Monday, February 25, 2013

Looking Forward to March 3, 2013 -- 3rd Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Joshua 24:14-24 
  • Psalm 1 (VU p.724)
  • Matthew 5:3-12 
The Sermon title is The Church in the World: IN But Not OF  

Early Thoughts: Christian faith is full of paradoxes and oxymorons. Chief among them is the idea that we live in the now and the not yet when it comes to describing the here and yet coming Reign of God. Another is this week's sermon title.

As people of faith we have little choice but to live in the world, unless you feel called to set up a stand-alone community and isolate yourselves--which I would argue goes against the life and vision of Jesus. But at the same time we are challenged to have a different set of priorities from the rest of the world. In the end we need to be worldwise but not worldly. And in 2000 years we have never done a good job of figuring out what that means.

It probably doesn't help that for much of Christian History in the West the nations/kingdoms/empires have been, nominally at least, "Christian". In that context it became very tempting for the church to fall into the trap of believing that the way the world ran was the same as the way the church should run, especially when the Bishops and Princes of the church were also Secular rulers and Princes (many bishops and abbots had --or still have-- seats in the English House of Lords, the Papal States were a separate country, the Church hierarchy routinely helped the absolute rulers of Europe put down the "rabble" in Peasant revolts to name just a few examples). Even as the governing systems moved toward democracy it was often hard for the church to provide an alternate view of how things could be.

One of the seminal works to address the paradox of in the world but not of the world was H Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture. Mind you, said book is not an easy read by any means. This blog has a series of posts summarizing Niebuhr's points (the link is to the last in a series of posts, at the top of it there are links to the earlier posts).  Niebuhr outlines a variety of ways that the church of Christ and the world could interact.

In the end, there is a difference to being IN the world (not like we have much of a choice about that) and being OF the world. To be OF the world means that we accept as important what the world says is important. It means we accept the idea that things are as they are. But as people of faith we are called to offer a different perspective. We can, and certainly should, question the priorities of the world around us. We have the ability to suggest where things have gone off the rails both inside and outside the church. This is a part of being faithful. It was always important but now, in a changed world it is perhaps more important. Now the church has a less direct route in setting the agenda for our society (and that may well be a GOOD thing) and so we have to be more intentional in how we get our voice heard. But the blessing is that as the church moves away from the center of power it may also become easier to find the difference between living in the world and becoming too much like the world.

Monday, February 18, 2013

March Newsletter

This is the first verse of one of my favourite Lenten hymns. Mind you many times I have used it on a Sunday only to have a winter storm blow in the next day. Almost like a challenge.

As the sun with longer journey
melts the winter's snow and ice,
with its slowly growing radiance
warms the seed beneath the earth,
may the sun of Christ's uprising
gently bring our hearts to life. 
(Verse 1 of #111 in Voices United ©1981 John Patrick Earls)

With spring comes the lengthening of days, warming the soil (eventually, once all the snow and frost are gone – sometime around May in these parts) and promising new life. With Spring also comes Easter and its promise of new life. Both Spring and Easter bring the promise of life in the face of seeming total death. 

But of course there is a problem with the hymn. It is not the journey of the sun that brings this to happen. It is the journey of the earth. As winter moves into spring and spring into summer the path taken by this spinning speck of rock and water turns us into the sun for longer and longer. Even on a daily basis we make the age-old mistake as we talk about sunrise and sunset (now I have the song from Fiddler on the Roof running through my head, but that links to a whole other set of musings).

Astronomy tells us that the sun does move, pulling us around the galaxy with it. But that movement is not responsible for sunrise. What we call sunrise is really our portion of the globe turning toward the sun. And I think the same image works for the new life of Easter.

Maybe the new life of Easter is found, not by the Son turning to us but by our turning to the Son. Maybe the warmth of God's love is only truly felt when we turn towards it, when we open ourselves up to it. God moves in the universe, pulling us around – sometime willingly, sometimes less so – with God. But maybe that is only part of the story? 

The Sun's light and warmth are there whether we are on the part of the globe turned towards it or away from it. God's light and hope and life are always there. But maybe we only fully appreciate and experience them when we turn towards them? 

This Lent and Easter season how will you turn (or let yourself be turned) towards the Son? How will “the sun of Christ's uprising gently bring [y]our hearts to life”? What is the dawn that awaits you this Easter morning?

Looking Forward to February 24, 2013 -- 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Matthew 28:16-21
  • Mark 16:9-18
The Sermon Title is The Church in the World: Witness & Testimony  

Early thoughts: How do we tell the faith story outside of church?  Or maybe DO we tell the story of faith outside the church?

Part of the Christian Life is evangelism. Yeah, that's right, I just used the E word. Evangelism is one of those words that the mainline churches has not spent a lot of time on. The result has been that the Christian Right has been allowed to define what it means to be evangelistic (and now we are even more afraid to talk about evangelism for fear of being seen as the same as "them").

But really evangelism doesn't have to mean Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham on our TV screens. To be an evangelist means to be a bringer of good news. The writers of the Gospels were evangelists. Peter and Paul were evangelists, you can be an evangelist too. (somehow as I write this I have the old Dr. Pepper commercial running through my head "...wouldn't you like to be a pepper too?") If we truly believe that we have found Good News in our faith then why not share it?

"Oh but I could never do that! I couldn't stand around and talk about my faith." Well maybe not (and maybe it is easier to do that than many of us often think). But there are other ways to be evangelists. We can witness to our faith by how we act towards others. We witness to our faith when we stand up for an issue of justice. We witness to our faith when we challenge what is being said and done around us. And of course we witness to our faith when we talk about why we go to church.

Evangelism is not optional. Not only is it the way the church grows, but it is also part of how we integrate Sunday morning with the rest of the week. When we take the chance to be witnesses, to share testimony (however we do that) it allows our own faith to get deeper into our hearts and souls.

Oh and by the way...a big reason (probably bigger than the reputation of the minister) why people come to church is because a friend invited them. What do we have that we want to share with our friends and neighbours?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Looking Forward to February 17, 2013 -- 1st Sunday of Lent

THe Scripture Reading this week is: Luke 9:51-62; 10:1-6

The Sermon title is The Church in the World: Gospel in One Hand, Paper in the Other 

Early Thoughts: Why do we need to be aware of the world around us?  Why not go ahead in our own way?

Admittedly these question are asked more for rhetorical value than anything else.  Obviously we try to link faith to life right?????  It would be foolish to try and do other wise?????

One of the great theologians of the 20th Century was the neo-orthodox thinker Karl Barth.  Barth has long been reported to have said that we need to do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other (although what exactly he said on the issue is unclear as this article discusses).  ANd for decades preachers have taken that idea to heart.  Mind you I suspect that the dictum needs to be updated, maybe to something looking a bit more like this...
A screenshot I built on my computer today...

But why is it important to know our context (I take it for granted that it is vitally important)?  In a word "relevance".  Faith is not a hived off part of our lives, faith is something that informs the rest of our lives.  If we do not ensure we are aware of what is happening in the world around us then it is too easy for our faith to become disconnected with our lives.

What questions do the events of the world (both around the block and around the globe) ask of us, of faith, of Scripture?  What challenges are raised up?  How should people of faith and the church (because sometimes those are different answers) respond?  We only approach these questions by keeping the Gospel in one window and sources of news/information in another.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lenten Theme

To do something a little bit different, and to start discussion about how to develop the goals Council has set for the year (specifically the one about building visibility and community in the community) we will follow a theme of The Church in the World for most of the Sundays of Lent (there is one Sunday where I am away).  Here are some details:

February 17:
The Church in the World: Gospel in One Hand, Bible in the Other
Looking at the importance of knowing the world in which we minister.
Scripture:  Luke 9:51-62; 10:1-6

February 24:
The Church in the World: Witness & Testimony
This week we will visit the importance of evangelism--telling our stories.
Scripture:  Matthew 28:16-21 and Mark 16:9-18

March 3:
The Church in the World: IN But Not OF
One of the historic paradoxes of Christian thought is that we are called to be in the world actively but we are not to be of the world or worldly
Scripture:  Joshua 24:14-24 and Psalm 1 (VU p.724) and Matthew 5:3-12

March 17:
The Church in the World: Poverty and Wealth
John's Gospel includes the words "You always have the poor with you".  What do we do with that?
Scripture:  Isaiah 55:1-9 and John 12:1-8

Monday, February 4, 2013

Looking Ahead to February 10, 2013 -- Last Sunday Before Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
Isaiah 6:1-8
Luke 5:1-11

The Sermon title is Unworthy yet Chosen 

Early Thoughts: There is a theme in Scripture.  (OK there are MANY themes in Scripture but just bear with me for a moment)  When someone hears a call from God they do not usually jump up and say "Great!  What do you want me to do?".  Most often there is a reluctance to listen.  Jeremiah claimed he was too young.  Jonah thought the task was senseless and took off in the opposite direction.  Samuel needed to hear the voice of God three times before his mentor could even help him figure out what was happening.

In our stories this week we have a response that may be a little more common in many people's minds.  Isaiah in the temple and Simon on the seashore are both convinced that they are unworthy to be chosen.  God is revealed in their presence and they both are overcome with feelings of unworthiness/sinfulness.  I suspect that many people know just how they feel.  It is awe-ful to know that you are being chosen.

But note that neither God in the temple nor Jesus at the seashore puts any stock in these objections.  They don't dismiss or ignore them (that would be rude and insulting).  Instead they say, in essence, "that's okay" you are just right for the job.  Isaiah is cleansed, Simon is told not to be afraid and then they are moved into the task to which they have been called.

God is calling us.  We may feel unworthy.  We may feel under-equipped.  We may doubt that the task is worth trying.  We may be convinced we are not competent.  We may be deaf to the sound.  And all of those things could be partly or wholly true.  But still God continues to call us.  God has a task, a vocation (or more likely a series of tasks or vocations over the span of our life) for us.

How will you respond to the call???