Monday, September 30, 2019

Looking Ahead to October 6, 2019 -- Offering Gratitude Through Food

After worship this Sunday we will be having a potluck lunch. All are welcome.

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be taking up our 2nd Offering for the Local Outreach Fund. We will also be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Exodus 16:13-21
  • Mark 6:35-44 
  • Acts 2:44-47
The Sermon title is Who’s Hungry?

Early Thoughts: They say an army marches on its stomach. They also say that the potluck meal is almost a sacrament in some churches (and given the ancient wisdom that a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace I find it hard to argue).

Both the Exodus reading and the Mark reading this week talk about abundant food when everybody thought there was either none, or not enough. And then God shows them there is enough and more. More than once I have heard people fretting that there was not enough food set out on the potluck table and then in the end everybody eats their fill.

There is enough. There is more than enough. Indeed there is abundance.

That is the message of Scripture. There is enough to satisfy AND enough to share (or perhaps only/especially if we share). I don't think we really have a problem of "not enough"  in the world.  I think we have a poor definition of "enough".

Which brings us back to gratitude. The belief that we have enough, or better yet and abundance, feeds our gratitude and that in turn makes us more likely to offer to others from what we have. An attitude that something is scarce or that we don't have enough (whatever we think enough might mean) makes us less likely to offer to others out of what we have. And let me be clear. The actual countable amount is not the important piece, it is how we feel about the amount that matters.

We know we all need food to live. And we know that there are foods we need for our comfort (I have yet to find a way to move chocolate from this category into the food we need to survive but I keep trying). So we are called to be thankful for the food that sustains our lives. Hopefully, when we are recognizing the giftedness and privilege of the food we have we are moved to ask hard questions about why we have and others do not. We have to ask the stewardship questions.

We give freely when we truly believe we have enough to share. We give cheerfully (and 2 Corinthians 9:7 reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver) when we believe that we are not getting the short end of the stick. We give faithfully when we believe that our gift is helping to accomplish God's mission in the world.

Food can just be a necessity of life. It can also stand for so much more. Where do you find surprising abundance in your life? When were you sure there was not enough only to find excess? And what do we do when that happens?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Looking Ahead to September 29, 2019 -- Offering Gratitude through Creation

This week our Stewardship series leads us to a look at Creation.

And remember we have a coin collection for Mission & Service.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Genesis 1:26-31
  • Amos 5:21-24
The Sermon title is How Are WE Doing?

Early Thoughts: Gratitude can spur us to many things. At the World Religions Conference earlier this month the Imam who was speaking made a wonderful connection between gratitude and compassion while answering a question about compassion fatigue. I think that gratitude also makes it easier for us to be good stewards. Gratitude reminds us what we have to be thankful for. Gratitude reminds us of what gifts we have been given. Then I believe that gratitude enables us to ask the question "what do I do now ?" with different eyes.

The difference a year can make...
Our stewardship of creation has been in the news a lot this year, what with forest forest in the Arctic and the Amazon, record heat in Europe, and the phenomenon centered around Gretta Thunberg. And we have to ask indeed "How Are We Doing?".

Many of us interpret the first commandment in Scripture "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." not as freedom to do whatever suits us best but as a commandment to take care of the creation that the Creator repeatedly calls Good. So how have we done?

Most scientists would say not so good. Some say we are on the eve of destruction, that the tipping point is near. What might the Creator say?

Is God using people like Gretta Thunberg to send us a message?

In the Amos passage we have a God who tells the people that they have failed to live as they should. Through Amos God tells the people that they have their priorities totally wrong. They have committed to the rituals and motions laid out in the law but have failed to live out the spirit of the law. To live in God's way means to live in relationship with our neighbours. To live in God's way is to live symbiotically with the creation of which we are a part.

When it comes to creation what might it mean to let "justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream"?

It is a hard question for a nation like Canada which really has always been a nation whose economic backbone has revolved around resource extraction (trees and rocks and petroleum). It is a hard question in a world culture where people see the need to make a change but have grown very accustomed to the benefits of an unsustainable lifestyle.

Every week our Explorer group sings the first verse of "This is Our Father's World". That hymn speaks of the "music of the spheres" ringing in our ears, of hearing God pass. It reminds us the the world is not ours. It is God's. We use it as a loan from God (or in some more secular language as a loan from our descendants). In an industrialized world we have lost the way when it comes to using it wisely. We may have started to see it as an entitlement or a tool rather than a gift. Where do we go from here?

Monday, September 9, 2019

World Religions Conference

This coming Saturday is the Annual World Religions Conference hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.  Each year they have a theme for the even and this year's theme is Universal Compassion: The Core Human Value.

Each year the organizers ask people from a variety of faith traditions to speak. This year I have been asked to speak on the topic from a Christian perspective.

Many times when we read the healing stories in the Gospels we hear that Jesus is moved. Jesus has compassion for the people he meets and so he responds out of that compassion.

I would suggest that compassion is one of the basic building blocks for living in community, which is why it is described as a core human value. Compassion is what allows us to share each others lives, to support each other. It is a big part of how we live out the commandment that lies at the core of Christian Ethics and Morality -- Love Each Other/Love Your Neighbour.

I think we live in a world that tends to limit the power of compassion. To live out compassion in its full form would be to have compassion for all we meet, not just those who are close to us. That is far more radical than most of  us are ready for. More and more, in fact I see stories encouraging us NOT to have compassion for specific groups in our society (homeless, addicts, refugees...). I think that as people of faith we need to call for a far more radical understanding of what it means to be compassionate. After all, as Christians we follow the one who said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Some years ago Karen Armstrong launched the Charter of Compassion. Initially it was a charter for people to sign and commit themselves to. Then it begot a book Twelve Steps To a Compassionate Life. And there is also a website affiliated with the project. I like what Anderson has started. Because, as I said; compassion, radical and far-reaching compassion, is a key building block for living together in community.

Hope to see you on Saturday.

Looking Ahead to September 15, 2019

This Sunday we are inviting students to bring their Backpacks (or other carrying cases) for a Blessing of the Backpacks during worship.

Also this week during our service we will be formalizing our covenant relationship with the Northern Spirit Regional Council as the United Church continues to live into its new national structure.

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 30:15-20
  • Luke 14:25-33
The Sermon title is Choices and Plans

Early Thoughts: Choices matter. Priorities shape our lives. Plans are important.

Can I stop there?

If we are going to live as people of faith we need to keep those three precepts in our minds.

Choices matter! What does it mean to "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live"? What does it mean to recognize that our choices could bring blessing or curses? Many a parent has said to their children "make good choices". After all one of our tasks as a community is to help people know/learn how to make good choices. We want to consider where our choices lead us, what the consequences (good and bad, expected and unexpected [I am a firm believer in the law of unintended consequences]) might be. We are challenged to ask "what would Jesus have us do?" as we make those choices.

Priorities shape our lives! This Gospel reading has some hard words. Jesus says that following his way is more important than the "normal" rules of life. It may lead you to voluntary poverty. It may lead you to choose between following him and your family. What priority do we set on the various parts of our lives? Those things that we make top priority will automatically get more resources and attention. In a Scriptural worldview where there are constant warning of idolatry and/or following other gods our priorities can lead us to make something into an idol -- at a personal or a family or a community or a national level. Where would Jesus have us focus our attention and resources?

Plans are important! Some of us are not great at planning. Some are.  Some make detailed plans for every project -- sometime to the extent that they are unwilling/unable to alter course when the plan does not work exactly. Some simply drift along and play life by ear. I suggest that neither extreme is unhelpful. But planning is important. It gives us a direction to head. It pushes us to calculate the costs and benefits. Jesus challenges us to do the same in living our out faith. I wonder what criteria he would have us use in those calculations?

Choices and plans. They shape our lives at every level. Our hope as followers of Christ is that our choices and our plans resonate with where God would have us go.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Looking Ahead to September 8, 2019

This Sunday marks the beginning of our Sunday School year.

Also this Sunday we will be celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Reading this week is Psalm 139

The Sermon title is Wonderfully Made, Wonderfully Known

Early Thoughts: First a confession. Psalm 139 is one of my favourite pieces of Scripture.

This piece of ancient poetry reminds us of many things. That we are children of God. That God knows us deeply, "more deeply than we know ourselves" as I have sometimes said in prayer". That God is always with us, wherever we go. In fact God is with us even when we might prefer that God is NOT with us. God sees our hearts and continues to lead us in The Way.

Many of these things are all warm and fuzzy, At least on the surface. But what does it mean to acknowledge that we are fully and deeply known? Why does the poet talk about wanting to flee from God's presence? And what about those verses near the end about destroying the wicked? In the  end it is a much more complex poem than we might think if we picked and chose our favoured verses.

In our baptism liturgy we proclaim:
The sacrament of baptism proclaims and celebrates the grace of God.
By water and the Spirit, we are called, claimed, and commissioned:
we are named as God’s children,
claimed by Christ,
and united with the whole Christian community of every time and place.
Strengthened by the Holy Spirit,
we live out our commission;
to spread the love we have been given throughout the world.
Which, to my mind is why this Psalm is such a good match for a Baptism Sunday. Because we are indeed "called, claimed, and commissioned".

We are all children of the God who watched us grow in our mother's womb, who heard our borning cry, who is a part of every breath we take. God knows us deeply, flaws and all. God knows the parts of our lives we would rather not admit, and yet loves us and leads us in  The Way. God is there when life is terrible. God is there when the skies grow dark. God is even there when we think we would rather be alone.

We are indeed wonderfully and fearfully made, for we are made in God's image. WE are indeed fearfully and wonderfully known, because God knows us to our core. This is a blessing, it may also seem like a curse. It can lift us up or it can be a heavy weight on our soul. Sometimes we need the weight to help us be led in the way everlasting. We always need the blessing.