Monday, March 26, 2018

Looking Ahead to April 1, 2018 -- Easter Sunday

This being the first Sunday of the month we will include the celebration of Communion in our Easter celebration.

Also because it is the first Sunday of the month we will be having our 2nd Offering. This is a monthly offering taken specifically to fund our Outreach program, which offers grocery vouchers to people who have been referred by one of the social agencies in Grande Prairie.

And because it is Easter Sunday the Handbell Choir will be playing during the worship (and the Sr. Choir will be singing 2 anthems and the Jr Choir will also sing -- I am thinking the sermon might need to be shorter!)

This year we will hear the Easter morning story as told by John (John 20:1-18)

The Sermon title is April Fool's?.

Early Thoughts: They thought they had won! The troublemaker was dead and buried. The kingdoms of the world had triumphed over the one who proclaimed the kingdom of God.

And then...


Easter comes as a surprise to everyone in the Gospels. Nobody is expecting it. In fact most people do not even recognize what has happened at first. Jesus is dead (everyone is clear on a minister in my childhood pointed out, if the Romans wanted you dead you would be good and dead). By all appearances, the story has come to a tragic end.

Somehow it is a little fitting that this year the surprise is revealed on April Fools day. There is a tradition that Easter was a grand joke God played on the powers of the world (usually personified as Satan). Just when they think they have one God plays a final card and everything is turned around. The powers are in fact defeated, death has lost its sting. Life wins!

Where do we think the powers of the world have won this year? What has happened to help kill the promise of the kingdom this year? Where might we be surprised to find that the dead is indeed alive?

Looking Forward to March 30, 2018 -- Good Friday (10:00 am)

As we move through Holy Week we pause to remember the whole story. It may be tempting to jump from the joy of a Palm Parade to the joy of an empty tomb but that is not the story (Personally I think it also robs the Easter story of some of its power). Instead we follow the cycle from triumph to defeat to waiting for possible triumph. On Friday we sink to the depths of defeat. With the close of the Friday service we enter the time of vigil and waiting. In fact there is a tradition that the Good Friday service does not actually end. Instead it goes into recess, ending only after the first service of Easter.

This year we will read the Good Friday Scripture as told in John's Gospel (John 18:1-19:42).

Early Thoughts: What leaps out from the story this year? After all, we read one version of it every year.

One of the classical understandings of the cross is that Jesus dies in our place. Given that in chapter 11, after Jesus raised Lazarus, the comment is made that it is better that one man should die than the nation be destroyed it would appear that John's Gospel might support such a reading.  Though of course Caiaphas was referring to the quashing of a rabble-rousing revolutionary before he led the nation against Rome, not a theological point about sin and forgiveness. But at the same time John is unique in that by his account Jesus says "it is finished" and gives up his life at approximately the same time that the Passover lambs are being killed before roasting for the Seder meal that evening. So obviously John sees some symbolism here along the lines of Jesus dying on our behalf.

What might that mean? What might it mean that the Word-Made-Flesh, that God-With-Us chooses to give up his life? That would seem to be a primary theological question on Good Friday. What does it say about the kingship and power language so evident in the trial by Pilate? How does that tie in to Pilate and Jesus' exchange about truth? What does it say about teh leadership who are so willing to sacrifice Jesus to protect "the nation"?

Looking Ahead to March 29, 2018 -- Maundy Thursday

The worship on Maundy Thursday invites us to remember Jesus' last meal with his friends.  So naturally we have our worship within a meal.  Our combined potluck/worship begins at 6:00 in the West basement.  Please use the north west door when you arrive.

During our gathering we will hear these Scripture Readings:
  • John 13:3-17, 34-35
  • 1 Corinthians 11:20-26
Early Thoughts: We call the Thursday before Good Friday Maundy.  Why? The title comes from the Latin word maundatum which means commandment. And that is because one of the traditional passages for that night is from John 13 where Jesus says "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another", a commandment given just after Jesus has modeled servant-leadership in the washing of the disciple's feet.

What does it mean to be known by the fact that we love one another?
What does it mean to be given that commandment the night before Jesus is arrested, tried, and convicted?

In the other three Gospels the Last Supper is set as a Passover Seder [in John's Gospel it is not as John has Jesus die about the time that the Passover lambs were being killed and prepped for roasting to become the main course for the Seder --symbolic much there John?]. In those accounts we get another commandment. We are commanded that we are to eat and drink and remember, that we break the bread and pass the cup in remembrance of Jesus.

How does the communal meal (which from reading Paul's words in 1 Corinthians we can tell has been a hallmark of Christian worship from the very beginning) tie in to the commandment to love?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Looking Ahead to March 25, 2018 -- Palm Sunday

The Scripture for this week is John 12:12-36

The Sermon title is This Hour

Early Thoughts: Is this a royal procession? Is the the opening of a coronation festival?

Or is it the beginning of something much more somber? 

Which hour is this that Jesus refers to? The celebration or the tragedy? Possibly both?

AS John tells his story of Jesus this triumphant entry into the city immediately follows the raising of Lazarus. Which is important for two reasons. One is that the raising of Lazarus has greatly raised Jesus' status and so the crowds around him have grown larger. The other is that in response to the incident in Bethany the leadership in Jerusalem have made a fateful (and fatal) determination. For the good of the nation this Jesus must die. As readers we are aware of these machinations, while the excited crowds are less aware.

So today is indeed both comedy and tragedy. Both masks are being worn. We join in the celebrations and the glory.  With the Greeks watching we ask to know more. But also we see the gathering clouds on the horizon.

As the clouds grow thicker and heavier over the week, can we remain as children of the light?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Looking Ahead to March 18, 2018 -- Lent 5

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • 1 John 4:7-8, 18-21
  • John 13:33-35;14:1-11
The sermon title is Love...The Way, The Truth, The Life

Early Thoughts: Love is the answer. (Even if we are not always sure what the question was)

When it comes to what it means to live as citizens of God's Kingdom Love is the answer. It is the way to be in the world. It is where we find truth (even when that truth might be uncomfortable). It is what gives life.

Early in John's Gospel we are told that "for God so loved the world..." that God sent Jesus to save the world. Jesus models God's love for the world, Jesus teaches what it means to be people of love, and hear, on the night before his death Jesus gives his closest friends a new commandment. And if Jesus is the embodiment of God's love for the world than when Jesus goes on to say that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life then it extends that love is the answer.

So what would it look like if we really believed love was the answer? What would it look like if that was the chief principle by which the world was moved?   What if it is not money but love that makes the world go round? (Apparently there are many songs by that name)

It should be, for those of us who follow Jesus, those of us who claim the name Christian. To be a Christian is to try and align our lives, our priorities, our choices, with those of Christ. And Christ commands us to love each other -- though not to like each other, so maybe we are also to love those we don't particularly like.

That means we love those who are regularly demonized in our media. It means we love those who we are sure are taking the world to hell in a handbasket. It means we love each other.

"Can't be done" some will say. "Not realistic" others will shout. "Only if they change their ways" still others will proclaim. But it is the commandment shared in all 4 Gospels, and in the epistles, and in Torah. We are too love each other. I do not recall there being many "what if..." clauses in those commandments. 

How can we do it? Only one way. We can love because we have been and are and will be loved. For God is loving, God is love.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Looking to the Future

At our Presbytery meeting last month the Pastoral Oversight Committee shared their plans for this year. They intend to visit every Congregation in the Presbytery between April and November. We will learn more about that later. But in their description of how those visits will happen they shared some of the questions they will be asking. One of them is: Where do you see your congregation in 2028?

That will be a challenge – 10 years is a long time, lots of things can change.

As it happens, Council is already asking what the future might hold, though we are not thinking quite that far into the future. And we need your help. After all, We all have a part to play in determining what the future might bring.

As a Council we regularly have some visioning time at our meetings. But we are also aware that as a whole congregation it has been several years since we took a look at the ministry of St. Paul’s. So we are asking for help.

At the Annual Congregational Meeting an invitation will be issued. We are looking for people to host coffee party-type gatherings. At these gatherings we want people to talk about these three questions:
  1. What is going well?/What is St. Paul’s good at?
  2. Where are the gaps?/What could we be doing more of?
  3. What are/should be our priorities as a community of faith serving Grande Prairie?

Each gathering will have a host (can be in your home or at the church) and a facilitator and a recorder. It is our hope that the gatherings will allow us to get input from as wide a range of people in the congregation as possible. We want the meetings to happen between the beginning of March and the end of May. Then over the summer a sub-group of Council will collate the input for Council to look at more closely in the fall.

So who wants to invite a few folks over for coffee (which may or may not actually mean coffee)?

Easter Newsletter

As I sit down to type this the calendar is telling me that it is March 1st. How did we get to March already? Did we cut January shorter by a couple of weeks? Because in my mind I am sure it should be the beginning of February. Alas it is not. It is indeed March 1st. And that means that exactly one month from today will be the pinnacle of the church year.

No I am not referring to April Fool’s Day (though a month from today is indeed April 1st). It will in fact be Easter Sunday. It will be that morning when we once again celebrate that life conquers death, when hope shines from an empty hole in the ground, when God goes “all-in” and then lays down the winning hand. On Easter Sunday we look at the broken world and are reminded that God is actively at work mending it.


Sometimes it seems hard to believe that hope can be more powerful than despair. Some days, looking at the world makes it hard to believe that anyone, not even God, could fix the broken-ness that fills up my news feed. And then along comes Easter.

Easter reminds me that God has not played all the cards. Easter reminds me that God has an ace in the hole. Easter reminds me that God can surprise us all. April Fool!?!???

Just a couple of months ago we gathered and sang carols about a baby being born. In those carols and stories were words of hope and promise. The baby would change the world. The baby would bring on the Kingdom of God. On the first Sunday of 2018 we heard the beginning of John’s Gospel about the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness can not overcome it. And yet...

On the second last day of this month we will read about that baby, now fully grown, being arrested, put on trial, convicted, and put to a torturous death. Where is the hope of the baby in the manger? Has the darkness actually overcome the unquenchable light? Has the Kingdom of God been chased away? When will it come?

Then, in what may be the greatest reversal of all time, SURPRISE! As I read the Gospel accounts it is clear to me that none of Jesus’ friends expected Easter to happen. They were despondent and afraid, some had even fled home to try and pick up the life they once knew. But out of left field life came and defeated death, hope came and chased away despair, resurrection came and transformed their lives.

Because of Easter the world is different. Because Easter keeps happening the world keeps getting transformed. Because Christ has been raised we are able to be people of hope. Because God played the final card the Kingdom is alive and well and growing in our midst – even when we try to keep it down the Kingdom keeps sending out new shoots. Alleluia indeed!

Where do you need the truth of resurrection this Easter? What are the places in your life where the power of death seems overwhelming? What tomb do you go to visit to weep and mourn because something precious is gone? Where might God surprise you with new life, new hope, a new dawn?

PS: What might it mean to have Easter Sunday on April Fool’s Day? Maybe in a month I will have an answer to that question