Monday, May 13, 2019

Looking Ahead to May 19 -- Easter 5 -- Patience & Self control

This is the third of our 4 part series looking at the Fruits of the Spirit.  This week we have paired Patience and Self-Control.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Galatians 5:22-26
  • James 5:7-11
  • 2 Peter 1:3-9
The Sermon title is Wait For it!

Early Thoughts: There is a song whose chorus I often sing (or threaten to sing) to the girls:

It tends to annoy them  but it gets the message across. Or at least it fills some of the time while they are waiting. Maybe I should play it out my car windows while driving?

While we are at it, here is the self control song from that same album:

It is somewhat telling that close to 40 years after learning the songs to Music Machine in Junior Choir (Sunshine Choristers was our name) those are the two songs I remember the best.  Because both are what are often termed "growing edges" for me. Which means they are qualities I sometimes lack.

When I was sitting down and pairing up "fruits" for this series this pairing was one of the first to be matched up. They are such a natural pair.  Being patient and having self-control are very similar attributes. They both are related to delayed gratification. They both are related to remembering that it is not all about me. They both remind me that while there is value to living in the present there is also value in living for the future.

Sometimes it can be hard to wait. We live in a world where "buy it now"  and "one click shopping" is a feature of online commerce. Having to wait, having to go by somebody else's speed or timetable seems so inconvenient.

And then there is ego. IF we are honest we sometimes (often?) want it to be all about us. We want to be able to do what we want when we want. It seems a bit of a slap in the face to be reminded that this is not the case.

The Spirit moving in us and guiding our growth changes us. That is what the Galatians passage is about. Life is about the wider community, not just about the individual. We need to know when to be patient. We need to control our instincts and urges at times. It makes us healthier both as individuals and as a community.

If only it wasn't so hard at times.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

MAy Newsletter (Part the Second)

Every year in Dream House season I tend to indulge myself. Not in imagining what i would be like to win the house – I have never seen a dream house I would actually want to live in, in the off chance I did win one I would rather sell it and find uses for the money. My indulging comes more when I hear the amount of the 50/50 drawn and start to think what I might do with that sort of money (purely theoretical since it is pretty much impossible to win when you never buy a ticket).

My thinking along that line often starts with looking around the house and realizing all the things that should or could be done inside and outside. That gets a little overwhelming pretty quickly. So then I think about the church and what we might do if we won a large sum of money.

That list depends on the amounts I choose to dream about. With a few million I dream about finding a partner and embarking on a major redevelopment. With a few hundred thousand I dream of what we might do with our current building both in terms of changes to the building and programs we could co-sponsor (all my dreams eventually get to finding community partners to work with).

In both sets of dreaming I tend to set priorities. At home it might be a new roof, or a redone kitchen, or a driveway that is not terribly cracked and shifted. At the church it might include redoing the flooring in the basement, or upgrading to all LED lighting, or finding a solution to the water under the building that causes it to shift so much. But I know what I would want us to do first.

One of my dreams is to redo the audio-visual capacity of our sanctuary. The organ needs work (new speakers at the least). Having the projector hung from the ceiling would both allow us to get a brighter, larger unit which will show pictures better but also mean that those of us who walk along the chancel won’t blind ourselves every time we walk past. Currently only one of our speakers is working (that has been true for about 4 years now) and playing a video is always a roll of the dice as far as audio goes.

My dreams include new speakers (I see four in the sanctuary space to balance out the sound). And a new sound board so we can have more options for microphones or instruments. And a booth at the back where the sound could be controlled along with where the Power Point would be operated from. And new organ speakers in the short term – as the organ console is 40 years old a decision about whether to replace it will be needed within the next generation.

My dreams are expensive. I know of one congregation with a slightly larger space than ours who spent about $100 000 on audio-visual redevelopment. So we might do some picking and choosing. The first step would be to have someone who knows about these things give us a list of options. But I do think it is something we need to consider. Not only would it enhance our life as a worshipping congregation, it would also enhance our ability to host concerts or speakers or movies or other events in the sanctuary. Ten years ago this congregation wrote in a Joint Needs Assessment how the acoustics in the sanctuary made it a good site for concerts. It was and is true. We could make it better (which would be an offering to the community and a possible revenue source).

May Newsletter (Part the First)

Where Are We Looking?

It is a spring evening. A group of 15 and 16 year olds are gathered in a small upstairs classroom in Downtown St. Albert. We are there for our first classroom session in the Driver Training program. After ascertaining how many of us have already had at least one in-car session the instructor asks if any of us had been told to stop looking at the center line on the road. As I recall many or most of us had been given that instruction.

How could the instructors tell where we were looking?

Because when you look (especially if you look intently) at something for too long you tend to aim at it. When student drivers focus too much on the center line then the center of the car tends to end up going over that marking. Instead we were taught to aim for the center of the lane, not to stare at it, you still have to keep glancing around and be aware of your surroundings, but to aim for that, keep the car there, don’t stare at the line.

The irony of course is that we would have been carefully watching that line to make sure we stayed on the right side of it.

I think the same principle holds in much of our lives. The place we direct our focus, whether we do it because that is our goal or because that is the place we want to avoid, tends to be where we end up steering. Add in interpretive factors like optimism vs pessimism and if we aren’t careful we will end up in totally the wrong lane – or even the wrong place. So where are you looking?

As life comes along at you where are you looking? Are you spending too much time looking in the rearview or side mirrors? Are you shoulder checking so carefully that you don’t realize the wheel is turning as you turn your head? (Full disclosure, this was a mark of my early driving lessons) Or are you keeping an eye on what is behind or on either side but maintaining a primary focus in front of you. Not too far ahead, but farther than the tip of the bumper. How is that determining where you end up?

I think this idea of looking in the right direction, the idea that where we look is where we steer, applies to communities as well. If we as a community spend too much time looking back at some “Golden Age” we might find ourselves running off the road. If we spend too much time looking enviously at neighbours who appears to be doing ‘better’ (whatever we think better might mean) we might miss the place we need to turn. If we focus on those things that we think limit us we might steer directly towards them. If we stare at what is directly ahead of us we might miss what is farther out and fail to plan for what may come later.

Of course the challenge when having this discussion in community is that there are so many pairs of eyes. More pairs of eyes to have different ideas of where we should be looking and so we may bog down debating where we need to focus. At the same time the benefit of doing it in community is there are so many pairs of eyes. Some people can look to the sides and share what they see. Some can look behind and remind us from whence we came. Some can look right in front of the bumper to keep us in the moment. Some look farther down into the distance to see what is coming up. And some sit in their seat and scroll through Google Maps dreaming about where we might end up.

So where are we, the congregation of St. Paul’s United Church, looking?

As a part of the visioning discussions of the last year we were asked where we saw this congregation in 5 or 10 years. That, I think, was the most important question we asked. Where is the road taking us? Do we want to change the path? That, I think, is why when Karen and Paula first presented the results to council they had us look at the answers to that question first.

Where are we looking? Are we looking at where we once were? At where we are worried we might be headed? Or at where we dream to go? As a community of faith there is another big question. Are we looking at where we want to go or are we looking for signposts of where God wants us to go? What do we see in all those various directions?

We tend to go where we are looking. It was true for that group of teenagers starting driver training. It is true for individuals planning their lives. It is true for communities. Together, let us try to look in the right direction, so we head that way.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Looking Ahead to May 12, 2019 -- Easter 4 -- Peace and Gentleness -- Christian Family Sunday (aka Mother's Day)

This week marks the end of our Sunday School year and so we will be celebrating graduates.

This week our Fruits of the Spirit series has us looking at Peace and Gentleness.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Galatians 5:22-26
  • John 14:23-29
The Sermon title is Peace I Give...

Early Thoughts: As followers of Christ we are called to be people of peace. We are challenged to treat each other gently. How well do we do that?

This week's passage from John's Gospel comes from what is called the Final Discourse, the section of teaching that lies immediately before the story of Good Friday and Easter. Preparing his closest friends for his imminent death Jesus offers them peace that flows for Jesus. Later, after the tragedy of the cross and the triumph of Easter, the Risen Christ will greet those same friends with the words "Peace be with you". AS followers of Christ, people who have been touched with the presence of Christ, the peace of Christ is a part of our being, part of how we act in the world.

Which is one of the reasons Christians have traditionally included a time in worship to greet each other with the words "May the Peace of Christ be with you".

I think gentleness goes with peace. To me gentleness is about attitude and presentation. It is not necessarily about content. Sometimes to be people imbued with and passing on the Peace of Christ means we are not "nice". But we should always be gentle.  Sometimes we have to share hard truths, give hard messages. That is not usually counted as being nice. But we are not called to be jerks about the hard messages. WE have to continue to recognize the other as a sibling, one of God's children and treat them with respect. To me that is what gentleness means. And in the end I am not sure we really grow peacefulness if we are not gentle. Forceful and strong when needed but gentle. Velvet and iron together at times.

I think we sometimes forget the gentle part in favour of forceful and strong. And so we may fail to be peacemakers.

Other times we forget the forceful and strong in the name of being nice or getting along. And again we fail to be sharers of the Kingdom's Peace.