Friday, December 28, 2007

Lessons from Friedman:

I loved the TV show "Soul Man" with Dan Ackroyd ... he kind of took his Blue Brothers persona and by putting on a clerical collar took the "Mission From God" to a whole NEW level ... The show didn't last long, but it did leave an impression on me ... a leather jackets, Harley driving, cleric who had his moments and failings was simply and utterly awesome.

Unfortunately too many people prefer their clergy to be tepid wimps like the father in Seventh Heaven to a real person who cusses, drinks and occasionally engages in a brawl or two (THAT WAS A HILARIOUS EPISODE!!!), and as a result the show faded into obscurity ... but the impression has not been lost ...

Today I was reading a portion of Edwin Friedman's book "Generation to Generation" that outlined the challenges posed by unhealthy and dysfunctional congregational systems that begin to posit blame for the dysfunction on the clergy leader, rather than having people take responsibility for their part in the dysfunction. Friedman sees the hen-pecking and nit-picking that results, as a symptom of bigger issues ... unfortunately, when people fail to open their eyes to these currents and issues the end result is what he dubs the "beheading" of the clergy person, rather than a healthy journey to healing and wholeness ...

Real clergy are never welcomed in a dysfunctional system and their propensity to living real lives leads only to judgement and destruction ...

Friedman writes:

Sometimes the content issue IS symptomatic of a continuing malignant process. An advantage, therefore, of being able to distinguish content from process is that it prevents the "fake-outs" of apparent, symptomatic change. As with personal families, to the extent a symptom goes away because the complaining party was APPEASED, or where issues are resolved in isolation from other changes in the system, such change is not likely to last.

AN ILLUSION OF CHANGE: A minister was resented by a handful of congregants from the very beginning of his ministry. His predecessor had been their pet. He in contrast, had been selected by the "new guard" after internecine conflict in the congregation. They urged him to make a number of rapid changes. After 3 years, the "old guard" counterattacked and lost again. The pastor made a public attempt at reconciliation, and publicly praised their contributions to the congregation again and again. THINGS CALMED DOWN, BUT THE MINISTER, HAD NEVER MADE THE YOUNGER LAY LEADERS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PROBLEM in their own congregational family. In other words he remained in the triangle. Five years later the congregation decided to move and needed the contribution of these six older families. As their price, the latter exacted a new spiritual leader.

Every time members of a congregation begin to concentrate on their minister's "performance" there is a good chance they are displacing something from their own personal lives. ... When ministers accept that displacement (by getting lost in the content of the charges), they not only become the identified focus of the congregation, as in all such "family" situations, but they also permit the others not to have to face themselves. Perhaps the most apropos example of the failure of content focus to bring systemic change is the following story:

A TEST OF FAITH: A dedicated minister, whose wife left him for another man began to date a divorced woman in the church. He was himself legally separated but not divorced. A small group began a terrific attack on his morals. At first the leadership said "Don't pay attention," and he agreed. Then they said, "Just date her discreetly," and he agreed. Then they said, "Better not date her until your own divorce," and he agreed. They finally demanded a public confession, and not being "a man for all seasons," he agreed again. When contract time came around, they "beheaded" him anyway ...

Friedman's words hit close to home to me, and offer an explanatory road map to the nonsense I've been living over the last two years ... I only hope that one day some eyes are opened to this reality and the systemic problems are finally named and dealt with before another clergy is shown the door for simply being a human being with failings and frailties ...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thirsting for MORE ...

We live in an interesting time ... church attendance is declining (rapidly), while our movies, books, and other forms of media are struggling with the big issues of life, faith and spirituality ... Mainstream denominations like The United Church of Canada hang up invitational signs for groups of people who have for one reason or another not been traditional attendees of worship services. Even book publishers crank out valune after volume of tomes on matters spiritual ...

Yet, Churches are doing a LOUSY job stepping up to the plate and embracing the possibility and potential that this time offers and represents ...

People aren't interested in embracing traditional religion and church as it has been ... they want MORE ... but our denominations have a major disconnect between the ideas of things like "The Emerging Spirit" campaign and "The Wonder Cafe" outreach project, and what is happening in the individual congregations.

I have shelves of books (okay - right now I have BOXES of books) on the challenges that dog individual congregations. Predominant among them is the work of Edwin Friedman who applies Family Process Theory to the dysfunction we often find in congregations and faith communities. He examines the toxic behaviour that is passed generationally within these communities and by taking that dysfunction seriously, AND naming the complacency of others who do nothing to address nor remedy THAT behaviour, suggests that the Broader Church and Faith Community leadership do a disservice to all involved by casting a blind eye on such behaviour.

The other day I heard the statement - "we are experiencing a failure of our leadership..." while the blame was posited at MY FEET ... I laughed (amid my tears) because there was NO FAILURE on my part of leadership ... I brought resources to the table ... I offered opportunities for reflection ... I pleaded for OUTSIDE help ... the failure of leadership (something I DON'T dispute) came from people who like the three mythical monkeys sat with their eyes firmly shut, their mouths tightly closed and their ears effectively stopped, because they, in their fear, found it easier to deny the reality around them, than embrace the wave that was washing over them...

When leadership fails to admit to its shortcomings and failures, and operates strictly from an erroneous egotisitical stance that maintains that "it's what's for the common good" while neighbours are left devestated and grief stricken ... there is a profound problem ...

Saying - "we have to move forward" when the outcome is deepening a division would indicate that there is NO COMMON GOOD, but only the feeding andenhancement of misguided egos ...

The failure of leadership to address the issues raised by the Spiritual Hunger means that the Church (and other faith groups) will simply die ... but it won't be the end of the story ... Instead, that Spiritual Hunger will give rise (thanks to the Spirit) to something NEW ... it will be the resurrection made real ...

Faith communities will simply wither and die if we (all of us - clergy and lay) don't take seriously profound dysfunction that exists within themselves ... Shrugging our shoulders and saying "oh, that's the way it has always been..."is NO LONGER AN OPTION.

Driving out the leadership who can hold up an uncomfortable mirror that offers few warm pink fuzzies to placate our discomfort with seeing what we're REALLY like ...is NO LONGER AN OPTION.

The voices calling for more are gaining strength and volume ... the hunger that many feel beyond the comfort of our familiar pews is REAL and as people of faith who recogize the hunger and thirst that those crying out represent can NO LONGER sit like three little monkeys pretending that everything will be okay ...

The call for action is NOW.
The people called are YOU and I.
And the way for it to happen is for people of good faith to take the call to Resurrection seriously.

Starting today ... this place becomes my Wittenburg Door ... the place I will nail up my reflections, musings, and thoughts about the state of the Modern Church ... like my colleague and buddy Blake over at "The Laudhing Pastor" ... I set my sights on offering a message of HOPE and FAITH to those who are hungering for things Spiritual ...

In the coming days I will reflect on the learnings I've gleaned from people like Tolle, Hahn, Friedman, Nouwen, Vanier, and countless others who speak from a vantage point outside the Institutional religious bodies. This place will become a site where matters of faith are spoken of openly and freely ...

THIS WILL be the place I nail my personal 95 Theses and openly proclaim - "Here I am, I can do no other ..." and leave the rest in the hands of God ...

... and my motivation is the simple realization that there are many people out there who are hungry for SOMETHING more than the tepid status quo of faith ... and I KNOW I've been both called, and blessed with the gifts to reach out to them ... and with humbleness, it's a calling I will explore ...

Hang on ... it's gonna be a fun journey ...

Peace.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Wise Counsel from one who whispers truth ...

When we hate someone, and are angry at her,
it is because we do not understand her
or the circumstances she comes from.
By practicing deep looking,
we realize that if we grew up like her,
in her set of circumstances and in her environment,
we would be just like her.
That kind of understanding removes your anger,
and suddenly that person is no longer your enemy.
Then you can love her.
As long as she remains and enemy,
LOVE is IMPOSSIBLE.
Thich Nhat Hanh
It's funny. I first encountered that quotation at the meeting on Sunday afternoon where the vote to "end the pastoral relationship without cause" was held. (a vote that passed)
Since then, I have continued my reading of Hanh, and found myself reflecting on his words over and over. Today I remembered a video I saw not long after I returned from a six week study tour of Israel, Jordan and Egypt back in 1988.
In the video clip on the news one night they visited a place run by one of the many groups struggling to bring the children of Palestine and Israel together. At the end of the clip little Arab boys and little Jewish Boys had their arms wrapped around each other and were laughing in the midst of the hugging ... BUT, what stood out for me were two little 9 or 10 year old boys who had their arms wrapped around each other and were proclaiming for the camera: "WE ARE BROTHERS !!!"
The reporter asked them what they thought about the adults saying "you are enemies" and the little Jewish boy, with his arms around his Arab "brother" said "He's not my enemy. I know him. He's my brother, and I love him ..."
I think this is the moment Jesus meant when he told us to LOVE our enemies, to love those who would revile us, and to walk an extra mile to carry the pack of our enemy ... When we take the time to talk TO the person we supposedly hate, we suddenly realize they are a person with hopes and fears, and they are remarkably like us. Walking that extra mile gives us the opportunity to learn more about the other person, and perhaps learn more about ourselves and our own shortcomings and biases ...
In faith, when we have the courage to spend time with our enemies, they will not stay our enemy for long if we take the time to form a relationship with them and learn about them and their lives ... In human history we can point to thousands of examples where that moment is lived and enemies lay aside hate and anger and find healing and wholeness ... Too bad in matters of faith that is often the last thing people try ...
To diminish hate, and live love we need to try ...

Jazz Live at Chipperfields ...



Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Making the most of every moment ...

Thich Nhat Hanh has written many books on peace, mindfulness and filling one's life with a depth of meaning that is breathtaking ... but the other I read a posting over at "At The Half Note" where Katie was sharing advice her mother had given her about dealing with life's intensity by "going off and washing the dishes ..."
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As I read the posting, I thought of passage in Hanh's book "Peace is Every Step" where heurges his reader to be mindful in EVERY moment, but to use an opportunity like washing the dishes as a moment where mindfulness can not only be found, but celebrated as well ... Hanh writes:
.
To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren't doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each moment, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!
.
If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert. With the forkinmy hand, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the texture and the flavour of the dessert, together with the pleasure of eating it will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.
.
Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane. I must confess it takes me a bit longer to do the dishes, but I live fully in every moment, and I am happy. Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end - that is, not only do we do the dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Today ...

In a chilly and relentless wind,
we pause at the 11th Hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,
to remember ...
those who have fallen,
those who came home changed,
and
those who stand proudly in uniform.
Today we remember.
.
Lest We Forget.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Weekend of Remembrance ...

This weekend we pause at the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month simply to remember ...

To remember the cost of our freedom ...

To remember the sacrifice of too many young men and women ...

To remember the futility of war ...

To remember the bravery of those who serve our Country in uniform ...

And most of all:

To remember the precious gift that Peace truly is ...

This weekend we pause to remember ... and to live that remembrance:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place;
and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.

Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved,
and now we lieIn Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch;
be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

- John McCrae

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Tis the Season for Generosity ...

.
It is interesting ... today I've been sitting listening to CBC radio and so far I've learned a few things worth considering ...

The first is - with the Canadian Dollar being higher (finally) than its American cousin, people are seemingly heading south in pursuit of bargains ... cars, stereos, food, computers and a HUGE number of other consumer items that are cheaper "over the border" is motivating people to head south on weekend shopping trips ... what offends me MORE in this conversation is the simple fact that CBC Winnipeg is doing a "where's the best bargain" segment on the early morning show to promote the exodus of our capital to American markets ...

The second is the Stats Canada revelation that the median donation of Canadians to CHARITIES is 250 per year - 250 dollars per year !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's outrageous ... in a nation as wealthy as ours, we should be ashamed of our LACK of generosity, and our skin-flint ways ...

Those two realizations made me think about the season we NOW find ourselves in ... Tis the Season of Generosity wherein we find Christian Churches busily assembling shoeboxes full of useless crap (western consumer stuff) to send to "poor underprivileged" children in the third world through:

I have LONG had a problem with this programme ... I object to their insistence that those children who receive the boxes have to be part of a CHRISTIAN church, leaving countless children staring from the outside as the boxes are distributed ... I object MORE strongly to the lack of infrastructure that comes with these boxes ... Showing up once a year and handing out stuff that is NOT part of the indigenous culture, and is dollar store crap that is NOT needed, is NOT an ACT of CHARITY ...

Instead I have advocated the support of on the ground agencies who address issues of hunger and poverty by building up the community rather than focusing on conversion and handing out presents once a year and calling that adequate.

The other day I had a conversation with an employee of the Mennonite Central Committee in Winnipeg who shared with me his frustration with the Operation Christmas Child - he said - "they don't prioritize schools, or health centres, or helping the other 11 months of the year. Their objective is converting them to a specific form of faith, and convincing people here in Canada that that is MORE than enough ..."

Amen, I said ... We talked about how as a culture we fail to be generous, we fail to think about the full impact of our decisions ... Our conversation turned to the cross-border shopping and we agreed that no one searching for a "bargain" in the US considers the loss of tax money and the lack of real money that is NEEDED to sustain things in Canada like our health care and education systems ...

I can say honestly that I have ALWAYS prioritizes shopping locally, and keeping as much of my money in the LOCAL economy rather than even spending it in the nearby urban centre, and I have NEVER gone shopping over the border, even when we lived a mere 40 blocks from it in Langley ... I want to keep my Canadian money in Canada wherever and whenever possible. I enjoy our education, health care and all the things that come from our tax dollars - and I make my decisions accordingly.

I'm also proud to look back over the number of school kits I have watched assembled and donated to the Mennonite Central Committee in recent years, and knowing that along with each school kit comes a commitment to Community development, I can say that I have through my tiny contribution made a REAL difference without promoting a specific form of "Christian" faith, and sharing needless and pointless consumer culture with children who need food and education first and foremost ...

Hmmm ... makes me think ... maybe one day people will think about being both a conscientious and ethical consumer ... right now we've become a culture of selfish and short sighted people who have forgotten how to use their wealth in proactive and healthy ways ... instead we look out only for numero uno, and ignore the widows and orphans among us ... Today perhaps like never before the words of a wandering rabbi might well be heeded - before it's too late ...

One can always hope ...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We're Back ...

Effective Immediately,
this blog will have
absolutely NO association
of any kind with
Minnedosa United Church,
The United Church of Canada,
or any formal religious
group, agency, or organization.
This site will be a place where
musings are offered,
thoughts are shared,
and comments are made
BY
ME !!!!
and only me.
I tried to do something different here,
but too many people weren't ready,
so
the direction along with the name,
will change
and new courses shall be charted,
Not sure what I'll do here ...
but I just want to make it clear:
THIS IS NO LONGER
A PLACE WHERE YOU WILL
FIND INFORMATION
ABOUT
MINNEDOSA UNITED CHURCH
AND THEIR REBUILDING.
Today is a NEW day!!!!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sermon for July 15th 2007

For The Story Stool Time (when the children are invited forward), I shared the story of John 6:1-12, where Jesus feeds the multitude of people using only five small loaves of bread and two small morsels of fish offered by a young boy.

I shared an interpretation of the story that posits the miracle in the action of feeding so many people with so little food. The interpretation speaks of the little boy touching the hearts of all those present through his act of generosity. As a result the people all reach into their own packs and purses and pockets and take out thier own lunches and share them with one another. The miracle comes from the transformation of a selfish heart that suddenly is able to share without concern with others ... It's a powerful story about the abundance of the Kingdom of God and how sometimes all we need to do is share ...

The Sermon:

Jesus used stories quite effectively … He knew how to spin a tale, and bring his audience from where they were, to where he wanted them to be … The story of the Good Samaritan is just such a story.

In the context of his journey from Galilea to Jerusalem, Jesus is preparing himself for what lies ahead. Theologians have argued whether or not he knew that he was going to die – but at the very least he knew that his life was about to under go a radical alteration. He was pushing the envelope, he was challenging the status quo, he was upsetting the proverbial apple cart. At the very least, Jesus would have known that he was going to have a very, very rocky road. The trial was inevitable, torture and suffering was pretty much a given …

So, he was preparing himself, and preparing his followers. He wanted them to be ready. Not only to watch him suffer – but to be prepared for the moment in time when they themselves would suffer too …

As a result, Jesus spent a great deal of his time and energy speaking of the Kingdom of God and what it is like. The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of Jesus teaching us about the radical nature of the Kingdom of God …

A young man asks Jesus a simple question – “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Not your run of the mill question, but to one involved in what you would loosely describe as the institution of the Church, it is what undergirds the whole understanding of the institution and our reason for involvement therein … If we’re not getting rewarded in this life time, we better be rewarded in the next life time …

The young man has a vested interest in knowing whether he would be burning in hell, or savouring the rewards of heaven … What must I do he asks the rabbi?

Be a good neighbour … comes the easy answer. But who is my neighbour he asks further?

So Jesus, answers the question with a story … a familiar story, that in its familiarity has lost some of its impact. We know the story too well. We’ve heard it too many times. We know what is about to happen, and so we tend to miss the obvious impact this story had …

Let’s take a moment to retell it … A young immigrant who has just arrived in Brandon was on his way to work at the Maple Leaf Plant. He didn’t speak English well, he had just arrived from Latin America in the last week. He was trying to set up a new life for himself and his young family. In his pocket was all his id, his passport, his work permit and all the money he and his family had until his next pay day. He was walking along the Richmond near Trinity United and Bethel Assembly thinking about work when suddenly a couple of hoods jumped him and pounded him into the pavement. They robbed him of his id and his papers, his money, his cell phone, wallet and as a final insult they took his shoes and his coat, leaving him battered and bloodied on the side of the road – unconscious, bleeding, and utterly alone …

In a moment two cars passed by the young man lying unconscious on the road. In the first car was a minister from one of the local churches. He was intent on getting to the church to prepare for the board meeting that was happening that night. The Congregation was getting ready to address the issues that are arising from the dramatic increase of immigrants in Brandon and the many challenges they faced. He and the church wanted to do something about it, so they were getting ready to offer English as a second language classes, set up support groups and get ready to just be present and help in whatever way these new communities needed … He glanced that the young man and thought to himself – “he must be sleeping it off … why does he have to do it on the lawn of my church?” He slowed slightly, but continued on shaking his head with disgust.

In the next car was the chair of the Community Group that was formed in response to the sudden and dramatic influx of immigrants to the community. Like the Board of the Church, they saw the needs and they pulled together a number of community people to help out. Today they were sitting down with some officials from various levels of Government to begin accessing funding and resources to put this vision into a reality. The meeting today would be tense and high-powered, and his mind was focused on getting the biggest bang for the buck for his community. As he drove by the young man on the side of the road, he glanced over and thought – “really? Couldn’t he stagger his way home last night?” As he continued to drive by, intent on getting to his meeting on time, and getting money to help the poor immigrants to his community.

The young man lay there … still bleeding … still unconscious … still desperately alone …
Then a battered old car pulls up … out of his steps … NOW, this is where the story can take a dramatic turn … In the Liberation Theology take on this story, the figure is the GOOD …, and in the blank we add whatever term is current: the good homosexual, the good biker, the good Taliban member, the good First Nations person, the good East Indian, The good welfare mom, the good … whatever person or group flies beneath our radar and has been the recipient of our contempt, is the person who we are to insert in this story … Look deep within and find the figure that we distrust, or fear, or even hate … and place them in that role …

That’s how powerful this story can be …

But this story can be even more powerful.

This story can be very dramatic if we step back and for a moment see and experience it from the point of view of the man, or woman who is lying battered and bloodied and broken on the side of the road …

A recent immigrant … a substance addicted first nations person … a homeless drug addicted street person … a young mom on her way to her underpaying job … if the person on the side of the road begins as a marginalized figure and through violence loses EVERYTHING, including their identity, where do they have left to turn?
Their neighbour …

The first one is too preoccupied … The second one is too rushed … They watch as car after car speeds past them … maybe they are conscious and just watching … Until one who is marginalized JUST LIKE them steps out and lends a hand …

Not only do they offer care … they give the victim back their identity … they are no longer an un-person… a nameless, faceless figure by the side of the road – they are a PERSON, who is broken, and battered, and bloodied and worthy of care, compassion and love … A hand is offered, care is extended and help is provided … Not just a simple – “there there” and a pat on the hand and a shake of the head, but a commitment to care – a commitment to get the person from the side of the road to a place of healing – the hospital … a clinic … a warm bed …

In our scenario, it would play out with the Samaritan figure going the step further and contacting Maple Leaf so that the victim would not be jobless, it would involved helping find out who this person is, and returning to them their identity … It would be about being present in a real way as the healing journey begins …

Both the victim and the Samaritan become people to one another and the Kingdom of God becomes real and tangible … it is more than just words.

This is radical stuff … this is not for the faint of heart … This is about altering our reality and living in a new territory, a territory where God’s ways become our ways …

The heart of the Kingdom of God is radical inclusion – everyone has a place. The nameless immigrant lying battered on the roadside AND the good homosexual, the good terrorist, the good street person they are included ALONG with us … everyone has a place.

The Kingdom of God is a place of radical abundance – there is enough for everyone. The five barley loaves and the two grilled fish become symbols of our fetters being loosened and our shift to being open to share with each other and with complete strangers … The little boy showed the way, and a crowd was transformed.

The Kingdom of God is about being in uncharted territory – it is where God wants us to be. Right now, realistically speaking – we live in a time and a place of decline. Our town is struggling, our Church is aging, our community is dying … but we ARE people of the Resurrection. Our challenge is to think outside the box – to celebrate what we have and what we are, while boldly embracing and welcoming radical new ways of being Church beyond this group … The Church is the people – all the people … the people we greet on the street each day, the people we sit at fellowship with, the people we live alongside … Just because they don’t worship here today, doesn’t mean they aren’t church – it just means the Church is in transition and something new is forming …

The Kingdom of God is about revisioning the world in a bold new way and living accordingly … The stories Jesus told have universal and timeless messages … What he said 2000 years ago in a time of huge societal transition, still speak to us today …

Faith based on Hope, love, care and compassion is what we have … and it is all we need … The vision is clear – The Kingdom of God … the challenge is for us to look forward rather than trying to defend at all costs what once was …

Jesus didn’t advocate the support of the temple and its structure – he wanted his followers – and us to think beyond the institution that is the church. Today we stand in a place where the institution has been found lacking – just look to the settlement announced by the Catholic Church in Southern California … Our own denomination is struggling with issues of abuse, falling attendance, and aging congregations (ourselves included), yet we stand in a yeasty time where more and more people are craving something spiritual. Even in our little town, young people are asking the big questions of spirituality, and even though they find the Institution lacking, they look to the Church …

Our challenge is whether we will be too distracted to pause and help, or do we have the faith, the courage and the boldness to stop and to not only help the nameless victim lying battered on the side of the road, but to stop open our hearts, our arms and our lives to them, and to welcome them in …

The story Jesus told – the stories we retell, are not comfortable stories. They are challenging stories. They are stories that should cause us pause. They are stories that should change our way of seeing the world, our faith, our lives and what it is that we are about as people of faith gathered together as Church …

The story of the Good Samaritan is about including ALL people … The story has been told … now the challenge is for us to live that story today in the streets of Minnedosa … the challenge is to make this story OUR story …

There are battered and wounded people all around us … we are called to care for them, we are called to stop and lend them more than a fleeting thought and few shallow words … we are called to engage and transform the world … we are called to care … about each other, and about the nameless stranger who happens by … we are called to care for our neighbour …

And it begins here (heart) … and is expressed here (hands) ...
May it be so – thanks be to God …
Let us pray …

Sermon for July 8th 2007

This week at Church, there were visitors from Australia, New Zealand, India and Southern Ontario. They were visiting delegates from the IRCA Conference that was held in Brandon at Brandon University.

One of the interesting coincidences that arose from the Conference was the realization that Prasad, the delegate from the South of India, had spent time in Southern Ontario. While based in Woodstock, he visited a hog farm outside of Shakespeare Ontario ... Later he and I visited over coffee and he shared his experiences of visiting the farm that is directly across the road from my family's home farm ... on the corner of the farm he visited stands the Building for Lingelbach United Church - my family's home church ...

Relationships and networks and connections run deep in the rural areas of our world !!!

I would like to begin with some statistics and facts …

Did you know that Samaritan House Ministries in Brandon distribute 500 food hampers every two weeks?

Did you know that Samaritan House Ministries’ soup kitchen Helping Hands offer over 41 000 lunches every year?

Did you know that the three emergency homeless shelter suites (that are not much bigger than a small storage shed) for families run by the YWCA in Brandon are seldom empty?

Did you know that this week in Brandon 85 delegates from 12 countries have gathered to talk about the experience of being rural church?

Did you know that repeatedly, throughout the week in session, over meals and in conversation we’ve talked about food justice, economic justice, rural depopulation, and the many many many challenges faced by modern rural farming families whether they be in Manitoba, Southern Ontario, New Zealand, Australia, England or on an island in the South Pacific?

So this week it was a pleasant surprise to find our two scripture readings in the lectionary cycle as I began the process of reflecting on the experience of being at the International Rural Church Association Conference I have been privileged to attend this past week …

The story of the great General Naaman, could well be a story about rural ministry … He comes to the prophet Elisha while suffering from leprosy. He seeks the gift of healing …

The prophet doesn’t even step outside to see the great man – but instead just sends a message … The prophet is busy is the message – don’t bother him, even if you are a great and powerful leader …

Naaman is outraged … not only by the prophet’s refusal to see him, but also by the message the prophet offers – Go bath in the River Jordan …

It would be like some saying – “go to that slough over there and soak for awhile …”

Naaman responds – “there are much greater rivers, surely I could bath in one of them ??” – “Instead of the slough, what about the Lake? Or Lake Manitoba? Or Lake of the Woods? Or Lake Superior? There are better places to bath than that stinky old slough … I know what those cows over there have been doing in there …”

But the answer is firm – that ONE …

What a profound lesson for the Rural Communities … That little stream – a crick really, is the source of God’s gift of healing. Trust in God enough to experience the healing from where it comes …

Today we live in a time and a place where something is broken … our values are skewed, our economic system is simply not working, the problem of poverty and homelessness is growing in ALL urban centres – even Brandon.

One Friday as I drove in to Brandon to take part in a walking tour of the work and ministry that Samaritan House enacts, I was listening on the radio to a conversation about the 7/7/7 weddings … One of the speakers talked about how popular a particular tour package has become in Brandon. It is a week long all inclusive stay at a luxury resort, where you have a private beach, a private villa, a private pool, a private chef, a butler and you are waited on hand and foot … and the cost is a mere 30 000 US dollars for a week … And the travel agent indicated that it is popular in Brandon …

As she spoke those words I was crossing the train bridge on 18th St and I couldn’t help but think – “what would the folks who live UNDER this bridge do with THAT kind of money?”

There’s something amiss in a society where 30 000 a week vacations are becoming increasingly popular while 41 000 meals are handed out through a soup kitchen and people live under a bridge …

But then a whisper breaks through – a whisper of hope – a whisper that says: change will come … And today, I am beginning to believe that that change WILL come from the rural areas. That despite our depopulation, despite the dearth of young people, and IN SPITE of all the challenges that rural areas around the world face, it will be from the rural areas of this world that this new thing we await will come …

We are poised in a place where something new is coming. The dust up over the WonderCafe ads shows this clearly – the church and our society is in a time of change – the old way of doing and being are no longer working, and all around us (unfortunately many of those voices are OUTSIDE the church) are voices saying – “it’s broken and it needs fixing …”

The issues are many – the environment, the economy, poverty, food justice, equality, … the list goes on and on and on. And the Church – you and I as people of faith are called not to ignore these things, but to embrace them and to become people of transformation and change …

None of us really know what will come as this transformation takes hold, but our challenge and I would dare to say our faith demands of us the willingness to let that transformation come and happen … That was Jesus’ message to the 70 he sent out into the country side …

Go and preach the Gospel … enter the villages and towns, share with them, but if they reject you – walk away and keep doing what I have called you to do … These are bold and difficult words. Not everyone is prepared to hear what the disciples have to say. Not everyone is ready to embrace the vision that is before them. But they are to persevere and trust in God when they are given a rocky welcome.

This is the experience of the Rural Church … this is the experience of the rural areas of our world … We are becoming increasingly marginalized and overlooked. In the modern Global economy we are a place to extract commodities and wealth, and nothing more.

But in that moment of recognition comes the whisper of Hope that says – “there is more to come …”

Think of the Fair Trade Movement … in a little over 20 years is has grown from a marginal movement confined to churches and a handful of NGOs into a global movement that is being embraced by huge Multi-nationals who now offer fair trade coffee, tea, cotton, sugar, bananas and soccer balls … Every month the movement grows and claims a bigger and bigger market share … it hasn’t transformed the world YET, but give it time …

Imagine for a moment the power that can come when the farmers of New Zealand and the farms in Canada and the farmers of the plains of Ukraine begin to talk to one another and say – “there’s something wrong here …” And instead of racing to the bottom of the economic ladder, people around the world begin to insist that farmers have earned a LIVING wage for their work … Such things are possible when people like Prasad come from half a world away and visit a family pig farm and everyone involved goes away from that moment changed … such things are possible when we, as people of faith stop saying to ourselves – “the role of the Church is to gather to worship and nothing more …”

Our task as people of faith – as people of faith who live and work in a rural area – our task as a people of faith is to live the Gospel in ALL things, not just in some … We are called to be midwives to something wondrous and something radically different … we are called to be present to something new …

Elisha ordered the great and powerful general Naaman to bath in a mucky back water trickle … Jesus sent 70 disciples out into the vast Galilean countryside to proclaim the Gospel … Our world is rife with problems and challenges … In each case it is the saving Grace of God that will break through and bring into reality the transformative change the comes from the power of the Risen Christ …

There is an old adage that says – “all evil needs to triumph is for people of faith to do nothing …”

Today in our rural areas – in our world, inaction is NO LONGER and option …

We are called as people of the resurrection to go into the world and embrace the ministry Jesus showed US … we need to challenge the way things are and be present as something new is birthed into being … We are in a yeasty time – something new is happening … and it begins when across the globe connections are made and friendships are formed and that whisper of hope that promised wholeness and healing becomes more than a faint whisper …

This week in Brandon, for a brief moment that whisper has become a shout of hallelujah … but in the face of what is out there it would be too easy to throw up our hands and say – “it’s only 85 people from 12 countries …” But like one of our speakers said this week – “look what Jesus did with 12 folks from a backwater province of the Roman empire called Galilea ??”

In the church we say over and over – “if God is with us, who then can be against us?”

Today, in our midst are what will one day be looked upon as the first stirring of an astounding wave of revival and transformation that will alter the Church and change the world … and all of it will come from the rural areas of the world …

There may have been mightier and cleaner rivers, but God chose a tiny muddy crick … There may have been easier places to witness to the Gospel, more hospitable and welcoming places, but God chose the hard-headed region of Galilea … There are many problems and challenges in our world … 41 000 lunches served in Brandon is only a beginning … but God has chosen us – you and I – to be the people who will embody, share and live that change …

And the bottom line becomes a realization when we meet someone from half a world away that they are NOT the enemy like we might believe – they are not strangers – they are like us, and they too face the same issues and the same challenges, and together, we will be able to address those issues and in faith we WILL BE the change we seek …

May it be so …
Let us pray

Sermon for July 1st 2007

Canada Day !!

Our Lectionary reading this morning focused on the Samaritan Village and the comments Jesus had about discipleship. But this week as I read over the texts I realized the importance of backing up and placing these two stories in a broader context of what was happening in Jesus’ ministry, and the kinds of things he was saying in the days leading up to his journey to Jerusalem …

First we encounter Jesus taking a child and placing her in the midst of his disciples and saying to them, and to us – “who ever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me, for the the least among you shall be the greatest …”

Then the disciples come back to Jesus and say they found someone casting out demons and performing miracles in Jesus’ name, but they didn’t recognize him, so they told him to stop … But Jesus replies – “if you aren’t against us, you are for us …”

Then Jesus and his disciples are rejected by the Samaritan Village. The disciples want to reign fire down on their inhospitable heads, but Jesus just turns his face to Jerusalem and seeks out a place that WILL welcome him.

Then likely as they walked, perhaps as they passed a fox crouched on the side of the road, or perhaps it was even a foxwarren dug into the sand in a ditch along the way, Jesus offers a profound lesson on discipleship – “even a fox has somewhere to lie his head, but not the son of Man …” Two would be disciples come to join the entourage, but both are rejected – one because he has to go home and bury his father – the second because he simply wants to run home and say “good bye”. Both are rejected because they aren’t ready to go now – they are still attached to home, they are still attached to what was, rather than committing to what will be.

It’s about making faithful choices. It’s about following a path that is different and that calls us to proclaim the Kingdom of God …

The path begins with seeing the world in a bold and radical new way. Putting children – non-people – is a complete inversion of thinking and of the way things are. Children never came first in anything in Jesus’ world … yet, here he is putting a child first and foremost.

Next we encounter the strength of Jesus’ ministry. Others are joining the parade and preaching and performing miracles in Jesus’ name. This speaks to the impact and power Jesus had in Galilea … others who were non-connected were trying to cash in, perhaps even literally.

Then Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem and all that it entails and demands that his disciples set their faces and NO LONGER look back. Today is about choosing to face and embrace the future and leave the past behind. Today is about proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Jesus and his disciples face a moment not unlike our reading of Elijah and Elisha from 2nd Kings.

Our Hebrew Scripture reading represents a moment where Elijah’s leadership is drawing to a close, and Elisha’s is beginning its ascendancy. The prophets of both Bethel and Jericho try to stop Elijah from continuing on his journey to no avail. Elijah has made his choice … Elisha makes his choice.

Elijah urges Elisha to abandon him, but each time Elisha refuses until he is left standing watching as the great prophet is taken up in a fiery chariot to heaven, leaving behind the mantle of leadership for Elisha to find and take and wear … this story ultimately is about choices. Elisha faces many choices – he could stop and turn back, he could abandon his friend, he could simply leave – but instead he perseveres and claims for the mantle of leadership …

Ultimately, these moments of choices are moments of transition, where what was no longer applies, and what will be – that is the Kingdom of God comes to the fore and we as people of faith face choices …

Moments of transition are never easy – they are fraught with challenges and most of all, they represent change – sometimes on an epic scale.

This week I read the story of the Golden Spruce that used to stand on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlottes) – the subtheme of the book, beyond the story of its tragic and senseless loss, was that of how incredibly senseless modern logging practices are. Repeatedly throughout the book the author cites loggers who KNOW that their logging practices are unsustainable, and will ultimately eliminate the very forests they are dependent upong.

BUT, they are simply powerless to do anything about it … a job, money, a lifestyle – those things have become too important. They resent cutting down in 25 minutes a tree that took a thousand years to grow, and they resent the loss of something intangible to all of us – but they can not make the choice to say – “no”. Because there will always be someone to take their place in the woods – they need the money – they need the work – and they want to provide for their families … So they continue to log and clear cut and destroy an ancient eco-system …

In moments of transition – it is always easier to DO NOTHING, than it is to act boldly and make a choice that may be neither comfortable nor easy … the simple and safe path is to look backwards and focus on what has been rather than what could be …

That’s the issue central to our readings this morning … making the choice to move forward, or making the choice to stay where we are focused on what once was – trying desperately to keep things the same as they have been …

The disciples wanted to stop someone preaching and performing miracles in Jesus’ name because they didn’t recognize him … Jesus said – “let him be, if he is doing it in my name it will be okay …”

The Prophets of Bethel and Jericho wanted to stop Elijah from achieving his destiny – but neither Elisha nor Elijah himself was willing to make a choice that opposed God’s plan …
The unknown village in Samaria rejected Jesus, yet he continued in his ministry and on his journey …

Those who approached Jesus and wanted to join in his ministry were given a simple choice – join us, or not … They needed to wrap up loose ends and were rejected. There was no room for looking back. There is no place for pining for what was. There is only room to look ahead and journey on …

Now, I’m not a farmer. But I have enough farm connections in my life to know a few things about farming … enough to know I would never make a good farmer … but I do know that when you’re ploughing beyond the occasional look behind to see that the plough is working properly, you want to watch ahead to ensure your furrow rows are straight. If you look behind you, even with big modern machinery you tend to waver … So, Jesus used a commonplace example when he said – keep your eyes focused on what’s ahead, not on what’s behind …

So too in our community … we need to look at what is and can be not, what once was … So too in the forests of BC … we need to focuse on what is and what can be, not what once was … So too in the Church … we need to focus on what is and what can be, not what once was.

Choices face us all the time. We can try to stop what will be … we can choose to look backwards rather than forwards … we can fight the future and the changes it represents … OR, we can make a choice and face the future …

Today is Canada Day. The Day that we recognize 140 years of common history as a nation. But our history as a people stretches much farther back – wave after wave of immigrants have come to this land and against overwhelming odds, build new lives for themselves in both field and forest. Today as we celebrate, it is a good day to pause and reflect that had our forebearers arrived in the thick forests of Southern Ontario, or on the vast undulating plains of the prairies and said – “forget it, its too much work …” our nation would never have come into being. But instead our ancestors – our forebearers looked to the future and set to work …

In faith, we are called to do likewise … As a Church we are called to face the uncertainties of the future and to not only embrace the unknown, but to work to build the Kingdom of God in our midst …

And the Kingdom of God begins to stir when we have the courage to see things in bold new ways and no longer look over our shoulder … The last shall be first …

May we have the courage and the faith to journey on …
May it be so – thanks be to God.

Let us pray …

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sermon for June 24th 2007 - Grad Sunday

The Service

I once read that the most holy moment in all of creation is the “wow” of a child. I’ve reflected on this in my life many times. I’ve experienced the “wow” of new discovery many times, and I would lean towards agreeing that there is something powerful and holy in the moment when we say “wow” and experience or understand the world in a new way.

Having said that, there is something delightfully appropriate in having the two readings we shared earlier, as part of our service. Today we’ve invited our Graduates to come and join us, and as part of our long standing tradition that we’ve observed – a tradition where we wish our grads well as they make the transition from one chapter of their lives to another.

Our reading about the demoniac at Gerasene, is NOT a comment on our grad class, but rather it is represents for me personally one of the stories that altered the course of my life as I moved through the transition of graduation. This story is very much a revisiting of a holy “wow” moment.

In the spring of 1988, I was privileged to be a participant on a study tour offered by the University of Toronto to Jordan, Egypt and Israel. For six weeks we toured the Holy Land and explored its religious, political, economic and environmental features. We met with Arabs and Israelis, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. For six weeks we traveled and studied all over that tiny corner of the world that garners more than its fair share of headlines. The entire trip was a holy “wow” filled with many many holy “wows”.

But one afternoon we stood on the top of a steep hill that overlooked the Sea of Galilea. Our tour guide began to recount the story from Luke that we shared a moment ago … He described Jesus and the disciples crossing the sea by boat and arriving at the foot of the hill where we stood. He pointed over the side of the hill to the location of a historic area of graves. He motioned to the brush in the other direction and indicated that if we stayed quiet we might catch a glimpse of the wild pigs who inhabited the area.

As he spoke he informed us that we were standing on the site of the only story from Jesus’ life that can be accurately pinpointed on a map. Using the clues of the text from Luke, there is ONLY one place on the entire eastern shore of The Sea of Galilea where this story could happen … one hill, one place with graves, one place with wild pigs that when startled will run into the water and drown because they can’t swim … one place where a story of Jesus can be marked on a map with 100% certainty.

I was awe struck … and that afternoon as we drove back from our time along the shore and in the Golan Heights to the east of where we stood, I was overcome with a sense of awe that lead me to WANT to study further the scriptures.

A fire was lit … a fire of learning … In that moment I knew that I wanted to do something – anything – with Scriptures and spend my life exploring and better understanding them … All because I stood on the top of a hill over looking the grey-green waters of the Sea of Galilea and heard – this is the place it happened … the only place it could have happened.

It was a holy “wow” that lit a fire and it was a fire that in time lead me back to the church and to the pulpit … it was a fire that in time lead me to embrace the United Church’s courageous stance on things like social justice, gay and lesbian rights, support of First Nations people and fair trade. It was a fire that continues to burn within me – each time I open the scriptures to prepare for Sunday Morning worship, or in my own devotions, I begin with a silent prayer – a hope – that something new will be revealed to me …

This is especially important in the reading and rereading of familiar Biblical stories. The stories I know well – the stories I’ve read a dozen times over my lifetime. I seek to reclaim the holy “wow” moment …

The story of the Demoniac at Gerasene is very familiar to me. For 17 years, I read and re-read the story thinking of that day in the Mediterranean sunshine learning about where it actually happened. I’ve preached on this story from that point of view several times.

Then in the fall of 2006, I attended the Rural Ministry Conference in Muenster Saskatchewan and listened as Cam Harding, a professor from Saskatoon laid out the story – this story – in a radical new way. He described both the story and the events contained within as an expression of defiance and rebellion against the Roman empire … the pigs, the name of the demons, all of it – every detail was in Cam’s view an expression of defiance by a rural faith community to a political and economic empire that REALLY didn’t care about anyone or anything but the profits it could extract from the rural areas … it was a holy “wow” in the fullest sense of the moment.

It was a radically new understanding of the text – it made a great deal of sense, and it was born of Cam’s research and companionship journey with farm families enduring and surviving farm bankruptcy. He ended his reflection by tying his interpretation of Luke to modern events gripping the churches of the prairies … and wondered if it wasn’t time for a little defiance on OUR parts …

The fire of learning intensified. I returned from Muenster more deeply committed to ministry in the rural setting. But more than that, my commitment turned to seeking to understand the Biblical texts and our common faith as something that can speak to the situation on the prairies today … we can no longer be bound by the way things were or have been. Now is the time for radical actions, radical ways of being church, radical ways of living out our faith.

Living outside the box.

Now instead of standing idly by and shaking our heads as our rural areas depopulate and our churches struggle and multi-nationals expand their control over everything … our faith … our understanding of scriptures … our way of being church requires, and I would dare to say – demands that we revision what Church is to speak and live words of hope to the world around us – to ourselves, our family, our neighbours, our communities …

The familiar must become a means of understanding the world in bold new ways … the old stories must inspire us to new ways of seeing the world around us …

Such is the spirit of Graduation … before us is not a continuation of the way things are and have been … before us today – before our grad class – is potential and possibility … in the coming days you will, and you must, test your wings … In the coming days and weeks it is about being like Elijah and finding the presence of God, our higher power, the holy – whatever terms we are most comfortable with – finding that presence in the world around us and letting it work in and through us … the task of the graduates is to experience the holy “wows” that are ALL around us … and to share those moments with all of us …

Graduation is the moment in time when collectively we commit to tomorrow being better than today … Graduation is the moment when we feel inside ourselves the fire of learning that will never be extinguished, and that continues to glow and burn within us … Graduation is the moment in time when we stand poised before potential and possibility … Tomorrow is a new day – it is unwritten and unfettered … It can not be what yesterday has been – it can not be what today is … it must be what it can be …

New experiences, new understandings, new ways of seeing and living in the world are before ALL of us … today as we send the Graduating Class of 2007 into the world with our blessings and our prayers, our task is to follow them by continuing our learning and our experiencing the holy wow in everything we do …

And undergirding it all is the realization that like Elijah in the cave – sometimes the holy is found in the most unexpected of places … it will NOT be found where we expect it – it will be found where God wants it to be found … Go into the world today and search it out …

May it be so … thanks be to God …

Let us pray:

Sermon for JUne 17th 2007

This sermon is a dialogue ... But it is NOT your usual dialogue between two people.
One of the people is a flesh and blood person, the other person is ... well, Joey is a puppet ... For far too long, my puppet voices have been silenced. This week, as part of the Sunda School lead Worship Service, Joey decided it was time to return ...

The following is our conversation ... it was fun ... Joey promises he'll be back !!


Joey: Church is boring.

Shawn: Boring? Why is it boring?
It has music, there are lots of people, we eat a fair bit, we talk about important stuff. How can you say Church is boring?

Joey: Yeah, but it is still booooooorrrrrrrrring!!!
Where’s the good music? The choir is great and nice and everything, but …

Shawn: Joey. The choir works really hard …

Joey: I know they do. But it’s not MY kind of music.
I like Rock’n’Roll baby … Rock’n’Roll !!

Shawn: Speaking of Rock’n’Roll, you wouldn’t know where
my MP3 player might be, would you?

Joey: (too quickly, averting his gaze) Nope. Haven’t seen it.

Shawn: So … you like Rock music and the Choir’s music
isn’t your thing. There’s really nothing wrong with Choir music … Besides that, there are lots of people around you can visit with.

Joey: How many of them, besides you, want to be friends
with a puppet?? When I talk to them they just start laughing, then they look away … I see it … trust me on this one …

Shawn: Okay … what about the food. We eat together once
in awhile. Like today – we’re having a BBQ down at the park …
Joey, what’s boring around here?? If it’s not the people,
or the music, or the food, the only think left is the preach…

Joey: Is it raining outside? Would you look at that, I think it’s
raining outside? Don’t you ??

Shawn: JOEY !!

Joey: I think it’s raining outside …

Shawn: Joey, are you saying my preaching is boring?Joey: (pause) NO. I think you just said that …
Shawn: Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Joey: You’re welcome.

Shawn (pause): Well, you have to admit that today hasn’t
been boring …

Joey: Yea, instead of preaching, you’re sitting in front of
everyone talking to a puppet !!! (laughing)

Shawn: You have to admit that today hasn’t been boring –
the kids – the laughter – it’s been kind of exciting and unpredictable even.

Joey: Yeah, it’s been kind of fun.

Shawn: And I’m not even preaching …

Joey: Yeah, today is a banner day isn’t it ??

Shawn: Is my preaching THAT bad??

Joey: Oh, your preaching is okay for what it is. Don’t be so
hard on yourself …

Shawn: For what it is?? What does that mean ??

Joey: Did you know you’re bald?

Shawn: Joey!!

Joey: What?? … You are …

Shawn: Joey. Stop trying to avoid this. You brought this up.

Joey: I’m not trying to avoid anything, but man you ARE bald
and sometimes there’s a glare …

Shawn: Can you forget about my head …

Joey: Not likely …

Shawn: Joey. Can we talk about why the church is boring
and not talk about my head, or my preaching …

Joey: Hey, you keep bringing this up …

Shawn: (deep breath) SO. Church is boring?

Joey: Not always. But sometimes.

Shawn: What do you mean, ‘not always’?

Joey: Well, it’s kind of like the story that ……… just read.
The woman in the story was crying and washing Jesus’ feet and then, dried them with her hair.
That was just a cool story.

Shawn: It was a cool story. In Jesus’ day a woman touching
your feet like that was forbidden, and anointing or cleaning them like she did was completely unheard of. The authorities of the day including Simon the host, were HORRIFIED.

Joey: Horrified? What does horrified mean??

Shawn: Disgusted. Outraged. Mad. Ticked off … take your
pick …

Joey: They were horrified because a girl touched Jesus’ feet?
It was Jesus who should have been ticked off, not Simon … I mean, a girl touching his feet – YUCK !!!

Shawn: Well, the religious authorities of Jesus time went
way beyond just “YUCK”. They didn’t like much of what Jesus said or what he was about. They didn’t like what he was doing with, or who he was hanging out with, and so they got really mad.

Joey: Mad?

Shawn: Mad. Mad enough to kill him …

Joey: WOW !!! They got mad enough to kill him because he
let some girl touch his feet … that’s harsh.

Shawn: Well, that wasn’t the only reason why. There’s more
to the story than just a girl touching his feet …

Joey: WHAT??? She didn’t try to hug or kiss him did she??
Eeeewwww …

Shawn: No, no. Jesus did OTHER things that made the
Church people of his time mad. He hung out with the wrong kind of people. He tried to change how they worshipped at the temple (their church) He wanted them to talk about God in a different way. He got children and women and others involved in what he was doing … he was radical … and he offended a lot of people by the way he did things …

Joey: Wow … he sounds kind of cool …

Shawn: He was.

Joey: And they killed him for that??

Shawn: Yeah … they did. And we can learn about it at
church … here we can learn about how much Jesus rocked the boat …

Joey: OH !! Is that when he walked on water?
Did he rock the boat so much that he fell out and had to walk home?

Shawn: Not quite. He rocked the boat by trying to do things
in new ways that were just too different for the people, and they got mad.

Joey: OH. Like kids leading worship … what kind of crazy
thing is that??

Shawn: Yes, Joey, kind of like kids leading worship …

Joey: Talking about everyone being included in God’s
love …

Shawn: Maybe …

Joey: Like using Rock’n’Roll in Church …

Shawn: Maybe … Jesus had an idea about HOW things
could be if we really let the Spirit work through us and around us … But too often people get worried and get angry when things change too much, and …

Joey: They killed him.

Shawn: Yup. They killed him.,

Joey: Huh … That woman who washed Jesus’ feet was
smart …

Shawn: Why?

Joey: Because she wanted to honour Jesus, and when she
did he told her that God loved her too …

Shawn: You’re right … That’s the WHOLE point of the
story … the point of Jesus’ ministry … the point of the church … all of it …

Joey: (mouth open) That we should wash each other’s feet?

Shawn: No. That we are ALL loved by God …
unconditionally and with out limits or restrictions …

Joey: Wow !! That’s cool …

Shawn: Very Cool. But too often, we lose sight of that, and
we forget to make that our ONLY priority.

Joey: Our only priority? What does that mean?

Shawn: That we worry about, and get all worked up over silly
things …

Joey: Like boring preaching?

Shawn: (deep breath) Yeah, like boring preaching … The
point is though – that God wants everyone to feel included and welcome …

Joey: But sometimes we’re like Simon and we get all upset
and mad instead.

Shawn: Exactly.

Joey: I bet that makes God sad, because when that happens
in church and school or anywhere, it makes me very sad …

Shawn: You’re pretty smart …

Joey: for a puppet ??

Shawn: No. You’re pretty smart period.
Thanks Joey, this has been kind of fun …

Joey: sure beats you preaching …

Shawn: Thanks ….

Let us pray …

Sermon for June 10th 2007

The Service on June 4th was lead by one of our Church Members ... I was away at the AGM of Conference ...

I’m not sure why, but this last week I’ve been thinking about, and encountering the story of the Good Samaritan quite frequently … I have a rule of thumb that when I encounter reference to a book more than three times in short order, I track it down and read it … I regard such things as a gift of the spirit.

So, this week, as I’ve encountered The Good Samaritan, I had to wonder why … As I read the reading of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and Jesus and the widow of Nain, I wondered even more …

The Good Samaritan story is a good story. It has all the elements one needs for high drama, but more than all of that – it has a powerful lesson about our expectations running hard aground on God’s expectations.

To remind you – the story of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus that is about a man who is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was in Jesus day a commonly traveled route – it was one of the main thoroughfares from the Jerusalem to Galilee in the north and Arabia in the east and the empires that lie in the modern countries of Syria and Jordan. It was traveled by many people – and along its path lurked many bandits who thought nothing of attacking you, beating you and leaving you for dead …

So in this context Jesus posited his most powerful and enduring parable. A man was traveling along this road when he was attacked by thieves. The robbed hin, beat him severely and left him for dead by the side of the road …

Soon another traveler came along the road. It was a priest, perhaps on his way to work in the temple in Jerusalem. He paused briefly and saw the man, but moved to the other side of the road – perhaps he feared for his own safety, wondering if the wounded man was a decoy placed there to attract other travelers … he went on his journey and ignored the wounded man …

Next came a Levite. A Levite is another priestly man, a worker in the Temple, one who over sees the vast and complex operations of the enormous temple compound. A Levite is one of those who enforces, maintains and interprets the law. He saw the man and he too passed by on the other side of the road. He perhaps feared being rendered unclean, and thereby unable to perform his office when he arrived in Jerusalem. He had his career to consider after all. Someone else would stop and help this man …

The third traveler in Jesus’ story was a Samaritan. An outcast – an outsider – someone who doesn’t fit in and who doesn’t belong. He is the guy that if arrived at coffee tomorrow morning, everyone would stare at … people would move out of his way … if he dared to sit at your table, you would get up and move away …

Yet it was the Samaritan – the outsider – the out cast – the cast off, who stopped and helped the man. He tended his wounds on the side of the road then carried him to the next town where he placed him in the care of an innkeeper and promised to pay the bill when he next passed through town …

Jesus ended his parable asking the question – “Who was a neighbour to this man?”

The broader question becomes – how can we emulate the lesson of the Samaritan, and not only be like him, but recognize when we are like the priest and the Levite, but on a deeper level – recognize and do something about those moments when we would reject the Samaritans in our midst?

I can remember using the parable of the Good Samaritan with a group of High School Students at a Catholic High School in Kingston when I was a Theology Student. I asked them to put the story in a modern context and place real people in each place … The traveler was a man traveling from Kingston to Toronto. The priest was first cast as Father Brian the Oblate who served as chaplain to the school – then one of the boys said – “Oh come on, Father Brian wouldn’t walk past someone on the road … he’s be the first one to help …”

So the priest and the Levite became the Principal and the Teacher of the class … It took some time for the kids to find a person to be the Samaritan. They suggested the Korean store owner down the block, they suggested an turbaned immigrant, they ran through a long list of possibles until deciding it would be a leather clad Hell’s Angel biker.

What struck me was the way in which the kids were very aware of the outsiders in their own communities – the outcasts. The immigrants, the newcomers, the marginalized … with each choice they named the “isms” that operate so easily in our society.

By the end of the session – they got it. They really understood on a deep level the lesson of the Good Samaritan – not only are we called to be a neighbour to the wounded we find on the road, we are called to be a neighbour to the outsider and the cast offs amongst us too …

As I read our scripture stories today that class came back to me because they saw the NEED for the boundaries that divide humanity to not just fall, but to be actively removed. The stories of Elijah and Jesus are more than quaint stories. They are powerful moments where the status quo is not only challenged – the status quo gets dumped on its ear.

Elijah was housed, fed and hosted by a widow – a NON-JEWISH widow … Elijah was fed once by Ravens – the big black and ritually unclean and non-Kosher birds … and now he is being fed by a non-Jewish widow. This woman is a Samaritan in Elijah’s world, and yet here he is sitting at table with her sharing her meal and not only offering her the miracle of flour and oil lasting until the famine passes, he raises her son from the dead as well …

This is a story that causes us to say – “hey, what’s up with that??”

As a good Jew, we would want to call out – “what about us? We’re faithful? We’re good. We’re deserving. Why don’t we get some of that?”

Then we turn to the story of Jesus enacting a similar miracle in Nain, a village in the Galilean region. And we would ask the same questions … “what about me?”

These stories are NOT fair … They are not right … the outsiders get the blessings …

We could engage in theological gymnastics and say – “oh, if they are getting those kinds of blessings and are SO undeserving, think of the depth of blessings, WE THE GOOD PEOPLE, will get …” But that’s not the point.

The psalm reading we shared a moment ago speaks of God’s abundance in the many many blessings of Creation. It is a psalm that speaks words of praise for those many blessings …

That is the point … God’s love … God’s miracles … God’s compassion … God’s caring … God’s living presence is SO abundant and so vast, that EVERYONE is included and everyone is a recipient and everyone experiences these things AS GOD SEES FIT.

This about God’s blessings – not ours …

The challenge is for us to open our eyes, our hearts, our spirits and our lives to not only hear the words of these stories - but to live them. Two of God’s messengers – Elijah and Jesus, challenged the status quo by bestowing the blessing of LIFE in the face of death on the outcasts … God’s blessings are for ALL people, not just those we like and whose ways appeal to us …

The story of the good Samaritan challenges the status quo by condemning those who can’t move beyond their self interests, and by challenging us to be open to God’s work being enacted by the least likely, least expected and perhaps most reviled …

God’s blessings are there for all people in abundance … the challenge for us, is to lift our limits and our restrictions and let the spirit flow …

A flour jar that has no bottom … an oil jar that keeps flowing … life restored in the face of death … a kindly traveler … all of it are simply examples of where God’s love pours through in abundance … in the stories before us, the recipients were the unlikely and the unwanted … Such are the vagaries of God and God’s unending Grace …

The challenge for us is to let God’s Grace and love flow …

May we have the faith to wisdom to have it happen …

Thanks be to God … Let us pray …

Thursday, May 31, 2007

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Sermon for May 28th 2006

The Church is Pentecost …
(anne weems)

The Church – you and I in our common faith - are defined by three events … Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

At Christmas God stepped outside the expected – God entered humanity’s existence in a startling new way. Rather than the powerful, majestic, warrior God who would conquer the planet, God instead entered our world quietly as a new born baby … The point of the Christmas story is not the details and whether the events actually happened as we read them in the Bible.

The point of the Christmas story is that God moved in a bold new and totally unexpected way by coming in the figure named Yeshua to offer the world – that is you and I – a new way of seeing, experiencing and living the HOLY.

Then we move to Easter where God confronted suffering and death and announced through the resurrection that death is NOT the end of the story. Again, we could get hung up on the details – or we can see God active in the face of death bringing new life – bringing the transformation that heals and returns us to wholeness.

Next in our church calendar, 40 days later we step into the story of Pentecost – the birthday of the Church, the very moment when the Church comes into being. Pentecost is when the spirit moved into history and began to undo what Babel had started. The story of Babel is when human egos took their first hit.

One commentary noted that the point of the Babel story and what we should preach on is not the confusion of language, but rather the simple fact that at Babel God’s vastness is revealed. God’s wisdom, understanding and grace go way beyond our comprehension and in the moment when the tower began to rise humanity had believed itself capable of being God. Hubris, ego and our own ambitions are slammed into reality in Babel – it’s never about us – it’s about God. It’s never our work – but God’s work.

Week after week we repeat the Lord’s Prayer – but I wonder if we ever really consider the implication of the words that escape our lips?

Thy kingdom come … thy will be done … we say the words, then we keep getting in the way. We try to build our own kingdom with our own rules and conditions. We try to limit the spirit and do things our way … We keep getting in the way …

So, at Pentecost we pause to step back and consider the three fold movement that is the Church … it begins with the unexpected … it moves to the transformational … and it then embodies the surprising …

But too often in the Church we are like the crowds who listened as the many languages of the Roman empire were being spoken in Jerusalem that morning: “They’re drunk … they’ve had too much new wine …”

It can’t be the work of the spirit. It can’t be something positive and wonderful and faithful … it was too radical and too unlike anything they had ever had before, so instead of trying to be part of it, they instead rejected it and began to criticize it. The crowds simply couldn’t embrace what
was happening before them. They dismissed it and tried to belittle it …

In that moment the Church was not only being born – it was becoming something that had NEVER been before … the heart of the Gospel is a radical message that is completely unlike anything that came before it. The language being spoken that could and would in time, invite in the whole of the known world was only the beginning of the radical nature of the Church.
The message the Church brought and brings is life altering and transformational. In the face of death and suffering the Church proclaims its certainty of the Resurrection. In the face of exclusion and condition the Church lives a message of acceptance and Grace. Where before you were born into a faith and you passed it on only to your children in the Church ALL were welcome and ALL were accepted.

The Church was and is totally radical … and so in the face of this the criticism began, and the criticism was petty and pointless … “look at them , acting like this – they must be drunk …” This is a scene of – “Nudge nudge, wink wink – say no more,” as Monty Python used to say – “we know ALL about those men,” the crowd winked, “they’re Galileans. They’re low class. They’re not one of us – they’re not like us …”

And sadly – this story – the response of the crowd – the scene itself is played out over and over and over … Too often the inability to embrace the work of the spirit marks the history of the Church.

The ordination of women … the new curriculum of the 1960s … the acceptance of Gays and Lesbians, the apology to First Nations people … over and over in the church, a decision is made after much soul searching and much prayer and the howls of opposition are launched … We thwart the work of the spirit …

On that street in Jerusalem, the languages of the Roman empire were being spoken – people of every stripe were being invited in … but what cut through it all was the comment – “They’re drunk …” The work of the spirit was in two words rejected and cast aside. And sadly, it happens all the time in the Church … criticism and fear take hold and our egos get in the way … the focus was on the negative …

I know of one case within the United Church where a potent and spirit filled ministry with the people of a depressed and struggling neighbourhood was simply killed because the good church people in the congregation and presbytery grew uncomfortable with the street people who were coming to be feed both physically and spiritually. The ministry died when the minister was arrested in a protest over a lack of affordable housing and was accused of not adhering to the terms of his call. The ministry died when the focus shifted to the petty little things that were dubbed and irritation rather than opening one self to the powerful work of the spirit that was unfolding around them … the mantra – “what will the neighbours think …” took priority over “are we being faithful?” Too many feathers were ruffled, fault was found and the minister was ousted … and the people of the street were once again conveniently ignored and stepped over … and now that Congregation wonders why they are simply struggling to survive …

In the Church when we focus on the negative – that is ALL we will see. When we’ve made up our mind that we don’t like this person, or they are not one of us, or they don’t belong – nothing else matters. We’ve set a course – we’ve made a decision – we’ve thwarted the spirit … and the negative is all we will offer to the world around us …

The Church today – in the 21st Century is in a place of great change. It is not the institution it was when we were growing up. It no longer has the ear of the leaders, it no longer speaks with authority, and it is no longer a social club held with high regard.

The church today is about being out in the world and living OUR ministry. Over coffee on Coffee Row – in the produce aisle – at the hockey rink or ball diamond – the church is where YOU take it.

The church is not the building – the church is you and I. If we bring to the moments where the Church is real and visible the Pentecost experience, the Church will grow and prosper … but if we are like the crowds – “they’re drunk … they’re Galileans … they’re not like us …” The church will rightly and justly die …

The church needs to speak the words of the people … Last week we had a brief exchange about the Linnea Good song – “Lying in my sleeping bag,” and whether it was a song or a hymn … The difference is time.

15 years ago the anthem the Choir shared last week was simply a song on a record album – today it is a hymn.

In early days of the Church the songs they shared were based on beer hall songs … Amazing Grace, Martin Luther’s hymns and even some of Charles Wesley’s hymns are set to music that was common in the beer halls of the day … One day Churches may sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a hymn … one day we may sing Green Day songs as hymns …

We MUST be open to the spirit and the very real possibility that WE’RE WRONG.
It is vital that we speak the language of the people around us, otherwise we become increasingly irrelevant …

It is vital that we let the Spirit do her work …
It is vital that we step out of the way when necessary …
It is vital that we live the values of Church in all things …
It is vital that we be the Pentecost Church – speaking the language of the people – reaching out beyond ourselves and being open to what the Spirit is wanting to do …
It’s vital that we be open to what’s happening around us, and where necessary simply step out of the way …

None of this is about me or you or any of us as individuals. It’s about being the people of God – the church … it’s about being our ministry of care and compassion and service to the world … and if our egos get in the way – my own included – it’s about letting the spirit go to work … May it be so … thanks be to God …

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sermon for May 20th 2007

Anne Weems writes:

What are you really doing here?
Do you believe in Christ Jesus?
How much?
Enough to risk?
How much of a risk?
Risk your reputation?
Risk your welath?
Risk yourself?
Do you?
Do you believe in Christ?

Or is Christianity a convenience?
Something to fill in on the census forms?
Something one just goes along with?

Something undemanding?
Something nice?
Something easy?

Something comfortable?
Do you believe?

Do you know what you believe?
Will you share it with me ?
Will you tell me?

Will you show me what you believe?

Gandhi once said of evangelism – “Don’t talk about it. The rose doesn’t have to propagate its perfume. It just gives it forth and people are drawn to it. Don’t talk about it. Live it and people will come to see the source of your power.”

St Francis of Assissi expressed a similar concept when he said - “Go and preach the Gospel … if necessary, use words.”

At Bible Study on Friday a good question was asked as we considered and reflected on this week’s readings. One of the participants asked simply – “what is a Christian?”
This week with the passing of Jerry Falwell, a formidable leader in the Church universal, it is a question worth asking. In light our reading from the book of Acts where we encounter a series of dramatic happenings unfolding, it is a question well worth reflecting on …

In the reading from Acts we have Paul and Silas casting out a demon from a woman who ran a dog and pony show in the town market where her masters drew a tidy income. Suddenly the woman was unable to do the sorcery she had been doing previously, and her employers were robbed of their source of income. They were furious – so they had Paul and Silas arrested, tried, flogged and cast into jail for their crimes. Then while in prison an earthquake opened the cells and instead of the prisoners fleeing they stayed and prayed …

The Jailer rushed to the scene, saw the opened jail and was ready to do himself in – better do it yourself than have your superiors show up and do it to you later … As he drew his sword, Paul cried out and told him the prisoners were all still there …

What follows is an interesting twist of the tale so too speak … The jailer takes Paul and Silas to his home and there the entire household of this man is converted to Christianity …

We don’t like speaking of conversion in the church any more. We leave that to our more evangelical sisters and brothers to do. Frequently, we don’t even acknowledge conversion as an aspect of our faith.

But we ARE and we remain evangelists by the very fact that we are people of faith. We are evangelists by HOW we chose, or not, to live out our faith. Our faith calls us to share it with others in an ongoing and active way. Our intent may not be to convert others, but we are to live our faith.
Preach the Gospel – if necessary, use words …
This is a simple teaching with profound implications …

Paul and Silas in their travels preached the Gospel … and at times they used words … They had the goal of converting the world as they found it. Today in the modern world conversion implies something that many of us are increasingly uncomfortable with. There is no need to convert or save our pagan brethren – instead we, if we have the courage, can learn from their religion just as they may learn from ours.

But even in this, we need to name and own the past – our heritage as Christians has been less than stellar … Residential schools, the Inquisition, ill treatment of women and minorities, the triumphalism of Christendom – the list of “oops” is fairly long … A close friend of mine once quipped, “I’m not longer calling myself a Christian, because Christians have done too many bad things. Instead I will now call myself a follower of Christ.”

Perhaps that’s the key – rather than asking “what’s a Christian?” it is time to define ourselves in a new way by asking – “what does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”

The first step is by being proud of our involvement, membership and commitment of faith.

How many of us are proud to say – “I attend Minnedosa United Church?”

How many of us even share that fact with others?

How many of us even tell people that we go to Church at all?

As we move closer to our building project beginning, now is the time to break free of the impressions and opinions people have of US based on the past. Now is the time, like Paul and Silas to set out on a new and exciting course …

The values of respect, kindness, compassion, care and love are those values that when we wrestle with the texts of Scripture come to the fore. They are values that we hear over and over as important to be shared, but too often in the church we have a tendency not to live those values out.

I’m tempted today to share some of the unbelievable statements that Mr Falwell uttered as an example of this. His statements that dripped with hate about Gays and Lesbians, Arabs, Jews, non-Christians of every stripe and those he dubbed atheists and liberals, are simply repulsive. Yet week after week he spewed such venom from his pulpit and from every opportunity he had in the media, and each time he justified it by his CHRISTIAN faith. His statements were "okay" because he was clothed in a Christian faith ... yet there wass no kindness, no care, no love ...

We could look to Falwell, and say – “oh that’s him, he lives far away and he’s a right wing whacko …” but then we have that old – “when one finger is pointed at someone else, there are three pointing back at me …” thing kicking in. And we realize that we may not be as extreme as Mr Falwell, but we are guilty of our own short comings ...

We may not spew statements as outrageous and hateful as Mr Falwell, but there are times when we could have done better …

There are moments of time when we could have stood up for our faith, or taken a stand, or not followed along … We’ve all been there …

So, how shall we live out the notion of being a follower of Christ?

There in lies the challenge. We need to shift from who we are and have been, to who we need to be to live out those values … Our readings speak of love … our readings speak of offering a healing presence … our readings speak of prayer … our readings speak of SHOWING our faith through conversation and action … our readings speak of patience … kindness … care …

It’s really NOT a hard thing to do. It begins with simple actions … Preach the Gospel – if necessary, use words …

Preaching the Gospel begins with how we treat each other – what we say, what we do … Preaching the Gospel begins with what we do with our beliefs and our faith … Preaching the Gospel begins with the simple actions …

The question that we need to face is whether we’re willing to cast aside the chains that have enslaved us, and to find a bold new way of living our faith. It hearkens back to the idea – “all welcome” – how will we live that concept out?

It challenges us to envision the world in a radical new way … it challenges us to envision the world transformed and renewed by the resurrection ...

We are people of the resurrection. The resurrection implies something new and different – the resurrection is about things no longer being the same way – the old has past away …

As a community of faith we are physically moving to the realization of something new and different. Where we gather within the next year will be radically different from where we gathered prior to February 12th 2006 … our challenge – our calling – our duty – is to change who we have been, into who we will be as we step into the new building …

And this begins with a simple lesson … “how do we greet the stranger?” Over the last seven years as I have stood here in the pulpit before you I have noted that time and time again new faces have joined us, but often we are too shy to welcome them in … there are too many outsiders in our midst … they come, and often sit alone by themselves and leave the same way … we fail to greet them … we fail to live out our welcome … we fail to bring in the stranger and make them friends … we wait for them to make the first move …

Now I’m not talking about overwhelming them with offers of board vacancies and envelopes and the like … but I am talking about how we greet the new face in our midst. Do we introduce ourselves? Do we take the time to smile and say – “hi, you’re a new face to me, are you visiting?” Do we have the courage to do things in a new way so the strangers have an opportunity to become friends?

Would you be surprised to learn that there are people here who have been among us for 30 years and still feel like outsiders?

Would you be surprised to learn that I, having been here for 7 years still feel very much like an outsider?

It begins with the small things … seven years ago I simply arrived … there was never a formal welcome beyond noting in Worship that I was here … if, as a community of faith we can’t or won’t welcome our leaders, the stranger in the back row never had a chance to move beyond being a stranger and an outsider … Today, before we enter our new building is a very good day to begin doing things differently …

The chains that enslave must be thrown aside … we must start doing things in new ways as followers of Christ, and it can start wth a simple statement – “hi, how are you ??” to the person next to us … be they a new face, or someone whom we sat beside for 30 years but never really gotten to know ...

I know we have the capability to do it ... the only question is - do we have the willingness ??

I hope we do ... we are children of God, people the resurrection - we are called to transform the world from what it is to what God wants it to be ... and it begins with you and I ...

May it be so – thanks be to God …