Saturday, April 30, 2011

May Newsletter

I have long believed that one of the great gifts the church has to offer is that it is one of the few places in our lives today that or can be truly inter-generational. At church gatherings small children can find surrogate uncles, aunts and grand-parents. At the same time adults can find surrogate nieces, nephews and grandchildren. Church life can provide chances for young to learn from old and old to learn from young. That is these things can happen if we let them, if we help them.

So how do we create an environment that enables a truly inter-generational church? What does it mean to have a place that is truly friendly to seniors, middle-agers, young adults, teens, children, and pre-schoolers? Can we make all feel welcome and at home?

In some ways this is simple. In some ways it it incredibly difficult. For now though, let's pretend only the first sentence is true.

To create that environment all we have to do is set aside time and space in our gatherings where the needs of all to be named and met. Where it gets complicated is that we also need to find that time and space inside the same physical and temporal boundaries. That is to say that even when we are all in the same building (or even the same room) during the same hour we find the time and space for our varying needs. We have to find ways to accommodate people whose hearing is fading and find background noise highly distracting and also young children who need to move around and explore their environment (which tends to make noise). We have to find ways to let different musical and liturgical tastes be expressed in our worship. We have to find ways to allow those who need to run/dance/bounce around the building (sometimes without paying really close attention to who else is around or who is moving where) do so safely with those who have mobility or balance or vision limitations. We have to find ways to allow people to express their needs openly and hear the needs being expressed by others. We have to find the balance point if and when those needs conflict. Really, that is all we need to do.

Well not quite all. We also have to pause and ask if our use of resources (including money and personnel and energy) states openly that we are trying to be welcoming to all ages. And in that line I have 2 opportunities. One is that hopefully one Sunday in May a willing volunteer (yet to be named) will take over service leadership after the sermon so that I may go downstairs and spend time with the Sunday School and/or Youth Group. This is an idea I shared last year during my interview. I was called to minister with all of the people of St. Paul's and part of doing that is spending time with different groups. The other is a really BIG opportunity for service.

Last fall the Conference Youth and Young Adult Ministry Committee asked if St. Paul's would consider playing host to the Junior High Rally in March 2012. The Council discussed it and said that yes we would. This means that a couple hundred young people and their leaders will take over this building for a weekend next March. Other churches have said that hosting these event is a transformational experience. However it is a lot of work as well. WE need people to work on food, people to organize First Aid coverage, people to help with keeping the washrooms clean and stocked, someone to arrange workshops (and people to lead them), people to help with transportation, hosts/hostesses, supervisors/chaperones for overnight (so the leadership team can sleep) and others. We will be looking for help from all of you. This is a great way to fill the building with energy, to support the work of the larger church, and to remind some of those people from Southern Alberta that there is great life up here north of the Yellowhead highway.

As a congregation committed to nurturing the faith of all generations we continue to move forward, laying the foundations for those who will one day celebrate the 125th anniversary of St. Paul's!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Looking Forward to May 1, 2011 -- 2nd Sunday of Easter

The Scripture Readings this week (the day before a Federal Election) are:
  • Deuteronomy 30:15-20
  • Luke 20:20-26

The Sermon title is Making Choices

Early thoughts: How does our faith inform or influence our vote?  How should it?

It is a difficult question isn't it?  Some people maintain that to be faithful you HAVE to support one side of the political equation.  Others insist the ONLY faithful response is to support the opposite side.  What makes it more complicated is that our Scriptures are not written with a modern representative democratic government model anywhere in view.  And so it is hard to say that Scripture speaks to how one should make voting choices.  Or is it?

To begin with we have to make one thing plain.  No political party platform equals the path that leads to the Reign of God.  Not the Conservatives, no the Greens, not the Liberals, not the NDP, not the Democrats, not the Republicans, not the Labour Party, not Israel's Likud, NONE of them.  Despite claims that may get made the Reign of God is not affiliated with any political party on the face of the earth.  And so a faithful response to an election does not mandate a vote for any one person or platform.  The best way I have found to express this is the subtitle of Jim Wallis' book  God's Politics -- Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It.

However, while Scripture does not contemplate the realities of living in a democratic society and the practicalities of voting, Scripture does share a vision for how the world could/should/will be.  AS people of faith we are called to embrace that vision.  As people of faith we are called to live as if it is there.  In Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people that they have a choice.  They can live as God would have them live or not.  As we prepare to vote on Monday we have a choice to make.  Faith calls us not to automatically vote for any specific party.  Faith calls us to consider how we get closer to the world as God would have it be.  Faith calls us to cast our ballot in a way that we honestly believe leads down that path.  Faith calls us to vote not solely based on "what's in it for us" (despite the fact that so much propaganda tries to sell us on that point) but rather on what is the best for the society as a whole.

And may we have the capacity as a society to live together civilly and respectfully with whatever the result may be.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ Is Risen!
He Is Risen Indeed!

Life has Defeated Death!
Happy Easter! 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Looking Forward to April 24, 2011 -- Easter Sunday

The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
Psalm 118:14-24 (VU p.837 Parts 2&3)
John 20:1-18

THe Sermon Title is A Resounding YES!!!

Early Thoughts: On Friday the Darkness fell (the service on Sunday will begin with a re-cap of how we got to the garden tomb).  But with the dawn comes a new light, new hope, new possibilities.

On Friday we heard how well the world can say NO to God's hopes, to God's plans, to God's vision.  But God has the final say in our story.  And to the apparent surprise of Jesus' friends God's final word was a loud, resounding, ebullient YES!!!!  No matter how insistent the powers and the principalities were, are, and will be God's YES continues to echo off their walls and their fences and their fortresses.  God is continuing to bring light and life, hope and love to replace darkness and death, despair and fear.

That is the glory of Easter.  That is the truth of Easter.  The truth of Easter is not based in debating what "really" happened.  It is in the ongoing YES that God sends out to the world.  It is in the radical change that comes in our lives when we can hear that YES.  It is in the life that springs up when we least expect it, calling us from our grief, calling us from our ordinary lives, calling us to proclaim that there is another possibility.

Join us this Easter to celebrate once again God's loud, joyful, ebullient YES!  ANd may our praises and God's hope ring out over all the earth!

Looking Forward to April 22 -- Good Friday

The Scripture Readings for Friday are:
  • Psalm 22:1-18
  • Matthew 26:31-27:66

The Sermon title is The World Says NO!

Early Thoughts: Why did Jesus die? (for one look at this question see this article) Why do we tell this story? What is the value in remembering the torture and death of another human?

These are the sort of questions that come to many minds this week each year.  And yet it is my contention that we HAVE to tell this part of the story if Easter is going to mean anything.  Resurrection faith only makes sense if we acknowledge the power of death in the first place.

Jesus of Nazareth offered a different vision of how the world could be.  Jesus offered a choice between loyalty to the old ways or embracing God's ways.  Jesus challenged the powerful in their bad choices and their failure to care for all of God's people.  And in response the powers of his world said a loud NO to Jesus.  And so they had him killed.

But that is not the only reason we tell the story.  It is not just a set-up for Sunday.  We tell the story because, in many ways, it is still happening.  The world is still being offered a choice of "how then shall we live?".  And all too often the world continues to say NO.  Crucifixions still happen (metaphorically speaking).  And we forget that at our peril.

Come Friday morning to hear again the story.  But come also to allow ourselves to be challenged about what COULD be.  Come and be challenged about whether we are part of the world saying NO or if we are willing to chance the cross.  Dark and depressing the story becomes.  Dark the path that leads, eventually, to light.  But the dark is part of our story.  It is part of who we are.  And so we need to acknoweldge it.

Looking Forward to April 21, 2011 -- Maundy Thursday

The Scripture Passages for Thursday are:
  • John 13:1-17, 31b-35
  • Exodus 12:1-14
  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For this service we are mixing our worship and our potluck. We will have reflections on the three stories:

The washing of the feet: a story that calls us to be servants to each other.A story that tells us such servanthood is a sign of the love we have for each other. After we reflect on this story we will pause before our meal to wash each other's hands.

The First Passover: In Mark, Matthew and Luke the last meal Jesus shares with his friends is a celebration of the Passover. This was a meal of memory and teaching. It recalled the story of being freed from slavery. But beyond memory it also reminded people that they too were set free from bondage.

The Eucharist: From the earliest moments the movement that became Christianity was marked by table fellowship. Indeed it was one of the markers of Jesus' ministry that he met at table with anyone -- to the apparent dismay of some onlookers, as the Gospel accounts attest. Here Paul passes on the developing tradition that would eventually become our Communion meal. Again a meal of memory. Again a meal of freedom. It has been said, with some justification but still not quite accurate, that the Communion meal is Christianity's equivalent of the Jewish Passover. What is certain, and has often been lost in Christian tradition, is that the earliest celebrations of the memory meal were part of a "whole meal deal", not just a symbolic meal during worship. And so this Thursday we will reconnect the Communion meal with the full meal.

Digital Exodus

There was one for Christmas! Now here is one for Passover!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Looking Ahead to April 17, 2011 -- Palm Sunday

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Zechariah 9:9-13
  • Matthew 21:1-11

The Sermon title is Here Comes the King!??!

Early Thoughts: Cheering crowds and waving branches and a carpet on which to ride. Surely this is a coronation procession of some sort. Right?

Well maybe.  And maybe not.  And maybe it depends on your point of view.

As the story is told it has all the hallmarks of a triumph.  We have cheering crowds, we have echos of royal processions as described in the Jewish Scriptures.  And yet there is a shadow over the whole scene.

Some portray the entry into Jerusalem as an intentional act of political street theatre, a deliberate challenge to the authorities.  SOme view it as what we have been taught in Sunday School--the entry of a king.  Some view it as sort of an accident -- something that got bigger than intended.

THis week we remember the story of the entry.  But we also remember that if this is a kingly procession it is an altogether different king.  And it lead to a very strange coronation ceremony.  Between the triumph of this week and the bright light of next Sunday will come the time of testing and the falling of darkness.  We have to remember the shadow that is starting to fall even as we wave the palm branches and sing the Hosannas.

Here comes the King?  Maybe.  Depends on where you stand.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Looking Ahead to April 10, 2011 -- 5th Sunday of Lent

The single Scripture Reading this week is John 11:1-45.

The Sermon title is Wake Up!

Early Thoughts:  What is dead?  What needs to be raised?  Is life the winner in the end?

That last question is key.  Does life really win???????  After all there is so much evidence to the contrary.  So much of life seems to be spent marking the passing of so much that we hold dear.  Can we, with confidence say that life wins?

It is an article of faith that we can.  It is a base part of Christian faith that life wins -- in the end.  But saying that life wins does not take away all the struggles that lie along the path to the eventual victory.

There are a lot of preaching possibilities in this passage.  Like the Gospel readings of the past few weeks, one could easily spend a month on this passage alone.  We have a Jesus who tarries and lollygags so that by the time he arrives Lazarus is dead--and is then chastised for doing so by Martha and by the crowd.  We have Jesus' proclamation "I AM the resurrection and the life".  (We could preach about different understandings of resurrection found in that exchange.)  We have Jesus weeping -- out of mourning or out of frustration that people don't see?  WE have Jesus' comment early in the story about walking in darkness versus the light of day.  WE have the sleeping/waking imagery.  And of course we have the raising of Lazarus itself.  Where do we go?

This year I think we pull in bits from many of those places.  We talk about the hard road to the eventual victory of life.  We name that sometimes it seems those who could help are not as responsive as we would wish.  We name our grief and frustration.  And we remind ourselves that life will win--in the long run.

What is dead in our lives today?  Are we ready to hear the voice saying "come out!"?  Are we willing to admit that life will win?  Are we willing to take the chance that comes with proclaiming life, new life in Christ?  Because as John's story flows this raising of Lazarus is the final straw.  If Jesus is bringing life then he must die.

But of course that is not quite the rest of the story.

Come on Sunday ready to talk about life that still wins.