Monday, June 30, 2014

Looking Ahead to July 6, 2014 -- 4th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Genesis 16:1-16
  • Genesis 21:1-21
  • Genesis 25:7-18
The sermon title is Call Him Ishmael

Early Thoughts:  Abraham as a model of faithfulness?  Maybe.  Abraham as a model of "traditional family values"?  Probably not.

Abram and Sarai had been promised a son, a son who would the first of descendants who would be more numerous than the stars in the sky.  But years passed and still no son.  So they come up with a solution of their own.  And Abram gets Hagar, the slave-girl belonging to Sarai, pregnant -- apparently with the idea that since Hagar belonged to Sarai, Hagar's child would also belong to Sarai.  Strike ONE against "traditional" family values.

Then Sarai gets jealous (although the text tells us that Hagar gets uppity, the knife obviously cuts both ways) and drives Hagar, pregnant with Abram's child out into the wilderness -- with the blessing of the child's father.  But God intervenes.  This child is a child of Abram and will share in the promise--although God also promises/foretells that his relationship with the family and neighbours will be rather difficult.

So the child Ishmael is born.  And in due course Sarai (now Sarah) becomes pregnant with the promised son of Abram (now Abraham) and Isaac is born.  Half-brother of Ishmael, son of Hagar and Abram is now (depending on how one pieces together the timeline, which is not always clear in Genesis) 12 or 13.  And in later Jewish tradition a boy has his Bar Mitzvah and becomes a man under Torah at age 13.  So just as Ishmael reaches maturity Sarah once again gets jealous.  And Abraham (with God's blessing and God's promise that Ishmael WILL share in the promise--where Sarah is trying to eliminate the sharing of the inheritance) agrees to drive Hagar and her son away again.  I believe this would be strike 3 in the family values count (with strike 4 due in the next chapter with the story of the binding of Isaac)?

But God is still not bound by Sarah's jealousy or by Abraham's meekness.  So God intervenes again to ensure the life of Hagar and Ishmael.  And the child grows up and his descendants become a nation.  Then we see Ishmael again at the death of his father.  You sort of get this picture of the brothers reluctantly/uncomfortably being in each other's presence.  But years ago they played together...

Tradition holds that the descendants of Ishmael become the Arabs.  And the descendants of Isaac become the Jews.

I think we need to talk about Ishmael more.  I think we need to remind ourselves that there is a different side to the story, that God is acting in many ways and along many paths.  Not just the one we choose to follow.  Even if we are part of a truly dysfunctional family.

PS: just wait till next week when we look at another episode of dysfunction in Abraham's family--Jacob and Esau.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Looking Forward to June 29, 2014 -- 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Genesis 22:1-14
  • Psalm 89:1-4, 13-18
The sermon title is God Wants You to Do WHAT?!?!?

Early Thoughts:  "Father Abraham, had 7 sons, 7 sons had Father Abraham"  So went an action song we sang when I was in Sunday School.  Given his parenting style this is probably a good thing.  Because he needed spares.

Scripturally we only hear about Abraham having 2 sons -- Ishmael and Isaac.  And both of them come near death as the story is told.  This week we will look at the story commonly called the "Binding of Isaac", next week we will talk about Ishmael's story.

There are stories that really make you ask "why was this one kept?  why do we keep telling this story?".  The Binding of Isaac, the story of Abraham taking his long-awaited son out to be offered as a burnt sacrifice is one of those.  What is God trying to tell us through this story?

Is it about the willingness to put God first? A story about idolatry?

Is it about a test?  And if it is a test does Abraham pass or fail?

Not sure I find either of those lines profitable..... especially if you want Abraham or God to come out looking likable.

At the same time I suspect that we sacrifice our children in big and small ways to far less grandiose, far less "noble" causes.

So I am trying to picture Sarah's reaction to Abraham's plan.  And I am wondering where we need to ask ourselves similar questions....

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Letter from the Presbytery Chair to the Presbytery

Brothers and Sisters,

Last Sunday I preached on the Trinity, so it seems only fitting that I begin my term as Chair of Northern Lights by greeting you in the name of the Triune God: 1-in-3/3-in-1; Parent, Child and Spirit; Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; Love, Beloved and Lover.

In many Presbyteries the change to a new Chair is marked by a service of installation. I was looking at the liturgies used for those services and realized that in essence they are services of covenanting. As a new Chair takes office the Presbyters promise to support that person in prayer and practise (there is no mention of actually agreeing with the Chair all the time so we are safe there). At the same time the Chair promises to care for the People and Pastoral Charges in the Presbytery, to exercise leadership with wisdom, to abide by the polity of the United Church.

I like that idea. It reminds us that we are all in this together. It reminds us that we work together to make things happen in our life as a Presbytery. Given that the next few years could see a great deal of change in how we exist as the United Church, both within the bounds of Northern Lights Presbytery and nationwide, the reminder that we are all in this together is crucial. And so, as your Chair, I ask that you hold each other in prayer. Something that the local Ministerial Association in Grande Prairie has done is agree to pray for a different church each week. When I get time (?) I am going to draw up a schedule of our own as we hold our Pastoral Charges and our people in prayer. But to begin with, the Presbytery Executive is meeting next Tuesday, June 24, in Grande Prairie. Please pray that they would act with wisdom and vision and hope for the church.

One of the tasks of leadership in the church is to look ahead. Yes we often get mired in the everyday tasks of life but we also have to look ahead. And so I am looking ahead at our life together.

At our Executive meeting next week we will finalize the travel plans and discuss the agenda for our September meeting in Yellowknife. One of the gifts of this Presbytery meeting will be that time together when we are not discussing business, that time to share stories and just enjoy each other's company. At the same time, I know that these meetings ask for a lot of time from the rest of our lives. So I hope that Pastoral Charges can find folk who are willing and able to get to the meeting. I have a dream (well I have a few dreams, some more fanciful than others) that we will have a meeting where all the possible representatives from all the Pastoral Charges are present. Maybe Yellowknife will be that meeting????

Looking farther ahead I note that 2015 is a General Council year. The 42nd General Council meeting will be held in Corner Brook Newfoundland and Labrador from August 8-15 2015. It is expected that this meeting will be asked to make decisions and act on recommendations and/or a proposal from the Comprehensive Review Task Group and so it will be a very important meeting for the United Church of Canada as we chart a way into the future. At our February meeting in Dawson Creek we will be nominating folk (1 Ministry Personnel and 1 Lay Person) to serve as Commissioners. Please consider if this is something you feel called to do for the church. If you want to know what it is like to be a commissioner there are several people who have gone before. Kathryn Baverstock and Bev Brazier were at the 41st General Council in 2012.

And then there is our ongoing work of visioning within Northern Lights. Within our midst there is the need to do something new. Many years ago I heard Bruce Faurschou, then Executive Secretary of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference, share his opinion that the United Church is the best tool for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ (I can't find the exact quote but that is close). If Bruce is right, how are we sharing that Gospel here in Northern Lights Presbytery? And how will we continue to share it in new ways as our communities and our resources and our churches change?

Lots of stuff on our plate, especially since this is but a tasting given the amount of things happening in our various communities. But God is Good, We are not alone, Thanks be to God.

Blessings on your summer plans and looking forward to seeing you in September!


Gord Waldie

Chair of Northern Lights Presbytery

Or here is the video version:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Looking Forward to June 22, 2014 -- 2nd Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Genesis 1:1-31
  • Psalm 8
The Sermon title is And God Said It Was Good

Early Thoughts:  And God said it was good.  The refrain echoes through the hymn.  Everything that is created God calls good.

Everything?  The mosquito?  The viruses and bacteria that cause polio or smallpox or the Bubonic plague? Poison Ivy? Everything?

Yep. That is what the story says.

Do we agree?  Do we believe it?

What would we do if we lived as if all things that were created were good?  All the plants, all the animals, all the protozoa, all the people...all good.  Not because of what they contribute, not because of what use we can make of them, just good because they exist.

I think that is what the creation hymn challenges us to do.  It isn't about "is this how things were actually created" (the presence in the next chapter of a very different creation account explicitly denies that attempt to literalize Genesis 1 as science).  It is about,"what does it mean to say that God is the Source?".

I think naming God as the Source, and naming that God calls creation good pushes us to rethink our attitudes towards life.  For a long time the environmental movement pushed us to care for the environment out of a sense of enlightened self-interest.  Care for it so we would continue to benefit.  I think God calls us to a higher standard.

We'll talk more about that on Sunday.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Looking Forward to June 15, 2014 -- Trinity Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
  • Matthew 28:16-20
The Sermon title is1+1+1=1?

Early Thoughts:  It is about how we understand God.  And yes it makes no sense, logically speaking.

I remember many years ago reading a story about a gentleman who rarely went to church on Easter Sunday but always went on Trinity Sunday. Why? Because he knew that most preachers could do a passable job of the Resurrection but always wanted to see how the preacher could explain the totally unexplainable (or incomprehensible) doctrine of the Trinity.

How about some graphical help...
Got this one here
Got this one here
 Does that sort it all out???


It is my reading of history that one of , if not THE key areas of "discussion" in the church just after Constantine Christianized the empire was that of how the various aspects of God related to each other.  Out of those (sometimes heated and violent) discussions came what we now know as the doctrine of the Trinity.  The irony of course is that because of those heated discussions it is almost impossible to explain the Trinity without slipping into some statement or analogy that is heretical, as this video attempt to prove...

So what do we do with the Trinity?

I think it is really asking how do we experience God.  That's why we have multiple ways of expressing the Trinity.  That's why we struggle with the doctrine be cause in our hearts we know that any way we try to put our understanding of God into words falls short.

Which doesn't really help me know what I am going to say on Sunday....

PS: Here is another video, which comes from a video we have (on VHS) at home.  The video includes a tortured attempt to describe the Trinity as being like an egg (shell, white and yolk)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Looking Forward to June 8, 2014 -- Pentecost Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Numbers 11:24-30
  • 1 Corinthians12:3b-13
  • Acts 2:1-21
The Sermon title is The Church is Born and Re-Born

Early Thoughts:  The Spirit blows in, transforming people who were afraid, clustered in an upper room, wondering which one of them would be hauled away next, into evangelists who can not stop talking about the glorious things God has done.  This is how a church is born.

This weekend we come to Anniversary Sunday in the United Church of Canada.  On Tuesday June 10 we will be 89 years old.  And there are some who wonder what we will  look like in 11 years for the century.  There are others who wonder if we will see the century...

I wonder if we are becoming like the original group of disciples.  Clustered together, controlled by our fear (whether we admit to that control or not is another question), wondering where the next stroke will fall, wondering how we can keep going.  Do we need the Spirit to blow into our locked rooms?  Do we want it to?  Are we ready for it?  Because let us be honest.  We can't control what the Spirit does -- we can only control our reactions to the Spirit's actions in our midst.

Pentecost Sunday is often called the "birthday" of the church.  But the church is constantly being born, and reborn, and born anew.  As the Spirit blows in and starts new fires something new is born, sometimes out of the ashes of what went before, sometimes in a whole new place or way, sometimes as an addition to the fire that is already there.

We in the church can talk about structures as a denomination.  We can rethink or tweak congregational committees and councils. We can talks about rules and regulations.  But maybe what we need is deeper than any of that.  Maybe we need the Spirit to blow in and open the windows and doors.  Maybe we need to be "clothed in power from on high" so that we can't help but go out and BE the church.

And BEing the church is the best way I can think of to the GROW the church.

Who and Where are We?

AS part of my follow-up from a discussion at our last Council meeting I was reviewing the Environics report for this area that was prepared in January of 2008. This report looks at a variety of demographic data.  Here is some of what it says:
  1. the population number for the service area in the report is 37 277 people or 14 132 households.  Census data suggests 11.1% of those people consider themselves United Church folk.  That would be just under 4 150 folk.
  2. the most common household type in the area is large upscale suburban families, followed by low income young singles and single parents in urban areas and new middle-income exurban families
  3. the least common household type is young lower-middle-class urban singles and couples
Teh report then looks at some of the defining characteristics of the United Church and how they interact with social values of the population in this area.  There is some room for discussion about what these mean for how we plan our programs.  But for now I will highlight what some of those social values are.

The top ten social value scores are (note that these scores are comparing the percentage of folks in the Grande Prairie area who hold these values to the percentage of the Canadian population in general, so if the numbers were equal the score would be 100 -- at least I think that is the methodology):
  1. Adaptability to Complexity in Life -- 132
  2. Importance of Price -- 126
  3. Need for Escape -- 120
  4. Enthusiasm for Consumption -- 119
  5. Confidence in Advertising -- 115
  6. Equality of the Sexes -- 114
  7. Canadian Identity -- 113
  8. Everyday Ethics -- 113
  9. Social Darwinism -- 113
  10. Cultural Fusion -- 111
The ten values with the lowest scores are (starting from the bottom)
  1. Ecological Alarmism -- 79
  2. Primacy of Environmental Protection -- 81
  3. Belonging to the Global Village -- 81
  4. Rejection of Authority -- 82
  5. New Social responsibility -- 82
  6. Civil Disobedience -- 82
  7. Spiritual Quest --84
  8. Meaning of Life -- 84
  9. Fulfillment through Work -- 84
  10. Ecological Consumption -- 84
I have definitions of these Social Values in the office.

These statistics are meant to help us get a clearer picture of the world in which we are being the church.  They may suggest what issues people want or need to talk about.   As we look at who God is calling us to be, how God is calling us to be the church we may want to consider this information to determine how we live out that calling {remembering that the primary question is always who is God calling us to be}.

It was not included in the Environics report (that I can find) but we also need to take into account that Grande Prairie is a very young community.  Mayor Given talked about that fact in this blog post from 2 years ago.  How does that reality shape how we are the church in 2014?

What do you think?