Monday, November 28, 2011

Looking Ahead to December 4, 2011 -- Advent 2B

The Scripture Readings this week are:

From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72 (VU p.790)
From the Gospel: Luke 3:7-18

The sermon title is Be Not Afraid, Prophetic peace be with You

Early Thoughts: What is this peace for which we pray? Prophetic passages often seem wrathful and angry, not peaceful. But is there peace to be found there?

Every parent wonders about it at one time or another. What sort of world will my children grow up in? Will it be better or will it fall apart? Will my children and their friends know peace or conflict, prosperity or poverty, contentment or anxiety, hope or despair?

The Scripture promise is that of a world of peace. But this peace is a differenrt vision than the peace of empire (be it Davidic/Judean, or Babylonian, or Roman or American). Imperial peace is based on crushing the opposition. Imperial peace is based not the iron fist keeping the "rabble" in their place. The books we call Scripture were largely written as a protest against domination and Imperial peace. SCripture's vision of peace is based in justice and abundance for all.

The peace we wish for our children is that broader vision. The peace we are promised is what Isaiah describes often, including the passage we read this week. But how do we get there? How do we prepare the way for the reign of peace?

Biblical prophecy is an interesting animal. It really is not (as many assume) about predicting the future. More it is about truth-telling, calling people to account, naming the consequences of behaviour. Andso a lot of prophetic language appears wrathful and mean. John the Baptist is an excellent example. Apparently John is unfamiliar with diplomatic niceties and gentle language. Instead he calls the powerful in his world a brood of vipers and talks about an axe that will cut them down. Little wonder that John's career came to an untimely and bloody end.

But if we are serious about working towards the peace promised by scripture we need to pay heed to the role of the prophet. Only when we listen to the voices that name our reality for what it is can we see what might need to be changed. Only when we are willing to have our own culpability in the world's disfunction brought to light are we able to move forward. The prophets have a key role in preparing the way for God's work to happen.

What needs to happen to pass on true peace to our children? What preparations do we need to make? In three weeks we celebrate the birth of one who was called the Prince of Peace. At Christmas we remind ourselves that God breaks into the world to try and create the world God envisions. As we prepare for that in-breaking, how do we prepare for the vision?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Occupy Christmas -- A Newsletter Piece

It started last winter. A wave of unrest that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt and (with a little more trouble and violence) Libya. The media christened it the Arab Spring and Western politicians and commentators were falling over themselves praising the movement to democratic ideals and civil rights that it seemed to represent (although how well those ideals and rights will be lived out is yet to be seen).

Then the phenomenon crossed into the Western democracies themselves. A group of people, disgusted with the way the current political and economic systems were operating, announced that they were going to Occupy Wall Street. This was their way of speaking out against the social inequality that is a reality in the Western world. This grassroots movement has since spread across the United States. And even up here in relatively law-abiding Canada parks in our major cities have been taken over by protestors in the same spirit. Their goals may be unclear, their methods may be controversial, the parks may be getting cleared out, but just as in Tunisia and Egypt it seems that an unstoppable force has been unleashed. Change is in the air. A new world is being born, these are just the first labour pangs.

Change is in the air. A new world is being born. Even without the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements I would be drawn to those sentences at this time of year. Because the Advent/Christmas story, indeed the whole of the Christian story is about the new world being born, the change that is in the air.

Any day now we can expect to hear, if we have not already heard, the opening salvos in the annual “War on Christmas”, the debate about what the mid-winter festival really means today. I invite us all to sit this one out, in a way. Personally I don't care if schoolchildren sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Away in a Manger”. I don't care if the store clerk says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Happy Hanukkah. The culture wars have grown tiresome – partly because those wars have lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is about God breaking into our lives. Christmas is about us allowing ourselves to hear about and celebrate a world-changing event. For unto US is born in the City of David a Saviour...Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth Peace among those of good will.

As I see it, the basis of the Occupy movement is that those people are committed to their cause, so committed that they will camp in a park in sub-zero temperatures to help see it come to reality. They will stand up and occupy not only that park but a place in the public discourse, a place in the public worldview so that others may see the world differently. They want others to see a new possibility. And they refuse to leave until they know that they have been heard.

This year I invite us all to Occupy Christmas. Stand up and name that the world is being changed by the baby who is being born. Set up your tent in the public forum and share the vision of a world where simple things like peace and hope, love and joy guide our choices. Claim a space in the public discourse and refuse to go away until your voice is heard, until others share the vision of a just world laid out by the Prince of Peace. That is the way we proclaim the true power and possibility of Christmas

Change is in the air. A new world is being born. For unto US a child is born and unto US a son is given and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Looking Ahead to November 27, 2011 -- First Sunday of Advent YEar B

Happy New Year!  This Sunday we mark the beginning of a new year by the liturgical calendar as we begin again to await the birth of a child who will change the world.

The Scripture readings for this week are:

  • Isaiah 65:17-23
  • Revelation 21:1-4 (Responsive Reading)
  • Mark 13:24-37
The Semon title is Be Not Afraid: A New World is Coming

Early Thoughts: Advent means waiting, but what are we waiting for? Is it just a baby born long ago or is there something else?

It seems a little bit strange. As the rest of the world ramps up into a frenzy of gift buying (although maybe not so much this year) and baking and decorating the church starts its season of preparation with a discussion of the end-times. No wonder people sometimes wonder if the church is in step with the world. (Of course a strong argument can be made that the church should not be in step with the world but that is a whole other area for discussion.)

In order to explain why we have this happen we need to ask a whole set of questions. What are we getting ready for? Is Christmas just about the story in Luke's gospel? What hope for the present and future does Christmas offer?

In terms of faith Advent and Christmas are not only about the story of a child in the manger. The power of Christmas is that it speaks of a birth here and now. When we celebrate the birth of Christ we are celebrating God breaking into our world again. The incarnation is not a once and for all event, God becomes incarnate in every human birth (to quote a favorite Advent hymn).

The Scripture passages talk about the coming of a new world, a new time. The new world is coming. The Promised Land is in sight. Every year at Advent we prepare for God to break into our world again, we prepare for the world to be changed.

Because let's be honest, if God being active in the world means anything it means that we will be changed. The world right now may seem chaotic and troubled. There may be many reasons to be afraid. But Advent and Christmas remind us to Be Not Afraid, a new world is coming

Monday, November 14, 2011

Looking Ahead to November 20, 2011 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
  • Psalm 95 (VU p.814)
  • Matthew 25:31-46

The Sermon title is Who Are We Ministering to?

Early Thoughts: Back at the beginning of our faith story Cain asks (after killing Abel) "Am I my Brother's keeper?"(Genesis 4:9). Arguably the answer that Scripture points to is YES. We are our brothers' (and sisters') keeper. We have a duty and responsibility to care for our neighbour, to feed them when they are hungry, to support them when they struggle.

It is possible that this duty is made clearer in this Matthew passage (which is one of my favourite passages in all of Scripture) than anywhere else in our faith.  In my opinion this passage describes how we act when we live as if the Reign of Christ/Kingdom of God/Kin-dom of Heaven is a reality in our midst. THis passage answers the question asked by a lawyer in Luke's Gospel "Who is my neighbour?", it rells us what to do and why.  It is a call to action.

During Advent we will be collecting stuff for our partner agencies in town.  This Advent collection is part of how we live out our call to care for our neighbours.  And so this Sunday we will use our reflecting on the call to care as a kick-off for our Advent campaign.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Something New!

I learned on twitter today that the United Church of Canada is trying something new.

WEll new to the UCCan.  Other agencies having been doing things like this for years.

A catalogue for giving charitable gifts.  You can read more about it here

Monday, November 7, 2011

Looking Ahead to November 13, 2011 -- 22nd After Pentecost, Proper 28A

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
  • Matthew 25:14-30

The Sermon Title is: How Do You Use YOUR Talent?

Early Thoughts: Are you afraid to take the risk?  If you had to make an accounting tomorrow and justify how you have used what you have been given would there be a talent you had buried in a hole somewhere?

At some time or another we are all afraid to use what we have been given.  Maybe we are afraid we won't get credit.  Maybe we are afraid of looking foolish.  Maybe we are afraid of moving backwards instead of forwards.  But at some point in our lives we all have the fear of risking our talent.

But in the end, the parable tells us, an accounting will be demanded.  In the end we have to explain the choices we made about how we use our talents.  Near the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew has Jesus proclaim that nobody lights a lamp to hide it under a basket.  Here, in the days before his death, Jesus tells the story of one who is punished for letting his fear keep him from making good use of the stuff with which he has been entrusted.  HOw do you use your talents?

It is a question of stewardship.  It is a question of taking a risk.  It is a question of faith.  We have been given much.  What will we choose to do with it?

SErmon Videos

NO, not from St. Paul's.  At least not yet (maybe that can go on the wish list for the future?)

But here are some from a colleague in the US