Wednesday, May 28, 2014

June Newsletter

Of Dandelions and Grass and Growth....

It is that season again!

A couple Sundays ago we got home and the park across from us was a sea of yellow. Our front yard wasn't far behind for that matter. Dandelions in full flower. By now most of them have turned to white puffballs and then to empty stalks, looking sort of like a miniature forest of dead tree trunks.

People have mixed opinions on dandelions. One of the women in Atikokan called them her favourite flower. Other people consider them a scourge to be eradicated from their lawn with extreme prejudice.

So are they a pretty flower or a weed?

A couple of days ago on Twitter people were complaining about the fact that the city no longer sprays for dandelions. Part of that is cost. Part of it is concern about the chemical use. But what are the pros of dandelions?

Some people claim that the young leaves make a tasty salad green. Some make tea or wine from them. Others point out that the dandelion is a good early source for nectar for honey bees. And many children remember collecting bouquets for mom – whether mom wanted them or not.

What are the cons of dandelions?

Well for people who take pride in having a crisp uniform lawn they are an unsightly blemish. They quickly take over a flower bed. They may look nice in flower but those bare stems look terrible.

What about grass? The prime objection people tend to have to dandelions is that they are a blemish on their nice uniform lawns.

I admit, I admire the crisp look of a lush uniform lawn. Not that I ever plan to put enough work or money into my lawn to get that appearance mind you. But I also find it disturbing in a way.

The manse lawn in Atikokan was not a “great” lawn. It was as much or more wildflowers or weeds as it was grass. It was so uneven you could lose a bocce ball in the dips (which made for a more interesting game mind you). But those wildflowers and weeds and dandelions stayed green far longer than the grass did in dry years. And they added flashes of colour at intervals over the summer. In many ways I liked it more than the golf green lawns so many people aspire to. It looked like it fit. It looked a bit more natural.

By now you are likely wondering if I have a point in this rambling on about dandelions and lawns. I think I do...

You see I think our churches need to be more like the lawn in Atikokan. To a degree we like our organizations to be neat and tidy and beautiful. But the reality is that often they are untidy, and uneven, and beautiful. Where we want to cultivate and shape the growth, they grow in their own way. Where we have a plan, something else grows without consulting us. Where we want things nice and level, there are dips and hollows and humps and bumps.

And sometimes that is the surprising blessing.

Which leads only one question...

Are we the weeds, the wildflowers, or the carefully cultivated grass? Are we nice and flat or a little bit bumpy?


Monday, May 26, 2014

Looking Forward to June 1, 2015 -- Ascension Sunday, 7th of Easter

This being the first Sunday of the month, we will be celebrating Communion.  Our next Communion service will be in September (September 7th).

The Scripture Passages this Sunday are:
  • Acts 1:1-11
  • Luke 24:44-53
The Sermon title is Look Up, Look WAAY Up...

Early Thoughts:  Ascension.  The last event in Luke's Gospel (and the first event in the book of Acts) tells of the Risen Christ Ascending into heaven.  Since the same author wrote both Luke and Acts on has to wonder why he tells the same story twice--and why the stories are so markedly different--and yet still the same...

The part of the Ascension story that always jumps out at me is the end of the Acts account.  In teh last couple of verses we read:
While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
I see some resonance with the Easter story here.  At Easter the women at the tomb are asked "why do you look for the living among the dead?"

At the Easter moment we are dealing with folks who had watched him die.  In the Ascension story we have folks who have just watched the Risen Christ ascend up out of sight.  It makes sense that the people on both instances are looking where they are.  And yet both times they are asked, as if they are doing something totally weird, why they are doing that.

Maybe we fall prey to the same thing?  Maybe we look for Christ in the wrong places?

There are lots of hymns and images about Ascension.  Many of them evoke power and glory.  Much of the artwork has a pair of feet dangling from the top of the picture--the last glimpse of Jesus as it were.  And yet one of the hymns we will sing this Sunday reminds us that Christ is also within us hidden, Christ is in the nitty-gritty of our lives.

WE are tempted to look up longingly to heaven.  Maybe we are called to look down and side-to-side as well.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Looking Forward to May 25, 2014 -- 6th Sunday of Easter

This Sunday is the Sunday School wrap-up, and so all are invited to gather downstairs for the annual "wiener boil" following the service.

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:
  • 1 Peter 3:8-16
  • John 14:15-21
The Sermon title is The Spirit of Truth

Early Thoughts:  Truth. An important word.  Something we value -- or at least claim to value.  Because sometimes truth is elusive, or so subjective, so reliant on a particular way of seeing the world that it is hard to identify.  And sometimes truth is painful, and so we would rather find some other "truth" to take its place.

Just before his death (this part of John is in the "Farewell Discourse") Jesus tells his friends that he will send the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, to be with them so that they will not be alone.  And yet only those of the "right" mind or vision or understanding can see (feel? sense? comprehend?) this Spirit of Truth.

What giftedness is there in knowing the Spirit of Truth?

I think (it is hard to say because it is a pretty dense passage) that 1 Peter touches on what it means to live in community with the Spirit of Truth.  The writer of this letter is trying to uplift a community who are struggling, who are being oppressed, who are not sure where they stand int the world at large.    And the writer encourages, basically, some advice we hear from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  Take the high road, turn the other cheek.  The writer gives the same advice Polonius gives to Laertes (though I think we can take it a bit more seriously here than from Polonius who doesn't seem to follow his own words all that well)
to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
 So how do we live with the Spirit of Truth?  How does the Spirit of Truth shape our actions?  Are we always ready to hear the Truth, or is Jack Nicholson right when he says "You can't handle the truth!!!"

Truth.  Such an important part of living in community.  And yet such an elusive thing at times.  So vital to building strong relationships.  And yet there are so often competing truths (one of the markers of the post-modern school of philosophy is the idea that there is no ONE TRUTH, anymore), which ones are valid?

Lots of question in my head as this sermon starts to grow...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Loking Forward to May 18, 2014 -- 5th Sunday of Easter

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Acts 2:39-47
  • 1 Peter 2:2-10
The Sermon title is The Living Cornerstone of Community

Early Thoughts:  On what is our community based? What is the foundation on which we stand or fall?

Christianity (like many other traditions) is largely about how we live together in community.  One of the claims of scripture (both in the Gospels and in this reading from 1 Peter) is that Jesus, the Christ, is our cornerstone.  How does that tie in to our understanding of community?

According to, a cornerstone could be a ceremonial thing (we have one of those on our building).  These ceremonial cornerstones are (or at least used to be, I am not sure how common a practice this is anymore) placed as part of a celebration for the new building.  Sometimes a time capsule would be sealed in the stone as part of the ceremony.  Is that what Jesus is for us?  Something ceremonial?

I think not.

I think that when we look at Jesus as a cornerstone we look at other definitions:
3. something that is essential, indispensable, or basic: The cornerstone of democratic government is a free press.
4. the chief foundation on which something is constructed or developed: The cornerstone of his argument was that all people are created equal. 
This is what we mean when we say that Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith. Jesus is foundational, essential, indispensable.  Without the Risen Christ as our living cornerstone Christianity crumbles.  Without paying attention to the teachings of Jesus our understanding of how to live in a Christian community is unstable.

Then there is the Acts passage.  A vision of what it means to live in community (though now we would call it living communally).  Now the Acts community didn't entirely work, there are other stories in the book which make that plain.  But it is a vision.  And I think it also speaks to something foundational.  To be a Christian community is to live in a way that supports each other -- in a variety of ways.  To be a Christian community meant striving to ensure there are no "have nots" among us.  And I would say that these foundational principles grow out of the teachings of Jesus (and the Jewish tradition from which he came).

So what is our cornerstone?  On what does our foundation rest?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Looking Forward to May 11, 2014 -- 4th of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday

This Sunday we will celebrate the sacrament of Communion

The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
  • Psalm 23
  • John 10:1-10
The Sermon title is The Lord is My Shepherd – Am I Sheepish?

Early Thoughts:  Do we need a shepherd?  Why?  Why do we sometimes chafe at that possibility?

What does a shepherd do?  A shepherd guides.  A shepherd leads. A shepherd protects.  A shepeherd keeps the flock together.  Do we need a shepherd?

Maybe the more important question is why we sometimes chafe at the suggestion that we could use a shepherd.  I suggest that we don't like to be sheep (because sheep are not noted as being highly intelligent, self-sustaining animals in common discourse).  I suggest we don't like to be "herded" (how many activities in life are often called "herding cats" because the participants who are too stubbornly independent?).  I suggest we want to think we are in charge, that we are the herders rather than the flock, and after all, it is often frowned upon to "go with the herd".

But sometimes we need to find a balance between time as the herder and time as the herd.  We need to accept guidance and leadership.  We need to be reminded that someone sees the bigger picture.  So yes, sometimes we need a shepherd.

This week I intend to walk through one of the most familiar passages in all of Scripture.  We have heard Psalm 23 many times.  But what does it really say?  What wisdom might it have for us today?