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

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

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