Sunday, September 16, 2018

Looking Ahead to September 23, 2018 -- Week 4 of Creation Time: Water

This week will conclude our Season of Creation Time.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Psalm 104:1-9, 24-35 (VU p.826)
  • Revelation 22:1-5
  • Matthew 8:23-27
The Sermon title is Uisce Beatha

Early Thoughts: Water of Life. That is what those words from Irish Gaelic mean (they also happen to be used for whiskey in both their Scottish and Irish versions -- according to Wikipedia at least):
Uisce beatha (Irish pronunciation: [ˈɪʃkʲə ˈbʲahə]) is the name for whiskey in Irish. The equivalent in Scottish Gaelic is rendered uisge-beatha.[1] The word "whisky" (as spelt in Scotland) or "whiskey" (as spelt in Ireland) itself is simply an anglicised version of this phrase,[2] stemming from a mispronunciation of the word uisce in Ireland or uisge in Scotland. It should be remembered that Irish and Scots Gaelic developed as unwritten languages and had no standard spelling until more modern times so the difference in spelling likely has little to do with mispronunciation; though according to the Whiskey Museum in Dublin, Ireland, the different spelling began as a marketing decision (for increased pricing) - other companies followed the trend. This development may in turn have influenced the Modern Irish word fuisce ("whiskey"). The phrase uisce beatha, literally "water of life", was the name given by Irish monks of the early Middle Ages to distilled alcohol. It is simply a translation of the Latin aqua vitae.[3] 
 As we know water is essential for life. It is also a sign of life.  That is why there is so much time searching for signs of liquid water on Mars. If they find water there is a chance they will find life, there may even be a chance someday we could find a way for Mars to support human life (though I think the latter is a little more far reaching).

Water is also an integral part of our faith story. In Genesis 1 the story begins with the Spirit of God moving over the waters of chaos. Later in genesis we have the story of Noah and the flood. Throughout the Patriarch stories we find oases. Isaac and Jacob and Moses all find their wives at wells. Then later Moses leads the people to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea and Joshua leads the people into the Promised Land through the waters of the Jordan. In between Moses finds water for the people in the midst of the desert so that they will not die.

Turning to the Christian Scripture we have more water. John the Baptist baptizes with a baptism of repentance in the Jordan, John then baptizes Jesus. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus turns water into wine at the beginning of his ministry. In that same Gospel, in Jesus' longest conversation with one person, Jesus meets a woman at a well and discusses water -- both the water in the well and the "living Water" that Jesus manifests. Many of Jesus' teachings take place on or beside the water -- including the passage we read this week about a storm at sea. And the faith story ends with the river of life flowing through and from the New Jerusalem.

It seems that water is important. It is a vital gift from God to the people of God.

Even in practical terms we know water is important.  Most of the Earth's surface is covered by water, though most of that water is not suitable or available for drinking and irrigation. Our bodies are mostly water (I remember a Star Trek: TNG episode where an alien contact referred to the Enterprise crew as "ugly bags of mostly water").

If water is so essential to Life why have we done so poorly by it? We in Grande Prairie, like most people in Canada have the luxury of turning on our tap and getting clean safe water. Not everyone in Canada, much less around the globe has that luxury.

If water is life, if water is a gift from God, how might we best honour the gift and support Life?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Looking Ahead to September 16, 2018 -- Creation TIme Week 3 -- Air

A reminder that folk are invited to bring their backpack this Sunday for a Blessing of the Backpacks

The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
  • Psalm 19:1-6
  • Psalm 148:1-6
  • Jeremiah 4:23-28
The Sermon title is What Does the Sky Reveal?

Early Thoughts: Next time you are outside, look up. What do you see? What does it tell you?

The sky can reveal many things. Many of us have at least a beginning ability to predict (or at least guess) what the weather might be be looking at the sky.  Some of us have developed that ability more than others.

Some of us look up at the sky to see if it is safe to go out side.  Think of our smoky days this summer and remember that there are people for whom that air was not just inconvenient but dangerous. And many people used language like "apocalyptic" to describe those skies [As an aside, I have been told that one of those really bad days in the Edmonton area had air quality that was the same as a bad day in Beijing.Given that Beijing is noted for poor air quality at the best of times that is really saying something.]

Some of us look up to see if there is a plane coming in to land or taking off. Or to see if the geese are heading south (or north depending on the season)

We look for all sorts of things in the sky.

But think of the glorious hues of a sunrise or sunset. Or maybe the sun peeking out from behind a storm front. Or maybe a rainbow, or even better a fire rainbow. Or the thousands of twinkling bits of light on a clear night. OR a giant moon that makes you want to sing Sinatra

What do those images reveal?

Might they reveal God's presence? Might they push us to think beyond what we can see to the God who is within and beyond all things?

The Psalmists certainly thought so. To them the sky revealed God's presence just as much as the Torah did.

The apocalyptic passages of Scripture, those ones that talk of destruction and the "end times", often talk about the sky as well.

What does the sky reveal to you? What might it reveal next time you look up?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Looking Ahead to September 9, 2018 -- Creation Time Week 2: Soil

This Sunday marks the start of the Sunday School program for this season.

The Scripture Readings are:
  • Genesis 2:4-15; 3:17-19
  • Luke 12:22-29
The Sermon title is From Dust Comes Life

Early Thoughts: From a pile of dust and a puff of the Spirit comes... life. And when the breath departs we return to the dust. WE are a pile of dust (stardust some will say)

There is something about dirt. It fascinates many a child (and bothers many a parent to be fair). There is something about playing in the dirt that draws many of us. Maybe it is adding water and making mud pies. Maybe it is taking a stick and drawing pictures. Maybe taking a chunk of clay dug from the ground and turning it into a pot or statue. Or maybe we are ambitious enough to take some rock and some tools and carve a figurine (or in the case of ancient Ethiopia a whole church). But something within us knows that dirt can become...something. The second story of Creation in the book of Genesis tells us God knows that too.

Dirt is the source of life. Dirt is, in the end, where most of our food comes from (especially if like me you do not eat fish or seafood). For most of human history land (which tends to be made largely of dirt) has meant life and wealth. Maybe we need to regain our love for dirt and mud and dust.

We live in a world where we have been told the dirt is a problem. We have so bought into the line the cleanliness is next to godliness that dirt must be far removed from godliness...right? But God creates life from dirt. Life continues to come from dirt. And in the end we are going to become dirt again. Maybe there is some holiness in the dust on every flat surface in our house after all...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

September Newsletter

This month I sit down with an unusual problem. Often I have to scratch my head to come up with a newsletter topic. This month I have 3.

One idea is to reflect on some of the decisions and discussions that happened this summer at the 43rd meeting of the General Council. One idea was to talk about something co-developed by our new Moderator the Rev. Dr. Richard Bott. Working with Dave Anderson Richard developed a resource to develop discipleship using the acronym U.N.I.T.E.D. The third option sprang from an article that Sharon shared at our August Council meeting about Radical Sabbath. Upon reflection I think I will go with option 3 (and likely use option 2 in the October Newsletter since worship in October will have a Stewardship focus).

I am guessing most people have heard about the idea of Sabbath. After keeping Sabbath is one of the 10 Commandments.. The question is “what is the best way to do that?”

The article Sharon shared talked about a church that went very radical. They challenged folks to keep sabbath by not even having worship every second Sunday. Instead folks could take a day off. Not another day to get caught up on errands but a day to release and relax. To quote from the article: “They spend every other Sunday doing things that bring them joy. There is one rule: whatever you do on Sunday you do it out of a desire for joy – if it’s an obligation, it’s not Sabbath.”

That is extreme. But it raises some questions. What does it mean to take Sabbath as a time the reinvigorates, a time that adds joy to our lives, a time when we step back from the busy-ness of life and gain a different perspective? Does the way we currently do church help us do those things? And if it doesn’t then how should we change the way we do church?

Having read the article Sharon shared with us and the article that it itself references (you can read the latter here: it is obvious that the congregation was not giving up on worship. They were trying to re-imagine what it means to be the church. And it seems to have worked for them. I am not convinced that it would work for everyone, there may be something gained but also what might be lost. I am more interested in the questions it raised in my mind, not the specific solution that congregation chose to try.

We live in a culture that contradicts sabbath time. We are told that we have to be achieving something all the time. And the church is not immune to that. I think we need to make a choice, largely as individuals but also as a community. I think we need to make a choice that we will set out time to be “non-productive” (though I believe such time turns out to be highly productive in other ways). Which is hard, I know that I rarely, if ever, have a full day where I just do things that provide joy. And even if I did would I be able to stop thinking about all the other stuff that needs to be done? I admit to having trouble envisioning what it would mead t set a whole day as sabbath time. I am going to guess that I am not alone in that.

So the first thing I think that we can do as part of how we “do church” is ask ourselves how we can support each other in trying to create “non-productive” time. One way to do that is to help make at least the church part of our Sunday more like sabbath time.

Churches tend to think that since we are all together on a Sunday it is a great time to get the business of the church done. Sometimes it is through formal meetings (I have heard of churches who have Board meetings on Sunday afternoon). Most often it is through informal meetings and conversations over coffee (or during the Passing of the Peace). I am challenging all of us to covenant with each other that our Sunday gatherings will be set aside for worship and community building. We will commit that any business or planning that needs to be done can wait until a phone call or e-mail or visit on some other day – but we will not try to schedule those things in our conversations on Sunday mornings. I think it is a first step in how we can help make our time together solely about revitalization and building our relationships with God and each other. I also think it will be harder than it sounds.

We are told that keeping Sabbath is part of God’s plan and hope for us. We are told that it is good for us. One step at a time let’s try to help each other actually do it.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Looking Forward to September 2, 2018 -- We Look at Creation

This is the first Sunday of the month and so we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

For the next four weeks we will be looking at issues around the Care of Creation from a faith perspective.

The Scripture Reading for this week is Genesis 1:1-2:3 (the Priestly hymn to Creation)

The Sermon title is God’s Gift, Our Work

Early Thoughts: It is a song of praise to the Creator, that first chapter of our Scripture story. It is not a science text. It is not a history lesson. It is a song of praise and thanksgiving, and then ends with a charge to the humans created at the end of the song.

At the end of the cycle, as humans are created they are given the task of filling the earth and "subduing" it. Humans, the ones created in God's image, are given dominion over the created earth. It is a weighty task. And I would suggest we have not done well with it.

Even more so I would suggest that, despite the amount of environmental awareness in our media today, we are getting worse with each generation. Some would say that is because we are addicted to things that use energy (both in creation and use) and that those of us in the West [maybe especially in North America] have become addicted to an unsustainable standard of living the we call normal. There is truth there. I am sure I use far more energy and resources now than a person of my age and social position did 30 years ago. But I think there is something deeper. I think that many of us have become, to varying degrees, isolated from the environment. And so we have less appreciation of the gift and less of a drive to take on the work of caring for it.

I think we need to re-develop a connectedness with the creation and the Creator. After all it has always been a tenet of Christian (and Jewish I believe) theology that while God is revealed in the Scriptures and in Christ, God is also revealed in the creation. And so to learn all we can about God we need to connect with creation. It is my belief that if we truly connect with the world around us it changes our priorities and thus our actions.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Looking Forward to August 26, 2018 -- The Armor of God

The Scripture Reading this week is Ephesians 6:10-20

The Sermon title is Suit Up

Early Thoughts: What on earth is Paul talking about here?  I think it is largely about faith and trust, those things that give us power and wings as we fly about in the world as followers of God.

It appears that Paul understands that there are forces in the world that work against the Kingdom of God. And Paul calls those of us who follow Christ to stand against those forces. But when those forces seem so plentiful and strong how can we do that?

For Paul, the answer is to put on the armor of faith.  We stand in God, we trust in God, we have faith that God is with us. And therefore we can stand firm as agents of the Kingdom.

Obviously there is no store where you can order the breastplate and the belt and the shoes of which Paul speaks. No armorer on the planet can forge for you the shield and helmet and sword. It is a metaphor, it is a way of calling us to think differently about how we are clad (and in my experience how we are clad can make a change in how we present ourselves to the world). If we think we are defenseless against the powers an principalities then it is harder to resist them. When we believe that we are armored and defended then resistance gets easier.

Despite the very martial imagery of these words this is not necessarily a call to warfare. I do believe it is a call to resistance. I believe it is a call to arms. But I don't think we suit up and sing "marching as to war". Paul is writing to a minority group who do not have the ability to march to war against the Empire. How do we resist?

Just this morning on the Edmonton news was a story about a racist tirade sparked by a parking dispute. When we suit up in the armor of God how do we resist racism?

We live in a world where there are clear haves and have nots. Suiting up, how do we resist the idea that this is how it always must be?

In a world where "truth" seems to becoming a very fuzzy concept, how do we suit up in Kingdom clothes and proclaim truths (the ones we like to hear and the ones that are hard to hear)?

As followers of Christ we are called to be agents of God's Kingdom which is here among us and also yet to come in fullness. Suit up and live as citizens of the Kingdom.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Looking Forward to July 8, 2018 -- Finale of Job

This week we read the last bit of Job's story Job 42:7-17

The Sermon title is Right Restored?

Early Thoughts: In the beginning Job was wealthy, incredibly so.  Then disaster struck. Now at the end Job's life and wealth are restored. So all is right with world?

Or maybe not? Does returning all that Job ever had and then some make up for all he has lost? Can what he has lost simply be replaced? I doubt that.

But is that what is happening? How does right get restored after great damage is done? And what gives Job the gumption to go ahead with a new life after all that has happened to him?

Maybe trust. Trust in the God who has been proven to be present in all that has happened. Trust in the God whom he has met face to face. Trust in the God who allows Job to lament and rant full honest expression if his feelings. Trust that God will continue to be present.

The book of Job never answers the "Why do bad things happen to good people?" [or the corollary "why do good things happen to bad people?"]. But it does teach us something about how we could possibly respond to tragedy in our own lives. And it suggests that sometimes we might come out of the trauma with a new life. Sort of a resurrection story?

And yet it is a bit about restoration. I don't mean the restoration of wealth (though that happens) or the restoration of family (though that also happens). I think that the relationship between God and Job as been restored and repaired as well. Partly because I think that restored and repaired relationships are a major part of how we live through trauma into new life.

So maybe right has been restored after all?

PS: Of note about the end of this story is the fact that Job's daughter's in this new life are named in the text (a relatively rare event in Scripture) but also that they are given a share of the inheritance after Job is gone (thought to be VERY rare in the ancient world).  Also the Masonic-linked organization Job's Daughter's takes its name from this story.