the rocks a bit.

Jesus tells a story about a sheep who was separated from the fold.[1] There are different levels of approaching this story. But one perspective that doesn’t usually get interpreted is the sheep’s perspective. Why did that one sheep miss the call of the shepherd to gather?

The sheep were enjoying their grass. And then when it got cold, one of them shivered and realized that she had been cold for some time. But the grass was so tasty. Looking around, she suddenly discovered that she was alone. All the others had gone. And she began crying aloud. And then the shepherd, who had many sheep, missed her when he got back to the fold. And he left his ninety-nine to try to find this sheep that was lost. 

In this parable Jesus says, “God is like that.” Nothing heavy and theological about that. Very little that is dogmatic, technically, about it. Just that here is a shepherd who loves each of his sheep. And one of the sheep is doing the most natural thing in the world—and that is to eat the grass—did it with such enthusiasm and over a time interval of such duration that she didn’t know when the shepherd called. And she was lost.

And why was she lost? She was lost because she was out of touch, out of touch with the group that sustained her, the group that fed her, that gave her a sense that she counted. That’s all. And as soon as she was out there alone, she said, “I’m just here by myself. Nothing but me in all of this? I want to feel that I count with the others.”

Insulation—isolation—these are matters of the soul, something spiritual. There’s something inside of me that pulls up, that blocks the way. Sometimes we do it because we’re afraid. Sometimes we do it because we are self-centred and selfish. Sometimes we do it because we’re clumsy and awkward, and we don’t quite know how to establish a relationship or relationships with others that can float our spirit to them, and their spirit to us.

Jesus says that God is like the shepherd, seeking always to find those who are apart from community. And when they have found it, when they have found their community, then all the world seems to fit back into place. And life takes on a new meaning.[2]

Standing in front of the hole-in-the-wall at low tide, I marvelled at the power of water to forge a hole through dozens of feet of solid rock over time. As I reflected on the power of God to make a way through the impossible, suddenly a few pebbles came crashing around us. Initially I jumped back alarmed at the prospect that a rock avalanche was about to bury us alive. As it were, we barely missed being pelted by those plunging pebbles of stone.

But then another thought struck me. There’s a path up there, connecting the two beaches! I hadn’t realized this at first—a forest path farther in that circumvents the rock wall altogether.

But it isn’t an easy path to find. You have to clamber over mountains of dangerous driftwood logs forming a formidable barrier at the beach head. You have to search behind shrubbery and beach stone. The pathway to connect both sides at high tide isn’t an easy way. It isn’t the most convenient. It isn’t a way that costs the least amount of energy and time. 

But there is still a way, even at high tide when the hole-in-the-wall was submerged under thundering surf. There is another way to connect beach hikers separated by the rock wall. Just knowing that gave me peace.

With the power of water over time, God made that hole-in-the-wall. God makes a way for us to connect. God finds us in our isolated, insulated selves, cut off from what is most meaningful to us. And if not one way, God makes another way. Because God is relentless in seeking us out. God provides a path for each of us to remain connected, and find our way, in the different circumstances of our lives.

Even when it appears the way is blocked. Even when we are alone, by ourselves and isolated. By illness, by fear, by our awkwardness, our selfishness. God makes a way for us. And on this way, then, God embraces us in love, forgiveness and peace.

[1] Luke 15:4-7

[2] Adapted from Howard Thurman, Sermons on the Parables, ed. David B. Gowler and Kipton E. Jensen (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2018), p.22-24,25

Flying kites

sermon audio for ‘Flying kites’ by Martin Malina

For one week in August every year the community at Long Beach in Washington State hosts a kite festival. Tens of thousands of people from the Pacific North West and across the continent travel to the Peninsula to witness a beautiful thing: hundreds of kites painting the skies along the long and wide beachfront. 

My family and I were there the week before the festival began, and already we saw several enthusiasts testing their wares and skills at kite-flying.

Practising my faith is like flying a kite. I don’t make the kite fly. But without me doing something, the kite won’t fly. Somehow I must hold the tension in my hands. 

It’s scary. Jessica flew a couple small kites. So did I. When I held the line taut as the wind took it, I realized that flying a kite requires being able to read the wind, know its direction, and respond to its fluctuations in order to launch it and keep the kite afloat. Sometimes it pulls hard, unexpectedly. It is also scary, knowing that if you let go of the string, all is lost—literally. We have to hang on!

A life of faith is not passive. Even though living out our faith isn’t about us, we do play an important role in the much bigger picture. We have a job to do. 

On the other hand, we ruin it if we do too much, move around too much. We need to let the wind and the kite do their jobs, first. Christian faith becomes ineffective when we over do it, over-function, over-react, assuming it’s all up to us. We’ll just end up spinning our wheels and burning out despairing and exhausted from all the effort. 

In a life of faith, we need to live in that tension between giving up completely, and staying in the game. How do we live in that tension, that balance between active and passive, doing and being, taking the initiative and letting go?

Jesus instructs his followers in today’s Gospel “to give up all your possessions.”[1] A challenging word for us, today. And it’s not just one or two things. We can’t compartementalize our possessions. Give up all of it. 

The religious word for letting go is the word, “forgiveness”.[2] The question, then, turns from just material possessions to the state of our soul—our heart and mind, our attitude, our interior state of being. So, what is forgiveness?

We pray together, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” An older version of the Lord’s Prayer goes, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those endebted to us.” This talk of ‘debt’ is helpful and reflects the agrarian culture and economy of Jesus’ day, over two thousand years ago in Palestine when this prayer was first given.

In the bible, forgiveness resulted in forgiving debt. On a regular, cyclical, basis the land and all who were dependent on it were called to forgive. Let the land rest and go fallow for a year. Let those who work it be released, set free, from their endebtedness to you and the land.

This concept of “Jubilee” originated in the Hebrew scriptures out of which Jesus taught.[3]Forgiveness was a radical departure from productivity which is primarily interested in accumulation, profit and securing material possesions for oneself and one’s own.

Forgiveness begins by letting go of our continual drive for private, individual interest and gain. Closely tied to the concept of sabbath, forgiveness calls us to give from a place of release and rest. 

In all our relationships—economic, personal, family, friendships, work, school—we let go of, or at least loosen, our grip on all that we hold onto so tightly in order to give of ourselves and be generous in all our dealings with those around us.

How do we do that? Good question.

On our last day on the Washington coast, we were at Kalaloch Beach, home of the Tree of Life. As we made our way down to the beach—a good distance from us still—we noticed a solitary kite flying high above. But for the longest time we couldn’t see who, in fact, was flying the kite.

Once on the beach, we headed toward where the kite string was moored. To our surprise the kite string was tied securely to a post sticking out of the sand at the high tide water mark. No one, in fact, was flying the kite.

The winds along the coast blow almost constantly. You don’t even need to manoever the kite to keep it afloat—the winds are that strong. The persistent, relentless breezes maintain a kite’s lift and place in the sky. 

The only thing you would really need to do, for the most part, is decide at the onset how far out you wish to draw the string, how high you want your kite to fly. Once the end is secured to the post, it will fly for a very long time without you even needing to do anything.

Letting go of all your possessions is fundamentally an interior movement of the heart we call ‘trust’. Trusting something bigger than you and your efforts. This interior state of trust, then, leads to our generous, compassionate behaviour with others.

Letting go of all your possessions means forgiveness. And it’s not just a one-off – not just in one situation or with one person. Not just on Sunday mornings with our friends. But it’s curating a life of forgiveness on a daily basis, nurturing a regular pattern of forgiveness – in all our ordinary cirumstances and with others we encounter.

So, this letting go is meant to be practiced. Very few of us are born to do it naturally or easily. We need to practice—in the way we pray, in the way we manage what we have, in the way we spend our money, in the way we relate with those closest to us including with ourselves and with God.

And God’s Spirit will continue to blow, persitently, relentlessly, through all our mistakes and missteps, despite and because of our failures. The Spirit of God will always blow through the land, lifting us and all our honest and humble efforts to meet God, lifting us to respond to God’s grace and love in our lives.

[1] Luke 14:33

[2] Richard Rohr, “Letting Go of Our Innocence” in Daily Meditations (, 5 August 2022)

[3] In Leviticus 25, we find the first reference to Jubilee, as part of the law given by God to the Israelites. These verses describe God’s intent that the Israelites should remain free from slavery for all time by instituting a Sabbath year every seven years.

God’s fiery love

Fire’s Transformation (photo by Martin Malina August 2020, Sandbanks Ontario)
audio for ‘God’s fiery love’ by Martin Malina

In the story Jesus tells about building barns and storing riches in heaven[1] the message he gives goes against the grain of our impulse.

Because it’s in our nature to accumulate, to make good, to build bigger and better, to go further and farther, and to make progress. Why wouldn’t we do all those smart things for our lives, if we can and have the resources to do so? Why would we want to go backward when we can go forward? Why would we want to subtract when we can add?

For sure, embracing the good in life is a huge part of being human and of God. Attaching ourselves to what is wholesome, productive and enriching is an important part of our maturity and growth, even in faith.

But it’s the other part that we’re not so practiced in. The subtraction part. And I believe that’s what Jesus is getting at here. He isn’t denying the good in what we can build and produce. But as people of faith we need also to learn how to let go. How to give up without giving up.[2]

In the parable that Jesus tells, the man who stored up riches did so for himself. That was the problem. He needed to learn how to give what he had stored for himself to others.

In 21st century Canada, we have a lot to learn. When well over half of all food produced and consumed in our economy is wasted and thrown out[3], when the self-storage industry has experienced “meteoric growth” in recent times[4], we are a culture that hoards for ourselves things that can be shared. 

We have a tough time letting go, and embracing our fear of going without.

In his book, Young Men and Fire[5], Norman Maclean begins his story on one summer afternoon in 1949 when fifteen young men—smokejumpers for the U.S. Forest Service—were about to leap out of a C-47 flying over the Rocky Mountains of western Montana. They were between seventeen and twenty-three years old, crack firefighters knowing exactly what they were doing.

“It looked like a regular ground fire from the sky. They’d get to it fast, dig a fire line around it, and be out by ten the next morning. That was their usual pattern in working fires. 

“But something unexpected happened that day after they got on the ground. The wind changed direction and the fire went up into the crown of the trees. A crown fire moves much faster, roaring through timber, beginning to sound like a railroad train, becoming a monster as fires in the mountains sometimes do …

“On that day in August, the firefighters suddenly saw something like that roaring toward them as they raced up the ridge toward safety. It was almost a hundred degrees that day already, the hottest on record. They were running up a seventy-six-degree slope over thick dry grass, very slippery. They got within two hundred yards of the ridge, but the fire was only fifty yards behind them and coming fast.

“That’s when Wagner Dodge, the foreman of the crew, did something unheard of. Running out in front of his men, he took a match and lit a fire in the dry grass in front of him. As this new fire quickly burned up the slope, he yelled at the others to jump into its burning ashes with him.

“They thought he was crazy, maybe trying to commit suicide. So they raced on up toward the ridge as he lay down in the hot ashes, covering his face with a wet handkerchief.

“The fire caught thirteen of the others; they died on that August day. Dodge survived, however, as the main fire swept around his burned-out-circle. He was left breathing what little air there still was close to the ground. Who would have thought of escaping a monster by burning a hole in the fire and lying down in it?

“Our natural inclination—whether in wilderness or in daily life—is to flee from the fire, to avoid the painful experiences that come in our lives. Yet God’s way isn’t around the wilderness, but through it. Not in escaping the fire, but in lying down in it.”[6] Not in hoarding or keeping for ourselves, but first giving it away, taking a risk, and letting go.

It may feel counterintuitive to acknowledge our limits and yield to what might at first sound crazy. Why would I give up such-and-such? Why should I let go of my claim to be right all the time? Why should I sell? Why should I give away something without expectation of anything in return? Why should I leave behind something or someone that is near and dear to my heart? Doing that would cause pain and suffering, wouldn’t it?

I believe Jesus wants better for us. But we must be willing to endure the growing pains. We must be willing to practise letting go. And embracing the truth which isn’t always easy to take.

I am struck by the number of times “under the sun” is mentioned in the reading from Ecclesiastes. I counted five times in ten short verses. Maybe this phrase jumps out at me because we find ourselves today in the middle of the exceptional summertime heat across the northern hemisphere of this planet. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?7] Good question. But where is the wisdom in that?

The sun is a gigantic ball of flame. It is fire. The sun represents the Pentecost message of the Holy Spirit descending upon the disciples and people gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost as “tongues of fire”[8]. And it’s not just a feel-good, warm-fuzzy experience. It burns. It heals. It transforms. As every one of those first disciples later discovered.

I want to conclude with a couple of scriptures, first from Isaiah, who wrote these words of promise, protection, and hope: “I have called you by name, you are mine,” God told the prophet. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned; and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God.”[9]

The fire will not consume us, but it will transform us. As the deadwood itself is transformed into the beauty of the flame. And this is the fire of God’s love, God’s passion for us. God loved us in the past. God will love us into an unknown, uncertain future.

In the Epistle reading appointed for this Sunday from Colossians, Paul writes about who we are becoming in Christ. As we face the fires of our lives and are transformed in God’s fire of love our new self … is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all![10]

Despite all our efforts for good or evil, regardless of whether we like it or not, we are being renewed into God’s image. It’s already happening! Even and especially through the difficult times of loss. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is ‘in all’ working the fiery passion of God’s uniting and eternal love for us.

[1] Luke 12:13-21

[2] Jim Green, Giving Up Without Giving Up: Meditation and Depressions (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019)



[5] Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993)

[6] Belden C. Lane, in Chapter 6 “Wildfire”, The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019)

[7] Ecclesiastes 2:22-23

[8] Acts 2:1-13

[9] Isaiah 43:1-3

[10] Colossians 3:10-11

Prayer’s blessing

All is good’ on the Ottawa River at Arnprior (photo by Martin Malina, July 2022)
audio for ‘Prayer’s Blessing’ by Martin Malina

Nina is 100 years old. She lives in the same building where my mother resides. And my Mom told me recently about how two women in their senior years of different backgrounds who never met each other until this year, came to be friends.

The daughter-in-law of Nina had approached my Mom with a request. She said that Nina wanted to talk to someone “about Jesus”. 

So my Mom found Nina one day, sat down beside her, and introduced herself. Nina nodded and affirmed their unity in Christ. “Lutherans and Mennonites, we’re in the same boat.”

“Would you like me to read something from the bible?”

“Oh yes!” exclaimed Nina, “Psalm 23 is my favourite.”

After reading the Shepherd’s Psalm, these two women of faith sang “Now Thank We All Our God” in German, prayed and concluded their time together with the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. A common prayer that spanned centuries, cultures and the globe, brought them together in faith.

“How then should we pray?” the disciples asked Jesus two thousand years ago.[1] And Jesus taught them these well-known words that have united Christians from diverse backgrounds ever since.

It is true, whenever I provide bed-side, graveside, and wedding services today for people I have never met, there is no other spoken prayer in existence that unites us more than the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father …” Even those who have not been at Sunday worship for years can still recite those words by heart.

Simply saying those words that Jesus’ taught, simply saying them outloud with others, is an act of faith and an act of worship that unites us in Christ.

But the basic form of the Lord’s Prayer is not by itself in this Gospel text about prayer. What immediately follows are examples Jesus gives of particular situations that illustrate the nature of prayer which is not confined exclusively to a formula of set words. Prayer isn’t just the Lord’s Prayer, as important as it is. Prayer isn’t just some automatic ritual we robotically mouth. Nor is prayer just saying the right words.

The examples of the friend asking for bread in the middle of the night, of children asking for a fish or an egg—these reflect the context of prayer: that it is always practised in relationship, friendship, love; that it is a matter of the heart and our interior state; and, it is practised in faith, trust, persistence and action.

“Prayer,” writes Richard Rohr, “is being loved at a deep, sweet level.” [2] People who pray always say, “Someone is for me more than I am for myself.” Prayer is grounded in this deep intimacy with God. And this blessing of prayer is available to all people regardless of our unique backgrounds in faith. How so?

In this text from the Gospel of Luke, we encounter the first time that Luke promises the Holy Spirit to all people.[3] Remember Luke is the author of the Pentecost story from Acts chapter 2 that we read every year on Pentecost Sunday—when the Holy Spirit was given to everyone in dramatic fashion. But here in this text early in Luke, it’s the first time we get this notion that the Holy Spirit is promised to all. To those who ask for it, God will give this good gift. 

Why is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, such an important gift—the most important for which to ask God?

Because the message of Christianity is that God is with us in Jesus. And we humans are inseparable from God. The Holy Spirit intimately unites us with God, and with each other, in communion. Prayer, then, is the primary way we connect with God, and where we find unity with one another in Christ. 

I began with a story about my Mom making friends with someone who was 100 years old. Well, I asked her recently about something I needed help with—recalling another relationship several years ago now. When another woman of this congregation was a young girl who came to church with her brother and parents.

My Dad was the pastor here at the time. And he made it part of his ministry to be well stocked with Werther’s candy in his office. And every Sunday that this young girl came to church with her brother, the two of them would stand at the door of my Dad’s office waiting for a gift they knew they would get.

And my Dad would faithfully deposit one or two little candies in each of these children’s outstretched hands. 

Almost twenty years later this girl is now grown up. And Julia is in church today with her fiancé. And wouldn’t you know—I don’t have just a couple little candies to give you today. I have a whole bag!

[And there’s more to come!]

[1] Luke 11:1-13

[2] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2003), p.131,134,135.

[3] Matthew L. Skinner, “Luke 11:1-13 Exegetical Perspective” in David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C Vol 3 (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p.291.

A better way

A better way (photo by Martin Malina 2019)
audio for ‘A better way’ by Martin Malina

In my first parish at St Peter’s Lutheran Church near Stratford, Ontario, the building’s steeple has two large bells in it. One bell is named Mary and the second bell is named Martha. Can you guess which is the bigger of the two?

By design, the makers of those bells wanted to reflect Jesus’ saying in today’s gospel reading, that “Mary chose the better way”[1]. Therefore she deserves the more prominent, bigger place in our buildings and our lives.

Countless debates have raged among Christians contrasting Martha and Mary. Which activity or posture in faith is the better way? Unfortunately the action-oriented folks are often offended by this text!

We are divided over this story because we get stuck in the either-or. Either it is being busy with all the good things that Martha does to welcome Jesus into her home. Martha does no wrong! Or, we must be sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word. Mary does no wrong! So, who is right? And who is wrong? And round and round we go.

The part in this gospel that gets us out of this rut, I find, are the words that precede “Mary has chosen the better part”, when Jesus says: “There is need of only one thing.” Because now it’s not about doing or not doing. It’s not about what it is we do but rather the the how and the why. This gospel story, in the end, is more about examining our approach to the various occupations and activities in which we engage as people of faith. 

First the ‘how’. Let’s get over the false dichotomy. Both Mary and Martha are active in this story. This gospel is about doing the right thing at the right time. This gospel falls in the season after Pentecost when the main theme is how to live in the Spirit of God, how to be in the world and engage our lives with meaning and action. Being active in our faith, somehow.

Francis of Assisi from the twelfth century instructed the friars under his charge that “you only know as much as you do.”[2]

Francis didn’t bother questioning church doctrines and dogmas. He just tried to live the way that Jesus lived. Jesus was someone actually to imitate and not just to worship. Francis wanted to be a gospel practitioner. As the popular paraphrase of a line from Francis’s Rule goes, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”[3]

Notice in the telling of this story Mary doesn’t say a word. Rather, she showed by her actions—she moved her body, sat on the floor and most importantly engaged in the challenging work of listening. Listening to God. Mary is active in her listening.

Not only then ‘how’ we are active, but we must continually assess the ‘why’ of our busy-ness.

During the pandemic I became a big fan of the home office. Not only did I become more efficient and productive using the hours of the day for connecting with people, albeit online, I enjoyed being at home and not having to spend hours in traffic. 

And while, for example, the inperson benefits of meeting others at conventions I missed, the recent national convention of the ELCIC was held over two days online. The work was done, decisions made, prayers offered, and some interactive exercises online made the experience efficient and reasonably satisfying for me. No prolonged hours spent in airport concourses, flying halfway across the country and draining the church budget of thousands of dollars for room and board.

However, there is one drawback of working from home. It’s called the trap of multitasking. From the home office it is a short walk to the kitchen, into the living room with big windows looking onto our bird feeders and flower garden, and then to the laundry room. 

Countless times over the past couple of years I got up from my office chair simply to get a coffee, and ended up emptying and filling the dishwasher, opening a birdbook trying to identify a new feathered friend visiting our feeder, and starting a hot load for the laundry. Before I knew it, I had a dozen things on the go in five short minutes before running back to my office completely distracted. I had to regroup mentally when I sat back down at my desk.

We need to review the ‘why’. Because we have a choice in how we live. The reason Jesus tips his hat toward Mary’s behaviour in this story is found in his words, “Mary has chosen …”. 

Mary made a choice. She made a conscious decision. She didn’t just act compulsively. She didn’t just go-with-the-flow or do whatever felt good. She didn’t let her cultural conditioning take over to do what was expected of her. She didn’t conform to the norms of the day. Mary, in that moment, made a choice. She knew her choice to sit at Jesus’ feet meant that she wouldn’t be doing something else. She took a risk.

These days, I’m spending a lot more time asking myself the ‘why’ questions: Why am I doing such-and-such a task?—actions that I routinely and even mindlessly did before the pandemic. 

But because the rhythm of our lives was so disrupted early in the pandemic, it’s like a reset button was pressed. And now before jumping back in, we are given a healthy opportunity if we take it, to assess why we do certain things. Travelling to conventions might be a great thing and we would conclude it is definitely worth the cost.

And I believe that sort of evaluation is good. Because we may discover a truth about ourselves. Maybe we don’t really want to do some things that we always took for granted as habitual; “It’s the way we’ve always done it” could be our greatest albatross. Mary made a conscious choice to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what he had to say. She did so with intention and awareness of the cost and the benefit.

Finally, in order to become more judicious in our activity, we need to slow down.

This power to act, the power to live a better way, the power to practice faith and align our actions with our beliefs is available to us today! We just need to get in sync with God’s rhythm. Just look to nature for a sense of this—sometimes fast like a windstorm, but also often very slow like a flower budding in Spring.

I have found that those who have sustained their passion and activity in faith over the long run are those who have also learned to slow down. They tend to demonstrate a presence of mind and stillness of being in all their activity. For us to tap into the energy of the Spirit, we also must be open-hearted, slow down and be willing to listen.

By the Spirit of God, Jesus Christ does the right things, good things, in us and through us. As the Body of Christ, the church, we are the hands, the feet, the eyes, the ears, the mouth of Jesus in the world. Because of Christ-in-us, we can do the right thing at the right time. We can say things and not say things. We can act when we can also be still. And through all our activity God is making the world better.

By God’s power at work in us God is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine.[4]God’s power in us can do infinitely more (other English translations: ) /abundantly more /above and beyond more /super-abundantly more /exceedingly more than we can ask or even imagine! This is God’s promise to, and truth in, us. 

Let’s let both Martha and Mary teach us about the nature of our activity. Because Jesus has something very important to tell us. Let’s open our hearts to hear what is being said. Let’s open the eyes of our hearts to see what God is doing. And let’s do something about it, together.

[1] Luke 10:38-42

[2] The Assisi Compilation, [105], in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New York: New City Press, 2000), 210.

[3] Richard Rohr, “The Joy of Not Counting—Practice of the Better” in Daily Meditations (, 10 July 2022)

[4] Ephesians 3:20 NRSV

God, the good neighbour

A soccer ball from the 2002 World Cup in Japan/Korea (photo by Martin Malina)

Vincenzo Alessandro Verner Giaccone. Well, that’s a soccer name! I can just imagine him as a twenty-year-old running down the soccer pitch wearing a jersey with his name on the back; I can just hear the play-by-play commentator shouting his name when he scores: “Gia-cco-ne!”

Well, to inspire that vision, I want to give Vincenzo a gift today. 2022 is a year we should never forget, especially in your family. 2022 is the year Vincenzo was born and baptized. 2022 is also the year of the World Cup of Soccer! 

I hope this 2022 World Cup soccer ball can inspire Vincenzo to work towards becoming an exceptional footy player someday. Who knows?

What excites us is the dream that Canada can be glorious and victorious on the soccer pitch in Qatar later this year. This feeling fuels our sense of national pride. It really gets the juices flowing. Oh, how we want to win and show the world how good we really are!

There’s a long way to go for Vincenzo to realize whatever it is he is made for. But he begins his life in faith, and the community of faith, today, as a baby, hardly able to do anything for himself. He is totally dependent on his parents and family to survive and thrive at this early stage of life.

And it is at this point in his development as a human being and a person of faith that we baptize him. Not when he is in the prime of his life. Not only if he has accumulated wealth and accolades for all the exceptional things he has accomplished thus far. Not if he can impress us. Not at the pinnacle of life, where expectations of glory abound. And pressure.

But as a baby, when all we can worry about today is making sure his diaper is changed and he is fed and praying he will sleep! His faith is being formed in the crucible of human vulnerability and weakness. 

In the famous story of the Good Samaritan[1], Jesus affirms his Jewish identity when he quotes from the Old Testament. He says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” This is the primary law, the great commandment, of the Jewish religion, called the Shema, found in the Torah—the Book of Law.[2]

Indeed, much of the Hebrew Scriptures provides a framework of the history of the Jewish people. What I find remarkable is that the Jewish people, contrary to what might be expected, chose to present their history by including stories about arrogant and evil kings and their very critical prophets. Their scriptures do not just tell their co-religionists and the world how wonderful they are but, rather, how terrible they are! 

There are no perfectly moral people in ancient Scriptures: Even Abraham rather cruelly drove his second wife into the desert with their child; Then there’s King David, the adulterer, and murderer; and,the scheming and depressed prophets. Etc. No other religion presents their history to the world—their ‘family’ narrative—by including intentionally this capacity for self-criticism.[3]

To tell a history—the story of a family, the history of a community of faith, a history of a nation such as Canada—is not to hide all the negative and only showcase the good. It is also to be honest and real about what hasn’t worked, what isn’t perfect or exceptional. To be patriotic is not to gloss over the evils and sins and shortcomings of our history. But to celebrate the good, be honest about the bad, and commit to a better path moving forward.

It is the birth of self-critical thinking, of being honest and vulnerable, that grows us in faith and makes us more authentic people. And that’s what younger people today seek in a community of faith. Not people who think they are right, do things perfectly and try to show how exceptional they are to the world, but people who are honest and authentic, and real. 

It’s quite something that the Samaritan is the hero of the story. It wasn’t a good Jewish boy. It wasn’t someone in Jesus’ clan, tribe and religion. Neither the priest nor the Levite would offer help to one of their own, lying in the ditch, beaten by robbers on the road down from Jerusalem.

The Samaritan was shunned, hated, and reviled by Judaism. Samaritans were outsiders, people to avoid. And yet, the Samaritan was the one who showed mercy. Jesus tells this story to make a point about who is our neighbour, even for our context today. And what is more, Jesus tells this story to show us something important about who God is.

God is the good neighbour. God is the Good Samaritan. For some of you, God may have been distant, someone you wanted to stay away from. Maybe even someone you disliked, questioned, turned your back on.

And for others, God may be someone who, for a period in our lives, was the outsider, someone we didn’t spend a whole lot of time with. These are times of our lives, perhaps, when we feel we have our lives in hand and are doing just fine thank-you-very-much.

Jesus tells a story about a God who won’t be put off by all our human pride and hubris. God will still show mercy especially when we are most vulnerable, weak and in need of help. God comes to Vincenzo today in his infant vulnerability. God comes to us always, even when we are down and out. God is the stranger who will stop at nothing to reach out to all of us, in love. Saint Augustine, in the fourth century, said, “The measure of love is to love without measure.” God loves without measure.

When we pray to God for mercy, we are not asking for mercy from an angry God, eager to mete out punishment. The word, ‘mercy’ in the Hebrew scriptures comes from the Hebrew word for uterus – rachmim. It’s the motherly love of a woman treasuring the child born of her own body.[4]

God comes to Vincenzo today in his infant vulnerability with this kind of love. God comes to us always, even when we are down and out, lying in the ditch. God is the stranger who will show mercy and stop at nothing to reach out to all of us, in love.

[1] Luke 10:25-37

[2] Deuteronomy 6:4-5

[3] Richard Rohr, “Holy Dissent” Judaism: Hasidic Mystics (Daily Meditations,, 1 July 2022)

[4] Belden C. Lane, Chapter Four in “Nature Teachers and the Spiritual Life” Kindle edition, The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019)