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.