Monday, January 30, 2012

Looking Forward to February 5, 2012 -- 5th After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
1 Corinthians 9:16-27

The Sermon Title is A Man for All Seasons??

Early Thoughts: Can you truly be all things for all people? Should you even try?

This section of Paul's letter follows on a number of verses where Paul is defending the fact that the communities he has founded provide him with material/financial support (apparently there were some in the Corinthian community who took offense at this).  But in these verses he takes a bit of a new tack.

Paul can be a difficult person to understand.  He can be a difficult person to agree with.  But it is undeniable that both the book of Acts and Paul's own letters (along with the traditions of the church) make a clear statement that Paul was very accomplished at sharing his message in a way that reached whatever community he was speaking to at the time.

In these verses Paul claims that this ability to tailor his message to specific audiences comes from his ability to see life as they see it.  He claims he can be a man for all seasons, a part of any community, he can (in his words) be all things to all people.

Paul casts this as a sign of his freedom/enslavement in the Gospel.  But modern thought would tell us that trying to be all things for all people generally won't work.  Do that and you come across as insincere.  People want to know the REAL you, not some face you put on like a mask.

And yet I wonder.  Some of our most "successful" politicians are successful precisely because they can make the common populace feel like he/she is "one of them"--even when looking at basic facts and statistics make it openly clear that they are not from the same background, socio-economic status, or world.  To be an effective leader and communicator you have to get to know the people with whom you work.  You have to know what concerns they have, what questions they ask, what language they use.  This, I think, is what Paul did so well.  There is no sign that Paul was being insincere or non-genuine (although he may well have been accused of doing so).  But he was able to take the pulse of a community and translate his message into that idiom.

ANd so the challenge I lay before all of us is to figure out how to be a person for all seasons, to be "one of the boys", to make connections witht he people with whom we work.  If we want to communicate we have no choice.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

February Newsletter Piece

A couple of weeks ago I was one of the 140 or so people who gathered in Teresa Sargent Hall for a presentation by Peter Kageyama, author of the book For the Love of Cities. The event was sponsored by City Council to start a discussion (or multiple discussions) about why people love Grande Prairie and how to build affection for the city within the residents of Grande Prairie.

AS I have reflected on that session I have come up with a couple of questions I would like to pose in this newsletter. And maybe they will grow into an ongoing dialogue.

The first is to ask if you love your church. And if so why? If you could write a love note about St. Paul's what would it say? And maybe more to the point, what would make you love the church more? How did you fall in love with the church?

This sounds like a discussion question to me. I think we as a congregation will benefit and grow by hearing how St. Paul's has made an impact on our lives. And so I am offering a challenge. I know that Valerie is often looking for submissions to the newsletter. And so I challenge people to write their response to one of these questions: “What St. Paul's means to me?” or “Why am I a part of this congregation?” and send it to Valerie for use in a future edition. I am sure that if you asked nicely she would even publish it anonymously if you wanted. (note I have NOT talked to Valerie about this so she may think I am out to lunch).

The other question has to do with our relationship with the larger community. How attached are we , as individuals and as a group, to the community around us? Are we offering love notes to the city of Grande Prairie? Do we make an impact (hopefully positive) on the city by our presence?

As it happens this links with a discussion we are planning to have at our next Council meeting. Before Christmas we decided that we would include on every Council agenda, near the beginning of the meeting, some time for visioning-type discussions. The first of these happened in November when we talked about the need for and role of a Pastoral Care Committee (which still exists in our structure but has become defunct over the years). This month we talked about providing transportation assistance on Sunday mornings.

Next month we are going to discuss this question “If St. Paul’s were not here, what difference would that make to our community?”. If we were to disappear would anybody notice? Council has been asked to think about this over the next month in preparation for our discussion. I invite you to ponder that question as well. And if you have thoughts on the answer feel free to jot down a few notes and pass them on. Of feel free to attend the Council meeting (guests and observers are always welcome) and join in the discussion.

So that's where I am this week. Lots of questions but no answers. Maybe next month I'll come up with answers and no questions??

Monday, January 23, 2012

Looking Forward to January 29, 2012 -- 4th Sunday After Epiphany

A reminder that we have a potluck lunch following worship this week.

The Scripture Readings this week re:
  • Deuteronomy 18:15-20
  • Mark 1:21-28
The Sermon title is Is This Valid Teaching?

Early Thoughts: There are all sorts of people offering all sorts of teachings out there. Many say they are doing so in the name of God. How do we know which ones are valid or authoritative?

Prophets are a big part of the Scriptural witness.  AS the story of faith is told, Prophets play a major role in helping the people understand what God asks of them, and in letting the people know where/how they have missed the mark.  But in the story of faith we see three sets of prophets.  One set are the ones like Jeremiah, Micah, Elijah, Isaiah -- the ones considered to be true prophets.  Another set are the official court prophets, the ones who seem more likely to tell the king what the king wants to hear.  The third are those prophets who continue to follow the old religions of Canaan.  It is likely (in my mind anyway) that the writer of Deuteronomy has this diversity in mind as he writes this passage about a "prophet like Moses" who will come some day. In the course of time, Christians would remember the promise of a prophet like Moses.  And as they reflected on the stories of Jesus they would come to believe Jesus was the one promised (and the Gospels tell us that even during his life Jesus was compared to another great prophet in Jewish faith history -- Elijah).

The Gospels often state that the people saw Jesus speaking "as one with authority".  This is different for seeing him as having power.  Authority is delegated, it is given, it can not be seized.  People hearing and seeing Jesus knew that his teaching was valid becuase they sensed that he had been given Divine authority to do these things.  They saw that his authority was different from the other leaders in their community.

Which brings us back to our opening questions.  What makes us believe that someone has authority?  What makes us choose one teaching as valid and another as invalid?  There are many voices calling to be heard. And so we have to use discernment to determine where God is speaking -- both inside and outside our faith communities.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Looking Forward to January 22, 2012 -- 3rd Sunday After Epiphany

This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and so the Children's Time will be called One Church – Many Buildings

The Scripture Reading this week is:
  • 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

The Sermon title is Supporting Others in Faith

Early Thoughts: What do you do when the understanding from one culture clashes with teh understanding from another culture?  What if newer members of your community find that culture clash confusing?

In the world where Paul lives and writes meat was much less available than it is today.  And in many cases the meat at the local butcher shop came from an animal that had been offered as a sacrifice at the local temple.  So what?

Well it appears that for some members of the Christian community in Corinth this was an issue.  If the animal had been offered as a sacrifice did that mean that eating the meat validated the sacrifice -- making it an instance of idolatry?  Maybe they were recent converts and had spent many years with that understanding of sacrifice.  Maybe there were people who ate the meat knowing it to just be meat while others chastised them for backsliding.  OR maybe it was simply a culture clash born out of different understandings.  However the issue presented itself (likey all of these things in some combination) it was enough of an issue that someone in the community decided to ask Paul to give a definitive answer.  This passage is his answer.

Sometimes Paul is less than clear. Sometimes he doesn't really seem to give a clear answer. But then sometimes clear answers are over-rated. In the end Paul doesn't care about meat offered to idols. But some people in his world do. And so he tells us to act in ways that support the faith of others.

What are the "meat offered to idols" issues in our world today?  Where do we have to be careful lest we lead others into a misunderstanding?   In the end we are still called to act in ways that support the growth of our sisters and brothers.  The challenge of course is in figuring out exactly what that means.  And too often there are no clear-cut, definitive answers.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Looking Forward to January 15, 2012 -- 2nd Sunday After Epiphany Year B

The Scripture Reading this week is:
  • Psalm 139 (VU p.861)
The Sermon Title is Holy Knower, Wholly Known

Early Thoughts: Is it a blessing or a threat to say that we are so closely known?

This Psalm is one of my favourite passages in all of Scripture.  It influences much of my prayer life, and has for many years.  There is great comfort in these words.  And yet I wonder if there is some discomfort there as well.

We all have secrets.  Things we don't want to admit to ourselves, let alone to another.  According to this Psalm, God knows all these things.  We all have hopes we dare not name lest we somehow jinx the chance of them coming true (or set ourselves up for crushing disappointment when they don't come true).  God knows these things too.  We all have fears we dare not name aloud lest they become somehow more real by being given space.  God knows what these are.  This can be a discomforting realization.

And yet there is still comfort in knowing that God is not "out there" somewhere.  God is also "right here", intimate, close.

And so is it a blessing or a curse that GOd knows us so deeply.  What does it mean to be Wholly Known by the Holy Knower?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking Forward to January 8, 2012 -- Baptism of Jesus Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Acts 19:1-7
  • Mark 1:4-11

The Sermon Title is Baptism? What's that?

Early Thoughts: It is something we do on a regular basis (or at least a semi-regular basis) in our worship services. But what does it mean to put water on someone's head while saying some specific words?  Why do we baptise?

In one sense it is easy. We celebrate baptism because Jesus was baptised and because at the end of Matthew's gospel (and only in Matthew's gospel) Jesus tells us to baptise people.  Protestant tradition recognizes 2 sacraments -- Baptism and The Lord's Supper/Communion.   And the criterion that is used is that these 2 have direct links to Jesus as his life is told in the Gospels.  It is also worth noting that these two practices are shown to extend to the earliest days of the Christian movement.

So that is WHY we baptise people.  But what does it mean?  This Sunday our readings talk about Baprism.  In Mark we read about the baptism of Jesus and in Acts Paul teaches about the difference between John's baptism (which was all about repentance) and Christian baptism.  And so it seems logical that we take some time this week to think about the meaning of baptism.

From the earliest days of the Christian movement Baptism has been the Rite of Entrance.  It is through Baptism that one became, part of the community.  But beyond that there is a distinct lack of cohesiveness about what it means.  Some traditions maintain that because it is the Rite of Entrance Baptism should be the choice of the person, and so they practice Believers (aka Adult) Baptism.  Many other traditions (in fact most Mainline denominations, and arguably the majority of Christians worldwide) Baptise at any age, and this often means young children or infants are baptised.  In that case the parents make the statement of faith on behalf of the child and then promise to raise the child with an awareness of (or within) the Christian faith.

One of my professors in seminary identified 4 distinct theological understandings of baptism within the United Church of Canada.  Each one focusses on a different aspect of the sacrament.  Some people see baptsim as all about the freely given gift of God.  Some see it as focussed on those promises, the covenant.  Some see it as primarily about belonging.  And some see Baptism as one of those Rites of Passage, a way to mark a significant life-event.  And in any one congregation there will be a combination of those understandings.

SO come on Sunday to think about Baptism.  And also to remember your Baptism (if applicable) and/or the baptism of your child(ren) (if applicable) -- note that this may include a bit of water flying around.  And after our reflection we will be invited to renew the covenant made at our Baptism, and re-made whenever we re-affirm our Baptismal faith.