Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Support Letter for HIV North

The local HIV North Society is having to appeal a zoning ruling that would force them to move out of the offices they moved into in late summer 2015.  This is a letter in support of them:

It was with great disappointment when I read this in the October 22 issue of the Daily Herald Tribune Itwas a blow that hit HIV North like a hammer Tuesday when the City ofGrande Prairie's community growth committee unanimously denied theorganization's application for a discretionary use development permitto redesignate its office as a community outreach facility”. Just the previous Thursday I had been to their Grand Opening and was very impressed with the space and how it was set-up. So I read more. And my disappointment grew.

I note in the article that city administration, the RCMP, CMHA and AHS all support the application and that the Downtown Business Association has no objection. I realize that we now live in a culture where the voice of experts is sometimes seen as suspect, but I think we need to listen to those with a deeper understanding of the needs of the community. I also note that (in what I think is a very good thing) the new office is in close proximity to the Downtown and to the Salvation Army Outreach Centre. In fact I would suggest that this is an ideal location for the office as some of the clients served by HIV North would also be served by the Salvation Army.

And to be honest I find the arguments against the location far from convincing. I find it hard to believe that in the short time this office has been open there has been that dramatic an increase in loitering and criminal activity in the area. After all the Bear Creek valley is just across the road and, as already noted, that Salvation Army was already in the local area.

Here at St. Paul's we have been partnering with HIV North for several years now, offering our space to host some of their programming. In that time I would not say that we have had any greater issues with loitering or criminal activity. In fact their presence has added to the list of resources to which we can refer individuals who appear at our door.

I suggest that the people are not there because the agency is there. The agency is there because that is where the people are. And which is better, to have people needing support in your area and the support several blocks away or to have people needing support and the support just around the corner?

These services need to be offered somewhere. No matter where there will be some neighbours (residential or commercial) who are uncomfortable with having an agency associated with HIV close to them. That is a fact. But the question I want to ask is one of the greater good. Is the greater good served by granting this request? I believe it is. I would agree with the editorial by Diana Rinne (also in the October 22 issue of the DHT) who lays out a strong and cogent argument in favour of this location. I hope people read Diana's words and take them into consideration.

I urge council to overturn the decision of the community growth committee.

Rev Gord Waldie

Monday, November 23, 2015

Looking Ahead to November 29, 2015 -- First Sunday of Advent

The Scripture Reading this week is Isaiah 40:1-11

The Sermon Title is Promised Hope Conquers Lived Despair

Early Thoughts:  What are the words of comfort that we need to hear?  What is the lived despair that needs hope to come in and conquer it in 2015?

Have you noticed that there is almost never a shortage of despair? Just like there is always something to worry about, there always seems to be plenty of signs that all is lost.

Maybe a close friend or family member has been "downsized".

Maybe you have had to stop reading news about refugees, or terrorist attacks, or bombing strategies.

Maybe you or someone close to you has had to deal with racism, or sexism, or some other ism.

Maybe it is the crime rates in town lately.

What robs you of hope?  What makes you wonder if God is still active?  What makes it hard to see the road through the wilderness?

This is the world into which Christ is born.  This is the world into which God speaks words of comfort and hope and promise.

These verses from Isaiah were spoken first to captives, exiles, a long way from home.  Exiles removed from the place where, they had always been told, God lived, the place where they could meet God. And then the Word comes to them speaking of comfort, of pardon, of return, of home, of Good News. Into the midst of their despair came hope and renewal.

What is the Good News we need to hear?  What is the word of hope and comfort that will rebuild the highway? What will defeat the despair we see around the world every day in our news feeds and lead us to the the top of the mountain to shout out good tidings (which shall be for all people, for unto us is born this day...)

Highway building is a lot of work.  Maybe there is muskeg and swamp to be dug out, dirt and gravel to be moved around, chasms to be bridged, blockages to be worked around or blown apart, but in the end...

What will start us seeing the roadway where once was only wilderness and mud and rock?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Advent Preview....

Been doing some pre-work for Advent today:

Advent 1 (November 29)
We start Advent with the Sunday of Hope. The sermon title is Promised Hope Conquers Lived Despair. Years ago the people of Israel and Judah were in exile.  They wondered if God had abandoned them. Then they heard words of hope.

What is the source of our despair in Grande Prairie in 2015? Why do we need to hear words of hope and comfort? If Christ were to be born here and now what would we want done?

Advent 2 (December 6) [This Sunday will include Communion]
We light another Candle and we pray for peace.  The sermon title is A Miraculous Birth, A Special Child. Nope, not that birth--it comes later.  Did you know that the Christmas story has 2 babies, about 6 months apart? This week we talk about the elder -- a boy named John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

What does John have to do with Peace? WEll part of that might be found in the song his father sings.  Certainly John reminds us that the path to peace calls us to be changed.

Advent 3 (December 13)
This Sunday is Pageant Day!!!! The Sunday School is working away on it.  And of course this year will include another original song.

I am sure we won't use puppets though...

Advent 4 (December 20)
One more week, one final candle -- the candle of Joy. This week we join Mary in proclaiming the Joy that Changes the World.I think we miss so much about Mary when we see her as meek and mild.  She is a force to be reckoned with! And I think she shows a great understanding of the stakes of the events.  Just read her song!  Or better yet, listen to it (this is my favoured setting of it):

AS we sing songs of Joy, as we prepare to welcome the Promised Child, are we ready for the world, for US, to be changed by our encounters with the child?

And because I love this old one...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Looking Forward to November 15, 2015

The Scripture reading this week is: Hosea 11:1-9

The Sermon title is The God Who Will Not Let Go

Early Thoughts:  Grace.  Mercy. Forgiveness. Reconciliation.  Words that describe the God we meet in Scripture.  Words that resonate strongly with this passage.

A Colleague shared this image made based on the Hosea passage
Israel has turned away from God.  God reaches out but they keep turning away. They are even unable to recognize and name that God is with them, protecting them, healing them. So God will give them up to their enemies. And if the passage ended at verse 7 then all those nice words I listed up above would be totally absent.

But we have more.  God changes God's mind. God realizes God can NOT give up on the people. As a loving parent whose child has gone astray God wants to give up.  God may even believe the child needs to fall in order to learn.  But God can simply not give up, God can not let go, God can not forget God's people.

Elsewhere in Hosea we have the object lesson of a man married to an unfaithful wife.  But the husband can not give up and cast her away.

That is who God is. God is gracious, forgiving and merciful. God continuously strives to be reconciled with God's (often recalcitrant and stiff-necked) people.  At various points in the prophets we hear about how God will allow Judah and Israel to be destroyed, this is true.  But also at various point in the prophets God promises redemption and renewal.  For example this song based off of Isaiah 49:

In the event that lies at the center of our faith, the life death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we meet this God, the God who will not let go, who will not forget, who will not abandon. This is the God who appeared in a bush to Moses, who led the people out of slavery, who gave the people a Rule of Life.  This is the GOd of Grace, of Mercy, Of Reconciliation.  This is the God who we continue to meet in our lives.

And that is a good thing.  THanks be to God.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Looking Forward to November 8, 2015

This week the Scripture will be presented in dramatic form by the Youth Group.  The reading they are working with is 1 Kings 18:20-39

The Sermon title is Have Trust, Have Faith

Early Thoughts: So one of the heroes of Hebrew Scriptures is a bit of a jerk...again.

I mean really Elijah doesn't seem the most likable in this story does he? He is a bit of a braggart (to say the least).  He insults the faith of his neighbours (and rivals). And then in the next verse after this reading he has all the prophets of Baal killed.

Sometimes you have to wonder what it means to be a hero.....

On the other hand....

Elijah should not succeed.   In the numbers game he is terribly outnumbered.  And he seems bound and determined to create a situation where success is impossible.  But he has faith.  But he trusts in YHWH.  But he knows in his heart the YHWH has called him to this place, the YHWH is the one who will succeed.

And guess what? Elijah is right.

God is with Elijah.  And God is at work in the story. And so Elijah is vindicated (well maybe other than the killing that follows but maybe that is why our reading stops at verse 39). This story proves (at least to the people of Israel) the "my God is better than your God".

But why do we read it today?  Do we still feel the need to prove that "our God is better"? Or do we read it to remind ourselves that we have a God who is with us and is active in the world?  I don't quite believe that all things are possible with God. I do believe that there are things that seem impossible that are possible when we remember that we are not alone.

AS George Micheal once told us "ya gotta have faith-a faith-a faith"

Monday, October 26, 2015

Looking Forward to November 1, 2015 -- All Saints Day

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture reading this week is Hebrews 11:32-12:2

The Sermon title is The Great Cloud of Witnesses

Early Thoughts: The day after we dress up and send children door to door seeking candy comes All Saints Day (or, if you prefer, All Hallows Day, the day after All Hallows Eve).  In some places this day is a day of great celebration, for example in Mexico they celebrate the Day of the Dead in a variety of ways.

In the Epistle to the Hebrew we have this wonderful phrase: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.  We did not come from nowhere.  We are not alone. There were those who have gone before us, those who started the exploration of how God was active in the world, those who passed on their knowledge and experiences and beliefs.  They laid a foundation on which we stand.  And if we believe in that death is not the end then they are with us still in some way.

OK, I admit, that last sentence sounds like the beginning of a ghost story....

But what does it mean to think of a world, of a faith where we not only inherit things from those who have gone before but are surrounded and supported by them?

Who fills out our cloud of witnesses?

Who do we rely on in our heritage? Where do we feel their support?

We have our own race to run.   It is not the same race run by those who have gone before them.  But it is also not a totally dis-continuous race.  There is a link, somewhere, somehow.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Looking Forward to October 25, 2015 -- A look at Ruth

The Scripture Reading this week is Ruth 1:1-17; 4:9-17

The Sermon title is Family Support

Early Thoughts: She could have just gone home.  Arguably she should have just gone home (thought we don't really know what opportunities or options there were for her there). But she didn't.  Instead Ruth chose to stay with what was left of her new family. Why?

He could have left her alone.  He could have sent her on her way.  After all he had to go through a bit of rigmarole to marry her.  But he didn't.  Instead Boaz went through all the formality needed to marry the widow and redeem the land of her late father-in-law.  Why?

Was it love? Well yes. But is that all there is?

Was it commitment? Yes. But what drew that level of commitment?

I think it speaks to what it means to call ourselves family.

Don't get me wrong.  I know that not all families are models of loving commitment.  Sometimes the family unit is the exact opposite and we have to escape. But in an ideal case family means we support each other--even if it is difficult or makes no sense (or perhaps especially in those cases).

It is also notable that in both cases Ruth and Boaz chose what family meant and who family meant. It isn't just an accident of birth. Family is those who are related because we share genes. Family is also those we choose to name as family.

Faith communities are often compared to a family. Sometimes those families are highly dysfunctional. Sometimes they are wonderful places to be. If our faith community is a family to us, how do we share support for each other? How do we offer it? How do we receive it?

What families are a part of your life?