Wednesday, February 26, 2020

March Newsletter



As I sit down to write this it is Ash Wednesday. Later this evening I will go to worship where I will have ashes smeared on my forehead in the shape of a cross, accompanied by the words “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return”.

Cheery beginning to the season of Lent is it not?

Then again Lent is not known as a season of fun and frivolity. That is part of why the day before it begins some people celebrate Carnival and others Mardi Gras as a last blowout before the solemn season. Lent is a time of preparation and reflection as we walk with Jesus on the path that leads to a cross on a hill. Lent is traditionally called a “penitential season”, a time to reflect on how we have or have not lived as Christ calls us to live. As we prepare for the New Life and New Hope of Easter Sunday we reflect on who we are and how we might need to change.

We begin with Ash Wednesday, a day to be reminded of our mortality. But what about those ashes? Some see the ashes as a sign of repentance. Some clergy have services where they get people to write confessions down, put them in a bowl, and then burn them as a part of the service. Some have then used those ashes for the marking of the foreheads.

Or maybe the ashes serve to remind us of the words of committal “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Maybe they remind us that we are not permanent parts of this world. Maybe they give us a sense of perspective on how important we are.

I think both of those things can be true. But I think there is one more thing.

Traditionally the ashes for Ash Wednesday come from the burning of the dried out palm branches of the previous spring. Palm Sunday’s story has within it great hope and potential. “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” Maybe this year the cheering will lead to the coming of God’s Reign in full glory?!?

But it doesn’t. The hopes don’t come to full flower. And then we mark ourselves with the remains of those hopes. Possibly as a reminder to hope? Possibly as a reminder of failure?

The Reign of God is not here in full glory – yet. We are not living as God wants us to – yet. But we are (hopefully) moving in that direction. The cross of ashes: a sign of repentance, a sign of our own eventual death, a sign of dashed hopes; calls us to reaffirm our willingness to allow God to transform our lives.

This Lenten season I invite us all to reflect on how we have or have not lived as people of Love. How have we loved God, our neighbours, our selves? How could we have done it differently or better? When New Life comes again where will we let it take us?

In the end the ashes are not the last word. From ashes can come life. It is happening in the wildfires of Australia as I type. As I ponder the ashes I will wear later tonight I also ponder the ancient myth of the Phoenix. But maybe more about that come Easter, when the ashes give way to new life, new hope, new possibilities.

WE are mortal. We can’t forget that. But we are invited into eternal life too. The ashes wash off the face. Life and hope and love will win in the end. Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Looking Ahead to March 1, 2020 -- 1st Sunday in Lent

As this is the 1st Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion and we will be collecting our 2nd Offering for the  Local Outreach Fund.

Also our Annual Congregational Meeting will be taking place following the service.  Lunch and Childcare are being provided.

The Scripture Readings for this 1st Sunday of Lent are:
  • Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
  • Matthew 4:1-11
The Sermon title is Who Do We Want to Be?

Early Thoughts: Each year we begin Lent with the story of Jesus being led (or driven depending on the Gospel) into the wilderness for a time of testing. This year we pair it with the Genesis account of Eve being tested by the serpent. Repeatedly the Tempter says to Jesus "If you are the Son of God...". Part of the serpent's argument to Eve is "when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God". How many temptations in our lives tie in to questions of identity, questions of who we think we are and/or who we think we want (or perhaps ought) to be?

Jesus has just been baptized by John. Many people, then and now, see baptism as a significant life event. Matthew tells us that when Jesus was baptized he had a vision of the heavens being opened and God's Spirit alighting on him. How does one respond to a significant event like that?

Sometimes life-changing events [Jesus' public ministry begins after his baptism by John] prompt us to do some examination of our lives. We are pushed to ask if we are on the right path, or to ask which path we might follow from this point forward. At a deeper level we may start to wonder who we really are. This, I believe, is part of what lies under the story of Jesus in the wilderness.

So who do we [as individuals, as a community of faith, as a city, as a nation...] want to be? Who do we think God is calling us to be? What are we tempted to think we could be?

Traditionally the season of Lent is a time for self-reflection. Identity is a good thing to reflect on. We need to look at who we are currently and who we could be. We need to look at where we think we are living into our identity as beloved children of God -- and where we think we might be falling short.

In our myth of how the world came to be less than God created it to be, Adam and Eve were tempted to be like God. In the Wilderness the Tempter offers Jesus a variety of paths, but Jesus chooses to remain true to his understanding of who God calls him to be. What tempts us from the path of wisdom? How do we resist?
--Gord

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Annual Report for 2019


As a fire is meant for burning with a bright and warming flame,
so the church is meant for mission, giving glory to God’s name.
(Hymn #578 In Voices United, lyrics by Ruth Duck)
An Annual Report gives us the chance to ask how our fire burnt this year. In the pages of this document you will hear about many things that happened within this congregation in 2019. I am not going to recap them. I am however going to say thank you. Thank you for all the ways you have supported the work and mission of St. Paul’s United over the last 12 months. Thank you for financial gifts, for hours spent sorting Garage Sale Items, for food brought to the Beef Dinner. Thank your for reading Scripture, or greeting on Sunday morning, or serving communion, or preparing post-worship coffee. Thank you for sharing your music,. Than you for leading Sunday School and Youth programming. Thank you for holding each other in prayer. Thank you for all the other ways you have helped us live out the mission we share. Our flame has been bright and warm as we live out our mission because of you. THANK YOU.

From a more personal level, thank you for the support offered to Patty, the girls and me last May with the death of my father. This is a very generous and supportive congregation and you continue to show that each and every month.

We are learners; we are teachers; we are pilgrims on the way.
We are seekers; we are givers; we are vessels made of clay.
(Hymn #578 In Voices United, lyrics by Ruth Duck)
An Annual report is also a chance to look ahead. In fact I think the main purpose of the Annual Report and Meeting should be to look ahead to the year(s) to some. As people who are constantly learning and teaching, as people sometimes walking boldly on a clear path and sometimes inching forward trying to find the path where will we end up this year? I firmly believe that everyone reading this (and everyone who is not reading this) has gifts to give, to share with us as we continue to live out our Mission and Vision. I invite us all to keep seeking for the best way to be who God has called us to be in the 21st Century. It will likely be different than who God called us to be in the years past, and that may be troubling. But we can seek for it together.

“We are vessels made of clay.” As we move forward we will not always get it right. I invite us to be ready to take risks, to allow each other to make mistakes as we seek the path that God has laid out for us. I think the church is meant to be an un-fired piece of pottery, so that when the need arises we can be reshaped without being shattered. In the year(s) to come are we willing to let our clay be put back on the potter’s wheel and spun into a new shape?

By our gentle, loving actions, we would show that Christ is light.
In a humble, listening Spirit, we would live to God’s delight.
(Hymn #578 In Voices United, lyrics by Ruth Duck)

In his book The Phoenix Affirmations Eric Elnes includes this Affirmation: “Acting on the faith that we are born with a meaning and purpose, a vocation and ministry that serve to strengthen and extend God's realm of love.“ This, I think is our call. To me, this is what it means to say: Through Faith, we walk on the path that Jesus set for us. The people of St. Paul’s Belong…Believe…Love… Listen…Lead. In 2020 we will continue to share God’s love, we will continue to light God’s light shine through us. We will do this because it is part of our very identity, it is where we find meaning, it is our vocation.

God is at work in the world. The congregation of St. Paul’s United is part of how God is at work in the world. It has been true in the past, it will be true in the future. I hope we can listen for God’s voice to guide us along. I hope that we share God’s delight as we share God’s love with each other, with Grande Prairie, and with the world around us.

Gord.







Monday, February 3, 2020

Looking Ahead to February 9, 2020

This week we continue our What the Church Means to Me series. This week I am answering the prompting question.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Romans 12:2, 9-13
  • Deuteronomy 11:18-19
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:12-17
  • Matthew 11:28-30
Reflection: Safety. Community. Learning.

These are three of the things that the church has offered to me over the years. Maybe with a touch of transformation mixed in. Oh and some recovery/rejuvenation....

Well and sometimes the church has led me to needing recovery or rejuvenation.

These are also things that echo with what people tell me about this congregation.

Telling my story will not be as much about this congregation, because my role here is different from our other story-tellers. So I will talk about the church over the course of my life. Touching on those places I have been in paid ministry but also those where I was a student, and the one where I was a child.

And the themes come through.  A place of safety and belonging. An place where we can ask questions and learn. A place of adoptive family (which sometimes one becomes closer to than your blood family).
--Gord