Monday, September 24, 2012

Looking Forward to September 30, 2012 -- Proper 21B, 18th After Pentecost

This week we will be celebrating the sacrament of Baptism, with 3 different families bringing children forward.

The Scripture Reading this week is James 5, as we conclude our journey through the book of James.

The Sermon title is 3 P's of Parenting: Patience, Prayer, Power

Early Thoughts:  This week's sermon is brought to you by the letter P and by the numbers 3 and 1.  (Being a product of the Sesame Street generation, I always love it when I get to use that phrasing.)

Now let's be honest.  James is not talking about being a parent.  James is talking about being a faithful follower of The Way.  To be faithful is to be patient. To be faithful is to lift each other up in prayer (and allow yourself to be lifted up in prayer).  To be faithful is to be open and honest with each other.  To be faithful is to trust in the power of prayer, the power of God, to change the world.

And now I invite you to consider how parenting fits in with all those aspects of being faithful as outlined above.  Does parenting require patience?  Who could doubt that?  Patience as we wait for development to occur, or for listening to happen (and to be honest sometimes it appears that the Day of the Lord will come before those things happen.  Does parenting involve prayer, lifting up the children and the parents in prayer?  (And praying for the above named patience is a given)  I would say yes.   And where does power come in to parenting?  Whose Power? How is it used?

As a part of our baptism service the congregation of St. Paul's answers this question:
Do you, the congregation of St. Paul’s United Church, commit yourselves to support and nurture these persons within a community where the love of God is made visible and known?
We do, by the grace of God.
How do we live that out?  I am bold enough to suggest that exploring and sharing our understanding of the 3 P's of Parenting: Patience, Prayer and Power as well as helping all members of our family to meet the ONE who creates and re-creates us are part of how we "support and nurture [each other] within a community where the love of God is made visible and known".

Monday, September 17, 2012

Looking Forward to September 23, 2012 -- Proper 20B, 17th After Pentecost

THe Scripture Reading this week is James 4.

The Sermon Title is Humble Yourself

Early Thoughts:  Verse 10 reads: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you"  What does that mean?  When I was in High School our youth group's default song (one we could easily sing at the drop of a hat when needed) was a two part song based on this verse.  But I don't remember us actually talking about what it meant.

That verse comes after a bit of a diatribe about how worldly and unholy people are/can be.  And it suggests that the real problem is one that is brought up often in religious discourse.  DO you trust in wisdom from above or from below?  And while that is a very common question, it is most certainly not an easy one to answer is it.

What does it mean to be humble?  Here is the first definition of humble found at
   [huhm-buhl, uhm-] Show IPA adjective, hum·bler, hum·blest, verb, hum·bled, hum·bling.
1. not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful.
2. having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience, etc.: In the presence of so many world-famous writers I felt very humble.
3. low in rank, importance, status, quality, etc.; lowly: of humble origin; a humble home.
4. courteously respectful: In my humble opinion you are wrong.
5. low in height, level, etc.; small in size: a humble member of the galaxy.
 James calls us to be modest, to lower ourselves, to be respectful.  James challenges us to get out our egos out of the way.  James suggests that if we can do that then we will be less prone to doing things against the flow of God.

I think James is right.  But can we do that reliably?  What would it look like on the ground???

Monday, September 10, 2012

Looking Forward to September 16, 2012 -- Proper 19B, 16th After Pentecost

This Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Communion

The Scripture Reading this week is James 3

The Sermon title is Bridle Your Tongue!

Early Thoughts:  What damage can a small slab of tissue weighing (on average) 60-70 grams do?  Plenty.

So much in fact that one of the pieces of business at this summer's General Council meeting was this:
The Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario proposes that:
the 41st General Council 2012
1. take a stand against the spreading of gossip in the same manner that it has taken a stand against gambling and other evils of society; and
2. direct the General Secretary, General Council to:
a) encourage Congregations to seek ways to raise awareness of the harmful aspects of gossip; and
b) encourage Congregations to open discussion regarding how to differentiate between gossip and a caring pastoral conversation.
(page Green12 of this document)
There was more than one person who read that in the docket and asked "this is important enough to be dealt with by General Council?????" (sometimes accompanied by a snort or two of derision).  And to be truthful I am not sure it was.  But it does raise an important question in the church about what we do or do not say.  What do we share? (and how do we share it)  When is it better to not say anything?  We need to use discernment in deciding how to use our tongues.

James is very clear to his listeners/readers that the tongue is an organ to be taken seriously.  James is very clear that speech is a serious matter.  So how do we bridle our tongues?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Looking Forward to September 9, 2012 -- Proper 18B, 15th After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Matthew 7:15-20
  • James 2
The Sermon Title is Sola Fides???

Early Thoughts:  Shall we talk about money or about faith without works?  Or maybe they are linked so we should talk about both?

AS this chapter opens James is chiding his readers/listeners for playing favourites based on economic status.  This is hardly new in the world of Judeo-Christian ethics and faith.  The prophets of ancient Israel railed against such things.  Jesus chided his culture for such things.  Paul lambastes the Corinthians for doing this.  And now so does James.  Apparently this is a common failing.  A number of people might suggest that the church of 2012 risks falling into the same trap.

But to me this is merely one example of how our works/actions/choices show what our faith REALLY is.  One of the best known phrases from the book of James is in this chapter "faith without works is dead".  And for some Reformed theologians this seems on the surface to be a problematic phrase (but it really isn't once you dig deeper).

One of the tenets of the Reformation was sola fides.  That is to say that we are saved by faith alone.  There is nothing we can do to earn our faith, our good works do not cause us to be saved.  (for what it is worth I suggest that we are in fact saved/forgiven/justified not by faith but whether we have faith or not, whether we know we need saving/forgiving/justifying or not, we are forgiven/saved/made right with God simply because we are creatures/children of a loving God.  but that leads to a whole other discussion.)  In part this was lifted up because of an understanding that the prayers and indulgences and other penitential practices of the Roman church were ways that people could earn salvation, could pay off the debt they owed to God.

Sola Fides is a theological strand that flows clearly through Paul to Augustine to Luther and Calvin.  While it is also present in much Roman Catholic theology, it has become a marker for Protestant churches, often tied with a specific understanding/theology of the cross and atonement.  In its most strident framing it is placed up against "works righteousness" which claims that people can earn their own salvation  And here we read James exhorting folks that faith without works is dead.  Is there a problem here?  Is James arguing against the Pauline view of things?

The short answer is "No".  James and Paul would in fact likely agree on this point.  James is not arguing that we need both faith and works to be saved.  James is arguing that the sign of a person having a living, breathing, active faith is the works they do.  The works are the fruit of the faith.

Really it is a continuation of last week when we were exhorted to be a doer of the word, and not just a hearer.  And arguably it is another way of saying "by their fruits you shall know them".

So what do your works say about your faith?