Friday, June 26, 2020

Moving On --- Online Speaking

One of the main purposes for this Blog has been to share its posts to Facebook.  Facebook has blacklisted this URL for reasons unknown (and has not responded to requests to explain why). SO it is time for a successor blog.  All new posts can be found at: Pastoral Ponderings

Monday, May 11, 2020

Looking Ahead to May 17, 2020 -- Easter 6A

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 49:13-16
  • John 14:15-21; 25-27

Early Thoughts: We will not be left orphaned. We will not be forgotten -- "Can a mother forget her child?". An Advocate, the Spirit of Truth will be sent.

Do we really believe that?  All the time?

I am not sure we do. At least I am not sure I always do.

It can be hard to believe sometimes. Say, for example, when the world has been totally turned upside down by a pandemic. Even then can we believe that we are not alone?

Maybe. Or Maybe not. But does that change how God is acting?

Still some basics remain. We are commanded to love each other, to let love be our identifying mark. As John's Jesus has told us in Chapter 13, we are to love each other as we have been loved. Jesus, I think, knows that it will be challenging to remain true to the Kingdom when he has gone. This, I think, is why he is promising to send a helper, and Advocate, the Paraclete. The Spirit will abide in us just as we already abide in the Spirit (sounds very panentheistic to me -- as far as I understand panentheism anyway). This is how we can continue to remain true to the Way.

God is with us in all this mess, all this turmoil, all this anxiety. God known in the Risen Christ continues to offer God's peace. Our hearts may still be troubled at time. We may still be afraid. But God is there, offering peace and hope, showing us the way forward.

Even when we aren't sure we believe it.

Thanks God.  Amen

Monday, April 27, 2020

May Newsletter

We Could Use a Mulligan...

I am not a golfer. I do have a set of clubs (that were my grandfather’s and are older than I am) but I have not swung one since Miriam was a baby. But for three years in the 1990’s I worked at a golf course and since I could golf for free I went periodically, usually with fellow staff who were much better than I. That is when I learned about mulligan’s – because they took pity on me at times and granted me one. If you don’t know, a mulligan is a second chance, a shot you can retake without having it count against you. With all that has happened in 2020 is there a chance we can get a mulligan for the year?

Or maybe we need a Bobby Ewing moment. Years ago, in the prime-time soap opera Dallas the show killed off Bobby Ewing. But it turns out Bobby was a very popular character and they needed a way to bring him back from the dead. So in the closing moments of the last episode of the season Bobby’s wife found someone in the shower and when her turned around there was Bobby. The plot device used to explain it was that the whole thing had been a terrible dream. It allowed the whole story-line to be wiped out. I suspect that there are some who would not mind finding our that 2020, with oil prices crashing, and a pandemic, and the recent shootings in Nova Scotia has just been a terrible dream.

A third image. IN the second act of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar Mary Magdalene and Peter sing the song “Could We Start Again Please?”. It falls just after Jesus has been taken to see Herod, and before his final trial in front of Pilate. The text includes the lines:
(I found the words here )
I'd been very hopeful so far
Now for the first time I think we're going wrong
Hurry up and tell me
This is just a dream or
Could we start again please?
I think you've made your point now
You've even gone a bit too far to get the message home
Before it gets too frightening
We ought to call a halt so
Could we start again please?
Mary and Peter think things have gone off the rails and maybe a restart would take them down a different path, one with less fear and destruction. This image seems to match the feelings I see expressed on Facebook some days.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but none of those things are going to happen. Unfortunately history is neither a merciful golf move nor a TV soap opera. This is not a dream. We do not get a do over. But we might be able to start again (please). But what exactly do we want that re-start to look like?

Daily I see people asking when things will get back to normal. Daily I see people insisting that we have to hurry up and “re-open” the world so we can get back to normal. I am going to suggest if all we envision as our re-start is a return to some semblance of what reality was back in January then we will have missed the boat.

That is the mistake Peter and Mary make in the song, they seem to envision a restart that looks very much like the first go-round. But of course that is not what the resurrection is. The story of Easter does allow a chance to “start again” but it is not a simple reboot. Resurrection is more of a new start. I suggest that this is what we, as people of faith, need to be hoping, looking, and working for after this period of disruption. Otherwise we may well have missed a great opportunity.

I think we are learning a lot in these weeks. We have been challenged to think about what is really essential for good health in our lives. We have also been challenged to think about what really is not essential. The government programs to provide financial support should make us ponder what adequate support for healthy lives are – and then to ask why some people do not get that support in a non-pandemic time.

I believe God is with us in all this. I believe God is always calling us to look for resurrection, not a reboot. I believe the life of resurrection means a life that is different, maybe not even recognizable at first glance (note that most people in the Easter stories do not recognize Jesus at first). I also believe it would be much easier, much more comfortable to look for a simple reboot, or to call for a mulligan, and go right back to the way it was before. But God does not usually call us to take the easier or more comfortable route.

What do you hope life will be like when we climb out of the pandemic? What do you hope life will look like when we re-build an Alberta economy threatened (perhaps as never before in the oil age) after the most recent price crash? Where do you think God may be leading us into resurrection? Right now is a time of disruption and grief for what we think is being lost. But after grief comes the hope of new life and we are a Resurrection People.


Monday, March 9, 2020

Looking Ahead to March 15, 2020 -- 3rd Sunday in Lent

For the next three weeks we have long stories from John's Gospel to reflect upon. This week's reading is John 4:1-42.

The Sermon title is Thirsty?

Early Thoughts: How thirsty are you?  Thirsty for what?

We NEED water. Without it we don't survive. Historically speaking, access to water is one of those things that  determines where towns would develop.

But is this story just about that clear life-giving liquid?

I think not.

At the beginning of their dialogue the Samaritan woman at the well thought Jesus was talking about water. Then she seems to have realized he was talking about something else. And out of that discussion she became a witness and evangelist. Jesus, it appears, touched some deep yearning inside her, some deep thirst that she needed to have quenched in order to have life in abundance.

What deep thirst(s) do you have in your life?

Jesus comes to bring us life in abundance. Jesus comes to quench our deep thirsts. I suggest we live in a world where many are incredibly thirsty. Sometimes we know what we thirst or yearn for, sometimes we just know that something is missing but have yet to identify what that is. Where does the faith story help us find what we yearn for? Where does faith help fill an empty spot? Where does the Living Water flood in and quench our thirst with a never-ending flow?

Jesus meets a woman at a well. They have a very interesting dialogue. Her life is changed. Through her Jesus meets her neighbours. When we have our thirst quenched how can we help but invite others to that same well? Maybe they too will find what they have been looking for?

For what do you thirst? What drops of Living Water can you share with your thirsty neighbours?

All who are thirsty.....COME AND DRINK

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

March Newsletter

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?

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.