Monday, April 13, 2015

Looking Forward to April 19, 2015

This Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Acts 10:1-17, 34-35
  • Galatians 3:26-29
The Sermon title is Made Clean, Made Equal

Early thoughts:  Why are we so good at drawing lines?  In every culture, we humans seem to like drawing lines  to mark who is a "proper" member of the community.  Sometimes the lines are more "in your face", sometimes they are hidden, sometimes we like to pretend they don't exist.  But if we dig a little deeper we find that they are always there.

Peter and Paul came from a purity culture.  Jewish law was about dividing the pure from the impure, the acceptable from the unacceptable.  This shows up in dietary laws (which forms the basis of Peter's dream) and in regulations about dealing with a corpse, and dealing with outsiders and pretty much any aspect of life.  To be unclean/impure was to put yourself in a place where you could not take part in the life of the community, usually for a period of time or until you performed some ritual that returned you to a state of purity.  Which works great if you want to be part of a closed community.

But the movement which would eventually be called Christianity was growing.  And people's understanding of what Jesus of Nazareth had taught challenged those ideas of a closed community consumed with rules about what made them clean.  In fact one of the remembered stories and sayings of Jesus challenged the whole idea that some foods made one unclean.   And then people from outside the Jewish community wanted to join this new community.  What to do?

This was a cause, it appears, of great dissension in the early decades.  From the beginning of his public ministry Paul seems to have felt called to be the apostle to the Gentiles.  And while he would teach in synagogues much of his evangelism was among the non-Jewish population of the Empire.  Peter and some of the other leaders appear to have had more hesitation.  This passage from Acts is Peter's conversion to a new understanding (and even then it took three times for it to sink in).

As the spiritual descendants of Peter and Paul.  As those who have heard over and over again that God shows no partiality why do we keep drawing lines?  Because whether we admit it or not we do.

MAybe the line is around sexuality.  Or maybe around theology.  Or maybe around gender, or age, or racial origin, or how long one has been around, or any of any number of other criteria.  But we draw lines.  Sometimes we don't even know that we have done it until we are challenged.  Sometimes we have gotten so used to the line that we forget it is even there, and can't understand why folks don't feel welcome.

God calls us to erase the lines (to actually erase them from our minds and souls and actions -- not just from our written rules and structures).  God calls us to be intentionally open to being diverse and different.  When God names us all as clean and equal God is not making us the same (this is a danger we often fall into -- in our wish to be seen as open and welcoming we try to pretend that differences don't exist).  Instead God is calling us to welcome the difference.

Can we erase our lines?  What is stopping us?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April Newsletter

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain,
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
(VU #186 Now the Green Blade Rises verse 1)

This past weekend I was out looking at our front flower beds and found bits of greenery poking through the dirt and leaves. Granted most of it was dandelions and grass that had to be pulled out but still....

Spring has sprung!

Spring brings with it the promise of new life, often very welcome after the cold and snow of winter. I know that theoretically we are supposed to look for signs of new life all the time as an act of faith (and indeed there are often signs of new life 12 months a year) spring is the time when we do it most naturally.

Where are you finding signs of life this year? Are those signs of life surprising you?

With spring comes Easter. Easter is all about surprising life, life that bursts forth where we only expect to find death.
In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
thinking that he would never rise again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;
love is come again like wheat arising green.
Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
he that for three days in the grave had lain,
raised from the dead, my living Lord is seen;
love is come again like spring arising green.
(VU #186 Now the Green Blade Rises verses 2 & 3)

Nobody going to a grave expects to find it open (unless there are grave-robbers in town). Many people in the depths of grief wish their loved one was still alive but don't expect to be told that they are. Easter defies our expectations. Sort of like the greenery I saw on the weekend.

Just days before there had been fresh snow on that flower bed. I suspect there is still frost in the ground under the first few inches of mud. And yet life pushes its way through.

Resurrection is not bringing the old back to life. Resurrection is new life. So it is a bit different than my dormant dandelions. But it is similar in that it shows that life wins. No matter what happens life wins. God is rather stubborn that way.

This Easter finds us with “bad” economic news on almost a daily basis – some of which touches us or people we know very directly. This Easter comes just after the Parliament has approved an expanded role for our military in the Middle East. This Easter, as with every Easter, comes at a time when families are mourning loved ones recently gone, or dealing with bad medical news, or any number of other negatives. If we want we can find signs of death and destruction all over the place. We can let that be very depressing. Or we can turn from the darkness of the tomb and look for new life.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
your touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
love is come again like wheat arising green.
(VU #186 Now the Green Blade Rises verse 4)

This Easter, where will you find new life? What will make your heart burst into songs of joy?

May God be with us, opening our eyes to the reality of resurrection.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!


Monday, March 30, 2015

Looking Forward to April 5, 2015 -- Easter Sunday

The Scripture Reading for this highest celebration of the Christian year is Matthew 28:1-10

The Sermon Title is Shaking Life out of Death

Early Thoughts: If Friday was a death that shook the lives of some. It turns out that Sunday started a shaking that continues to vibrate until today.

More than anything else that is what proves there is something to the story. Something happened that changed people so much they went out to change more people. Something happened to convince people that the one who they saw led away to be crucified had transcended or defeated death. Something happened to prove that God had plans that outweighed the worst the world could throw at God.

Talk about an earthquake. Talk about shaking life out of death.

I don't think we get to the meaning of Easter by debating what that "something" that happened was or how it happened.  I think we get to the meaning of Easter by accepting that something happened and asking ourselves what that means.

Easter changes the rules.  Easter changes how we understand life and death. Easter challenges us to look for life in the most unexpected places. If we take it seriously, Easter shakes the ground of our understanding. Maybe in our familiarity with the story we miss that. Maybe we need to rediscover it.

How does resurrection shake your world? What gets shaken apart? What shakes itself into shape?

Looking Forward to April 3, 2015 -- Good Friday

The Scripture reading today is Matthew 27:27-61

The Sermon title is Death that Shakes Reality

Early Thoughts: Why do we tell this story every year?

Well in part because if we don't then the core story of Christian faith--the story we will tell on Sunday--makes absolutely no sense. How can there be resurrection with no death?

And in part we tell the story because we believe that there is something different about this execution. Because that is what it is.  An execution. But unlike many executions it is one that shakes the world. Quite literally as Matthew tells it.

Of course much of that earth-shaking power is seen in retrospect, with eyes that know "the rest of the story".  But those who were present that day did not know the rest of the story. Jesus had, as the gospels tell us, predicted that his death would not be the end but did they really believe that?

So this is a death that rocked their world.  They believed great things were about to happen. Instead this happened. Reality shakes us up sometimes.

Then there is the centurion. This death rocked his world too. He saw things totally differently.

What ripples shake us in our comfortable (metaphorically not physically) pews as we read this story again this year?

Looking Forward to April 2, 2015 -- Maundy Thursday

This service is a potluck supper with worship intertwined through the meal, culminating with a celebration of Communion.

We will have 2 Scripture readings with a brief meditation following each.

First we will have Exodus 12:1-14 with the meditation Freedom.
Early Thoughts: Matthew Mark and Luke agree that the last supper Jesus share with his friends is the Passover meal (in John's Gospel Jesus dies on the day of Passover, about the time the Passover Lamb is being slain).  And so the life and death of Jesus become tied directly to FREEDOM (which, as Mel Gibson's William Wallace tells us, they can not take away even if they take our lives)

Passover is the meal of liberation and freedom.  Passover reminds us that God works actively to free God's people from slavery.  What does Jesus set us free from?  What enslaves us?

The other passage is Matthew 26:17-30 with the meditation Bread for the Journey.

Early Thoughts:   It is a meal at the center of our faith tradition. From the beginning Christians have broken bread together.  It is the meal which nourishes us in heart and soul and body.  Not because of the food, or not solely because of the food (in the early church it appears to have always been part of a full meal). But also because we declare our faith that when we break the bread together Christ is revealed and present in our midst. Christ present in the loaf and cup renews our soul. The Spirit moving through our gathered community revitalizes us.

And so this meal does prepare us for the next stage of the journey.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Letter from the Presbytery Chair

Brothers and sisters,

Well this was supposed to be the time I wrote a letter for Easter. But it is also the time I need to write a letter around the Comprehensive Review Task Group Report. I wonder if combining them will work.

Well I will try anyhow!

We are entering the holiest of seasons. The three days of the Easter weekend are the reason the Christian faith exists. Sometimes we focus on Friday and execution and oppression. Sometimes we focus on Sunday and Life that conquers Death. But the reality is that this is the heart of our story. In the face of death and violence and the world's “NO!” God responds with a resounding “YES!!!!!”, as yes that continues to echo and reverberate 2000 years later.

And so as we continue to walk the road that leads to Palm Parade, Cross, and Empty Tomb I hope you keep your eyes and ears open for God's YES. It is easy to see the cross, to see the ways we in the world say no. But watch for the yes. Even if it is only hoped for, or glimpsed in a brief second it is there.

A moment ago I suggested that we focus on Friday or Sunday. And in our liturgy and our theology I think we do. But in truth I am not sure we live in either spot. I actually think that as people of faith we live, more often than not, on Saturday.

Saturday is the in-between time. The time of uncertainty. The time of waiting. We profess the hope of resurrection but we wait for “proof” that it will happen. And some years the Saturday feeling is stronger than others.

I think of my time in Atikokan, when the mills were both closed and the plan was that the government would mothball the coal-fired generating plant. We were living on Saturday, knowing so much loss and wondering if there would be new life.

And in the United Church today I think we are living on Saturday. Uncertain about the future. Still mourning a past that may only really exist in our memories. Hoping there is new life yet to be found.

Which brings me to the Comprehensive Review report....

Earlier this month the Comprehensive Review Task Group released their report and recommendations. If you have not already done so you can find the following at :
-- the report, containing the 6 recommendations
-- the proposals that are going before General Council
-- 10 backgrounder documents
also some YouTube videos:
-- an invitation to engage in the report
-- an introduction to Recommendation #3: the 3-Court Model
-- an introduction to Recommendation #4: the College of Ministers
-- an introduction to Recommendation #6: the Funding Model
and some other resources:
-- an FAQ document
-- a bulletin insert
-- a PowerPoint slideshow

I ask all of you to read the report and the proposals carefully and more than once.  They recommend a church that will look very different from the United Church that was formed 90 years ago.

As many of you will already know we are planned to have a special Presbytery meeting on April 18th to discuss this report along with the proposed changes to Manse Fund guidelines (a copy of that document was e-mailed with the minutes from the February Presbytery meeting). At our Executive meeting this morning we decided that it was important that congregations have time to look at and discuss this report before that meeting. And so we decided to change the to April 25th. This meeting was planned to happen in Spirit River for those who wish to attend in person but that church has a major fund-raiser that day so the in-person meeting is going to happen at St. Paul's United in Grande Prairie. Because it is costly and inconvenient for all Presbyters to travel to a one-day meeting we are also making arrangements for folk to attend electronically. Details about the timing and the technical contact info for this meeting will come at a later time. Because the more connections you have to a virtual meeting mean the more possibilities for a bad connection and because it is often helpful to have more people to gather with rather than being alone in a room staring at a screen I encourage folks in close proximity to each other to gather together for the meeting.

Between now and April 25th I urge you to take time as congregations to look at the report. Some of you may want to create a Proposal to suggest changes to the recommendations. These Proposals can then be considered by Presbytery and passed on to the Conference meeting at the end of May. To aid in these congregational discussions in encourage you to look at the videos and other resources on the GC42 web-page (see address above). I also offer these questions as ways to spark discussion:
-- as you read each recommendation ask “what problem is this trying to solve?” “does it solve it?” “does it cause new problems?”
--how do you see yourself living in the church as it is pictured?
-- What, if anything, excited you about the report?
-- What, if anything, worried you in the report?
-- Is there anything for which you need more information?
-- Did the report overall, capture your imagination and excitement, or did it make you feel sad, angry or worried?
-- How will your life and church life change if the report is accepted in large part by the commissioners at GC42?

It is easy to read the CRTG report and proposals and become very angry, or very depressed, or both. There is a lot of loss that is going to happen in the next few years within the United Church. The reality is that whatever we as a denomination do with this report a lot of loss will happen anyway as we still need to gut massive amounts from the denominational budget. We can not be the church in the same way that we have been the church since 1925.

But we are an Easter people. We are those who hold a resurrection faith. There will be death and loss but there is also the promise of new life. Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 English Standard Version). The structures of the United Church might die (or possibly collapse altogether) but the faith continues. Where and when will we find Easter in light of the CRTG report?

I look forward (with a bit of anxiety) to our discussion on April 25th and all the discussions that will precede and will follow.

Yours in Christ,
Gord Waldie

I got Sarah to help me make a video:

Monday, March 16, 2015

Looking Forward to March 22, 2015 -- Sheep and Goats, Serving Christ

This Sunday we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Reading this Sunday is Matthew 25:31-46.

The Sermon title is When Did We...?

Early Thoughts:  It is an honest question.  They have just been told they did something they have no recollection of doing.  "When did we do that?" they ask. 

The surprise is in the answer -- when you served the least of my family, you served me.

But I think the best part is that the people did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit the lonely in order to serve God.  They did it, I think, because that was just how they lived as people of faith.  They did it because they took seriously the commandment to live lives of love.  As one commentator points out, the questions asked by the blessed and the accursed are exactly the same.  The difference is that the blessed aren't seeking to be rewarded, where the accursed appear to be trying to figure out how they can get the reward next time.....

There is an ancient blessing: "May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet.  And may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you".  I think this happens when we live out the parable of the sheep and the goats.  Or maybe we live out the parable when we intentionally try to match the blessing.  It is sometimes a chicken vs. egg type of thing.

This is not about serving our friends and family.  It is not about serving those who are "like us".  It is not about building up favour debt that we can call and get repaid.  This is about love.  This is about serving to meet the needs that show up in our path just because they are there.  This, Matthew suggests, is what it means to live in Kingdom ethics. 

So the question for us is indeed "When did we...".  The challenge for us is to know whether we are asking when we met needs or asking when we failed to meet needs.  Not because we expect or hope to rewarded.  Nor to avoid some sort of punishment. Simply because the law of love has been written on our hearts and thereby has changed who we are.  Once so changed, we meet needs because we can.

May God help us to be so changed.