Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Looking Ahead to November 18, 2018 -- College Sunday

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:
  • Jonah 1:1-3
  • Proverbs 1:1-9
The Sermon title is Called to Learn

Early Thoughts: We value education. We in the United Church (speaking of the collective if not for all individuals) value education. One of our Methodist forebears, Edgerton Ryerson, was instrumental in creating the public education system in Ontario, which was a great gift to the development of Canadian society. At the same time our commitment to the value of education and our understanding of the purpose and content of education led us to take part in the Residential School system which, as we know, was a deeply flawed and damaging thing.

But still we value education. It is an expectation that the people we call into Ministry will take part in a specific educational program as part of the preparation for ministry and that they will continue to learn throughout their life in ministry. It is an expectation that our Communities of  Faith will offer some forms of Christian Education, preferably to adults youth and children. Because we place a value on the process of life-long learning as a practise of faith we offer opportunities to make it happen.

Every year St. Andrew's College, the United Church seminary in the Prairie provinces, asks us to take one Sunday and talk about theological education. In part this is a piece of their fundraising program. But more importantly it is a time to talk about why we find education important, why the United Church --like most other denominations, particularly those from the Reformed tradition-- values an educatied ministry. 

This Sunday we will explore the value of education in the church.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Looking Forward to November 11, 2018 -- Remembrance Day

To honour this 100th Anniversary of the Armistice of 1918 we will be marking the 2 minutes of silence as close to 11:00 as possible (so pretty much at the end of the service).

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Micah 4:1-5
  • Joel 3:9-12
  • Matthew 5:1-10, 38-40

The Sermon title is To End All Wars

Early Thoughts: 11:00 November 11, 1918. After 4 long bloody years of warfare (most of which was spent in virtual stalemate) the guns stopped. The war which had hopefully and idealistically (or naively and nonsensibly) been called the war that will end war had come to an end. [Technically the war was not over until 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed (or imposed on Germany) but to all intents and purposes the war ended when the fighting stopped.] And ever since people around the world have paused for a Pittance of Time at 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month..

One of the themes that has run through the last century of commemorations has been "Never Again". There has been some hope that eventually we will get to the time when warfare is part of the past and not the future. But we have yet to find the war that will end wars.

AS people of faith what do we do on November 11th? We stop and remember as many others do. We respect the price that was paid by so many over the "great" wars of the 20th Century. But is that enough? Within our stories and writings of faith is a promise that in the end war will be no more. The vision of God's Kingdom is one where lions and lambs lie down together and weapons are turned into tools. One of the criticisms that has been leveled, rightly or wrongly, at Remembrance Day celebrations is that the glorify war, that they glorify the sacrifice more than lament the loss. As people of faith what do we do with a hope for the peaceful Kingdom and the reality of a violent warring world.

And then it does not help that parts of our faith stories and writings seem in fact to be a call to arms, as this weeks' reading from Joel shows us.

As people of faith I think the question we need to ask is where is God in all of this? Where is God leading us? Which is not to say that the cure for war is for everyone to turn to Religion. After all it has repeatedly been proven that religion can be as much a force for war as a force for peace. But still it seems that the God we meet in Judeo-Christian Scripture  has a hope for peace, "neither shall they learn war any more".

AS I look at the example of Jesus I see part of the path. Don't return violence for violence. Don't return evil with evil. Don't seek payback and retribution. It reminds me of the slogan often seen at anti-war protests -- "Fighting for peace is like [having sex] for virginity". Maybe that is why we have failed to find the war that will end war?

IF we are to find peace, if we are to become the peacemakers who will be called children of GOD we need to find a new path. We need to push our leaders to find a new path. Because the governments of the world (in conjunction with what Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex) have shown little real intent to actual bring an end to war, as Buffy Sainte-Marie laments in the song "The War Racket".

This year we will once again pause and remember and lament. How will God push us to change ourselves and our world so that "Never Again" is more than just a motto once a year?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Looking Forward to November 4, 2018

As this is the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion.

This past summer folk were invited to suggest topics for sermons or sermon series. This week's topic comes from that box. The actual suggestion was "Is there a Devil? What is the Source of Evil?"

The Scripture Reading for the week is Genesis 3:1-10

The Sermon title is Is Evil Real?

Early Thoughts: Reading the news it seems like a ridiculous question doesn't it. Can one seriously question the reality of evil when just days ago people were gunned down at worship in a Pittsburgh Synagogue? Can we really ask if evil exists a week before we pause to remember those who dies in the largest wars of the 20th Century? Earlier this month I read the novel Indian Horse. Can we examine our own national history and even pretend there is a question that evil exists?

Which was sort of why I chose that as the title of the sermon. It is helpful to get the obvious answers out of the way first. Even if people would like to believe otherwise I think it is clear that there is a thing called evil in the world.

But how does it work? Where does it come from? Does it have a central personified essence?  Are there people who are purely/simply evil and people who are never evil? Those are harder questions.

The passage we read this week is often seen as the place where evil enters our faith story. Which is why we are reading it. But I am pretty sure it does not answer those questions up above.

It is tempting to be able to set clear boundaries of evil vs good. to have a personalized character of evil (devil), to say these people are good and these people are bad. It would be nice to say "evil comes from X".  Unfortunately life is rarely that cut and dried.

In the end I think much (maybe even most, possibly all) great fiction has, at its root, the idea of good battling evil. And in the best of them they have a sense of ambiguity. Someone, (I think it is Gandalf, might have been Elrond) tells Frodo that even Sauron was not evil in the beginning. When Harry Potter is worried he is turning evil his godfather Sirius tells him plainly that the world is not divided cleanly between good people and Death Eaters. The world of the story is about the fight between good and evil but the murkiness of the line keeps coming up.

Evil is in the world, I think, because we have free will and we have the freedom to set our own priorities. Sometimes those priorities mean we are willing to stomp on others (or let people stomp on other on our behalf) to get our way. And those things we call evil results. Evil exists because of things like fear, and jealousy, and insecurity, and hatred, and self-centeredness.  I am not big on demons or a person named the Devil (Lucifer, Beelzebub, Old Scratch....). I think evil is a part of the world, a sign of the broken-ness of the world. But I also believe that in the end, as Julian of Norwich was wont to say, "all will be well". Evil will not have the final answer.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

November Newsletter

What Makes a Disciple?
OR The sermon I didn’t give on Confirmation Sunday

On October 14 we had 6 teenagers stand up in front of the congregation and re-affirm the faith statements their parents had made on their behalf at the moment of baptism. My sermon title that day was Membership Means... and was my attempt to describe part of what it means to choose to be a part of the Christian Church. And because of everything else that was happening that day it was a pretty brief discussion of that topic – a topic that we are encouraged to talk and pray and think about all the days of our lives.

As I was preparing for that service there was another track I almost took. Membership in the Church means committing oneself to the path of discipleship. We don’t usually use that kind of language in the United Church these days. I know it wasn’t the language used in my confirmation classes 35 years ago, but I think the concept was there even without the word.

Earlier this week I was musing online (hypothetically speaking of course), in a space where I knew he might be reading, what it might take to get the newly elected Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Bott, to make a visit to a place. Obviously there is a process to go through, official channels to ask – the Moderator’s schedule is very full, but I was wondering what sorts of events might make a particular option look more inviting. Richard took the bait. Richard said, and I quote: “The guy has this thing about wanting to help people to explore what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus in the United Church of Canada in the 21st century.”. Now that is something I already knew because last Spring a group of us worked through a study that Richard had co-written. And it was all about being a disciple.

Which brings me back to what I might have talked about on Confirmation Sunday. In the study Immersion: Investing in God’s World the last half was working through an acronym approach to being a disciple. The possible sermon was to go through the acronym and talk about how one is a disciple. The Acronym is U.N.I.T.E.D.
  • Uplifted by God’s Love: This reminds us that the basis of our life in faith is that God holds us in, as the old hymn says, a “love that will not let [us] go”. It reminds us that our worth, and the worth of those around us comes from being who we are, not what we have accomplished. We are important because we are part of God’s beloved creation and God loves us. This frees us to explore who God has made and called us to be and how God would have us live and act in the world.
  • Nurtured through Worship: There is a longstanding debate on the question “do you have to go to church to be a ‘good’ Christian”. I think we can live out God’s love without it but it is harder. Worship with others reminds us that there are other people asking some of the same questions that we ask. Worship reminds us that we are part of a community. Hopefully worship also reminds us of what is important, reminds us of what God thinks is most important. Hopefully worship challenges us and energizes us as we continue to live in God’s way.
  • Inspired through Scripture: Part of our exploration is looking at the stories left by those who have gone before. In Scripture we have this wealth of experience of people trying to understand how God is active in the world. As we read Scripture and wrestle with it and find where it intersects with our lives to day we learn more about God, about ourselves, and about where God might be leading us.
  • Transformed through Prayer: The apostle Paul, after whom this congregation is named, encouraged people to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is a chance to open ourselves to God’s presence, a chance to lay out what is on our hearts and minds but also to pause and listen for the still small voice of God. In one book on my Kobo Anne Lamott suggests that there are three basic prayers: Wow, Thanks, and Help. I would also add Sorry. Discipleship is way of life when we are in relationship with God as revealed by Jesus. Prayer is how we help build that relationship.
  • Empowered through Spiritual Friendships: One of the things I have come to learn about life is that we can’t do it alone. (As a teen I thought it was safer to do it alone and took on the Simon & Garfunkel song “I am a Rock, I am an Island” as my theme for a period.) IN the end, humans are a social species. We are stronger when we are together. As a community of faith we help each other grow in our relationship with God. The hope is that within a community of faith we find people who will help us along the road.
  • Developed through Service: I did touch on this idea on October 14. In the letter of James we are reminded that faith without works is dead, is meaningless. To be a disciple is an activity, it means we do things. The primary commandment Jesus gave us was to love each other. He didn’t mean to feel good about each other, he meant to act lovingly toward each other. To be a follower of Jesus is to serve as God’s hands and feet in the world.

To be a part of a Christian community of faith is to be invited on the path of being a disciple. We are all invited to learn and serve and grow together, U.N.I.T.E.D in faith and hope.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Looking Ahead to October 28, 2018 -- Stewardship Sunday #3

The Scripture reading for this week is Matthew 25:31-46

The Sermon title is Love Is A Verb

Early Thoughts: We think it is a feeling or an emotion. And so we wonder how we can be commanded to feel a certain way. After all, we are usually told that feelings are just feelings, we can not control what they are only how we react to them. How can we be commanded to love others? And yet the commandment to love others is at the heart of Christian ethical thought.

What if Jesus is talking about actions, as much (or more) as feelings? What if Jesus is talking about how we act towards others (which may well affect how we feel about them as well)? What if, in other words, love is an action?

After all, we know that actions can be commanded where feelings can't be.

It is said that stewardship is everything we do, every action we take, as people of faith. Stewardship is how we act with the gifts God has given us. Which means stewardship and love can not be separated from each other.

Maybe that is why the title for this year's United Church Stewardship resource is Loving our Neighbours.

In the passage we read this week Jesus reminds us that God is present in all of God's people. Loving God and loving God's people are intertwined. Loving God and loving God's people means doing concrete things to assist them when they are in need. Thought and Prayers are nice but not nearly enough of a response.

I do think it is a stewardship question.  How do you live out love as a verb? How do you use the gifts given to you in acts of love for God and God's creation?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Looking forward to October 21, 2018 -- Stewardship Sunday #2

AS a part of our Stewardship campaign  we will have the young folk take up a coin collection for Mission and Service this Sunday. A chance to lighten the load of coins in your purse or pocket!

The Scripture Reading this week is 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

The Sermon title is What Story Would You Tell?

Early Thoughts: And now for something completely different....

THis week our time of reflection is going to begin by watching this video:

and then people will be invited to share the Good News stories about what is happening at St. Paul's.  What would you tell a visitor (doesn't have to be the Moderator) about what St. Paul's does?

When we remember the good things that are happening we remember what difference our gifts makes. And that is important. After all, we are far more likely to share our gifts and resources when we think they are making a difference.

So what excites you about what happens around here?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Looking Forward to October 14, 2018

This Sunday we will welcome new members to the St. Paul's family through the Re-Affirmation of Baptismal Faith (aka Confirmation). And so we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion. There will also be a potluck lunch following the service.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • James 1:22; 2:14-18
  • Romans 12:1-2, 4-13
The Sermon title is Membership Means...

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to be a member? Some of us grew up with American Express commercials that told us "membership has its privileges". Is that true of the church?

Privileges? Not so many. But to be a member of the church challenges how we live (in theory at least).

One challenge is to ask oneself "how active a member am I going to be at this point in time?". To be a member of any organization means to take part in its life and work. For some people that means a lot of volunteering, for some it means showing up. For many of us the way we are a member, how actively involved we are, changes over the years depending on what else is happening in our lives. But to be a member means supporting the organization in whatever way works for us in that season of time.

That is true of any organization. But to claim oneself as a member of a church raises other questions. In the United Church Creed (aka the New Creed) we read, in part:
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil, 
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen...
 This speaks to what membership means. Membership means we gather with others to celebrate that God is with us. Membership means that we recognize that the rest of Creation is just as important as we are, that we are all created by the Creator (though the actual logistics of such creation are fuzzy). Membership means that we remember the commandment to love each other, and that loving each other is as much or more about how we act towards them as what we feel about them. Membership means that we work with the people around us to name those things that are wrong/unjust/evil. It means we work with others to build a society where everybody is treated justly. It means we actively resist when the world seems to be going the wrong direction.

Membership means that in the stories and teaching of Jesus we find clues to help us live in God's way, and that we share those teachings in some way. Attached to that last one, membership means that as we live with Jesus, as we live as people of faith, we allow space for God to work within and change us. We allow God to reveal a different way of being in the world than our new feeds and advertising shows us. It means we sometimes intentionally choose different priorities, this is what Paul is talking about when he says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable..."

There are also things that membership in the church does not mean. It does not mean we agree with everything said in church (worship or meetings or study groups). It does not mean we stop exploring and asking questions. It does not mean we have to pretend to be perfect. ANd I am sure each reader can think of some others

SO what does membership mean to you?