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

130901 – Walk This Way

walk-lightYr C ~ Pentecost 15 ~ Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

We’re just going to work our way through this passage verse by verse this morning.

13:1 Let mutual love continue.
What a great place to start a message about walking the Way of Jesus. Let mutual love continue. That’s the heart of is, isn’t it. Mutual love. Mutual love is a beautiful way of paraphrasing Jesus’ third commandment – love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34). It’s not a one-way love, it’s about mutuality. And it’s a message aimed directly at you – the church, the body of Christ in a particular place.

And I love that it says “continue!” – implying that mutual love is already in practice, which, if anyone has looked around this place for any length of time you would see being lived out in abundance. Faith United is rocking this verse! Let your mutual love continue – continue to love one another as Jesus loved – keep up the awesome work and witness!

So we’re doing great at verse 1. How are we doing at the rest of the passage? Pretty good, I’d say. Let’s have a look. It’s a series of exhortations to individuals and the church about how to walk this Way of Jesus. On their surface they’re pretty obvious. It’s kind of motherhood and apple pie stuff. And yet, if we go a little deeper we start to see how counter-cultural and challenging walking this Way can be. read on

130310 – Rocky Road 4 – The Offer

Yr C ~ Lent 4 ~ Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 

We are in the middle of our Lenten journey and we continue to explore texts that challenge us and show us that our path is often unsettling. We’re on a rocky road, such is life, but we are not alone. Today we encounter what might be the most famous story that Jesus ever told. It’s the parable of the prodigal, and it is designed to shake you up and offend you. Are you ready?

There are so many ways to preach this text. I’ve heard it said that if you could only have one text, one parable, one example of Jesus’ teaching, that this story of the prodigal would be the one to pick because it has it all. read on

130303 – Rocky Road 3 – The Invitation

rooted-cooperating.jpgYr C ~ Lent 3 ~ Luke 13:1-9
Let me begin by saying that I suspect that some of you are not going to like where I take you today. We may be traversing the rockiest part of our Rocky Road. We’re going to tackle one of the hardest questions people of faith ever have to wrestle with this morning, and what it means to our faith journey. The question is: If God is perfect, loving, and good then why is there unjust suffering? Although I should warn you right up front that I think the question itself is deeply flawed!

In Luke 13 we hear of a couple of news stories that would fit right in with today’s 24-hour news networks. First, Pilate apparently had some people killed while they were worshipping – their blood mingled with the blood of the sacrifices they were offering. A horrific story, not attested to in any other places but also not out of the realm of possibility considering Pilate’s reputation for ruthlessness. And second, a story about how 18 people were killed when a tower fell on them.

Jesus asks: Do you think these who died were worse sinners than the other people around who didn’t die? Why them? Did they have it coming? In a Clint Eastwood movie called “Unforgiven” a young man who has just killed a man says, “Well, I reckon he had it coming.”  To this the grizzled old gunslinger played by Clint Eastwood replies, “We all got it coming, kid.”

Hmm. Do we all have it coming? Does suffering indicate we did something wrong? I don’t think so. But the question remains – how do we account for unjust suffering in the world? If God is so great why do innocent people suffer? read on

130224 – Rocky Road 2 – The Bar

high-bar-kid.jpgYr C ~ Lent 2 ~ Philippians 3:17-4:1  (Iain Buchanan preaching)
I think that if Saint Paul were around today, he might be wearing a t-shirt something like this. YOLO.   If you haven’t heard it before,   YOLO is an acronym for “you only live once”. It implies that one should enjoy life, even if that entails taking risks. The phrase and acronym are especially popular in youth culture and music of today thanks to the hip hop song “The Motto” by Canadian rapper Drake. However, the phrase “you only live once”  has been in use for over 100 years.  It was the title of a waltz by Johann Strauss II in 1855. In November 2012, the Oxford American Dictionaries included the slang term “YOLO” in its shortlist for the 2012 English Word of the Year.  There’s your dose of trivia for today!

You only live once.  So what?  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  Since we only live once, we try to make the most of life, treasure every moment, take nothing for granted, and the like.   There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?  Ah, but wait, we need to see what’s on the back of the t-shirt too.  What would you expect the message on the back of Saint Paul’s t-shirt to say?   I think it would read something like this:  “Follow my example.”
So how many of us would walk around wearing a t-shirt boasting:  Follow my example?  Would you be comfortable in someone following your example? Is your example one that would encourage others to be more Christ-like? read on

130217 – Rocky Road 1 – The Choice

jesus-tempted-self.jpgYr C ~ Lent 1 ~ Luke 4:1-13
Lent is a season of prayer, reflection, confession, and commitment. The themes in Lent tend to be more challenging, more weighty, and we find ourselves squirming a bit sometimes when the subject matter strikes close to home. Following the Way of Jesus is no walk in the park. Traditionally, Lent symbolically follows Jesus as he moves closer to Jerusalem and the cross. His wasn’t an easy road to walk either.

So I’ve called our Lenten journey this year a Rocky Road. Hopefully two things instantly pop into your mind when you hear “rocky road.” One is the obvious – that we are following a path and from time to time there are bumps along it, places that are hard to walk on, where our footfalls are unsteady and we’re worried about losing our balance.

Or when the rocks on the road are big and jagged and we have to be careful figuring out how to move around and between them for fear of what they might do to us. We’d prefer a well worn path or a freshly paved highway to travel on, but that is not always available, or desirable. The narrow way is better, even though it’s sometimes rocky.

And the other rocky road I hope comes to mind is the ice cream flavour. A delicious, chocolaty treat with smooth bits and a bunch of chewy and bumpy bits that create some excitement and add joyfulness and surprise to our tastebuds. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see the rocks on our path like we see the “rocks” of rocky road ice cream – as delicious, surprising bits of wonder that bring something special to the experience? read on

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