Monday, November 30, 2015

Looking Forward to December 6, 2015 -- Advent 2

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

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Luke 1:5-20, 57-66
  • Luke 1:67-80 (VU p.900)

The Sermon title is A Miraculous Birth, A Special Child

Early Thoughts: Christmas is about birth.  In fact as Luke tells the story it includes 2 births.  This week we look at the often overlooked birth, the cousin who will later baptise Jesus in the Jordan.

AS the story goes, John should not have been born.  Everyone believed his parents were infertile (or at least that his mother was). Zechariah has trouble believing the angel and for that is rendered speechless for the duration of the pregnancy.

But this is a special baby for reasons beyond the miracle of his conception.  This child will be a prophet. This child will turn people's hearts back to God. This child will be, even in utero, filled with the Holy Spirit. So the angel promises.

Then we jump to his birth. There is a bit of confusion and possibly even scandal about what his name will be, but out of that scene Zechariah gets his voice back.  And he sings.

John, his father sings, will be the one to prepare the way. John will remind the people to take responsibility for their sins.  John will, in his own way, lead the people in the path of peace.

When we next meet John the peace will seem a little absent.  His preaching is not the style one would find in the line of "How to Win Friends and Influence People".  But he does influence people, he does gain a following -- so much of one that he becomes a threat to public order and so is killed.  But maybe that is one of the ways we get to Peace.  Maybe we have to be ready to be offended and be offensive to get to the Reign of Peace and Justice.  Maybe we have to face the realities that are uncomfortable if we are actually going to change how we work, how the world works.

Some thoughts as we prepare for the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

FOr the SPecial Christmas Insert in the Paper

Are you afraid of the dark?
There is an Advent hymn which reminds us “The world is full of darkness, again there is no room”. One look at the news on any given day will remind us that this darkness is very real.
Are you afraid of the dark? Do you worry about what or who might be lurking in the shadows?

There is a word of hope. Jesus, the Light of the World, is about to be born. As we put special lights on trees and houses we celebrate the fact that the light of God shines in all the dark places, that the shadows are defeated.

Like other churches, St. Paul's celebrates and proclaims God's light week in and week out. We share that light with the community around us. Sometimes by offering meeting space for AA groups or the HIV North Women's Drop In. Sometimes by sharing hot chocolate or freezies with parade goers. At Christmas we take up collections to support the Food Bank or the GPRC Room of Plenty. And week after week we offer a place where folk can gather to sing, to pray, to be reminded that God is alive and active here in Grande Prairie.

We at St. Paul's wish everyone in Grande Prairie a Merry Christmas and Blessing in the New Year.
Please feel free to join us for worship December 24 at either 6:30 (aimed at younger families) or 8:00.
Look for us on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Support Letter for HIV North

The local HIV North Society is having to appeal a zoning ruling that would force them to move out of the offices they moved into in late summer 2015.  This is a letter in support of them:

It was with great disappointment when I read this in the October 22 issue of the Daily Herald Tribune Itwas a blow that hit HIV North like a hammer Tuesday when the City ofGrande Prairie's community growth committee unanimously denied theorganization's application for a discretionary use development permitto redesignate its office as a community outreach facility”. Just the previous Thursday I had been to their Grand Opening and was very impressed with the space and how it was set-up. So I read more. And my disappointment grew.

I note in the article that city administration, the RCMP, CMHA and AHS all support the application and that the Downtown Business Association has no objection. I realize that we now live in a culture where the voice of experts is sometimes seen as suspect, but I think we need to listen to those with a deeper understanding of the needs of the community. I also note that (in what I think is a very good thing) the new office is in close proximity to the Downtown and to the Salvation Army Outreach Centre. In fact I would suggest that this is an ideal location for the office as some of the clients served by HIV North would also be served by the Salvation Army.

And to be honest I find the arguments against the location far from convincing. I find it hard to believe that in the short time this office has been open there has been that dramatic an increase in loitering and criminal activity in the area. After all the Bear Creek valley is just across the road and, as already noted, that Salvation Army was already in the local area.

Here at St. Paul's we have been partnering with HIV North for several years now, offering our space to host some of their programming. In that time I would not say that we have had any greater issues with loitering or criminal activity. In fact their presence has added to the list of resources to which we can refer individuals who appear at our door.

I suggest that the people are not there because the agency is there. The agency is there because that is where the people are. And which is better, to have people needing support in your area and the support several blocks away or to have people needing support and the support just around the corner?

These services need to be offered somewhere. No matter where there will be some neighbours (residential or commercial) who are uncomfortable with having an agency associated with HIV close to them. That is a fact. But the question I want to ask is one of the greater good. Is the greater good served by granting this request? I believe it is. I would agree with the editorial by Diana Rinne (also in the October 22 issue of the DHT) who lays out a strong and cogent argument in favour of this location. I hope people read Diana's words and take them into consideration.

I urge council to overturn the decision of the community growth committee.

Rev Gord Waldie

Monday, November 23, 2015

Looking Ahead to November 29, 2015 -- First Sunday of Advent

The Scripture Reading this week is Isaiah 40:1-11

The Sermon Title is Promised Hope Conquers Lived Despair

Early Thoughts:  What are the words of comfort that we need to hear?  What is the lived despair that needs hope to come in and conquer it in 2015?

Have you noticed that there is almost never a shortage of despair? Just like there is always something to worry about, there always seems to be plenty of signs that all is lost.

Maybe a close friend or family member has been "downsized".

Maybe you have had to stop reading news about refugees, or terrorist attacks, or bombing strategies.

Maybe you or someone close to you has had to deal with racism, or sexism, or some other ism.

Maybe it is the crime rates in town lately.

What robs you of hope?  What makes you wonder if God is still active?  What makes it hard to see the road through the wilderness?

This is the world into which Christ is born.  This is the world into which God speaks words of comfort and hope and promise.

These verses from Isaiah were spoken first to captives, exiles, a long way from home.  Exiles removed from the place where, they had always been told, God lived, the place where they could meet God. And then the Word comes to them speaking of comfort, of pardon, of return, of home, of Good News. Into the midst of their despair came hope and renewal.

What is the Good News we need to hear?  What is the word of hope and comfort that will rebuild the highway? What will defeat the despair we see around the world every day in our news feeds and lead us to the the top of the mountain to shout out good tidings (which shall be for all people, for unto us is born this day...)

Highway building is a lot of work.  Maybe there is muskeg and swamp to be dug out, dirt and gravel to be moved around, chasms to be bridged, blockages to be worked around or blown apart, but in the end...

What will start us seeing the roadway where once was only wilderness and mud and rock?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Advent Preview....

Been doing some pre-work for Advent today:

Advent 1 (November 29)
We start Advent with the Sunday of Hope. The sermon title is Promised Hope Conquers Lived Despair. Years ago the people of Israel and Judah were in exile.  They wondered if God had abandoned them. Then they heard words of hope.

What is the source of our despair in Grande Prairie in 2015? Why do we need to hear words of hope and comfort? If Christ were to be born here and now what would we want done?

Advent 2 (December 6) [This Sunday will include Communion]
We light another Candle and we pray for peace.  The sermon title is A Miraculous Birth, A Special Child. Nope, not that birth--it comes later.  Did you know that the Christmas story has 2 babies, about 6 months apart? This week we talk about the elder -- a boy named John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

What does John have to do with Peace? WEll part of that might be found in the song his father sings.  Certainly John reminds us that the path to peace calls us to be changed.

Advent 3 (December 13)
This Sunday is Pageant Day!!!! The Sunday School is working away on it.  And of course this year will include another original song.

I am sure we won't use puppets though...

Advent 4 (December 20)
One more week, one final candle -- the candle of Joy. This week we join Mary in proclaiming the Joy that Changes the World.I think we miss so much about Mary when we see her as meek and mild.  She is a force to be reckoned with! And I think she shows a great understanding of the stakes of the events.  Just read her song!  Or better yet, listen to it (this is my favoured setting of it):

AS we sing songs of Joy, as we prepare to welcome the Promised Child, are we ready for the world, for US, to be changed by our encounters with the child?

And because I love this old one...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Looking Forward to November 15, 2015

The Scripture reading this week is: Hosea 11:1-9

The Sermon title is The God Who Will Not Let Go

Early Thoughts:  Grace.  Mercy. Forgiveness. Reconciliation.  Words that describe the God we meet in Scripture.  Words that resonate strongly with this passage.

A Colleague shared this image made based on the Hosea passage
Israel has turned away from God.  God reaches out but they keep turning away. They are even unable to recognize and name that God is with them, protecting them, healing them. So God will give them up to their enemies. And if the passage ended at verse 7 then all those nice words I listed up above would be totally absent.

But we have more.  God changes God's mind. God realizes God can NOT give up on the people. As a loving parent whose child has gone astray God wants to give up.  God may even believe the child needs to fall in order to learn.  But God can simply not give up, God can not let go, God can not forget God's people.

Elsewhere in Hosea we have the object lesson of a man married to an unfaithful wife.  But the husband can not give up and cast her away.

That is who God is. God is gracious, forgiving and merciful. God continuously strives to be reconciled with God's (often recalcitrant and stiff-necked) people.  At various points in the prophets we hear about how God will allow Judah and Israel to be destroyed, this is true.  But also at various point in the prophets God promises redemption and renewal.  For example this song based off of Isaiah 49:

In the event that lies at the center of our faith, the life death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we meet this God, the God who will not let go, who will not forget, who will not abandon. This is the God who appeared in a bush to Moses, who led the people out of slavery, who gave the people a Rule of Life.  This is the GOd of Grace, of Mercy, Of Reconciliation.  This is the God who we continue to meet in our lives.

And that is a good thing.  THanks be to God.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Looking Forward to November 8, 2015

This week the Scripture will be presented in dramatic form by the Youth Group.  The reading they are working with is 1 Kings 18:20-39

The Sermon title is Have Trust, Have Faith

Early Thoughts: So one of the heroes of Hebrew Scriptures is a bit of a jerk...again.

I mean really Elijah doesn't seem the most likable in this story does he? He is a bit of a braggart (to say the least).  He insults the faith of his neighbours (and rivals). And then in the next verse after this reading he has all the prophets of Baal killed.

Sometimes you have to wonder what it means to be a hero.....

On the other hand....

Elijah should not succeed.   In the numbers game he is terribly outnumbered.  And he seems bound and determined to create a situation where success is impossible.  But he has faith.  But he trusts in YHWH.  But he knows in his heart the YHWH has called him to this place, the YHWH is the one who will succeed.

And guess what? Elijah is right.

God is with Elijah.  And God is at work in the story. And so Elijah is vindicated (well maybe other than the killing that follows but maybe that is why our reading stops at verse 39). This story proves (at least to the people of Israel) the "my God is better than your God".

But why do we read it today?  Do we still feel the need to prove that "our God is better"? Or do we read it to remind ourselves that we have a God who is with us and is active in the world?  I don't quite believe that all things are possible with God. I do believe that there are things that seem impossible that are possible when we remember that we are not alone.

AS George Micheal once told us "ya gotta have faith-a faith-a faith"