Monday, February 27, 2012

World Day of Prayer

Each year on the first Friday of March people are invited to join together in an ecumenical service highlighting issues around women in the world.  Each year the service relies on resources and information from a specific country (this year the country is Malaysia).  For more on the World Day of Prayer click here.

This year the Grande Prairie World Day of Prayer service will be held at St. Paul's United Church at 7pm on Friday March 2nd.  The title for the 2012 service is Let Justice Prevail.  Over and over again Scripture makes it clear the God cares about justice, that God's hope is that the world will be a place where justice shall flow down like water.

One of the Scripture passages being used on Friday is the story of the woman who refuses to be quiet until she gets justice.  Sometimes the squeaky wheel does get the grease.  And so, as I prepare to reflect on Friday, I can't help but ask -- do we need to squeak a little bit more?

Looking Forward to March 4 -- 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Chronicles 15:25-28
  • Exodus 3:1-6
  • Psalm 42-43 (Voices United p.768)
  • Luke 4:14-20

The Sermon title is Worship, What is it Good for?

Early Thoughts: Every week people gather together to worship. Why? To what purpose? In many congregations there are [sometimes heated] discussions about the way we worship. Is there a right way and a wrong way?

Why do we worship? What is the point? How should we worship? Why are the various parts of a worship service there? Questions like these are frequently asked in churches all over the place. And they are questions that have many different answers.

There is no way to fully explain why we worship the way we do in one sermon. But we will explore the questions above and maybe some others. In the exploration we may well find that the answer to one will shape the answer to another.

We worship for many different reasons. We come to worship looking for different things. And what we seek to find will shape what we think is the “right” way to worship. How we find we can best meet God will determine what we think is appropriate and what is inappropriate.

There is a term used in the church -- "worship wars”. This refers to the fact that differing expectations about worship content and style can often cause great conflict within a congregation. This conflict often comes out in discussions about music but it can also touch on prayers, how Scripture is presented, what a good sermon is, on any part of the service. The problem is that both sides in these conflicts think they are right and the other is wrong.

But of course they are both right. And neither is wrong. It all depends on our own needs and tastes. This Sunday we will look at some of what shapes our worship services. And, as a speaker reminded me at a worship event a few years ago, what one person loves about worship (say a favourite hymn) may well be what another person can't stand.

Come and join in our discussion about worship. Just be prepared, the congregation will be invited to take part in the sermon!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dust and Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  Today in many churches (and schools) (and on street corners too) people came forward to have ashes smeared on their forehead.  In many cases this action would have been accompanied by the traditional words "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return".

In my life I can only remember for sure having attended one Ash Wednesday service.   And that is the one I led when Ash Wednesday was the last Wednesday of February during the year when Riverview was holding an evening service on the last Wednesday of the month.  There may also have been an Ash Wednesday service while I was in my first and second years at St. Andrew's College but I can't remember for sure.

Why ashes?  Traditionally the Ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from burning the Palms used for Palm Sunday the previous year.  In part the Ashes remind us that the world still is not what it could be, that the world is still--to use theological language--held captive by sin, that the Reign of God has not yet fully come.  And so, as we embark on the journey that leads to betrayal and arrest, trial and conviction, hilltop cross and garden tomb we pause to remember that we are flawed human beings living in a flawed system (reading/watching/hearing the news on any day of the week reminds us how seriously flawed).  Lent is usually seen as a season of reflection on the world and our place in it.  Within that reflection is a time to name how we have missed the mark and how we might try better. An Ash cross on our forehead is a way to start that reflection.

In closing on the Ash Wednesday I leave you with the words of my favourite Ash Wednesday hymn, words are by Brian Wren with music by Ron Klusmeier (find it here), it is #105 in Voices United:
Dust and ashes touch our face,
mark our failure and our falling.
Holy Spirit, come,
walk with us tomorrow,
take us as disciples,
washed and wakened by your calling.
Take us by the hand and lead us,
lead us through the desert sands,
bring us living water,
Holy Spirit, come.

Dust and ashes soil our hands
greed of market, pride of nation.
Holy Spirit, come,
walk with us tomorrow,
as we pray and struggle
through the meshes of oppression.
Take us by the hand and lead us,
lead us through the desert sands,
bring us living water,
Holy Spirit, come.

Dust and ashes choke our tongue
in the wasteland of depression.
Holy Spirit, come,
walk with us tomorrow,
through all gloom and grieving
to the paths of resurrection.
Take us by the hand and lead us,
lead us through the desert sands,
bring us living water,
Holy Spirit, come.

As we start to walk toward the agony of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb, I encourage all of us to be honest about our role in the world -- the good and the bad, where we get it right and where we fall short.  Only through honesty can we find the way to make better choices.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Looking Forward to February 26, 2012 -- 1st Sunday of Lent

For Lent this year we are doing a series of looking at things we do as part of the church: Communion, Worship, Prayer, and a look at what we Believe.

Everyone is reminded that we have our Annual Meeting following worship this Sunday.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-28
  • Mark 14:22-25

The Sermon title this week is Communion Court

Early Thoughts: Why do we serve Communion the way we do? Is there a "right" way to do it?

These questions have come up many times in the history of the United Church of Canada. We are the product of a blending of some very different theologies and practices. For sermon time this week we will be having a drama written by Rev. barb janes. In this scene Wesley (representing the Methodists) and Knox (representing the Presbyterians) come before a Judge to settle the issue of how the United Church of Canada will celebrate Communion. There are some inaccuracies in historical positions within this dialogue but it does show some of how we got to where we are.

Complicating matters of course is that every congregation tends to put their own "spin" on how communion is served.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Looking Forward to February 19, 2012 -- Transfiguration Sunday Year B

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 50:1-6 (VU p.775)
  • Mark 9:2-9
The Sermon Title is: When God is Revealed

Early Thoughts: How do you respond when all of a sudden God is revealed to you? Is it a terrifying thing? Or is it comforting?

More importantly, does God being revealed move you to action or does it freeze you in place (either out of fear or out of a desire to stay in that place and time)?

The story of the Transfiguration is fairly straightforward, as a narrative anyway.  Trying to determine the meaning of that narrative is a whole other question.  And because of the ambiguity in what it means there are a variety of ways we can preach on it/explore it.  Which is probably good, since the Lectionary has us read the story every single year.

Here we stand on one of the thresholds of the Church year.  Since the beginning of January we have been in the Season of Epiphany, a time when the themes of light and call are highlighted.  We have heard stories about Jesus calling disciples, gathering followers to his vision of the world.  Next week we start on the road to Jerusalem, arrest, conviction, and execution.  As we start to change moods we are invited to join Jesus, Peter, James, and John on the mountain top.  To prepare us for the time of trial that is coming we are invited to stand in the continuing presence of God; who is of the Past, the Present, and the Future.

But what does it mean to stand there?  What does it mean to witness God being revealed?  The ancient Israelites found the very prospect terrifying.  So much so that they ask Moses to go into God's presence on their behalf, so that they don't have to witness it directly.  The words awful and awesome come from the same root.  And both are used to describe that feeling of being in the glory of God.  So maybe we are astounded and stunned and afraid when we find ourselves on the mountain-top.

Or maybe our feelings are more of comfort and safety.  Maybe that place is so wonderful that we want to stay there.  Maybe, like Peter, we want to build a dwelling and remain.

Or maybe we are hope-filled.  Some commenters suggest that Peter is remembering an old belief that the Reign of God would come during the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival where little booths were built around Jerusalem.  There was an old tradition that Moses and Elijah would return at the beginning of GOd's Reign and so Peter is reacting to seeing God's Reign being made real and actual.  Obviously it is time to build booths (and surely Jesus and Moses and Elijah should not have to build them for themselves).

I think all three of these responses are real and valid.  Fear, or comfort, or hope are honest responses to the glory of God.  But the really important part of our response is how it changes our lives.

Mountain top experiences happen to many of us, in some form or another.  Many of us have stories of times when we knew, just KNEW, that God was with us.  Times when we knew we were Beloved.  Times when we knew that we were not alone.  And for many of us it is those times that keep us going when the way is hard.  When we know that God is with us, that God is active in the world, we can find the strength to wrestle with the hardships of life, even the roads that lead to a cross on a hill (remembering that Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him).

What are the mountain top experiences in your life?  Were they quiet and subtle or were they bombastic and glowing?  Where do you go to recapture that sense of connection?  And how does God being revealed make a difference in your life?

We'll explore these sorts of questions on Sunday.  Come and join us won't you?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Minister's Annual Report

A year goes past and the tree grows another ring,
and as a year goes past there are other songs to sing.
And as the sun in May chases away the cold,
another year has past, another story must be told...
(from The Needfire: A Celtic Celebration Written by Rick Fox)
And what is the story we tell this year? What is the story of our life together as a community of faith? Is it a story of laughter or of tears, of hope or despair, of life or death? I admit, that was a trick question, because the story of our life together has included all of those things.

Over the past 12 months we have shared celebrations. This church has seen baptisms and marriages. It has rung with songs of praise and the laughter of children. We have also gathered people together to say farewells to long-time members of this community. We have held each other in prayer and love. We have shared the ups and the downs of life. That is part of our story.

The majority of the story lies in the everyday. The story of our life together is a series of weekly worship services, monthly committee meetings, daily conversations, regular social events. Places where we seek to hear God's voice, places where we see God at work in our midst, places where we are built up and strengthened as we seek to live as people of faith. And then there is more...

Another part of our story is our place in the community. Even as we need to ask what that place is, and what it could be, we can rejoice that we have a place. Our story is one of a building that is heavily used by community groups, with the notable addition at the end of the year of the HIV-North drop in program 2 afternoons a week. Our story is one of a people who willingly share of themselves with the community around us. A simple stroll through the lobby during this past December would have shown just how willingly we share with our community.

And if the poem outlives the poet then one could say
That tomorrow's song springs from life that's lived today...
(from The Needfire: A Celtic Celebration Written by Rick Fox)
As the circle of life continues to spin, the end of one year marks the beginning of a new. A final (for this report anyway) part of our story is that your Church Council has started including in each meeting a time to have what we are calling “Visioning Discussions”. This is time set aside specifically to look at how God is calling us to be a faith community in the 21st Century.

Having just finished a year where we celebrated 100 years of continuous ministry on this site, we now look forward to the next anniversary party (and Sarah actually asked when that would be when we are the way home from the Elks hall after the party this year). Part of our story lies in the future.

What does 2012 hold for us? Well we will spend time as a congregation exploring the question of a 1/2 time staff person. Do we need this, what would (s)he do, can we afford it? It is my hopeful expectation that the summer of 2012 will see a lift installed. What else will a new year bring? Where we are now has grown from the root planted 100 years ago. Where we go from here will grow from where we are today. May God be our leader and guide – and may we be willing to follow where God would have us go.