Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bible Study Materials for February 5th 2006

Isaiah 40:21-31:

In his final journal on March 28th 1996, Henri Nouwen wrote the following reflection:
“During the Eucharist this morning we talked about God’s covenant. God says ‘I am your God and will be faithful to you even when you won’t be faithful to me.’ Through human history, this divine faithfulness is shown to us in God’s increasing desire for intimacy. At first God was the God for us, our protector and shield. Then when Jesus came, God became the God with us, our companion and friend. Finally, when Jesus sent the Spirit, God was revealed to us as the God within us, our very breath and heartbeat.
Our life is full of brokenness – broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives? Without this “place” of return, our journey easily leads us to darkness and despair. But with this safe and solid home, we can keep renewing our faith, and keep trusting that the many setbacks of life move us forward to an always greater bond with the God of the covenant.”

What does it mean to have God with us in our lives ?
Can we understand the words of the prophet in our world today?
Do these words resonate within us in our modern society?
Have we, like the ancient Israelites, forgotten God?
Are these words inspiring or intimidating?

Read carefully the words of verses 30 & 31 … and consider the following:

Watching the obedience trials at a dog show, I was fascinated as one man led his Sheltie through the difficult tasks of the “utility class”. “Utility” is the third level of obedience training. The dog finished the course with 296.5 out of a possible 300 points.
Most dogs if properly trained, have the ability to become a utility dog. What made this particular dog and his trainer, Bob different was that Bob works from a wheelchair. After the match, Bob told me his story.
Healing for Bob did not come in the form of walking again. Healing came in the form of a rugged determination to live fully despite the chair. From his wheelchair, Bob has built a garage. From his wheelchair, Bob has trained dozens of dogs as service dogs for others who need dog to assist them in living.
Soaring on eagle’s wings sometimes means flying from the seat of a wheelchair …sometimes soaring on eagles’ wings means being lifted up enough to be eagles on the highway, eagles who run or walk or who just get out of bed in the morning and just put one foot in front of the other

What does soaring on eagles’ wings mean to you?
Does soaring on eagles’ wings have to be huge actions, or will simple ones suffice?
When can you remember moments of soaring on eagles’ wings in your life?
Do Isaiah’s words resonate with the memories of that experience?
Does the example of eagles’ wings speak to your faith?
Why do you think the writer uses eagles’ wings?
Would another bird be as effective?
What attributes do we connect with eagles?

If Isaiah felt like a grasshopper in the eyes of God, I feel even smaller because I know, thanks to modern science, that we live on a planet that orbits one star – our sun. Tht star is one of the one hundred thousand million stars that make up our galaxy – the Milky Way. The Milky Way is only one of the many galaxies in the local group, and the Local Group in turn is just one of the thousands of groups and clusters of galaxies that form the largest known structures of the universe. And scientific evidence points to the possibility that the universe is still expanding. … Yet in the midst of all this grandeur, we are not hidden from God – God who has the power to create all of this, still notices us and shall renew our strength …(enough said??)

Psalm 147:
What do WE remember about God in our lives?
What do WE praise God for in our lives?

Mark 1:29-39:
Why do you think that Jesus retreated into a deserted place after the healings?
How well do we practice self-care in our lives?
How often do we put others ahead of ourselves?
What would we want to do if we had been in Peter’s mother in law’s house that day?
Does the scene offer peace and serenity, or confusion and chaos?

Sermon for January 29th 2006

There is a story about a business man who once was traveling across Poland in a train compartment. He along with the other men in his compartment, began playing a game of cards. They were well involved in the game when another man joined them in the compartment.
The business men invited the new comer to join in the game. Unknown to the business man, the newcomer was a rabbi, and had no desire to play a card game, so he politely declined. It is worth noting that the business men were dressed in the newest and the fanciest attire, while the rabbi was dressed in older, less stylish clothes that had seen better days.
As the trip continued, and the men became more and more deeply involved in their card game and became louder and more animated in their conversation and play. They found the quiet demeanor of the other man in the compartment annoying. They continued to invite him to join, and he continued to politely decline. Then finally, the ringleader of the group, a wealthy and powerful business man, wanting to impress his associates took the newcomer by the collar and bodily heaved him out of the compartment saying, “If you won’t join our game you aren’t welcomed here …”
The rabbi quietly picked himself up and spent the rest of the trip on the train standing in the passageway waiting until he arrived at his stop.
When the train arrived in the Rabbi’s hometown, also the destination of the business man, the shabbily dressed rabbi was surrounded by a large crowd of his admirers who had been patiently waiting for his return home.
Standing on the platform, the business man asked one of the admirers who this shabbily dressed man in the centre of the crowd was. “Don’t you recognize Rebbi Hayyim, the most famous and revered rabbi in the country??” came the incredulous reply. The business man immediately pushed through the crowd and begged the rabbi’s forgiveness.
“I can’t” replied the rabbi was he was hustled off my his admirers anxious to see him home.
That night the business man went to the rabbi’s home and said – “Rebbe, I can find no peace for what I did to you on the train … I am not a rich man, but I will give 300 rubles to any charity you wish if you will forgive me …”
The rabbi’s answer was brief – “no,” was all he said.
The business man then turned to the rabbi’s eldest son and tried to enlist his help. The son, not wanting to offend his father waited until one day they were talking of things spiritual, and turned the conversation to forgiveness. Then cautiously he asked his father about his lack of forgiveness towards the man on the train …
The Rabbi listened to his son then said, “I cannot forgive him. He never insulted me. He did not even know who I was. Had he even an inkling of an idea of who I was, he never would have acted the way he did. He wants forgiveness? Let him go and find a poor anonymous Jew sitting on a train reading a book, and ask him for forgiveness …

The business man didn’t know who the man was, and was only willing to apologize for his bad behaviour when he realized that the man sitting in the compartment quietly reading a book, wasn’t just some poor man – but was a revered and respected Rabbi.
The business man was fooled by appearances. He valued the trappings more then the person …
It has been observed that when you drive across Northern Ontario, and most forested regions in Canada from the road you see tall beautiful stands of trees – mile after mile of rolling forests covering the hills and valleys along side the road.
It looks like a healthy expansive forest, until you travel into it for a few metres, or rise above the highway a few metres – then we can see that most of those forests were only a ribbon of greenery hiding the fact that every thing else beyond has been cut down. There are computer programmes now that give precision measurements to the logging companies on what to cut down and what to leave to leave a façade of a vast healthy forest. You see the result of this forestry when you fly over British Columbia and see kilometer after kilometer of clear cuts across mountains and valleys …
But when we’re tooling down the highway – we really don’t want to know that the forests we see along side the road are a fake façade that lacks substance … it is only when we rise above the road that we see the reality – and in this, there is an unfortunate parallel in this around how we envision and experience God. We often hold to a façade of faith, one that lacks depth …
Former Moderator Walter Farquharson once said of the modern Church, that we “don’t believe it is real unless it can be bought and sold …” He went on to note that our reality as a society has become one measured in economics, and economics alone. When we only measure things by their worth we are not dissimilar to the business man on the Polish train. We see the surface and make our judgement accordingly. If things meet with our approval – fine, if they don’t we tend to render a harsh judgement. Where we are beginning to see this most clearly is in the conversations and the warnings around global warming. We hear the dire warnings – we can see the evidence in the glaciers and ice caps – yet, we have been reluctant or totally unwilling to take steps that may bring change, because it may involve losing some of our toys … the stuff of life.
This week my mind kept returning to the Hopi prophecy that says – “only when the last fish is caught, only when the last river is dried up, only when the last tree is cut will we realize that we can’t eat money …”

This world view of value the commodities of life – the stuff that can be bought and sold contrasts sharply with our readings today that speak, not of surface appearance, but of what lies deep within – the relationship between ourselves and the Holy. The place of the holy in the task of hearing the prophetic at work in our world and in our lives.
It may be appropriate that our Gospel reading speaks of demons and exorcisms, because in our modern era such things are the domain of horror movies and less enlightened times. Yet for tens of thousands of years the very notion that the world was filled with evil spirits just waiting to possess us and lead us astray was a foundational belief in EVERY world religion.
What changed for us, of the enlightened west, is the idea that we’ve left such childish ideas behind. We’ve left those ideas in the past when we didn’t know better. Now it is easier to explain away demon possession as something remedied by medications and so forth …
But what if demons are alive an well and they aren’t what we think. What if the demonic we need to exorcise from our midst is the complacency towards things spiritual? What if the greatest demon we have within us is the selfishness by which we live our lives and guide our society??
What if the demonic behaviour we need to address and rid ourselves of is the very behaviour we scoff at in the polish business man man handling the esteemed rabbi, and yet we fail to see in ourselves??
Do we dare even think that we might have been too co-opted by our society … Do we dare listen for and listen to the prophetic voices that warn us that we stand on the brink of a disaster???
Author Madeline L’engle writes of prophecy: “How shall we tell the false prophets from the true prophet? The true prophet seldom predicts the future. The true prophet warns us of our present hardness of heart, our prideful presuming to know God’s mind. And the final test of the true prophet is love, God came to us as Jesus because of love.
The Old Testament prophets were often reluctant. The false prophets took pride in their prophecy and told the people what they WANTED to hear and so were popular. Whereas the true prophet, warning the people of the consequences of their evil actions, were anything but popular – they risked their lives. The mark of a true prophet in any age is humility, self emptying so that there is room for God’s word …”
The prophetic voices today are those that call us to see in ourselves the behaviour like the business man on the train … we need to look beyond the shallow facades, beyond the surface appearance, beyond the false values of a culture that values commodities over people … and begin to value things OTHER then the hottest, latest and most desirable object … it begins by valuing the people around us …
There are no easy answers to solving the big picture problems in our world, but the first step is by hearing the prophetic warnings that call us to look beyond the surface, to look beyond the stuff that can be bought and sold, to look beyond the comfortable, and move to a place where we have the courage and the faith and the vision to see the holy in everything ... the Holy is present in everything !!
The prophetic voices say simply – “the earth and all things in it, are God’s” – our job is to act accordingly … and it begins by opening our eyes, our hearts and our souls to God’s presence all around us …
May it be so … Thanks be to God …

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bible Study Material for January 29th 2006

January 29th 2006
4th Sunday of after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 18:15-20:

Being a prophet sounds like an awfully scary assignment. Although clearly the text refers to the raising of a prophet “like Moses” from within the people of Israel, it’s not that great a stretch to imagine it as speaking of our own prophetic role within our own congregations. Which is where things get scary. Personally, I want my prophets to be a lot smarter, a lot more attuned to what’s happening in the world and the church, and certainly a lot holier and more spiritual then I feel most of the time.

What does it mean to be a prophet?
What does it mean to be prophetic in today’s world?
Can you think of any prophets in the modern world?
Who are they ? What did they do? Why are they prophetic?
Can you think of any prophets in our own community?
Is it true that we want our prophets to be smarter, more aware and more holy then us?
Do you think THAT is true of the prophets you thought of above?
Why or why not?
What are the risks of being prophetic?
How would a prophet like Moses be received today in Minnedosa?
If someone said we had to radically change our lifestyles, would we listen?
Do we listen to the environmentalists warning us about global warming?
Could they be prophets?
What’s the difference between prophets and lunatics?

Psalm 111:

How easy is it to share the words of this Psalmist when we consider creation?
In verse 10, if we substitute fear with awe, can we understand the psalmist’s message?
Is faith the beginning of wisdom?
Can you conceive of a sunrise, or sunset and NOT feel drawn to God?
Can you conceive of these things, and not experience God’s love?

Mark 1: 21-28:

If you were a disciple in this story, would you have second thoughts about staying?
Jesus taught and healed with authority, where did this authority come from?
How did Jesus claim and embody this authority?
Think of the teachers who inspired you, where did their authority come from?
How have they inspired you?
Have you encountered people who helped cast “demons” from you life?
How have they helped you?
By whose authority did they act?
How much credit have you given to God in those moments?
How much credit do we give God at all in our lives?

If this story happened this week in our church how would people react?
How would you react?
Do we like to keep our faith happenings “nice”, and avoid such things?
Does God want our faith kept “nice”?
By whose authority do we live our lives and faith?
Are we willing to do anything that may make us stand out?

I Corinthians 8:1-13:

Do we even worry about where our food comes from?
Would we make different choices if we knew where our food came from?
What’s more important, cheap food, or just working conditions?
If a local farmer asks the same question – is your answer different?

Sermon for January 22nd 2006 - 3rd of Epiphany

The story of Jonah is a wonderful story … and it is that – a story. The details stretch the realm of credibility until is screams for mercy. But the story of Jonah and the great fish, or whale, and his dispute with God offers us a profound lesson on what it means to be called through faith.
To briefly recap the story of Jonah: God comes to Jonah and tells the prophet that he is to go to the great city of Ninevah (the largest and most powerful city of the era) and tell them that their ways are sinful and repugnant to God, and they are to repent.
Jonah promptly heads to the sea port and boards a boat heading west … Ninevah is to the east, in modern day Iraq. Out at sea, Jonah climbs into the hold and falls asleep as a storm begins to gather. The storm worsens and intensifies. The sailors on the boat fear for their lives – they call on their respective gods and plead for their lives … Through it all, Jonah remains asleep in the hold, until one of the crew wakes him and tells him to call on his God and seek mercy …
Jonah owns up to the fact that the storm is likely his fault – it was Jonah who was fleeing God … The crew draw lots and the losing lot falls on Jonah, so they heave him over board – he can take his chances in the surf … and almost immediately the storm abates and the seas calms.
The interesting happening in the story is the aside comment of the other sailors who witnessing the calming of the storm – fall down and begin to worship God … and there is no reaction from Jonah (possibly he was too busy staying afloat, or swimming away from the whale …)
Then Jonah is swallowed by a great fish – or a whale, depending on the translations of the text, and for three days sits in the belly of the fish … three days in which the whale travels from the Mediterranean Sea around the entire continent of Africa, up the east side, around the Arab peninsula, to be spit out on the beaches of what today is Kuwait and Iraq … There is no boat in existence that can do that journey, in three days …
But, the story of Jonah is only just beginning … from the beach he wanders to the city of Ninevah, and journeys a days walk into the vast – huge city. He then preaches a message of judgement and God’s demand for repentance … Jonah clearly wants the vengeance of God to fall on the people of Ninevah – Jonah wants the people of Ninevah to suffer.
But the people hear the message, and they repent. They hear the prophet’s words and see the error of their ways – and they claim the gift of God’s grace … But rather then being overjoyed, Jonah is furious. He doesn’t want the Ninevites to experience God’s mercy – he wants them to experience God’s wrath.
So, Jonah turns tail and pouts – he finds a place outside the city and sulks as he sits there … So, God grows a carob seed through the night, and in the day time the bush shades him from the harsh sun … But the next night, God sends a worm that chews the carob and kills it … Jonah weeps over the loss of the shrub, and God is nothing short of indignant.
You weep over a bush that lives and dies in a single night, challenges God, yet you would willingly sacrifice thousands and thousands of human lives???
The absurdity of this proposition ends the book of Jonah … are the lives of people not more valuable then the life of a shrub, yet God’s messenger wants thousands of human lives ot be snuffed out, while he rages over the loss of a plant …
So, we are left to consider how we are to follow God’s ways when God’s plans and visions run counter to what our ego says is right and justice and dare we say: holy.
I like the story of Jonah, because his responses and reactions are so incredibly common … Jonah is just like us.
God says “Jonah go to Ninevah …” and Jonah heads the other way …
The people of Ninevah hear what Jonah has to say and repent, and Jonah is not overjoyed, but is ticked off and heads off in a pout …
Then Jonah sits in the sun and sulks …
Jonah is like us – he runs away – he pouts, he sulks and at the end of the day – God stays with him …
Contrast Jonah with the disciples that Jesus is beginning to call along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus says to Simon, Andrew, James and John – come and follow me – and they do. The leave their nets behind and head off into the unknown.
They are UNLIKE Jonah in this. Jonah zooms the other way while the disciples Jesus calls, follow.
The Gospel texts tell us that the disciples journeyed with Jesus were by and large an enthusiastic lot – likely too enthusiastic. Where as Jonah was a brooding sulking pouter.
So – one could ask – who was the more faithful follower? But that would miss the whole point of God calling people according to God’s plans, not ours … Our egos have no place in the moment of call.
When God calls us it’s not about what WE want, it’s about what God wants of us. The readings today remind us to check our egos at the door … it’s not easy, but it IS the call to faith that was issued to Jonah, Peter, Andrew, James, John, and it is the call to faith that still resounds within us today.

So, how do we move forward knowing that often our ways are not God’s ways, and what we want for ourselves, our lives and our community may not be what God wants. How do we make the jump from fleeing God to actively following God …
Therein lies the power of the story of Jonah. In it’s over the top imagery, in its bold brush strokes of storms and whales and all the details, we find ourselves reflected in the story of Jonah.
Our urge is often to flee – to find the easy route and expect everything to be nice and easy and what WE really want. God has different plans.
In the midst of the storms of life, it is easier to be pitched overboard then to face the fury of the storm … how many times have we wanted to just give up … but even in the storm, God still has plans – and so the fish swallows Jonah and drags him in the darkness to the beach where he is spewed onto the sand …
Even there – dragged back to where God may want us to be, Jonah sulks off in a pout when things don’t go his way …
The turning point in the story comes when Jonah is sitting in the sun pouting – even there, God sends a bush to shade him, to keep him safe in the hot middle eastern sunshine. But, to underscore God’s point, the bush dies after God sends a little worm to chew on it … God gives relief, then when the relief withers and dies, the lesson is there for Jonah to see …
It’s a shrub. I came to give you relief, and then died in a single night – and you mourn it, yet you would willingly let thousands perish for your ego Jonah … is this just? Is this faithful? Is this caring?
We don’t know what Jonah’s response was … we only know that God left Jonah with that though … aren’t the lives of my children more valuable then a silly shrub?
Aren’t the lives of others more valuable then our own egos?
Aren’t we called to proclaim the Gospel, and leave the rest up to God?
It’s not easy – but sometimes that’s the reality … Things may not unfold as we demand nor want, but through it all, God is steadfast and present and things will unfold as God’s love and care decrees, not as our ego wants … It’s hard to check our egos at the door, but in faith we need to have the courage to leave our egos behind much like the disciples left their nets behind …
We are called to follow a path of faith … may we have the courage to follow it, and invite others to share it with us along the way – even the Ninevahites.

May it be so, thanks be to God …
Let us pray …

Saturday, January 21, 2006

On a Journey just begun ...

As it steps into its second century of life and ministry, Minnedosa United Church ventures into cyberspace ...

What will follow will be a place where the life and ministry of this place - a special faith community is shared.

Here sermons will be posted. Bible Study materials will be shared. Bulletins and newsletters will be listed.

The Goal is to allow friends and family, both near and far to share the journey and be part of our life and worship ...

The joy is in the journey, not just the destination ... let's see where we venture as we trod the hills and valleys of the life of a rural church on the vast Canadian prairies ...

Dayenu ...