Thursday, January 26, 2017

February Newsletter

Last year at the Annual Congregational Meeting you approved new Vision and Mission Statements. Just to refresh your memory, this is what they say:
Our Mission
Through Faith, we walk on the path Jesus set for us.
The people of St. Paul’s Belong… Believe… Listen… Love… Lead.
Our Vision
Celebrating the gifts of the spirit we are a loving and supportive congregation in service to the Church, the Community, and the World through Faith.

The theory goes that once you have Vision and Mission Statements they then guide everything that the organization does, that everything we do is to live them out. With that in mind, at our January meeting I asked Council to think about 2 questions. One was to name 3 things that are already being done in the life and ministry of St. Paul’s that show our commitment to our vision and mission. I am sure you will be happy (and hopefully not surprised) to know that Council had no problem answering that question – in fact they felt overly limited by only naming 3 (and did name 5 or 6 before being brought back on task).

How would you answer the question? What are the top things we do as a congregation that show us living out the words in the statements above?

The next question I asked them was looking forward. This exercise was actually part 2 of the exercise we had done at our November meeting, when I asked what we might do if we were suddenly gifted with $2 million (a previous newsletter asked that question). This month I asked Council to name 3 things that we could commit to doing in 2017 to further live out our vision and mission, suggesting that some of the “holes” we had identified in November’s discussion might help create ideas (ones that did not require the fictional money).

Your Council likes to dream. Once again limiting to 3 ideas was a challenge. There were lots of ideas about what we “could” do. In the end our ideas were more exploratory than concrete, ready-to-do tomorrow actions. But here is what we came up with:
- Explore ways we can partner with agencies that work with the homeless, for a more regular offering of a meal in our space – such as the one Memphis Blues hosted here, perhaps getting other restaurants on board to provide the food.
- Explore / ask the question of the men … on whether we need more opportunities, gatherings for men of the congregation to interact, meet and have fellowship.
- Explore / ask the question of the youth/ youth leaders: What more can we do or offer in terms of opportunities so they know youth are welcomed, applauded and appreciated for their involvement in services (doing powerpoint, leading services, serving at communion, etc) and in all aspects of the life of the church family?
- Continue to look for and foster opportunities for small group engagement such as the Sunday “Lunch Bunch”

Which of those suggestions excites you? What would you add to the list?

I like all of these ideas, we just need to get people who are excited and will help them grow legs. Given the chance, I might add finding some more ways of being present in/reaching out to the wider community. And I still have a dream of offering monthly alternative worship (or maybe we start with quarterly and build from there?).

I encourage us to be bold. I encourage us to take risks. Somethings we might try and they will not work. Some things we might explore and find enthusiasm or interest lacking. But unless we step out in faith we will never know what is possible.

What will we do this year to expand how we live out our vision and mission? Where will the path of discipleship, of following Jesus, of sharing in God’s work of Kingdom-building lead us this year?

Minister's Annual Report

Brothers and Sisters, Grace and Peace to You in the Name of Jesus Christ:
another year has come and gone and for the 7th time since joining the life and ministry of this congregation I sit down to write my Annual Report and reflect on the ministry that we share.

I want to begin this year’s report by saying thank you. Thank You to the Scripture Readers, Greeters Candlelighters, and coffee preparers who have added to our worship services over the year. Thank You to the leaders of our programs for children and youth. Thank You to people who organized our large events that raised funds and built community. Thank You to all those people who work in the background, doing dozens of tasks that make this place run smoothly. Thank You to the members of our committees. Thank You to the members of Council. Thank You for your support both of our congregational budget and for your support to the community through the Local Outreach Fund. The Stewardship & Finance Committee has tried to come up with a way to quantify the number of volunteer hours that make this place the faith community that it is. We have not yet found the equation to do so, but I am sure that the number of volunteer hours accumulated each year would be in the 1000’s. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

And on a more personal note, Thank You as a congregation for all the support that is offered to me personally and to us as a family. Many of my colleagues across the church will note that they often feel unappreciated or unsupported. That has never been true of my time in this congregation. You are generous in spirit and in action. Thank You.

Elsewhere in this report people are talking about what happened in 2016. I will let them tell the story. The thing that made 2016 different for me was the sabbatical. I had never taken a sabbatical before and to tell the truth was unsure what it would feel like to be off for that amount of time (and really it kind of felt weird). But as the start of the Sabbatical time approached last Spring I became more and more aware how much I was feeling the need for a time of rest and refreshment. And so another Thank You. Thank You for making the time possible, and Thank You to all who stepped in to provide support and leadership in my absence.

An annual report has two functions. One is to look back on what was. The other is to look ahead to what we hope will be. After all, on of the pieces of business at the Annual Congregational Meeting is to pass the budget, the spending plan, for the next year. And a budget is one of the ways an organization talks about what it wants to accomplish.

What are some of my hopes for the year? One is to spend less time in the church office. Periodically my elbow tells me I have been spending too much time on the computer. Optimally I would like to spend (in a normal week) 5 half days in the office at the most. To help make that happen I am looking for people to visit in those other hours. So call me and we will set up a time when I can escape from the computer screen.

Another hope of mine is related to the fact that I have been here for 6.5 years now. With time comes the danger of falling into a routine (which sometimes has the danger of becoming a rut). It is my intent to talk to some friends who have served a congregation for long term (in one case coming up on 30 years) abut how they kept the ministry fresh. It is my hope that we continue to try new things and keep each other growing as we try to understand what it means to follow Jesus in Grande Prairie in the 21st century.

A new year beckons, new challenges await (and hopefully no new floods).

Monday, January 23, 2017

Looking Forward to January 29, 2017 -- Sabbath Controversy

The Scripture reading this week is Luke 6:1-16

The Sermon title is Choose!

Early Thoughts: How do we use the tools, traditions, and rituals of our faith to best serve the cause of love?

Do those rules, tools, traditions and rituals sometimes get in the way of the life of love?

Then what do we do?

Sabbath observance is there to serve the people of God. Sabbath observance is there because we know that we are healthier when we are on "on" 24/7. Sabbath also helps us remember that we are not in control, that God is.

That is all and good.  But what if we lose sight of the ultimate goal? OR what if the balance point is hard to find?

That is where the text takes us this week. Jesus is in a debate with others about how Sabbath ties in to the life of love.

Jesus reminds his opponents that God trumps Sabbath, that grace and mercy trump rules. Jesus reminds us that caring for each other trumps all else.

Sabbath is a vital part of what it means to be Jewish. To this day Sabbath is a central pillar of Jewish faith. I think it is safe to say that Sabbath-keeping is no longer a central part of what it means to be Christian in Western society. But I suspect the principle about rules vs. people is still at stake.

We are often called to see where the life of love leads us to endorse and follow rules and traditions and rituals as they have been passed down to us. We are also challenged to know when those things need to be recast, or put aside. And it is often unclear which is which.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Looking Forward to January 22, 2017 -- The Call of the First Disciples

This week we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Reading for this week is Luke 5:1-11

The Sermon title is Follow!

Early Thoughts:  What would it take? What would lead you to change your priorities and pledge to live life helping to grow the Kingdom?

Jesus commandeers a boat to provide himself with a speaking platform. And then he decides that he will tell professionals how to fish. much of the time this would be the beginning of a story about someone who is taking advantage of people, or is full of himself. (Imagine Justin Trudeau or Donald Trump doing something like this.)

But instead we have the set up to a miracle and call story.

The advice about how to fish is accepted, albeit a bit begrudgingly, and results in an amazing catch of fish. But there's more!

Peter, recognizing that something special is happening, has a guilt attack. He is convinced he is not worthy to be in Jesus' presence.

Normally one would expect that the next line would be about forgiveness. After all that is what we find in the Isaiah story we read back in the fall. But Jesus appears to ignore (?) this guilt attack. instead he invites Peter to join in the new thing that is about to happen. And Peter, along with James and John, says yes. Jesus knows that they are not perfect (as they will prove more than once) but invites them along just the same.

What would it take to lead you to join in the building of the Kingdom? What sign of God's presence would change your life?

If God looks upon you while you claim to not be worthy and invites you to join in just the same, what would lead you to say yes?

And once you have said yes, what will it look like? DO you serve by leaving something behind? Do you serve by continuing to do what you are already doing, maybe with a new focus?

God and Jesus invite us to follow, as flawed as we are. How will we respond?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Help Wanted! -- A Newspaper Column

Many years ago The Who asked the musical question “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”. As we mature and age we all wrestle with that very question. Who am I? What am I going to be? How will I make a difference in the world?

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus wrestles with the same question. Right after his baptism by John Jesus is led out into the wilderness for a time of testing, a time of sorting out what it means to be, as was affirmed at his baptism, "you are my [God] Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased"

It is a common part of growing up. Decades ago in Junior High I remember talking about “Walkabout”, the story of a young Australian Aborigine who was taking part in a coming of age ritual, a journey of self-discovery. Or think about the many people who finish school and take a year off to “find themselves”. Getting a sense of who we are, of who God has shaped us to be allows us to make choices about careers, about volunteering, about how we will live our lives. It also allows us to figure out how we are going to be a part of God’s ongoing mission in the world.

Because God is at work in the world. God has a mission in the world and God is constantly inviting as, as individuals and as communities to participate in the missio Dei, God’s mission. And what is God’s mission?

Some suggest God’s mission is convert all people to one specific religion. I would tend to disagree. I think God has a broader vision.

As Mark tells the story, when Jesus appears on the scene and begins his ministry it is with these words: “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near”. And from then on Jesus is all about proclaiming the Kingdom of God. God’s mission is to bring the Kingdom of God to full flower here on earth. As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Which leaves a few more questions (I was always taught that the most important things in life are the questions we ask). One is what good things are keeping you from sharing in God’s mission? When Jesus is led out into the wilderness for his time of testing the tempter offers three valuable and worthy options for how he can live out his life. He can feed the hungry, he can take political power and set things to right, he can be a miracle worker. Jesus sees through the trap and rejects all three. Then he goes on to be who God has called and shaped him to be – which includes feeding the hungry and working miracles as it happens. So what good options are drawing you away from what you truly feel called to do?

Another question is the one that started this column. Who are you? Who are you now, in this season of your life? The role we have to play in God’s mission is intrinsically linked to who we are. And so as we change our role may also change. Who are you? What giftedness is attached to you being who you are?

What is your passion? What are your talents (and yes everyone has talents)? I believe that if we listen with our hearts our passion tells us where God is calling us to go. Years ago Frederick Beuchner wrote “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Aristotle said “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”. What is your passion, what are your talents? What needs do you see in the world around you that intersect with your passion and your talents?

God is at work in the world. God invites each of us to share in the building up of the Kingdom of God. Each one of us is challenged to use the gifts God has given us for the betterment of the world.

Look at yourself. Ask how you can use what you have to participate in God’s mission. And who knows, you may find that you are already doing it. In his book Already Missional Dr. Brad Morrison points out that many churches are full of people sharing in God’s Mission in their communities. We just don’t always recognize that what we are doing is part of building the Kingdom.

Thank you for the work you are already doing! And keep your eyes open, God may have a job waiting just for you.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Looking Ahead to January 15, 2017 -- The Temptation of Christ

The Scripture Reading for this week is: Luke 4:1-13

The Sermon title is Decide!

Early Thoughts: Who are you? How will you fulfill the mission God has for you?

That is a question we all need to wrestle with as we grow and mature as people of faith. God invites us to participate in the missio Dei, to share in the work God is doing in the world.

Turns out Jesus needed to do the same thing.

According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, right after his baptism Jesus is led (or driven depending on the Gospel) into the wilderness for a time of testing. This week we are reading Luke's version of that event.

The Tempter/Tester (because that is what Satan is in Jewish thought, a member of the heavenly court whose role is to test the righteous) offers the words "If you are the Son of God...". What does it mean to Jesus to be, as was affirmed at his baptism "you are my [God] Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased"?

In an exchange chock full of scripture references (on both sides) The Satan offers three different scenarios. Jesus could feed the hungry. Jesus could have political power. Jesus could be a miracle worker. Jesus turns down each of them. And, it would appear, in the process gains clarity about who he is and what his mission is.

What temptations might distract us from our vocations?

AS we explore who we are in this season of our lives, as we explore how God is calling us to join in the missio Dei what will we decide?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Looking Forward to January 8, 2017 -- John the Baptist

This Sunday we will celebrate the sacrament of Communion.

From now until Easter the Narrative Lectionary will lead us on a journey through the Gospel according to Luke.

The Scripture Reading for this Sunday is Luke 3:1-22.

The Sermon title is Prepare!

Early Thoughts: In chapter 1 Luke tells us about 2 unexpected pregnancies. One or them, of course, is Jesus. The other is John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Now we jump to chapter 3 and find the fully grown John making a bit of a name for himself. He is telling people to prepare for the coming of the Promised One. And he is not pulling any punches.

John is preaching "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins". And to do that means you can not be shy about people's shortcomings.  Not to mention that John apparently never read Miss Manners or "How to Win Friends and Influence People".  No nonsense about winning more flies with honey here. As Luke describes it, John is all about the vinegar.

Is this how we prepare for the coming of the the Kingdom?

In part I think it is. In Scripture, in the words of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus, we find a picture of what the Kingdom of God is/will be. In the Gospels Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom has come to reality in him, but also that it has yet to come in its full glory. And yet I think that if we are really honest with each other we know the may ways that the world shows itself to not be ready for the Kingdom. Equally important, if we are honest with each other (and ourselves), we know that we do not always live as Kingdom people.

Self examination and confession and repentance are a touchy subject with some people. Some parts of the church have, historically and in the present, focused far too much on our sinfulness and brokenness -- to the extent that humanity is seen as beyond redemption, unable on its own accord to live in accordance with The Way of Christ. On the other hand some people are too uncomfortable with self-examination to take a solid look at their behaviour and so remain apparently oblivious to their own mis-steps and shortcomings (there is a potential that this obliviousness is a public face and they are internally wracked by guilt and insecurity). Some parts of the church focus almost exclusively on private/personal morality and miss cultural/social/systemic sinfulness. Some focus almost exclusively on social/cultural/systemic issues and miss out the discussion of private/personal sinfulness. And all parts of the church (and all of us as individuals) tend to rate sins as more or less important.

But to prepare for life in Christ is to look honestly at the issue of sinfulness, of where we (as individuals and as a collective) have missed the mark. This is what John can do for us. This is why it is important to read about John and not jump straight to Jesus (for the record Jesus also calls people to account for their individual and collective behaviour, as does Paul as part of instructing folk how to live as followers of Christ) and talk about God's grace and forgiveness. If the Kingdom is growing within, around, and among us then we are being changed and transformed. To open ourselves to that transformation is to know who we are and look to who we are becoming.

Yes John seems to be missing God's grace. But John is not the Promised One, John points to and prepares the way for the Promised One. Jesus comes to proclaim the Kingdom, to proclaim God's Grace, to invite us to share in the transformation of the world, a transformation that has begun and is continuing. Are we prepared? Are we preparing?