Monday, April 14, 2014

Looking Forward to April 20, 2014 -- Easter Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 118 (VU p.837 Parts 1-3)
  • Matthew 28:1-10
The Sermon title is Earthquakes, Angels, Resurrection. OH MY!

Early Thoughts:  After the darkness comes the light.  After the despair comes the hope.  After the cross comes the empty tomb.

What is it like when the world is changed?  What happens?

In Matthew's account of Easter morning it comes with an earthquake and a bright light, an angel and a lot of fear.

Makes sense to me.

Resurrection (as a faith event, I have not watched the new TV show by that name) is something that shatters our expectations.  It is something that changes how we see and experience the world.  It can feel like a burst of light that chases away shadows.  It can also be terrifying.  Which is probably why we have three references to fear in Matthew's story.

Where is New Life surprising you this year?   Where do you expect to find death and rot, only to find an earthquake, a flash like lightning, a messenger from God and news of resurrection?

--Gord


Monday, April 7, 2014

Looking Forward to April 13, 2014 -- Palm Sunday, Lord's Prayer Series Concludes.

The Scripture reading this week is Matthew 21:1-11

We will also use (as a way of reflecting on our faith story) a video clip from Jesus Christ Superstar 2000).

The sermon title is Lord, Teach Us to Pray: The Kingdom, The Power, The Glory 

Early Thoughts: It is Palm Sunday.  The day we celebrate the triumphal entry.  We join the crowds proclaiming the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.....

Or maybe not so much.

What kind of king do we celebrate with our Palm parade?  Given what follows, where is the power and the glory?

In our video clip Jesus suggests we misunderstand what power and glory is.  I note that none of the Gospel accounts of the entry tell us what Jesus thinks of the display. in their book The Last Week  John Crossan and Marcus Borg suggest that the triumphal entry is a deliberately staged piece of political street theater.  If so it is likely along the lines of satire...

If the Kingdom and the power and the glory are wholly different than we expect, maybe we need to think about what we are praying for.  And maybe (just maybe) that will help us reconsider how to be the church in a post-Christendom era????
--Gord

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April Newsletter

Woody Allen once said “I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to bethere when it happens.” As people of Christian faith, are we afraid of death?

You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is not here, he has been raised.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen
(Matthew 28:6, Luke 24:8 NRSV)

After the cross, after all is lost, something remarkable happens. Where the women expect to find death they find LIFE! We are a resurrection people. We are a people of life!

So where do we find life where we expect to find death? And are we really able to live as resurrection people, to trust that life conquers death, to live through the fear?

I am no longer afraid of death
I know too closely its cold dark corridors
I am no longer afraid of death
I know these caverns that lead to life
(refrain of I Am No Longer Afraid by Linnea Good,

It seems to me that this is an Easter song. As an Easter people we need no longer be afraid of death. As an Easter people we know that death is part of the path that leads to life, that the tomb is a cavern that leads to life.

Death comes in many forms. All things come to an end. Some people will argue that every change (big or small) in life is in fact a bit of a death as the old gives way to the new. Are we able to see through the dark corridor of the end to a new beginning? Or are we afraid of the dark, the unknown, the transition.

If all change is in fact a death and resurrection process, then we live through it ALL THE TIME. Resurrection is around us all the time. So why are we so often afraid of death?

I am afraid of the fear within me,
and others fear that digs their grave.
Who cling to ways that whisper of healing,
but lead a life that cannot save.
(verse 2 of I Am No Longer Afraid by Linnea Good)

That is what I think gets in the way of living into resurrection. In our fear of death we cling to hope that death can be avoided. We hear words that whisper of healing, that suggest “if you just do this then all will be well”. But they don't work. They may delay the inevitable but change comes in some form or another.

On the other hand, if we can embrace the transition, maybe we can help shape it. If we live in faith and trust, if we can let go of the fear, we can find the spark of resurrection. For we are a resurrection people.

This Easter season I have a challenge for all of us. Let go of the fear. Live into the changes. Step boldly into the “cold dark corridors”. Explore the caverns that lead to life.

And let's all enjoy the ride!!!!

Blessed Easter!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Looking Forward to April 6, 2014 -- Lent 5, 4th in the Lord's Prayer Series

The Scripture Readings this week are
  • Luke 4:1-12
  • Romans 8:26-39
The Sermon title is Lord, Teach Us to Pray: Lead us, Deliver Us

Early Thoughts: "Lead us, not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"

In the end I wonder how realistic this line is.  Life is a constant stream of temptation, life has times when we are confronted by "evil" in some form/to some degree or another.

So what do we mean when we pray these words????

It would be nice to think that we can be lead away from temptation--but Scripture defies that understanding.  Even Jesus is tempted.

Some versions of the Lord's Prayer have "save us from the time of trial" here.  Does that mean we pray that God would ensure we never have times of trial?  Again that would be nice but seems more than a little simplistic.

But I remember what I think are the most important words in the United Church Creed (aka the New Creed).  We are not alone.

Really that is what I hear Paul reminding us at the end of this passage from Romans.

And really I think that is what we are praying for in this section of the prayer.

We are not alone.  So when temptations lies before us we are not alone as we sort out how to respond (because a temptation only works if it looks like a good choice, and there is a proverbial road paved with good intentions).  So we ask God to provide leadership/wisdom/guidance as we sort out our choices.  Lead us not into temptation.  [Admittedly that might be a bit of a stretch in what the words actually say]

We are not alone.  So when we are in the time of trial, when life is difficult, when evil things happen we don't deal with it alone or by our own strength.  Deliver us from evil (or deliver us in evil/times of trial as has been suggested to me more than once.

At least I think that is where I am headed this week....
--Gord

Monday, March 24, 2014

Looking Forward to March 30, 2014 -- Lent 4, Lord's Prayer Series #3 -- Forgiveness

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 18:21-35

We will also hear a reading from page 141 of the book Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf.

The Sermon title is Lord, Teach Us to Pray: Forgive as We Forgive  

Early Thoughts: "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us"  I have heard multiple people suggest that this is the line from the Lord's Prayer that causes them the most struggle.

Forgiveness is central to our life as Christians.  Both accepting and offering forgiveness is essential to life in community.  And yet forgiveness (both accepting and offering it) is often a real challenge for many of us.  Dare I say for all of us?

One of the threads that is running through my mind as I begin to prepare for this Sunday is what I wrote in this column that appeared in the Daily Herald Tribune last Friday.  The big question about this phrase is, as it was last week about "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done", do we really mean that? Do we really only want to be forgiven as well as we forgive?  Do we really think we forgive that well?

The other thread in my thoughts this week is about a very practical exercise in forgiveness and truth-telling.  At the end of this week (March 27-30) many people will gather in Edmonton for the 7th and final National Event for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  In the end the TRC process is closely tied to our understanding of forgiveness.  Is it possible without the truth being told, acknowledged, and known?  Is it possible at all given some of the stories that have been told at past events, and will be told this weekend?

Our time for all ages this Sunday will talk about the Residential Schools (hopefully I can find the story book I want to use but have not used in many years).  And then we will see how I can weave the TRC into the sermon.

Come and find out how good a job I do!!!
--Gord

Monday, March 17, 2014

Looking Forward to March 23, 2014 -- Lent 3, Lord's Prayer Series continues

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 11:1-10
  • Jeremiah 22:1-3
  • Mark 6:34-44
The Sermon title is Lord, Teach Us to Pray: Daily Bread, Kingdom Sign

Early Thoughts:  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.  We say those words every week.  What would happen if they were true?

The Kingdom of God is central to the ministry and message of Jesus .  In Mark's Gospel the first words Jesus utters are "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news".  Elsewhere Jesus responds to critiques of his work by saying that if it is by the power of God he can do these things then the kingdom is being revealed in their midst.

But what does that mean?  One possibility is in the idea of daily bread.

Every culture has its base staple food.  Bread is one of those.  So the prayer is asking that each day we get what we need to survive.  Right after we pray that God's kingdom will come, that God's will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (leaving aside for today the debate of where/what "heaven" is) we pray that we will get what we need to survive.  Does that say something about the kingdom?

Certainly many scholars (often those who have a bit of a socialist bent) would say so.  If the kingdom of God is here among us, if God desires that God's children have life in abundance, then yes, everybody getting what they need to survive is a sign of the kingdom.  Jesus and the prophets challenged people to look at the world with different eyes and different priorities.  They called their listeners (and continue to call us) to look with kingdom eyes, to look for how God would have us living together.

And so I would argue that each week when we say the Lord's Prayer we make a rather revolutionary request.  Because if we are honest we know that the kingdom of God has not come in all its fullness.  If we are honest we admit that in order for the kingdom to reach full bloom the world, our culture, our way of life, will need to be transformed.  And yet we ask for that every week.

Do we really mean it?
--Gord

Monday, March 10, 2014

Looking Forward to March 16, 2014 -- Lent 2, Beginning of the Series on the Lord's Prayer

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Matthew 6:7-15
  • Luke 11:1-4
The Sermon title is Lord, Teach Us to Pray: Our Father...

Early Thoughts:  We begin our series at the beginning of the prayer.  With the first couple of lines "Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name"

And there are lots of possible tacks to take here. But I am drawn to the opening and the ending.  Hallowed be Thy Name, Our Father.  Who is the God we are addressing in this well known prayer?  How do we image God?

We have learned that language matters.  We have learned that the metaphors (and EVERY image of God is a metaphor) we choose to use to describe the Holy One shape our attitudes.  If God is white, or male, what message is attached to that?  How do our images of God impact our images of life?  How do we respond to that awareness?

OK, so obviously that is more than one sermon.  But maybe we can take a stab at starting the discussion.

And what is God's name?   Art?  Harold?...

--Gord