Monday, September 30, 2013

October Newsletter

Just a little dream,
who can blame a person for dreaming.
Wishing on a star
what are stars for anyway?
Walk beneath the stars
Hold your love close to you
Put your dreams upon a strong heart, they'll come true

(opening verse of “Just a Little Dream” by Connie Kaldor)

We people of faith are called to be dreamers. We are called to dream of and hope for a world that is changed. And if we don't have a dream than what are we looking for?

This weekend at our Presbytery meeting we asked folks to talk about a number of questions. This was one of them:

If your dream for your faith community came true what would it look like 3 years from now?

It is a challenging question isn't it. But I wonder what we would say. How would we, as individuals and corporately, answer that question? What do we hope our community of faith will look like in 3 years? And of course the follow up is to ask what we are going to do about making the dream a reality.

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving...
...I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
(from “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables)

But hope is high. Life is worth living. Love will never die. God has been, is, and will be forgiving. Life may not be what we dreamed it would be. The world changes in ways we don't expect, and sometimes don't welcome. But does that have to kill our dream?

If your dream for your faith community came true what would it look like 3 years from now?

I have dreams, hopes, ideas. I have thoughts, vision, wonderings. How will we continue to be a faithful and faith-filled community? How will we not just continue but grow in our faith? There is not space for all of that here, but I will share one idea....

I want us to do another worship service. An evening (possibly mid-week) service once a month. And here is the catch. This service would be intentionally different than Sunday morning. And each month would be different from the month before. There would be no box, no template to it. It would be our chance to offer something different to the community.

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
(from “Imagine” by John Lennon)

Now as with most dreams, this can't happen without help. So who is out there who wants to share in my experiment? It might work, it might flop a few times, but we only know if we try. That is how we make dreams come true – by experimenting, by taking risks.

Who is with me? Who wants to share their dream?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Looking Forward to October 6, 2013 -- Proper 22C, 20th Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday is the First Sunday of October so we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
  • Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
  • Psalm 137
The Sermon title is Faith Sings in Exile 

Early Thoughts: They were in exile. Forced from their homes, driven across the wilderness, how could they possibly sing the songs of faith?

And yet that is exactly what they are asked to do.  In fact they are told to do more than that.   Jeremiah says that in this strange land the people are to:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
As advice to exiles, to a people whose national identity was tied up with the land and the temple that is now occupied and destroyed it seems to go against all logic.  It would seem more sensible to tell them to keep the faith, to hang on, to wait until they are able to go home and be the people they once were.  But instead God tells them to live.  Not wait until they can be what/who they once were, but live.  Embrace the new place as if it were home and live there.  Can they do that?????

Well do they have much choice??????????

The image of exile and return, in addition to being one of what Marcus Borg calls the meta-narratives of Scripture, is one that has often been used to describe the church of the 21st Century.  And I have used it myself.  IT works n some ways.  The church finds itself in a whole new place, in a whole new world.  The rules, the landscape, the culture is different, strange, sometimes it seems unfriendly or hostile or threatening.  Aren't we in exile?  Who could blame us for wanting to return "home", to go back to that comfortable familiar place?

The problem I have with the exile image is that it suggests we can go back home some day (which is what Scripture says happened to the people of Israel -- at which point there is a struggle about those wives and children that Jeremiah encourages in this week's reading).  But the thought that we can go back leads us to spend too much time remembering what was, too much energy trying to recreate those "golden days" of yore.  Back in August Terry Leer wrote in the Daily Herald Tribune:
...hungering for the past is like feasting on cotton candy: Tasty while it lasts, but only tooth-rotting, empty calories in the end.
Nostalgia tricks us into thinking we’re doing what God wants. We cannot move forward if we are living in the past. The past cannot be recreated for our current circumstances have changed – almost beyond recognition. Our Sunday Schools are not full. Budgets are a problem. And most non-Christians regard the church with disdain and distrust.
Hungering for the past, for the time when Christians prayed in school, when the church was the centre of social life and when clergy were respected authorities in the community, will leave the church abandoned in the past. Nostalgia will not save the church – it will be the death of it.
So, what is the opposite of this religious nostalgia? Mission, God’s mission.

Maybe we too are called to live in the "exile" land.  Maybe we are called to sing the songs of faith (both old and new) in a strange land.  Maybe we should not yearn for what was and embrace what is. Can we do that????

Do we have much choice??????????

Monday, September 16, 2013

Looking Forward to September 22, 2013: Proper 20C 18th Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday we will Celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
  • Lamentations 3:19-26 
  • Psalm 79 (VU p.793) 
The Sermon title is What Gets You Down? 

Early Thoughts: Have you ever felt that the world, or more precisely YOUR world, was falling to pieces around you?  Have you or a loved one struggled with depression?

Arguably Jeremiah did.  Tradition tells us that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations in response to the disaster of the fall of Jerusalem.  We even have a word, jeremiad, that comes from his laments.

The UCCan worship resource Gathering had this suggestion for this week:
Sermon Starter
Last week the passage we read from Jeremiah described the desolation of the land. This week we read about the desolation of the people, perhaps an appropriate time to inform and educate the congregation about the issue of mental illness in our communities and country. Goodness knows, enough people in the pews are dealing with issues of mental illness including stress, anxiety, and depression, but they are probably suffering in silence. It’s time to open the discussion. (The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health ( has information, statistics, and resources.) As the people of Jeremiah’s time found, it can be impossible to hold on to faith in the midst of depression, grief, and anxiety. Talk about the role of the faith community in being the strength and hope of faith for someone at a time in their life when they can’t hold on to faith.
Normally I don't use many of the sermon starter suggestions in Gathering (often I find myself wondering where that idea came from).  But this one struck me as something that needed to be done.

Last time I checked (I have to do some research this week for current information) prescriptions for anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications were increasing steadily.  Mental health issues are arguably reaching epidemic (or even pandemic) levels.  And to be honest the church has not always been helpful in response.

I hunch that we all know someone (relative, friend, co-worker) who has had struggles with depression or anxiety (or both).  Some of us are that person.  Sometimes it is a short "episode" sometimes it lasts for years, sometimes it is lifelong.  AS a community of faith how can we help each other in our struggles?  Can we help find the Balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Looking Forward to September 15, 2013 -- 17th After Pentecost, Proper 19C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 14
  • 1 Timothy 1:12-17

The Sermon Title is Who is the Fool?

Early Thoughts: Why believe in God? Who is the foolish one, the believer or the unbeliever?
The psalmist makes a bold statement when he says Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”. Richard Dawkins got a lot of press a few years ago for saying the exact opposite in his book The God Delusion. 

Many years ago Blaise Pascal laid out Pascal's Wager, a statement that said the safest bet was to believe. Pascal argued that if you believed and there was no God, then you lost nothing. But if you didn't believe and there was a God judging you at the end of life then you lost everything. That would be a reason to believe (not necessarily a good one but it is a reason). So why believe in something which, in the end, can not ever be actually proved?

In some ways this is a question that has plagued the church for years. There have always been atheists and agnostics who challenge the concept of faith. In the last century however the challenge has become more strident. Likely this is due to a number of things: the end of Christendom as a socio-political force, the continuing development of thought started in the Enlightenment period, the development of scientific theories and knowledge that directly challenged a literal view of Scripture, and horrific events such as the World Wars and the Holocaust. In fact in April of 1966 Time Magazine's cover story announced that "God is Dead"

And yet we still believe. Some believe experientially, that is we have experienced God's presence in our lives. Some believe "genetically", that is we have been raised in a believing family. Some of us have believed, have not believed, and have come back to believing. Are we deluded? Have we been indoctrinated (a charge used by some atheists regarding faith formation activities for children and youth)? Are we just following Pascal's wager and playing it safe?

In the end charges of foolishness where faith (or no faith) are concerned are probably not helpful. So are words like delusion. In the end we each come to our own decision on whether and why (not) we believe. And that is as it should be. On Sunday we will explore a bit about our "God Delusion". Want to come and join in the foolishness of faith?

UPDATE: while the TIME story from 1966 is (sadly) no longer available without a subscription (as of 6 years ago it was available) here is a NEWSWEEK cover story from 2009 on a similar topic, the article title is "The End of Christian America"

Monday, September 2, 2013

Looking Forward to September 8, 2013 -- 16th After Pentecost, Proper 18C

This week will be reading one Scripture lesson.  The letter to Philemon.

The Sermon title is What IF? -- An Experiment in Reading Scripture

Early Thoughts: What preconceptions do we carry to Scripture?  What assumptions do we make about what is being said and what "everyone" knows about the story?

I suspect there are more answers to those questions than we are aware of.  SO this week I am revisiting an experiment from my first seminary class in New Testament Studies.  This will involve dialogue, so consider yourselves warned!

We are going to read Philemon as if it was the first and only Christian document we had ever seen.  What does it mean if we know nothing else?

Admittedly this is really difficult.  It is almost impossible to "un-know" something -- sort of like trying to unring a bell. 

I'll be honest, I have no idea how well this will work.  That is why it is called an experiment.  Right?