Sunday, February 25, 2007

Order of Service - February 25th 2007



Holy is the time,
Holy is the place,
Holy are the things to be done.
All: Forty days stretch before us.
Forty days of hungering for faithfulness.
Forty days of trying to understand the story.
One: These forty days stretch before us.
All: We who believe,
Yearn to feel Your presence,
Yearn to be Your People …

HYMN # 105 Dust and Ashes

One: Glorious God,
your thoughts are not our thoughts,
neither are your ways our ways.
You look at the ugliest soul and see, still unstirred,
the wings of an angel.
All: We scan the finest of our neighbours,
anxious to find the flaw.
One: You view time in the context of eternity,
and so find a place for waiting, for yearning,
even for suffering, even for dying.
All: We demand instant results;
and look for tomorrow before savouring today.
One: You know that only one who suffers
can ultimately save,
that is why you walk the way of the cross.
All: We fear that vulnerability
which defies our power;
and so we cry for crucifixion.
One: Your thoughts are not our thoughts,
All: neither are your ways our ways.

One: And yet we know
that your way is the ladder to heaven,
while, left to our own devices,
our ways slope downwards to hell.
But we are here,
not to have our worst confirmed,
but to have our best liberated.
So we pray,
All: Forgive in us what has gone wrong,
repair in us what is wasted; reveal in us what is good.

One: And nourish us with better food
than we could ever purchase:
your word,
your love,
your inspiration,
your daily bread for our life’s journey,
in the company of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
All: Amen.

HYMN # 120 O Jesus, I Have Promised


HYMN: (see insert) Magic Penny

SCRIPTURE READING: Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11 & Romans 10: 8 – 13



HYMN # 808 On Eagle’s Wings (Psalm 91)

SERMON: “A Wandering Aramean … Daring to Journey …”

There were two stories in our news this week that caught my attention because they managed to show us the distinctiveness of a Stage Six faith – that of Universalizing faith …
One story was that of the death at the tender age of 107, of one of Canada’s last three surviving World War One veterans. The gentleman who died dismissed the honours that people were willing to bestow upon him. Honours that he as a non-combatant veteran was reluctant to accept, but more than that, he made it clear his Fame was due entirely to his longevity, not any thing he did during his three years of service from the ages of 16 to 19 in World War One.

The other story was that of Britanny Spear having a major melt down and ending up in Rehab.
One story absorbed hours and hours of time in our media outlet, an made headlines all over the world. The other story was to be found buried somewhere in the depths of our daily newspapers. I’ll leave it to you to guess which story was which …

We have a tendancy to yearn for information that allows us to pick fault with those in leadership positions around us. There have been books written trying to discredit Martin Luther King, and point out the sordid details of his life, rather than casting the light on his achievements. Anyone who has stepped into a position of leadership finds his or herself facing a barrage of criticism and muck raking … It is simply salacious gossip on a grand scale …

The challenge is to stop trying to bring down our leaders, and to let them guide, challenge and cajole us to a place where we a no longer down in the muck, but are able to rise above it … Such is the transition of Fowler’s stages of faith … We move from a simple, childlike faith to a place where we can see the dichotomy in the world and find constructive and creative ways to live within it … Then in Stage six, we move above the dichotomy and the muck, and we begin to live as what we would loosely say are “enlightened” individuals, who can see the universal truths and live by them …

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Jean Vanier, - those are people who have achieved stage six faith. But they are no imbued with anything that you and I don’t have … They are ordinary people who have allowed the living presence of God to take hold of them, and who have been able to live their faith on profound levels, that ALL of us are capable of living.

Our Gospel reading today lays some of the ground work necessary to make that transition (transformation). Jesus starts by withdrawing to the wilderness to pray and fast – to draw into the presence of God. Then as he readies himself to return to the world, he is tempted. First the Devil offers him food. Food is our great weakness – if not for ourselves, then for our families – we want food, we need food, we crave food. If you threaten the food supply, the outcome will be riots and violence.

Next the devil offers him prestige, power and pride. CS Lewis in The Screwtape Letters notes that for most people of faith, the easiest temptation for a demon is to whisper in our ears “Good Job, Look at how faithful you are …” and we’ll head down the road of pride. All of us want to do a good job. All of us what to be recognized. All of us want to be thanked and appreciated for our hard work, especially when we go above and beyond, and it is devastating, absolutely devastating when it fails to happen, or it becomes political and only the chosen few are thanked and we who have worked hard are overlooked and forgotten …

Then the devil offers Jesus safety if he were to fling himself from the precipice of the temple and trust in God to send angels to rescue and save him. This is a pressing topic in a post 9/11 world, where safety and security are front and centre in the sites of governments everywhere.

To each of the temptations before him, Jesus responds with short pithy quotations from the scriptures. To each he emphasizes the need to remain faithful to God.

Jesus’ replies are succinct and to the point ... We need to place our value in things that are important … we need balance in our life … enough bread, but not too much … enough praise and appreciation, but not too much … enough power and prestige, but not too much … enough safety, but not too much. And ultimately, we need to remember who it is that bestows all of this upon us …

And so, we turn to Deuteronomy where we find the instructions on how to present our offerings before God … we are to begin – “A Wandering Aramean is my ancestor …” and then you are offer a wonderful recounting of the history that has brought you and the people to this point … It is a recounting of the Exodus, and the arrival in the promised land, and a deep, deep appreciation of all that God has bestowed upon the people …

Now aside, from the length of time it would take to have an entire congregation step forward and individually read the words we’ve just heard from our Old Testament reading … the positive value of this reading is the reminder of where we’ve come from, who we are, and what we’ve experienced. And deeper still is the reminder of God’s role in our lives and in our world …

We are to bring our offerings – our time, our talent, our treasures – all of it, with a heart filled with appreciation, and a sure and certain knowledge that we can bring real change to the world …

One basket, one animal, one offering, one simple action at a time, we will bring change to the world … because we are people who have journeyed with God since the very beginning …

Our food is a gift from God … we should be thankful enough to share.

Our ability and prestige are gifts from God … we should be thankful enough to express our appreciation and to acknowledge the talents of all, not just some …

Our safety and security are a gift from God … we should be thankful enough to share this gift, not protect it so severely that we destroy it …

The experience of Stage Six faith is the moment of time when we are able to simply live our lives trusting in God and each other … It is like the little girl who walks down the beach after a vicious storm and begins picking up the star fish she finds scattered across the sand … She picks up a star fish, or maybe two, and carries them down to the tide line and tosses them back in the water. Then returns and picks up another starfish and carries it down the beach.

Her father looks around and sees thousands upon thousands of star fish and says to his daughter, “Why bother? There are so many start fish, you are just one little girl. It won’t make any difference.”

The little girl quietly picks up a starfish and carries it down the beach and tosses it in the water – “It makes a difference to that one …” she says as she lets it go …

If Dad were to embrace a life of Stage Six faith he would begin to pick up starfish too … and then, others seeing the daughter and father, would join them … and even if not every starfish scattered across the beach was saved, enough would be saved to make a difference …

Mother Theresa started her movement when she found a single lonely beggar lying in the gutter dying, and she tended him … her action made a difference to one man ... the change to the world came much later.

One small gesture … a cup of coffee with a friend … a kind word … one dollar dropped on the collection plate … saying “thanks” are the right time … one loving gesture … Individually they don’t seem like much. But if all of us each make one small gesture everyday … the world around us will slowly begin to change …

Stage Six faith is not about muck raking and seeking out the sordid and the salacious, but rather simply living our lives …

The World War One vet who died this week asked for only a simple family service, not anything grand because he was simply a soldier who lived a long time …

The other media darling has a long history of antics and foolishness that keeps her in the headlines …

One of these is worthy of honour and our appreciation. The other is worthy of our pity and our concern for a human soul that has clearly lost her way …

We are people preparing for the coming of Easter … it is tempting to jump to the glory and the praise, but around us is a season of preparation and a season of repentance. In the Church, Lent is a time to give up things that hinder us in our faith, and to focus courageously on what is important …

The three temptations facing Jesus are universal … Our challenge is to find ways to share our bread, even when we might think ourselves hungry … Our challenge is not to grow too proud of our accomplishments, but to honour those who have helped US along the way, and to give thanks where thanks are due … and our final challenge is to trust in God and God alone …

They are easy words to speak … Easy words to preach … they are also easy words to live if we are willing to try … if we are willing …

May we have the courage, the boldness and the faith to live our lives knowing that we can, and will change the world, one little action at a time …

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


HYMN # 375 Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness


HYMN # 647 Travel On, Travel On



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

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Latest Church Floor Plan !!!

With the movement of some spaces,
the alteration of some areas,
and the fine tuning of ideas ...
... we're drawing closer to a final working plan ...
There are few details yet to be worked out:
BUT, as of now - this is what our new building will be !!!
Click on the picture for a LARGER view!!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sermon for February 18th 2007

Transfiguration Sunday

Do you remember the moment in time when you realized your parents were remarkable people independent of them being your parents? You discovered that they had interests and hobbies and opinions and skills and all manner of gifts and abilities that set them apart and made them cool, to use the modern term?

Have you ever stood before a beautiful painting and been simultaneously struck by the painting itself as well as the brush strokes, the melding of colour and the use of shading the artist used to create the painting?

Have you ever stood before a flower garden and been struck in the same moment by the beauty of the WHOLE bed and its profusion of flowers, while also noticing a particular flower or plant that strikes you as particularly beautiful?

If you can relate to any of these examples, or if you can think of others that you’ve encountered and lived – then you’ve stepped into the experience of Conjunctive Faith, or Stage Five in Fowler’s stages of faith – the point where you can not only see the dichotomy in life, but where you can embrace it and celebrate it …

As a community we’ve been living such an understanding as we’ve moved through our distress since our fire. We’ve lamented what we’ve lost, but we’ve ALSO embraced the potential of what we can gain in a new building … We’ve looked back and noted what was destroyed, but we’ve also looked forward to what will soon be.

Stage five is the place where we can see defeat and set back and tragic events as moments where the Spirit can break through and guide us, teach us and inspire us to the moments of transformation where we claim the gifts of wholeness, healing and recovery.

It is not small step … It is not an easy place …

Our readings this morning speak of transformation and transfiguration … Jesus on the mountain top, Moses’ face glowing brightly from being in the very presence of God, and even the Psalmist singing the praises of God in a life that is far from simple and easy … These are powerful readings. These are moments when the holiness of God intersects with our lives and we are left forever changed.

Today, we have broken the bread and poured out the cup … on one level we have simply taken a pinch of bread and eaten it, and taken a sip of juice and drank it – but on other levels this is a moment of holiness and stepping into the sacred presence of God … This is understood as the eating of the very Body and Blood of Jesus by many of our sisters and brothers in faith … this is understood as a moment when we step beyond time and in the eternity of the moment join with Christians of EVERY time and place since the beginning of the church as we lift the bread and wine to our lips … this is understood as a moment of standing before God and claiming the gift of grace. Communion is ALL of those thing – but it is also the simple action of taking a pinch of bread and a drop of juice and putting it in our mouths.

It’s like standing in front of a beautiful painting and seeing it in broad brush strokes – seeing it as a beautiful painting, but also seeing the other elements that compose it … In that moment as we see the BIG picture and the fine details, we are beginning to live our faith in a new way …

This stage in faith is being able to say – “I know what I believe …” but then in the same breath also acknowledge that we still have much to learn and experience and that perhaps our faith will change and alter.

It is easy, almost too easy to take a strong stance on something, be it abortion, divorce, justice, poverty, the place of gays and lesbians, the environment – whatever. It is easy to take a stance and say – “This is WHAT I believe” and leave it at that. But stage Five recognizes that life is a complicated journey, and that on that journey are conflicts and diametrically opposed positions, and we MUST be open to the possibility that we could be wrong in our strongly held stance.

This morning on CBC it was noted that this is the time of year when we in the Church celebrate the song – Amazing Grace. Michael Enright spoke of the origins of the hymn and its connection to the slave trade … When we think back in Church history, the slave trade was never condemned by the Church until the late 1700’s … but it took over a hundred years before the Churches in western nations rejected slavery …

Such is the transformation of Stage Five faith … I know what I believe … then another voice says – “oh yeah, what about …” To which we reply – “oh, I hadn’t thought about that …” and our response is to strengthen our views, or to begin to think about the thoughts and opinions and perspectives of others …

Even something as mundane as Fair Trade products have faced an uphill battle in the Church – people couldn’t see the necessity for justice in the food industry (they obviously never met a farmer) – yet, with each passing day the push for fairness in the food industry strengthens, and voices of faith have joined in the fray …

Stage Five – the conjunctive faith is the connectedness of all things … the big and the little … the simple actions we engage in the coffee shop and the movements that WILL change the world – they are all interconnected and the are one and the same.

Stage Five faith is the faith that takes the pinch of bread in hand and as we eat it KNOWS – knows in the depth of our being – that in this simple action we are joined to something far bigger than this church, this town, this province, this country, something that is far bigger than anything we can imagine and as that connectedness is affirmed, we are committed to living our faith and changing the world – one small gesture at a time …

One drop of water can not erode a mountain … but one drop of water at a time, over years of time WILL wear the mountain away … That’s the power of our faith …

The small and the big come together … and the world is forever changed …

The tragic teach us lessons … and the world is changed …

Life is lived in its fullness, with joy and sorrow, with laughter and tears … and with God’s presence with us – the world is forever changed …

Today we stand in the presence of the Holy … may we have the courage to let it shine forth from within us …
May it be so … thanks be to God.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Before us Today ...

One a table at the front of our worship space today:
(from the left - clockwise)
One copy (small) of The Hymnary 1926,
The New Jerusalem Pulpit Bible
(open to today's Hebrew Scripture Reading),
with an AOTS pin holding the page open,
One copy (large) of the Hymnary 1926,
a white candle,
a jar with bits of charred wood,
the brass plaque from the Allen Organ.
These are the bits and pieces scavanged
from the remains of
Minnedosa United Church
last year following our fire ...
... as we gathered we were held in prayer
by many, including the folks of
St Alphonses Roman Catholic Church
who for the last 12 months
have opened their church to us, and
welcomed us in as Family.
It's been a year ...
... but what a wondrous year it has been !!

It has been ONE Year ... Service for February 11th 2007

February 11th 2007 - Order of Worship and Sermon

(One year ago today we awoke to the news that our much beloved sanctuary was aflame. By 11 am (our regular worship time) when we gathered in the basement of the Catholic Church, we knew the building was gone, we knew we might salvage some materials from the Centre and the Offices, we knew it was arson, we knew three suspects were in custody, and we knew no one had been killed or injured ... At 11 am, we prayed, we wept, we shook our heads in disbelief, then we broke the bread and shared the cup and set our faces firmly to the future ... It was a hard day ... but it was an incredible day ... We were to have celebrated two baptism that day ... Today we celebrated two baptisms (a mother and daughter), and in many ways we closed a circle ... we marked the anniversary of the fire, but we also marked the anniversary of the new potential that the folks at Minnedosa United Church have before them ... potential that one step at a time, we are living and realizing.)

Words of welcome, announcements,
& minute for mission

Call to Worship:
One: It has been a year …
All: We are a pilgrim people, journeying through the unknown.
One: The fire is a memory, the site is empty and barren.
All: We have set our faces to the future,
We have begun to dream and plan for tomorrow.

One: There have been many tears, many memories.
All: Together we have repaired relationships,
Together we have begun the rebuilding.

One: The journey has been long,
The journey has been mere moments
in the face of eternity.
All: We have lamented what we have lost,
We have celebrated what remains,
We have rejoiced over what we may gain.

One: Guided by the Spirit of Love and Care,
We have boldly journeyed forward from what was,
All: and we have embraced what will be as
Together we’ve dreamt our dreams,
Shared our visions and cleared our eyes.
One: It has been a year …
(lighting a candle at the front of the sanctuary)
All: We are a pilgrim people, journeying together
in the Love of God.

Hymn: 166 Joy Comes with The Dawn
Joy comes with the dawn,
joy comes with the morning sun,
joy spring from the tomb
and scatters the night with her song,
joy comes with the dawn.

Weeping may come, weeping may come,
in the night when dark shadows cloud our sight.


Sorrow will turn, sorrow will turn,
in to song, and God's laughter makes us strong.


We will rejoice, we will rejoice
and give praise to the One who bring us grace.


Prayer of Approach / Prayer for Wholeness:
One: Holy God, The words faith Echo within us:
Men: A wandering Aramean is my ancestor,
Women: By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept.
One: Holy God the invitation to follow washes over us:
Men: Tending their nets, they were called to follow,
Women: In the early morning a woman came searching,
One: From the ruins of the temple, the prophets spoke:
Men: Dare to follow me, the voices called.
Women: Put justice, compassion and care before all.
One: Telling our story, sharing our faith, opening our arms,

Hymn: 395 Come In Come In and Sit down.

The Story Stool:

The children's story for today was the story of the young man seeking to learn the whole of the Torah while standing before his Rabbi on one foot ... The young man is rejected and abused by many rabbis until he meet the great Rabbi Hillel, who smiles and says to the young man: "The whole of the Torah is this, and nothing more - "that which is hurtful to another, you never do ... all the rest is commentary."
As I shared this story with the children I talked about how Jesus likely heard the story in church (synagogue) and altered it into the Golden Rule that we know in the church. I then asked them about how we live out that teaching and what is kind and unkind and how we make that call ...

Hymn: Magic Penny

Service of Baptism:

Hymn: 444 Child of Promise, Child of Blessing

Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 17: 5-10
Psalm 1 Page 724 Voices

Choir Anthem:

Scripture Reading: I Corinthains 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

Hymn: 348 O Love How Deep

Sermon: Looking Back, Looking Forward …
by streams of living water …

I would like to take a moment to describe my morning a year ago today … On Saturday February 11th, I hadn’t been able to connect with the text for the week. There was no sermon coming. I was troubled and something was eating at me … without giving away any trade secrets – I went to be that night, setting my alarm clock for the morning, so I could get up and work on my sermon before Sunday Service.

I had a fitful sleep that night. I was awake through the night and wasn’t sleeping well … then our phone began to ring between 4:45 and 6 am … I finally got to the phone and found a person there … it was 5:58 am … the person was Bob Mummery. He said simply – “Shawn. Bob Mummery. You’re church is on fire. You better get down here …” I felt like the ground was shifting under my feet … “What? Tell me you’re kidding Bob?”

He wasn’t … and we know what followed … and what we’ve been living …

That morning though, The 12th of February, the Sunday closest to Valentine’s Day, we had two baptism scheduled … both were delayed …

Now a year later, we stand in a borrowed sanctuary, surrounded by the few surviving relics from our old building … we are in many ways a pilgrim people … We are on many levels a people who can connect deeply with the story that comes to us from this morning texts … We continue to sing our songs, offer our prayers, celebrate our baptisms, break our bread and gather as God’s people in the face of all that has happened in the last 12 months … We are a people who are not just living in and with hope – we are a people who are simply LIVING HOPE.

Our hope is the active blessing that Jesus speaks of in the Lukan version of the beatitudes – the blessing here is active. I wish for you to be blessed by God and the cosmos, and in the process you will pass that blessing on to others, and in turn those blessings will wash back over you and as your blessings wash back over you, they will also wash back over me, as they have washed over each recipient in turn … It’s a very involved and very active process. You can not be passive in this idea of blessing. You are involved and active.

Today our readings offer both blessings and curses. Today in our midst we are affirming the greatest blessing we have – that of the very act of Baptism that says boldly – we are much loved by God and we are loved by the community around us. Today is a day of affirming our faith and our belief in God and God’s boundless love.

But, within that moment we also invite each other to continue on the journey of faith that moves from the simple affirmation that “Jesus Loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so …” through the crises we face both as individuals and as a community. The fire, deaths, illness, bickering and conflicts – around us we can see, identify, and we experienced a breadth of crises that have brought us to the place of transition where we are – not forced, but invited to reflect on our experiences within these crises, and to reflect on our faith stance within these crises.

This takes us from Stage Two to Stage Three and on to Stage Four of James Fowler’s Stages of faith. Stage two is the faith of our childhood that believes because we are told what to believe. Stage Three is the creation of our personal stories and ethos. Stage three is seeing the world and beginning to test our faith against what we’ve seen and experienced. Stage three is the teenager faith – “I’ll do it myself …” It is transitional and it is laden with clashes and contradictions and is most often the stage we revert back to when crises hit.

But then just as Stage Three is about simple, easy almost childish answers – “By the waters of Baptism we are blessed and God loves us …” and nothing more. Stage Four is about beginning to formulate a mature faith of critical reflection based on life experience … The crisis and tension and clashes open our eyes to how the world REALLY is, and we begin to ask the BIG questions like – WHY ?? Why are things this way? In my life I remember when as teens we asked – “why do you have to wear suits to church on Sunday?” The answer was – “because, that’s what WE do …”

In time we lost the vests with our three piece suits … then the dress shoes … then jeans slipped in under the dress jackets … then the ties disappeared … and then sweaters replaced the jackets and soon not only were the teens dressing more casual, so were the adults … We asked the question, didn’t care for the answer and began to alter the way things ARE to the way things COULD be …

We as a community are in that transition point between stage three and stage four … We know what we had and how things were – but the page is blank. There is only potential and possibility. We have before us the limitless possibility of doing things in new ways … What an opportunity??!!

We are NOW, like no time in our history as a community or a congregation, able to do things in new ways and become a BLESSING in the fullest sense, to the people around us …

Life is complex, and too often it is filled with conflict and crises … we can close our eyes like the cowardly lion in The Wizard in those moments and simply chant – “I do believe … I do believe …” as we twist our tail and hope the ghosts and flying monkeys will go away … Or we can find within ourselves the courage, the heart and the brains that have always been there …

We’re NOT following the yellow brick road … we’re creating it one precious brick at a time … we are living the Blessings offered by Jesus in our Gospel Reading … we are being the trees planted by streams of living water … we are the people of God resident in this place …

But we are being mindful that even the blessings have obligations to share them and live them and embody them as more than just lovely words on a page – otherwise, we will find ourselves under the cruses … We must be mindful that even the trees with their deep strong roots standing by streams of living water need a pruning periodically to check our growth and to guide us and enhance the harvest … we, as the people of God have a responsibility to constantly rebuild – our faith … our attitudes … our approaches … our relationships … our way of being Church … otherwise we will find ourselves moving from blessings to curses …

It has been a year … Today as a community we’ve in many respects closed a circle … one year ago this morning where we were to gather to pour out the abundant waters of baptism in celebration of God’s love, we instead watched as other waters were poured out in abundance on what was hours before our much loved sanctuary … Today as we celebrate the extravagant love of God as expressed through Baptism, we can look back over the last year at the extravagant love we have experienced and shared from our community, our Church and each other … Today as we mark the anniversary of what we lost, we are able to mark the potential of what we can and will gain …

We can never go back …we can never replace what was and is now lost … but in moments of crisis, a mature faith carries us to the place of reflection where the crisis becomes a means of transformation and resurrection … and that IS perhaps the greatest blessing of all …

That in those moments of doubt and darkness and struggle – God is with us and will help to carry us forward to the place where we can look back and see how that moment of crisis became a moment of new life – new potential – new possibilities …

Blessed be you … the community of faith … as we move forward today, tomorrow and always … It’s been a year … but in the eyes of God it has been but a blink of eternity … God is, has been and always will be – with us …

Our challenge is not only to believe that – but to live that – and to share that … The fire one year ago today took from us many things, and it lead us down many paths … but one simple truth remains – and today by the waters of baptism we remembered and celebrated and affirmed that … we are loved by God and God is with us always … The rest is simply commentary …

May it be so … Thanks be to God … Let us pray.

Prayer of Dedication:

Prayers of the People – The Lord’s Prayer (sung)

Hymn: 649 Walk With Me


Sung Response: 427 To Show By Touch and Word (vs 1&3)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Attention ALL Alumni !!!

Dear Minnedosa United Church past members, adherents, and alumni,

As you may or may not know, on February 12, 2006, the Minnedosa United Church, through an act of arson was burnt to the ground. The church was totally destroyed. This was a huge loss to both the United Church congregation as well as the community as a whole. The 106 year old building was a landmark on Main Street, not only a place for worship, many weddings, and funerals, but also a meeting place for various organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, nursery school, and a place of numerous community gatherings.

Immediately after the fire the congregation voted unanimously to rebuild. A building committee and a fund-raising committee were formed. St. Alphonses Roman Catholic Church most generously allowed us to share their space, holding our Sunday Services, funerals, and weddings there. A vacant building on Main Street was rented for the church office, and the planning began. Proposed is a one-level, approximately 9000 sq. ft. church, to be built on the same site as the old church. Preliminary drawings of the church are enclosed for you to see.

Although the church was insured, with today's building costs, the insurance money is insufficient to rebuild the church we have lost. Many fund-raising events have occurred in the community, as well as many generous donations, but we are still in need of $200,000 - $300,000 to build the church we desire. We are appealing to you as past members with a feeling of connection to the church and congregation for your support in our rebuilding effort.

Any donations you could make would be greatly appreciated. Tax receipts would be issued for all donations. Donations can be made to:
Minnedosa United Church
Box 692
Minnedosa, Man.
R0J 1E0
We hope that you will consider our request. Our wish is that a new church will be standing on Main Street, Minnedosa by Christmas 2007!

Minnedosa United Church
Fund-raising Committee

Sermon for February 4th 2007

Step Two - Watching, listening and being disciples ...

Our readings begin with the words of Isaiah. Harsh words. Words that lack comfort. Words that are not hopeful, but filled with apprehension at what might lie ahead. The prophet is clearly warning the people that God’s judgement would soon be harshly laying across the people, and things were not going to be pleasant and wonderful like they hoped …

BUT, the prophet ends with a faint glimmer of hope … from the stump that remains will come the holy seed … After the devestation, after the destruction, after all of it … a tiny glimmer of hope will come from that holy seed and something new will come …

The problem we confront in a reading like this, is that we don’t like to think of God as anything OTHER than meek and mild, loving and caring, warm and friendly. We don’t want God (or our preachers) to challenge us. We don’t want to come to Church to be cajoled about our faith. We want everything sewn up in a neat little package, and left to simply praise a warm and loving God. We don’t want to hear that God is threatening his judgement on us, or others.

Yet, here it is … what has been will pass away … and something new will come into being – and it won’t be what we expect.

One commentator looking at the reading from Isaiah asks “What is the message you have been given? People today are chasing after idols and false gods as surely as in Isaiah’s day. Can this message be framed in such a way that a very secular church can hear it? Does our world need a totally different message? Is there something missing from the message as it stands? What do you think people are hungry for?”

What are the people hungering for from the Church?

What are the people of the Church hungering for?

When we begin to wrestle with these questions by looking around ourselves and asking what people out there, beyond the doors of the sanctuary, want from the church we begin to move, not only from the first stage of faith that we looked at last week, but we even begin to move beyond the second stage of faith that is mythic and literal …

It is at the second stage that many within the Church are mired, perhaps without even knowing it …

The mythic literal faith stage is what operates in the vast majority of the Church as we know it today, and in our community. At this stage, the person takes on the stories, believes and observances that are part of the community. All of it is understood literally and in concrete terms. Communion and Baptism are HOLY and must be protected. The robe clad minister is HOLY and speaks for God. The Bible is HOLY and the LITERAL word of God – Jonah was swallowed by a whale and spit up days later thousands of kilometers from where he was swallowed, the world was created in 7 days, Jesus walked on water and turned water into wine, and all the stories in this (BIBLE) happened EXACTLY as they are recorded.

BUT, undergirding this stage of faith is the understanding that if you are faithful, if your heart is pure, if you pray enough, if you are a GOOD ENOUGH person, NOTHING Bad will ever happen to you or to your family and loved ones, and if something bad happens it is because you are NOT being faithful enough, you haven’t prayed enough, you have been a good enough person …

It is a terribly unpleasant place to stand in faith … it is concrete and black and white and there is only Good and Bad, and no ambiguity, and no room for doubt and questioning and discussion …

I first encountered, and rejected this world view when I was about 13 years old and our morning Sunday School session had a guest speaker leading us. He started off by telling us that we had to believe the Bible as the literal word of God and “if it is printed in here, it is true and MUST believed.”

Now, to be fair, I am the kind of person who when they hear the words – “you must” is immediately up for the fight, so too speak … and so I began to challenge him. I don’t remember much of the conversation (or argument) until he, no doubt exasperated by the mouthy 13 year old know it all, said – “God loves us and because God loves us, everything that happens in the world is an expression of God’s love …”

“Everything?” I asked.

“Everything,” he said, a smug smile crossing his face.

“Everything?” I repeated. He nodded and against said, “everything.”

“Okay,” I took a deep breath and said, “If God is so loving and caring and so wonderful, and if everything that happens in our lives happens because God loves me so much, Why did my father die before I ever got a chance to know him? What kind of love is that??”

To this day I do not remember the answer. A friend once told me it was some sputtering about – “God loves you, but accidents happen … but God let it happen because of that love …”

I didn’t buy it then. And I don’t buy it now. To state in broad terms, God is a loving God and all that happens in our lives and in the world happens because God loves us is offensive. That means God has caused hunger and poverty and diseases like AIDS and God has caused wars and conflicts … Yet, many of us hold to that kind of understanding of God without even realizing it.

God is out there somewhere, rewarding the good, and punishing the bad, and God seems to play games with our lives and our world … It is not a God who is any more comforting than the God of Isaiah who is about to bring judgment down on the people.

Yet, both are the image of God we encounter over and over in our world.

The judgmental God is the God of people of “good faith” who advocate positions of pro-life, and see no problem shooting and killing doctors who perform abortions.

The judgmental God is the God who seemingly blesses bombings and ethnic cleansings …

The judgmental God is a God who is rendered unrecognizable by people who value their faith as a place to share the stories of why that faith is important and how that faith has allowed them to move into the world with care and compassion …

The people out there, are NOT hungering for a judgmental God. They are no hungering for the easy answers that come with a mythic-literal God. They want more. They want the God who works through this character named Jesus and turns 150 gallons of water into the finest wine … they want the God who’s word so enrages a tiny town they want to throw their favoured son over a cliff … they want the God who works through Jesus and fills the nets to overflowing after a long night with no luck at all … They want the generous, giving, and over the top God that causes lives to be revisioned and transformed …

That morning many moons ago drove me OUT of my home church. I couldn’t abide in a God who would in His love cause the death of my father, and it took a long time before I came back … but when I did come back I was welcomed home, I was allowed to voice my questions and my hurt, and in my home congregation people not only listened; they shared their stories and their experiences and their questions and hurts … and I began to see and experience God in bold new ways …

In time, I not only came back to the church, my wrestling with that image of God and that understanding of God, and the learnings I experiences and lived, lead me here …
My path to the leadership in the pulpit is a meandering line form that moment when I personally rejected the creedo – “God loves you, and everything that happens happens because God loves you …”

I’ve never doubted that God loves me … I’ve never doubted that God exists … I’ve never doubted that God’s love is there in times of distress and trouble … but I have on many occasions doubted whether God’s Church lives that value and understanding as its primary focus.

The mythic-literal stage of faith cripples us into complacency. We trust that what we know and experience and what we believe is enough … we are like Peter and the others, who have spent all night fishing only to bring their nets up and their boats home empty …

Then along comes this radical voice, who speaks of love and new ways of understanding and experiencing God, and then he says – “put back out to the deep water and let down your nets …”

One can visualize Peter beginning to argue with Jesus – “I’ve been fishing my whole life, and we’ve NEVER fished in the day time. You only catch fish on this lake at night when they can’t see you or the nets. We’ve fished here for years, and that’s NOT how it’s done …” Jesus would, smile and say – “just put down your nets …”

And when Peter did, his nets were full to bursting … the nets were so full that it threatened to swamp his boat and that of his companions who had rowed out to help … The nets were full to overflowing …

Stage Two is thinking inside the box. Being comfortable with the notion that life is divided into Good and Bad … us and them …

The best thing about stage two, is that is it stage two … there are a few more steps to go … We can sit in on the shore moping because we’ve had no luck – our nets are empty, there are no fish … or we can take seriously that ditty we learned as a child – “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men … I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me …” And truly have the courage to follow Jesus and his teachings.

Moving from stage two means we are willing to let down our nets in broad daylight, when common sense say – “no, that’s not how WE do it …”

Moving from stage two means being open to God’s presence in our lives where God wants it to be … not where we’ve tried to contain it …

Moving from stage two means trusting in God to show us the way … a God who is so loving that we will never be abandoned nor forgotten …

May we have the courage and the maturity of faith to let down our nets into new waters and at new times of the day … and may we be utterly transformed by that experience …
May it be so … thanks be to God.

Sermon for January 28th 2007

On a Journey Just Begun – Step One …

Today, I am trying something a bit different, or rather, I am beginning something a little bit different. Today’s sermon and the next four, until we find ourselves standing in the Season of Lent will find us exploring the growth and progress of faith, or to use the terms of James Fowler, whose work I am relying upon – we will be exploring the stages of our faith …

Each stage is a progression from one to the other – very much like the steps on a journey, or the steps of a stair case … You begin at the beginning, and continue until you arrive at the destination of a mature and healthy and life-affirming faith. This isn’t to say that we all MUST be on the same step, or stage, or that being ahead or behind is wrong – it just means that we are pilgrim people on a journey and for the next couple of weeks we’ll be exploring what that means …

And so, today we begin with stage one of Fowler’s stages of faith – that of primal faith. Primal Faith is based on emotion – predominantly the emotions of trust and anxiety. The religious experience in this first stage is based in a fusing of trust, courage, hope, and love. If you feel loved and cared for and not abandoned – you’re happy and your faith is strong. If you are feeling unloved and abandoned, then your faith is warped and weak.

In this first stage you begin to develop rituals and habits such as praying before bed, holding to a talisman like a rabbits foot, or having a particular stuffy to sleep with. Without words, you begin to visualize the HOLY in non-verbal ways. The best example is understanding God as a bearded old man, or a divine Santa Claus sitting on a throne watching over us - Much of this first stage of faith lacks the language to express it – it is basic, and intuitive … It is the faith of young childhood. You believe God is UP there somewhere, and if you’re a good person that’s enough …

It echoes Paul saying to the Corinthians – “when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child – but when I became an adult, I put aside childish ways …”

The challenge of Fowler’s stages of faith, is the movement … Like Paul 19 Centuries before him, Fowler identified the diversity of religious experience and the idea of faith as a pilgrimage or a journey.

In the life of our community we have, over the last 11 months lived the stages of faith – we are spread out over a continuum of experience. Some of us are very ready to move into a new building, some of us are still mourning in the ruins of the old church, and still others are spread out along the road at any number of points …

The challenge as a community is to recognize that. To remember that we are ALL in very different and unique places – and where we find ourselves is okay, providing we haven’t become rigidly stuck … being a pilgrim people is about movement and growth.

Paul knew this when we wrote to the church at Corinth. He saw a church struggling, but more significantly, he saw a Church with HUGE potential. He wrote to them of many things – usually in response to a crisis or a conflict. But in our reading today, we has put to parchment what is perhaps the most beautiful expression of LOVE that humanity has …

Love is patient, love is kind … the words roll over us and we can say – “Yes !!” and “Amen!!” and even the occasional “Preach it brother …”

So, it is appropriate to turn for a moment to the teachings of Martin Luther King who perhaps offers us the most concise and straightforward summary of love that the modern church can encounter …

King spoke of love, noting that there are three distinct kinds of love. The first is eros. It is the shallow love – the romantic passionate love. Eros is the love that has given rise to wonderful expression of love – the yearning of the heart and soul for the divine. He notes that eros is a beautiful love that is grounded in romance and is often what we mean when we speak of love.

Then King notes the second kind of love is philia – the intimate love that exists between friends. Philia love is the friendship love that you have for people you get along with well. People you like and who like you – people you enjoy spending time with …

But then King moves into the third kind of love – Agape love. He says that Agape Love is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship love. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men (and women). Agape is the overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God operating in the human heart. To quote from King:

"When you rise to love on this level you love all people not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” And I’m happy he didn’t say “like your enemies.” Because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can’t like anybody who would bomb my home. I can’t like anybody who would exploit me. I can’t like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can’t like them. I can’t like any body who threathened to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that loveis greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all people. And I think this is where we are as a people, in our struggle – we can’t ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for citizenship. We must never give up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discriminiation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate myself. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many … to want to hate myself; and everytime I see it I say to myself ‘hate is too great a burden to bear.” Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say – “we shall match your ability to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soulforce. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey unjust laws and abide by an unjust system because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. So throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and we will still love you. Threaten our children and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside oad and leave us half dead as you beat us, and we will still love you … be assured, we will wear you down by ou capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we iwill so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

Rising to love at the level envisioned by King is to live faith at a higher level, but not an unattainable level … all around us every day, we can and do find people who live love at that level. It’s not just extra-ordinary people like King who can love at that level … we ALL can …

Fowler’s stages of faith lead us up the stairs from a childish faith to the place where we not only can love in all the ways Paul envisions, but we can hear the words Jesus offered to his family and friends in Nazareth, and we can begin to MAKE those ideas happen … The Kingdom of God is the ultimate rebuilding project – and it is something that is very much part of what we are about as we envision and actualize the new building that WILL rise on Main St.

We really get down to it – if we really listen to our readings this morning, we are found lacking … we are called to be a people of faith, to bring into being the Kingdom of God, and to make real in our world the gift of love … God has called us by name – since before our birth God has known us, and has hoped and planned and dreamt great things to be achieved in our lives …

This is perhaps best summarized by Mother Teresa who noted that in life there are no great things, only small things done with great love …

Our challenge – the calling of our faith – the whisper that speaks to our soul is a whisper of love … the question we have to face is – whether we want to heed that call or not??

Our journey of faith has begun … there is much to do … and it call happens with one small action of love at a time … our first stage is heeding the call from God to love …

May it be so, thanks be to God …