Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Forward to January 6, 2019 -- Epiphany Sunday

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

For the "Time with the Young at Heart" this week we will be reading the short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

The Scripture Reading for this week is Matthew 2:1-11.

The Sermon title is How to Choose the Perfect Gift...

Early Thoughts: What makes something a good gift? The Epiphany story has many things to talk about. But one of the aspects of the story is those gifts: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Are they good gifts? Why? Why not?

2000 years of tradition have ascribed a lot of meaning to the gifts of the Magi (Gold for a king, Frankincense for Deity, Myrrh as a sign of death to come). And it is plausible that Matthew had that meaning in mind when he wrote the story down. But on the face of it they do not appear to be practical gifts.  There are many jokes out there about what the wise women brought to the infant Christ -- all much more practical. Wisdom comes in many guises.

Then there is O. Henry and his Magi. I first read this story about 35 years ago and it has stuck with me every since. I have also seen a variety of interpretations of it in Christmas TV shows. Two that stick with me are Bert & Ernie and Mickey & Minnie. Stories where each character places such a high importance on getting the "right" gift for their beloved that they are willing to part with their most valuable possession. [As I recall, Bert sells his pigeons and Ernie sells his rubber duck].

What makes something the right gift?

I think part of what makes a good gift is that it has meaning in the life of the recipient. The combs for Della's hair, the chain for Jim's watch, they have direct ties to the lives of the recipients, they highlight something valuable in their lives. From a literary and theological viewpoint does that make the gifts of the Biblical Magi good?

Another piece of the puzzle is the sacrifice. That is in fact the major point of the O. Henry story. To make a really big gift means giving something of ourselves. That is a traditional part of Christology (Doctrine about who Christ was and is), that God was giving of Godself in the Christ event. That is part of my theology of Stewardship, we are not asked to give of our excess but are asked to make some level of sacrifice as we join in the work God is doing in our world.

We all have times through the year when we give gifts. How do you choose what makes a good gift to give?

Monday, December 17, 2018

Looking Forward to Christmas Eve

Our Christmas Eve Service this year will be at 8:00.

I'll tell you right now it will be different from past years. We are trying something other than ending with candles and Silent Night (we are still singing Silent Night on this its 200th anniversary just not to end the service)!

The Scripture Readings that will be a part of the service are:
  • John 1:1-5
  • Luke 1:46-55
  • Luke 2:1-20
There will also be 2 poems read:
  • There Is No Silent Night by Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Bott (current Moderator of the United Church of Canada
  • No Longer Alone by Miriam Therese Winter (off an old Medical Mission Sisters Christmas album)

And of course there will be carols sung and choir singing and handbells played.

The Christmas Reflection is called The Revolution Starts Tonight....Again

Early Thoughts: The World is about to turn. But then that is true every Christmas.

Beyond the cute pageants and the familiar carols and the TV specials (many of us learned the King James Version of the Christmas story by watching Linus recite it in answer to Charlie Brown's question -- some of us still sing Hark the Herald Angels with faces turned up just like the Peanuts gang) lies a deeper side of this night. The child born this night will change, and is still changing the world.

Before Jesus is born Mary sings (or says, which is actually the verb in the Biblical text) one of the passages we will hear this Christmas Eve. It talks about filling up the poor and hungry while sending the rich away empty, about lifting up the lowly and sending the proud and mighty tumbling. When Jesus is grown he will say things like "Blessed are the meek" and "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor". Christmas marks the turning of the world.

Christmas reminds us how much God loves the world. Christmas reminds us that God is still active in the world. Christmas reminds us that God has a hope for the world. For God's hope to become reality the world will need to be transformed. The world will need to be redeemed, set free from old habits and chains. The coming of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace, Love incarnate, the Word-Made-Flesh comes with a revolutionsary amount of change. And it starts tonight.

Jut like it started last Christmas Eve. And the one before that, and all the others.  The Revolution seems slow to take effect. But when God breaks into the world, when Christ is born, when once again we hear the angel say "For unto you is born this day in the City of David" we know that God is still there and that the revolution starts tonight...again.

Birth means change. Are we ready for it?

Looking Forward to December 23, 2018 -- Advent 4 -- The Hope of Christmas Future

This week we come to the end of the Advent Season, and so to the end of our Advent worship series and the visit of the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Come.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Isaiah 2:2-5
  • Isaiah 7:10-16
The Sermon title is Shadows that Can Be Changed

Early Thoughts: Are we locked into an unchangeable system? Are we such a product of our past and our present that our future is already preordained? That is Scrooge's fear. Having had a change of heart already he is terrified that the shadows he is shown by this last specter are things that must be rather than shadows of things that may be.

But we find out, as Scrooge does, that they are not set in stone. The future may well follow along a course set by our past and present but it is not immutable. Scandalous as it may seem sometimes people can change and in so doing change the punishment we may think they so richly deserve. One word for that is Grace. Another word is repentance. Or maybe redemption.

The life of faith is a life where all three tenses come together. In the life of faith we meet God in the past and the present and the future and recognize that God is active in all those places. This is why we speak of God as the one who is, and was, and is to come.  And because God was and is and will be active we rejoice in the knowledge that the future is changeable and changing.

God has a hope for the future. Isaiah shares one version of that hope in the passage from chapter 2 we are reading this week. There is a lot of evidence in the past and present of humanity that the hope is in vain. There is also evidence that the hope is slowly coming to fruition (although it does not get nearly as much press). As God leads (or drags or goads) God's beloved creation towards that hope God is active in the here and now. God continues to speak to us, sending us messengers to push us to look carefully and clearly at who we are.

For to US a child is born. To US a son is given. The angel message of Good News of Great Joy for all people continues to resound.  Because God loves the world God sends Christ's love and message. Because God loves the world the shadows of the future can be changed. But only if we, like Scrooge, are willing to take the hard look at who we were and are and ask who we want to be. Only if we are willing to let God lead (or drag or goad) us in a new direction.

Redemption and liberation and transformation ARE possible, are in fact happening all the time. Glory to God in the Highest. And on Earth Peace, Goodwill toward all.

And as Tiny Tim said:

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Looking Forward to December 9, 2018 -- Advent 3 -- Joy -- The Life of Christmas Present

This week our worship series takes us to the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 15:7-11
  • Luke 1:46-55
The Sermon title is See The World Today

Early Thoughts: Sometimes it is hard to trust in the Advent promises of Joy and Peace and Hope and Love. But that has always been the truth.

In Palestine at the time of Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great life was hard. Shepherds were often seen as lowest of the low (after all they probably stank of sheep). And to them angels appeared saying "behold I bring you tidings of great joy".

In the world of Victorian England, where Dickens writes A Christmas Carol, poverty and suffering were widespread, the gap between the haves and the have-nots was wide. Logically speaking the Crachits could see nothing to celebrate. Even Scrooge's nephew Fred, while better off than the Crachits had little reason to celebrate (at least according to his uncle). But on his journey with the Spirit Scrooge sees that they find deep joy in the season.

This week we sing one of my favourite Advent Hymns, Tomorrow Christ is Coming.One of the reasons it is a favourite is because it pushes us to acknowledge that the world is still full of darkness. But then it reminds us of where the Joy and hope of the season really lie: "but Jesus Christ is risen and comes again in bread. To still our deepest hunger and raise us from the dead."

It is sometimes tempting, in the midst of Christmas decor and music, to turn a blind eye to the hardships of the world, even if only for a couple of weeks. Christ calls to do the opposite. Christ calls us to see the world clearly. This means seeing the darkness but also seeing the glow coming from the manger. Christmas hope and peace and joy are not based on what fills the front pages of our newspapers. They are based in Love taking human form. They are based in the God who invites shepherds to the manger, who invites a miserly curmudgeon to be redeemed, who is made incarnate so that we too can be transformed.

Yes we need to see the world clearly. And that is not always pleasant. But we also need to see clearly the source of our hope and joy. Christmas, God coming into the world to offer redemption and transformation, is not only part of our past. It is also a part of our present. SO we can sing the words of Isaiah :

Monday, November 26, 2018

Looking Forward to December 2, 2018 --Advent 2 -- The Remembrance of Christmas Past

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

This week our Advent theme takes us to the 2nd Stave of A Christmas Carol and the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past. As a part of marking Christmas Past we will take time near the end of the service for a Blue Christmas commemoration.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 40:1-2
  • Revelation 21:3-5
  • Luke 4:17-19
The Sermon title is Carry Forward the Past

Early Thoughts: We are all a product of our past, for better or for worse. In our past we have been taught various things, various ways of being, various ways of believing, various ways of interacting with others. In our past we have been wounded. In our past we have been blessed. All of those things from our past have shaped who we are today.

This can feel like a trap. It can feel like we are doomed to be who we are because of who we were. It can feel that because of our past wounds we are forever broken, because of the sorrow in our past joy is harder to find now.

What do you carry forward from your past?

Here is the redeeming word of Grace. While our past has shaped us, it does not need to trap us. Isaiah speaking to exiles in Babylon and the close of John's Revelation while on the Island of Patmos remind us that God is actively easing our comforts and bringing our pain to a close. We can learn from our past but not let it control us forever.

Christmas is one of those times of year that often seems inextricably bound up with the past, with traditions, with having to do things the "way they have always been done". This can be difficult for many people. Sometimes we need to find a new way free of the past. Sometimes the past leaves us in unhealthy places. I have come to believe that God (who is and was and yet will be, who is past present and future) calls us to look at how we got here with both a nostalgic AND a critical eye.

What will you do with what you carry forward from your past?

Scrooge is led on a journey of his past. This journey helps him see how he got to be the man he is. That journey reminds him of some of the pains that live in his soul. As we continue our journey to the manger we do need to name those things that dampen our joyfulness. Some of those are in our present, in our recent past, or deep in the depths of time. We do that not to allow them to take over. Nor do we think that by naming them we can "get over them". We do it because we we trust in the God who offers comfort, who conquers death. This is the God who is breaking into the world again this Christmas, the God who redeems our past and helps us decide what we are going to carry forward.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Newsletter & Newspaper piece

[I was needing to write for both the local paper and the December Newsletter in the same week. So I wrote this and sent it both places]

Let the Transformation Begin!

The lights are up on the streetlight poles. The decorations are in the malls. As I write these words there are ads out for Black Friday sales. It’s beginning to look more like Christmas.

Many of us have some things, without which Christmas is not complete. Maybe it is a favoured bit of baking, or a particular song, or a party or get together, or a visit with a close friend. Maybe it is a special church service. Whatever it is, you just need those things for the season to feel right.

Two of those things for me are reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and watching the How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the original half hour narrated by Boris Karloff, not the Jim Carrey movie) on TV. In fact if I had to choose I would rather watch the Grinch over that other perpetual favourite A Charlie Brown Christmas. (Luckily we own both on DVD so I don’t have to choose anymore)

Why do those two things hold such a place in my vision of ‘making Christmas’? Certainly a lot has to do with history. The first time I was on stage was playing Scrooge in a school play when I was in Grade 5 and I grew up reading and watching the Grinch every year. But there is something more. Something thematic, something in the meaning of those stories.

Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch have something in common. They hate Christmas. At the beginning of their stories they are thoroughly unlikeable characters. They seem to have no redeeming values. At the end of their stories they are totally different. They are, to use churchy language, redeemed. The Grinch carves the roast beast. And Scrooge, well we are told that in his life after that magical night “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge”. If Scrooge and the Grinch can be transformed and redeemed than surely there is hope for all of us.

Christmas is about many things. But at its heart it is about God choosing to reveal Godself in a new way to accomplish something. To me one of the biggest things God accomplishing in the story of Christ is transforming and redeeming us and the world around us. That transformation starts at Christmas. It starts at the beginning when a young girl hears she is going to have a baby when that shouldn’t be happening. Afraid at first, she ends up singing a song that really has the markers of a revolutionary manifesto: “he has filled the hungry...and sent the rich away empty”. This child will not only change Mary’s life but the world as a whole.

When the baby whose birth we are getting ready for grows up he will stand in his home synagogue and proclaim “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ... [God] has sent me to proclaim release to the captives”. I hear echoes of his mother’s song in those words. In Christ God is working to transform the world, to turn it upside down and shake it up. In Christ God is showing us (as individuals and as a community) that we can be redeemed, set free from those things that bind us up. In Christ God is inviting us to be changed, to have our beliefs and priorities challenged, to turn and follow a different path.

I firmly believe that each of us has a bit of Scrooge, a bit of the Grinch, in our being. Sometimes we tuck it away, sometimes it comes out boldly. Sometimes our hearts are hardened or 2 sizes too small and we fail to care about each other as fully as God asks us to. I see this when we worry more about the bags of bottles someone grabs from our backyard than the fact that people need to steal bottles to get money for food. I see this when we worry about property values being lowered because “those people” are in the neighbourhood rather than asking how best to help people get their lives back in control. And yes, both of those examples grow directly out of comments I have seen from Grande Prairie people in various Facebook discussions.

When the Scrooge in us rears up its head we are reminded that we too need to be redeemed and transformed. When the Grinch speaks in our voice we know we need to find a different path (though hopefully our hearts won’t grow three sizes because that sounds medically dangerous). But here is the hope.

Christmas is coming! God is once again breaking into our world and our lives. Transformation and redemption are possible. Are we willing to let it happen?

Blessed Christmas.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Looking forward to November 25, 2018 -- Advent 1 -- Bah Humbug

This year we are starting Advent a week earlier than usual to give us time to work through a resource called The Redemption of Scrooge. This week's chapter of the resource is "Bah Humbug"

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Galatians 6:7
  • Luke 16:19-31

The Sermon title is Marley or Lazarus?

Early Thoughts: Do we really get what we deserve? Do we truly reap what we sow? Or is there a chance to change the path?

Those are some of the questions that get raised in the opening pages of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. By the end of the story we get an answer. But as people of Christian faith we already know it. At least I think we do. In Christ, God offers us forgiveness and a chance to repent.

But the story of Lazarus and the rich man seems to suggest an answer different than the one we find in A Christmas Carol and the one offered in Christ. Because the rich man can not convince Abraham to allow his agony to be eased or to warn his family to change their ways. It appears that there is no way out.

Marley offers a different message. Marley tells Scrooge (and us) that there is a chance, nay a requirement, for Scrooge to avoid Marley's fate.

Who will we believe -- Marley or Abraham and the Rich Man? Often we want others to reap what they have sown but we would rather have a chance to change. That is assuming that we are willing to change.

In Christ God offers the world a chance for transformation and redemption. At Christmas the annual cycle of transforming the world, of transforming the people of the world begins again. Abraham was sure that the family of the Rich Man would not listen to another messenger because they had ignored all the messages before that. Scrooge starts out wanting to ignore Marley or explain the apparition away "more of gravy than the grave". Which will we be? Will we accept the challenge of transformation God offers us in Christ?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Looking Ahead to November 18, 2018 -- College Sunday

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:
  • Jonah 1:1-3
  • Proverbs 1:1-9
The Sermon title is Called to Learn

Early Thoughts: We value education. We in the United Church (speaking of the collective if not for all individuals) value education. One of our Methodist forebears, Edgerton Ryerson, was instrumental in creating the public education system in Ontario, which was a great gift to the development of Canadian society. At the same time our commitment to the value of education and our understanding of the purpose and content of education led us to take part in the Residential School system which, as we know, was a deeply flawed and damaging thing.

But still we value education. It is an expectation that the people we call into Ministry will take part in a specific educational program as part of the preparation for ministry and that they will continue to learn throughout their life in ministry. It is an expectation that our Communities of  Faith will offer some forms of Christian Education, preferably to adults youth and children. Because we place a value on the process of life-long learning as a practise of faith we offer opportunities to make it happen.

Every year St. Andrew's College, the United Church seminary in the Prairie provinces, asks us to take one Sunday and talk about theological education. In part this is a piece of their fundraising program. But more importantly it is a time to talk about why we find education important, why the United Church --like most other denominations, particularly those from the Reformed tradition-- values an educatied ministry. 

This Sunday we will explore the value of education in the church.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Looking Forward to November 11, 2018 -- Remembrance Day

To honour this 100th Anniversary of the Armistice of 1918 we will be marking the 2 minutes of silence as close to 11:00 as possible (so pretty much at the end of the service).

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Micah 4:1-5
  • Joel 3:9-12
  • Matthew 5:1-10, 38-40

The Sermon title is To End All Wars

Early Thoughts: 11:00 November 11, 1918. After 4 long bloody years of warfare (most of which was spent in virtual stalemate) the guns stopped. The war which had hopefully and idealistically (or naively and nonsensibly) been called the war that will end war had come to an end. [Technically the war was not over until 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed (or imposed on Germany) but to all intents and purposes the war ended when the fighting stopped.] And ever since people around the world have paused for a Pittance of Time at 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month..

One of the themes that has run through the last century of commemorations has been "Never Again". There has been some hope that eventually we will get to the time when warfare is part of the past and not the future. But we have yet to find the war that will end wars.

AS people of faith what do we do on November 11th? We stop and remember as many others do. We respect the price that was paid by so many over the "great" wars of the 20th Century. But is that enough? Within our stories and writings of faith is a promise that in the end war will be no more. The vision of God's Kingdom is one where lions and lambs lie down together and weapons are turned into tools. One of the criticisms that has been leveled, rightly or wrongly, at Remembrance Day celebrations is that the glorify war, that they glorify the sacrifice more than lament the loss. As people of faith what do we do with a hope for the peaceful Kingdom and the reality of a violent warring world.

And then it does not help that parts of our faith stories and writings seem in fact to be a call to arms, as this weeks' reading from Joel shows us.

As people of faith I think the question we need to ask is where is God in all of this? Where is God leading us? Which is not to say that the cure for war is for everyone to turn to Religion. After all it has repeatedly been proven that religion can be as much a force for war as a force for peace. But still it seems that the God we meet in Judeo-Christian Scripture  has a hope for peace, "neither shall they learn war any more".

AS I look at the example of Jesus I see part of the path. Don't return violence for violence. Don't return evil with evil. Don't seek payback and retribution. It reminds me of the slogan often seen at anti-war protests -- "Fighting for peace is like [having sex] for virginity". Maybe that is why we have failed to find the war that will end war?

IF we are to find peace, if we are to become the peacemakers who will be called children of GOD we need to find a new path. We need to push our leaders to find a new path. Because the governments of the world (in conjunction with what Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex) have shown little real intent to actual bring an end to war, as Buffy Sainte-Marie laments in the song "The War Racket".

This year we will once again pause and remember and lament. How will God push us to change ourselves and our world so that "Never Again" is more than just a motto once a year?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Looking Forward to November 4, 2018

As this is the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion.

This past summer folk were invited to suggest topics for sermons or sermon series. This week's topic comes from that box. The actual suggestion was "Is there a Devil? What is the Source of Evil?"

The Scripture Reading for the week is Genesis 3:1-10

The Sermon title is Is Evil Real?

Early Thoughts: Reading the news it seems like a ridiculous question doesn't it. Can one seriously question the reality of evil when just days ago people were gunned down at worship in a Pittsburgh Synagogue? Can we really ask if evil exists a week before we pause to remember those who dies in the largest wars of the 20th Century? Earlier this month I read the novel Indian Horse. Can we examine our own national history and even pretend there is a question that evil exists?

Which was sort of why I chose that as the title of the sermon. It is helpful to get the obvious answers out of the way first. Even if people would like to believe otherwise I think it is clear that there is a thing called evil in the world.

But how does it work? Where does it come from? Does it have a central personified essence?  Are there people who are purely/simply evil and people who are never evil? Those are harder questions.

The passage we read this week is often seen as the place where evil enters our faith story. Which is why we are reading it. But I am pretty sure it does not answer those questions up above.

It is tempting to be able to set clear boundaries of evil vs good. to have a personalized character of evil (devil), to say these people are good and these people are bad. It would be nice to say "evil comes from X".  Unfortunately life is rarely that cut and dried.

In the end I think much (maybe even most, possibly all) great fiction has, at its root, the idea of good battling evil. And in the best of them they have a sense of ambiguity. Someone, (I think it is Gandalf, might have been Elrond) tells Frodo that even Sauron was not evil in the beginning. When Harry Potter is worried he is turning evil his godfather Sirius tells him plainly that the world is not divided cleanly between good people and Death Eaters. The world of the story is about the fight between good and evil but the murkiness of the line keeps coming up.

Evil is in the world, I think, because we have free will and we have the freedom to set our own priorities. Sometimes those priorities mean we are willing to stomp on others (or let people stomp on other on our behalf) to get our way. And those things we call evil results. Evil exists because of things like fear, and jealousy, and insecurity, and hatred, and self-centeredness.  I am not big on demons or a person named the Devil (Lucifer, Beelzebub, Old Scratch....). I think evil is a part of the world, a sign of the broken-ness of the world. But I also believe that in the end, as Julian of Norwich was wont to say, "all will be well". Evil will not have the final answer.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

November Newsletter

What Makes a Disciple?
OR The sermon I didn’t give on Confirmation Sunday

On October 14 we had 6 teenagers stand up in front of the congregation and re-affirm the faith statements their parents had made on their behalf at the moment of baptism. My sermon title that day was Membership Means... and was my attempt to describe part of what it means to choose to be a part of the Christian Church. And because of everything else that was happening that day it was a pretty brief discussion of that topic – a topic that we are encouraged to talk and pray and think about all the days of our lives.

As I was preparing for that service there was another track I almost took. Membership in the Church means committing oneself to the path of discipleship. We don’t usually use that kind of language in the United Church these days. I know it wasn’t the language used in my confirmation classes 35 years ago, but I think the concept was there even without the word.

Earlier this week I was musing online (hypothetically speaking of course), in a space where I knew he might be reading, what it might take to get the newly elected Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Bott, to make a visit to a place. Obviously there is a process to go through, official channels to ask – the Moderator’s schedule is very full, but I was wondering what sorts of events might make a particular option look more inviting. Richard took the bait. Richard said, and I quote: “The guy has this thing about wanting to help people to explore what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus in the United Church of Canada in the 21st century.”. Now that is something I already knew because last Spring a group of us worked through a study that Richard had co-written. And it was all about being a disciple.

Which brings me back to what I might have talked about on Confirmation Sunday. In the study Immersion: Investing in God’s World the last half was working through an acronym approach to being a disciple. The possible sermon was to go through the acronym and talk about how one is a disciple. The Acronym is U.N.I.T.E.D.
  • Uplifted by God’s Love: This reminds us that the basis of our life in faith is that God holds us in, as the old hymn says, a “love that will not let [us] go”. It reminds us that our worth, and the worth of those around us comes from being who we are, not what we have accomplished. We are important because we are part of God’s beloved creation and God loves us. This frees us to explore who God has made and called us to be and how God would have us live and act in the world.
  • Nurtured through Worship: There is a longstanding debate on the question “do you have to go to church to be a ‘good’ Christian”. I think we can live out God’s love without it but it is harder. Worship with others reminds us that there are other people asking some of the same questions that we ask. Worship reminds us that we are part of a community. Hopefully worship also reminds us of what is important, reminds us of what God thinks is most important. Hopefully worship challenges us and energizes us as we continue to live in God’s way.
  • Inspired through Scripture: Part of our exploration is looking at the stories left by those who have gone before. In Scripture we have this wealth of experience of people trying to understand how God is active in the world. As we read Scripture and wrestle with it and find where it intersects with our lives to day we learn more about God, about ourselves, and about where God might be leading us.
  • Transformed through Prayer: The apostle Paul, after whom this congregation is named, encouraged people to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is a chance to open ourselves to God’s presence, a chance to lay out what is on our hearts and minds but also to pause and listen for the still small voice of God. In one book on my Kobo Anne Lamott suggests that there are three basic prayers: Wow, Thanks, and Help. I would also add Sorry. Discipleship is way of life when we are in relationship with God as revealed by Jesus. Prayer is how we help build that relationship.
  • Empowered through Spiritual Friendships: One of the things I have come to learn about life is that we can’t do it alone. (As a teen I thought it was safer to do it alone and took on the Simon & Garfunkel song “I am a Rock, I am an Island” as my theme for a period.) IN the end, humans are a social species. We are stronger when we are together. As a community of faith we help each other grow in our relationship with God. The hope is that within a community of faith we find people who will help us along the road.
  • Developed through Service: I did touch on this idea on October 14. In the letter of James we are reminded that faith without works is dead, is meaningless. To be a disciple is an activity, it means we do things. The primary commandment Jesus gave us was to love each other. He didn’t mean to feel good about each other, he meant to act lovingly toward each other. To be a follower of Jesus is to serve as God’s hands and feet in the world.

To be a part of a Christian community of faith is to be invited on the path of being a disciple. We are all invited to learn and serve and grow together, U.N.I.T.E.D in faith and hope.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Looking Ahead to October 28, 2018 -- Stewardship Sunday #3

The Scripture reading for this week is Matthew 25:31-46

The Sermon title is Love Is A Verb

Early Thoughts: We think it is a feeling or an emotion. And so we wonder how we can be commanded to feel a certain way. After all, we are usually told that feelings are just feelings, we can not control what they are only how we react to them. How can we be commanded to love others? And yet the commandment to love others is at the heart of Christian ethical thought.

What if Jesus is talking about actions, as much (or more) as feelings? What if Jesus is talking about how we act towards others (which may well affect how we feel about them as well)? What if, in other words, love is an action?

After all, we know that actions can be commanded where feelings can't be.

It is said that stewardship is everything we do, every action we take, as people of faith. Stewardship is how we act with the gifts God has given us. Which means stewardship and love can not be separated from each other.

Maybe that is why the title for this year's United Church Stewardship resource is Loving our Neighbours.

In the passage we read this week Jesus reminds us that God is present in all of God's people. Loving God and loving God's people are intertwined. Loving God and loving God's people means doing concrete things to assist them when they are in need. Thought and Prayers are nice but not nearly enough of a response.

I do think it is a stewardship question.  How do you live out love as a verb? How do you use the gifts given to you in acts of love for God and God's creation?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Looking forward to October 21, 2018 -- Stewardship Sunday #2

AS a part of our Stewardship campaign  we will have the young folk take up a coin collection for Mission and Service this Sunday. A chance to lighten the load of coins in your purse or pocket!

The Scripture Reading this week is 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

The Sermon title is What Story Would You Tell?

Early Thoughts: And now for something completely different....

THis week our time of reflection is going to begin by watching this video:

and then people will be invited to share the Good News stories about what is happening at St. Paul's.  What would you tell a visitor (doesn't have to be the Moderator) about what St. Paul's does?

When we remember the good things that are happening we remember what difference our gifts makes. And that is important. After all, we are far more likely to share our gifts and resources when we think they are making a difference.

So what excites you about what happens around here?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Looking Forward to October 14, 2018

This Sunday we will welcome new members to the St. Paul's family through the Re-Affirmation of Baptismal Faith (aka Confirmation). And so we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion. There will also be a potluck lunch following the service.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • James 1:22; 2:14-18
  • Romans 12:1-2, 4-13
The Sermon title is Membership Means...

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to be a member? Some of us grew up with American Express commercials that told us "membership has its privileges". Is that true of the church?

Privileges? Not so many. But to be a member of the church challenges how we live (in theory at least).

One challenge is to ask oneself "how active a member am I going to be at this point in time?". To be a member of any organization means to take part in its life and work. For some people that means a lot of volunteering, for some it means showing up. For many of us the way we are a member, how actively involved we are, changes over the years depending on what else is happening in our lives. But to be a member means supporting the organization in whatever way works for us in that season of time.

That is true of any organization. But to claim oneself as a member of a church raises other questions. In the United Church Creed (aka the New Creed) we read, in part:
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil, 
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen...
 This speaks to what membership means. Membership means we gather with others to celebrate that God is with us. Membership means that we recognize that the rest of Creation is just as important as we are, that we are all created by the Creator (though the actual logistics of such creation are fuzzy). Membership means that we remember the commandment to love each other, and that loving each other is as much or more about how we act towards them as what we feel about them. Membership means that we work with the people around us to name those things that are wrong/unjust/evil. It means we work with others to build a society where everybody is treated justly. It means we actively resist when the world seems to be going the wrong direction.

Membership means that in the stories and teaching of Jesus we find clues to help us live in God's way, and that we share those teachings in some way. Attached to that last one, membership means that as we live with Jesus, as we live as people of faith, we allow space for God to work within and change us. We allow God to reveal a different way of being in the world than our new feeds and advertising shows us. It means we sometimes intentionally choose different priorities, this is what Paul is talking about when he says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable..."

There are also things that membership in the church does not mean. It does not mean we agree with everything said in church (worship or meetings or study groups). It does not mean we stop exploring and asking questions. It does not mean we have to pretend to be perfect. ANd I am sure each reader can think of some others

SO what does membership mean to you?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Looking Forward to October 7, 2018 -- Thanksgiving Sunday

This week we mark the beginning of our Stewardship season by giving thanks.

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 26:1-11
  • Philippians 4:4-9
The Sermon title is Thank You

Early Thoughts: Why are you thankful? How does being thankful change how we live?

This week for our Stewardship campaign we begin by saying thank you. Thank you for all that people have done over the past year, and over the past 107 years, to make St. Paul's united Church what it has been and has become. Without the gifts shared by the people of God, Communities of Faith would not exist. So Thank You Thank You Thank You.

And yes, in part we say thank you because we hope/trust/pray that those gifts will continue to be shared.

But thanking each other for gifts is part of something bigger. It is a life choice. When we say thank you we remember that things are a gift, not something to which we are entitled. When we say thank you we remember that our lives are enriched by that gift. When we say thank you we live more with a sense of gratitude for abundance than a fear of not having enough, which often increases our contentment and happiness in life. When we live out of our thankfulness we are more likely to be willing to pass on the love which has been passed on to us.

Then there is the bigger picture. As we remember to thank each other for gifts, big and small, shared within our community we can more easily remember to look out and wonder where all those other gifts came from. Because of where we place it in the calendar we often jump to the conclusion that Thanksgiving is related to the Harvest being safely gathered in (though unless things dry up quickly this year that certainly will not be true). And it is -- partially. Certainly people of faith have had festivals of thanksgiving for the harvest for millenia, after all that harvest denoted food and survival. But they have also had feasts of thanksgiving for many other reasons.

Why are you thankful this year?

What gifts has God given you that demand you say thank you? What gifts has God given you that you take for granted? Most of us who gather for worship at St. Paul's have not spent hours driving a combine or or cutting hay or herding cattle. We join our neighbours who do those things in thanksgiving, but we also give thanks for many other gifts. And as I said above, when we remember to give thanks, even more importantly, when we make giving thanks a habit and regular practice, it changes who we are and how we live.

On the St. Paul's Facebook page I shared a challenge. I challenged the people who read and follow that page to make one Facebook post each and every day in October saying something for which they are thankful. I am using the hashtag #MonthOfThanks on my posts. I suggest that we can do that even without posting it on Social Media, we can name something(s) every day that make us thankful. And maybe it will get to be such a habit that we will continue beyond Halloween...

Why did you say thank you today?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A BOok Review

(I was asked to read and review this for Touchstone, a journal produced by United Church folk)

Preacher: David H. C. Read’s Sermons at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church
David H. C. Read, edited by John McTavish (Eugen: Wipf & Stock, 2017) Pp.289.

One of the great challenges of being in solo ministry is that you rarely get to hear another person preach. And that is too bad because exposure to other preachers sermons is a great tool to help reflect on one’s own preaching. This is why books like this can be so helpful.

In some circles David Read is likely a big name in preaching. Certainly John McTavish thinks highly of him “...the preacher who has most nourished my soul and stimulated my mind...” (1). However since he retired almost 30 years ago it is very likely that a large number of people have never heard of him or have any familiarity with his work. For this reason it is very helpful that McTavish starts the book with and introductory preface that includes a brief biography. McTavish places Read as a theological centrist and suggests that this may be why he is less well-known that people like William Sloane Coffin or Billy Graham, saying that “...crowds tend to gravitate to simplistic extremes” (2). It is likely that many in the United Church of Canada would not find Read to be a centrist by 2018 standards, but that may well be because a) thirty years have passed, and more importantly b) the centrist position of the worldwide church is quite different from the centrist position in the United Church.

David Read is a product of the early 20th century, being ordained in 1936 at age 26. He served as a chaplain in World War 2, spending most of the war as a prisoner after being captured during the fall of France in 1940. Theologically he was a follower of Karl Barth and so in the neo-orthodox school of theology. In 1955, ten years after the war, Read was offered a chance to work in academia in his native Scotland when a chance event lead him to be invited to cross the Atlantic and begin ministry at Madison Avenue Presbyterian in New York. He would remain there until his retirement in 1989. The forty (well sort of forty-one since the first entry in the Christmas section is actually two Christmas stories from different years) sermons in the main section of this volume all come from Read’s tenure at Madison Avenue. The earliest sermon in the collection dates from 1970 and the latest from 1989, the year he retired.

The forty sermons McTavish has selected for this volume are arranged according to the church year. This gives the benefit of following through a ‘year in the life of a faith community’ with David Read. The downside is that this means they are not arranged chronologically so it is harder to trace how Read’s theology may have grown and evolved between 1970 and 1989. Both organizational schemes would have had merit, so it works to follow from the Season of Creation, into Advent and Christmas, then Epiphany, Lent Easter and Pentecost. In an epilogue McTavish has included a listing of books written by Read and some reviews of some of those books. Then there is one last sermon (from 1967) to close off the book. Before each sermon is an “editor’s introduction” to help set the context when the sermon was originally preached—with the occasional editorial comment added.

Is it worthwhile to read sermons from another city, another country and a whole other era? After all the youngest sermon in this book is 29 years old and we know that much has changed in the last 29 years. Sermons are intended to speak to the current context, what is the value of sermons to another, very different context. Well, people still read and quote from sermons by John Chrysotom and John Wesley and Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon (to name a few). All those sermons are far older than 29 years. Good preaching is both contextually sensitive and also has a timelessness about it. Then again there is the sad fact about humanity that the species keeps acting in the same unhealthy ways, only the details change. So many of the issues that Read addresses echo in the news feeds of 2018 as much as they speak to the headlines of 1970 or 1980 that the sermons continue to speak to the soul of the one trying to follow Christ.

This is a worthy addition to the shelf of someone in preaching ministry. The reader may not follow the same theological path as Read, may not come to the same conclusions, may even argue strongly against his tack. But that helps to make the preacher a better preacher, which seems to be the point of such a book.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What New Thing is God Doing? -- A Newspaper Column

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

There are some things that remain constant. People will always be complaining about elected officials and public services. Alberta weather will always have some new curve to throw your way. Online political discussions will quickly become people talking at each other from hardened positions and not listening to each other. And then there is the one thing we have long been told remains constant – change.

The world is constantly changing. Everything in the world is constantly changing. Sometimes those changes are earth shatteringly big, Sometimes they are hardly noticeable. Our task is to figure out how we will respond to those changes. And to do that we need the gift of discernment. Which changes are healthy and need to be embraced and encouraged? Which changes are problematic and need to be questioned and challenged? Which ones are ahead of their time and which ones are long overdue? As a person of faith I also try to ask where God is in the change. How would God have me/us respond to this particular change? Is God’s will revealed in this development? How?

Many years ago, in my last year of seminary, we had a discussion about how as clergy part of our role was to be change makers and change managers. Because it was becoming more and more obvious that the old ways of being the church were no longer working. The same can be said about many parts of our society. I think that is still true of my calling. Change is inevitable. So where is God in that? Over the years I find myself asking more often what new thing God is doing. After all many times in Scripture God does new things, that is often what drives the faith story forward. Every Sunday millions of Christians around the world pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven”. As that happens the world will be changed.

So what new thing is God doing in your life? In your community? In your church? How do you react?

There is a challenge of trying to open people to the new thing that God is doing. People don’t like change. It upsets the routine, it makes things different, it requires adaptation. We might have to do things differently, or give up a privileged position, or admit that maybe our old assumptions and attitudes and understandings were wrong. And yet, as people of faith we have to admit that God calls people to new understandings throughout the Scripture story. God routinely challenges people to think and act differently. Some of them continue to find meaning in old patterns and understandings, some take the leap of faith and enter a different world.

I turn 50 next year. In the (almost) half century I have lived on the earth the world has changed drastically. I don’t just mean technologically, but also in terms of how we exist as neighbours in this global village. As a community our understandings of sexuality, race relations, interfaith issues, morality, and social responsibility have been challenged multiple times. Some of those challenges have brought needed corrections. Some have been squashed few times. In every case there were those who thought the change was good and those who fought tooth and nail against it. Some are fights we are still having. I believe that God is behind many of those changes and challenges. So I still have to turn to the question of where God is in this, what new thing might God be doing? That needs to be what guides my response.

God IS doing a new thing with, within, and amongst us. Our understanding of how God acts, of who God is, of how God wants us to behave has changed over the millenia before us. Our understanding of how to live with our neighbours has changed multiple times over the millenia of human existence. It will continue to be like that because one of the only things that remains constant is change.

So the question is this: how will we, individually and collectively, respond to the new thing God is doing? Will we fall victim to the desire to keep in our comfortable routines? Or will we take the leap of faith and try out a new way of being? We might lose some things, but we just might gain things we didn’t know we were missing – and we might not miss what we lose.

Let’s just listen for God to give us a hint of which way to go.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Looking Ahead to September 23, 2018 -- Week 4 of Creation Time: Water

This week will conclude our Season of Creation Time.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Psalm 104:1-9, 24-35 (VU p.826)
  • Revelation 22:1-5
  • Matthew 8:23-27
The Sermon title is Uisce Beatha

Early Thoughts: Water of Life. That is what those words from Irish Gaelic mean (they also happen to be used for whiskey in both their Scottish and Irish versions -- according to Wikipedia at least):
Uisce beatha (Irish pronunciation: [ˈɪʃkʲə ˈbʲahə]) is the name for whiskey in Irish. The equivalent in Scottish Gaelic is rendered uisge-beatha.[1] The word "whisky" (as spelt in Scotland) or "whiskey" (as spelt in Ireland) itself is simply an anglicised version of this phrase,[2] stemming from a mispronunciation of the word uisce in Ireland or uisge in Scotland. It should be remembered that Irish and Scots Gaelic developed as unwritten languages and had no standard spelling until more modern times so the difference in spelling likely has little to do with mispronunciation; though according to the Whiskey Museum in Dublin, Ireland, the different spelling began as a marketing decision (for increased pricing) - other companies followed the trend. This development may in turn have influenced the Modern Irish word fuisce ("whiskey"). The phrase uisce beatha, literally "water of life", was the name given by Irish monks of the early Middle Ages to distilled alcohol. It is simply a translation of the Latin aqua vitae.[3] 
 As we know water is essential for life. It is also a sign of life.  That is why there is so much time searching for signs of liquid water on Mars. If they find water there is a chance they will find life, there may even be a chance someday we could find a way for Mars to support human life (though I think the latter is a little more far reaching).

Water is also an integral part of our faith story. In Genesis 1 the story begins with the Spirit of God moving over the waters of chaos. Later in genesis we have the story of Noah and the flood. Throughout the Patriarch stories we find oases. Isaac and Jacob and Moses all find their wives at wells. Then later Moses leads the people to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea and Joshua leads the people into the Promised Land through the waters of the Jordan. In between Moses finds water for the people in the midst of the desert so that they will not die.

Turning to the Christian Scripture we have more water. John the Baptist baptizes with a baptism of repentance in the Jordan, John then baptizes Jesus. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus turns water into wine at the beginning of his ministry. In that same Gospel, in Jesus' longest conversation with one person, Jesus meets a woman at a well and discusses water -- both the water in the well and the "living Water" that Jesus manifests. Many of Jesus' teachings take place on or beside the water -- including the passage we read this week about a storm at sea. And the faith story ends with the river of life flowing through and from the New Jerusalem.

It seems that water is important. It is a vital gift from God to the people of God.

Even in practical terms we know water is important.  Most of the Earth's surface is covered by water, though most of that water is not suitable or available for drinking and irrigation. Our bodies are mostly water (I remember a Star Trek: TNG episode where an alien contact referred to the Enterprise crew as "ugly bags of mostly water").

If water is so essential to Life why have we done so poorly by it? We in Grande Prairie, like most people in Canada have the luxury of turning on our tap and getting clean safe water. Not everyone in Canada, much less around the globe has that luxury.

If water is life, if water is a gift from God, how might we best honour the gift and support Life?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Looking Ahead to September 16, 2018 -- Creation TIme Week 3 -- Air

A reminder that folk are invited to bring their backpack this Sunday for a Blessing of the Backpacks

The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
  • Psalm 19:1-6
  • Psalm 148:1-6
  • Jeremiah 4:23-28
The Sermon title is What Does the Sky Reveal?

Early Thoughts: Next time you are outside, look up. What do you see? What does it tell you?

The sky can reveal many things. Many of us have at least a beginning ability to predict (or at least guess) what the weather might be be looking at the sky.  Some of us have developed that ability more than others.

Some of us look up at the sky to see if it is safe to go out side.  Think of our smoky days this summer and remember that there are people for whom that air was not just inconvenient but dangerous. And many people used language like "apocalyptic" to describe those skies [As an aside, I have been told that one of those really bad days in the Edmonton area had air quality that was the same as a bad day in Beijing.Given that Beijing is noted for poor air quality at the best of times that is really saying something.]

Some of us look up to see if there is a plane coming in to land or taking off. Or to see if the geese are heading south (or north depending on the season)

We look for all sorts of things in the sky.

But think of the glorious hues of a sunrise or sunset. Or maybe the sun peeking out from behind a storm front. Or maybe a rainbow, or even better a fire rainbow. Or the thousands of twinkling bits of light on a clear night. OR a giant moon that makes you want to sing Sinatra

What do those images reveal?

Might they reveal God's presence? Might they push us to think beyond what we can see to the God who is within and beyond all things?

The Psalmists certainly thought so. To them the sky revealed God's presence just as much as the Torah did.

The apocalyptic passages of Scripture, those ones that talk of destruction and the "end times", often talk about the sky as well.

What does the sky reveal to you? What might it reveal next time you look up?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Looking Ahead to September 9, 2018 -- Creation Time Week 2: Soil

This Sunday marks the start of the Sunday School program for this season.

The Scripture Readings are:
  • Genesis 2:4-15; 3:17-19
  • Luke 12:22-29
The Sermon title is From Dust Comes Life

Early Thoughts: From a pile of dust and a puff of the Spirit comes... life. And when the breath departs we return to the dust. WE are a pile of dust (stardust some will say)

There is something about dirt. It fascinates many a child (and bothers many a parent to be fair). There is something about playing in the dirt that draws many of us. Maybe it is adding water and making mud pies. Maybe it is taking a stick and drawing pictures. Maybe taking a chunk of clay dug from the ground and turning it into a pot or statue. Or maybe we are ambitious enough to take some rock and some tools and carve a figurine (or in the case of ancient Ethiopia a whole church). But something within us knows that dirt can become...something. The second story of Creation in the book of Genesis tells us God knows that too.

Dirt is the source of life. Dirt is, in the end, where most of our food comes from (especially if like me you do not eat fish or seafood). For most of human history land (which tends to be made largely of dirt) has meant life and wealth. Maybe we need to regain our love for dirt and mud and dust.

We live in a world where we have been told the dirt is a problem. We have so bought into the line the cleanliness is next to godliness that dirt must be far removed from godliness...right? But God creates life from dirt. Life continues to come from dirt. And in the end we are going to become dirt again. Maybe there is some holiness in the dust on every flat surface in our house after all...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

September Newsletter

This month I sit down with an unusual problem. Often I have to scratch my head to come up with a newsletter topic. This month I have 3.

One idea is to reflect on some of the decisions and discussions that happened this summer at the 43rd meeting of the General Council. One idea was to talk about something co-developed by our new Moderator the Rev. Dr. Richard Bott. Working with Dave Anderson Richard developed a resource to develop discipleship using the acronym U.N.I.T.E.D. The third option sprang from an article that Sharon shared at our August Council meeting about Radical Sabbath. Upon reflection I think I will go with option 3 (and likely use option 2 in the October Newsletter since worship in October will have a Stewardship focus).

I am guessing most people have heard about the idea of Sabbath. After keeping Sabbath is one of the 10 Commandments.. The question is “what is the best way to do that?”

The article Sharon shared talked about a church that went very radical. They challenged folks to keep sabbath by not even having worship every second Sunday. Instead folks could take a day off. Not another day to get caught up on errands but a day to release and relax. To quote from the article: “They spend every other Sunday doing things that bring them joy. There is one rule: whatever you do on Sunday you do it out of a desire for joy – if it’s an obligation, it’s not Sabbath.”

That is extreme. But it raises some questions. What does it mean to take Sabbath as a time the reinvigorates, a time that adds joy to our lives, a time when we step back from the busy-ness of life and gain a different perspective? Does the way we currently do church help us do those things? And if it doesn’t then how should we change the way we do church?

Having read the article Sharon shared with us and the article that it itself references (you can read the latter here: it is obvious that the congregation was not giving up on worship. They were trying to re-imagine what it means to be the church. And it seems to have worked for them. I am not convinced that it would work for everyone, there may be something gained but also what might be lost. I am more interested in the questions it raised in my mind, not the specific solution that congregation chose to try.

We live in a culture that contradicts sabbath time. We are told that we have to be achieving something all the time. And the church is not immune to that. I think we need to make a choice, largely as individuals but also as a community. I think we need to make a choice that we will set out time to be “non-productive” (though I believe such time turns out to be highly productive in other ways). Which is hard, I know that I rarely, if ever, have a full day where I just do things that provide joy. And even if I did would I be able to stop thinking about all the other stuff that needs to be done? I admit to having trouble envisioning what it would mead t set a whole day as sabbath time. I am going to guess that I am not alone in that.

So the first thing I think that we can do as part of how we “do church” is ask ourselves how we can support each other in trying to create “non-productive” time. One way to do that is to help make at least the church part of our Sunday more like sabbath time.

Churches tend to think that since we are all together on a Sunday it is a great time to get the business of the church done. Sometimes it is through formal meetings (I have heard of churches who have Board meetings on Sunday afternoon). Most often it is through informal meetings and conversations over coffee (or during the Passing of the Peace). I am challenging all of us to covenant with each other that our Sunday gatherings will be set aside for worship and community building. We will commit that any business or planning that needs to be done can wait until a phone call or e-mail or visit on some other day – but we will not try to schedule those things in our conversations on Sunday mornings. I think it is a first step in how we can help make our time together solely about revitalization and building our relationships with God and each other. I also think it will be harder than it sounds.

We are told that keeping Sabbath is part of God’s plan and hope for us. We are told that it is good for us. One step at a time let’s try to help each other actually do it.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Looking Forward to September 2, 2018 -- We Look at Creation

This is the first Sunday of the month and so we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

For the next four weeks we will be looking at issues around the Care of Creation from a faith perspective.

The Scripture Reading for this week is Genesis 1:1-2:3 (the Priestly hymn to Creation)

The Sermon title is God’s Gift, Our Work

Early Thoughts: It is a song of praise to the Creator, that first chapter of our Scripture story. It is not a science text. It is not a history lesson. It is a song of praise and thanksgiving, and then ends with a charge to the humans created at the end of the song.

At the end of the cycle, as humans are created they are given the task of filling the earth and "subduing" it. Humans, the ones created in God's image, are given dominion over the created earth. It is a weighty task. And I would suggest we have not done well with it.

Even more so I would suggest that, despite the amount of environmental awareness in our media today, we are getting worse with each generation. Some would say that is because we are addicted to things that use energy (both in creation and use) and that those of us in the West [maybe especially in North America] have become addicted to an unsustainable standard of living the we call normal. There is truth there. I am sure I use far more energy and resources now than a person of my age and social position did 30 years ago. But I think there is something deeper. I think that many of us have become, to varying degrees, isolated from the environment. And so we have less appreciation of the gift and less of a drive to take on the work of caring for it.

I think we need to re-develop a connectedness with the creation and the Creator. After all it has always been a tenet of Christian (and Jewish I believe) theology that while God is revealed in the Scriptures and in Christ, God is also revealed in the creation. And so to learn all we can about God we need to connect with creation. It is my belief that if we truly connect with the world around us it changes our priorities and thus our actions.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Looking Forward to August 26, 2018 -- The Armor of God

The Scripture Reading this week is Ephesians 6:10-20

The Sermon title is Suit Up

Early Thoughts: What on earth is Paul talking about here?  I think it is largely about faith and trust, those things that give us power and wings as we fly about in the world as followers of God.

It appears that Paul understands that there are forces in the world that work against the Kingdom of God. And Paul calls those of us who follow Christ to stand against those forces. But when those forces seem so plentiful and strong how can we do that?

For Paul, the answer is to put on the armor of faith.  We stand in God, we trust in God, we have faith that God is with us. And therefore we can stand firm as agents of the Kingdom.

Obviously there is no store where you can order the breastplate and the belt and the shoes of which Paul speaks. No armorer on the planet can forge for you the shield and helmet and sword. It is a metaphor, it is a way of calling us to think differently about how we are clad (and in my experience how we are clad can make a change in how we present ourselves to the world). If we think we are defenseless against the powers an principalities then it is harder to resist them. When we believe that we are armored and defended then resistance gets easier.

Despite the very martial imagery of these words this is not necessarily a call to warfare. I do believe it is a call to resistance. I believe it is a call to arms. But I don't think we suit up and sing "marching as to war". Paul is writing to a minority group who do not have the ability to march to war against the Empire. How do we resist?

Just this morning on the Edmonton news was a story about a racist tirade sparked by a parking dispute. When we suit up in the armor of God how do we resist racism?

We live in a world where there are clear haves and have nots. Suiting up, how do we resist the idea that this is how it always must be?

In a world where "truth" seems to becoming a very fuzzy concept, how do we suit up in Kingdom clothes and proclaim truths (the ones we like to hear and the ones that are hard to hear)?

As followers of Christ we are called to be agents of God's Kingdom which is here among us and also yet to come in fullness. Suit up and live as citizens of the Kingdom.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Looking Forward to July 8, 2018 -- Finale of Job

This week we read the last bit of Job's story Job 42:7-17

The Sermon title is Right Restored?

Early Thoughts: In the beginning Job was wealthy, incredibly so.  Then disaster struck. Now at the end Job's life and wealth are restored. So all is right with world?

Or maybe not? Does returning all that Job ever had and then some make up for all he has lost? Can what he has lost simply be replaced? I doubt that.

But is that what is happening? How does right get restored after great damage is done? And what gives Job the gumption to go ahead with a new life after all that has happened to him?

Maybe trust. Trust in the God who has been proven to be present in all that has happened. Trust in the God whom he has met face to face. Trust in the God who allows Job to lament and rant full honest expression if his feelings. Trust that God will continue to be present.

The book of Job never answers the "Why do bad things happen to good people?" [or the corollary "why do good things happen to bad people?"]. But it does teach us something about how we could possibly respond to tragedy in our own lives. And it suggests that sometimes we might come out of the trauma with a new life. Sort of a resurrection story?

And yet it is a bit about restoration. I don't mean the restoration of wealth (though that happens) or the restoration of family (though that also happens). I think that the relationship between God and Job as been restored and repaired as well. Partly because I think that restored and repaired relationships are a major part of how we live through trauma into new life.

So maybe right has been restored after all?

PS: Of note about the end of this story is the fact that Job's daughter's in this new life are named in the text (a relatively rare event in Scripture) but also that they are given a share of the inheritance after Job is gone (thought to be VERY rare in the ancient world).  Also the Masonic-linked organization Job's Daughter's takes its name from this story.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Looking Forward to July 1, 2018 -- Continuing with Job

This week we will read the following pieces of Job's story Job 38:25-27; 41:1-8; 42:1-6

The Sermon title for the week is The World God Loves

Early Thoughts: Once God started to respond to Job we have heard a lot about the world God created. And in the end Job has a different picture of his place in the system. He has been taken down a peg or two.  Where once he ranted to God and demanded answers now he seems very chastened (despite the fact he never go a direct answer to his question) but also satisfied, Earlier Job demanded to see God, now he has seen God.

The divine speeches show that God has passion for the world God has made. They also suggest that humanity is not in fact at the center of Creation (despite what some humans would like to believe). Rather humanity is a part of the whole creation that God loves. Which reminds me of John 3:16 "For God so loved the world...".

It is my belief that the story of Christian faith is not about the God who rebuilds relationship with humanity, though that is a big part of the story. It is the story of a God who is redeeming the world, the whole world, in the building of God's Kingdom. The God who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the fields in colourful flowers is at work loving and redeeming the world. This includes, but is not limited to, humanity.

God loves the world!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

July /August Newsletter

Summer of Spirit

I am writing this from the Saskatoon airport with a head full of thoughts stirred up by the ReJUNEvation event that finished this afternoon. There is a column waiting to be written growing out of the discussions of the last 3 days but I need more time to process my thoughts so it will come later, likely the next time I am scheduled to write the Faith piece for the Daily Herald Tribune.

The question that is in my head for this piece of writing though is:”How do you hope to feed your spirit this summer?” Not just what do you hope/intend to do and accomplish this summer but how will doing those things help feed your spirit?

As I ask that question a story comes to mind. Many years ago I was talking to someone who lived on the lake. They told me that once summer cam around they did not go in to town very often on a Sunday morning. Instead of attending worship they would sit on the deck and watch the lake and listen to the loons. That was what fed their spirit.

We feed our spirits in a variety of ways. Being with nature is one. Attending communal worship, gathering with the faith family to share the Good News is another. For some sleeping in and having no commitments may be the best way to feed the soul some mornings. For some a change of scenery, a trip to some other part of the country does the trick. But it is my base assumption that year-round we need to do something to feed our spirits, even if what that ‘something’ is will vary from time to time.

How will you feed your spirit this summer?

One of the things we are doing this summer is handing out church passports. The idea is to get people to have them stamped/signed wherever they find themselves worshipping each Sunday and then share their experiences when September comes. This way we can learn from each other how our spirit was fed. I know that my girls plan to get their passports signed while they are at Camp(or at least their parents plan they will get that done). Maybe your passport will be full of stamps from St. Paul’s. Maybe it will have a variety of churches in it. I may be biased but I do believe that worshipping with other members of the faith family is one of the best ways to feed my spirit. At the same time I find a walk along Bear Creek can do wonders for my spirit too.

One of the ways I am feeding my spirit this summer is family time. We are heading out to Toronto for a week, which will (hopefully) include a day a day at Niagara Falls. Despite the expected crowds I hope that going to this natural wonder will be as awe-inspiring as I remember it being last time I was there – 34 years ago. Another thing I am doing is taking some Study Leave time and attending the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) gathering in Edmonton at the end of July. The presenter list for this event looks very promising. You can find out more at:

Then there will be the regular summer things like mowing the lawn, trying to find the desired plants among the garden weeds, a few BBQ meals... But even those things might have the chance to feed the spirit.

How will you feed your spirit this summer?

I look forward to hearing about it as the summer proceeds or in September!