Monday, January 17, 2022

Looking Ahead to January 23, 2022

 The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Zephaniah 3:14-20
  • Mark 1:29-31

The Sermon title is Delivered and Healed

Early Thoughts: What would it mean to you to be delivered? Delivered from what? How do you see that delivering happening? What does it mean to be healed? Is healing part of being delivered, part of being freed?

 This week we read the last few verses of Zephaniah. As I read through the 3 chapters of that book I would say that these last few verses are the most hope-filled words the prophet has shared with us. Zephaniah lived and worked before the exile, in the time of Josiah, King of Judah. Josiah is known for spearheading what is known as the Deuteronomic Reform, an attempt to bring the people of Judah back to faithful adherence to the service of YHWH.

In these verses Zephaniah share a vision of a time of celebration. Earlier in the book there have been words of judgment against Judah because they have wandered astray. Some suggest that the earlier words of judgment are from a time before Josiah's reforms and that these words suggest a more hopeful vision of what will happen if the reforms take hold and transform the way the people live.

This reading celebrates that God is in the midst of God's people (more precisely in the City of Zion, sometimes called the City of God). It talks of how the people, signified by the Daughter of Jerusalem, will be delivered and that is the cause for the celebration. As we read it now, almost 2700 years after the words were written, do we still seek deliverance from those people and events that cause us woe and oppression? What will lead us to sing and dance and celebrate?

Our brief reading from Mark's Gospel shares a healing story. It seems to me that healing and deliverance are closely linked (and yes I would make that linkage even if we were not 2 years into a global health crisis). To be delivered from those things that oppress us, to be set free to be who God has formed us to be, to be brought home in God, is a form of healing. 

We continue to seek deliverance, we continue to be in need of healing. WHat might it look like for us in 2022?
--Gord

Monday, January 10, 2022

Looking Ahead to January 16, 2022 -- Baptism of Christ Sunday

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 The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Isaiah 62:1-7,10-12
  • Psalm 18:2-11, 16-19
  • Matthew 3:1-6, 11-17

The Sermon title is Called, Beloved, Supported

Early Thoughts: Are you a beloved child of God? What does it mean to you to hear that you are a called, beloved, supported child of God? What does it mean to belong to a community that is called, beloved and supported by God?

This week's Isaiah reading is from the time of exile, talking about the time of return and renewal. It talks about how Jerusalem will be healed from her trauma and destruction. Is that part of being a beloved supported child of God? Are we also promised renewal and restoration from our our traumas?

Psalm 18 comes from David, during his time of conflict with Saul, after he has escaped from peril. For David, being a beloved, called, supported child of God means that God will deliver him. God will protect. God will hear. God will be a rock, a fortress, a shield. Is that part of our promise?

Then we have Matthew's account of Jesus and John at the Jordan. John has been a voice in the wilderness, calling God's people to repentance. John has been sharing a hope, a promise, a prediction of one who will come, one who will bring pour out the Holy Spirits on the people as an act of baptism. John seems reluctant to baptize Jesus, the roles seem reversed in John's mind.

In the verses omitted from this week's reading there is a reference to the children of Abraham. Often that phrase is used in Scripture (both Jewish and Christian) to refer to the descendants of Isaac, son of Sarah. Sometimes in Christian circles it has been expanded to include non-Jewish Christians as "spiritual descendants" of Abraham. But the stories in Genesis make it clear that the descendants of Ishmael, son of Hagar are also children of Abraham. Is it possible that the list of the called, beloved, supported children of God is broader than we wish to admit?

As Christians we baptize folk because Jesus was baptized. As Christians we proclaim that in our baptism we too are called, claimed and commissioned. We too are beloved and supported children of God. Just like Jerusalem, our communities are beloved by God. Will we be restored and renewed? Will we be delivered and protected? What might that look and feel like?
--Gord

Monday, January 3, 2022

Looking Ahead to January 9, 2022

 The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Psalm 36:5-10
  • 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
  • Luke 2:41-51

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The Sermon title is Trust in God, Grow in Wisdom

Early Thoughts: What do you do to feed your thirst for wisdom? 

I think it could be argued that Christianity, like many other faith traditions, is a wisdom tradition.  Certainly it is more than that, but a particular form of wisdom underlies much of what it means to follow Jesus.

As Paul tells us, it is a wisdom unlike that of the rest of the world. After all, a tradition that includes the instruction to love your enemies certainly wanders from the common sense of every day wisdom.

A classic way to feed our thirst for wisdom is to seek instruction. In this week's Gospel story that is what Jesus does. Not the place most of us would expect to find a child who had wandered off is it?

Often people have tried to spin this story as saying that Jesus was astounding the elders in Jerusalem as he taught them. That is not what the text says (and is really growing out of an anti-Semitic understanding that Jesus has all the wisdom and the Jewish people are in error). The text clearly says that Jesus is sitting  there and learning from them. Jesus is growing in wisdom because Jesus is willing and ready to sit and listen and engage in conversation.

[I have always loved this story for a whole other reason. The image of Mary and Joseph losing track of their son, and just assuming he is traveling with the neighbours is absolutely delightful. I suspect many a parent can share the anxiety felt and expressed (possibly as anger) when they finally find the young man.]

As Luke tells us this story we see Jesus at 12. In contemporary Judaism the traditional age of a bar mitzvah is 13. Jesus is about to come of age. As he approaches this milestone he seeks out instruction and engagement with his tradition. He seeks wisdom.  

Wisdom is not the same as rote learning, though memorizing key ideas and tenets is a part of gaining wisdom. Rote learning passes on knowledge. Wisdom comes when we put that knowledge into use, when we engage with it and our world.

AS followers of Christ we follow a particular brand of wisdom. Sometimes this particular wisdom goes against the current of the world around us. Sometimes it appears to be foolishness. But always it is founded on trusting God's presence in our lives, always predicated on listening for God's voice. That voice may come through the teachings of old. It may come in a new question or challenge that pushes us to see things differently. Where will we seek out wisdom?
--Gord

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Looking Ahead to January 2, 2022

 This being the first Sunday of the month (and of 2022 for that matter) we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion. If you are joining us on-line you are encouraged to have elements ready so that we can all eat and drink together

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Micah 4:5-10
  • John 1:1-5

The Sermon title is One God? One Word?

Early Thoughts: I was always led to believe that the stories of Scripture unflinchingly claimed there was only one God. That is not true.

The stories of the Hebrew Scriptures make it clear that other cultures have other gods. At most there is a claim that "our" god is the One True God. There are parts of Isaiah that predict a time when all the nations will worship the God of Israel. But otherwise there is an acceptance that there are other cultures with other gods.

Even Paul preaching in Athens (Acts 17) is dealing with the question of other gods, although Paul gets closer to saying "those aren't actually gods".

What do we do in a pluralistic world with multiple expressions of faith? How do we make a claim to there being one God, known in many different ways, with many different faces and not make a claim that other expressions of faith are unworthy or evil or wrong? I am not sure we have done all that well on that point.

In the end, I think faith language is a love language. I think faithfulness to our understanding of the Divine is a statement of love. Years ago I watched an interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner who used the example of a spouse claiming that their partner was the best partner in the whole world. Obviously that can not be proven or dis-proven but it is still a true statement -- even when multiple people say it about their own partners.

So our challenge, as people of faith, is not to prove that "our god is better than your god" or that our understanding of the Divine is more accurate than someone else's. The challenge is to witness to what we believe about the Divine and why and what difference it makes in our lives.

Reading the Micah passage reminds us not only that other cultures have other gods, other understandings of the Divine, but also that God is with God's people, that we are being redeemed and lifted up. Reading the opening of John's Gospel reminds us that the God we meet in Jesus of Nazareth is the God who was present at the beginning of our faith story.

As Christians we proclaim a particular understanding of God. Like Judaism and Islam Christianity proclaims that there is one God. Unlike them we proclaim that the one God took human form. Our task is to proclaim how we understand God, how we understand God's activity in the world, how we understand God's hopes for God's people. What does it mean to us to name that there is one God, and one Word that takes on human form. How does the Incarnation inform our understanding of how God is redeeming us, how God is building us back up?

--Gord

Monday, December 13, 2021

Looking Ahead to December 19, 2021 -- Advent 4


The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • 1 Samuel 1:19-28
  • 1 Samuel 2:1-10
  • Matthew 1:18-25

The Sermon title is The Promised Child

Early Thoughts: At the heart of the Advent-Christmas story is a promise. The promise of a child.

This Advent season has been full of stories about promised children. Each of those promises comes into a situation where pregnancy and childbirth are not straightforward. A slave girl (Hagar) who has no choice in the matter, whose child is a product of her enslavement. Multiple women (Sarah, the mother of Samson, Hannah, Elizabeth) who were considered to be barren, who were never expected to have a child. And then there is Mary, a young girl, pregnant too soon, possibly to be cast aside because of the child she carries. Sometimes the promise of a child is complicated.

The interesting thing is that in each of our stories this Advent season the promise of a child has also been accompanied by hope. True there has sometimes been a shadow along with the hope (Ishmael will be a wild-ass of a man for example) but there has always been hope. Maybe the hope is that the child will be the progenitor of many nations. Maybe the hope is that the child will be a deliverer, saving his people. Maybe the hope is that God will do something amazing with/through this child. But there has always been hope.

We hear about two children in this week's readings. One will grow to a ripe old age. He will (for better or worse) anoint the first two kings of Israel. He is long expected and is dedicated to God's service from a very early age. His birth prompts his mother to sing of justice and hope and promise, a song about the God whose priorities are different from the way the world tends to operate. God hears Hannah, God responds to Hannah, and Hannah responds in turn. Samuel will be a major figure in the story of faith.

The other child will not grow to a ripe old age. His commitment to embodying and preaching God's vision for the world will lead to conflict and a cross on a hill. But his impending birth also prompts his mother to sing of justice, hope, and God turning the world upside down (many scholars believe that Mary's song is based on Hannah's song). One of the names (Emmanuel) he is given in this week's reading leads us to a place beyond any of the other children we heard about this season. He will be called "God is with us". He will bring salvation and deliverance. For those of us who are called Christians he is the central figure in the story of faith.

A child is promised. A child will be born. And that will make all the difference.
--Gord

Monday, December 6, 2021

Looking Ahead to December 12, 2021 -- 3rd Sunday of Advent

As Advent progresses we continue our journey through stories about birth announcements this week. Also this week we will be celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.


 

The Scripture Readings for this week are:

  • Judges 13:2-7
  • Luke 1:46-56

The Sermon title is He Will Deliver

Early Thoughts: All parents have dreams and hopes, maybe even expectations for their children. Some of them might be grandiose, some might be more humdrum. but they are always there. I suspect few of us have reason to expect our child will change the world, will deliver their people.

This week's passages are about expectations and promise. Both Samson and Jesus will, in their own way, change the world. Both are hailed as the ones who will make things right. Samson's mother is told to respond to the promise with a specific lifestyle, to begin the child's life in a way that he will later live. However the [un-named] wife of Manoah knows full well what has happened here. God has sent her a message. God is choosing to intervene in her life and through this intervention God will bring deliverance to the people of Israel. 

Thus far in Advent we have seen Mary's encounter with God's messenger, where she was told of her impending pregnancy. We have seen Mary visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also expecting a child. NOw after all that has happened Mary is moved to song. Her song sets out her understanding of what God is up to in the world. While the song never explicitly says that Mary's as yet unborn son will be part of how God will do these things verse 48 contains a strong hint that this is her understanding.

I wonder. Did Samson and Jesus know about these hoes and expectations? Did they feel a need to live up to them? Wouldn't that be a heavy weight to carry as you grew up?

All parents have hopes and dreams and expectations of their children. Mary and the mother of Samson had particularly special ones.
--Gord



Monday, November 29, 2021

Looking Ahead to December 5, 2021 -- Advent 2

 This being the first Sunday of December we will be celebrating the sacrament of Communion. If you are joining us via YouTube you are invited to have bread and juice available so we can all eat and drink together.


The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Genesis 17:15-22
  • Psalm 78:1-7
  • Luke 1:39-45

The Sermon title is Trust, Surprise, Laughter

Early Thoughts: We continue talking about birth stories. This week we hear about the promise to Abraham and Sarah finally being fulfilled. Well maybe it is more accurate to say that we hear about the promise being renewed -- with a fairly firm date about the when it will actually come to pass.

As people of faith we are part of a family. We are part of a family that stretches back to Sarah and Hagar, forward through Elizabeth and Mary, all the way to the people that we meet when we are walking down the street. The babies we hear about in our Advent readings this year are a part of that family.

Sarai/Sarah was well past the age where child bearing was a possibility. Could she bear a child at her age? Abraham found the idea laughable.  Were they still able to trust in the promise? Other parts of the story tell us that Sarah found the concept a bit laughable as well. But surprise of surprise, it happened -- and they name the child Isaac, which means laughter

Elizabeth was also well past the age where pregnancy seemed possible when she found herself with child. And then here young cousin, pregnant too soon, arrives. When the two babies draw near to each other the child Elizabeth carries dances for joy. Surprises again. Laughter and joy. Trusting in the promise.

What does it mean for us to name that these people are a part of our family? What does it mean to say that these mothers, these powerful mothers are a part of our lineage?

Then there is Ishmael, son of Hagar, almost forgotten child of Abraham. At least Abraham still remembers and cares for Ishmael in this passage, even as the story is busily pushing the child off to the sidelines. The forgotten and pushed aside children are a part of our family story as well.

How do we tell the family story this Christmas season?
--Gord

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

December Newsletter

 The Word Made Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4, 14)

I have an uneasy relationship with the Gospel of John. For years it was my least favourite of the Gospels, but I have to admit that I have always loved this opening.

For the writer of John, Jesus is the physical incarnation of The Word that was around at the beginning of time. John has no nativity story because John does not need one. For John the second person of the Trinity has been around forever, but in Jesus of Nazareth The Word became flesh, The Word shared our reality, The Word entered the world in a wholly different way.

Possibly my favourite Christmas album from the time I was a teenager is a Medical Mission Sisters album called Gold, Incense, and Myrrh. All the songs on it were written by Miriam Therese Winter in 1971. One of them is based on the Prologue of John’s Gospel. It includes these words:

And by the will of God himself,
the Word was with us, the Word was flesh.
He lived among us, side by side.
We saw His glory far and wide.
He touched our race, full of truth and grace.
In the beginning was the Word
(found at https://moam.info/gold-incense-and-myrrh-word-sheet-from-the-original-_5a010c861723ddd4632f2bb1.html)

To me it captures the mystery of the Incarnation.

The mystery of Christmas is, after all, the mystery of the Incarnation. Why would the Eternal Word become flesh? Why would the Eternal Word “live among us side by side”? The Christmas story reminds us that God is not above getting down and dirty with God’s people. The Incarnation shows us the extremes to which God will go to connect with God’s people. In Jesus of Nazareth God is trying a whole new way of leading God’s beloved people, God’s beloved children, to live in The Way.

There is a story I once used on Christmas Eve in Atikokan. A man sees a flock of birds at risk of perishing in the cold. He knows that if those birds sought shelter in the barn they would be safe. Nothing he tries can entice the birds into the barn. Finally he realizes that if only he could become a bird himself he could lead them into the barn.

The Incarnation is God becoming one of us so that we can be lead to safety. The Word becomes flesh so that God can meet us on our own terms, sharing our reality, and so lead us into a new way of living. That is why after all these centuries we still affirm that “We believe in God.... who has come in Jesus, The Word-Made-Flesh , to reconcile and make new” (The New Creed).

One month from the day I write these words it will be Christmas Eve. We will once again tell the story of a baby in a manger. We will once again sing about angels and shepherds. We will remind ourselves that to a peasant family in a backwater part of the Roman Empire hope and love took the form of a helpless infant. Why? Because God loves the world, because God has a hope for the world, because God wants to lead God’s people into God’s Reign of Shalom. And God decided that the way to do that was to become, as Joan Osborne sang many years ago, “one of us, just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus...” (https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/joanosborne/oneofus.html).

This Christmas season, I invite you to ask what it means to you that the Eternal Word, who was present at the beginning of time, becomes flesh and walk around among us. I invite you to ponder what sort of God would do such a thing. I invite you to embrace the love shown by such a choice. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel Jesus (the Word-Made-Flesh) will describe himself as the Light of the World. And behold, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness con not overcome it. The Word speaks into the noise and the noise can not drown it out. The Word whispers into the silence and fills it with echoes of hope and possibility.

God is born at Christmas. God breaks into the world again and again. The Incarnation changes us, changes the world, changes everything. Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!

Merry Christmas.
Gord

Monday, November 22, 2021

Looking Forward to November 28, 2021 -- Advent 1


 Welcome to a New Year! (Liturgically speaking that is) This week we enter into a new year as we begin the season of Advent. With the beginning of Advent this year we are also starting to work with a new lectionary. This is the Women's Lectionary and will push us to view Scripture from a different point of view.

One of the traditions we have developed in the last few years is to have a tree of memory in the sanctuary. This is a place where we recognize the 'blueness' that can accompany the Christmas season and we are invited to hang the names of those we hold in our memories on the tree. The tree will be available starting this Sunday and you are invited to hang your name(s) on it as you arrive. The tree will remain in place throughout the season and you can add a name at any time.

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • Genesis 16:7-13
  • Luke 1:26-38

The Sermon title is Congratulations?!?

Early Thoughts: A slave girl who can not consent. A peasant girl where the question of consent is very wide open. These are the two young women who are told that they will give birth in this week's readings.

Hagar has no choice in the matter. The Divine One tells her to return to her place of bondage, her place of abuse and there she will have a child. The child will be the ancestor of many, but will also be a handful -- "wild ass of a man" is what the text says. Are congratulations due in this case?

Mary does not start the story as a slave. But in the end she embraces the role of slave. She offers her body, her being to God. Over the years many people have pondered if she truly had a choice. Could she have said no? And given what we know about the life and death of the child Mary will birth, are congratulations appropriate with this pregnancy announcement?

This Advent we will hear a lot about babies. For each of them the birth is announced by God (or a messenger thereof). For each of them we are told that God has a plan for their life. All told that seems to be a mixed blessing for each of them -- sometimes the mixture leans positive, sometimes it leans negative.

Are congratulations always the automatic response to news of a pregnancy? Or is it a bit more complicated than that?
--Gord

Monday, November 15, 2021

Looking Ahead to November 21, 2021 -- Reign of Christ Sunday

 This Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year. On November 28th we will begin a new Church Year with the first Sunday of Advent. Many people follow the example of our Roman Catholic siblings and refer to this last Sunday of the year as either Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday.

The Scripture Readings we will hear this week are:

  • Mark 1:9-15
  • Luke 4:14-17
  • Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
  • Luke 4:20-22

The Sermon title is Jubilee, Shalom, Reign of God

Early Thoughts: Jesus was all about the Kingdom of God. In both Mark and Luke he starts his public ministry with proclamations about it.

In Mark Jesus is quite explicit. The Kingdom of God is near now. In Luke it is not quite so explicit but at the beginning of his public ministry Jesus reads in synagogue. The passage he reads describes what life will be like in the time of God's favour. Then he closes the scroll and says that these words have been fulfilled. The time of God's favour is now. The Reign of God has begun.

I have often wondered if we tend to get the idea of the Reign of Christ or the Kingdom of God wrong. I suspect that we hear that monarchical language and we think of a society sort of similar to what we know, just with God in charge (remembering that as part of Christian faith Christ is God, so we are not talking about two different rulers here). And the fact that the festival of Christ the King was first declared by the Pope in part as a response to the dwindling of political power for the Papacy does not help that percerption.

But what if the Kingdom of God, the Reign of Christ, is more of a time for us to say "and now for something completely different"?

This fall I have been reading a book called Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. In this book Randy Woodley talks about something he has encountered in North American Indigenous peoples called "The Harmony Way". Woodley suggest that this resemble the way of Shalom that we meet in the Hebrew Scriptures. The short form translation of Shalom is peace, but the term is much deeper than that. It is a peace based on justice and abundant life for all. The English mystic Julian of Norwich spoke of a time when "all matter of things be well". A society living out Shalom is that very time.

What would that deep peace and justice and abundant life for all look like? What might it look like when the Reign of God becomes fully real around us? That is what I think we are invited to explore on Reign of Christ Sunday.

Jesus begins his ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom is near, or even here. We also know that it is not really her in full power and wonder. We live in what is traditionally called the "now and the not yet". And so we wait for the fullness of time, the fullness of God's Realm. Are we ready to imagine what it might look like?
--Gord