Thursday, 22 October 2015

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Sermon July 5, 2015

Well in case some of you are short on beach reading in these late days of summer and if you missed the joint service with Grace-Westminster United Church on July 5, here is the sermon I preached on that day...

There was a time when I looked up to my mentors in the ministry and thought to myself, “Why on earth do they not take all of their continuing education leave? When I’m a minister I will take every single one of the twenty one days allotted!” This January I found myself 15 years into the ministry and without a single day of continuing education taken—and in July those days would disappear. So I set out to find a conference that would renew my mind and spirit. So it was that on June 5 and 6 of this year I attended the Justice Conference in Chicago, Illinios. I knew that there would be a good many evangelical church leaders at that conference but I had hope that the subject matter would tame the usual evangelical enthusiasm for Jesus. I was wrong. We sang umpteen praise choruses about Jesus, about how he had saved us by his sacrifice on the cross, about how he is our Lord and Saviour (with a capital L and S).
But what was truly amazing was that as I listened to the words of the speakers at the conference there was none of the stereotypical arrogance that we hear from the most loudmouthed self appointed church leaders in the States. Rather there was a genuine seeking of relationship with those who were on the margins of society—not for the sake of self satisfaction but because it is the only way in which we can honour Jesus—the One in whom love and justice were united. There were enthusiastic explorations of the racism gripping the United States—including racism and oppression of the First Nations. There were calls to drop the constant vocal opposition to abortion and same sex marriage and to pick up a constant call against poverty and for reconciliation. I had some doubts before attending that conference but it turned out to be a wonderful way to recharge my faith and my understanding of justice.
And perhaps the most wonderful thing about it was that the seeking of justice, the stance of humility taken by the people there was done in perfect harmony with an emphasis on Jesus and who he was and is in our lives. The first keynote speaker was Dr. Cornel West from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a black theologian who was arrested in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown. He was talking about the white supremacist society of America and the need for us to reconcile the race divide. But he surprised me when he said that the white churches did not need to come alongside the black churches as allies. I had a textbook in seminary called, “Becoming an Ally” and it was influential in my thoughts and behaviours around justice. Dr. West continued however, “We don’t need allies, we want you to come as followers of Jesus.” It then struck me that indeed, we in the church don’t need to learn how to be allies—well maybe there are some things we can learn. But the source of our energy, our humility, our gentleness and our boldness comes from the person of Jesus Christ. And we omit Jesus from the centre of our church at our peril.
In today’s reading from the gospel of Mark Jesus goes to preach in his hometown synagogue. And his neighbours are, shall we say, less than impressed. They thoughts are recorded, “Hey isn’t this the carpenter who used to live in town? His brothers and sisters all live here but he abandoned his poor mother. What is he some kind of big shot now?” This is not exactly what is recorded in the bible but I could imagine it happening. When they first started the CBC television show “The Smartest Canadian” much was made about the fact that no one from Saskatchewan was registered for the show. My personal opinion is that didn’t indicate a lack of intelligent Saskatchewanians but rather no one from Saskatchewan wanted to admit that they were that smart because everyone in Saskatchewan has a grandmother, grandfather, great uncle or aunt who will remind them that they aren’t so smart and I changed your diapers when you were a baby! We don’t want anyone getting too big for their britches! Jesus is surprised at this lack of support but he does his best to try to heal the people there who are willing to accept his help but it is difficult without his hometown believing that he is special.
I wonder if the United Church has given up on Jesus. Like Nazareth, we who have been Christ’s hometown in this modern world don’t provide our faith in the name of Jesus. We are embarrassed of him because of what has been done in his name the tragedy of the residential schools coming most to mind. How can we proclaim the name of Jesus when so many indigenous children were taken away from their families, ripped from their culture and even abused and neglected until death—in his name? Honestly even as a minister I have been at time ashamed of the name of Jesus and have done linguistic backflips to try to talk about God’s redeeming love without talking about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But seeing at the Justice Conference the love of people for Jesus, combined with the hunger and thirst for justice in this world, gave me a new perspective. Even though it was only days after the presentation of the Truth and Reconciliation report I could see that there was value in the gospel and in the person of Jesus. After all, it was the failure of the church that those children were abused in the name of Christ. Jesus the first century Jew would never have agreed with an empire occupying populated lands and seeking to eliminate the indigenous culture there. That is exactly what the Roman Empire tried to do with Judea in Jesus’ time! When the children were being buried at the residential schools Jesus was not with the priests and nuns at the Mass or with the lay people from the United Church but Jesus was with those children who were crying silent tears. Jesus, who let the children come to him, was plotting with the residential school students how to escape back to the reserve. Jesus was with them trying to spark their memories into remembering and learning some Cree or whatever language was their own. For Jesus did not die on the cross for white people—Jesus died for the sake of the world so that all of us might know God’s great and ever abiding love for us. And indeed Jesus was already present on Turtle Island if the settlers had only eyes to see. In the resurrection power of the frozen land from winter’s grip, in the wise legends of Raven who was able to turn his opponent’s words against him, like Jesus. That is not to say that we need to label Native spirituality as a type of Christianity. It is to say that the spirit of the divine was already in this land long before most of our ancestors. And the story of Jesus is not a story of coming and conquering, the story of Jesus is a story of eating together and listening.
If we are to be the people of God in this strange and uncertain time we have to rely on Jesus and put him at the centre of our church. Without Jesus there is the temptation to think that we can fix the problems of the world by ourselves which we surely cannot. Without Jesus there is the temptation to ignore the spiritual part of the world’s unjust structures of economy and war. Without Jesus who regarded status as nothing, who ate with tax collectors who would have been above him in status and prostitutes below him and Pharisees somewhere in the middle—without Jesus we would be tempted to think of ourselves as above or below in status. As it is we are all sisters and brothers in Christ, giving to each as there is need—not an equal share but what is needed by each.
And ultimately we need Jesus because of his self sacrificing love. Whether you believe Jesus was the atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross or whether you believe that his death was the consequence of his actions in Jerusalem on Holy Week, Jesus’ death was the result of his love for humanity. Jesus refused to deny the link between love and justice and for that refusal he was crucified. But Jesus was vindicated because he was raised from the dead and the power of God’s love was revealed and the weakness of violence and domination was exposed. We need Jesus because he showed how this self sacrificing love is the cornerstone of living a life of integrity and peace. Jesus showed us this.
So do not be afraid to call yourself a follower of Jesus! There is nothing in Jesus to be ashamed about. Do not let the loudest and crassest voices in this world have the final say in who Jesus is! He is love, he is mercy, he is giving and he is life and life in its fullest. We are not members of the United Church here—we are not members of St. Martin’s or Grace-Westminster. We are followers of Jesus—wherever he leads us. Amen.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Dr. Cornel West

So I was going to do blog posts in real time about the Justice Conference and my time in Chicago but things got a little hectic. You see there was so much to think about and absorb that I was just enjoying the moment. As we all should.

The Justice Conference opened with worship (which was mostly praise songs which I didn't know). Then we heard from a black spoken word artist, Malcolm London. Then Dr. Cornel West.

Dr. West is an old school well educated black preacher and theologian in the line of Martin Luther King Jr. He was awesome! He challenged us to be bold followers of Jesus. He encouraged us to draw on the faith of those who came before us for passion and humility.

He said Justice is what love looks like in public and tenderness is what Justice looks like in private.

His words were only part of his delivery. It was like the Holy Spirit was contorting his body as he spoke. He leaned on the pulpit, crouched beside it, leaned back. And (most impressively from a United Church of Canada point of view) he spoke of justice not only for black people but for all people of color, gay and lesbians, Transgender, economically disadvantaged, etc. etc.

A great talk to set the stage for the rest of the conference. Oh and did I mention he was arrested at the protests in Ferguson Missouri when the peaceful protests happened around the death of Michael Brown? A great man.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Willow Creek Care Center

Spent the afternoon at the Willow Creek Community Church, one of the biggest churches in the USA. It certainly was big and swanky. It reminded me of a huge showhome or corporate headquarters. But the really amazing thing is that the church did research on the local community, found that poor and struggling people were being pushed out of urban Chicago because of gentrification and were ending up in apartments blocks away from affluent subdivisions.

Now Willow Creek has built a food bank that looks better than any Sobeys in Canada. Why? Because the dignity of their guests (they don't call them clients) is their primary value.

Money is cool but what is more rare is following your articulated values.

http://www.willowcreekcarecenter.org/

The Justice Conference

I'm at the Justice Conference display floor, waiting for my pre conference event on activism in suburban churches. There are red curtains everywhere dividing book tables from kiosks on justice driven church organizations. There are booths to promote justice against human trafficking, poverty and for development work and fair trade. I'll definitely be visiting the book tables later!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Well I am at the Saskatoon airport waiting for a flight to Calgary and a transfer to Chicago for the Justice Conference  (http://www.thejusticeconference.com/)
I'm going to try to let you know what the conference is all about as I experience it. I don't really know what to expect except for being more energized for the outreach part of my position at St. Martin's! Talk to you more from the Windy City!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Prayer for a Beautiful Morning

O God, may I remember this morning when I had time to walk my daughter to school.

May I remember this day on those mornings when I am packing my lunch and her lunch in a rush and scraping the frost off of the car window and when it is still dark when I have to go to work.

May I remember the taste of the air and the sound of the birds singing and the aimless talk of a daughter to a father.

May I remember stopping to let a child pet my dog and hearing her exclaim confidently "He loves me!"

May I remember the strange joy of finding a doggie doo bag in my pocket when I thought I didn't have one.

On the mornings when there is not enough coffee in the world may I remember this morning which was enough.

Amen.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Good Friday

We are almost four Sundays into the church season of Easter and I am only now getting around to posting my Good Friday sermon! I did want to do a blog post around that service, however, because I received a lot of good feedback about it.

First of all, you have to hear this song. It was sung by Kristina Hughes and Danica Tempel on April 3 and accompanied by Randy Cline. It was at least as good as good as this:


I planned my service around this song. I used Psalm 22 as the scripture reading. The reflection follows:




Earlier this week our family was talking about how it was going to be very warm on Tuesday – 18 degrees and then cool off and get rainy and snowy. My daughter Laura said, “Why do we even live in this country?” I have to admit that she had learned that phrase straight from her parents.
              This winter was much milder than last winter and yet I still wonder why we have to have winter at all. What is the purpose of all the cold? One answer I’ve heard is that the cold kills the germs and some nasty insects, but there is no real scientific answer. Some places on the earth manage very nicely without the kind of cold winters we get in Saskatchewan. And yet the time of winter puts me in mind of Good Friday and the following Saturday before Easter – the time after the death of Jesus and before the resurrection. The time of waiting, dormancy, grief. These times are difficult to endure, like winter, but also are the times when creativity and life are born underneath the winter’s snow.
              Psalm 22 is the psalm that Jesus chose to recite while he was in agony on the cross. Or at least it is the Psalm that the gospel writers put into his mouth to describe his agony. It follows the usual pattern of psalms of petition: first a cry of help directed to God. This is the familiar “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But the psalm does not finish there. The next part is a promise of faithfulness to God. True the promise is usually dependent on God helping the situation of the psalmist—as the promise often goes, “I won’t be able to praise you if I am in the grave, God!” And then the most curious part of the psalms, a past tense praise of God’s help. In Psalm 22 it is in verse 24, “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” So the psalmist acknowledges God’s help in the past and promises praises for God’s help in the future but in the present there is only anxiety and agony.
              It is the present that is the messy time for people of faith. We can often look backward into the past and see where God has been at work in the lives of people of faith. We can also look backwards into our own past and see where we have been guided by God. As the poem “Footprints in the Sand” puts it “Those were the times when God carried us through the trials of life.” It is often possible for us also to have a sense of hope for the future. After all, if God has been with us in the past, then we have reason to believe that God will be with us into the future. There is always room for hope for better times in the future. But it is the present that gives us worry and uncertainty.
              This is the story of Good Friday. We don’t positively know why it is called Good Friday, although some sources say that it is a linguistic corruption of God’s Friday. Others claim that it was a good Friday because of what we understand in hindsight, that Jesus had to die to show us that love can overpower the forces of death and violence in this world. But the disciples didn’t have the advantage of that hindsight. They only had the agony of Jesus and then his absence. I find it difficult to even imagine how their lives must have unraveled when Jesus died. Many of them gave up their careers, homes, families all for a shot at following the One who would renew the world, the Messiah who would attract all people to him. And then he ended up disfigured on a cross, scaring away his followers with the fear that they might end up on a cross themselves. No wonder it says in the gospel of John that they hid behind locked doors. They had no place to go back to—they had burned their bridges. They had no hope for a future and their past with Jesus was all for nothing. There was just a messy and meaningless present left for them—a blanket of numbing snow.
              And yet, love was alive underneath the winter’s snow. We can see that now from where we stand. The disciples had to mourn Jesus’ death to understand what it meant when he was raised from the dead. The resurrection was not just a bizarre April Fool’s joke or a hoax. Jesus was really dead and the forces of violence in the world really triumphed. But more importantly Jesus came back and the movement he created came back stronger. The victory of violence and death was reversed, so much so that we adopted the symbol of Jesus’ torturous death in our churches. Last Sunday downstairs the children asked me why we have the symbol of the cross at the front of our church. I replied that it is a reminder to us that God’s love is more powerful than the worst death you could ever think of. God’s love wins over violence, pain and death. I love Easter morning and I love to think about that victory—how we use love in our churches to transform our lives and the lives of those around us and indeed the world in which we live.
              But it’s not Easter morning yet. We are still in the in-between time. Not in the glorious past. Not in the hopeful future. And in some ways this in-between time, this time where our hearts are covered in snow is a good metaphor for our world right now. We often look to the past for some kind of ideal time when things were better. We look to the golden ages—when churches were full, when our children were safe on city streets, when life wasn’t so complicated. Ultimately we might look back to the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve made the mistake of wanting the knowledge of good and evil.
              We might look towards a hopeful future, too. We hope that our world might step away from the brink of climate change. We hope that technology can bring the world together and help us to understand one another better. We have some signs that crime is decreasing in Canada and that extreme poverty around the world has been reduced.
              And yet there is still much strife in the world, much uncertainty, much danger. And there is no Messiah to look to solve our complicated problems. More people have been driven away from their homes right now in Syria than have ever been displaced from their homes since the Second World War. The gap between the richest and the poorest in our society continues to widen. Yesterday I was awakened by the radio alarm and heard the words, “shot, divided into Muslim and Christians” as they reported on the university shooting in Kenya. It is a frightening world and we wonder what might happen next. It is a time of agony and uncertainty.
          So what do we do in this in between time? Well what we do is what

 **At this point when I was writing my sermon I was running dry on ideas and high on chocolate and caffeine so I put off finishing it until another time. When I told Ellen that I hadn't finished my sermon she suggested that I post the last line on Facebook and see what my Facebook friends thought would be a good ending. So I did.
The responses I got were phenomenally thoughtful, including:

 We wait with a fragile but resolute hope; a hope that dares to dream of new life, of joy after sorrow, of a God who will never forsake us.

What do we do in this time between? What we tried to do before and will try to do after: Micah 6:8.

We hold the space - the tension between sorrow and hope, love and fear.

we honestly explore our deepest in'tensions towards others, life, self,

Pray and be kind.

I couldn't come up with better responses than those and it struck me that this is the whole point of the "in between" time. We are responsible for making our own response to the question - what do we do now? Like the gospel of Mark that ends "unfinished" the call of Christ from the cross is unfinished as well. It is up to us to provide the ending. So there was no formal ending to the sermon--the first time I had left one undone!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

March Madness

According to Michael, March is about March Madness, NCAA basketball. According to the Irish, March is about St. Patrick's Day.


For me, March madness has been about the many things that have been keeping me busy this month. Such as:
  • the Wednesday night (7:30pm) Bible Study based on Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book The Last Week. We've had 5 to 7 participants each week.
  • serving communion to those people who can't get to church regularly on March 11 (talk to Keith if you either want to be served communion or if you want to help others experience this sacrament)
  • hosting a Professional Development Day Faith Adventure at the church. We had 20 (!) children  learning about Saint Patrick at the church while the teachers at Public Elementary schools in Saskatoon sharpened their teaching skills. I've been called crazy for leading this event--and I think I have to agree! Thanks to Joanne Kerslake, Jordyn Starks and Janna Carey for helping to offer leadership.
  • organizing a children's Talent Show on March 14. We had nine children show off their talents: from dancing to gymnastics, skipping, playing the flute and piano, building Lego and making art. It was a fantastic afternoon!
A Lego St. Martin's

  • planning for Vacation Bible School this summer. Our theme this year is Hometown Nazareth: Where Jesus was a Kid! We will be holding our VBS from Monday, July 13 to Friday, July 17. Talk to me if you want a registration form.

Whew! It's been a busy month! I'm ready for a break before Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Maybe a Ham Supper will give me the energy for more! Mmmmm - ham!