November 27, 2006

Looking FOrward to December 3, 2006 -- 1st Sunday of Advent

This Sunday we start a new season of the church year. Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas Day, it is a time of preparation for the birth of a special child. As it is the first Sunday of a new season, we will be celebrating Communion this week. We will also be having a soup & sandwich lunch and tree-trimming party following the service.

The Scripture readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25 (VU p.752)
  • From the Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
The Hymns for this week are:
  • Advent Hope (insert)
  • 9 People Look East *NEW*
  • 2 Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
  • 481 Sent Forth by God’s Blessing

The Sermon title is Stay Calm, Be Brave, Wait for the Signs!

Early Thoughts: As we begin the church year we have a very strange reading from the Gospel. Every year we start preparing for Christmas with a reading about the Second Coming. ANd it really doesn't seem to fit. After all, we are preparing to celebrate the first coming, not the second.

But what we prepare for at Christmas is the time when God breaks into our world. And this happens all the time, whether we are expecting it or not. So we are called to look around and be aware of how GOd is becoming known here and now.

In reading the writings around the End Times it sounds terrifying. As we look around for "signs" that match those writings in our modern world it is still terrifying. Wars and hatreds abound, famine and starvation are realities, injustice seems to flourish. It would all too easy to lose hope.

But we celebrate the God who breaks into our world bringing peace and hope, justice and righteousness. ANd because of that we can in fact (as the folks at the Dead Dog Cafe remind us each week) Stay Calm, Be Brave, Wait for the Signs.

Stay Calm. There is hope for the future. Panic only raises the general anxiety level. Be Brave. We have a steady and sure support in God who will not leave us alone. Fear is the opposite of the Love of God. Wait For The Signs. Look around to see what God is doing. Be ready to notice God acting in our midst.

In a few short weeks we will tell again the story of a baby born in a stable. We will sing again about God becoming known. The story is ongoing, as long as we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

November 20, 2006

Looking Forward to November 26, 2006 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: 2 Samuel 23:1-7
  • Psalm 132 (VU p. 855)
  • From the Writings of the Early Church: Revelation 1:4b-8
  • From the Gospel: John 18:33-38a

THe Hymns will be:

  • 710 Shall We Gather at the River
  • 268 Bring Many Names
  • 356 Seek Ye First
  • 27 Tomorrow Christ is Coming

The Sermon Title is The Kingdom of Truth.

Early Thoughts:
One of my favourite parts of the passion story falls in this reading from John. WHat better contrast between the way of Jesus and the way of the world than to have this exchange between Pilate and Jesus. Really though, my favourite version is the way Andrew Lloyd Webber put it in Jesus Christ Superstar:

Pilate: Then you are a king?
Jesus: It's you who say I am. I speak of truth, and find that I am damned.
Pilate: But what is truth? Is truth a changing law? We all have truths, are mine the same as yours?

What is truth anyway?

One of the issues that has come up a number of times in the 2 weeks of discussion on WonderCafe is the question of truth. SOme people within the Christian church hold that there is an absolute truth, manifested in Jesus the CHrist. Others of us find that most of the so-called absolute truths are somewhat subjective and arbitrary.

THe issue of truth is important. ANd I do believe that there are some truths which transcend all of our bickering and squabbling. I see those truths as the ones which last, which stand the test of time. At one point it was a "Truth" that the world was flat. AT one point it was a "truth" that colour made a difference in the worth of a person. Those truths don't stand up. BUt truths like "you should love your neighbour" or "God calls us to care for each other" tend to be more long-lasting.

The other thing about real truths is that our understanding of them can change with time. 230 years ago the founders of a nation wrote "These truths we hold to be self-evident, that all men are created equal". Well in the intervening years the interpretation of all men has changed greatly. The truth is still there, it is just understood more fully.

That is how I see it happening with the Kingdom of Truth, GOd's Kingdom. There is truth that goes beyond our definitions and boundaries. AS we grow closer to an understanding of God's truths we grow closer to that time when "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" is more than just a phrase we pray together each week. That will be the time when it is a description of life here and now.

November 13, 2006

Looking Forward to November 19, 2006 -- 24th Sunday after Pentecost

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: 1 Samuel 1:14-20
  • Responsive Reading: 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (on insert)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

The Hymns for the week are:

  • 333 Love Divine All Love’s Excelling
  • 713 I See a New Heaven
  • 688 O Day of God Draw Nigh
  • 424 May the God of Hope Go With Us

The Sermon title is The Coming of Trouble

Early Thoughts:

8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs (Mark 13:8)

The 13th chapter of Mark is not pleasant reading. It is a passage that talks about coming troubles, about fear and destruction, about the end times.

At issue for us is not how soon the end-times are coming. For 2000 years now there have been people who were convinced that they were right around the corner. In fact, it could easily be argued that the end-times are always just around the corner but the corner keeps moving ahead of us. At issue for us is how do we live in the coming of troubles.

I am struck by Mark's use of the term birthpangs. It seems so right to me. We all know that birth is not a happy go lucky event. Often it is hard and painful and there is an element of danger. That seems to be how change happens in the world -- a lot of yelling and crying (and sometimes cursing) with an undercurrent of danger and the knowledge that life will never be the same again.

Jill Warner has a song called Life in the Goo, The title comes from the birth of Butterflies. As children we are often given the impression that the emergence from a cocoon is easy. In fact the new butterfly has to fight its way through the gooey mess that was the cocoon before it can dry its wings and fly. Jill suggests that often this is what the life of faith is about. The chorus goes:

Life in the Goo, what's a body to do
Some days you don't know if you'll ever get through.
But God has promised to be there for you
so every now and then you live your life in the goo.

Somedays you don't know if you'll ever get through the troubles that come when the world is changing. But the truth is that God has promised to be there in the troubles. Goo is a part of life. But we can make it through. And the real promise is that it will all be worth it in the end. In the end there will be something to show for it. A newborn hope, a newborn world. We have to go through the birthpangs, but there will be something to show for it eventually (sometimes labour takes an awful awful long time).

November 08, 2006

Bible Studies for Advent/Christmas:

There are two of these. The first is a four-week study on Sunday evenings at 7:30 starting November 26. Each week we will look at hymns from Voices United for the season. We will read and discuss both old favourites and new pieces. The first week or two will be on Advent music, the last two or three weeks will be Christmas. If we really feel ambitious we might even give a try at singing a couple a week!

The other study will be a one-timer. On Sunday December 10 from 2-4 all are invited to share in a Bible Study put out by the folks at Buy Nothing Christmas. Information about this study in particular will be sent out to the other churches in town with the hopes that it will become an ecumenical event.

For more information about these studies please talk to Gord.

November 06, 2006

Riverview in Pen and Ink

THis is a drawing of Riverview done several years ago (and used for a variety of purposes over the years).

Emerging Spirit Campaign

The United Church of Canada is about to launch the next phase of the Emerging SPirit campaign.

What Emerging Spirit campaign?

Emerging Spirit is an initiative focused on establishing and nurturing a new relationship between the United Church and Canadians, especially those between the ages of 30-45 who are one of the first Canadian generations to grow up largely outside of the church.
The team has done a wide range of research into how best to connect with this age group. THe campaign will include a special website, magazine ads, and opportunities for churches to learn more about being welcoming congregations (there will be a training event for this in THunder Bay at the end of April).

The next step to fall into place will be the website WonderCafe. This website is set to go live on November 7. THe office has just received a binder of information about how best to utilize this website in local contexts. ASk Gord about it if you are interested.

More information about Emerging Spirit is available by clicking on any of the links in this post. More information about the Living the Welcome training event will come out in the new year.

Looking Forward to November 12, 2006 -- 23rd Sunday After Pentecost

THe Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
  • Psalm 127 (VU p. 851)
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: 1 Kings 17:8-16
  • From the Gospel: Mark 12:38-44

The Hymns for the week are:

The Sermon title is The Gift of Giving

Early Thoughts: IT is that time of year again -- Stewardship season. And there are few better stories in the Gospels around Stewardship than that of the Widow's Mite.

The widow is highlighted not because of the size of her gift, but because of its nature. Although it is small, it is a bigger part (or percentage) of what she has to live on. It is more sacrificial.

There is a flaw in much of our stewardship talk. The flaw is in how we talk about our gifts. On the one hand we are sometimes afraid to ask for gifts (is a gift still a gift if it is asked for?) and so we say "give whatever you can afford/whatever you want". On the other hand, we sometimes talk about stewardship as the gift we owe to God. Both of these are flawed because they degrade the gifts.

In the first instance we fail to highlight the importance of the gift. Not surprisingly, churches which answer the "What should I give?" question in this way tend to get smaller gifts. If we don't show whay we feel stewardship is important then those who we are educating (whether we know it or not we are educating them) will also not see the gift to the church as important--we end up giving what is left, only to find that there is little "left".

The second approach (which often includes tithing) makes our free gift seem more like a debt that needs to be paid. Gifts to God, however offered, are not payments of a debt. They may well be thank-offerings, gifts of gratitude. But they are never something we owe to God because we owe God nothing. All we have is a gift from God -- and a true gift comes with no expectation of payback.

The beter approach lies somewhere between those two extremes (not important and a debt). We need to find those ways that we awaken a desire to give sacrificially. We need to be able to explain why we give, why we find it important to give. And let's be honest, we need to name that if we make giving a priority it might mean that something else will get the "leftovers".

In the end it isn't the amount of the gift that matters. In the end it doesn't really matter if you give to God's work through the congregation, or through the Mission & Service fund, or through some other way. What matters is that you give. What matters is that we become aware of our own giftedness and respond gratefully.

There is a danger in highlighting the passages we use this Sunday as well. The story of Elijah may lead us to think that if we give we will be rewarded -- indeed there is a movement called the "prosperity gospel" that teaches just that. This is not a gift, it is an investment. And remember that the rewards God gives are not always so measurable. With the Gospel passage we may see ourselves as the widow, giving all we have/can. BUt maybe we are like the rich in their finery making a show of the gift. We need to remember that a gift, when truly given, needs no fanfare. It can be quietly slipped into the plate or under the office door. Believe me when I say that such quiet, yet large and sacrificial, giving happens all the time in many places across the country.

UCW Bazaar

THe United Church Women announce their upcoming Bazaar on Saturday November 18 from 2-4 pm. Admission is $3.00

COme and enjoy some food and fellowship while also browsing the Baking, crafts, sewing, knitting, books, and crocheting up for sale. Get a jump start on Christmas!

Also, be sure to check out what treasures are waiting for you on the "New To You" table.

All welcome!

November 03, 2006

Please Take Time to Remember, even if only a Pittance of Time

This Sunday during Children's Time we will honour our war dead even as we share a prayer for peace. WE will be watching this video as well.

The story behind the song, links to audio only versions (and links to the video) as well as the lyrics and melody can be found here

November 02, 2006

A Pre-Advent MEssage:

People look east the time is near of the crowning of the year.
Make your hearth fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.
People look east and sing today: Love the guest is on the way.
( verse 1 of #9 in Voices United words ©1928 Eleanor Farjeon. Used with permission under License #C6531 LicenSing—Copyright Cleared Music for Churches)

“…the time is near of the crowning of the year”. Can that really be right? As I sit down to write this the wind is, literally, howling outside. Soon we will be scraping frost from our windows and snow from our walks. These are signs that the crowning of the year is coming? That can’t be right.

But what if it is? What if the crowning, or at least one of the crownings, of the year really is coming? That would be a cause for hope. That would be a cause for celebration.

In fact it is true. The coming of mid-winter, with its darkness and cold, also brings us reminders of the Light of the World, the Light that can never be blown out. We face the forces of hopelessness in our world, whatever they are, with the story of a baby’s birth. The crowning of the year is the news that we sing “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!”

Angels announce with shouts of mirth Christ who brings new life to earth
Set every peak and valley humming with the word the Lord is coming.
People look east and sing today: Love the Lord is on the way.
(verse 5 of #9 in Voices United words ©1928 Eleanor Farjeon. Used with permission under License #C6531 LicenSing—Copyright Cleared Music for Churches)

Soon we will once again tell the story and sing the songs about the birth of a baby. But more than an infant boy in long ago Bethlehem we sing about the hope that is reborn in our hearts. Indeed the time is near of the crowning of the year. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, God-With-Us, is coming into our lives. Alleluia!