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??