Monday, May 2, 2016

Looking Forward to May 8, 2016 -- Easter 7, Paul Teaches About Resurrection

This Sunday we will celebrate the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture passage for this week is 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57

The Sermon title is L'Chaim

Early Thoughts: 6 weeks ago we began the Easter Season with the story of women visiting the tomb, finding it empty, being told of Resurrection and then fleeing in terror.  Now, on the last Sunday of the Easter Season we listen to Paul tell the Corinthians what Resurrection means.

Part of me would like to read the whole 58 verses of chapter 15.  I think we miss out on the full strength of Paul's argument when we skip those central verses (we miss the spiritual body and the physical body as well as the seed imagery-- although that does tend to lead into a dualistic approach to body and soul/spirit).  But then there would be even more options to choose from as a sermon hook. As it is there are plenty to choose from. In fact I suspect one could use 1 Corinthians 15 as your primary text for the whole Easter season...lots of sermons in that chapter.

One of the themes in this chapter is the idea of victory. Conquering the last enemy. This idea of victory is an ancient understanding of Easter. In opening the tomb and raising Christ God shatters the power of death. I suggest that we still live in a culture where death and dying are sources of terror. Maybe we are afraid of the death of our loved ones or ourselves. Maybe we fear for the death of our church, or our service club, or some other organization. But theoretically as people of Easter faith we should no longer be afraid of death because we know that life wins. In the end life still wins. How do our lives show that we believe that death no longer has the victory, that death has lost its sting?

Not to mention that this is the passage where we find "The last enemy to be destroyed is death", which is inscribed on the tombstone of James and Lily Potter. When they find this Harry and Hermione have a discussion about what it means, about how death is destroyed.

The sermon title is a Hebrew toast, literally meaning to life. As we stand in the Easter season, as we proclaim that God has conquered death, what other statement of faith could we share but l'chaim?
--Gord

Monday, April 25, 2016

May Newsletter

Take A Break!

When were stores open when you were little? When were they not allowed to be open? And was that a good thing?

In both Deuteronomy and in Exodus Moses shares the 10 Commandments as given to him by God. And in both cases we are told that there should be one day a week where we do not work – we are commanded to keep Sabbath. And as I prepare for my Sabbatical this summer I find myself pondering the purpose of this commandment.

I am remembering a story (joke?). One night after Bible Study people were talking about how busy they were. One after another they shared, or even boasted, that they had not taken a day off in weeks. As the discussion paused, one woman said quietly, “I know that we sometimes have trouble living how God would want us to. But usually we feel guilty about breaking commandments. What makes sabbath different?”

What makes sabbath different indeed? Many of us can talk about how rarely we take a day to do no work. Not just a day off from our employment but a day when we do no work (laundry, housecleaning, mowing the lawn...). But is that a good thing?

Why is Sabbath-time important? In a world where commerce goes 7 days a week. In a world where even statutory holidays are becoming shopping days, where one can go into a store and see an apology that they are no longer open 24 hours a week (as happened to me recently), where thousands of people do not take all their holiday time, where thousands of people are overworked and exhausted in mind and body, where economic health and activity is seen as the most important thing why would we even consider the quaint idea that it might be a good thing for work and commerce stop for 1/7 of our time?

Because we would be healthier. Physically healthier, emotionally healthier, mentally healthier, spiritually healthier. Our relationships would (hopefully) be stronger as we spent more time just being together. Maybe not when we first started doing it, anxiety might make us a little on edge for a while thinking about what we could be accomplishing. But once we become accustomed to saying “no work” for a day we would be healthier. We would have time to recover and regenerate. We would push ourselves to re-vision what we thought was most important.

Once upon a time Sabbath time was regulated. Commerce stopped for one day a week because the law demanded it. I remember 30+ years ago when Alberta was having the debate about Sunday shopping and other places have had that debate even more recently – in 2005 Patty and I were in Halifax for a weekend and when the event we were attending was over and we tried to find somewhere to get something for supper found that everything was closed because it was Sunday. I think there was great wisdom in mandating hours or days when commerce stopped. I also think that it was problematic to tie that mandate to one religious expression. And so even though I think we are healthier when we take a Sabbath day I am not sure legislation is the best way to go about it.

Like everything else about our life of faith, I believe that is is a matter of choice. If we as a community, as a nation, chose we could create a situation where people had the opportunity to choose to take Sabbath time. We could create a world where people do not have to go full-tilt 7 days a week just to keep up (whether that be with bills or with having a house as clean as it “ought to be”, or with the perfect yard, or with having all the right activities for their children, or whatever else programs and fills our days). And while we are building that world we could choose to step off the treadmill for a day every so often, we could test and model Sabbath.

It won't necessarily be easy. It would require a rethink of our lives. But that is what God keeps asking us to do – rethink our lives. God challenges us to put our priorities in places that we might sometimes think strange. But over and over again Scripture shows that this just might be because God has a clearer understanding of what we actually need.

One final thought. In Deuteronomy the reason given for observing Sabbath is that the people are no longer slaves. Slaves can't choose when not to work but free people can. And so the next time you insist you can't take Sabbath-time I encourage you to ask yourself if you are a slave or if you are free. And then you might ask who or what has enslaved you...

Then go ahead, take a break. Help others find a way to take a break. It is good for all of us.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Looking Ahead to May 1, 2016 -- 6th Sunday of Easter, Paul's Hymn to Love

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

The Scripture reading for this week is 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

The Sermon title is: Love -- The Greatest Gift

Early Thoughts: Just before this (and again just after it as it happens) Paul spends time talking about Spiritual Gifts. In chapter 12 he has outlined a number of them, even as he has also reminded the divided (possibly even fractious) congregation in Corinth that they are not to lord their gifts above others, that all gifts are needed.  Then we have this beloved passage [one of my favourite pieces of Scripture].

This passage suffers, I suspect, from being overly associated with Weddings.  And I get it, what better time to share Paul's great hymn to love than a wedding. But we need to go deeper with it.

In the Gospels Jesus makes it clear that the greatest commandment we have is to LOVE.  Love God, Love neighbour, love each other as Jesus has loved us. Love is the gift that makes all the other gifts possible. Love, so they say, is what makes the world go round (or is that money???). All we need is love the Beatles told us so many years ago (before some of us were born).

It is in love: deep abiding love, love that sees each other clearly, love that pushes us to do the impossible that we are able to be the people God has called us to be. And even more, if we don't have that deep abiding empowering love we are nothing. Without love our gifts are useless. Love is what completes us.

Another writer of the Christian Scriptures, the writer of the letters of John, will later tell us that God is love.

The whole of Christian tradition tells us that LOVE is the center of how we are able to be who we are called to be. The whole of Christian tradition tells us that living that love is our primary task. [And the whole of Christian history tells us how hard that has been to actually do.]  SO we stand with Paul and say....THe Greatest of these is LOVE.
--Gord


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Newspaper Submission

For this round I chose to adapt this piece I wrote for the March Newsletter:

Belief, and Doubt, and Faith

In the Broadway hit musical The Book of Mormon there is a song called “I Believe” and in that song this line occurs a few times:
I am a Mormon and a Mormon just believes”
And lets be honest, sometimes it feels like faith would be easier if we could say that, if we could just believe without question what others tell us to believe. But of course that is not the case, even in the song it is obvious that the singer is trying to convince himself that this is so rather than actually believing it. In reality knowing what we believe is a process of thought and discernment and evolution – many of us have slightly (or vastly) different beliefs about God and life and meaning at various times in our lives.

And so I think of another song, this one by Canadian singer-songwriter Linnea Good, where the chorus says:
“Believing may be easy but faith is slow, it takes a lot of doubting for our faith to grow!”
That sounds much more realistic to me. Faith is something that we wrestle with all our lives. Sometimes it is easy to have faith. Sometimes it is a struggle to believe in things that don't seem to make much sense from a rational, logical perspective. But I firmly believe that it is in the struggles that we learn and grow in our faith, in our understanding of God, and in our relationship with God.

One of the things I like about my faith home is that we have a tradition which encourages “Christians of each new generation are called to state it [the Church's faith] afresh...with the emphasis their age needs”. My predecessors have not handed down to me a static unchanging faith. They have handed to me a faith that is open to questions and reformulation and growth.

Another thing I like about our approach to faith is that we are what is technically called “non-creedal”. This does not mean we don't have or use statements of faith. It does not mean there are no standards about what we believe. It really just means that we do not require members or leaders or clergy to sign a piece of paper saying they agree to a specific understanding of Christian faith.

We are encouraged to ask questions. Questions and doubts do not show a lack of faith, they show an engaged faith. In every other aspect of life we are told that questions are how we learn, why should it be different in our faith and spiritual life?

Then we are invited to share where our questions and explorations have led us, so that we can invite others to share their results with us. And so here is some of where I have ended up (so far);
  • I believe that God is active in the world, stirring people's hearts and minds, pushing us to new understandings of how to live in the world, challenging us to change our attitudes and behaviours to match those understandings.
  • I believe that in Jesus of Nazareth God was doing a new thing, God was being revealed in a new way.
  • I believe that the experience of Easter, of encountering the reality of resurrection, changed the lives of Jesus' followers in such a profound way that their understanding of everything that had gone before was changed, including their understanding of who Jesus was.
  • I believe, with Hamlet, that there are “more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy” and so there are things that we cannot explain rationally, which forces us to accept paradox and ambiguity, trusting that there we will meet God.
  • I believe that the primary purpose of being a follower of Christ is not to win a reward after our death but to make a difference in the world where we live.
  • I believe that the original blessing pronounced at Creation “and God said it was very good” has never been withdrawn and that it trumps all else. However in our acceptance of free will we can and do choose to act in ways that denies that blessing and turn our backs on who we are created to be.
  • I believe that the Kingdom of God is real and among us and slowly growing to full flower and majesty. Someday it will be revealed in all its fullness and the world will be what it could be. I believe that is very arrogant and misguided for anyone to claim to know when or how that will happen or what it will look like in the end.
What are your questions? What are your answers?


Monday, April 11, 2016

Looking Forward to April 17, 2016 -- Easter 4, Paul in Corinth

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Acts 18:1-11 1
  • Corinthians 1:10-18
The Sermon title is Church Building

Early Thoughts: What does it take to build a church?

It takes a vision, and possibly a visionary.  It needs a person or a group of people who see what is possible. People who are willing to pony up the support needed as the new community coalesces and grows.

It takes a sense of mission, a clarity of the Gospel.

It takes a willingness to work together despite differences.

Sometimes it seems that last one can be the hardest to find...

As we follow Paul through the book of Acts, supplemented by what he himself says in his letters, we see him planting and building churches.  We see a visionary with a firm grasp of the Gospel he is called to share. We see a preacher who is not dismayed by early "failures" and obstructionist behaviour but shakes himself off and tries again. We see a man who is able to form a core community of faith who will carry on after he has moved on. And when it comes to Corinth, we see that differences withing the community can cause trouble from the beginning.

The overarching theme of the letter we call 1 Corinthians is unity in (or despite?) diversity. This will come up over and over. But in this first chapter the problem appears to be that the community is divided by who they see as the best teacher of the faith. In response Paul reminds them that the teacher is not the point. The one to whom the teachers point is the center of attention.

THe process of church building never really stops.  We don't get to the point of being able to point at it and say "There! Done!". And so we continue to need that core group of vision-keepers (and vision-casters). And we still need that clarity of mission, that understanding of the Gospel/Evangel/Good News that we have to share. And we still need to be ready to look at and deal with the differences of opinion and understanding that come up.

How do we continue to build/renovate/re-build the church?
--Gord

Monday, April 4, 2016

Looking Forward to April 10, 2016 -- 3rd Sunday of Easter

This Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism.

Over the Easter Season we will be hearing stories from the Early Church in the book of Acts and some Passages from Paul's letters.  The Scripture Reading for this week is Acts 3:1-10.

The Sermon title is Get Up And Walk.

Early Thoughts: Immediately before this story is the account of Pentecost.  The church has just been inaugurated. The apostles have received the blessing and gift of the Holy Spirit. ANd they go out and start building the church!

Imagine, no strategic planning sessions, no vision and mission statements, they just go out and do it.

And in the first outing that we hear about Peter and James meet a beggar. Now there are choices.  Ignore him and walk around.  OR just say "sorry can't help you".  How many of us would do those things? But Peter has another option. He can't give what is being asked. But he can give something else. Wholeness.

That is what the church is about. Offering wholeness. It may or may not take the form that people ask for, but we are called to offer wholeness. We are called to share the God we meet in Christ Jesus, to offer wholeness in the name of Christ, to meet the people at the gates of God's kingdom and invite/help them come in and join the community.

Can we do that? Can we challenge people to get up and walk? Do we know what it is we have to offer? Are we willing to offer it? Even when it is not what people are directly asking for?
--Gord

Thursday, March 31, 2016

April Newsletter Submission (such as it is)

Could you live in 600 square feet?

That is the premise of the Tiny House movement, as shown on shows like “Tiny House Hunters” (and many of those houses are much smaller than 600 square feet). The premise of the show is a family looking to buy and live in one of these houses. The movement sells itself as a low-cost housing solution.

It is an interesting idea. It would push one to be VERY selective about what one keeps and what one can do without. And that is where I think it has the most merit.

Most families could not live in such a small space and remain healthy. Particularly in a climate where you spend a lot of time indoors. I suspect most of us would be at each other's throats in a relatively short time. And indeed I have seen at least one article that suggests many families end up not using their tiny house as a primary residence. But the question of how much stuff we have remains.

Over the last few decades average house sizes have continued to increase, even while average family size has decreased. By current standards the 6 of us living in a 1200 square foot (plus finished basement) 3 bedroom house are cramped. We have different assumptions about how much space we need to live than earlier generations did. We also have more stuff and larger furniture (think overstuffed couches and queen or king sized beds). Indeed many people find that the amount of stuff they accumulate expands to fill the available space.

I wonder what we would do if we had to move in to a house half that size.... Have a big yard sale? Donate a couple truckloads to Goodwill? Then again that may not be the worst idea (the purging and culling – not the moving into a tiny house).

I am remembering that Jesus challenged his followers not to worry about possessions, or even to worry about where their next meal was coming from. Jesus sent his followers out into the world with instructions to carry pretty much nothing.

Where do we find the middle ground between living wholly on faith and trust and relying on the kindness of strangers versus accumulating stuff and ensuring we have at least 3 days worth of basic supplies in an emergency kit (ironically most of us, even with all our stuff, don't have that emergency kit)?

I am not sure. But I do think our faith challenges us to do so. Our faith challenges us to rethink how big our houses need to be and how much stuff we have in part as an exercise in determining priorities. But the big reason our faith challenges us on our possessions is as an exercise in stewardship.

What do we do with the gifts God/life/circumstance have given us? How many of us have so much stuff that we could not possibly use all of it (how many of us have stuff we forget we even have because it has been in storage for so long)? I know we do. We can barely use our basement as living/playing space. Yes, in our case much of it is gifts given to the girls and/or inherited things and hand-me-downs. But still I have to wonder if this is a model of good stewardship.

I encourage all of us to consider what we have in our lives that we could cull down and/or do without.

And as it happens... the garage sale is coming up. Maybe our culling and thinning can end up providing more treasures for someone else to bring into their lives.
Gord