Monday, October 20, 2014

Looking Forward to October 26, 2014

The Scripture Reading this week is 1 Kings 3:4-28

The Sermon title is The Gift of Wisdom

Early Thoughts:  What is wisdom?  What makes one wise?

Early in his reign Solomon is commanded by God to make a request.  "Ask what I should give you" God says.  Is it an offer or a test?  Apparently a test--one that Solomon passes.  Solomon asks for "an understanding mind" instead of wealth or power, and this so pleases God that in addition to wisdom Solomon is promised "riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you".

But what is wisdom?

The second half of our passage is one of the stories that purports to show Solomon's wisdom in action.  And it is a story many of us have heard many times over the years.  A version of it shows up in a Cosby Show episode (doesn't work there) and another version of it shows up in an episode of Murdoch Mysteries (with more profitable results).

Wisdom is threatening to cut a baby in half? defines wisdom as:
the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.

So wisdom is not necessarily about knowing all the facts.  That is knowledge.  But many of us know people with lots of knowledge but little wisdom.

Wisdom is something deeper.  Wisdom is aided by facts and knowledge but wisdom allows/helps/enables us to make best use of those facts.  Wisdom comes from an ability to see deeper, to put the pieces together, possibly in a wholly different order, and see the picture as a whole.  In some ways wisdom comes from age and experience.

Where do we find wisdom in the world around us?   Do we always recognize it at the time?  OR do we sometimes look back and see/understand the wisdom that was shared with us decades before--that we thought was really weird at the time?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Looking Ahead to October 12, 2014 -- Thanksgiving Sunday

The Scripture reading this week is Joshua 24:1-18

The Sermon title is Thank God! Serve God?

Early Thoughts:  After the conquest there is remembering.  And in the remembering there is a reminder.  Thank God for where you are, God has led you to this place and here is everything God has done for you.

Remembering is, I think, an integral part of thanksgiving.  Remembering is what clears space for us to say thank you.

But Joshua takes it another step.  Joshua challenges the people to not only remember and be thankful, but to serve.  In essence Joshua challenges them to put their money where their mouth is.

I want to encourage us to make the same challenge.  We are fairly good at reminding ourselves (periodically if not on an ongoing basis) how we have been blessed.  We are fairly good at reminding ourselves to say thank you.  But as people of faith our story and tradition pushes us to take the next step.  Do our actions show that we understand ourselves to be living in service to God? Or do our actions show that we understand ourselves to be living in service to ourselves/our families/some other god?  Which comes first?

If God is the source of our blessings, of our abundance, of our life then what is the appropriate response?  Service, says the faith story (Joshua and Moses and the Prophets and Jesus all appear to agree).  Commitment, says the faith story.  Putting God first, says the faith story.

What does it meant to say, as Joshua does, "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"?  How do we live that out?  I think it is shown in how we use the blessings and gifts we have been given.  What we do with our time, our talent, and our treasure shows who we serve.  I also think it shows something of the depth of our thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Letter to the Ministry Personnel of Northern Lights Presbytery

To my friends and colleagues in Northern Lights Presbytery:

Did you know that October is Pastor Appreciation Month, (also known as Clergy Appreciation Month)?

I had never heard of such a thing until about 6 years ago when I got a card from the Clergy Support Network in celebration of it. Apparently it was started by Focus on the Family 20 years ago and has since been adopted by Hallmark as another reason to sell cards.

To tell you the truth I am of a mixed mind about Clergy/Pastor Appreciation Month. Mainly because I think the supposed need for such a month shows how poorly we do as faith communities of living the Gospel. If we lived our faith fully then we would not need to be reminded or have special times to say thank you to our clergy, to our volunteers, or to God.

But I am also a realist. And I know that sometimes we DO need to be reminded to show our appreciation to others, we do forget to say thank you. As I often say to couples during pre-marriage discussions, it isn't that we intend to take each other for granted, it is just that we fall into a routine and we forget, and it seems that we take each other for granted sometimes.

So as this month begins I wanted to take time to say thank you to all of you for all that you do. As we all know, ministry is a career with many blessings and also many burdens. There are long weeks full of difficult meetings, there are times we hear stories that break our hearts. Then there are the blessed moments where we are invited to share the deepest moments of others lives, where we experience the wonder of sharing deep discussions about life and meaning. Then there are the myriad “other duties as required” that we are not always sure anybody notices we did.

For all these things I say thank you. For the service in your local community, for the time spent on the work of the wider church, for the many ways you live out your faith day by day, for all the times you were sure no one even thought about saying it I say thank you. Each one of you is a gift to the church, a gift to your community. And trust me people notice. They may not say it enough, but people notice.

God bless you all as you live out your ministry!

And yes, Happy Pastor/Clergy Appreciation Month!!

Gord Waldie
Chair of Northern Lights Presbytery

Or here is the Video Version....

October Newsletter

Let us talk about money.

I know I know, it isn't considered a proper topic for polite company. But then some would say religion is also not a topic for polite company and the church talks about it all the time.

On the 14th of September I shared a dream. I shared my dream that we would one day be able to use the “Christmas Miracle”, the large upsurge of givings that happens in most churches in November and December not to balance the budget for the year but for special projects, new ministry. The only way that dream comes to reality is because givings (and other revenues) for the whole year keep up with expenses. On September 21st there was an insert in the bulletin that let people know that the year-to-date deficit as of August 31 was $30 000.

What was I thinking?

I knew we were running a deficit for the year (but had no idea what size it was). But the thing is I truly believe that my dream is achievable. Honestly I do. I have that much faith in this congregation.

It is hard to take my dream seriously with the numbers in the bulletin this week. It would be easy to start to worry. After all, we are more in the red this year than we were last year at this time and last year we burned up most or all of our accumulated surplus. But I choose to be a person of hope. I honestly believe that if this congregation chooses we can not only overcome our current deficit but we can start to expand our ministry possibilities. But only if that is what we choose.

For me a deficit is always a symptom, never the problem. Certainly it looks like the problem. It is right there in black and white (or black and yellow given the colour of the bulletin inserts). But it is really a symptom of some deeper cause.

At one level the cure is easy. We need more money. Which means the same number of people giving more each, or more people giving, or (preferably to be honest) both of those things. And I truly believe both those things are possible to a greater or lesser degree.

But there is something deeper. How do we invite and encourage folks to commit themselves to the church with their money and their time (remembering that we have some committees that exist in name only)? What is that we are doing which intersects with the passions and needs of the people in our congregation and with Grande Prairie at large? How are we changing the lives of each other and our neighbours? How is God working through and in us as we share the vision, the passion, the hope of Jesus?

You see I think those questions are the deeper ones. I think if we live out our faith, if we can then share the difference made by committing time and energy and money to the church then my dream will come true. We will never balance our budget or fill our committees by making presentations on the need in worship, though that is part of it – we need to let people know what it takes to live out our shared ministry. We will balance our budget, fill our committees, and more, when we catch the fire of the Spirit and hold the torch high. When we live out our faith and our ministry, when we carry ourselves and our understanding of Christ to the world we can set fire to other Spirits.

Yes we balance our budget, we share in Christ's ministry in the world, by sharing the gifts we have been given. But more important is that this is how we live out our faith. And that is the more important part. The work of God is not about a balanced budget. The work of the church is about allowing God to transform the world through us.

Let's do that. I believe it will change the budget picture, but even if it doesn't, we will be more faithful to those who have gone before us by burning brightly than by spending all our effort keeping the fire burning.

Are you in it with me?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Looking Forward to October 5, 2014 -- Worldwide Communion Sunday, The 10 Commandments

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17
  • Matthew 5:17-19
The Sermon title is 10 Simple Rules for Living in Community

Early Thoughts: Living in community can be hard.  That's why we have rules.

The 10 commandments are a central part of how we, as a covenant community, understand what it means to live with each other and with God. It is a matter of great debate how much they impact our civic legislation, because many of the precepts we find in them, particularly the last 6 which talk how we treat our neighbours, are found in law codes from other areas (such as the law code of Hammurabi).  So maybe some of these are truly universal, and not a result of Judeo-Christian thought...

But we live in an era that seems to chafe at rules.  Well sort of, we routinely click OK on terms and conditions of websites without reading or questioning the rules and regulations and permissions they include.  But rules tell us what we can't do, and the idol of personal freedom and independence tells us that we should be able to do whatever we want.  (Admittedly this plays out differently in different generations and at different ages)

DO we still think rules are important?   And if so why?

Jesus tells us that he comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  Christian freedom does not get rid of the rules (if anything Christian freedom places more restrictions as Jesus goes on to say in the Sermon on the Mount).  If we are going to live in community we need to name that without rules we have anarchy.  And anarchy means the weakest among us will be left on the figurative ice floe to drift away and die.

So how do we live in community?  How do we deal with the need both to have rules about how we live and the need to challenge/discuss those rules to ensure they are accomplishing their purpose (or to ensure that purpose is worth accomplishing)?  This week we will have a bit of that discussion, using the "Big 10" as our starting point.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Looking Forward to September 28, 2014 -- Crossing the Red Sea

The Scripture Reading this week is Exodus 14:10-14, 21-29

The Sermon title is Does God Take Sides?

Early Thoughts:  It is a truth that the God we meet in parts of scripture isn't always the God we talk about in the 21st Century.  For much of the story in the Hebrew Scriptures God is NOT the ruler of the whole world, YHWH is a family/tribal/national God.  And like in much ancient mythology God takes sides, God fights for God's people (and in later parts of the story it could be interpreted God chooses NOT to fight for God's people to teach them a lesson), God protects God's people, God defeats the enemies of God's people.

Is this the God we come to know in Christ?  Is this the God who is revealed to us in the scope of Scripture and the witness of the communion of saints?

I am not sure it is.  My experience and understanding of God goes far beyond protection of my tribe/nation.  And yet we regularly hear of sports teams praying that God would be on their side.  And there is a long tradition in multiple faiths of people going to war in God's name -- a tradition which continues to this day. 

At the same time the theology of a God who fights for and protects us leads us into some difficult theology.  If God is on our side why do our loved ones die too young?  If God is on our side and the other side insists that God is on their side how does that work?

So does God take sides?

I defer to the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln who pointed out that the important question was not whether God was on our side but if WE were on GOD's side.

But still I think it is important, as people who live in covenant, to remember that God is there to support and protect--and challenge--us.  There is comfort in knowing that, as the United Church Creed strongly proclaims, We Are Not Alone.  Even when the murdering hordes are thundering across the plain and our backs are to the sea God is there.  Maybe not to wash away all the threat.  Maybe to challenge our understanding of whose side we are on.  But God is there.

And that is Good News.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Looking Forward to September 14, 2014 -- The Promise of Land

A reminder that both Sunday School and Youth Group start this Sunday.  So does Junior Choir.

The Scripture Reading this week is Genesis 12:1-9

The Sermon title is Whose Land is It Anyway?

Early Thoughts:  In his novel Exodus Leon Uris describes the area we now call Israel, Palestine, and Jordan the "twice promised land".   And that is just in the era that the British were in charge of the area....

(for more about this video see this post)

God says to Abram, "Get up and Go!".  God promises to lead him to a land where he will have many descendants who will be a blessing to the world.

Great plan.  Only problem is --- there are already people living there.  So it always has been, not only on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, but many other places in the world.  So how do we know whose land it is anyway?

For most of human history the land has been the basis for wealth and power.  That changed a bit with the Industrial Revolution, as many British noble families learned the hard way.   To have land means you can utilize the things the land produced, and sell the surplus for cash to get other stuff.  To have land has often meant you had a population of serfs/villeins/slaves/sharecroppers you could use as either a labour force or a fighting force.

Land is important.  Land is life.  Land is future.

But most often land is also occupied by somebody else.  Then what?

In the Middle East we still have battles over the "twice-promised" land -- just last month there was an uptick in the violence.  Whose land is it?

I would argue that "Whose land is it anyway?" is a question that we as Canadians need to feel pretty sharply as well.  Because it is only when we ask ourselves that question and look at all it means to talk about land that we will seriously start to work on rebuilding our relationship with the descendants of the people who lived on THIS land when our descendants arrived on these shores.

15 years ago we had a lot of talk in the church about the Jubilee year and the forgiveness of national debt.  Part of Jubilee is also returning ancestral land to the "proper" owner (which in Deuteronomy and Leviticus means the Tribe/Clan/Family of Israel that the land was given to after the conquest--not the Canaanites who were there before Joshua led the people over Jordan).  I remember a couple of people in the congregation where I was serving my internship note that we did not talk nearly so much about that aspect of Jubilee in the Canadian church.  I wonder why that was so true.....