211121 – Influencers

Yr B ~ Reign of Christ ~ Revelation 1:4b-8

I know that some folks start to squirm in their seats as soon as I say that someone (anyone) is your king. Some don’t like the patriarchal overtones. Some don’t like the triumphalist sense it can bring. But I think we balk at it simply because we don’t like to be ruled. We don’t like to be subjects.

Perhaps, instead, we might focus not so much on the ‘royal person’ but on their realm of influence. What does a king/queen/regent do? They reign. They act. They move. They influence. They command (and we all know what Jesus commands, right? – Jesus commands us to love, love, love!). The Reign of Christ – which is what today’s called in the liturgical calendar – is another way of saying the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. It’s the space, the time, the umbrella of authority under which we stand, the canvass upon which our lives are painted, the arena in which our ‘game’ is played. So, will we focus today on the influencer, or their influence? Yes! Both.

Our text for today comes from the book of Revelation. This is a wonderful but tricky book. It has acquired a really negative reputation in many churches because it seems so weird, and violent, and frightening. Even Martin Luther himself would have preferred that it be excised from the bible, and several heavy duty theologians refused to write commentaries on it. Pity. It’s really quite wonderful.

The problem is we’ve never done a good job of teaching people how to read it – and you really do have to read it with a totally different lens than you’re used to. It’s like analyzing a dream – and you know how logical and straightforward dreams are!
Or maybe it’s like a first century science fiction movie – with lots of creatures and special effects.

Or…imagine yourself sitting in a Broadway theatre, and a single actor is standing centre stage giving a tour de force performance of a fantastically wild tale as a one-person show. That’s how this book was likely shared with it’s first audiences – as a story-telling performance. Underneath it all is a very strong message about God, and Jesus, and faith. Our challenge is that we get lost in the flash and miss the substance. (So it is with life too!)

This book was meant to be performed, not dissected – and it was meant to be heard and experienced as a whole, not in little bite-sized pieces that out of context can be wildly misinterpreted.

So, let’s start dissecting! (lol)
Today’s reading is all about influencers and their influence.
And it challenges us think hard about how the influencers influence us!

Revelation 1:4-5 Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

We begin with the influencers. The One who is and who was and who is to come. That’s God – who is (present), who was (past), and who is to come (future). God is not just the God of history; God is also the God of right here and right now, and yet there is also a promise that God isn’t done yet – there’s more yet to come. God was, is, and will be. Our main influencer is omni-present – always has been, always will be.

The other influencer is the Christ who taught, transformed, and reigned. Or is that teaches, transforms, and reigns? Or both? Christ the faithful witness (teacher, taught, still teaching) – Christ the firstborn of the dead (a resurrection reference, he was raised, he is risen, he was transformed and he still transforms) – and Christ the ruler of the kings of the earth (well, he wasn’t literally back then, but then again he was, because he was stronger than the human empires that stood against him and tried to make him irrelevant – and even today his teaching, life, and example move people to confront empire).

These are the players in our Broadway show. The influencers. And what do we know about them?
They are timeless, present, and not yet finished influencing.
What do these influencers do? How do they influence our lives?

Revelation 1:5-6 To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Ok, what has Jesus done for us? Don’t get lost in troublesome words.
Look at the verbs!
Jesus loves, frees, and makes. Loves us – that’s easy to understand.

Frees us from our sins by his blood. Yeah, yeah, I know. That one has tons of baggage. Let me work with it for a minute to see if this helps. read on

Noticings – November 24, 2021

NOTICINGS…

November 24, 2021 

It was kind of surreal. Leading worship in front of actual humans instead of just a camera for the first time in 20 months was a remarkable experience. I will confess to being extremely stressed and anxious about it beforehand. So many details – Will the tech work? Will everyone be ok following the attendance protocols? Will the at-home experience still be as good as it was? It all came together beautifully. A big part of that was that so many people stepped in and made things happen, and I didn’t have to do it! By necessity we’ve been functioning with just a couple people present on Sundays so many of the tasks fell to me. Suddenly, there were others doing them. I arrived ready to print off some bulletins – somebody already did it. I thought I’d have to set up the address lists and check-in tables – already done. I went to adjust something in the worship space – already done. I have to turn on the camera and lights – nope, covered. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to have multiple people pulling together and contributing their piece of the whole to make the whole flow and function better. I guess I forgot what ‘church’ felt like.

I had also forgotten what it was like to hear laughter when I said something amusing in a sermon. The camera doesn’t laugh! But people do! It was glorious to hear. And despite the masks I could tell that people were grinning from ear to ear. You could see it in their eyes. They were just so happy to be back in the sanctuary, worshipping, together (especially the together part). And to hear the voices gently rise in song and praise – it was heavenly.

We still have some things to work out, and over the coming weeks we’ll adapt and change some things about worship as we all figure out how to navigate these new times. I quite like online worship, and I think it has actually enhanced some of the things we do or the ways we do them. But it was indeed wonderful to feel the people in the sanctuary on Sunday. Having done it once I hope I won’t feel so anxious in coming weeks. I imagine it will start to feel ‘normal’ again, just like online felt ‘normal’ after a time. I do hope people will gently give feedback about both their online experience and the in-person experience so we can make them as rich and enjoyable as possible. And in the meantime I will revel in the return of our gathered community of faith. And I’ll especially relish the laughter.

[Click here for a video version of Noticings]

Shalom,
Rev. Larry


Noticings – November 17, 2021

NOTICINGS…

November 17, 2021 

Birthdays are kind of like New Years in that there’s an element in them of turning a page, having a fresh slate, entering a new season. I just had a birthday a few days ago, and for whatever reason this is feeling like a ‘new year’ to me. As such, I’ve been thinking about the kinds of things one might do at such times. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. In an effort to feel more grounded and connected to important things I’ve made a few changes. One is that I’ve taken a hiatus from Facebook. That’s actually kind of a challenge because my personal life and my work life are intertwined in that medium. Perhaps that’s exactly the issue! I don’t know how long my hiatus will last, but it feels good so far to be out of it.

Another aspect of Facebook (and social media in general) that had been souring for me was the increased negativity I was finding myself immersed in. There’s a lot of discontent out there, often for very understandable reasons, but it was just feeling like it was endless. One of the benefits of social media is supposed to be entertainment and escape. If it stops being that then it’s time for a hiatus. I’m going to be taking a hiatus from national/denominational work too. I’m finishing out my current obligations but I’ve withdrawn from the next set of commitments nationally. Some of that is linked to the discontent out there, but mostly it’s just a sense of weariness after a decade of serving in those circles.

My watchword for this ‘new year’ that has emerged is the word ‘savouring’. Instead of skimming along the surface, flinging myself from this meeting to that activity, functioning rather than really experiencing, I yearn for that deep gladness and groundedness that comes when you slow down and savour the present moment. So I savoured my birthday dinner, and I savoured the delicious carrot cake, and I savoured the well-wishing that came my way. Then I savoured my in-person coffee gathering with my colleagues the next morning. And I even savoured the meetings I was in because I went into them with a spirit of openness to the possibility that they could be savoured. And they were – good, caring, compassionate people doing thoughtful, wise, faithful work. That’s something to savour! This morning I tried to be mindful and savour my morning coffee. It was delightful. And yesterday my birthday present was delivered (a new guitar amplifier) – and you can count on me savouring that for a long, long time.

What are you savouring these days? What are you taking the time to be fully present to? What is giving you delight just by experiencing it? The best thing about this is that there are no techniques to learn, no equipment to buy, and no program to attend. All it takes is a pause and a deep breath. What might you need to take a hiatus from in order to create the spaciousness to pause – to free up more head or heart space (or time) to be more present to the present moment? What is calling you to savour?

[Click here for a video version of Noticings]

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings – November 11, 2021

NOTICINGS…

November 11, 2021 

Let me be clear. There is really no debate about this. The scientific consensus is powerful and persuasive. The BEST science is unequivocal in support of this idea: being double vaccinated against Covid-19 is the single best way to both protect ourselves and protect one another in this pandemic time. Full stop. This is the science that persuades us, and guides us. And as an act of love, and care, and compassion we at Faith United will do THE most loving thing we can in this regard. Our Faith United Council has decided: We will insist that every single person (12 and over – eligible for vaccination) who crosses the threshold of our church building is double vaccinated.

We are now ready to say that, yes, on November 21st we will be reopening our church for in-person worship! There are two core requirements for that to happen:

  1. Every person entering Faith United will be double vaccinated for Covid-19
  2. Every person entering Faith United will wear a mask
    1. (small groups may choose to unmask if the choice is unanimous, large groups may not)

While it may cause some pain to enact these rules, these are the requirements. If that means a beloved member (or brand new visitor) needs to be told “No, you cannot enter” because they’ve chosen not to be double vaccinated, that will be hard, but it is loving. Love protects the vulnerable. Loves ensures that those with respiratory worries are protected. Love says that those who refuse to comply with basic science can be offered an alternative experience online.

The government has suggested that by January such restrictions will not be necessary. We live in hope, and we will listen carefully to the best science when those times come.
In the meantime, simply put, double vaccination is the key to renewed life as our church.

Here’s what to expect if you choose to try in-person worship:

  1. You’ll need your vaccine QR code, or bring your proof of vaccination receipt.
  2. There will be a line up to get in while information is checked. Plan to arrive earlier than 10:25!
    1. (In subsequent weeks the process will speed up because we’ll already know who has shown proof of vaccination previously.)
  3. Quiet singing is allowed, but for now we’ll remain seated throughout the service.
  4. Physical distancing is not required during worship time, but it is encouraged.
  5. Offering plates will be stationary on a table, not passed.
  6. There will be activity bags for children, but not a formal Joyful Noise class for now.

We know that many people will still not be comfortable gathering in-person yet, so we are ensuring that the online livestream experience will remain excellent.
Oh, and if you’ve become accustomed to worshipping in your jammies, well, you are very welcome to come to church dressed however you wish!

This will be a weird and wonderful time of transition. Some things will feel great – other things will feel odd. We’ll need some grace as we try to adjust to hybrid worship and hope that you’ll be patient as we find our way together.
One thing is for sure – we are finally seeing the end of this trying season drawing near. For that I am truly thankful.

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

211107 – Bittersweet

Yr B ~ Pentecost 24 ~ Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

We pick up the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz after Ruth has been given permission and protection to glean (which means to gather up crops after the main harvesters have gone through) in Boaz’s fields. If you missed last week you can get the first part of the story in the posted sermon on our website (or watch through last week’s YouTube livestream). But here’s the quick recap. Naomi experiences famine, a move, the deaths of her husband and sons, a return to her homeland, and especially the kindness and loyalty of her daughter-in-law Ruth. Now back in Bethlehem they need to make a life for themselves, but being widowed women in that culture, they had limits on what they could do. So Ruth turns to gleaning. She’s been gleaning for two months. To continue the story we need to make a couple of assumptions.

The first is that during this time Ruth and Boaz have developed a relationship, but it has not progressed. By that I mean, she’s a widowed woman and he’s a man with no wife, but he hasn’t pursued ‘that kind’ of relationship. There’s a number of possibilities here. The best guess is that he is such an honourable man that he thinks he’s too old for Ruth so he has given her the space to perhaps catch the eye of a younger, richer man. (Boaz more or less says that later in the story.)

Another assumption we have to make is that Naomi is not content to sit back and let the fates rule her life. Security is a supremely high value for her. It was there in Ruth 1:9, and it’s here again in Ruth 3:1. As a widow Naomi has little protection, less security, and not many rights. As an older widow she probably presumes she herself is unlikely to attract another husband, so she conjures a plan to leverage what little agency she has in their culture. She looks to her daughter-in-law Ruth, and we start to squirm. The plan is very ingenious, but to our sensibilities it probably feels unseemly.

Allow me to paraphrase. Naomi tells Ruth to bathe and perfume herself, put on pretty clothes, and go to Boaz – waiting until he’s finished eating and drinking and has gone to sleep. Then, Ruth 3:3, “go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.”

That’s not very subtle. We might wonder if the uncovering of feet is code for something in their culture. Not really – well, it’s simply a pretty thinly veiled reference to sex. I’m sorry if talking about sex in church makes you uncomfortable. It is what it is. Naomi and Ruth’s plan is actually a very risky and bold strategy. They’re gambling on Boaz being a stereotypical man. A pretty, young thing sneaks into your sleeping space, cozies up to you, propositions you with sex (uncovering you, lying down, ready to do what you say!) – (like I said, it’s not subtle) – well, usually that’s a pretty safe bet as to how a man might react, I’d think.

The next part of our reading jumps to them getting married – which probably suggests that the plan worked. Right? read on

211031 – Companions

Yr B ~ Pentecost 23 ~ Ruth 1:1-18

We’re going to be spending this week and next pondering the book in the Hebrew Scriptures called Ruth. It’s quite a remarkable book – primarily because it’s called Ruth! It’s the only book in the whole bible that bears a woman’s name, and features female characters as the primary focus. It’s an ever so brief opportunity to peer behind the curtain of womanhood in ancient times. It’s a book ‘about’ women, but it’s certainly not just a book ‘for’ women. The themes are deep, and rich, and wonderful – and we get to think about them through a lens that the bible doesn’t offer to us very often – and that gives us an opportunity for a fresh perspective.

It’s quite a short book so I hope you’ll take a few minutes and read it through on your own. I’m going to summarize most of the arc of the story today and next week, but it’s well worth reading through it yourself.

It is set in the time of the Judges – which was a few generations before the time of the kings of Israel. In fact, spoiler alert, at the end of the book of Ruth we get the birth of King David’s grandfather. But the book doesn’t begin in celebratory birth and renewal – it begins in famine and death.

Naomi is actually the main character in the book. Because of a famine in Israel, she and her husband and two sons have to leave Bethlehem to go to nearby Moab. If we spoke Hebrew we’d hear some irony here. It’s a famine – but Bethlehem translates as ‘house of bread’. Anyway, Moab and Israel had, shall we say, a complicated history, so going there was risky for this Jewish family.

The overall story is pretty straightforward, but there are many nuances and cultural subtleties that we should note – not the least of which is the interculturalism of the book. While in Moab, the foreign land, Naomi’s Jewish sons marry Moabite women. It’s not taboo, but it would certainly be eyebrow-raising. There’s 10 years of relative stability, and then more hardship befalls Naomi. Her husband and her two sons all die. Being a foreigner was challenging enough, now Naomi is a foreigner with no men in her family. Women in that ancient culture had few rights, and being a widow increased one’s precariousness.

In short, Naomi was in danger. And she was feeling that God had turned against her. Enduring a famine, residing in a foreign land, losing her husband and sons, and no children being born (barrenness was another supposed consequence of God’s disfavour – we know that’s wrong, but that was the operative theology at the time) – it all heaped up on her.

In Ruth 1:14 Naomi says that it is bitter for her “because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” In verses 20-21 (which aren’t part of our reading today) she says, “Call me no longer Naomi (which means ‘sweet’), call me Mara (which means ‘bitter’), for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
Again, we know that’s not the way God works – but clearly that’s how it felt to her.

Naomi hears that the famine is over and decides to return to Bethlehem. It would have been an arduous 7-10 days trek over rugged terrain – a very dangerous journey for a woman with no men to offer protection. At first she has her two daughters-in-law with her. Three women, alone on the road. Then, part-way along the path, apparently in mid-sentence (according to the way the Hebrew is written), she changes her mind and urges Orpah and Ruth to go back to their families.

(Trivia Time! – read on

Noticings – November 3, 2021

NOTICINGS…

November 3, 2021 

Like many other ministers I know, I have the DVD box set of a British comedy series called “The Vicar of Dibley.” I’ve just finished watching through the series again and I wanted to share with you what I noticed. Ministers are real people! Geraldine shows us that hilariously, tenderly, and poignantly. Geraldine is the lead character’s name in the show. Vicar is a common word for minister or pastor in Britain. In the show, Geraldine is a smart and sassy woman who is placed in a small village filled with quirky, oddball, ridiculous characters. But she’s also a woman, and the idea of a woman vicar was hard for these folks to accept. Happily, here in Canada the idea of women as ministers is more widely accepted, but even so I do have colleagues who continue to have challenges because some congregants only see males in the minister’s role. They should watch this show!

I distinctly remember how startling it was when I first got to know a minister outside of church-land and discovered that he was a real person. I grew up in church, and I always had a sense that the minister was different from the rest of us – you know, holier, whatever that meant. It was an impossible, one-dimensional fiction, but it was embedded. If you watch depictions of clergy on TV or in movies they are often portrayed as a moralistic caricature. They’re usually either a judgmental, prim and proper bore, or a bumbling, clueless fool. Then along comes Geraldine! She shatters the mold as she does supposedly unvicarly things like telling bawdy jokes, or swearing, or imbibing, or talking about sex. She has foibles, and blind spots, and sometimes makes big mistakes. She’s no paragon of virtue – but then again, that was never actually in the job description. We all just layered that on from our own preconceptions.

I’ve started to seek out musicians to play with since I’ve moved to this new town. It’s hard for anyone to break into a new music scene – but even harder when they find out what your day job is! The moment someone discovers you’re a minister they start policing their language, and apologizing for some mildly naughty thing they said – or worse, they assume you couldn’t possibly be a real person that could actually relate to them so they close the door. I have very few non-church friends. Sometimes it’s tough to resist the temptation to act decidedly unvicarly to show them you’re a regular guy. I don’t know, maybe I’m not a regular guy. I’m no paragon of virtue either. Just a guy who has caught a glimpse of Something More and been inspired and captivated by it. Actually, such glimpses can help transform all of us into truly real people – people who love life and love others – people who can help us love ourselves – like Geraldine.

(Click here for a video version of this Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings – October 27, 2021

NOTICINGS…

October 27, 2021 

It’s time. Our Faith United Council had a good conversation last week and we have discerned that it is time to have our church return to in-person activities and worship. Soon! The Ontario government and medical advisory groups made announcements in the days after our Council meeting that gave even more assurance to us that returning to church activities is safe to do, with appropriate precautions in place. But of course it’s not as simple as just flinging the doors open and returning to business as usual.

Living through this time of pandemic has taught us many things. One important learning is that we can create meaningful church experiences via technology. We have taken a slow approach to returning to in-person worship precisely because we discerned that the experience would not be meaningful with so many restrictions. Sitting distanced, masked, and silent does not make for an engaging church time. When the pandemic first began we had times when folks were invited to come and sit and pray in our sanctuary because we weren’t able to gather in numbers. Apart from a few curious folks who wanted to walk our labyrinth, no one came. We learned that it wasn’t so much the physical space but our sharing the space together that was the draw.

So we learned how to create meaningful worship online, and our congregation now encompasses a breadth and width that we’d never known before. We have online congregants who may not ever be able to physically join us in the building, but they are absolutely part of our community of faith. In our desire to return to in-person worship we mustn’t leave them behind. So we’re asking you to wait just a bit longer.

Our Communications committee is diligently working on getting the appropriate technology for our sanctuary to be able to provide a meaningful worship experience for both those who will gather in-person and those who will gather online.
Our Reopening Team is diligently working on a plan to ensure that we have the necessary vaccination screening process in place, and that we’re following the appropriate rules (as they are currently changing).

So no, we are not doing in-person worship in the next couple of weeks. But yes, we will be back together very soon – hopefully by November 21st, but that is just a goal, not a firm date. And one of the conditions for attending any event, meeting, or worship time at Faith United will be proof of double vaccination for adults. This is another reason why our online options need to continue to be meaningful.

That’s all pretty newsy – so what am I noticing? I’m noticing that I’m feeling some ambiguity about all this. I desperately want to be back to preaching to a full church, and yet the idea of a full church after being so careful about distancing for so long makes me feel anxious. I want everyone to come back and have a giant group hug, and yet I’m wary that the pandemic is not over, and there are risks to gathering. And I’m a bit worried that as we fall back into our in-person rhythms that we may lose our focus on our hybrid church concept – and that is something I’m strongly committed to continuing to build. So yes, ambiguity is exactly what I’m noticing. Excitement and apprehension at the same time. But it is good to feel that the season is changing.

(Click here for a video version of this Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

211024 – The End

Yr B ~ Pentecost 22 ~ Mark 13:1-8

As they came out of the church, one of the members said, “Look at this beautiful church. I just love these majestic buildings. Church architecture is awesome.” Then Jesus responded, “So you love churches, do you? In time, every one of them will fall down.” The church members were very concerned and asked him, “What? Even ours? But I love my church! Tell us, when will this happen? How will we know it’s coming?”

Jesus replied, “Don’t let yourselves get distracted. And don’t get sucked in by the flavour of the month – or the latest, greatest, flashy thing that’s supposedly gonna save the church. And please, don’t get caught up in the Chicken Littles running around saying ‘the church is dying’. Of course it’s dying. And it’s being reborn. Old ways have to break down for new ways to emerge. Tightly held things have to be let go of in order to be open to God’s newness. That’s the way it works. It’s kinda like birthing – it’s gonna hurt – and then there’s a new thing. Remember what I’ve taught you. Relax.”

And then the line that gets mistranslated and screws us all up – “the end is still to come.”

Here’s Mark 13:7-8 – When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Here’s a paraphrase – “Relax! Yes, things are very challenging now, and the unknown is kind of scary – but it’ll be ok. Fear not! Trust that God is in the new thing. Even so, there’s no getting around it – as we change it’s going to hurt. That’s what birthing something new is like.”

But for some reason, even though it defies all logic, we seem to think that birthing something new is going to be like it is on TV. You know, when a woman says, “Oh dear, I think my water just broke,” and she goes to the hospital, and squinches up her face, and pushes for about 15 seconds, and then whoosh, out comes the baby! Right? It’s just like that, right?

No, of course it isn’t. I’ve been there! Well, I was in the room! It’s agonizing. It’s super-hard. It takes a long, long time and it’s no walk in the park. It’s messy. It hurts. And it’s dangerous. Sure, it’s less dangerous now than ever before because hospitals are very advanced, but childbirth historically has been a very dangerous thing. Many mothers die in the birthing.

Now, on the other side of it, after that really hard ordeal, is a gift of new life that is overwhelmingly wonderful. But you can’t get there without journeying through the painful ordeal.

This is what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples in Mark 13. He used the image of birthpangs because he knew it would be so visceral that it would make his point. But there’s another layer to that too. Mark’s gospel was written in the 0070s, right at or just after the time that the Jewish Temple fell in Jerusalem. There was a war, an uprising, and as the Romans crushed the rebellion they also demolished the Temple.

If you were among the first audiences hearing Mark’s gospel being read to you that news would still be very fresh in your memory. And it was a very painful thing for the Jews. You see, if we arrived here next Sunday and discovered that this church building had been struck by lightning and burned down we would be devastated, because this place is very special to us. We’d be heartbroken.

And then we’d get the insurance money and either rebuild it or go and worship at another church building. There’s plenty around! But for the Jews it was fundamentally different. The Temple wasn’t just a special place for them; it was actually the very centre of their religious practice – God’s home on earth! There were small synagogues and meeting places in the towns and villages, but only at the Temple could you make the required animal or crop sacrifices, and only at the Temple could you properly and fully practice your religion.

So when their Temple crumbled it quite fundamentally destroyed their whole way of understanding their religion, and themselves. There was no insurance settlement. There was no other church to go to. That was it. And it was gone. Can you begin to imagine how devastating that was for them? read on

Noticings – October 20, 2021

NOTICINGS…

October 20, 2021 

 

I spent a few days of my study leave last week away at a retreat centre on Stoney Lake (northeast of Peterborough, ON). Solitude is good for my soul. I have been part of a group of men who have gotten together annually for this event. Of course last year it didn’t happen, and this year getting back to it felt more than a little odd. It was so strange after being apart from gathering with people to be back in proximity with them. (Yes, we were all double vaccinated and took appropriate health precautions.) To be honest, at times it was quite overwhelming to have so much stimulus at once – multiple conversations at meal times, sometimes intense sharing in circles, and just seeing other people every time you looked anywhere. It was lovely to be with the guys, but often I felt the need to escape. So I did – to Larry Island.

The guys nicknamed it that because I was spending all my down time on it. It’s not really an island – it’s just an outcropping of rock about 7 metres wide connected to the shore by an arched footbridge. Many of you will recall that when on retreats I often find myself connecting with a tree. Well, sure enough, within minutes of first setting foot on Larry Island last week I noticed a glorious tree. But it wasn’t a majestic, mature tree like I’m usually drawn to. It was a maple sapling only about 2 metres high. It drew me in because even this tiny tree had multiple colours of autumn leaves on it – shining in the unseasonably warm sunshine. With the water sparkling behind it as I looked at the little tree on Larry Island, I was immediately more at peace.

On the last morning of the retreat, as I was saying goodbye to Larry Island and writing in my journal, I heard two sounds that made me smile. A family of loons was swimming in the bay and I was listening to their calls and discussions. Then I heard the sound of some of the men singing softly to greet the morning (from the hot tub – I didn’t say it was rustic!). It was a curious choir to say the least. At first I thought of how marvellous it was that human conveniences and nature can blend together and become one. Then I thought some more, as the choir of loons and the choir of men each offered their songs, and I realized it was more intermingling than blending. Neither choir lost their uniqueness by their becoming a new thing in that moment, and the new thing was a blessing. Kind of like all us guys becoming one in the circle, while still maintaining our uniqueness, yet also being changed by the encounter. I don’t know if the guys in the hot tub heard the loons’ song, or if the loons heard the guys’ song – but I did – and their harmony was heavenly. And, as always, I came away grateful for the things that Larry Island teaches me.

(Click here for a video version of Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings – October 13, 2021

NOTICINGS…

October 13, 2021 

(I am away at a retreat for my study leave this week. I offer you this reflection by Thich Nhat Hanh, as introduced by Richard Rohr.)

The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this wisdom through the ceremony and meditation of tea (a Buddhist parallel to the Christian Eucharist):

You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.
Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.
Only in the present, can you savour the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.
If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.
You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.
Life is like that.
If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.
You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.
It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.
Learn from it and let it go.
The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.
Worrying is worthless.
When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.
Then you will begin to experience joy in life.

(In the afterglow of Thanksgiving) as you eat your next meal, enter into the experience mindfully. Savour the aroma. Taste the sweetness. Appreciate the delicacy. Experience the joy—right now—without needing anyone to notice. But they will!

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

211010 – Relax

Yr B ~ Thanksgiving ~ Matthew 6:25-33

It’s the last line that trips us up. We hear it and it derails us from what I think Jesus is really teaching. A huge challenge is that it’s lines like this that televangelists and charlatans latch onto to twist the gospel into something hideous. It becomes a self-serving, self-aggrandizing, wishlist-granting, magic wand abomination. The problem is it sounds so nice and comforting. It goes like this: If you’ll just turn to God then, Matthew 6:33, You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. In more classic language it says, seek ye first the kingdom of God and (God’s) righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

If you take that verse out of context and don’t carefully read it with the rest of Jesus’ teaching here then it would be easy to say, “No, that’s demonstrably wrong. There are lots of people all over the world who are devoted Christians and they don’t get everything they need. In some places Christians are starving, or oppressed, or very, very poor. Or all three at once. Or worse.”

So you take that textual problem of the last verse, and add it to the first verse of the NRSV translation of this passage, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” and we get really messed up. Don’t worry about anything? Really? As a Christian I’m somehow not supposed to have any worries? And everything is going to be given to me? Cool! Sign me up!!!

Except I’ve been signed up my whole life, and this simply isn’t true. Well, it’s not true on the surface. It’s actually very true if we dig deeper. So let’s dig a little.

First, there’s nothing wrong with worrying – as long as worry means concern. We are supposed to be concerned for one another. Love shows concern! The Greek word for ‘worry’ here actually means to be preoccupied by, to be absorbed with, to be rendered frozen and incapacitated by the worrying. That’s not healthy. Concern – good. Debilitating worry about things you can’t control – not so good.

The Message bible says it colourfully: Matthew 6:27 Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?
Foolish, right? That’s not loving concern – that’s futility!
Relax.

Now I’m going to say something provocative. In this scripture passage I think Jesus is focusing laser-like on the ‘insiders’. He’s not preaching to the general public – he’s talking to his closest followers – his disciples – us. They’ve ‘given up everything to follow him’ but we know that his ministry was still well supported (interestingly, probably by women who rarely get mentioned). That means that Jesus’ followers – the insiders – probably didn’t have to worry at all about food or clothing. Their needs were being well provided for. Just like us.

So Jesus is not ignoring the problems of the world, nor is he for a minute suggesting that if you just believe hard enough you’ll get everything you want or need. Faith is not magical thinking. Many times as he taught he would point directly at the people he was teaching about – the ill, the outcast, the beggars in the street – but he’s not pointing at them here. Instead, he’s looking right into the eyes of his followers – the insiders, us – and challenging them to think differently. I think that maybe Jesus is talking directly to the ‘haves’ and scolding them/us for convincing ourselves that despite our privilege that we’re somehow ‘have-nots’?

Jesus invites us to consider the birds of the air. Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to (God) than birds.

Then in verse 28 he has a go at the flowers: …Walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen colour and design quite like it?

And then Jesus drives his point home. Matthew 6:30 If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think (God will) attend to you, take pride in you, do (God’s) best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.

I think the big message here is that we tend to spend our time and energy on the wrong stuff. This is why I love The Message translation of this passage. The first verse, Matthew 6:25, is kinda the whole sermon: If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about… whatever. Let me say it differently. We forget that Jesus is a master wordsmith – probably because some of it gets lost in translation from the Aramaic which he spoke, to the Greek that the scriptures were written in, to the English we read. What he’s saying is, “Don’t worry about your life – worry about your life!” read on

Noticings – October 6, 2021

NOTICINGS…

October 6, 2021 

Autumn is by far my favourite season of the year. I love the cooling temperatures, the crispness in the air, the return of comfy sweaters and hoodies, and most of all, of course, the colours. Yesterday while walking our dog we noticed (it’s amazing what you notice when you stop looking at screens and get outdoors!) a gorgeous maple tree that had vibrant red leaves. We walked by, and on our return trip we saw the same maple from the other direction, only on that side it was still a verdant green-leaved tree. Why was one side colourful and the other side green? Many of you probably know this already, but I’m a guitar player, so I had to look it up.

I had noticed that the red-leaved side was south-facing, which I guess means that it has more sun. What I learned was that that is kind of true, but not in the way I think. Because it usually got more sun, the red side was ‘feeling’ the lessening of sunlight hours that autumn brings and was responding by producing less chlorophyll – which is what makes the leaves green. The green side hadn’t noticed the lack of light as much, I guess. (I hope I haven’t got that science part too terribly wrong.)

That got me pondering. One of the many metaphors we use to describe faith is “walking in the light.” The more light we feel the more ‘spiritual chlorophyll’ we produce. So what happens in those seasons when our spiritual light doesn’t seem to be shining so brightly? Do we ‘change colour’? Do we strive to conceal our inner disequilibrium by putting on some sort of camouflage of over-compensating by being extra colourful in some other way?

We wear all kinds of masks in our lives (no, not the Covid kind). We take on all kinds of roles, wear all kinds of hats and costumes, play all kinds of parts. I wonder if it takes deeper strength and extra light-enhanced spiritual chlorophyll to play the part of the authentic ‘me’? The real me. The one I don’t show anyone else. The one only God sees. And it seems to me that the only way to get that light is to intentionally walk in it more and more, as best we can. That’s tougher when the seasons seem to be working against us, and it feels like there’s less light around, but our faith reminds us that we are not alone.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

I love the autumn, but I think I may never look at the splendour of the changing leaves the same way again. Now as I look at them I may see a heart (my heart?) crying out for more light. And a reminder that there is beauty, even in the struggle.

For a video version of “Noticings” click here.

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

211003 – Jesus’ Table

Yr B ~ Creation 3 ~ Mark 14:17-24

[Image by Bohdan Piasecki]

I’d like you to look carefully at the picture I’ve used as my sermon title slide. I’ll describe it too. It’s a vision of what the Last Supper may have looked like. It is absolutely my favourite depiction of that event. It’s a low table, with people gathered on both sides (sorry Leonardo). I like it because all the men are dressed in appropriate garb – they’re all wearing the white prayer shawls with the stripes near the ends, and their heads are covered – even their hair cuts are right with the long locks flowing from their temples. But the thing I love most about this picture is that there are women and children present.

Scripture always says it like this: Mark 14:17-18 (On the day of Passover) when it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve (and they) reclined at the table and were eating…

It makes it sound like it was just the 13 men gathered. But if this is their Passover gathering – and it says clearly that it was – then their families would be present too. That expansive sense of gathering at Jesus’ table is very important, and has been since the beginning.

About the only thing I dislike about the picture is that the only stuff on the table is some flatbread and everyone’s drinking glass. Scripture also clearly says that the celebration of what we now call Communion wasn’t a specialized, separate thing. It emerged in the midst of their meal.

Mark 14:22-24 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread (of course it wasn’t a ‘loaf’ like we have here – it was unleavened, so it was flatbread – and if it was a Passover meal then it would’ve been matzah bread which is flat and firm, almost like a giant cracker). So Jesus took the bread and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to (all the people gathered), and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Shared bread and a common cup that they all drank from. I don’t know about you but here in the midst of a world-wide pandemic when we can’t even be in the same room together the idea of sharing a common cup sends chills down my spine! And yet I love the idea of it. A common cup – a shared experience.

We commemorate that night, that meal, through a ritual that at Faith United we rehearse on the first Sunday of every month. We call it Communion. Other churches may call it Eucharist, which means thanksgiving. It’s also called the Lord’s Supper. And today, the first Sunday in October, churches around the world make a point of celebrating Communion on the same day, which we’ve called World Communion Sunday.
Think about that.
Churches all over the world – the body of Christ in all its myriad, wildly different forms – making a point of making this expression of unity and oneness. There are well over 20,000 different denominations within Christianity, and not all of them celebrate Communion, and not all of them observe World Communion Sunday, but that it even exists is a remarkable thing to me. Especially since the theology around Communion is one of the main things that has split churches and created new denominations over time.
Dividing over Communion. Oh the irony!

Communion is one of our two sacraments, along with baptism. read on

Noticings – September 29, 2021

NOTICINGS…

September 29, 2021 

I absolutely love discovering new praise songs! As I was preparing for worship this coming Sunday I couldn’t find any songs in our repertoire that said what I wanted them to say. So, that leaves two options: write one, or find one. This week I took door number two, and I went hunting. Interestingly, it was actually a pretty difficult task. Most praise and worship style music comes from our more charismatic or evangelical siblings in Christ. They tend not to emphasize the typical liturgical aspects of the mainline church (like us). So while the ‘last supper’ may feature prominently in their theological expressions and discourse, the actual act of celebrating communion is not as prominent. That means there are not that many praise songs about communion, and when they’re written they tend to talk a lot about the ‘blood of Jesus’ – which is all well and good, and I can certainly find deep ways to interpret that – but as an image to sing about it’s hard (for me) to do without wanting to unpack it.

So I hunted, and hunted – and then I found it. My mistake was searching too narrowly. Using the word ‘communion’ in a search for songs by churches that don’t make a big deal about communion is kinda foolish. Then I started to use other words that I’d associate with communion – bread, wine, sacrament, and in the end the one that worked, table. I found a praise song about inviting people to Jesus’ table! It’s called ‘The Table’ by an artist that I quite like, Chris Tomlin, but I hadn’t heard the song before. Now I have it on auto-repeat on my music player! And if you tune into worship this Sunday (livestreamed on YouTube at 10:30 am) you’ll get to hear it and sing it too!

That’s our focus this week. Communion. It’s World Communion Sunday, so I’m inviting you to think and reflect about something that we do every month in church.
Why do we do that? Why is communion important?
What are your fondest memories of communion? Do you have one or two that stick out in your mind?
Because of Covid and not being able to be physically together we’re doing communion at home on our own (although still together) now. What do you like about that? What do you miss?
When you eat the bread and drink the wine/juice, what happens for you? How does it make you feel?
How do you feel about the words ‘body and blood’?
Has your theology of communion evolved over the years? How/Why?

I hope you enjoy reflecting on those questions, and I hope you’ll enjoy the new song. I can’t wait to share it with you. Come to the table!

For a video version of “Noticings” click here
 

 

Pages: 1 2 3 26