Monday, November 26, 2012

Looking Ahead to December 2, 2012 -- Advent 1C

This week we start a new church year as once again we begin the journey to Bethlehem and a baby in a manger.

This week we also celebrate the sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Luke 21:25-36
The Sermon title is Hope or Fear?

Early Thoughts: Which do you default to in times of change? OR are they really two sides of the same coin?

I invite those of you who are parents to think back to when you first learned that a child was coming.  Were you excited?  Plausibly.  Did you start to dream about who this child would be?  Probably at some point in those 9 months this happened.   And did the concept of caring for a child, of shouldering that awesome responsibility scare the bejeesus out of you?  Maybe not all the time, but brief (or not so brief) flashes of utter terror?  For many of us the answer is yes to all of the above.

Each year the Lectionary gives us these decidedly non-Christmassy passages for the first Sunday of Advent.  I mean really, who want to read about the end of the world 23 days before we sing carols and celebrate the birth of the Christ Child?

And yet the Christmas story/hope/promise is about the world being changed.  The Child whose birth we await will start a ball rolling that will change the lives of millions.  When we see the signs of change coming we can react with hope.  Or we can be terrified.  Or more likely we can do both, either in alternation or concurrently.

What is waiting to be born in the world this Christmas?  What change fills us both with hope and with fear?  And more importantly, remember that once we name and admit our reactions we can then take response-ability for them.  So will we feed the hope or the fear?  Which way do we wait for the birth?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Looking Ahead to November 25, 2012 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Reading this week is John 18:33-37

The Sermon title is How Do We Know? 

Early Thoughts: It is almost lost in most discussion of this text. But it is a great question.  Because this passage comes from the Passion story and because the other time it shows up in the Lectionary is on Reign of Christ Sunday most discussions focus on the nature of Jesus' kingdom out of these verses.  Another common option (one I have used many times) is to extend the reading into the next verse where Pilate asks "What is truth?" (a question I always hear as it is sung in Jesus Christ Superstar).  But look more closely at verse 34: Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”  As people who bear the name "Christian" but obviously never knew the human person Jesus it seems we have to answer that question for ourselves.

Do we know Jesus or do we know about Jesus?

 Some people of faith can speak very passionately about the personal relationship they have with Jesus.  Some people of faith can speak very knowledgeably about Christology and who Jesus may have been and the stories about him and analyze those stories.  Some people can do both.

Do we know Jesus or just know about him?  Do we have a personal stake in our relationship with Jesus?

I think we need to take time to build that relationship with Jesus ad with the God we revealed.  Part of our faith will always be to hear and to pass on the witness of those who have gone before us.  But that is not where we need to stop.  We need to be able to sing with full conviction "What a Friend we Have in Jesus".  WE need to know Jesus, not just go on the witness of others.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Worship Teasers

November 25 -- How Do We Know? -- No not a take-off on the Whitney Houston song. (Although that sounds like a great idea! Maybe I will go with that) Instead it is asking how we know Jesus. Now I have to go write a song...

December 2 -- Hope or Fear?-- A baby being born changes life completely. And any parent will tell you that there is both hope and fear in that time of waiting. Why should Christmas be any different? Oh and we will have Communion this Sunday.

December 9 -- Ready to be Refined? -- Sometimes the lectionary gives us strange readings as we prepare for Christmas. But what if preparing for God to break into our world means refining our lives? Are we ready for that? Now to research charcoal burning and ore refining...

December 16 – Our Christmas Pageant Sunday. Come and see what the Sunday School has in store for us this year!

 December 23 -- What if She Said NO? -- Gentle Mary Meek and Mild. Or maybe not. Linnea Good has a song about Mary where she is bold and ready to claim her place in the world. And so I have to ask, what if Mary had said no???? Did God have a back-up plan?

Christmas Eve -- What is Born For You Tonight? -- If you are like me you always hear the Christmas story told in the voice of Linus Van Pelt “For unto you is born this night...That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown” But Christmas is about more than one baby being born. Christmas is about God breaking into our lives here today. So how is hope breaking into your life this Christmas?

December 30 – Shall we have a “regular” service this week? Or something more informal involving carol singing and chatting together? Maybe some looking forward to 2013 or reflecting on 2012? What would you prefer???

January 6 -- The Wise Ones Visit –Our Christmas story and season end with the story of visitors from abroad. This year the three “traditional” Magi will come to visit with us and tell their story. Anyone want to be a wise guy????

December Newsletter

People look east the time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your hearth fair as you are able,
trim the hearth and set the table.
People look east and sing today:
Love the guest is on the way.

( verse 1 of #9 in Voices United words ©1928 Eleanor Farjeon.)

“…the time is near of the crowning of the year”. What exactly does that mean? After all the peak of the year could mean a whole bunch of different things. It could be Easter, when we celebrate the Resurrection as the frozen earth begins to be reborn with the warmth of Spring. Or maybe it is the height of summer, with warm sun and swimming holes and relaxation. And guests may come at anytime. We need more information...

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.

People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

(verse 3 of #9 in Voices United words ©1928 Eleanor Farjeon.)

Seriously? Winter is the crowning of the year? Well yes, that is one of the possibilities. The coming of mid-winter, with its darkness and cold, also brings us reminders of the Light of the World, the Light that can never be blown out. We face the forces of hopelessness in our world, whatever they are, with the story of a baby’s birth. The crowning of the year is the news that we sing “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!”

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

(verse 2 of #9 in Voices United words ©1928 Eleanor Farjeon.)

Yes I know these verses are out of order. But it worked better this way (or blame it on new math?). Christmas is about the birth of hope, the birth of possibilities. What seed is being planted in your hearts and lives this winter? How do we need to prepare for the birth/planting that will come in a month? And then we start the work of nourishing the seed to full flower.

Angels announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth
Set every peak and valley humming
with the word the Lord is coming.
People look east and sing today:
Love the Lord is on the way.

(verse 5 of #9 in Voices United words ©1928 Eleanor Farjeon.)

Soon we will once again tell the story and sing the songs about the birth of a baby. But more than an infant boy in long ago Bethlehem we sing about the hope that is reborn in our hearts. Indeed the time is near of the crowning of the year. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, God-With-Us, is coming into our lives. Alleluia!

As a web-extra here is a YouTube so you can sing along with the whole hymn...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Looking Ahead to November 18, 2012 -- Proper 28B 25th After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Daniel 12:1-3
  • Mark 13:1-8, 24-37
  • Revelation 21:1-8

The Sermon title is The Day is When?

Early Thoughts: As the liturgical year draws to a close our readings encourage us to look to the end times.  The Day of the Lord is coming we are told.  BUt when?  Should we be worried? afraid? noncommital? hopeful?  Do the Mayans have something to do with this?

The last question is the easiest so let us get it out of the way first.  NO.  The Mayans have nothing to do with it -- despite all the hype about the supposed end of the Mayan calendar next month (so yes we do still have to get ready for Christmas).

The first question is also relatively easy, although the answer may be less clear than some would want.  The Gospels make it plain that Jesus told his followers "no one knows the day or the hour".  In this I see a suggestion that we should not spend a whole bunch of time trying to figure out when it will happen --although I note that several people over the ages have spent hundreds of hours (and thousands of pages) analyzing the world so as to make a specific prediction of a day and hour.  And to be fair it appears from the Scriptures that both Jesus and Paul expected that the Day of the Lord, the changing of the world, was fairly imminent -- that some who were alive then would still be alive when it came.

Before we continue on the when question (because it gets more complicated), a quick diversion into the middle questions.  On one hand the readings this week suggest we should view the coming of the Day of the Lord with great trepidation.  It does not sound like it will be a very positive experience.  On the other hand the changing of the world, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God is a cornerstone of Christian Hope.  We live in hope for the time when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, when all will live in peace and all will have what they need.  But given how humans deal with change (and changing from how we currently live to the full bloom of the Kingdom of God will be a very substantial change in lifestyle and expectations) getting to the endpoint, however promising that endpoint may be, will be a somewhat torturous process.

In a way this brings us back to the when question.  Because in Christian theology the traditional answer to the when question is "now and not yet".  The Gospels and Paul proclaim that the Kingdom is present in the life and resurrection of Jesus.  So it is already here.  But obviously it is not here in all its fullness and potential.  So it is not yet.  Maybe the real question is "how is it growing closer?"  Are we moving toward or away from (or possibly remaining stuck in one place) the fullness of the Kingdom of God?  Are we responsible for bringing that fullness to existence or are we to wait for God to do it? 

And no, there is no easy (or universally accepted) answer to either of those questions.  But we continue to wrestle with them as we try to figure out how to live as faithful people in a sometimes very confusing world.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Looking Forward to November 11, 2012 -- Remembrance Day

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 11:1-10 
  • Micah 4:1-8 
There will be no sermon as such. Instead we will have a couple of stories, and a video. The stories are called Bill Remembers and The Dreams.

Some Random Thoughts Some Sundays it is difficult to know what to do.  In a faith tradition that has (for at least the last 1500 years) been conflicted on the issue of strict pacifism versus some form of violence when needed/just war November 11 (called Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran's Day in the US, still called Armistice Day by some) is one of those days.

What do we do with Remembrance Day?  How do we, as a faith community who tends (in many places nowadays) to lean towards the pacifism side of the equation handle a day to remember the wars of the 20th (and now the 21st) Century?  Some are happy to leave the commemorations to the Legion services at cenotaphs or arenas.  Some insist that the church service on the Sunday closest/prior to the 11th ABSOLUTELY MUST include some form of remembering and saying thanks--preferably with flags and a colour party and a piper.

But what are we doing when we remember and give thanks?  Are we falling into the easy trap (in the name of patriotism) of glorifying a selective memory of what the war was?  Are we being biased into remembering those who went on the "right" side -- or even more closely focussed to be those who went from our own community/congregation -- as gloriously brave and courageous fighting against an evil foe?  Or are we able to mark the day by naming that we are remembering horrors, that we are pausing to honour those who wore the colours of BOTH sides, that we are taking time in our remembering to say those key words (words the Royal Canadian Legion used for years in their November 11 materials) Never Again

As a person who professes faith in the one who was called the Prince of Peace, who said "Blessed are the peacemakers" I would hope that our commemorations--both in church sanctuaries and in Legion Halls--fit most closely with the last option.  To truly mark November 11 is to name that brave men and women died and suffered in a cause they were told was right and holy (during the World Wars church pulpits were used to encourage folks to enlist, even as some other ministry types may have doubted that war was the answer) on both sides of every battlefield [and yes in this I include Afghanistan and Iraq] in the course of human history.

This Sunday we will pause, we will give a "pittance of [our] time" to remember that humans too often fail to live up to God's vision of a Peaceable Kingdom.  And may we re-commit ourselves to Never Again.  May we re-commit ourselves to working for peace, true peace [which has a much deeper meaning than the absence of violent conflict] within the world around us.  And it is my belief that this is the way we truly honour those who have gone before us.