Noticings – June 22, 2022

NOTICINGS…

June 22, 2022

(Yesterday, June 21st, was National Indigenous Day in Canada. In honour of that day I wanted to share with you this reflection written by Rev. John Thompson who is the Co-Chair of the United Church ‘National Indigenous Council’.)
 
The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof… — Psalm 24:1 
This is a revolutionary statement and perhaps it can be best acknowledged and appreciated on the longest day of the year: Summer Solstice, June 21. 
We do not own ourselves; we do not own anything. We are the Lord’s, as is all of Creation. We have a borrowed life on borrowed time—let us make the best of it. We are gifted from Creator for one another; all of life is interconnected and we need each other. 
 
June has been identified as Indigenous History Month. June 21st, a day when traditional ceremonies have taken place for centuries, is celebrated as National Indigenous Day.
We need to see history through the eyes of the oppressed, those closest to the Earth—Indigenous Peoples—and even through Creation itself. I once heard an Elder say, “If those trees could only speak.” So many facts of history have been hidden, covered up or ignored, as if not relevant or important, and yet these hidden truths are the most important of all. “The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all” (Psalm 118:22).
 
Truth cannot be hidden. It eventually rises up and is revealed. This is evidenced by the countless stories of pain, abuse, and even death as more and more graves of children at former Residential Schools are being identified. 
Healing and wholeness are only possible as Truth is revealed. And perhaps then Reconciliation can begin. 
 — Rev. John R. Thompson, Co-Chair, National Indigenous Council 
 

Shalom,
Rev. Larry
 

Noticing – June 15, 2022

NOTICINGS…

June 15, 2022

 Music touches us and moves our spirits in ways far deeper than words alone ever can. Worship music – whether it’s a ‘golden oldie’, a Voices United classic, or a newer praise song – makes our hearts sing! What’s your favourite? What tunes make you close your eyes, and bob your head, and smile ear to ear? What rhythms make your heart go pitter-pat? What songs, when you finish singing them, just make you breathe out deeply and silently form the word ‘Amen’? Would you like to share those hymns?
 
It’s that time again! The last Sunday in June is always a special worship service at Faith United. It’s our annual Hymn Sing Sunday – on Sunday June 26 in our morning worship. You send in hymn requests, or write down your favourites if you’re at in-person worship, and then I draw them randomly from a hat and we sing them. Then the big fun happens – the sermon time consists of 3 hymns (randomly selected at that moment) and I get to improvise the sermon on the spot. Fun for the whole family!
 
So start sending in your favourite hymns now to office@faithunited.ca, or at church on Sunday. Some folks say its the best service of the year! More music! (Less Larry). (hahaha) Sunday June 26.
 

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings – June 8, 2022

NOTICINGS…

June 8, 2022

This week I’d like to share with you our Moderator’s Pentecost message for this year. It is on YouTube, and the link is below. Richard speaks about the birth of the Church, and the challenge for us as church in this day and age. He reminds us that “we are people who change the world—with deep spirituality, with bold discipleship, with daring justice.”
 
You can watch the Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Bott’s message by clicking this link.
 

Shalom,
Rev. Larry
 

Noticings – June 1, 2022

NOTICINGS…

June 1, 2022

It was just an offhand comment, the kind all of us makes all the time. Someone was wanting to take a spur-of-the-moment snapshot picture – called a ‘selfie’. But this person wasn’t a big selfie-taker and was not adept at the workings of their cell phone camera. In that moment the phrase just absent-mindedly rolled off the tongue – “Oh, no one wants a selfie of me anyway.” It was one of those natural, self-deprecating little comments that we all make. Of course it’s not even a little bit true, and we know that it isn’t true, but we say those kinds of things anyway – because all of us, and I mean all of us, are just a little bit insecure and can’t help but compare ourselves to the air-brushed perfection we are inundated with via media. We know better, but that little voice in our head keeps poking us with self-doubt.
 
The instant that throwaway line was uttered the voice of God broke through the noise of the moment and reverberated through the crowd. The voice of God said, “No, don’t say that. You’re beautiful inside and out!” And instantly all who heard the voice of God knew that it was profoundly true, and that moment was transformed into a joyous and heartfelt gushing of gratitude. We are beloved! And when we sometimes forget, how wonderful it is that the voice of God breaks through and reminds us.
 
That’s not a story from the bible. (Well, I guess it kinda is!) It was a story I experienced recently. And the voice of God didn’t emerge from parted clouds with a fanfare and angel chorus. Nope, the voice of God came from a little girl. She was just standing nearby and when she heard that casual self-deprecating remark she instinctively wheeled around and infused the moment with truth and loving-kindness. “No, don’t say that. You’re beautiful inside and out!” It was the holiest thing I’d witnessed in quite a while!
 
I’m always going on about how when we do things out of love that it is an expression of our ‘offering’ God’s love through us. That little girl made a profound offering. God’s voice sang out through her, and love transformed the moment. It was so simple – and so blessed. How might you be an offering of God’s love this week? What situations might you find yourself in where the simplest affirmation of love could change someone’s day? Who do you know that needs to be reminded how wonderfully beloved, and beautiful they are, just as they are? I hope that you will allow the voice of God to sing out through you!
 
(Click here for a video version of Noticings) 

                           

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings – May 25, 2022

NOTICINGS…

May 25, 2022

I was introduced to this body prayer last week and I found it very moving and prayerful. The description below comes from the group that created it, from the tradition of a mystic named Julian of Norwich.
Please modify any of the positions to suit your own physical needs. There is also a video version linked below. It is really helpful, but I find it moves a bit too quickly for my liking. I preferred to pray this body prayer more slowly. I hope you’ll experiment!
Enjoy!

(Here is the description that accompanies the video on YouTube)
The 14th century Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, once wrote, “The fruit and the purpose of prayer is to be ‘oned’ with and like God in all things.” This body prayer is a wonderful way to bring all of ourselves into the act of prayer, body, mind and spirit.
We have found this prayer. and body prayer in general, to be a great way to reclaim our bodies as valuable and loved. We believe this body prayer can help us resist the idea that the body is something we need to renounce or transcend in order to experience communion with God. Instead, this prayer invites us to be in our bodies, embrace our physicality as a way to ground ourselves, and find oneness with the divine and with all living things.
As you pray this prayer it can help you connect your heart, mind and body and to more fully experience God’s love for every part of you.
The prayer has four simple postures. And intentions:

AWAIT (hands waist high, cupped up to receive): Await God’s presence, however it may come to you.
ALLOW (reach up, hands open): Allow a sense of God’s presence) to come …or not…and be what it is.
ACCEPT (hands at heart, cupped towards body): Accept as a gift whatever comes or does not come. Accept that you don’t know everything, that you are not in charge.
ATTEND (hands outstretched, ready to be responsive): Attend to what you are called to, willing to be present and be God’s love in the world, however God calls you to.

(Click here for a video version of this body prayer)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

220515 – That Changes Everything – Adapting

Yr C ~ Easter 5 ~ Acts 11:1-18

Women should only aspire to be housewives and mothers.
People of different races should not marry.
People of different religions should not marry.
Being gay is wrong.
Persons of colour should have fewer, if any rights.
Memorizing facts and figures is the best education.
Smoking is good for calming people.
Only men should be ministers.

I could go on, but frankly I find it abhorrent to even say those things – oh, and just in case you weren’t sure, those things I just said are 100% wrong. Yet a hundred years ago every one of those things I just said were considered to be accepted truths in society at large. They weren’t just opinions – they were settled truths in that day and age. So what happened? Why don’t we collectively still think that way? What happened that those things are no longer be held to be true?

We learned. We grew. We evolved. We widened our worldview. We gained more experience. Science and sociology discovered new things. Courageous people challenged the prevailing views of the day, and the power of their witness moved hearts and minds. Thank God! I shudder to imagine our world if we hadn’t adapted to new insights and changed. And I shudder to think of the things that we accept as being obvious and true today but over time society will look back and judge us to be just as foolish, selfish, unevolved, racist, sexist, closed-minded, and cruel as we often view our ancestors.

Call it evolution, call it progress, call it adaptation, whatever word we choose we should remember that it involves a long and messy process. Big changes and shifts don’t happen overnight – even when we are certain that they absolutely must! I often think of the teaching I heard from an Indigenous elder that said, and I paraphrase, “It took a very long time for us to walk this far into the forest – it will take a very long time to walk back out!” (That an elder was given voice and I was able to learn is a very welcome adaptation!) Sadly, it must also be said that not everyone gets the memo at the same time. Some societies, or groups within societies, change and adapt while others lag behind. (And yes, even that phrasing is pejorative.)

So what opens one group to adapting while another doesn’t? There are myriad reasons, far too complicated for me to get into (or understand), but I’ll try a couple. You go away to school. You get a new job in a diverse workplace. You get to know someone you once thought was an ‘other’. The simplest reason for personal growth is just for a person to have a new experience for themselves and judge it to be a better way than their former way, or thought, or practice. Of course, someone probably had to invite or entice them to try that new thing. Richard Rohr says, “You don’t think your way into a new way of living – you live your way into a new way of thinking!”

I think perhaps the heart of all this is that real change comes when someone you encounter is so passionate in their view that it becomes persuasive. When you encounter someone with that kind of ‘fire in their belly’, who also has sincerity and authenticity, and whose vision, once fully heard though, is so compelling that it stirs the spirit of those who hear – well, that changes everything.

And if you think society at large is slow to change, and grow, and adapt, umm, let me introduce you to a nice little group called ‘church’! Churches are infamous for not wanting to change – anything! And when we really want to dig in our heels we reach deep into our pockets and we pull out this beauty of an excuse for not adapting: “God said!” Or, “the bible says…” Or, the big one, you could probably say it with me: We’ve never done it that way before!

read on

Noticings – May 18, 2022

NOTICINGS…

May 18, 2022

It has been a cooler than expected spring. Then last week the temperatures soared into the high 20s. Surely, spring had been skipped right over and we were on our way to summertime! Nope. This week we’re right back to low-mid teens again. What’s going on? Well, the easiest way to say it is: “Weather happens.” When we lived in Nova Scotia we experienced much more changeable weather than here. A common phrase down east was, “If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour, it’ll be different!” That’s the beautiful thing about weather – it’s constantly changing. +
 
I frequently use the metaphor of ‘seasons’ in my theological discourse. In nature, in our part of Canada, we experience four distinct seasons. They have calendar dates assigned to them, but we’re all smart enough to know that they don’t always coincide with one another. Nonetheless, in time, all four seasons will emerge (and if you’re in Nova Scotia sometimes during one day!).
 
Seasons are slow moving, sometimes imperceptibly. Sometimes glacially! When we’re in a season of discomfort, or trouble, or dis-ease the seasons move too slowly for our liking. At the start of the pandemic I called it a season. I still think that’s true – it’s just a much longer and slower season than I ever expected it to be. Weather, on the other hand, changes much more quickly. It blows in and out, bringing warmth or cool or precipitation, and then it moves on.
 
I think the spiritual lesson in this is that we need to be aware of both kinds of change at the same time. Our moods and emotions may rise and fall like the barometer, and our energy and focus may blow in and out with the wind. But at the same time we are in the midst of longer seasons of growing, nurturing, and hopefully flourishing – in time. We want it to be in the time of the weather, but it tends to be in the time of seasons.
 
It may come down to our perception. Can we trust in the ebb and flow of both weather and seasons in our spiritual lives? Can we honour the ups and downs? Can we accept it when a cold front storms in and chills our day, knowing that it will quickly blow out again soon? Can we remember that the weather and the seasons will happen regardless of how we feel about it, and that taking a step back and honouring the gifts they bring rather than fighting them is the path to peace?
 
You can’t change the weather, and you can’t rush the seasons – you can only change how you perceive them, and how you live and love in them. There are days, many days, when I wish I could live in a perfectly climate controlled environment and have it exactly the way I want it every day. But I’m certain it wouldn’t be long until I longed for some weather to happen!
 
(Click here for a video version of Noticings)

 

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

 

Noticings – May 11, 2022

NOTICINGS…

May 11, 2022

Maybe it’s what you choose to focus on? As I’m writing this I’m sitting on my front porch on our new Muskoka style chairs. The sun is shining brightly but I’m safely under a canopy. The breeze is blowing gently, and the birds are chattering in every direction. I have some instrumental music quietly playing, and I’m just soaking in and utterly savouring the bliss of this sacred moment.

Just another day in paradise, I guess. But it has surprised me today because as I sat down I intended to write about what I’ve been noticing lately, and that is the increasing coarseness and polarization in our society. I’ve noticed it on the highway as drivers weave in and out of lanes and extend their arms out open windows to demonstrate to neighbouring drivers how they’re feeling at that moment. I’ve noticed it in online discourse where the dividing line between ‘us and them’ seems to be more pronounced, and nastier, than ever. I’ve noticed it in myself as I walk around my neighbourhood and find myself negatively judging people whose lawn has the ‘wrong’ political sign on it.

I was ready to tear into that quite emphatically, and then I sat in this chair, and caught the breeze, and the birds, and the sunshine, and my world changed. Maybe it’s what you choose to focus on? Oh, there’s still lots around to potentially bring me down. I could be sitting here focused on the long grass that needs cutting, or the dandelions that pepper our lawn, both of which represent toil and chores. I could be seeing Noticings as yet another ministry task that clutters my to-do list. I could be stewing about how the thing I ordered has been delayed in delivery.

But none of that seems all that important right now. What’s important is focusing on something better, Something More. And these words from Hebrews 2 popped into my mind…
Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrew 12:2-3 MSG)

What will you focus on today?
Shalom!

(Click here for a video version of Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

220508 – That Changes Everything – Arising

Yr C ~ Easter 4 ~ Acts 9:36-43

We’re in a sermon series called “That Changes Everything”. Last week we met a wonderfully faithful fellow named Ananias who was called to the unlikely ministry of praying with the worst person imaginable, and helping to change that person’s life by introducing them to The Way of Jesus, and helping to nurture and form them in Christian community. That ‘worst person ever’ had a personal awakening, but it was thanks to the faithfulness of Ananias that that awakening was able to grow and flourish. So, was it the awakening that changed everything, or the prayerful nurturing? Yes! Both!

Today we get to meet another wonderful disciple of Jesus whose faithful living and loving changed everything for many people. Her name is Tabitha, or Dorcas (I’ll explain in a minute). If you’re starting to think that maybe the thing that changes everything isn’t a mysterious spiritual miracle, but the faithfulness of followers of Jesus – well, spoiler alert – you’re right! Maybe the best miracles aren’t inexplicable supernatural occurrences but rather profound movements of the Spirit that inspire regular folks, like you and me, to live out the courage of our convictions, to ‘live out loud’ the love of God. Miracles like that really can ‘change everything’! So let’s meet another one of God’s miracles, and see how she might inspire us.

As I said, she is named Tabitha, and Dorcas. Why the two names? It’s probably because of where she lived, and it actually speaks volumes. She lived in a place called Joppa, which is known now as Tel-Aviv. It’s a port town – which means it’s a place where many people, and many cultures, intersect. Tabitha is her Hebrew name, and Dorcas is her Greek name. Referring to her by both, interchangeably, suggests she was known in and by both communities. That’s quite remarkable, especially for a woman in their time to be named as such.

What might be even more remarkable, however, is that she’s also referred to as a disciple of The Way of Jesus. In fact, she is the only female person in the entire New Testament who explicitly gets that label. Many women are associated with Jesus, or the Way, and many, many were no doubt practicing disciples in every sense of the word. Absolutely! But for some reason Tabitha is the only one called a mathetria, the feminine form of mathetai which is the male version of ‘disciple’ which is used extensively. The writer of Luke and Acts has done a pretty extraordinary thing here. In a profoundly patriarchal world they’ve championed feminism. Women were critically important to the Jesus movement. It’s shameful that the early church lost that focus. (Well, they more likely buried it, you know, because patriarchy.)

In their respective languages ‘Tabitha’ and ‘Dorcas’ both mean the same thing: gazelle, or more descriptively, an animal with large bright eyes! What a beautiful description of a disciple of Jesus – a person with large bright eyes – a person who can perceive the Kingdom of God, and love it out. She is also described as a disciple who was ‘continually’ ministering to people. She was a seamstress, which suggests she was self-sufficient (employed, perhaps somewhat wealthy) – and as someone who shares her resources she must’ve had some resources to share! She was clearly an extraordinary and beloved woman. There is no mention of a husband or family in the text, so it’s fair to assume Tabitha/Dorcas was a widow – and this helps to explain much of the passage. By the way, we’re still in the first verse of the story! We get all that context from one verse!

As I prepared for this sermon I started to refer to this passage as one of missed opportunities – not in the action of the story, but in the translation. As the story goes, Tabitha dies and was washed and laid out for honouring in a “room upstairs” – but that is the exact same as saying “an upper room”! Room upstairs doesn’t mean much – but “an upper room” has all sorts of energy for us. The translators missed an opportunity to honour her by connecting her to Jesus. Luke didn’t – Luke used the same word – the translators blew it.

Being a woman who was held in such high regard, upon her death some other disciples from the church at Joppa were sent to find the apostle Peter who was in a nearby town. They implore Peter to come to see her. Why do you think that was? What did they hope to accomplish? read on

Noticings – May 4, 2022

NOTICINGS…

May 4, 2022

The place was just buzzing. I arrived at the church on Tuesday morning and it was a hive of activity. A group of men were working in the back part of the property and attending to some repairs. A group of quilters were practicing their art in the Sun Room. A group of folks were receiving food donations for this month’s food drive. And a group of gardeners were gathering to resurrect our front gardens and bring beauty back to the front of the property. I met with a few people and waved at others as they walked by my study. Now, to be fair, if I arrived on another day at the same time there wouldn’t be nearly as much going on. Tuesdays have become a gathering day outside, especially in the nicer weather.

I can’t express how wonderful it felt to feel the energy that was swirling at the church that morning. There was something about walking from my car to my study and taking in all the various kinds of activity that moved me very deeply. It felt for a moment like all was right in the world. It felt like Faith United ‘used to’ feel in the before times, when these pockets of activity were not unusual at all.

But what I want to point out here isn’t that there was a lot of activity going on – it’s that there was a lot of ministry going on! Care of creation via working on our backyard area is ministry. Quilting projects that benefit various people or groups in the church is ministry. Food drives are ministry. Gardening groups beautifying the church and supporting pollinators and critters and habitats is ministry. And probably the most important aspect of ministry that was transpiring was in the supportive relationships that were being nurtured and strengthened as these ministries happened. Deep conversations between folks while planting, or sawing, or stitching, or receiving food are the rocket fuel that powers churches.

Worship time is great in that we all focus together and collectively pause to ponder and be inspired (hopefully). But the real work of the church happens when the church gets to work! That’s when faith goes from being a personal balm to a shared blessing. Oh, I know that those blessings – that overflowing love – is shared in countless ways beyond Tuesdays at the church. It’s just that this Tuesday I got to witness it in action – and, to quote Genesis 1 – I saw that it was very good!

Tuesday mornings at the church are a vivid example of what I’m always going on about at ‘offering time’ during Sunday worship. It’s the outflow of the love of God that fills us and needs modes of expression in the world. Well, everywhere I looked on Tuesday I saw love flowing! And what makes me feel even more wonderful is knowing that there is so much more love flowing through your lives and actions that I never get to see, but I know is flowing. How is God’s love flowing through you today? What ministry are you engaging in? I bet it’s beautiful!

(Click here for a video version of Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

220501 – That Changes Everything – Awakening

Yr C ~ Easter 3 ~ Acts 9:1-20

Picture it. It’s 36 CE (or thereabouts) roughly 3 years after the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A man named Saul is on the warpath. He is a zealous man, intent on wiping out the upstart movement that had become known as ‘The Way’. In Saul’s mind this movement was heretical, blasphemous even. They followed a person Saul thought to be a false Messiah – a rabble-rouser named Jesus of Nazareth, who his followers believed had died on a cross and then was mysteriously raised up. Saul had obtained warrants allowing him to arrest any man or woman he found that was a follower of The Way of Jesus. He was travelling north from Jerusalem toward Damascus when our story for today picks up.

I’m going to circle back to the start of this later and do some poking at it, but for now I want to treat the story as a broad archetype. By that I mean to see it as a pattern, or a pathway from ‘not’ being a person of the Way of Jesus to being one.

Acts 9:3 says – Now as Saul was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Saul was on a certain path, and then in the midst of that he had an experience that changed everything. The story speaks of a light flashing. Perhaps it was an actual visual thing like a bolt of lightning, but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps it’s nothing more (and nothing less) than the dazzling brightness of a new thought dawning on you. When awareness comes it can feel like the whole world exploding in your brain and shattering some of the things you used to think were real and true. I suspect for most people that sense of awareness creeps up on you and emerges stealthily over time rather than being a lightning bolt – but I ain’t saying lightning doesn’t strike!

Something happened to Saul on that road trip from Jerusalem to Damascus. Something that made him stop in his tracks and re-examine his life. Earlier than Luke’s writing (Luke wrote both Luke/Acts), in the book of Galatians, Paul (Saul’s new name) writes about this Damascus Road experience himself, but it’s much more vague. Luke, as always, likes to give lots of details in his storytelling.

In Luke’s telling Saul has a conversation with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus. He doesn’t see Jesus – he just hears his voice – and Jesus is disappointed. Acts 9:4 “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Notice that the voice doesn’t say, “Why do you persecute my followers?” Jesus makes it personal. Paul replies with a “who are you?” And the answer came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

Saul’s fellow travellers apparently heard the voice, but saw no one. And, as we all know this story so well, Saul got up and even though his eyes were open he couldn’t see – which, frankly, describes a lot of people! And then we get the key line – Acts 9:9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Gee, I wonder what that’s supposed to make us think of?
Three days in the dark and not eating or drinking. And then he awakens and emerges into a new life.
Obviously this is an Easter reference! Saul has to die to what was so he can be reborn into what will be – into God’s loving Way.

Then the story shifts to one of my favourite biblical characters – Ananias. Ananias was a disciple of The Way in Damascus. Out of nowhere he experiences a vision of Jesus who tells him he must go and find Saul, and pray with him, and lay hands on Saul so that he might regain his sight. First of all, Ananias is a very faithful man, and his first response was “Here I am, Lord.” That is until he heard who he was supposed to go and pray with. Saul wasn’t just some guy. He was well known to the people of the Way. Saul was public enemy number one in their minds. Imagine the worst person you can – Hitler, Putin, the list goes on – now imagine that Jesus tells you you’re supposed to go and make nice with them and pray with them. So Ananias says, “Say what now? Him? Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. He’s the worst!” But in this vision Jesus persists and explains that Saul will actually become a great leader and preacher championing The Way.

I really feel for Ananias. I can only imagine how conflicted he must have been. But, being a faithful man, off he goes to pray with Saul.
Acts 9:17-18 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.

Let’s pause here and think about Saul’s journey. He had a stop-in-your-tracks enlightening experience, he endured a symbolic dying and was ‘in the tomb’ for 3 days, and now, upon receiving prayer, and the laying on of hands, he becomes filled with the Holy Spirit. Can you see the pattern? An awakening of some sort stopped his former path, he died to that former path and spent some time in the darkness of unknowing (maybe it was like a wilderness time), and then he receives prayer and healing through the faithfulness of a mature person of faith, and it brings him out of his tomb and into the light of Christ.

After such a blessing, after such a gift of renewed life, his very first response, his first action, is to be baptized. Baptism is an act of surrender, an act of trust (especially if you’re doing the immersion kind), and an act of initiation, of becoming one of the People of the Way of Jesus. Saul’s second response was to spend several days with the disciples in Damascus, eating, regaining his strength, learning from them, experiencing their vibe, discovering what this renewed life kinda looked like. I think this time of Saul’s being among the disciples is severely overlooked. He’s often written as kind of a loner – going off on missionary journeys and doing his own thing. So it’s really important to see that before he did that he was nurtured and formed in Christian community! (Just like us!)

And then his last action in this reading is that he begins his public ministry as a preacher, going out and sharing the story of Jesus in synagogues. Can you imagine what kind of reception he may have gotten in some of those places? Maybe that’s why he needed to go and minister among Gentiles – because it may have been hard for people who knew of him before to accept the ‘new Saul’.

So that pattern again – an awakening,
a time of unknowing,
dying to what was,
receiving blessing through persons of faith,
emerging into a renewed life, symbolized by baptism,
being formed and nurtured in Christian community,
and then living out your calling by sharing the love of God in the world.

I’m not sure at what moment we might say that Saul was truly changed – but through this process, this pattern, it’s clear he was. Imagine going from being public enemy number one to being part of the group you were persecuting! Encountering the light of Christ, well, that changes everything, if you’re ready to receive it.

And that leads me back to the start of this story. I have a confession to make. read on

Noticings – April 27, 2022

NOTICINGS…

April 27, 2022

The internet can be so maddening. I love the internet. Can these seemingly opposite statements both be true at the same time? Yes, they can. In the way I do my work, and the way I live my life, the internet is an indispensable thing for me. Oh, I suppose I could find a way to get along without it, but life feels better when I’m plugged in. I’ve grown to count on my online connection just being there whenever I turn on one of my devices. I can’t imagine how these last two-plus years of pandemic would have gone if we collectively didn’t have the ability to use our technology to livestream worship, to have zoom meetings, to share things via our social media pages, and even to share things like this Noticings which comes to you via the internet. Not to mention the research I do online for things like The Porch and my sermons, and how email threads and weekly zoom coffee chats with colleagues have kept me afloat through the pandemic. So yes, it’s fair to say that I love the internet.

And I find it maddening. Sometimes it’s the content. Sometimes it’s the coarseness of human interaction online which too often dispenses with any sense of care or decorum and devolves into ugliness. Sometimes it’s the news of people standing for, advocating for, and doing things that I find abhorrent, but I can’t escape seeing it because it keeps intruding in my online places.

What’s most maddening though is when I can’t get connected! It’s so frustrating that one moment everything is flowing beautifully and the next moment you’re offline for some reason. You know that all your usual connections are functioning because you were all lit up a few minutes ago, but suddenly nothing seems to be working like it should. So you go through the list and follow the greatest technological wisdom ever shared: “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” (it’s remarkable how often that works!). And if it doesn’t work on your devices then ultimately you go directly to the source (your modem) and turn it off and on. That’s called rebooting the system.

I bet you can see where this is headed. Our spiritual life is like the internet. Mysterious. Unseen. Yet powerful. It’s filled with wonderful connections, and marred by some maddening frustrations. When it’s all going well life feels fantastic – God’s Presence is everywhere and love abounds overflowingly. And then there are those times when nothing feels right. God was right here a minute ago, but now is nowhere to be found. And some of God’s people, well, they can be pretty maddening too. And I love them. Both can be true.

So if your Spirit-connection goes on the fritz intermittently I guess you need to figure out how to reboot your system. Like most things, it’s amazing how ‘turning yourself off and on again’ can work wonders. Maybe that’s a week of holidays (worked for me last week!). Maybe it’s a hot bath. Maybe it’s a walk in nature. Maybe it’s a hug. Maybe it’s a warm conversation. Maybe it’s immersing in art. Maybe it’s a quiet time of prayerfulness. It’s curious that the same things don’t always work. That’s mystery for you. But we need to try, because life feels better when we’re connected.

By the way, I wrote this Wednesday morning while my internet was out. If you don’t get it until Thursday, you’ll know what kind of maddening day I had. But I suspect after a few minutes all will be well. Right now I need to go and reboot the system.

(Click here for an online version of Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

220417 – And the Rest (Easter)

Yr C ~ Easter Sunday ~ Luke 24:1-12 (MSG)

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale – a tale of a fateful trip. It started from a tropic port aboard a tiny ship. (begin singing) The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure, 5 passengers set sail that day, for a 3 hour tour. A 3 hour tour!
The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert aisle – with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his Wife, the Movie Star, and the rest – here on Gilligan’s Isle

Bet ‘ya never heard an Easter sermon start like that before! Y’all are like Peter after he saw the empty tomb – walking away puzzled, shaking your heads! How many of you sang different words than me just now? With Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his Wife, the Movie Star, and the rest! That’s how the words went in the first season of the show. How would you like it if you were on a TV show that only had 7 characters and you were thought to be so insignificant that they named 5 of them in the intro and lumped you into and the rest? In the second season what did they change to? And the rest became the Professor and Mary Anne. Rightly, that tremendous injustice was redressed and they were thereafter immortalized in the theme song. Compared to the ‘brave’ crew, movie stars, and millionaires I guess a girl next door and a teacher seem pretty ho-hum. History often ignores seemingly insignificant characters who actually do amazing things – but without them the ‘bigger story’ just doesn’t happen.

Luke 24 At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb…The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship… Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James – aha! Finally, we get some names and they are lifted from anonymity, and these women are given the respect they deserve! – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women with them – well, that didn’t last long! – kept telling (about the empty tomb) to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.

To whom was the revelation of the risen Christ first given? Women. Women who were part of ‘the rest’. Not to the so-called stars of the show – and certainly not to ones considered ‘important’ in that society. It wasn’t the chief priests, it wasn’t a king, it wasn’t an emperor, and it wasn’t even one of the twelve named disciples. Resurrection was first revealed to ordinary, mostly unnamed, faithful followers of Jesus. And what was their first instinct? What was the first thing they did upon receiving such a profoundly world-changing revelation? They went and shared it!!!

Luke 24:9 They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest.

The named disciples had been reduced from twelve to eleven because of Judas’ betrayal. But surely you just noticed that it wasn’t only the Eleven who were there. It was the Eleven and the rest! All through the gospel stories of Jesus and the disciples there are references to other disciples beyond the twelve – to the rest. Last week we noticed that at the gates of Jerusalem during the parade there was a ‘multitude’ of disciples. Only 12 get named. But don’t ever think ‘the rest’ aren’t critically important to the story!

The named disciples, and the rest, all hear the testimony and witness of the women – but they don’t believe it. Something is missing. If I have something amazing, and extraordinary, and hard to fathom happen to me, and I get really excited about it, and I come and find you and tell you all about it, at best you might think, “How nice for him.” But something’s missing. It’s second hand. You can experience my enthusiasm for it, but you have to experience it for yourself to really ‘get it’.

Here’s my big point – the telling is not what does it. The telling does not ‘win someone for Christ’ – the telling does not ‘convert’ people. The women did some passionate telling – and the disciples, and the rest, didn’t believe it based on the telling. What did they do? They had to go and see for themselves!

Peter goes racing out to the tomb, and stares into its emptiness, and he is still not assured. What he is, is perplexed! Yup. The guy who ate, and drank, and travelled, and learned at Jesus’ side for 3 solid years, day in and day out, still didn’t get it. That’s not because he’s a duh-sciple (as I so often teasingly call them). It’s because he hadn’t experienced the Spirit of the Risen Christ for himself. He hadn’t learned to perceive the world in a new way yet.

So, did ‘the women’ fail because no one believed them? Absolutely not! The women did amazingly well – because their telling made ‘the rest’ wonder – and opened them to a possibility that they hadn’t considered before – and primed the pump for them to have their own, personal experience of the holy.

Easter dawns, and the world is not all that different. Because we have the benefit of knowing much more of the story we tend to fill in all the blanks. But today’s scripture reading detailing that first Easter morning is filled with ambiguity. Peter walked away puzzled, shaking his head – intrigued, but not understanding. And then, in the coming hours, and days, Peter, and the named disciples, and the rest, began to have personal experiences of the transformed and resurrected Christ, and ‘the church’ began to be set in motion.

From those first followers and down through the centuries the story continued to be told, but apart from a few famous theologians (like Augustine, and Luther, and Calvin, and Wesley), and a few famous mystics (like Saint Francis, and Saint Teresa, and Julian of Norwich, and Brother Lawrence), and a few contemporary heroes (like Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa, and Desmond Tutu, and Thomas Merton) – apart from these folks who made history for one reason or another, the vast, vast majority of people who kept the faith, and shared their faith, and expanded the reach of Jesus’ message of love, love, love were anonymous to us. There’s the ‘big names’ in church-land…and the rest.

From a group of disheartened and defeated disciples sprang a movement so great, and so powerful, that we’re standing here this morning, half a world away, two millennia away, sharing in the wonder of it. How did we get from there to here? How is it that Faith United Church is even a thing? Well, it’s part of the United Church of Canada. Where’d that come from? Well, it was a merger of Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians a hundred years ago. Oh, where did they come from? And on, and on, and on it goes. Where did we come from? How are we here? There’s only one answer: it’s because person after person after person had a spiritual experience and then shared their story, and it opened the next person to their own experience. Those famous theologians, and mystics, and heroes helped tremendously along the way, but we’re not here because of them: we’re here because of the rest.

You’re here because someone in your circle of connection experienced the sacred, and shared it, and that opened someone else enough to drop their guard and seek to experience it themselves. And so on, and so on, and so on. It may not have been a lightning bolt experience for us – most tend not to be. Lots of us were just kind of born into it as we followed along with our family traditions and beliefs. I’ve always thought slow burns were deeper and had more staying power than lightning bolts anyway. But the deciding factor for us to become practicing church folk probably wasn’t a persuasive argument or a finely honed theological discourse. It was your heart strangely warmed. It was (and is) your own, personal spiritual experience that drew you here and keeps you here. And if you just kinda fell into it because your family always did church, then they were actually softly telling you the story all along. Telling the story is key.

And so, each year we continue to rehearse this wondrous story – steeped in mystery and inspiration – a beautiful blend of history and mystery – inviting it to once again stir our stressed-out deadness to new life – knowing that as we hear it and are moved by it, we are once again transformed by the new life that comes as we embrace this way of dying and rising into God’s loving fullness. That’s why we’re together today. We have heard, and in our own ways believed – and we’ve received the blessing of having hearts and minds opened again and again to perceive the presence of God and the reality of God’s Kingdom. Hallelujah!

Now comes the ‘now what?’
Now what?
This celebration of Easter is wonderful – and it’s all for us, for our strengthening, for our remembering, for our inspiration, for our assurance, for our groundedness, for our empowerment, for our conviction. Easter is a beautiful blessing for us.

And the rest? What about the people who either haven’t heard the story, or have heard and for whatever reason weren’t moved? Do we shrug our shoulders and hope they’ll catch on eventually? No, we must tell the story! Our story, of joyful transformation from how we used to live and love to how we now live and love, Jesus’ Way! Our story of dying to what was and being renewed and reborn into what will be. Our resurrection story. But remember, it’s not the persuasiveness of our telling that’s going to convince anyone of anything. It’s our sharing of our heart – our vulnerability to dare to show someone that Spirit moves us, and transforms us, and helps us live more justly, and more fully, and more lovingly. It’s our lived story of renewed, resurrected life that has the potential to resonate with someone’s deep need. And if I can help move someone to wonder, and to question, and seek out an experience of their own, well, I don’t care if I stay anonymous forever.

It was first Jesus’ story, but it’s not really about Jesus – it’s about me.
It’s now my story, but it’s not really about me – it’s about who I love by sharing this old, new story.

We have gathered this morning at the empty tomb to witness something inexplicably wondrous, and then, like ‘the women’, share it and how it moves you, with ‘the rest’.
Your task as a witness of faith is not to win anyone for the kingdom.
Your calling is to inspire the Peters you encounter to go running!
And the rest…is up to God.

Amen.

220415 – Good Friday Reflection

War of the Worlds – Casualties

And just like that, it was over. All that hope. All that talk of justice, and peace. All that focusing on care, and compassion, and serving. All that immersion in love – gone. Snuffed out like a poor brief candle. Yes, we know there’s more to the story, and that this is not the end. But we mustn’t hurry past this moment. If we don’t linger we will lessen the impact of Sunday. If we don’t pause and ponder the cross, we cheapen it, like it’s no big deal and we can just get on with celebrating. Well, you just heard the story of Jesus’ last days with all the gory details. Did it sound like ‘no big deal’ to him?

By the same token, he wouldn’t want us to get stuck here – constantly bemoaning the suffering, and wallowing in guilt, or shame, or whatever else stirs in us amid such agonies. Just as Peter, James, and John couldn’t set up shop on the mountaintop of the transfiguration, neither should we set up shop at the foot of the cross. But we must stay long enough to learn from it.

Why did Jesus feel the need to endure this torment? And make no mistake, crucifixion is purposely designed to be like torture. Why didn’t Jesus just deftly come up with a brilliant turn of phrase and sidestep it all? Some say it’s because God needed to be appeased. Well, I’m sorry, but that makes no sense to me. Tough love may rightly be needed by times, but tough love doesn’t kill the one it loves. Sure, you could say Jesus’ love held him on the cross – but that’s his choice – his commitment – his calling. If it’s his obligation and he’s powerless then it utterly undermines his message.

His message was that the Kingdom of God, the realm in which love and one-anothering are the core values, is a way of living that is worth standing up for, no matter what. It wasn’t God that nailed Jesus to that tree – it was the ‘ways of the world’ that drove the nails in. It was the kingdom of ‘me, me, me’. It was the self-obsession of the powers and principalities of the world that interpreted radical inclusion and infinite loving-kindness as a threat. It was so much of a threat to the powers that be that they went to war against God’s Kingdom by implementing the polar opposite of it. Tragically, there are some hard truths about war – and one of them is that it creates casualties.

Jesus is the ultimate casualty of the ‘war of the worlds’. He paid the ultimate price and was subjected to the ultimate cost of standing for your principles, come what may. That’s why this day is so hard for us to understand – because in a war the good guys are supposed to win. But he didn’t. Or so it seems. Good must prevail over evil. Love must prevail over hate. ‘Us’ must prevail over ‘me’. And it surely will. But it may not be apparent in the moment.

So yes, surely Jesus is a casualty of this ‘war or the worlds’. But so too are all those on the ‘other side’ who have not yet perceived the loving presence of God.
All those who couldn’t understand what Jesus was standing up for.
All those walking around thinking there’s nothing more than our day-to-day slog.
All those who practice self-aggrandizement at the expense of others.
All those who say, “I got mine; I don’t care about you.”
All those slowly (or quickly) chipping away at their soul, when they could be experiencing the joys of knowing who and whose they are – being loved just for being themselves – being beloved by God – which they are, but tragically they don’t seem to realize it.
These are surely also casualties of the ‘war of the worlds’. But they have not yet seen or perceived that.

And maybe that’s a way to understand why Jesus died, or to say that he died ‘for’ us. Jesus was a casualty in this war because he lived God’s Way, he lived his principles, he lived out loud, he lived love – and the world couldn’t comprehend it, and couldn’t abide feeling as it did when faced with it. But in his death, in his dying for his values, our values – he brought light and awareness in the most profound and far-reaching way imaginable. Has any other death been so…noticed?

So it is right for us to lay ourselves down at the foot of the cross for a short while, and notice, and lament. Life is not a Hallmark card, or a neat and tidy TV show that gets all wrapped up with a bow within an hour. Life is messy, and sometimes ugly and horrible – especially when worlds are at war. Jesus on the cross reminds us that we aren’t just playing around with this stuff. We can’t flit in and out of church like it’s nothing. Revealing the Kingdom of God is serious business, and it brings serious consequences to those who would dare to live it loudly.

Luke gives to Jesus these final earthly words – “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” They’re the same words he lived every day. Trust, commitment, belovedness. No war could ever take that from Jesus. No cross could either. Trust, commitment, belovedness. If we can notice that, and live that, and have it take hold more deeply, more passionately, and more emphatically because of the cross, then yes – I think it’s entirely true that he died ‘for’ us. And in gratitude our response should be to weep, and pray, and rest in remembering all he said and did. And soon, in a couple of days, we’ll be ready for the next battle in this ‘war of the worlds’.
But for now, in the shadow of the cross, in the stillness, we wait…

Noticings – April 13, 2022

NOTICINGS…

April 13, 2022

We are in the midst of Holy Week, the most sacred and special week of the Christian year. Below you will find the information about the various worship opportunities we have over the next few days. I hope you’ll be able to join us! If not, I hope you’ll at least read through the stories of Holy Week so that you can enter in and prepare well for Easter Sunday! We are following the Gospel of Luke this year, and you’ll find the stories in Luke 22-24.

As a bonus I invite you to watch the Easter Message from our Moderator, the Right Rev. Dr. Richard Bott. It’s just 4 minutes long, and you can find it by clicking this link.

Have a blessed and wondrous Holy Week!

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

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