Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer 2015 Letter to Northern Lights Presbytery

Brothers and Sisters:

Greetings in the name of the Threefold God!

I trust that you are all enjoying your (hot and dry) summer. Hopefully you will find time during this season to rest and be re-created. Hopefully you will also be re-awakened to a sense of what God is doing in our midst as we look toward the future.

As I sit here preparing for my own vacation time (36 hours away but who's counting) there are a couple of prayer concerns I thought I would share with you all.

The first is weather related. Yesterday morning Parkland County declared a state of emergency due to drought and grasshopper damage to crops. Several communities are starting to issue water-use advisories. Campfires are becoming a thing to save for another year, And for the last several days our news reports have been filled with reports about the wildfire danger and activity in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan – wildfires that may only really be extinguished when the snow comes in October/November. As much as we may enjoy nice clear days on our vacations, let us also remember the desperate need for moisture, I ask all of you to pray for those whose lives are disrupted by drought and wildfire this summer.

Close to our lives as a faith community are the prayers we hold for General Council. Hard as it may be to believe (except perhaps for those wading through hundreds of pages in the workbook), in just a month and two days GC42 will have met, deliberated, and dispersed. As we know, the commissioners have been entrusted with a weighty topic in the report from the Comprehensive Review Task Group, along with many other pieces of business that is coming before them. We join with United Church folk across the country to hold them in prayer. And we trust that they will be open to the voice of God as they deliberate and discuss and decide.

If you go to the GC242 website (http://www.gc42.ca/) you can not only read the workbook but find out more about the Prayer Pilgrimage we have been invited to join in as the commissioners prepare for the meeting. Also the Moderator, the Right Rev. Gary Paterson has been posting an intriguing series of blog posts lately to get people thinking about what it means to be the church. Gary's blog is at http://www.garypaterson.ca/.

Then after the summer will come the fall. And the work of the church will continue. Our Fall meeting (September 25-27) this year will take us up to meet and visit with the folks of Hillcrest United Church in Fort Nelson. There is a possibility we will also schedule the Covenanting service between Northern Lights Presbytery, St. Luke's United Church in Fort St. John, and the Rev. Louise Hart on that same weekend. Watch for an e-mail from Martha with more information. At that meeting we will not only do our regular work but are hoping to hear some more about the Truth and Reconciliation process. And of course we are building in a substantial block of time to hear from Bev and Margaret-Anne about what happened in Corner Brook and to discuss what they share with us.

As I leave you to enjoy the rest of your summer, one small advertisement. The Banff Men's Conference this year is a month earlier than traditional. It will be the weekend before our Presbytery meeting. The theme this year is “Finding Kanata in our partnerships with indigenous people”. Information and registration forms can be found on their website http://banffmen.org/ and we will be back at the Banff Centre this year after being in Canmore in 2014. It would be nice to see a number of folks from this area in attendance (which reminds me that I have yet to register myself).

May you feel the creating and re-creating power of God flowing through and around you this summer. May you feel the loving presence of the Risen Christ guiding you. May the Spirit set a fire of hope and faith and possibility in your hearts and souls as we all strive to live together as followers of The Way.

See you in a couple of months!

Gord

Monday, July 6, 2015

Looking Forward to July 12, 2015

The Scripture Reading this week is Psalm 146

The Sermon title is In God We Trust

Early Thoughts:  There is an old joke about the sign in the country store:
In God We Trust
All Others Pay Cash

It is a nice play on words around credit and who gets it.  But I think it also speaks to something deeper in our lives of faith.

The Psalm reminds us that even when others break trust with us God is still reliable.  In fact the Psalmist reminds us that we should be wary about putting our trust in other people.

One of the recurring themes of Scripture, both the Hebrew and Christian Testaments, is that God is faithful, that God is working to create the world as it could be.  In Christian terms we call this the Reign or Kingdom of God, which indeed is what Jesus was all about.  And we are called to trust that God is doing this, that God is correcting injustice, that God is in charge.

However I think it is sometimes a challenge to trust God.  Because to fully trust God means surrendering control.  It means taking a leap of faith.  It means opening ourselves to a whole new way of being in the world.

Can we do that?
--Gord

Monday, June 29, 2015

Looking Ahead to July 5, 2015

The Scripture Reading this week is Psalm 40:1-10

The Sermon title is Sing! Rejoice!

Early Thoughts:  The old hymn asks "How can I keep from singing?"


This week's Psalm is a song of praise for life being returned to an even keel.  And what else can one do but sing?

Over and over again Scripture tells us to sing, particularly to sing a new song.  Music touches and speaks for our heart in a way very different than spoken or written text.  We sing our praise, we sing our hope, we sing our way out of fear.

I remember a few nights at camp in the midst of severe thunderstorms.  What did we do?  Well sometimes we played indoor games.  But sometimes we just sang.  We sang every song we could think of.  Largely to distract from the thunder and wind and lighting but also because it gathered us as a community.  We sang our way through the storm.

God calls us to sing.  How indeed can we keep from singing?
--Gord

PS:  Many years ago U2 made a song using the words from Psalm 40.  The story about how that came to be is found here.  ANd here they are singing it...


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Sort of Country? -- A newspaper piece for July 3, 2015

Every year, on the first of July we pause and celebrate the country in which we live. But I want us to do more.

I want us to ask ourselves what kind of country we want Canada to be, and then to ask how WE –not our governments, not our leaders, WE the people of Canada – are going to make that happen. I also want us to ask ourselves how we are not the country we want to be, how our history and our present show that we have missed the mark.

For many of us the answers to these questions are shaped by our understandings of the Divine, by our understanding of what sort of a community God would have us create. Who has God created and called us to be?

This year these questions in my mind take on a new urgency. At the beginning of June the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report which outlines a program of cultural genocide, an attempt to eliminate First Nations as a group within the population. This program was led by the government and openly supported and aided by the church community. The report names our past and our present as a lived reality of racism. European and Christian arrogance about what it meant to be “civilized” led us to do things that shock and sicken many modern readers.

Is this what God called us to do? To denigrate our neighbours? To make them second-class citizens in our midst? To create and maintain systemic racism that continues to echo in our present?

I would say no. I would say we have missed the mark. I would say God is calling us now to repair the damage that has been done and to build healthy relationships.

Years ago the fathers of Confederation were wondering what to call this new country. They chose the term 'Dominion' based on Psalm 72 verse 8:
May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. The hope was that the country would indeed stretch from seas to sea and from the St. Lawrence to the northern ends of the earth. Psalm 72 sings about the king and the kingdom. I wonder what else it might have to say...

How about these (verses 4, 12, 13, 14)?May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

In light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report we need to ask: “have we formed a country that meets those criteria? Or have we turned our back on our neighbours, oppressed them, chosen not to deliver and help them?”

As a country we stand at a turning point. We can choose what kind of a country we will be. We can choose how we will live together.

It may not be easy. We will have to hear and accept hard truths about who we have been and who we are. We will have to acknowledge that true reconciliation and change will be a long process.

To use “churchy” language, we need to confess our sins, we need to name what has been done and what is happening and name who benefits and how. We need to repent, to turn around, to go another direction. We need to be willing to let go of old understandings to allow new understandings to rise up. What needs to die so that new life can appear?

I think we as a country are up to the challenge. I think God is calling us to embrace the challenge. I think that in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report God has given us a real opportunity to grow a new understanding of who we are as a country, as a community.

My fear is that we will be afraid or unwilling to take up the challenge, to make use of the opportunity. My fear is that we will be not be ready to face the reality of racism in our midst. My fear is that some will say it “costs too much” to bring about true change, to build healthy relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Canada turns 150 in two years. What kind of a country will we choose to be by then? How will we show the choices we have made? What kind of country is God calling us to be?

Happy Canada Day!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Looking Ahead to June 28, 2015

The Scripture Readings this week are:

The Sermon title is Wait! Trust! God is Here!

Early Thoughts: Where do we turn when life seems to be getting exceptionally difficult?  How do we deal with the hardships of life?

Obviously there are many answers to that question.  But for people of faith a clear option is to look to God.

The Psalms are often called the "hymnbook of the Bible".  And just as our hymn books contain a songs about a variety of topics so does the book of Psalms.  But one of the recurring topics in both collections is the idea that God is with us, that we can trust in God, that we are not alone.

Sometimes we might need to wait a bit.  Sometimes our trust might be tested (either because of the waiting or because we seem to be getting answers we do not like).  But the faith story reminds us that God is with us.  The Faith story reminds us that our strength comes from God.

To state the obvious, life is not always easy.  There are hurdles big and small in the way.  But God is there.  God does not give us on us.  We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.
--Gord

Monday, June 15, 2015

Looking Ahead to June 21, 2015 -- Lament, National Aboriginal Day

The Scripture reading this week is Psalm 69:1-16

The Sermon title is Truth, Repentance, Recovery

Early Thoughts:  Sometimes the only appropriate reaction, at least as a starting point, is to weep and wail, to Lament.

Lament is a classic Psalm form.  It is a classic part of faith life, albeit one that we don't seem to give much time for anymore.  When life seems to be falling to pieces, when all seems lost, then it is most appropriate to lament.

Interestingly, in the Psalms often the lament involves blaming/accusing God for the sad state of things, even as they often assume that God will help find a way out of the situation.

What do we have to lament?

It strikes me that we have a big cause to lament.  In light of the TRC work that is ongoing I think it appropriate that we join our brothers and sisters in lamenting the great harm that has been done in our name.

In the face of an accusation of Cutural Genocide offered not by a radical activist but by a Judge who chaired the TRC and by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada I think we have to lament what has happened.  We have to lament the ongoing effects of a long-standing policy of assimilation and integration.  We have to lament a relationship that is certainly broken (although I might argue it was never "fixed" to begin with).

We have to lament the image of a non-indigenous society that was sure they were only doing what was right for their neighbours (along with all the paternalism that went with that assumption), an image that has been shattered as we are forced to look at things in a new light.

ANd then, once we have lamented, the hard work will continue.  We have to build or re-build a relationship.  We have to relearn our history and our understandings of it.  WE have to find the way to reconciliation, beyond apology, beyond truth-telling, beyond injury and compensation, lies actual reconciliation.  The only questions are: do we have the will for the hard work?  an how long will it take?
--Gord

Monday, June 8, 2015

Looking Forward to June 14, 2015

The Scripture Reading for this week is Psalm 113.  Though we are likely going to use this responsive version.

The Sermon title is fairly simple-- PRAISE!!!

Early Thoughts: It is one of the basic parts of following a theistic faith.  It is one of the basic forms of prayer.  It is a big reason of why we gather together to worship.

Praise

What do we have to praise?  Why do we sing songs of thanksgiving?

It seems that we might miss some things in our lists.

WE often will give thanks for family, food, fellowship, friends.  We might remember to add in housing and security.  Maybe we might include government services and supports.

It would be common for us to praise God for beauty, sunrises, mountain vistas and prairie skies.  Maybe we praise God for the artistry of a piece of music, or a dance, or a painting.  Possibly we offer songs of praise for life itself.

What might we be missing?

Change.  Transformation. Turning the world upside down.

We need to praise God for God's vision.  We need to sing praises for God's possibilities.  We need to be thankful that the Kingdom is coming in all its fullness.

That is what I think we forget.

What do we praise?  What will we praise?  Why do we sing?
--Gord