Monday, March 25, 2019

Looking Ahead to MArch 31, 2019 -- Lent 4 -- Death/End of Life

This week we continue in our series looking at Practices of the Church with a look of where faith speaks at the end of life.

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • John 11:17-26
  • John 14:1-6
  • Psalm 23
The Sermon title is At the End...

Early Thoughts:  There is an old truth.  "None of us is getting out of this alive" Or maybe "We all have a terminal condition".

In the end we all have times in life when we have to stare in to the reality of death. Eventually it will be our own but there will also be the deaths of friends and family over the years. Some of those will be tragic and sudden, some of them will be long-expected, some may even come as a release. But we all have to deal with the reality of death.

I suggest we do our children a favour when we tell them this and let them do it as they age rather than try to shield the from the fact until they are "old-enough to understand".

AS people of faith we believe that dealing with the reality of death is a faith matter.  Questions of life and death and meaning are, in the end, spiritual questions. When we ask "WHY" in the face of tragedy I do not think we are asking for scientific or legal explanations (or at least not mostly, that may be part of it).

There are two main things I think Christian thought has to say in the face of death:
1) there is something more, life continues beyond what we call death
2) we are not alone in the face of death, as we die or as we grieve we are not alone

Many times we think of death as the enemy. I am not sure that is theologically (or biologically) supportable. The natural end of life is death. As resurrection people we need not be afraid of death. [Personally I like the quote of Woody Allen's "I am not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens"] But to get to that point we need to stop and think and talk about what we believe about life and death and life beyond death.

We mark the end of life in our faith communities. We do that because life and death are not just medical issues. In the end I think we need to talk about at time other than the funeral.  We need to talk about what we believe. I think we are healthier for it, I think our children and youth will be healthier for it. I think we will be more ready to wrestle with the sometimes uncomfortable reality the "to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven...a time to be born and a time to die".

Monday, March 18, 2019

Looking Forward to March 24, 2019 -- Lent 3 -- Marriage/Relationships

This week we continue our series looking at various practices of the church with a look at Marriage.

The Scripture passages this week are:
  • Genesis 2:18-24
  • Ecclesiastes 4:7-12
The Sermon title is Sharing a Life

Early Thoughts: I am reminded of a line about 4-wheel church members -- that is they come to church in a carriage/stroller (baptism) in a limo (wedding) and then in a funeral coach. A less formal way of saying it is "hatch, match, dispatch". There is something about these life transitions that calls out for a spiritually-based recognition. Something about them that is in fact sacramental.

One of the more common definitions of a Sacrament is that it is a visible sign of an inward grace. While the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions name 7 Sacraments, within the Protestant tradition the only 2 things called Sacraments are Baptism and Communion/Eucharist/Lord's Supper as they are both linked to the life of Jesus as shared in the Gospel accounts. But it is my opinion that even things that are not called Sacraments are still sacramental. Deep, mutually supportive, loving relationships can be things that reveal God's love and grace and so I consider them in that category.

For me the sacramental nature of relationship is not in the legal status. While I think that God celebrates when we bind ourself to another in a covenanted relationship I am not at all sure God worries about what the state calls it. There is an historic role for the church to serve in part as an agent of the state in formalizing relationships in the form we call marriage, to me the spiritual discussion is about how the relationship is lived out. What does it mean to live into a sacramental relationship with another, a relationship where God's love and grace are made real in our interactions?

It is my belief that humanity is pretty much hard-wired to live in relationship. For most of human history we have seen that life is simply easier (and maybe better?) when shared with others. That is part of what I see in the Scripture readings for this week. They talk about the benefits of being in relationship. [The other place I went looking for a possible reading was 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul expounds on whether followers of Christ should be married or not but while it is certainly interesting reading it was hard to pull out a few verses to summarize his argument.]

In the end I think we celebrate and covenant relationship in the church for a variety of reasons. Some of those are traditional. Some of those are morally based. Some of those are simply because we know that relationship seems to be God's intention for us. Life is somehow (usually) better and easier when it is shared. God is made real in the love we share with each other. Sharing a life, whether is a friendship or in a marriage relationship is rarely perfect or easy. It requires us to open ourselves to the other and to be vulnerable. But it is worth celebrating. It is a sign of Divine love.

SO I return to the question I asked earlier:
What does it mean to live into a sacramental relationship with another (as friend or lover or spouse), a relationship where God's love and grace are made real in our interactions?

Monday, March 11, 2019

Looking Forward to March 17, 2019 -- Lent 2 Prayer

This week marks the beginning of a series for Lent called The Practices of the Church. This week we look at Prayer [which is a topic worth a whole series of its own when you think about it].

The Scripture readings for the week are:
  • Matthew 6:5-15; 7:7-11
  • Romans 8:26-27
  • James 5:13-16
The Sermon title is What Use is Prayer?

Photo Source
Early Thoughts: It is a ministry that anyone can do.  If you are 5 or 50 or 90 you can pray.  If you can run marathons or have trouble getting out of bed you can pray. If you secure and strong in faith or often wonder if you have faith you can pray. And you should. We all should probably pray more.

In fact in his 1st letter to the church in Thessalonica Paul writes Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

But in the current world where productivity is pretty much an idol, where we think we have to be accomplishing something however we choose to spend our time the question arises "what does prayer accomplish?". Which I think is another way of asking "is prayer a waste of time?".

The question becomes more pressing when we want God to make a specific change in the world (eg, heal someone's cancer, end a drought, bring peace...) and that change does not happen.  What good is prayer if we don't get what we want?

But is that what prayer is about? Is it the "Santa list"? I say no. Prayer is about deepening our relationship with God. And that changes how we live our lives. Last year the Observer had an article about how one minister found that prayer changed the congregation she serves, how it turned them around and brought new life. (As it happens a search of the Observer Website using the keyword 'prayer' shows that they have published several pieces on the topic). I have heard it said that prayer is not intended to change God, it is intended to change us. While it is very traditional that prayer includes words of petition and intercession (asking for things) it has never been intended as a way of controlling God or the world.

Prayer can be formal and structured. It can use words written by others. Prayer can be wordy. OR prayer can be informal and rambling, speaking out of the heart. Prayer can be silent (I would suggest prayer must include some silent to listen to the Divine whisper to the soul). Prayer can be calm, contemplative and meditative. Prayer can be active and loud. Prayer can be kneeling by the bedside, or in a chapel, or walking along the Bear Creek trails, or driving down the highway. It can be praising, or thankful, or remorseful, or angry, or sorrowful. I have found that there are few hard and fast rules for prayer.
Photo source

Scripture exhorts us to pray. We are told that Jesus regularly takes time to go off by himself and pray. At first glance it may seem like unproductive time, but I have found that it sets us up for more productivity in the long run. ANd I remember a story, one that may be heard on Sunday, which suggests that when life gets too busy for prayer that is when one needs to pray longer. I do think prayer makes a difference. I know it has for me in the past.

Maybe I should do more of it?  WHat about you?