Monday, August 28, 2017

Looking Ahead to September 3, 2017

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

The Scripture Reading for this Sunday is John 6:1-14.

The Sermon title is The Bread of Life

Early Thoughts: A simple meal. A cube of bread and a taste of juice. And yet we believe it to be as filling as a loaf of bread and a jug of wine. Because God is present in the meal. It is the center of our faith.

The feeding of the multitude is one of the rare things in the Gospels. It is a memory that shows up in all four of the Gospel accounts (even the Last Supper where Jesus breaks the bread and passes the cup, the institution of our communion meal, does not have that status). Which says something. It tells us is that this event struck close to the heart of what those first generation followers of Jesus felt to be important in telling his story. There was something about this event that said something vital about what the Kingdom of God would be like. It is no accident that from the earliest of days Christians gathered in worship shared a meal together.

As John tells the story a crowd gathers and eventually Jesus asks his friends where they plan to buy food for them. Sensibly the disciples point out that the cost to do so is beyond their means. They have a little bit of food, but not nearly enough for such a crowd. In the end all eat their fill with basketfuls of bread and fish left over. Where there was a very real sense of not enough there was an abundance and then some.When the Kingdom is made real in our presence we have more than we think.

After recounting the story John goes further. Most of Chapter 6 is further discussion about the Bread of Life, the Bread that Jesus offers for eating. It is in this chapter that John's Jesus makes the statement "I am the Bread of Life" (verse 36). To share in the Bread of Life is to be nourished in a different way than to sit down at a full turkey dinner. To share in the feast of faith (whether that be bread and fish on a lakeside hill, crackers and water beside a hospital bed, or bread and wine/juice in the midst of a worship service) is to be renewed in our souls.

As a faith community we greet each other at the table to be renewed. As a faith community we welcome all comers, all those who seek to follow The Way of Christ to share in the meal. We pass the Bread of Life to each other, we share Christ's real presence in our midst, we allow the meal to change us as we continue to strive to live as residents of the Kingdom.

Such a simple meal....right?

Friday, August 25, 2017

September Newsletter

Cast Your Nets...

At the end of August I started reading Fishing Tips by the Rev Dr. John Pentland. In this book John shares some of his learnings from the transformation that has taken place at Hillhurst United Church in Calgary since 2004. John is clear that he is not trying to right a “this is how to become a great church” manual. He is sharing what happened for them, with the hope that there may be some wisdom other congregations can use to explore what kind of a church God is calling them to be.

The Scripture passage John says sparked the structure of the book comes from the Gospel of John. It is an Easter story. Peter and the others have returned to Galilee and their lives as fishermen. They fish all night and catch nothing. Then a stranger on the shore tells them to try casting their nets on the other side of the boat. Why should they listen? They know how to fish! But sometimes anything is worth a try – and they catch so many fish they can hardly bring in the net.

In the Church this story has been used to remind ourselves (or to teach ourselves) that sometimes we intentionally have to do things differently to allow for renewal or growth or rebirth. It is a challenge, because often our corporate reaction is “don’t tell us what to do! We know what we are doing!”. But the reality is that some of what we do is timeless and some of it it universal, and much of it is limited to a certain context and time.

Earlier this year I asked folks to consider what the “big rocks” are in our life as a faith community. I want us to know what we understand to be the most important things to do as a faith community as we set priorities over the next year. A related question is “what do we do well?”, what do we do that is different, what do/can we do better than other parts of our community. Once we sort out those things we can look at what resources we need and what resources we have to make those things happen.

But I want us to be open to the voice on the shore that says “try the other side!”. In the Gospel story, once the net is full of fish the disciples eyes are opened and they see that it is Jesus on the shore. What does he know about fishing? He was a carpenter after all? Some scholars have suggested that from the shore maybe he could see a shadow in the water that showed where the school was swimming. Possibly so. But I think that throughout his ministry Jesus is trying to make people see differently. Jesus continuously tries to make people understand that it is time to do life differently, that in the difference is where God can break in. I suggest that this is still just as true.

Maybe we need the voice of those on the edges, or even outside the community who see the things we can’t see. Maybe we need the voice that reminds us that just because one approach or activity or style has been meaningful in the past it may have had its day.

But at the same time we need the voices that remind us why something had meaning, why something worked before. Because there might still be wisdom there to live by.

When I started seminary 25 years ago a recurring theme in my theology class (at least one I heard) was that tradition was problematic. A recurring theme I hear in many organizations is that tradition is the guidepost by which we need to live. I think neither statement is true (especially given my mother’s definition of a tradition as “something we tried once and it worked”). I think tradition can be problematic, it can also be helpful. When we plan we need to talk through and see which side it falls on in each instance.

And so I ask you. Where do you hear God challenging us to throw the nets on the other side? Where do you hear God calling us to keep on keeping on? (I suspect that some of your answers will contradict each other.) Where are our traditions moving us forward? Where are they holding us back in a changed community? And along those lines, if there was one big piece of ministry you would love to see the congregation take on or expand or revive in 2017-2018 what would it look like?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Looking Ahead to August 27, 2017 -- The Bent Over Woman

The Scripture Reading for this week is Luke 13:10-17

The Sermon title is  Stand Up Straight

Early Thoughts: What is holding you back or bending you over? And do you know when it is time to allow the interruption to take precedence?

This has long been one of my favourite of the healing stories. And there are two things that jump out at me this exploration.

One is the first question above. Sometimes we don't even know the answer. I have known people who have lived  with undiagnosed depression for years. Then they hit the crisis point and start to get treatment. Suddenly the world changes for them. Sometimes we assume that something is "normal" when in fact it is because we have adjusted to and accepted the weight that is sitting on our shoulders. I wonder if that was what the woman felt like. After 18 years of being weighed down did she think that life without that weight was even possible? What was it like to adjust to her freedom?

The story of Scripture is, among other things, the story of a God who wishes God's people to be free and whole and healthy. The work of Jesus was, in part, to bring the good new that we are set free. From what chains do you need to be set free?

The other thing that jumps out of the story at me this time is the interruption. Jesus is busy doing something (teaching) when he sees this woman across the room. He stops what he is doing and goes to her. And at that point the interruption becomes more important than what is being interrupted.

Any parent knows the feeling. You try to get something done and a child comes in with a question, or a book to be read, or a crisis to be solved. Sometimes (often) our first reaction is to get irritated and wish for just a couple hours of time to get our own plans accomplished. But what is more important?

Many people find that the same thing happens in their professional lives. There is that letter to write or article to read but then someone stops by to chat....

Many of us have learned that sometimes the most profitable ministry we do is done in the unplanned interruption. The child who gets the hug that makes her day, the co-worker who needs emotional support because his world is crumbling, the woman who has been bent over for 18 years get freed.

I believe that when Jesus saw her enter the room he knew in his heart what was most important. Freedom. Wholeness. Health. Practical and visible signs that God is at work in the midst of the gathering. Yes it was an interruption. But it was a holy interruption.

Where are the holy interruptions in your lives? When have we missed them because our own agenda got in the way?

Reflecting on the events of the last couple of weeks another thought occurs to me.  When God acts to release people from chains, to allow them to stand up straight, why  does the rest of the world so often try to put the chains back on, to add weight to each other's shoulders?