Monday, June 29, 2015

Looking Ahead to July 5, 2015

The Scripture Reading this week is Psalm 40:1-10

The Sermon title is Sing! Rejoice!

Early Thoughts:  The old hymn asks "How can I keep from singing?"

This week's Psalm is a song of praise for life being returned to an even keel.  And what else can one do but sing?

Over and over again Scripture tells us to sing, particularly to sing a new song.  Music touches and speaks for our heart in a way very different than spoken or written text.  We sing our praise, we sing our hope, we sing our way out of fear.

I remember a few nights at camp in the midst of severe thunderstorms.  What did we do?  Well sometimes we played indoor games.  But sometimes we just sang.  We sang every song we could think of.  Largely to distract from the thunder and wind and lighting but also because it gathered us as a community.  We sang our way through the storm.

God calls us to sing.  How indeed can we keep from singing?

PS:  Many years ago U2 made a song using the words from Psalm 40.  The story about how that came to be is found here.  ANd here they are singing it...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Sort of Country? -- A newspaper piece for July 3, 2015

Every year, on the first of July we pause and celebrate the country in which we live. But I want us to do more.

I want us to ask ourselves what kind of country we want Canada to be, and then to ask how WE –not our governments, not our leaders, WE the people of Canada – are going to make that happen. I also want us to ask ourselves how we are not the country we want to be, how our history and our present show that we have missed the mark.

For many of us the answers to these questions are shaped by our understandings of the Divine, by our understanding of what sort of a community God would have us create. Who has God created and called us to be?

This year these questions in my mind take on a new urgency. At the beginning of June the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report which outlines a program of cultural genocide, an attempt to eliminate First Nations as a group within the population. This program was led by the government and openly supported and aided by the church community. The report names our past and our present as a lived reality of racism. European and Christian arrogance about what it meant to be “civilized” led us to do things that shock and sicken many modern readers.

Is this what God called us to do? To denigrate our neighbours? To make them second-class citizens in our midst? To create and maintain systemic racism that continues to echo in our present?

I would say no. I would say we have missed the mark. I would say God is calling us now to repair the damage that has been done and to build healthy relationships.

Years ago the fathers of Confederation were wondering what to call this new country. They chose the term 'Dominion' based on Psalm 72 verse 8:
May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. The hope was that the country would indeed stretch from seas to sea and from the St. Lawrence to the northern ends of the earth. Psalm 72 sings about the king and the kingdom. I wonder what else it might have to say...

How about these (verses 4, 12, 13, 14)?May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

In light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report we need to ask: “have we formed a country that meets those criteria? Or have we turned our back on our neighbours, oppressed them, chosen not to deliver and help them?”

As a country we stand at a turning point. We can choose what kind of a country we will be. We can choose how we will live together.

It may not be easy. We will have to hear and accept hard truths about who we have been and who we are. We will have to acknowledge that true reconciliation and change will be a long process.

To use “churchy” language, we need to confess our sins, we need to name what has been done and what is happening and name who benefits and how. We need to repent, to turn around, to go another direction. We need to be willing to let go of old understandings to allow new understandings to rise up. What needs to die so that new life can appear?

I think we as a country are up to the challenge. I think God is calling us to embrace the challenge. I think that in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report God has given us a real opportunity to grow a new understanding of who we are as a country, as a community.

My fear is that we will be afraid or unwilling to take up the challenge, to make use of the opportunity. My fear is that we will be not be ready to face the reality of racism in our midst. My fear is that some will say it “costs too much” to bring about true change, to build healthy relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Canada turns 150 in two years. What kind of a country will we choose to be by then? How will we show the choices we have made? What kind of country is God calling us to be?

Happy Canada Day!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Looking Ahead to June 28, 2015

The Scripture Readings this week are:

The Sermon title is Wait! Trust! God is Here!

Early Thoughts: Where do we turn when life seems to be getting exceptionally difficult?  How do we deal with the hardships of life?

Obviously there are many answers to that question.  But for people of faith a clear option is to look to God.

The Psalms are often called the "hymnbook of the Bible".  And just as our hymn books contain a songs about a variety of topics so does the book of Psalms.  But one of the recurring topics in both collections is the idea that God is with us, that we can trust in God, that we are not alone.

Sometimes we might need to wait a bit.  Sometimes our trust might be tested (either because of the waiting or because we seem to be getting answers we do not like).  But the faith story reminds us that God is with us.  The Faith story reminds us that our strength comes from God.

To state the obvious, life is not always easy.  There are hurdles big and small in the way.  But God is there.  God does not give us on us.  We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Looking Ahead to June 21, 2015 -- Lament, National Aboriginal Day

The Scripture reading this week is Psalm 69:1-16

The Sermon title is Truth, Repentance, Recovery

Early Thoughts:  Sometimes the only appropriate reaction, at least as a starting point, is to weep and wail, to Lament.

Lament is a classic Psalm form.  It is a classic part of faith life, albeit one that we don't seem to give much time for anymore.  When life seems to be falling to pieces, when all seems lost, then it is most appropriate to lament.

Interestingly, in the Psalms often the lament involves blaming/accusing God for the sad state of things, even as they often assume that God will help find a way out of the situation.

What do we have to lament?

It strikes me that we have a big cause to lament.  In light of the TRC work that is ongoing I think it appropriate that we join our brothers and sisters in lamenting the great harm that has been done in our name.

In the face of an accusation of Cutural Genocide offered not by a radical activist but by a Judge who chaired the TRC and by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada I think we have to lament what has happened.  We have to lament the ongoing effects of a long-standing policy of assimilation and integration.  We have to lament a relationship that is certainly broken (although I might argue it was never "fixed" to begin with).

We have to lament the image of a non-indigenous society that was sure they were only doing what was right for their neighbours (along with all the paternalism that went with that assumption), an image that has been shattered as we are forced to look at things in a new light.

ANd then, once we have lamented, the hard work will continue.  We have to build or re-build a relationship.  We have to relearn our history and our understandings of it.  WE have to find the way to reconciliation, beyond apology, beyond truth-telling, beyond injury and compensation, lies actual reconciliation.  The only questions are: do we have the will for the hard work?  an how long will it take?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Looking Forward to June 14, 2015

The Scripture Reading for this week is Psalm 113.  Though we are likely going to use this responsive version.

The Sermon title is fairly simple-- PRAISE!!!

Early Thoughts: It is one of the basic parts of following a theistic faith.  It is one of the basic forms of prayer.  It is a big reason of why we gather together to worship.


What do we have to praise?  Why do we sing songs of thanksgiving?

It seems that we might miss some things in our lists.

WE often will give thanks for family, food, fellowship, friends.  We might remember to add in housing and security.  Maybe we might include government services and supports.

It would be common for us to praise God for beauty, sunrises, mountain vistas and prairie skies.  Maybe we praise God for the artistry of a piece of music, or a dance, or a painting.  Possibly we offer songs of praise for life itself.

What might we be missing?

Change.  Transformation. Turning the world upside down.

We need to praise God for God's vision.  We need to sing praises for God's possibilities.  We need to be thankful that the Kingdom is coming in all its fullness.

That is what I think we forget.

What do we praise?  What will we praise?  Why do we sing?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

June Newsletter #2 -- UCCan at 90

June 10, 1925, the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto, representatives of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Local Union Churches process in to begin a worship service. Something new is being born. Something called the United Church of Canada. (Yes we were born –or at least the delivery took place after years of incubation and labour– in a hockey arena, if nothing else that should cement our Canadian-ness.)

90 years later where are we? Where will we be for the centennial? Some might ask if we will be around for the centennial.

It has not always been easy being the United Church of Canada. Even as we were being birthed a legal battle was beginning with those Presbyterians who had decided to stay out of Union (a battle over the name of the Presbyterian church was not settled until 1939). There was a wondering if this grand experiment would work. Then there were debates over the ordination of women, over the New Curriculum, over sexuality. Add in the challenges that come with being a national body in a country with such diversity and a wide geography as Canada and there have been more than a few challenges along the way.

But let us look to the future (remembering that the future grows out of the present and the present is rooted in the past). Where are we now? Where are we headed?

To begin with a rather obvious statement, we are not the church that was formed in 1925, the church my grandparents became part of as children when the Presbyterian church in Simpson voted to join the new union. Nor are we the church of the 1950's, when my parents generation was growing up. Nor are we the church of my birth and childhood. We have changed. We have grown and contracted. We have challenged theological and social positions and moved to a new understanding of same. A few years ago then Moderator Peter Short spoke of the 3rd generation of church leadership, my generation (which really means a 4th generation is starting to come in as well). This 3rd generation faces a world my grandparents would never have dreamed of – a world we in our childhood would scarcely believe if we want to tell the truth.

AS a result of all the changes over the last generation there is a lot of angst in this United (or Untied as the most common typo would suggest) Church of ours. We finally have been forced to admit that the structures that grew up over our first few decades will not work anymore. We have been forced to admit that the “Golden Age” of the 1950's might have been more an aberration than a future promise.

And so change is on the horizon. This summer the General Council will hear a series of proposals that will dismantle and rebuild the United Church we have known. And then we will start to figure out how to be the church in a new way. A smaller way. A (hopefully) cheaper way. A (again hopefully) more missional way focused on reaching out and sharing what we have to offer instead of assuming we have a place in people's hearts and minds.

Looking at statistics and reports from the church it would be easy to despair. It would be easy to say all is lost and start the palliative care. And in some places palliative care is the current option. But I continue to have hope.

God is still at work here. God is still stirring up hearts and souls. In the end the way we are the community of God is not important. We may like it. We may be invested in it. But in the end it is the fact taht we are the community of God that matters. WE may do it in very different ways, Our parents and grandparents might not even recognize it as the church they knew. But God is still calling us together. God is still challenging us to share the Good News of life hope and love.

I learned this week that the sermon text at that arena 90 years ago was “except a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”. What needs to die that we would continue to be fruitful as a congregation? As a denomination? As the gather residents of the Kingdom of God?

And, remembering that we are people who profess resurrection, who profess that “In life, in death, in life beyond death we are not alone” are we ready to let things die that we might have life and bear fruit?

June Newsletter

This week (as I write this on June 4th) the big national news story in Canada has NOT been the fact that Jeopardy contestants have no comprehension of Canadian geography (as amusing as that always is). No the big news story this week was the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission event and the release of the summary of their final report.

There are certain things that have the potential to be nation shaping, events and times that change who and how we are as Canadians. The TRC process is one of those times.

How will we rebuild a broken relationship? How will we work toward reconciliation? Will we have the courage as Canadians to hear the truth of what was done in our name (and ostensibly in the best interests of all)?

I think many of us, if we are honest, are not surprised by the conclusions being shared. I think some of the details are worse than we had imagined or feared (such as the suggestion that a Canadian soldier in World War II had the same chance of dying as a child in a residential school). I think that the starkness of the conclusion that the residential school system constituted cultural genocide might shock us – hopefully to action. I also think that many Canadians want to do something to help rebuild and reconcile. But we are not at all sure what to do.

Then again we have taken the first few, tentative, steps. Well maybe they weren't tentative, at the time they felt like huge leaps. But in the face of what we now know they were just a bare start. Almost 30 years ago at the 31st General Council, the Rt. Rev. Robert Smith offered words of apology on behalf of the United Church (you can read the apology here Since then we as a denomination have apologized for our role in the Residential School system (almost 10 years before the Federal Government did the same), we created the Healing Fund to help fund activities of healing and reconciliation, we are parties to the legal settlement, we have various bodies across the country working toward living into a Right-relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. And similar things are happening in other churches and other parts of Canadian society. We have started.

But there is still so much to do. There is so much to learn. There is so much to rebuild.

It is my hope that we as Canadians are willing to engage the task that lies before us. I hope that we are able to face the truth that is being shared. I hope that we are ready to learn about the past and how that past has shaped the present. I hope we are ready to admit the lived reality of racism that continues to be a part of Canadian society. I hope that we are able to accept that despite the stated “good intentions” the project was flawed, fatally flawed. This is not a story (as we were once told) about a few instances of physical and sexual abuse. That is part of a larger story of neglect and racism and, as the Chief Justice of Canada has stated, cultural genocide.

As a church I think/hope/believe that we have something to add to this conversation. As a faith community we talk about issues of confession and repentance and reconciliation. As a faith community our church was part of the problem. But we can also be a part of the rebuilding. We can learn and share. We can listen. We can proclaim that both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples are created in God's image. We can pray, and let God move our prayers to actions.

This can change who we are as Canadians. God help us take the chance, God help us grow into a place of reconciliation, of rebuilt relationships, of a place that is closer to being the Kingdom for which we wait.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Looking Ahead to June 7, 2015 -- Beginning of a Psalms Series, Psalm 1

The Scripture Reading this week is Psalm 1.

The Sermon title is Drink Deep. Grow Strong, Bear Fruit.

Early Thoughts:  Where are we planted?  Which road do we choose?

Will we be in the group who "follow the counsel of the wicked" or will we be in the group that delight in the law of God?

Will we be blown away like so much chaff or will we be like trees sinking deep roots to find water?

There is an old song that comes to mind:

The problem is the image only works if we are planted/rooted in the right place.  Maybe we sometimes need to be transplanted first?  Are our roots searching for the water of life or anything that is wet and seems to serve the purpose?  After all a tree will grow into your sewer line because it senses water there.  But wouldn't we rather it find another source?

Within Judaism one of the greatest gifts God gave to the people was the Torah, the Law.  While Law always includes limits that is a gift.   Law gives a framework within we live.  Law sets the field in which we can grow and thrive.  As most parents (and most landscapers too) understand, setting limits is needed to control and direct growth.  So it is with the Law.  SO it is with God's wisdom.

But we tend to chafe at limits.  We tend to uphold freedom as the greatest thing since canned beer, as if freedom and limits were mutually exclusive.  We hold up Paul who seemed to claim that grace trumps law and therefore the law is in our way.  (though this is not quite what Paul was trying to say)

God calls us to new life.  God calls us to be God's people.  God calls us to live in a particular way.  Yes we are free.  Yes we can choose.  But we are free to choose to follow the Way, and with that choice means setting limits (or accepting limits).  The tree is not free to wander around testing different streams.

This week the United Church of Canada turns 90.  Our anniversary comes at a time when we are pondering (or just plain worrying about) our future.  I suggest that we as congregations and as a denomination may need to ask if our roots are searching for the living water.  I suggest we need to wonder if we have cut the roots off from that source. 

Are we ready to delight in the limits of God's freedom?  Are we ready to soak in the Living Water so that we would grow strong (which may not mean big or fast) and bear fruit in our own season?