Monday, October 12, 2015

Looking Forward to October 18, 2015 -- The Law of Love

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 5:1-21
  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9
  • Leviticus 19:17-18
The Sermon title is The Big L

Early Thoughts: So many rules.  Everywhere we turn there are rules. If only there was a simple summary...

The stated purpose of the book of Deuteronomy is to retell the Law and the story. Tradition holds that this book is the last address of Moses to the people before he dies and the people cross over the Jordan into Canaan.  For 40 years they have been wandering around in the wilderness.  They have been given Torah, the Law but they have also grumbled a lot and complained and seem easily led astray -- such as when Moses went up to Sinai to get the Law and the people got tired of waiting and decided to build a Golden Calf.  So before his death Moses reminds them how they are supposed to live.

There is a story. A famous rabbi was once asked if he could summarize the Law and the prophets while standing on one foot.  Given the Torah has hundreds of laws and then the prophets challenge how the people fail to live out those laws and then there are volumes of commentary on what the laws mean this seems an impossible task.  The rabbi smiled, lifted up one foot, and said "Love God, Love Your Neighbour -- everything else is commentary".

Love is the law.

Jesus uses the same summary.  He refers to Deuteronomy and Leviticus to summarize what is needed.  Love is the law.

We have heard this many times before.  Many sermons have been preached about the need, the commandment, to love.  And still we need the reminder.  Jeremiah foresaw a time when the law would be written on/in the hearts of the people.  As I look around I think we have yet to get there. But I think Deuteronomy 6 gives us a hint about how to get there.

Observant Jews are told to remind themselves and their children daily who God is and to love God with their whole being.  They are told to post the reminder on their doorpost, to tie it around their bodies.  They are told to teach their children these truths, to pass them on. Jesus would have been a product of this teaching.

Do we do the same?  Can we do the same? Can we remind ourselves in prayer and action every day to love God and neighbour? How do we pass this on to the generations who follow us?

How do we make the law of love a key part not just of our lives but of our very beings, so that is infuses every Facebook post, every text, every choice we make? And what might the world look like if we can do that?

There is a faith practice of formulating a Rule of Life.  I suggest that in the Love God, Love Neighbour [Love Self] summary we have a Rule of Lie.  How good are you at following rules?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Looking Ahead to October 11, 2015 -- Thanksgiving Sunday

The Scripture reading for this week is Exodus 1:8-19; 3:1-15

The Sermon title is The God Who Hears

Early Thoughts: I have said before (on numerous occasions) that one of the best parts of the United Church Creed is that it begins and ends with a vitally important affirmation.  We Are Not Alone.

This is, and always has been, one of the great truths of faith.  We are not alone.  When we are in the struggles of life we are not alone. When we cry out in despair we are not alone.When we are in need of help we are not alone.  Our cries do not fall into the nothingness.

God hears.

That is one of the things we find in the beginning of the Exodus story. God hears. When God and Moses have their chat God sends Moses because God has heard the cries of God's people enslaved in Egypt. I wonder if the midwives Puah and Shiphrah are also signs that God heard the cries of God's people? They certainly seem to act as agents of God.

God hears and God responds. And so the story of Exodus, one of the foundational stories of Scripture, begins. But there is a twist.

God can only respond because Moses responds. One of my colleagues mused last week, wondering how many other people had wandered past the bush without noticing that it was burning (some of us have the same musing about the Christmas story -- how many young women did the angel visit before Mary said yes).

One of the ongoing debates in theology is if/how God intervenes in the world. Some stories in Scripture seem to assume God acts unilaterally. Some stories suggest God can only act if others sign on. I personally believe that God does intervene in the world (some hold a more Deistic point-of-view where God is more of an observer). However I believe God intervenes at the level of hearts and minds. God intervenes by getting other people to act.

In the world today there are many places where God's people are crying out under the weight of oppression. God hears their cries. Who will notice the burning bush and turn aside to check it out? Who will join God in the next act of release from bondage?

We are thankful for all the ways God has heard and responded in the past. We are challenged to pay attention to what is happening in the present and future.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

For the Newspaper next week....

Don't Be Afraid

In 1933, a newly elected US President stood up to give his First Inaugural Address. And he gave us a phrase that would echo through the years – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”1. To a nation in the depths of the Great Depression Franklin D. Roosevelt offered words of hope and challenge. He reminded them that they could overcome the difficulty they were facing. But first he reminded them that fear – “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” -- could get in the way of that recovery.

At first glance FDR's words make no sense. In 1933 people had no work, and no prospects of work. People were losing houses, land, hope. People had no way to provide for their families. And remember that in the US (and in Canada) at the time there was little to no social safety net. Certainly there were many things that people had to fear.

But on another level FDR was very right. Fear is a powerful thing. In fact many suggest that the two primal motivators in human life are fear and love. In times of change and upheaval fear gets into our psyches and freezes us in our anxiety. Fear leads us to lose hope. Fear leads us to depression. Fear leads us to give up. This is why Roosevelt was right. Fear gets in the way of change and therefore blocks recovery.

God tends to tell us the same thing.

In the first 2 chapters of the Gospel according to Luke there are 3 Angel visitations. And each time the first thing the angel says is “Do not be afraid”. This tells me two things. One is that angels are, apparently, terrifying. The other is that we can not embrace God's possibilities if we give in to fear.

God's possibilities, God's hope for the world are based on love. Love of God, love of God's world, love of neighbour, love of self. 21 years ago a counsellor suggested to me that the opposite of love was not anger or hatred but fear. Fear gets in the way of us being able to love. (Several years later it clicked in that he was in fact telling me that fear was getting in my way and I should stop being so afraid. Sometimes I can be a slow learner.)

There are lots of voices across the country and around the globe telling us to be afraid. We are told to be afraid of the stranger walking down the block – he might steal our car or invade our house. We are told to be afraid of economic collapse. We are told it is not safe to let our children walk to school. We are told that terrorists lurk in our midst. What have you been taught to be afraid of?

My worry is that we are listening. My worry is that we are becoming fearful and that the fear is changing who we are as communities. Maybe it shows up as xenophobia in the face of immigration and refugee issues. Maybe it is aimed at specific religious groups. Maybe it show up in people afraid to answer the door because the person ringing the bell looks “odd”. Maybe it shows up in us retreating into silos of the comfortable and the known rather than taking risks and seeking new experiences.

And so we need to listen to God's words to the prophet Isaiah (43:1-2):
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

In the United Church Creed we affirm that “We are not alone”. In the face of people trying to make us afraid we can remind ourselves that we are not alone. And so we do not need to live lives of fear because we are held in the arms of love by the One who calls us to put love ahead of fear.

We have a choice. We may not choose what happens around us but we choose how we react. My hope is that we will not choose fear. I hope we choose love. Risky, challenging, vulnerable love. That is the path God calls us to follow. This is the path of hope and growth. So listen to the angel voice. Do not be afraid.
1The text of FDR's First Inaugural Address is found at

Monday, September 28, 2015

Looking Ahead to October 4, 2015

This being the first Sunday of the month we will celebrate the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture reading this week is: Genesis 32:22-30

The Sermon title is Struggling with God

Early Thoughts: Jacob was a visionary, a dreamer, the grandson of a pioneer, the father of a nation.  He was also a jerk, a cheater, and a thief.

No wonder he had some wrestling to do before he went home.

Jacob is on his way home.  He has sent all of his family and possessions ahead of him and stays alone in the wilderness.  What better way to wrestle with one's life and demons?

Sometimes we need to put ourselves in the vulnerable position (such as being alone in the wilderness) in order to face up to life.

Jacob is told that he has "striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed".  Jacob will live to a great old age, he will go to Egypt, his bones will be brought back.  But only because he had the courage to strive with God and humans and, in my interpretation, himself.

Jacob was, at best, a highly unlikely hero.  He tricked Esau into giving Jacob the birthright of the elder brother.  He tricked Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing that was meant for the elder brother.  He manipulated things so that he got the better part of his father-in-law's herds.  When he took his family from his father-in-law's place they  stole the household Gods.  Later his obvious preference for one son will divide the family.  He puts the "dys" into his dysfunctional family.

And yet the nation will be named after him.  Because he has the courage to struggle, to wrestle, with the realities of his life.

What do we need to wrestle with so we can be who God calls us to be?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Looking Ahead to September 13, 2015 -- Gardens

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Genesis 2:4b-25
  • Revelation 22:1-5
The Sermon title is The Garden of God

Early Thoughts:  The faith story begins and ends in a garden. What does that mean?

Normally we are told that the faith story begins and ends in paradise.  Turns out that paradise is a garden?

In their book Saving Paradise Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker begin by talking about how the ancient world envisioned paradise.  I need to reread the first chapter or two this week but I seem to recall that the term paradise was also linked to a walled garden.  So maybe the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were another attempt to create paradise?

And maybe this is why gardens are such a part of British culture?  We link the garden not to labour (although certainly a garden means work--even if you are able to pay others to do it) but to rest and ease and paradise.  Grand estates would have great gardens.

We come from the garden, the story tells us.  We will return to the garden, the story tells us.  I wonder if the garden is always with us in some form.  "they who have eyes to see...." after all.

Where do you find God's Garden in your life?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Looking Ahead to the Service Marking the Closure of Nampa United Church-- September 13, 2015

During the service we will hear these Scripture Readings:
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
  • Romans 8:35-39
  • Isaiah 43:1-2, 19
The Reflection title is All Good Things...

Early Thoughts:  All things human have a life span.

ALL things.  Communities, families, businesses, churches.  They all have a life span.

That means they have a beginning and a middle, and an end.  There is a time.

Our challenge is to know how to recognize the time and respond with hope.  We celebrate that which has been, we name that there is a loss taking place, and we look for how God is with us in the beginnings, the middles and the ends.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for every season and purpose.  An unpleasant truth perhaps, but still a truth.

Both Isaiah and Paul remind us that God is with us in the times of transition and change.  They remind us that God will not forsake us, that no matter how bad things may seem at times nothing separates us from God.  And then Isaiah challenges us to look for the new thing that God is doing.

We gather to mark the closing of a congregation.  As we gather we will be reminded of what has happened in that community of faith over the years. But we are always challenged to look forward with hope.  God is with us.  God is active.  These things do not change.  All human endeavours come to an end.  But God remains present and faithful.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

September Newsletter

Item #1
A couple months ago the Truth and Reconciliation Committee released their report regarding Residential Schools. And now we as Canadians need to decide how we move forward into reconciliation. One of the ways to do that is to re-learn our history from a different point of view. With that in mind we have arranged for St. Paul's to host a “blanket exercise” with facilitators provided by KAIROS. The KAIROS folks describe the exercise this way:
Created in 1997 after the release of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the KAIROS Blanket Exercise is a one hour participatory workshop that will help participants understand how colonization of the land we now know as Canada has impacted the people who lived here long before settlers arrived. Through this exercise participants will explore the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, how this relationship has been damaged over the years, and how they can work toward reconciliation. The Blanket Exercise is KAIROS' most popular resource, and has over the years evolved from a humble workshop to a community and movement building teaching tool.
The exercise will be a one-hour experience and then a time of debriefing. Patty and I took part in a blanket exercise 14 years ago and both found it very moving. This will happen on October 17 at 1:00 in the Large/East Basement. Mark the date and spread the word!

For more about the Blanket exercise see this page:

Item #2
The General Council of the United Church had its 42nd meeting last month. General Council is the national body of the United Church. Retired minister Rev. David Shearman wrote this summary of what happened and has given us permission to reprint it:

Item #3
On May 26 2016 I will celebrate 15 years of Ordination. As a way to mark that anniversary I am going to take a Sabbatical from the Victoria Day weekend to Labour Day weekend, a period of 3 months and two weeks of combined Sabbatical and holiday time.

What ever will I do with all that time? (Actually a serious question—I get itchy by the end of a month of vacation time)

The United Church of Canada policy on Sabbatical suggests that there are 3 areas of focus for the time. One is rest and rejuvenation. One is some Spiritual development/growth. And one is some learning component. I would argue that there is often some overlap between the second and the third, and probably some overlap between the first and the second for that matter.

A large part of my time will be reading and, possibly, watching TED talks. In the near future I hope to choose a topic area or two to focus on and start collecting resources. There is also a good chance we will try to find something like a Naramata family camp to attend (it was going to be a Naramata week but with the closing of Naramata Center we have to look elsewhere. A third goal is to try and be intentional about getting in better shape. The M&P Committee has suggested that just being at ease with being not working for that period might be a growth goal in and of itself. And of course the reason we chose that period of time was not only because it is a slower period in the life of the church but also because it covers the summer when school is out which makes room for some intentional family time.

I know it is only September but May will come pretty quick. So we need to start planning. Over the next while the M&P and Worship Committees will be actively recruiting folks to cover Sunday worship. I know there are lots of people or groups of people in this congregation with the ability to lead worship. If this is of interest please talk to me or to Susan McKenzie. We will need to work out coverage for funerals. We will need to make a decision about wedding requests for next summer (hopefully soon because who knows when Carla will get a call). And we will need to talk about Pastoral Care coverage.

In our list of Committees we have a Pastoral Care Committee. It is a literary work at the moment. But I think we need to put some flesh on it. I think the Sabbatical gives us an opportunity. We start developing a team of people who visit (or contact by phone or some other form of support) on behalf of the congregation so that we cover those needs over next summer and then just keep it going. We need this team to maintain contact with each other. If you are interested in helping to rebuild this aspect of our shared life (I am told it used to exist) or if you know someone who would be a good member of such a team please drop me a note.

There will be more information about the Sabbatical as the months progress. And a year from now I will put together some sort of “What I did on my Sabbatical” report. It should be an interesting process. Oh and if you have a suggestion for a topic area of focus for my reading/viewing feel free to pass it on!