Thursday, July 28, 2011

August 2011 Newsletter

(Full dsiclosure, this is a re-working of a newsletter piece I wrote in Atikokan 3 years ago, as they prepared to celebrate their 55th anniversary)

Do you know why the Israelites wandered around in the desert for 40 years?
Because even then men wouldn't ask for directions.

It is a joke of course, one that makes light of a stereotyped vision of how men and women operate differently. But the joke came to mind recently because sometimes life feels like one journey through the wilderness after another. Sometimes we wonder when, or if, we will reach the Promised Land. Do we know which way we are going?

I suspect that is just what those ancient Israelites felt like from time to time. They had been told that there was something good to come but they just couldn't seem to get there. You have to think that they wondered if this Moses really knew how to get there. Did he have a map and directions?

In his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time Marcus Borg suggests that the Exodus story is one of the 3 “meta-stories” of Scripture. It is one of the 3 basic stories that builds the foundation of Scriptural faith. And as such it is not something that happened once, it is an experience that echoes throughout the history of the faithful. Those elements of wandering, promise, and liberation continue to make up part of our story.

This October St. Paul's turns 100. Over those years there have been times of wilderness wandering and times of knowing we were in the Promised Land. Over those years there have been times when we knew where were going, times when we were pretty sure, and times when the road ahead was pretty well lost in the fog. When the road is lost in the fog, what happens?

If we are honest, sometimes, when the road is lost in the fog or the Promised Land seems more dream than reality, we want to stop and go back. Moses constantly dealt with people who wanted to go back to Egypt. The challenge is to keep wandering, to keep looking forward with hope, to resist the temptation to go back to the comfort of the familiar.

So where are our wanderings taking us here in 2011? What Promised Land is in our future? I honestly wish I could say I knew. But I can't. Mind you, I am not always sure Moses and the people knew what the Promised Land would be either. They just knew it was out there. They lived in hope. They lived in hope that they would get there someday.

So that is our task today. As we join with our neighbours near and far to struggle with an world in turmoil we live in hope. As we wonder how best to minister to God's world with limited resources we live in hope. As we try to re-vision what it means to be a community of faith in a rapidly changing world we live in hope. We hope for liberation. We hope for the time of abundance. We hope for that time when God's justice and peace are a reality not only here but around the world. We are people of hope.

As we start off into another year where we tell again the story of a child in a manger, a cross on a hill, an empty tomb, and a new community may hope carry us forward. In the face of a world of uncertainty, of a time of wandering in the wilderness, may hope in the Promise keep us walking. And may the God of hope, the God of promise walk with us as support and guide. And let's try to remember to stop and ask God for directions so we can keep a clearer idea of where it is we are supposed to be going.

Because we really don't want to wander around aimlessly for 40 years do we?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Looking Forward to July 31, 2011 -- 7th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 55:1-5
  • Matthew 14:13-21

The Sermon Title is What do you Have?

Early Thoughts: There is so much need in the world. There are so many places asking for out time, our talent, our treasure. It can be overwhelming can't it?

Jesus hears that a friend (cousin? mentor? teacher?) has died.  And so he wants to go off to a private place.  But it doesn't work, word gets out, and the crowds descend upon his refuge. 

Jesus could have kept going farther but instead he sets aside his time and meets the people where they are.  But the kicker comes later in the day, as meal time falls.  The disciples encourage Jesus to disband the group so they can go obtain food.  Jesus says, "well if they are hungry then give them something to eat"

Give them something to eat.  Give them what they need.  the words echo through the centuries.  And the response does too -- "we can't do that, we do't have the money" -- a response not voiced in this version of the story but surely in the minds of the disciples.

Well what DO you have?  What can you do with that?  Jesus takes what they have and feeds the multitude.  We could spend hours debating what really happened on the lakeshore that day and still miss the point.  What do you have?  What resources are available?  Give them something to eat.  Help as you can.  The instruction remains.

It is the basis of faithful stewardship -- use what you have as best you can to help meet the needs of the people around you.

SO, in the face of the needs around you, what do you have?

Friday, July 15, 2011

WHat Observer Readers Believe:

Each year the United Church Observer does a survey.  Here are the results of this year's:

Or in print form

Monday, July 11, 2011

A RElevant Poem

As I mull the story of the Tares among the Wheat for Sunday (and the difficulty of knowing the weeds from the good plants) I am reminded of a poem (admittedly the first stanza is most relevant):
All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost 

From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from teh shadows shall spring
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king. 

Looking Forward to July 17, 2011 -- 5th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
Psalm 139 (VU p.861)
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The sermon title is Not more Weeding!!!

Early Thoughts: It is enough to throw any gardener or farmer into a rage. You look out at your nicely planted land and see weeds filling the rows.  What to do?

In teh parable for this week the landowner gives odd instructions.  Leave them be for now.  LAter, when harvest comes, the weeds will be sorted from the grain.  But for now, to avoid damaging the field (the community?), to avoid uprooting the good plants with the weeds let them be.  It doesn't make sense.  Wouldn't there be a chance that the weeds will choke out the good grain?  AT the very least they will rob moisture and nutrients.

There are a few questions that come to mind:  Why cant' the weeds easily be separated from the good plants?  In a modern context, remembering the definition of a weed being "a pant growing where you don't want it" is there a danger of removing the wrong parts? 

Some have said that Matthew's gospel tells more about how to live as a church community than any other.  And so I have to wonder if the field is in fact the community.  The story does not say that all are acceptable in the field.  It says that the dividing will come later, when the harvest comes, when the plant is shown for what it truly is.  In so many of our communities (religious and secular) we are pretty quick to weed out the "troublemakers" as soon as they are identified as such.  But if we always did that we would weed out the Martin Luther Kings of the world pretty quickly--to our detriment.  If the field is the community and God is the one doing the harvesting, how dare we, as part of the field, claim to know what is a weed and what is not?

OTOH, maybe we are the harvesters.  And the story calls us to use wisdom to know the good from the bad.  THere might be a sermon there too.

Or are we left asking ourselves if we are teh land owner sowing good seed or the enemy sowing weeds?

Lots of possibilities here.  Be we weeds or wheat.  Be we harvesters told to wait a bit before pulling things up.  Or if we have to try and discern what it is that we are sowing--remembering the old adage that we will eventually reap what we sow.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Looking Forward to July 10, 2011 -- 4th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
Isaiah 55:10-13
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The Sermon Title is Seeds Everywhere!

Early Thoughts: How do we plant? Do we carefully find the best places or do we scatter and hope?

It seems that only a very foolish gardener or farmer would sow seeds like the Sower in this parable.  What a waste to scatter seed on the path, or in rocky soil, or among weeds!  Well it is unquestionable that sowing by hand can be a challenge -especially on a windy day- in a culture where all sowing is done by hand people would ecome very practiced at ensuring the precious seed went only where it had a good chance of being productive.

THEre are a variety of places we might place ourselves in this parable.  Are we the seed, scattered whereever we might fall?  Are we the various soils?  Are we possibly even the sower?  Matthew offers an interpretation of the parable, offered (as the story is written) to a select group in a private time--insider knowledge perhaps?  But rarely can it be said that a parable has only one meaning.   MAtthew's version has us as the soil, responding to the seed (the Word) in various ways.  But what if we see ourselves as the seed?  The seed scattered to the world to bear fruit?  Or what if we are called to be the profligate sower, spreading our resources broadly, trusting what may happen?

On Sunday we may well explore these various options.  It is a parable after all.  Parabolic meaning is only found in exploration and testing.