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.