Monday, August 27, 2012

Looking Ahead to September 2, 2012 -- Proper 17B, 14th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • James 1
  • Psalm 15 (VU p.736)

The Sermon Title is Someone I Would Like You to Meet...

Early Thoughts: For the 5 Sundays of September we will be exploring the Letter of James. Which works quite well since there are 5 chapters in the book, so we will read a chapter a week.

Retired United Church Minister John Shearman says about this book:
The Letter of James is one of the anomalies of the New Testament. Because it makes few references to Jesus Christ, it was one of the very last to be included in the Christian scriptures. It has more of the flavour of a moral essay attributed to James, the brother of Jesus. Of course, this claim has been disputed almost from the time the church set about the task of defining the NT canon. It may well be a collection of the sayings of James compiled after his martyrdom or a formal letter encouraging its recipients to live in a strictly ethical and deliberately spiritual way at a time of threatened persecution.

 In chapter 1 we see themes emerge that will continue in later chapters (and we will pick up then). But this week we will take time to introduce ourselves to this letter--one of the ones we often do not talk about.

And just for reference, Martin Luther did not think the letter of James belonged in the canon at all. He called it an "epistle of straw". Maybe we will see why he disliked it so much

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

September Newsletter Piece

One of the realities of living and working in the church has always been dealing with change. And dealing with change (both as individuals and as organizations) is, to say the least, difficult. Here are some thoughts about change that I wrote for the newspaper while I was in Atikokan. Does it speak to us here at St. Paul's? What changes are on our horizons (both as a church and in Grande Prairie as a whole)?
The Mathematics of Making Change
Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam.
And admit that the waters around you have grown.
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'
(Bob Dylan)

We live in a changing world. That much is certain. There is truth to the old adage that the only thing that is consistent in life is change. And yet why do we often find it so hard to change? Even when we think we are ready to change it seems that we easily get stuck in old ruts, old habits. What stops us? Is it just fear or is it maybe something mathematical?

Yes, that’s right I said mathematics might be our problem.

A few years ago I was introduced to an equation for change. It is: MC=fp(fv)(fs). Expanded that means Movement for Change=felt pain x future vision x first steps. The important part of the equation is that it is multiplication. Think back to your school days, what happens when you multiply by zero? The answer is always going to be zero. In our equation above, if any of the variables are missing then change doesn’t happen.

The first variable, felt pain, is easy. Many people, many communities, have that in abundance. Often much of it comes out of that experience Bob Dylan sings about – the times they are a-changin’. As things change we feel pain and grief. But that isn’t enough to change. We need a sense of where we are headed (future vision) and we need to get started (first steps).

So how do we fill in the blanks? Where do we find a vision? Well we begin with asking why we are here. Then we ask what our ideal result would be. For people of faith these questions are intricately linked to our understanding of God’s plan. What is needed for us to be the people (or the church, or the town, or the nation) that God would have us be? Who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do? As we explore these questions a vision or goal starts to appear.

That leaves possibly the hardest part of the equation – the first steps. Once we have found a vision, once we know here we are headed, why is it so hard to get going. Often this is where the fear kicks in. Maybe the vision leads us to a place very different from where we have been before. That is scary. Maybe the vision has holes in it and the first few tries might not work exactly. Failure also is scary. But remember that multiplying by zero equals zero. We have to conquer the fear and take the first steps. And for people of faith there is help in remembering that we are not alone. We live, move, and have our being in God. With God’s help, we can take risky steps, we can step out into the unknown, we can embrace change.

What felt pain do you have? What vision do you have for the future? What is the first step in your new path? Where will the mathematics of change take you?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Looking Ahead to August 26, 2012 -- 12th After Pentecost, Proper 16B

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Kings 8:1-30, 41-43
  • Psalm 84 (VU p.800)

The Sermon title is God's Dwelling Place??

Early Thoughts:  Where does God live? Where do you meet God?  And are we guilty of worshiping our buildings too much?

Buildings are a blessing and a curse for the church.  But it has not always been so.  For many cultures the local temple was seen as a (or the) place where that God dwelt on Earth.

Certainly that is how Biblical Judaism saw the Temple (and later the 2nd Temple).  While they wandered through the desert the Israelites carried the Ark of the covenant, in which rested the tablets containing the Law.  Now that they are established as a nation Solomon puts the Ark into the very core of the Temple.  And so the Ark is either where God lives, or at least where God interacts with God's people.

Is this how we view our church buildings?  Officially no.  Christian thought has never officially said that God can only be met in the church building (though it has often suggested that God can only be met in the church as institution).  And yet the phrase "House of God" is generally used to describe a place of worship.

So where do you meet God?  How are our church buildings a blessing?  How are they a curse?  And where exactly does God dwell?