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.