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140413 – Who Is This

Yr A ~ Palm ~ Matthew 21:1-11

Who is this?

On our recent trip to New York we were strolling down 5th Avenue on a Saturday afternoon, which meant the street was pretty crowded, so we didn’t really notice the large group that was standing on the corner across the street. Well, we didn’t notice them until we heard the scream. Or was it a shriek? We looked over and this sea of teenage girls suddenly burst into motion and raced down the side street screaming at the top of their lungs. We all looked at each other and laughed, and figured it must have been a celebrity. And instantly the question hit us, “I wonder who it is?”palm_sunday-silhouette

Now, we didn’t care enough to go and find out – anything that sends 50 teenaged girls screaming is probably not on my radar – but we still wondered. Who is this?

You can’t help yourself. You see a commotion, something that attracts a crowd, and you’re undeniably intrigued. Who is this? Why are people reacting this way? What am I missing? I should go and find out.

Can you imagine a city teeming with pilgrims, all fired up because it’s a big festival but also seething because the Roman soldiers are everywhere and everyone is constantly under threat? Matthew’s gospel describes the city as being in turmoil. One of the reasons was apparently the arrival of Jesus – on a donkey – reminding the people of the peaceful king in Zechariah – thumbing his nose at the Romans (even if the Romans didn’t realize the symbolism of the donkey, the Jewish pilgrims certainly would have). The crowd is singing, or shouting hosanna, or waving branches and palms, and they’re causing a ruckus. If you were there you wouldn’t be able to contain yourself. You’d be craning your neck trying to get a look, or moving through the crowd to get closer – and there’d only be one thing on your mind: who is this?

Who IS this?? This is a very dangerous and provocative man! read on

140406 – Occupy Me

Yr A – Lent 5 – Romans 8:6-11church-selfie
The word #selfie (and yes, you pretty much have to spell it with the pound sign in front of it) was added to the dictionary and made the “word of the year” for 2013. If you’re connected to social media in any way – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – you know all about #selfies. Apparently there’s something irresistible about putting an easy to use camera in a device that you carry around all the time and with the touch of a screen you can share yourself with your friends and the world.

There’s nothing wrong with taking the odd #selfie.  They can be fun! But for the younger generations they seem to take more than the odd one. It’s like an obsession for some! Not that us older people don’t have our own obsessions. We certainly do, and some of them are just as narcissistic as #selfies. And some of our obsessions with self happen right here in church. Some people obsess about their eternal destination, some live in a rose-coloured nostalgia that thinks the old days were so-much-better, some get huffy if you suggest changing the music style, or rearranging the chairs!

But none of this is new. It’s just human nature – well, it’s immature human nature. Obsession with self is not inevitable, even though it’s painfully commonplace. The bible is overflowing with stories of people who were so completely focused on themselves, or their own needs, or their own preferences, or their own way of understanding the world that they couldn’t see God and God’s way. Moses and the golden calf incident, David and the bathing Bathsheba, Solomon and his temple taxes, Pharisees taking on Jesus, Saul persecuting Christians, time after time we see the trouble people get in when they put themselves at the centre of the universe.

The strange thing, the incomprehensible thing about this is that obsession with self has never been a long-term satisfying answer for anyone, and yet we all seem to think that we’re different and it will be for us. Obsession with self is locked-in on immediate gratification, which undoubtedly feels good in the moment because it gives you a rush of what you think you’re looking for, but beyond those initial moments it becomes shallow and unfulfilling.

And so we need voices like Paul’s calling us back from our self-obsession and urging us to awaken to a deeper and more life-giving reality. This passage from Romans 8, especially in Peterson’s “The Message” translation, really shows how we’re not all that different from that first audience hearing this so long ago. Paul is clearly speaking to our reality too. He said, read on

140330 – Blind Spots

Yr A ~ Lent 4 ~ John 9:1-41

[a monologue]
blindfold-removeSo there I was just standing on my corner with my alms jar in front of me, such is the life of a blind man these days, when along came Jesus and his disciples. Of course I didn’t know who he was then, but I sure know him now! They were discussing my blindness, and how everyone knows that something like blindness happens because somebody somewhere did something really bad and I’m paying the price for it. At least that’s what I used to believe. Now I’m thinking that’s a lot of hooey. I wasn’t blind because of my parents or because of myself – it just was. But everybody seems to think it’s a punishment. Now I’m thinking maybe everybody is blind in their own way.

So Jesus chimed right in and said that it wasn’t anybody’s fault and that he was going to reveal something about God through this. I gotta admit, I was a little scared. They just came out of nowhere and suddenly I’m the centre of attention.

And then before I knew it (and without asking I’ll have you know!), Jesus spits on the ground, makes a little clay-like mud and slaps it on my eyes. Gross! Then he told me to go wash in the pool. I wasn’t sure what to think. I had no reason to trust him or to follow his instructions, but then again I was standing there with a load of mud on my face, so I did it.

Well, as you can see, I can see! read on

140323 – A Deep Well

Yr A ~ Lent 3 ~ John 4:5-30
They started with a boundary crossing, then went onto a philosophical discussion about thirst, then they touched on status, then they debated religion, and they ended with Jesus apparently making a bold claim of authority and the woman walking away pondering the significance of this encounter. It’s quite a story that we get to explore on this third Sunday of Lent!jesus-woman-well8

The boundary crossing is first of all that men and women who were not married to one another really weren’t supposed to talk together in public, and second that Jews and Samaritans were not friendly to each other at all – kind of like estranged relatives from a nasty family fight that happened years and years ago and got worse. And on top of that this woman is quite a piece of work! You have to dig in to the cultural cues to realize why.

A well in their day was one of the town’s meeting places. Obviously there was no indoor plumbing – if she could have turned on a tap we never would have got this story. Everyone in town had to go to the well. Usually people went in the morning and evening, in the cooler parts of the day, and while there they’d socialize and build community.

Now look at the clues. The woman comes at noon, and she’s alone. Just from this one piece of information we know that she has been excluded or shunned or ostracized from her community. She is an outsider, presumably because of her multiple husbands, possibly because she may be a prostitute, either way she is not a respectable lady in society’s eyes. Knowing all this you can understand why she might have a rough edge and not be a pushover when challenged! read on

140316 – Here I Am

Yr A ~ Lent 2 ~ Genesis 12:1-8
Lent is supposed to be a time when we focus on preparing for Holy Week and Easter and while we’re not going to talk about Jesus very much this morning we’re certainly going to take a few steps closer to Jerusalem. To do that I’m going to talk about Abraham and his faith journey and we’ll try to see why he is such a seminal figure in our tradition. Let’s set the stage.Here-I-Am

Abraham and his wife Sarah first appear at the end of Genesis 11 in a lengthy genealogy. A key detail we learn is that Sarah is barren, which is a really weird thing to read about in the middle of genealogy, which is about descendants. This is a huge deal in their culture. Spiritually it suggested that either the husband or wife was in disfavour with God who had therefore “closed her womb” (as the expression goes), and practically it meant that this would be the end of Abraham’s family line. Also, we have to remember how important family units were to the ancient peoples’ survival. We have kids for the joy of it – they had kids to help them work and survive. So barrenness is a big, bad deal.

Some other basic things about these two – their names were originally Abram and Sarai but along the way as they became more faithful God gave them the new names Abraham and Sarah – it’s kind of like Saul becoming Paul, or Simon becoming Peter. And you’d think that the man who would become the father of Judaism would be a paragon of virtue and the most spiritual guy around. He may have become that, but he was just another ordinary guy when God tapped him in Genesis 12. And then he pretty much stumbles his way through his whole story. read on

140309 – Voices and Choices

Lent 1 – Genesis 2:15–17, 3:1–7
Today we get to tackle a wonderful and complex story of voices and choices that has been spectacularly misinterpreted over the years. I’ll start by stating categorically that this is not a historical story of the first two humans. Anyone who tries to make you believe that is wilfully trying to mislead you or is woefully misinformed. That being said, it is a profoundly true story – it is an archetypal story about all humans. You and I are Adam and Eve. It’s our story.eve-apple-woman-choice

Jewish and Christian scholars have analyzed this for millennia and the utterly overwhelming consensus is that the story was crafted, probably during the Babylonian Exile, to try to give a Jewish answer to the questions that humanity invariably asks about its origins – How did we get here? What’s our relationship with the Sacred or the Holy? Why do things work the way they do? Genesis tackles those questions.

It may shock you that I think the biggest problem people have with this story isn’t that they take it literally it’s that they don’t take it literally enough! I don’t mean historically, or factually – again, it’s pure fiction, always was, always will be – I mean literarily. People have tended to read it poorly. All sorts of nasty business has been based on the story of Adam and Eve, and all sorts of terrible theology has come from weak and fundamentally flawed interpretations – because people haven’t read it literally enough, or closely enough.

Problems with our environment, gender inequality, shame in sexuality, and guilt- and fear-based religion all have their theological seeds in mis-readings of this short passage. Let’s see if we can clear some of this stuff up. read on

140302 – The Holy House of God

Yr A ~ Transfiguration ~ 1 Cor 3:10-11, 15-23

Today is actually Transfiguration Sunday, and although I haven’t built the service around it I am going to start my message there. Transfiguration is one of my favourite gospel stories because it’s all about Jesus having an incredible mystical experience. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray and while there he is transfigured, transformed, his face is aglow, his clothes become a dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appear alongside him. It’s a movie special effects team’s dream! All that’s missing is the chorus of angels chanting and the fog machine chugging away.holy-house-of-god

You can imagine the three disciples falling to their knees in wonderment and awe trying to understand what they’re seeing. And you can sympathize with poor impulsive Peter who blurts out “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Mt 17:4)

That’s the piece I want us to think about. It seems to be hard wired into us that when we have a profound spiritual experience we want to build a church on the spot to commemorate it. Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all built altars where God appeared to them. Moses had a tent that they travelled with where God hung out. David wanted to build a temple but God told him no, and then David’s son Solomon came along and did it anyway.

We say that we can experience God anywhere, and that’s absolutely true, but we also have this instinct to build temples and churches for that specific purpose. There’s nothing wrong with building churches. I’m pro-church! I love churches. But I don’t love that too often the church building becomes the thing instead of the thing that helps us experience the real thing! read on

140216 – Growing Up

Yr A ~ Epiphany 6 ~ 1 Corinthians 3:1–9

We’ve been looking at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians for a few weeks now and this is the first time we’ve experienced him verbally poking them in the eye. The main gist of what he’s saying is, “You are not spiritual! You’re babies!” You can imagine how they’d react to such an accusation.

He says that they are obviously babies because they’re acting immature – thinking they’re all grown up, thinking they’re better than other followers, thinking they’ve got the one and only true teaching while others follow the wrong people, and behaving badly toward one another. So Paul says, “Fine, if you’re babies then I’ll feed you milk instead of solid food!” Again, ouch!grow-ready

Paul has called this community of faith to account. Now, do I mean the Corinthians or the Faith-ians? Can we see some of ourselves in his rant? Maybe a little. And that starts to make us squirm. Because we want to think we’re pretty grown up and mature in our faith and that we’ve got an insight into this whole spirituality thing that “other” versions of Christianity don’t have – so we’re better!……Oops!

Paul’s charge is that they’re behaving badly – but he doesn’t literally say behaving. The Greek word he uses means something closer to “walking in the way of.” So his indictment isn’t exactly about doing right or wrong it’s that they’re not really following the way of Jesus even though they think they are. That statement should really give us pause. The Corinthians obviously thought they were doing right, but Paul said not. We obviously think we’re doing right or we wouldn’t be doing what we do. Are we wrong too? How would we know? read on

140209 – Spiritual Minds

Yr A ~ Epiphany 5 ~ 1 Corinthians 2:1–16

Let’s get right to it! 1 Cor 2:1-2 Paul says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I first came to you I didn’t use lofty words and brilliant ideas to tell you God’s message. For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and…the cross.”

There’s nothing wrong with lofty words and brilliant ideas. We need lofty words and brilliant ideas in church – they make the mind dance, they light up the intellect, they inspire. What Paul is saying here is that when he first came to them he didn’t start with the lofty words and brilliant ideas to communicate God’s message. He started with Jesus and the cross. And that means he started with his own personal experience of Jesus (who he never physically met but certainly knew spiritually) and his own story of dying to how he was (a persecutor) in order to be reborn in faith (a proclaimer).talk-faith1

Your story of how you used to be, how you experienced something spiritual (either in a flash or slowly over time), and how it helped you see the world differently, feel differently, act differently, and be more grounded and in harmony with God – that story, your story, is THE most powerful and helpful way you can love people. Your personal experience of Spirit oozes out of you and communicates with people on deep, deep levels – if you let it.

But if you start with doctrines, theologies, arguments, philosophies, and fancy scholarly biblical exegesis you will see eyes glaze over (like yours just did when I said scholarly biblical exegesis) and you’ll have missed an opportunity to share God’s presence and love. Paul says, “I’ll save the lofty words and brilliant ideas for a little later, when you’re moving along more in your faith life. For now, let me tell you how Spirit feels for me.” read on

140202 – Utter Foolishness

Yr A ~ Epiphany 4 ~ 1 Cor 1:18-31

My message today is called “Utter Foolishness”, so let’s begin with some!

A minister decided to do something a little different one Sunday morning. He said ‘Today, in church, I am going to say a single word and you are going to help me preach. Whatever single word I say, I want you to sing whatever hymn that comes to your mind’foolish-cross

The pastor shouted out ‘CROSS.’ Immediately the congregation started singing in unison, “The Old Rugged Cross.”
The pastor hollered out ‘GRACE.’ The congregation began to sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.”
The pastor said ‘POWER.’ The congregation sang “More Love, More Power, more of you in my life…”

The Pastor said ‘SEX’ The congregation fell into total silence. Everyone was in shock. They all nervously began to look around at each other afraid to say anything.
Then all of a sudden, way from in the back of the church, a little old 87 year old grandmother stood up and began to sing “Memories…”

So, are you foolish or wise? Who gets to decide which actions and ideas are foolish and which are wise?  Obviously, we do – we do it all the time.  We have more knowledge, more technology, more wealth, more power, more ability to affect our world and more freedom than at any other time in human history. We know the difference between foolish and wise. Or do we?

In 1 Corinthians 1:20 – Paul asks, “Where is the one who is wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” But clearly Paul was talking about his own time – because we are certainly smarter than they were back then.

Oh really? read on

140126 – Eager Beavers

Yr A ~ Epiphany 2 ~ 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

If you could write a letter to “the Church” that you knew every church member would read, what would you say? Would you be encouraging or critical? Would you compliment folks’ efforts or chastise folks’ for not being engaged enough? Would you focus on the positives or dig in to the challenges and struggles? Would you cast a vision or patch up problems? Would you pray for them? Well, if the year is 0055, and your name is Paul, your answer would be “all of the above”!worship-fullness-light

We’re going to spend a few weeks touring through Paul’s first recorded letter to the church he planted in the city called Corinth. Corinth was a busy cosmopolitan city and the church community that gathered under Paul’s initiative was very diverse – socially, ethnically, economically, spiritually. We kind of have this sense that back in the day everybody did Christianity the same way because it hadn’t been around long enough to get corrupted and messed up. But the truth is that Christianity was radically diverse from the very start – and each planted community of faith had its own style, theology, strengths, and challenges.

So what do you think would prompt Paul to write a letter to this church that he had planted some time earlier? I’d like to tell you it was to congratulate them on their awesomeness – but really he was writing because they were messed up. They’d lost their focus. They had too many divergent ideas about what was most important. They had brought too much of their worldly hierarchy into the church and not committed deeply enough to living the way Paul taught them, a way that Paul learned through his own profound spiritual encounters with the risen Christ and his nurture with other early followers of Jesus.

Now, before we go any further let me say that while I’m going to draw parallels and insights from the Corinthian church I’m more comparing them to the Church in general than I am to Faith United. We’re not perfect, but we do a pretty good job of keeping the main thing the main thing – of focusing on communion, compassion, and connection – loving God, loving people, and loving one another. So as I move through Paul’s intro today you’ll hear themes that you’ve heard before, but we (the Church) still need to keep being reminded of them over and over again. read on

140105 – The Magical Mystery Tour

Yr A ~ Epiphany ~ Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12

There’s a lot going on today. We had a baptism, communion is next, it’s the first Sunday of the year so there’s New Year’s stuff swirling,  I’m getting on a plane this afternoon for Atlanta for a two week course, we’ve just emerged from Christmas, school starts back up tomorrow, regular church activities start back up, annual reports are being asked for – it’s hard to catch your breath. And it’s not just us here at Faith who experience this. It feels like everyone is running at a thousand miles an hour.magical-mystery-tour

My point is that I’m worried that we get so caught up in the busyness of church that we lose focus on what we’re supposed to be all about. We’re so invested in doing churchy stuff that we can lose sight of the why. So Epiphany Sunday is a great gift to us.

An epiphany is a sudden burst of “light” that brings insight, inspiration, clarity, and understanding. It’s a moment of great revelation. If you have an epiphany you see things in a whole new way, literally in a whole new light. Epiphanies usually come with a smack on the forehead, and wide open eyes, and an audible gasp or an interjection! (anybody remember the cartoon???) read on

131224 – Christmas Eve Poem

A Poem for Christmas Eve 2013candlelight-z

Curiously drawn to this sacred space
Escaping the frenzy of the festive season
Seeking comfort, quiet, stillness
A touchstone
A memory
A familiar old story
But what story?
A holy story
A family story
Your family story!
Filled with surprises and challenges and wonders
Showered in gifts and gratitude and joy
Reminded of how fragile and vulnerable we are
Like icy trees we shine gloriously in the light
Yet in harsh times and strong winds we fear we may break
We fear the season may overwhelm us
We fear our resources may run out
We fear the darkness
We fear

We are vulnerable
Like a newborn child
So fragile yet strangely powerful
A gift of love
A gift of God
A gift

And like an infant we are not alone
We are surrounded by love
By warmth
By strength
By light

The darkness of fear is pierced by the light
Like a newborn’s cries pierce our hearts with joy
Like squeals of delight pierce the Christmas dawn
It’s finally here!
Light and life abound!
It’s a family story
It’s a holy story
It’s a familiar old story
Of Joe and Mary
Of John and Linda
Of Elaine and Bill
Of Rachel and Mark
Of David, Julie, Philip, Betty, Robert, Andrew, Jennifer, Michelle, Peter, Anne…

It’s your story
Of light
Of love
Of hope
Of peace
Of joy

A memory
A touchstone
Bringing comfort, quiet, stillness
Transcending the frenzy of the festive season
Drawn to this sacred space
Curiously…

131222 – Love for Christmas

(Ice Storm Sunday – aka ‘The Sermon (almost) Nobody Heard!”)

Yr A ~ Advent 4 ~ Matthew 1:18-25nativity-holyfamily

If you were going to make a kids Christmas pageant out of the nativity story according to the Gospel of Matthew you would be in a heap of trouble. Journey to Bethlehem? Nope. Birth in a stable? Nope. Shepherds? Nope. Angels? Nope. Drummer boys, wise men, or reindeer? Nope, nope, and we need to talk! Well, there are wise men in the next chapter, but they don’t arrive for a few weeks! So we don’t have any of the usual Christmas nativity trappings here in Matthew’s gospel. All we have is Joseph, and in the background a scandalously pregnant Mary.

You know that whole controversy and argument that people get into over whether Mary was a virgin or not, and how did she really become pregnant, and maybe it was actually Joseph’s baby after all, and, and, and…

I am going to settle the controversy for you this morning once and for all because I have a very strong opinion about this, and it happens to be correct, and I’m not afraid to tell you what it is. Are you ready? The truth is… read on

131215 – Joy Reflection

(worship at Faith today featured Brian and our Choir with guest cellist Lucas doing a Christmas Cantata – so the message today is very short)

This is two weeks in a row now that I get to thank the choir for preaching my sermon for me! Last week they sang “Peace of Heart” and I went on for 15 minutes saying pretty much the same thing. Today I’m not going to go on for 15 minutes. But I do want to say a couple of things about what you’ve just heard.advent-joy1

By that, I don’t mean I’m going to talk about the story again but instead talk about the format. We’ve just heard a Christmas Cantata. Perhaps you’ve heard of Handel’s “Messiah”? Well, it’s not a cantata, it’s an oratorio. It’s more like an opera without any staging or moving. A cantata, by comparison, is a telling of a story usually through spoken narration and music. It can have some light staging, but it doesn’t have to. And it’s often on a religious theme – like Christmas!

I’ve been to some heavy operas, and heard some serious oratorios, but I’ve only ever heard joyful cantatas. What we’ve just heard is an expression of joy. The choir sings because they can’t help themselves – they’re joyful. Their music springs forth and gushes out of a reservoir of joy. And I am very grateful that they share that joy with us.

I think we’re generally a bit confused about what joy means. Joy is not the same as happiness! read on

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