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

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

131208 – Peace for the Holy Land

Yr A ~ Advent 2 ~ Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122

Peace of heart. That’s what the choir just sang. And really that’s it. That’s my whole message today. I mean, I’m going to talk for another 15 minutes or so but I’m really not going to say much more than that. If you have peace of heart you know God. If you don’t, you don’t.peace-begin-me

We’re a social justice church tradition so we claim that peace and justice are important to us. Let me say it bluntly – without peace of heart we’re spinning our wheels. And I don’t just mean our own peace of heart – I mean those we’re striving to help too.

Like every beauty pageant queen says, I want world peace. But it will never happen until hearts change. No amount of programs, aid, troops, negotiations, summits, or General Council resolutions are ever going to crack that nut. Peace will always elude us until we ‘know peace’!

Here’s what I think it comes down to: If people could awaken to and embrace the peace/shalom of God’s Presence/Being/Spirit and experience transformation then world peace would be possible, and without that transformation world peace is impossible. read on

131201 – Hope for Africa

Yr A ~ Advent 1 ~ Psalm 72:1-7; Romans 8:18, 22-26

Wishing and hoping are not interchangeable words. Wishing is how you interact with the lottery. Hoping is how you interact with God. Wishing is a part of hope, but there’s much more to it.

Hope means “a wish or a desire accompanied by the confident expectation of its fulfillment”.  We’re all over the “wish and desire” part.  Our lives are bursting with wishes and desires.  But what about the other part of hope – the bigger part – the part that elevates it beyond being just a wish or a desire?  When your wish is “accompanied by the confident expectation of its fulfillment” – then it’s elevated to hope.hope-africa

I love that phrase – “the confident expectation of its fulfillment”.  Hope isn’t based in maybes – it’s based in certainties.  Hope is more than a wish – it’s the absolute, assured, believe-it-in-the-core-of-my-being, definitely-gonna-happen, better-get-out-of-the-way-‘cause-it’s-coming-any-minute-now, conviction that the deep desire I feel will be fulfilled.  You cannot say, “Gee I hope that happens” and walk away with butterflies in your stomach.  If it’s really hope, then it’s grounded in “the confident expectation of its fulfillment”.  You cannot hope that you’ll win the lottery, or that the Leafs will ever win the Stanley Cup because hope must be grounded in the confident expectation of its fulfillment!

Hope is a prominent theme in our scriptures. It appears 71 times in the Hebrew Bible including 16 times in Job (!), and 26 times in the Psalms – “my hope is in God” – and then it appears 69 times in the New Testament with Acts, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and Romans being the ‘hopiest’. read on

131124 – Logos

Yr C ~ Matthew 22:34-40, John 13:33-35

We hear songs over and over again with pleasure, we have favourite books that we reread every couple of years, we buy DVD movies and watch them so often we can quote the dialogue, why not sermons? A very wise person once told me that I hear my sermons over and over again but the congregation only hears them once. Today I’m going to change that! Today I’m going to share something with you that I shared two years ago (somewhat revised, of course). So let’s get to it…again! (and you’re welcome to quote the dialogue if you want!)

The reading from the Gospel of Matthew today describes the Jewish religious leaders trying to test Jesus and trick him into saying something that would get him in trouble. Obviously, Jesus passes the test. So in the spirit of testing the religious folks, I’m going to test you!butterfly-logos

[images of 9 company logos were projected – Nike, McDonald’s, Apple, TML, Disney, Chevy, Rolling Stones, Recycle, Playboy]

Why am I showing you logos? It’s because the best logos get to the core of what your company or organization is about and communicates that message in an instant. In order to have that kind of logo you have to have a crystal clear understanding of what your thing is all about. It has to be distinctive and simple and bring your brand to mind whenever someone sees it.

The cross is the Christian logo because it tells a whole story of death and resurrection in one very simple design. But I’m wondering if Jesus was designing a logo for his spiritual movement what would it look like? To answer that question you need to be able to encapsulate his teaching in one very compact concept. And that’s what I think today’s scripture reading does!

In the reading Jesus is challenged to say what he thought the most important teaching of all was. So he turned to scripture and quoted a prayer called the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:5. Matthew’s version is: “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” read on

131110 – Our Benefits Package

Yr C ~ Pentecost 25 ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Do you do things based on what you’re going to get out of them? In other words, do you think about the benefits before you do something? It’s ok to say you do. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t think about “what’s in it for me?” ‘What’s in it for me?’ is a perfectly valid question. If there’s nothing in it for you why would you do it?our-benefits

I don’t mean it has to be a tangible thing like money or material goods, or even an intangible thing like prestige or respect. Those are benefits for sure. I’m saying that even doing something seemingly selfless probably makes you feel good inside even if no one ever knows you did it. So you don’t obtain any outward benefits, but you certainly derive a personal benefit from it. If there’s no benefit then we’d be doing the thing grudgingly. So, ‘what’s in it for me?’ or ‘what are the benefits of this?’ is a perfectly reasonable question.

It’s funny, when we talk about benefits at work or in social contexts it seems completely natural and expected. Of course you have a benefits package at work. Of course it’s one of the major parts of your compensation. And of course you derive pleasure or satisfaction or joy from those benefits. The definition of a benefit is something that promotes or enhances well-being.

So what about church? What’s your benefit package at church? What about church or your faith journey enhances your well-being? What are the benefits of a life of ever-deepening faith? Can you name them? read on

131020 – Foot LIghts

Yr C ~ Pentecost 22 ~ Psalm 119:97-105; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

We’ve been working on discerning the Needs of Faith United and renewing our vision for the future all through this year. We’ve done workshops, surveys, interviews, and discussion questions. You have generated a wealth of great ideas and a wonderful body of positive feedback. No great surprise, we all tend to like it here – that’s why we come! Our challenge though is to figure out how to serve the folks who are already here better, and discern what avenues of outreach or focus are the right ones for us to pour our passion into in this season of Faith.
Here’s what we’ve learned in a nutshell (keeping in mind that glorious bit of wisdom that says anything you can successfully put in a nutshell probably belongs there!). In the area of Needs you identified two key areas that need additional support and resources of some kind: children and youth, and pastoral care. That’s the nutshell. Figuring out what to do with that information is the challenging part.
Let’s start by saying that the current groups ministering to kids and offering pastoral care are doing wonderful work. What a gift it is to have the passion and dedication of the Joyful Noise teachers and the Pastoral Care team offering themselves in faith. What you identified is that you perceive a need for still more.footlights-title
Our seniors tend to be the ones who have given their lives to the life and work of the church so it’s imperative that we support them when the need arises. We have a great group of visitors. Perhaps we need more of you to take up that ministry? Perhaps we need to create a position of responsibility around that area? Perhaps we need to hire or call additional staff? The need is there.
Same goes for our children and youth programs. Surely we know by now that in order for them to really thrive we need to nourish them with sufficient resources. And to grow and attract more kids we need to invest more resources into that area of our church. But will that be human resources in the shape of many more of you committing to children and youth ministry? Should we create a position of responsibility around it? Should we hire someone? Do we need a second minister? Can we afford it? Can we afford not to? What’s the best way to go about meeting the need? Answering those questions will be a critical part of where Faith United goes in the future. read on

131013 – A Habitude of Gratitude

Yr C ~ Thanksgiving ~ Philippians 4:4-9

“You’ve got a great attitude. His skill isn’t bad, but his attitude is excellent.
That girl’s got attitude! You need an attitude adjustment.”
Sound familiar? Ok, now what about this?

“Man, you got a great habitude! You need a habitude adjustment!”
Have you ever heard that word? As many of you know I love making up new words. When I was trying to figure out how to make a clever message title for Thanksgiving I was playing with the word gratitude, but I didn’t want to use the old “attitude of gratitude” line. Plus I wanted to underline from the Philippians reading that the spiritual life requires an ongoing effort on our part so I came up with the word habitude! Awesome new word! Except it isn’t! It’s an actual English word! I’d never heard it before but it’s a real word! It’s so great; I wonder why this word didn’t catch on?habitude-sermon

Your habitude is your customary way of behaving or acting. It’s the usual activities in your day. It’s your ongoing practice of something. You’re in the habit of doing it. It’s a regular thing you incorporate into your life. A habitude is not just an inkling or a thought about something, it’s the actual doing of it.

An attitude is an orientation, or outlook – your way of viewing or approaching a situation.
A habitude is an expected action – expected because that’s what the person usually does.

Your spiritual attitude might be just fine – you might think good thoughts, and have a solid theological lens to look at the world through, and be generally positive and hopeful in your faith, but if your spiritual habitude isn’t rocking your faith can’t grow. So how’s your habitude? read on

131006 – Cosmos- Into the Sacred

cosmos-msg-titleYr C ~ Creation 4 ~ John 1:1-5; John 6:41-51
I love how the gospel of John is so different from the other three in the bible. Matthew and Luke begin with genealogies and birth stories, and Mark hits the ground running with Jesus at thirty-something. But John is in a world of its own. Well, actually a universe of its own!

John begins with three magic words—in the beginning. Where have you heard those three words before? Genesis. The first book of the bible. The part where the ancients tried to poetically capture how the Holy Mystery we call God is somehow at the very heart of the universe. In the beginning. In the very beginning. Before anything else…God.

It’s not by accident that John begins that way too. The author is consciously trying to paint on a cosmic canvass. Earthy lines of ancestors and a flesh and blood delivery of a bouncing baby boy will not do for the fourth gospel. Jesus is born of the universe – in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (We could take a couple of hours trying to figure that one out, but that’ll have to wait for another day.)

The universe, or the cosmos, is our theme for this last Sunday in the Season of Creation this year. I know that some people have trouble with the season because it appears to set us up as worshippers of nature. The technical name for that is pantheism—where you look at a tree and don’t just see it as an expression of sacred reality and blessing but you see it as embodying God. Pantheism is literally pan (all) theos (God). All is God. God is identical with the earth and the universe.

In some ways this is a welcome idea, especially if your entire concept of God is that God is a distant clockmaker who set the world in motion and sits apart from it all. The trouble is that pantheists tend to reject that transcendent expression of God, and theists tend to reject the embodied and immanent expression of God.

In good United Church fashion, I choose both/and! For me, God is transcendent AND immanent at the same time. God is out there, and right here at the same time. The fancy word for that is panentheism. It sounds a lot like pantheism but it’s different in a critical way. read on

130929 – Storms- Into the Wind

Yr C ~ Creation 3 ~ Psalm 29; Luke 8:22-25

This is the third week in our Season of Creation. We began with exploring the ocean, then turned to addressing the animals, and now we’re going to think about storms. Today’s message is kind of in two parts as we delve into two aspects of what storms are, but I hope by the end the two will have come together to reveal some helpful things about God and our faith journey. We’ll start with the psalm.

The Book of Psalms is more or less the ancient Jewish hymn book which covers a fairly wide chronological time (but isn’t in chronological order) and their many themes speak to vastly different contexts and times. Psalm 29, which we’re beginning with today, was probably among the older ones and it’s suspected to have been written when the Israelites were a minority amid many other ethnicities and religions.praying-kneeling-arms

Many of the surrounding cultures were polytheistic, meaning they acknowledged and worshipped many different gods within their own tradition – things like fertility gods, and gods of the harvest. The Canaanite god Ba’al was known as many things but one of the prime metaphors was that Ba’al was the “storm god.” Ba’al was pretty much the biggest thing going in that region.

Now imagine you are an ancient Jew and you have this unique insight that there is actually only one god, and of course this god happens to be yours! Convenient! Anyway, the suggestion is that Psalm 29 was probably written as a way to express that the Jewish God (YHWH) was the one and only god, and therefore was supreme. Yes, it’s a little bit of “our God is better than your god.” That sentiment continues to this day with “our steeple is taller than your steeple!”

If you were going to write a hymn about God’s supremacy what attribute or characteristic of God would you use?

read on

130922 – Fauna- Into the Wild

Yr C ~ Creation 2 ~ Psalm 104:1-2, 10-31(MSG)

What’s the difference between poetry and prose? How about saying that one tells a story (prose) and one paints a picture (poetry)? Text books are written in prose. Songs are written in poetry? Now the kicker: Which one is true? We may be tempted to answer that text books are true because they’re all factual and proven. But I hope you would admit that songs and poems are true as well—possibly even more true!

Did you trip on that? More true? Can truth be truer than facts? I believe it can! Facts tell us what something is or is not. They are true or untrue. Poems invite us to look beyond the factual. They offer layers of meaning—they offer depth (and if you’ve been around here the last few weeks you know all about how important depth is!). And where there is depth there is more depth, and more depth, and more depth.

Here’s something else to consider. If I gave you a text book and asked you to rewrite it could you do it without changing the meaning or the truth of it? As long as you didn’t alter the facts you could indeed rewrite it and still come out with the same truth.God-Provides

Now think of any song or poem you know and rewrite a stanza. As you change a poem’s words you can profoundly change the depth of meaning—sometimes for the better, and sometimes you destroy it.

Why the English lesson? Because today we’re looking at Psalm 104, and we’re using a unique bible translation called The Message. The Message is a paraphrase meaning it attempts to translate thought for thought rather than word for word like the NRSV that we usually use. read on

130915 – Ocean- Into the Deep

ocean-dropYr C ~ Creation 1 ~ Luke 5:1-11

This is our third time marking the Season of Creation together. It’s a short liturgical season that leads us to consider spiritual metaphors based in the natural world. It challenges us to tune our hearts to see the Sacred in all of creation.

It does not mean I’m trying to turn you into creationists—people who tend to interpret the Genesis story as 6 literal days (or ages) of creativity by God and who argue for a young earth of only several thousand years. As comedian Lewis Black says when arguing with a creationist, “Fossils, fossils, fossils, I win!”

And I’m also not trying to turn you into caftan-wearing paganists. The Season of Creation is just about seeing God’s presence and blessing beyond Jesus and the bible. If God really is at the heart of all reality then we shouldn’t have too difficult a time seeing God in the reality that surrounds us—if we’d look!

This season is not saying that trees equal God. It’s saying that God’s Sacred Presence is not just beyond us, but is also infused within everything and everyone – and that deserves our attention. The Season of Creation doesn’t seek to worship creation, it seeks to draw on and explore the metaphors that creation offers for insights into God.

My message titles for the next four weeks are: Into the Deep (Oceans), Into the Wild (Fauna/Animals), Into the Wind (Storms), and Into the Sacred (Cosmos). We’re going INTO each realm to see what it can reveal to us about the Holy Mystery we call God. read on

130908 – The Fine Print

Walking-Water1Yr C ~ Pentecost 16 ~ Luke 14:25-33

If you’re walking through a forest of evergreen trees and you happen upon a giant maple, does that make it a deciduous forest? But you have to wonder ‘why is it there? What does it mean?’ Maybe the wind randomly blew a seedling there and up it sprouted. Or it could have been planted in that spot for some sort of specific purpose. The moral of the story is that you can’t simply dismiss something anomalous when you find it – you have to do a little work to make sense of it – and you have to be prepared to discover that it’s possible there is no sense.

In the case of Jesus telling us to “hate” our families though, there is a profound message to be heard. We just have to work for it! In this case the culprit is our modern ears.

I’d like you to think about this whenever you come across a verse of scripture like this. Does it sound like Jesus to you? Does it sound like something that the Holy Mystery we call God is really all about? If not, then it means one of a few possibilities:
Maybe it was added in by someone with an axe to grind.
Maybe it was added in by someone who wished Jesus had said it.
Maybe he actually said it but the turn of phrase meant something different in their time.
Or maybe he actually said it but the translation is misleading.

“Hate” doesn’t mean what you think it means here. read on

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