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.