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!