Monday, March 19, 2018

Looking Ahead to March 25, 2018 -- Palm Sunday

The Scripture for this week is John 12:12-36

The Sermon title is This Hour

Early Thoughts: Is this a royal procession? Is the the opening of a coronation festival?

Or is it the beginning of something much more somber? 

Which hour is this that Jesus refers to? The celebration or the tragedy? Possibly both?

AS John tells his story of Jesus this triumphant entry into the city immediately follows the raising of Lazarus. Which is important for two reasons. One is that the raising of Lazarus has greatly raised Jesus' status and so the crowds around him have grown larger. The other is that in response to the incident in Bethany the leadership in Jerusalem have made a fateful (and fatal) determination. For the good of the nation this Jesus must die. As readers we are aware of these machinations, while the excited crowds are less aware.

So today is indeed both comedy and tragedy. Both masks are being worn. We join in the celebrations and the glory.  With the Greeks watching we ask to know more. But also we see the gathering clouds on the horizon.

As the clouds grow thicker and heavier over the week, can we remain as children of the light?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Looking Ahead to March 18, 2018 -- Lent 5

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • 1 John 4:7-8, 18-21
  • John 13:33-35;14:1-11
The sermon title is Love...The Way, The Truth, The Life

Early Thoughts: Love is the answer. (Even if we are not always sure what the question was)

When it comes to what it means to live as citizens of God's Kingdom Love is the answer. It is the way to be in the world. It is where we find truth (even when that truth might be uncomfortable). It is what gives life.

Early in John's Gospel we are told that "for God so loved the world..." that God sent Jesus to save the world. Jesus models God's love for the world, Jesus teaches what it means to be people of love, and hear, on the night before his death Jesus gives his closest friends a new commandment. And if Jesus is the embodiment of God's love for the world than when Jesus goes on to say that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life then it extends that love is the answer.

So what would it look like if we really believed love was the answer? What would it look like if that was the chief principle by which the world was moved?   What if it is not money but love that makes the world go round? (Apparently there are many songs by that name)

It should be, for those of us who follow Jesus, those of us who claim the name Christian. To be a Christian is to try and align our lives, our priorities, our choices, with those of Christ. And Christ commands us to love each other -- though not to like each other, so maybe we are also to love those we don't particularly like.

That means we love those who are regularly demonized in our media. It means we love those who we are sure are taking the world to hell in a handbasket. It means we love each other.

"Can't be done" some will say. "Not realistic" others will shout. "Only if they change their ways" still others will proclaim. But it is the commandment shared in all 4 Gospels, and in the epistles, and in Torah. We are too love each other. I do not recall there being many "what if..." clauses in those commandments. 

How can we do it? Only one way. We can love because we have been and are and will be loved. For God is loving, God is love.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Looking to the Future

At our Presbytery meeting last month the Pastoral Oversight Committee shared their plans for this year. They intend to visit every Congregation in the Presbytery between April and November. We will learn more about that later. But in their description of how those visits will happen they shared some of the questions they will be asking. One of them is: Where do you see your congregation in 2028?

That will be a challenge – 10 years is a long time, lots of things can change.

As it happens, Council is already asking what the future might hold, though we are not thinking quite that far into the future. And we need your help. After all, We all have a part to play in determining what the future might bring.

As a Council we regularly have some visioning time at our meetings. But we are also aware that as a whole congregation it has been several years since we took a look at the ministry of St. Paul’s. So we are asking for help.

At the Annual Congregational Meeting an invitation will be issued. We are looking for people to host coffee party-type gatherings. At these gatherings we want people to talk about these three questions:
  1. What is going well?/What is St. Paul’s good at?
  2. Where are the gaps?/What could we be doing more of?
  3. What are/should be our priorities as a community of faith serving Grande Prairie?

Each gathering will have a host (can be in your home or at the church) and a facilitator and a recorder. It is our hope that the gatherings will allow us to get input from as wide a range of people in the congregation as possible. We want the meetings to happen between the beginning of March and the end of May. Then over the summer a sub-group of Council will collate the input for Council to look at more closely in the fall.

So who wants to invite a few folks over for coffee (which may or may not actually mean coffee)?

Easter Newsletter

As I sit down to type this the calendar is telling me that it is March 1st. How did we get to March already? Did we cut January shorter by a couple of weeks? Because in my mind I am sure it should be the beginning of February. Alas it is not. It is indeed March 1st. And that means that exactly one month from today will be the pinnacle of the church year.

No I am not referring to April Fool’s Day (though a month from today is indeed April 1st). It will in fact be Easter Sunday. It will be that morning when we once again celebrate that life conquers death, when hope shines from an empty hole in the ground, when God goes “all-in” and then lays down the winning hand. On Easter Sunday we look at the broken world and are reminded that God is actively at work mending it.


Sometimes it seems hard to believe that hope can be more powerful than despair. Some days, looking at the world makes it hard to believe that anyone, not even God, could fix the broken-ness that fills up my news feed. And then along comes Easter.

Easter reminds me that God has not played all the cards. Easter reminds me that God has an ace in the hole. Easter reminds me that God can surprise us all. April Fool!?!???

Just a couple of months ago we gathered and sang carols about a baby being born. In those carols and stories were words of hope and promise. The baby would change the world. The baby would bring on the Kingdom of God. On the first Sunday of 2018 we heard the beginning of John’s Gospel about the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness can not overcome it. And yet...

On the second last day of this month we will read about that baby, now fully grown, being arrested, put on trial, convicted, and put to a torturous death. Where is the hope of the baby in the manger? Has the darkness actually overcome the unquenchable light? Has the Kingdom of God been chased away? When will it come?

Then, in what may be the greatest reversal of all time, SURPRISE! As I read the Gospel accounts it is clear to me that none of Jesus’ friends expected Easter to happen. They were despondent and afraid, some had even fled home to try and pick up the life they once knew. But out of left field life came and defeated death, hope came and chased away despair, resurrection came and transformed their lives.

Because of Easter the world is different. Because Easter keeps happening the world keeps getting transformed. Because Christ has been raised we are able to be people of hope. Because God played the final card the Kingdom is alive and well and growing in our midst – even when we try to keep it down the Kingdom keeps sending out new shoots. Alleluia indeed!

Where do you need the truth of resurrection this Easter? What are the places in your life where the power of death seems overwhelming? What tomb do you go to visit to weep and mourn because something precious is gone? Where might God surprise you with new life, new hope, a new dawn?

PS: What might it mean to have Easter Sunday on April Fool’s Day? Maybe in a month I will have an answer to that question

Monday, February 26, 2018

Looking Ahead to March 4, 2018 -- Annual Meeting Sunday

As this is the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion this week.

A reminder that the Annual Congregational Meeting will happen immediately following worship. Lunch and child care are being provided.

The Scripture readings for this week are:

The Sermon title is As One That Serves

Early Thoughts: Servant-leadership. That is what Christ models for us and that is what we are called to practice.

But what exactly does that mean?  Does it mean washing feet?

Maybe.  In Jesus' era footwashing was a basic part of entering a dwelling. Often (perhaps most often) the host would ensure that the basin and pitcher were available and the individual would wash their own feet. Sometimes a slave (almost always a female slave apparently) would do the actual washing.  But a free-man would never wash another person's feet. Certainly the Teacher/Leader would not wash the feet of the Student/Follower. But that is what Jesus does, over the strenuous objections of Peter.


One possibility is it is an act of devotion, a way to show how deeply he cares for these people (and washing another's body is a deeply intimate action).  Just a chapter earlier in John's Gospel we had the story of Mary pouring perfume over the feet of Jesus and wiping those feet with her hair (it is Judas who objects that time). This is a clear act of devotion. Maybe Jesus is modelling love and devotion here as well.

But then we remember that Jesus consistently points out that in the Kingdom of God reversals are the rule.  The last will be first. Come like a small child. In Luke's Gospel Jesus makes it plain that while he may be the Teacher, maybe even the Anointed One of God, he is among them as one that serves. To love others as we love ourselves, to love each other as we have been loved by God, is to serve each other. That is the way we lead each other into the deepest understanding of Kingdom-living.

TO a degree the church has always known this. In fact the National United Church Men's Organization takes it's name from this Luke Passage -- As One That Serves.

Jesus is many things. Sometimes he is an agitator (though that may well be a form of servanthood). Sometimes he is a teacher. Sometimes he is a healer. Sometimes a preacher and truth-teller. But at all times he is a lover, one who loves God and one who loves the people who surround him. And at all times he is serving. Serving God, serving the best interests of the world that God loves.

Because to lead is to serve, to serve is to lead. At least in God's Kingdom.

How do you lead? How do you serve? What is your brand of servant leadership?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Looking Ahead to February 25, 2018 -- Lent 2, the Raising of Lazarus

This week we have the third (and final) long passage from John. This time it is John 11:1-44 which tells the story of the death and not-so death of Lazarus.

The Sermon title this week is His Friend Died...Can You Guess What Happened Next?

Early Thoughts: Sorrow turns to amazement, despair to wonderment, weeping into shouts of praise.

I suspect this is a story that we are too familiar with. Like many stories of faith it is hard to read the beginning without knowing the ending. But does knowing the ending before we get there rob the story of its power?

What would it be like to read it for the first time? What would it be like to live it?
Mary and Martha are heartbroken. Their brother has died. They are sure that had Jesus been there he could have kept Lazarus from dying.  But Jesus was not there and Lazarus has died (depending how far away Jesus was it is possible Lazarus was dead by the time Jesus got the message that he was ill).

Has Jesus come back for a funeral for the friend he loved? Or is there something else in play?

Jesus weeps in this story. Jesus feels the grief of a friend's death. But he is not willing to accept the finality.  In this story death is real. Early in the Jesus tries to slide over its reality by using the euphemism of sleep but his disciples miss the point so he has to be blunt (personal note, we need to be more blunt about the reality of death in the world, euphemism's only bring the appearance of comfort). Death is real. Lazarus is really truly dead. In fact we are told he has been dead for four days. In a hot climate sealed in a tomb imagine what an un-embalmed body would smell like (think of the chicken you forgot to put in the fridge for a day or two...). Death is real.

But death is not final in this story, or in the larger story of faith. Death does not have the last word. Life speaks last. The word of Life, the invitation to abundant life unbinds us and sets us free.

In John's Gospel this is the last of 7 signs that reveal who Jesus is. Here we hear that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and then we see it in action. Here we see that maybe the "last days" are closer than we think -- and also less of a sudden turning that a growing edge. It is notable that in John's account this is the last straw for the rulers.  This is where the decision is made that this Jesus must die.

What part of this story speaks to you the most?  What signs of hope do you draw from it? And have you ever wondered what Lazarus thinks of the whole deal?????

Monday, February 12, 2018

Looking Forward to February 18, 2018 -- First Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Reading this week is John 9:1-41

The Sermon title is He Spat on the Ground...What Happened Next will Amaze You

Early Thoughts:  Why didn’t someone tell me decades ago that spit and dirt make such a great healing tool?  I could have been a millionaire before starting kindergarten!!!!

Who is blind? How and Why? How is that blindness to be removed?  SOme of the questions that come up for me this week.

In the passage this week we have a healing story, though to be honest it really appears that the healing is not the point of the pericope. The healing is a launching point for some theological (and possibly political) discussion leading to a statement of faith. Then we end with some shade being thrown at those who are unwilling to see (there are none so blind…).

Another problematic piece is the political overtones of the dialogue with the parents. The text claims that the parents choose not to answer because of fear of “the Jews”. [To me it makes perfect sense that parents would say of their adult child–go ask him, he can speak for himself.] Traditionally I have been taught that this, and other references in the Gospel, refers to a time when Christians were being turfed from the synagogues, which would still make it anachronistic within the narrative as it stands. In the Jewish Annotated New Testament they suggest that even this is something that is hard to find historical references for. As with any time John says “the Jews” I see a potential for anti-Semitic interpretation. It makes it possible to read the rest of the passage as saying “those silly sinful, willfully blind Jews. why will they not see?”

Finally, there is a whole issue of how do we talk about the need to be healed from blindness, or the question of being willfully blind, without verging into a form of ableism?

A man is healed and becomes a witness.  With a whole lot of other stuff surrounding it.  I wonder what the sermon will have to say about it?