January 29, 2007

Looking Forward to February 4, 2007 -- 5th Sunday After Epiphany

This is our Annual Meeting Sunday. Following our worship service we will have a soup and sandwich lunch which will then be followed by the Annual Meeting. All are encouraged to come and share in this time of reporting and discussion.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 6:1-13
  • Psalm 138 (VU p.860)
  • From the Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

The Hymns are:

  • 624 Give to Us Laughter
  • 579 The Church is Wherever God's People
  • 562 Jesus Calls Us
  • 649 Walk With Me

The Sermon title is Responding to Abundance.
Early Thoughts: They had been fishing all night. Fishing all night and caught nothing. Who was this stranger to come and tell them how to do their job? Well first he commandeers the boat to use as a teaching platform then tells them to try fishing again. If I were Simon I think I know what my response might have been, but such language is not fit for public writing.

It is a strange story in some ways. Jesus, not a fisherman, telling the professionals what to do. Sounds a lot like the armchair quarterbacks who will be watching the Super Bowl later this Sunday. But Simon allows it, Simon even listens. Maybe there was something in the teaching he had just heard but Simon recognizes something special in this man who has sort of taken over his boat.

Then there is this phenomenal catch of fish. Enough to sink the boat and tear the net! No wonder Simon is awestruck. And in response to the wonderful abundance revealed by this man Simon leaves his nets and follows him. And the rest, as they say, is history.

For centuries the church has lifted up Simon, James, and John as examples to follow. Their willingness to give up everything is seen as how everyone should commit to the life of faith. But why did they do it? It seems that they responded as much to what they saw as to what they heard. They looked at Jesus and saw a place where their lives could be filled with abundance. They responded to that abundance.

So that, I think, is where we have to look. People will always respond to things that bring them wholeness more than to places that bring them hardship -- even if the wholeness comes with some work. Where is the abundance to which we have responded? What abundance do we have to offer others?

Baptism Announcement!

ON Friday February 23rd, at the opening worship of the Cambrian Presbytery meeting, Miriam Hope Waldie will be baptised. This is being done at this place and time to celebrate with the rest of Presbytery but is being done on behalf of Riverview United Church.

All members of the Riverview family who will be in Thunder Bay on that day are welcome to attend. For more information please contact Gord at the church office.

Weekly Prayer Brochure

Riverview is one of 12 congregations participating in a weekly pamphlet for daily Scripture reading and Prayer. THe project grew out of the congregation of St. Andrew's Haney United Church in Maple Ridge BC and now stretches across the country. If you want to see who else is participating click here.

Each week copies of the brochure are left in the hall across from the kitchen. If you want a copy please let the church office know.

January 22, 2007

Looking Forward to January 28, 2007 -- 4th Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Jeremiah 1:4-10
  • Psalm 71:1-6 (VU p.789 Part 1)
  • From the Gospel: Luke 4:14-30

The Hymns are:

  • #410 This Day God Gives Me
  • The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me (on insert)
  • #82 A Light is Gleaming
  • #424 May the God of Hope Go With Us

The Sermon title is Prophets Without Honour

Early Thoughts:One of the toughest challenges about being the people of God is the call to be prophetic. It is easy to be priestly, to have as main concern the rituals around worship. It is even easy much of the time to be pastoral, to care for the people with whom we live and serve. But to be prophetic, to speak truths people don't want to hear, to overturn the comfortable lives we live, now that is risky. And so it is hard to do.

Jesus goes home. There he is invited to read from the Scripture (the scroll of Isaiah as it happens). After he reads he gives a very short sermon to the people who were gathered there. And then things hit a snag. The crowd runs him out of town on a rail (the text talks about throwing him off a cliff but it is uncertain there would be a cliff in the area of Nazareth).

Jeremiah hears the call to be God's prophet at a young age. In fact that is the basis of his argument against accepting the call -- I am too young. Once he answers it Jeremiah will become known as a prophet of woe. He is pushed to do strange things as he tries to convince the people of Jerusalem that their doom is at hand. He is not well-liked for saying what people do not want to hear.

Jesus talks about prophets not having honour in their hometown/homeland. Sometimes this might be because of the "I knew you when..." syndrome. It can be hard to be heard seriously by your surrogate parents. Sometimes it is because in ones home the prophet knows how to make the message strike with the killing accuracy and sharpness of a well-aimed arrow. The truth hurts sometimes and we often find it easier to strike out against the messenger than face the hard truth.

But the problem is that the church is not just called to be priestly and pastoral. We can't just do the rituals "right" and care for each other. We are also called to be prophetic voices in the world around us. We need to find a way to name and acknowledge the hard truths that need to be spoken. We need to move past the fear that people will get upset, or leave, or stop giving money. How do we do that? I really have little idea, but on Sunday we can explore it a little more. Hope to see you there!

Sermon on what lies beyond death.

While looking for something else in my files I found this sermon from November of 2004 and thought it might be worth reading again. The story referred to in the 6th paragraph is of two twins in the womb just before birth debating what lies ahead of them. Click "Read More" to read the sermon.

On Death, and Life After Death, and Mystery

Questions. We all ask them and we all try to answer them. And the reason they are asked it to get answers, preferably concrete, specific, black and white answers. But there are times when those answers just aren’t there. Any parent knows this. So do teachers. In the development of children there comes a time when they find out that their parents don’t really know everything. (Often this is followed by the phase when they decide that their parents know absolutely nothing.) Teachers too are expected to have answers to every question, until students take up the “stump the teacher challenge”. And clergy, well clergy have it even worse. Clergy are expected to have answers to the really hard questions. The questions about existence and meaning. Questions like: “why are we here?” or “why do bad things happen?” or even “what happens after we die?”.

And truly people expect an answer. There is a story I read this week of a minister who not only was expected to have answers to these hard, almost unanswerable, questions but when he was honest enough to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “I believe that…” it was seen as a sign of incompetence. We have a hard time accepting the greyness that lies in those answers.

But in truth those questions about existence, what the philosophers call existential questions, usually don’t have black and white answers. They have answers based on faith and belief. Faith and belief are cast more in shades of grey than in clear tones. There is always a bit of mystery and doubt and unknowing in the life of faith.

But still we want the answers. We are conditioned to read stories like the one we have just heard from Luke and berate the Sadducees for asking such a stupid question. But to be honest, we ask them all the time. “Will I meet my husband (or mother, or child, or favourite dog) in heaven?” Will my leg grow back?” “What is heaven like?” The only honest answer I can give to these questions is I Don’t Know.

I don’t know what waits for us after we die. But I do know this. I know that I believe there is something. I know that my faith tells me that there is more than this life. And that can give me comfort, even in the uncertainty of not knowing exactly, it still can give me comfort.

During confirmation classes last spring, we took most of one evening to discuss Christian beliefs about death. We did so because it is something that is very important to Christian faith. We did so because all too often we don’t talk about this except at funerals. As a part of that discussion I read two stories. Here is one of them (read story – attached).

I have always liked that story. It seems to capture exactly that anxiety about the unknown and unknowable “Can there be life after birth?”. To those of us here we know that birth is a step along a road. Some may say the first step. But what if the baby was as self aware as these twins are? Then the process of leaving the womb would indeed be traumatic and terrifying. And there is no way to change that. As the one twin points out, on one who has been born has gone back into the womb to share what it is like. (I have another story that touches on that, it is called “Waterbugs and Dragonflies”. It will have to wait for another day.)

It is my belief that, just as birth is a transition from one world to another, so it is with death. We move from what we know to what we can not know until we go there. We try to draw pictures in our minds of what that will be like. But they are only guesses. Paul says that we will be changed. I take that to mean that existence will be different. Still we are promised, over and over we are promised, that there is more. That is our faith, and that is what we rely on. We have faith that there is more, in the end that is what we trust.

One of the problems with trying to grapple with these questions around what lies beyond death is that we don’t take time to talk about it. We only bring it up at funerals and memorial services. And then we are so busy grieving that we seek the comfort of the promise without delving deeper. Mind you, I am not sure that we could do any other. I read a story this week about a philosopher. One of his students came to talk about death. The teacher asked “how old are you?”. “25” “Go away, I only talk about death to people who are over 30”. It is hard to talk seriously about death until we are forced to. Maybe we lose a parent, or a grandparent, or a close friend. Maybe we get seriously ill. Then we have no choice but to face it, then it is real.

However, I suggest that if we let our children do that we do them, and us, a disservice. Only talking about death and faith at times of sorrow leaves us unprepared. My sister and I grew up in a household where we were forced to attend Sunday School until we were teens. We heard the stories of the faith all our lives. And yet. My sister went to her first funeral when she was in Grade 10 or 11. A classmate of hers had gone home on Friday apparently healthy, developed spinal meningitis, and was dead by Monday. None of those students were ready, few of them had tools that could help them deal with the reality of death. Now it is fair to say that nothing could really make you ready for the sudden death of someone who “should not have died”, but surely if we take time in our formative years and beyond to think and talk about what we believe lies beyond death then we have a step up.

No, we have to talk about what we believe on and ongoing basis. Otherwise our faith is meaningless. We have to consider what we believe happens after we die. We are promised that there is more, that death is not the end. What we don’t have is a blueprint. We don’t have a clear picture of what we will find when we die. But we have faith. In the end that is what we have, that is all we have. And that is alright. It is OK to say “I’m not sure I know but I believe…”. Mystery is a part of belief. Doubt and questions are a part of faith. In asking questions and in embracing mystery we let ourselves grow as people of faith.

Agreed, it would be wonderful to have all the answers. It would be so much more comforting to know exactly what to expect. WE don’t though, and lest that disconcert us, remember the story of Thomas. In reading about Thomas we learn that faith is about embracing the mystery, it is about accepting what we don’t know for sure. Mystery and uncertainty are hard to take sometimes but remember this. In the end, we have faith, we have hope, we have promise. And because we have that we can say with confidence the words of the New Creed of the United Church “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.” Amen.
--Gord Waldie
November 2004

January 16, 2007

Minister's Annual Report

Well here we are again at Annual Report time. It seems hard to believe that this is the 6th time I have sat down to write an Annual Report since I arrived here but indeed it has been 5 and a half years already. So where does the end of 2006 find us as a congregation.

In many ways we are in really good shape. Certainly financially this has been the best year since I have been here as we find ourselves in a surplus position at year-end. Our average attendance on Sunday mornings remains steady. We have a committed group working to provide musical leadership. The Harvest and Ham Suppers as well as the Father’s Day BBQ continue to be great community building events not only for the congregation but the larger community. We continue to provide space for a variety of community groups to meet. Things are going well.

For myself, 2006 has had much that was rewarding. As part of the ministry of this congregation I continue to serve on the hospital board. Regular devotionals and worship services at the Extended Care Wing are a highlight. Also this year I put together a seminar for funeral leadership back in February. Five people from Riverview took part as well as three folks who travelled in from out of town. The idea has caught on in fact and I have been asked to lead a similar event in Thunder Bay later this year. Another one of my projects for this year has been to launch a web-presence for Riverview. This presence is a web-log (or blog) called Riverview Rolls On and can be found at http://riverviewrollson.blogspot.com/. This is a place where I post weekly “Looking Forward to Sunday” entries about the next worship service – complete with early sermon thoughts. As well bits of news and coming events are posted as they arise. Also on the web, the conference website has a space for all Pastoral Charges to have a “minisite”. The link to Riverview’s page is found in the sidebar of our blog. One of the points that has been raised by some people on the WonderCafe website is that if a church has no web presence they take it as a sign that the congregation is not speaking to their reality as a person in a wired world so it seems being web-wise is important for a church.

And what does 2007 hold? Well to a degree we won’t know until it hits us. But as people of faith we take comfort in the knowledge that God will face it with us. More importantly, as people of faith we continue to try and discern what God is calling us to do and be as the world continues on its way. As one of the songs in the new hymn book supplement More Voices says:

Spirit of challenge, Spirit of truth.
(God’s still speaking. Are you listening?)
Speaking a word the world would dispute
(God’s still speaking. Have no fear.)
Spirit who shows us the work to be done.
(God’s still speaking. Are you listening?)
Spirit who sends us as tools of God’s love.
(God’s still speaking the Spirit is here)
God’s still speaking the Spirit is here.
[verse 3 of God’s Still Speaking by Jill Kirsten Warner, © 2003. Used with permission under License #C6531 LicenSing – Copyright Cleared Music for Churches]

God is speaking to us, calling us forward. Let us move together with joy and with hope, ready to be God’s people sharing God’s love.

Gord Waldie

Experiencing the Heart of Christianity – A Faith Study

This 12 week study takes the participants through Marcus Borg’s book The Heart of Christianity. It is a chance to explore the meaning of Christianity for today’s world.

The program will be offered at either an evening or an afternoon time slot. Thursday afternoons at 1:00 or Thursday evenings at 7:00. Each session is set out to be around 2 hours long. The study would begin of March 1 and run until the middle of May. Please let Gord know which time slot works best for you.

Participants would need to purchase a copy of The Heart of Christianity. These can be ordered by the office or people can get a copy on their own. The book lists for $15.92 (plus taxes etc.) at Chapters. If you are interested please let Gord know by February 4. This way we can be sure the books will be here in time to get the first chapter read by the first session.

For more information please talk to Gord.

January 15, 2007

Looking Ahead to January 21, 2007 -- 3rd Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:
  • From the Letters of the Church: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
  • Psalm 19 (VU p.740)
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-12

The Hymns are:

  • #245 Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet
  • #82 A Light is Gleaming *NEW*
  • #679 Let There Be Light
  • #588 Many Are the Lightbeams

As this Sunday marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the Children's Story is going to be about Christian Unity.

THe Sermon title is In Praise of the Law.

Early Thoughts:The focus passage is Nehemiah 8:1-12 (omitting verses 4 and 7 out of kindness to the reader). It challenges us about how we think of the Law in the Scriptures.

Over and over again we are reminded that the Way of Jesus is not meant to be a legalistic path. Grace has, we are told by Paul, superseded the Law. But then again Jesus is supposed to have said "I come to fulfil the law, not to abolish it". And in this passage we are told that the people wept and celebrated upon hearing the reading (with interpretation) of the Law.

Psalm 19 (also being read this Sunday) says "7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes". This hardly describes something onerous or something that has been imposed.

Jewish Tradition sees Law as God's gift, indeed one of God's greatest gifts. Christian tradition tends to denigrate the Law all the while creating a whole new legalistic structure about who is "right" with God and what is allowed. What would it take for us to see the Law as a gift? How would that change our approach to life?

January 08, 2007

Looking Forward to January 14, 2007 -- 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

As a part of our worship time this Sunday we will have a dedication of the Sound System upgrades that were purchased in late 2006. These purchases were made with money from the Memorial Fund.

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 62:1-5
  • Psalm 36:5-10 (Voices United p.762)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
  • From the Gospel: John 2:1-11

The Hymns will be:

  • 402 We Are One
  • 268 Bring Many Names
  • 232 Joyful, Joyful We Adore You
  • 242 Let All Things Now Living

The Sermon Title is More Wine!!!!

Early Thoughts: Ever been at a party at the refreshments ran out? Some would say that means it is time to go home. Others would say it is time for a beer run. But in this story from John's Gospel running out of wine is seen as bad planning, that the host will be embarrassed because his guests have drunk all of it. What to do? What to do?

The obvious answer of course is "Get more wine!". As John tells the story Mary, mother of Jesus, tells her son to do just that. Mary's request says nothing about how to get more wine, she doesn't even really ask directly for more wine. She simply says “They have no wine.” (verse 3). Then when Jesus refuses to do anything about it she merely tells the servants to do whatever he tells them.

[As a side note it makes one wonder whose wedding this was. If Mary and, through her, Jesus are taking such responsibility for the provision of more wine then is this a family affair? Why is it their business to save the host from embarrassment?]

When Jesus decides to make something happen he does what John calls in verse 11 "the first of his signs...and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.". He takes 6 massive jars of water (about 150 gallons, or approximately 600 litres total) and changes the water into wine. 600 LITRES of wine!!! A standard bottle of wine is 750 millilitres. Jesus makes enough wine for 800 bottles -- and this is after the guest have already drunk what was originally provided. Now that is what I call a party (not to mention a big headache the next day). Where everyone was convinced there was nothing there was more than enough.

And it gets even better! Not only was it there in great abundance it was good wine too! Trusting in the rather odd instructions the servants discovered a great abundance practically under their noses. They were sure that they had a problem of scarcity but they really didn't.

This scarcity issue is real for us. All too often we convince ourselves that we don't have enough. And yet Scripture keeps reminding us that there is great abundance waiting to be discovered if we only have eyes to see. Where do we need more wine? What silly instructions do we need to follow to find it?

January 02, 2007

Annual Reports, Annual Meeting

All are reminded that Annual Reports are due to the Office by January 14. This is to give enough time to have the reports printed and collated by Sunday January 28.

The Annual Meeting of the Congregation will follow regular morning worship on Sunday February 4. All who are a part of the life of Riverview are encouraged to attend this time of celebration and looking forward.

Looking Forward to January 7, 2007 -- Epiphany Sunday

This Sunday we celebrate the festival of Epiphany. This commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Holy Family as told in Matthew's Gospel. We will also be celebrating the sacrament of communion this week.

The Scriptures for this Sunday are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6
  • Psalm 72 (Voices United p.790)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

The Hymns are:

  • 91 The First Nowell
  • We Three Kings
  • 457 As We Gather at Your Table
  • 79 Arise, Your Light is Come

The Sermon title is: God Revealed
Early Thoughts: The word Epiphany means a manifestation of the divine. On this day we celebrate that God was made visible. This is the ending of the Christmas Season of the Church year (this season is 12 days long--that is where the song comes from).

So part of what we do is we tell the story of the Magi visiting. Wise Ones from a distant land who bring highly symbolic gifts: Gold to designate royalty, Frankincense to suggest divinity, and Myrrh to foretell the death (these gifts are described in the middle 3 verses of We Three Kings). Please note that Matthew never says how many visitors there were, just that there were three gifts. In conjunction with this we read the Isaiah passage that likely shaped Matthew's telling (or creation) of the visit story.

But Epiphany needs to mean more than the story of the Magi. Epiphany is a time to look at how God is made manifest, real, and visible in the here and now. How is God revealed to us today?

The answers of course are legion. There are many different ways God is revealed to God's people. One is in the gathering to reflect on the old stories and what they say to us today. One is in sharing a meal together--either the symbolic meal of bread and juice we share this Sunday or a full meal sitting around a table. One is in the knowledge that we are a part of a larger community. One is.... There are so many others.

This Sunday come and join us as we reflect a little bit on how God is revealing Godself in the world today. And remember that God follows Gods rules--not just our own suppositions about who she is and how he acts. So we always need to be aware that God may be revealed in surprising ways.