Monday, May 13, 2019

Looking Ahead to May 19 -- Easter 5 -- Patience & Self control

This is the third of our 4 part series looking at the Fruits of the Spirit.  This week we have paired Patience and Self-Control.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Galatians 5:22-26
  • James 5:7-11
  • 2 Peter 1:3-9
The Sermon title is Wait For it!

Early Thoughts: There is a song whose chorus I often sing (or threaten to sing) to the girls:

It tends to annoy them  but it gets the message across. Or at least it fills some of the time while they are waiting. Maybe I should play it out my car windows while driving?

While we are at it, here is the self control song from that same album:

It is somewhat telling that close to 40 years after learning the songs to Music Machine in Junior Choir (Sunshine Choristers was our name) those are the two songs I remember the best.  Because both are what are often termed "growing edges" for me. Which means they are qualities I sometimes lack.

When I was sitting down and pairing up "fruits" for this series this pairing was one of the first to be matched up. They are such a natural pair.  Being patient and having self-control are very similar attributes. They both are related to delayed gratification. They both are related to remembering that it is not all about me. They both remind me that while there is value to living in the present there is also value in living for the future.

Sometimes it can be hard to wait. We live in a world where "buy it now"  and "one click shopping" is a feature of online commerce. Having to wait, having to go by somebody else's speed or timetable seems so inconvenient.

And then there is ego. IF we are honest we sometimes (often?) want it to be all about us. We want to be able to do what we want when we want. It seems a bit of a slap in the face to be reminded that this is not the case.

The Spirit moving in us and guiding our growth changes us. That is what the Galatians passage is about. Life is about the wider community, not just about the individual. We need to know when to be patient. We need to control our instincts and urges at times. It makes us healthier both as individuals and as a community.

If only it wasn't so hard at times.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

MAy Newsletter (Part the Second)

Every year in Dream House season I tend to indulge myself. Not in imagining what i would be like to win the house – I have never seen a dream house I would actually want to live in, in the off chance I did win one I would rather sell it and find uses for the money. My indulging comes more when I hear the amount of the 50/50 drawn and start to think what I might do with that sort of money (purely theoretical since it is pretty much impossible to win when you never buy a ticket).

My thinking along that line often starts with looking around the house and realizing all the things that should or could be done inside and outside. That gets a little overwhelming pretty quickly. So then I think about the church and what we might do if we won a large sum of money.

That list depends on the amounts I choose to dream about. With a few million I dream about finding a partner and embarking on a major redevelopment. With a few hundred thousand I dream of what we might do with our current building both in terms of changes to the building and programs we could co-sponsor (all my dreams eventually get to finding community partners to work with).

In both sets of dreaming I tend to set priorities. At home it might be a new roof, or a redone kitchen, or a driveway that is not terribly cracked and shifted. At the church it might include redoing the flooring in the basement, or upgrading to all LED lighting, or finding a solution to the water under the building that causes it to shift so much. But I know what I would want us to do first.

One of my dreams is to redo the audio-visual capacity of our sanctuary. The organ needs work (new speakers at the least). Having the projector hung from the ceiling would both allow us to get a brighter, larger unit which will show pictures better but also mean that those of us who walk along the chancel won’t blind ourselves every time we walk past. Currently only one of our speakers is working (that has been true for about 4 years now) and playing a video is always a roll of the dice as far as audio goes.

My dreams include new speakers (I see four in the sanctuary space to balance out the sound). And a new sound board so we can have more options for microphones or instruments. And a booth at the back where the sound could be controlled along with where the Power Point would be operated from. And new organ speakers in the short term – as the organ console is 40 years old a decision about whether to replace it will be needed within the next generation.

My dreams are expensive. I know of one congregation with a slightly larger space than ours who spent about $100 000 on audio-visual redevelopment. So we might do some picking and choosing. The first step would be to have someone who knows about these things give us a list of options. But I do think it is something we need to consider. Not only would it enhance our life as a worshipping congregation, it would also enhance our ability to host concerts or speakers or movies or other events in the sanctuary. Ten years ago this congregation wrote in a Joint Needs Assessment how the acoustics in the sanctuary made it a good site for concerts. It was and is true. We could make it better (which would be an offering to the community and a possible revenue source).

May Newsletter (Part the First)

Where Are We Looking?

It is a spring evening. A group of 15 and 16 year olds are gathered in a small upstairs classroom in Downtown St. Albert. We are there for our first classroom session in the Driver Training program. After ascertaining how many of us have already had at least one in-car session the instructor asks if any of us had been told to stop looking at the center line on the road. As I recall many or most of us had been given that instruction.

How could the instructors tell where we were looking?

Because when you look (especially if you look intently) at something for too long you tend to aim at it. When student drivers focus too much on the center line then the center of the car tends to end up going over that marking. Instead we were taught to aim for the center of the lane, not to stare at it, you still have to keep glancing around and be aware of your surroundings, but to aim for that, keep the car there, don’t stare at the line.

The irony of course is that we would have been carefully watching that line to make sure we stayed on the right side of it.

I think the same principle holds in much of our lives. The place we direct our focus, whether we do it because that is our goal or because that is the place we want to avoid, tends to be where we end up steering. Add in interpretive factors like optimism vs pessimism and if we aren’t careful we will end up in totally the wrong lane – or even the wrong place. So where are you looking?

As life comes along at you where are you looking? Are you spending too much time looking in the rearview or side mirrors? Are you shoulder checking so carefully that you don’t realize the wheel is turning as you turn your head? (Full disclosure, this was a mark of my early driving lessons) Or are you keeping an eye on what is behind or on either side but maintaining a primary focus in front of you. Not too far ahead, but farther than the tip of the bumper. How is that determining where you end up?

I think this idea of looking in the right direction, the idea that where we look is where we steer, applies to communities as well. If we as a community spend too much time looking back at some “Golden Age” we might find ourselves running off the road. If we spend too much time looking enviously at neighbours who appears to be doing ‘better’ (whatever we think better might mean) we might miss the place we need to turn. If we focus on those things that we think limit us we might steer directly towards them. If we stare at what is directly ahead of us we might miss what is farther out and fail to plan for what may come later.

Of course the challenge when having this discussion in community is that there are so many pairs of eyes. More pairs of eyes to have different ideas of where we should be looking and so we may bog down debating where we need to focus. At the same time the benefit of doing it in community is there are so many pairs of eyes. Some people can look to the sides and share what they see. Some can look behind and remind us from whence we came. Some can look right in front of the bumper to keep us in the moment. Some look farther down into the distance to see what is coming up. And some sit in their seat and scroll through Google Maps dreaming about where we might end up.

So where are we, the congregation of St. Paul’s United Church, looking?

As a part of the visioning discussions of the last year we were asked where we saw this congregation in 5 or 10 years. That, I think, was the most important question we asked. Where is the road taking us? Do we want to change the path? That, I think, is why when Karen and Paula first presented the results to council they had us look at the answers to that question first.

Where are we looking? Are we looking at where we once were? At where we are worried we might be headed? Or at where we dream to go? As a community of faith there is another big question. Are we looking at where we want to go or are we looking for signposts of where God wants us to go? What do we see in all those various directions?

We tend to go where we are looking. It was true for that group of teenagers starting driver training. It is true for individuals planning their lives. It is true for communities. Together, let us try to look in the right direction, so we head that way.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Looking Ahead to May 12, 2019 -- Easter 4 -- Peace and Gentleness -- Christian Family Sunday (aka Mother's Day)

This week marks the end of our Sunday School year and so we will be celebrating graduates.

This week our Fruits of the Spirit series has us looking at Peace and Gentleness.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Galatians 5:22-26
  • John 14:23-29
The Sermon title is Peace I Give...

Early Thoughts: As followers of Christ we are called to be people of peace. We are challenged to treat each other gently. How well do we do that?

This week's passage from John's Gospel comes from what is called the Final Discourse, the section of teaching that lies immediately before the story of Good Friday and Easter. Preparing his closest friends for his imminent death Jesus offers them peace that flows for Jesus. Later, after the tragedy of the cross and the triumph of Easter, the Risen Christ will greet those same friends with the words "Peace be with you". AS followers of Christ, people who have been touched with the presence of Christ, the peace of Christ is a part of our being, part of how we act in the world.

Which is one of the reasons Christians have traditionally included a time in worship to greet each other with the words "May the Peace of Christ be with you".

I think gentleness goes with peace. To me gentleness is about attitude and presentation. It is not necessarily about content. Sometimes to be people imbued with and passing on the Peace of Christ means we are not "nice". But we should always be gentle.  Sometimes we have to share hard truths, give hard messages. That is not usually counted as being nice. But we are not called to be jerks about the hard messages. WE have to continue to recognize the other as a sibling, one of God's children and treat them with respect. To me that is what gentleness means. And in the end I am not sure we really grow peacefulness if we are not gentle. Forceful and strong when needed but gentle. Velvet and iron together at times.

I think we sometimes forget the gentle part in favour of forceful and strong. And so we may fail to be peacemakers.

Other times we forget the forceful and strong in the name of being nice or getting along. And again we fail to be sharers of the Kingdom's Peace.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Looking Forward to May 5, 2019 -- Easter 3 -- Kindness and Gentleness

During the Easter Season we are going to work through a series looking at the Fruits of the Spirit as Paul listed them in his letter to the Galatians. Paul listed 8 fruits (well sort of as there are 8 things listed but the word fruit is actually singular in translations that use the metaphor -- the Jerusalem Bible simply says "the Spirit brings") and we have 4 Sundays available for the series so we will look at 2 each week.  This week we look at Kindness and Generosity

Also as this is the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating Communion.

The Scripture readings for this week are:
  • Galatians 5:22-26
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
The Sermon title is Gently Growing Kindness

Early Thoughts: Be kind. Be generous. Sounds like pretty common advice doesn't it?  One of the things that came to mind as I was starting to think this morning was this song:

Yes technically the song is about being humble and kind but it seems to fit. (Lyrics here). To be fair there are lines that resonate with a number of the "fruits" we will look at over the next few weeks.

 One of the possible sermon titles for this week that I considered and discarded was the phrase "Sharing is Caring". TO me Kindness and Generosity are often two sides of one coin.  Can we truly be kind to each other if we are not also generous, if we don't give something? That something might be money or some other object that can be held in the hand (this passage from 2 Corinthians is taken fro ma section where Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to contribute to a fund he is collecting to support the Christian community in Jerusalem). It might be time. It might be something else. It isn't necessarily that 'what' that is important, it is the act of giving. I am tempted to say that to give is to be kind and that to be kind is to offer something.  While you can give without being kind (Premier Ralph Klein throwing money at people in a shelter comes to mind, though I am not sure that counted as giving) the reverse is not, to me true.

The challenge, of course is to know best how to be kind. What is the best thing to give? What is the best way to support? Don't think I will be able to fully resolve that in one sermon.

Jesus challenged/encouraged/exhorted/commanded us to love our neighbours both as we love ourselves (Matthew Mark and Luke) and as we have been loved (John). Being kind and generous of spirit is a part of that. And PAul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. I read that as saying that God prefers us to give, to be kind, to be loving not because we are commanded but because we choose to.

How will you be kind today? How will you be generous? How will you nurture kindness and generosity in your circles of the world?  Somehow I suspect the Time with the Young at HEart this week will be about Random Acts of Kindness....

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Good Friday Reflections 2019

7 Words From the Cross

Word #1 Luke 23:33-35
Our first word, sometimes called the word of forgiveness. AS Jesus is hung on the cross, as he is being mocked and the soldiers divide up his few possessions as they would the spoils of war, he offers a word (a prayer?) of forgiveness for those who have abused and murdered him. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.
But they do know what they are doing, don’t they? Depends how you look at it. Because we sometimes think we know what we are doing when something else is happening too. The leaders and the soldiers know that they are trying to keep the Roman Peace by disposing of a troublemaker. Jesus suggests that unknowingly they are doing something else. For centuries that thing they are being forgiven for, because they don’t know they are doing it, is the murder of the Messiah, the execution of the Son of God.
Forgiveness is a big part of how we are brought back to be at-one with God and with each other. Sometimes that forgiveness is when we know what we did. Sometimes it is when we don’t know how we screwed up. At the time of his death Jesus continues to remind us of the power of forgiveness. He continues to model what it means to forgive when it is not easy. When do we need to hear the words “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and know that we are a part of ‘them’? When do we help put people on crosses, when do we mock those who have been offered up?
God of grace and mercy. Today we remember that we all fall short of who we could be. Today we remember that we all need to forgive and to be forgiven. Open our hearts to your grace. Open our hearts to your mercy. Help us admit our failings, help us hear when we didn’t know what we were doing. We pray in the name of Jesus, who shows us that we are forgiven. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #2 Luke 23:39-43
A 2nd word, one of salvation. Following close on the word of forgiveness comes the promise of paradise. Crucified beside Jesus are two “criminals”, maybe common thieves but likely brigands or rebels. One of them joins with the crowd, the other has mercy in his heart. Maybe this speaks to why they got themselves where they are? Was the first in it for himself while the 2nd had loftier ideals?
At any rate the honesty of repentance, of naming the truth seems to be a part of salvation. Can we only truly embrace the Kingdom of God when we are willing to acknowledge who and where we are? Only then can we open ourselves to the grace and mercy of God, only then can we, as they say, throw ourselves on the mercy of the court.
The Kingdom of God is among us, Jesus said. The Kingdom of God is open to us. But we have to open ourselves first.
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. We echo the ancient words. We throw ourselves on God’s mercy as we open our hearts to the reality of God’s Reign. Or we want to at least. God help us to be that vulnerable and honest. In a world where we are told that anything goes to get what we want, help us know when that is wrong. Help us be able to accept our consequences. And then help us know that we are welcome in the Kingdom after all. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #3 John 19:25-27
What is life without relationship? Our relationships are, hopefully, the places where we find support and comfort. We all need people who will care for us, we all need family. Sometimes family is by birth, sometimes it is by choice. In this 3rd word, sometimes called the word of relationship, we are reminded of the importance of family.
This word also reminds us to always watch out for those we love. I suspect many of us would become a little bit self-absorbed were we hanging on that cross. But Jesus sees people in pain, people in need of love and acts on it. Maybe Jesus’ mother and the Beloved Disciple would have made that connection on their own. Maybe not. Jesus leaves nothing up to chance.
When do we need someone to step in as adoptive family and ease our pain? When do we need to adopt someone? Jesus calls us to care for and love each other. Whose pain can we share in our world today? Where can we build relationship?
God who loves us as a parent, we give thanks for the loving healthy relationships in our lives. Help us know when we need to open our hearts and welcome another in. Help us know when we need to allow ourselves to be welcomed in. God who calls us to live in relationship, may we be ready ad willing to share the joy and sorrow, the triumph and defeat of life with the people around us. Help us God to treat as family, everyone whose lie we share. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #4 Mark 15:33-35
Have you ever felt totally alone? It is not a pleasant feeling. And in the end it doesn’t really matter if you are really as alone as you feel, being told that you are not alone may do nothing to change the feeling. Sometimes emotion trumps logic.
Over the centuries people have struggled with this word of abandonment. Surely Jesus could not have really felt abandoned by God, even at this hour of despair! Surely Jesus always knew himself help in God’s love! Surely Jesus, being God, could not possibly be abandoned by God!
At the same time Christian theology has always held that Jesus is fully divine AND fully human (even if Christian theology has never been able to make that statement make logical sense). To be human is to know those times when you feel alone. Jesus has seen most of his friends run away, as he had predicted. Jesus has been tried and convicted. Jesus is dying an agonizing death Feeling abandoned by everyone, even God, makes sense to me.
We are not alone, we live in God’s life in death, in life beyond death God is with us. We are not alone” Our United Church Creed reminds us of a great truth. But there are still times when God’s people feel abandoned. Looking at the world there are lots of times when it makes more sense that God has gone away, than to say God is still there and yet all this horror still exists. WE can tell our selves that all of creation is in God ad that God is always with us but have trouble seeing the evidence this is true. And emotion can trump logic, heart can trump brain. Do we have the courage to name the depth of feeling that comes with being abandoned?
God in whom we live and move and have our being, there are days. Days when we feel alone, lost, left behind. On those days move in our souls, stir the fire of hope in our bellies, remind us of the great truth—that we are never alone. Even when the world does terrible things, even when we can not hear your voice, we trust that you would never truly abandon us. It just feels that way, and we need you to know it. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #5 John 19:28-29
Words 4 and 5 have moved us into the agony of the cross. First that word of emotional distress. Now this word of physical distress. John tells us that Jesus says this to fulfil Scripture. I tend to think that after a few hours in the Palestinian sun Jesus likely was thirsty (part of that fully human thing).
On a metaphorical level I think Jesus has been thirsty for a long time. Furthermore I think Jesus wants us to be thirsty too. Thirsty for the wine of justice, thirsty for the water of righteousness. Sadly I think that too often we settle for sour wine. Too often we think sour wine is all we have to give.
Every year I spend some of my time around Good Friday considering the crosses in our world. Whenever we accept those crosses as “the way things need to be” I think we settle for sour wine, a fluid that does not really satisfy at all. Maybe we should demand the good wine, the fresh water that heals and satisfies, maybe we should look to see what we have to offer to those who hunger and thirst for justice, peace, righteousness – for the Kingdom. In John Jesus begins his ministry in the town of Cana at a wedding where the wine has run out. At that point his mother pushes him to do something about it and solve the thirst problem. Now it is Jesus who is thirsty. What will we do? What will we offer?
God who first moved over the waters of creation called forth life, we thirst for the water of life. We pray both that you will slake our thirst and, at the same time keep us thirsting for the good wine, for the fresh water. In a world where “good enough” is often seen as the standard push us to work for the better. In a world where so many hunger and thirst push us to work to see them fed in body and in soul, as we live into the Kingdom of abundant love. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #6 John 19:30-34
Counter-intuitively this penultimate word is called a word of Triumph. Triumph, as Jesus says it is finished and gives up his spirit. Does that make sense? Then again this day of a dark ad terrible story is called Good Friday, which also seems a bit counter-intuitive.
Where is the triumphant note in the last breath of Jesus? Some suggest that a better translation is in fact “it is competed” or “it is accomplished”. Do those other verbs say something different? They are all verbs of ending, but the latter two may lead us to that note of triumph.
Finished” could just mean an end, but ‘completed’ or ‘accomplished’ suggest work that has been done. There is a strong theological tradition that the work which is completed is the sacrificial death for the forgiveness of sins. This is certainly a possible reading of Scripture. I also think a reading is that the work of Jesus’ life is now finished/completed/accomplished. Jesus has done what ho could to proclaim and bring on the Kingdom of God. The next steps are not his. They may be God’s, they may be those Jesus taught and led, but he has done his part.
Still the only triumph I find in this part of the story, especially if I put myself in the context of not knowing the “rest of the story”, is the triumph of the powers and principalities. The powers that actively work against the Reign of God have won. They have stopped the revolution. “It is Finished” could also be “well we tried, but now we’re toast...”. I wonder what those standing on that hillside understood it to mean?
God of beginnings and endings, what is finished today? You call us to resist the powers and principalities but so often they seem stronger, better organized, better supported. So often they draw us in and we give in to the easier path they offer. What is accomplished on this day? As we move forward as people of faith help us to see the possibility of victory and not give in to defeat. Help us play our part in the growing of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. Amen.
A Candle is Extinguished

Word #7 Luke 23:44-46
Our final word. Luke’s version of the dying words of Christ. Tradition seems to view it as the counter to word 4. The abandonment expressed in Eloi Eloi Lama Sabacthani is now reversed as Jesus dies with words of trust that God is present “”into your hands I commend my spirit”. If Jesus was abandoned by God they are now reunited.
Is it a sign of hope?
Is it a sign of surrender?
Is it a sign of trust?
Is it all 3?
On this Good Friday we have listened as Jesus dies on the cross. We have heard his words as shared by the Gospel writers. Now we come to the end. Just as Jesus was confident in the loving presence of God throughout the story to this point he dies in that same confidence. I see hope and trust there. Where God is present there is hope – even if it is really hard to see. As it stands now the sinfulness of the world seems to have won. All those things that work against God’s Reign are powerful. That is as true today as it was in the 1st century. It is dangerous to upset the system, to challenge the “way things are”. But sometimes tat is were God leads us. May we have the confidence and trust of Jesus when we challenge the powers, when we are consumed with passion for the kingdom. God is in that activity.
God of the cross, God present at the end, God who awakes passion in us, we come to the end of today’s story. It brings us sorrow. It makes us wonder what it was all worth. But still you are here. Still you are here. Keep us filled with passion for the Kingdom when the way is hard. Keep us looking toward Jesus when our confidence fails. Give us the courage to risk a cross of our own, and we we have given it our all may we still have trust in you ad your Reign. We pray in the name of the one who hangs on the cross. Jesus of Nazareth. Amen


Monday, April 15, 2019

Looking Forward to April 21, 2019 -- Easter Sunday

This week we reach the pinnacle of the Christian year as we walk with some women to the tomb of their murdered friend only to find something amazing.

This year we will hear the empty tomb story as told in Luke 24:2-12.

The Sermon title is Dawn

Early Thoughts: It is a story we hear every year. It is the story at the heart of Christian faith. Every year when I read it I try to imagine what it must have been like to not know the story. What would it be like to be a part of that rag-tag group of disciples who are sure that the great journey has come to a sudden catastrophic end? "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

Just  before this the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee have stayed at the cross to the bitter end. It was they who knew where the burial had taken place because they were the only members of the group who had stayed around log enough to see it happen. Now, after Sabbath has been observed, they come to properly honour the one they followed, the one they loved. The text tells us that it is early dawn, but I often wonder if that is only a meteorological comment.  At this point have the first rays of dawn been able to to pierce the shadow of death that lies on their hearts? Are they still deep down in the valley? I suspect so, it is only logical that this is true.

Then suddenly dawn breaks through. They find an empty tomb, which must at first have confused and horrified and terrified them. Only then does the great surprise get shared. "He is not here, but has risen". I now envision the excitement (and confusion and probably still a bit of fear) as they rush back to the rest of the group to share this news. The first evangelists, the first witnesses to God's great act of Resurrection are these few women who had the courage to stay at the cross, to watch the burial, and then to go out early in the morning. Without these women would Easter have happened?

It is telling that at first the men do not believe dawn has come. Luke tells us they consider it an idle tale. After all it made no sense. Who could believe it? But eventually they each come to see those beams of light breaking through the darkness. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

I often think that Easter suffers because we know the story so well. I think because we know the whole cycle we lose the effect of dawn breaking. And that is to our detriment, because we really need to see dawn break. There are many things that lead us into the valley of shadow. What brrings us back into the light of dawn?

Where do you need the promise of resurrection and life in your world? What shadows does dawn's early light need to chase away?