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?