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.