Saturday, September 30, 2006

Have YOU Tied a Yellow Ribbon Yet?????

I am a pacifist ... I am against the War in Afghanistan ... I am against the increase in militarism around the world.


Today in Winnipeg a Minnedosa husband, father, son, brother and uncle is lying a hospital bed recovering from injuries sustained when a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed four Canadian Soldiers, wounded nine others and wounded two Afghani girls.

Scott was simply doing his JOB, and serving our Country.

Today in Minnedosa dozens upon dozens of yellow ribbons are fluttering in the warm fall breeze - a vivid reminder that we want Scott and ALL his comrades in the Canadian Armed Forces HOME.

It's not our war. But they ARE our Soliders who are taking the risk on the ground EVERY single day. They deserve - NO, they are entitled to our support and our encouragement and our prayers.

It's not easy being a pacifist in today's world - but even as a Pacifist, I know that we must support our troops and their families and those who are left shattered and broken by the horror that is Afghanistan.

We can pray ... we must pray.

We can weep ... how can we not??

We can rage ... as conscientious human beings, how can we NOT??

But what we need to do is remember that the 37 soliders who have died as of today (and one diplomat) are ordinary people just like us. They have families, they have communities - they are just young men and women who are doing their job.

We don't have to support the war - BUT - we DO have to support them and those who love them ... it is our duty, it is our obligation, it is the ONLY thing that makes sense in this nonsensical world we find ourselves in ... Tie a Yellow Ribbon on a tree, a post, a mail box ... and say a prayer for the boys and girls overseas, and say a prayer for the wounded, and say a prayer for their families ...

It's the VERY least we can do !!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Our Dreams ...

Sometimes the pages won't turn
in our book of dreams,
and we are left clinging to a life
we never lived ...
just wanted to.
Stuck in the stark reality
of unlived dreams,
we sniffle and tread water,
or we go in search
of the Holy One
who will wipe the tears
from our eyes
and offer to us
the only dream
that lives.

- Ann Weems

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Whispers from Gandhi ...

What difference does it make to
the dead, the orphans,
and the homeless,
whether the mad destruction
is wrought under
the name of totalitarianism
or the holy name of liberty or democracy.

-M.K. Gandhi

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Prayer for One of Our Own ...

Tonight I was having a coffee at Chipperfields(the Real Chipperfields) and as I was about to leave I noticed the mother of Minnedosa's own Scott Collen coming in. Lots of people come and go in Chipperfields, but I noticed mom's arrival because her son is one of the wounded now being treated in Canada after the horrific bombing that claimed the lives of 4 Canadian Soldiers, while leaving 8 men to be flown home for medical treatment.

Scott Collen is a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry based at CFB Shilo. Scott and his family call Minnedosa home ...

Scott is a husband, a father, a son, a brother and a friend to many ...

Scott is a soldier, but more importantly, Scott is a man who was born and raised in Minnedosa, and who proudly came home when the 2nd Battalion of the PPCLI were moved to Shilo a couple of years ago.

In Scott's honour, and in honour of his fellow soldiers many of us tied yellow ribbon up when he and his troop mates shipped out ... we have prayed for him and all of the men and women who are serving in the Canadian Military ...

Tonight I heard from the trembling voice of a mom who watched her son unloaded from a military transport and taken to a hospital room how fortunate she feels that despite his horrible injuries, he's alive and he's home ... Others have not been so lucky ...

But tonight, I felt the urge to post this note on all of my blogs and ask all of those who read my words (I have to wonder about you all - but that's for another day ...) to remember Scott in your prayers tonight and tomorrow and in the coming days. Scott is simply lucky to be alive ... he is severely wounded, and he was within 12 feet of the bomber who killed 4 other Canadian Soldiers ...

Tonight Scott and his family need our prayers:

Remember Scott as he continues his recovery and faces surgeries and rehab.
Remember his wife Pam and their three children.
Remember their extended families.
Remember the others who were wounded.
Remember the other families who have lost loved ones.
Remember the soldiers Scott and the others have served with who are still there ...
Remember all our soldiers ...
And Remember the families of all our soldiers ...

We are at war ... it's not pretty ... and today I learned first hand how ugly it can be ...

So tonight I say a prayer for Scott and his recovery of Mind, Body and Spirit ...
Be strong, be well and get home to Minnedosa soon. And to Pam, the kids and all of your family members - we're praying for you too ...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Service and Sermon for September 24th



One: On behalf of Minnedosa United Church congregation,
I present Terry McLenehan, whom we welcome into the
membership of this community of faith:
Terry, will you join with us as together we celebrate God’s presence,
live with respect in creation, love and serve others, seek justice and resist evil?
Terry: I will, with God’s help.

One: Dear friends in Christ,
let us pledge to Terry McLenehan our support and care.
All: As your brothers and sisters in Christ,
we rejoice in the gifts you bring to us.
We pledge to you our love and our support.
With God’s help, we will together live out
the mission and ministry of Christ’s church.
HYMN # 232 Joyful, Joyful
One: Jesus said: Love one another.
All: We come to worship God who is love,
that we may learn to love one another.
One: Jesus said: No longer do I call you servants;
now I call you my friends.
All: We come to worship God,
whose friends we are in Christ.
One: Let us sing praise to God,
and live in love and friendship;
through Jesus Christ.
All: Amen.

One: Lord Jesus, when you took a child
and told adults to become like her
if they wanted to enter your kingdom,
what did you mean?
All: Are we to be naïve or to ask questions?
To be innocent or to be trusting?
To be shy or to sing?
To be docile or to be open-eyed?
One: Show us how to become
not the ideal child we imagine
but the real child you blessed.
All: Teach us,
if we have done too much growing up,
how to grow down. Amen.
HYMN # 357 Tell Me the Stories of Jesus
One: We pray for children …
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

And we pray for those
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can’t find any bread to steal,
who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed
and never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at
and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried
and for those who must be,
for those we never give up on,
and for those who don’t get a second chance.

For those we smother with attention
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody
kind enough to offer it.O God, we pray for all your children
Creator God, you have made each of us in your image,
and yet we fail to reflect your love and justice.

All: You have created every child in your image, and
yet we don’t treat every child as a precious reflection of you.
We see some children as valued treasures,
and others as lost causes.
We invest our time, money, and hopes in some children,
while we squander the great potential of others.
Open our eyes, we pray, to see that every child
is made in your image and belongs to you.
Help us to love, protect, and nurture all children.
We pray these things
in the name of the One who came to us as a child. Amen.
HYMN # 365 Jesus Loves Me
# Insert Jesus Loves the Little Children
SCRIPTURE READING: Proverbs 31: 10 –31 / Psalm 1 (# 724 VU)
CHOIR ANTHEM: “As the Deer”
SCRIPTURE READING: James 3: 13 – 4: 3 – 7,8 / Mark 9: 30 – 37
HYMN # 589 Lord Speak to Me

SERMON: “How Shall We Speak of Our Faith”
I have to begin by confessing that I’ve struggled this week with the readings … When I first read the readings – particularly the one from Proverbs 31 I thought – “Hmmm, I could offer a mediation on a good wife …” but then I remembered a comment by a class mate of mine back in theology college when we discussed this reading in the coffee room one afternoon – I can still hear Dave saying to someone – “You’re gonna preach on THAT – you wanna get killed?”
Then as I dug through the commentaries I thought – “prayer … that’s a good place to start …” and I was looking at from the point of view of – “ask and you will receive.” Not a divine Santa Claus who will give us WHATEVER we ask, but rather, a presence that is there even in those momnent we may forget … I found a powerful quotation from Rabbi Heschel who said of God:
God is not a hypothesis derived from logical assumptions, but an immediate insight, self-evident as light. God is not something to be sough in the darkness with the light of reason. GOD IS THE LIGHT ! I thought, and I still do – that there is great potential in this to speak of prayer as more than just a case of Divine Give me’s …
But then the events in Afghanistan broke across our community, and we learned that one of the wounded is one of ours … a neighbour, a friend, a member of a large extended family, and a father who proudly stood here in front of us a few short months ago while we rejoiced at the baptism of his daughter … I heard the news, talked with his family, offered prayers on his behalf and on behalf of the dead and the wounded … and realized that I couldn’t approach prayer in quite the same way …

So, last night, I went back to the texts … I re-read them for the umpteenth time this week and I searched them for something … anything …
Then in the silence came the words of James: “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you …”
Draw near to God … in prayer … in meditation … when news breaks of tragedies, when we stand and remember the fallen, and those who have gone before us … draw near to God in all the dark moments of life, the moments of sorrow and those moments when we want to simply celebrate … DRAW near to God … and GOD will draw near to you …
As I let those simple words roll through me, the words of the Creed we share as a United Church came to me as:
We are not alone, we live in God's world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
We are not alone … draw near to God … they begin and end in the same place … GOD is with us … if we open ourselves to God we will find God’s strength and presence and Grace in abundance. They are easy words to say - But sometimes they are very hard words to live and harder words to believe as we seek that place where we JUST KNOW God is with us, and we are in God’s care …
This week we have heard repeated invocations of God’s name, yesterday on the tarmac of a Canadian Forces Base, today at Memorials across our nation, and even from the lips of our leaders - but I have had to wonder if we’ve been able to stand in the place where we can just trust and believe and KNOW that God is with us – the place where we’ve drawn near to God and we simply know God is there …
That is perhaps the point Jesus was aiming for when he confronted the arguments his disciples were having over who was the greatest. They were competing for positions – they were jockeying for the prestige of being able to say – “I’m the first disciple, I’m the greatest disciple, I’m the most important, I’m the smartest, I’m the best …”
They were being very childish, not child-like, they were concerned with things that were simply UNIMPORTANT and Jesus turned the tables on them. He took a child, some commentators insist it was a little girl – because if Jesus was about to make a point, he was really going to make a point. And for what followed a little girl would not only underscore his message, it would also smack the disciples across the face … “Whoever welcomes a little child – a little girl in my name welcomes me, and not only me, but the one who sent me …”
A little girl in Jesus’ world was about as low on the social ladder as you could go … girls were irrelevant and unimportant, a place that I weep to admit is still true in much of the world … So as Jesus lifted the child – a girl child into his arms and spoke those words his disciples were given a teachable moment and also given a rebuke simultaneously … Jesus was not only challenging the status quo, he was turning it on its ear.
If you can welcome in one who has no status AT ALL, then you can welcome in me …
If you can see as valuable this beautiful child, then you can see me and what I stand for as valuable too …
Jesus was pushing the envelope … his disciples needed to see the world through new eyes – the old way of understanding and experiencing the world didn’t wash any more …
No longer would the positions of status and prestige hold true … no longer would connections and knowledge guarantee you a place … no longer was it about the money and influence you think you have … no longer would the stuff of life do anything for you except make you anxious … God’s Kingdom was about to break over us and now all bets were off … it was new game with new rules … and it was a child – a girl no less who was showing the disciples, and us what was important.
Be childlike – is the message … not only welcome in the children, but have the courage and the boldness and the wisdom to become like a child yourself … If you ask a child about God they will tell you … they have an understanding that is free of dogmas and misconceptions … Children see the world as it is – full of awe and wonder … a wondrous and splendid place.
Jesus knew the potential and possibility of Children that day in Galilee. His disciples were hung up on the positions and prestige that comes with the pecking order that is so much a part of life, and he wanted none of it. It wasn’t and isn’t about titles and the positions we occupy – it’s about how we dare to live our lives …
Not only, do we dare to welcome in the children – that is easy, the deeper and more significant question is - do we dare to be child like in our lives and in our faith?
Do we dare see the world in such a radical way, as that of a child? Not a childish way of seeing the world – but child-like … with wonder and awe and openness to all the world has to offer us …
Being child-like is opening ourselves up to seeing the world as a holy place full of sacredness and God’s presence …
Being child-like is being willing and able and open to God’s presence and daring to draw near to God, not on our conditions and terms, but on the neutral terms and conditions that step beyond the shallowness of our culture and society … Being child-like is to stand in the Light of God, and to know – to simply know in the core of our being, that we are never alone …
In the coming days, may we have the courage to simply stand and bask in the light that IS God … may we let it warm our hearts and souls … may we let it comfort us … and may we never doubt it’s presence, even in the cloudy moments when the light is blocked …
God is with us … with each step forward, may we remember and celebrate that profound truth … and may we have the courage and faith in all things to draw near to God …
May it be so … thanks be to God …
(HYMN # 959)
HYMN # 268 Bring Many Names
One: Go into the world:
dance, laugh, sing, and create.
All: We go with the assurance of your blessing, O God.
One: Go into the world:
risk, explore, discover, and love.
All: We go with the assurance of your grace, O God.
One: Go into the world:
believe, hope, struggle, and remember.
All: We go with the assurance of your love, O God.
Thanks be to God!

SUNG RESPONSE: # 299 Teach Me, God, to Wonder
Vs 1: Teach me, God, to wonder, teach me, God, to see;
Let your world of beauty capture me.
Praise to you be given, lov for you be lived,
Life be celebrated, joy you give.

Vs 4: Teach me , God, to know you, hear you when you speak,
see you in my neighbour when we meet.
Praise to you be given, lov for you be lived,
Life be celebrated, joy you give.

The worship has ended…
…the work of God’s people has just begun.
Go in peace.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Something to make you say Hmmm ...

If the world were a village of 1000 people it would include:

584 Asians

124 Africans

95 Europeans

84 Latin Americans

55 Russians

52 North Americans

6 Australians

One-third (330) are children

only 60 are over the age of 65.

10 people are infected with HIV/AIDS

200 people receive 75% of the income and another 300 receive only 3% of the income

70 people own an automobile (although some of the 70 own more than one automobile).

Less then one-third have access to clean, safe drinking water.

Of the 670 adults in the village, more then half are illiterate.

70 have access to the internet

10 have a University of College education

And there are:

5 soldiers, 7 teachers, 1 doctor and 3 refugees driven from home by war or drought

Words of wonder and wisdom ...

God is not a hypothesis derived from logical assumptions, but an immediate insight, self-evident as light.

God is not something to be sough in the darkness with the light of reason.


- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Is it light where you are today ??

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Survivor Who Knows ...

In War there
are no victors ...
...only victims.

- Elie Wiesel

To read Elie Wiesel's 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, click on the title of this entry ...

Monday, September 18, 2006

A quotation to make you go Hmmm ...

Gossip is mischievous,
light and easy to raise,
but grievous to bear and
harder to get rid of ...

No gossip ever dies away entirely,
if many people voice it,
it too is a kind of divinity.
- Hesiod c. 700BCE

Sunday, September 17, 2006

May it be so ...

Long after the deep darkness that fell upon the world,
after dawn returned in flame of rising sun,
The Spirit touched the earth again,
again her wings unfurled,
bringing life in wind and fire as she flew on.
She comes sailing on the wind,
her wings flashing in the sun,
on a journey just begun She flies on.
And in the passage of her flight,
her song rings out through the night,
full of laughter, full of light, She flies on ...
-Gordon Light (Common Cup Company)

The Hard Road ... In search of wisdom ...

There’s a story of a man who was visiting his family at their cabin in rural New Hampshire. From the paved highway that lead towards the cabin, there was a thin, very rough gravel road that ended in a rougher dirt road that stopped at the door of the cabin. The dirt road that lead to the door of the cabin ran along the slope of a hill and down to where the lakeside cabin sat. In the dirt were very large rocks and boulders that made traveling along the path very challenging. Cars and trucks were tossed about as they bounced over the rocks.

One morning, the son of the owner announced over breakfast that he was going to go out and spend the day removing some of the big stones and making the path to the cabin smoother.

“NO,” said his father firmly.

“But dad,” the young man protested, “the road is very rough. It’s not comfortable to bounce in and out that goat path all the time. If we remove the big rocks and smooth the surface it will make the journey much more pleasant.”

Dad laughed and said – “And what happens when the rains come in the fall, and the snow melts in the spring?”

The son said nothing.

“When that happens the road will turn to mud and be impassable, and it will simply wash away and we will have no road leading to the cabin. The rocks hold everything in place. The rocks keep the road from being washed away.” The dad then looked his son in the eye and said – “We need a hard road not a smooth one …”

The young man remembered those words years later as Lou Gehrig’s disease began to claim his body … The road he trod was a hard one … not a smooth one … but he repeatedly observed – “that for many of us life has not turned out exactly how we expected – but in that moment when life takes a turn, we learn a lot about ourselves …and who we are.”

His father knew that … When the rains come … when the storms break upon us we can be washed away, or we can hold steady … The big rocks in the path are what holds the road together … our faith … our sense of self … our knowledge of who we are inside are what holds us together in those moments … they keep us intact in the face of storms …

The challenge in the midst of the down pour is to move from the words on a page and to live them out … unfortunately in our society we want the quick fixes and the easy answers. We want the smooth and easy way … and that’s not always the best route to choose …

In the Jewish faith there is a tradition called Wisdom. In our Bible there are a number of wisdom collections. Ecclesiastes and Proverbs are the most obvious … but even in the words of the prophets, the Wisdom tradition slips in.

In Judaism, Wisdom speaks not about salvation, or even our relationship with God, but wisdom speaks of the lessons gleaned from everyday life – lessons accumulated through successive lifetimes of people who were able to note the passing of the seasons and see patterns – people who could glean from life understandings and lessons worth sharing …Much of the wisdom literature is what we might even call Common Sense.

Wisdom is faith lived and shared day by day in our comings and our goings. It’s not about grandiose pious pronouncements – it’s about how you live your life in the moment by moment decisions you make in your home, in the grocery store, at work or even walking down the street.

Wisdom is about how we interact with the world … and our Bible … our faith … is filled with wisdom, if we dare to open our eyes and our hearts.

The reading from Proverbs today is offers us the dramatic personification of wisdom as a divine and very female entity – Lady Wisdom as she has been known through the ages. Now, it is tempting to launch into a discussion about why this aspect of the divine is characterized as female. There are volumes written on this passage – and it is a very important discussion in our understanding and experience of an inclusive God … but today, it is the WISDOM of Lady Wisdom that looms large in my thinking, not her gender, nor her relationship to God. We’ll leave such things for another day …

In reading this passage from Proverbs we learn some key concepts: Wisdom is divine. Wisdom has been present in the cosmos since the very beginning. Wisdom had a major role in Creation. Wisdom is a gift from God …

Wisdom is also very precious … I did a search of quotations on wisdom this past week and was delighted by what I found …

Biblically, the Psalmist tells us that awe is the beginning of wisdom.

Plato considered that we will never have peace until the Kings and the princes of the world find greatness, knowledge and wisdom together within themselves.

And even the figure of Job, in the midst of his suffering and trials announced that wisdom had a price that was beyond rubies …

Yet, we also often hear it said of supposedly learned men, that “he is smart, but not really wise …”

Wisdom is not taught in institutions … Wisdom is not learned in a book … wisdom is a gift from God found in the unfolding of our lives … Traditionally, our grandparents were the wise people we went to for their thoughts, reflections and opinions. When we thought we had all the answers – we would go to the grey haired elders and see what questions we’ve over looked.

So, Lady Wisdom is calling … crying out … inviting us to join her …
It is wisdom that teaches us that the smooth road will wash away when the storms come … but the hard road – the road that is at times uncomfortable to travel on – will be the one that holds in the torrents …

This past week I’ve been reading a book by Rabbi Kushner. In the book he’s been reflecting on how our bruises can teach us profound lessons.

In his own life, Rabbi Kushner’s son was born with progeria, the disease that sees children biologically age very rapidly, only to die as very old people when they are chronologically teenagers. From that struggle of losing a son, he wrote the book many of us have encountered entitled, “When Bad things happen to Good People.”

With courage and faith, Kushner took the hard road and used it to offer wisdom he’s gleaned from his experience … in his current book he cites the examples of Stephen Hawking and Christopher Reeves as people who have found themselves on a very hard road, but who never gave up, but used the experience to teach themselves and other – that is US, about the strength that we ALL have within.

Hawking has plumbed the depths of the cosmos and his thoughts and writings have taken us to corners of the universe no one dared contemplate until, he sitting in a wheel chair showed us the way … Reeves, the Superman of Hollywood movies had his life forever altered in the blink of an eye – but to his dying day he NEVER gave up – he inspired others to do more then they could imagine … And Kushner himself took the tragic loss of his son and through sharing his story, his pain, his bruises – has inspired countless others …

The examples of those wise folks among us who embrace the fullness of life is legion, another example Kushner cites is that of the leadership of Abraham Lincoln. He notes that Lincoln made no secret of the fact that he suffered from debilitating depressions, but it was from those depressions that Lincoln drew great strength and compassion.

Another US president he cites is Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, who didn’t let a little thing like POLIO slow him down …

Kushner knows that it is in naming and owning our vulnerability that we will find our healing … it is in knowing our sensitivities that we find our compassion and care … it is in stepping on the hard road that we will find our way … Seeking the easy way will save us from some hurts and pains along the way, but the easy way may never lead us to our salvation …

Jesus knew this when he challenged Peter – life won’t be easy for you Jesus said … The Psalmist knew this when he dared to call out to God – even in the fullness of creation life will be challenging … James knew this when he called the Church to a better way – watch your tongue he warned it will not always speak well … and the writer of Proverbs knew this when he challenged the people to listen for Lady Wisdom calling …

And so we stand … listening for Lady Wisdom calling to us … The road we’ve stand on varies … for some it has been easy … for some it has been hard … as a community … we’ve been on a hard road … but it is a road that has held fast in spite the storms that have broken upon us …

When the bumps and rocks and bounces along the way jar us from our complacency, the challenge – our challenge is to open our eyes to see what lessons we can glean from that moment … It doesn’t make the hurt of that jarring suddenly go away, but with wisdom and time we can look back and see those jarring moments are the beginning of something different … A new path as it were …

We’re called as people of faith to take up our Cross and follow … there is no promise of an easy path … just the promise that in that moment, we are NOT alone …
We might be on a hard road … but it’s not as hard as we think … we are not alone, we live in God’s world … thanks be to God …

Let us pray …

Friday, September 15, 2006

God Give Us Wisdom ...

Until philosophers are Kings,
or The Kings and Princes of this world
have the spirit and power of philosophy,
and political greatness and wisdom meet in one ...
cities will never have rest from their evils, nor the human race ...
- Plato (c. 428-348 BCE)

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Quotation That Made Me Say Wow:

There's no match
for the silence of God.
- The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thinking Outside the Box ...

Today's sermon is lacking the bulletin that was used this morning in worship. The bulletin will follow in a couple of days. For now though, here is the sermon:

September 10th 2006 – Thinking outside the box …

There’s a story about a woman who had never had a pet before in her life, she had had no cats, or dogs or any kind of living pet as she grew up. Then one day she found a scraggly stray dog on her front step. The dog had no collar, it was skinny and hungry, and in desperate, desperate need of a home where it would loved and cared for.

The woman’s heart was touched. She took the dog in and cleaned it … the dog for his part delighted in the love and affection. But then the woman realized the dog needed to be fed. She had her supper and she took the scraps from her table and fed them to the famished dog. He wolfed back the food with great delight.

Over time she discovered that the favourite meal of the dog was bread soaked in gravy. After a meal of roast beef, she would take the bread and soak it in gravy and with great relish the dog would like the bowl clean.

The dog lived with the woman for many months and grew fat and happy and was seemingly healthy … then one afternoon the dog simply fell over dead at her feet … She was distraught … she called her vet and asked him to come and look at the dog.

There wasn’t much he could do, but he came and looked at the dog … he poked and prodded, then he asked what she fed him … The woman descried with tears in her eyes the obvious delight the dog took from eating his gravy soaked bread day after day, week after week … the Vet slowly shook his head …

“Madam,” he said softly, “your dog has simply starved to death. Despite his fat and his contentment, a dog needs real meat. You fed him bread and gravy and it wasn’t enough – the dog died of starvation …”

This story is told within Church circles because too often in the Church congregations, and congregation members are slowly starving spiritually … they are not being fed the meat – the spiritual meat they need to remain fit and healthy. Instead they are being fed what some have dubbed theological milk-sops.

Stuff that tastes good … smells good … gives you a warm fuzzy feeling … but it is NOT stuff that fills the nutritional requirements that our spirits have.

And theologically, there is far too much milk sop being tossed around … too often our theology is safe and comfortable and peacable … frequently, we don’t want the boat rocked … we don’t want to feel uncomfortable, we want the feeling of being full and content and satisfied … we don’t want to know that we are slowly starving ourselves to death …

Yet, if we look around, even in the United Church of Canada, we will see the first stirrings of the realization that we are spiritually starving … The milk sop theology that has been comfortable and peaceable is no longer enough …

In the coming days you will hear much within the United Church about a thing called Emerging Spirit. Now, I do not dismiss the goal of Emerging Spirit which is to reach out to the 25 to 45 year old generation and get them re-involved in the church … It’s a good goal … BUT:

As one of those in THAT generation, I look around me and feel kind of lonely in the Church – there aren’t many of my peers to be found. The reasons are diverse and complex – but it is obvious from study after study after study that the 25 to 45 year olds simply aren’t coming to Church, and we are a denomination in decline.

So, we’ve launched Emerging Spirit in an attempt to draw back some of those who we’ve lost …

How will this happen? How will we draw back those who find what we are about increasingly irrelevant, or who are so busy with family commitments and just surviving, that Church is not important ??

I personally, don’t think posters and multi-media campaigns will cut it … I don’t think special studies and reams and reams of pamphlets will do it … yet, that’s what the United Church often does …

This time we need to take a different approach. We can’t keep spooning out a diet of milk sop and expect people to survive …

So, we begin to think outside the box … we MUST stand in a moment like Jesus did in our Gospel reading and think in bold new ways – he came only to the Jews of his day, and yet in both of encounters Jesus was challenged to think beyond the status quo … and so, as we begin to revision what it is that is important as a congregation … we begin to rethink what it means to be a church … we begin by building something new … NOT just something new PHYSICALLY … but something new spiritually … we need, and will think beyond the status quo.

There is – this is something we know – there is a HUGE spiritual hunger out in the world around us. In the shadow of 9/11 and the innumberable conflicts tearing at the very fabric of our human family – we live in dark and troubled times … yet, amid the chaos and the clutter there is always HOPE. And it is that hope that becomes valuable beyond measure in times like ours …
People are saying clearly simple answers and fanaticism are not the way to go – we want MORE … our young people want a radical redefinition of what CHURCH is … and that begins, not with me, not with the learned men and women of the hierarchies and bureaucracies – that process begins with you in this community - – you as a people – you as a church, embody a story of hope … it is a story that began in February 12th as we stood together in the bitter cold and watched our beloved building reduced to ashes and debris … That could have been the end of the story … we could have said – “Right, it’s all over …” and walked away … we could have become overwhelmed with our sorrow and grief and simply sat down and wept … but we didn’t – YOU didn’t … one little step at a time we moved forward … and it is from there that resurrection will come …

We wept and mourned … but then we set our faces to the future and said – The church is not the building – the Church is the people … and we WILL rebuild … we began and continue to dream … we began and continue to share our visions … we began and continue to see tomorrow as a place where anything is indeed possible …

We have our building committee and our fund raising committee and our Board all working towards tomorrow … but most importantly, all of you – every last member of this faith community have a story that is worth sharing … a story of hope that will speak to people more then ANYTHING that Emerging Spirit can offer.

Over a cup of coffee, when you share with someone YOUR story – the feelings and emotions and reflections that are part of the last seven months – the things you as a person have been through – when you share those things, you are being an evangelist. A true, from the heart evangelist. As you open your mouth and speak of the hurts and the celebrations, as you talk openly about what it is that we’ve been through – you’ve been through – you are telling your story and you are opening the door that invites the 25-45 year olds BACK …

They won’t see, nor hear a tired formulaic faith that says – “This is what you must believe … these are the things we value …” Instead they hear a story … a real story that has value and meaning …

So, how do we share our story? How do we tell others?

By just talking … sharing our thoughts and our insights – not with one another in the pews and at church functions, but in everything we do.

We need to move outside our comfort zone … we need to have the courage to move outside the box …

There is a story of a Church where a smelly, very disheveled man walked in the sanctuary during worship … He came in and sat down, no one recognized him … so later in the service it became time for communion to be served. The man joined everyone else at the front rail … The priest passed him by when he served the bread and the wine … The man still stood there – waiting … his hands extended … On the second pass, the priest again passed the man. This time the man spoke up – “What about me?” the man asked, “I need Jesus too!!” he cried …

Such things, hopefully would never happen in our midst … not so blatantly … But such things can happen subtly … It is the subtle things we need to guard against …

The Gospel lives only when we dare to share it … One of the wisest saying is a benediction that says – “Go and preach the Gospel … when necessary – USE WORDS!”

I had a conversation with someone recently, and they shared with me their disgust at people who claim to be good people yet have no compassion or kindness in their lives … self-righteous was the word used …

Self-righteousness denies the power of the Gospel … it denies the power of love.

Ultimately the Gospel is about love … love embodied … love lived … love shared … If Emerging Spirit is to succeed, it will only succeed if we have the courage to step outside the box and boldly share our stories … our experiences … what it is that makes us tick … Not with the goal of conversion, but with the intent of conversation …

The Church will survive, only if we as a whole people of God, are able to tell our stories – our personal stories … and live them out each moment of each day. It’s an awesome responsibility that requires only living the faith we profess with our mouths … No stepping by those who make us uncomfortable or uneasy … no ignoring the things that make us squirm … no more easy cruise in the boat without waves and motion …

It’s time to open ourselves to the spirit and let the story that lies within us break free and be shared … As a church, as a community of faith – we’ve had one of the ultimate boat rocking experiences … The most powerful story we can share is OURS – the journey that got us here is about hope embodied and lived out, and the lost generation what to know what there is about this God talk stuff that is relevant and real … and this place – this people – this Church is living THAT every day – we just need to tell others about it …

No more milk sop … the real meat is what you have to share … our job is to share it …
And it starts by telling your story … one wonderful word at a time … Your story is what the world yearns to hear … a story of hope – a story of faith – a story of an extra-ordinary average person who is worth listening to …

Jesus was challenged to see things differently – so are we …
What are we waiting for???

What is Really Important ...

In July, while I was in Port Hardy the folks at St Columba Anglican/United Church asked me to share some of the journey that I and the folks at Minnedosa United Church have been on since our fire of February 12th ... A week or so ago I posted the first "sermon" (for lack of a better term) that I had shared, and today I would like to offer the second reflection on what I've learned to value in the days since the fire ...

Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13, Psalm 51 (pg 776 Voices – In Unison), John 6:24-35, Ephesians 4:1-16

“What’s Really Important?”

In recent weeks I’ve been reading a number of books, including Thoreau’s Walden, the story of the time he spent living in a cabin on Walden pond. Throughout the book, Thoreau reflects on the busy-ness of life in the 1840’s and muses about what it is that people have to be busy with. He offers us, even 160 years later a good excuse to pause and consider what is really important in our lives.

Thoreau inventories his list of possessions and his library, and notes that there is nothing in the cabin that is of such value that he must lock the door, and bar entry by other travelers who happen by the cabin and the pond. In the process he perhaps offers us a model that we, in the 21st Century would do well to emulate … What is really important in our lives?

In a society with HD TVs, iPods, MP3 players, cel phones, lap top computers and gadgets and gizmos for almost everything imaginable, we would do well to pause and seriously – and I mean seriously consider what it is in our lives that is really important. It’s easy to say – “the best things in life are free,” but in today’s society it is harder and harder to live and even to believe that to be true … it would do us all good to periodically revisit Walden with Thoreau and hear his timeless words about what is important, particularly when we approach this issue in faith.

This notion of valuing things that can not be bought or sold became vivid to us in Minnedosa this winter with our fire. On the day after our fire, our town had numerous media outlets descend upon it, as each tried to get a new angle on the fire story. One of the members of our congregation was being interviewed and was asked by one of the eager young reporters how she felt about the Church burning down …” Without even thinking, the member of the congregation replied – quite seriously – the Church didn’t burn down – our building did. And in the process that became our unofficial motto in the journey back from the fire. Over and over we’ve observed that the Chruch didn’t burn down – our building did. We’ve linked it with the notion that the Church is NOT a building, the Church is a people and it has become a mantra of sorts …

Over and over we’ve proclaimed and celebrated that the Church in Minnedosa didn’t burn down, our building did … It doesn’t diminish the pain and sorrow we’ve felt, but it has allowed us to talk about what we’ve lost and what is really important to our journey of faith and to our lives.

Considering what’s important in our lives is never a bad thing to do … I’ve often quipped that if something happened tomorrow and we had to flee suddenly, not unlike the experiences being endured by people of south Lebanon and Northern Israel, I could put everything that is important to me in our van and drive away … I usually say that I would try really hard to make room for Mag and the kids … But in all seriousness, the most important things in our lives are not the gadgets and gizmos, the most important things are literally those things that we carry in our hearts …

Our familial relationships … our friendships … our memories … the things that truly make us who we are … it is those things that are really important in life. The monstrous houses, the flashy new cars, the toys and gadgets and all the stuff of life are never as important as the relationships and the stuff that money can’t buy …

If we pick up a newspaper today and read about the turmoil and difficulties and conflicts that are tearing the fabric of our modern world apart, we would see that in a place like Southern Lebanon, survival, family and the bonds of family and community are really all that is important when fires rage, bombs drop or life takes an unexpected turn.

In a very real way, that is the underlying lesson from both our Old Testament reading and our Gospel reading.

In our reading from 2 Samuel, we find Nathan confronting the King following David’s indiscretions with Bathsheba. It may read like a sweet story of sorts, but it is important to remember that in this moment Nathan was taking his life into his own hands – literally. He was a religious leader with no power – and yet, he was in this moment called by God to confront the King in a very in your face kind of way. The goal of the confrontation was to remind the King that he had not only messed up in a big way – but that he had also allowed his values to get totally out of whack.

David had clearly not only lusted after Bathsheba, but had acted upon that lust, and THEN engaged in behaviour that was totally reprehensible for one who professed a belief in God.

Nathan, as God’s messenger wanted to remind David of THAT simple reality – that one who professed a belief in the God Yahweh, ought not to act the way he did. Nathan confronted David and challenged him to a better way … “You are that Man,” Nathan said with great conviction, knowing that David was going to judge himself … Yet, in that moment David could have ordered Nathan to be killed, and like Uriah, Nathan would be added to the debris field of David’s mis-deeds.
But the text tells us that David heard Nathan’s words and took them seriously …

Then we turn to our Gospel reading and we find Jesus offering a Nathan like warning to an entire crowd. Jesus says – “you come because your tummies were filled … you hunger for the bread that miraculously appeared on the hillside over there … Yet, I offer you something more … something extraordinary … and you don’t seek the Bread of Life …”

This is the crowd who hours earlier had gathered on the hillside with Jesus and the disciples and witnessed the miracle we know now as the feeding of the multitude. We can debate and argue the nature of the miracle, or we can accept that something astounding happened, and a crowd was fed because … well, because a miracle happened. Now, though the crowd was following Jesus, not because of his message, but because of the signs and wonders they had witnessed, and because they wanted to have the glitz and glamour that comes along with such happenings …

In the modern church there are fewer and fewer people who hang in seeking the glitz and the glamour, because quite frankly there isn’t much … but there are those who are here, not because they are attracted by the non-essential stuff – the unimportant stuff …
The question that hangs across the sands of times – do we have the courage to confront it and hear the words of Jesus that challenge us to consider seriously what is really important in our lives …

Think about recent new events and ask yourself what is important in this moment … the bombings in Lebanon – what is important to the people fleeing for their lives ?? The rocket attacks in Israel – what is important to the people living in fear of the next volley?? The heat wave in Eastern Canada – what’s important when the temps hit 40+ degrees??? Can the newest iPod keep you cool then

Over and over, if we have the courage to open the newspapers and read what’s happening in our world we will be confronted with that moment in time when Nathan stands in front of David saying – “you are that man,” and we will be confronted, not with our sins per se, but with our assumptions … What is important right now in this moment?? Health? Security? Having enough to eat? Clothes to wear? Family to share it with? Friends to spend time with?

The last time this reading rolled through the cycle, one of the suggested references was the old song – The cat’s in the cradle … we know the story – the little boy wants to spend time with his dad, but dad is always too busy, then one day the dad asks the boy to spend time with him, and the boy says – I can’t dad … no time, and the circle closes and Dad says – “he turned out just like me …”

The challenge for us – be we 2 or 102, is to consider what we do with our time, our energy, our resources, and our money … what is really important to us?? How do we spend that with which we’ve been so richly blessed??

At the end of our life journey what will be said of us?? How many eulogies have you heard that proclaim that they spent lots of time at work?

What’s really important … only you can decide for yourself … but the examples of David and Nathan, and the lessons of Jesus give us some pretty good roadsigns … if only we have the courage and faith to read them …

Saturday, September 09, 2006

One of those moments ...

I might be trying to avoid my sermon today ... or it might be something deep within me that knows the warm lazy days are few in number before the winter sets in ... but whatever it was ... something sent me out on a bike ride after I had ridden "downtown" to pick up my Saturday newspaper ...

I set off to ride around the Bison enclosure with no real goal in mind ... first I rode under the train bridge, then along the river ... I noted it was lower the I can remember it being ... and I faced my first dilemma ... which fork in the road should I take ...

Facing the choice worthy of Robert Frost himself, yet seeing absoluterly no difference between the two path, I opted for the one that lingers along the trees and hill, rather then the one that meanders along the river ... To quote Frost - "and that has made all the difference ..."

I rode my bike along the path deep in thought, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine on my back ... silently I pedalled just savouring the ride ... Up ahead I noticed another traveller on the path. This one walked slowly down the path, her head down. She was so intent on munching the green grass that she failed to notice me, and she failed to lift her head to keep watch. Following close behind her were three more travellers, younger then she, but equally engrossed in their tasks ...

I slowed my bike and stopped ... I waited ... watched ...

Suddenly when she had gotten to within 5 metres of me, she stopped and her head shot up into the air and her ears and tail flew up ... Now fully alert and aware that I was there we stood watching each other ... Her tongue flicked over the lips, pulling in the last vestiges of greenery from her interupted lunch. I stood stock still, smiling, enjoying the sight of four deer close enough to reach out and touch ...

For a long moment, we stood facing each other on the path. I meant her no harm and she wasn't sure what to do ... behind her the three others watched ... none of us moved ...

Then slowly she stepped into the grass on the margin of the path ... slowly with measured steps they retreated in to the long grass on the hill ... every step - every movement with her eyes firmly locked on me ... Then when they were far enough off the path for their comfort, they returned to their grazing, and I slowly pedalled past them ... She lifted her head and watched ... still not sure ... being protective of her youngsters ...

I rode away smiling ... for one brief fleeting instant ... I stood face to face with a momma deer and her babies in the bottom of a Prairie valley ... and it was delightful ...

Friday, September 08, 2006

From God's Hands ...

It is not you who shape God
it is God who shapes you.
If then, you are the work of God,
await the hand of the Artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer the Potter your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form
in which the Artist has fashioned you.
Let you clay be moist,
let you grow hard
and lose the imprint of the Potter's fingers ...
-Irenaeus CE 125-202

Sunday, September 03, 2006

It comes from within ... (Today's Sermon)

September 3rd 2006

I have to confess to beginning this with a sense of awe … Over the summer I have watched a huge variety of wild life and stood in awe of the eagles and ravens flying overhead and the whales and seals playing in the bay … last week on the drive back, the kids and I took a detour through the Columbia Icefields where I stood in awe of the glacier on which we stood, albeit for only a moment.

But more then that, over the summer I connected with people and places within the Church, and had time to reflect on what it means to be the church, what it means to be in ministry within the church and here among this community, and I even took the time to listen to what came out of the General Council meeting in Thunder Bay – and I came to realize through that combination of awe and reflection, what enormous potential and possibility we as a Church, a community and a people have.

This has been my summer of rekindling with in me the passion for Ministry within the Church, the passion for life, and a passion for what it is we struggle to do and be each day … The time of leave has been good … it has been healthy … it has been okay.

And so, as I approached these texts today and read their words, my sense of awe continued to deepen …

On first glance, we have four very different readings … readings that are disconnected. But if they were truly disconnected, they wouldn’t be found together in the Scriptures at all …

And so, we begin with the love poetry of the Song of Solomon, a text scholars and theologians have struggled with over the centuries. They’ve tried to justify it’s presence in the Bible by saying – “it’s a metaphor for our relationship with God …” I remember teaching Sunday School in my University days and getting the kids in my class reading this text in the Good News version of the Bible as well as more of Song of Solomon. The boys – largely 12 to 15 year old boys were thrilled, and dare I say, titillated by the words they read … It was not a metaphor of their relationship with God … to them it was a form of exciting smut … or atleast one mother saw it that way and complained to the Minister and the Board …

The outcome was one of the wise men of my home congregation said – “the kid is reading the Bible, what’s the problem??”

But such is the issue facing theologians and scholars. How do we approach and use this text, a text that is clearly erotic in intent. It is a stretch to say that it is a metaphor for our relationship with God. It is plain and simple love poetry. It is the words spoken between two people who are deeply in love … The words are erotic in the fullest sense of that word. Romantic, passionate, fiery …

In this text … in life … we can not escape the simple reality, that in life it is love that gives us our meaning and our depth … it is love that connects us beyond ourselves.
Through love we connect to our families … our partners … and our creator. Love is what under girds our lives and our faith …

In the Church, and in religious institutions, we use texts like the Song of Solomon to focus our energies and our beings on the love that lies between ourselves and our God. We speak of how to live our lives of faith by being loving … we talk about faith using terms like love … we seek to transform the world by using love.

And so, it is love that is central and important to our faith .. One could even say, our faith is an expression and manifestation of love …

It is with this in mind that we then approach the text from Mark. In this text people are complaining to Jesus because his followers, good Jews all of them, are not following the Kosher and dietery laws. They are not washing their hands appropriately before meals.

This is not a case of them NOT washing their hands. They were washing their hands, but they were not making themselves clean … Confused? Don’t be … There is a difference.

In the mid-80’s, when I traveled to Israel with a group of University of Toronto, I was privileged to go to the Muslim Shrine at the Dome of the Rock (that’s the Golden Domed structure that dominates the sky line of Jerusalem). Amir one of our fellow students took his pilgrimage during our time in Jerusalem. He went to the compound and let us stay with him as he went through the very elaborate ritual washing demanded of him to set foot inside the Mosque for worship in this Holy place.

It is hard to describe but it involved a set number of handfuls of water, circling in the proper direction over the body part the right number of times, and not coming into contact with the “dirty” water … Before setting out that morning, Amir had showered for an hour in our shared dorm room, much to the chagrin of the four others who shared the room with him, so he wasn’t “dirty” but he wasn’t clean in the ritualistic sense. And that is what needed to be rectified. Before he bowed in Allah’s presence Amir needed to be clean …

And it was that kind of washing the critics were complaining about to Jesus – your disciples are dirty. Not filthy, but ritually unclean. While I was traveling in BC I was struck how, in EVERY public washroom I went into there was a plethora of signs all saying – “Washing hands with soap and water greatly diminishes the risk of spreading diseases like Colds, Flu and SARS … I’ve been horrified reading the statistics on how many people don’t wash their hands properly in such places, or at all … but that’s another issue. (an important one – but another issue) The disciples were hygienically clean – they just weren’t ritualistically clean … And that was the problem for those who came to Jesus complaining …

“So, what do you do??” They press him, and Jesus launched into a theological explanation … What sullies us in the eyes of God is not what we eat … it is not what comes from outside and goes IN … what renders us unclean before God is what comes from within ... behaviours, attitudes, actions, thoughts … those are the things that would separate us from God and render us broken, or at least feeling that way …

This is a powerful statement to be made in a world where religious practice is heavily protected and guided by ritual. You’ve sinned – there’s a ritual in response to that. You’ve experienced a loss – there’s a ritual in response to that. You’ve lost your temper, beaten your kids, ripped off a neighbour, whatever it was – there is a ritual to cleanse you and set you free.

And then this Jesus guy stands up and says – “the rituals will not protect you, unless the healing and wholeness comes from within … if you are feeling separate from God the rituals will not change that … IT IS what lies within that will address that …”

Jesus clearly says to the people of his day – the religious authorities and his critics: “What pollutes us, does not come from without … it comes from within … So, move beyond the ritual … move beyond the structure of the faith … let the spirit within pour out … and transform, not only yourself, but the world as well …”

And then we turn to the words from the Epistle of James. Words that were written or at the very least, inspired by James the brother of Jesus. James was one of those closest to Jesus, and his teachings flow naturally from the words of Jesus himself. As one of those who had listened closely at Jesus’ knee James offers wonderful words of inspiration to those who have been filled with the awe of faith and who have charged out into the world excited and enlivened only to hit the harsh reality of the world and find themselves struggling …

Building on the foundational idea that what separates us from God comes from outside of ourselves, James offers encouragement by saying: “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slower to anger” (that’s a really good one …) “be doers of the word, not merely hearers …”, “pure religion is caring for orphans and widows in their distress,” and “if any of you think yourselves religious and do not bridle the tongue, you deceive yourselves …”

At first glance they seem to be common sense solutions to the challenges we face in our lives and in our world … and even with a second or third glance, much of James seems to be simple common sense solutions … and the reason for that is simple – They ARE simple common sense solutions, because James is taking the wisdom offered by Jesus and saying – “this is NOT hard people … this is easy …” It’s like the rabbinic tale – “that which is hurtful, you simply do not do …”. In this case it is live your faith … listen more then you speak … curb your tongue – bite it when necessary and be patient …

It’s not really that hard … James wants his readers – us … to stand steeped in the sense of awe that comes with living and moving in the world, and the sense of awe that comes from considering God and the cosmos and so on … the sense of awe that leads us to faith and to love …

James wants us to stand in that sense of awe and to move forward into the world sharing that awe – that faith – and sharing the love that it inspires within us …

James doesn’t see the need for the rituals and the formulas of faith … what separates us from
each other is not washed away by watching what we eat and ensuring we are ritualistically clean … what separates us from each other and from God is what comes from within, and that can be dealt with – not through the rituals – not through the formulas of right belief … it is dealt with by throwing ourselves into the place where awe and love fill our thoughts and where we feel profoundly and intimately connected to the cosmos and to God and to each other …

It is that place where the words of the Song of Solomon arise … it is from that place that Jesus sits down and dines with those who are ritually unclean … it is from that place that the Psalmist considers the splendour of the world and sings … it is from that place that James takes a look around and says simply – “live your faith … share your love … transform the world …” It’s that simple … that basic … that easy …

When we stand in awe, and are awash in love … anything is indeed possible, and THAT my friends, is what we are called to do and be …

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

I asked for awe ... God Gave Me Wonder ...

In July, while we were in Port Hardy, the Community that is St Columba Anglican/United Church asked me to share in their worship life. I prepared two reflection that were largely based on the experience of the journey we've shared here in Minnedosa. Though I was on a leave from official Church duties, this was like talking to a group of friends and sharing with them the incredible journey of Resurrection that has marked our path since the horrible event of February 12th ...

Since that moment when my phone rang and I was told our beloved Sanctuary was aflame, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude and awe at the responses of people from all over ... recently I was told that my tone has not always reflected that ... I was deeply saddened to hear that. I have had nothing but awe, wonder and a profound sense of gratitude since the fire ... It has, as Dickens once said - "been the best of times and the worst of times ..." but mainly, thanks to the support, care and faithful actions of countless people, it has been a time wherein the blessing have flowed all over the floor in abundance.

My thoughts in early July follow ... Looking back ... I truly been overwhelmed by the generosity we've experienced on the journey ... I think I just got too busy and too preoccupied to pause, to take of my shoes, to savour the moment, and to say - "Thanks ..." But hey - better late, then never: THANKS TO ONE AND ALL ... you've made the journey a wonderful experience inspite of the hurt and the pain ... and it is a journey just begun ...

“In the storms of life …Do Not Be Afraid …”

It is interesting for me to consider that I first preached on these lectionary readings, some five lectionary cycles ago (that would be 1991 – to save you doing the math in your head) … And in the summer of 1991, I was here … as a summer intern student as I moved my way through the process towards ordination.

Now each time I encounter the reading of David and Bathsheba I am carried back to that summer 15 years ago, and more specifically, I remember Edith Cadwallader offering me her take on King David and that temptress Bathsheba. Any time I encounter the story of David and Bathsheba, I can picture and hear Edith giving me HER take on things (I’ve been scarred for life) … it was clear to Edith that it was ALL Bathsheba’s fault … David was faultless … David was duped.

However you slice this story up and examine it, it is clear that the story of David and Bathsheba is a story of choices … bad choices compounded with bad choices, made worse with still more bad choices …

A lot has gone on in my life over those 15 years since I first debated and argued with Edith … Heck, a lot has gone on since we last met here a year ago … I have found myself at the blunt end of some bad choices that were compounded by bad choices and made worse by still more bad choices …

In recent days I’ve read a commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures that, like many of us, wrestled with what to do with this story. How did someone so highly regarded make such a heel of himself. Not only did David spy on Bathsheba, he summoned her to the palace, he slept with her, got her pregnant, then when his attempts to trick Uriah, had the poor and loyal soldier killed – all to cover up his actions …

How could the mighty and powerful and chosen by God, David do such things?? How can we still regard him as a noble and wonderful person when we know what he is capable of – and in the case of this story, see it for ourselves??
What do we do with David and his slip ups??

In many respects, David represents in a vivid way – real life …

We all make mistakes, we all screw up … we all end up doing things we wish desperately we could undo. It’s what we do with those moments that makes the difference.

The story of David and Bathsheba is clearly NOT David’s finest hour. It remains an embarrassment for modern theologians. Yet, in the story we can see and hear and experience the first stirrings of redemption and even resurrection.

On February 12th 2006, the community of Minnedosa United Church began walking a journey of resurrection. It was NOT out choice. It was foisted upon us by the actions of three misguided young people and a can of gasoline …

At two minutes to six on February 12th our phone rang for the second time that morning … Mag and I tend to ignore early morning phone calls – they are usually for her – calling her to pick up a shift at work. I got up and headed down stairs only to get to the phone when the machine picked up and the caller hung up … as I came down the stairs though, I could smell smoke. NOT a good thing in a 100 year old house … The phone rang a third time and I picked it up … it was exactly 2 minutes to 6 in the morning.

The voice on the other end said – “Shawn. Bob (the editor of the local paper), your Church is on fire … you better get down here …” I muttered something about “tell me you’re kidding …”
He wasn’t.

I threw on some clothes and tore down the street … as I stepped out my front door and looked northward towards the down town I saw a HUGE column of smoke rising over our still dark and sleeping town …

When I pulled up behind the church and saw flames flickering through the stained glass windows of the choir stall, I knew it wasn’t going to be good … By 7 am the roof of our 105 year old sanctuary was breached and the flames consumed in its entirety the sanctuary that had been built by the Presbyterians and that had been added to and renovated no less then 10 times over the last Century … The Sanctuary that had survived storms, floods and the passage of 105 years was in a matter of five hours reduced to a smouldering foundation filled with shattered wood, blackened bricks and the tattered remains of hymn books, Sunday school supplies, nursery school toys, games and shoes and the destroyed belongings of Cubs, Scouts, Sparks, Beavers, Brownies, Guides, and most painful of all was the loss of a three year old electronic organ, a new piano and hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of choral music …

Later that morning, we met in the basement of the Catholic Church where over coffee and cookies, our congregation met to weep, to rage and to shake their heads in disbelief … at 11 am, I came and brought a borrowed chalice and a half frozen loaf of bread … we celebrated communion and affirmed that we ARE a resurrection people.

Being a resurrection people means that moments like our fire, do not spell the end of our hopes and our aspirations.

Being a resurrection people means that we confront death and loss and moments when life takes a jagged turn with faith …

We pick up the pieces … we gather what we can … and we take a tentative step forward. Even when, in cases like David, when it is OUR own actions that have landed us in the soup, we take one hesitant step forward, knowing – no – believing that we WILL experience a resurrection. Knowing and believing that God will see us through the process of picking up the pieces and carrying on.

It’s about trust … trust in God, trust in ourselves, trust in our circle of family and friend.

Yet, trust is a funny thing. In moments of grief, when the pieces are scattered across the floor, it’s hard to imagine that we will again find a moment when things are “okay” and we again feel whole. But that process of carrying on demands a great deal of trust. But in our faith journey – there is an abundance of trust …

It is trust that Jesus called on when, sitting amongst a vast crowd, he manages to feed a vast multitude of people. Now, I am not one inclined to believe in hocus-pocus kinds of miracles. Instead I am more prone to take William Barclay’s lead and see this miracle as a massive change of heart …

IN Jesus day, you traveled prepared. It’s easy in a time and place where people often pack with them bottles of dasani water, or neoprene containers of cooler water, to recall that in Jesus day people traveling from village to village carried food and water with them. There were no walk-thrus or take outs. If you didn’t bring your own food – you might well starve. And you couldn’t travel far without water before dehydration set in …

So that day on the hillside, Jesus asked people to share their food.

Had I been in the crowd, I might have a chunk of dried fish and a couple of pita breads. But I’m not about to take it out and eat it, when the guy over there doesn’t have anything. Because if I share it, I won’t have enough … and all through the crowd people are thinking the same thing. You and you and you and you … all of you have food, but you don’t want to bring it out in case those beside you don’t and then you’d be obligated to share and … well, what’s a couple of hunks of bread and slice of dried fish for 5000 people ????

So we stay quiet … until a little boy steps up and say – “Sir, I’ll share my lunch …”
Then in the twinkling of an eye the crowd is transformed … “well, if the little kid can share his lunch, I guess I can too …” and out comes dozens and dozens of lunch … so much so, that there are baskets of food left over when everyone has eaten their fill …

In Minnedosa, the Catholic Church quickly stepped up and offered us their building until we get back on our feet. All of the other churches in town offered us space – but the Catholic Church worships at 9, allowing us to continue with our 11 am worship services. In time, other offers of help came - our Anglican sisters and brothers, who should be doing this for themselves, held a fundraising potluck dinner and gave us close to 1400 dollars … the Covenant Church held two special services over the Easter weekend and donated to our building fund … The stories of generousity became and continue to be legion … from all over Canada, and indeed the world came donations …

Some stood out for me. An envelope written in pencil with a note saying this was to help rebuild – a little girl sending what she could. A typed letter from a priest, now retired who was serving at St Boniface Cathedral in Winnipeg when it burned down in the late 1960’s … letters from churches who like us had lost their buildings to fire … cards from people who were touched by our story …

All around us, lunches were being shared – literally … and the crowd was being transformed. Offers of help, donations of money and gifts of hymn books, banners, collection plates and even a baptismal font … each day brought something new. Each day we were offered support and care from the crowd … people slowly pulled out what they had and shared. And the community of Minnedosa walked forward in trust. Trust in God, trust in themselves, trust in each other.

Over and over, I have continued to say – “we are a resurrection people,” we are a people who are transformed, renewed and recreated by faith …

Our building burned down – but the Church didn’t. We say it regularly as a people – we sing it – “The Church is NOT a building, the Church is not a steeple, The church is NOT a meeting place – the Church is A people …” and since February 12th we’ve lived that reality …

I wish I could say it has been an easy journey and everything has happened smoothly, but you and I both know life just ain’t like that. And a community can’t go through the destruction and loss of something as important and as central as its Church structure without lingering effects, and unexpected effects … we’ve had them. We’re still having them. We’re going to continue to have them for quite awhile … but … BUT … even though the trust was at times stretched and tested – the journey forward continues …

In June, I sat in the court room in Minnedosa along with a handful of others and we listened to the Crown read into the record the events of that horrid night. He noted that it began with the three involved making the choice to sit in the cemetery in Minnedosa and drink … then they started making their choices – bad choices … and each choice was compounded by more bad choices … and by dawn on February 12th, they were responsible for burning down the heritage structure that for 105 years, Minnedosa United Church called home …

By the end of that day, the three were sentenced to sentences ranging form 22 to 36 months … (not long enough for many) … and we were left knowing that they didn’t really see anything wrong with what they did. They took no responsibility for their actions or their choices ... and therein lies the redeeming quality of David and Bathsheba …

David messed up – in a BIG, BIG way … but David, when his house of cards fell, took responsibility for his actions. David alone stood before God and the prophet Nathan and took ownership of this mess … It didn’t undo it, it didn’t unring the bell, to use a contemporary term. But David took responsibility for his misstep, thereby offering to us an example of how to live in real life …

There will be no resurrection without responsibility. The crux of Christian theology is a call to God for help – not rescue – but help … When life takes an unexpected turn – and it does – we call out to God and seek God’s healing and help and guidance – not a divine hand that will lift us out of the muck we’ve created for ourselves. Resurrection means picking up the pieces, not rewinding the clock …

David may not be the most shining example of virtue (sorry Edith) … but he is human like the rest of us. He tried really hard … and sometimes that is all we can do … to try really hard and leave the rest in the hands of God …

We ARE a resurrection people … It is about more then hope – it is certainty that we will experience renewal and transformation – that is the promise of our faith … In that we can not only trust, but believe.
May it be so – thanks be to God … let us pray …

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Thoughts for the day ...

Awe is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding, an insight into a meaning greater then ourselves. The beginning of awe is wonder, and the beginning of wisdom is awe ...
... awe is a sense of the transcendence, the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things ...
... awe precedes faith; awe is the root of faith ...
- adapted from Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel
Here's hoping you have a truly awe-filled day ...

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's a good day to just dance ...

One of my favourite images from my childhood is Snoopy dancing with joyous abandon ... Later Calvin and Hobbes rockin to the beat joined that image ... but Snoopy just doing a Happy Dance has always cheered me up ... Today is one of those days ...

It's a good day to just do a Happy Dance ... The sun is shining and it is good ... it is all good ...