Monday, February 20, 2017

Looking Forward to February 26, 2017 -- Transfiguration, Jesus' Identity

The Scripture reading this week is Luke 9:18-36, 44-50

The Sermon title is Missing the Point

Early Thoughts: Sometimes it is hard to keep track.  Sometimes things don't make a lot of sense. Sometimes we get it wrong.

These things have always been true. Even people we think really "get it" can misunderstand quite badly...

Peter, James and John. If there is a triumvirate of "Best" disciples the Gospels would suggest that this trio is right up there. Surely they, who are so close to Jesus, who get taken up to the top of the mountain and witness the Transfiguration, understand what is happening right?

Sometimes they do. Sometimes they certainly do not....

Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah. Peter will also deny even knowing Jesus.

They hear Jesus say that the path he follows (and the path he invites them to follow) is not one of glory. At one point in the Gospels James and John ask for the prime seats at the table (this happens in Mark 10, when Matthew tells the same story he has their mother asking on their behalf).

Jesus proclaims the power of God to heal, to cast out demons. John gets worried about someone else doing the same thing, seemingly worried about the competition.

Sometimes it is hard to understand what it means to follow Jesus. The disciples are ample proof of this.

Maybe it is because some (much) of what Jesus says is counter-intuitive ("least among all of you is the greatest", the Messiah will be executed). Maybe it is because we don't want to hear. Maybe it is because we have yet to let go of more worldly understandings of 'how the world works'. But for the life of the Christian movement people have struggled with understanding. And that means we sometimes miss the point.

WE could beat ourselves up about that. OR we could remind ourselves that even Peter, James and John sometimes missed the point too. Sometimes they were afraid to admit they did not understand. [And I fully believe there are many things they did not understand until after Easter, when they looked back on what had happened, retrospection is a gift that brings understanding at times].

So to miss the point, to have questions, to be a little unclear makes us normal.

God help us in our understanding and in our confusion.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Looking Forward to February 19, 2017 -- Jesus sends out the Disciples

The Scripture Readings for this week are Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-11

The Sermon title is Sent Out!

Early Thoughts:Building and proclaiming the Kingdom is a big job. Too big for one person.

It appears Jesus knows this. And it also appears that Jesus is willing to delegate.

Just for the record, the sending out is still in place.

Jesus sends his followers out to share in the work of the Kingdom. And to a large degree he sends them out on faith and trust, calling them to rely on the kindness of strangers and the law of hospitality. He also tells them to pay attention to the audience, if they are not open to the message, go somewhere else.

How do we live out this challenge?

How do we go out to proclaim the Kingdom, to bring health instead of dis-ease?

Are we willing to take risks with limited resources? Or do we want to make sure we have all the ducks lined up before we take the first step out the door?

Are we prepared to share something that might be offensive to or rejected by some? Or are we stuck in the need to be "nice" (and liked)?

What does it mean to describe ourselves as being sent out in Jesus' name?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Looking Forward to February 12, 2017 -- John's Question

This Sunday we will be  celebrating the Sacrament of Communion.

The Scripture reading for this Sunday is Luke 7:18-35

The Sermon title is What Do You See?

(Found this one on Facebook)
Early Thoughts: Who are you? Are you the one we have been waiting for?

Sitting in his prison cell John has obviously been hearing reports about what Jesus is doing. So why is he confused? Why does he send people to ask Jesus who he is?

Maybe in part because John can not see in person, he is forced to rely on hearsay.

And maybe because Jesus does not quite fit the picture John was expecting. Jesus does not seem like the one who has a winnowing fork in his hand.  SO are you the Messiah?

JEsus' answer is pretty simple, if a bit non-responsive.  "Tell John what you have seen" Not a straightforward yes or no, but share what have you seen.  And then think for yourself, from what you have seen, what do you say?

In a couple of chapters Luke with share the account of Jesus saying to his disciples "who do you say I am?", a question they then have to answer based on what they have seen and heard and experienced. This is how God is known, by people sharing and reflecting on what they have seen and heard and experienced.

Even after resurrection, the presence of God is known because people share what they have seen and heard and experienced.

SO what have you seen and heard and experienced to "prove" that God is active in the world?

When you look at the world where do you see God at work?

If people ask you to report bakc on whether God is present, how could you answer?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

February Newsletter

Last year at the Annual Congregational Meeting you approved new Vision and Mission Statements. Just to refresh your memory, this is what they say:
Our Mission
Through Faith, we walk on the path Jesus set for us.
The people of St. Paul’s Belong… Believe… Listen… Love… Lead.
Our Vision
Celebrating the gifts of the spirit we are a loving and supportive congregation in service to the Church, the Community, and the World through Faith.

The theory goes that once you have Vision and Mission Statements they then guide everything that the organization does, that everything we do is to live them out. With that in mind, at our January meeting I asked Council to think about 2 questions. One was to name 3 things that are already being done in the life and ministry of St. Paul’s that show our commitment to our vision and mission. I am sure you will be happy (and hopefully not surprised) to know that Council had no problem answering that question – in fact they felt overly limited by only naming 3 (and did name 5 or 6 before being brought back on task).

How would you answer the question? What are the top things we do as a congregation that show us living out the words in the statements above?

The next question I asked them was looking forward. This exercise was actually part 2 of the exercise we had done at our November meeting, when I asked what we might do if we were suddenly gifted with $2 million (a previous newsletter asked that question). This month I asked Council to name 3 things that we could commit to doing in 2017 to further live out our vision and mission, suggesting that some of the “holes” we had identified in November’s discussion might help create ideas (ones that did not require the fictional money).

Your Council likes to dream. Once again limiting to 3 ideas was a challenge. There were lots of ideas about what we “could” do. In the end our ideas were more exploratory than concrete, ready-to-do tomorrow actions. But here is what we came up with:
- Explore ways we can partner with agencies that work with the homeless, for a more regular offering of a meal in our space – such as the one Memphis Blues hosted here, perhaps getting other restaurants on board to provide the food.
- Explore / ask the question of the men … on whether we need more opportunities, gatherings for men of the congregation to interact, meet and have fellowship.
- Explore / ask the question of the youth/ youth leaders: What more can we do or offer in terms of opportunities so they know youth are welcomed, applauded and appreciated for their involvement in services (doing powerpoint, leading services, serving at communion, etc) and in all aspects of the life of the church family?
- Continue to look for and foster opportunities for small group engagement such as the Sunday “Lunch Bunch”

Which of those suggestions excites you? What would you add to the list?

I like all of these ideas, we just need to get people who are excited and will help them grow legs. Given the chance, I might add finding some more ways of being present in/reaching out to the wider community. And I still have a dream of offering monthly alternative worship (or maybe we start with quarterly and build from there?).

I encourage us to be bold. I encourage us to take risks. Somethings we might try and they will not work. Some things we might explore and find enthusiasm or interest lacking. But unless we step out in faith we will never know what is possible.

What will we do this year to expand how we live out our vision and mission? Where will the path of discipleship, of following Jesus, of sharing in God’s work of Kingdom-building lead us this year?

Minister's Annual Report

Brothers and Sisters, Grace and Peace to You in the Name of Jesus Christ:
another year has come and gone and for the 7th time since joining the life and ministry of this congregation I sit down to write my Annual Report and reflect on the ministry that we share.

I want to begin this year’s report by saying thank you. Thank You to the Scripture Readers, Greeters Candlelighters, and coffee preparers who have added to our worship services over the year. Thank You to the leaders of our programs for children and youth. Thank You to people who organized our large events that raised funds and built community. Thank You to all those people who work in the background, doing dozens of tasks that make this place run smoothly. Thank You to the members of our committees. Thank You to the members of Council. Thank You for your support both of our congregational budget and for your support to the community through the Local Outreach Fund. The Stewardship & Finance Committee has tried to come up with a way to quantify the number of volunteer hours that make this place the faith community that it is. We have not yet found the equation to do so, but I am sure that the number of volunteer hours accumulated each year would be in the 1000’s. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

And on a more personal note, Thank You as a congregation for all the support that is offered to me personally and to us as a family. Many of my colleagues across the church will note that they often feel unappreciated or unsupported. That has never been true of my time in this congregation. You are generous in spirit and in action. Thank You.

Elsewhere in this report people are talking about what happened in 2016. I will let them tell the story. The thing that made 2016 different for me was the sabbatical. I had never taken a sabbatical before and to tell the truth was unsure what it would feel like to be off for that amount of time (and really it kind of felt weird). But as the start of the Sabbatical time approached last Spring I became more and more aware how much I was feeling the need for a time of rest and refreshment. And so another Thank You. Thank You for making the time possible, and Thank You to all who stepped in to provide support and leadership in my absence.

An annual report has two functions. One is to look back on what was. The other is to look ahead to what we hope will be. After all, on of the pieces of business at the Annual Congregational Meeting is to pass the budget, the spending plan, for the next year. And a budget is one of the ways an organization talks about what it wants to accomplish.

What are some of my hopes for the year? One is to spend less time in the church office. Periodically my elbow tells me I have been spending too much time on the computer. Optimally I would like to spend (in a normal week) 5 half days in the office at the most. To help make that happen I am looking for people to visit in those other hours. So call me and we will set up a time when I can escape from the computer screen.

Another hope of mine is related to the fact that I have been here for 6.5 years now. With time comes the danger of falling into a routine (which sometimes has the danger of becoming a rut). It is my intent to talk to some friends who have served a congregation for long term (in one case coming up on 30 years) abut how they kept the ministry fresh. It is my hope that we continue to try new things and keep each other growing as we try to understand what it means to follow Jesus in Grande Prairie in the 21st century.

A new year beckons, new challenges await (and hopefully no new floods).

Monday, January 23, 2017

Looking Forward to January 29, 2017 -- Sabbath Controversy

The Scripture reading this week is Luke 6:1-16

The Sermon title is Choose!

Early Thoughts: How do we use the tools, traditions, and rituals of our faith to best serve the cause of love?

Do those rules, tools, traditions and rituals sometimes get in the way of the life of love?

Then what do we do?

Sabbath observance is there to serve the people of God. Sabbath observance is there because we know that we are healthier when we are on "on" 24/7. Sabbath also helps us remember that we are not in control, that God is.

That is all and good.  But what if we lose sight of the ultimate goal? OR what if the balance point is hard to find?

That is where the text takes us this week. Jesus is in a debate with others about how Sabbath ties in to the life of love.

Jesus reminds his opponents that God trumps Sabbath, that grace and mercy trump rules. Jesus reminds us that caring for each other trumps all else.

Sabbath is a vital part of what it means to be Jewish. To this day Sabbath is a central pillar of Jewish faith. I think it is safe to say that Sabbath-keeping is no longer a central part of what it means to be Christian in Western society. But I suspect the principle about rules vs. people is still at stake.

We are often called to see where the life of love leads us to endorse and follow rules and traditions and rituals as they have been passed down to us. We are also challenged to know when those things need to be recast, or put aside. And it is often unclear which is which.

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?