Wednesday, January 29, 2014

February Newsletter

While I've got a hammer, and I've got a bell
And I've got a song to sing all over this land
It's a hammer of justice, it's a bell of freedom
It's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land
(lyrics by Pete Seeger)

Like so many folk songs of the mid-20th Century (Turn, Turn, Turn and Where Have All the Flowers Gone come to mind) If I had a Hammer has resided in my musical memory for as long as I can remember. And all three of those were written by (but made famous when recorded by other people) Pete Seeger, who died just a couple of days before I sat down to write this.

Over the last couple of days I have read many articles about Seeger. One of the things that stands out is that while some people might have suggested that a singer-songwriter made a poor activist Seeger totally disagreed. His banjo had an inscription which stated “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” (apparently following from Woody Guthrie whose guitar said “this machine kills fascists”). Pete Seeger (and arguably others such as Peter Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan) not only believed but KNEW that music could make a difference in society.

Try to imagine the Civil Rights movement without We Shall Overcome. Or the anti-Vietnam movement without Give Peace a Chance. Or the Union movement without Solidarity Forever. Is the music just the soundtrack or is it part of the story?

Given the emotive power music has, the way it can stir our emotions as well as – or even better than – an orator like Martin Luther King, the way it brings people together – how many of those old film clips were people singing with the leadership, not people standing and listening – it seems that music is most definitively part of the story.

So what story shall we sing? Many of us were introduced to the songs of the folk scene through the church in some way. I learned If I Had a Hammer in Junior Choir. I learned Blowin' in the Wind at church camp. Where Have All the Flowers Gone and This Land is Your Land show up in a couple of church-based songbooks in my drawer at home. I have used (not nearly as often as I have been tempted to) Peter, Paul, and Mary music in worship. Why?

There was something about those songs that spoke to the church. Maybe not officially, but that music touched the souls of church-folk (and yes annoyed the heck out some other church folk). I think it is because people of my parent's generation, and those of us who have come after, heard in those songs God's prophetic voice. We hear a vision of how the world could be. We join our voices in song about the world as we wish it was.

What story, what vision, what songs shall we sing? As the world mourns and lionizes Pete Seeger I encourage us to look at what he stood for (something he was never shy about proclaiming). As we sing the “campfire songs” of the folk era I urge us to look at those words, then look at the world, and ask which picture we like better.

Songs CAN surround hate and force it to surrender, music CAN change the world. We are the singers, we choose the song, shall we sing out loud?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Looking Forward to February 2, 2014 -- 4th Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Micah 6:1-8
  • Matthew 5:1-12
The Sermon title is What is Required?

Early Thoughts:  We have all said or thought it at some time -- just tell me what to do!  Just give me a nice concise description of what is expected so I know how to behave!

One of the main (I was going to say first but really it is an ongoing thing, not a one-time event) tasks and challenges of being a follower of The Way is deciding how to act.  Meeting this challenge is what lay behind the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets and stickers that were popular a few years back.

I remember a discussion with a friend one day.  A mutual friend was talking about the challenge her Bible study group was having because they wanted to study a book that gave them all the answers, that told them the "proper" response to any situation.  I suggested such a book does not exist.  Lori (a Baptist with a very different theology of Scripture--and many other topics-- then mine) said "of course there is".  I would disagree.

But there are some very strong hints in Scripture about how we should live.  NO, Scripture will never be able to directly answer the may questions that the modern world raises -- being written many centuries before the questions arise makes that a given.  But Scripture does give us a basic plan.

This week we hear Micah's summation of how we are to live in the world as faithful followers of God.  Yes it leaves lots of questions unanswered but it is easy to remember: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with God.

We also hear this week from Jesus.  Jesus who lays out whole new way of measuring the world as the Sermons on the Mount begins and indeed as it continues on over the next couple chapters of Matthew's Gospel.  Jesus who calls and challenges us to think differently, to have different measuring sticks, to keep score in new ways, here asks us to think about what it means to be blessed.  AND in there is advice: Be meek, be merciful, be peacemakers, be strong in what you think is right despite virulent opposition, hunger and thirst for righteousness (justice).

What is required?  What does it mean to be a follower of The Way?  Well here are some starting points for us to talk about this week.

PS> I have always thought those WWJD bracelets asked the wrong question.  It isn't what would Jesus do that matters -- especially since Jesus lived in a totally different culture and world.  The question is what would Jesus HAVE US do ????  That is a much more complicated question.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lent Planning....

Lent 2014
Series on the Lord's Prayer

March 16 (Lent 2)
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Matthew 6:7-15
Luke 11:1-4
passage from the Didache???

March 23 (Lent 3)
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Isaiah 11:1-10
Jeremiah 22:1-3
Mark 6:34-44

March 30 (Lent 4)
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us.
Matthew 18:21-35
passage from Free of Charge????

April 6 (Lent 5)
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Luke 4:1-12
Romans 8:26-39

April 13 (Palm Sunday)
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Matthew 21-1-11
Simon Zealotes from Jesus Christ Superstar???

Monday, January 13, 2014

Looking Forward to January 19, 2014 -- 2nd Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
  • John 1:29-42
The Sermon title is Someone I Want You to Meet...

Early Thoughts: Evangelism.  It is a word we don't use much anymore.  Not many United Church of Canada people would say they are evangelical.  But is that true?

Have you ever invited someone to come to church with you?  If so you have been an evangelist.

Have you ever shared some part of your faith story with someone?  Have you ever said that your faith influences the choices you make/priorities you have?  If so then you are an evangelist.

In our John reading for this week we see evangelism.  We sort of see it in John's proclamation "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" but we see it most clearly at the end of the passage.

Having met Jesus, having talked with Jesus, Andrew felt something.  And that something led him to go to his brother Simon and say "you gotta meet this guy!".  Andrew is the first evangelist in John's Gospel.  He is the first person to lead someone else to meet Jesus, to share the person he has met.

Can we say to a friend "there's someone I want you to meet"?  Can we be evangelists?

I would argue that we have no choice.  If our faith makes a difference in our lives, in how we live, in what we choose, in what we find important, then people should be able to see that difference.  And that is being evangelistic.  And if people ask why you make such "weird" choices and you link it to your faith?  Then you are being evangelistic.

Can we do that?

Oh and more than one article has stated that the #1 reason people first come to experience a church is because someone personally invited them, because somebody said "you should give this a try"...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Looking Forward to January 12, 2014 -- Baptism of Christ Sunday, 1st After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 43:1-7
  • 1 Peter 2:9-12
  • Matthew 3:13-17
The Sermon title is That'll Leave a Mark

Early Thoughts:  Whatever we do as people of faith one thing can not be taken away.  We are baptised.  We are named and claimed.  We are God's Beloved children.  And Nadia Bolz-Weber, among many others, suggests that is all we need to know.

In our Baptismal services here at St. Paul's we make the following statement:
By water and the Spirit,
we are called, claimed, and commissioned:
we are named as God’s children,
claimed by Christ,
and united with the whole Christian community
of every time and place.
Strengthened by the Holy Spirit,
we live out our commission;
to spread the love we have been given throughout the world.
We are Baptized, therefore we are named and claimed as God's own.  This is the gift that allows/empowers/enables us to live transformed lives, to share the love of God, to be a force to change the world.

Baptism is something that is only done once in our lives, because it has lasting significance and power.  It does not expire or lapse.  No matter what we do, what choices we make in our lives, nothing can take away the reality that we are baptized, that we are named as God's Beloved children, that we are claimed as God's people.

The Emperor Constantine, even though he "Christianized" the Empire (or Imperialized Christianity depending on your point of view) was not himself baptized until his deathbed.  Was this the cynical act of a dying man wanting to cover all the bases (sort of like Pascal's wager)?  Plausibly.

Or was it a sign that Constantine had great respect for the power and meaning of Baptism?  Possibly Constantine knew that being Emperor meant doing things that were wholly incompatible with being a Baptized person.  He knew that the mark made by the water would (should?) change him.

This Sunday we are invited to remember our Baptisms.  WE are invited to ask what mark the water has made on our souls, our lives, our choices.  But we are also called to remember that whatever happens nothing can take the water away.  We are, we always will be, named and claimed by God.  And that is the most important thing.