Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Looking Forward to January 1, 2016 -- New Year's Day, 8th Day of Christmas

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
  • Revelation 21:1-6

The Meditation title is There Is A Time...

Early Thoughts: As midnight strikes we take one calendar off the wall and put the new one up...

A new beginning. A place for reflecting on what was.

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven says Qoheleth, the Preacher, the writer of Ecclesiastes. Is this a piece of hopeful wisdom? Is it a reason to despair?

2016 has passed. And it was a year for the history books.  More than one person has commented on the amount of musical talent lost during the year (David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Alan Thicke...). We saw a US election that was...interesting. And we wait to see what will flow from the new administration (some waiting with hope, some with utter dread).

What is this a time for? As the chronometers of our lives continue to tick, what season is this?

And then there is God's time. We mark time with clocks and calendars and schedules. And we believe and trust that God is active within this time line. But there is another type of time. Kairos.

Kairos is a time when God acts. (for more about Kairos see the Wikipedia entry here). Merriam-Webster defines it as: a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action :  the opportune and decisive moment

What is God doing right now? In God's eye what is this the time for? Why is this time significant?

Ther is a time...for what exactly?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Looking Forward to December 24, 2016 -- Christmas Eve

This Saturday we will have 2 services. One at 6:30 and one at 8:00.

The early service is a shorter, and somewhat more chaotic, service aimed at families with younger children. It will include some prayer, some carols, and the telling of the Christmas story via an impromptu pageant.
Photo Credit

The later service is our larger service. It will include the singing of carols, pieces from both voice and handbell choirs, prayers, a video, the reading of a poem by Maya Angelou, and conclude with lighting candles and singing Silent Night by candlelight.

The Scripture Reading is Luke 2:1-20. Here it is in the King James Version because, well some of us just hear the story told in that language.

The Meditation is titled Peace on Earth.

Early Thoughts: It is right there in the angel proclamation. Peace on Earth.

Centuries earlier Isaiah promised the coming of a child who would be called the Prince of Peace.

Each year we tell the story and share the hope for Peace on Earth.

So why is it so hard to find? Why have 2000 years gone by since the Jesus event and we have yet to really live into Peace on Earth?

It could be easy to despair, to give up hope. It could be easy to say the Peace on Earth is a fool's dream. Or maybe we could couch our despair in religious language and say that Peace on Earth will only be a reality when the Reign of God comes to full bloom on earth, that in the meantime the best we can do is to be a less-violent as possible.

But Christmas tells us different. At Christmas we are reminded that God has not (and will not) given up on the world. Once again God breaks into our lives, bringing the promise and the possibility of Peace on Earth. As people of faith, hope and love we continue to listen for angel song, we continue to run with the shepherds to see the one who has been born. Jesus, Emmanuel (God-With-Us), Messiah, Prince of Peace.

Blessed Christmas

Monday, December 5, 2016

Looking Forward to December 11, 2016 -- Advent 3, the Annunciation

The Scripture Reading this week is Luke 1:26-49

The Sermon title is Congratulations!


Early thoughts:  Hi Mary, favoured by God. Congratulations! You are having a baby!

Or maybe a more classic formulation:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

But what did Mary think? Did it really feel like a congratulations moment?

Mary is an interesting character in the faith story. Strong yet humble. Virgin yet mother. And, according to the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, she herself was conceived sinless. What do we do with her?

For many years some in Protestant circles have not done much, because to be too Marian was to approach Papist practices. But that seems to be ebbing, we seem to be talking about Mary a bit more. Still I am not sure what to make of her, what to make of this announcement.

Much of the talk about the Annunciation scene is about what God is doing (sensible since in the end that is the main topic of Scripture -- how is God active in our world). But if we take seriously that God is in relationship with God's people, a people who have free will, we have to talk about Mary's role in the story.

I suspect most teen girls in this day and age (or any other age for that matter) would not feel that congratulations were in order when they first got the news that they were pregnant at the wrong time. I wonder how many would feel blessed at first?

Luke's account of Jesus' birth focuses our attention squarely on Jesus' mother, Mary of Nazareth. Maybe to fully explore Luke's story and Luke's understanding of what God is doing we should take a closer look at her too.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Looking Forward to December 4, 2016 -- Advent 2, the Promise of Jubilee

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

The Scripture Reading this week is Isaiah 61:1-11

The Sermon title is Jubilee!

Early Thoughts: Free the slaves! Cancel the debts! Liberate the oppressed!

Scripture shows us that God has some strange ideas. Particularly where economics is concerned. Scripture [specifically Deuteronomy 15] shows us that God advocates for Sabbath years, a time where debts are cancelled and slaves are freed. And in Leviticus 25:8-55 God commands a Jubilee year on the fiftieth year (after a sabbath of sabbaths) when not only is the land left fallow (which hopefully has happened at other occasions as part of good land management) but all land is returned to the families to whom it originally belonged [Jewish families that is, not the Canaanites from who it was wrested to be distributed amongst the people of Israel]. Read about these rules for yourself here. Together the Sabbath year and the Jubilee year make a statement about freedom, about economics, about how we build a caring society.

As far as I have ever heard, there is little evidence for the Jubilee year happening on a regular (or even ever) basis.  I suspect the rules of the Sabbath year were at best unevenly followed as well.

But what if they were? Would that be a sign of God's Kingdom breaking into the world?

I think Isaiah has Jubilee-plus in his mind in chapter 61. The year of the Lord's favour will certainly be a Jubilee year. The time when all will be set right is certainly a sign of (and a call for) Jubilee. It will be more than that though. Not only will land be returned (land is life in many cultures) and economics made level again but there will be healing and rejoicing and freedom. This is what it means to look for the Kingdom of God. We look for Jubilee.

I invite you to read Luke 4:14-31. The beginning of the public ministry of one Jesus of Nazareth. How does he begin his ministry? With Isaiah 61 and the year of Jubilee-plus. When God breaks into the world Jubilee comes. To Christian eyes Isaiah 61 is a foreboding of Jesus, a foretelling of what is going to happen in the life of the man from Nazareth.

Where do you see signs of Jubilee in the world? Do you see any?
What would it mean for Jubilee to become a reality here and now?
Is that the path to actual peace in the world? Is justice a pre-condition for peace?
Christmas is coming, are we ready for the world to be changed?
Are we ready for the possibility of Jubilee?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

December Newsletter #2

What If...?

A month ago I was talking to someone who told me that if he ever won the lottery he would show up in my office with a cheque for a few million dollars for us to use for a specific project (and this person had a very specific project that he would ask us to take on – I am not telling you what that was).

That discussion has been sitting with me ever since. Not surprising since I often think about what we as a congregation could do if a windfall of money came our way. Actually, the way the thought process usually happens for me is “gee if only we had the money we could...”

I tend to have a lot of dreams. Expensive dreams.

But I am also sure I am not the only dreamer in this congregation. And so I am going to ask you the same question I asked at our November Council meeting.

If someone walked in the door tomorrow and said “here is $2 000 000, use it to do ministry in Grande Prairie” what project(s) would you have us take on?

And now I will tell you why I ask.

One of the challenges of life in a faith community is that we get used to doing what we always do. And sometimes we forget to ask ourselves what holes there are that we could possibly help fill in. It is my belief that to be faithful to the God who calls us to take part in God’s Kingdom we have to be ready to try out new things from time to time. As the community changes so does our activity.

Where are the holes in Grande Prairie? Which ones might we be able to fill (and are some of those things we could help make happen even without the imaginary benefactor)?

I am not expecting the $2 000 000 to arrive any day soon. But still I wonder, what might we do with that money? What might we do even in its absence?

December Newsletter

Be Afraid?

Watching the news for, well my whole adult life, I have come to realize that apparently selling people on fear is a very potent way to motivate them. And so...

And the angel appeared in the midst of the congregation and said:
“BE afraid, be very afraid! For unto you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And he will cause you to rethink your entire lives!”

Not quite how we remember the Christmas story going is it? For years I have reminded people that more often than not an angel’s appearance begins with an exhortation NOT to be afraid. Scripture reminds us that we need to live in hope and trust and not be afraid. Fear does not lead to the Kingdom.

And yet... I wonder. Maybe we should be a little afraid. At least if we take Christmas and Jesus seriously.

Between Christmas and Easter this year the Narrative Lectionary is going to lead us through the Gospel according to Luke. Luke has long been my favourite of the 4 Gospels, in part because it contains classic stories such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son and the Emmaus Road but also because Luke makes plain the social justice that accompanies the Kingdom.

In this Gospel Jesus will begin his ministry by reading a passage from Isaiah that proclaims the beginning of the Jubilee year. In the Jubilee year debts are cancelled, slaves are freed, land is returned to its ancestral owners. The Jubilee year, the coming of the Kingdom, turns our economic order upside down.

In this Gospel we have Mary’s song. Mary sings of the proud being toppled from their thrones and the lowly lifted up. Mary sings this song knowing that the child she carries in her womb is the one who will do these things. The final verse of my favoured musical setting of Mary’s song reads:
Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp
This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which hold us bound
‘til the spear and rod can be crushed by God who is turning the world around
(verse 4 of My Soul Cries Out More Voices #120)

Be not afraid, for there are tidings of great joy for all the people. Soon will be born a Saviour, Christ the Lord. God’s presence will be revealed in a child in a manger.

But at the same time, be a little afraid, because God is at loose in the world. Be a little anxious, because God is making changes in the world. Be watchful, the Jubilee is coming, the time when the economic order will be turned over to ensure that all have what they need for life, and that in abundance.

Christmas is coming! God is breaking into our lives! For that we rejoice. And as we wait for the Baby Jesus we watch for the changes God will bring.

Blessed Christmas!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Looking Forward to November 27, 2016 -- Daniel in the Lion's Den, Advent 1

The Scripture readings for this week are:
  • Daniel 6:6-27
  • Joel 2:28-29
The Sermon title is God Saves

Early Thoughts: Psalm 121 laments "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."

It then answers: "My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth."

This week we have a story of jealousy/insecurity. And a story of faithfulness in the face of threat. And a story of God's salvific power. Oh, and a few lions thrown in for good measure.

Living in exile, Daniel has become influential and powerful. And as often happens this makes some of his colleagues jealous and nervous. So they decide to get rid of him.

It is hardly unheard of for a power bloc in a society to manipulate the system and get a law passed that is targeted at a specific individual or group.  In fact it is rather common. Then the person/group have to decide it they will play it safe or if they will continue to be true to who they are, knowing that this puts them in jeopardy.

Daniel chooses the latter. And Darius is caught in the trap. (The fact that Darius is so easily played suggests his strength is not in leadership)

But God intervenes.  And Daniel is not broken and consumed by the lions.  Then Darius has an attack of leadership and destroys those counselors who played him so well (which may be very politically expedient since it also ensures they will not plot against Darius himself in the future) before praising the God Daniel follows.

It is one of those stories many of us heard as children (though those versions might have omitted the wholesale slaughter of verses 23 and 24). But why do we continue to tell it? Specifically this week, as we head in to the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. What does this passage tell us in 2016?

WE live in a world where jealousy and nervousness and insecurity and fear still drive and shape major policy decisions. We live in a world where it sometimes seems that playing it safe is wiser than wholeheartedly being who God has formed us to be. We live in a world where lion's dens come in a variety of shapes and forms.

We also live in a world of hope.

We live in a world where God is at work, sending visions and dreams. WE live in a world where the Kingdom is growing (slowly, sometimes with a setback or two) to full flower. We live in a world where we trust that, in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich, "all will be well".

One etymology of the name Jeshua (Jesus) is God Saves. We await the birth of God Saves.  That is where our hope lies. Even in the face of lions we await the birth of God Saves. Even in the face of threats that would push us to be less than who God has created us to be we have hope and confidence. We can share the visions and the dreams God has sent us because we have hope, because we know that God is in control (sometimes despite the seeming lack of evidence), because God is active in teh world.

Thanks be to God

Monday, November 14, 2016

Looking Forward to November 20, 2016 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 36:1-8, 21-26
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34
The Sermon title is On Our Hearts?

Early Thoughts: A new covenant, a new way of directing how we live with each other and with God.

The story of Scripture in inextricably bound with the idea of covenant. After the flood God makes a covenant with Noah. Later God makes a covenant with Abram/Abraham. In the Exodus and at Sinai God makes a covenant with the people of Israel. Each covenant involves promises and expectations from both sides.

The life of faith is full of covenant imagery. We not only tell the story of faith and the covenants within that, we make covenants. When we are baptized, and when we re-affirm our baptism, we enter into and renew a covenant. When we dedicate our lives to one special partner we enter into a covenant. When we call a new minister to serve with a faith community we have a service of covenanting to begin that relationship. And again there are promises and expectations between all parties.

God is always faithful to the covenants. God's people on the other hand....

Within Israel and Judah, the work of the prophets was to call people back to living out the covenant. They are less than successful. Near the end of his career Jeremiah takes time to get the words he has spoken on behalf of God written down into a scroll (plausibly showing that the people are starting to transition from a primarily oral culture to a more literate culture). The king listens to the scroll read aloud and then systematically destroys it.

What is a God to do?

Oral reminders have not worked. The written reminder is subject to destruction. What if the covenant is written in the very beings of the people? Will that work?

For many years Christians have looked at those verses in chapter 31 and seen Christ. Jesus is said to have instituted the (or at least a) new covenant, the one that would be written on our hearts. And so we are people of the New Covenant (there are churches that have chosen that as their name).

God is still faithful to the covenants. God's people....well sometimes (often?) we struggle, we miss the mark [sometimes our aim seems 180 degrees off]. Thankfully the God who calls us into the covenant also pledges "for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more".

About 240 years ago John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (and so one of the Spiritual ancestors of the United Church of Canada), developed a service of covenanting. The idea of Wesley's covenanting service is that it is a chance to rededicate ourselves to live as people of the covenant, to live as people who seek to follow the Way of Christ, to live as citizens of God's Kingdom. Over time it became common in Methodism to mark the beginning of the New Year with the Covenanting Service.

Reign of Christ Sunday is a day when we remind ourselves that we are citizens of a different Kingdom, when we remind ourselves that we follow a different law. It is also a time of transition, the end of one liturgical year with Advent 1 (which is next Sunday) marking the beginning of a New Year. And so it seems appropriate that this Sunday when we talk about the covenant that is written on our hearts we will take time to join in the tradition of our Methodist forebears (and current sisters and brothers) and re-affirm our commitment to live as people of the covenant.

Is it really written on our hearts? How can we tell?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Looking Forward to November 13, 2016 -- The Call of Isaiah

The Scripture Reading for this week is Isaiah 6:1-8

The Sermon title is God Makes Worthy

Early Thoughts: How many of us have been asked to do something and was sure the WRONG person was being approached? This happens all the time in Scripture.

Amos was merely a vinedresser.
Jeremiah was a child.
Moses (it seems) had a speech impediment.
Peter was a rough and tumble fishermen.
Isaiah was painfully aware of his lack of holiness.

And yet all of them are called to take part in the Mission Dei, God's Mission. All of them are made worthy and able to do what they are called to do.

Isaiah is int the temple at at time of transition. The King is dead. The Assyrians are a clear and present danger to the little kingdom of Judah. The future is far from certain. Or even worse, what appears most certain is a less than positive future.

And then Isiah has a vision. Technically this is best described as a theophany, a manifestation of God. In the midst of this experience Isaiah realizes that he is doomed because he is so unworthy (and from a people who are so unworthy) to be in the presence of and see Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts.

But God has another answer.

God purifies Isaiah's lips (it is the lips that Isaiah specifically mentions in his lament of being unworthy) with a live coal. Fire is a common purifying element, albeit a rather painful one (sometimes God preparing us for service is a difficult, even painful process). [The purifying nature of fire is in fact where the practice of burning heretics at the stake is reputed to have come from] Then when God asks who will step forward Isaiah feels ready to go.

What will it take for you to know that God has made you worthy? What will it take for you to be sure God has chosen the right person for the task?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Looking Forward to November 6, 2016 -- Remembrance Sunday, The Story of Jonah

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

The Scripture reading this week is Jonah 1:1-17; 3:1-10; 4:1-11. But it may be helpful to read the whole book, it is not that long all together -- in fact this reading is only missing the 10 verses of chapter 2.

The Sermon title is Love Your Enemies

Early Thoughts: How do you move past a tribal God? How do we love our enemies and accept that God also loves our enemies?

Jonah is a great story to explore these questions.  Because it is about far more than the big fish (the word whale never actually appears in the text).

Jonah is called to witness to the people of Nineveh. It is only slight hyperbole to say this is akin to a mid-20th century Jew being asked to go witness to the guards at Auschwitz. Nineveh is the seat of the Assyrian empire:
If you visit the British Museum, you can see spectacular wall reliefs depicting Assyrian sieges. The famous siege of Lachish shows multiple images of Judeans being impaled, and stacks of Judeans heads (yes, disembodied heads) that were counted by Assyrian scribes, presumably for a pay per head policy with the soldiers. Archaeologists discovered this relief in Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh (you can read about them more about Sennacherib in 2 Kings 18-21). [SOURCE]

And so Jonah makes an entirely logical decision. Rather than walk to a place where he is likely to be slaughtered (what ARE you thinking of God?) he goes the exact opposite direction. Then there is a storm at sea, Jonah takes the blame, gets thrown overboard and is swallowed (through God's grace and protection) by a large fish.  That is the part of the story we know best.

After three days in the fish belly Jonah relents. And he goes to Nineveh to preach their imminent destruction, something I have always thought Jonah is looking forward to watching.

But there is a problem. The king and people of Nineveh take Jonah seriously. VERY seriously. And so they put on sackcloth and ashes and show that they truly repent of their wickedness. Upon which God takes their repentance as valid and chooses not to destroy the city and slaughter the people.

Poor Jonah. He is most distressed at the very idea that God would show mercy to those horrible Assyrians.

Which brings us to our opening question. How do you move beyond a tribal God?

For most of the Jewish Scriptures God is, essentially, seen as a tribal God -- The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel. This is the God who actively fights for the tribe, as in the story of the Exodus. But over time a new understanding of God erupts. Most often see it in the writings that come during and after the Exile, when the people discover (almost as a surprise) that even though the temple has been destroyed God is still with them.

They re-understand God as much more the a tribal God, they start to see God as, well, God, the God not just of Israel but of the people. And I have to believe that in some ways this forces them to start to wonder how they should see other people.

Then along comes Jesus saying:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)
Once we see that God is not just the God of our tribe, our people, those who are like us then we are forced to admit that maybe we should love them.  Even if for no other reason than because God loves them. In this month when we pause to remember, when we remind ourselves Never Again, when we recall the horrible cost of hatred and fear of the other, it is good to remind ourselves that we have moved past a tribal God. And that God calls us to a higher way of living:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Looking Forward to October 30, 2016 -- Sustaining Abundance, Elijah with the Widow

The Scripture Reading for this Sunday is 1 Kings 17:1-16

The Sermon title is God’s Provision

Early Thoughts: There was a famine. Nobody had enough. How dare this man ask for some of the last little bit of food the widow had to feed herself and her son?

This passage is a pair of stories about God providing in the midst of true scarcity. As I read them I am reminded backwards to manna and quail in the desert and forwards to the feeding of the multitude in the Gospels. I am also reminded of the Jesus who tells his followers to stop worrying and to live with (through? on?) faith and trust.

Do we trust in God's abundance?

In a world where there are always people telling us that we lack something, that there is not enough to go around, do we trust God enough to use up the little bit that we have left?

The widow would have been justified in telling Elijah to get lost.  That is the reaction we would expect isn't it? But for some reason (we are not told why) she listens to Elijah who tells her to let go of her fear and is blessed as a result.

IT makes no sense. But sometimes the thing to do when we are sure we are running out is to share it. You never know what might happen.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Looking Forward to October 23, 2016 -- David is Promised a House

The Scripture Reading this week is 2 Samuel 7:1-17

The Sermon title is David’s Heir?

Early Thoughts: The civil war is over. Israel has an undisputed new king. Now what?

David's first thought, it appears, is to build a Temple, a dwelling place for God.  Sounds logical, and in fact the court prophet Nathan is in agreement.

Turns out God is of another opinion. "I don't need a house" says God (at least for now -- a few verses later God mentions that David's son will build God a house). Instead God talks about how God has been with David and about what will happen.

The people will be given a place to live in safety (though it later seems that this promise only lasts for a while).

David's name will become great.

And David's house will be established for ever and ever (amen?).

From David will come Solomon. And then after Solomon the kingdom will break apart but the line of David will remain on the throne in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Then in a later era the promise will be remembered again. And as the people wait and hope for a Messiah, for one who will restore Israel to what it once was it will become an assumption that the Promised One will be from the line of David. As Isaiah will say "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isaiah 11:1).

And in a few short weeks we will hear again the angels say "For unto you is born this day in the City of David..."

All because David is favoured by God. All because God's grace lies on this one-time shepherd boy. Not because David is some paragon of virtue. Not because David's son will be some wonder of virtue. Neither of them are. Because God chooses to act through David and his house.

2 months from now we will again celebrate the birth of the heir of David. After centuries where it sometimes seemed that the line of David had been reduced to nothingness, where the promises of God seemed distant, where the nation was enslaved and almost destroyed the heir will arrive again.

And a new start will come.

Part of teh Christian story is that Christ will come again. Part of the Christian story is that the Kingdom will be established "on earth as it is in heaven".  David never created the Kingdom of God. Solomon never created the Kingdom of God. (It can be argued that David and Solomon, rather than creating God's Kingdom, created the circumstances under which the Kingdom of Israel would be broken apart). But David's heir, what does he create? What does he announce?

We continue to await the final work of the heir of David. And as we wait we remember:
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not reached by the frost
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring...
The crownless again shall be king.
(Lines from the poem Bilbo Baggins wrote about Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isildur's Heir in The Lord of the Rings)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Looking Forward to October 9, 2016 -- Thanksgiving Sunday, The Golden Calf Episode

The Scripture Reading this week is Exodus 32:1-14

The Sermon title is Grateful

Early Thoughts: The people have been led to freedom. But the journey is not going quite as they had expected. To put it frankly, the people are NOT impressed.

A few chapters earlier they have been grumbling about the lack of food and water (they are in the desert after all) and some of them mutter that they may have been better off as slaves in Egypt.

Now Moses has been gone a LONG time up on the mountain. Is he still there? Is he still alive? Is he ever going to come back?

Well just in case, we should have a back up plan. And so they (with the assistance of Moses' brother Aaron -- either willingly or under coercion) melt down their gold, much of it "liberated" from their Egyptian neighbours, and make a calf which they worship.

God is not impressed. God has to be talked (or arguably shamed) out of destroying the whole lot of them.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

I mean really, what link could there possibly be...

Actually I think that this is the most egregious in a series of events which show that the people have forgotten what God has done for them. They move into wanting everything to be just right and complain about what goes wrong. Their gratitude, which was very evident as the sea closed and drowned Pharaoh's army, seems to be lacking in much of the rest of the journey.

Of course we would never do that. We would always be thankful.  Right?


Sometimes I think we also are lacking in the gratitude department. Sometimes we find other idols that get in the way of our recognizing what God has done in our lives. When do we need to be reminded to be grateful?

Freedom! (A Newspaper Column for October 21)

About 24 years ago a theologian shared these words in song:
This ain't comin' from no prophet
Just an ordinary man
When I close my eyes I see
The way this world shall be
When we all walk hand in hand...
We shall be free
Admittedly, few people would call Garth Brooks a theologian, but in the song We Shall Be Free he paints a picture of what the world would be like when the Kingdom of God is made real and actual among us.

The story we find in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures is the story of a God who is trying to free God’s people from chains that bind.

We see it in Moses confronting Pharaoh and leading the people of Israel to freedom, an event so central that they remember it every year with the feast of Passover.

We see it in Cyrus of Persia, telling the exiles that they can go home again.

We see it in Jesus of Nazareth, standing in a synagogue and saying “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). We see it in Jesus healing a woman who had been bent over and crippled by an unclean Spirit for 18 years and asking “...ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage...” (Luke 13:16)

We see it in the writings of Paul, telling people about God’s grace and forgiveness.

As people of faith we tell these stories over and over again to remember where God has brought out freedom. We also tell them to remind ourselves that we are a part of the continuing story of God bringing freedom to the world. People are still in chains, bound, enslaved and God continues to help us break those chains.

Indeed, one question that is still used at baptism in some traditions asks “Desiring the freedom of new life in Christ, do you seek to resist evil, and to live in love and justice?”. To follow The Way of Christ is to follow the path of freedom.

Which makes me ask, what do we need to be set free from? What are the chains and bonds that we find in 2016? I think there are lots.

Some are personal and individual. Some are cultural and societal. Some of us need to be freed from addictions and unhealthy habits. Some need to be freed from cages built from shame and poor self image and low confidence. Some of us need to be freed from social structures that aim to keep people ‘in their place’, structures that discriminate against people based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. And if we are honest, some of us need to admit that we are a part of putting our neighbours in chains.

Recently I realized again that the Christian tradition has been responsible for a lot of chain building. The Western Church has tended to cling to interpretations of Scripture that often preference Christian, European, straight, cis-gendered [meaning not transgendered], males with money. Conveniently the leaders and power-brokers of Western society have historically fallen into those same categories. Too often we have chained people in the name of the same God who seeks freedom for all by claiming God supports our positions of privilege.

On the other hand, Liberation Theologians from the last century read the Scriptural account and pointed out that consistently God appears to have a preference for the oppressed, for the underclass, for those cast aside by society. This is the God who is working toward freedom. This is the God who has steadily been at work in the church and in wider society over the last several decades to break the chains of racism, sexism, hetero-sexism, religious triumphalism, economic disparity, and trans-phobia. God challenges all of us to break chains, to stop putting chains on ourselves and others.

As people of faith we affirm that freedom is coming. We trust that the God who wants God’s people to be free is at work in the hearts and souls of individuals and in the structures and norms of society. Some of us find the path to freedom in The Way of Christ, some through Islam, or Hinduism, or Sikhism or any of the other faith traditions we may meet. As Brooks point out in song, one of the signs of the Kingdom is “When we all can worship from our own kind of pew”.

Thanks be to God, through whom we SHALL be free!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Looking Forward to October 2, 2016 -- Worldwide Communion Sunday, The Feast of Passover

This being the first Sunday of the month, we will celebrate the sacrament of communion.
Also, being the first Sunday of the month, we will have our 2nd Offering in support of our local outreach fund.

The Scripture reading this week is: Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8

The Sermon title is Meal of Faith, Meal of Freedom

Early Thoughts: FREEDOM!

It is the last word (if I remember correctly) of the movie Braveheart [certainly it is the death cry of Mel Gibson's William Wallace]. It is also what Wallace uses to inspire the Scots to fight against a larger, superior English army: "They may take our lives but they will never take...our freedom!"

It is described as a worship word int the Star Trek episode The Omega Glory.

It is also what we are promised as people of faith. God promises that we are set free from those things that enslave us. And to celebrate God's acting out that promise we eat!

Okay, that might be a bit of a simplification. But that is a big part of what the Passover feast is, a communal meal to remember what God has done for God's people, to remember the time when they were freed from slavery.

Being set free is one aspect of the ministry of Jesus as well. Jesus comes to free us from bondage. Jesus comes to remind us that God wants us to be free, to not be in chains. In Jesus God shows that the burdens which bend us over can be lifted off our backs. And so our central meal of faith (which tradition tells us grew from the Passover celebration) is also a meal of freedom.

What do you need to be set free from? What chains need to be broken in your life?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Looking Forward to September 18, 2016 -- Abraham is Promised many Descendants

This Sunday we will be celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Reading for this week takes us into the story of Abraham: Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-18; 15:1-6

The Sermon title is Descendants

Early Thoughts:  Poor Abraham. God calls him out of his settled life and challenges him to go to a new place with the promise of many descendants.  And yet as time passes there is not even ONE child.  To have many descendants you at least need to start with one child right?  Over and over again God promises descendants like the stars in the sky or the sand  on the ground, but still no child.

Can you blame Abraham for being a little worried or skeptical?

In the end, the story tells us, Abraham believed and trusted in the promise. And by his death he has multiple sons who become the founders of nations.

But the interim period was a little tough.

The story of Abraham is a story of trust. It is a story of promise. As the spiritual descendants of Abraham we also are challenged to have trust. We are challenged to trust that God is at work sometimes despite all the evidence.

As this week starts I am pondering if there is a link between Abraham desperate for a child so that his name will continue and so that there will be someone to care for him in his dotage and the present church's desperation to know if there will be a generation of faith to fill the pews after we are gone.  Who will be our descendants in the faith?

Do we trust that God is at work? Or do we think that it is all up to us to ensure the survival of this thing we call church? Or do we know that God is at work through us -- if we let ourselves discern and submit to how God is at work?

I think there is some linkage between Abraham's desperation and our own.  I wonder what that might mean for what we do next?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Looking Forward to September 11, 2016 -- Creation and Fall

Source (though the Scripture story never actually mentions an apple)
This Sunday we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

For Children's Time this week we will be talking about IALAC

This Sunday marks the beginning of Year 3 in the Narrative Lectionary cycle. This means that between now and Christmas we will be looking at passages from the Older Testament.  The Scripture Reading for this week is Genesis 2:4b-10, 15-17; 3:1-13.

The sermon title is Paradise Lost?

Early Thoughts: This week we read from the second account of Creation. While the first chapter of Genesis contains the hymn of seven days and the recurrent affirmation that the Creation was Good, this second account is the story of Adam and Eve and the story of what is commonly called "The Fall".

Traditionally the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is described as the point where it all goes wrong. Before then we have a picture of the two humans living in harmonic relationship with God. Afterward the relationship is broken and God is constantly trying to repair it (the people's efforts at such repair work tend to ebb and wane). The question I have always had is whether the eating of the fruit changed the very nature of humanity or if the affirmation of Very Good a the end of the hymn to creation continues to stand.

I think the affirmation is never taken away. I think the fact that for the rest of the faith story (a story that has yet to end) God continues to seek to be in relationship with God's peoples tells us that the original affirmation still stands. There just happens to be some "stuff" that gets in the way of us living as if it were true.

At the heart of the story we find God and Adam and Eve. We find a couple who are tempted by pride to be like God and so become wilfully disobedient. And as a result the world is changed. Now few of us think this is history. Few of us seek the site of Eden (though over the centuries may have postulated where it might have been).. But the story still rings true.

The story rings true because there is a part of us that knows things are not what they could/should be. The story rings true because there is a lived sensation that we could be in a fuller relationship with God and so we wonder how we might get that. The story rings true because in our heart of hearts we know that we are proud, that we are headstrong, that we do not always follow the rules.

But is that all there is?

Scripture makes it clear that God seeks to be in relationship with humanity. I wonder if God could be in relationship with a humanity that remained innocent of the knowledge of good and evil. Could God have known that there would be harsh consequences to humanity gaining that knowledge and yet also wanted/needed us to have ti at the same time? Could we ever be who we were created to be by remaining innocent and naive in Eden or did we have to grow and change and move beyond that point?

So part of me wonders if in addition t pride and disobedience part of the story is impatience and lack of trust, Maybe God would eventually have said "OK, eat that one too", at a time when humanity was more ready for the knowledge. And maybe then the story would be different?

Hmm, sounds a whole lot like many parenting decisions and challenges to me....

Monday, May 16, 2016

June Newsletter

What ministry are you doing right now, this week, each day?

That is the question asked by Already Missional: Congregations as Community Partners by United Church minister Rev. Dr. Brad Morrison.

A few months ago I attended a webinar Brad led as he was working on this book and found his thesis intriguing. And then once the book came out a group of clergy on Facebook decided to have a study of it together. So while I was going to wait and read it on my Sabbatical I started it earlier than planned.

I finished it this morning and am quite impressed with what I found. I am thinking that it would be a great book for Council to read and talk about or maybe for a book study in the fall involving folk not currently on Council (or possibly both?).

The book is a new take on how we as a congregation live out God's mission in the world. Normally when that discussion comes up it focuses on the congregation creating some new (or revitalizing an old) program to help us get out there and become active in the community. Which is a great idea – on the surface. But in the end many of those programs just don't happen, for a variety of reasons.

At the same time people of faith are living their lives and doing what they do. Hopefully those lives are impacted and informed by their faith, rooted in how they have come to understand God and God's hope for the world. Where in those lives are they doing ministry? Where in those activities are they participating in God's mission?

In short, rather than create new opportunities for mission, can we celebrate and support the ways we are already missional?

And so I ask again, what ministry are you doing right now? Or maybe that should say what ministries.

Maybe it is parenting. Maybe it is helping people run errands. Maybe delivering meals for Meals-On-Wheels. Maybe you are helping connect people around a common cause to create a better community. The options of how we can be, and are, already participating in God's mission in the world are Legion.

Then comes the next key question.

Assuming that people are already participating in God's mission in ways big and small in their daily lives, how can the church support you in that?

It is my experience that many United Church people are VERY active in their local community. Sometimes we recognize this as ministry, often we don't. What might it mean if we started to see these things as ministry? How might it change our attitude to what we do? How might it change our understanding of how we, the congregation of St. Paul's United, are a part of the community of Grande Prairie? How might it change how we see ourselves as the church?

I look forward to continuing this discussion in the fall.

Blessed Summer!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Looking Forward to May 15, 2016 -- Pentecost Sunday

This Sunday for Children's Time we will hear the beginning of the story of Pentecost, often called the "birth of the church".  You can read it here.

The other Scripture Reading for this week is 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 

The Sermon title is Spirit-Gifted

Early Thoughts: What gift has the Spirit of God stirred in you?  When the breath of God stirs the embers of the fire in your belly what do you feel driven to do?

Maybe your gift is found in the list that Paul lays out.  Maybe it is different (I doubt that Paul was claiming this is an exhaustive list of gifts, more like these are some of the gifts that the folks in Corinth are claiming and/or fighting about).

On Pentecost Sunday we remember that the Church is made alive when God's Spirit blows through our communities. The same wind that, in the beginning of our faith story, blew life into the lungs of Adam and Eve blows life into our faith, into our churches.

It is my belief that with that wind comes gifts.  We all have gifts that we offer for the growth and benefit of the whole community (both inside and outside the church walls).

And so the question remains: With what gifts/talents/strengths has God gifted you? As the fire of the Spirit burns in your soul what do you feel called to do?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Looking Forward to May 8, 2016 -- Easter 7, Paul Teaches About Resurrection

This Sunday we will celebrate the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture passage for this week is 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57

The Sermon title is L'Chaim

Early Thoughts: 6 weeks ago we began the Easter Season with the story of women visiting the tomb, finding it empty, being told of Resurrection and then fleeing in terror.  Now, on the last Sunday of the Easter Season we listen to Paul tell the Corinthians what Resurrection means.

Part of me would like to read the whole 58 verses of chapter 15.  I think we miss out on the full strength of Paul's argument when we skip those central verses (we miss the spiritual body and the physical body as well as the seed imagery-- although that does tend to lead into a dualistic approach to body and soul/spirit).  But then there would be even more options to choose from as a sermon hook. As it is there are plenty to choose from. In fact I suspect one could use 1 Corinthians 15 as your primary text for the whole Easter season...lots of sermons in that chapter.

One of the themes in this chapter is the idea of victory. Conquering the last enemy. This idea of victory is an ancient understanding of Easter. In opening the tomb and raising Christ God shatters the power of death. I suggest that we still live in a culture where death and dying are sources of terror. Maybe we are afraid of the death of our loved ones or ourselves. Maybe we fear for the death of our church, or our service club, or some other organization. But theoretically as people of Easter faith we should no longer be afraid of death because we know that life wins. In the end life still wins. How do our lives show that we believe that death no longer has the victory, that death has lost its sting?

Not to mention that this is the passage where we find "The last enemy to be destroyed is death", which is inscribed on the tombstone of James and Lily Potter. When they find this Harry and Hermione have a discussion about what it means, about how death is destroyed.

The sermon title is a Hebrew toast, literally meaning to life. As we stand in the Easter season, as we proclaim that God has conquered death, what other statement of faith could we share but l'chaim?

Monday, April 25, 2016

May Newsletter

Take A Break!

When were stores open when you were little? When were they not allowed to be open? And was that a good thing?

In both Deuteronomy and in Exodus Moses shares the 10 Commandments as given to him by God. And in both cases we are told that there should be one day a week where we do not work – we are commanded to keep Sabbath. And as I prepare for my Sabbatical this summer I find myself pondering the purpose of this commandment.

I am remembering a story (joke?). One night after Bible Study people were talking about how busy they were. One after another they shared, or even boasted, that they had not taken a day off in weeks. As the discussion paused, one woman said quietly, “I know that we sometimes have trouble living how God would want us to. But usually we feel guilty about breaking commandments. What makes sabbath different?”

What makes sabbath different indeed? Many of us can talk about how rarely we take a day to do no work. Not just a day off from our employment but a day when we do no work (laundry, housecleaning, mowing the lawn...). But is that a good thing?

Why is Sabbath-time important? In a world where commerce goes 7 days a week. In a world where even statutory holidays are becoming shopping days, where one can go into a store and see an apology that they are no longer open 24 hours a week (as happened to me recently), where thousands of people do not take all their holiday time, where thousands of people are overworked and exhausted in mind and body, where economic health and activity is seen as the most important thing why would we even consider the quaint idea that it might be a good thing for work and commerce stop for 1/7 of our time?

Because we would be healthier. Physically healthier, emotionally healthier, mentally healthier, spiritually healthier. Our relationships would (hopefully) be stronger as we spent more time just being together. Maybe not when we first started doing it, anxiety might make us a little on edge for a while thinking about what we could be accomplishing. But once we become accustomed to saying “no work” for a day we would be healthier. We would have time to recover and regenerate. We would push ourselves to re-vision what we thought was most important.

Once upon a time Sabbath time was regulated. Commerce stopped for one day a week because the law demanded it. I remember 30+ years ago when Alberta was having the debate about Sunday shopping and other places have had that debate even more recently – in 2005 Patty and I were in Halifax for a weekend and when the event we were attending was over and we tried to find somewhere to get something for supper found that everything was closed because it was Sunday. I think there was great wisdom in mandating hours or days when commerce stopped. I also think that it was problematic to tie that mandate to one religious expression. And so even though I think we are healthier when we take a Sabbath day I am not sure legislation is the best way to go about it.

Like everything else about our life of faith, I believe that is is a matter of choice. If we as a community, as a nation, chose we could create a situation where people had the opportunity to choose to take Sabbath time. We could create a world where people do not have to go full-tilt 7 days a week just to keep up (whether that be with bills or with having a house as clean as it “ought to be”, or with the perfect yard, or with having all the right activities for their children, or whatever else programs and fills our days). And while we are building that world we could choose to step off the treadmill for a day every so often, we could test and model Sabbath.

It won't necessarily be easy. It would require a rethink of our lives. But that is what God keeps asking us to do – rethink our lives. God challenges us to put our priorities in places that we might sometimes think strange. But over and over again Scripture shows that this just might be because God has a clearer understanding of what we actually need.

One final thought. In Deuteronomy the reason given for observing Sabbath is that the people are no longer slaves. Slaves can't choose when not to work but free people can. And so the next time you insist you can't take Sabbath-time I encourage you to ask yourself if you are a slave or if you are free. And then you might ask who or what has enslaved you...

Then go ahead, take a break. Help others find a way to take a break. It is good for all of us.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Looking Ahead to May 1, 2016 -- 6th Sunday of Easter, Paul's Hymn to Love

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

The Scripture reading for this week is 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

The Sermon title is: Love -- The Greatest Gift

Early Thoughts: Just before this (and again just after it as it happens) Paul spends time talking about Spiritual Gifts. In chapter 12 he has outlined a number of them, even as he has also reminded the divided (possibly even fractious) congregation in Corinth that they are not to lord their gifts above others, that all gifts are needed.  Then we have this beloved passage [one of my favourite pieces of Scripture].

This passage suffers, I suspect, from being overly associated with Weddings.  And I get it, what better time to share Paul's great hymn to love than a wedding. But we need to go deeper with it.

In the Gospels Jesus makes it clear that the greatest commandment we have is to LOVE.  Love God, Love neighbour, love each other as Jesus has loved us. Love is the gift that makes all the other gifts possible. Love, so they say, is what makes the world go round (or is that money???). All we need is love the Beatles told us so many years ago (before some of us were born).

It is in love: deep abiding love, love that sees each other clearly, love that pushes us to do the impossible that we are able to be the people God has called us to be. And even more, if we don't have that deep abiding empowering love we are nothing. Without love our gifts are useless. Love is what completes us.

Another writer of the Christian Scriptures, the writer of the letters of John, will later tell us that God is love.

The whole of Christian tradition tells us that LOVE is the center of how we are able to be who we are called to be. The whole of Christian tradition tells us that living that love is our primary task. [And the whole of Christian history tells us how hard that has been to actually do.]  SO we stand with Paul and say....THe Greatest of these is LOVE.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Newspaper Submission

For this round I chose to adapt this piece I wrote for the March Newsletter:

Belief, and Doubt, and Faith

In the Broadway hit musical The Book of Mormon there is a song called “I Believe” and in that song this line occurs a few times:
I am a Mormon and a Mormon just believes”
And lets be honest, sometimes it feels like faith would be easier if we could say that, if we could just believe without question what others tell us to believe. But of course that is not the case, even in the song it is obvious that the singer is trying to convince himself that this is so rather than actually believing it. In reality knowing what we believe is a process of thought and discernment and evolution – many of us have slightly (or vastly) different beliefs about God and life and meaning at various times in our lives.

And so I think of another song, this one by Canadian singer-songwriter Linnea Good, where the chorus says:
“Believing may be easy but faith is slow, it takes a lot of doubting for our faith to grow!”
That sounds much more realistic to me. Faith is something that we wrestle with all our lives. Sometimes it is easy to have faith. Sometimes it is a struggle to believe in things that don't seem to make much sense from a rational, logical perspective. But I firmly believe that it is in the struggles that we learn and grow in our faith, in our understanding of God, and in our relationship with God.

One of the things I like about my faith home is that we have a tradition which encourages “Christians of each new generation are called to state it [the Church's faith] afresh...with the emphasis their age needs”. My predecessors have not handed down to me a static unchanging faith. They have handed to me a faith that is open to questions and reformulation and growth.

Another thing I like about our approach to faith is that we are what is technically called “non-creedal”. This does not mean we don't have or use statements of faith. It does not mean there are no standards about what we believe. It really just means that we do not require members or leaders or clergy to sign a piece of paper saying they agree to a specific understanding of Christian faith.

We are encouraged to ask questions. Questions and doubts do not show a lack of faith, they show an engaged faith. In every other aspect of life we are told that questions are how we learn, why should it be different in our faith and spiritual life?

Then we are invited to share where our questions and explorations have led us, so that we can invite others to share their results with us. And so here is some of where I have ended up (so far);
  • I believe that God is active in the world, stirring people's hearts and minds, pushing us to new understandings of how to live in the world, challenging us to change our attitudes and behaviours to match those understandings.
  • I believe that in Jesus of Nazareth God was doing a new thing, God was being revealed in a new way.
  • I believe that the experience of Easter, of encountering the reality of resurrection, changed the lives of Jesus' followers in such a profound way that their understanding of everything that had gone before was changed, including their understanding of who Jesus was.
  • I believe, with Hamlet, that there are “more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy” and so there are things that we cannot explain rationally, which forces us to accept paradox and ambiguity, trusting that there we will meet God.
  • I believe that the primary purpose of being a follower of Christ is not to win a reward after our death but to make a difference in the world where we live.
  • I believe that the original blessing pronounced at Creation “and God said it was very good” has never been withdrawn and that it trumps all else. However in our acceptance of free will we can and do choose to act in ways that denies that blessing and turn our backs on who we are created to be.
  • I believe that the Kingdom of God is real and among us and slowly growing to full flower and majesty. Someday it will be revealed in all its fullness and the world will be what it could be. I believe that is very arrogant and misguided for anyone to claim to know when or how that will happen or what it will look like in the end.
What are your questions? What are your answers?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Looking Forward to April 17, 2016 -- Easter 4, Paul in Corinth

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Acts 18:1-11 1
  • Corinthians 1:10-18
The Sermon title is Church Building

Early Thoughts: What does it take to build a church?

It takes a vision, and possibly a visionary.  It needs a person or a group of people who see what is possible. People who are willing to pony up the support needed as the new community coalesces and grows.

It takes a sense of mission, a clarity of the Gospel.

It takes a willingness to work together despite differences.

Sometimes it seems that last one can be the hardest to find...

As we follow Paul through the book of Acts, supplemented by what he himself says in his letters, we see him planting and building churches.  We see a visionary with a firm grasp of the Gospel he is called to share. We see a preacher who is not dismayed by early "failures" and obstructionist behaviour but shakes himself off and tries again. We see a man who is able to form a core community of faith who will carry on after he has moved on. And when it comes to Corinth, we see that differences withing the community can cause trouble from the beginning.

The overarching theme of the letter we call 1 Corinthians is unity in (or despite?) diversity. This will come up over and over. But in this first chapter the problem appears to be that the community is divided by who they see as the best teacher of the faith. In response Paul reminds them that the teacher is not the point. The one to whom the teachers point is the center of attention.

THe process of church building never really stops.  We don't get to the point of being able to point at it and say "There! Done!". And so we continue to need that core group of vision-keepers (and vision-casters). And we still need that clarity of mission, that understanding of the Gospel/Evangel/Good News that we have to share. And we still need to be ready to look at and deal with the differences of opinion and understanding that come up.

How do we continue to build/renovate/re-build the church?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Looking Forward to April 10, 2016 -- 3rd Sunday of Easter

This Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism.

Over the Easter Season we will be hearing stories from the Early Church in the book of Acts and some Passages from Paul's letters.  The Scripture Reading for this week is Acts 3:1-10.

The Sermon title is Get Up And Walk.

Early Thoughts: Immediately before this story is the account of Pentecost.  The church has just been inaugurated. The apostles have received the blessing and gift of the Holy Spirit. ANd they go out and start building the church!

Imagine, no strategic planning sessions, no vision and mission statements, they just go out and do it.

And in the first outing that we hear about Peter and James meet a beggar. Now there are choices.  Ignore him and walk around.  OR just say "sorry can't help you".  How many of us would do those things? But Peter has another option. He can't give what is being asked. But he can give something else. Wholeness.

That is what the church is about. Offering wholeness. It may or may not take the form that people ask for, but we are called to offer wholeness. We are called to share the God we meet in Christ Jesus, to offer wholeness in the name of Christ, to meet the people at the gates of God's kingdom and invite/help them come in and join the community.

Can we do that? Can we challenge people to get up and walk? Do we know what it is we have to offer? Are we willing to offer it? Even when it is not what people are directly asking for?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

April Newsletter Submission (such as it is)

Could you live in 600 square feet?

That is the premise of the Tiny House movement, as shown on shows like “Tiny House Hunters” (and many of those houses are much smaller than 600 square feet). The premise of the show is a family looking to buy and live in one of these houses. The movement sells itself as a low-cost housing solution.

It is an interesting idea. It would push one to be VERY selective about what one keeps and what one can do without. And that is where I think it has the most merit.

Most families could not live in such a small space and remain healthy. Particularly in a climate where you spend a lot of time indoors. I suspect most of us would be at each other's throats in a relatively short time. And indeed I have seen at least one article that suggests many families end up not using their tiny house as a primary residence. But the question of how much stuff we have remains.

Over the last few decades average house sizes have continued to increase, even while average family size has decreased. By current standards the 6 of us living in a 1200 square foot (plus finished basement) 3 bedroom house are cramped. We have different assumptions about how much space we need to live than earlier generations did. We also have more stuff and larger furniture (think overstuffed couches and queen or king sized beds). Indeed many people find that the amount of stuff they accumulate expands to fill the available space.

I wonder what we would do if we had to move in to a house half that size.... Have a big yard sale? Donate a couple truckloads to Goodwill? Then again that may not be the worst idea (the purging and culling – not the moving into a tiny house).

I am remembering that Jesus challenged his followers not to worry about possessions, or even to worry about where their next meal was coming from. Jesus sent his followers out into the world with instructions to carry pretty much nothing.

Where do we find the middle ground between living wholly on faith and trust and relying on the kindness of strangers versus accumulating stuff and ensuring we have at least 3 days worth of basic supplies in an emergency kit (ironically most of us, even with all our stuff, don't have that emergency kit)?

I am not sure. But I do think our faith challenges us to do so. Our faith challenges us to rethink how big our houses need to be and how much stuff we have in part as an exercise in determining priorities. But the big reason our faith challenges us on our possessions is as an exercise in stewardship.

What do we do with the gifts God/life/circumstance have given us? How many of us have so much stuff that we could not possibly use all of it (how many of us have stuff we forget we even have because it has been in storage for so long)? I know we do. We can barely use our basement as living/playing space. Yes, in our case much of it is gifts given to the girls and/or inherited things and hand-me-downs. But still I have to wonder if this is a model of good stewardship.

I encourage all of us to consider what we have in our lives that we could cull down and/or do without.

And as it happens... the garage sale is coming up. Maybe our culling and thinning can end up providing more treasures for someone else to bring into their lives.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016

Looking Ahead to March 25, 2016 -- Good Friday

The Scripture for this service will be:
  • Mark 15:1-39
  • Mark 15:40-47
The Meditation is titled The King Enthroned

Early Thoughts: Is this a coronation? Or is it a parody of a coronation?

"King of the Jews".  That is the accusation brought before Pilate. This is the crime for which Jesus is executed--for claiming to be a king not authorized by Rome.

Is this his coronation?


Given that the Kingdom of which Jesus speaks is not like the Kingdoms of the earth, given that in this Kingdom the last will be first and the first last, given that you enter the Kingdom by denying yourself and following the one who hangs on the cross then maybe this is a throne.

SO as we gather beside the throne do we jeer and ridicule like the crowds do? Or are we alert to what is really happening, like the centurion is? Or do we watch and wait from a distance, trying to decide what to do next?


Looking Forward to March 24, 2016 -- Maundy Thursday

This Thursday we will have a combined potluck-worship service at 6:00 in the Small/West Basement.  Communion will be included as a part of this service.

The Scripture Readings we will hear are:
  • John 13:3-17, 34-35
  • Exodus 12:1-14
  • Mark 14:22-42
There will be two Reflections, one after the Exodus passage and one after the Mark passage.

Early Thoughts: A meal of memory.  Or rather 2 meals of memory form our scripture reflection.

First we have the central meal of Jewish faith. The meal of freedom. The meal that reminds people of what God has done but also that God is still working for freedom and liberation.

Then we have another meal.  A meal that launches from the meal of liberation but takes on a whole new life and understanding without losing all of the old.  From that meal we head deeper into the story. The clouds grow darker and the tone more somber.

AS we prepare for the darkest part of our faith story, can we watch and wait and pray?

Looking Ahead to March 27, 2016 -- Easter Sunday

This year we will read the Easter story as told in Mark 16:1-8

The Sermon title is Now What?

Early Thoughts: It seems to be missing something, that story from Mark.  No appearance of the Risen Christ. No joy. No promise that the story will even be told to anyone.  Instead we have fear and amazement and flight an silence. And it appears that this indeed may have been the original ending of the Gospel:
“They said nothing to nobody -- they were afraid, you see.”
That’s a fairly literal, inelegant English rendering of Mark 16:8. Could the evangelist have ended his Gospel like this? What kind of victor is vindicated from death, yet no one gets to see it? You might as well ask, what kind of Messiah dies crucified (15:16-39)?
Although various manuscripts add endings to Mark (including 16:9-20, best known from the KJV), there’s no question that our earliest texts of this Gospel end at 16:8. Did the author continue beyond 16:8 with an ending that was lost? Did he intend something beyond 16:8 but was prevented from writing it? Neither alternative is impossible, but both are speculative: they lack any biblical or traditional basis for verification. Is it preposterous that Mark deliberately ended his Gospel at 16:8? Some think so. I think not. (from the folks at Narrative Lectionary.org)

Now what happens????

In some ways it is the question that has been hanging in the air every since Jesus was arrested in the Garden.  The One we have followed, the One we have believed would change the world has been arrested. Now what do we do?

The One we thought was God's Chosen One has been convicted and crucified. Are we next? Now what?

The tomb is empty?!?!? Where could the body be? What do we do with the rest of our lives?

What better question to ask on Easter?

What difference does it make in our lives to know that life wins, that God's yes outdoes the loudest NO the world can muster, that the Kingdom is born here among us?  "Now What" indeed.

But you see the story doesn't end there, with fear and amazement and flight and silence. One might say it only begins there.  Because now we start to live out the "now what".

The world has been changed. Easter is one of those things after which nothing will ever be the same again. Eyes that have seen the resurrection can not see the same again, the lenses have been changed. Hearts that have felt the power of resurrection can not feel the same way about the world ever again.

So I guess the answer to the question is in large part up to us.  How will we live now that we have met the reality of Easter? How will we share the Good News of this day, of this new reality, of the Kingdom?  How will we move past fear and amazement and flight and silence?

Now what.....

Monday, March 14, 2016

Looking Forward to March 20, 2016 -- Palm Sunday

Our service this week will begin with the annual Palm Parade.  Gather in the Narthex if you want to be a part of the parade

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Mark 11:1-11
  • Mark 14:1-9
The Sermon title is Counting the Cost

Early Thoughts: A parade and a rather strange story about costly perfume. Is this how we start on the road to the cross?

Yes.  At least in part.

We come in triumph but suddenly we hear about a plot and betrayal. Then we watch as Jesus' feet are anointed in preparation for his burial. And we are challenged to consider the cost.

What are the costs of following Jesus? What are the costs of sharing his passion? When sharing his passion leads to a conflict of what the best use of resources are how do we respond?

A large part of me sides with the crowd in this story.  It seems like a terrible waste to use all this expensive ointment in such a way. But sometimes we make other choices.  Tomorrow we can go back to supporting the least among us (Jesus never says this is a bad idea) but today we choose to celebrate the one who is among us, if only for a short period of time.

Because we know that the feet of doom are coming. The plot is underway. But the Kingdom is also coming. That plot has yet to reach its conclusion--even 2000 years later.

What are the costs? What are we willing to pay?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Looking Forward to March 13, 2016 -- Lent 5, Mark's Apocalypse

This week we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Reading is Mark 13:1-8, 24-37. (Though I do encourage folks to read the whole chapter instead of just the beginning and ending verses)

The Sermon Title is The End is Near!

Photo Credit

Early Thoughts: Is that the image those words bring to mind?  The annoying street preacher telling passers-by to repent, to "turn or burn"?


And yet this week we stand within sight of the end. The end of Lent. The end of the walk to Jerusalem. The end of the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. With Mark 14:1 (the verse immediately following our reading for this week) the series of events leading to betrayal and trial and execution begins.  Indeed the end is near.

But also the end of an age, the end of "how things are". And that can be a terrifying thing to face.

Jesus warns his friends that changes are coming, changes that will shake the earth, that will bring destruction and so they should be ready. (It sort of reminds me of the end of every episode of the Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour where we were told to "Stay calm! Be brave! Wait for the signs!".) The end is coming.  Might be imminent, might be near, might be a few years off.  But it is coming, so be ready -- keep awake.

But it isn't really the end. Or at least not only the end. It is also a beginning.

One age ends so that a new age, the age of the Kingdom, can begin. Some things need to end so that God's promise and hope can be fulfilled. Which is not necessarily any less frightening....

In just a few weeks we will stand and proclaim that Christ has been raised. We will sing alleluias and announce the beginning of the new age. But in order for that to happen there also has to be an end. The path to New Life is through death and turmoil. What needs to end so that God's beginnings can take root?