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