Monday, June 25, 2012

Looking Forward to July 1, 2012 -- 5th Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday we will step out of the lectionary and read/explore a story that is not included. You can find this story at 1 Samuel 25.

The Sermon title is Bad Manners, Good Manners

Early Thoughts:  It is a story about hospitality.  And in a twist, the one showing really bad hospitality is the (self-invited) "Guest".  Still, the narrator manages to try and make David look good (or at least favored by God) at the end.

But in my mind the real hero of this story is Abigail, the peacekeeper.  Without her actions this would be just another story of random violence and slaughter set in the middle of a country in chaos.

This story could be a chance to talk about bullying.  After all, David is being a bully in his interaction with Nabal.  This story could be a chance to talk about welcoming the stranger.  But that is complicated when the stranger/guest is a bully.  Why should Nabal automatically feed David and his men?  And especially why should he do so under armed threat?  And these are questions that abound in the world today.  Nabal is unquestionably in the right.  Mind you from a strict interpretation of a hospitality code David is too (at least until he responds with violence).  The stage is set for death and destruction and to the victors goes the spoils.

And then we meet Abigail.  Abigail sees what is happening and goes out to try and avoid the predictable result.  She keeps the peace. And so many have praised her for her courage, her quick-thinking, her ingenuity.  And yet I wonder?

AS one who was bullied I wonder is this the best response to the bully?  As a student of history I wonder if this is the best response to the aggressor?  David gets exactly what he wants and more--after Nabal's death David takes Abigail as his wife.

So many questions about how people interact.  Maybe Abigail's solution was the best of bad choices?  Maybe it was the only practical choice?  But as people striving to live as citizens of God's Kingdom it seems we need to ask what the best solution to this issue would have been.  Because the same scenario plays itself out on fields large and small every month in various places around the world.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Looking Ahead to June 24, 2012 -- 4th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 7

The Scripture Reading this week is:
  • 1 Samuel 17:1-18:16
The Sermon Title is Victory and Jealousy

Early Thoughts:
This week we have one of the stories many of us first learned in Sunday School -- David fighting Goliath.  But rather than simply telling the much beloved story of the slingshot, I thought this week we would expand the reading.

Part of that expansion is to set the scene.  But the majority of the expansion is to look at the aftermath.  What happens between David and Saul as a result of Goliath's death?

At first all is well.  David rises high in the esteem of Saul and of the people.  David becomes a leader in Saul's army.  But at some point it goes sour.  David's popularity becomes a threat to Saul.  And the relationship goes right downhill.

WE read the story knowing that David will eventually become King.   We read the story knowing that David has already been anointed and that God has made God's choice and that Saul is no longer in favour. [one of the intriguing things in the story is that a chapter before David is brought to the palace to play and sing for Saul and sooth his troubled hearts but here Saul shows no sign of having seen him before].

The plan for this week is to intersperse the reflection within the story.  It is a much beloved story.  But it is one that we often have not talked much about since we learned it as children.  Time to explore it some more.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Looking Ahead to June 17, 2012 -- 3rd Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 6

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Samuel 15:26-29, 34-16:23
  • Psalm 20
The Sermon Title is Second Choices

Early Thoughts:  Sometimes you have to start again.  When the first try has disappointing results it is sometimes just best to cut your losses.  And this, it appears, is what God does at the beginning of the monarchical period in Israel's history.

Saul has not been as great a choice as was first thought.  And so God has decided that a new king is needed.  {Note that the failing for which Saul is condemned is that he chooses not to destroy everything in his latest battle with the Amalekites, instead he almost acts prudently by saving some of the livestock.  Nevertheless this went against God's intention, as the story is told, and so is an act of rejection/rebellion which God will not accept}  Accordingly God instructs Samuel to go find the one whom God has selected to replace Saul. And then we meet, for the first time, a little shepherd boy who will, in due course, become the greatest King (for some reason he gets that title, although he is often a wholly unlikable man) of his people -- David, 8th son of Jesse.

Samuel, mind you, gets it all wrong for most of the story.   Had it been up to Samuel we never would have met David.  The story is, in part, about looking for other criteria than we automatically use.  Samuel is drawn to the sons who look "kingly".  God tells Samuel that it is what inside that really counts.  And that is certainly a sermon possibility.

However, it would be foolish to not at least look at the political aspects of this story.  Samuel has to travel to Bethlehem somewhat secretly because he is about to commit treason.  The elders of Bethlehem must have a sense that something is up because they are afraid when Samuel arrives.   David may be anointed here, but there is a long road of civil war ahead before the anointing translates into actual kingship.

A starkly historical reading may well be that there was a king, there was turmoil, there was a new king from a different house (in fact a whole different tribe).  But the writer/compiler/editor of the book of Samuel puts a theological spin on it.  For the writer, the guiding force behind the whole civil war was God.  And thus, the reader knows from this point on who the eventual winner will be.  The idea of a God who intervenes this directly in human affairs is, to say the least, challenging for many of us.  Do we believe there is this level of a plan?  Does this type of intervention turn all the humans into puppets?  How is God active in our lives?  That I think is where we will go on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Looking Ahead to June 10, 2012 -- 2nd Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 5B

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  •  Deuteronomy 17:14-20 
  • 1 Samuel 8:1-22 
The Sermon Title is Give Us a King!?!

 Early Thoughts: You can't blame them really.  As the storyline of Scripture runs, nothing really has gone right since Joshua died.  There was the period of Judges where, as the text says repeatedly "there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his eyes".  The last Judge is Samuel, and his sons are not worthy (although it is unclear why that is an issue since it does not appear that being a Judge was at all determined by heredity--more often like a war chief who could gather folks to him (or her as Deborah was a judge) by force of personality).  The system is not working, things have GOT to change they say.  All around us are people who have kings.  Things seem to be working for them.  Give us a king so that we can be like our neighbours!

Samuel is dubious.  Samuel knows what kings can be like.  God is dubious.  God knows what kings can be like.  God and Samuel also seem to take this personally, as a rejection.  But the people are insistent.  So God says (essentially) "Fine! Have it your way! Give them a king!"

What is a king?  What is the role of a king (or queen, given that we just watched Queen Elizabeth II celebrate 60 years on the throne)?  In the ancient world the king was THE BOSS (no constitutional monarch here).  In Israels tradition up to this point, God is the King.  God is the one in charge, with earthly intermediaries like Moses or Joshua or Samuel (or more tribal leaders such as Abraham or Jacob).

As it turns out, the change is less than positive.  In the history told by Scripture, precious few get a positive review.  None of them seem to measure up to the ideal king a (probably later) writer describes in the Deuteronomy passage above [personally I have a suspicion that this description dates, at least in part, to the reign of Solomon because it is almost a direct counter-point to much of what Solomon did].

The world is in chaos!  We need a strong leader! Give us a king!  Does that sound familiar?  It is a cry that has echoed down through the ages.  And rarely has it gone well.  So maybe we need a different response to the chaos of life?????

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Proposal itself....

Title: Clergy Family Retreat

Financial Implications if known: Meeting expenses for an ad-hoc committee. Should an event be planned the committee would gather information about the financial needs and planning for that event

 Staffing Implications if known: staff time to resource the committee.

Source of Funding if known:

Gord Waldie proposes that Alberta Northwest Conference form an ad-hoc committee to plan a 2-3 day retreat for clergy and their families.

 Background: For several years clergy within the United Church of Canada have reported feeling unsupported. This feeling also extends to spouses and children of ministry personnel. One way that we can support each other is by gathering together to have time to speak with others facing similar issues. The idea of a retreat, not only for clergy but also for their families, seems an important way to respond to the need for more collegiality and mutual support within the ranks of our ministry personnel. Such an event would/could include general social time and activities but also intentional time for specific gatherings of clergy, clergy spouses, and clergy kids so they can share stories/concerns/issues with others in the same or similar role in the church.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Intro I Never Made...

At the Conference meeting this past weekend I was on tap to introduce one of the proposals (only fitting since I wrote the thing--I will post it once I am back in the office where I have it on the computer--EDIT, it is now here).  However other business took too long and so that particular proposal was one of the ones referred to the Executive for consideration.  Had I made the intro here is what it would have sounded like...

Good afternoon.  I am Gord Waldie, and while Paul may tell me that I live and move and have my being in God, in more practical terms I live and work and share my ministry with Northern Lights Presbytery, the congregation of St. Paul's United in Grande Prairie, and my wife and our 4 wonderful (if often challenging) children.  And it is that last piece that brings me to this microphone today.

But first I need to make a confession, because they say that confession is good for the soul -- and I am sure that at least one of the 2 people in this room who taught my first year Pastoral Care course at St. Andrew's told us we should encourage people to do things that are good for the soul.  I am, as many people in this room can attest, a Below Average Minister.  And in fact this is related to the proposal I am about to make, because to move from being Below Average, to Average, to (hopefully some day) Above Average means that you need support along the way.  [If you want to know why I am so sure I am Below Average, come visit me at the Business table and in exchange for a contribution to the M&S Fund I will tell you].

573 weeks ago this afternoon a group of us gathered here in Calgary for a worship service where then Conference President Stuart Jackson declared a group of us to be members of the Order of Ministry in the United Church of Canada.  For most of my time in ministry the United Church has been talking openly about the expressed reality that many ministry personnel feel isolated and unsupported and wondering how best to deal with that reality.  And many good suggestions have been made in those discussions.  But they have often missed a key piece.  If you want to support me as a minister then you need to also support my family.  And this brings us to the proposal (see I did get to it eventually).

To be honest, this is not my idea.  The seed of this idea was planted by my wife.  So if you like the idea please give her the credit. If you think forming a new committee is a bad idea, give me the blame.   But one day while we were watching TV Patty shared a vision of a retreat for clergy families.  This would be a time not only for clergy to gather but also clergy partners/spouses (I always think that should be spice, given what they add to our lives)/significant others and their children.  During the retreat there would be general community building and worship and relaxation and recreation activities.  But there would also be time for clergy to gather together and talk about whatever issues that they want to discuss, for clergy partners to do the same, and for children to do the same in some way.  Since that evening the idea has niggled in the back of my brain.  And this year I decided it was time for the next step.

To me the logical next step is to get a group of people together to discuss the feasibility and logistics of this type of event.  And so I am proposing that this Conference create an ad-hoc committee to determine if such a retreat is feasible and, if so, to plan out the where, when, how of running it.  This committee would then take their findings and/or plan to the Conference Executive for further action.

PS> here is the post where I first mused about this retreat idea