Monday, December 30, 2019

Looking Ahead to January 5, 2020 -- Epiphany Sunday (and the 12th Day of Christmas)

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

Adoration of the Magi
In the seasons of the Church Year the 12 Days of Christmas begin on December 25th and go until January 5th, the day before Epiphany. Epiphany is a feast where we remember the story told by Matthew about the Magi visiting Bethlehem. It is common in some churches to celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday preceding it, which we are doing this week.

The Scripture Reading will be the story of the Magi and what happens after they visit. You can read it in Matthew 2:1-23

Flight into Egypt
The Sermon title is Adoration, Murder, Refugees

Early Thoughts:  Such a warm story, uplifting, joyous -- until it isn't. Where there is light there is a shadow.  Maybe that is why we need to find another road.

The birth of Christ, of the Word made Flesh, means that nothing will ever be the same again. In some way the Herods of the world know this to be true and so they strike out. Which means we may have to return home by another road. It also might mean we need to weep and wail for a time.

The basics of this story are well known.  Matthew tells of visitors, wise men from the east, who come searching for a new king. They visit the current king in search of information. They end up in Bethlehem in a house with a young child (up to 2 years old to judge from the later events in the story). They produce rich gifts and then go home by a different path, choosing not to inform the current king where the child is.

Then it gets less cheery. The child's parents are warned to run for their lives, and so they head to Egypt. They seek refuge in a strange land, fleeing from certain death, never to return. Sadly the king is not worried about finding the right child. So he orders the death of any possible pretenders to the throne. Later the child and his family, wary of the king's son, return to a different place where the child will grow up, to emerge into public life some decades later.

Merry Christmas! Happy Epiphany!

God breaking into the world means nothing can be the same again. God breaking into the world and declaring that it is time to lift up the lowly, to cast down the mighty, to live by a whole different set of priorities threatens the comfort of the way we are used to living. And the world continues to strike back in various ways.

The Epiphany story, in full, pushes us to ask hard questions. It is nice to think of "what a wonderful event this must have been that people came form far away to give this young child such rich gifts". But, as we have shown, that is only half the story. I think we need to focus on the rest of the story.

Massacre of the Innocents
Herod felt threatened. Herod struck back in a murderous fashion. And the Holy Family became refugees, never to return home (in Matthew's story we have no reason to believe that Mary and Joseph were not originally from Bethlehem). The world was changing and Herod wanted to keep that from happening.

What does Christmas threaten in our world? Who are the Herods of our day? How are they reacting to changes that threaten their comfort or their worldview or their position? Where are we in that equation? Who is forced to seek refuge because they are part of the change that is happening?

I find these to be hard questions. Partly because I suspect sometimes we are striking out against the change that God is bringing forth in the world.  Partly because change is challenging. Largely because I am not convinced there are clear-cut easy answers.

But there is one line that echos in my soul in this story. It comes from the middle, as we transition form joy and worship into fear and murder and flight: " they left for their own country by another road". The Magi make this choice out of fear for the child (and possibly themselves). Why might we need to find another road? Maybe we do it out of fear. Maybe out of desperation. Maybe because we have changed where we think we are going?

What road will we take into the post-Christmas world this year?
--Gord

Monday, December 16, 2019

Looking Ahead to December 24, 2019 -- Christmas Eve (service is at 7:00 pm)

This evening's service will conclude our "Stories of the Season" series. We will be hearing a number of stories from the book Listen, Said the Donkey. 

There is a legend that on Christmas Eve the animals can talk using human speech. The Carol The Friendly Beasts grows out of this legend, as (it seems) does this book.

We will hear the Christmas story (including the visit of the Magi so the Epiphany story as well) from the point of view of a Donkey, a Lamb,  a Cat and a Dog.

Then we will hear how Scripture tells those stories as we read:
  • Luke 2:1-20
  • Matthew 2:1-14
Interspersed with all these stories we will sing carols, we will hear special music -- choir and solo and handbells, we will pray. At the end of the service we will take part in spreading the Light of Christmas with our candles.

Please join us to hear the old story in a new way!


Looking Ahead to December 22, 2019 -- Advent 4 -- Love

This week in our "Stories of the Season" series we will be reading Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect, which is a story about self-sacrificing love.

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • 1 John 4:16-21
  • John 15:4-14
The Sermon title is Evergreen Love.

Early Thoughts: I think love is a verb, not a feeling. For those of us who follow Christ it is also a commandment, a way of living, a Rule of Life. It is part of being Christ-like.

More specifically we are called to love our neighbours both the ones we like and the ones we don't like (I would point out Jesus never commands us to like anybody) which, if love is a verb, means to act lovingly towards them. We are called to give of ourselves for the benefit of others.

We are able to do this, however imperfectly, for one reason. We are able to love and give of ourselves because we have been loved in this way. Giving of ourselves, in whatever way we are able to do so, puts arms and legs on the rhetoric of love. It means we have pushed aside the fear of loss and giving up in the service of our neighbour.

Isn't this what Jesus models? Isn't this what the Incarnation accomplishes? Jesus comes to live out love, and in the end Jesus' commitment to living out of love and proclaiming the power of the Kingdom will lead him to the cross.

Our story this week is about a pine tree who gives up on looking perfect to be closer to perfect in a different way. I believe we have many voices telling us what we ought to be in the world. Christ may challenge us to set aside some of those ideals in the service of a higher cause.

With the birth of a child the world is changed. With Christmas the world is changed. When we hear again the angels saying "For unto you is born this day..." will we be changed?

Love. It makes all things possible.
--Gord

PS: when I chose the sermon title I was thinking of the love theme from the movie A Star is Born (the Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand version) which is called Evergreen. Really it is a classic romantic love song but some of the lines fit with this week's service:
Like a rose under the April snow
I was always certain love would grow
Love ageless and evergreen...
Morning glory and midnight sun
Time we've learned to sail above
Time won't change the meaning of one love
Ageless and ever evergreen

Monday, December 9, 2019

Looking Ahead to December 15, 2019 -- Advent 3 -- Joy

This Sunday will be Pageant Sunday, with our home-written pageant Bethlehem Debunked.  The Youth Group and Sunday School will lead us on an exploration of what the Christmas story tells us.

Before and after the Pageant itself we will hear an excerpt from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. (Choice of book is no comment on the Pageant we will see)

Monday, December 2, 2019

Looking Ahead to December 8, 2019 -- Advent 2 -- Hope

This week in our "Stories of the Season" series the story is The Christmas Miracle of Johnathon Toomey

The Scripture Readings are:
  • Isaiah 40:1-9
  • Matthew 11:28-29
  • Revelation 21:1-7
The Sermon title is Hope in the Face of Despair



Early Thoughts:  As Linnea Good says, sometimes Christmas is hard. It might be hard for a variety of reasons. Maybe this is the first year after a death in the family (either family of blood or family of choice). Maybe this is the first Christmas after the ending of a long-term relationship. Or perhaps the first year Christmas does not include the kids coming home -- or the first year you can't go home for Christmas. Maybe the winds of economic storms have swept through your life and just getting by is hard enough.

Christmas provides no inoculation from all those things that can make life hard. In fact, given all the expectations around Christmas it can make all those things much harder. It can make one start to despair...

One of the traditional themes of Advent is HOPE. Christian hope is not intended to be pollyanna-ish. It is not a false hope that pretends the hard things aren't real. Our hope names the hard things for what they are, but looks beyond them to see where God is in the situation. What is God doing in the midst of this mess? What might God have waiting after God walks with us through the mud?

Our passages this week speak to this hope. Isaiah talks to people in exile and offers words of comfort and promise. Jesus speaks to those carrying heavy burdens and offers rest (this verse was used to dedicate the bench outside our building). Revelation offers us a vision of the Kingdom of God in full flower.

This week in worship we will take time to hang cards of memory on a tree as we carry our memories into the rest of the Christmas season. Part of how we name our reality and live into hope.

If we let it, despair can claim a large piece of our lives. But we are people of hope. We are not alone in times of struggle. And there is light beyond the shadow. WE await the birth of a child that shares the promise of God for comfort and presence. God can move in our lives bringing hope that stands in the face of despair.

Thanks be to God.
--Gord

Monday, November 25, 2019

Looking Ahead to December 1, 2019 -- Advent 1 -- Peace

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion. Also as it is the first Sunday of the month our 2nd Offering for Local Outreach will be taken.

This year our theme for Advent is "Stories of the Season". Each week our service will be interacting with a Christmas children's book. This week's story is A Special Place for Santa, chosen in part in honor of St. Nicholas' Day on December 6th.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 2:1-5
  • 1 John 4:7-8, 11-13
  • Mark 10:13-16
The Sermon title is Peace and Children

Early Thoughts: Jesus said "let the children come to me". I truly believe that the path to the Peace lies through children, through caring for children, through taking seriously the question of what kind of a world we intend to leave for the generations that will follow us.

St. Nicholas is, as many know, the patron saint of Children.

There is another reason I see a linkage between this particular book and Peace.  {Spoiler Alert} At the end of the book Santa places a gift beside the manger -- the list of all the kind and loving things people had done over the year..  The path to peace is through love and kindness and justice (which many say is love put into action).

Jesus also said "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it". Admittedly we can easily idealize the innocence of children. Children can learn quickly how to be hardened and uncaring. But children also have the ability to show us what it means to act lovingly to anyone who comes across their path. Children can show us how to trust when we have started to forget. Children can remind us of the possibilities of having faith. All those things help breed peaceful relationships.

The Baby whose birth we are awaiting will be called the Prince of Peace. As we get ready for his birth we should talk about the path that leads to peace and love. In another passage from Isaiah that talks about the promised time of peace it is said "and a little child shall lead them".
Peace and children, they go together somehow. Or at least they should.
--Gord

Monday, November 18, 2019

Looking Ahead to November 24, 2019 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 23:1-6
  • Psalm 46 (VU p.770)
  • Luke 1:68-79
The Sermon title is Shepherd, King, Protector

Early Thoughts: Shepherd, King, Messiah/Christ (Anointed One). These are just some of the titles used for Jesus of Nazareth.

Some people might say that shepherd and king are very different roles.  Shepherd suggests the least of the least, people with so little power that they earn a living driving livestock from one point to another, finding food and water, and keeping away predatory animals. King suggests someone at the other end of the social strata, someone with massive amounts of power, someone with the authority to have others bring food and drink, someone who has soldiers to drive away predatory people.

But they have something big in common.  They are all about protection.

A shepherd's role is to protect the flock. Some do it well, some do it less well. Some, according to Jeremiah, disperse the flock.

The proper role of the Monarch, in some points of view, is to protect and serve. The Monarch sets up the things that will protect the realm. The Monarch participates in the life of the people. Some have done it well, some have done it less well, some have seen the power balance very differently.

For some time various parts of the Global Church have called this Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, by names like Reign of Christ or Christ the King. In large part this practice was started in Roman Catholic circles as a counter to the loss of political power. But it does give us a chance to reflect on what it means to give Christ , who John's Gospel calls the Good Shepherd, the title of King.  What kind of King is Christ? What kind of protector is Christ?

Is the God made known in Christ a shepherd? Does God lead God's people in search of food and water and protection? Is the God made known in Christ a King? Does God lead God's people to stride forward and claim their place in the world?  Yes to both. And apart from relative power I am not at all convinced that the role of shepherd and king are all that different.

Shepherds lead. Monarch's lead. Monarch's set the pace. SO do Shepherds. Monarch's set up protective structures. Shepherd throw up fences and wield clubs. Christ is the Good Shepherd, Christ is the King of Kings. Through Christ God leads and protects us (even if it sometimes seems doubtful, even when we really want to go our own way.)
--Gord

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Looking Ahead to November 17, 2019

This week we will be Celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism (which means cake after church).

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 65:17-25
  • Luke 21:5-19
The Sermon title is Change is Coming – Rejoice... or Be Very Afraid

Early Thoughts: The preaching of Jesus had a main focus. -- the Kingdom of God. AS people of faith we work for and within the Kingdom that is "now and not yet" -- here among us with the coming of Christ and yet not here in full flower. To be honest many (most?) days the "not yet" part seems much more real than the "among us here and now".

But what does the coming of the Kingdom in full flower mean? What should we expect?

Maybe it is a cause for great joy as, in the words of Julian of Norwich, "All manner of thing be well". Maybe it is a cause of great fear as so much that we know is turned upside down and destroyed. Maybe it is both. That is what I think our passages this week suggest.

Isaiah tells us about the wonders of the new heaven and the new earth (similar joy can be found at the end of Revelation). This is the hoped for Kingdom of God in full flower. Where do we see signs of this happening in our world today?

On the other hand, Luke seems to be talking about the transition. And the transition as Jesus portrays it in the Gospels (or as John of Patmos portrays it in Revelation) is not a pretty sight. It seems to bring chaos and destruction and danger. Do I dare ask where we see this in the world today? [To be honest people have seen signs of these things in the world in every generation.]

Waiting for the Kingdom to come in full glory is not a matter of checking of lists, either positive or negative. We can't take the predictions of Jesus that literally. But we have to admit that for the Kingdom to come in full glory requires a massive reshaping of how the world works. And such a reshaping is never easy. It brings out fear, it brings out reactionary "we can not change" responses. It brings out anger, which I believe grows out of the fear. But we are called to look through to the other side...and see the hope that lies after the fear.

It sort of reminds me of this:

The kingdom is growing among us. To get there we need to be ready to face hard choices, we need to be able to change how we work within the world. We need to be ready for the world itself to be changed.  I suspect for the change to happen in full will require some form of cataclysmic event. We as a species are just too reluctant to change, being afraid of what we have to give up (make no mistake we will have to give up some assumptions and structures and things) and sometimes it is hard to see the hope on the other side. But God is calling us to embrace a new heaven and a new earth. It is the promise of our tradition.

Are we ready for the fear and the joy?
--Gord


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

December Newsletter

I have been told many things over the course of my life. I have been told I am good at some things, less than good at others. But one of the comments I hold close to my heart is when I was told that I can be a very good storyteller.

Spin me a story in spinning you’ll find,
one strand is yours another is mine...
By weaving the fabric a richness we’ll see
Woven into God’s great tapestry...
Spin me a parable told by the sea
Values to live, examples to be...
(lines from Spin Me A Story by Nancy Chegus)

I like stories. Stories, in the end, are how we learn things (I half believe that is why we use word problems in math and sciences – to help lock in the concepts). Stories teach us who we are, give us an idea of how we are to live, and show us how the world works. To tell stories is an important role in the world. In fact in some cultures the role of storyteller was one of high status and special training so you could be trusted with the special stories.

Stories are how we pass on the faith as well. Stories and songs are the best ways we have to pass on what we believe – certainly they are much more effective than lists of rules or philosophical treatises. It is my belief that part of my role in life is to be one who tells and reflects on stories. After all, as people of faith we have a story, one that started well before we came around and one which will continue after our part has been played.

For we are a people of the Story,
of stars that sing and Love that cries.
And though these nights are getting longer,
the path is lit before our eyes.
(Refrain, Hope is a Candle by Linnea Good)

That story is coming close. That story of a star and angels and shepherds gets closer each day. And while it is just an episode in a much larger faith story it is a pretty key episode.. What will the story reveal to us this year?

For our Advent worship this year we will be reflecting on a variety of stories, as we prepare to tell the Big Story. When I was in Edmonton in September I heard how Hillhurst United in Calgary had a summer series where they reflected on a series of children’s books. I liked the idea, and I love good children’s books, so I suggested it to the Worship team for Advent. And so we are doing it.

Few of the storybooks Alison and I have chosen for the season are, strictly speaking, about the Christmas story of angels and shepherds and a baby in a manger. But they all reflect on themes around Christmas, things like hope and peace and joy and love. They all push us to think about how we open our hearts for Christmas, and how we carry Christ in our lives.

This year I invite you to enter the world of story. If we let it the world of story helps us see the world in a new way. It can renew wonder in us. It can transport us to places we have never seen and then bring us back with renewed hope and trust. The world of story is filled with magic. So, I believe, is the world of faith. We just may need to broaden our understanding of what magic might mean.

What magic is waiting to be revealed this Christmas season?

Gord

Monday, November 4, 2019

Looking Ahead to November 10, 2019

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Haggai 1:15b-2:9
  • Matthew 7:21-27
The Sermon title is Building Up

Early Thoughts: Foundations matter. Without a good foundation a building will not stand. What is the foundation on which we build our lives of faith?



This week's reading from Haggai comes from the era of return from exile, a time when the people of Judah were trying to rebuild their world. Haggai reminds them that God is at work in the building. Haggai shares the promise that "latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts".

The Matthew reading talks about solid rock or sand as a base on which to build. Nowadays preparation for many major building projects includes testing of the sub-soil structure to ensure that the foundation can be laid properly. That did not always happen. and sometimes, as the people of Pisa can tell you, it did not go well.

As people of faith we are living in a construction zone. All of life is an ongoing construction zone. God is building a Kingdom, we are building (or maybe rebuilding) our lives. The world around us is, hopefully, building a peaceful way of coexisting. How solid is the foundation on which we build?


WE are encouraged to use Christ as the foundation of our lives. Living as faithful people with Christ as our foundation is, I believe, the only way we build a world where peace and justice and love are the norm.

This week is the Sunday before Remembrance Day. Every year at Remembrance Day I remember our call to Never Again. We best honour November 11th by pledging to work toward a world where warfare is absent. We can only do that when we are firmly grounded in the hands of God.

Foundations matter.  They can hold us steady or they can fail and let us collapse.  What holds you up?
--Gord

Monday, October 28, 2019

Looking Ahead to November 3, 2019

This being the first Sunday of November we will be celebrating communion.  As well, because it is a First Sunday, our 2nd Offering for Local Outreach will be received.

The Scripture reading this week is Luke 19:1-10

The Sermon title is Life-Changing

Early Thoughts: The hope is that when we meet Christ we are changed. It may be instantaneous, it may take a few years, but when we meet Christ the hope is that the encounter changes us.

Many of us learned the story of little Zacchaeus as children. We learned how he was too short to see through the crowd so he climbed a tree (something many children can appreciate at things like parades). And we learned a song:


[Mind you some scholars say that the text is inconclusive--it could read that Zacchaeus was short, or it could read that Jesus was too short to be seen above the crowd]

After Jesus invites himself for supper Zacchaeus makes a bold statement about how he will (or possibly already does -- the verb tenses in Greek are actually in the present) live as justly as he can while being a tax collector.

The  traditional interpretation is that Zacchaeus has had a "come to Jesus" moment, that in meeting Jesus he has been transformed and will live differently moving forward. As I have noted this traditional interpretation may mis-read the text and Zacchaeus may well be defending himself rather than promising to make a change. Still the traditional reading gives us cause for thought.

The hope is that Jesus makes a difference in the world. Both at the systemic level and at the personal.  When we meet God at work in Jesus we need to be open to being changed.

Are we ready to take that chance?  Are we ready to let Jesus see us (Zaacchaeus' attempt to see Jesus leads directly to his being seen by Jesus) and invite himself into our lives? Are we open to our own come to Jesus moment?
--Gord

Monday, October 21, 2019

Looking Ahead to October 27, 2019

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 14:19-22
  • Psalm 51 (VU p.776)
  • Luke 18:9-14


The Sermon title is Confession – Good for the Soul?

Early Thoughts: It is challenging. It is sobering. But it is vital. We have to be honest with ourselves, with each other, with God about who and what we are. Only then can we really move forward into who God is calling us to be.

For all of Christian history the practice of confession has been central to living out the faith. Some people chafe against it, saying we should not be encouraged to be so "down". And indeed sometimes the encouragement to confess has been done in such a way that it sounds like encouraging folk to think they are worthless. We can go too far in naming our own shortcomings.

But the other side is that we start to think we are "holier than thou" -- see the Pharisee in this week's Gospel reading. And than is not a path to growth.  It is, however, a path to be labeled as hypocritical.

The core of the Christian Gospel message is that we are all beloved by God. Very close to the core is that we are forgiven by God (which is a big part of being loved just as we are). We are not perfect. None of us is.  Some days we come closer than others at living in God's way. Some days we miss the mark big-time.

WE are not called to be perfect. We are called to be faithful. We are called to live our lives as faithfully as we can. And part of that is having the ability to be self-reflective, to look at ourselves and be honest about who we are. Not to tear ourselves down -- honest self-reflection acknowledges the successes as well as the failure -- but to keep ourselves appropriately humble.

Confession is indeed good for the soul. Just remember that we are also forgiven.
--Gord

Monday, October 14, 2019

Looking Ahead to October 20, 2019

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34
  • 2 Timothy 4:1-4:5
  • Luke 18:1-8
The Sermon title is Persistent Earworm of Justice

Early Thoughts: Have you ever had an earworm? That bit of music that just will not leave you alone. I remember a Big Bang episode where Sheldon had an earworm and he was convinced it was going to drive him crazy (which admittedly may not be a long trip).

Would you believe there is even something called The Earworm song?


Sometimes I wonder if God is like that. Is God a persistent voice in our ear that will not let us go about our business? Sometimes I wonder if that is what God wants us to be like -- a persistent voice that will not go away until the world is changed.

This week's Gospel talks of a persistent widow who will not leave the judge alone until justice is done. And to be honest the judge does not grant her request because of justice, rather he gives in so she will leave him alone. Sometimes the end does justify the means.

Luke has Jesus telling this story to show that if even unjust judges give in to requests, how much more will God (who is just) respond to requests made in prayer. But when I read this story, which I have read many times before, this week in conjunction with the Jeremiah passage about the new covenant being written on our hearts and 2 Timothy's exhortation to persist in proclaiming the word I saw a different tone.

Maybe the life of faith is about persistently hearing the whispering voice of the One who has a vision of a just world? Maybe the life of faith is about persistently talking to those around us about the truth and justice and love we find made known in Christ?

Most of the time we find an earworm terribly annoying. But it is sticky. Something about that bit of music sticks with us, at least for that hour or day. Shouldn't God's word of love and justice be just as sticky? And when we (as we often do) forget to live out those words shouldn't there be someone reminding us?

I admit, it seems odd to describe the word of God as an earworm. But the God who has written the covenant of love and justice on our hearts, the God who challenges us to be persistent in proclaiming the Kingdom, the God who is always with us is not about to let us off easily. God is whispering in our ears that we would do what is just and right for the rest of the world. Will we listen? (Even if only in the hopes of silencing the whisper for a while)
--Gord

Monday, October 7, 2019

Looking Ahead to October 13, 2019 -- Thanksgiving Sunday

The Scripture reading this week is Isaiah 55:1-13



The Sermon title is Go Out with Joy

Early Thoughts: An unusual Thanksgiving reading. But one that speaks to the abundance God provides, and what better topic is there for Thanksgiving?

The secret to Thanksgiving (or maybe a secret to Thanksgiving) is to see abundance around us.A key part of offering thanks to God for the gifts of God is to recognize that they are freely given gifts.

It is my belief that when we change how we see the gifts that fill our lives each day we change who we are, we change how we interact with the world. In short we are transformed to be more like who God would have us be.

God is at work in the world. God sends gifts to the deserving and the undeserving. God calls us all to the banquet, to eat and drink without money. For that we give thanks. In our thankfulness we can go out with joy, sing songs of thanks (along with the mountains and hills?), and clap our hands (along with the trees of the field?)

This Thanksgiving weekend I encourage all of us to remember the blessings in our lives, to remember that we have been gifts from God, to sing out our thanks for those gifts. But more than that I encourage us to open ourselves to the transforming work of God as we decide what we will do out of our giftedness.  And as I do every Thanksgiving season I think of this classic hymn:


--Gord

PS: There is a hymn in Voices United taken from Isaiah 55 (page 884). Here is the Gaither choir singing it



Thursday, October 3, 2019

Crossing Generations -- October Newsletter


 On the first Sunday of September we had communion, as is our custom on first Sundays. As I came up in the line to be served I was struck by the sight of Gord Pearcy and Sarah Waldie paired up to serve together. The pairing was so meaningful to me that as I returned to the chancel I took a picture of it. When I posted that picture on the St. Paul’s Facebook page I described it this way: “One of our long time members serving communion alongside one of our most recent members “. To me that speaks to a big thing the church has to offer – one I have yet to see appear in Sharon’s “I go to church because...” slides.

I have long believed that we are healthier as individuals and as a society when we have relationships that cross generations. Since I was sure I had seen articles supporting that belief I put the phrase “benefits of intergenerational relationships” in Google and it returned about 5 690 000 results . Intergenerational relationship give chances to teach and to learn (flowing both ways). They help with understanding and breaking down stereotypes. They provide a chance to pass on corporate memory. They help people deal with the ups and downs of life.

There was a time, I believe, when most people had ready access to intergenerational relationships. Often these were within a family unit as fewer people moved far from home. That is no longer true. While there are certainly some families that can regularly have 3 or 4 generations (some can even do 5) gather together there are a lot of families where such a thing can only happen with a lot of travelling. And even within our communities we tend to divide naturally along generational lines. We tend to gather with people of common interests and activities, people in a similar phase of life.

Then there is the church.

One of the first songs I remember learning in Junior Choir 40+ years ago was We Are the Church. The last verse says “I count if am 90. Or 9 or just a baby.” Church events (be that worship or fall suppers or potlucks or camp-outs) are times where people from a variety of ages are in the same space together. Our daughters have never lived in the same community as any other family. They have visited family frequently but never lived where they could go a drop in on Grandma just because.

But there is the church.

Our girls have always had a surrogate family. When we were in Atikokan there were a number of people they referred to as Grandma or Uncle (here they just know people by name). Most of those were from the church community. They have benefited from having surrogate family who love and care for them. As infants and toddlers they would accompany me to services at seniors centres (and sometimes still do) where their mere presence brightened the eyes of some of those residents. They have heard stories told. And now as they get older they share learning with others – as I think of the many times Sarah has helped walk Linda through the setting up of the powerpoint.

It is important to have people of all ages who care about and love each other. We learn so much more about life that way. In Grande Prairie we have a lot of people who have left family behind. One of the things I think we can offer is surrogate family. Indeed that is one of the things I mention to most of the families who come to us for baptism. We need places where generations mix. It won’t always be easy, we will have conflicting priorities at times. But we can and should do it. Because we do count when we are 90, or 9 or just a baby.
Gord

Monday, September 30, 2019

Looking Ahead to October 6, 2019 -- Offering Gratitude Through Food

After worship this Sunday we will be having a potluck lunch. All are welcome.

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be taking up our 2nd Offering for the Local Outreach Fund. We will also be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Exodus 16:13-21
  • Mark 6:35-44 
  • Acts 2:44-47
The Sermon title is Who’s Hungry?

Early Thoughts: They say an army marches on its stomach. They also say that the potluck meal is almost a sacrament in some churches (and given the ancient wisdom that a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace I find it hard to argue).

Both the Exodus reading and the Mark reading this week talk about abundant food when everybody thought there was either none, or not enough. And then God shows them there is enough and more. More than once I have heard people fretting that there was not enough food set out on the potluck table and then in the end everybody eats their fill.

There is enough. There is more than enough. Indeed there is abundance.

That is the message of Scripture. There is enough to satisfy AND enough to share (or perhaps only/especially if we share). I don't think we really have a problem of "not enough"  in the world.  I think we have a poor definition of "enough".

Which brings us back to gratitude. The belief that we have enough, or better yet and abundance, feeds our gratitude and that in turn makes us more likely to offer to others from what we have. An attitude that something is scarce or that we don't have enough (whatever we think enough might mean) makes us less likely to offer to others out of what we have. And let me be clear. The actual countable amount is not the important piece, it is how we feel about the amount that matters.

We know we all need food to live. And we know that there are foods we need for our comfort (I have yet to find a way to move chocolate from this category into the food we need to survive but I keep trying). So we are called to be thankful for the food that sustains our lives. Hopefully, when we are recognizing the giftedness and privilege of the food we have we are moved to ask hard questions about why we have and others do not. We have to ask the stewardship questions.

We give freely when we truly believe we have enough to share. We give cheerfully (and 2 Corinthians 9:7 reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver) when we believe that we are not getting the short end of the stick. We give faithfully when we believe that our gift is helping to accomplish God's mission in the world.

Food can just be a necessity of life. It can also stand for so much more. Where do you find surprising abundance in your life? When were you sure there was not enough only to find excess? And what do we do when that happens?
--Gord

Monday, September 23, 2019

Looking Ahead to September 29, 2019 -- Offering Gratitude through Creation

This week our Stewardship series leads us to a look at Creation.



And remember we have a coin collection for Mission & Service.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Genesis 1:26-31
  • Amos 5:21-24
The Sermon title is How Are WE Doing?

Early Thoughts: Gratitude can spur us to many things. At the World Religions Conference earlier this month the Imam who was speaking made a wonderful connection between gratitude and compassion while answering a question about compassion fatigue. I think that gratitude also makes it easier for us to be good stewards. Gratitude reminds us what we have to be thankful for. Gratitude reminds us of what gifts we have been given. Then I believe that gratitude enables us to ask the question "what do I do now ?" with different eyes.

The difference a year can make...
Our stewardship of creation has been in the news a lot this year, what with forest forest in the Arctic and the Amazon, record heat in Europe, and the phenomenon centered around Gretta Thunberg. And we have to ask indeed "How Are We Doing?".


Many of us interpret the first commandment in Scripture "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." not as freedom to do whatever suits us best but as a commandment to take care of the creation that the Creator repeatedly calls Good. So how have we done?

Most scientists would say not so good. Some say we are on the eve of destruction, that the tipping point is near. What might the Creator say?

Is God using people like Gretta Thunberg to send us a message?

In the Amos passage we have a God who tells the people that they have failed to live as they should. Through Amos God tells the people that they have their priorities totally wrong. They have committed to the rituals and motions laid out in the law but have failed to live out the spirit of the law. To live in God's way means to live in relationship with our neighbours. To live in God's way is to live symbiotically with the creation of which we are a part.

When it comes to creation what might it mean to let "justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream"?

It is a hard question for a nation like Canada which really has always been a nation whose economic backbone has revolved around resource extraction (trees and rocks and petroleum). It is a hard question in a world culture where people see the need to make a change but have grown very accustomed to the benefits of an unsustainable lifestyle.

Every week our Explorer group sings the first verse of "This is Our Father's World". That hymn speaks of the "music of the spheres" ringing in our ears, of hearing God pass. It reminds us the the world is not ours. It is God's. We use it as a loan from God (or in some more secular language as a loan from our descendants). In an industrialized world we have lost the way when it comes to using it wisely. We may have started to see it as an entitlement or a tool rather than a gift. Where do we go from here?
--Gord

Monday, September 9, 2019

World Religions Conference

This coming Saturday is the Annual World Religions Conference hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.  Each year they have a theme for the even and this year's theme is Universal Compassion: The Core Human Value.

Each year the organizers ask people from a variety of faith traditions to speak. This year I have been asked to speak on the topic from a Christian perspective.

Many times when we read the healing stories in the Gospels we hear that Jesus is moved. Jesus has compassion for the people he meets and so he responds out of that compassion.

I would suggest that compassion is one of the basic building blocks for living in community, which is why it is described as a core human value. Compassion is what allows us to share each others lives, to support each other. It is a big part of how we live out the commandment that lies at the core of Christian Ethics and Morality -- Love Each Other/Love Your Neighbour.

I think we live in a world that tends to limit the power of compassion. To live out compassion in its full form would be to have compassion for all we meet, not just those who are close to us. That is far more radical than most of  us are ready for. More and more, in fact I see stories encouraging us NOT to have compassion for specific groups in our society (homeless, addicts, refugees...). I think that as people of faith we need to call for a far more radical understanding of what it means to be compassionate. After all, as Christians we follow the one who said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Some years ago Karen Armstrong launched the Charter of Compassion. Initially it was a charter for people to sign and commit themselves to. Then it begot a book Twelve Steps To a Compassionate Life. And there is also a website affiliated with the project. I like what Anderson has started. Because, as I said; compassion, radical and far-reaching compassion, is a key building block for living together in community.

Hope to see you on Saturday.
--Gord

Looking Ahead to September 15, 2019

This Sunday we are inviting students to bring their Backpacks (or other carrying cases) for a Blessing of the Backpacks during worship.

Also this week during our service we will be formalizing our covenant relationship with the Northern Spirit Regional Council as the United Church continues to live into its new national structure.

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 30:15-20
  • Luke 14:25-33
The Sermon title is Choices and Plans

Early Thoughts: Choices matter. Priorities shape our lives. Plans are important.

Can I stop there?

If we are going to live as people of faith we need to keep those three precepts in our minds.

Choices matter! What does it mean to "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live"? What does it mean to recognize that our choices could bring blessing or curses? Many a parent has said to their children "make good choices". After all one of our tasks as a community is to help people know/learn how to make good choices. We want to consider where our choices lead us, what the consequences (good and bad, expected and unexpected [I am a firm believer in the law of unintended consequences]) might be. We are challenged to ask "what would Jesus have us do?" as we make those choices.

Priorities shape our lives! This Gospel reading has some hard words. Jesus says that following his way is more important than the "normal" rules of life. It may lead you to voluntary poverty. It may lead you to choose between following him and your family. What priority do we set on the various parts of our lives? Those things that we make top priority will automatically get more resources and attention. In a Scriptural worldview where there are constant warning of idolatry and/or following other gods our priorities can lead us to make something into an idol -- at a personal or a family or a community or a national level. Where would Jesus have us focus our attention and resources?

Plans are important! Some of us are not great at planning. Some are.  Some make detailed plans for every project -- sometime to the extent that they are unwilling/unable to alter course when the plan does not work exactly. Some simply drift along and play life by ear. I suggest that neither extreme is unhelpful. But planning is important. It gives us a direction to head. It pushes us to calculate the costs and benefits. Jesus challenges us to do the same in living our out faith. I wonder what criteria he would have us use in those calculations?

Choices and plans. They shape our lives at every level. Our hope as followers of Christ is that our choices and our plans resonate with where God would have us go.
--Gord

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Looking Ahead to September 8, 2019

This Sunday marks the beginning of our Sunday School year.

Also this Sunday we will be celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Reading this week is Psalm 139

The Sermon title is Wonderfully Made, Wonderfully Known



Early Thoughts: First a confession. Psalm 139 is one of my favourite pieces of Scripture.

This piece of ancient poetry reminds us of many things. That we are children of God. That God knows us deeply, "more deeply than we know ourselves" as I have sometimes said in prayer". That God is always with us, wherever we go. In fact God is with us even when we might prefer that God is NOT with us. God sees our hearts and continues to lead us in The Way.

Many of these things are all warm and fuzzy, At least on the surface. But what does it mean to acknowledge that we are fully and deeply known? Why does the poet talk about wanting to flee from God's presence? And what about those verses near the end about destroying the wicked? In the  end it is a much more complex poem than we might think if we picked and chose our favoured verses.

In our baptism liturgy we proclaim:
The sacrament of baptism proclaims and celebrates the grace of God.
By water and the Spirit, we are called, claimed, and commissioned:
we are named as God’s children,
claimed by Christ,
and united with the whole Christian community of every time and place.
Strengthened by the Holy Spirit,
we live out our commission;
to spread the love we have been given throughout the world.
Which, to my mind is why this Psalm is such a good match for a Baptism Sunday. Because we are indeed "called, claimed, and commissioned".

We are all children of the God who watched us grow in our mother's womb, who heard our borning cry, who is a part of every breath we take. God knows us deeply, flaws and all. God knows the parts of our lives we would rather not admit, and yet loves us and leads us in  The Way. God is there when life is terrible. God is there when the skies grow dark. God is even there when we think we would rather be alone.

We are indeed wonderfully and fearfully made, for we are made in God's image. WE are indeed fearfully and wonderfully known, because God knows us to our core. This is a blessing, it may also seem like a curse. It can lift us up or it can be a heavy weight on our soul. Sometimes we need the weight to help us be led in the way everlasting. We always need the blessing.
--Gord

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Reflections (A Newsletter Piece)

When you look in a mirror what do you see?

At some point(s) in our lives many of us have an uneasy relationship with the mirror. We try to avoid them whenever possible, because we are uncomfortable with what we see there. Others may go the other way and spend too much time at the mirror – either because they are very comfortable with what they see or because they are strenuously trying to change the picture.

But what do you see when you look in the mirror?

That is a question about how we understand ourselves. And there are two directions I think we can go from that question.

In the past whenever I have talked about a mirror in a sermon it has been with Michael Jackson’s song Man in the Mirror ringing in my ears. Which seems odd at first sine I am not a terribly big fan of Michael Jackson, and musically the song is not any where near my favourite. But the lyrics....
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change



In a world where we often see so many things that need to be changed (or that we think need to be changed) and yet at the same time feel powerless to do anything about it Jackson’s song reminds us that we have power. There are many theories about how change happens in a culture. Some change needs to happen at a systemic, government level. Some change starts with us. I tend to believe that any long lasting change starts with us as individuals. Either we change our own way of reacting to life or (maybe and?) we push for changes on a broader scale. Either way, Jackson reminds us that it is not enough to blame everybody else for the problems we see. As many a parent or teacher has reminded a young person “you can not control what Sally does, you can control what you do”. As people who live with privilege and power we need to be able to look in the mirror and admit that maybe we are part both of the problem and the solution.

I still believe all of that. But it is not the only helpful message we can get from a mirror.

One Sunday this summer I was worshiping at my childhood church and the place for the prayer of confession talked about a mirror. I was intrigued and wondered where the worship leader, Rev. Tyler Powell, was heading.

Tyler talked about looking in the mirror. He talked about how many people, when they look in the mirror, are prone to see their flaws. That may mean seeing the scars life has left on our face. Or it may be the anxious and acne-prone teenager seeing all the blemishes. Or it may be the person who carries inside themself some deep shame or guilt and they see a terrible person looking back out of that mirror. I think Tyler was right. Humans can be really good at being judgmental, particularly about themselves. But...

Tyler then reminded us that everyone sitting in that sanctuary that day was a beloved child of God. And he asked what it would mean to look in that mirror and say to yourself, “hey there is a beloved child of God looking back at me”. What do you think God sees when God looks at you? Does God only see the flaws? Or does God see the beloved, if imperfect, child?

If we are honest we know that the person staring back at us from the mirror could possibly do better. We know that there are things we could so but don’t. We know that there are things we probably shouldn’t do but do anyway. But do we remember who we are underneath all of that? We are, each and every one of us, a beloved child of God. Which part will we focus on?

It is my belief that if we start our reflections on that face in the mirror with the second of these two things, trying to see ourselves as the beloved child God sees we start working towards the first, challenging that person to make a change in the world. And even if it doesn’t, then at least we start by reminding ourselves of our true identity. We are flawed. We are imperfect. But first and foremost we are beloved children of God. That is who God sees. And who are we to argue with God?

What do you see when you look in the mirror? What does God want us to see? I believe God wants us to see the beloved child, able to go out and live in God’s Way and make a difference in the world.
--Gord

Monday, August 26, 2019

Looking Ahead to September 1, 2019

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

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Hebrews 13:1-3
  • Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Sermon title is Radical Hospitality

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to be a good host? To be a good guest? For hospitality to work we need to be both.

Hospitality is one of those things that makes it possible for us to live together.  In some parts of human history the need to be a good and willing host was truly a matter of survival. That may be less true for many of us now but it is still true for us as a community.

And yet there seems to be a lot of rhetoric that goes directly against hospitality. There are those who claim immigration is somehow a bad thing. There are those who think some people are more welcome than others. There are voices who advocate tossing out those who, in their opinion do not add to/take away from the quality of life in our community. (I have got to stop reading posts about the homelessness issues/ tent city and the drug issue in GP because I keep getting enraged at the comments).

I fear that we, as a culture, have become less welcoming, less hospitable as we have also become more suspicious about those we define as "them". Then I read Hebrews 13. Or I remember the story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining three strangers (Genesis 18)  or even the story of Lot in Sodom (Genesis 19 -- Scripture itself tells us the the sin that led to the destruction of Sodom was a lack of hospitality [Ezekiel 16:49, Matthew 10:13-15]). And when I read these stories I am reminded that we are to welcome the stranger.

What about the other side of hospitality? What about the guest? In this passage from Luke Jesus gives some hints.  And my summation of those hints is "don't think too highly of yourself". This morning as I re-read the Luke reading for this week I am once again given the impression that a great deal of what makes hospitality work is to not think too much of ourselves. Both as guest or host we need to keep ourselves humble.

To live as citizens of the Kingdom means, in part, to practice hospitality. Indeed it is one of the 12 practises cover in the book  Practicing our Faith (need to re-read that chapter this week). It means to recognize that God is present in the act of hosting. It means that we might have to rethink and relearn some of our assumptions about what it means to be a good host and a good guest.

One model would be the communion table. We in the United Church hold an open table, where all are welcome. We do this because we recognize that God is the real host and that God welcomes all to come and eat and drink. Let us eat and drink together, and let us be transformed in the process.  The hope for the future of our culture lies, i part, in how we practice radical hospitality.
--Gord

Monday, August 19, 2019

Looking Ahead to August 25, 2019

This week we are celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Psalm 103:1-8
  • Psalm 71 (VU p.788)
  • Luke 13:10-17
The Sermon title is Be Free

Early Thoughts: In one of the episodes of Star Trek (TOS) Kirk and company are on a planet captured by what appears to be a tribe of uncivilized folk. Part way through the episode Kirk happens to say Freedom, and one of the tribefolk says "that is a worship word".

Despite the fact that from that point on the episode becomes a rather jingoistic presentation of the US as the great hope for freedom in the face of what appears to be that planet's Asiatic Communists I think that the tribesman was right. Freedom is a worship word.

God's desire for God's people to be free is woven throughout Scripture. We find it most notably in the story of Exodus, which is clearly about freedom from slavery. We find it also in rules around slavery itself and the idea of the Jubilee year. We find it in Paul's letters where he calls people to freedom in Christ (though his rhetoric in Philemon is a bit unsure where he stands on slavery as a social construct). And we find it in this Gospel reading. Jesus does not talk about healing or curing the woman, he talks about setting her free.

In Christ we are set free. Free from what and for what is a matter of debate, one we may touch on this Sunday. But we are free. Free to be who God has created us to be. Free to live out God's Way in our world. Maybe even free to make unhelpful choices.

From what do you need to be freed so you can live out God's call in your life? From what have you been freed? What might freedom look like for you?
--Gord

Monday, August 12, 2019

Looking Ahead to August 18, 2019

The Scripture Reading this week is: Hebrews 11:1-12:2

The Sermon title is Faith in the Cloud

Early Thoughts: We talk a lot about the cloud these days.  People debate the wisdom of keeping documents in "the cloud" for security reasons.  Almost 2000 years ago the writer of Hebrews also told us of the importance of the cloud.  But I think he meant something different.

There is something important and valuable and, dare I say, holy about remembering those who have gone before. Nothing we have simply sprung out of nothingness. None of us sprung out of nothingness.  We, as individuals, as families, as communities have a history. And that history has shaped who we are. (Sometimes helpfully sometimes less helpfully).

So we need to pause and remember those who have gone before.  What have they taught us through their faith and their example? What foundation have they laid for us to build on? In this chapter the unknown Christian who wrote this text invites us to remember our forebears in the faith (though he spends a lot of time in Genesis and then skips a whole lot of time). We remember and we consider and we give thanks. WE also remember and are reminded that God has been at work long before we showed up on the scene and will be at work when we ourselves are gone.

But as the text before us suggests, there is another side to our remembering. At the beginning of chapter 12 the writer refers to the great cloud of witnesses. Sometimes we call this the communion of saints. Sometimes I refer to it as the fellowship of the faithful. A blessing I use during a committal service reads:
Go peacefully into that abiding place prepared for us.
Go gently into God’s deepest presence.
Go confidently into that communion of all who have gone before and may they hold you precious until we meet again.
When we remember those who have gone before we also remember that we are not alone. We are surrounded by that great cloud of faithful witnesses. That can strengthen us, being reminded that we are not alone tends to have that effect.


There is one caveat. Sometimes we remember those who have gone before and want to repeat their success by doing what they did.  I don't think that is what this passage calls us to do. WE remember that we are part of a tradition, we also remember that in that tradition are many who set out in a whole new way (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Paul...). We remember their courage and faith to help us gain courage to step out in our own new way.


A few questions come to my mind this week:
  1. Who makes up your great cloud of witnesses? Who are those heroes of faith and life that keep you going?
  2. Who makes up the cloud of witnesses for the community of faith called St. Paul's United Church? Who are those people who are or have been a part of our community that laid a foundation for us to build on?
  3. Remembering that one generations present is another generation's past. What do we hope to pass on to those who will follow us as we become a part of their great cloud of witnesses?
See you on Sunday!
--Gord

Monday, July 1, 2019

Looking Ahead to July 7, 2019

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • 2 Kings 5:1-14
  • Psalm 30 (VU p.757)
The Sermon title is The Little Things

Early Thoughts: Sometimes we look for the big splash and miss the answer. Sometimes we think we are too important for the small stuff.

The story of Naaman being healed is a story of little things. Without the advice of a slave girl, a captive, a nothing, the story wouldn't even happen. And then the cure is so simple Naaman thinks it is an insult.

An unimportant person, a small task. they make all the difference.

As I prepare to preach on this story again I am wondering what little things, what "unimportant people" do we miss?

There is no reason to expect that Naaman would listen to his wife's slave girl. There is little reason that a powerful general would think to go to a conquered nation for help. But he does both.

Why would Elisha choose to offer to help a general of Aram? The response of the king of Israel makes sense. It does seem like a set-up. Many a conflict -- from the back alley brawl to international war -- have erupted from such set-ups. But why would Elisha choose to step in?

Why would proud Naaman agree to bathe in the Jordan after making such a big fuss about the insult Elisha has offered. Naaman is used to people fawning on him. Elisha doesn't. Naaman wants to be treated like the important person he is. Elisha says "go take a bath". You could easily see him stomping off in high dudgeon. But he once again takes the advice of those who are beneath him and is cured.

Classics theology suggests that one of the major sins of humanity is Pride. Pride is said to be what leads Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3 -- pride that they would be like God. Pride is what is said to lead the people to attempt to build the tower of Babel (a project that worries or even frightens God). Pride makes us think too much of ourselves and too little of others. Pride can get in the way of relationship, can get in the way of healing what is broken. Naaman shows that pride can be challenged and even broken and healing can follow.

Where does pride keep us from being healed?
--Gord

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Summer Newsletter

Are we too afraid to take risks? Is the desire to be safe holding us back?

These questions have been floating through my mind since our last Council meeting. At that meeting Martha provided the devotional and that is what brought those questions to my brain

The devotional started with a reading of the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:13-30. To refresh your memory, this is the parable where three servants are given money to care for. One is given 5 talents and doubled the money. Another is given 2 talents and also doubled the money. The third is given 1 talent but is afraid of what might happen if the money is lost and so simply hides it away, making nothing – not even interest. The king rewards the first two servants richly but the third is punished. As individuals, and as a community, where are we in this parable? Is it better to play it safe or to take risks (hopefully educated, well-considered risks)?

Martha then shared an article by Dan Hotchkiss with us. In the article Hotchkiss suggests that churches are very risk-resistant. Most often, as Hotchkiss lays it out, this shows up when someone has an idea for a new program. While other non-profits often have a system where innovative ideas are weighed against the mission of the organization and a decision is made whether or not to allocate resources to them (because realistically all new ideas will need resources allocated to them if they are to happen) the church tends to freeze as soon as resources are needed.

Risk is a challenge. How do we know if a risk is acceptable? How do we know if it is worthwhile?

The third servant resonates with me. I tend to be very risk-resistant (and to be honest I think I am getting moreso as I age). Playing it safe, protecting what you have, make sure you don’t lose. These sound very sensible to me. But there is a problem.

Where do you grow when you play it safe, stay with the comfortable, protect the status quo? Simply put, you don’t. And in many cases you lose ground. The servant in the story buried the talent in the ground. It did not lose value but it also gained no interest. Which means that it did not keep up with inflation. When organizations play it safe we protect what we already have. We stay in a comfortable place. It keeps us with the familiar. But we lose ground.

What risks do we need to take if we are going to thrive as a community of faith?

This leads me to the question I asked in the “Words from Gord” section of the meeting. I asked “To keep us fresh and avoid falling into a maintenance mindset what should we do differently?”. One of the dangers I have seen n the church is that we fall into a rut, I know I do anyway. And that seems easy. But I don’t think it is being faithful to our calling.

We need to be able to try new things, or at least try doing old things in new ways, if we are to grow. I am sure we all want to grow. That may be in numbers or in finances. It may be to grow in our understanding of what it means to be people of Christian faith. But to grow we have to do things beyond maintaining what we already have.

The first two servants in the parable could have lost it all (which may have made for a very different parable). They were willing to take a chance. In many stories of churches that have grown I find there was a time when someone convinced them to risk losing something valuable. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But rather than worry about the risk they took another one. This, I think is the path forward for St. Paul’s, for the United Church of Canada, for the Church Universal.
I am not naturally adventurous. Far from it. But when I am realistic I know that continuing to be the church as we have been, to continue to maintain what we have, is a path to decline. For us to pass on this church to the next generations we need to be willing to take risks, to step out of the comfortable, to take the chance that something might fail miserably and then shake ourselves off and try again. And yes, to a degree that terrifies me.

I am not suggesting we become careless. The apostle Paul teaches that we have been passed a treasure in clay jars. We have to consider and research and discern what risks to take. But we have to be willing to take them. I need your help to step out and try different things.

What risks do we need to take? What risks are we afraid to take? What risks will we take?

Who’s in it with me?

Gord

{PS: the great irony is that doing nothing different, to keep maintaining they way we have been is a risk too. There is always a risk whatever choice we make.}