December 31, 2008

Upcoming Events

THis post will stay on top until the end of the year. Expand it to see the events:

  • September 18 -- Church Board Meets at 6:30
  • September 25-28 -- Cambrian Presbytery Fall Meeting at First United Church in Dryden. Gord will chair the meeting.
  • September 28 -- As Presbytery Chair, Gord will attend Rev. Scott Gale's covenanting service with the Broadway-Pinegrove Pastoral Charge in Thunder Bay (Service to be held at Pinegrove United Church).
  • October 5 -- Worldwide Communion Sunday, Communion will be celebrated.
  • October 5 -- As Presbytery Chair, Gord will attend Rev. Barb Miller's covenanting service at Knox United Church in Fort Frances.
  • October 6 -- UCW Meets
  • October 15-16 -- Gord will represent Cambrian Presbytery at the Conference Executive meeting in Winnipeg
  • October 19 -- in worship this Sunday we will mark the 55th Anniversary of Riverview United Church. We will continue our celebration with a pot-luck lunch after church.
  • October 23 -- Worship at Extended Care Wing at 10:45
  • November 1 -- Indoor Yard Sale at Riverview. For information on renting a table call the church office.
  • November 3 -- UCW Meets
  • November 15 -- UCW Bazaar
  • November 27 -- Worship at Extended Care Wing at 10:45
  • November 30 -- First Sunday of Advent, Communion will be celebrated, Tree-trimming party to follow service.
  • December 1 -- UCW Meets
  • December 14 -- Blue Christmas Service
  • December 14 -- White Gift Sunday and Christmas Pageant
  • December 24 -- Christmas Eve Service at 7:00 pm

December 30, 2008

Looking Forward to January 4, 2009 -- Epiphany Sunday

This Sunday we hear again the Epiphany story-the visit of the Magi. We will also be celebrating communion. Following the service we will "de-decorate" from Christmas.

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6
  • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 (VU p.790 Parts 1 & 2)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
The Hymns for this Sunday are:
  • 91 The First Nowell
  • We Three Kings (insert)
  • 74 What Child is This
  • 481 Sent Forth by God’s Blessing
The Sermon title is Bringing What Gifts?

Early Thoughts: If got caught up in the procession of the Magi what would we have to offer the baby? In the present what gifts do we have to share as part of our call to be agents of God in the world?

As I sit here this morning I have 2 songs running through my head. One tells the tale of a poor boy caught up with some strangers visiting a new-born king. And when he gets there he feels inadequate because "I am a poor boy too...I have no gift to bring...That's fit to give a king...". The other is the final verse of Christina Rosetti's hymn In the Bleak Mid-Winter:
What shall I bring him
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb
If I were a Wise man
I would do my part
Yet what I can I give him
Give my heart
The Epiphany story is one about sharing gifts. It tells of strangers from the East, the Magi, who come bearing precious (and symbolic) gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. It highlights many possible themes and sermon questions (which is good since it comes up every year). Why have these non-Jews come to see the baby? What do we do about Herod's response to "the one who is born the King of the Jews"? And also this year's question, the same one asked by the little drummer boy. What gift do I have?

The word Epiphany means God-Made-Manifest. It calls us to be open to how God is active and visible in our world. And as people of faith we are called to respond to the presence of God. In Matthew's story the response was to offer those strange gifts. Our response should be to offer our gifts. But what gifts?

Over the years I have heard many people claim that they have no gifts to share. Mind you they usually say that while very busy sharing their gifts. It is my firm belief that we all have something to share. And I also believe that what we have to share can (usually does) change over the course of our lives. The challenge is two-fold. One to figure out what those gifts are. The other is to be able to name them as gifts and not "just something I do".

This Sunday we will discuss a bit more about our gifts, about naming them, about sharing them, about discovering them. And maybe then we will join the Drummer Boy in offering what seems a small gift and be met with the smile of God. Pa-rum-pa-pa-pum, rum-pa-pa-pum, rum-pa-pa-pum...

December 15, 2008

The theme for this week is Be Not Afraid Justice Shall be Done

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
  • From the Gospel: Luke 1:47-55 (VU p.898)
  • From the Gospel: Luke 1:68-79 (VU p.900)
The Hymns this week are
  • 1 O Come, O Come Emmanuel (vss 1,3,5,7)
  • 44 It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
  • 899 Song of Mary
  • 46 Gentle Mary Laid Her Child
The sermon title is Songs of Justice

Early Thoughts: There is something revolutionary about Christmas. The coming of the babe in the manger brings a new changed world. Are you ready for God's justice to break into the world? Are you ready for the kingdom to come?

We tend to have a romantic vision of Mary. From the moment of the Annunciation through to the stable she is seen as a meek willing servant of God. And the Christmas story itself is romanticized with sweet smelling hay and gentle animals and a baby who "no crying he makes".

But Christmas has a revolutionary side to it. In a column for the Progress in 2002 I wrote:
...Mary sings a song that is nothing less than revolutionary. In Luke 1:47-55 Mary sings about the promise of God to overturn the tables of the powerful. Mary calls for the world to be reordered, for justice to be done, for the Reign of God to begin. This is the truth of Christmas.

On Christmas day we celebrate the birth of the child that sparked Mary 's song. As an adult this child would proclaim his ministry with words that echoed his mother's cry for justice (Luke 4:18-19). If we follow the path he followed, then we need to join in the struggle to fill the hungry with good things, to lift up the lowly, and to free those who are oppressed. On Christmas we mark the beginning of the revolution that will bring on the age of peace, the age where lion lies down with lamb and all have that which they need to live.

Christian faith is not mainly about individuals feeling good about themselves. It is not mainly about life beyond this one. Christian faith is mainly about how we live together in this life, it is about community. The path laid out by the Christ child is one of justice in this world. At Christmas we are flooded with requests for charity. But to truly celebrate Christmas we need to do more than write the cheques and donate the food.

The true Christmas gift is to make changes in society so that people don't need our donations to make it through the cold winter. What will our gift be this year?

This year, as we prepare once again to sing about angels and shepherds, I urge us once more to hear Mary's song of revolution. This year let us join in the revolution of faith - a faith that calls for a world renewed, a people restored, and a hope fulfilled.
This Sunday we will read one of the most revolutionary texts in all of Scripture. In fact reading it is rumoured to have been banned at times (I'll check into that and let you know on Sunday). Mary's song is a song of God's Justice. It is a song that calls for the world order to be turned on its head. So too is Zechariah's song, albeit a little less forcefully.

At Christmas we talk about light breaking through the darkness of oppression and inequity. We talk about God choosing to come to earth as a member of the underclass. We talk about the God who brings freedom to the captive, who dethrones the mighty, who sends messengers to lead us in The Way.

As the Christmas revolution takes hold, which side will we find ourselves on? How will we join in the songs of justice?

December 13, 2008

SO the Church Geeks amongst us can enjoy!

OR at least that would be my guess.

The General COuncil Office now has a link to a variety of Church Documents. This includes minutes of GCE and letters from the MOderator and other stuff (with more to be added I assume.

You can find it here

December 11, 2008

Christmas Messages from the Moderator

AS Christmas draws near the National Church has published a number of messages from the Right Reverend David Giuliano, Moderator of the United Church of Canada.

David has written a prayer for peace in Bethlehem. Read some background about this here

Or you could read the Observer piece Our Place in the Pageant

ANd then there is David's video message from the United Church YouTube channel Watch it below:

December 02, 2008

Looking Ahead to December 7, 2008 -- 2nd of Advent

The theme this week is Be not afraid prophetic peace be with you

This week we will be celebrating the sacrament of baptism with two children being baptised.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-10
  • Psalm 72 (VU p.790)
  • From the Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
The Hymns this week are:
  • O What a Wonderful Gift (insert)
  • 644 I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry
  • 18 There’s a Voice in the Wilderness
  • 27 Tomorrow Christ is Coming
The sermon title is Peace for Our Children

Early Thoughts: What is this peace for which we pray? Prophetic passages often seem wrathful and angry, not peaceful. But is there peace to be found there?

Every parent wonders about it at one time or another. What sort of world will my children grow up in? Will it be better or will it fall apart? Will my children and their friends know peace or conflict, prosperity or poverty, contentment or anxiety, hope or despair?

The Scripture promise is that of a world of peace. But this peace is a differenrt vision than the peace of empire (be it Davidic/Judean, or Babylonian, or Roman or American). Imperial peace is based on crushing the opposition. Imperial peace is based not the iron fist keeping the "rabble" in their place. The books we call Scripture were largely written as a protest against domination and Imperial peace. SCripture's vision of peace is based in justice and abundance for all.

The peace we wish for our children is that broader vision. The peace we are promised is what Isaiah describes often, including the passage we read this week. But how do we get there? How do we prepare the way for the reign of peace?

Biblical prophecy is an interesting animal. It really is not (as many assume) about predicting the future. More it is about truth-telling, calling people to account, naming the consequences of behaviour. Andso a lot of prophetic language appears wrathful and mean. John the Baptist is an excellent example. Apparently John is unfamiliar with diplomatic niceties and gentle language. Instead he calls the powerful in his world a brood of vipers and talks about an axe that will cut them down. Little wonder that John's career came to an untimely and bloody end.

But if we are serious about working towards the peace promised by scripture we need to pay heed to the role of the prophet. Only when we listen to the voices that name our reality for what it is can we see what might need to be changed. Only when we are willing to have our own culpability in the world's disfunction brought to light are we able to move forward. The prophets have a key role in preparing the way for God's work to happen.

What needs to happen to pass on true peace to our children? What preparations do we need to make? In three weeks we celebrate the birth of one who was called the Prince of Peace. At Christmas we remind ourselves that God breaks into the world to try and create the world God envisions. As we prepare for that in-breaking, how do we prepare for the vision?

November 24, 2008

Looking Ahead to November 30, 2008 -- 1st of Advent

The theme for this week is Be Not Afraid, a new world is coming

As it is the first Sunday of Advent we will be celebrating the sacrament of communion.

The Scripture Readings are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 65:17-23
  • From the Writings of the Early Church: Revelation 21:1-4
  • From the Gospel: Mark 13:24-37
The Hymns this week are:
  • Advent Hope (insert)
  • 9 People Look East
  • 2 Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
  • 481 Sent Forth by God’s Blessing
The meditation title is There's a new world somewhere...

Early Thoughts: Advent means waiting, but what are we waiting for? Is it just a baby born long ago or is there something else?

It seems a little bit strange. As the rest of the world ramps up into a frenzy of gift buying (although maybe not so much this year) and baking and decorating the church starts its season of preparation with a discussion of the end-times. No wonder people sometimes wonder if the church is in step with the world. (Of course a strong argument can be made that the church should not be in step with the world but that is a whole other area for discussion.)

In order to explain why we have this happen we need to ask a whole set of questions. What are we getting ready for? Is Christmas just about the story in Luke's gospel? What hope for the present and future does Christmas offer?

In terms of faith Advent and Christmas are not only about the story of a child in the manger. The power of Christmas is that it speaks of a birth here and now. When we celebrate the birth of Christ we are celebrating God breaking into our world again. The incarnation is not a once and for all event, God becomes incarnate in every human birth (to quote a favorite Advent hymn).

The Scripture passages talk about the coming of a new world, a new time. The new world is coming. The Promised Land is in sight. Every year at Advent we prepare for God to break into our world again, we prepare for the world to be changed.

Because let's be honest, if God being active in the world means anything it means that we will be changed. The world right now may seem chaotic and troubled. There may be many reasons to be afraid. But Advent and Christmas remind us to Be Not Afraid, a new world is coming

November 19, 2008

Help Wanted

As we quickly approach the Advent season we have some opportunities for involvement:
  1. Do you want to light the Advent candles one week or on Christmas Eve? Check out the liturgies here and let Gord know.
  2. We need an adult woman to be our narrator for our Christmas Pageant Mary Remembers on December 14
  3. Also for our pageant we need some props: a wooden chest, a cowbell, some wool (not yarn), and a piece of incense
  4. For Christmas Eve Gord is looking for some teens: one girl to talk about Mary's fear and a boy to talk about the Shepherd's fear. Each of these could be a dialogue or a monologue and either done live in the open, done live as a hidden voice, or pre-recorded. Talk to Gord for more information.
  5. For the Community -- Coming Together for Kids at Christmas party we need people to help in the kitchen preparing and serving hot dogs and beverages. Also we may be looking for help with a clean-up crew that afternoon.

November 18, 2008

Looking Ahead to November 23, 2008 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
  • Psalm 100 (VU p.824)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
The Hymns this week are:
  • 822 All People That on Earth Do Dwell
  • 713 I See a New Heaven
  • 598 When Pain of the World Surrounds Us
  • 604 In Loving Partnership We Come
The Sermon Title is How Then Shall We Live?

Early Thoughts: We have all heard sermons about how we should live. But how will we live? Are we sheep or goats? How are we to know?

In her song How Then Shall I Live Linnea Good sings:
Took a walk outside of my walking
Stepped inside another’s shoes
Walked the dusty borders between us
Paths I’d never chosen to choose.
How then shall I live?
How then shall I live?
How then shall I live, O God?
How then shall I live?

Saw the world outside of my looking
Gazed upon the eyes of its soul
Felt the hopes and fears of tomorrow
Found the pieces making a whole.
How then…
Took a step outside of my walking
Found within a beat that we share
Walked with the you the length of a lifetime
And made a life of living prayer
How then…
How then …
Matthew tells a parable about how the nations (not just individuals but whole nations) will be judged. And the criterion of note is that of how we treat the "least of these". So how shall we live? How do we know how we are doing?

It is easy to say that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and visiting the lonely and imprisoned are good things to do. It is even easier to facilitate having someone do those things on our behalf. What is harder is to ask seriously how well it is happening. If the nations of the world were to be judged by that standard today how would we all fare?

In the end, I think we have to look beyond ourselves. I think the only way we can live up to the standard of caring for he least of these is to try and see the world from their eyes. We have to look at the bigger picture, to see the world outside of our looking, to find the alternatives to what we honestly and truly believe is the right and/or only way to do things. When we open ourselves to that we may well find a new beat, a new rhythm to live by. We look to walk and live in God's rhythm.

Oh and on that sheep/goat question? In all likelihood we are sheats (or should that be goep?). A little of both. And that is OK, we just have to be aware of when we are one or the other.

November 17, 2008

Advent/Christmas Theme 2008

Soon it will be Advent. Expand the post to see what the themes are this year:

Nov 30 -- Be Not Afraid, a new world is coming
  • Isaiah 65:17-23
  • Revelation 21:1-4 (Responsive Reading)
  • Mark 13:24-37
Dec 7 -- Be Not Afraid, Prophetic Peace be with you
  • Isaiah 11:1-10
  • Psalm 72 (VU p.790)
  • Luke 3:7-18
Dec 14 -- Be Not Afraid, sing for joy
  • Pageant Sunday
Dec 21 -- Be Not Afraid Justice shall be done
  • Luke 1:47-55 (VU p.898)
  • Luke 1:68-79 (VU p.900)
  • Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Dec 24 -- Be Not Afraid, the Baby means change
  • Isaiah 9:2-7
  • Luke 1:26-38
  • Luke 2:1-14

November 11, 2008

Looking Ahead to November 16, 2008 -- 27th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
  • Psalm 90:1-12 (VU p.805 Parts 1 & 2)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Thessalonians 5:1-11
The Hymns for this week are:
  • 412 This is the Day
  • 806 O God Our Help in Ages Past
  • 688 O Day of God Draw Nigh
  • 686 God of Grace and God of Glory
The Sermon title is When Daylight comes...

Early Thoughts: What does Scripture mean by "the Day of the Lord"? Is it a Good News story? Is it a warning? How will we know when daylight comes?

As we draw to the close of the Church Year (which starts on the 1st Sunday of Advent and ends on Reign of Christ Sunday) we usually find ourselves dealing with texts that talk about the end-times. This Sunday is a prime example.

Here we talk about the "Day of the Lord". And as with many writings about the end-times there is precious little comfort in Zephaniah's description of that. There is a little more comfort and support in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, but still an undercurrent of fear and warning.

In Scripture the Day of the Lord is often seen as a day of judgement. We in the liberal center of the theological spectrum tend to be uncomfortable talking about God's judgement (the extreme fundamental conservatives and the extreme radical left have much less difficulty -- although those two positions focus their judgement/wrath talk somewhat differently). But really it is part of our story. And it is part of life. Judgement means choosing, it means weighing alternatives and evidence, it means shrewdly making a decision. It needn't be something we fear -- especially because, as Paul reminds us, God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

How will we know when the day of the Lord has come? Will it be with fireworks? Will it be with mass destruction and despair? Will it be with wrath and harshness? Or is the day of the Lord already partially here? When we read the Gospels we find that Jesus proclaims a realm of God that is both here and yet to come (often called the Now and the Not Yet). So what are the signs that dawn is breaking? And how will we know that dawn has truly come?

Lest We Forget

November 04, 2008

THis Needs to Be Read

A Colleague in the US has posted some reflections on the questions that were not asked during the US election campaign. Nor were many of them asked in the Canadian campaign a month ago.

You can read it here.

Looking Forward to November 9, 2008 -- 26th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
  • Psalm 78:1-7 (VU p.792 Part 1)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
The Hymns this week are:
  • 410 This Day God Gives Me
  • Let There Be Peace on Earth (see insert)
  • 356 Seek Ye First
  • 421 Lead On O God of Presence
The Sermon Title is Split Loyalties

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to proclaim loyalty to someone or something? Are our loyalties that cut and dried? Or are they split apart in different directions?

In regards to this passage from Joshua John Shearman writes:
The conquest and settlement of Canaan completed, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to the holy place at Shechem to renew their covenant Yahweh had initially made with Abraham. He issued a compelling challenge that they should choose to serve the Yahweh as he and his family had chosen to do. They promised to do so too although Joshua warned them of how difficult it would be and the penalty if falling away from their commitment to worship the gods of their foreign neighbours.
At the end of Deuteronomy Moses exhorted the people to choose life by following the commandments the God has provided. Now, at the end of the story of conquest (although the final conquest of the land really isn't complete until the time of David) Joshua asks the people where their loyalty lies. Will they choose the God who has done all these things for them? Or will they follow the other gods they find around them?

The interesting thing is that Joshua doesn't appear to believe the people can keep their commitment. They cry out that they would never forsake God and Joshua is dubious (the history that follows sort of suggests that Joshua was right).

If we were all gathered together and given the Joshua challenge what would we say? What would the other gods be in our setting? Where do our loyalties get split apart? If someone from outer space were to come and study our cities what would they assume to be the focus of our religion?

In the end it is actions that count in the face of the Joshua challenge. Words can be empty, they need actions to back them up. So if we want to join the people at Shechem in proclaiming that we would never forsake God, we need to act in ways that show it. Join us on Sunday as we explore how best to respond to the Joshua challenge.

October 28, 2008

The United Church of Canada may have closed its studio. We may no longer have a weekly TV show. But we now have a YouTube channel.

Check it out here!

Looking Ahead to November 2, 2008 -- 25th After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Joshua 3:7-17
  • Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 (VU p. 871 Parts 1 & 4)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12
The Hymns this week are:
  • 625 I Feel the Winds of God Today
  • 288 Great is Thy Faithfulness
  • 651 Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
  • 424 May the God of Hope
The Sermon Title is Wade in the Water

Early Thoughts: What do you do when there is a raging torrent between you and the Promise? What holds us back from taking those first tentative steps?

They have been wandering around for 4 decades. Most of the people who crossed the sea at the beginning have died. Even Moses, their great leader, has died. But now, finally, it is time to enter the Promised Land. There is only one small problem. The Jordan is in its annual flood and there is no bridge.

To overcome this the story has a re-enacting of the crossing of the sea. The journey began with a parting of the waters. Now the end of the journey is marked by parting another set of waters. And some of the same issues must of cropped up.

"You want us to do WHAT?" That is the question I hear coming from the people in both water crossings. It makes no sense to step out into a flooded river trusting that you will make it across. IT is an act of great faith to walk forward.

I think there is a truth here. Even when we have been told that something wonderful lies in the future there are so many things that make us hesitant to take that first step forward.

THere is another truth here. How do the people make the crossings? They step forward because they trust that God is with them. When the road ahead of us is flooded with troubles and uncertainty do we trust that GOd is with us? Are we ready to Wade in the Water?

October 22, 2008

Ministerial Musings

The latest newsletter just came out. Expand the post to see the Ministerial Musings:

Do you know why the Israelites wandered around in the desert for 40 years?
Because even then men wouldn't ask for directions.

It is a joke of course, one that makes light of a stereotyped vision of how men and women operate differently. But the joke came to mind recently because sometimes life feels like one journey through the wilderness after another. Sometimes we wonder when, or if, we will reach the Promised Land. Do we know which way we are going?

I suspect that is just what those ancient Israelites felt like from time to time. They had been told that there was something good to come but they just couldn't seem to get there. You have to think that they wondered if this Moses really knew how to get there. Did he have a map and directions?

In his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time Marcus Borg suggests that the Exodus story is one of the 3 “meta-stories” of Scripture. It is one of the 3 basic stories that builds the foundation of Scriptural faith. And as such it is not something that happened once, it is an experience that echoes throughout the history of the faithful. Those elements of wandering, promise, and liberation continue to make up part of our story.

This October Riverview turns 55. Over those years there have been times of wilderness wandering and times of knowing we were in the Promised Land. Over those years there have been times when we knew where were going, times when we were pretty sure, and times when the road ahead was pretty well lost in the fog. When the road is lost in the fog, what happens?

So where are our wanderings taking us here in 2008? What Promised Land is in our future? I honestly wish I could say I knew. But I can't. I don't know what liberation will bring to Atikokan and Riverview. Mind you, I am not always sure Moses and the people knew what the Promised Land would be either. They just knew it was out there. They lived in hope. They lived in hope that they would get there someday.

So that is our task today. As we join with our neighbours to struggle with an economy that is struggling we live in hope. As we wonder how to keep providing ministry despite rising costs and sometimes dwindling energy we live in hope. As we try to re-vision what it means to be a community of faith in a rapidly changing world we live in hope. We hope for liberation. We hope for the time of abundance. We hope for that time when God's justice and peace are a reality not only here but around the world. We are people of hope.

As we start off into another year where we tell again the story of a child in a manger, a cross on a hill, an empty tomb, and a new community may hope carry us forward. In the face of a world of uncertainty, of a time of wandering in the wilderness, may hope in the Promise keep us walking. And may the God of hope, the God of promise walk with us as support and guide. And let's try to remember to stop and ask God for directions so we can keep a clearer idea of where it is we are supposed to be going.

Because we really don't want to wander around for 40 years do we?

October 21, 2008

Looking Forward to October 26, 2008 -- 24th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
From the Jewish Scriptures: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
  • Psalm 1 (VU p.724)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 22:34-46
The Hymns this week are:
  • 399 God, Whose Love Is Reigning O'er Us
  • 593 Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love
  • 372 Though I May Speak
  • 427 To Show by Touch and Word
The Sermon Title is Neighbour as Self??? (All You Need is Love)

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to love God with all our being? What does it mean to love our neighbour as yourself? Was John Lennon right when he sang that "All you need is Love"?

I remember as a child this teaching of Jesus being held up as the basic core of faithful living (admittedly it was usually Luke's version, which includes the Good Samaritan story, being used in those discussions). And there is a reason for that. There is a story of a rabbi being asked if he could explain the whole Torah (Law) while standing on one foot. His answer was "love God, love neighbour -- everything else is commentary".

Such an easy answer. But without the commentary what does it mean? And what about that "as yourself" part?

Simply put it means wanting people to thrive just as you want yourself to thrive. It means caring for the other like/in the same amount that you care for yourself. IT does not mean liking everyone. It does not mean agreeing. It means loving them as people in their own right.

A song I sang years ago suggested that "if we only had love" then many issues would be solved. John Lennon wrote that "all we need is love" in a song sung during the flower power era. These claims seem hopelessly idealistic and romantic. But in God's vision they are true. The love we talk about here is a verb. It isn't candles and flowers and Hallmark cards. It is work. It is practical. It is a whole way of being.

And if we can do that for ourselves and for those around us, even (or especially) the ones we don't really like, then we will make a big change in our world. Oh and to close on a lighter profundity: Jesus told us to love our neighbours. He also said to love our enemies. Likely because they are the same people.

Hope to see you on Sunday.

October 13, 2008

Looking Ahead to October 19, 2008 -- 23rd Sunday After Pentecost, Anniversary Sunday

This Sunday marks (to the day) Riverview's 55th Anniversary. To celebrate we will have a potluck lunch after church.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Deuteronomy 30:1-5, 11-20
  • Psalm 46 (VU p.770)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22

The Hymns this week are:
  • 315 Holy Holy Holy
  • 579 The Church is Wherever God's People
  • 660 How Firm a Foundation
  • 420 Go To The World

The sermon title is Choose Life…

Early Thoughts: IS it really that easy? Just an either/or choice? Life or death, God or Caesar, hope or despair? What choices do we need to make today for a hope-filled future? After 55 years, where will we be on our 60th Anniversary?

This passage from Deuteronomy is one of my favourite passages of Scripture. It makes it seem so simple. Two choices, which will you make? But it also reminds us that choices matter. Choices make a difference.

But if only our choices were so clear cut. Moses suggests that the options are clear -- follow God's path or the path of the world around us. Jesus suggests it is easy to identify what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. But we live in a world where we know full well that the grays overwhelm the black and white. The choices are hard to make.

This week we mark 55 years of ministry in Atikokan. And as we mark that event, we need to acknowledge that the way ahead is unclear at best. What choices lead us to life in abundance both as a congregation and as a community? What choices lead to stagnation? What choices lead to death (and is death a failure?)? These are hard questions to answer.

In fact, I am not entirely sure we have the answers to these questions. We need to find them. We need to ask ourselves where God is calling. We need to think seriously about what our priorities are. We need to look closely for the hints that God leaves for us out there. Where is God leading us? And where will we be on our 60th anniversary?

Let's open ourselves to God's calling. Let's open ourselves to hard choices. And may God help us find the choices that lead to life, and that in abundance.

October 09, 2008

Presbytery Report

Cambrian Calls, the summary of our Presbytery meeting at the end of September is now online. You can find it here

October 07, 2008

Looking Ahead to October 12, 2008 -- Thanksgiving Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Deuteronomy 8:7-18
  • Psalm 65 (VU p.782)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
  • From the Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
The Hymns this week are:
  • 236 Now Thank We All Our God
  • 227 For the Fruit of All Creation
  • 226 For the Beauty of the Earth
  • 217 All Creatures of Our God and King
The sermon title is Dayeinu!

Early Thoughts: When is it enough? Do we know? How does that knowledge (or lack thereof) impact our ability/willingness to give thanks?

There is a song sung at Passover that says If our God had simply...Dayeinu Dayeinu means "it would have been enough. The verses of the song go through a list of the various things God has done for God's people and each time says "That would have been enough". But of course God keeps doing more.

I think Dayeinu is a song of thanksgiving. It is a song that reminds the singer of all the things that God has done. And so I ask what verses we would sing. What would we name that God has done and say "that would be enough"?

What does "enough" mean anyway? Does enough mean all our needs are met? Does it mean all our wants are satisfied? In a world where we are deluged with advertising that suggests we always need something else are we even able to recognize "enough" anymore?

Thanksgiving is a time to recognize what "enough" means. Thanksgiving is a time to remember how God has gifted us. When we once again remember what "enough" means, when we can start to believe that "that would have been enough", we are better able to give thanks. Thanksgiving may have begun as a harvest festival but it is about far more than harvest. Thanks giving is an act of faith, a way of life, a different way of seeing the world.

Join us this Sunday as we explore when we could say Dayeinu. And who knows, there may be some singing involved in that exploration...

October 06, 2008

Thanksgiving Music

This Sunday is Thanksiving. Here is an old favourite of a thanksgiving hymn:

September 30, 2008

Looking Ahead to October 5, 2008 -- 21st Sunday After Pentecost, Worldwide Communion Sunday

This Sunday we will join with our brothers and sisters around the world as we celebrate the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
  • Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 (this will be used during Children's Time)
  • Psalm 19 (VU p.741)
  • Matthew 20:1-16
The Hymns this week are:
  • 402 We Are One
  • 356 Seek Ye First
  • 457 As We Gather At Your Table
  • 468 Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ
Following the sermon we will hear a report from last weekend's Presbytery meeting.

The sermon title is Prodigal Pay
Early Thoughts: How does GOd's economy work? Is it based on merit or on works or on something else?

Can you imagine the next union meeting? OR the shareholders meeting? Everyone paid the same regardless of how long they worked or what they contributed to the project! Not only does it not make sense, it just seems terribly unfair.

But is the Reign of God about fairness or about justice? (and no they are NOT the same thing) The labourers in this story are landless, jobless peasants. THey rely on finding work each day to be able to buy food. THere is no social safety net, no government aid, no other choice. THe usual daily wage was likely just enough to survive for another day. The landowner makes the choice that all get what they need to eat for that day. The folks hired at the 11th hour likely thought this was great, those hired first grumbled. It was not "fair", it was not "right" but it was "just", at least by the standards of GOd's economy.

In the economics we are used to pay is based on many things. It may be related to our years of experience, or on our level of responsibility, or on our training/education. But it is not often based on what we need as a minimum to live on. SOme say this is the intent of minimum wage legislation but minimum wage falls far short of that survival level. Our economics are really based on pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, on maaking he best for ourselves. Our economics quickly turns into dog-eat-dog.

But the economy of God, as revealed by the Torah, by the JEwish prophets, and by Jesus is different. THe economy of God does not declare wealth in and of itself to be evil. But the economy of GOd also makes it clear that all are to get what they need for life. God's economy is based on life for all, survival for all as a starting point. Until that goal is met one should not worry about accumulating wealth.

God's economy guides our gathering at table. As we gather at Christ's table we open it to all who wish to eat and drink. Christ's table does not require us to pass a fitness test or present a fancy invitation. Christ's table is one where all can be fed, and all can be fed equally, given what they need for sustenance. At Worship MAtters last June TOm Long told of a communion celebration where the presider was heard to ask "have all been fed?". The question was meant at the time to ask if all present had been served. BUt TOm points out that it is a far deeper question. Have all been fed? Have all got what they need? Has the basic goal of God's economy been met?

COme join us as we ask these questions and as we share the meal that feeds us all on Sunday.

September 19, 2008

Board MEeting Notes

The church board met last night. In the expanded post are some notes from that meeting:

  • THanks to generous donations from the UCW and the Cookbook Committee we have raised all we need for the eave troughs! Hopefully they will be installed this fall.
  • We plan to have the chancel railing installed this fall as well.
  • Another high priority for property is to get the grading around the manse fixed.
  • As of the end of July we have a deficit of about $10 700. This is a little bit better than last year at the same time. We will be forming a Stewardship Committee to talk about financial planning and options. It is hoped that this committee will report to the Annual Meeting in 2009.
  • The church kitchen plumbing will be fixed soon. Hopefully next week.
  • The UCW has had to postpone or cancel the Fall Supper due to the drainage problems in the kitchen. But pies will happen in mid to late October.
  • On October 25 there will be an Education Day held at Knox United Chuch in Fort Frances. Contact Gord for more information.
  • Gord will be chairing the meeting of Cambrian Presbytery next week. He will also be participating in Covenanting services at Pinegrove-Broadway in Thunder Bay and Knox in Fort Frances over the next couple of weeks.
  • Sunday October 19 marks the 55th Anniversary of Riverview's organization. A pot-luck lunch will be held after worship that day.
The next Board Meeting will be October 30th at 6:30.

September 16, 2008

Looking Ahead to September 21, 2008 -- 19th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 16:2-15
  • Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45 (VU p.828 Parts 1 & 4)
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 17:1-7
The Hymns this week are:
  • 371 Open My Eyes That I May See
  • 299 Teach Me, God to Wonder
  • 649 Walk With Me
  • 424 May the God of Hope Go With Us
The Sermon title is The "Back to Egypt" Committee

Early Thoughts: When the early excitement of the journey fades into drudgery what happens? When the promise of change gets lost in the process of change do we lose heart? Does the comfort of the familiar (even if unhappy) trump the possibility of the yet-to-come?

They were terribly hungry and thirsty you see. Out in the middle of the desert with no food or water and no end in sight to their journey. You can see why they might start to lose hope. YOu can see why they might start to wonder about whether it was really worth it. Were there no graves in Egypt? they cry out. Why bring us here to die in the desert?

Of course they do comtinue across the desert. It may take a couple of miracles (bread from heaven, water from a rock) to get them past this hurdle but they keep going. They meet other hurdles and they keep going. It takes 40 years, long enough that no adult who left Egypt crosses into the Promised Land. None of those who first catch the vision and the hope actually see it come true. But as long as they resist the temptation to go back to Egypt, back where life was unhappy but possible, back to the relative comfort of the familiar the hope goes on. And in the long term the hope holds out.

In many ways the story of the flight (when it lasts 40 years does it remain a flight?) across the desert mirrors the way humans process change, both as individuals and as communities. I the weekly e-letter Rumors Jim Taylor writes:
Canada and the U.S. are both in the middle of election campaigns. Typically, the campaigns have degenerated into attacks, on the party or the person. “They” – that is, the other guy(s) – are leading you in the wrong direction.
Opinion polls suggest that people want to go back to what they remember as a better time, when they felt confident, a time with less stress, less uncertainty.
La plus ca change, la plus c’est le meme chose – the more things change, the more things stay the same! Two refrains recur through Exodus:
– first, the people complain;
– then Moses pulls off another miracle to prove that the Lord cares for them.
On the shores of the Red Sea, at the rocks of Massa and Meribah, here in the wilderness, the people whine, “We would have been better off staying in slavery in Egypt.”
The Bible is more than history. The Bible is a story about us. Some parts ring true at one time, some parts at another time. At this particular time, I think we are the Israelites, constantly crabbing about our leaders.
Moses wasn’t always popular. But he always had a vision. Do our leaders have a vision? If so, what is it? And do we share it? Or would we rather return to slavery?

And I believe he speaks the truth.

When people first catch the dream, the vision of change, there is a sense of great excitement but when things don't just happen as fast as the dream that excitement can fade. In that time of transition uncertainty becomes the rule. We know we aren't where we were, we haven't yet got to where we were promised, and we aren't really sure we will get there. People generally don't like uncertainty, it leaves them uncomfortable and anxious. ANd as it appear that the dream was wrong or faulty we want to get back to a time when we had cerrtainty. There is a comfort in the known, even if in our heart of hearts the we knew that the old way wasn't really right for us. When theworld gets turned upside down we really want to go back to the way things were (and sometimes nostalgia blurs how things were so that they become the "good old days" even though in those days too we longed for an earlier time).

There is something within all of us that yearns at times to go "back to Egypt". When our personal lives are being changed (new job, new town, retirement...)there is a part that wishes we could stay where we are. When our community needs to redevelop/reinvent itself we ask why can't it be like when our kids were young. ANd churches are possibly more prone to back to Egypt committeess than many other groups. With our placing an importance on tradition, with faith touching so close to people's hearts, with the church being something many people feel they have more cntrol over than other instututions (also why the church is often one of the last things to close in a dying town--everything else the decision is made elsewhere). THe desire to go back to a "better tiem" or a "happier time" looms large whenever the church (local congregation or national denomination) starts to make changes.

But what is the vision? What lies beyond the dis-comfort and the uncertainty of the wilderness of change? If we can avoid the temptation to drop out of the process where might we get to? Are we willing to stick it out?

September 09, 2008

Looking Ahead to September 14, 2008 -- 18th After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 14:19-31
  • Responsive Reading: Exodus 15:1-13 (VU p.876)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Romans 14:1-12
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

The Hymns this week are:

  • 245 Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet
  • 684 Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
  • 606 In Christ There Is No East or West
  • 651 Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

The Sermon Title is Rejoicing in Vengeance and Death?

Early Thoughts: Does one group's freedom always have to come with the tears of another? Is mass slaughter something to celebrate? How do we respond to the knowledge that our victory is another's defeat?

There is something of a horror story here, depending on whose viewpoint you use of course. Most of us read the Exodus story as a sign of great victory and liberation. Of course that is how it is written -- a clear case of the victors writing the history. But what if you read it through Egyptian eyes?

AS the Scripture tells of great rejoicing the Jewish tradition has an undercurrent of questioning. Within Jewish tradition there is the practise of midrash. In essence midrash is an interpretive retelling of the story (although that is a simplification). Midrash adds new insights and dimensions to a story. In the case of the Exodus story there is a midrash that has God weeping while the Israelites celebrate. God weeps with God's people the Egyptians. For Egypt this is a horror story.

The big question this contrast between celebration and weeping asks is "what is the place of redemptive or vengeful violence?". THe story suggest that redemptive violence is how God brings justice to the world. But Scripture as a whole is ambiguous about it. Is God is an "enemy of my friend is my enemy" kind of GOd? OR is God one whose hope lies beyond win/lose situations? Either point can be argued from Scripture.

In the end my experience of GOd, my understanding of GOd is that GOd does not want us to rejoice in another's pain. Even when such rejoicing can be seen as justifiable it is not necessarily good. THe Hebrew people had bee freed from terrible slavery, we can easily understand why the drowning of their oppressors would be seen as good. IT slaked the thirst for vengeance and retribution. But human history shows that when we respond to oppression with violence, revenge, and oppression we get drawn into a circle of violence. The only cure for oppression is to move out of the circle. But how do we do that?

September 01, 2008

Looking Ahead to September 7, 2008 -- 17th Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 12:1-17
  • Psalm 149 (VU p.873)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
The Hymns this week are:
  • 222 Come Let Us Sing
  • 356 Seek Ye First
  • 343 I Love to Tell the Story
  • 646 We Are Marching

The Sermon title is Meal of Memory, Meal of Hope

Early Thoughts:Why have such a ritualized meal and tell the same story each time? Is it just to remember what happened long ago? Or is the remembering something else?

Here's what you need to do. Kill and roast a lamb and eat it. If your family can't eat a whole lamb have the neighbours over. Whatever is left over throw in the fire. And eat it quickly, ready to leave at a moments notice. And more than that, eat this meal every year at this time.

Thus begins the festival of Passover, the seminal event in the Jewish year, the Jewish story, the (according to some) Jewish identity. But the annual celebration of Passover is more than merely remembering a release from Egypt. It is a call to look forward to the next release from captivity.

Special meals are important. They are times for families (and/or friends) to gather together and share stories and laughter. Anniversary or commemorative meals are important. They give us a chance to remember the times and people who have gone before, to celebrate the triumphs and mourn the tragedies. Passover is one of those meals. It is a meal of memory, a time to remember the mighty act of God in bringing freedom. But a meal or ritual that only serves to remember the past can quickly grow stale and irrelevant in the present.

For rituals to remain relevant they need to speak to our present. For ages Passover has been a meal that does just that. In sharing the old story of how God was present in one place and time we can have our eyes opened to how God is present in the here and now. In sharing a ritual that our grandparents and their grandparents shared we remind ourselves that the present is part of a continuum, that our concerns are not the center of Creation. So now we have the past and present, what is left?

What is left? Why the future of course. Passover is not just a meal of memory, it is a meal of hope. Passover reminds Jews that they are God's people. It reminds them that there is the promise of freedom yet to come. For centuries Jews in dispersion have ended the Passover Seder with the phrase "Next year in Jerusalem". Next year we will celebrate the return of God's plan. Next year we will know that all is right with the world. A meal of hope allows us to be renewed in spirit, to look forward with promise to what will come.

Of course, those of us who follow the Christian faith don't celebrate Passover. But we have our own meal of memory and hope. Whenever we celebrate Communion (or the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist depending on your tradition) we too take part in this shared act of remembering what was and looking ahead to what is to come. Meals of memory and hope are banquets. Meals of memory and hope feed soul and spirit at least as much as they feed the body. Without memory we lose sight of who we are and how we got here. Without hope we have no sight of where we could be. As human communities we can't just live in the present. We can try but our lives are then made less than they could be. We need the times of memory and hope to bring colour and depth and meaning to our lives.

Join us this Sunday as we explore what it means to be people who share meals of memory and hope.

August 04, 2008

Hymns and Scriptures for August

Gord wil be away on holidays from August 4-31. Here are the Scripture readings and hymns we will share during those 4 Sundays:

August 10, 2008 – Worship Leader: Brian Jackson -- Scriptures

  • Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
  • Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b (VU p.828 Parts 1 & 2)
  • Romans 15:5-15
  • Matthew 14:22-33

August 10, 2008 -- Hymns

  • #264 Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
  • #371 Open My Eyes that I May See
  • #562 Jesus Calls Us
  • #675 Will Your Anchor Hold

August 17, 2008 -- Worship Leader: Elvin Rydberg -- Scriptures

  • Genesis 45:1-15
  • Psalm 67 (VU p.786)
  • Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
  • Matthew 15: 21-28

August 17, 2008 -- Hymns

  • #395 Come In, Come In and Sit Down
  • #606 In Christ There Is No East or West
  • #602 Blest Be the Tie that Binds
  • #232 Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You

August 24, 2008 -- Worship Leader: Noreen Beauregard -- Scriptures

  • Exodus 1:8-2:10
  • Psalm 124 (VU p.848)
  • Romans 12:1-8
  • Matthew 16:13-20

August 24, 2008 -- Hymns

  • #409 Morning Has Broken
  • #574 Come, Let Us Sing of a Wonderful Love
  • #331 The Church’s One Foundation
  • #506 Take My Life and Let It Be

August 31, 2008 -- Worship Leader: Kathy Livicker -- Scriptures

  • Exodus 3:1-15
  • Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c (VU p.828 Parts 1 & 3)
  • Romans 12:9-21
  • Matthew 16:21-28

August 31, 2008 -- Hymns

  • #374 Come and Find the Quiet Center
  • #509 Here I Am Lord
  • #352 I Danced in the Morning
  • #649 Walk With Me

Thanks to those who have volunteered their time and energy to provide Worship Leadership this month.

July 29, 2008

Looking Ahead to August 3, 2008 -- 12th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 55:1-5
  • Psalm 17 (VU p.739)
  • Matthew 14:13-21

The Hymns this week are:

  • #222 Come Let Us Sing
  • #299 Teach Me, God, to Wonder
  • #235 O Worship the King
  • #422 God Be With You till We Meet Again

The Sermon Title is Amazing Abundance.

Early Thoughts: What do we do about our scarcity? There us isn't enough, how do we deal with that? Or is there an abundance in our midst?

They could be forgiven for having no hope. After all, they were living in exile, a defeated and enslaved people whose land and temple had been destroyed. And to these people God speaks through Isaiah saying:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price...Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
In the midst of the lives of scarcity, shattered dreams, and despair God speaks of abundance and promise and hope.

There was no choice. They had no food and the crowd was large. Obviously the people needed to be dismissed to go find sustenance. But instead Jesus says "give them something to eat". Jesus counters the apparent, obvious, scarcity with amazing, astounding abundance.

One of the biggest hurdles we have to leap over in today's world is the recurrent voices that tell us we live in a condition of scarcity. These voices impact us as individuals, as families, and as communities of all sizes and types. When we believe that scarcity drives our lives it skews our view of the world. It shapes what we think is possible. It shapes what we think is important. It shapes our priorities.

But the witness of Scripture calls us over and over again to think of the world as a place of abundance. Scripture reminds us that the abundance is found through trusting in God and God's time. Scripture reminds us that there is enough, and more, we just have to learn to look for it.

What would it mean to look on the world through eyes that see abundance? What would it mean to name the scarcity story as a myth? What would it mean if we re-defined what we mean by enough?

These are the question we need to explore as we look for the path that takes us forward into peace and prosperity (another word that may well need redefining) as individuals and church congregations and communities. Come join us on Sunday as we begin, or continue, that exploration.

And for a wonderful poem (which will likely be shared on Sunday) on the topic check out this link

July 25, 2008

This is Neat!

The Codex Sinaiticus, which contains the oldest complete copy of the New Testament, is now online. Here is some more about it:
Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.
Granted, it is little more than a neat thing to look at for those of us who can't read ancient Greek. But still it is really intriguing.

You can find it here

July 22, 2008

Looking Forward to July 27, 11th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Kings 3:5-12
  • Psalm 119:105-112 (VU p.841)
  • Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The Hymns this week are:

  • #220 Praise to the Lord
  • #289 It Only Takes a Spark
  • #684 Make Me A Channel of Your Peace
  • #651 Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

The Sermon Title is Seeds, Yeast, Pearls...

Early Thoughts: When will the big change come? How can little things make a difference? Does a single drop change an ocean?

Think of making bread. All those cups of flour, the water, the oil/shortening and yet they would just be flat and hard if not for the little envelope of yeast. That little packet of spores changes the flour and water into bread (or in different uses and with different species changes malted grain into ale or grape juice into wine). That, according to Jesus, is what it is like to have the Kingdom of Heaven in our life.

Or think of a tiny little weed. Starting from a little seed (nothing more than a bit of fluff in the case of a dandelion) it can take over the yard.

Or placing an item of high value in an otherwise valueless location. Suddenly the container becomes incredibly important and valuable. This is what it is like to embrace the Realm of God.

Small things make a big difference. Small signs of God's presence change our lives. It is almost like a contagion, or an infection. It starts small but eventually takes over the host.

To be people of faith may mean that we stop looking for the big splash. Instead we go for the little infection. After all, the big splash often peters out because it is based on it's bigness. But the small infection knows that it starts small and grows from there. The small infection can transform more completely because it is growing from inside rather than forcing itself from the outside.

The experience of God's presence in our lives transforms us. But it isn't always lightning flashes and rolling thunder (some would say it rarely is). True transformation of a life, of a community, of a world grows from inside. True transformation may well start so small we can hardly sense it, or may think it is hardly worth noticing -- a field of dandelions starts with one small yellow flower after all.

July 15, 2008

Looking Ahead to July 20, 2008 -- 10th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 139 (VU p.861)
  • Genesis 27:34-28:17

The Hymns this week are:

  • #371 Open My Eyes, That I May See
  • #238 How Great Thou Art
  • #660 How Firm a Foundation
  • #675 Will Your Anchor Hold?

The Sermon Title is Running Away

Early Thoughts: What do you do when you have gotten someone mad? How do you escape when your brother wants you dead? Can you really run away from it all? ANd where does GOd and morality fit into the process of making bad choices and ticking people off?

June 30, 2008

NEws From Abroad

One of our Ecumenical PArtners, the Presbyterian Church in the USA has just had their General Assembly meeting. One of the issues that denomination is facing is familiar to United Church folks -- the role of human sexuality in ordination fitness.

THe General Assembly has passed a resolution very similar to the one passed by our General COuncil in 1988. It now needs to be ratified byt the PResbyteries before becoming official. A letter explaining their actions is here.

As people who remember the feelings around this discussion we hold our Presbyterian brothers and sisters in our prayers.

Looking Ahead to July 6 -- 8th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
  • Psalm 145 (VU p.866)
  • Romans 7:15-25

The hymns for this week are:

  • 333 Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling
  • 356 Seek Ye First
  • 266 Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound
  • 232 Joyful, Joyful We Adore You

The Sermon title is Knowing the Shadow

Early Thoughts: How many of us find that we cannot help but do what we know we shouldn't? Why? What do we do about that?

15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Paul states it fairly succinctly (for Paul this is succinct, even if it does seem repetitive). Paul recognizes that he is, in traditional theological language, captive to sin. He knows that despite his best intentions he will not always do what is right. And he agonizes about that.

I would suspect that if we are honest with ourselves we all know that feeling. After all, we all have a shadow. We all have times we act selfishly, or meanly, or un-charitably. But do we know what to do about that?

As people of faith, we gather to offer prayers of confession. Do we do this because we are horrible people with no redeeming value? No. Do we do it because God doesn't know what we have done/thought/felt/wished? No. We do it because, as the saying goes, confession is good for the soul. Confession is healthy because it allows us to be whole people. Acknowledging our shadow not only brings wholeness and health but it is a big part of robbing the shadow of its power.

There are two dangers around our shadow. One is to pretend it doesn't exist, to hide away our misdeeds (even from ourselves). The other is to give it too much attention. For much of Christian history, particularly in the West (it can be seen in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed strands of theology) we have done that. We have portrayed people as totally depraved (to use one image) and incapable of doing anything but sin. In fact this is what Paul himself was saying. But that isn't healthy either. The road to healthy faith, healthy love of self and neighbour, healthy relationship with God lies somewhere between the two extremes. This Sunday we will try to find that path...

June 24, 2008

Looking Ahead to June 29, 2008 -- 7th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Jeremiah 20:7-13
  • Psalm 69:7-18 (see insert)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39

The Hymns this week are:

  • 245 Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet
  • 585 Jesus Bids Us Shine
  • 288 Great is Thy Faithfulness
  • 506 Take My Life and Let It Be

The Sermon title is Be Not Afraid

Early Thoughts: Not peace but a sword, set parents against children, lose your life to gain. What is Jesus talking about?

There are times in the Gospel accounts when I imagine that the disciples have to be left scratching their heads in confusion, and the more blunt among them asking the first-century equivalent of "WTF?". This passage from Matthew is certainly one of those. And I would think that if we were being honest many of us would share that confusion today.

We often have this picture of the life of faith being one of bridge-building and peacemaking. And that is Scriptural. But here Jesus starts by telling his friends to not be afraid but rather to be bold in their proclamation of the Good News. Then he goes on to let them know that the Good News may not always seem good...

It has been said that the goal of faith is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. But in the light of this passage, and with a limited knowledge of some social change models, I wonder if part of the comforting involves some afflicting as well. Or maybe it is that we need to challenge people's understanding of whether they are afflicted or comfortable in the first place. Jesus calls us to not only care for each other but to challenge each other. And that challenging may seem like bringing a sword that cuts deeply. Jesus wants us to focus on the Godly path first and foremost, even if it leads to places of unpopularity. In this Jesus stands in the line of Jeremiah, of the writer of the Psalm, of many other prophetic voices within Scripture and within tradition.

In the face of that call, where do we go? How can we be prophetic voices in our world? If I figure it out, I'll let you know...

June 16, 2008

Looking Ahead to June 22, 2008 -- 6th Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday we will worship put at the Teaching Place at French Lake. Our service will begin at 11:00.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42
  • Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Genesis 21:8-21

This week we will sing a variety of things (mostly with guitar accompaniment)

  • Uyai Mose
  • This Little Light of Mine
  • I've Got the Joy Joy Joy Joy
  • Give Me Oil in My Lamp
  • It Only Takes a Spark

The Sermon Title is Wilderness God

Early Thoughts: Life is not always easy. In fact sometimes it seems like it can't get any worse. Imagine the surprise to find God at that spot.

For some good thoughts on this topic check out this column from three years ago.

She was sent out into the desert to die. She and her son, a firstborn son but in the end only the son of the slave girl. This is where Hagar find herself in this passage from Genesis. Victimized by
Sarah's jealousy and insecurity, powerless to speak for herself, disposable along with her son. Hagar has given up, going off by herself because she can't bear to watch the inevitable death of her son.

If Scripture came with stage directions it would now read God enters. Just as she gives up to the cruelties of life and the emptiness of the wilderness Hagar becomes aware of God's presence. God provides words of comfort and promise. God hears the cries of despair and pain and behold God provides.

The wilderness is a common place in Scripture. The wilderness is a place of fear and uncertainty. It is a metaphor for being lost and in peril. And yet the wilderness is a place where people constantly are reminded of God's presence and bounty.

What is the wilderness in our lives? Where do we find ourselves lost, afraid, beyond hope? What words does God have for us in that place? What promise? What hope? What comfort?

June 09, 2008

Looking Ahead to June 15, 2008 -- 5th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:

The Hymns for this week are:

  • 222 Come Let Us Sing
  • 624 Give to Us Laughter
  • 508 Just As I Am
  • 649 Walk With Me

The sermon title is Producing Character

Early Thoughts: How do we learn character? How do we teach it? How do we become people of good character?

There is so much to preach in the passage from Romans. There is in it the basis for the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith. THere is space to talk about forgiveness and redemption. But the passage that jumped out at me this week was right in the middle of the passage

3But that's not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. 4And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope 5that will never disappoint us.
Here we have one reason that life includes suffering, a reason that we have likely heard before. Suffering builds character!

Building character is a tricky thing to define or describe. Countless parents have agonized over how best to raise children "of good character". Last month at the Conference Annual meeting we passed a motion which affirmed the Manitoba Department of Education for developing a character education piece of the curiculum. (In it's original form this motion called on the government to create such a thing -- until it was pointed out that they already had.)

But even then it is hard to say what that means. Does building charcter mean creating people who meekly submit to authority, children who are compliant and obedient? Partly. But part of being a person of character means standing up against authority. It means asking questions. It means standing for what is right even when it isn't popoular. Is that what our character education efforts create?

But back to Paul. Paul says that suffering leads to endurance which leads to character. And I think there is (some) wisdom there. Character comes over time. Character comes with a degree of trial and error. Character, in the end, can't really be taught but its development can/should/must be encouraged. So yes, suffering bears some role. When we never struggle in life we lose a chance for some of that trial and error, for some of that development. At the same time we have to be careful not to over-emphasize the growth potential in suffering. When we do that we have a tendency to minimize the negative. It can be a great way to avoid asking ourselves why people suffer (and the courage ask and act on that question is a measure of our character).

It is easy to lose hope in our society. Reading or watching the news gives us a litany of sadness and all too often highlights the brokenness of the world. But then there is that last step in Paul's list. Building character leads to hope. When we cultivate character development in ourselves, in our children, in our neighbour's, in all the world there is hope. People of character are the ones who can steer the changes of our society. And that is indeed cause for hope.

Join us on Sunday as we talk about what it means to preduce people of character. Of course we might need to figure out what a person of character is first.

June 08, 2008

Lord's Prayer Actions

At WOrship Matters last week participants learned actions to the Lord's Prayer.

Next Sunday we will learn them and start to use them periodically. You can see them here

June 02, 2008

Looking Ahead to June 8, 2008 -- 4th Sunday after Pentecost

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:

  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Genesis 12:1-9
  • Psalm 33 (VU p.760)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

The Hymns for this Sunday are:

  • 374 Come and Find the Quiet Center
  • 402 We Are One
  • 245 Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet
  • 232 Joyful Joyful We Adore You

During the Children's Time we will remember that this weekend marks the 83rd Anniversary of Church Union.

The Sermon Title is Worship Matters?

Early Thoughts: Why does worship matter? Because it is where most people learn theology. Because it is the major point of contact with the church for the majority of church members. This weekend we will reflect on why worship matters.

Also Gord will report on Worship Matters-the event he is attending on his study leave this week.

May 28, 2008

NEws from Conference

Some notes and thoughts from last weekend's Conference Annual Meeting:
More in-depth news can be found here
  • One highlight was the theme presentations. The theme speaker was John Ikerd and he was wonderful. He spoke about sustainability and agriculture and ethics and economics. One concept that stood out was that "it makes no economic sense to do anything for others which doesn't benefit us". It is a powerful conscience that can stand up and say "the system is broken".
  • Another definite highlight was the celebration of becoming an Affirming Ministry. As part of that celebration we recounted the history of getting to this point in our time. We also took time to lament the church's history of heterosexism/homophobia. Then we had a celebration with rainbow flags and liturgy and made a covenant to be a safe place, an affirming place, a welcoming place. During both the lament and the celebration there were tears in some eyes.
  • One of the highlights of conference every year is the music. Music sung by hundreds of voices at once, music that enlivens the soul and quickens the heart.
  • $14.03 per resident member (using 2006 statistics). That is all it takes to fund the Conference Budget. Admittedly a more useful number would be $ per identifiable giver, but still that is remarkably low. YEs that money comes, in the end, from local congregations (through assesments to Presbytery which in turn assesses congregations for the cost of running Presbyteries) and therefore comes out of funds available for local work. But still $14.03 per resident member!
  • Oh and it may be worth mentioning that at the Presbytery meeting on Saturday Gord was installed as chair of Cambrian Presbytery for 2008-09

May 20, 2008

Looking Ahead to May 25, 2008 -- 2nd Sunday After Pentecost

This week marks the Annual Meeting of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Thanks to Noreen for providing worship leadership.

This week we are using a worship service prepared by the United Church Observer.

The Scripture passages are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Joshua 8:32-35
  • Psalm 33 (VU p.760)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 Corinthians 12:27-31
  • From the Gospel: Mark 4:13-20

The Hymns this week are:

  • 382 Breathe on Me Breath of God
  • 356 Seek Ye First
  • 343 I Love to Tell the Story
  • 675 Will Your Anchor Hold

Just a quick reminder about the eavetrough Buy a Foot campaign. For $10/foot you can help us put eavetrough on the church and help prevent water flooding the handicapped washroom.

May 12, 2008

Sunnycove Forms Now Available!

Hot out of today's mail!

Sunnycove this year is July 7-11. DUe to scheduling changes campers are nto to be dropped at the camp until 4:00 on the Monday afternoon.

Forms are available at the church office. Give us a call if you want one, or if you just want more information.

Looking Ahead to May 18, 2008 -- Trinity Sunday, First after Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
  • Psalm 8 (VU p.732)
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

The Hymns this week are:

  • 409 Morning Has Broken
  • 291 All Things Bright and Beautiful (refrain 1st and last only)
  • 293 We Praise You Creator (tune #264)
  • 220 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

The Sermon Title is Creation? Evolution? Imagination?

Early Thoughts: Why do we read this story of creation? What meaning does it have in our worldview?

Within the culture wars of the last century and a half it is possible that few topics have caused more dissension as the creationism-evolution debate. Accepting the Genesis accounts of Creation (at least one of the two -- or more likely some version that combines the two) as actual historic fact has become something of a litmus test of faithfulness in some circles. The one debate becomes a rallying point for the whole debate around Biblical Literalism/understanding of Scripture. On the other side, requiring people to accept Genesis as science/history despite the plentiful and compelling evidence to the contrary has likely been one of the factors that pushed many people away from the church. What do those of us who remain people of faith but also people who accept the scientific evidence do?

One, likely common example is to pretend there is no problem. This approach means we separate our faith from our reason on this issue. At church we talk about God as Creator, elsewhere we read about evolution and rarely do we ask how to reconcile the two. For obvious reasons I find this approach lacking.

So what role does this story have? What does it mean to talk about God as Creator and yet to consider the Genesis accounts as myth?

That is where we will go on Sunday. For now let us mention that the two (God as Creator and evolution) are not automatically exclusive. Let us mention that Genesis 1 is mythic poetry that may never have been intended as literal fact. Let us remember that many cultures have their own creation myths, with some similarities and some differences between them. And most of all, let us always remember that calling Scripture myth does not belittle it or mean it contains no truth. The truth of the Creation account has little to do with what really happened.

For further reading on this topic (and to read something that will inform the sermon this Sunday) check out this essay.

May 06, 2008

Looking Ahead to May 11, 2008 -- Pentecost Sunday, Mother's Day

A reminder that this week being Mother's Day means we have our annual brunch following the service. Also, as it is Pentecost Sunday we will celebrate the sacrament of communion.

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • Numbers 11:24-30
  • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
  • Acts 2:1-21

The hymns this week are:

  • 198 Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us
  • 195 On Pentecost They Gathered
  • 480 Let Us Break Bread Together
  • 481 Sent Forth by God’s Blessing

The sermon title is: Spirit Language

Early Thoughts: Do we know what to do with people who are moved by the Spirit? What is the role of the prophet in today's society?

Earlier this year the US election was rocked by snippets of sermons given by Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the church where Barack Obama has attended. As sound bites the quotes were potentially troubling. Those who have read or heard the whole sermon say they were words of truth-telling, words of challenge, words of prophecy in a Biblical sense.

What do we do when the Spirit moves us to speak out against the norm, against the commonly accepted knowledge? Often we react defensively. Often the power-brokers react angrily. Often there is derision and condemnation. And that is what happens in Scripture when people become Spirit-filled and speak Spirit language. The Spirit often seems to break into our world and push us to re-evaluate what we believe. No wonder such action is often met with anger, derision, defensiveness.

What is the Spirit blowing into our lives and minds today? What fills us with fire and excitement so that we can hardly keep quiet?

and here are some other reflection questions around the Scripture passages for this week:
Is there a time when you have been overwhelmed by the “spirit of the moment”? How did that feel (great, terrifying, awesome ...)?
Often in our Scriptural story people do not know what to do with others who are moved by or filled with the Spirit. How do you imagine you would react to people acting like the Spirit-filled people in the readings?
Have you felt someone or something pushing you to say something unpopular and yet were sure it was the right thing to say? How do we react to that disagreement?
Where do you feel the Spirit leading you at this point in your life?

May 05, 2008

Pentecost Reflections

Next Sunday is Pentecost, also called the "Birthday of the church". Tomorrow a preview of our worship will be posted.

But today I encourage people to reflect on the meaning of being Spirit-filled. We live in an era where such language is often reserved for sports teams and fans. We live in an era where church is often seen as institutional and even bureaucratic rather than Spirit-filled and vibrant. What would it mean for the church to become more Spirit-led? Would we notice the difference? Might we be more flowing and variable?

This article discusses the way the church moved from being a Spirited and Spirit-led to a more institutional organization. Given that all organizations eventually move toward a more structured way of being it makes sense. But of course that isn't what the church is called to be -- at least in the minds of many.

April 29, 2008

Looking Ahead to May 4, 2008 -- 7th Sunday of Easter

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 1:6-14
  • Psalm 68 (VU p.787)
  • From the Letters of the Church: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
  • From the Gospel: John 17:1-11

The Hymns this week are:

  • 374 Come and Find the Quiet Centre
  • 356 Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God
  • 274 Your Hand, O God, Has Guided (vss. 1, 3-5)
  • 217 All Creatures of Our God and King

The sermon title is Abandoned to Suffer??

Early Thoughts: SOmetimes it is so easy to feel alone. It is easy to wonder why we suffer (whatever suffering means for us). ANd in fact this is something Christians have faced for centuries.

This passage from 1 Peter is directed at Christians who are facing, or are about to face persecution from the ROman Empire. ANd to be frank, I am not sure how helpful the writer's advice is.

"Keep the Faith!" makes a great rallying cry but there is little about how to do it. When one's life is on the line how does one find the fortitude to keep on keeping on?

In many ways I suspect that this facing persecution (which some embraced as a path to martyrdom) left some believers wondering why GOd had abandoned them to this fate. After all, that is a common response to times of hardship -- to wonder why we have been abandoned, or why this horror has been inflicted on us.

I hear some of that feeling around town lately. Why do we have such hard times? Why is life so unfair?

I can't provide answers for all those questions but there is wisdom in the stories of persecution. The Early Christians were able to "Keep the Faith" because they were confident that even in the midst of their troubles GOd was with them. God wasn't taking away the hardship but GOd was with them. Those earliest followers could have, after watching Jesus taken away from them into heaven, lost heart and hope. But instead tehy dedicated themselves to prayer and service. From their dedication grew the dedication and faith of the martyrs at the time of 1 Peter. We can make their choice. In the face of hardship and persecutin and feelings of abandonment we can choose to lament and give up, or we can choose to lament but keep going. God will not likely turn the economy around. But God will not leave us alone in our suffering. Thanks be to God!

April 24, 2008

Board Meeting News

The monthly Board meeting was earlier this evening. Expand the post for some notes about what was discussed.

  1. The Honouring our Neighbour's Faith Study group has wrapped up for this year. It may restart in the fall.
  2. Tickets for the Fiddle concert on May 10 are selling well. Some help will be needed to help set up the day beforehand
  3. On Sunday May 11 we will have a Mother's Day brunch following the service. As that Sunday is Pentecost Sunday we will also have communion that morning.
  4. On Father's Day, June 15, we will have our annual BBQ.
  5. As of April 24 the deficit for the year is $9 671, however this does not include revenue from the Talent Auction earlier this month.
  6. Good News! the monthly gas bill for the church has been lowered substantially.
  7. We have received a quote to put eavestroughing on the church building. To pay for this project we will be launching a "Buy a Foot" campaign. The cost is $10/foot.
  8. We are having 2 spring cleaning bees. The outside one will be at 6pm on May 15 and the inside one will be at 9am on June 7.
  9. We heard a report from the UCW Rally which took place last weekend.
  10. We are planning to have a worship service and picnic out at French Lake again this year, likely on June 22.
  11. The Board is in the process of reviewing various congregational policies, two more were reviewed tonight with others to follow next month.

The next Board meeting will be at 6:30 on May 29.

Ontario Child Benefit

Here is information about a provincial program to help low-income families:
The Ontario Child Benefit is a government program to help low-income families provide for their children. Beginning in July 2008, eligible families will receive up to $50 per child each month.

Your eligibility is based on the number of children in your family and your family income. You may be eligible if you:
* Have a child under 18 and are in a low-income family
* Have filed your income tax return and so has your spouse or common-law partner
* Are registered for the Canada Child Tax Benefit
* Are a resident of Ontario.

For more information, please visit
Brochures are available to download in 23 languages. You can also call toll-free

April 22, 2008

Looking Forward to April 27, 2008 -- Easter 6, Camping Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 17:22-31
  • Psalm 148
  • From the Gospel: John 13:31-35

The Hymns this week are:

  • MV #122 This is the Day (Insert)
  • This Little Light of Mine (insert)
  • They’ll Know We Are Christians (insert)
  • #289 It Only Takes a Spark

The Minute for Mission this week will be about the 7 Wonders of the Conference, ballots will be available so vote casting/stuffing can begin.

The Sermon this week is Church Camping – an Experience of Loving Community

Early Thoughts: On the last Sunday of April we are invited to remember the importance of camping ministry. Church camping is outreach, it is christian education and nurture, it is fellowship. For a week at camp we set up a new community, one that works a bit differently from the communities where we live the rest of the year. This week we will have a presentation about the camp that this church participates in with the rest of the United Churches in our district. ANd maybe we will get excited again about the possibilities that camping brings.

April 17, 2008

Voting Begins

The Conference of MAnitoba and Northwestern Ontario is having a fundraiser for the Mission & Service Fund. THE fundraiser is called the 7 Wonders of the COnference. For the last while foks have been invited to submit nominations.

Now the voting begins. Votes are $5 a piece for the M&S fund. This is certainly a case of "vote early, vote often" since there is no limit on how often one may vote. SOme plans for vote-stuffing have already been discussed by some nominees/nominators. (And indeed vote stuffing is encouraged since each vote os a fundraiser)

Riverview's pie making is one of the nominees! Can we get it into the top 7???!!!???

Check it out, information about how to vote is available at the link. ANd there will be more information shared soon at a church near you...

April 15, 2008

Looking Ahead to April 20, 2008 -- 5th Sunday of Easter, Earth Day

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Genesis 2:4-15, 18-22
  • Psalm 8 (VU p.732)
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 3:1-5

The Hymns this week are:

  • 217 All Creatures of Our God and King
  • 296 This is God’s Wondrous World
  • 307 Touch the Earth Lightly
  • 303 For Beauty of Prairies

The Meditation/Discussion title is: Holy Ground

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to talk about the Earth as holy ground? How does it change our attitudes to realize we walk on holy ground? OR does it?

These are hard questions to face. For those of us in resource-based communities much of the enviro-talk spells economic disaster. What does it mean to talk about less forestry/tree harvesting? What about closing power plants (and NOT replacing the power they produce)? On the other hand, some climate change models move this area right out of the boreal forest. What does that do to our economic base?

This Sunday we will pause to reflect on what it means to walk on Holy Ground. We will also take time to talk with each other about these questions.

Change is inevitable. The question for us is will we help shape the change or just be shaped by it? How do we respond to a changing world and a changing climate?