December 27, 2009

Looking Ahead to January 3, 2009 -- Sunday Closest to Epiphany

The Festival of Epiphany is the end of the Christmas Season (which is of course 12 Days long, just as the song suggests). On Epiphany Day (January 6) we tell the story of the visit of the Magi. HOwever, since most United Church congregations are not in the habit of having mid-week worship services, it has become customary to tell this story on the Sunday preceding January 6.

As Epiphany Sunday marks the beginning of a new Liturgical season we will be sharing the sacrament of communion.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6
  • Psalm 72 (VU p.790)

The Hymns this week are:
  • 74 What Child is This
  • We Three Kings (insert)
  • MV#162 Christ Within Us Hidden (insert)
  • 468 Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ

The Sermon Title is Why Pay Homage?

Early Thoughts: Why bow the knee? Why bring tribute to a foreign king?

Why indeed? To North American ears the idea of paying homage or bowing down before or paying tribute to anyone seems to go against the grain. It speaks of power over, of classism, it goes against the egalitarian ideal on which our democracy is said to be founded (it really isn't founded on such an ideal but that is a whole other topic).

Scholars believe that Matthew wrote his story of the Magi visit with these passages in his head, or even on scrolls in front of his eyes. But they have value apart from that story. What is the message they have for us in 2010?

These are passages of hope. They speak of a wondrous king who will be adored by all of the peoples of the world. They speak of one whose wisdom and jsutice and mercy will lead all people to bow down before his [sic] majesty.

The whole bow down before God's Majesty imagery has fallen into disfavour in the mainline church, mainly for the reasons listed above. But there is something there to recover. We need to recover the MAjesty of God to do what is not posible for us on our own. WE need to recover that sense of awe-some-ness when we encounter God made present in our lives. WE need to recover the vision of what a truly great leader can be.

Epiphany means God-Made-Manifest. Bowing down in homage and wonder seems an appropriate response after all.

December 15, 2009

Looking Ahead to December 20, 2009 -- 4th Sunday of Advent

The theme for this week is Birth Means Future Promises

The Scripture REadings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Micah 5:2-5a
  • Psalm 146 (VU p.868)
  • From the Gospel: Luke 1:39-55

The Hymns this week are:
  • 44 It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
  • 46 Gentle Mary Laid Her Child
  • 899 Song of Mary (tune ???)
  • 76 See Amid the Winter's Snow

Early Thoughts: What keeps us going when the way is hard? What brings joy in the midst of despair? What is our source of hope?

Future promises of course. It is the promise of possibility that allows us to keep trying. It is the promise shared by Dame Julian of Norwich that all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things be well which sees us through the darknesses of our world.

People of Jewish and Christian faith are in fact people of promise. Our entire faith story is based on promises both about the present and the future. In my opinion people of faith are also meant to live both in the present and looking toward the promised future.

Some people would say that believing in a promised better future is selling false hope, or that it is is merely a way of distracting from the pain of the future (Marx's "opiate of the masses" line come to mind here). But as a person of faith I see that looking forward has to take into account reality but with a hopeful slant. We can't help but admit that the world is not what it could (or even should) be. And in the face of that admission we can choose to give up or we can choose to believe that things will get better.

It has been suggested that the birth of a baby is a sign that things need to go on. That a baby is God saying the world has a future (obviously that is not a statement of biology but a statement of theology). And so at this time of year when our faith story calls us to talk and think about birth it behooves us to ask what future this birth promises.

SOme hints are found in the song called the MAgnificat. Sung by either Mary or Elizabeth (the tradition says MAry but the Greek text could just as -or more- easily mean Elizabeth) it talks about the time when God's justice will come to pass. Some hints are found in the Psalm we will read, which share the same language and imagery. And of course hints of the promised future Realm of God are found throughout Scripture. And even more relevant, those hints are not only for the future but guides for how we act in the present.

Was Dame Julian right? Or was she being "pollyanna-ish"? Will all manner of things be well? That is the promise of God. ANd it is the the hope of all who parent children. That the future has promise is what keeps us going. And in the end, remember this. As people of hope (and faith) we live in hope. WE trust in the promise -- even if we are sometimes [often??] a little impatient about when it is going to come to pass.

December 08, 2009

A Study REsource

Retired United Church of Canada Minster John Shearman has posted a blog reflecting on and probing into the Christmas stories.  John is the same person who wrote the blog we used here a Riverview as a basis for our Revelation study last year.  John also writes weekly reflections on the lectionary readings and these reflections are one of the resources Gord uses on a regular basis.

You can read The Nativity of JEsus here

November 30, 2009

Looking Forward to December 6, 2009 -- 2nd Sunday of Advent

Our theme this week is Birth Means Re-Evaluating Priorities

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Malachi 3:1-4
  • Responsive Reading: Luke 1:68-79 (VU p.900)
  • From the Gospel: Luke 3:1-18

The Hymns this week are
  • Advent Hope (insert)
  • 9 People Look East
  • 18 There's a Voice in the Wilderness Crying
  • 27 Tomorrow Christ is Coming

The Sermon title is Priorities Refined

Early Thoughts: What are our priorities? What would they be if we embraced God's priorities? DO we need to change them?

One of the magazine ads that came out as part of the Emerging Spirit campaign was a picture of a baby with a hospital bracelet on its wrist. THe bracelet reads:

WARNING: some re-assembly of priorities and beliefs may be required
Of course the ad works because it rings true. Many people find that different things seem more important after a big change in their lives (and it occurs to me that having a child is a big change).

On our journey to Christmas we hear from two people who call the people around them to re-think and re-adjust their priorities. AS we prepare for GOd to once again break in to our world and do a new thing we need to hear the words of the prophets (ancient and modern) again.

Malachi and John both point out that the way things are happening right now are not the way they should be happening. They speak of the need to be refined. They talk about God pushing to have our priorities reset.

And so now the question we need to ask ourselves is: "Are we willing to examine and re-evaluate our priorities in life?". Are we willing to do that honestly? ARe we willing to be refined and winnowed (to use words from our Scripture readings)? Will this birth which we currently await lead us to put different things at the top of the pile?

Here's A NEat Idea!

An Online Advent Calendar, click a window a day.

Find it here

November 24, 2009

Looking Forward to November 29, 2009 -- 1st Sunday of Advent

As this is the 1st Sunday of a new liturgical season we will be celebrating Communion.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Jeremiah 18:1-6
  • Psalm 25 (VU p.752)
  • From the Gospel: Luke 21:25-36

The Hymns this week are:
  • O What a Wonderful Gift (insert)
  • #2 Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
  • #708 My Lord What a Morning
  • #481 Sent Forth By God's Blessing

As a sung response to the lighting of the Advent Candles this year we will be singing MV#115 Behold, Behold I Make All Things New.

The theme for this week is Birth Means Tearing Down the Old

Early Thoughts: Birth is a time of great hope but also great change. While much may be gained, there may also be things lost.

Whenever a child is born the lives of the people around the child are changed, permanently. And some people have trouble adapting to/accepting that reality.

The same thing is true about changes in our society or in our economy or in our communities. CHange and the start of something new means that something has to be let go (at least) or even torn apart. THe fear of that loss sometimes keeps us stuck in a place that is no longer life giving. OR the wish to go back to what once was keeps us from seeing the possibilities of the "new normal".

This week we will visit the potter's house and talk about rebuilding. We will also reflect on adapting to the reality of a "new normal". At the same time we will name some of the pain that comes with making those shifts.

After all, Christmas is all about the new thing that is happening. It is about the birth of hope and possibility. How can we free ourselves to embrace it wholeheartedly?

November 16, 2009

Looking Forward to November 22, 2009 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Writings of the Early Church: Revelation 1:4b-8
  • Psalm 34 (VU p.761)
  • From the Gospel: John 18:33-37

The Hymns this week are:
  • #710 Shall We Gather at the River
  • #713 I See a New Heaven
  • #688 O Day of God Draw Nigh
  • #424 May the God of Hope Go With Us

The Sermon Title is: What Makes a Kingdom?

Early Thoughts: As people of faith we pray each week "Thy Kingdom come". What do we mean by that? What are the markers of a kingdom/realm/reign?

One of the accusations leveled at the Early Christians was that they were subversives. They were seen as disloyal and not ggod citizens. And the accusers were, to a large point, right!

From the beginning Christians have used language like Lord and Master and Kingdom to talk about God and Christ and the realm that is to come. And in the beginning these were clear ways of saying "God (or Christ) is Lord and therefore Ceasar is NOT". How much more subversive can you get?

Today we are called to the same loyalty. Is our loyalty to Canada or the US or some other nation or is our loyalty to the Reign/Realm/Kingdom or God? Who is Lord?

This last Sunday of the Church Year is called Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday. As such it is a day to ask that very question of loyalty. It is a day to ask wht it might mean to us today to say that Christ (or God) is Lord and OBama/Harper/other national leader is not.

We may not be called subversives anymore. But as people of faith we still profess a belief that there is a different realm to worry about. ANd just maybe we should be a little bit more subversive from time to time...

November 14, 2009

Valentines Fundraising Idea

For Valentines Day instead of flowers or chocolate send your loved one a giant sugar cookie with a message on it!

This is a sample cookie.

For details call Gord

Bazaar 2009

Today was the annual UCW Bazaar. Pictures from the day are below the fold:

November 09, 2009

Looking Ahead to November 15, 2009 -- 24th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: 1 Samuel 1:4-20
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
  • From the Gospel: Mark 13:1-8

The Hymns this week are:
  • #374 Come and Find the Quiet Centre
  • #708 My Lord, What a Morning
  • #601 The Church of Christ in Every Age
  • #642 Be Thou My Vision

The Sermon title is Birth: Expectation and Pain

Early Thoughts: What is our pain? What is our hope? What is our expectation? What is being born?

There is a tendency to think of childbirth as a joyous event. But is it always? In this passage from 1 Samuel we see some of the pain of child birth to those who appear unable to have children.

One of the metaphors that is often used for a changed world is that of birth (or possibly re-birth). And for many of us the pain that lies in that metaphor is that of barrenness as the new world seems to not be coming soon.

Sometimes the pain of birth is in the miscarriage or stillbirth of the child. WE who wait for the birth of a new world share that pain, or at least the fear of it.

ANd of course some of the pain of birth is in the pain of the process. Not just labour but some (many?) mothers experience pain, or at least discomfort, at various points throughout the pregnancy. And of course that ties in to our metaphor as well. It is painful to have things change.

But of course birth and childbearing are not all about pain. There is hope and promise there too. There is a hope for what may be possible. There is a promise that great things can happen. It is the hope and the promise that can make the pain and discomfort all worth it in the long term.

As people of hope we do await a new birth. As people of hope we are trying to help that birth happen. Yes there is pain involved. Yes it is a struggle. But if we want a new world, or at least a new vision of how to be the church in the world, we have to find the way that the hope or expectation will overbalance the hope and the fear.

This year we will return to birth in more detail during Advent. This Sunday we start with the pain and expectation and how it may tie into our vision of what it meanss to be the church today and tomorrow.

November 04, 2009

Upcoming Events

What is happening in the life of Riverview?  This post will tell you (and will be updated regularly)
  • June 27 -- Final Worship Service with Gord.
  • July 1 -- ECW Worship at 10:45
  • August 5 -- ECW Worship at 10:45
  • September 23-26 --Cambrian Presbytery Fall Meeting in Marathon

November 01, 2009

October 27, 2009

Looking Ahead to November 1, 2009 -- All Saints Day, 22nd Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: Ruth 1:1-18
  • Psalm 146 (VU p.868)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 12:28-34

The Hymns this week are:
  • #316 Praise Our Maker
  • #707 For the Faithful Who Have Answered
  • #602 Blest Be the Tie That Binds
  • #675 Will Your Anchor Hold

The Sermon title is Family: Ancestors and Descendants

Early Thoughts: What responsibility we have to our ancestors? To our descendants? What do we inherit and what do we pass on?

Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried.
What a wonderful statement of fidelity, of loyalty, of committment. Ruth has no reason to stay with Naomi, there appears to be no future there. But she lays her cards on the table and goes to a new place.

It is often suspected that the Book of Ruth is included in the Canon of Scripture in part because her story is part of David's story. It is the story of the family. And really, the story of the family is what we are all about. Each of us is a small part of a larger story. Where do we fit? What do we do with the legacy we have received? WHat do we choose to pass on?

November 1st is All Saints/All Souls Day. It is a day to celebrate the community (or communion) of all who have gone before us. It is a day to give thanks for the legacy that has been passed on to us. We are a people with a history, a history we don't want to forget or to reject.

OCtober 31st marks the anniversary of the day Martin Luther pasted his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg, the event that is said to have launched the Reformation. WE are part of a church that is reformed and always reforming. In that light, how do we change or alter the tradition that has been passed on to us?

As we see ourselves going forward what is our vision? Are we ready to make the same pledge that Ruth makes? OR are we afraid to step into a new land? How do we balance teh past and the future? How do we honour the ancestors of our faith family and what do we pass on to our descendants?

October 19, 2009

Looking Ahead to October 25, 2009 -- 21st Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: Job 42:1-6, 10-17
  • Psalm 34 (VU p.761)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

The Hymns this week are:
  • #371 Open My Eyes That I May See
  • #299 Teach Me, God, to Wonder
  • #242 Let All Things Now Living
  • #427 To Show by Touch and Word

The Sermon title is Giveth, Taketh, Giveth Again

Early Thoughts: What do we make of the story of Job? What does it have to tell us about possessions?

Job is, to say the least, a troubling book. It is a difficult story to follow--at least in part because it seems to be two stories glued together. There is a little folk tale that bookends the larger story made up of a series of speeches about why Job is in the state he finds himself. The larger story has a lot to do with issues of punishment and why bad things happen to people. The bookends appear to try and give context and explanation to the middle (and possibly let God off the hook for the bad things that happen to Job).

This week we are going to focus on the bookends. TO put it simply, Job has a lot. God allows ha-Satan (the Accuser/Adversary) take it away to test Job's faith. Job gets it all back and more. In the theology that is presented: God has given, God allows to be taken, God gives again.

THere are two things I find instructive about this in terms of our possessions. The first is to see all we have as a gift from GOd. The second is to wonder if we can remain faithful when it all gets taken away. There is a danger as well--the story can be taken in terms of the so-called "prosperity gospel"--the belief that if we are really "good" then God will bless us with lots of stuff.

So how does that all shake out as am message of hope and good news? Come on Sunday and find out.

October 12, 2009

Looking Forward to October 18, 2009 -- 20th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: Job 38:1-17, 34-41
  • Psalm 104 (VU p.826)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 10:35-45

The Hymns this week are:
  • #603 In Loving Partnership We Come
  • #593 Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love
  • #372 Though I May Speak
  • #567 Will You Come and Follow Me

The Sermon title is Me First!!!!

Early Thoughts: Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the excitement. Sometimes we think we have a privileged spot. Sometimes we get told otherwise.

James and John forgot which rules were in play. Either that or they were power hungry.

THey were working as if the rules of the world around them were in effect in the Kingdom of GOd. ANd under those rules you got preferential treatment if, like them, you had been with the powerful from the beginning. They were playing the status game that has been played, and still is played, in power structures around the world.

But of course Jesus is playing by a different set of rules. Jesus is playig by rules where saying "Me first!" put you at the end of the line. Jesus is playing by rules which call us to put the other person first, where status just doesn't count the same way.

Deciding which rules we are playing by is, in the end, a stewardship decision. When we decide to play by the rules of the world our stewardship decisions get based on asking "what's in it for me?". But when we play by the rules of the kingdom our stewardship decisions are based on the question "what's in it for them?".

How then shall we live? WHose rules about status and rank and privilege are in effect?

October 06, 2009

Pastor's PEn #2

Deficits. We seem to hear that word a lot these days. Governing parties debate with the opposition how much of a financial deficit is acceptable in the midst of an economic downturn. Politicians muse about a democratic deficit in our Parliamentary processes. Analysts have been talking for years about an infrastructure deficit as our streets and bridges and sewer/water systems age beyond their expected lifespan. Economists constantly watch trade numbers and talk about trade deficits. But with all this talk about deficits is it possible we have missed the biggest deficit of all?

I think we have. I think at almost all levels of our lives together we have a more important deficit to worry about. And in fact, to a degree, dealing with this deficit will help us find a way to deal with all the rest. This is the deficit of vision.

One of my favourite verses in the Bible comes from the book of Proverbs. In the King James Version it is translated Where there is no vision, the people perish. This verse is in fact inscribed over the West window of the Peace Tower in Ottawa. Vision is vital for us to survive and thrive as a society and as a community.

So what is our vision as a faith community? Why are we here in this place at this time? This is a vital question for Riverview to answer as we move forward. Only when we have a vision, a sense of mission can we remain passionate and excited about our future. And without that passion and excitement we will always be worrying about meeting the budget and paying the bills.

The time has come to ask ourselves hard questions about the future of Riverview. We need to determine what path lies to a thriving life as a faith community. We simply can’t continue as we have been, the money just won’t allow it. We need to develop a sense of who God is calling us to be. That is what a vision is for a church. It is my fear that we have gotten so used to the survival game that we have lost a clear vision of who God wants us to be.

Next year at the annual meeting we hope to really start the discussion of who we are and where we are going. All are welcome to help us erase any deficit of vision we may have. And the hope is that once we erase that deficit the financial deficit will disappear as well.

Looking Forward to October 11, 2009 -- Thanksgiving Weekend

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Hebrew Scriptures: Joel 2:21-27
  • Psalm 126 (VU p.850)
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 6:25-33

The Hymns this week are:
  • #236 Now Thank We All Our God
  • #226 For the Beauty of the Earth
  • From the Silence That Has Bound Us (insert)
  • #326 O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

The Sermon title is What? ME Worry?

Early Thoughts: IS Jesus kidding us? Just trust in God to provide and stop worrying???????!!!!!! In the midst of an economic downturn is this a realistic passage to read?

I think this is in fact the best time to read this passage. When people are really worried, and have something to worry about, is a great time to talk about worrying. WHen we are comfortable and sure of our income this passage becomes much more an intellectual exercise. But when we are struggling and wondering who will go under next there is a real resonance.

And of course that is where the original audience was. Jesus is speaking to people who regularly have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Jesus is speaking to people who have less than nothing for the most part. I am sure that more than a couple of them thought he was all wet too.

Most of us have trouble believing that God will just provide what we need. We don't just sit back and rake it all in after all. But I am not sure that is the point of the passage. Or at least that may not be where the story intersects with our lives.

One of the dangers we have in our society is that we too often fall into the trap of believing that what we have we have as a reward for hard work or as an entitlement. These passages remind us that what we have is a gift that is graciously and freely given. One of the dangers of modern society is that we are taught to worry, we are taught that what we need is scarce and we have to ensure we "get our share". These passages remind us that what we have is he result of abundant gifts. These passages call us to reflect on the difference between worrying over the world's scarcity and rejoicing on God's abundance.

And what better message is there on Thanksgiving weekend? If we stop worrying so much we may see the world differently. When we see abundance instead of scarciy it enables us to see what we have to share with the world. It enables us to practice better stewardship. In the end worry is a subset of fear, and fear is the opposite of love. LEt us put aside worry so that we can live in love.

PS: For a message from Mardi Tindal, the new moderator of the United Church of Canada click here

October 01, 2009

Pastor's PEn

Pastor’s Pen:

The leaves are starting to change colour and float along the street. There was a whiteness to the grass the last couple of mornings (Sarah and Devyn were very excited because it had “snowed”). Mid-week groups have started to meet. It must be the beginning of the busy season.

There are a variety of things that we call the beginning of the New Year. The calendar tells us it is in January. Provincially funded organizations like the Hospital or FACS may claim it is April 1 when the new year starts. The Church calendar says the new year starts with the 1st Sunday of Advent (which happens to be November 27 this year). But to all intents and purposes the new year starts at the beginning of September when school starts again along with so many other things. And so I wish you all a (slightly belated) Happy New Year!

As we look ahead to the year that is just starting I have to wonder what is coming. What new things does God have in store for us this year? What surprises are around the corner? Where will next June find us?

I have no idea. The task is not to try and predict where we will go. Our job is to sign up for the ride and hold on! Life’s rollercoaster takes us up and down and all around, sometimes even throws us upside down. But even if it is scary at times it can be fun if we let ourselves relax and trust the ride.

And while we are talking about rides, another image comes to my mind. This summer we took the girls on a Carousel, with Patty standing beside the horse to make sure Miriam didn’t fall off. Remember that we aren’t on the ride alone, that there is someone standing beside us through the slow parts and the fast, the ups and the downs and the upside downs.

So, please join me as we walk through the year and the story of birth and life and death and new life. And let’s enjoy the ride!


September 29, 2009

Looking Forward to October 4, 2009 -- Worldwide Communion Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 Corinthians 11:17-26
  • From the Gospel: Mark 14:22-26

The Hymns this week are:
  • 457 As We Gather at Your Table
  • 468 Let Us Talents and Tongues
  • 480 Let Us Break Bread Together
  • 402 We Are One

This week we will have a report from last weekend's meeting of Cambrian Presbytery. (You can read about the meeting here

The Sermon Title is The Banquet of Hope

Early Thoughts: What is this thing we call communion? Is it a somber solemn event of mourning and remembrance or a joyful banquet of the kingdom of God?

It is both of course. Over the course of Christian history and theology a variety of understandings of Communion/Eucharist have developed.

It is my opinion tht we focus on different aspects of communion at different times. Sometimes it is indeed most appropriate to focus on the meal of memory and sacrifice. Sometimes there is a focus on the salvation found in the cross. Sometimes howver we need to focus on the nature of the meal as a foretaste of the reign of God.

My preferred theology of communion is that last one. When we gather at the table for this meal we are pre-figuring the banquet of hope and celebration when the words "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" have come to be a reality. ANd so this is where I am leaning as we prepare to celebrate Worldwide COmmunion Sunday. THe meal which unites us is the great sign of hope that we shall one day be in fact united.

Besides, we seem to need a reminder of hope these days.

September 18, 2009

Board Meeting Highlights

The monthly meeting of the Church Board happened yesterday. Expand the post to see highlights from the meeting:

  • on September 27 (while Gord and Elvin are at Presbytery) Riverview is pleased to welcome Rev. Lorn Calvert, Principal of St. Andrew's College who is coming to preach.
  • Brian Jackson has completed the Lay Worship LEader training program and the Board was happy to recommend to Cambrian Presbytery that Brian be licensed as a Lay WOrship LEader
  • Church School began last Sunday.  This yer the theme for Church School is Singing with the Psalms
  • a Bible Study on the book of Mark will be held this fall.  A study called What does the United Church Believe? will be held starting in January
  • ADADS cleaned the carpet this summer and has just finished stripping and waxing the floors
  • Gord will be attending a Technology in Worship workshop in Fort FRances on October 17, talk to him if you would be interested in attending
  • Gord will be going to Rainy River to give a funeral leadership workshop and taking a Sunday service November 7-8
  • Our next communion service will be on October 4
  • The Board is still short 2 memebers and at least 2 people have decided that they will not be putting their names forward to continue on the Board when their term comes due in January.  We urge everyone to consider if they are called to this ministry in the church.
  • AS of the end of August we are running a deficit for 2009 of approximately $8 600.  This eliminates our equity/cash cushion.  A letter about the church finances will be sent to the whole congregation in early October. 
  • The next Board meeting is scheduled for October 15 at 6:30

September 15, 2009

Looking Ahead to September 20, 2009 -- 16th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture REadings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
  • Psalm 1 (VU p.724)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 8:27-38

The Hymns this week are:
  • 410 This Day God Gives Me (verses 1,3,4)
  • 585 Jesus Bids Us Shine
  • 580 Faith of Our Fathers
  • 424 May the God of Hope Go With Us

The Sermon title is Who DO We Say We Are?

Early Thoughts: How would we answer Jesus' question? WHat is our faith statement? Are we willing to take the risks of faith?

It really is a faith question JEsus asks. It isn't just "what are they saying about me?". Jesus pushes it to the next level. WHo do YOU say I am? WHat do you believe about me? WHat are you seeing/hearong/learning? ANd that is the question that continues to echo through the ages. Still each of us is asked "Who do you say I am?"

And our answer needs to be meaningful and personal. It is suggested that if PEter was a modern Jesus scholar the exchange might have gone something like this:
Jesus said, "Who do they say that I am." They replied, some say
Elijah, some John the Baptist, others one of the prophets." And he said, but who do YOU say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the ground of our being, the ontological kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships." And Jesus said, "...What?"
The answer needs to have meaning, not couched in jargon, not just rote recitation of the faith of our fathers. THe answer has to be ours, for our context, for our time. Who is Jesus for us? How is God active in our midst?

As we read on, Jesus then proceeds to talk about the cost of discipleship. Only when we are secure in our faith can we dare to take the path he lays out. It is risky to go out to bear the cross --And let's be clear. Jesus is not talking about "Our cross to bear" as we often do (an illness or a hardship). Jesus is talking about taking the risky path that leads to isolation and being set apart and ridiculed and death.-- with hope and confidence. We need to have a sense that we do it for a purpose.

So what do we believe? What do we say about Jesus and God and the world? How do we express it? HOw do we live it? These are teh questions that this passage raise in my soul this week. They are questions we will not answer in one sermon. But maybe at least we can start the exploring...

September 08, 2009

Looking Ahead to September 13, 2009 -- 15th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Proverbs 1:20-33
  • Psalm 19 (VU p.740)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 7:24-37

The Hymns this week are:
  • 395 Come In, Come In and Sit Down
  • 713 I See a New Heaven
  • 691 Though Ancient Walls
  • 649 Walk With Me

The Sermon title is: We Need to Include Who???

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to describe our selves as inclusive? Are we aware how well we do that?? Of where we fall short??

As General Council met in Kelowna this past summer the members of the Arctic Commission had this motion on their list of work (it came from Saskatchewan Conference):
That the 40th General Council 2009 adopt a policy that the Session (or Church Board or Church Council), in the exercising its duty of oversight of the order of public worship under 5.10.1 of the Basis of Union, may not discriminate against any group of persons on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, disability or status as divorced persons to the fullest extent, subject only to the laws of Canada, its provinces and territories as may exist from time to time, especially those which protect the vulnerable; and authorize a remit to test the will of the church with respect to this policy.
(There was also a list of "whereas" clauses-- arguments explaining why the proposal was made. You can read them on pages 10 & 11 of this {.pdf} document) So what does it mean?

If passed this proposal would have authorized a poll of the church asking if we wanted to change our constitution to say that all congregations were required to ensure they were open and welcoming to all people, specifically that discrimination (intentional or accidental) was not allowed based on that list of criteria. In some ways this seems common sense -- certainly the church should be as open and welcoming as possible right? In some ways it would be a hard fight -- who is some office somewhere else to tell us how we should operate? ANd certainly it was a major change in how congregations operate. This proposal would require that all church buildings were barrier-free, that people of any race were openly welcomed, that economic status wouldn't be an issue (this is one of the hidden forms of discrimination in many areas of our country), that your marital status (single, married, divorced, living together) would never be an issue, that newcomers were as important as lifelong residents, and that sexual orientation would not bar anyone from any part of church life--including marriage. It was actually suggesting that a great deal of congregational decision-making be taken away. Why would they make such a suggestion? To hear someone from Saskatchewan speak to that question check out this YouTube video.

One of the cherished self-definitions within the United Church of Canada is that we are an "inclusive" church. We like to claim that as some sort of banner or rallying cry. Personally I am not always sure we know what we mean by it. Certinly I think that in many places we do a relatively poor job of living it out. Because of course, it is hard being inclusive. Our old patterns of believing what is appropriate get in the way. The prejudices and biases that we absorb unconsciously get in the way. And in some cses the percieved costs of being truly inclusive scare us away (think of churches trying to become barrier-free for financial issues, or the social stigma suffered by many within the UCCan due to our stand on issues on sexual orientation over the last 20 years). But we are in good company. Even Jesus is not always inclusive.

I encourage you to read the Mark passage for this week carefully. Pay particular attention to what Jesus says to the foreign woman. Does he really say that she is a dog? DOes he really claim that God only sent him to the Chosen people? Why yes he does. JEsus in this story is certainly racist, some have also suggested that he is playing our the chauvinism or misogyny of his time. It really isn't a positive picture we see of JEsus, not all-loving GOd but a frail, biased, discriminatory human, limited by his context and his background.

But of course the story does not end there. The woman stands up for herself and her daughter. And she wins! JEsus recognizes that God's mercy is wider than he thought. Jesus recognizes the GOd is calling hi to a wider field of view. ANd Jesus, to his credit, chages in the light of God's revelation.

Maybe the proposal from Saskatchewan Conference is calling the people of the United Church to seriously consider how wide their field of view is. Maybe we are being urged to ask ourselves what we really mean when we claim to be an inclusive church. Maybe we are being challenged to find ways to ensure that all are welcome, truly welcome, in this place.

It is hard. I know of some congregations that delude themselves. I know that many places truly aren't aware how they exclude some people. I know that some have decided that the costs of change are too big. But we have to take the questions seriously. As it stands, every Pastoral Charge in this conference is now required to answer this question when they produce their Joint Needs Assessment Report when beginning the search for ministry personnel:
THe United church believes that God calls people of all races, ethnicities, abilities and orientations to ministry. Are there any theological or physical factors that would prevent you from welcoming any such persons to your Ministry site? Please specify and include your rationale.
THis is a harder question than it seems. How would you answer it about the church you now attend? About other churches you have attended? How would you like to answer it? Inclsivity, to be meaningful, has to be shown in how we live and not just in words that we say. And yes, it is a hard thing to do at times.

Oh and what happened with the proposal? Well you will have to come on Sunday to find out.

September 01, 2009

Looking Ahead to September 6, 2009 -- 14th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
  • Psalm 125 (VU p.849)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 Corinthians 1:17-28
  • From the Gospel: Mark 9:30-37
The Hymns this week are:
  • 371 Open My Eyes That I May See
  • 624 Give to us Laughter
  • 686 God of Grace and God of Glory (tune 651 verses 1, 2, 4)
  • 427 To Show by Touch and Word
The Sermon title is You Call This Wisdom??

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to be wise? What place of honour do we have for the wise among us? Is wisdom really just common sense?

As he ascends to the throne of his father Solomon is given a chance to ask for whatever he wants. Instead of wealth or power Solomon asks for wisdom. And so is born the legend of Solomon as a man of great wisdom (the Book of Proverbs is often seen as a collection of his wise sayings -- they aren't all his by any means, they weren't even compiled during his life but that is another issue). But what is wisdom?

Wisdom, Paul suggests, can also be foolishness. It all depends on one's point of view. The wisdom of God is foolishness to the rest of the world. A prime example is in the words of Jesus.
"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcome
To be first you must be last? That doesn't sound like wisdom! What is wisdom anyway?

Some people define wisdom as being, in part, common sense. So-called "folk wisdom" would fall into this category (as would many of the passages in Proverbs). Some see wisdom as something that comes with age and experience (although we have all known people who were wise "beyond their years" and older people who were foolish). Certainly being wise is different from being smart (how many honour students have you met who were seemingly devoid of common sense). Wisdom is not knowledge. For people of faith the more important question to ask is: "what is Godly wisdom and how is it different from the wisdom of the world?". What do we do when common sense leads us off of The Way?

Join us on Sunday as we ask what wisdom is and try to understand why Godly wisdom is really wise when it sometimes sounds so foolish.

August 26, 2009

Looking Ahead to August 30, 2009 -- 13th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Song of Solomon 2:8-13
  • Psalm 45 (VU p.769)
  • James 1:17-27
  • Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
The Hymns this week are:
  • #333 Love Divine All Love’s Excelling
  • #227 For the Fruit of All Creation
  • #509 I the Lord of Sea and Sky
  • #646 We Are Marching in the Light of God (sung twice)
The Sermon Title is Mirror Mirror On the Wall…

Early Thoughts: Many years ago the late Michael Jackson talked about looking at the man in the mirror. "I'm asking him to change his way" Jackson said. This passage from James reminded me of that song.

What do we see (or should that be who do we see) when we look in the mirror? Do we see someone trying his or her best to live ethical, "pure" lives? Or do we see someone just getting along as best she/he can? OR do we see someone looking out solely for him/herself and her/his friends/family? OR do we see someone who doesn't really know where he/she falls in that spectrum?

James and Jesus encourage us to be, as James puts it, doers of the Word. As people of faith, we are encouraged to live in a different way, to live by different rules than the culture around us.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the fairest, most ethical, purest, one of all?

July 13, 2009

Looking Ahead to July 19, 2009 -- 7th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
  • Psalm 84 (VU p. 800)
  • Ephesians 2:11-22
The Hymns this week are:
  • #325 Christ is Made the Sure Foundation (tune 240)
  • #579 The Church Is Wherever God’s People
  • MV#1 Let Us Build a House (on insert)
  • #427 To Show by Touch and Word
The Sermon Title is The House of Flesh

Early Thoughts: What do we mean when we talk about the the church as "the House of God"? How do we build the House of God?

David had grand dreams. David has pacified and united the nation and so he wants to leave a legacy. And what better legacy than to build a grand house for the God who has led the people to freedom, who has led David to victory. Even Nathan, the prophet of God, says it is a good thing to do.

But God has another idea. God is dubious about the need for the house. People are more important says God. And so I will build a house of flesh says God. As the scriptural story continues the house of flesh is passed on through the generation of kingdom and exile and return until one arises as a "branch from the stump of Jesse" in Jesus of Nazareth. And as people who bear the name Christian we are, in part inheritors of that house too. If God has built a house of flesh then who is in it? The people of God.

And now we have to think about what it means to claim our identity as members of the House of God. Are we part of the structure or the decor? Are we a stud or a joist or a rafter? Do we support the rest of the house or soar into the skies? And even more important, how do we help the house become stronger? How do we help with the maintenance and renovations and additions that come with time?

July 06, 2009

Looking Ahead to July 12, 2009 -- 6th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Amos 7:7-15
  • Psalm 85 (VU p.802)
  • Mark 6:14-29
The Hymns this week are:
  • #574 Come, Let Us Sing of a Wonderful Love
  • #289 It Only Takes a Spark
  • #585 Jesus Bids Us Shine
  • #649 Walk With Me
The Sermon title is The Price of Truth

Early Thoughts: Sometimes telling the truth has dire consequences. Sometimes it takes a great deal of courage.

Being called by God to a prophetic ministry has always been a risky business. Being prophetic in Scriptural terms is not about forecasting the future. It is all about telling the truth. And many times the truth appears to be the type that is "consolingly" (or perhaps warningly) prefaced with "I am going to tell you truth in Christian love". {A friend of mine once said that whenever he heard that phrase he got ready for a blasting.} And so we find that prophets are often not exceptionally popular.

In one passage this week we have Amos being ordered to get out of town after saying that because the nation of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) has not lived up to their part of the covenant and so will be destroyed -- telling the king that, or even saying it in public and having the king hear about it, would be construed as treason in most nations of human history. In the Mark passage we hear of the death of John the Baptist. Joh had the gall to condemn Herod Antipas for his immoral life. While the story puts the blame on Herodias (whom had also been condemned by John) it is doubtful that HErod really regretted executing the troubling preacher -- the head on the plate thing maybe, more out of a sense of etiquette than regret over death though.

ANd yet, even though they know the risks, people continue in the Scripture story to become prophets. There is a sense of knowing that God's truth is more important than safety. Amos, John, Jeremiah, Elijah, Jesus -- all share a truth that is not popular with the rich and powerful. All are threatened or punished with imprisonment or execution. But all have no choice but to tell the truth.

In many ways it is no safer being a prophet in 2009. Churches, Townships, NAtions, Service Clubs, organizations of all sorts sometimes have difficulty hearing uncomfortable truths. As people of Christian faith we are called to be people of God's truth. Are we willing to take the risks that might come with sharing that truth?

June 29, 2009

Looking Aheadto July 5, 2009 -- 5th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
  • Psalm 123 (VU p.847)
  • Mark 6:1-13
The Hymns this week are:
  • #409 Morning Has Broken
  • #509 I, the Lord of Sea and Sky
  • #512 Lord, You Give the Great Commission (vss 1, 2, 5)
  • #646 We Are Marching in the Light of God
The Sermon title is Knowing When to Quit…

Early Thoughts: When is it time to try something else? When do you stop pounding on the wall and look for a door somewhere else?

The way he has been doing wasn't working. And now the people of his hometown are becoming openly hostile. What is Jesus to do?

If Jesus operated the same way that the church tends to operate he would establish a study group to investigate what needs to be done. And he would have focus groups. And he would get all sorts of ideas about how to keep doing the same thing "better". But in the end he would keep doing the same thing and lamenting the lack of a different result.

But Jesus knows that it is time to quit. It is time to do a different thing, to reach out in a new way, to build the community in new directions. And even as he sends out the disciples he tells them that they need to know when it is time to quit. The secret to ministry is remaining aware of what is happening around you. In fact, Jesus learns that trying to minister among those who are hostile is totally ineffective.

There is a lesson here for the church. It has been suggested that to keep doing the same thing and expect different results is a sign of insanity. It is known that the only thing that is nice about hitting your head against a brick wall is the feeling of relief one gets when you stop. Does the church know when to quit, when to try a new way, when to say enough? It is hard because who wants to walk away from a beloved ministry? It is hard because we don't want to fall prey to every trendy little "new thing" that comes floating by.

But sometimes we need to know when to quit.

June 16, 2009

Looking Ahead to June 21, 2009 -- 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
  • Psalm 107:23-32 (VU p. 832 Part 3)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
The Hymns for this week are:
  • 245 Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet
  • 580 Faith of Our Fathers
  • 660 How Firm a Foundation
  • 232 Joyful Joyful We Adore You
For Children's Time we will share the story of David and Goliath.

The Sermon title is Trust in the Midst of Chaos

Early Thoughts: When the storms of life are raging what do we do? When the waves threaten to toss us into the depths and overwhelm us what is our response?

Water can be devious. Many bodies of water can change from being calm and placid to wild and dangerous in a blink of an eye. That is why boaters are discouraged from crossing through the middle of a large lake, instead the prudent one goes along the coast. The Sea of Galilee (which really is more like a large lake) is one of those bodies of water -- indeed it is known for sudden squalls that turn it into a churning hazard at a moment's notice.

ANd yet in this story we find the disciples (who surely knew better since there were fishermen among them) out in the middle of the lake and a storm does indeed spring up. Not surprisingly they are afraid. And then they are amazed. In the midst of life-threatening peril Jesus is curled up having a nap! Does he not know or care what is happening?

When our lives are threatened by storms what do we expect from our faith? Is Jesus curled up having a nap while we battle the winds of economic turmoil and the waves of a changing worldview? We can count many many things that buffet our lifeboats these days. What reaction does faith call out?

In the Mark story the disciples wake up Jesus who then calms the storm. He also chastises the disciples for their lack of faith. How might Jesus speak to us? THe storm doesn't show much sign of calming out there. Do we have the faith to ride out the storm? Will God give us the strength and trust to conquesr our giants?

June 08, 2009

Looking Ahead to June 14, 2009 -- 2nd Sunday After Pentecost, Camp Sunday

This week we will have a "paperless" service -- all on projection.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Luke 2:41-47
  • Matthew 19:13-16
The Hymns this week are:
  • MV #8 And On this Path
  • 356 Seek Ye First
  • Jesus Loves Me (Remix Version)
  • I’ve Got Peace Like a River
  • 424 May the God of Hope Go With Us
The service this week was prepared by Rev. Frances Flook from Emo-Devlin.

The Reflection is called The "F" Factors of Camp and will be accomanied by slids from Sunnycove Camp.

June 02, 2009

Dry Bones

Our SPecial Music this week, in conjunction with Children's Time:

June 01, 2009

Looking Ahead to June 7, 2009 -- Trinity Sunday, 1st After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 6:1-8
  • Psalm 29 (VU p.756)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Romans 8:12-17
  • From the Gospel: John 3:1-17
The Hymns this week are:
  • 315 Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
  • 624 Give to Us Laughter
  • 675 Will Your Anchor Hold
  • 424 May the God of Hope Go With Us
The Sermon title is: Searching for Re-Birth

Early Thoughts: What does it mean to be re-born? Is birth happening here and now? What is the Spirit up to?

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and asks a fairly obvious question. HOw is it possible to be born again? From a literal point of view it makes no sense. But of course it isn't meant literally, it is a metaphorical birth. And if we are going to be honest, we spend a lot of time looking for a re-birth, a new start, a new hope.

Last week we heard about Ezekiel and the dry bones. Told by GOd to prophesy to the bones Ezekiel was unsure why. But the SPirit of GOd moved in the valley and the bones were reconnected and given flesh. What are the bones in the valleys of our lives that are waiting to be reconnected and given life?

Because we really need that SPrit-Breath these days. In our communities wracked by mill closures, in our congregation wrestling with rising costs and aging memberships, in our denomination struggling with a declining income. We need the re-birth that we are told to look for. WE need to let the SPirit blow through us and reshape the bones of our communities and congregations into new beings. Bone-by-bone, breath-by-breath something new can emerge.

In the documetn "Called to be Church" the United Church of Canada is called to re-discover our passion. THis is a call to embrace re-birth. When we find what it means to be "Called to Be Church" then we will find new energy and vitality. YEs, some things may have to be let go of in that process. Yes, the new body that emerges may be very different from what what we have known.

But life after birth is never the same as before hand is it?

May 28, 2009

Board Meeting Highlights

The Church Board met yesterday at noon. If you expand the post you'll find some highlights from the meeting:

  • Sunnycove Camp this year will be July 20-24. Forms are now available from Gord.
  • Instead of having a BBQ on Father's Day this year it will be held on Tuesday June 16th from 5-7. Tickets will not be presold, instead it will be pat at the door. Family for $10 and singles for $5
  • Although we are running a deficit we continue to be doing better than last year at this time.
  • Gord will be on holidays from July 29-August 26 this summer
  • We are looking into getting some handicapped parking signs for the lower parking lot along with a sign directing folks to the handicapped washroom
  • Riverview has applied for a grant to cover half the cost of needed renovations to the bathroom in the manse, Presbytery has endorsed the request and forwarded it on. The Board has made a decision about who will be contracted to do the work and the work will be done while the Waldie family is on holidays.
  • There will be a cleaning bee for the interior of the church on June 17th at 9:30
  • Public WOrks has been reminded of the clean up they have yet to do beside the upper lot and the broken catch basin cover on the hillside. If needed, they will be reminded again until these items have been attended to.
  • On June 28th we will have worship at the Teaching Place at French Lake. To allow for travel time worship will begin at 11:00 that week. All are encouraged to remain for a picnic lunch following the service. Quetico Park will not charge for those attending the worship service but anyone remaining for a picnic (and hopefully it will be warm enough for a swim!) is asked to buy a day pass.
  • The UCW will have their summer potluck and gift exchange at 6:00 on June 1st.
The next regular Board meeting will be in September at a date yet to be determined.

May 26, 2009

Looking Ahead to May 31, 2009 -- Pentecost Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Ezekiel 37:1-14
  • Psalm 104:24-35 (VU p.827)
  • From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 2:1-21
The Hymns this week are:
  • 402 We Are One
  • 296 This Is God’s Wondrous World
  • 198 Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us (tune 374)
  • 481 Sent Forth by God’s Blessing
This week being Pentecost Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Communion.

During Children's Time we will talk about the birthing of the church.

Our sermon time this week will be given to a report from last week's Annual Meeting of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.

(Note: A summary of the meeting can be found here)

May 19, 2009

GC 40

Every three years the General COuncil of the United Church of Canada meets. This August they will be meeting in Kelowna.

FOr those who want to keep up with what will be happening there is a website with information here ( It is expected that this site will be updated frequently over the next few months. It also has information about how we will be able to follow -in real time- what is happening at the meeting.

Of the information currently on the site, I would encourage people to check out the State of the Church document.

Looking Ahead to May 24, 2009 -- 7th Sunday of Easter

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
  • Psalm 1 (VU p. 724)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 John 5:9-13
  • From the Gospel: John 17:6-19
The Hymns this week are:
  • #395 Come In Come In and Sit Down
  • #365 Jesus Loves Me This I Know
  • #120 O Jesus I Have Promised
  • #649 Walk With Me
This weekend marks the Annual General Meeting of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Thanks to Brian for providing worship leadership while Gord is off in Winnipeg.

May 12, 2009

Looking Ahead to May 17, 2009 -- 6th Sunday of Easter

The Scripture REadings this week are:
  • From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 10:44-48
  • Psalm 98 (VU p.818)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 John 5:1-6
  • From the Gospel: John 15:9-17
The Hymns this week are:
  • #574 Come, Let Us Sing of a Wonderful Love
  • #289 It Only Takes a Spark
  • #333 Love Divine All Loves Excelling
  • #646 We Are Marching (sung 3 times)
The Sermon title is Servants of the Big L-O-V-E

Early Thoughts: Can love actually be commanded? Or can it only be encouraged?

It was a song we used to sing at camp
A new comandment, give I unto you
that you love one another as I have loved you
that you love one another as I have loved you
and by this shall all men know that you are my disciples
that you have love one for another
But what does it mean to command people to love each other? Is it like the parent telling siblings to stop fighting and "love each other"? Is it commanding a feeling or is it commanding behaviour -- not "feel love" but "act lovingly"?

Generally speaking when the Gospels command us to love we need to see it in the second form. You can't command a feeling after all. Mind you, as most parents will tell you, it is hard to command loving behaviour too. So maybe it is strong encouragement after all.

Following The Way is all about love after all. It is all about acting in a loving way towards our neighbours and our enemies. It is all about seeking God's justice for all people. And we do this because we are, at the same time, servants and friend of the one who came to teach about God's love. We love because we have been loved. We act lovingly because we have recieved loving aaction. We are servants of love because we are born into the arms of God who is love.

JEsus tells his friends that they are to love each other, to love the world with a sacrifical love. Acting lovingly means making sacrifices. IT is a hard way to live. It is not romantic. It is sometimes dirty and bloody and arduous. But as servants of the One who is LOVE we really have no choice.

May 05, 2009

Looking Ahead to MAy 10, 2009 -- 5th Sunday of Easter

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 John 4:7-21
  • Psalm 22:23-31 (VU p.746 Parts 3 & 4)
  • From the Gospel: John 15:1-8
The Hymns this week are:
  • #232 Joyful Joyful We Adore You
  • #588 Many Are the Lightbeams
  • #299 Teach Me, God, to Wonder
  • #427 To Show by Touch and Word
The Sermon title is: Pruned and Trimmed, Ready to Bear Fruit

Early Thoughts: What needs to be pruned or trimmed in our lives? Are we willing to let the pruning happen? Are we ready to be as aggressive as we need to be with the shears?

Gardeners will tell you that pruning is essential for growth. Pruning is not just a way of shaping a plant or keeping the tree from growing into the power lines. Proper pruning focusses the energy of the organism, of encouraging it to be productive. A plant that is not pruned can becomed to intergrown -- I remember attacking a bush on the church grounds where the branches were all intertwined with each other. Unpruned growth can choke off the core. The energy of growth in an un (or under) pruned fruit tree is dissipated while proper pruning allows the energy to go into fruit production. And in some plants pruning causes more growth to happen than otherwise (anyone who has dealt wtih a wild lilac hedge can attest to that -- the more you cut it back the more it sends out suckers).

But most of us are too timid with the shears. Most of us are afraid to cut back enough. "What if it doesn't come back?" "WHat if I kill it?" "It looks so nice and full as it is." SOmetimes we just have to prune heavily (although some advice from people who know what they are doing always helps) and selectively and wait for the benefits to come. And yes, sometimes if we do it wrong or at the wrong time of year it means we have a season of no flowers or a year of lower fruit output.

ANd what does this have to say for us as individuals and as a church? WE need to know when to prune our lives too. Sometimes it is pruning the accumulation of "stuff" that we have built up. SOmetimes it is pruning the activities that fill our days. And for many of us the pruning of our lives as individals and communities is just as hard as hacking off that lovely branch on the apple tree.

Is God calling us to prune our lives so that we can grow? Is GOd calling the church to cut away that which is no longer useful and cast it into the fire? Is God calling the church to be more selective about where we put our time and money, dropping traditional activities to allow space for growth in other areas? Do we need to be free with thte pruning shears so that we too can be fruitful and strong?

GIve it some thought and on Sunday we will explore it some more.

April 28, 2009

Looking Ahead to May 3, 2009 -- 4th Sunday of Easter

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 4:5-12
  • Psalm 23 (VU p.749)
  • From the Gospel: John 10:11-18
The Hymns this week are:
  • #559 Come, O Fount of Every Blessing
  • #747 The Lord’s My Shepherd
  • #271 There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
  • #326 O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • The Sermon title is Courage in the Shelter of the Shepherd

    Early Thoughts:What comfort is there in having a shepherd? What does a shepherd offer to us?

    It is a difficult image for many of us to appreciate. What is the appeal of having a shepherd? But it is a classic image of comfort within the Christian witness.

    ANd so we need to unpack the image. We need to look for the hope in beign called sheep in need of a shepherd. Especially since many of us have never seen a herd of sheep or really know what a shepherd does.

    Now then, as we look at the passage from John (including verses 1-10) we see that the shepherd is a fully committed caretaker and protector. In the Psalm we hear that the shepherd provides what is needed for life and health. And so we need to explore this image so that we too can find the courage to rest in the arms and shelter of the shepherd.

April 27, 2009

Sunnycove 2009

The United Church Camp at Sunnycove this year will be July 20-24 (leaders July 19-25).

The theme is Hi God and will be looking at prayer.

Camp forms are now available from Gord or the church office.

Board MEeting Highlights

The Church Board met last Thursday. Here are some highlights from that meeting:

  • the stained glass windows are nearing completion. One is done and the other will be within a week. Help is needed to mount the lightboxes and windows on the chancel wall.
  • we are still looking for 2 Board members
  • remember the Scott Woods Fiddle Concert on May 8th. Tickets are still available.
  • on Mother's Day, May 10, there will be a pancake brunch after church
  • plans are being made to do the June BBQ in a different way. More news will come after the May Board meeting
  • to clear up confusion on the financial statements the Envelope and Non-Envelope lines will be changed to one line called "Givings"
  • as of the end of March we are in a deficit position but we are approximately $3000 better than we were last year at this time.
  • a proposal to request a grant to help pay for needed renovation work in the Manse bathroom is being put together
  • there will be a clean-up of the church grounds on May 19th at 1:00
  • we are planning a worship service and picnic out at Quetico Park for June 28

April 21, 2009

Looking Ahead to April 26, 2009 -- 3rd Sunday of Easter

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 3:12-19
  • Psalm 4 (VU p.727)
  • From the Gospel: John 20:1-18
The Hymns this week are:
  • #371 Open My Eyes, That I May See
  • In the Garden (insert)
  • #186 Now the Green Blade Rises
  • #624 Give to Us Laughter
The Sermon title is Resurrected, Not Resuscitated – Transformation, Not Life As Usual

Early Thoughts:What is our Easter hope? Is it a revitalization of what went before or something new? What do we want?

As we read the appearance stories in the gospels it is obvious that people seemed to have trouble recognizing the Risen Christ. In this passage from John Mary thinks he is the Gardener. In Luke's story of travelers on the road it is a simple stranger they meet. Only in the saying of a name or the breaking of the bread is Christ revealed. There has to have been something different.

It has been my experience that when we get too heavily involved in "what really happened" discussions around Easter we miss its meaning. Those discussions get bogged down in trying to prove the bodily resurrection and I have found that this focus leads to a vision of resurrection as resuscitating the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth. A holy defibrillator as it were.

But that isn't what Easter is. Easter is a moment of new life, of transformation, of God's YES causing the beginning of something new (this being the same God who speaks to us through the prophet Isaiah saying Behold, I am doing something new). And so being an Easter people means being people who remain open to real resurrection. It means being open to be transformed, to letting go of our need to maintain the familiar and the comfortable.

And of course that is harder. It is so much easier to simply hope for a return to what was before. IT would be nice to say that our hope is for a renewal of all that we find helpful and comfortable. Transformation and change is harder, scarier.

Nevertheless, that is what Easter invites into. So what transformations, what new life are we looking for right now? What does resurrection mean for our economy
(locally and globally)? What does it mean for our churches (as congregations and as denominations)? What deaths are out there paving the way for new life to happen? What do we need to let go of to embrace God's new thing?

WE are an Easter people. Our hope as an Easter people lies in the promise of resurrection. But that promise may take a form unrecognizable to us at first. May God help us to allow our eyes to be opened to see Easter.

April 14, 2009

Looking Forward to April 19, 2009 -- 2nd Sunday of Easter

The Scripture Readings the week are:
  • From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 4:32-35
  • Psalm 126 (VU p.850)
  • From the Gospel: John 20:19-31
The Hymns this week are:
  • #402 We Are One
  • #352 I Danced in the Morning
  • MV #162 Christ Within Us Hidden (insert)
  • #312 Praise with Joy the World’s Creator
The Sermon Title is: Resurrected But Still Wounded

Early Thoughts: Why focus on the wounds? Why isn't a resurrected Christ freed from the wounds of crucifixion?

When many people look ahead to a new life, to the victory of resurrection over whatever is is in their lives that is death-dealing, they tend to have a utopian view. There is a hope tht when the new life comes the struggles and pains and woundedness of this world will be left behind.

But that isn't what our story says. In both Luke and John there is reference to the Risen Christ showing people the wounds in his hands and feet. And for much of Christian history we have had mystics who claim to bear the marks of the cross, the stigmata as a result of a mystical encounter with Christ. What's up tith this focus on the wounds?

Part of the focus in Christian thought has been that the wounds of Christ are tied to the salvation event. But I think that is only part. Part of the importance of the wounds in the appearance stories is to show that the Risen Christ is also the crucified JEsus. For those who read the GOspel story as a fact-based history it is also proof of a bodily resurrection. But again I find there is more to it.

No matter what happens we carry our wounds forward with us. THere are scars that never fully fade. THe choice is what we do with them. Do we huddle over our wounds and scars, nursing them and not getting over their causes? OR do we accept that they have happened and move forward into a new life? Do we learn from our wounds or do we allow our wounds to shape our whole being?

Resurrection is an event tht happens over and over in our lives if we let it. TO let resurrection happen we need to have a healthy approach to our wounds and sccars. Yes we learn from them. YEs they become a part of us. But if we truly embrace resurrection then we become more than we were. We are not our wounds. WE are not what we once were. THat is the challenge of being an Easter-people. We have to move beyond nursing our wounds, beyond wanting to have themm made all better and into the new place where we have a new relationship with those wounds.

SO everybody bring your wonds to the church and let us, as a community of wounded people, figure out how to live as resurrected people.

April 12, 2009

Death has been defeated!!!
God has said YES where the world said NO!!!
The stone has been rolled away!
Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed!!!

April 07, 2009

Looking Forward to April 12, 2009 -- Easter Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 25:6-9
  • Psalm 118:1-4, 19-24 (VU p.837 Parts 1 & 3)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 16:1-8
The Hymns this week are:
  • 155 Jesus Christ is Risen Today
  • MV 122 This is the Day that God has Made (insert)
  • 173 Thine is the Glory
  • 468 Let us Talents and Tongues Enjoy
After the Meditation we will hear and see an Easter Message from the Right Reverend David Giuliano, Moderator of the United Church of Canada

The title of the Meditation is Resurrection – Feel the Fear, Believe Anyway

Early Thoughts: There is something terrifying about the resurrection stories, at least if you read them from the point of view of the women going to the tomb. The truth of resurrection in the Gospels has to deal with that fear.

Mark is the earliest Gospel we have. The writer is the first person to attempt a description of Easter morning (while Paul writes earlier and confesses an Easter faith he never talks about what we call Easter morning). And in the earliest from it ends with the women running away in fear, telling nobody anything.

Obviously the story doesn't stop there. Obviously Mark's community knows that there is more to the story (and in fact there were verses added to the ending later that included an appearance by the Risen Christ). But this is where we get left. Not with joy and celebration but with fear and wondering.

And I think that is a good entry into being an Easter people. Too often we pass over that aspect of the story because we know how it ends. But as I look at it one of the miracles of the Easter event is that a group of terrified people found the faith to believe anyway. Easter isn't about debating what "really" happened. Easter is about finding the way to move beyond the fear of death into new life.

There is a lot of fear in the world right now. What will push us to feel the fear and believe anyway? What draws us into resurrection?

Looking ahead to April 10, 2009 -- Good Friday

The Scripture Passages are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
  • From the Gospel: Mark 14:1-15:41
  • Psalm 22 (VU p.744 Part One)
The Hymns are:
  • 144 Were You There
  • 182 Stay With Us Through the Night
The Meditation The Powers of Death will focus on naming those powers. Good Friday is the day they appear to win. What does the cross mean? Is it only seen as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice? Or is it a naming of the reality of the world of empire and oppression? Is it a theological statement or a political statement?

March 31, 2009

Looking Forward to April 5, 2009 -- Palm Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 118:19-29 (VU p.837 Parts 3 & 4)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 11:1-11
The Hymns this week are:
  • 122 All Glory Laud and Honour
  • 123 Hosanna Loud Hosanna
  • 127 Ride On, Ride On in Majesty
  • 424 May the God of Hope Go with Us
The Sermon Title is Is THIS How a King Comes?

Early Thoughts: No white charger, just a humble donkey. No flashing armour, just homespun robes and cloaks. No brassy trumpets, just the voices of friends and supporters. No real regalia at all. What's wrong with this picture??

In the minds of most people over the centuries, NO, this is NOT how a king comes. A Royal arrival is full of pomp and ceremony. Even our ceremonial opening of Parliament, with the official arrival of the vice-regal party is a dull shadow of the glorious pageantry traditionally associated with the arrival of a monarch.

Instead we have a plain man in plain dress riding a borrowed donkey. All the signs of royal power are missing. Well almost all the signs. There are still the adoring crowds. There is still the proclamation that the king is coming. And maybe that is part of the reason for what follows.

You see the entry into JErusalem is the entry of the anti-king. Jesus proclaims a knigdom that stands the norms of empire on their head. The power in the story is precisely that this is NOT how a king is expected to arrive. The expectations of many (botht the powerful and the powerless) need to be challenged and shattered for God's kingdom to become a reality.

Is this how a king comes? Only if we redefine the term king.

PS: Don't forget the rest of our Holy Week Worship events:
  • Good Friday Walk on April 10. Starts at the Atikokan Community Fellowship (on Front Street) at 10:30
  • Good Friday Worship at 7:00 that evening
  • Easter Celebration April 12 at 10:30. We will share the communion meal during the service and then have a finger food potluck lunch following the service. Come break bread with us!

March 24, 2009

Looking Forward to March 29, 2009 -- 5th Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
From the Jewish Scriptures: Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 15:7-11
Psalm 41 (VU p.765)
From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 4:32-37
From the Gospel: Matthew 19:16-26

The Hymns this week are:
402 We Are One
87 I Am the Light of the World (verses 2-4)
603 In Loving Partnership
512 Lord You Give the Great Commission

The Sermon title is Charity or Community – What’s It All About?

Early Thoughts: What is the point of choosing to share what we have? Is it so we can feel good about ourselves? Is it to help those in need? Is it a result of noblesse oblige? What is the end result for which we hope?

Scripture is very clear. We have an obligation to give. It isn't a nice "add-on", it isn't something you do "if you have some extra". Giving is something mandatory. But at the same time giving is a thing to be done cheerfully (in his correspondence with the church in Corinth Paul reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver). Why is it so important?

I believe that giving is important for two reason. One is that in choosing to give from what we have we make it easier to remember that we are blessed with abundance rather than cursed with scarcity. Giving also reminds us that the acquisition of wealth and stuff is not the goal of life, we are freed from the slavery of consumption. But really the reason giving and sharing from what we have is important is that it builds community. That is the end goal of faith, to build a community where God's justice and love are the norm. And this can only be done when the community members are willing to give.

And so I am not often a big fan of the charity model of giving. At its heart charity is a good thing. The word itself speaks of caritas, a Latin word sometimes used in place of Love. But in modern times a charity model all too often has overtones of paternalism, of noblesse oblige, of doing for others to feel good for ourselves (or to get a tax receipt). And then we lose the community-building sense of why we give.

{as a digression, in my first year of seminary a classmate of mine insisted we should encourage people not to use envelopes and not to get tax receipts for their givings to the church, he figured that would make the gift more "real" somehow. others in the class disagreed rather strongly}

Does giving make us feel better? Often. But that still isn't why we give. Do we use language about helping those who are worse off than we are? Certainly, so does Scripture, but that still isn't the only reason we give. We give because we have been blessed. We give to build up community both around the corner from us and around the world from us. We give because as faithful people we have no choice. Stewardship is all about the choices we make with what we have. God calls us to be good stewards by choosing to share our time, our talent, our treasures, our love in ways that build up the community. This is part of what it means to really pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven".

March 17, 2009

Looking Forward to March 22, 2009 -- 4th Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
From the Letters of the Early Church: 1 Timothy 6:1-12
Psalm 146 (VU p.868)
From the Gospel: Luke 12:13-21, 34

The Hymns this week are: (much of our music --3 hymns and the special music-- this week is "Irishy" in honour of St. Patrick's Day)
374 Come and Find the Quiet Centre
410 This Day God Gives Me
625 I Feel the Winds of God
642 Be Thou My Vision

The Sermon title this week is Cash or Credit??? – Tool, Scorecard or Goal??

Early Thoughts: What meaning do those bits of paper and metal and plastic have? Are they helpful or do they get in the way?

Well to be honest they are both helpful and they get in the way. OR at least both answers are possible. It all depends on the choices we make. It depends what meaning we give them.

In this scene from the 1987 movie Wall Street Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) gave a group a stockholders a rousing speech about how greed works. If that is the path we follow than money is not just a tool, it is our goal, our way of keeping score. Then it can be a distraction to the path of being faithful.

But we can just as easily decide that money is merely a tool, a convenient way to facilitate the exchange of goods and services (far easier and more straightforward than a barter system after all). What happens if we make that choice?

Money is really in the end only bits of metal, or pieces of paper, or slips of plastic to which we have given some meaning or value. And it is only good when exchanged with someone who agrees on what that value is (try spending Canadian Tire money anywhere other than Canadian Tire to prove that point). So it makes a rather bad way of keeping score in life.

Yes I know many people keep score with money, or with things related to money and wealth. But as people of faith we are called to a different scoring system. Money, in and of itself, is not evil, but the Scriptures tell us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. That is because it distracts us from God's scoring system. That scoring system is based on what we do with our money. It is based on how we interact with our neighbours. It is the path of self-giving, and in the end I believe it works a whole lot better than greed.

What do you think?

March 10, 2009

Looking Forward to March 15, 2009 -- 3rd Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 16:14-20
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: 2 Samuel 12:2-6
  • From the Gospel: Luke 12:22-34
The Hymns this week are:
  • 260 God Who Gives to Life Its Goodness
  • 227 For the Fruit of All Creation
  • 356 Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God
  • 507 Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples
The Sermon title is Consumption – Cultural Contagion

Early Thoughts: How much is enough? When do we say stop? Will more "stuff" solve our dis-ease? Is the problem one of trust or simple greed?

As I look at it we have an illness. I call it consumption. And it is killing us, killing our planet, killing our communities. We need to find a cure.

WHat are some of the symptoms of this illness? Watch an hour of TV and you will note that 15 minutes of that hour are dedicated to commercials telling us to "buy buy buy". Listen to the talk about how to get out of the recession and you will hear economists and politicians talking about getting money out there so people can buy more stuf (and thereby kick start the economy). Take a look around your communities and see how many people have a house and yard and garage full of toys -- plasma TVs, quads, motor boats, top of the line canoes, multiple computers, ice augers, snowmachines, fancy kitchen gadgets... Visit a local landfill and see what we have determined to be "surplus". Walk through a toy aisle with my children and listen to the constant chorus of "I need to have, I really want...". The illness is real.

What causes the illness? SOmetimes it is simple greed, the desire to have more. SOmetimes it is a lack of trust, the need to get now because later it may not be available or I may not be able to get it. SOmetimes it is because we have lost sight of what is really important, of what is needed over what is wanted. Sometimes it is because we have bought into what the Moderator has called a "crumbling pyramid scheme" -- we have accepted the idea that the only possible way for the economy to operate is by getting more and causing unending growth. There are a variety of causes.

ANd the cure? At an individual level the cure lies in making different choices. But that is only part of it. THe illness is systemic, so the cure also has to be systemic. The illness is strong so the cure needs to be radical. We need to change the operating assumptions of our social-economic-political culture. WE need to redefine success. We need to stop telling people to buy stuff they don't need.

Can we find the cure to consumption? Can the dis-ease that forms our culture be removed/replaced with a healthier alternative? Do we really want to cure it? Do we even believe that we are sick?

March 04, 2009

Presbytery Highlights

Every time Cambrian Presbytery meets a document called "Cambrian Calls is put together to help carry news about the meeting back to our congregations. An expanded (with pictures) version is also put on the Presbytery website

The edition from our meeting last month is now available here

February 26, 2009

The Moderator Speaks on the Economy as a Pyramid Scheme

The Right Reverend David Giuliano, Moderator of the United Church has written letters. THis one is to the church (reprinted in full in the expanded post). This one is to the country as a whole. COverage of this has hit the national papers as shown by this article from Calgary.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Greetings in the name of Jesus, who came that all might have life abundant, and in the name of the Creator, whose breathtaking abundance has filled the earth with good things.

This month it was announced in the small town where I live that the mill is closing down. Everyone here—builders to bakers, teachers to preachers—works directly or indirectly for the mill or the already vanishing mines. A spirit of dread and anxiety is settling among us. It feels like a microcosm of what is happening to the economy across the country and around the world.

I have written an open letter about the economy to all Canadians. I won’t repeat those ideas here. I am now writing to you as family—brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. I am writing to you more personally because of this profound bond we share. The current economic challenge is calling us to be church in riskier ways than we are used to. I want to encourage you to trust your faith and to take those risks.

We are called to risk compassion

We follow the one who said that to serve him we need look no further than those who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, lonely, or in prison. We will find Jesus among the many physically and spiritually homeless and hungry. Caring in practical ways for those wounded by this volatile economy is our first call. I am praying that we will respond with creativity, radical hospitality, and expansive generosity.

We are called to risk a new Way

We are called to proclaim in word and action God’s dream for the world. Jesus called it the “kingdom of God.” All around the earth, people are beginning to question the logic of an economic system that values the rights of shareholders above the needs of human beings. We are awakening to the insatiable consumption that is destroying God’s creation. We are God’s witnesses for an alternative vision of a world where the needs of all prevail over the greed of a few. Times of great turmoil are also times of great opportunity for transformation. This is a time for prophetic and creative leadership.

We are called to risk as the body of Christ

Most of you are in some way already engaged in the ministry of Christ in the world. As communities of faith, we embody the Spirit and love of God. Our particular context and resources will shape our responses at this time. Maybe you will gather neighbours for a meal and talk together about local needs. Or host weekly “common table” meals. Add some storytelling or music to lift one another’s spirits. Provide office, personal, and job search support for those who are looking for work.

Food banks, shelters, and global partners need your help. Demands on our Mission and Service Fund are growing. Maybe you will visit or write a note of encouragement to someone working for change.

Congregations with property or trust funds may consider how they can best serve at this time. Make space for a think tank on the environment and economy, or invest in a green enterprise. Wealthier congregations could fund work in hard hit areas. Listen, dream, and act.

I will also ask the Executive of the General Council at its March meeting to consider how we can best help congregations and community ministries like yours reach out imaginatively and compassionately to Canadians hurt by the economic crisis.

We are not alone

When I first heard the news about our mill, my heart sank. As just one person against such powerful forces, it seems overwhelming. But we are not alone. We are connected to our brothers and sisters in our local congregation. We are part of a network of United Church communities across the country. As church, we can do more for our neighbours together. We are surrounded by countless others of faith and goodwill. God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

The peace of Christ be with us and through us,
The Right Rev. David Giuliano
The United Church of Canada