Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Reflections (A Newsletter Piece)

When you look in a mirror what do you see?

At some point(s) in our lives many of us have an uneasy relationship with the mirror. We try to avoid them whenever possible, because we are uncomfortable with what we see there. Others may go the other way and spend too much time at the mirror – either because they are very comfortable with what they see or because they are strenuously trying to change the picture.

But what do you see when you look in the mirror?

That is a question about how we understand ourselves. And there are two directions I think we can go from that question.

In the past whenever I have talked about a mirror in a sermon it has been with Michael Jackson’s song Man in the Mirror ringing in my ears. Which seems odd at first sine I am not a terribly big fan of Michael Jackson, and musically the song is not any where near my favourite. But the lyrics....
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

In a world where we often see so many things that need to be changed (or that we think need to be changed) and yet at the same time feel powerless to do anything about it Jackson’s song reminds us that we have power. There are many theories about how change happens in a culture. Some change needs to happen at a systemic, government level. Some change starts with us. I tend to believe that any long lasting change starts with us as individuals. Either we change our own way of reacting to life or (maybe and?) we push for changes on a broader scale. Either way, Jackson reminds us that it is not enough to blame everybody else for the problems we see. As many a parent or teacher has reminded a young person “you can not control what Sally does, you can control what you do”. As people who live with privilege and power we need to be able to look in the mirror and admit that maybe we are part both of the problem and the solution.

I still believe all of that. But it is not the only helpful message we can get from a mirror.

One Sunday this summer I was worshiping at my childhood church and the place for the prayer of confession talked about a mirror. I was intrigued and wondered where the worship leader, Rev. Tyler Powell, was heading.

Tyler talked about looking in the mirror. He talked about how many people, when they look in the mirror, are prone to see their flaws. That may mean seeing the scars life has left on our face. Or it may be the anxious and acne-prone teenager seeing all the blemishes. Or it may be the person who carries inside themself some deep shame or guilt and they see a terrible person looking back out of that mirror. I think Tyler was right. Humans can be really good at being judgmental, particularly about themselves. But...

Tyler then reminded us that everyone sitting in that sanctuary that day was a beloved child of God. And he asked what it would mean to look in that mirror and say to yourself, “hey there is a beloved child of God looking back at me”. What do you think God sees when God looks at you? Does God only see the flaws? Or does God see the beloved, if imperfect, child?

If we are honest we know that the person staring back at us from the mirror could possibly do better. We know that there are things we could so but don’t. We know that there are things we probably shouldn’t do but do anyway. But do we remember who we are underneath all of that? We are, each and every one of us, a beloved child of God. Which part will we focus on?

It is my belief that if we start our reflections on that face in the mirror with the second of these two things, trying to see ourselves as the beloved child God sees we start working towards the first, challenging that person to make a change in the world. And even if it doesn’t, then at least we start by reminding ourselves of our true identity. We are flawed. We are imperfect. But first and foremost we are beloved children of God. That is who God sees. And who are we to argue with God?

What do you see when you look in the mirror? What does God want us to see? I believe God wants us to see the beloved child, able to go out and live in God’s Way and make a difference in the world.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Looking Ahead to September 1, 2019

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Hebrews 13:1-3
  • Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Sermon title is Radical Hospitality

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to be a good host? To be a good guest? For hospitality to work we need to be both.

Hospitality is one of those things that makes it possible for us to live together.  In some parts of human history the need to be a good and willing host was truly a matter of survival. That may be less true for many of us now but it is still true for us as a community.

And yet there seems to be a lot of rhetoric that goes directly against hospitality. There are those who claim immigration is somehow a bad thing. There are those who think some people are more welcome than others. There are voices who advocate tossing out those who, in their opinion do not add to/take away from the quality of life in our community. (I have got to stop reading posts about the homelessness issues/ tent city and the drug issue in GP because I keep getting enraged at the comments).

I fear that we, as a culture, have become less welcoming, less hospitable as we have also become more suspicious about those we define as "them". Then I read Hebrews 13. Or I remember the story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining three strangers (Genesis 18)  or even the story of Lot in Sodom (Genesis 19 -- Scripture itself tells us the the sin that led to the destruction of Sodom was a lack of hospitality [Ezekiel 16:49, Matthew 10:13-15]). And when I read these stories I am reminded that we are to welcome the stranger.

What about the other side of hospitality? What about the guest? In this passage from Luke Jesus gives some hints.  And my summation of those hints is "don't think too highly of yourself". This morning as I re-read the Luke reading for this week I am once again given the impression that a great deal of what makes hospitality work is to not think too much of ourselves. Both as guest or host we need to keep ourselves humble.

To live as citizens of the Kingdom means, in part, to practice hospitality. Indeed it is one of the 12 practises cover in the book  Practicing our Faith (need to re-read that chapter this week). It means to recognize that God is present in the act of hosting. It means that we might have to rethink and relearn some of our assumptions about what it means to be a good host and a good guest.

One model would be the communion table. We in the United Church hold an open table, where all are welcome. We do this because we recognize that God is the real host and that God welcomes all to come and eat and drink. Let us eat and drink together, and let us be transformed in the process.  The hope for the future of our culture lies, i part, in how we practice radical hospitality.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Looking Ahead to August 25, 2019

This week we are celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Psalm 103:1-8
  • Psalm 71 (VU p.788)
  • Luke 13:10-17
The Sermon title is Be Free

Early Thoughts: In one of the episodes of Star Trek (TOS) Kirk and company are on a planet captured by what appears to be a tribe of uncivilized folk. Part way through the episode Kirk happens to say Freedom, and one of the tribefolk says "that is a worship word".

Despite the fact that from that point on the episode becomes a rather jingoistic presentation of the US as the great hope for freedom in the face of what appears to be that planet's Asiatic Communists I think that the tribesman was right. Freedom is a worship word.

God's desire for God's people to be free is woven throughout Scripture. We find it most notably in the story of Exodus, which is clearly about freedom from slavery. We find it also in rules around slavery itself and the idea of the Jubilee year. We find it in Paul's letters where he calls people to freedom in Christ (though his rhetoric in Philemon is a bit unsure where he stands on slavery as a social construct). And we find it in this Gospel reading. Jesus does not talk about healing or curing the woman, he talks about setting her free.

In Christ we are set free. Free from what and for what is a matter of debate, one we may touch on this Sunday. But we are free. Free to be who God has created us to be. Free to live out God's Way in our world. Maybe even free to make unhelpful choices.

From what do you need to be freed so you can live out God's call in your life? From what have you been freed? What might freedom look like for you?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Looking Ahead to August 18, 2019

The Scripture Reading this week is: Hebrews 11:1-12:2

The Sermon title is Faith in the Cloud

Early Thoughts: We talk a lot about the cloud these days.  People debate the wisdom of keeping documents in "the cloud" for security reasons.  Almost 2000 years ago the writer of Hebrews also told us of the importance of the cloud.  But I think he meant something different.

There is something important and valuable and, dare I say, holy about remembering those who have gone before. Nothing we have simply sprung out of nothingness. None of us sprung out of nothingness.  We, as individuals, as families, as communities have a history. And that history has shaped who we are. (Sometimes helpfully sometimes less helpfully).

So we need to pause and remember those who have gone before.  What have they taught us through their faith and their example? What foundation have they laid for us to build on? In this chapter the unknown Christian who wrote this text invites us to remember our forebears in the faith (though he spends a lot of time in Genesis and then skips a whole lot of time). We remember and we consider and we give thanks. WE also remember and are reminded that God has been at work long before we showed up on the scene and will be at work when we ourselves are gone.

But as the text before us suggests, there is another side to our remembering. At the beginning of chapter 12 the writer refers to the great cloud of witnesses. Sometimes we call this the communion of saints. Sometimes I refer to it as the fellowship of the faithful. A blessing I use during a committal service reads:
Go peacefully into that abiding place prepared for us.
Go gently into God’s deepest presence.
Go confidently into that communion of all who have gone before and may they hold you precious until we meet again.
When we remember those who have gone before we also remember that we are not alone. We are surrounded by that great cloud of faithful witnesses. That can strengthen us, being reminded that we are not alone tends to have that effect.

There is one caveat. Sometimes we remember those who have gone before and want to repeat their success by doing what they did.  I don't think that is what this passage calls us to do. WE remember that we are part of a tradition, we also remember that in that tradition are many who set out in a whole new way (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Paul...). We remember their courage and faith to help us gain courage to step out in our own new way.

A few questions come to my mind this week:
  1. Who makes up your great cloud of witnesses? Who are those heroes of faith and life that keep you going?
  2. Who makes up the cloud of witnesses for the community of faith called St. Paul's United Church? Who are those people who are or have been a part of our community that laid a foundation for us to build on?
  3. Remembering that one generations present is another generation's past. What do we hope to pass on to those who will follow us as we become a part of their great cloud of witnesses?
See you on Sunday!