Monday, January 22, 2018

Looking Forward to January 28, 2018

The Scripture Reading for this week is John 3:1-21

The Sermon title is God Loves the World

Early Thoughts: God loves the world. God loves the world and all that is in it. Do we believe that?

This week's reading includes one of (if not THE) the best known verses in Christian Scripture. "For God so loved the world..." But I think that we miss the point of that verse when we forget to read the next verse.  Verse 17 reads "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.".  The point of the Christ event is that the world be saved, because God loves the world.

So why do so many people talk about what God hates? Why do so many people talk about what God condemns? (conveniently it seems that often God condemns and hates the same sorts of things that the speaker condemns and hates...)

In the beginning of the faith story we have a hymn to creation. And the refrain to that hymn tells us over and over again that God looks at what is created and says it is good. Because God calls the world good, because God created the world, God loves the world and desires the best for it.

This is the reason God becomes flesh. To show love for the world, to teach the people that they are loved, to redeem and save the world from itself.

JEsus loves us, this we know...

Monday, January 15, 2018

Looking Ahead to January 21, 2018

The Scripture Reading for this week is John 2:13-25

The Sermon title is WWJD?

Early Thoughts: A few years back there was a craze of bracelets bearing the 4 letters WWJD. The purpose of the bracelet was to encourage the wearer, when faced with a decision, to ask "what would Jesus do?" before acting. Given that there is a strand of Christian theology that maintains that the goal for the Christ-follower is to become more Christ-like this was a sound concept. But it had flaws (as all concepts do eventually).

One flaw was that I think it asked the wrong question.  I think the question for the Christian to ask is "what would Jesus have ME do?". WE can become Christ-like by trying to imitate Jesus. But Jesus lived in first-century Palestine and we live in 21st Century Alberta. And so we need to translate what we know about Jesus' moral an theological thought into a new context. We do not always know what Jesus would do...but we can think about how he would have us act.

The other flaw is that most people assumed that the question would always push people into being loving and kind. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pushing people to be loving and kind but that is not all there is to being Christ-like. As a meme that sometimes floats through my Faacebook feed says, "when asked WWJD remember that pushing over tables and making a whip might be an option".

Sometimes to be faithful to Jesus means using anger in the work of Love's Kingdom. There is sometimes a desire to domesticate this side of following Christ. And yet just this morning this came
across my Facebook feed:
When we try to always answer WWJD in ways that have us being "nice", when we try to limit what it means to follow Jesus as acting (to use a strongly Presbyterian idea) "decently and in good order" we open ourselves to the criticism Dr. King shared so many years ago.

Jesus was passionate. To follow Jesus means to be passionate. Passion may lead us to act in ways that others say are not "nice" or "proper". How we do this becomes the big question.

What are the issues where we need to flip over some tables? What are the issues where anger in the service of Love's Kingdom is required rather than gentl prodding to do the "right thing"?

WWJ(have you)D?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Looking Forward to January 14, 2018

The Scripture reading this week is John 2:1-11

The Sermon title is Party On

Early Thoughts: The party must go on.

Jesus and company are at a wedding. Weddings in their world were generally a multi-day affair. And after a couple of days the wine runs out. Not a good thing.

The (unnamed in this passage) Mother of Jesus encourages him to intervene. At first he is reluctant, but then accedes.  With the result that 120-180 gallons of good, indeed the best, wine are made available. And the party is able to continue. I suspect I have known a few people in my life who would welcome such a party.

[SIDEBAR: Raymond Brown has suggested that part of the reason that the wine ran out may in fact lie with Jesus and his friends. The wedding celebration may well have been a Bring Your Own Wine event. Jesus and his friends may have been living a life of voluntary poverty that did not allow them to bring wine...but would not have stopped them from consuming. As one blog I read put it "maybe if Mary had not brought all those "+1" the wine would have held out longer. It does help explain why Mary is so concerned that the wine has run out.  Another theory that has been posited for why Mary was so concerned is that the wedding was for someone in Jesus' family and so they were sharing the hosting duties]

Why tell this story?

For the writer of the Gospel this incident, like many other things that will come, is a sign pointing to what is happening in Jesus, it is a sign to reveal who Jesus is. That is one reason we tell this story.

WE also tell the story to remind ourselves of the abundant and overflowing grace of God. We remind ourselves that just when we think we have run out of resources Jesus, the one who Matthew describes as talking about the lilies of the air and the birds of the field who neither sow nor spin, is there to provide what is needed.

We tell the story to remind ourselves that the party continues. WE remind ourselves in this story that Jesus brings new wine, new hope, new possibilities and so in Jesus we celebrate the new wine, the good wine, the zestiness of life.

NOw I have to go research science experiments to turn water into wine...on Sunday you can find out if I have any success.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Looking Ahead To January 7, 2018

This being the first Sunday of the month (and indeed of the year) we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion.

From now until Easter the Narrative Lectionary has us exploring the Gospel of John. This week's selection is John 1:35-51.

The Sermon title is Come and See

Early Thoughts:  Evangelism.  What thoughts does that word evoke?  Possibly signs like this?
Photo Credit
TO be fair the person who posted that labelled it as "A very poor evangelism attempt"

Or maybe this is the image that comes to mind? (Looks like a Watchtower Society pamphlet to me)
Photo Credit
Those would be common images.  OR maybe the couple knocking at the door, or the street corner preacher...

And because of images like that many of us find evangelism to be a hard topic. It is a word we don't use much anymore.  Not many United Church of Canada people would say they are evangelical.  But is that true?

Have you ever invited someone to come to church with you?  If so you have been an evangelist.

Have you ever shared some part of your faith story with someone?  Have you ever said that your faith influences the choices you make/priorities you have?  If so then you are an evangelist.

In our John reading for this week we see evangelism.  We sort of see it in John's proclamation "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" but we see it most clearly at the end of the passage.

Having met Jesus, having talked with Jesus, Andrew felt something.  And that something led him to go to his brother Simon and say "you gotta meet this guy!".  Andrew is the first evangelist in John's Gospel.  He is the first person to lead someone else to meet Jesus, to share the person he has met. Then a few verses later Phillip does the same thing (even if Nathanael is dubious that this fellow from Nazareth could be that special).

I suggest this is evangelism in its best and healthiest form. A gentle invitation, no threats of eternal punishment, no promises of eternal reward or earthly riches, no guarantee of a miraculous event, just a gentle invitation, "Come and see, come and experience for yourself, come and decide for yourself".

Can we say to a friend "there's someone I want you to meet"?  Can we be evangelists?

I would argue that we have no choice.  If our faith makes a difference in our lives, in how we live, in what we choose, in what we find important, then people should be able to see that difference.  And that is being evangelistic.  And if people ask why you make such "weird" choices and you link it to your faith?  Then you are being evangelistic.

Can we do that?

Oh and more than one article has stated that the #1 reason people first come to experience a church is because someone personally invited them, because somebody said "you should give this a try"...

To whom would you say "Come and see"?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Looking Ahead to December 24, 2017 -- Christmas Eve

There are two services this coming Sunday. One in the morning and one in the evening.

During the morning service we will be celebrating the sacrament of baptism. We then will join in exploring the story of Christmas.

Our evening service will be at 8:00. At that service we will have lots of music as the Handbell Choir, Junior Choir and Adult Choir will all be taking part, along with a number of carols being sung by the congregation. As is our custom, the service will close with candle lighting and the singing of Silent Night by the glow of our candles.

The Scripture Readings for the evening service are:
  • Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
  • Luke 2:1-21
There will also be a couple of poems read, one written by J.R.R. Tolkien and one written by Madeleine L'Engle.

The Christmas Reflection this year is called A Child is Born

Early Thoughts: Birth. It changes things. Every child that is born makes a different family, makes a different city, makes a different world. Whenever a new member joins a community the community is changed.

The change may be small. It may take a while to know the difference. Or the change might be overwhelming, noticeable immediately. But there WILL be change!

What kind of change does the birth story we tell this night presage?

What is being born as we sit and listen for angel song this Christmas?

At Christmas we celebrate a birth that happened 200 years ago. At Christmas we celebrate a birth that happens this very night.  Both. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus the man from Nazareth, we celebrate the coming of the kingdom that Jesus will announce as an adult. We also celebrate that the angelic announcement is as much for us as it was for the shepherds of Luke's account.

For to US a child is born. For to US a son is given. For to US is born this night in the City of David...

Birth, it changes things.  Tonight we mark a birth that has changed, is changing, and will continue to change the world.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Looking Ahead to Blue Christmas

This Sunday afternoon at 3:00 we are having our Annual Blue Christmas service.  This service is that time when we pause to recognize that sometimes the Christmas season can be difficult for some people. Maybe money is tight and the stress of trying to meet expectations is unbearable. Maybe this is the year that an adult child is not coming home for the first time (or conversely that the grandparents can no longer travel in the winter). Maybe this is that first Christmas after a death in the family, or maybe is the the 10th, or 21st, or 40th...

For whatever reason, Christmas can be hard. And so we need to give each other space to feels the hardness, We need to ask how God is speaking into the anxiety or the emptiness this Christmas.

Because God is. God speaks to our joy and to our sorrow, to our hope and to our despair, to our comfort and to our discomfort.

The Scripture passages we will read on Sunday afternoon are:
  • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • Luke 2:1-8
As usual, we will have time for people to light candles as a part of our quieter reflection on where God is in the midst of the season.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Looking Forward to December 10, 2017 -- Advent 2

This Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Communion

The Scripture reading this week is Isaiah 55:1-13

The Sermon title is Go Out in Joy

Early Thoughts:
They could be forgiven for having no hope. After all, they were living in exile, a defeated and enslaved people whose land and temple had been destroyed. And to these people God speaks through Isaiah saying:
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price...Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.
In the midst of the lives of scarcity, shattered dreams, and despair God speaks of abundance and promise and hope.

If we are honest, we would admit that we do spend our money and our labour in ways that are often less than satisfying. Often those choices feel forced upon us. And short of the Kingdom of God coming to full flower I am not sure that will totally change anytime soon.

On the other hand, the passage reminds us, there is more about life than those things.  God is still active and changing the world. God's word (the word of life, of love, of hope) is still falling on the world. God is still speaking, and God promises that God's word will have an impact -- eventually at least..

Which means that we can go forth in joy and peace, we can join in the celebration of the earth.

Christ is coming, the birth of hope is nigh, Joy shall come, even to the wilderness.