Monday, April 16, 2018

Looking Forward to April 22, 2018 -- Easter 4, Saul/Paul on the Damascus Road

The Scripture reading this week is Acts 9:1-22

The Sermon title is Open Your Eyes!

Early Thoughts: God is doing a new thing! Why is it so hard to see that? In this week's passage both Saul and Ananias have to have their eyes opened (in Saul's case quite literally).

By this point in the story we have already met Saul.  We saw him standing and approving as Stephen was stoned, then we are told that he was an avid persecutor of the new community. But then he experiences the presence of the Risen Christ and changes to an avid proselytizer for this new thing God has done/is doing.

All we are told about Ananias is that he is a disciple.  It would seem a logical guess to think he might have been a person of some importance within the Christian community in Damascus. God calls on him to bring Saul into the fold. But Ananias knows Saul...surely God must be joking? or God is mistaken? This horrible man who is out to destroy us, you want me to go to him? But Ananias does so and God's ability to change people is revealed. I do note that because the story is about Saul we do not know what Ananias thinks of the end result.

The work of the Risen Christ is to transform people. Sometimes that transformation is to bring the outsider, even the violent opposition, into the fold. Sometimes that transformation is to remind us that God can call and use "even them" in the work of the Kingdom.

What are the new things we might miss because we are too set in our understandings of how God is at work? Where do we need our eyes to be opened?  And what will it take to make that happen
--Gord

Monday, April 9, 2018

Looking Ahead to April 15, 2018 -- Easter 3, Jesus by the Lakeshore

The Scripture reading this week is John 21:1-25

The Sermon title is Gone Fishing

Early Thoughts: The world is changed, but sometimes we just want to go back to what we know best...

But once touched by Easter can we ever truly go home again?

Not if you are Peter. By now we have had multiple appearance stories in John's Gospel.  Jesus has been seen and spoken with 3 times in Chapter 20. But still the Disciples have yet to become ready to go out and share the story. They have gone back to the beginning, back to where it all started [although strictly speaking John's Gospel does not have a story of the fishers being called by the lakeshore at the beginning of the story -- unlike Matthew Mark and Luke]. And once there I get the sense they are not sure what to do next.

So Peter goes fishing. It is what he knows best. Is he trying to get back to what once was? Is he seeking comfort in the familiar? Is he trying to earn a bit of money? Is he just trying to fill time with something because otherwise life is just too difficult?  We don't know.

What we are told is that the fishing was not good. Total failure in fact. A whole night of nothing. The some stranger comes by and makes a suggestion: "try the other side". Because every fisher likes to be given helpful advice from some stranger walking by. Right?

The miraculous catch that ensues reveals who the stranger is.  "It is the Lord!"  And then Peter and Christ have this shore lunch exchange about love and service. It is often suggested that the threefold declaration of love is John's counter to Peter's threefold denial during the passion story.

What does this story tell us about Easter?

One is that once having experienced Easter we can't go back to doing things the same old way. We have to be ready to "try the other side". Because life has been changed and so we also have been changed (if we let ourselves be changed).

The other is that as followers of the Risen Christ we have to remember that love is a verb. It is not enough to love Christ, we also have to follow him, we also have to put love into practice by caring for those whom God loves.

The second point pushes us to ask how we care for the lambs and sheep as commanded by the Good Shepherd. How do we respond when there is a chemical attack (again) in Syria? How do we respond to the reality that Grande Prairie has such a high rate of overdose deaths in the midst of the opiod crisis? How do we care for our neighbours near and far?

The first point pushes us to ask if we are truly open to being transformed. Often we really want things to go back to the "good old days" rather than be introduced to the "good new days". We are reluctant to admit we need to try the other side. Where do we, as individuals, as a community of faith, as a larger community need to be open for change? Where do we need to stop doing things the way we always have done?
--Gord

Monday, April 2, 2018

Between Death and Life (a piece for the Newspaper)

In my line of work I am often asked “ready for Sunday yet?” Normally my response is something like “sort of”. But at this time of year I think the question is really quite apt. Are we ready for Sunday? Are we ready for resurrection to be revealed and the world to be changed? Or are we really spending our time living on Saturday, to stay in the space between death and life.

Holy Saturday, the time of waiting does not get a lot of attention. Some churches have prayer vigils on that day, but many use the time to change the decorations from the sombreness of Lent and Good Friday to the brightness that will accompany the Easter celebration. But we need to stop in that time in-between time, we need to ponder what it means to exist in the time between death and life.

There is a cartoon that popped up in my Facebook memories as Easter approached this year. It was about “Schrödinger's Easter” and said that as long as the tomb remains closed Jesus can be seen as both dead and alive. (The reference is to a thought experiment called Schrödinger's Cat and I only know that courtesy of Sheldon Cooper and The Big Bang Theory.) I think it is a great way to describe Saturday living. Dead or alive?

Jesus is dead. They watched him die. But we who know the rest of the story know that on Sunday morning the tomb will be empty. There us a temptation to jump to the end. Even as we tell the story of the death we want to jump to the end, because it makes us feel better to celebrate life than to name and feel the reality of death. I want us to stop and spend time in the in-between.

Being in the in-between allows us to name the reality of death and loss. Remaining in the in-between allows us to feel the reality of death and loss. I know it is not often a comfortable place to be but maybe it is the time spent in the in-between that opens us up for the transforming power of resurrection. Because, in the end, Easter changes everything. Unlike Lazarus, Jesus is not resuscitated, he is resurrected and transformed. Truth be told, I think most people actually look for resuscitation.

One of the biggest challenges about resurrection is that it means transformation. The Easter stories in the Gospel make it clear that people had trouble recognizing the Risen Christ. In a very real way the man they met in the garden or on the road to Emmaus was different from the man they had seen led out to be killed. It was not just life being breathed back into the old body and the stopped heart restarted. Jesus had been transformed; the new life after Easter was not the same as life before the cross.

The same can be said for Jesus’ followers. Before they experienced resurrection they were afraid, hiding, certain they would be next for the cross. Afterwards they were filled with strength and courage, able to launch a movement that would reach from a tiny Roman province to the center of the world and beyond. The transformation was complete and world-changing.

To embrace new life means we have to stop looking for the old life to return. To open ourselves to the possibility of resurrection life means that we need to be ready to be surprised (although that does sound like a contradictory sentence). Nobody expects resurrection, it comes out of left field and surprises us with a life we had not foreseen. Saturday time, the liminal space between death and life, gives us the space to let go of old hopes as we stand on the threshold of something new.

Maybe we need an economic resurrection? Not just the resuscitation of the way we have been for decades but a transformed way of living with each other. Maybe we are struggling with addictions, and we need to let that part of our life be killed so that healing can occur? Maybe we have been aiming at the wrong goals and now need to let those things fall away so we can work toward goals that bring fuller life? Where do you need death and resurrection in your personal life? Where do we need death and resurrection in our corporate life? Can we sit in the in-between to give God space to bring new life and hope?

Blessed Easter to all. Beyond the fear and uncertainty of Saturday time, the space between death and life, may we all find the promise, the hope, the joy of Sunday’s dawn.

Looking Forward to April 8, 2018 -- Easter 2, Jesus Appears to the Disciples

This Sunday we are pleased to welcome the handbell choir Jubiloso as they take part in our worship.

We will also be celebrating the sacrament of baptism.

The Scripture passage for this week is John 20:19-31

The Sermon title is Would You Believe?

Early Thoughts: I have always felt sorry for Thomas. In John 20 we are told that on the evening of Easter Day the disciples are huddled in an upper room, plausibly hiding from the authorities who might haul them all off to be crucified next, Thomas has the courage (or maybe he drew the short straw) to go out into town. Maybe he went to buy food?

While he was away Jesus appears in the room, Easter becomes real for the people gathered there. When Thomas gets back they all tell him “We have seen the Lord” but Thomas says he will only believe when he sees for himself. And ever since Christians have called him Doubting Thomas

It has been said that Thomas is the patron saint of everyone who misses church (or some other gathering) only to be told that the most wonderful thing has happened that day. But really I think he gets a raw deal. After all, what would you say if you were him? Would you believe this amazing story?

And to be fair Thomas does not ask for anything that all the others did not get.  They all got to see and hear the Risen Christ before they believed/understood Easter. Thomas simply says he needs the same level of proof.

The challenge is for us. We do not generally experience the Risen Christ standing in our midst showing us the wounds of crucifixion (or if we do it is a much more mystical way than that described in the Easter stories). Even Paul (whose story we will hear later this month) has a different type of experience than the ones we find in the appearance stories. How can we believe that Jesus who died is now alive? And can we accept that this Risen Christ has deputized us, as he deputizes the disciples in an upper room in this passage, to go out and continue sharing the Good News? Where do we find the energy/strength/confidence to continue the work of Kingdom-building?

It is the Easter season. Christ is Risen. Can we believe it? Can we allow resurrection to change how we live?
--Gord

Monday, March 26, 2018

Looking Ahead to April 1, 2018 -- Easter Sunday

This being the first Sunday of the month we will include the celebration of Communion in our Easter celebration.

Also because it is the first Sunday of the month we will be having our 2nd Offering. This is a monthly offering taken specifically to fund our Outreach program, which offers grocery vouchers to people who have been referred by one of the social agencies in Grande Prairie.

And because it is Easter Sunday the Handbell Choir will be playing during the worship (and the Sr. Choir will be singing 2 anthems and the Jr Choir will also sing -- I am thinking the sermon might need to be shorter!)

This year we will hear the Easter morning story as told by John (John 20:1-18)

The Sermon title is April Fool's?.

Early Thoughts: They thought they had won! The troublemaker was dead and buried. The kingdoms of the world had triumphed over the one who proclaimed the kingdom of God.

And then...

SURPRISE!

Easter comes as a surprise to everyone in the Gospels. Nobody is expecting it. In fact most people do not even recognize what has happened at first. Jesus is dead (everyone is clear on that....as a minister in my childhood pointed out, if the Romans wanted you dead you would be good and dead). By all appearances, the story has come to a tragic end.

Somehow it is a little fitting that this year the surprise is revealed on April Fools day. There is a tradition that Easter was a grand joke God played on the powers of the world (usually personified as Satan). Just when they think they have one God plays a final card and everything is turned around. The powers are in fact defeated, death has lost its sting. Life wins!

Where do we think the powers of the world have won this year? What has happened to help kill the promise of the kingdom this year? Where might we be surprised to find that the dead is indeed alive?
--Gord

Looking Forward to March 30, 2018 -- Good Friday (10:00 am)

As we move through Holy Week we pause to remember the whole story. It may be tempting to jump from the joy of a Palm Parade to the joy of an empty tomb but that is not the story (Personally I think it also robs the Easter story of some of its power). Instead we follow the cycle from triumph to defeat to waiting for possible triumph. On Friday we sink to the depths of defeat. With the close of the Friday service we enter the time of vigil and waiting. In fact there is a tradition that the Good Friday service does not actually end. Instead it goes into recess, ending only after the first service of Easter.

This year we will read the Good Friday Scripture as told in John's Gospel (John 18:1-19:42).

Early Thoughts: What leaps out from the story this year? After all, we read one version of it every year.

One of the classical understandings of the cross is that Jesus dies in our place. Given that in chapter 11, after Jesus raised Lazarus, the comment is made that it is better that one man should die than the nation be destroyed it would appear that John's Gospel might support such a reading.  Though of course Caiaphas was referring to the quashing of a rabble-rousing revolutionary before he led the nation against Rome, not a theological point about sin and forgiveness. But at the same time John is unique in that by his account Jesus says "it is finished" and gives up his life at approximately the same time that the Passover lambs are being killed before roasting for the Seder meal that evening. So obviously John sees some symbolism here along the lines of Jesus dying on our behalf.

What might that mean? What might it mean that the Word-Made-Flesh, that God-With-Us chooses to give up his life? That would seem to be a primary theological question on Good Friday. What does it say about the kingship and power language so evident in the trial by Pilate? How does that tie in to Pilate and Jesus' exchange about truth? What does it say about teh leadership who are so willing to sacrifice Jesus to protect "the nation"?
--Gord

Looking Ahead to March 29, 2018 -- Maundy Thursday

The worship on Maundy Thursday invites us to remember Jesus' last meal with his friends.  So naturally we have our worship within a meal.  Our combined potluck/worship begins at 6:00 in the West basement.  Please use the north west door when you arrive.

During our gathering we will hear these Scripture Readings:
  • John 13:3-17, 34-35
  • 1 Corinthians 11:20-26
Early Thoughts: We call the Thursday before Good Friday Maundy.  Why? The title comes from the Latin word maundatum which means commandment. And that is because one of the traditional passages for that night is from John 13 where Jesus says "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another", a commandment given just after Jesus has modeled servant-leadership in the washing of the disciple's feet.

What does it mean to be known by the fact that we love one another?
What does it mean to be given that commandment the night before Jesus is arrested, tried, and convicted?

In the other three Gospels the Last Supper is set as a Passover Seder [in John's Gospel it is not as John has Jesus die about the time that the Passover lambs were being killed and prepped for roasting to become the main course for the Seder --symbolic much there John?]. In those accounts we get another commandment. We are commanded that we are to eat and drink and remember, that we break the bread and pass the cup in remembrance of Jesus.

How does the communal meal (which from reading Paul's words in 1 Corinthians we can tell has been a hallmark of Christian worship from the very beginning) tie in to the commandment to love?
--Gord