Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looking Forward to January 2, 2011 -- Sunday Before Epiphany

This week we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism

The Scripture Reading will be Matthew 2:1-23

The Sermon title is A Story of Visitors

Early Thoughts: What happens when a baby is born?  Well lots of things of course.  But one thing is that people want to come and visit and give gifts.  In essence that is the root of the story this week, well if we overly simplify matters.

One of Matthew's goals in his Gospel is to show that Jesus, while being particularly Jewish (the new Moses in fact), is also the light to the nations.  And so he has Wise Gentiles come to pay homage to the child "Born to be King".  The gifts they bring are symbolic of royalty, priestliness, and a foretelling of death.  That is half the story.

The other half is one we often forget to tell.  If Jesus is born to be King, if Jesus is Lord, then Herod has an issue (or Caesar has an issue).  Herod schemes to destroy the child.  And so the family flees.  But Herod, now knowing where the family is, proceeds to order the slaughter of every young male child in the area.  There is no record of that happening (although it would fit with Herod's personality).  In fact there is little reason to think that any of Matthew chapter 2 is history remembered.  So if it might not have happenend, why does Matthew tell the story?

Matthew tells the story as part of his way of showing that the Jewish Jesus is light to the nations.  Matthew also tells the story to show how being a person who follows Jesus makes a statement about the other power-players in the world. As people who follow The Way we proclaim that in Jesus, crucified and risen, we too find the one who is light tot he nations.  We also proclaim that the powers of the world are not the real powers.

This is a story that starts in the children's pageant and ends in the darkness of power politics.  The life of faith calls us to stay in both places, openly and unafraid.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Study

Everyday Justice

This book calls us to explore the ethical implications of our lives.  It chooses 7 topics (coffee, chocolate, food, cars, waste, clothing, and debt) and walks through some of the justice issues involved with each.

Such a book could well be a recipe for feelings of depression and powerlessness.  AFter all it would be impossible to suddenly change our entire lives in almost any of those topics.  But Clawson is prepared for that.  She starts out the book by telling the reader not to panic.  She is realistic enough to know that there are limits to what people feel they are able to do.  ANd so he purpose of the book is to raise awareness and encourage people to do something, not everything -- "to tweak, not overhaul" as she says.  OTOH, part of me wonders if focussing on the "Tweaking" may allow some readers to comfortably forget the need for a more complete overhaul -- tweaking is the start, not the endpoint.

One of the best parts about the book is that each chapter includes some concrete, helpful tips on how one can change, where to look, what to do to make a difference.  Each chapter also includes a reference list (books, movies, websites) for more information.

We will be gathering to discuss this book on Tuesdays at 7pm starting on January 11th.  Talk to Gord for more information.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Working Around the World

Have you wanted to know more about what the United Church is doing around the world?

This site has pictures from some of our global partners, this is work supported by the Mission and Service Fund

Christmas Eve Worship

We have 2 worship Services this Friday evening.

At 6:30 we have our "Joyful Jammies and Silent Nighties" service.  This half-hour service will focus on story-telling and singing.  In addition to the Christmas story we will hear about a Pig and a Drummer Boy who are trying to figure out what they have to offer as Christmas Gifts.

At 8:00 we have our Family candlelight Service.

The Scripture Readings will be:
  • Isaiah 9:2-7
  • Luke 2:1-20

The Meditation is called A Story For the Ages and will look at the fact that the Christmas story gains meaning when adapted to suit different contexts.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Looking Forward to December 19, 2010 -- 4th Sunday of Advent

This Sunday we will celebrate life through the Sacrament of Baptism.
We will be blessed with music from both our voice choirs and from our handbells as we continue our Christmas preparations

The Scripture Reading this week is:

  • Matthew 1:18-25

We are a people of story.  It is in stories that we remember the past.  It is in stories that we give meaning to the past and the present.  And so this week we have stories.  One will be the Christmas story as told by the Donkey.  And then, where we might normally put a sermon, we will be visited by Joseph and he will share his memories of the birth of Jesus.  A flight of fiction and fancy perhaps.  But we are inheritors of a tradition called midrash where new stories are spun off of old stories to explore questions raised but not answered by the original.  And who knows where the new stories might take us....

This Sunday afternoon at 3pm we will remember life in a Blue Christmas Service, jointly offered by St. Paul's United and Clairmont United.

Telling the Old Story in a new Way....

Ever wondered how the Christmas Story might play out in a technological world?  Here is one possibility...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Looking Forward to December 12, 2010 -- 3rd Sunday of Advent

This week we will celebrate the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Samuel 2:1-10
  • Psalm 146 (VU p.868)
  • Luke 1:39-55

The Sermon title is Sing of Justice

Early Thoughts: There is something revolutionary about Christmas. The coming of the babe in the manger brings a new changed world. Are you ready for God's justice to break into the world? Are you ready for the kingdom to come?

We tend to have a romantic vision of Mary. From the moment of the Annunciation through to the stable she is seen as a meek willing servant of God. And the Christmas story itself is romanticized with sweet smelling hay and gentle animals and a baby who "no crying he makes".

But Christmas has a revolutionary side to it. In a column for the Atikokan Progress in 2002 I wrote:

...Mary sings a song that is nothing less than revolutionary. In Luke 1:47-55 Mary sings about the promise of God to overturn the tables of the powerful. Mary calls for the world to be reordered, for justice to be done, for the Reign of God to begin. This is the truth of Christmas.

On Christmas day we celebrate the birth of the child that sparked Mary 's song. As an adult this child would proclaim his ministry with words that echoed his mother's cry for justice (Luke 4:18-19). If we follow the path he followed, then we need to join in the struggle to fill the hungry with good things, to lift up the lowly, and to free those who are oppressed. On Christmas we mark the beginning of the revolution that will bring on the age of peace, the age where lion lies down with lamb and all have that which they need to live.

Christian faith is not mainly about individuals feeling good about themselves. It is not mainly about life beyond this one. Christian faith is mainly about how we live together in this life, it is about community. The path laid out by the Christ child is one of justice in this world. At Christmas we are flooded with requests for charity. But to truly celebrate Christmas we need to do more than write the cheques and donate the food.

The true Christmas gift is to make changes in society so that people don't need our donations to make it through the cold winter. What will our gift be this year?

This year, as we prepare once again to sing about angels and shepherds, I urge us once more to hear Mary's song of revolution. This year let us join in the revolution of faith - a faith that calls for a world renewed, a people restored, and a hope fulfilled.

This Sunday we will read one of the most revolutionary texts in all of Scripture. In fact reading it is rumoured to have been banned at times (I'll check into that and let you know on Sunday). Mary's song is a song of God's Justice. It is a song that calls for the world order to be turned on its head.

At Christmas we talk about light breaking through the darkness of oppression and inequity. We talk about God choosing to come to earth as a member of the underclass. We talk about the God who brings freedom to the captive, who dethrones the mighty, who sends messengers to lead us in The Way.

As the Christmas revolution takes hold, which side will we find ourselves on? How will we join in the songs of justice?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Things Happening at General Council

As we move further into explorations of how to be a faithful church in the 21st Century, General Council is creating a Network for Ministry Development.  While time will tell what this new tool actually does, information about it and the staff who are starting it up can be found here

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Minister's Annual Report

We are pilgrims on a journey, fellow travellers on the road;
we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load
(verse 1 of “We Are Pilgrims” #595 in Voices United)

This year our respective journeys joined together. Patty, the girls and I would once again like to thank everyone for the warm welcome we received. And now that our paths are intertwined? Now where are we headed?

Well we have started that exploration haven't we. When I first led worship with you folks I invited us to keep one question in our minds – who is God calling us to be? -- and this is the question that I want to keep in mind as we chart the next steps in our journey.

We have this ministry and we are not discouraged;
it is by God's own power that we may live and serve.
Openly we share God's word, speaking truth as we believe,
praying that the shadowed world may healing light receive.
We have this ministry, O God receive our living.
(verse 1 of “We Have This Ministry” #510 in Voices United)

We have a ministry of sharing God's Word of light, life and love with the people of Grande Prairie and the wider world. It isn't always easy knowing best how to do that. We struggle with it daily in a thousand different decisions. But as we have started so we continue. WE explore how God is speaking to us in our times of worship, study, and work. Your Council takes seriously the task of providing leadership, of looking for where the path is headed. In discussions about how our building will look and operate, in discussions about what studies to have, in discussions about what impact we make on our community, in these and many other discussions we, the church, are exploring and living out that key question.

As I was going through the search and decision process a year ago the JNAC report of this congregation jumped out at me. As Patty and I read it we both saw that this was a place of life and possibilities. We both said “we could be happy there”. And indeed this has been what we have found in this first 6 months together. There is life here. There is ministry happening. As I look forward to the years to come I anticipate many twists and turns in the path of our journey. And I look forward to sharing them with all of you. And when the way gets tiring remember that we need not be discouraged. Our strength is not in our own efforts but flows from the grace and support of God.

As our journey winds and twists it's way towards the centre and then back into the world, may God walk with us every step, dancing when we dance, carrying us when we are tired, and spurring us forward when we are reluctant. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Looking Forward to December 5, 2010 -- 2nd Sunday of Advent

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Isaiah 11:1-10
  • Psalm 72 (VU p.790)
  • Isaiah 35:1-10

The Sermon title is Growth from Death

Early Thoughts: The world is cold and dark. Trees are leafless. The earth has gone to sleep. This is when we talk about growth?

As a matter of fact yes it is.  The Isaiah passages this week talk about a shoot from the stump of Jesse and flowers blooming in the desert.  They remind us that the Christmas story, which is but a part of the larger Christian story, is about life that conquers death, about growth when all seems lost.

Near the end of Lord of the Rings, after the Ring has been destroyed and Sauron vanquished, Gandalf lead Aragorn out of the city to a place of wilderness.  Aragorn is searching for a sign of hope, that the kingdom will be restored and his line established.  Gandalf counsels him to turn away from the city and look out into the barren wilderness.  There Aragorn sees a sapling of the White Tree (it had been foretold that as long as the Withe Tree survived so would the line of Kings).  In the midst of desolation hope for Gondor and Arnor is growing.

Another story.  When they visit Godric's Hollow Harry and Hermione see an inscription "The last enemy to be defeated is death".  By the end of the book we know what that means.  Through embracing and defeating death Harry brings victory and peace.

A third.  Near the beginning of Ursula LeGuin's novel A Wizard of Earthsea the young wizard Ged, while trying to show off his skills at school, accidentally releases a dark force into the world.  Ged runs from this force throughout the book but in the end conquers it by realizing that it is the shadow of his own death.  Victory came by acknowledging the reality of death.

And so we come to the Christmas story.  Isaiah knows about death.  Isaiah warns people about the darkness that is coming, the destruction that is coming.  And yet Isaiah has a vision of what lies beyond the destruction.  When all is laid waste a shoot will come up out of a dead stump.  New growth will come.  When all looks desolate a change will come and the desert will bloom.  Joy shall come even to the wilderness.

If we let it, the fear of death and desolation can control our lives.  It can lead us to that place of despair.  But the life of faith calls us to look beyond the death and desolation that seems to come too regularly.  Our statement of faith (A New Creed) closes with these words "In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God."

This Christmas what sign of new life do you see where you might have expected to see wilderness and desolation?

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Virtual Retreat for Advent

I am a part of a group of bloggers called the RevGalBlogPals.  Today they are hosting a Virtual Advent retreat with different folks posting reflections on Lectionary readings for the last three Sundays of Advent.  Here are the Links to the reflections so you can retreat as well:

Advent 2

Advent 3

Advent 4

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Moderator's Advent Message....

United Church of Canada Moderator Mardi Tindal shares a seasonal message:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Discussion Questions for Sunday

During the sermon this Sunday you will be invited into a time of discussion.  Here are the questions you will be asked to talk about with your neighbours:
  1. What signs of daybreak or new hope do you see in the world around you?
  2. What would your hopes and dreams for Christmas be this year?
  3. How can you tell that God is active in the world today?

Monday, November 22, 2010

News From the Wider Church

The General Council Executive met from November 13-15 to discuss issues related to the life of the church.  A summary of what happened can be found here

Other information about General council Executive (or GCE) can be found here

Looking Forward to November 28, 2010 -- 1st Sunday of Advent Year A

This Sunday we are going to celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 2:1-5
  • Psalm 122 (VU p.845)
  • Romans 13:11-14

The Sermon Title is Wake Up! Day is Near!

Early Thoughts: How can we tell when dawn is breaking? What will the day bring?

This week we begin the season of Advent.  For the next four weeks we will preparing ourselves, spiritually, for the time when once again we will tell the story of God becoming a child, a baby in a manger.

As the church counts the years, the beginning of Advent is the beginning of a new year.  And so the year begins with an announcement that the time has come, that light will come into the darkness, that hope is being born, that God is breaking into the world again.

Paul call us to wake from sleep.  He then challenges us to live like we actually believe that day is near.  What might that look like?  What might it mean to put aside the things of the dark and embrace the peace, justice, hope, and promise of God's light?

There comes a time.  The time is now. We have to stand up strong.  We have to claim the other way of living.  We have to embrace the dawn as we await the birth-cries of the promised child.

Let us start the walk to the manger together...

December Newsletter Piece

Advent candles burning bright
Gods love shown in flickering light
Love and Joy and Peace and Hope
It’s with God’s help that we can cope
Advent candles glowing fair
Driving out fear and despair[1]
One of my favourite Advent hymns is Tomorrow Christ is Coming (#27 in Voices United). Set in a minor key, the words are not happy. But they are hopeful. And that is what Advent and Christmas are all about—not always happy but always hopeful.

In the Northern half of the world Christmas, a festival of light, comes at a time when the nights are the longest and the air is the coldest. Metaphorically winter is often seen as a time of death and want. Where spring brings new growth, summer brings fruits, and fall brings the harvest, winter brings frozen soil and frosted windows and bitter winds. As a metaphor it works well to talk about despair as a winter emotion.

And then, in the middle of everything, us silly people of faith start to sing about Joy to the World and tell stories about a baby born who would grow up to be a Saviour. It just doesn’t seem to fit. Until we remember that we are not only people of faith but also people of hope.

As people of hope we know that the world is sometimes, or even often, a place of danger. We know that there are lots of reasons for us to believe that “…the world is full of darkness, again there is no room; the symbols of existence are stable cross and tomb.”[2] It would be easy to fall into a belief that all is lost. But because we are people of hope we can fight the despair.

This year, as part of our Christmas preparations I encourage all of us to look into the future. Look forward and see the possibilities that exist for your family, for Grande Prairie, for St. Paul's United Church. Even when we continually hear voices telling us what can go wrong, remember that we are people of hope. Hope will help get us through the down-times in the economy and through the struggles of the economic booms. Hope will help us remember why we are here. Hope may not erase the dark realities of life but it does give us a spark of light even in the deepest shadow.

The nights are getting longer. The wind is getting colder. But this Sunday we will start lighting coloured candles in our Advent wreath. Soon we will tell again the story of an amazing birth. “God will fulfill love’s purpose and this shall be the sign: we shall find Christ among us as woman, child, or man!”[3]

When the nights grow long and cold
Gods promise calls us to be bold
A promised child, with us to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
See the candles glowing there
Shining Gods love everywhere.[4]

[1]Untitled poem ©November 2006 Rev. Gord Waldie
[2] Tomorrow Christ is Coming vs. 1 ©1966 Fred Kaan
[3] ibid verse 4
[4] Untitled poem ©November 2006 Rev. Gord Waldie

Monday, November 15, 2010

Looking Forward to November 21, 2010 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 23:1-6
  • Luke 1:68-79 (VU p.900)
  • Luke 23:33-43

The Sermon title is This is a King???

Early Thoughts: One of the ancient titles given to Jesus was "King of Kings" or "Lord of Lords". But a king who is crucified, put down by the Empire? Does that make sense?

Well Paul would point out that it doesn't.  In 1 Corinthians Paul is clear that preaching a crucified Messiah is a stumbling block to the Jews and nonsense to the Greeks.  And yet Paul is also clear that this is what he preaches.  In fact Paul suggests that this message rings true because of (not in spite of) its foolishness.

Here in the 21st century we have likely lost the true impact of statements like "Jesus is Lord" or calling Jesus the King of Kings.  After all, while we in Canada are technically living in a monarchy (and an Imperial monarchy at that) it is a very different monarchy than most of history.

Historically speaking, to refer to someone as Lord or King would be seen as a statement against the current ruler (this is true of Christian history as well when one was not talking about Christ).  Certainly it is suggested that this was true under the Romans in the early years of the Jesus-movement.  To say that Jesus Christ is Lord and King was to say that Caesar was not in charge.

In the modern world we have choices to make.  We have to choose where our loyalties will lie.  As people of faith we are called to be citizens not just of this world's nations but also citizens of the Kingdom of God.  The twist is that this other Kingdom turns so much of our wisdom on its head.  Christ really does not look like much of a king.  But, enthroned on a cross, powerful in weakness, wise in foolishness, Christ is still proclaimed as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace.  Glory hallelujah!

This Sunday why don't we explore what a king is/could be.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More Remembering

When I have preached for the November 11 Service I often do something different.  Here are a couple of story-sermons:

Bill Remembers was first written in 1999.

The Dreams comes from 2005

Why Remember War? is a dialogue sermon from 2007.

Take Time on Thurday to Remember

Children's Well Being Initiative

70 000.  That is how many children in Alberta, one of the richest provinces in the country, who live in poverty.  To many of us that seems almost criminal, at the least shameful.  Surely we as a society have not only a responsibility but also a vested interest in lowering that number.

The UCW of Alberta and Northwest Conference agree.  And so they have embraced the Child Well-Being Initiative.  As part of this they have made dozens of cloth dolls and shared them with various people in leadership roles in the church around the conference.  They are also going to the Alberta Legislature on November 18 to present a doll and information about child poverty to every MLA.

More information about the CWBI can be found here

Monday, November 8, 2010

Looking Forward to November 14, 2010 -- 25th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 65:17-25
  • Luke 21:5-19

The Sermon Title is Destruction and Re-Creation

Early Thoughts: Scripture begins with the story of God as Creator. But is God also the Destroyer? Well how else can re-creation happen?

In his book GOD: A Biography Jack Miles points out that in the faith story God is both creator and destroyer (unlike polytheistic traditions where these two roles would be assigned to separate deities ).  And certainly it makes sense.  Consider the Noah story.  There God destroys to enable re-creation.  Some Biblical interpretations of the Fall of the Temple-Exile-Return cycle suggest that the same thing is at work.  And it certainly seems that talk of the end-times (or, to use a fancy $50 word, eschatology) within the Christian tradition includes that rhythm of Destruction that enables Re-Creation.

Which brings us to the passages for this week.  Luke brings a word of imminent destruction. Isaiah bring the word of re-creation, the new heaven and the new earth.  Which would we rather hear?  I think I can be confident that many of us find Isaiah's words much more comforting than Luke's.  But it is my firm belief that you can't have one without the other -- just like you can't have Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

God is at work transforming the world.  Transformation is not tweaking.  Transformation is not always comfortable or easy.  Transformation is real change.  And real change can be scary -- all the more so since it is real change that we do not control.

As people of Christian faith we live in the nebulous world of the now and the not yet.  In the life, death and resurrection of Christ the Kingdom of God is here with and among us. But obviously the world as it is does not live up to the full vision of the new heaven and the new earth.  And so to get beyond the not yet things need to be rebuilt.  It would be nice if that building could be a mere matter of minor renovation.  But sometimes the building as a whole has to go.  Sometimes we need to destroy before we can rebuild.

Destruction is a terrifying thought too many of us.  It just sounds so final, so complete.  But to those who have a vision for what will come after destruction can be a sign of hope.  As we hear these passages about destruction and re-creation are we hearing them in terror and worry or are we hearing them in hope?


Monday, October 25, 2010

November Newsletter

Earlier this year I read this:
The dedication service of McQueen Presbyterian Church was held on October 8, 1911, with capacity attendance. Its name honored the Rev D.G. McQueen, who had played an important part in the creation of this mission. It was a proud moment for the Rev. And Mrs. Forbes – their first church in their new mission field... (And We Come After page 19)
McQueen Presbyterian would, in due time, become St. Paul's United Church. And our current building is on the same parcel of land as that original log church. We are 100 years old next year!

It seems to me that this is a significant thing. For starters it gives us a reason to have a party (always a good thing). But anniversary years are special. They give us a chance to look back and to look ahead.

Yes that's right. I said that special anniversaries are a chance to look back and to look ahead. As we remember those that laid the way for us, as we give thanks for those that built the community to this point we have a responsibility to the future. When people gather in this place to celebrate the 125th or 150th anniversary of that dedication service of McQueen Presbyterian what will they say about those of us who celebrated the 100th?

As we approach our centennial date next Thanksgiving weekend (yes, we mark our centennial on Thanksgiving weekend, how appropriate is that!?) I encourage us to be forward looking. Yes we will engage in that holy task of telling the stories of the past. Yes we will be thankful. But our future is not our past. What was once here will not be again. It is my opinion that we don't honor our predecessors by trying vainly to recreate their world. We honor them by continuing to build and rebuild the community they passed on to us.

What is our hope for the future? What stamp do we want to make on this place? In my mind that all comes back to the question I asked in my first sermon with you. Who and what is God calling us to be in this place and time? How we answer that question shapes what decisions we make about our programs, about our building, about our future. And that, in my (not quite so) humble opinion is a GREAT anniversary project.

Oh and if you are interested in the party part of the anniversary? Let us know. A good party takes someone to help plan it.

Looking Ahead to October 31, 2010 -- 23rd Sunday After Pentecost, Reformation Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Psalm 130 (VU p.853)
  • Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Sermon Title is Semper Reformanda

Early Thoughts: Maintain tradition or change? What is the best way?  Or is it really an either/or situation?  is reforming an institution about a little of both?

This Sunday is Reformation Day.  According to tradition and story, on October 31 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses (propositions for debate and discussion) to the church door in Wittenburg and thus began the Reformation.  Of course history is rarely that straightforward or simple, but it does make a convenient point on which to hang a history lesson.  There is a saying that grew out of the Protestant Reformation (and is equally applicable to the Roman Catholic church): ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda -- the church reformed, always reforming.  And so on this Reformation Day I ask:
  1. How is the church being reformed here and now?  What is changing?
  2. How "should" it be reformed?  What would you like to see changed?
  3. What is essential to keep, either as is or with some tweaking?
  4. What is your vision of how the church moves forward into the future?
In general, the longer an organization exists, the more it resists reforming.  This is true of the church.  Some of us say that the church as we know it is hopelessly bound by tradition and habit.  Some of us say that there is room for change.  (And some of us waver between those two depending on the day)  The reality is that traditions, those links to the past, have a place in our life together.  At the same time there is truth in the saying that the last words of any organization (especially the church) are "we never did it that way before".  We have to hold in tension the new and the old.  Change for the sake of change can be just as unhelpful or destructive as clinging to meaningless traditions.

Ezekiel had a vision of dry bones (skeletons for Halloween?) and the voice of God came to him asking "Mortal, can these bones live?".  We in the church need to ask ourselves (or let God ask us) the same question.  Can the bones of the church live?  Can we allow them to be reclothed with flesh and sinew?  Where is the breath of life blowing us as a church which is always being reformed by God?

I am third generation United Church of Canada leadership.  My paternal grandmother was a Presbytery Secretary in her day, and both she and my grandfather were active in their congregation wherever they lived.  As long as I can remember my parents have been active in the leadership of  my childhood congregation (I think between them they served on every committee at least once, sometimes 2 or 3 times).  I am in paid ministry.  The church in which I serve is not the same as the church in which my grandparents served.  It is not the same church in which I grew up.  The church my daughters will see when they are adults will be different again.  The church, whether it admits it or not, whether it eve recognizes it, is always changing.  The challenge is not to fight that change.  Nor is the challenge to see how fast we can throw away what we have inherited.  The challenge is to discern what needs to be kept, what needs to go, what new things to bring in, and what needs to change.

On Reformation Day, remembering that we have 2 millenia of tradition behind us, I am always remeinded of Jaroslav Pelikan's quote:
Tradition is the living faith of the dead.
Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.
As we serve this constantly reforming church may we be people of tradition but not traditionalists.  And may we keep our eyes and ears open for how the bones are being brought back to life.

Oh and be warned.  This Sunday you may even be asked to TALK about your vision of a reformed church.

Tradition vs Change in song

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grace From Sunday October 17

In case anyone is interested, here is the grace I taught during Children's time for World Food Sunday (sung to the tune of Kookabura sits in the old gum tree):
Fruits and vegetables are good for me
Breads and cereals so I can see
Milk the moo-cow
Milk the moo-cow
How good my God can be

Remember to sing it in pairs and for the "Milking" lines one partner holds his/her hands up with thumbs pointing down and the other "milks them". If you sing it twice each partner can do the milking/be the milkee

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Blurb" for Pictorial Directory

A couple years ago Patty's mom was going through her basement full of memories in preparation for selling the house. And so, every time we went to visit there were more pictures to look at. And even though I had to keep asking “Who's this?” or “Where are you” I loved it. Looking at family pictures is a great way to learn about each other.

Church directories are family photo albums. I quite enjoy looking through a set of them in a church. As you do that you see how the community has changed over the years. Each edition has a different set of people – babies have been born, older children have moved away from home, some folk have moved (in or away), others have died. These directories become part of our history, part of how we tell our story. Besides who can ever resist those “did I/he/she really look like THAT” discussions?

This directory is but a snapshot of who we are as a congregation in 2010. It shows who is a part of the community as we look ahead to our 100th anniversary in 2011. We are the descendants(sometimes in a very literal sense) of those who formed a congregation and built a log building on this site. But we are also those who will pass on this community of faith to those who come after us. Who will be in the family snapshot next time? What story of faith will they tell?

In closing, I remember the first song I learned as a member of Junior Choir. The first verse proclaims:
The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple
the church is not a resting place the church is a people...
Here in these pages we find St. Paul's United. Not all of it since no family portrait ever gets everybody in. But the people staring back at you as you flip the pages, and those whose pictures are missing, that is the church. And so, whether you have been in every directory or this is your first time, welcome to the church...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Looking Forward to October 24, 2010 -- 22nd Sunday After Pentecost , Year C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 24 (VU p.751)
  • Luke 18:9-14

The Sermon Title is Humility and Shame

Early Thoughts: When are we too proud? When do we need more pride or self-esteem? When does realistic guilt become crippling shame?

Sometimes I think in songs. And when I read this Luke passage a couple of songs come to mind. As I read about the Pharisee's prayer part of me hears this:

Pride. Overbearing pride you might say. Pride that blinds us to our own faults but makes us more than willing to see the faults of others. Is this healthy psychologically or spiritually?

And on the other hand there is the tax-collector, someone who is all too aware of his own faults. In part his prayer reminds me of this song:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, think I'll go eat worms Is this healthy psychologically or spiritually?

In the end I would say that neither of them are healthy points of view.  Simply because they are both unbalanced.  One needs a dose of humility.  The other needs a self-esteem boost.

Christian theology has spent much time and ink trying to convince us of the evils of pride.  And has largely been successful, perhaps too successful.  One strand of theology holds that Pride is the basis of all sinfulness, starting from the Genesis story about Adam and Eve being tempted to be like God.  And yet this emphasis on pride, when taken to extremes, can (and has) communicate to people that they should be ashamed of themselves.  Extreme Calvinism, with its emphasis on the essential sinfulness of human nature (even calling humanity Totally Depraved) is a prime example.

And yet we are told in the Creation story that we are created in the Image of God, and that all Creation is very good.  Being ashamed of ourselves is not what God calls for anymore than overbearing pride.  There is a role for being proud of ourselves, as long as that is based on a realistic picture.  There are times when feeling guilty about something is honest and true.  But if we are allowed to slide into a sense of shame about our very being then we have gone too far.

Some of us know all to well the danger of extreme shame.  Some of us have lived with its crippling effects.  And for some, the shame is fatal.  Some people hear so often that they are no good, that they are flawed, that they are wrong that they start to believe they are worthless and it kills them. 

So we have to find the balance point between pride and humility.  We have to know when to feel guilty.  It isn't just a matter of an interesting theological discussion.  It is a matter of life, and that in abundance, and death.

Pharisee and Tax-collector, neither are healthy.  Neither are where we should be.  Because we are special.  We are not perfect.  But "Just as I am [we are], without one plea" we are loved and accepted and worthwhile.  Thanks and Praise to God.  AMEN

Monday, October 4, 2010

Looking Forward to October 10, 2010 -- Thanksgiving Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 26:1-11
  • Psalm 100 (sung to Old 100th using the old words -- VU p.823)
  • Philippians 4:4-9

The Sermon title is Memory and Hope

Early Thoughts: Why do we give thanks?  Or maybe the better question is why do we forget to give thanks?

The secret to giving thanks is memory.  It really is that simple.  We are better at giving thanks when we are intentional about remembering what we have to be thankful for.

This Deuteronomy Passage is a great illustration.  As part of the thanksgiving offering the people are told to recount the history of their people.  What do we need to remember?  This week we will sing old words to an old tune, reminding us that we are part of a continuing story.  For that we give thanks.  This season we remember the food on our tables and where it has come from.  And we give thanks.  Continually we remember that we are a part of many different communities and for that we give thanks.

And what difference does it make?  What is the positive effect of this remembering and giving thanks?  It changes how we see the world.  It gives us more hope.  It gives us a more optimistic outlook.  How could it not?  After all, in a world that often tries hard to convince us to be afraid and to show us that we don't have enough, it is a wonderfully empowering (and counter-cultural) practice to think of the reasons we have to NOT be afraid and to remind ourselves of our blessings.

This thanksgiving, let us all take time to remember.  Let us all embrace the reality of memory and hope.

Dialogue Sermon from covenanting Service

Here is the sermon from the Covenanting Service last evening:

Covenant or Contract?
A Dialogue Sermon for Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference Celebration of Ministry Service: May 29, 2005
Written by: Rev. Gord Waldie
May 2005
Revised and Edited for use in Covenanting Service between Rev Gord Waldie, St. Paul's United Church (Grande Prairie) and Northern Lights Presbytery – September 2010

Scripture Passages:
Jeremiah 31:31-34
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
John 15:9-16

Scene opens with G sitting at a desk working. There is a knock on the door.
G: (looks up) Hello? Oh Susan, nice to see you. Is it 10:30 already?? Come in, come in.
S: I think I might be a little bit early. I can wait a moment if you are busy.
G: Oh no problem, I was just catching up on a bit of reading, nothing that can’t wait. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about the M&P committee and to thank you for taking on the chair. As you know, Personnel stuff is vitally important work, but it is also very confusing at times. Did you get a chance to read through the M&P Handbook I gave you?
S: Yes I did, and the M&P files from the office. They were very helpful in letting me figure out what exactly this committee does. But there are a few things that I am confused about.
G: I thought there might be. M&P work isn’t exactly like Human Resources work but it is close. So what are your questions?
S: Well the first is this line from the beginning of the Handbook. It talks about “being in ministry together”. I thought you were the Minister. What does it mean?
G: (shuffling papers) Well, now, maybe this will help. See, here on the bulletin each week where it says “Ministry by: The Congregation, Enabling Minister: Rev Gord Waldie”? Well that is because we recognize that the work of the church isn’t just done by one person. All of us work together to make the church grow. All of us are part of a relationship, we call it a covenant, where we promise to work together.
S: “Enabling Minister” If you are our enabler doesn’t that make us co-dependent?
G: (chuckles) Not really, but it does mean that we are interdependent. Churches need many things to run smoothly. They need people who are good with money and numbers, people who are good with children, people who paint the windowsills and all sorts of other things. Even if I was good at all those things, which I’m not, there is no way that I could do it all. Part of my role here is to help people discover what they can do as a part of the church and encourage or help them as best as I can. Maybe Empowering is a better word than enabling.
S: Hey, is that what you meant last week when you were talking about how we are all part of one body? I thought it was about spiritual gifts.
G: Well Paul does talk about spiritual gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues on but later he goes on to talk about the church as a body. He suggests that if all of us were an eye we wouldn’t get very far in life. So yeah, that is why we talk about being in ministry together. Really we all do a bit of the work, eyes, ears, feet, hands. And while my title might be The Minister, really I am one of many.
S: But aren’t you in charge?
G: (laughing) I Wish! Actually the congregation and the Board are “in charge” if anyone is. We try to understand what path God has laid out for us and follow it but it is tempting to find a path we like better sometimes. You know, Jesus told his followers that he didn’t see them as servants but as friends. I think that is helpful to remember when we try to run the church. No one person is in charge and no one is the servant. We are all friends trying to work together. (pauses) Actually I don’t think that any of us is really “in charge”. The congregation, the Presbytery and I are all part of a covenant. The congregation appoints a committee, the M&P committee, to work with me and help set goals, talk about how things are going and so on. But I don’t really work FOR them. Part of the time I work FOR Presbytery, not only at meetings but in helping to represent the wider church to the congregation. My best guess is that I work for the church as a whole but most of that work is focused in working with this congregation.
S: OK, I think I am starting to see what you mean. We pay your salary but you really work with us, not for us. You enable us to be a part of the church.
G: Well I think that God is a part of it too. A big part of being the church is trying to understand what God is saying to us, who God is calling us to be. In fact God is a part of that covenant I just talked about. But basically that is what I mean. What else were you wondering about?
S: Well I couldn't find an employment contract? Don’t you have one?
G: Well you should have seen something called a “call form”. It lists things like salary, vacation and study time, housing allowance. It is pretty much a contract. And you should have be a copy of the Joint Needs Assessment report. It included a position description.
S: Yeah I saw both of those but they don’t aren’t as clear as I think a contract should be. But I guess there are lots of ways people get hired.
G: Yes, the church sometimes isn’t as clear as we would like. But there is another point to raise. Although we agreed to those terms of employment when I was called (and a lot of them have to meet or exceed minimums set by National Church Policy) I don’t really work just under that contract. We work together in a covenant relationship.
S: You keep using that word, covenant. What do you mean?
G: A covenant is, well it is sort of hard to describe. A covenant is a way of working together. It is the same word we use to describe a marriage. Each party to the covenant makes promises about how they will behave and what they will (or won’t) do, just like the vows at a marriage ceremony. Actually it is a term that is used a lot in the Bible. God makes a covenant with Noah, and with Abraham, and with Moses. Jesus spoke of his followers as being part of a new covenant. Actually, I think Jesus was thinking about the prophet Jeremiah when he said that. Jeremiah talked about a covenant that wouldn’t be written on stone tablets or on scrolls but would be written on people’s hearts.
S: What do all these stories have to do with how we run the church though? I mean I understand why it is important to tell them and why it is important to talk about God’s promises and our promises to God. But when it comes to employment wouldn’t you rather have a hard and fast contract instead of this loose covenant thing? At least a contract would hold up in court.
G: In some ways you are certainly right. When things go sour it would be nice to have things a little bit more cut and dried. But unfortunately that doesn’t always work in the church. When we talk about the arrangement between a congregation and a minister we are really talking about a relationship. In fact when the time comes a minister doesn’t quit or get fired, but either the minister or the congregation asks Presbytery for a “change in Pastoral Relationship”. The best way I have found to describe it is like a marriage. And another thing, in any marriage things change as the relationship develops. The same thing happens in this covenant. Over time the position description will develop and evolve as the needs of the congregation change. That is easier to do when things are not cast in stone.
S: That sounds like a bizarre way to talk about someone’s job. How are conflicts worked out?
G: That really depends on the people involved. But for me, that is where that idea of a marriage helps. A covenant is a set of promises we make to each other. When a couple comes into problems we hope that those promises will support them, the same thing happens in a church. We remember that we promised to work together through our difficulties. When that happens a contract can be helpful in reminding us of what our legal and moral obligations are (what my salary and position description are for example) but the love and promises of the covenant are what help us to keep trying. At least that is the ideal.
S: Is that what you mean about the covenant being written on our hearts? That if we truly let ourselves live into these promises they become part of who we are? They become part of how we run our lives? I see. Then we act out of love and commitment instead of duty and obligation.
G: Exactly!
S: You know, as you talk about this I can see how this covenant ties in with that idea of us all being in ministry together.
G: I think it does, actually I think it is integral. But how do you see it?
S: Well, if we hired you and signed a contract it would be really easy to look at your job description and say that you do the ministry and we don’t. But when we make these promises to each other then we all have a stake in making sure they get lived out. The promises push us to take a bigger part in helping the church thrive, or even survive.
G: I agree. And don’t forget that these promises are made in a worship service. So God is part of our covenant. The book of Ecclesiastes talks about a threefold cord that is not easily broken. If the covenant promises had to rely on all of us as people then it would be easy to see how they would never work. But with God as the third strand in the cord we add strength and stability. I use that passage a lot in weddings.
S: So let’s see if I have this straight. We pay you but the ministry is done by all of us. We have agreed to some conditions of employment, like a contract, but really your work with us is guided by a set of promises we make to each other. And we include God in those promises to help when we don’t feel that we can live up to them by ourselves.
G: That just about covers it. It may seem confusing but I am sure that with time you will see both the strengths and weaknesses of the way we do things.
S: I sure hope there are some strengths. It seems like an awfully silly way to have people’s employment handled to me. But then I guess that the church doesn’t always have to do things the way everyone else does them.
G: And that is a good thing. Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Looking Forward to October 3, 2010 -- Worldwide Communion Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Corinthians 11:17-26
  • Mark 14:22-26

The Sermon title is The Banquet of Hope
Show all
Early Thoughts: What is this thing we call communion? Is it a somber solemn event of mourning and remembrance or a joyful banquet of the kingdom of God?

It is both of course. Over the course of Christian history and theology a variety of understandings of Communion/Eucharist have developed.

It is my opinion that we focus on different aspects of communion at different times. Sometimes it is indeed most appropriate to focus on the meal of memory and sacrifice. Sometimes there is a focus on the salvation found in the cross. Sometimes however we need to focus on the nature of the meal as a foretaste of the reign of God.

My preferred theology of communion is that last one. When we gather at the table for this meal we are pre-figuring the banquet of hope and celebration when the words "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" have come to be a reality. And so this is where I am leaning as we prepare to celebrate Worldwide Communion Sunday. The meal which unites us is the great sign of hope that we shall one day be in fact united.

Besides, we seem to need a reminder of hope these days.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

October Newsletter

Computers, Community, and the Church:

We live in a world where computers surround us. Some would suggest that we live in a world where computers control us. In day-to-day life today people build communities on-line, people meet spouses on-line (one of the first weddings I performed in ministry was a couple who met online while living half a country apart), people do much of their daily business (shopping, banking) online, people do courses and get degrees online, and so much more. The computer and the internet have, for better or worse, become basic to many people's lives.

And what does that mean about being the church? As we try to understand who what and how God is calling us to be in this time and place where does the computer come in?

Some benefits are obvious. Just by sitting at my desk I can connect with colleagues around the world to discuss church life and share sermon thoughts. I take part in a variety of internet-based discussions, I can access resources and commentary that would otherwise be totally unavailable. Through Facebook I can keep up with friends and acquaintances from all over the place. Through e-mail I can avoid playing phone-tag with people as we try to discuss an issue or set up a meeting time. Through Skype I was able to be interviewed by a search committee that was 4 days drive away from my home. The presence of internet-connected computers in the hands of church folk have made many things possible at lower cost of money and time.

But there are downsides too. There is an on-going debate about the nature of community online. Is a Facebook friend the same as a friend who you can actually sit and have coffee with? Is it possible that in relying on e-mail and online connections we lose something vital to the church? Maybe. After all the church is about being in community with each other. And while some of the community building can happen through e-mail and social media, some of it has to be done face-to-face.

So what is my point? Glad you asked. Like many of my colleagues, I continue to look for the balance point in how much ministry happens through a monitor. Because, let's be honest, the computer screen can suck up all your time if you let it. But it has to be used somewhat. Here's some of what I have come up with:
  • Some business (local and wider church) will be done by e-mail. In fact the amount of that is probably growing, replacing phone calls at times. But some will still require meetings (no we can't totally do away with meetings). And so sometimes we have to be willing to say “this needs to be discussed more, when can we get together”.
  • Some information about Pastoral Care needs will come to me through the computer, as well as through the phone and face-to-face. Then once the need is known we can respond.
  • One thing I do as pat of my sermon presentation is post my early thoughts in a blog (http://ministerialmutterings.blogspot.com) on Monday or Tuesday each week. I welcome folks to visit and share their thoughts – in fact your thoughts may then help me form the final sermon. This place will also include some other “churchy stuff”.
  • Facebook. This is an interesting area. Some clergy use sites like this or Twitter as a way of keeping in touch with congregants. Some don't. I have decided to take the path laid out by colleague in the US when she started in a new congregation. If folks out there want their minister to be a “Facebook friend” then you are free to find me and ask. But I won't go searching for you.
  • Finally, I find I can never get to know folks without spending time with them. And I want to get to know you. I want to visit with you at the church or at home, or over coffee. Give me a call and we can find a time to get together. Getting to know the congregation is one of my main goals for this year. I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Looking Forward to September 26, 2010 -- 18th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
  • Psalm 91(VU p.807)
The Sermon Title is Speculative Real Estate

Early Thoughts: The end is near!  The enemy is at the gates. It is only a matter of time. What else would one do but buy some land?

It doesn't make sense, does it?  The doom that Jeremiah has been predicting is about to fall.  Nebuchadnezzar's army is going to destroy Jerusalem.  Jeremiah himself is imprisoned because of his prophecies (apparently the ruling powers don't take kindly to being told that they are about to be destroyed because of their behaviour).  Buying a piece of land seems to be a strange choice.  But that is the Word of the Lord that Jeremiah receives: “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.”.

Why?  As the land is about to be conquered (it is highly likely that  the parcel of land in question is already held by the Babylonians) and a new regime is taking over it would seem that buying land under the old rules is a waste of time and money.

Or is it an act of defiant hope?  Is Jeremiah taking such pains to protect the deed from destruction as a sign that someday it will be worth something?   So it appears.  The land purchase is a way of saying that there is hope, there is still hope even as the unthinkable is happening

To be a follower of God's Way is to be a person of hope.  And it means being a person of hope even as the world is crashing down around us.

In today's world someone buying property as the world crashes is often accused of being a speculator, of buying low to sell high later (some would call this sound fiscal policy).  But what if it is an act of faith?  What if as the local mill/mine/auto plant announces lay offs and closure we went out and engaged in acts of hope that all will be well?  Would that be an act of faith or madness?

Many have argued over the last few decades that the Babylonians are at the gates of the church, or have already carted us off into exile.  In that case what are the acts of hope that keep us going, that allow us to trust in the Promise?

In a very hard world, where people died young from plague and warfare and revolt, Julian of Norwich was inspired by God to write these words:
All shall be well,
All shall be well,
All manner of things be well
That is our hope too.  But it isn't enough to say we believe it.  It isn't even enough to believe it.  If our hope has any meaning it is because we act it out.  What fields should we be buying on spec?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Presbytery Report Part 2

Saturday morning began with worship and then a workshop on the process of making Pastoral Oversight visits. These visits are a vital part of how we support and nurture the life of our Pastoral Charges. Given that between 14 and 18 visitors will be needed in 2011 it is hoped that this workshop will give Presbyters the confidence and knowledge to take part in this ministry. For more information on how these visits work you can find the Suggested Guidelines as a .pdf file on the Presbytery Website (http://northernlightspresbytery.org/).

Also on Saturday we heard updates from Peter Chynoweth (President of Conference) and a report from Lynn Maki (Conference Executive Secretary). Peter shared that a discussion is being held to determine whether or not a Conference Annual Meeting will be held in 2011. Hopefully a decision will be made on this issue at the Conference Executive Meeting in October. Peter also noted that some visioning work is happening within the Conference as well as some work around becoming an Affirming Conference. Referring back to the idea of a golden time of change, Lynn talked about the major changes that were discussed and approved at the May meeting of General Council Executive.

At this meeting of NLP we were blessed to have a presentation from Marie Wilson and Justice Murray Sinclair from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dealing with the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools. Both of them spoke of how they personally have been touched by that legacy. They detailed what the Commission is, how it was formed out of the settlement agreement, and what it has been asked to do during it's five year mandate. Key issues they mentioned were: that this is a Canadian issue, not an aboriginal issue; that despite all that we have heard and done thus far, we are only at the beginning of a long long process; and that a huge piece of the needed work is in education. Marie pointed out that in all measure of societal malfunction aboriginal women and children are over-represented in Canada and that while Canada as a whole ranks 3rd worldwide in Quality of Life, the aboriginal community in Canada ranks 47th and such a discrepancy is part of our national shame – a term Justice Sinclair used to describe the whole Residential Schools history and legacy.

And of course what would a Presbytery meeting be without items of business. Here are some of the highlights from the Ministry Group and committee reports:
Nominating – Laurie Pals from Fairview was named as Stewardship & Mission Education Convenor
Living The Faith
  • is looking at a Spring retreat around supporting music ministry in congregations using the resource “Singing Faith Alive”
  • is committed to having a book display at the February Presbytery meeting
  • is looking forward to the possibility of a conference youth event happening in Grande Prairie in the spring of 2012
  • is looking into creating a lending library of resources within NLP
Finance and Assistance
  • brought forward motions regarding Mission Support Grants to South Peace and Fort Nelson Pastoral charges. While both of these were wholehertedly supported there was some discussion of how these grants fit into the missional plan and priorities of the whole Presbytery. This latter issue will need more discussion.
  • the Interim Budget for 2011 was presented. Based on the currently available information it includes a budgeted deficit of $7 800. The Presbytery portion of the budget works out to $26 per identifiable giver within NLP (add in the Conference Assessment and that number roughly doubles to $53 per identifiable giver)
Pastoral Relations
  • welcomed 2 new ministry personnel to the Presbytery: Gord Waldie at St. Paul's United in Grande Prairie and Laura Machin at Hillcrest United in Fort Nelson.
  • brought forward a motion to approve in principal a pilot project involving ministry resource sharing involving Peace River-Nampa, Grimshaw-Berwyn and Rev. Janice Walls
  • the committee is asking Living the Faith to work out a way to provide worship resource support to congregations that are currently without ministry personnel.
  • information was shared about work being done at the conference level regarding Overtime Guidelines and also guidelines regarding Licensed Lay Worship Leaders
  • a clergy retreat is being planned, hopefully in conjunction with the February Presbytery
Education and Students
  • shared that we have 2 students and 1 inquirer in the Presbytery at present.
  • also listed and reaffirmed the 12 Licensed Lay Worship Leaders in NLP
Pastoral Oversight – reviewed the status of visits that are in process and in line to be done for 2010 and 2011

The meeting concluded Sunday morning with the handover of the Presbytery banner to St. Paul's United in Grande Prairie and then Presbyters joined the congregation of WUC for worship and lunch. Monday morning the long bus trip home began...

A great big THANK YOU goes to the folks of Whitehorse United Church. The consensus of Presbyters was that they were wonderful hosts. The food was great, with the local options (bison, elk, moose, salmon, sourdough pancakes...) making the experience truly memorable. And all the other little things that made the weekend run smoothly may not have been noticed but we know that they were there. Thanks again, and you may have set a standard other hosts will have a struggle to meet or beat.

Friday, September 10, 2010

PResbytery Report PArt 1

Well, we are here!

After 2 full days on the bus we pulled in to Whitehorse about 1.75 hours ago.

We left Grande Prairie in the rain about 9:30 yesterday, stopped in Fort St. John for lunch and ended the day's travel in Fort Nelson.  There the folks at Hillcrest United laid out a truly grand meal (3 meats!!!) for us.  Following supper we moved upstairs a covenanting service between Hillcrest United, Northern Lights Presbytery and Rev. Laura Machin (Laura was settled in Fort Nelson this summer).

This morning we started off bright and early at 7:30 and followed teh Alsaka highway to Whitehorse (14 hours later).  We were privileged to have one rider who is intimately acquainted with the route and offered to serve as a tour guide.  And would you believe that 2 Toblerone bars could raise over $100 for the Mission and Service Fund???

Tomorrow morning the meeting starts in earnest, I mean Whitehorse....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Looking Forward to Semptember 19, 2010 -- 17th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113 (on insert)
Luke 16:1-13

The Sermon title is Shrewd or a Just a Cheater?

Early Thoughts: In the world around us "shrewd business practices" are often (sometimes unintentionally) rewarded--up to a point. But where is the appropriate dividing line?

[Note, Glenn Beck may not like this sermon, because it seems that the Amos passage calls us to practice that thing called Social Justice]

Sometimes I read a passage of Scripture and am left shaking my head in confusion.  The parable of the dishonest steward is a prime example.   Taken at face value, it sounds as if such dishonest dealings are being commended as a proper way to do business.  But that doesn't make any sense!

Luke would seem to agree.  Luke continues with some commentary about being faithful in the big and the small, and points out that it is difficult (Luke/Jesus suggests impossible) to serve 2 masters.

So how do we deal with money? And what does that say about us?  Appropriate dealing in financial matters is a big part of the ethics/morals of Scripture.  And, despite what a certain Fox personality might say, Scripture is clear that in such matters we are to espouse and practice Social Justice.  When our finances, our the financial practices of those around us, cause injustice we are to have changes made.  We are to be good stewards of what we have.  We aren't supposed to watch out solely for our own interests but also for the interests of the people around us.

The shrewd or dishonest servant was, simply put, a cheat.  His approach to finances says something about his character.  Amos tells of people whose practices say something about their character.  Neither paints a very attractive picture.  It is my belief that one of the most fundamental theological documents of any organization or individual is their budget and balance sheet. 

What statement is your budget making about you?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Review

Reframing Hope
by: Carol Howard Merritt
©2010 The Alban Institute

In a world where we so often hear words of doom and gloom it is nice to be offered a chance to think about hope for a change. And in Reframing Hope Carol Howard Merritt invites us to do just that. But, as the title suggests, she also pushes us to see the world a little bit differently in order to see the hope.

Merritt starts out by asking “what is the substance of our hope?” and ends with a reflection on finding “hope in the desert” (this concluding reflection is worth reading even if you don't touch the rest of the book). In between she leads us through a series of “Re”s. She looks at Redistributing Authority, Re-forming Community, Reexamining the Medium, Retelling the Message, Reinventing Activism, Renewing Creation and Retraditioning Spirituality always asking how a post-modern view of society might interact with these things.

It may seem passe to talk about the move from modernism to post-modernism in Western culture (especially since some suggest that the Millenials and the generation that follows them are really post-post-modern) but is so many ways the denominational church has not, on the ground, in the pews, wrestled with that change. And so much of the writing out there on the Emerging Church seems virulently anti-denominational, or at least sees the denominational church as a last gasp of dying Christendom (which sometimes feels true to be honest) that it is helpful and enlivening to have a writer describe how these changes can work within a continuing denominational mindset. At any rate, many readers will likely have met with explanations of how post-modern thought differs from modern thought and will find these passages either repetitious or a helpful refresher.

One of the great gifts I got from this book came in the second chapter. This was Merritt's concept of the “loyal radicals” – people
“who mingle the sensitivities of the emergent movement with their own long-standing denominational traditions...Unless we are kicked out of our denominations, most of us have no intention of leaving—yet we fully realize we are a part of a shift in ecclesial thinking.” (p.36).
As a person who has great attachment to the church and the traditions of the faith, as a person who has a strong understanding of some of the gifts offered by a denominational culture (and the weaknesses of a wholly congregational structure), and as a person who finds that many people throw out the good with the bad as they trash-talk denominations I found Merritt describing me in this section. Make no mistake, denominations have issues, the church is in constant need of re-forming (remember ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda?) but there is a place for the denominational church. It is where many, if not most, people of faith find a home and support. What I found challenging in this is the idea that we in the denominational church need to re-discover what gifts we have to share with people who do not see the world or the faith or the church in the same way as those who built the denomination.

Of course any book that has hope in the title has to be about looking forward, not just describing where we are at now. And Merritt does this well. As she describes the current context she pushes us to look where that may lead us. Thankfully she does so with a sense of realism that, in my mind, is absent in so much discussion of technology and the church (Merritt finds a helpful middle ground to my mind) or in so much discussion of what makes a “successful” church. So how does the church of the future use social networking while not losing the face-to-face that is also so important? How do we continue to tell the old old stories and continue to be agents of change? How do we link our faith lives and communities to an understanding of living with respect in creation? How do we re-connect the personal faith and morality that is a strength of “evangelicalism” with the social justice and activism that is a strength of many denominations (remembering that the fullness of Christian faith calls for both of these things)? The reader may not fully agree with Merritt on all these points but at least she opens up for discussion – as discussion, not as a “this is how it should happen” instruction.

Is there hope for the church? I find myself asking that on a regular basis. And sometimes my soul gets heavy with a doubt that there is. But, in the end, we are people of hope. And this volume, which pushes us to see the world and the church more clearly – which is the prime purpose of re-framing anything – allows me to feel that there is hope. It is hope for a church that will be changed. But it is hope nonetheless. And for that gift I say thank-you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Looking Ahead to September 5, 2010 -- 15th Sunday After Pentecost Year C

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Jeremiah 18:1-11
  • Psalm 139 (VU p.861)

The Sermon title is Being Reshaped

Early Thoughts: What does it feel like to be the clay???

Well really, when you think about it that is the question that begs to be asked this week.  How does it feel to allow ourselves to be reshaped and molded?  Does the clay sit passively and let the potter do as she wishes or does the clay actively resist being shaped?  I suspect some potters would say one and some would say the other.

This can be a tough passage to read.  I am certain they were hard words to hear for the people of Jerusalem.  Jeremiah is telling them that the nation is a flawed pot, a pot that needs to be smashed back into a lump of clay and reshaped.  But it can also be a hopeful passage.  They may need to be smashed and reshaped but then again they are in the hands of the potter.

So here is the question.  How are we being reshaped today?  (please note that i don't ask if we are or if we need be, my assumption is that we are and we need to be).  How is our City, our church, our nation being reshaped?  How are we as individuals being reshaped?  And of course, how do we (the clay) respond to that reshaping?

I welcome your answers and challenges.

PS: Here is a reflection on the Jeremiah passage I found quite helpful.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Looking Ahead to August 29, 2010 -- 14th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Genesis 18:1-8
  • Hebrews 13:1-3
  • Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Sermon Title this week is Hospitality Hints

Early Thoughts: In recent years hospitality has become a key word in the United Church.  Much ink has been spilled and time spent at workshops about being a "welcoming" and "friendly" church.  But are we sure how or why we do that?

It is easy to think of hospitality as be warm and friendly, as making sure that people are greeted when they arrive and that they know where to go.  And that is important.  But if we stop there I think we miss the radicality of hospitality suggested in Scripture.

Abraham is willing to accept all comers, to feed them and give them something to drink.  And he has no idea if they are honest travellers or bandits.  Will they accept his hospitality or will they murder or rob him?  But Abraham knows that such open hospitality is what is called for in his world.  It could literally be a matter of life or death.

But it is in Luke that we find true radicality.  Luke reminds us that it is not enough to care for the poor and lame and "undesirables".  We must invite them to become part of the community, part of the family.  Unfortunately this is where so many human institutions fall short.

As people who have been taught manners we can (much of the time) be good at swallowing our objections and allowing people who don't seem to belong to come to an event of some sort.  But to actually welcome them in as part of the "in group"?  We need only ask serious questions about instances like the Robert Pickton case to realize that there are still members of our communities who aren't counted as equal members.

Jesus calls us to truly radical hospitality.  Jesus calls us beyond Miss Manners or Emily Post (who would point out that if you are invited somewhere the only decent thing to do is bring a hostess gift and/or reciprocate on the invitation).  Jesus calls us to invite those who can't pay us back.  Jesus calls us to host with no thought of reward.  Jesus calls us to be welcoming not because we may gain but because all those we welcome are part of God's communities.  And, as the writer of Hebrews points out, we may well be entertaining angels in disguise.

So how do we live that out?  This is not a theoretical, what should we do, type of question.  This is a practical what/how are we doing question.  If a "mystery shopper" came in our midst what would they report?  Are we ready to embrace radical hospitality?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

September Newsletter


There are a variety of things that we call the beginning of the New Year. The calendar tells us it is in January. The Church calendar says the new year starts with the 1st Sunday of Advent (which happens to be November 28 this year). But to all intents and purposes the new year starts at the beginning of September when school starts again along with so many other things. And so I wish you all a Happy New Year!

As we look ahead to the year that is just starting I have to wonder what is coming. What new things does God have in store for us this year? What surprises are around the corner? Where will next June find us?

I have no idea. The task is not to try and predict where we will go. Our job is to sign up for the ride and hold on! Life’s rollercoaster takes us up and down and all around, sometimes even throws us upside down. But even if it is scary at times it can be fun if we let ourselves relax and trust the ride.

And while we are talking about rides, another image comes to my mind. Last summer we took the girls on a Carousel, with Patty standing beside the horse to make sure Miriam didn’t fall off. Remember that we aren’t on the ride alone, that there is someone standing beside us through the slow parts and the fast, the ups and the downs and the upside downs.

So, please join me as we walk through the year and the grand old story of birth and life and death and new life. And let’s enjoy the ride!


Monday, August 16, 2010

Looking Forward to August 22, 2010 -- 13th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 1:4-10
  • Psalm 71 (VU p.789)
  • Luke 13:10-17

The Sermon title this week is Stand Up Straight

Early Thoughts: What holds you down? What bends you over? And what is more important: release from bondage or the rules regarding the day of the week you are freed?

 These are the questions that leap out at me from the Luke reading.  One could easily take the passage and preach about hypocrisy or the needs of people over the needs of institutions (or vice versa?).  But I am drawn to the healing.  I am drawn the woman who has been bent over for 18 years!!!!! (in a culture where the underclass would often die before 40) being told/allowed to stand up straight.

Without a doubt one of the great themes of our Scripture story is that of being set free.  And that is the imagery Jesus uses in this story And ought not this daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 long years be set free from bondage (v. 16).  What is it that holds us back?  What is it that holds us in bondage?  Why do we need to be freed?

If one of the great themes of Scripture is that of being set free (and undoubtedly it is) then I make the assumption that at some time in our lives most of us need to be set free from something.  And sometimes we don't even realize it except in hindsight.  Sometimes others can see what is bending us over or limiting us far more clearly than we can.  We may even think it is "normal" to be bent over like that.  I know that to be true (on Sunday I may even tell the story of it).  But then once we have been freed we find that we can do far more than we ever would have imagined.

Jeremiah gets freed from the understanding that his words are of little worth because of his age.  A woman gets freed of an oppressive spirit (the text leaves it wide open what this means).  One reason for setting aside the Sabbath as a day of rest is that when people are enslaved they can not make that choice but once we are freed they can choose to rest (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 -- in the "second" version of the 10 commandments).  So how appropriate is it to be set free on the Sabbath?

We are free.  Sometimes it takes a while to sink in.  Sometimes we have trouble living into that freedom.  But we are free.  We are called to stand up straight.  For we too are sons and daughters of Abraham.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Looking Ahead to August 15, 2010 -- 12th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Passages this week are:
  • Isaiah 5:1-7
  • Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 (VU p.794 Part 2)
  • Luke 12:49-56

The Sermon Title is Family Values -- Jesus' Style!

Early Thoughts: Every Christmas we hear it.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
And yet today we have a Gospel passage where Jesus appear to deny the truth of that last title.  In fact he says that following him will lead to splits in families (apparently along generational lines).

What does it mean to choose to follow one path over another?  What are the possible risks of that choice?

These are the questions be raised by the Luke passage this week.  Jesus is reminding the people around him that sometimes hard decision need to be made.  Remember that one of the "Big 10" is to Honour thy father and mother but Jesus says that his followers may have to choose between "The Way" and one's parents.  It is almost like Jesus is saying that the commandment does not matter?????

In a world where we are often told in the media that the Christian Church stands for defending the family and maintaining strong family values, passages like these are an inconvenience at best.

The reality is that in the context of Luke's community becoming a follower of The Way was not always an easy (or safe) choice.  Sometimes it did indeed mean shutting oneself off from family and friends (or creating a situation where they would shut you out/disown you).  Today?  Well maybe not so much.  Maybe.

On the other hand, maybe being a part of the Christian community is once again becoming more counter-cultural.  Maybe it is becoming a little bit more risky.  And maybe, just maybe, that is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Looking Ahead to August 8, 2010 -- 11th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 1:10-20
  • Psalm 50

The Sermon title for the week is Hating Worship

Early Thoughts: What are we doing each week? Why are we doing it?

If you asked many people what "church" is one of the first answers is likely to include some discussion of weekly worship.  After all, weekly worship is the primary contact point for many people.

For the people of Ancient Israel worship had a special place in life.  Worship included the offering of burnt sacrifices to God (as a side note, can you imagine the stink that must have surrounded the temple in Jerusalem with all those sacrifices being made??).  To properly perform the rituals and rites of worship was an important piece of  how one remained on good terms with God.  And so there was a well developed system of those rituals and of festivals and so on.

And so imagine the consternation it must have caused when Isaiah, a member of the upper class (in a society where it was often assumed that to be among the wealthy and noble mean that you were right with God), conceivably a member of a priestly family (at least that is suggested by his call story in chapter 6), comes out with this rant about God's real impression of these feasts and rituals and sacrifices.  Instead of this being pleasing to God Isaiah suggests it gets in the way of what is truly important!  Somehow I think there was, at best, a mixed reaction.

So what does this have to do with us?  Why do we read these words all these centuries later?

We read Scripture because we assume it has something to say to us in the here and now.  We don't just read it to hear stories of the faith or to pontificate about what happened "way back when".  We assume that God is still speaking to us through the words of Scripture.

What might these words of Isaiah have to say to us in 2010?

Well I think of all the "discussions" that have taken place over the years about what constitutes "proper worship" and think of Isaiah.  I think of those places that spend countless hours and multitudes of money maintaining their buildings without asking how the building helps or hinders their attempts to be the community God has called them to be and I think of Isaiah.  In the end, I think that we fall into the same trap of maintaining the status quo and missing out on key issues that the people of Ancient Israel did.

On my bookshelf is a book with a wonderful title -- God Hates Religion.  When we let out religiosity get in the way of caring for the weak and vulnerable in our society then I believe that God hates our religion.  When we allow ourselves to believe that the most we can do to spread God's love is attend worship faithfully the God hates our worship.  When we let ritual and decency and propriety consume our energy and have nothing left for Kingdom-building then we have missed the point.

That is what Isaiah was trying to say all those centuries ago.  It is what we need to hear from time to time today.  In the end God does not demand that we worship in any specific way (I am not entirely sure God "demands" that we worship at all).  But what does God require of us?  Micah tells us -- seek justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).  Worship and ritual can help us do that or it can get in the way.

Which will it be??

Monday, July 26, 2010

Looking Forward to August 1, 2010 -- 10th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:
  • Luke 12:13-21
  • Psalm 49 (VU p.774)
  • Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:11, 22-26

The Sermon Title is Priorities

Early Thoughts: What do we put first? What is primary in our planning and decision making?

 These seem to be good questions to ask at the beginning of a new relationship.  They also seem to be questions asked many times in Scripture.

In this Luke passage we hear a story about someone who has clearly got his priorities wrong -- at least by a certain form of wisdom.  On the other hand, he could well have his priorities right according to a very common form of wisdom in today's world.  Which form of wisdom will we follow?

In the book of Ecclesiastes we have something very different.  At a quick read it can be difficult to see what the author is trying to say (especially since he seems to contradict himself).  But Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough, suggests that this cynical writing is the work of a middle-aged man who has sought meaning in wealth, in the activities of pleasure, and in learning only to be left feeling disappointed and empty.  When we get our priorities wrong that can happen.  In fact I would suggest that it is possibly a very common thing in our world today.

One of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to put First Things First.  For the church this means that we put something before the budget, or the membership report, or the state of the building.  Our first thing, our highest priority, needs to be discerning who God is calling us to be.  The funny thing about priorities, is that when we get them right life seems to fall into place so much easier.  When we first discern where and who God is calling us to be it is my belief that the other stuff will fall into place.  At the very least it is well worth a try!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hello! (August Newsletter)

Well I have yet to lead my first worship service with you and already I am writing a newsletter piece! I guess we might as well jump in with both feet right?

I don't know about the rest of you but I always find new beginnings to bring a mixture of thoughts and feelings. There is a sense of excitement, a knowledge that new possibilities are in the air, just waiting to be seized. But there is also that sense of uncertainty, a knowledge that what is to come will be different from what came before. What will we learn together? What challenges will we face? How will we walk the path that leads from here? (And where will that path lead anyway??)

For this first newsletter there are really just two things I have to say. First of all, Patty and I would like to thank all of you for the gift basket (or rather gift basketS and bags) that was delivered just after we arrived in town. It was a great welcome and greatly appreciated. The girls are very excited about trying out the pool and the mini-golf and the museum.

Secondly I look forward to the future of our ministry together. As I mentioned above this is a new beginning and has both excitement and uncertainty about it. In the weeks and months to come we will start to explore what possibilities are there to be tested. We will also start to challenge each other. But I find that in my reflections on being the church over the last few months there is one specific question that keeps popping up. It is one I think we need to keep in front of us as we move forward. “Who is God calling us to be?”

Who is God calling us to be as individual followers of The Way? Who is God calling us to be as a community of faith? Who is God calling us to be as a denomination? It is my firm belief that if we find the answer to these questions then the path forward will become much clearer. I look forward to prayerfully exploring these questions and discerning the answers.

May God be with us in our explorations and learning.