Thursday, February 27, 2014

March Newsletter

Did some very minor revisions to one from the files for this one:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Those are the traditional words used at the Ash Wednesday service as you are marked with the sign of the cross. They are the words that start us on the Lenten journey that leads to the cross, to death, to despair, to an end.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. These words remind us of the traditional words of committal at the graveside “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. A time of grieving and of saying good-bye. A moment of pain, a time of sorrow.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. These words remind us of our mortality. They call us to remember that we are not the center of the universe. They call us to remember that there was before us and there will be after us, that none of us are indispensable.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. These words prepare us for what comes next. Only when we take seriously the reality of death can we experience fully the glory of resurrection. The Lenten journey takes us to Good Friday but the day after Lent ends is Easter Sunday. The graveside gathering is a time of sorrow but the word of hope we share is that the grave is not the end. Individuals may come and go but we share in a larger work, the whole of which we may never know. No matter what may come there is hope, and promise, and possibility.

Traditionally the ashes for Ash Wednesday come from burning the dried withered Palm leaves from the previous Palm Sunday. We remember that we sang of glory, of the coming of the Lord, “Hosanna to the King!” and yet we live in a world where the kingdom has not yet come to full flower. So we walk again the road to cross and grave, to death and resurrection.

It is tempting to want to skip the darkness of cross and grave. It is tempting to want to move directly to the glory. But we can’t. We have to name the reality that change means death (in many different ways). We have to be willing to let go of the old before embracing the new. We have to visit the cross before we meet the stranger in the Garden.

During this Lenten season I encourage all of us to look at what is dying to make room for something new. I encourage all of us to look at what changes can or need to be made in our lives and in the corporate life of this community. I encourage all of us to have the courage to take the dark road, trusting that there is light and hope beyond cross and grave. For it is told that it is only by passing through death that we have life. In fact we do that many times throughout our lives – we pass through the death of what was into the life of what will be. God be our guide and companion. Amen.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

'Tis the Season -- Annual Report

Sharing Celebrations and Concerns.
It is a simple little line in our Bulletin every week. And yet it is, in my opinion, one of the most important things we do. We take time to name our celebrations and our concerns, to share them with each other. It is part of what makes us a community, part of what ties us in to the larger communities around us.

It also occurs to me as I sit down to write this year's Annual Report (always a challenge – what am I going to say differently THIS year that other folk have not already talked about) that sharing celebrations and concerns is a good thing to do as we look back at one year and forward to another.

First, some celebrations.

Well let us start with the obvious. Our Sanctuary was home to 3 weddings (plus the one I performed in the playground at St. Patrick's School) in 2013. I was privileged to baptize 9 people (8 in Sunday worship and 1 in the chapel at the hospital) over the year. And then there were also 15 times when folk gathered in this building, or in other buildings in our stead, to mark the end of a life. As a community of faith we mark the ages and stages of life together, giving thanks for the God who gives us life, celebrating what we have together.

What else do we have to celebrate this year? Well Ken Riley has done a good job at listing out what has happened over the last year. I won't repeat what he has said. But I will add. Our ongoing care for each other is something to celebrate. Our ongoing shared worship and music is something to celebrate. We have a LOT to celebrate. I'll name a couple of others in a moment (my 4th year Education prof always said you start and end with positives).

Because there are concerns. There are always concerns.

Actually, the more I thought about it the more realized that the majority of the concerns I wanted to talk about in this report can be covered by two words. Mission and Stewardship. And even then my concern is heavily tempered with hope. You see I believe that this congregation has a strong feeling of what we are about. I know that this congregation is full of committed individuals who offer a LOT to our shared life and work. But still I have concerns.

We need more. Doug's report will tell you about our finances. But stewardship is more than money. We have committees that are doing amazing things but we also have committees that are struggling with too few members. (Then there are the committees or task groups I think we need to form...) If we are to live out our mission then we need to find more time for it. We have the skills, the energy, the time, the money to be a gift from God to Grande Prairie. But we need to put them to work. Mission and Stewardship. They are our way forward. And our Stewardship committee will have to get back to work to open opportunities for us all to share our gifts.

But remember, even (or especially) when we are asking for more time, talent, and treasure, remember that we are blessed. Twice I have heard that when the folks from the LLWL program visit with us they have commented on how blessed we are. They see our handbell and voice choirs, they see the 20-30 kids with us at Children's Time, they see signs of life in our midst and they comment how wonderful it is to see. This is cause for celebration. We are the People of God. God is with us. God is calling us forward. Thanks be to God.

Looking Forward to February 23, 2014 -- 7th Sunday After Epiphany

This Sunday we are pleased to welcome our visitors from Northern Lights Presbytery who are meeting here at St. Paul's February 21-23.

The Scripture Reading for this week is Matthew 13:31-34, 44-46

The Sermon title is Contaminate the World

Early Thoughts:  Something small, tiny even, that totally changes the whole.   That, according to Jesus (who is a pretty good source come to think of it), is what the Kingdom of God is like.

Two books I read in late 2013 pointed out that leaven is a contaminant.  As Jewish tradition developed, one of the things the woman of the household would do in preparation for the feast of Unleavened Bread is get ALL of the leaven out of the house.  And when you really think about it, many leavening agents are very similar to rot and mold.  What is yeast but a fungus with dreams of grandeur?  What is sourdough but partly rotting dough?

And yet Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is this contaminant mixed in with a large amount of dough to transform it.  Because even if they are fungus or rot yeast and sourdough change what they are mixed into.  They add air and life and bounce.  A logical inference is that WE are called to be the leaven God is mixing into the dough of life.  WE are meant to contaminate the world.

Or another image from the passage.  A small seed that grows into a large tree...

Yes Jesus' botanical knowledge is off here.  Mustard is a bush or shrub--not a tree.  And it does not appear to be the smallest of all seeds. But the point remains.

The Kingdom of God, when allowed to flourish, starts small and transforms into something that gives shelter to many.

We spend a lot of time talking about the future of the church.  But maybe we miss a key point.  The church is not about the future, the church is about the Kingdom of God.  And so being the church is about being a contaminant that transforms what it touches.  We are called to contaminate and change the world around us.

Are we ready to take up that calling?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Looking Forward to February 16, 2014 -- 6th Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 30:15-20
  • Matthew 5:21-48
The Sermon title is Radical Rules, Common Community
Early Thoughts:  There is a part of us that does not like rules.  A part that wants to find the way around them.  A part that chafes at being restricted.  But maybe to be in community means choosing to be bound by rules, maybe even choosing to go beyond the face value of the rules?

This week we continue reading from the Sermon on the Mount.  And it strikes me that the entire Sermon on the Mount (and indeed much of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth) is trying to answer the question "How then shall we live?".

Here Jesus is openly challenging a legalistic approach to life's rules.  Other times he challenges that legalism by suggesting that there are times the rules need to be sub-ordinated to human needs.  Here he challenges a legalism that allows one to "follow the rules" and still not live up to them. Here he exhorts his hearers to live by a higher standard, to go the extra mile as it were.

It is somewhat radical, both then and now, to do what Jesus suggests.   Is there a temptation to ignore it as unrealistic?  Or to ignore some parts as being antiquated?

But then we have Deuteronomy.  This is one of my favourite passages.  The theological thought-stream that gives us Deuteronomy reminds us that our choices matter, that our choices have consequences.  So what will we choose?  Will we choose to have our behaviour bounded by rules that grow a healthy community?  Or will we choose to be stubbornly independent or even anarchistic?  There is much in our world today that speaks against what Jesus suggests.

Which choice will you make?  Which choices lead to life and that in abundance?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Looking Forward to February 9, 2014 -- 5th Sunday After Epiphany

This Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture reading this week is Matthew 5:13-20

The Sermon title is Salt for the Earth, Light to the World

Early Thoughts:  To be a disciple, to be a faithful follower of The Way means that you make an impact on the word.

No, seriously.  To be faithful means you make an impact on the world.  OK, I will admit that to be unfaithful also means you make an impact on the world.  As the CSI TV series has taught us, no one moves through a space and leaves it unaltered.  All things are changed by the people who interact with them, we always leave something and take something.

So what mark will we make?

Does the mark we make show how we have met God?  Does the mark we make increase the amount of love and justice, light and peace in the world?

Jesus is pretty blunt in this passage.  HE does not say "if you choose you can be...".  He says "YOU ARE".  You are salt, you are light.  And there is that almost unspoken go and live that out.

To be a disciple, to be a follower of Christ, is to be active.  It means we work actively as salt and light. 

This week we will end our service by singing "Go, Make a Difference".   What difference do we, will we make?