Monday, December 28, 2015

Looking Forward to January 3, 2016 -- Sunday Closest to Epiphany

This being the first Sunday of January we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The famed (in song at least) 12 Days of Christmas technically refer to the Christmas season of the Christian Year. This season begins on December 25 (December 24 being the last day of Advent) and continues until January 5th, the day before the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the Magi as told in Matthew's Gospel. Theoretically worship to celebrate Epiphany should happen on January 6th. Pragmatically, many of us mark the occasion on the Sunday immediately preceding the actual date.

The Epiphany story is told in the 2nd chapter of Matthew, and actually has two parts. Part one, the part we usually tell, is the magi traveling and visiting with their gifts. Part two, which is often skipped over because it is much less celebratory, tells of Herod's response to hearing that a child has been born "King of the Jews". We will read the whole story (which coincidentally is also the whole chapter). So our reading this week is Matthew 2:1-23.

The sermon title is Adoration and Murder, The Refugee Messiah

Early Thoughts: Did they know what the result of their visit would be? When the Magi did what probably seemed obvious to them, and asked the current King of the Jews where the baby was did they know how murderous his response would be?

I hope not. Because if they did they were being incredibly negligent.

The fact remains that Herod's response IS murderous. The story is clear that in the space of a few sentences the child goes from being lauded by foreign visitors to running for his life. The Messiah is a refugee, who never returns to live in his birthplace.

Now to be honest, it is plausible that the whole story is theology that Matthew is attempting to turn into history. But still why does it ring so true? Certainly Matthew portrays Herod acting in a way that, based on his reputation, he likely would have done. Certainly tyrannical rulers tend to look unkindly on those who might replace them. And we know full well that refugees are not a new thing. When the world fails to be what it could be, when people try to win the day through death and murder, there are those who flee for their lives.

What does it mean for us to remember that Jesus, Emmanuel, the Messiah was also a refugee?

O Come let us Adore him?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Looking Forward to December 24 -- Christmas Eve

We have two services this Thursday. One at 6:30 which is aimed at young families, and the other at 8:00.

At both services we will be hearing the Christmas story as told by Luke.

At the 6:30 service the story will be told with action! As people arrive the younger folk will be invited to take a part in the story and then as it is told they will play out their parts.  There will be some speaking parts as well.

The 8:00 service will feature:
  • the Jr. Choir
  • the Sr. Choir
  • the Handbell Choir
  • candles
  • 2 Christmas poems
Oh and the story as well!

The Meditation at this service is called The Angel's Story

Early Thoughts:  What would the story be like if the angel told it?

What might the angel have to say to us at Christmas 2015?

We will hear the story from the perspective of an angel serving under the "wing" of Gabriel, the grand herald of heaven.  What did this angel see and hear?  What impression did the messages and events have on him?  And maybe, just maybe, there is a message to us that needs to be shared as the story is told...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Looking Ahead to December 20, 2015 -- Advent 4

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • Luke 1:26-45
  • Luke 1:47-55 (VU p.898)
The Sermon Title is Joy that Changes the World

Early Thoughts: Hail Mary full of grace!  You're pregnant.

That would be a discussion one might remember.

Mary fascinates me. We sing carols about her gentle-ness, traditionally she has been called meek and mild and obedient.

I think we miss something.  I think she was a revolutionary.  I think she helps set up the landslide that changes the world.

"For the world is about to turn" says one of the songs we will sing on Sunday.  Christmas is about that turning.  Christmas, whatever else it is about, is about God sending a Messiah and that changes the world.  That is the "glad tidings of great joy that shall be for all people" we hear about from the angels on Christmas Eve.  It isn't just about the God who will not, can not let go of God's people.  It is about a God who sees that the world needs to be changed and goes about changing it.

Joy to the Earth, the Saviour Reigns!

Joy, which is far more than happiness, is a powerful emotion.  Joy springs from a sense of God's presence.  Joy leads to hope, hope leads to power, power changes the world, undergirded by love, bringing out God's Peace.  NOt the Pax Romana, or the Pax Brittanica, or the Pax Americana. God's Peace. 

THe day is coming, the world is about to turn.  And for that we are joyful.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Looking Forward to December 6, 2015 -- Advent 2

This being the first Sunday of December we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Luke 1:5-20, 57-66
  • Luke 1:67-80 (VU p.900)

The Sermon title is A Miraculous Birth, A Special Child

Early Thoughts: Christmas is about birth.  In fact as Luke tells the story it includes 2 births.  This week we look at the often overlooked birth, the cousin who will later baptise Jesus in the Jordan.

AS the story goes, John should not have been born.  Everyone believed his parents were infertile (or at least that his mother was). Zechariah has trouble believing the angel and for that is rendered speechless for the duration of the pregnancy.

But this is a special baby for reasons beyond the miracle of his conception.  This child will be a prophet. This child will turn people's hearts back to God. This child will be, even in utero, filled with the Holy Spirit. So the angel promises.

Then we jump to his birth. There is a bit of confusion and possibly even scandal about what his name will be, but out of that scene Zechariah gets his voice back.  And he sings.

John, his father sings, will be the one to prepare the way. John will remind the people to take responsibility for their sins.  John will, in his own way, lead the people in the path of peace.

When we next meet John the peace will seem a little absent.  His preaching is not the style one would find in the line of "How to Win Friends and Influence People".  But he does influence people, he does gain a following -- so much of one that he becomes a threat to public order and so is killed.  But maybe that is one of the ways we get to Peace.  Maybe we have to be ready to be offended and be offensive to get to the Reign of Peace and Justice.  Maybe we have to face the realities that are uncomfortable if we are actually going to change how we work, how the world works.

Some thoughts as we prepare for the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

FOr the SPecial Christmas Insert in the Paper

Are you afraid of the dark?
There is an Advent hymn which reminds us “The world is full of darkness, again there is no room”. One look at the news on any given day will remind us that this darkness is very real.
Are you afraid of the dark? Do you worry about what or who might be lurking in the shadows?

There is a word of hope. Jesus, the Light of the World, is about to be born. As we put special lights on trees and houses we celebrate the fact that the light of God shines in all the dark places, that the shadows are defeated.

Like other churches, St. Paul's celebrates and proclaims God's light week in and week out. We share that light with the community around us. Sometimes by offering meeting space for AA groups or the HIV North Women's Drop In. Sometimes by sharing hot chocolate or freezies with parade goers. At Christmas we take up collections to support the Food Bank or the GPRC Room of Plenty. And week after week we offer a place where folk can gather to sing, to pray, to be reminded that God is alive and active here in Grande Prairie.

We at St. Paul's wish everyone in Grande Prairie a Merry Christmas and Blessing in the New Year.
Please feel free to join us for worship December 24 at either 6:30 (aimed at younger families) or 8:00.
Look for us on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Support Letter for HIV North

The local HIV North Society is having to appeal a zoning ruling that would force them to move out of the offices they moved into in late summer 2015.  This is a letter in support of them:

It was with great disappointment when I read this in the October 22 issue of the Daily Herald Tribune Itwas a blow that hit HIV North like a hammer Tuesday when the City ofGrande Prairie's community growth committee unanimously denied theorganization's application for a discretionary use development permitto redesignate its office as a community outreach facility”. Just the previous Thursday I had been to their Grand Opening and was very impressed with the space and how it was set-up. So I read more. And my disappointment grew.

I note in the article that city administration, the RCMP, CMHA and AHS all support the application and that the Downtown Business Association has no objection. I realize that we now live in a culture where the voice of experts is sometimes seen as suspect, but I think we need to listen to those with a deeper understanding of the needs of the community. I also note that (in what I think is a very good thing) the new office is in close proximity to the Downtown and to the Salvation Army Outreach Centre. In fact I would suggest that this is an ideal location for the office as some of the clients served by HIV North would also be served by the Salvation Army.

And to be honest I find the arguments against the location far from convincing. I find it hard to believe that in the short time this office has been open there has been that dramatic an increase in loitering and criminal activity in the area. After all the Bear Creek valley is just across the road and, as already noted, that Salvation Army was already in the local area.

Here at St. Paul's we have been partnering with HIV North for several years now, offering our space to host some of their programming. In that time I would not say that we have had any greater issues with loitering or criminal activity. In fact their presence has added to the list of resources to which we can refer individuals who appear at our door.

I suggest that the people are not there because the agency is there. The agency is there because that is where the people are. And which is better, to have people needing support in your area and the support several blocks away or to have people needing support and the support just around the corner?

These services need to be offered somewhere. No matter where there will be some neighbours (residential or commercial) who are uncomfortable with having an agency associated with HIV close to them. That is a fact. But the question I want to ask is one of the greater good. Is the greater good served by granting this request? I believe it is. I would agree with the editorial by Diana Rinne (also in the October 22 issue of the DHT) who lays out a strong and cogent argument in favour of this location. I hope people read Diana's words and take them into consideration.

I urge council to overturn the decision of the community growth committee.

Rev Gord Waldie

Monday, November 23, 2015

Looking Ahead to November 29, 2015 -- First Sunday of Advent

The Scripture Reading this week is Isaiah 40:1-11

The Sermon Title is Promised Hope Conquers Lived Despair

Early Thoughts:  What are the words of comfort that we need to hear?  What is the lived despair that needs hope to come in and conquer it in 2015?

Have you noticed that there is almost never a shortage of despair? Just like there is always something to worry about, there always seems to be plenty of signs that all is lost.

Maybe a close friend or family member has been "downsized".

Maybe you have had to stop reading news about refugees, or terrorist attacks, or bombing strategies.

Maybe you or someone close to you has had to deal with racism, or sexism, or some other ism.

Maybe it is the crime rates in town lately.

What robs you of hope?  What makes you wonder if God is still active?  What makes it hard to see the road through the wilderness?

This is the world into which Christ is born.  This is the world into which God speaks words of comfort and hope and promise.

These verses from Isaiah were spoken first to captives, exiles, a long way from home.  Exiles removed from the place where, they had always been told, God lived, the place where they could meet God. And then the Word comes to them speaking of comfort, of pardon, of return, of home, of Good News. Into the midst of their despair came hope and renewal.

What is the Good News we need to hear?  What is the word of hope and comfort that will rebuild the highway? What will defeat the despair we see around the world every day in our news feeds and lead us to the the top of the mountain to shout out good tidings (which shall be for all people, for unto us is born this day...)

Highway building is a lot of work.  Maybe there is muskeg and swamp to be dug out, dirt and gravel to be moved around, chasms to be bridged, blockages to be worked around or blown apart, but in the end...

What will start us seeing the roadway where once was only wilderness and mud and rock?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Advent Preview....

Been doing some pre-work for Advent today:

Advent 1 (November 29)
We start Advent with the Sunday of Hope. The sermon title is Promised Hope Conquers Lived Despair. Years ago the people of Israel and Judah were in exile.  They wondered if God had abandoned them. Then they heard words of hope.

What is the source of our despair in Grande Prairie in 2015? Why do we need to hear words of hope and comfort? If Christ were to be born here and now what would we want done?

Advent 2 (December 6) [This Sunday will include Communion]
We light another Candle and we pray for peace.  The sermon title is A Miraculous Birth, A Special Child. Nope, not that birth--it comes later.  Did you know that the Christmas story has 2 babies, about 6 months apart? This week we talk about the elder -- a boy named John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

What does John have to do with Peace? WEll part of that might be found in the song his father sings.  Certainly John reminds us that the path to peace calls us to be changed.

Advent 3 (December 13)
This Sunday is Pageant Day!!!! The Sunday School is working away on it.  And of course this year will include another original song.

I am sure we won't use puppets though...

Advent 4 (December 20)
One more week, one final candle -- the candle of Joy. This week we join Mary in proclaiming the Joy that Changes the World.I think we miss so much about Mary when we see her as meek and mild.  She is a force to be reckoned with! And I think she shows a great understanding of the stakes of the events.  Just read her song!  Or better yet, listen to it (this is my favoured setting of it):

AS we sing songs of Joy, as we prepare to welcome the Promised Child, are we ready for the world, for US, to be changed by our encounters with the child?

And because I love this old one...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Looking Forward to November 15, 2015

The Scripture reading this week is: Hosea 11:1-9

The Sermon title is The God Who Will Not Let Go

Early Thoughts:  Grace.  Mercy. Forgiveness. Reconciliation.  Words that describe the God we meet in Scripture.  Words that resonate strongly with this passage.

A Colleague shared this image made based on the Hosea passage
Israel has turned away from God.  God reaches out but they keep turning away. They are even unable to recognize and name that God is with them, protecting them, healing them. So God will give them up to their enemies. And if the passage ended at verse 7 then all those nice words I listed up above would be totally absent.

But we have more.  God changes God's mind. God realizes God can NOT give up on the people. As a loving parent whose child has gone astray God wants to give up.  God may even believe the child needs to fall in order to learn.  But God can simply not give up, God can not let go, God can not forget God's people.

Elsewhere in Hosea we have the object lesson of a man married to an unfaithful wife.  But the husband can not give up and cast her away.

That is who God is. God is gracious, forgiving and merciful. God continuously strives to be reconciled with God's (often recalcitrant and stiff-necked) people.  At various points in the prophets we hear about how God will allow Judah and Israel to be destroyed, this is true.  But also at various point in the prophets God promises redemption and renewal.  For example this song based off of Isaiah 49:

In the event that lies at the center of our faith, the life death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we meet this God, the God who will not let go, who will not forget, who will not abandon. This is the God who appeared in a bush to Moses, who led the people out of slavery, who gave the people a Rule of Life.  This is the GOd of Grace, of Mercy, Of Reconciliation.  This is the God who we continue to meet in our lives.

And that is a good thing.  THanks be to God.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Looking Forward to November 8, 2015

This week the Scripture will be presented in dramatic form by the Youth Group.  The reading they are working with is 1 Kings 18:20-39

The Sermon title is Have Trust, Have Faith

Early Thoughts: So one of the heroes of Hebrew Scriptures is a bit of a jerk...again.

I mean really Elijah doesn't seem the most likable in this story does he? He is a bit of a braggart (to say the least).  He insults the faith of his neighbours (and rivals). And then in the next verse after this reading he has all the prophets of Baal killed.

Sometimes you have to wonder what it means to be a hero.....

On the other hand....

Elijah should not succeed.   In the numbers game he is terribly outnumbered.  And he seems bound and determined to create a situation where success is impossible.  But he has faith.  But he trusts in YHWH.  But he knows in his heart the YHWH has called him to this place, the YHWH is the one who will succeed.

And guess what? Elijah is right.

God is with Elijah.  And God is at work in the story. And so Elijah is vindicated (well maybe other than the killing that follows but maybe that is why our reading stops at verse 39). This story proves (at least to the people of Israel) the "my God is better than your God".

But why do we read it today?  Do we still feel the need to prove that "our God is better"? Or do we read it to remind ourselves that we have a God who is with us and is active in the world?  I don't quite believe that all things are possible with God. I do believe that there are things that seem impossible that are possible when we remember that we are not alone.

AS George Micheal once told us "ya gotta have faith-a faith-a faith"

Monday, October 26, 2015

Looking Forward to November 1, 2015 -- All Saints Day

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture reading this week is Hebrews 11:32-12:2

The Sermon title is The Great Cloud of Witnesses

Early Thoughts: The day after we dress up and send children door to door seeking candy comes All Saints Day (or, if you prefer, All Hallows Day, the day after All Hallows Eve).  In some places this day is a day of great celebration, for example in Mexico they celebrate the Day of the Dead in a variety of ways.

In the Epistle to the Hebrew we have this wonderful phrase: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.  We did not come from nowhere.  We are not alone. There were those who have gone before us, those who started the exploration of how God was active in the world, those who passed on their knowledge and experiences and beliefs.  They laid a foundation on which we stand.  And if we believe in that death is not the end then they are with us still in some way.

OK, I admit, that last sentence sounds like the beginning of a ghost story....

But what does it mean to think of a world, of a faith where we not only inherit things from those who have gone before but are surrounded and supported by them?

Who fills out our cloud of witnesses?

Who do we rely on in our heritage? Where do we feel their support?

We have our own race to run.   It is not the same race run by those who have gone before them.  But it is also not a totally dis-continuous race.  There is a link, somewhere, somehow.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Looking Forward to October 25, 2015 -- A look at Ruth

The Scripture Reading this week is Ruth 1:1-17; 4:9-17

The Sermon title is Family Support

Early Thoughts: She could have just gone home.  Arguably she should have just gone home (thought we don't really know what opportunities or options there were for her there). But she didn't.  Instead Ruth chose to stay with what was left of her new family. Why?

He could have left her alone.  He could have sent her on her way.  After all he had to go through a bit of rigmarole to marry her.  But he didn't.  Instead Boaz went through all the formality needed to marry the widow and redeem the land of her late father-in-law.  Why?

Was it love? Well yes. But is that all there is?

Was it commitment? Yes. But what drew that level of commitment?

I think it speaks to what it means to call ourselves family.

Don't get me wrong.  I know that not all families are models of loving commitment.  Sometimes the family unit is the exact opposite and we have to escape. But in an ideal case family means we support each other--even if it is difficult or makes no sense (or perhaps especially in those cases).

It is also notable that in both cases Ruth and Boaz chose what family meant and who family meant. It isn't just an accident of birth. Family is those who are related because we share genes. Family is also those we choose to name as family.

Faith communities are often compared to a family. Sometimes those families are highly dysfunctional. Sometimes they are wonderful places to be. If our faith community is a family to us, how do we share support for each other? How do we offer it? How do we receive it?

What families are a part of your life?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Looking Forward to October 18, 2015 -- The Law of Love

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 5:1-21
  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9
  • Leviticus 19:17-18
The Sermon title is The Big L

Early Thoughts: So many rules.  Everywhere we turn there are rules. If only there was a simple summary...

The stated purpose of the book of Deuteronomy is to retell the Law and the story. Tradition holds that this book is the last address of Moses to the people before he dies and the people cross over the Jordan into Canaan.  For 40 years they have been wandering around in the wilderness.  They have been given Torah, the Law but they have also grumbled a lot and complained and seem easily led astray -- such as when Moses went up to Sinai to get the Law and the people got tired of waiting and decided to build a Golden Calf.  So before his death Moses reminds them how they are supposed to live.

There is a story. A famous rabbi was once asked if he could summarize the Law and the prophets while standing on one foot.  Given the Torah has hundreds of laws and then the prophets challenge how the people fail to live out those laws and then there are volumes of commentary on what the laws mean this seems an impossible task.  The rabbi smiled, lifted up one foot, and said "Love God, Love Your Neighbour -- everything else is commentary".

Love is the law.

Jesus uses the same summary.  He refers to Deuteronomy and Leviticus to summarize what is needed.  Love is the law.

We have heard this many times before.  Many sermons have been preached about the need, the commandment, to love.  And still we need the reminder.  Jeremiah foresaw a time when the law would be written on/in the hearts of the people.  As I look around I think we have yet to get there. But I think Deuteronomy 6 gives us a hint about how to get there.

Observant Jews are told to remind themselves and their children daily who God is and to love God with their whole being.  They are told to post the reminder on their doorpost, to tie it around their bodies.  They are told to teach their children these truths, to pass them on. Jesus would have been a product of this teaching.

Do we do the same?  Can we do the same? Can we remind ourselves in prayer and action every day to love God and neighbour? How do we pass this on to the generations who follow us?

How do we make the law of love a key part not just of our lives but of our very beings, so that is infuses every Facebook post, every text, every choice we make? And what might the world look like if we can do that?

There is a faith practice of formulating a Rule of Life.  I suggest that in the Love God, Love Neighbour [Love Self] summary we have a Rule of Lie.  How good are you at following rules?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Looking Ahead to October 11, 2015 -- Thanksgiving Sunday

The Scripture reading for this week is Exodus 1:8-19; 3:1-15

The Sermon title is The God Who Hears

Early Thoughts: I have said before (on numerous occasions) that one of the best parts of the United Church Creed is that it begins and ends with a vitally important affirmation.  We Are Not Alone.

This is, and always has been, one of the great truths of faith.  We are not alone.  When we are in the struggles of life we are not alone. When we cry out in despair we are not alone.When we are in need of help we are not alone.  Our cries do not fall into the nothingness.

God hears.

That is one of the things we find in the beginning of the Exodus story. God hears. When God and Moses have their chat God sends Moses because God has heard the cries of God's people enslaved in Egypt. I wonder if the midwives Puah and Shiphrah are also signs that God heard the cries of God's people? They certainly seem to act as agents of God.

God hears and God responds. And so the story of Exodus, one of the foundational stories of Scripture, begins. But there is a twist.

God can only respond because Moses responds. One of my colleagues mused last week, wondering how many other people had wandered past the bush without noticing that it was burning (some of us have the same musing about the Christmas story -- how many young women did the angel visit before Mary said yes).

One of the ongoing debates in theology is if/how God intervenes in the world. Some stories in Scripture seem to assume God acts unilaterally. Some stories suggest God can only act if others sign on. I personally believe that God does intervene in the world (some hold a more Deistic point-of-view where God is more of an observer). However I believe God intervenes at the level of hearts and minds. God intervenes by getting other people to act.

In the world today there are many places where God's people are crying out under the weight of oppression. God hears their cries. Who will notice the burning bush and turn aside to check it out? Who will join God in the next act of release from bondage?

We are thankful for all the ways God has heard and responded in the past. We are challenged to pay attention to what is happening in the present and future.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

For the Newspaper next week....

Don't Be Afraid

In 1933, a newly elected US President stood up to give his First Inaugural Address. And he gave us a phrase that would echo through the years – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”1. To a nation in the depths of the Great Depression Franklin D. Roosevelt offered words of hope and challenge. He reminded them that they could overcome the difficulty they were facing. But first he reminded them that fear – “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” -- could get in the way of that recovery.

At first glance FDR's words make no sense. In 1933 people had no work, and no prospects of work. People were losing houses, land, hope. People had no way to provide for their families. And remember that in the US (and in Canada) at the time there was little to no social safety net. Certainly there were many things that people had to fear.

But on another level FDR was very right. Fear is a powerful thing. In fact many suggest that the two primal motivators in human life are fear and love. In times of change and upheaval fear gets into our psyches and freezes us in our anxiety. Fear leads us to lose hope. Fear leads us to depression. Fear leads us to give up. This is why Roosevelt was right. Fear gets in the way of change and therefore blocks recovery.

God tends to tell us the same thing.

In the first 2 chapters of the Gospel according to Luke there are 3 Angel visitations. And each time the first thing the angel says is “Do not be afraid”. This tells me two things. One is that angels are, apparently, terrifying. The other is that we can not embrace God's possibilities if we give in to fear.

God's possibilities, God's hope for the world are based on love. Love of God, love of God's world, love of neighbour, love of self. 21 years ago a counsellor suggested to me that the opposite of love was not anger or hatred but fear. Fear gets in the way of us being able to love. (Several years later it clicked in that he was in fact telling me that fear was getting in my way and I should stop being so afraid. Sometimes I can be a slow learner.)

There are lots of voices across the country and around the globe telling us to be afraid. We are told to be afraid of the stranger walking down the block – he might steal our car or invade our house. We are told to be afraid of economic collapse. We are told it is not safe to let our children walk to school. We are told that terrorists lurk in our midst. What have you been taught to be afraid of?

My worry is that we are listening. My worry is that we are becoming fearful and that the fear is changing who we are as communities. Maybe it shows up as xenophobia in the face of immigration and refugee issues. Maybe it is aimed at specific religious groups. Maybe it show up in people afraid to answer the door because the person ringing the bell looks “odd”. Maybe it shows up in us retreating into silos of the comfortable and the known rather than taking risks and seeking new experiences.

And so we need to listen to God's words to the prophet Isaiah (43:1-2):
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

In the United Church Creed we affirm that “We are not alone”. In the face of people trying to make us afraid we can remind ourselves that we are not alone. And so we do not need to live lives of fear because we are held in the arms of love by the One who calls us to put love ahead of fear.

We have a choice. We may not choose what happens around us but we choose how we react. My hope is that we will not choose fear. I hope we choose love. Risky, challenging, vulnerable love. That is the path God calls us to follow. This is the path of hope and growth. So listen to the angel voice. Do not be afraid.
1The text of FDR's First Inaugural Address is found at

Monday, September 28, 2015

Looking Ahead to October 4, 2015

This being the first Sunday of the month we will celebrate the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture reading this week is: Genesis 32:22-30

The Sermon title is Struggling with God

Early Thoughts: Jacob was a visionary, a dreamer, the grandson of a pioneer, the father of a nation.  He was also a jerk, a cheater, and a thief.

No wonder he had some wrestling to do before he went home.

Jacob is on his way home.  He has sent all of his family and possessions ahead of him and stays alone in the wilderness.  What better way to wrestle with one's life and demons?

Sometimes we need to put ourselves in the vulnerable position (such as being alone in the wilderness) in order to face up to life.

Jacob is told that he has "striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed".  Jacob will live to a great old age, he will go to Egypt, his bones will be brought back.  But only because he had the courage to strive with God and humans and, in my interpretation, himself.

Jacob was, at best, a highly unlikely hero.  He tricked Esau into giving Jacob the birthright of the elder brother.  He tricked Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing that was meant for the elder brother.  He manipulated things so that he got the better part of his father-in-law's herds.  When he took his family from his father-in-law's place they  stole the household Gods.  Later his obvious preference for one son will divide the family.  He puts the "dys" into his dysfunctional family.

And yet the nation will be named after him.  Because he has the courage to struggle, to wrestle, with the realities of his life.

What do we need to wrestle with so we can be who God calls us to be?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Looking Ahead to September 13, 2015 -- Gardens

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Genesis 2:4b-25
  • Revelation 22:1-5
The Sermon title is The Garden of God

Early Thoughts:  The faith story begins and ends in a garden. What does that mean?

Normally we are told that the faith story begins and ends in paradise.  Turns out that paradise is a garden?

In their book Saving Paradise Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker begin by talking about how the ancient world envisioned paradise.  I need to reread the first chapter or two this week but I seem to recall that the term paradise was also linked to a walled garden.  So maybe the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were another attempt to create paradise?

And maybe this is why gardens are such a part of British culture?  We link the garden not to labour (although certainly a garden means work--even if you are able to pay others to do it) but to rest and ease and paradise.  Grand estates would have great gardens.

We come from the garden, the story tells us.  We will return to the garden, the story tells us.  I wonder if the garden is always with us in some form.  "they who have eyes to see...." after all.

Where do you find God's Garden in your life?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Looking Ahead to the Service Marking the Closure of Nampa United Church-- September 13, 2015

During the service we will hear these Scripture Readings:
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
  • Romans 8:35-39
  • Isaiah 43:1-2, 19
The Reflection title is All Good Things...

Early Thoughts:  All things human have a life span.

ALL things.  Communities, families, businesses, churches.  They all have a life span.

That means they have a beginning and a middle, and an end.  There is a time.

Our challenge is to know how to recognize the time and respond with hope.  We celebrate that which has been, we name that there is a loss taking place, and we look for how God is with us in the beginnings, the middles and the ends.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for every season and purpose.  An unpleasant truth perhaps, but still a truth.

Both Isaiah and Paul remind us that God is with us in the times of transition and change.  They remind us that God will not forsake us, that no matter how bad things may seem at times nothing separates us from God.  And then Isaiah challenges us to look for the new thing that God is doing.

We gather to mark the closing of a congregation.  As we gather we will be reminded of what has happened in that community of faith over the years. But we are always challenged to look forward with hope.  God is with us.  God is active.  These things do not change.  All human endeavours come to an end.  But God remains present and faithful.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

September Newsletter

Item #1
A couple months ago the Truth and Reconciliation Committee released their report regarding Residential Schools. And now we as Canadians need to decide how we move forward into reconciliation. One of the ways to do that is to re-learn our history from a different point of view. With that in mind we have arranged for St. Paul's to host a “blanket exercise” with facilitators provided by KAIROS. The KAIROS folks describe the exercise this way:
Created in 1997 after the release of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the KAIROS Blanket Exercise is a one hour participatory workshop that will help participants understand how colonization of the land we now know as Canada has impacted the people who lived here long before settlers arrived. Through this exercise participants will explore the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, how this relationship has been damaged over the years, and how they can work toward reconciliation. The Blanket Exercise is KAIROS' most popular resource, and has over the years evolved from a humble workshop to a community and movement building teaching tool.
The exercise will be a one-hour experience and then a time of debriefing. Patty and I took part in a blanket exercise 14 years ago and both found it very moving. This will happen on October 17 at 1:00 in the Large/East Basement. Mark the date and spread the word!

For more about the Blanket exercise see this page:

Item #2
The General Council of the United Church had its 42nd meeting last month. General Council is the national body of the United Church. Retired minister Rev. David Shearman wrote this summary of what happened and has given us permission to reprint it:

Item #3
On May 26 2016 I will celebrate 15 years of Ordination. As a way to mark that anniversary I am going to take a Sabbatical from the Victoria Day weekend to Labour Day weekend, a period of 3 months and two weeks of combined Sabbatical and holiday time.

What ever will I do with all that time? (Actually a serious question—I get itchy by the end of a month of vacation time)

The United Church of Canada policy on Sabbatical suggests that there are 3 areas of focus for the time. One is rest and rejuvenation. One is some Spiritual development/growth. And one is some learning component. I would argue that there is often some overlap between the second and the third, and probably some overlap between the first and the second for that matter.

A large part of my time will be reading and, possibly, watching TED talks. In the near future I hope to choose a topic area or two to focus on and start collecting resources. There is also a good chance we will try to find something like a Naramata family camp to attend (it was going to be a Naramata week but with the closing of Naramata Center we have to look elsewhere. A third goal is to try and be intentional about getting in better shape. The M&P Committee has suggested that just being at ease with being not working for that period might be a growth goal in and of itself. And of course the reason we chose that period of time was not only because it is a slower period in the life of the church but also because it covers the summer when school is out which makes room for some intentional family time.

I know it is only September but May will come pretty quick. So we need to start planning. Over the next while the M&P and Worship Committees will be actively recruiting folks to cover Sunday worship. I know there are lots of people or groups of people in this congregation with the ability to lead worship. If this is of interest please talk to me or to Susan McKenzie. We will need to work out coverage for funerals. We will need to make a decision about wedding requests for next summer (hopefully soon because who knows when Carla will get a call). And we will need to talk about Pastoral Care coverage.

In our list of Committees we have a Pastoral Care Committee. It is a literary work at the moment. But I think we need to put some flesh on it. I think the Sabbatical gives us an opportunity. We start developing a team of people who visit (or contact by phone or some other form of support) on behalf of the congregation so that we cover those needs over next summer and then just keep it going. We need this team to maintain contact with each other. If you are interested in helping to rebuild this aspect of our shared life (I am told it used to exist) or if you know someone who would be a good member of such a team please drop me a note.

There will be more information about the Sabbatical as the months progress. And a year from now I will put together some sort of “What I did on my Sabbatical” report. It should be an interesting process. Oh and if you have a suggestion for a topic area of focus for my reading/viewing feel free to pass it on!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

For a Service of Church Closure

Call to Worship and Lighting of Christ Candle
In the beginning God said:
Let there be light.
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was light to the world.
We light this candle to remind us of the light which has shone from the beginning,
the light which will shine beyond the end.
The God of Light has called us to this place,
to remember, to give thanks, to mark a time of transition.
Let us worship together...

Prayer of Approach
Eternal God;
God of our past, our present, our future, we open our hearts in worship.
Loving God;
who laughs with us and worries with us and weeps with us, we carry our fears and hopes and memories to this place.
God made known in Jesus the Christ;
we remember the story of faith, of death and resurrection, of hope that defies despair.
God of community;
we gather with friends and neighbours, sharing a common bond
God of the church;
we gather in this place to mark an ending, help us to remember that the church is more than this building, that the church continues in faithful lives lived in this community.
God of life and hope and promise;
be with us in this time of worship. And walk with us when we leave this place. Amen.

Prayer of Hope For the Future
God of endings and beginnings,
we trust that you walk on with us into the undiscovered future.
When Moses led the children of Israel into the wilderness.
You were there, helping them see hope. Be with us as we enter a time of change, leading us with hope.
When Jesus knew that it was time to challenge the old ways
You were there, sustaining him and his friends as the world was changed. As you were at the heart of his life and ministry may you be at the heart of our lives and ministry.
God of change, God who says “Behold, I am doing a new thing”
Lead us into the new thing, growing from the old, growing from you Living Word moving in our hearts.
These things we pray in the name of Jesus, our rock and redeemer, our teacher and guide, whose life, death and resurrection give us a path and a hope for the future and who taught his friends to pray saying...

Commissioning & Benediction
God is with us
As we remember what once was with joy and sadness
God will remain with us
As we name the ending of this congregation.
God will lead us forward
as we continue to live as faithful followers of Christ
as we seek God's justice
as we look for the Kingdom of God
as we walk in God's light
As you go forth from this place,
may the love of God who created and recreates us,
the strength of Jesus who redeems us,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us,
be with you today, tomorrow and everyday.
We are not alone. Thanks be to God!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Looking Forward to September 6, 2015 -- The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

As this is the first Sunday of September we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Reading this week is Luke 14:12-24

The Sermon title is Whose Banquet?

Early Thoughts:  As people of faith we are called to the Banquet table.  Who do we invite to join us?  How do we respond to the invitation ourselves?

But first, a song...

(Because I can never read this parable without hearing this song in my head)

The banquet of God is open to all.   And if some people will choose not to show up, God will keep issuing the invitation until the table is ready (or filled as the parable and the song say).  And if we turn down the invitation then we don't get to share in the party.

When we take part in the banquet of God it is not based on any expectation of pay back--it is because we are joining in the party for the sake of the party.

So will we answer the invitation? Will we join with all those who gather at the party?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Looking forward to August 30, 2015 -- The Good Samaritan

This week we continue to look at some beloved Parables as we turn to what is possibly the best known of Jesus' parables -- the Good Samaritan.

The Scripture reading is Luke 10:25-37

The Sermon title is Who is my neighbour?

Early Thoughts: That is the question this Parable is meant to answer.  Jesus has just plumbed his own tradition, and has called out from Torah the basics of what it means to live as a follower of God--love God, love your neighbour.  It sounds so simple.

But like the questioner many of us sometimes want a way out.  We want to know where we can draw the line.  So who is my neighbour?  Who do I have to act lovingly towards?  Or maybe who can I not act lovingly towards?

That is the challenge I think.  Christ calls us to look at everyone as a neighbour.  Christ calls us to act lovingly (not necessarily to like or go out of our way to befriend) towards even those whom we have been taught to despise.  This may even mean we accept help from them! [I have often wondered if that was part of the scandal of the story to Jesus' listeners--accept help, be dependent upon, a hated Samaritan.]

Pictures of shirts like these were very common on Facebook a while back:

There is a reason we continue to read this story.  There is a reason we continue to talk about the Great Commandment to love God and neighbour.

Because we keep looking for the loophole.

Love your neighbour means love the ISIS member.  Love your neighbour means loving the Charleston shooter.  Love your neighbour means loving the unlovable.  Not accepting all the choices people make, not allowing all actions, not saying that everything is okay.  But it does mean loving them.  It means putting aside desire for revenge.  It means seeing hope for renewal.  It means they are still valid children of God despite their (sometimes horrific beyond belief) actions.

We keep trying to live into that challenge.  Hopefully we get better at it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

These Days Devotional for August 22

I wrote a week's worth of devotionals for the devotional guide These Days.  This week is when they are in the book, so I thought I would share them here as well.

Scripture: Luke 11:1-4

Pray Without Ceasing

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray”
Luke 11:1
Did they want to find some way to be as close to God as Jesus was? Did they think there was some source of power they could access? Or did they just know that prayer was vital to a healthy life? For whatever reason Jesus' disciples knew they wanted to pray. Do we have that desire in our lives?
If life in faith is life in community with God, then prayer is vital to our continued growth and health. It is in prayer that we build our relationship with God, that we open ourselves to God's presence, that we are renewed in spirit.
Prayer need not be fancy or elaborate. It has been suggested that the three basic prayers are: wow, thanks, and help. We start there.
Action Step: Paul encourages us to “pray without ceasing”. Today look for those chances to say WOW or THANKS or HELP. Then say them.
Source of Being, walk and talk with us each step of this day. Amen.

Friday, August 21, 2015

These Days devotional for August 21

I wrote a week's worth of devotionals for the devotional guide These Days.  This week is when they are in the book, so I thought I would share them here as well.

Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16

Shining Light

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16
This is one of those passages that may suffer from overuse. We have heard it so many times before. But then again, maybe we hear it so often because we need to be reminded. Maybe we hide our lights under a bushel or hide ourselves behind walls instead of shining out in the middle of the world?
Jesus knew that he would not be on earth forever. Jesus knew that his message would spread best through direct contact. So Jesus encouraged (and encourages) his friends and followers (including us) to share the light with the world. Jesus calls us to shine out, to be one with the light that shines in the darkness but the darkness can not overcome.
Action Step: Find out what is casting dark shadows in your community. How can the church help provide light that defeats those shadows?
Light of the World, shine in and through me, that none would live in darkness. Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

These Days Devotional for August 20

I wrote a week's worth of devotionals for the devotional guide These Days.  This week is when they are in the book, so I thought I would share them here as well.

Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10

We All Have a Part

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you”
In our baptism liturgy we name that we are called, claimed, and commissioned. Maybe we are also consecrated, set apart for a special task.
It is somewhat terrifying to think that God has a plan for us, to think that God has set us apart for a specific purpose. And so I think that like so many of those who are called by God there is a part of us that wants to find a reason why we can't respond, why we are the wrong person for the job.
But it is also wonderful to be reminded that we are a creature of the Creator, and that we have a purpose. The challenge is to discover that purpose and live it out.
Action Step: Look at your to do list for the day. How do those tasks allow you to live out who God has made you to be?
Creator, you formed and shaped me. Help me to hear your voice as I live out your call. Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

These Days Devotional for August 19

I wrote a week's worth of devotionals for the devotional guide These Days.  This week is when they are in the book, so I thought I would share them here as well.

Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-14

Wash And Be Clean

Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? ”
2 Kings 5:13
Why do we make it so hard?? Why do we think we have to jump through hoops to be clean and whole in God's eyes?
Maybe, like Naaman, we want a sign of wonder and power. Maybe, like Naaman, we think we are so important we deserve such a sign.
But remember the beginning of the faith story, where God calls all things good. Remember the Christ who told the lepers that they were clean, the Christ who proclaimed God's forgiveness.
It is easy to be whole in God's eyes. Easier even than bathing in the Jordan. We just have to say “here I am, heal me”. Why do we make it harder?
Action Step: On those days when you feel unlovable or unclean stop and look in the mirror and say “I am a beloved child of God”. For that matter do it at least once everyday.
Parent God, help me always remember how easy it is to place myself in your loving arms. Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

These Days Devotional for August 18

I wrote a week's worth of devotionals for the devotional guide These Days.  This week is when they are in the book, so I thought I would share them here as well.

Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-4

Holy Disarmament

...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah 2:4b
This verse is posted at the United Nations. But that doesn't seem to have really inspired the world's leaders as they make decisions.
70 years ago World War II ended. And since then there has not been a moment of global peace. Instead of destroying weapons we as a society seem to specialize in developing new “better” weapons. I wonder what we could accomplish by redirecting those research and development dollars?
A common practice in Christian worship is to greet each other with the Peace of Christ (who we call the Prince of Peace). I wonder if we can get national leaders to also greet each with words of peace – and mean it.
Action Step: There is a long tradition of Christians advocating for peace. Look for a chance to raise peace and disarmament as an option in your world.
Jesus, Prince of Peace, fill our hearts with a desire for peace and justice in our world Amen.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Looking Forward to August 23, 2015

For the next three weeks we will be re-hearing some well-known parables from Luke's Gospel.

The Scripture Reading this week is Luke 15:1-32

The Sermon Title is Lost and Found

Early Thoughts:  Parables are always a challenge.  And parables we have heard over and over again and been told for years are even more of a challenge.  Because when we hear them over and over we start to think we know exactly what they mean.  But Parables don't often work that way.  They don't have just one meaning, just one lesson.  And sometimes when we jump to the obvious meaning we might miss something deeper.

This week we have in fact 3 parables.  A lost coin.  A lost sheep. A lost son.  So obviously we are talking about searching right?  Well yeah.  But where are we in these stories? What do these stories tell us about how to live a citizens of the Kingdom of God?

Normally these are told as feel-good stories, showing God's devotion to God's children, showing how none will be shut out or left behind.  And that is a valid reading.  It is a reading that Luke makes explicit as he tells the story.  I am just not sure it is the only possible meaning to be found.

But where are WE in the stories?  Are we the hunter?  The hunted? The sheep safe in the fold? The older brother? The prodigal father? The servants preparing the banquet? The guests at the party?  And how is the story different from those perspectives?

I submit that we all, to a degree, at different times in our lives, play every role in these stories.  So maybe we need to explore what that means to us.  Jesus tells Parables to expand our vision of the Kingdom, to expand our understanding of how we shall live.

Are we Lost? Found? Searching? Hiding? Waiting? Pouting?

These Days Devotional for August 17

I wrote a week's worth of devotionals for the devotional guide These Days.  This week is when they are in the book, so I thought I would share them here as well.

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-45

When do we...?

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:40
This is one of my favourite passages in all of Scripture. And also one of the most challenging. Life in service to Christ is about meeting the needs of the “least of these”. To live fully in God's presence, to live as one filled with the Holy Spirit means giving of what we have to feed and clothe and comfort. But we don't always do such a good job of that.
Then there is the shadow. When we ignore the needs of those around us we ignore Christ. Ouch.
The essence of Kingdom living is to share the love. The love of God appears and flows through us in many forms.
Action Step: Who are the “least of these” in your neighbourhood? Challenge yourself to find out more about their needs..
God, open my eyes to see the needs around me, open my heart to respond to those needs Amen.