Tuesday, March 21, 2017

April Newsletter

The heart of the year is approaching. The reason we gather is soon to be celebrated. The holiest week of the Christian year, a time when we move from triumph to betrayal to death. And then, as a surprise, LIFE. Life wins!

God sent his son They called him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He bled and died To buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives
(verse 1 of Because He Lives by Bill Gaither)
Our hope lies in a story that defies description. Our hope for the future lies in the story of an empty tomb, a crucified and raised Chosen One of God. In some ways it makes no sense. In many ways it makes no sense. Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom and our hope is in an empty cave in a garden outside Jerusalem?

Because he lives I can face tomorrow
Because he lives All fear is gone
Because I know he holds the future
My life is worth the living just because he lives
(chorus of Because He Lives by Bill Gaither)
Every year as we approach Easter it is easy to believe in the power of those who crucify. The power of the powers and the principalities to defy the promise of the Kingdom seems unquestioned. This year is no different.

This evening, less than a month before Easter, as I sit and type this out, the news has stories of the FBI investigating possible Russian involvement in the 2016 US election. There is still a civil war devastating Syria, one that has caused the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. Last week a US court once again accused the White House of trying to ban people from entering the country based on their religion. And that is just a start.

The powers of death, the powers of oppression, the powers of despair, the breeders of fear seem in control. How can we be so naive to think that the Kingdom of Love, Life, Freedom, and Hope could possibly win.

As Bill Gaither says: Because He Lives.

Because God doesn’t give up. Because God looks at the worst the world can do and then says “My turn”. Because God is active in the world the cross is overturned, Jesus is raised, and Life Wins. And that means we have hope.

How sweet to hold A new born baby
And feel the pride And joy he gives
But better still The calm assurance
That child can face uncertain days because he lives
(verse 2 of Because He Lives by Bill Gaither)
In many eras of human existence people have wondered if it makes sense to bring children into the world. As a race we have wondered if the world is a safe place to raise children. But as people of faith the answer is that while parenthood may be a terrifying concept at times we trust that all will be well in the end. Because God has raised Jesus, because life wins, we can all face the uncertainty of life.

Because he lives I can face tomorrow
Because he lives All fear is gone
Because I know he holds the future
My life is worth the living just because he lives
(chorus of Because He Lives by Bill Gaither)
We are people of hope, we are people who trust that Love and Life conquer fear and death. Easter is coming. God is still active in the world. Resurrection brings hope and promise. Jesus lives. And so we keep on living, walking with God into the future.

Blessed Easter.
Gord

Monday, March 20, 2017

Looking Ahead to March 26, 2017 -- 3 Parables About Losing and Finding

The Scripture reading for this week is Luke 15:1-32

The Sermon title is Lost and Found

Early Thoughts: What makes something (or someone) worth finding?

These three parables suggest that God might answer that question differently than some of us.

Suppose you have 100 sheep and one goes missing. What fool would leave the other 99 alone in the wilderness (therefore in danger) to find the lost one -- who is likely dead or injured anyway?

OR...
You have lost 10% of you money.  Surely it makes sens to do everything that you can to find it. But then to celebrate finding it by having a party -- and therefore spending what you just found?

OR...
You have 2 sons. One of them violates every norm of politeness and parental respect by claiming his portion of the family's wealth before you are even ill, much less deceased. Then when he comes back you abandon all sense of propriety by running down the road to greet him. Then you abandon all sense of fiscal management by giving away property (robe and ring) that theoretically now belongs to the  elder brother (when you eventually die) and by throwing a party that involves killing a prized animal -- and forget to send someone to the fields to invite the elder brother. Then you tell the elder brother [who is having a very understandable temper tantrum] to get over it and come on inside.

These stories tell of the God who keeps looking, even when it makes no sense. They tell of the God who rejoices in the lost being returned to where it belongs, no matter the cost of the celebration. They tell of the God who, in grace, welcomes the wanderer home even before the wanderer makes an apology.

Robert Fulghum, in a story in one of his books, suggests that sometimes we get lost on purpose -- only we call it hiding. And then we sometimes hide so well that we get mad when people seem to stop looking for us. Fulghum also suggests that we try the same thing with God.

But of course the witness of Faith and of Scripture is that God doesn't stop looking. Or God never stops waiting for us to "come to our selves" and decide to stop being lost/hiding. And then there is a party! There is always a party!

So maybe we who sometimes feel lost, adrift, wandering aimlessly, need to all our selves to get found? Maybe we who sometimes get really good at playing hide and seek need to "accidentally" let our arm poke out from behind the bush? And then we can join the party too!


The love that will not let us go is the love that keeps looking for us. The wonderful love of which we sing is the love that declares it is always worth looking for the one who is lost.

This is Grace. This is Redemption. This is Hope.

Thanks be to God, the one is is always seeking.
--Gord

Monday, March 13, 2017

Looking Ahead to March 19, 2017 -- Stewardship #1, 3rd Sunday of Lent

This year in Lent we are taking some (well many) of the Sundays to talk about Stewardship. The theme of the Stewardship resource we are launching from is Salt and Light.

The Scripture Readings this week are
  • Acts 2:44-47
  • Matthew 5:1-16
The Sermon title is Called to Share



Early Thoughts: How are you Blessed? How do you share your blessings?

I suspect we might answer that first question differently than Jesus...I mean look at those first few verses of Matthew 5 (the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount as it happens). DO those sound like reasons for blessing?

One of the challenges of faith is to find where and how God is present, both when it seems obvious and when it seems that God is absent. And when we recognize that God is with us we recognize a blessing. When we recognize how God is in the moment with us we can see the world differently.

And that is the first step in being salt and light to the world.

In a couple of weeks we will talk about the salt that has lost its saltiness and the light that is hidden. This week we need to ask how we share the blessings God lays before us.

WE are called to share those blessings. The early church had a particular understanding of what that might mean, as they attempted to live as a communal organization -- everybody contributing what they had for the benefit of all.

How else might we share the taste of God that we have been given? How else might we let the spark of divine light that energizes our souls shine through the shadows of life?

Stewardship is, according to one definition, everything you do after you say "I believe". Stewardship asks what we do with the gifts that flow to us. A big part of how we handle those gifts lies in out attitude...

If we believe the narratives of the world around us, stories that lead us to be fearful and anxious, tales that tell us to watch out for ourselves, our stewardship might be marked by defensiveness and wall building and protecting what (little) we have.

Or we could believe the narratives of faith, stories that tell us we are blessed, tales that tell us not to worry (as folks were reminded on Sunday March 12 with a reading from Matthew 6). Those narratives lead us to a place of greater ease of mind, a place where it is more natural to offer what we have for the service of others.

IT will not always be easy. Life is not always easy. There are days where we feel far from blessed. There are times when those around us feel far from blessed, when the taste of life is ashes, when that shadows grow dark and cold.

We are called to be salt and light.

God seeks to restore flavour to lives that have grown tasteless, to shine the light that can not be overcome into the dark places. God challenges us to be the hands and feet that help to make that happen.

WE share the blessing of life. We share the gifts we have been given to help God's mission to flourish. What do you have to share?
--Gord


Monday, February 27, 2017

Looking Forward to March 5, 2017 -- Annual Meeting Sunday, 1st Sunday of Lent

This year during Lent we will have a number of services looking at Stewardship questions.

This being the first Sunday of the month we will celebrate the sacrament of Communion.  We will also make our monthly Second Offering to support our Local Outreach Fund.

The Scripture reading this week is Matthew 28:16-20.  We will also read together our congregational vision and mission statements.

The Sermon title is Called To Be Church

Early Thoughts: In the Faith Statement we call the New Creed (other denominations have included it in their worship materials, often calling it United Church Creed) we proclaim that:
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,
       our judge and our hope.

Great. Now what exactly does that mean? How do we live that out?

On this Annual Meeting Sunday I ask that we give careful consideration to that quest. Both to look back at how we did it over the last year and as we look forward to how we will do it in the year to come.

The reason we have vision and mission statements is to guide us as we respond to God's call to be the church. They are there to test all our decisions and actions against. They help us choose how we stewards the gifts God has given us.

Also, during the sermon time there will be time to thank each other for all the ways we have participated in living out our call to be the church, for all the ways we have given of our time and talent over the past year.

WE are called to be the church...
--Gord

Looking Forward to March 3, 2017 -- World Day of Prayer

Each year the Women's Interchurch Council of Canada, in conjunction with sister agencies in other countries, produces resources for the World Day of Prayer. Each year the service is prepared by women in one country and shared around the globe. This year's service comes from the Philippines.



For more about the World Day of Prayer and the Women's Interchurch Council look here:
http://www.wicc.org/world-day-of-prayer/history-prayer/ 


Co-ordination of the services is generally handled by the Women's groups of the sponsoring churches. In Grande Prairie the sponsoring churches are:
St. Paul's United

St. Joseph's Roman Catholic
Forbes Presbyterian
Christ Church Anglican
Trinity Lutheran
The Salvation Army
with the service rotating between the various buildings. This year it is St. Paul's turn to host

The Scripture Reading that has been chosen for the service this year is Matthew 20:1-16.

The topic question for the service is Am I Being Unfair to You?

Meditation Early Thoughts: It is a complaint almost every parent has heard "it's not FAIR!"

Maybe the siblings got a different number of chocolate chips in their cookie. Maybe one got something another didn't. Or maybe they got the same but one thought they deserved more than the other....

That appears to be the complaint in this story. Everyone get paid the same, whether they started work first thin in the morning or only spent the last hour of the day in the fields. On the surface it does not seem fair does it? Most often our understanding of fair compensation would say that the more you do, the more you get.

The landowner disagrees. The landowner points out that the early crew got paid exactly what had been agreed to at the beginning of the contract. If he chooses to be generous (or even overly generous) with those who joined in later in the day what of it?

It is Gospel language. It is the wisdom of God's Kingdom. It is not, in the end about being fair. It is, to be truthful, about being just.

Think of those "fairness" discussions we have with our children. Most often it appears that to be fair means to treat each other equally, to treat each individual the same. Kingdom logic, Godly wisdom, says that to be fair means treating each individual as they need. Take this for example:
In the case of our scripture story, fair means different. The agreed upon wage for a daily labourer was what they needed to eat for that day. Are you less in need of that simply because you were not one of the first chosen? What if you showed up late to the casual labour desk?

Fair means just means needs are being met. It is parabolic logic. It goes against everything we have been taught about fair pay.

But that is what God calls us to do, to be people of justice. Are we willing to upend our understanding of "fair" to ensure all have their needs met?
--Gord

Monday, February 20, 2017

Looking Forward to February 26, 2017 -- Transfiguration, Jesus' Identity

The Scripture reading this week is Luke 9:18-36, 44-50

The Sermon title is Missing the Point

Early Thoughts: Sometimes it is hard to keep track.  Sometimes things don't make a lot of sense. Sometimes we get it wrong.

These things have always been true. Even people we think really "get it" can misunderstand quite badly...

Peter, James and John. If there is a triumvirate of "Best" disciples the Gospels would suggest that this trio is right up there. Surely they, who are so close to Jesus, who get taken up to the top of the mountain and witness the Transfiguration, understand what is happening right?

Sometimes they do. Sometimes they certainly do not....

Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah. Peter will also deny even knowing Jesus.

They hear Jesus say that the path he follows (and the path he invites them to follow) is not one of glory. At one point in the Gospels James and John ask for the prime seats at the table (this happens in Mark 10, when Matthew tells the same story he has their mother asking on their behalf).

Jesus proclaims the power of God to heal, to cast out demons. John gets worried about someone else doing the same thing, seemingly worried about the competition.

Sometimes it is hard to understand what it means to follow Jesus. The disciples are ample proof of this.

Maybe it is because some (much) of what Jesus says is counter-intuitive ("least among all of you is the greatest", the Messiah will be executed). Maybe it is because we don't want to hear. Maybe it is because we have yet to let go of more worldly understandings of 'how the world works'. But for the life of the Christian movement people have struggled with understanding. And that means we sometimes miss the point.

WE could beat ourselves up about that. OR we could remind ourselves that even Peter, James and John sometimes missed the point too. Sometimes they were afraid to admit they did not understand. [And I fully believe there are many things they did not understand until after Easter, when they looked back on what had happened, retrospection is a gift that brings understanding at times].

So to miss the point, to have questions, to be a little unclear makes us normal.

God help us in our understanding and in our confusion.
--Gord

Monday, February 13, 2017

Looking Forward to February 19, 2017 -- Jesus sends out the Disciples

The Scripture Readings for this week are Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-11

The Sermon title is Sent Out!

Early Thoughts:Building and proclaiming the Kingdom is a big job. Too big for one person.

It appears Jesus knows this. And it also appears that Jesus is willing to delegate.

Just for the record, the sending out is still in place.

Jesus sends his followers out to share in the work of the Kingdom. And to a large degree he sends them out on faith and trust, calling them to rely on the kindness of strangers and the law of hospitality. He also tells them to pay attention to the audience, if they are not open to the message, go somewhere else.

How do we live out this challenge?

How do we go out to proclaim the Kingdom, to bring health instead of dis-ease?

Are we willing to take risks with limited resources? Or do we want to make sure we have all the ducks lined up before we take the first step out the door?

Are we prepared to share something that might be offensive to or rejected by some? Or are we stuck in the need to be "nice" (and liked)?

What does it mean to describe ourselves as being sent out in Jesus' name?
--Gord