Monday, January 26, 2015

Looking Ahead to February 1, 2015 -- Do Not Worry

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 6:19-34

The Sermon title is Stop Worrying!

Early Thoughts:  It is about priorities.  That is what will determine how much we worry, or what we worry about.

And what we end up worrying about also shapes how we live.

If we worry about building up storehouses how does that drive our choices?
If we choose to worry less about having "enough" how might that change our choices?

At the same time, it seems wholly unrealistic to not worry at all about things like "what will we eat" or "where will we live" or what will we wear".  There is trust and faith and hope.  Then there is being hopelessly naive.

Isn't there?

But let us be honest.  Our priorities could sometimes use some realignment.  We probably do worry too much about some things and not enough about others.  And while we are being honest, let us admit that worry and anxiety, particularly over things we can not control, tend to rob our lives of zest.

So maybe we can agree that we should stop worrying so much.  We could trust more.  And we could ask ourselves what is most important in life.

Can't we?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Looking Forward to January 25, 2015 -- Beatitudes and Woes

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Matthew 5:1-12
  • Luke 6:20-26
The Sermon title is Blessed or Cursed??

Early Thoughts:  Blessed or cursed.  Which are we?

I am sitting here on Martin Luther King Day and have just finished scrolling through Twitter posts under the hashtag #MLKalsoSaid.  You can read them here.

And then I go back to the Gospel passages.  And are we the hungry  or the poor or those who weep or the persecuted?  Or are we in the other categories....

Whenever I read Matthew's version of the Beatitudes I, to a degree, hear Luke in my head.  Partly because I prefer Luke's version (well actually I prefer Luke's Gospel as a whole as it is my "favourite" of the four) as I find it strikes closer to the bone.  I suspect it says more of what we need to hear as we strive to be followers of the Way.  Does Luke make clear what Matthew only hints at?  If some are blessed than others are not so blessed.

Dr. King reminded (and continues to remind) us that to live into the Kingdom of God means acknowledging that the world is not currently a just place.  And in order for it to become a just place we need more than minor changes.  Luke's blessings and woes reminds us that there are winners and losers in those changes.

So which are we?  Which should we be?

Or maybe the real question is WHEN are we blessed and WHEN should we understand that we are on the wrong side of the equation?  Because then we can consciously choose to work towards the Kingdom.

Dr. King said that the moral arc of the universe is long but is bends inexorably towards justice.  HOw will we ride that arc?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Looking Forward to January 18, 2015 -- Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 4:1-25

The Sermon title is Who Will He Be? Who Will I Be?

Early Thoughts:  So far in Matthew's Gospel we have learned a variety of things about Jesus.  He has been called Jeshua (Jesus)--the one who saves, and also Emmanuel--God-With-Us.  We are told that the heavens announced his birth as the King of the Jews.  We have learned that John recognized him as the one who would come, the one who is mightier than John, and that at his Baptism the Holy Spirit alighted on him as he was named God's Beloved.  Now what?

Now how will he live out the build up?

One of the things I have always seen in the story of Jesus in the desert is someone figuring out who/how he will be in the world.  And that can not have happened without the presence of the tester.

Because of years of traditions we tend to see the "devil" as someone who is trying to lead Jesus astray, as the demonic face of evil trying to stop the good from triumphing.  I suspect such an image would be foreign to Matthew as he wrote this story down.  It appears that this is more a story of being tested than being tempted.  Not being led astray but refining from a variety of options who he will be, how will he live out the calling of Messiah.

Who will Jesus be?  Will he feed the hungry?  Will he overturn the laws of nature? Will he come in power to rule?

OR will he be something totally different?

And once Jesus gets a clearer picture of who he is he goes straight to work.  Building a following, spreading Good News, changing the world.

Who are we in response to meeting him?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Looking Forward to January 11, 2015 -- Jesus and John the Baptist

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 3:1-17

The Sermon title is A Most Powerful Act

Early Thoughts:  What is baptism?

Is it a washing away of sins?
Is it a Christening, a naming ceremony?
Is it a commitment to live a changed life, a transformative experience?
Is it a membership rite?

OR is it all of the above?

I think the last answer is the most accurate.  Overall.  My fear is that oftentimes in the church we talk about baptism as primarily a naming ceremony and membership rite.  Do we lose the transformative nature of it?

If we remember and embrace that possibility of transformation baptism becomes one of the most powerful acts we have in our faith tradition.

I remember reading long ago that Constantine, though famed for "Christianizing" the Roman Empire, refused to be baptized until just before his death.  There was a time in the church when a baptized person was forbidden from serving in the Legions or as a government official.  Baptism and Imperial rule were seen as mutually exclusive.  To be part of the Imperial system (and especially the Emperor) required one to do things that were antithetical to being a part of the Kingdom of God.  In Saving Paradise the authors point out that there were a number of occupations that were not considered acceptable for those who had been baptized (see page 121).  Baptism was intended to be something that transformed one's life.

Admittedly that is a lot to ask of baptism in a culture where many people are baptized as infants or young children.  It makes a lot more sense to talk about committing to a transformed life when we are talking about adults or teens either getting baptized or re-affirming their baptismal faith than asking that of a person still incapable of speech.

So what is baptism?

In baptism, and in the ongoing discussion and learning and growth that makes for life in the church, we open the door for transformation to happen.  As people of faith we are encouraged to re-affirm, to re-state, to re-new our baptismal faith on a regular basis.  This reminds us of the power of the act, it reminds us to be constantly opening ourselves to God's work in our hearts and lives, transforming us and the world.

That pouring of water is a mighty act of faith indeed!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking Forward to January 4, 2015 -- The Magi Visit and the Aftermath

Happy New Year!

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating communion this week,  with a sung communion prayer.

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 2:1-23

The Sermon title is The Refugee King

Early Thoughts: How might it happen today?

A child is born, who will turn the world upside-down.  People seeking to visit and honour the child inadvertently alert the authorities to his existence.  The authorities then seek to get rid of the threat, forcing the child's family to make a hasty retreat into exile.

Seems probable.  In fact I would guess that similar things (likely involving politically active adults rather than young children) happen on a regular basis around the globe, both in democratic and non-democratic countries.  People who are deemed a threat to the established order are driven out or underground or just simply "disappeared".

Can we accept a refugee  king and saviour?

Amidst the carols and the pageants and the cuteness of Christmas we miss something.  Christmas, the Christ story in general, is revolutionary.  In both Matthew and Luke there is, if we stop to look, the signs of the revolution.  In both Matthew and Luke there are, if we care to notice, signs of the shadow that looms over the whole story.

Early in Advent I mentioned that Jesus is born into the world "just as it is".  But here is the other side.  Jesus is born to change the world.  Jesus is born to herald the coming of the Kingdom of God.  And for the Kingdom of God to burst into existence some people are going to lose, and lose a lot.

Which is why we have a refugee king and saviour.

Which is why we have the slaughter of the innocents.

Which is why there are tears mixed in with the glory of Christmas.

Herod was threatened and struck back.  And since he had no specific target (no laser guided bomb would help him here) he cast a wider net.  He did what those with power have done and continue to do throughout the ages.

Where would we stand now?  Would we wait while the soldiers rampage through the city?  Would we have to be on the run?  Would we accept the refugee "troublemaker" into our midst?

We have no way of knowing if the specific story told by Matthew in today's reading ever happened in history.  But we do know that similar things have happened and continue to happen.  What do we do about it?

Where is the refugee in our vision of the Kingdom?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Looking Forward to December 24, 2014

This Wednesday is Christmas Eve.  And we have two services.

At the first service (6:30) we will hear Linus share the Christmas story, as so many of us grew up hearing him tell it after Charlie Brown asked if anyone could tell him what Christmas was all about.  Then we will hear about A Candle for Christmas and the children (with help from their parents) will be invited to make themselves a paper bag lantern.

Our other service is at 8:00.

We will have Scripture and music, lots of music, and will close with candles and the singing of Silent night in a darkened room.  The handbells will play, there will be a duet between piano and organ, both Junior and Senior Choirs will sing.

The Scripture Readings for this service are:
  • Isaiah 9:2-7
  • Luke 2:1-20
The Christmas Reflection is called Light in the Darkness

Early Thoughts: One of the images used at Christmas is the counterpoint of light versus darkness.  Admittedly it is one the images that makes the most sense in Northern latitudes.  As the days grow short and the world gets darker we put up coloured lights and light candles and talk about the Light of the World being born.

This image is one I have been doing a lot of looking at this Advent season.  Darkness as an image is used for many things.  Many people, at some time in their lives, are afraid of the Dark.  Darkness conceals, you don't always know what lurks out in the shadows.  In both the Lord of the Rings and in Harry Potter the enemy is called the Dark Lord. And in both stories the world gets darker and darker as the story progresses--until the darkness is overcome (it gets harder and harder to watch the Harry Potter movies on our TV because they literally get so dark we can hardly see anything).  And let us be honest, there are plenty of reasons to see the world as a dark (and potentially getting darker) place in 2014.  Our news headlines have not always been the most joyful place have they?

But in the midst the dark world we have a strange star in the Scriptural sky, we have the glory of angel choirs, we have the light shining from the manger.

Undoubtedly there are hazards of the dark/light dichotomy.  It has fed into many unhelpful, unfortunate, and unloving descriptions of people.  And since darkness is part of the creation of which God says "it is good" we do it a disservice to always think of shadow and darkness as points of fear.  But it is a powerful image.  SO what does it mean to us in the here and now?

And if we are people who walk in a time of great darkness, how is light shining on us?  And might we learn something from the darkness?

Lots of possible directions for a short(ish) reflection.  Where will I end up?  SOme and find out!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Looking Forward to December 21, 2014 -- Advent 4

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:
  • Luke 1:26-38
  • Matthew 1:18-25
The Sermon Title is He Said She Said

Early Thoughts:  How did that discussion go?  That one between Mary and Joseph.

It is pure speculation of course.  We have no way of knowing what happened between them when the discovery of Mary's "too soon" pregnancy was made.  Luke tells us the story as Mary experiences it.  Matthew gives us an insight into what happens for Joseph.

But sometime they had to talk to each other...

Mary has a story of an angel and a conversation.  Mary can talk about her (mild) argument with the angel -- "How can this be".  She can share her feelings.  Maybe even share why she agreed -- or if she though not agreeing was an option.

Joseph has a story of a dream.  But before the dream comes his resolution to put Mary aside.  What was he feeling?  Why did he believe his dream?  Whyy did he change his mind?

What if Mary and Joseph each got to tell their story (a mixture of Scripture and imagination) and then turned to each other and talked to each other?  What might that look like?

This Sunday we are going to try and find out.
Will they find consistencies in each other's stories?  Will they have to apologize to each other?  How will they say they found out?  And where do they see God in the whole event?