Monday, January 16, 2017

Looking Forward to January 22, 2017 -- The Call of the First Disciples

This week we will be celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Reading for this week is Luke 5:1-11

The Sermon title is Follow!

Early Thoughts:  What would it take? What would lead you to change your priorities and pledge to live life helping to grow the Kingdom?

Jesus commandeers a boat to provide himself with a speaking platform. And then he decides that he will tell professionals how to fish. much of the time this would be the beginning of a story about someone who is taking advantage of people, or is full of himself. (Imagine Justin Trudeau or Donald Trump doing something like this.)

But instead we have the set up to a miracle and call story.

The advice about how to fish is accepted, albeit a bit begrudgingly, and results in an amazing catch of fish. But there's more!

Peter, recognizing that something special is happening, has a guilt attack. He is convinced he is not worthy to be in Jesus' presence.

Normally one would expect that the next line would be about forgiveness. After all that is what we find in the Isaiah story we read back in the fall. But Jesus appears to ignore (?) this guilt attack. instead he invites Peter to join in the new thing that is about to happen. And Peter, along with James and John, says yes. Jesus knows that they are not perfect (as they will prove more than once) but invites them along just the same.

What would it take to lead you to join in the building of the Kingdom? What sign of God's presence would change your life?

If God looks upon you while you claim to not be worthy and invites you to join in just the same, what would lead you to say yes?

And once you have said yes, what will it look like? DO you serve by leaving something behind? Do you serve by continuing to do what you are already doing, maybe with a new focus?

God and Jesus invite us to follow, as flawed as we are. How will we respond?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Help Wanted! -- A Newspaper Column

Many years ago The Who asked the musical question “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”. As we mature and age we all wrestle with that very question. Who am I? What am I going to be? How will I make a difference in the world?

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus wrestles with the same question. Right after his baptism by John Jesus is led out into the wilderness for a time of testing, a time of sorting out what it means to be, as was affirmed at his baptism, "you are my [God] Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased"

It is a common part of growing up. Decades ago in Junior High I remember talking about “Walkabout”, the story of a young Australian Aborigine who was taking part in a coming of age ritual, a journey of self-discovery. Or think about the many people who finish school and take a year off to “find themselves”. Getting a sense of who we are, of who God has shaped us to be allows us to make choices about careers, about volunteering, about how we will live our lives. It also allows us to figure out how we are going to be a part of God’s ongoing mission in the world.

Because God is at work in the world. God has a mission in the world and God is constantly inviting as, as individuals and as communities to participate in the missio Dei, God’s mission. And what is God’s mission?

Some suggest God’s mission is convert all people to one specific religion. I would tend to disagree. I think God has a broader vision.

As Mark tells the story, when Jesus appears on the scene and begins his ministry it is with these words: “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near”. And from then on Jesus is all about proclaiming the Kingdom of God. God’s mission is to bring the Kingdom of God to full flower here on earth. As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Which leaves a few more questions (I was always taught that the most important things in life are the questions we ask). One is what good things are keeping you from sharing in God’s mission? When Jesus is led out into the wilderness for his time of testing the tempter offers three valuable and worthy options for how he can live out his life. He can feed the hungry, he can take political power and set things to right, he can be a miracle worker. Jesus sees through the trap and rejects all three. Then he goes on to be who God has called and shaped him to be – which includes feeding the hungry and working miracles as it happens. So what good options are drawing you away from what you truly feel called to do?

Another question is the one that started this column. Who are you? Who are you now, in this season of your life? The role we have to play in God’s mission is intrinsically linked to who we are. And so as we change our role may also change. Who are you? What giftedness is attached to you being who you are?

What is your passion? What are your talents (and yes everyone has talents)? I believe that if we listen with our hearts our passion tells us where God is calling us to go. Years ago Frederick Beuchner wrote “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Aristotle said “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”. What is your passion, what are your talents? What needs do you see in the world around you that intersect with your passion and your talents?

God is at work in the world. God invites each of us to share in the building up of the Kingdom of God. Each one of us is challenged to use the gifts God has given us for the betterment of the world.

Look at yourself. Ask how you can use what you have to participate in God’s mission. And who knows, you may find that you are already doing it. In his book Already Missional Dr. Brad Morrison points out that many churches are full of people sharing in God’s Mission in their communities. We just don’t always recognize that what we are doing is part of building the Kingdom.

Thank you for the work you are already doing! And keep your eyes open, God may have a job waiting just for you.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Looking Ahead to January 15, 2017 -- The Temptation of Christ

The Scripture Reading for this week is: Luke 4:1-13

The Sermon title is Decide!

Early Thoughts: Who are you? How will you fulfill the mission God has for you?

That is a question we all need to wrestle with as we grow and mature as people of faith. God invites us to participate in the missio Dei, to share in the work God is doing in the world.

Turns out Jesus needed to do the same thing.

According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, right after his baptism Jesus is led (or driven depending on the Gospel) into the wilderness for a time of testing. This week we are reading Luke's version of that event.

The Tempter/Tester (because that is what Satan is in Jewish thought, a member of the heavenly court whose role is to test the righteous) offers the words "If you are the Son of God...". What does it mean to Jesus to be, as was affirmed at his baptism "you are my [God] Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased"?

In an exchange chock full of scripture references (on both sides) The Satan offers three different scenarios. Jesus could feed the hungry. Jesus could have political power. Jesus could be a miracle worker. Jesus turns down each of them. And, it would appear, in the process gains clarity about who he is and what his mission is.

What temptations might distract us from our vocations?

AS we explore who we are in this season of our lives, as we explore how God is calling us to join in the missio Dei what will we decide?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Looking Forward to January 8, 2017 -- John the Baptist

This Sunday we will celebrate the sacrament of Communion.

From now until Easter the Narrative Lectionary will lead us on a journey through the Gospel according to Luke.

The Scripture Reading for this Sunday is Luke 3:1-22.

The Sermon title is Prepare!

Early Thoughts: In chapter 1 Luke tells us about 2 unexpected pregnancies. One or them, of course, is Jesus. The other is John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Now we jump to chapter 3 and find the fully grown John making a bit of a name for himself. He is telling people to prepare for the coming of the Promised One. And he is not pulling any punches.

John is preaching "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins". And to do that means you can not be shy about people's shortcomings.  Not to mention that John apparently never read Miss Manners or "How to Win Friends and Influence People".  No nonsense about winning more flies with honey here. As Luke describes it, John is all about the vinegar.

Is this how we prepare for the coming of the the Kingdom?

In part I think it is. In Scripture, in the words of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus, we find a picture of what the Kingdom of God is/will be. In the Gospels Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom has come to reality in him, but also that it has yet to come in its full glory. And yet I think that if we are really honest with each other we know the may ways that the world shows itself to not be ready for the Kingdom. Equally important, if we are honest with each other (and ourselves), we know that we do not always live as Kingdom people.

Self examination and confession and repentance are a touchy subject with some people. Some parts of the church have, historically and in the present, focused far too much on our sinfulness and brokenness -- to the extent that humanity is seen as beyond redemption, unable on its own accord to live in accordance with The Way of Christ. On the other hand some people are too uncomfortable with self-examination to take a solid look at their behaviour and so remain apparently oblivious to their own mis-steps and shortcomings (there is a potential that this obliviousness is a public face and they are internally wracked by guilt and insecurity). Some parts of the church focus almost exclusively on private/personal morality and miss cultural/social/systemic sinfulness. Some focus almost exclusively on social/cultural/systemic issues and miss out the discussion of private/personal sinfulness. And all parts of the church (and all of us as individuals) tend to rate sins as more or less important.

But to prepare for life in Christ is to look honestly at the issue of sinfulness, of where we (as individuals and as a collective) have missed the mark. This is what John can do for us. This is why it is important to read about John and not jump straight to Jesus (for the record Jesus also calls people to account for their individual and collective behaviour, as does Paul as part of instructing folk how to live as followers of Christ) and talk about God's grace and forgiveness. If the Kingdom is growing within, around, and among us then we are being changed and transformed. To open ourselves to that transformation is to know who we are and look to who we are becoming.

Yes John seems to be missing God's grace. But John is not the Promised One, John points to and prepares the way for the Promised One. Jesus comes to proclaim the Kingdom, to proclaim God's Grace, to invite us to share in the transformation of the world, a transformation that has begun and is continuing. Are we prepared? Are we preparing?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Looking Forward to January 1, 2016 -- New Year's Day, 8th Day of Christmas

The Scripture readings this week are:
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
  • Revelation 21:1-6

The Meditation title is There Is A Time...

Early Thoughts: As midnight strikes we take one calendar off the wall and put the new one up...

A new beginning. A place for reflecting on what was.

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven says Qoheleth, the Preacher, the writer of Ecclesiastes. Is this a piece of hopeful wisdom? Is it a reason to despair?

2016 has passed. And it was a year for the history books.  More than one person has commented on the amount of musical talent lost during the year (David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Alan Thicke...). We saw a US election that was...interesting. And we wait to see what will flow from the new administration (some waiting with hope, some with utter dread).

What is this a time for? As the chronometers of our lives continue to tick, what season is this?

And then there is God's time. We mark time with clocks and calendars and schedules. And we believe and trust that God is active within this time line. But there is another type of time. Kairos.

Kairos is a time when God acts. (for more about Kairos see the Wikipedia entry here). Merriam-Webster defines it as: a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action :  the opportune and decisive moment

What is God doing right now? In God's eye what is this the time for? Why is this time significant?

Ther is a time...for what exactly?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Looking Forward to December 24, 2016 -- Christmas Eve

This Saturday we will have 2 services. One at 6:30 and one at 8:00.

The early service is a shorter, and somewhat more chaotic, service aimed at families with younger children. It will include some prayer, some carols, and the telling of the Christmas story via an impromptu pageant.
Photo Credit

The later service is our larger service. It will include the singing of carols, pieces from both voice and handbell choirs, prayers, a video, the reading of a poem by Maya Angelou, and conclude with lighting candles and singing Silent Night by candlelight.

The Scripture Reading is Luke 2:1-20. Here it is in the King James Version because, well some of us just hear the story told in that language.

The Meditation is titled Peace on Earth.

Early Thoughts: It is right there in the angel proclamation. Peace on Earth.

Centuries earlier Isaiah promised the coming of a child who would be called the Prince of Peace.

Each year we tell the story and share the hope for Peace on Earth.

So why is it so hard to find? Why have 2000 years gone by since the Jesus event and we have yet to really live into Peace on Earth?

It could be easy to despair, to give up hope. It could be easy to say the Peace on Earth is a fool's dream. Or maybe we could couch our despair in religious language and say that Peace on Earth will only be a reality when the Reign of God comes to full bloom on earth, that in the meantime the best we can do is to be a less-violent as possible.

But Christmas tells us different. At Christmas we are reminded that God has not (and will not) given up on the world. Once again God breaks into our lives, bringing the promise and the possibility of Peace on Earth. As people of faith, hope and love we continue to listen for angel song, we continue to run with the shepherds to see the one who has been born. Jesus, Emmanuel (God-With-Us), Messiah, Prince of Peace.

Blessed Christmas

Monday, December 5, 2016

Looking Forward to December 11, 2016 -- Advent 3, the Annunciation

The Scripture Reading this week is Luke 1:26-49

The Sermon title is Congratulations!


Early thoughts:  Hi Mary, favoured by God. Congratulations! You are having a baby!

Or maybe a more classic formulation:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

But what did Mary think? Did it really feel like a congratulations moment?

Mary is an interesting character in the faith story. Strong yet humble. Virgin yet mother. And, according to the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, she herself was conceived sinless. What do we do with her?

For many years some in Protestant circles have not done much, because to be too Marian was to approach Papist practices. But that seems to be ebbing, we seem to be talking about Mary a bit more. Still I am not sure what to make of her, what to make of this announcement.

Much of the talk about the Annunciation scene is about what God is doing (sensible since in the end that is the main topic of Scripture -- how is God active in our world). But if we take seriously that God is in relationship with God's people, a people who have free will, we have to talk about Mary's role in the story.

I suspect most teen girls in this day and age (or any other age for that matter) would not feel that congratulations were in order when they first got the news that they were pregnant at the wrong time. I wonder how many would feel blessed at first?

Luke's account of Jesus' birth focuses our attention squarely on Jesus' mother, Mary of Nazareth. Maybe to fully explore Luke's story and Luke's understanding of what God is doing we should take a closer look at her too.