Monday, November 25, 2019

Looking Ahead to December 1, 2019 -- Advent 1 -- Peace

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Communion. Also as it is the first Sunday of the month our 2nd Offering for Local Outreach will be taken.

This year our theme for Advent is "Stories of the Season". Each week our service will be interacting with a Christmas children's book. This week's story is A Special Place for Santa, chosen in part in honor of St. Nicholas' Day on December 6th.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 2:1-5
  • 1 John 4:7-8, 11-13
  • Mark 10:13-16
The Sermon title is Peace and Children

Early Thoughts: Jesus said "let the children come to me". I truly believe that the path to the Peace lies through children, through caring for children, through taking seriously the question of what kind of a world we intend to leave for the generations that will follow us.

St. Nicholas is, as many know, the patron saint of Children.

There is another reason I see a linkage between this particular book and Peace.  {Spoiler Alert} At the end of the book Santa places a gift beside the manger -- the list of all the kind and loving things people had done over the year..  The path to peace is through love and kindness and justice (which many say is love put into action).

Jesus also said "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it". Admittedly we can easily idealize the innocence of children. Children can learn quickly how to be hardened and uncaring. But children also have the ability to show us what it means to act lovingly to anyone who comes across their path. Children can show us how to trust when we have started to forget. Children can remind us of the possibilities of having faith. All those things help breed peaceful relationships.

The Baby whose birth we are awaiting will be called the Prince of Peace. As we get ready for his birth we should talk about the path that leads to peace and love. In another passage from Isaiah that talks about the promised time of peace it is said "and a little child shall lead them".
Peace and children, they go together somehow. Or at least they should.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Looking Ahead to November 24, 2019 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 23:1-6
  • Psalm 46 (VU p.770)
  • Luke 1:68-79
The Sermon title is Shepherd, King, Protector

Early Thoughts: Shepherd, King, Messiah/Christ (Anointed One). These are just some of the titles used for Jesus of Nazareth.

Some people might say that shepherd and king are very different roles.  Shepherd suggests the least of the least, people with so little power that they earn a living driving livestock from one point to another, finding food and water, and keeping away predatory animals. King suggests someone at the other end of the social strata, someone with massive amounts of power, someone with the authority to have others bring food and drink, someone who has soldiers to drive away predatory people.

But they have something big in common.  They are all about protection.

A shepherd's role is to protect the flock. Some do it well, some do it less well. Some, according to Jeremiah, disperse the flock.

The proper role of the Monarch, in some points of view, is to protect and serve. The Monarch sets up the things that will protect the realm. The Monarch participates in the life of the people. Some have done it well, some have done it less well, some have seen the power balance very differently.

For some time various parts of the Global Church have called this Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, by names like Reign of Christ or Christ the King. In large part this practice was started in Roman Catholic circles as a counter to the loss of political power. But it does give us a chance to reflect on what it means to give Christ , who John's Gospel calls the Good Shepherd, the title of King.  What kind of King is Christ? What kind of protector is Christ?

Is the God made known in Christ a shepherd? Does God lead God's people in search of food and water and protection? Is the God made known in Christ a King? Does God lead God's people to stride forward and claim their place in the world?  Yes to both. And apart from relative power I am not at all convinced that the role of shepherd and king are all that different.

Shepherds lead. Monarch's lead. Monarch's set the pace. SO do Shepherds. Monarch's set up protective structures. Shepherd throw up fences and wield clubs. Christ is the Good Shepherd, Christ is the King of Kings. Through Christ God leads and protects us (even if it sometimes seems doubtful, even when we really want to go our own way.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Looking Ahead to November 17, 2019

This week we will be Celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism (which means cake after church).

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 65:17-25
  • Luke 21:5-19
The Sermon title is Change is Coming – Rejoice... or Be Very Afraid

Early Thoughts: The preaching of Jesus had a main focus. -- the Kingdom of God. AS people of faith we work for and within the Kingdom that is "now and not yet" -- here among us with the coming of Christ and yet not here in full flower. To be honest many (most?) days the "not yet" part seems much more real than the "among us here and now".

But what does the coming of the Kingdom in full flower mean? What should we expect?

Maybe it is a cause for great joy as, in the words of Julian of Norwich, "All manner of thing be well". Maybe it is a cause of great fear as so much that we know is turned upside down and destroyed. Maybe it is both. That is what I think our passages this week suggest.

Isaiah tells us about the wonders of the new heaven and the new earth (similar joy can be found at the end of Revelation). This is the hoped for Kingdom of God in full flower. Where do we see signs of this happening in our world today?

On the other hand, Luke seems to be talking about the transition. And the transition as Jesus portrays it in the Gospels (or as John of Patmos portrays it in Revelation) is not a pretty sight. It seems to bring chaos and destruction and danger. Do I dare ask where we see this in the world today? [To be honest people have seen signs of these things in the world in every generation.]

Waiting for the Kingdom to come in full glory is not a matter of checking of lists, either positive or negative. We can't take the predictions of Jesus that literally. But we have to admit that for the Kingdom to come in full glory requires a massive reshaping of how the world works. And such a reshaping is never easy. It brings out fear, it brings out reactionary "we can not change" responses. It brings out anger, which I believe grows out of the fear. But we are called to look through to the other side...and see the hope that lies after the fear.

It sort of reminds me of this:

The kingdom is growing among us. To get there we need to be ready to face hard choices, we need to be able to change how we work within the world. We need to be ready for the world itself to be changed.  I suspect for the change to happen in full will require some form of cataclysmic event. We as a species are just too reluctant to change, being afraid of what we have to give up (make no mistake we will have to give up some assumptions and structures and things) and sometimes it is hard to see the hope on the other side. But God is calling us to embrace a new heaven and a new earth. It is the promise of our tradition.

Are we ready for the fear and the joy?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

December Newsletter

I have been told many things over the course of my life. I have been told I am good at some things, less than good at others. But one of the comments I hold close to my heart is when I was told that I can be a very good storyteller.

Spin me a story in spinning you’ll find,
one strand is yours another is mine...
By weaving the fabric a richness we’ll see
Woven into God’s great tapestry...
Spin me a parable told by the sea
Values to live, examples to be...
(lines from Spin Me A Story by Nancy Chegus)

I like stories. Stories, in the end, are how we learn things (I half believe that is why we use word problems in math and sciences – to help lock in the concepts). Stories teach us who we are, give us an idea of how we are to live, and show us how the world works. To tell stories is an important role in the world. In fact in some cultures the role of storyteller was one of high status and special training so you could be trusted with the special stories.

Stories are how we pass on the faith as well. Stories and songs are the best ways we have to pass on what we believe – certainly they are much more effective than lists of rules or philosophical treatises. It is my belief that part of my role in life is to be one who tells and reflects on stories. After all, as people of faith we have a story, one that started well before we came around and one which will continue after our part has been played.

For we are a people of the Story,
of stars that sing and Love that cries.
And though these nights are getting longer,
the path is lit before our eyes.
(Refrain, Hope is a Candle by Linnea Good)

That story is coming close. That story of a star and angels and shepherds gets closer each day. And while it is just an episode in a much larger faith story it is a pretty key episode.. What will the story reveal to us this year?

For our Advent worship this year we will be reflecting on a variety of stories, as we prepare to tell the Big Story. When I was in Edmonton in September I heard how Hillhurst United in Calgary had a summer series where they reflected on a series of children’s books. I liked the idea, and I love good children’s books, so I suggested it to the Worship team for Advent. And so we are doing it.

Few of the storybooks Alison and I have chosen for the season are, strictly speaking, about the Christmas story of angels and shepherds and a baby in a manger. But they all reflect on themes around Christmas, things like hope and peace and joy and love. They all push us to think about how we open our hearts for Christmas, and how we carry Christ in our lives.

This year I invite you to enter the world of story. If we let it the world of story helps us see the world in a new way. It can renew wonder in us. It can transport us to places we have never seen and then bring us back with renewed hope and trust. The world of story is filled with magic. So, I believe, is the world of faith. We just may need to broaden our understanding of what magic might mean.

What magic is waiting to be revealed this Christmas season?


Monday, November 4, 2019

Looking Ahead to November 10, 2019

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Haggai 1:15b-2:9
  • Matthew 7:21-27
The Sermon title is Building Up

Early Thoughts: Foundations matter. Without a good foundation a building will not stand. What is the foundation on which we build our lives of faith?

This week's reading from Haggai comes from the era of return from exile, a time when the people of Judah were trying to rebuild their world. Haggai reminds them that God is at work in the building. Haggai shares the promise that "latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts".

The Matthew reading talks about solid rock or sand as a base on which to build. Nowadays preparation for many major building projects includes testing of the sub-soil structure to ensure that the foundation can be laid properly. That did not always happen. and sometimes, as the people of Pisa can tell you, it did not go well.

As people of faith we are living in a construction zone. All of life is an ongoing construction zone. God is building a Kingdom, we are building (or maybe rebuilding) our lives. The world around us is, hopefully, building a peaceful way of coexisting. How solid is the foundation on which we build?

WE are encouraged to use Christ as the foundation of our lives. Living as faithful people with Christ as our foundation is, I believe, the only way we build a world where peace and justice and love are the norm.

This week is the Sunday before Remembrance Day. Every year at Remembrance Day I remember our call to Never Again. We best honour November 11th by pledging to work toward a world where warfare is absent. We can only do that when we are firmly grounded in the hands of God.

Foundations matter.  They can hold us steady or they can fail and let us collapse.  What holds you up?