Monday, February 26, 2018

Looking Ahead to March 4, 2018 -- Annual Meeting Sunday

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

A reminder that the Annual Congregational Meeting will happen immediately following worship. Lunch and child care are being provided.

The Scripture readings for this week are:

The Sermon title is As One That Serves

Early Thoughts: Servant-leadership. That is what Christ models for us and that is what we are called to practice.

But what exactly does that mean?  Does it mean washing feet?

Maybe.  In Jesus' era footwashing was a basic part of entering a dwelling. Often (perhaps most often) the host would ensure that the basin and pitcher were available and the individual would wash their own feet. Sometimes a slave (almost always a female slave apparently) would do the actual washing.  But a free-man would never wash another person's feet. Certainly the Teacher/Leader would not wash the feet of the Student/Follower. But that is what Jesus does, over the strenuous objections of Peter.


One possibility is it is an act of devotion, a way to show how deeply he cares for these people (and washing another's body is a deeply intimate action).  Just a chapter earlier in John's Gospel we had the story of Mary pouring perfume over the feet of Jesus and wiping those feet with her hair (it is Judas who objects that time). This is a clear act of devotion. Maybe Jesus is modelling love and devotion here as well.

But then we remember that Jesus consistently points out that in the Kingdom of God reversals are the rule.  The last will be first. Come like a small child. In Luke's Gospel Jesus makes it plain that while he may be the Teacher, maybe even the Anointed One of God, he is among them as one that serves. To love others as we love ourselves, to love each other as we have been loved by God, is to serve each other. That is the way we lead each other into the deepest understanding of Kingdom-living.

TO a degree the church has always known this. In fact the National United Church Men's Organization takes it's name from this Luke Passage -- As One That Serves.

Jesus is many things. Sometimes he is an agitator (though that may well be a form of servanthood). Sometimes he is a teacher. Sometimes he is a healer. Sometimes a preacher and truth-teller. But at all times he is a lover, one who loves God and one who loves the people who surround him. And at all times he is serving. Serving God, serving the best interests of the world that God loves.

Because to lead is to serve, to serve is to lead. At least in God's Kingdom.

How do you lead? How do you serve? What is your brand of servant leadership?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Looking Ahead to February 25, 2018 -- Lent 2, the Raising of Lazarus

This week we have the third (and final) long passage from John. This time it is John 11:1-44 which tells the story of the death and not-so death of Lazarus.

The Sermon title this week is His Friend Died...Can You Guess What Happened Next?

Early Thoughts: Sorrow turns to amazement, despair to wonderment, weeping into shouts of praise.

I suspect this is a story that we are too familiar with. Like many stories of faith it is hard to read the beginning without knowing the ending. But does knowing the ending before we get there rob the story of its power?

What would it be like to read it for the first time? What would it be like to live it?
Mary and Martha are heartbroken. Their brother has died. They are sure that had Jesus been there he could have kept Lazarus from dying.  But Jesus was not there and Lazarus has died (depending how far away Jesus was it is possible Lazarus was dead by the time Jesus got the message that he was ill).

Has Jesus come back for a funeral for the friend he loved? Or is there something else in play?

Jesus weeps in this story. Jesus feels the grief of a friend's death. But he is not willing to accept the finality.  In this story death is real. Early in the Jesus tries to slide over its reality by using the euphemism of sleep but his disciples miss the point so he has to be blunt (personal note, we need to be more blunt about the reality of death in the world, euphemism's only bring the appearance of comfort). Death is real. Lazarus is really truly dead. In fact we are told he has been dead for four days. In a hot climate sealed in a tomb imagine what an un-embalmed body would smell like (think of the chicken you forgot to put in the fridge for a day or two...). Death is real.

But death is not final in this story, or in the larger story of faith. Death does not have the last word. Life speaks last. The word of Life, the invitation to abundant life unbinds us and sets us free.

In John's Gospel this is the last of 7 signs that reveal who Jesus is. Here we hear that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and then we see it in action. Here we see that maybe the "last days" are closer than we think -- and also less of a sudden turning that a growing edge. It is notable that in John's account this is the last straw for the rulers.  This is where the decision is made that this Jesus must die.

What part of this story speaks to you the most?  What signs of hope do you draw from it? And have you ever wondered what Lazarus thinks of the whole deal?????

Monday, February 12, 2018

Looking Forward to February 18, 2018 -- First Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Reading this week is John 9:1-41

The Sermon title is He Spat on the Ground...What Happened Next will Amaze You

Early Thoughts:  Why didn’t someone tell me decades ago that spit and dirt make such a great healing tool?  I could have been a millionaire before starting kindergarten!!!!

Who is blind? How and Why? How is that blindness to be removed?  SOme of the questions that come up for me this week.

In the passage this week we have a healing story, though to be honest it really appears that the healing is not the point of the pericope. The healing is a launching point for some theological (and possibly political) discussion leading to a statement of faith. Then we end with some shade being thrown at those who are unwilling to see (there are none so blind…).

Another problematic piece is the political overtones of the dialogue with the parents. The text claims that the parents choose not to answer because of fear of “the Jews”. [To me it makes perfect sense that parents would say of their adult child–go ask him, he can speak for himself.] Traditionally I have been taught that this, and other references in the Gospel, refers to a time when Christians were being turfed from the synagogues, which would still make it anachronistic within the narrative as it stands. In the Jewish Annotated New Testament they suggest that even this is something that is hard to find historical references for. As with any time John says “the Jews” I see a potential for anti-Semitic interpretation. It makes it possible to read the rest of the passage as saying “those silly sinful, willfully blind Jews. why will they not see?”

Finally, there is a whole issue of how do we talk about the need to be healed from blindness, or the question of being willfully blind, without verging into a form of ableism?

A man is healed and becomes a witness.  With a whole lot of other stuff surrounding it.  I wonder what the sermon will have to say about it?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Annual Report Time again......

“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Two verses (one we will hear on the Sunday of the Annual Congregational Meeting, the other one contains the sermon title for that morning) that speak to the task of following Christ. To be a follower of Christ is to be one who serves and loves your neighbours. As the “New Creed says: “We are called to be the love and serve others.”

The document you are holding is a snapshot of how this congregation has lived out this task over the past year. It does not tell the whole story – it would need to be much longer to do that – but it gives a taste. The picture painted by these reports makes one thing clear. To love and serve others is something that takes many hands. And so I need to say thank you.

Thank you to all of you for all you have done over the past year. Some have signed up on the Worship clipboard for those tasks that are part of our weekly gatherings. Some have served on various Ministry Teams. Some have planned special events. Some have been ready to help wherever needed, often with short notice. Most, if not all, of you have contributed money to meet our local expenses, money to our Local Outreach, money to Mission & Service. The financial portion of this report will tell you the number of dollars behind this work but it won’t tell you the full value behind all these gifts. Collectively you have contributed 1000’s of hours of time and labour to love and serve others. Thank You Thank You Thank You.

And now we are on the edge (well it is already February so I guess we are over the edge) of a new year. What will it hold? What are some of my hopes?

As with last year my hope is to get out of the office more. To be honest I did not get this done nearly as well as I hoped in 2017 and so I have to admit that I need help with this. I need invitations or requests and maybe even appointments for coffee. Give me a call and we can set something up.

Another hope is that we take time to explore what the needs of the community around us are, so that we can decide how (or if) we can respond to those needs. When I posted on Facebook about not knowing what to say in this year’s report Eunice Friesen (jokingly?) suggested “Let your congregation know that you are becoming a go-to pastor for the city! “. I really don’t think that is true, but it speaks to my hope that St. Paul’s continues to b a church known for responding to the community, there to serve the community.

And the last hope I share for this year is the hope I have every year. That as a community we we continue to grow deeper in our understanding of discipleship. I hope that we will ask what it means to follow Jesus, to live in God’s Way, to open ourselves to the holiness that surrounds and enfolds us. May God be with us all as we learn and grow, as we continue to love and serve.