171112 – Hey Baby, What’s Your Cline

Yr A ~ Pentecost 23 ~ Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

I know you’ve done it. I’ve done it too. Someone official asks you a question and you know what the answer is supposed to be and you give that answer even though you don’t believe it, or you haven’t actually done the thing they’re asking but you say you have. Or maybe you have some doubts about something but you’re standing in a crowd and rather than go against the crowd you go with the flow. what-cline
Too often our actions belie our words.
We don’t practice what we preach.
We may not like to admit it, because it demonstrates a lack of integrity on some level, but we’ve all done it. And the sad truth is that we usually get away with it.

However, if the person asking the question is a good reader of people they’ll know what you’re up to and call you on it. You’ll probably deny it at first, but they’ll know, and sooner or later you’ll probably realize you’re not getting away with it and then you have a choice to make – double down and continue to misrepresent yourself, or admit the truth and come clean.
And the sad truth about that is that we usually choose to double down because it’s uncomfortable and humiliating to own up to a shortcoming.

I call it the mirror moment. It’s that moment when you look in the mirror and you realize that you can’t kid yourself anymore, that you see the thing you’re doing or thinking is wrong, that you can’t keep doing it, and that you’re going to act or think differently from that moment on.

In today’s passage from Joshua he has a wonderful way to describe that mirror moment. He says that the people are witnesses against themselves. Isn’t that a great way to say it? When you’re looking in that mirror you are a witness against yourself. But let me go back a bit and say more about what they were doing wrong that needed a mirror moment.

After their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Moses had led them that far but he did not go with them into the new world. He passed the leadership on to Joshua. Today’s reading comes from the end of Joshua’s story, long after he’d fought the battles, and it shows that he may have failed in his most sacred duty. The people of Israel had drifted away from the One God, Yahweh, and were worshipping other gods.

So Joshua calls them on it. The entire nation of Israel, all the various leaders and key people, everybody is gathered together and Joshua rises up before them and says that they are supposed to be serving or worshipping God like he does. It’s one of the most famous lines in the bible,
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”

But the people aren’t following suit, and Joshua tells them they’re not.
They answer back, “Yes we are!”
He says, “No, you’re not!”
They say, “Yes, we are!”
He says, “No, you’re really not, and you know it.”
And they say, “Yeah, ok, you got us. No, we’re not. But we will now!”
(I may be paraphrasing a little.)

What it actually says in the end is this, Joshua 24:22
Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.”

Joshua makes them look hard at themselves in the mirror and become witnesses against themselves, realize that their actions are proving the case against them, and they finally admit, “Yes, we are witnesses.”

In church we have a name for the mirror moment. We call it confession. Did you know that you make a confession every Sunday when you’re here? We don’t call it that because some people find the word problematic, maybe because it’s been used poorly in their past, but a few minutes ago we shared a prayer of invocation and transformation and in the end part we all say,
“Standing in your light, hearts broken open, acknowledging our humanness, seeking transformation, savouring your Holy Presence, we pray.”

That’s confession. That’s a mirror moment.
Hearts broken open, acknowledging our humanness – meaning that we realize that we’re not perfect – and seeking transformation – seeking a new way and leaving behind an old way.
So yes, we do confession every week here. It’s a critical part of a disciple’s faith journey. read on

171105 – Walk Worthy

Yr A ~ Pentecost 22 ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

There are several words in our theological vocabulary that cause people a significant amount of angst – words like atonement, judgment, salvation, sin, tithing, evangelism, and why don’t you lead the devotion today (!). Today we’re going to wrestle with another tough word – worthy. Worthy means having great merit, value, and character. It refers to someone deserving honour, respect, and admiration. It’s a good word to associate with Remembrance Sunday because without question, we name those who served in the armed forces in times of conflict as worthy of our honour, respect, and admiration.walk-worthy

Worthy is a word that easier to say about others than it is to say about ourselves. We don’t like to say it about ourselves. The word makes us uncomfortable because in order to claim it you need to make a value judgment and assessment about yourself and determine that you are, indeed, deserving. But that flies in the face of much of our religious thinking, right? We insist that this whole faith thing is about grace and has nothing to do with merit, and yet this word worthy suggests merit is involved. Don’t worry, I’m going to give you an out in a minute. But for now, let’s wrestle.

We love the idea of God being worthy, and Jesus being worthy – worthy of honour, and praise, and fidelity, and awe.
There’s no doubt whatsoever for us that God is worthy.
Of course God’s worthy! God is God!
And compared to God or Jesus of course we’re not worthy – at least not in the same kinds of ways.

But we need to be careful not to go too far. I mean, it’s funny in the movie Wayne’s World when Wayne and Garth meet famous rock stars and go “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy!” But it doesn’t mean they think of themselves as vile worms. And that’s the problem with the way religion has tended to think about worthiness. God’s holiness is perfection, we can’t get anywhere near that so we’re not worthy.
But that doesn’t mean we’re worthless!
If we were worthless why would God bother with us?
If we were worthless why would Jesus call us friend?
We are worthy of their love and Presence apparently. Why not take them at their word and embrace it?

But we can’t go too far in embracing it, I guess, because then we risk being full of ourselves instead of full of God. We lack humility if we see God’s light shining through us and confuse it with our own light. The fancy theological term for this is imputed righteousness – we aren’t righteous on our own, but we become righteous as Jesus lives in us and we share in his righteousness. And yet we still don’t like to think of ourselves as worthy.

Paul clearly thinks he’s worthy. Many readers think he comes off as arrogant. Maybe he’s just super confident of his faith. The scripture passage we’re looking at today comes from the very earliest bit of writing we have in the New Testament. It’s from 1st Thessalonians which was written in the 0050s. Everything else in the New Testament was written down after this. Paul is writing to a church community in Thessalonica that he started, shepherded for a while, and then moved on to start or plant other churches. This letter is him writing to them to check in on them and solve a couple of problems that arose.

Paul is not shy about claiming his worthiness! He says, “You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers.” (1 Th 2:9-10)

So is he arrogant or accurate? Maybe both! And I think we can learn a lesson from him.
False modesty is just as unseemly as arrogance. When you know you’ve done well, taken the high road, acted with integrity, accomplished good things, why would you say, “No, that’s ok, it was nothing.”
It wasn’t nothing.
It was important, and you did it.
If someone offers you an estimation of worthiness you should graciously accept it and affirm it. Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t wait for someone to name his worthiness – he names it for himself. Nobody’s perfect! read on

171029 – Give Er

Yr A ~ Pentecost 21 ~ Matthew 22:15-22

You know how lots of times I tell you about how scripture passages that appear to be straightforward are actually very tricky and need really careful unpacking to get to the deeper meaning? Well, today’s scripture is not one of them. There’s nothing tricky about it. And there’s nothing subtle about it either. Once we hear it there’s no mistaking what Jesus is saying to us. The only mystery is why do we have such a hard time following his teaching?give-er

I haven’t done this in a while, and if you’re a visitor today I assure you that I don’t talk about this all the time, but today you get a sermon mostly about money. Did you know that Jesus taught more about money than any other subject? Twenty-seven of Jesus’ 43 parables – that’s 62% – have to do with money and possessions. Approximately one of every ten verses in the gospels deals with money. The whole bible has around 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 on faith, but more than 2000 on money.  Then, as now, money was a huge faith issue.

So it’s not surprising that Jesus’ enemies choose to use the minefield of money to try to entrap Jesus into making a mistake so they can discredit him. A subtlety in the text that you may not have picked up is that Jesus’ testers in this tale are described as the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians. In other words Jesus is facing off against agents of the church and agents of the state! They ineptly try to butter him up with false praise and then slyly ask him if it’s lawful to pay taxes to the emperor.

If he answers yes then the religious accusers will jump on him for abandoning the purity of the religion and if he answers no the state accusers will jump on him for going against Caesar. Jesus will have none of that simplistic, dualistic, either/or nonsense, and gives them a fantastic and penetratingly deep answer.

Jesus asks them to toss him a coin. Looking at it he says, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” (Matthew 22:20)

But the Greek word isn’t the word for ‘head’ it’s the word e-i-k-o-n – icon. An icon is something that represents something bigger. Another translation is ‘image’. Image is a powerful theological idea. We first encounter it in the book of Genesis when we’re told that humankind is created imago dei, in the image of God, as God’s icon.

So when you put that deeper meaning together you see that Jesus is actually asking a really profound question of us as he holds up that coin – and it isn’t really about Caesar at all. He’s basically asking “whose” you are.

Whose image? Whose image is imprinted upon your soul? Whose image does your life strive to resemble? Whose image is influencing your character, your actions, and your dreams?

Is it the image that’s printed on the coins? Because if you look at the state of the world it certainly feels most days like it’s money, or the frantic lust for money, that seems to be driving the bus.

Whose image? Whose likeness? Whose alikeness – as in who are you more alike? What does your life look like? If someone who didn’t know you well took a look at you, whose likeness would they see? Would it be more like Caesar’s or more like God’s?

I know, that’s not really fair – because when you look at someone all you can see is the tangible worldly stuff – the material stuff of money and possessions. You can’t see someone’s true likeness with the naked eye. The “God-stuff” is deeper.

And to be even fairer, Jesus doesn’t ask us to choose. Jesus doesn’t castigate people for having, needing, or spending money. He holds the coin, has us look carefully at it, and he asks us a key question: What is the rightful place of this coin in your life? read on

171008 – Thanks-Praying

Yr A ~ P17 ~ Luke 17:11-19

Today’s gospel reading is another one of those tricky bible stories that appear to be straightforward but is actually quite deep. It works on several levels. On one level it’s a simple story about thankfulness. If someone does something nice for you, go back and say thanks. That’s great for kids time, and a lesson worth noting for all of us, but if you stay on that level you’re missing a lot!thanks-praying

On another level it’s a testament to Jesus’ ability to heal people. Although if you read it carefully he doesn’t seem to do all that much! Getting more personal, on another level it could be a teaching about how thick we are – that maybe we’re all 10 lepers and we need to keep hearing Jesus’ message over and over again and finally after so many times we’ll hear and respond.

On yet another level it could also be a shot at our tendency to think that when it comes to faith just following the rules and checking off the boxes is enough. It isn’t! Not by a longshot! So that’s in play here too. (We’ll talk more about this one in a minute.)

But ultimately, at its deepest level, for me, it’s a story about what real spiritual transformation looks like and where real gratitude comes from. It’s this level that I want us to focus on.

Let’s think about the word ‘love’ for a minute. This one single word has so many levels of meaning.
I love that song, I love that TV show, I love autumn, I love chocolate chip cookies, I love kids, I love you man!, I love Faith United!, I love you Jesus, I love you honey.
One word can seemingly interchangeably refer to the trivial and the profound.

You can probably see where I’m heading. Thank you is the same.
We say thanks for simple things like holding doors open or being handed something like a pencil, or a bulletin – and we use the same words when someone has just rescued our whole family from a pending disaster, or told us that we’ve just been judged to have achieved our life goal. Thank you! And all those levels of thankfulness are good – but some of them are pretty inconsequential and some are life-changing.

Ten lepers were healed. Only one returned to give thanks. But don’t think for a minute that those other nine weren’t grateful. Of course they were! Because of their illness they were banished from their society and their family, so being healed, being made clean, meant they could go back to their lives. It’s ridiculous to think they walked away with anything other than gratitude for Jesus.

But, when offered spiritual wholeness, instead of having it change their lives they chose to use the gift to continue in their regular ways. They said, indirectly of course,
“Thanks Jesus! This is great. Now I can go to the priests and be declared clean and get back to life as usual. I’m so glad I met you! This spiritual stuff is great! It pumps me up and inspires me on my path.” My path.

Please listen carefully here. There’s nothing really wrong with that. This story isn’t meant to judge the failure of the nine lepers. Christians have done that far too often! Those 9 didn’t fail. They received from Jesus what they were able to receive and their lives were better for it. That’s a win. Lots of people come to places like this and hear messages about Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit and they go away feeling more positive, and feeling uplifted, and their lives are better for it. Hallelujah! That’s awesome! “Thank ya Ja-eez-us!”

And yet, there’s also Something More. There’s something even better than all that. This scripture story gives us some clues as to how amazing and life-changing this gift of Jesus’ can actually be. read on

171001 – University of Jesus

Yr A ~ Pentecost 17 ~ Philippians 3:4b–14

“Go forth, knowing who you are and whose you are.” No, we’re not finished already, but those are the words I typically send you out with at the end of our worship time. I’d like to push on the words for a few minutes and see what happens.university-jesus

“Go forth, knowing who you are!” Who are you? You’d probably start with your name. But who are you? I know you know, but can you put it into words?
When we meet someone for the first time we immediately ask a few probing questions just to get a sense of who they are. The psychologists will tell you that how you answer says a lot about you. Who are you? Define yourself in a few words.
Umm, Larry, husband, father, musician, minister, mystic?, umm…noticer!

You could probably answer that question too. But what if I asked who you are as a group?
Ok, quick, Faith United Church, who are you? Define your church in a few words. Don’t answer that yet. Let it stew for a while.
Let’s look at the other question – an even more foundational question – whose are you?

Philippians 3:10-14

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead

That’s a fancy way to say that that’s our goal – dying to the former and rising anew – in a word it’s cruciformity – and lived out it’s Christ-likeness.

Paul continues,

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

We press on to make the goal of Christ-likeness our own because Jesus has made us his own beloved. You are God’s beloved! Having this sense of identity – of knowing “whose we are” gives us energy and motivation for living – “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
“Christ’s beloved” is our identity as followers of the Way of Jesus.
Who are we? We are Christ’s beloved – Christ’s own. We’re family. We’re part of the body of Christ.

But who are we as a church? If being “Christ’s own or beloved” is our identity globally, what’s our identity locally? read on

170924 – Creation – Granted

Yr A ~ Creation 3 ~ Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

Give thanks, call on God, make known God’s presence, sing to God, sing praises to God, say what God has done in your life, exult in God’s name, rejoice, seek God’s presence, seek God’s strength, seek God’s presence continually, and remember – remember all God has granted, remember how the Spirit has surprised and delighted and moved you, and remember how following God’s way of love, love, love has guided your life on a better path.creation-granted

That’s a paraphrase of how Psalm 105 begins. And it ends in a similar way.
Praise God. Literally, the last words in this psalm are “praise the Lord,” which in Hebrew is Hallelujah! Praise God! Hallelujah!
Why? Why all this praising?
Because of all that God has done.
Ok, but what if you don’t think that God has done very much?
Well, I guess that all depends on how you look at things.

People of faith tend to look at things through the lens of God’s omni-presence. And while it may be hard to discern how God might be moving or what God might be doing in a given moment, people of faith can look back on their history and discern that God was indeed there – present – acting – somehow.

For the Jews the history they always look back on was what we now call the Exodus – their release from the captivity of Pharaoh in Egypt and their following of Moses into the wilderness and ultimately into the Promised Land. It’s the story of how they became a people. And they are convinced that God was at the centre of the story – guiding and acting and bringing it to be.

I can think of another exodus story that I think you will find even more pertinent! It’s a story about how a group of faithful people ‘escaped from’ a situation in which struggling and floundering were dominant. They spent their fair share of time in the wilderness – in that in-between time of knowing that leaving ‘what was’ behind was the right thing, but not really knowing what’s next yet. And then there was their deliverance to the Promised Land – a land not without challenge, but filled with the promise of the potential of flourishing.

Does that sound familiar? It should – because that’s the exodus story of Faith United.
Once there was a time when two (and later a third) church were struggling and perhaps even floundering, who ‘escaped’ and wandered in the wilderness for a while.
For some (St. Andrew’s and Courtice folks) it was a season of church in a school because church buildings had been let go of and sold.
For others (Harmony folks) it was a season of looking for a compatible group to join with.
Either way it was a time of risk, and leaving behind, and an unknown future. It was a time in the wilderness.
And then, ultimately, there was this place – Faith United – the Promised Land! A land of milk and honey and wondrous blessings!

Exaggeration? No, not really.
This is the language people of faith use. After a time in the wilderness arriving in a place like this feels like the Promised Land! And all along the journey I will bet that those of you who were there felt like God was with you – providing!
When you didn’t have a place to go and this property became available, didn’t it feel like a blessing?
When the original plans for an additional church hall didn’t work out and we ended up with this single multi-purpose space didn’t this turn out to be a great blessing?
When just the right people with just the right skills emerged at just the right time to make things happen wasn’t that an example of God providing?

This is our exodus story. And we need to keep telling it over and over again to remember how we got here and to remember how blessed we are to be here, in this place, together.
The ancient Israelites felt the same way, and still today, thousands of years later, they still tell their story for the same reasons. And their story is epic. read on

170917 – Creation – Delighted

Yr A ~ Creation 2 ~ Psalm 96

We are the Holy Rollers.
We value enthusiasm and spontaneity. creation-delighted
We love happy clappy music and we wear our emotions on our sleeves.
We will laugh or cry in worship at the slightest provocation.
We will fall on the floor overcome by emotion as we open ourselves and ponder the immensity of God’s love for us.

We think sermons are participatory so we answer questions and voice our agreement throughout.
We nod our heads vigorously when the preacher makes an interesting point and we’ll shout out affirmation when the preacher makes a great one.
We applaud after every hymn, praise song, and choir anthem because that’s how we say thanks.
We love and worship God in a noisy and exuberant way.
And we are moved to share this love of God that we feel so deeply with others.

We are the Frozen Chosen.
We value order and dignity.
We love majestic organ music and we hold our emotions very close to the chest.
We will laugh in worship on occasion, and cry if dealing with something profoundly sad, but generally we keep our emotions to ourselves.
We sit in our pews and think deeply about the immensity of God’s love for us.

We think sermons are educational and inspirational so we respectfully listen as the preacher shares their insights.
We will nod our heads at interesting ideas and furrow our brow when we disagree.
We offer an affirming nod after choir anthems to allow the sanctity of the moment to resonate.
We love and worship God in a quiet and steadfast way.
And we are moved to share this love of God that we feel so deeply with others.

We are Faith United!
What do we value? What music do we love?
How much emotion do we dare to show?
How do we use our bodies in worship?
How do we interact with sermons?
How do we respond to music?
In what manner do we love God?

Are you feeling closer to a Holy Roller or a Frozen Chosen?
Or will we do the typically Canadian, United Church thing and declare ourselves to be right in the middle?

Perhaps you’re wondering why we’re talking about worship in the Season of Creation, when the usual topics are about the environment or nature? Well, this year I’m looking more at the Creator than Creation, and worship is our response to the loving action and being of the Creator. So it makes sense to think about what that response, what that worship, looks like.

Worship is really our main thing as a church so it really deserves some thinking time. Worship is the one time we gather together each week as a large community of faith and focus together on what is supposed to be job #1 – to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This isn’t the only way we love God, but it’s arguably the most powerful.

Our spiritual energy is amplified when we gather. We share our gifts in creative and helpful ways. We set everything else aside and allow ourselves to be immersed in the presence of God.
A church is healthy and vibrant for many, many reasons and the people who make up a church community of faith need to be involved in many, many different aspects of discipleship such as learning times, and supporting one another, and helping in the kitchen, and grounds keeping, and preparing for various wonderful fundraisers and events, and even simple things like lugging chairs or speaking positively about the church.

But the centre point, the hub, the engine, the power cell, the fuel tank, the core, the foundation – pick whatever image works for you – the main thing, our raison d’être is to gather together and worship the Holy Mystery we call God.
Our buildings are specifically designed to support this gathering of God’s people.
Our biggest budget expenses go toward supporting this activity.

So if worship isn’t right, if it isn’t deep, and spiritual, and moving, and challenging, and inspiring, and life-changing, and soul tending, and action-provoking then this whole church enterprise loses its power and passion and drive – and it withers and dies.
(No pressure!)
I can get a lot of things wrong (and there are days when I certainly do!) but if I get worship wrong I’m in big trouble.

So let’s talk worship and make sure we get it right! Let’s see if Psalm 96 can help us! read on

170910 – Creation – Awed

Yr A ~ Creation 1 ~ Psalm 114

This is the seventh September that we have marked the Season of Creation at Faith United. For some of us here this has become another regular part of the church year. Some of us probably still find it new and strange. And some may not have paid much attention to the church seasons and are happy to take the themes as they come. So it’s probably good for us to begin with some thinking about what it is we’re focusing on in this new church/liturgical season.creation-awed

What do we mean by creation? One aspect is to think about the natural world, the planet we share, and to raise theological issues about sustainability, respect, resources, stewardship, and greed. We can talk about the environment, the physical world, and celebrate the wonders that it holds.

Another aspect is to think about the act of creation, and focus on God. While it makes for a good visual, I don’t for one instant imagine that a humanoid figure with a white beard physically shaped the stars and planets and all that is. So what do we mean by the act of creation? The big bang maybe?
Did it just happen? Was it caused? What banged together? These are big scientific questions, but they’re also spiritual questions.

For me creation is about the existence of life that can in many ways be explained scientifically but also holds a mysterious, miraculous sense because the complexity and interrelatedness of it all inspires awe and wonder and we sense that more than just being a happy accident we are somehow the product of a loving intention. We give that mysterious intentionality the name God, and we celebrate how we are part of it all.

So, we could go in any of those directions, but I’m more intrigued by the God part, which you could’ve probably guessed. So perhaps a better name for the way I’m approaching it isn’t the Season of Creation but the Season of the Creator!
How can we talk about God as creator without falling into troublesome anthropomorphism?
How do we acknowledge the remarkable understandings that science has given us and at the same time acknowledge that there’s more to it than just science?
And how do we find language that can speak to the theological side without leaving our brains at the door?

Today we’re going to explore some of that language – and probably the best language to use to talk about God is poetry – and the best poetry in the bible is found in the Book of Psalms, which is more or less a hymn book – which means poetry and music in the service of speaking of spiritual things. Poetry and music have the potential to help us access deep truths and meaning that science can never get to.
Today we’re looking at Psalm 114. It’s a psalm that recalls the exodus and tries to offer a sense of how momentous a thing it was – and how awesome was the God who inspired and guided it.

1 When Israel went out from Egypt [that’s the exodus], the house of Jacob [which is all of Israel, which was his other name] from a people of strange language [a colourful way to say a foreign land],
2 Judah [a territory] became God’s sanctuary, Israel [meaning the people] God’s dominion [or realm].

The Israelites were once under the rule or domain of Pharaoh – now they’re under God’s domain. That’s the story of the exodus. For the Israelites this was an epic, epoch-making event, and they knew deep in their hearts that God was at the centre of it.
Now, how do you tell that story? How do you describe something so ginormously life-changing for you and your people?
You write songs!
Because the metaphors in poetry and songs give you the potential to express deep truths in engaging and effective ways.
So when that momentous action happened how did not just the people but the planet react?

3 The sea looked and fled; [the river] Jordan turned back [on itself and flowed the other way].
4 The mountains skipped [bounded, danced, frolicked!] like rams, the [little] hills like lambs.
5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?

Why? Why? Here’s why!

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint [an extremely hard rock that gives sparks when struck] into a spring of water.

How awesome was the exodus? Well, the way they tell it it rocked their world!
And this psalm was one of the ways they tried to express their overwhelming gratitude and awestruck-ness.

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.

Trembling in awe before God. read on

170903 – Burning Bushes

Yr A ~ Pentecost 13 ~ Exodus 3:1-15

It begins with an invitation, which opens up a revelation, which inspires a mission. Moses lived that rhythm out in one of the most powerful and well-known stories in religious history – the story of the burning bush. Hopefully through our pondering and praying this morning we’ll catch a glimpse of that rhythm and leave this place ready to notice our own burning bushes – because, and this should come as no surprise, they’re everywhere! But first, Moses.burning-bushes-tree

3:1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Where does this story take place? Near a mountain that would be embraced as being very holy – but more importantly that mountain was “beyond the wilderness”. Remember, every time you hear about wilderness in the bible it’s a sign that a transformation is coming. The wilderness is a place away from the hubbub of our daily lives where the distractions are few and the possibility of noticing God’s Presence is dramatically heightened. So Moses was in the right spot!

3:2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.

A fiery bush that was not consumed or devoured by the flames, and a messenger of God somehow present in the middle of it.
Not your everyday occurrence! (or is it?!?!?!)
So Moses was tending his sheep in this liminal, transformational space, and a fiery bush appears. He now has two choices, but choose he must. Read it carefully:

3:3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”

He must turn aside to see it.
He has to change his direction, leave the path he was on, purposely take another path in order to experience it more fully. Just noticing wasn’t enough.
He could’ve noticed, thought to himself, “That’s curious,” and kept right on going.
But he didn’t. He noticed, and he turned aside and made the effort to draw nearer.

The burning bush was an invitation. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner says the burning bush was actually a test – a test to see if Moses was paying attention and would really see what was going on around him. Moses could’ve ignored the invitation – he could’ve RSVP’d “no” – but instead he did something rare and wonderful. He turned aside from his current path and changed the direction of his life – physically and spiritually.

And when we accept God’s invitation we put ourselves in position to receive God’s revelation.

3:4 When the LORD saw that Moses had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

The Presence of God was there all along but that Presence didn’t speak until it was clear that Moses too was present!

3:5-6 Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
God said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid (awed) to look at God.

When we answer God’s invitation we can receive God’s self-revelation. And what a revelation it is!
The language is important here. Saying that God is revealed is distinctly different than saying God appeared, or even worse, God came down! The subtle meaning of ‘revealed’ suggests that the thing was there all along, right in front of our eyes, but something was preventing us from really seeing.

The space that we thought was ordinary becomes extraordinary – it is holy ground.
The same ground that Moses was standing on obliviously 5 minutes before was suddenly, indescribably holy ground now.
The ground didn’t change – Moses’ perception did! And as he became aware he realized how awesome God’s Presence was and Moses was awed.

And the taking off your shoes thing? Maybe that’s nothing more than a tangible indication that you’re going to linger. You know the saying, “Take off your shoes and stay awhile!”

So we’ve had invitation and revelation. Now we’re in the right head space and heart space and spirit space to receive the mission. read on

170827 – You Don’t Say

Yr A ~ Pentecost 12 ~ Matthew 16:13-20

So which is it? At the start Jesus says, “Say!” Say who I am.
Then after Peter gets the courage to say, Jesus says, “Don’t say!” Don’t tell anyone!
And then in the next chapter he tells them not to say anything until he’s gone – then say!silenced-dont-say
Now my job is to help us make sense of this in the next 18 minutes. In the end hopefully you’ll say, “How surprising! Is that really true?” In other words, you’ll say, “You don’t say!” And I’ll say, “Yes, I do say! And so should you!”
Got it? Say, don’t say, say! That’s the sermon! Here we go!

Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Here’s a little detail we might miss. Caesarea Philippi is a Gentile city – not a Jewish one. But ‘son of man’ are like code words referencing the book of Daniel from the Hebrew Scriptures that served as a cue that the subject at hand was about the end of times and the Messiah or the Christ. That’s curious because it’s not part of Gentile folks’ spirituality – and yet clearly it was a phrase people knew.
So this is Jesus asking his followers about a theological trend. This is not Jesus talking about himself in the third person. He’s just alluding to some theological water-cooler talk, and he’s asking the disciples who they think, or who they’ve heard, belongs in that tradition.

16:14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

That all makes good sense. John the Baptizer was pretty apocalyptic in his manner and speech. And Elijah and Jeremiah were both larger-than-life, doom and gloom kind of prophets. So, you could read that as the disciples saying that Jesus is the embodiment of those people – but I prefer a different interpretation.

16:15 (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Inflection is everything here.
Now, if I read that: But who do YOU say that I am? It sounds like he’s referring back to the Son of Man tradition.
However, there’s another way to read it.
He could’ve said it like this: But who do you say that I am?
With that emphasis he could be separating himself from the apocalyptic tradition. Who do “they” say the son of man is – and – who do you say that I am? – like maybe he’s trying to establish a new tradition.

Obviously, this is the interpretation I think is better. And it sets up the last verse of this passage in a more understandable way for me (we’ll get to that in a few minutes).
Jesus is offering the disciples a chance to think for themselves here – to discern for themselves who Jesus was apart from the limits of the tradition.

This is the first big “say”. Before we go too far down the road of calling ourselves a Christian person we’re going to have to start wrestling with who Jesus is. I’m not sure that wrestling ever stops, but until it starts we won’t have very much to say at all. read on

170813 – Go Fourth – Rest Up

(Off Lectionary) ~ Mark 2:23-28

Today is part 2 of a sermon series about the fourth commandment – to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy – and we’re beginning with a strange passage of scripture. Jesus and the disciples are in the middle of nowhere walking through a grain field. The Pharisees, who have no logical reason to be there, supposedly scold Jesus for breaking the rules by plucking and eating from the grain field. Except that’s not against the Sabbath rules! It’s something of a mystery why the rule keepers get the rule wrong! It’s a very strange exchange.go-fourth-restup

In the end Jesus says this:
“The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so humans are masters/have control over the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)

And this, I suggest, is the real point of this whole encounter. The Pharisees are there to show us that legalism and Sabbath don’t belong together. Instead, Jesus says that humankind has control over the Sabbath – that it is made for us (to help us, to serve our spiritual deepening) rather than us being obliged to serve the supposed rules of the Sabbath.

But be careful here.
Jesus is not saying that humankind can make Sabbath into whatever we want.
He’s saying that the Sabbath is for us, and that we as individuals need to figure out what that means for us and not just blindly follow a checklist of rules.
He’s saying we need to do the hard work of discerning what Sabbath-keeping looks like for ourselves instead of relying on some priest, or Pharisee, or minister, or cultural tradition telling us how to do it.

Legalism has apparently always been a challenge for Sabbath-keeping. The temptation to create a checklist full of rules and regulations that become the focus of whether you’re ‘doing it right’ is very powerful.

The reality is that every one of us has different rhythms and circumstances.
The world is far more complicated than Moses and the writers of the ancient rules could have ever possibly imagined. They were a self-contained people who shared a very similar life experience. They were small enough and alike enough that uniformity was fathomable. And their reliance on technology was minimal, so their ability to put down the plough for a day and step away from the tools of work was more clearly defined.

Needless to say, life today is decidedly different!

Huge arguments are still ongoing about what the proper day for Sabbath is. For Jews it’s Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Many Christians argue it’s Sunday, what we call the Lord’s Day. Some Christian biblical literalists argue for Saturday like the Jews did it. If you’re Muslim your holy day is Friday.
Who’s right?

Who cares????
What a ridiculous thing to be obsessed with and fight about – as if God is somewhere keeping score as to who gets it right or wrong. I get where their passion is coming from, but I think it’s misplaced.

So I won’t be saying anything about what the ‘right’ days or ways to keep Sabbath are. If you’re waiting for me to lay out the definitive United Church method of Sabbath-keeping you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Sunday would seem the most logical day for us to begin to think about keeping Sabbath, but for me it’s the busiest, workiest day of the week!
I have to do my whole one hour of work today!
And it becomes two hours when our Sunday Night Worship services pick up again. Sundays for me are anything but rest from work.

But maybe for you it’s the perfect day.
Maybe for you this very act of coming to church and worshipping is the centre-point of your potential Sabbath-keeping!
And maybe for the person sitting beside you it’s another day!
So if we can’t even agree on what single day we should keep Sabbath on it’s very unlikely we can agree on many other rules.

Instead, what I’m going to offer are some principles – some insights into ways to approach Sabbath-keeping that you need to figure out how to apply to your own life.

But before I do I’d like to remind you about last week’s sermon, which was part one of today’s.

read on

170806 – Go Fourth – Resistance Is Fertile

Exodus 20:1-17
(away from the lectionary this week!)

One of the best things about summer holidays is that there seems to be more time to do things like read books – and during my holidays in July I read one that absolutely rocked my world – and now I hope it rocks yours. The last time I stood here and preached my theme was about rest. Well, I guess that must have been an omen because the book I reached for was Walter Brueggemann’s new book about the Sabbath called: Sabbath As Resistance. Holidays are a kind of summer Sabbath, so it all connects nicely. go-fourth-resist

Obviously, this isn’t the first time that I’ve ever thought about Sabbath time, but Brueggemann’s book took me into an incredibly wonderful new insight and understanding about what Sabbath means and why it’s important. It probably won’t surprise you that the very first thing that dawned on me, as I was reading the introduction, was that out of nowhere my mind started racing about all sorts of things that I could or should be doing instead of reading. The moment I began to think about Sabbath my brain started looking for ways to avoid it. Maybe your brain is doing that right now?! Clearly, this is a challenging topic.

The United Church has never really focused on Sabbath-keeping very much. I mean, sure, there are some cultural memories that people have of not going to movies, or playing cards, or shopping, or doing all those kinds of things on Sundays – but those were, dare I say, more cultural than spiritual.
I don’t remember ever hearing or preaching a sermon about Sabbath-keeping before – I may have mentioned it, but never focused on it.
When I was looking for hymns to support this theme I did a search of our two hymn books. Guess how many times the word Sabbath appears? In Voices United it appears a grand total of 2 times, and in More Voices…0 times!
Why have we never embraced this idea? Perhaps it’s because, like me, we’ve never seen it the way Brueggemann teaches about it.

Did you notice the title of the book I’m referring to? It’s Sabbath As Resistance.
Isn’t that intriguing?
What do you think it is that we need to resist?
It’s the drive to “do”. The drive to produce. The drive to count bricks.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we need to go back to the beginning – the very beginning.

The Hebrew Bible begins with the book of Genesis in which the poetic description of the creation of the universe is found. It’s poetry, not science – but that doesn’t mean it lacks truth. The point of Genesis 1 is to convey the nature of God. It’s the first book. This is what they want everyone to know about God. The first thing is that God is first – before anything else there is God. God is fundamental.
And the second thing is that God creates out of love, and that it is very good. God moves, God creates, God works. BUT – and here is the monumental, paradigm shifting, unique, mind-bending innovation – God doesn’t just work – God also rests!

God is a working God, but God is also a Resting God! God establishes the pattern for the universe – work, but then rest and savour and reflect on it all. God is not a workaholic, God is not anxious about the functioning of the world, and creation does not depend on endless work. There is a rhythm, and the rhythm is rooted in rest.
In Exodus 31 it even says that on the “day” God rested in the creation narrative that God was refreshed!

Exodus 31:16-17 – God says to Moses: “The Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”

Friends, if God needs refreshment don’t you think we might too?
But again, I’m ahead of myself, because God can’t talk to the Israelites about this until they’re out in the wilderness, and the reason why they’re out there is going to blow your mind!

It’s all about the bricks!

Stay with me here – it’s gonna be so worth it!

read on

170723 – Ladders and Circles

Yr A ~ Pentecost 7 ~ Genesis 28:10-19a

The gospel lesson this morning was one of the Kingdom parables.  The kingdom of God is like a seed, a sower, a woman with a lamp and many others.  This morning the reading was to be about the parable of the wheat and the tares.  It is not an easy one to re-vision and I decided to let Larry explain it to us when it comes up in the lectionary in three year’s time.

So, I have chosen to look at the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures.Picture1

You may know the story well.  Jacob has just stolen his brother’s birthright.  The first born son received a double portion of the wealth of the father as well as Judicial rights that he might have held, which meant he filled a priestly role and was the leader of the tribe.   Esau, gave it all away for a bowl of stew.  But Jacob went further and through deceit also stole the blessing that was given to the first born son.   He robbed his brother of treasured gifts from their dying father.

Now I am not letting Esau off freely.   He sold this treasured inheritance for a hot meal.  He could not have placed great value on it until it was gone.

As the story opens Jacob is settling down for the night.  He must be exhausted from his flight, for remember Esau is the hunter in the family, if he is tracking Jacob, Jacob has a right to be terrified of him.  So as the dark settles in, this tired, frightened man lays down to sleep, his pillow, a rock.  He only partly grasps that he is a wanted man.  He knows he is wanted by Esau, but he is also wanted by God.

He had years to listen for God’s voice, to look for God in the everyday places of his life, but he didn’t pay attention until he was in a hopeless situation.

Sometimes we might be like Jacob.  We rest in our comfy, cozy beds and don’t get it until we are lying on a cold hard hospital stretcher in a hallway in pain and frightened.

Jacob was on a journey from Beersheba to Haran is over 300 miles, he has come about 85. He has been on the road for a week or more.   When he decided to re-locate  to where he hoped he wouldn’t be followed, he was serious.  Haran was where extended family lived and he hoped he would find safety there.  But this night he is nowhere, he is at an in-between place.  He has left the familiar and is heading for the unknown.

Isn’t that life?  There are times when we all want to stay in our comfortable chairs, or pews, or homes and situations.  But the world changes, society changes, the rules and norms change and we adjust or become curmudgeons, antiques, museum pieces.   At times I feel that there are only in-between times…we are always on the move.  And as I read our sacred stories,  that is the God I see.  One who calls us to new adventures, kicking and screaming sometimes, but I hope trusting and anticipating more often.

So here is Jacob on his stone pillow, lying on the ground, and he has a dream or a vision.  A ladder, or more correctly translated a staircase between heaven and earth, angels are going up and down and God is at the top.

God speaks and makes wonderful promises to Jacob.  He gives him the ground on which he lies, a place to call home,  He promises a great family who will be a blessing to all who follow after, and God promises to stay with Jacob, to protect him, and to bring him safely back to this land.

Jacob wakes up and realizes that God is in that place.  Sound familiar?  God is in this place, help me notice.  Filled with awe, gratitude and hope, he stands his pillow up, pours oil over it and names the place Bethel.  Beth-house, El-God.  The house of God.

The ladder Jacob saw made him aware of God’s presence, he was not alone in his fear and misery.  The Holy was present in that place.

Picture2This dream ladder for us can represent our connection with the holy, the divine, the awesome mystery we call God.  The wonder, the miracle is not that,  God shows up and breaks into our lives,  it is that once in a while, we see it, recognize it and own it for ourselves.

I’m going to take a different understanding of this story at this point.

For many years this story has been interpreted to mean that connecting with God means a difficult climb.  That is the interpretation in the song,  We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, and it has seeped deeply into our theology.  .  God is at the top of this great ladder and we must ever struggle upward to reach God.  It is hard work and uphill all the way.  We earn God’s favour by what we do, by our good works.  And we can lose God’s favour when we mess up.  There are many verses in the bible that can be quoted to back up this theology, but for me it is  “fake news.”

Many years ago I read a book written by Matthew Fox.  In it he takes on this theology and turns it on his head.  He is in good company for Jesus took many of the things that people knew and understood and turned them upside down in his teaching.

As I read the book this is what I came to understand.

Ladder theology is a very limiting and almost oppressive way to approach our spiritual journeys.

Think about it.  A ladder allows only one person on each rung at any one moment and a finite number can get onto the same ladder. If you envision many ladders then we are separated, divided and apart.  It often becomes a race to get ahead of each other.  People on ladders would step on each other as they tried to best the other person.  There can be no eye contact as one is always looking at the prize.  One can’t even let go to hold a fellow climbers hand, never mind sharing a hug.

Think of the phrases that come to mind,  bottom and top of the ladder, low man on the ladder, corporate ladder, social ladder. If I suggested a Christian ladder  would you want to add it to that list?

Ladder theology is not congruent for me with the teachings or life of Jesus.

Instead Fox suggests we think in terms of Sarah’s circle.  I think he chose Sarah as she is called A Mother in Israel.  She is also Jacob’s grandmother.  Not that she was any less flawed than her grandson or than you or I, but a woman of courage and hope and faithful in her life.

So what about circles.  There is no limit to the size of a circle, always room for more.   Circles can be as small as two or as large as one needs.  There is no hierarchy in a circle, no head, no foot.  We stand side by side, holding hands, or linking arms, and we look each other in the eye, sharing tears or smiles.  Fox suggests we don’t struggle in the circle we dance as we celebrate God’s presence.  And where is God?  In the centre.  No one is nearer to God than any other.  How intimately one knows God is up to each one.

When I think of its usage, the first term that comes to mind is the family circle.  Then circle of friends and third the circle of fifths.  That’s a musical one.  Yes there are negative uses as well, but we use it in positive ways most often I think.  I think almost at once of our hymn, Draw the Circle Wide…and the line in it   God the still point of the circle….the centre….

I have no idea what you will take from these words.  But I ask you to think about how you would describe the kingdom.  One of Jesus images,   ladder, a circle or something that has meaning to you.  As you think about God’s presence this coming week, ponder also the meaning of God’s kingdom for you.

 – Sermon by Betty Turcott

170709 – Yoke’s On You

Yr A ~ Pentecost 5 ~ Matthew 11:25-30

Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, God, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, God, that’s the way you like to work.”

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows [perceives, personally experiences] the Son the way the Father does, nor [knows, perceives, and personally experiences] the Father the way the Son does, (except for) anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal God.   [Matthew 11:25-27 (MSG+NRSV)]yoke-on-you

That may seem like a tricky theological argument that Jesus is making, but really it’s only tricky because we’ve tended to think about spirituality and faith as information and knowing while Jesus is trying to help us understand that it’s all about relationship.

He’s saying that he and God experientially know one another in a unique and intimate way – that no one quite knows him, Jesus, like God does, and no one quite knows God like he, Jesus, does – EXCEPT FOR anyone who Jesus chooses to reveal God to.
And who is that?
Who does Jesus choose to reveal God to?
Anyone who will listen and open themselves and see!

And how does Jesus reveal God?
By example, by living God’s Way, by helping us to change the way we perceive the world – by being in relationship with us.

And here’s what that relationship looks like. Jesus says:

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary, as in exhausted, and not just in body but also in mind and in spirit.
Come to me, all you who are tired out, worn out, and burned out,
and are carrying heavy burdens, are weighed down, and overloaded – is that feeling like you and your life?

If so, Jesus says, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.”

Rest here doesn’t just mean a break, or a holiday, or a couple days off. It literally means to emphasize a pause, in order to refresh, to renew, and re-strengthen.

So it’s not just rest and refreshment for your body, but for your soul.
What’s a soul?
In the bible the idea of soul is that it’s the direct aftermath of God breathing (blowing) God’s gift of life into a person.
It’s your very being.
The absolute core and centre of who you are.
You are God-breathed.
That which animates you is God’s breath or Spirit.

So what’s really going on in this passage – in this promise from Jesus – is that he’s not just offering physically tired people an afternoon in a hammock – although that might actually do our souls a heap of good!

He’s talking about soul-weariness.
The kind of stuff that puts you in a funk and drains your passion for living.
The kind of stuff that feels like a heavy burden – like all the million things you’re responsible for and how like Atlas it feels like the whole world is on our shoulders.
The kind of stuff that seems to take your breath away – as in your God-breathed-ness – as in your Spirit.
Oh how we yearn for rest and refreshment from that soul-weary feeling!
Jesus says, “Come to me, and I’ll give you that rest!” read on

170618 – So Far (Indigenous Sunday)

Pentecost 2 ~ Indigenous Sunday ~ Ephesians 2:14-22

I chose this scripture passage for today because it speaks of a journey of reconciliation between two peoples. In the scripture it was about Jewish/Gentile relations in the early church. In the beginning the Christian church was a reform movement within Judaism. All the earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish and stayed Jewish. Over time, as the Good News spread – thanks primarily to apostles like Paul who travelled far and wide sharing the story of Jesus and his teaching – some conflict started to emerge.indigenous-so-far

The Jewish wing of the church demanded that everyone become Jewish in order to be Christian. In their mind you had to be just like them in order to be in the church.
Jesus was Jewish. They were Jewish. It just made sense.
For a Gentile that would mean adopting all sorts of new religious and social customs, and if you were a male it would mean circumcision. This was a big deal, and big source of conflict.

Now, Paul was really good at his job as a church planter, and it wasn’t all that long before Gentile Christians outnumbered the Jewish ones. And in the end the Jewish Christian leaders gave in and learned to accept everyone without requiring full conversion to Judaism. At the time of this letter to the Ephesians though, this was still a big conflict and Paul was desperately trying to get the two groups, or peoples, or nations if you will, to reconcile.

His argument was very simple.
Ephesians 2:14 For Jesus is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

Today is Indigenous Sunday so naturally I’m reading this passage with an eye to indigenous reconciliation.
Obviously, before you can reconcile with someone you have to know them, so I’m wondering…

What’s your experience of Indigenous people?
Did/Do you live in community with Indigenous folks?
Did you go to school with them? Work with them?
Did you know there are people of Indigenous heritage in this congregation?

It’s hard to have anything but stereotypes about any group of people until you have a relationship with them.
For me, I didn’t really interact with or meet many Indigenous people until I started doing work with the wider church. I’m grateful for the new relationships I’m discovering. I have a lot to learn!

And if you’re not in relationships with Indigenous folks when things come on the news it’s hard to know how to react. I don’t know about you but I feel really disconnected from things like residential schools, and treaty violations, and unceded lands, and the terrible stories of so much poverty, and suicide and despair in too many Indigenous communities.
We feel guilty, and ashamed, but we didn’t really do it, and yet we’ve benefited from it, and it’s all very confusing and messy. The best I think we can do is learn and try to be part of the reconciliation process as best we can.

At Faith United that has meant simple things like this worship service having this theme today – and the learning time about Indigenous spirituality we had earlier this year – and our learning and fundraising work to support the Pikangikum community.
These are good steps. These are good things that we’ve done so far. read on

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