Monday, September 26, 2016

Looking Forward to October 2, 2016 -- Worldwide Communion Sunday, The Feast of Passover

This being the first Sunday of the month, we will celebrate the sacrament of communion.
Also, being the first Sunday of the month, we will have our 2nd Offering in support of our local outreach fund.

The Scripture reading this week is: Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8

The Sermon title is Meal of Faith, Meal of Freedom

Early Thoughts: FREEDOM!

It is the last word (if I remember correctly) of the movie Braveheart [certainly it is the death cry of Mel Gibson's William Wallace]. It is also what Wallace uses to inspire the Scots to fight against a larger, superior English army: "They may take our lives but they will never take...our freedom!"

It is described as a worship word int the Star Trek episode The Omega Glory.

It is also what we are promised as people of faith. God promises that we are set free from those things that enslave us. And to celebrate God's acting out that promise we eat!

Okay, that might be a bit of a simplification. But that is a big part of what the Passover feast is, a communal meal to remember what God has done for God's people, to remember the time when they were freed from slavery.

Being set free is one aspect of the ministry of Jesus as well. Jesus comes to free us from bondage. Jesus comes to remind us that God wants us to be free, to not be in chains. In Jesus God shows that the burdens which bend us over can be lifted off our backs. And so our central meal of faith (which tradition tells us grew from the Passover celebration) is also a meal of freedom.

What do you need to be set free from? What chains need to be broken in your life?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Looking Forward to September 18, 2016 -- Abraham is Promised many Descendants

This Sunday we will be celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Reading for this week takes us into the story of Abraham: Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-18; 15:1-6

The Sermon title is Descendants

Early Thoughts:  Poor Abraham. God calls him out of his settled life and challenges him to go to a new place with the promise of many descendants.  And yet as time passes there is not even ONE child.  To have many descendants you at least need to start with one child right?  Over and over again God promises descendants like the stars in the sky or the sand  on the ground, but still no child.

Can you blame Abraham for being a little worried or skeptical?

In the end, the story tells us, Abraham believed and trusted in the promise. And by his death he has multiple sons who become the founders of nations.

But the interim period was a little tough.

The story of Abraham is a story of trust. It is a story of promise. As the spiritual descendants of Abraham we also are challenged to have trust. We are challenged to trust that God is at work sometimes despite all the evidence.

As this week starts I am pondering if there is a link between Abraham desperate for a child so that his name will continue and so that there will be someone to care for him in his dotage and the present church's desperation to know if there will be a generation of faith to fill the pews after we are gone.  Who will be our descendants in the faith?

Do we trust that God is at work? Or do we think that it is all up to us to ensure the survival of this thing we call church? Or do we know that God is at work through us -- if we let ourselves discern and submit to how God is at work?

I think there is some linkage between Abraham's desperation and our own.  I wonder what that might mean for what we do next?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Looking Forward to September 11, 2016 -- Creation and Fall

Source (though the Scripture story never actually mentions an apple)
This Sunday we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

For Children's Time this week we will be talking about IALAC

This Sunday marks the beginning of Year 3 in the Narrative Lectionary cycle. This means that between now and Christmas we will be looking at passages from the Older Testament.  The Scripture Reading for this week is Genesis 2:4b-10, 15-17; 3:1-13.

The sermon title is Paradise Lost?

Early Thoughts: This week we read from the second account of Creation. While the first chapter of Genesis contains the hymn of seven days and the recurrent affirmation that the Creation was Good, this second account is the story of Adam and Eve and the story of what is commonly called "The Fall".

Traditionally the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is described as the point where it all goes wrong. Before then we have a picture of the two humans living in harmonic relationship with God. Afterward the relationship is broken and God is constantly trying to repair it (the people's efforts at such repair work tend to ebb and wane). The question I have always had is whether the eating of the fruit changed the very nature of humanity or if the affirmation of Very Good a the end of the hymn to creation continues to stand.

I think the affirmation is never taken away. I think the fact that for the rest of the faith story (a story that has yet to end) God continues to seek to be in relationship with God's peoples tells us that the original affirmation still stands. There just happens to be some "stuff" that gets in the way of us living as if it were true.

At the heart of the story we find God and Adam and Eve. We find a couple who are tempted by pride to be like God and so become wilfully disobedient. And as a result the world is changed. Now few of us think this is history. Few of us seek the site of Eden (though over the centuries may have postulated where it might have been).. But the story still rings true.

The story rings true because there is a part of us that knows things are not what they could/should be. The story rings true because there is a lived sensation that we could be in a fuller relationship with God and so we wonder how we might get that. The story rings true because in our heart of hearts we know that we are proud, that we are headstrong, that we do not always follow the rules.

But is that all there is?

Scripture makes it clear that God seeks to be in relationship with humanity. I wonder if God could be in relationship with a humanity that remained innocent of the knowledge of good and evil. Could God have known that there would be harsh consequences to humanity gaining that knowledge and yet also wanted/needed us to have ti at the same time? Could we ever be who we were created to be by remaining innocent and naive in Eden or did we have to grow and change and move beyond that point?

So part of me wonders if in addition t pride and disobedience part of the story is impatience and lack of trust, Maybe God would eventually have said "OK, eat that one too", at a time when humanity was more ready for the knowledge. And maybe then the story would be different?

Hmm, sounds a whole lot like many parenting decisions and challenges to me....

Monday, May 16, 2016

June Newsletter

What ministry are you doing right now, this week, each day?

That is the question asked by Already Missional: Congregations as Community Partners by United Church minister Rev. Dr. Brad Morrison.

A few months ago I attended a webinar Brad led as he was working on this book and found his thesis intriguing. And then once the book came out a group of clergy on Facebook decided to have a study of it together. So while I was going to wait and read it on my Sabbatical I started it earlier than planned.

I finished it this morning and am quite impressed with what I found. I am thinking that it would be a great book for Council to read and talk about or maybe for a book study in the fall involving folk not currently on Council (or possibly both?).

The book is a new take on how we as a congregation live out God's mission in the world. Normally when that discussion comes up it focuses on the congregation creating some new (or revitalizing an old) program to help us get out there and become active in the community. Which is a great idea – on the surface. But in the end many of those programs just don't happen, for a variety of reasons.

At the same time people of faith are living their lives and doing what they do. Hopefully those lives are impacted and informed by their faith, rooted in how they have come to understand God and God's hope for the world. Where in those lives are they doing ministry? Where in those activities are they participating in God's mission?

In short, rather than create new opportunities for mission, can we celebrate and support the ways we are already missional?

And so I ask again, what ministry are you doing right now? Or maybe that should say what ministries.

Maybe it is parenting. Maybe it is helping people run errands. Maybe delivering meals for Meals-On-Wheels. Maybe you are helping connect people around a common cause to create a better community. The options of how we can be, and are, already participating in God's mission in the world are Legion.

Then comes the next key question.

Assuming that people are already participating in God's mission in ways big and small in their daily lives, how can the church support you in that?

It is my experience that many United Church people are VERY active in their local community. Sometimes we recognize this as ministry, often we don't. What might it mean if we started to see these things as ministry? How might it change our attitude to what we do? How might it change our understanding of how we, the congregation of St. Paul's United, are a part of the community of Grande Prairie? How might it change how we see ourselves as the church?

I look forward to continuing this discussion in the fall.

Blessed Summer!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Looking Forward to May 15, 2016 -- Pentecost Sunday

This Sunday for Children's Time we will hear the beginning of the story of Pentecost, often called the "birth of the church".  You can read it here.

The other Scripture Reading for this week is 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 

The Sermon title is Spirit-Gifted

Early Thoughts: What gift has the Spirit of God stirred in you?  When the breath of God stirs the embers of the fire in your belly what do you feel driven to do?

Maybe your gift is found in the list that Paul lays out.  Maybe it is different (I doubt that Paul was claiming this is an exhaustive list of gifts, more like these are some of the gifts that the folks in Corinth are claiming and/or fighting about).

On Pentecost Sunday we remember that the Church is made alive when God's Spirit blows through our communities. The same wind that, in the beginning of our faith story, blew life into the lungs of Adam and Eve blows life into our faith, into our churches.

It is my belief that with that wind comes gifts.  We all have gifts that we offer for the growth and benefit of the whole community (both inside and outside the church walls).

And so the question remains: With what gifts/talents/strengths has God gifted you? As the fire of the Spirit burns in your soul what do you feel called to do?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Looking Forward to May 8, 2016 -- Easter 7, Paul Teaches About Resurrection

This Sunday we will celebrate the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture passage for this week is 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57

The Sermon title is L'Chaim

Early Thoughts: 6 weeks ago we began the Easter Season with the story of women visiting the tomb, finding it empty, being told of Resurrection and then fleeing in terror.  Now, on the last Sunday of the Easter Season we listen to Paul tell the Corinthians what Resurrection means.

Part of me would like to read the whole 58 verses of chapter 15.  I think we miss out on the full strength of Paul's argument when we skip those central verses (we miss the spiritual body and the physical body as well as the seed imagery-- although that does tend to lead into a dualistic approach to body and soul/spirit).  But then there would be even more options to choose from as a sermon hook. As it is there are plenty to choose from. In fact I suspect one could use 1 Corinthians 15 as your primary text for the whole Easter season...lots of sermons in that chapter.

One of the themes in this chapter is the idea of victory. Conquering the last enemy. This idea of victory is an ancient understanding of Easter. In opening the tomb and raising Christ God shatters the power of death. I suggest that we still live in a culture where death and dying are sources of terror. Maybe we are afraid of the death of our loved ones or ourselves. Maybe we fear for the death of our church, or our service club, or some other organization. But theoretically as people of Easter faith we should no longer be afraid of death because we know that life wins. In the end life still wins. How do our lives show that we believe that death no longer has the victory, that death has lost its sting?

Not to mention that this is the passage where we find "The last enemy to be destroyed is death", which is inscribed on the tombstone of James and Lily Potter. When they find this Harry and Hermione have a discussion about what it means, about how death is destroyed.

The sermon title is a Hebrew toast, literally meaning to life. As we stand in the Easter season, as we proclaim that God has conquered death, what other statement of faith could we share but l'chaim?

Monday, April 25, 2016

May Newsletter

Take A Break!

When were stores open when you were little? When were they not allowed to be open? And was that a good thing?

In both Deuteronomy and in Exodus Moses shares the 10 Commandments as given to him by God. And in both cases we are told that there should be one day a week where we do not work – we are commanded to keep Sabbath. And as I prepare for my Sabbatical this summer I find myself pondering the purpose of this commandment.

I am remembering a story (joke?). One night after Bible Study people were talking about how busy they were. One after another they shared, or even boasted, that they had not taken a day off in weeks. As the discussion paused, one woman said quietly, “I know that we sometimes have trouble living how God would want us to. But usually we feel guilty about breaking commandments. What makes sabbath different?”

What makes sabbath different indeed? Many of us can talk about how rarely we take a day to do no work. Not just a day off from our employment but a day when we do no work (laundry, housecleaning, mowing the lawn...). But is that a good thing?

Why is Sabbath-time important? In a world where commerce goes 7 days a week. In a world where even statutory holidays are becoming shopping days, where one can go into a store and see an apology that they are no longer open 24 hours a week (as happened to me recently), where thousands of people do not take all their holiday time, where thousands of people are overworked and exhausted in mind and body, where economic health and activity is seen as the most important thing why would we even consider the quaint idea that it might be a good thing for work and commerce stop for 1/7 of our time?

Because we would be healthier. Physically healthier, emotionally healthier, mentally healthier, spiritually healthier. Our relationships would (hopefully) be stronger as we spent more time just being together. Maybe not when we first started doing it, anxiety might make us a little on edge for a while thinking about what we could be accomplishing. But once we become accustomed to saying “no work” for a day we would be healthier. We would have time to recover and regenerate. We would push ourselves to re-vision what we thought was most important.

Once upon a time Sabbath time was regulated. Commerce stopped for one day a week because the law demanded it. I remember 30+ years ago when Alberta was having the debate about Sunday shopping and other places have had that debate even more recently – in 2005 Patty and I were in Halifax for a weekend and when the event we were attending was over and we tried to find somewhere to get something for supper found that everything was closed because it was Sunday. I think there was great wisdom in mandating hours or days when commerce stopped. I also think that it was problematic to tie that mandate to one religious expression. And so even though I think we are healthier when we take a Sabbath day I am not sure legislation is the best way to go about it.

Like everything else about our life of faith, I believe that is is a matter of choice. If we as a community, as a nation, chose we could create a situation where people had the opportunity to choose to take Sabbath time. We could create a world where people do not have to go full-tilt 7 days a week just to keep up (whether that be with bills or with having a house as clean as it “ought to be”, or with the perfect yard, or with having all the right activities for their children, or whatever else programs and fills our days). And while we are building that world we could choose to step off the treadmill for a day every so often, we could test and model Sabbath.

It won't necessarily be easy. It would require a rethink of our lives. But that is what God keeps asking us to do – rethink our lives. God challenges us to put our priorities in places that we might sometimes think strange. But over and over again Scripture shows that this just might be because God has a clearer understanding of what we actually need.

One final thought. In Deuteronomy the reason given for observing Sabbath is that the people are no longer slaves. Slaves can't choose when not to work but free people can. And so the next time you insist you can't take Sabbath-time I encourage you to ask yourself if you are a slave or if you are free. And then you might ask who or what has enslaved you...

Then go ahead, take a break. Help others find a way to take a break. It is good for all of us.