Thursday, March 24, 2011

April Newsletter

A Saturday People

At the end of this month the high point of the Christian Year arrives. Friday the 22nd to Sunday the 24th is the Holiest weekend of the year. And yet while Friday and Sunday are the days that get the most press, I think that it is Saturday where we spend most of our time.

On Friday we gather to remember the power of the world to say NO. We remember the story of trial, conviction and execution. We reflect on the whys and the meanings of the death. WE pause to remember the ways the world continues to say NO to God's hopes for the global community. Then, especially in many churches where there is no Easter Vigil, we sort of go our own way on Saturday, maybe doing some preparation for Sunday with the Easter Bunny and the grand worship. Then comes Sunday, the theological high point of the year.

On Sunday we sing and rejoice that God counters the world's NO with a resounding and reverberating YES. On Sunday we tell of life that still wins, of hope beyond despair, of breaking the bonds of death. It is the heart of Christian faith. We are called to live as Easter people, as people of resurrection faith. Surely the life of faith is lived out in a Sunday manner? Not in my mind. I believe that we live our faith on that forgotten day, the pause in the story, the day of uncertainty. Saturday.

Saturday is a day of wondering. It is a day of not knowing what is going to come next. To live in a Saturday mode is to be caught between despair and hope, between life and death, between no and yes. And so, when I look at the world it seems a much better description of life as we live it.

Living on Saturday is both comfortable and uncomfortable. It is comfortable because it is the known, the familiar. To move into living fully on Sunday would mean leaving that familiarity behind. But what we are familiar with is the discomfort of uncertainty, of worry, of the “what if”s. It is uncomfortable to hover between hope and despair, between life and death. It is uncomfortable to live always wondering if hope is going to be fulfilled. But, on the other hand, we were never promised that life was going to be comfortable.

Some traditions have an Easter Vigil that can cover the whole of Saturday. It is a time when people use prayer and Scripture and song to help them wait. They wait for the coming of Sunday's dawn. They wait for the coming of God's YES. So it is with us for most of the year. We wait for our hopes to be fulfilled. We wait for the many ways the world says NO will be changed into God's YES. We wait in the grey area between life and death. But we wait in hope and in trust. We wait because we know there is something worth waiting for.

And so I invite all of you to join in Saturday living. Some times we will feel closer to Friday's death and darkness. Some days we will get a glimpse of Sunday's brightness and life. But most of the time we are in the twilight. And as we wait we share together the words of the hymn that covers Saturday time:
Stay with us through the night, stay with us through the pain.
Stay with us, blessed stranger till the morning breaks again
Stay with us through the night, stay with us through the grief.
Stay with us, blessed stranger till the morning brings relief.
Stay with us through the night, stay with us through the dread.
Stay with us, blessed stranger till the morning breaks new bread
(#182 in Voices United ©1988 Walter Farquharson)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Looking Forward to March 27, 2011 -- 3rd Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Exodus 17:1-7
  • John 4:5-42

The sermon title is Turn on the Tap

Early Thoughts: Have you ever been REALLY thirsty?  The thick tongue, the pasty feel in the mouth, the headache, the lethargy...  What do you do then?

These passages are all about water and thirst.  Both on a literal and on a metaphorical level.

Water is vital for life.  Only lack of air will kill us faster (once you remove traumatic injuries from the equation that is).   On a metaphorical level the Living Water God offers to us through Jesus is vital for healthy Spiritual life.

The irony is that while the tap is there to be turned on so many of us go thirsty at times.  Why?  What would it take for us to see the tap and turn it on?  What would it take for us to hit the stones of our world to allow the living water to flow?

Water is life.  And so I have to ask: For what do you thirst?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Looking Forward to March 20, 2011 -- 2nd Sunday of Lent Year A

So many possibilities this week.  And remember that the CGIT are having their Mission Lunch following the service!

The Scripture Readings for the week are:
  • Psalm 121 (VU p.844)
  • John 3:1-17

The Sermon Title is Born of Spirit, Born Again

Early Thoughts: Born Again Not a term we use often in our tradition. Certainly a word that has, through common usage, come to have a particular theological ring to it. What might it mean to us to use it more?

In his book The Heart of Christianity Marcus Borg spends an entire chapter on the idea of being Born Again (maybe I should just read the chapter on Sunday???) because it is such a key term for faith. And yet because we are uncomfortable with how some people have used the term we have given it up.  Still it is unquestionable that becoming a person of Christian faith involves being re-born, or born anew, or born from above.

To be a person of Christian Faith is to embrace a new way of living, a new life.  This is what it means to be born anew.  It means to leave one way behind and to start a new way.  This happens through the work of the Spirit.  And so it is uncontrollable.  It sometimes takes us by surprise (as it apparently does with Nicodemus) and pushes us to do things that we never would have done before.  The stories of people in faith who have had this happen are Legion.

How are we being born anew/from above/of Spirit/again?  Does our new birth impact how we react to and interact with the events of the world around us?  (Libya, Japan, homelessness in Grande Prairie...)  

Also this week we will pause for a moment to look at Japan.  What is happening? What is/could be/should be our response? Where is God?  I encourage us to look at the last question in light of the Psalm reading which promises that God is with us in our hardship (although those last verses are a bit more problematic...)

COvenanting Service

I have received the honour of being invited to preach at a covenanting service this coming Sunday.

The Scripture Readings for the service are:
  • Jeremiah 29:11-14
  • John 13:1-20
Early Thoughts:  What are we doing in this service?  What does it mean to look forward to a future of mutual worship, service, growth and life in faith? What does it mean to be the church in the world today?

It is my belief that the model of serving together is the most healthy, most helpful model for ministry today.  Not a minister serving a congregation.  NOt a leader and followers.  But serving and learning and growing toghether.  It is my belief that Jesus tried to model this in his ministry, at least some of the time.

On the night before his death, Jesus pauses to wash the feet of his closest friends.  Despite their lack of comfort, despite their confusion, despite their objections.  Jesus knows that this is a lesson they need to learn -- sometimes one leads from the front, sometimes one leads by serving, by taking on a role of subservience.

AS this new ministry begins you all are going to be trying to understand how you will be church together.  Everyone in a community of faith is a leader (for better or for worse) at times.  Everyone in a community of faith is a follower (for better or for worse) at times.  Everyone in a healthy community of faith needs to be willing to serve and to be served, to love and to be loved, to care for and be cared for.  This is the faith to which Jesus has called us.  This is the ministry to which Jesus has called us.

Leadership in the 21st Century is a bit of a strange animal.  Many of us wonder at times (often? most of the time?) what is being asked of us.  Are we asked to be the guru? the one in charge? the vision keeper? the vision setter? a companion on the road? the expert?  all of the above?  I think it is the last one at different times.  And once again this is what I see Jesus modelling in the Gospels.

God has called communities of faith together.  God has called certain people into leadership positions within these communities. God has, I sure hope, a plan for the growth of these communities (remembering that growth can mean a wide variety of things).  In order for God's hopes to come to fruition we need to embrace our roles within our faith communities.  We all lead, we all follow, we all companion.  We all serve--even those who sit and wait.


This is an excerpt from a posting on the General Council website Dated March 12, 2011:
The situation in Japan remains fluid. The extent of the devastation and damage is still not fully known. Attention is now also on the nuclear power plants in the quake area and the possibility of serious damage that could present dangerous consequences for people living near them. The United Church continues to monitor the situation closely and is ready to offer support as we are able to United Church personnel and partners.
While Japan has a well-developed emergency response protocol and capacity, the magnitude of the disaster presents serious challenges. Any donations received at the General Council Office, designated for earthquake relief and reconstruction in Japan, will be gratefully received and used to support United Church partners in this work. Donations can be made online or mailed to:
The United Church of Canada
3250 Bloor St. West, Suite 300
Toronto, ON M8X 2Y4
For ongoing updates about the UCCan response you can click here.

How To Rate a Church???

Well OK, that is not the title the author chose but I think it works.

Bruce Reyes-Chow, from the Presbyterian Church in the USA, has written a well done piece on The List To Take When Church Shopping.

I think it is worth looking at whether actively church shopping or not.  How does your faith community stack up?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Looking Forward to March 13, 2011 -- 1st Sunday of Lent

We will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion this week.

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
  • Matthew 4:1-11

The Sermon title is Who am I?

Early Thoughts: What is the story of Jesus in the wilderness about? Is it about resisting? About obedience? About self-exploration?

Yes. It is about all those things. In fact, both passages are about all of those things and probably more too -- Scripture passages rarely have one meaning or even one set of meanings).

One of the developmental tasks we all have to do in life is figure out who we are (and who we want to be).  One of the developmental tasks in the life of faith is to add a third question -- who is God calling us to be?  Is God calling Jesus to be a feeder of the hungry?  A miracle worker?  A leader/ruler of the nations?  Who is Jesus meant to be?

Jesus knows that he is meant to be NONE of these.  All three have potential.  All three could be attractive (otherwise they would not really be called temptation would they?).  But Jesus is clear that he is meant to be someone different.  And so he rejects and refutes all that the tempter has to offer.

So who are WE called to be?  What temptations get in our way?  Is one the temptation to be independent, not needing God? The story of Adam and Eve seems to suggest this archetypal temptation is part of our nature.  Is one the temptation to believe that we know better than those who give us advice?  Is one the temptation to focus on the wrong thing/person/activity?

It is my belief that we can read the story of Jesus in the wilderness as a type of Spirit-Quest.  Many cultures in human history have had a practice where a child who is about to enter adulthood goes on some sort of Spirit-Quest to learn who he or she is.  For Children's Time this week we will hear one story of this type of event.  I believe Jesus goes out from his baptism to explore who he is and who is will be.

Do we need our own Spirit Quests?  How do we stop and listen for the voice of God (either directly or through the tempter) guiding us to determine who we are meant to be?

Some Mindless Bible fun

Check out the Brick Testament.  The Bible told in LEGO bricks!

Apparently someone has LOTS (too much even?) of time on his hands!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Looking Forward to March 6, 2011 -- Transfiguration Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Exodus 24:12-18
  • Psalm 99 (VU p.819)
  • Matthew 17:1-9

The Sermon Title is Shock and Awe

Early Thoughts: How do we respond when God is revealed in our midst?

Every year, on the last Sunday before Lent starts, we read the story of the Transfiguration.  Every. Year.  Which makes it a bit of a challenge for the preacher.  Because it is a rather difficult story to preach on.  Do we talk about mountain top experiences every year?  Do we challenge people to leave the mountain?

It is my belief that we do both.  As people of faith, we need to seek out the mountain top times, those times of knowing that we are in God's presence.  But we need to be aware of how they may hit us.  THey may come when we don't expect it, or in a way we don't expect.  THey may come as a shock.  THey may fill us with peace, with fear, or with awe (or all of the above).

ANd yet no matter what we have to be aware that those moments of connection are often fleeting.  THe challenge is to allow them to empower us.  Peter wanted to stay on the mountain where it happened.  ANd that is so tempting.  But it isn't how life is lived.

IT strikes me that the community of faith, the church if you will, has a responisibility to have people find the opening to these moments.  Note that I didn't say to provide them.  THe role of the church is to help people be open to them -- after all, we can't control when they will happen.  Many of my moments have not in fact been in church services, some of them have not even been in church-related settings.

For Sunday, I invite you to think about when you have known GOd's presence, and what that was like.