July 31, 2006

Looking forward to August 6, 2006 -- 9th Sunday after Pentecost

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
  • Psalm 51 (VU p.776)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Ephesians 4:1-16
  • From the Gospel: John 6:24-35

The Hymns this week are:

  • 402 We Are One
  • 624 Give to Us Laughter
  • 331 The Church's One Foundation
  • 420 Go To the World

The Sermon will be based on the Ephesians reading and is titled Growing in Faith -- Being Who We are Called to Be.

Early Thoughts: The life of faith is about growth. Only by opening ourselves to growth will we be able to do as the author requests in verse 1 of this passage I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Later, in verses 14 and 15 he writes: We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. The life of faith calls us to be open to grow and mature and develop.

Many times in my life I have heard church-people complain that things are changing too much. There is often a desire for the faith to literally be "the faith of our fathers" or at least to be the faith of our childhood Sunday School. At the same time there is, in many of the mainline churches at least, a feeling among church leadership that not enough study, not enough growth is happening. If faith development is seen as Sunday School, youth group and confirmation (and in many places that is seen as the tasks of the Christian Education Committee, Adult Bible Study is seen as being somehow different) then we never have the chance to mature in faith.

But of course we don't stop developing when we become adults. Our lives continue to change. New questions come up that don't always fit with the old answers. We need to continue to study our faith, to ask questions of it and about it. We need to keep growing.

Many places today talk about church growth. Most of them are talking about things like building size, number of bums in the pews, number of baptisms, amount raised for ministry (local and broader outreach). But in the end there is only one type of church growth that matters. That is the growth of individuals as children of God, growth in the depth of faith. Without that all the numbers can easily become a social club. Growing in quantity isn't the issue, growing in quality is. (And there is always the, very real, chance that a church which grows in quality will develop such exuberant Christians that they naturally draw others to come and see what all the excitement is about.)

We are all God's children. God's hope is that we will grow and develop as long as we draw breath. What does it mean for us to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ (verse 13)? Howw are we pushing ourselves and our faith to deeper levels? What questions are dying to be answered in our souls? Let's talk about it, let's talk about how and where we need to grow. Then let's work together to find ways to make that happen.

As a part of this Sunday some potential ideas for adult Bible Study in the fall and winter will be raised for people to consider...

July 24, 2006

Looking Forward to July 30, 2006 -- 8th Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday we will hear a report from the past week at Sunnycove Camp.
For Scriptures we will use passages that were used in during theme times last week and as each is read we will hear about what that theme time was like:

For music we will be using the overhead (no hymn books at camp) and singing either a capella or to guitar accompaniment.

  • Kum Ba Yah
  • They Will Know We Are Christians
  • Jesus Loves Me (Camp Version)
  • This Little Light of Mine

The Sermon will be What Happened at Camp?

July 17, 2006

Looking Forward to July 23, 2006 -- 7th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Ephesians 2:11-22
  • From the Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The Hymns this week are:

  • Psalm 100 (older words, p. 823 VU)
  • 579 The Church is Wherever God's People
  • 606 In Christ there is No East or West
  • 288 Great is Thy Faithfulness

The Sermon will be based on the Ephesians reading and is titled Walls that Divide -- No MORE!

Early Thoughts: One of the great gifts that Pauline theology has given us is a response to the divisive forces within the Christian church. I remember my New Testament Professor telling of a question asked when he was in seminary. "Was there ever a time when the church was undivided?" The answer: "Probably for the first few hours." In both the book of Acts and in Paul's letters we can see hints of the deep divisions that were rocking the early church. One of the most important at that time was the debate about circumcision and the admission of Gentiles to the church (which began as a subset of Judaism).

In response to these talks about division, Paul gives us wonderful passages like 1 Corinthians 12 (the one about the body parts needing each other) and Galatians 3:28 where he says that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. While this passage from Ephesians may not be as well known or as easily quoted (it really doesn't flow as easily as the body discussion in 1 Corinthians) it is just as good a description of how we are one in Christ.

In recent decades the United Church of Canada has been rocked with the fear (or the threat) of splitting. For a while in the late 20th century reports from General council meetings spoke of the deep anger between the two extremes of the church (there is a story of a bag of excrement being placed (dumped?) on the table of a conservative group by those who disagree and stories of those on the left of the church being accused of heresy and condemned to damnation). The tension still exists. A denomination our size has many sub-groups within it that need to find a way to work and live together.

This summer General Council meets to discuss and discern the future of the United Church of Canada. Discussion about direction setting can be difficult. There are proposals being made that will impact the budgets of congregations, sometimes heavily. It is time once again to remember that what divides us is not as important as what unites us. Ephesians 2:14 says :"For he [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." Christ is our uniting focus. Former moderator Walter Farquharson writes "Walls that divide are broken down; Christ is our unity! Chains that enslave are thrown aside; Christ is our liberty!" As we pray for those who will gather in Thunder Bay August 13-19, let us all remember our unity, our ability to agree to disagree and then join hands and heart in song and in prayer.

July 13, 2006

It's COming! It's COming FAst!

Camp that is. In a week-and-a-half campers and leaders will gather from across Northwestern Ontario to share a week of camp together.

THis year our theme times will be looking at covenant. The final details are being taken care of as we look at Noah and the Rainbow, Abraham and Sarah looking for a land and a child, and the Prophetic call to justice.

And then we will be doing Crafts, and canoeing, and swimming as well. Not to mention food. It is said that an army marches on its stomach--so does camp.

Wish us well and hope for good weather July 24-28!

July 10, 2006

Looking Forward to July 16 -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
  • Psalm 24 (VU p.751)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Ephesians 1:3-14
  • From the Gospel: Mark 6:14-29

The Hymns this week are:

  • 245 Praise the Lord With the Sound of Trumpet
  • 352 I Danced in the Morning
  • 326 O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • 424 May the God of Hope Go with Us

The Sermon will be based on the Ephesians reading and is titled Adoption and Inheritance: What Family?

Early Thoughts: This week we move into Paul's letter to the Ephesians. The Epistle readings from now until the end of August will be from this letter. This letter may in fact not have been addressed solely to the people in Ephesus. Scholars believe it may actually have been a document meant to circulate around a group of churches for their education and encouragement. It is also thought that Paul himself did not write this document. Rather one of Paul's disciples may have compiled some of Paul's thoughts and sayings into what we now call Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

In my early reading of the passage the word adoption leaps out. Adoption is how the writer describes our relationship to God. Adoption is a special way of entering a family. It has overtones of being chosen. It also has a finality that some things don't. An adopted child is ours in a way that a foster-child is not -- a foster child is a ward of the state (granted that many foster parents bond just as strongly with the foster-child as to their own). A step-child is yours not ours (again remembering that many step-parents don't, in practice, see such a difference). Adoption brings belonging. Adoption means that we are truly part of the family. Adoption means that we are free to share in all that the family has, we become inheritors.

And so as I read these words I hear echoes of the Prodigal Son returning. I hear echoes of the Baptism service where we say that in Baptism we are "named as God's children, claimed by Christ, and united with the whole Christian community". The writer reminds us that God welcomes us as full members of God's family -- not under temporary care, not as part of a package but full members of the family. We BELONG. We are free to share in the inheritance of abundant and everlasting life because we belong.

We are all God's children. How does that change how we live? How does that change how we treat each other? In the ancient world adoption was an important thing, being linked as it was to inheritance. Today we often don't talk a lot about adoption, there is a hint of a stigma about being adopted. But adoption means that we belong. Adoption is a gift. By virtue of being "destined [us] for adoption as his children" God has opened to us the promise of inheritance. What will we do with this gift?

July 03, 2006

Looking Forward to July 9, 2006 -- the 5th Sunday after Pentecost

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: 2 Samuel 5:1-10
  • Psalm 48 (VU p.772)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
  • From the Gospel: Mark 6:1-13

The Hymns this week are:

  • 410 This Day God Gives Me
  • 356 Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God
  • 266 Amazing Grace
  • 884 You Shall Go Out with Joy

For the Children's story we will hear "Saul Learns about Jesus" from The Family Story Bible by Ralph Milton ( this story is based on passages from Acts)

The Sermon will be based on the Corinthians reading and is titled A Question of Authority.

Early Thoughts: Paul had a problem. There were people in Corinth who were challenging his authority. Signs of this challenge run through both 1st and 2nd Corinthians. And so it is that every once in a while Paul takes time in this correspndence to establish his credentials. This is one of those passages.

The first part of the passage works well this way. For a charismatic leader like Paul it makes sense that part of his authority would be grounded on his experiences of the divine. But then he starts talking about his weakness and how he wishes he were stronger. This is a sales pitch?

In a way it does. This is the same Paul who said: But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. For Paul the measures of the world are not what is important. In fact Paul claims to think he is not important except in how he can lead people to Christ. Paul challenges the Corinthians to rethink what gives people authority.

And so we who read this passage in 2006 are also challenged to ask what gives people authority. Does being a great war leader like David give authority? Does being a healer? Does speaking truth to those who don't want to hear it (I have a strong suspicion that the people who were challenging Paul's authority may have been doing so because he has chastised them and/or told them things they didn't want to hear)? What is it that gives one a voice of authority? What makes a good leader?