210926 – Don’t Be A Jerk

Yr B ~ Creation 2 ~ Mark 9:38-50

I said last week that the scripture texts during this Season of Creation don’t really have much to do with creation. That said, I think last week we made some good tie-ins to creation spirituality. Today I’m not even going to try – other than when we get to the end you could certainly apply this teaching to creation care, or environmentalism, or our relationship with the natural world. The message will fit with the season ok, but it isn’t directly about it. What’s it about?

Well, it starts with a bunch of church insiders complaining because an outsider is doing some ministry that insiders aren’t doing, but they don’t like that an outsider is doing it in Jesus’ name, even though it isn’t really affecting the insiders at all. I guess they don’t like someone infringing on their brand? Anyway, so Jesus scolds them – the insiders, not the outsiders (who are actually acting like insiders, but I guess aren’t.) Jesus says, “Look, if they’re not hurting us, then they’re actually helping us. So chill out.” (Well, that’s how it reads in the original Greek – kinda!)

Then Jesus hurls a nasty warning at anyone who might trip up a new believer, saying that if you do that it you’d be better off sleeping with the fishes. Yikes! And then Jesus starts telling people to hack off body parts if those parts are leading you into trouble! Thank God we’re not literalists! (am-i-rite?!) Finally, he finishes off this section with an incredibly cryptic and mysteriously intriguing suggestion.

Allow me to summarize this whole pericope in two sentences:

Don’t be a jerk.
And go salt yourself!

And that’s the whole sermon! Same time next week?

It’s weird how groups and organizations get bent out of shape worrying about who’s team someone is on. Now, that’s not to say things like training, and credentials, and proper procedures aren’t important. They very much are. Here’s where it gets a bit murky. If someone is out doing something in the name of Jesus, that’s one thing. If they’re doing something in the name of the United Church of Canada, we might want to ensure that what they’re doing is in keeping with the values of the denomination. And if someone was out doing something in the name of Faith United – well, you can be darn sure that we would absolutely be concerned with how it reflected on our church.

So I get the source of the disciples’ angst. But at this point People of The Way are not a denomination. They’re just a rag-tag movement – a charismatic movement of the Holy Spirit with Jesus at the centre of it. Interestingly, Jesus isn’t worried about it. He approves of this ministry in his name. If the person is doing good let them do good. Disciples of Jesus do not have a lock on doing good deeds!
Said differently, you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person.

Then Jesus says something I don’t think I agree with. He says, Mark 9:40, Whoever is not against us is for us. If a person isn’t actively working against the movement then they’re for the movement? Hmm, I don’t think it works that way. Regardless, Jesus says that to stop someone from showing loving-kindness, even in the name of Jesus, is a jerky thing to do. And it’s even worse if your insider fussing causes someone new to the movement to turn away. Who wants to be joining a sniping bunch of complainers? So don’t do that. Don’t be a jerk!

And then it gets really colourful! Mark 9:43-48
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,
where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Let’s tackle a couple of things in translation. The word ‘hell’ here doesn’t mean hell like we probably think. Our picture of hell comes from literature, not the bible. The actual Greek word used is Gehenna. read on

Noticings – September 22, 2021

NOTICINGS…

September 22, 2021 

One of my devotional practices comes to me once a week via email. It’s from a creative team called Salt of the Sound. Primarily they offer swirly, ambient, meditative music compositions and soundscapes, and they also marry those sounds to nature video loops to create prayerful meditations for both the eyes and ears. They call it [PAUSE].

This week’s offering had a bushy pine tree on a hillside with lots of tall foliage around. The light is muted, and the plants are dancing in the wind, bowing to and fro. The pine tree is the variety that has it’s branches all reaching up, so in the blowing wind it really looks like the tree has its arms raised in the air and is swaying in worship and awe of God. (And yes, I kind of chuckled to myself as I remembered singing the wrong words on Sunday morning about the trees of the field clapping their hands!) There is also a single pink flower, standing alone in a sea of green, dancing along with its siblings. And in the background there are gently floating flashes of light making the sky feel spiritually energized.

I was absolutely drawn in by this flowing image and sound this morning. It transported me back to my favourite place in Ireland called Ardmore – a tiny little coastal town that we just happened upon while travelling. We went for a walk along the ocean coastline and the long grasses in the fields were flowing and dancing in the wind just like in the video loop I saw this morning. I closed my eyes and could feel the wind blowing on my face. I could even smell the ocean. It was a beautiful and sacred moment. Time and space and distance all disappeared. There was nothing but presence. I felt blessed, and full, and grounded.

The [PAUSE] videos also include scripture. This one quoted Psalm 91:1-2 “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: Adonai alone is my refuge, my place of safety; God is my God, and I trust them.”

And I raise my arms like the pine tree, and breathe ever so deeply, and praise God for this sacred moment. I wish they were more common, but I know that’s not because God isn’t always present. It’s because I’m usually too distracted to notice. But for whatever reason today I did. I paused. I noticed. And it blessed me. What helps you pause and notice God’s presence?

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

210919 – The Two Books of God

Yr B ~ Creation 1 ~ Mark 9:30-37

Today is the beginning of the liturgical season of Creation. We’ve been marking this season for around a decade now, but it’s still pretty new. Except it isn’t. We’ll talk more about that later. You’d think the scriptures for the Season of Creation would be all about, well, you know, creation! They’re not. At least this year they’re not. This year they’re just regular lectionary readings from the gospel of Mark, and then some Matthew on Thanksgiving. So what makes it ‘creation-y’? We’ll talk more about that later too.

Let’s start today with the reading from Mark’s gospel. Jesus and his entourage are walking down the road and apparently the disciples get into an argument about who is more important – ego stuff – which is kind of ironic because just before that Jesus was teaching them about how it was inevitable that the path he was on would lead to his death, but that wouldn’t be the end of this movement – The Way. Well, our duh-sciples were not able to comprehend his teaching, so instead they argued about who was better than the other. Oh the irony!

So Jesus sits them down, and tries again. Mark 9:35 Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Classic Jesus! Turns our perception upside down. If you really want to be ‘first’ you have to be ‘last’ and become the servant of all. In other words, leggo-your-ego! Their blank faces show that they still don’t get it – so Jesus tries again.

He places a child in the centre of their circle. First of all, that helps us let go of this limited visual image that it was just Jesus and 12 men who were there. That kid didn’t come from nowhere. Clearly there were kids with them when they gathered – which means women too.

Anyway, Jesus puts the child in the centre and then embraces the child. Lovely. Jesus says, Mark 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

At first glance we may miss how important this is. Nowadays we say things like “the children are our future” and “it takes a village to raise a child” and “kids first”. That’s fantastic. But that’s not the way it was in ancient days. There were no helicopter or snow plow parents back then. Kids had no rights, no standing, no importance except for their usefulness. Sure, parents loved their kids, of course they did – but from a societal view kids were not valued generally.

But Jesus puts this child in the centre – not the side, but the centre – and embraces the child – and says if we aren’t loving the helpless ones, the ones with no voice or standing, the ones society devalues, then we are not loving Jesus, or by extension God.

Ok, that’s not a shocking teaching for us because our society does much, much better now at honouring, and protecting, and caring for children. So let’s use this teaching as metaphor. Let’s talk about the environment – it is the Season of Creation, after all.

“But Larry, this scripture has nothing to do with the environment at all! It’s basically about Jesus schooling his disciples about being too self-important.”

Look deeper! Jesus places a child in the centre of the circle and challenges his followers to see the child as beloved – holy – valuable beyond measure even though society devalued them.
What if we put nature – the earth – in the centre of the circle?
What if we were challenged to treat the environment as beloved, holy, and valuable – and not just something for us to consume or monetize?

Jesus challenges us to welcome the ‘child’ – to care for and respect the powerless, the voiceless – the forgotten, discounted, ignored, undervalued. Jesus puts creation, the environment, in the centre of the circle, embraces it, and challenges us to do likewise, in love.

“But Larry, we do this all the time. Just like the kids, we value the environment!”

Do we though? read on

Noticings – September 15, 2021

NOTICINGS…

September 15, 2021

I absolutely love my new music room/home office. I’ve got my guitars displayed on the wall, a comfy couch to relax on, a spacious desk for my sprawl, and most of all, a door! As in, it’s my own space – not shared or multipurpose or family space. It’s just mine! I’ve never had that before, and I love it. The one thing it doesn’t have is a window. It’s in the basement, nestled into a slope, so there is no window. So I did something fun and goofy. I bought ribbon lights and installed them around the ceiling perimeter. Now with the touch of a remote control I can change my room into any colour of the rainbow. I could even have a flashing disco light show if I wanted (I don’t, it’s too much, but I could). A colleague joked that I could set it up with the colour of the liturgical season to inspire myself.

Not a very spiritually deep start to this week’s Noticings, you may be thinking. What do twinkle lights have to do with faith? Well, they make me happy. They help to transform my physical space into something more enjoyable. When I turn on those silly things I feel better, a little whimsical, lighter. Your physical environment influences you greatly, which means those silly lights are impacting what I preach, or what I write in Noticings on Wednesdays.

(Here’s the tie-in!) Richard Rohr says, “Your image of God creates you.” Your lens, or frame, or way of understanding who or what or how God is dramatically influences who and what and how you are. Just like my twinkle lights influence me, or create my mood, your image of God creates you. Genesis 1:26 says, Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”

You are imprinted with the image of God at the centre of your being. So what you think God’s image is, what God’s nature is, what God’s essence is, is making you from the inside out. So…what’s God like? Warm? Cold? Distant? Near? Judgy? Stern? Frightening? Caring? Loving? I really hope that image is one of pure, holy Love. Your image of God creates you. That is a big, chewy, deep, profound, consequential sentence. Theology matters! Your image of God creates you. Anyone care to join me on my comfy couch, look at my twinkly lights, and ponder for a while?

Noticings – September 8, 2021

NOTICINGS…

September 8, 2021

We are in the midst of some desperately needed rain. (I needed to write this Noticings last week so I can’t be sure if it happened, but the weather forecasts are never wrong, right?) Lawns have been turning brown, crops are not getting what they need to flourish, and people have been uncomfortably hot and humid for weeks and weeks. The heat let go a few days ago, and now comes the rain. Finally!

It reminds me of a great scene from a favourite movie of mine. It’s a Steve Martin movie called “Leap of Faith.” I’m not sure if it’s a fave because it’s about a preacher, or because people say I bear a passing resemblance to Steve (probably both), but I love the movie. Basic plot is a flashy, phoney, revival-tent-preacher’s travelling entourage has a mechanical breakdown and is stranded in a small town in rural America. So they decide to set up and do their ‘show’ to bilk the locals out of their money. (Spoiler alert – the preacher sees the light by the end!) The town is a farming community experiencing serious drought.

So in the middle of a ‘sermon’ our preacher prompts the crowd to ask the question everyone wants the answer to: When is it going to rain? Masterfully, he turns the question around and instead of making it about physical rain he makes it about metaphorical rain, lists all the things that are hard in life, and then says, “When’s it gonna rain? I say ‘When’s it gonna stop?!’”

I’m feeling a bit like that these days. We’re in a loooong season of Covid rain. When’s it gonna stop? Unlike the movie preacher I can’t sell you any answers to your questions. But I’ll give you this bit of wisdom for free. “Every storm runs out of rain.” It’s a marvellous quote from Maya Angelou. It doesn’t solve our immediate concerns, either about weather or life, but it is deeply true. It’s true about the rain we’re (hopefully) experiencing outside right now. Every storm runs out of rain. It was true about the wonderful biblical story of Noah. Yes, it (metaphorically) rained for 40 days and nights, causing great hardship, but every storm runs out of rain. And it’s true about our pandemic rain. Every storm runs out of rain. And do you know what follows rain? Sunshine, light, and growth. Oh, it can’t come soon enough for us. But it’s coming. Every storm runs out of rain.

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

210905 – Church Online – Life Is But A Meme

Yr B ~  Pentecost 15 ~ Proverbs 1:20-33 (NLT)

We’re in the final week of a 3-week sermon series thinking about what it means to be church these days – especially in terms of online church, and hybrid worship, and building authentic community through social media. Last week I made what I hope was a provocative insight: What if the things we do, and say, and believe, and follow aren’t the problem? What if the problem is how we communicate them?

So this week let’s talk about how we communicate. Our tradition is built on prose. We love words. Words, words, words. Our primary means of communicating and teaching is long-form, text-based sermons/essays/articles. When we way we’re people of the ‘word’ we really mean it!

How does the online world communicate? Primarily, in images. It’s all bits and bites, short-form, easily accessible, digestible, and sharable. In other words (!), almost the polar opposite to how we usually communicate. So, we’ve got some learnin’ to do! Let’s start today with one of the primary forms of communication online – the meme.

What is a meme? Nowadays a meme refers to phenomena that begins as an image with a witty, or satirical, or insulting caption that gets rapidly shared on the internet (goes viral – spreads exponentially like a virus – something we know all too well because of Covid). Memes require a shared cultural reference point for their meaning. Often it’s pop culture, or politics, but sometimes it’s just that an image meme went so viral that it became its own reference point.

Here are a few examples. The first is from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies. Boromir originally said, “One does not simply walk into Mordor.” The internet turned it into a meme. You can say, “One does not simply…” and add your own ending to make your joke or your point.

Or Morpheus from ‘The Matrix’ movies who became immortalized for saying, “What if I told you…” As you can see it really lends itself to all kinds of creative messaging. But it has to be super short – to fit on the image.

The ‘distracted boyfriend’ meme took the world by storm a few years ago. It’s because it tells a big story in a brief image. A guy’s head is turned by a pretty girl and his girlfriend reacts. Interestingly, it was actually a recreation of an image in The Matrix movie (the red dress scene, if you’re a fan). This image often gets used in political or more intellectual memes. It offers more fertile ground than a one-liner. Notice the one I found shows ‘text-based’ as the girl left behind while ‘image-based video’ draws the attention.

And one of my favourites, from Star Trek we get the good old ‘Picard facepalm.’ Here displayed in the rare ‘double facepalm’ variety.

Finally, you may remember at the start of this year at President Biden’s inauguration ceremony, Senator Bernie Sanders was photographed sitting alone wearing a mask and his now famous mittens. Within hours poor Bernie was photo-shopped into all sorts of situations – including, thanks to a savvy congregant, into the Faith United worship service. The meme had already fully gone viral by the time Sunday came, and of course I jokingly mentioned it during worship. Well, by the time worship ended that image was waiting for me in my email. That’s how fast memes travel!

An image, with a witty caption, that gets rapidly shared on the internet, passed on from person to person through imitation and replication.

Did you know that that’s not the original definition of a meme though? Originally, a meme was a scientific/sociological term that referred to a trend, belief, fashion or phrase that is passed from generation to generation through imitation and behavioural replication. You can see the similarities.

Ironically, the word meme is said to be coined by Richard Dawkins who is a famous (or is it infamous) atheist. I say ironically because essentially what Dawkins calls a meme – a trend, belief, or phrase, passed on through generations through imitation and behaviour – has existed for millennia – in the bible! It’s called wisdom.

Wisdom writing is a special genre in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we’d often call the Old Testament). It’s literally a form of writing that is designed to pass on deep knowledge, often from one generation to the next. Many cultures have this idea. For example, Indigenous people share the wisdom or teachings of the ‘grandfathers’ and ‘grandmothers’. In the bible you’ll find wisdom teaching in the book of Ecclesiastes, in Job, in the Song of Songs, in the Psalms, and especially in the book of Proverbs which we’re looking at today.

Usually the teaching in the book of Proverbs comes in bite-sized portions – kind of like memes! Teachings like:

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way they should go: and when they are old, they will not depart from it.
Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Specifically, it’s a book of wisdom teaching meant to be shared from parent to child so the child can grow up into a good and faithful adult. Wisdom was venerated. Life lessons, hard learned, passed down through generations. Sharing wisdom is an act of love! Memes can be that too – but they can also be quite adversarial. Bits of insight or knowledge, sometimes insightful, oftentimes inane, shared disposably. Sharing a meme is often an act of pique, not love.

And this is one of the great challenges of the online world. While it offers the possibility of amazing depth, and knowledge, and insight, and connection it far too often never gets beyond the shallows of life. One-liners can be life changing if they’re full of wisdom – and they can be devastating or utterly innocuous if they’re full of shallowness. It’s not the medium that’s the problem – it’s how people use it. And for us it’s not our content that’s the problem – it’s how we share it.

Today’s scripture passage from Proverbs 1 is atypical of the book, because it’s a speech from Lady Wisdom herself warning us about the danger of spending all our time in the shallows of life. In the bible Wisdom is personified, and it is personified in female imagery, probably as a distinct balance to the dominant male imagery for God. Oh, and by the way, Lady Wisdom has an attitude! And I can’t help but hear her scolding our current culture, and our online shallowness. read on

Noticings – September 1, 2021

NOTICINGS…

September 1, 2021

I just glanced at my phone and noticed that it is September 1st today. That surprised me. It’s not like I’ve been away from the calendar, but seeing September caught me off guard. It shouldn’t have. At the time I noticed I was sitting on my deck enjoying a morning coffee, and it was quite cool and breezy. What happened to that oppressive heat? Oh, that’s August weather, I guess.

I think the main reason September surprised me is that the rhythms in my house are different. For the first time ever there’s no ‘back to school’ preparation happening. And, sadly, for the second time now there’s a very different, very muted ‘back to church’ preparation happening. In early summer it was looking like rhythms would be returning to ‘normal’ by September. Vaccination rates were climbing and Covid cases were very low. The optimism was palpable. We’ll be back by September!

But the ‘delta variant’ had other ideas. Vaccinations kind of levelled off in the mid 70% range, and people became much less cautious. In western Canada they relaxed mask mandates and gathering restrictions and now they are being hammered by skyrocketing illness. Our Faith United re-opening team thought that by summer’s end we’d be re-opening. Now we’re feeling very concerned and we’re pressing pause to wait and see what happens.

This is a depressing Noticings. Sorry. There are some hopeful things to notice though. Like how wonderful it was when we gathered in-person outside for worship last Thursday. (Apologies to anyone who didn’t hear about the last minute date change.) It was hot, but worshipping together like that was like a cool, refreshing drink. Hearing voices rise together in song again (masked, distanced, outdoors) was heavenly. And watching folks mingle and reconnect was balm for tired spirits. Yes, we’ll definitely have another outdoor worship gathering in September.

September. It was supposed to be different by now. It isn’t. That’s hard. So we will keep on keeping on. Continuing to be the church in ever-changing ways. Continuing to journey together in worship, in service, in mutual support. Continuing our commitment to love, love, love. If we’ve learned anything through Covid-tide it’s that nothing can deter us from being who and whose we are, together. Last Thursday powerfully reminded me of that. So bring on September and let’s see where the Spirit may lead us.

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

210829 – Church Online – Nexus

Yr B ~ Pentecost 14 ~ James 1:17-27 (MSG)

A few years ago a picture got a lot of attention. It’s an image of a group of teenagers at an art museum, sitting in the presence of a masterwork by Rembrandt, all staring at their phones instead of gazing admiringly at the art. On the internet people piled on in derision, castigating ‘kids today’ as self-absorbed, and so addicted to their technology that they were missing out on what’s real and beautiful. One of the main captions that went with the image was, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Well, it turned out what was wrong with that picture was most people’s interpretation of it! The truth is, those students were using an app for their phone – provided by the gallery – which gave more information, and background, and an enhanced, interactive experience of the art. They weren’t missing out on anything. In fact, they were getting more out of it because of their hand-held technology. The common assumption was that looking at their phone meant they were disconnecting from reality – the reality is that that’s their method of interacting with the world. And it ain’t just kids!

I’m a middle-aged guy, and I am interacting with my phone very, very frequently. I use it for all sorts of things – curiously, rarely as a phone! Obviously, it’s where things like my email comes into. But I also use it for checking the weather, checking sports scores, tracking down information (Google, wiki), researching products before purchasing online. Nowadays you can purchase everything you need online with your phone – right down to groceries.

I haven’t had a newspaper delivered to my house in years, but I read the news every day – from several sources, all online. I entertain myself with puzzles, and crosswords, and YouTube, and looking up guitar gear. And yes, I partake in some social media like Twitter, and Instagram, and I have a Snapchat account, and I’ve even watched some Tik-Toks. And of course there’s the ubiquitous Facebook.

I also pray with my phone. I have 3 different daily devotionals that come to my email, I have a couple of prayer apps including ‘pray-as-you-go’ which we include a link to in every Noticings. (You can read Noticings on your phone too!) And I don’t just carry one bible with me, I have access to 20 different translations, all in a handy bible app. I use social media for both my work and my personal life. Apps like Facebook keep me connected to friends near and far, and Facebook groups are a key source of collegiality for me and my minister friends.

Simply put, this phone is indispensable for me. I could not do my job and be effective as a minister today, without being connected via technology – and I’m a middle-aged guy! How much more completely intertwined with their devices must younger folks be!

Here are some statistics.
Of the 7 billion people in the world, 2.5 billion are on social media channels. That is 35% of the world’s population. In 2005 only 5% of North Americans had a social media account – by 2011 that ballooned to 50% – now it’s well over 75%. An average person spends close to 2 hours a day on social media. Think about that – if you’re not spending very much, if any, then others are spending way more than 2 hours!

There are people on Instagram, and YouTube, and Tik-Tok who have channels with thousands and millions of followers. They put out short video content that is easily consumed and easily shared. Do you know what these folks are called? Influencers! We put out long-form video content every Sunday morning, and I invite you to share the link with your friends, but we don’t exactly have a million followers. I guess I’m not that big of an influencer, and neither is ‘the church’.
Maybe the problem isn’t what we’re saying, or doing, or believing, but how we’re communicating!

The scripture reading from James 1 today challenges us as the church to stay on course – to remember and celebrate the light and love we know through our faith in God and our following of Jesus’ Way – and to share it. Where? In the wider world – in the community. Ok, where’s that?

And here is where we get our first paradigm shift of the day.
We know that we should take God’s love into the town square. Well, social media is the new town square – and the town is worldwide! The church has always been called to go to where the people are, and integrate ministry into their routine. (Pointing to phone) This is where the people are. Are we there?

Lately I’ve been rethinking one of my go-to ministry concepts. I’ve always believed that it’s easy for a church to figure out its ministry. All you have to do is walk outside the front door of your church and look up and down the street. That’s your ministry! And to a certain extent that’s true. But it’s also really limited. It’s stuck in an ‘old’ paradigm that equates a church with a physical neighbourhood. The idea of church ‘turf’ is way past its best before date. This morning our ‘turf’ probably stretches from here to Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and to Newfoundland, and maybe south to Mexico, and certainly to Toronto and other untold exotic places. This doesn’t mean we should ignore our neighbourhood ministry and focus – it just means that we can’t stop there. We need to think differently, wider, bigger, farther.

James 1 says we are to be “doers of the word and not just hearers.” It says that true religion is living and embodying Jesus’ principles of love, love, love – otherwise it’s just “hot air” – a religion that only serves itself – a church that’s merely a comfy insiders club. So, how do we embody and become “doers of the word” in today’s town square? How do we help people explore their spiritual questions, encounter this way of love, love, love that we are centred on, and grow in their faith through social technology?

Our ministry isn’t just our neighbourhood – it’s our relationship with all the people we’re in community with – and these days our community stretches far and wide.
That leads into a second paradigm shift. read on

Noticings – August 25, 2021

NOTICINGS…

August 25, 2021

I think my dog is smarter than me. Every afternoon we take her out for a walk. Usually she trots along in front of us. Not lately. The past several days she’s been kind of lagging behind us after about 5 minutes of walking. She slows down a bit, so we give her some encouragement. Then she slows some more, we offer more cajoling, and finally she just stands there and looks at us. It has happened many days in a row now. Everything else about her is completely normal. At first we wondered if she was sensing something in the forest we are walking by. Forests are kind of new for her, and there are all kinds of critters in them, so we thought maybe something had spooked her. So the next day we went in the opposite direction, around more populated streets that she’s walked many times already. Sure enough, the same thing – lagging, then lagging more, then stopping. When she does that we turn around and head back home. And instantly she is out in front of us trotting along again. So we think we’ve figured it out now – she’s just too darn hot, and she knows if she keeps going she’ll be too tired to get back home. Like I said, I think she’s smarter than me!

It has certainly been some hot! So hot, in fact, that we have decided to *change the date* of our outdoor worship service this week. The forecast warns that it will ‘feel like’ over 40 degrees Wednesday, even in the evening. Yikes! So we have chosen to move our outdoor worship to the next day, Thursday evening at 6:30 pm, when it will only feel like a chilly 33 degrees!

I read an article recently that said this is the hottest year on record for our planet. Climate change is all too real. And perhaps you saw the news about the recent report from the United Nations definitively identifying that climate change is more than just a natural phase that earth is going through. Sadly, the human contribution is significant, and devastating. But I think I’ll save further reflection on that until September when we celebrate the liturgical Season of Creation which focuses on such things. It’s too hot to sweat heavy topics like that right now.

For now, I’m just really looking forward to standing up to lead worship and looking out and seeing more than just a video camera in front of me! And do you know what? I’m willing to sweat a little for that privilege! Unfortunately, the advancing ‘delta variant’ of Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on everyone’s hopes and plans for doing more things in-person soon. So I’ll take what I can get, and I will savour Thursday evening’s outdoor worship – and I will revel in our being together again for worship – and I’ll pray it’ll hold me for a while. My dog may be smarter than me about getting out of the heat, but I bet my proverbial ‘tail’ will be wagging way harder than hers ever does when I get to worship with my church again. Oh, and I’m perfectly happy to get to do the extra bit of work to put this worship together. In fact, you might say that it’s the one thing this week that I can actually say, “No sweat!” about.

Shalom,
Rev. Larry


210822 – Church Online – Gear Up

Yr B ~ Ephesians 6:10-20 ~ Pentecost 13

It’s great to be back with you today! I had a lovely time off this summer, and now it’s also lovely to be getting back to my familiar rhythms. Familiar rhythms. Isn’t that interesting?! We’ve been at this pandemic, online church thing for a year and a half now and at this point it feels entirely familiar. We’ve adapted. This is just the way we do things now, and it feels, dare I say it, normal. Most of us gather on Sunday morning in real time, and we all probably have familiar things that have evolved over this year and a half. We’ve jokingly called it ‘couch church’. Maybe that’s exactly where you are right now. If so, doesn’t it kinda feel…normal? I know that some people love the idea of attending church in their pyjamas. (When the time is right for us to gather here in-person again I hope you’ll feel just as comfortable to come in pyjamas if that’s what makes you happy!) I also know that on Sunday mornings some people actually get dressed up in their ‘Sunday best’ just as if they were physically here. It just makes them feel good to put on their ‘church clothes’ as part of their rhythm.

We’re not only worshipping from home, many of us are also working from home. That has been really interesting too. It too has become ‘normal’. And when the pandemic recedes and we start to work from our physical workplaces again I know that many – myself included – will be dividing our time between working at church and working at home. I guess some people have become accustomed to working in their jammies too! So our way of working, and worshipping, and even dressing has changed.

With the kids today I talked about wearing different kinds of clothes or equipment for different sports or activities. And we talked about what kind of equipment you need for church. In some church cultures you’ll see everyone arrive dressed to the nines and carrying their own floppy bible. In other cultures they might sit at tables or drink coffee in a very casual kind of approach. In others they have no chairs or pews because they move around or dance around during worship.

How would you describe our Faith United culture? We don’t really have anything notable. It’s just, you know, church. I like to say that we do the church thing really well – as long as by ‘the church thing’ you mean a modified, classic, mainline protestant, liturgically-based worship gathering. We are incredibly well-equipped to do it. We have the knowledge, expertise, experience, resources, and desire to do ‘classic’ church really, really well.

But look around. This ain’t classic church anymore. The rules have changed. The ground has shifted underneath us. You’re home on your couch – I’m preaching to a camera. It’s both fundamentally the same and fundamentally different at the same time. Whether we wanted it or not, and whether we like it or not, our church culture has shifted. That means that even though Faith United did modern-classic church really well we won’t just be able to go ‘back to normal’ in a few more months. We’re going to have to develop a whole new repertoire of knowledge, expertise, experience, resources, and desire for a whole new way of being church. Well, maybe a ‘whole new’ way is overstating it. Lots of people will be able to go back to how it was in the before-times and get along ok. But the church as a whole cannot.

The big buzzword lately is hybrid church. That means finding ways to keep doing this kind of online worship while also doing in-person worship at the same time. Because, the truth is, that online worship actually works better for a whole bunch of people, for a whole bunch of reasons. It could be distance, or health, or disability, or even convenience – but pulling the plug on online church when in-person gathering returns would be a catastrophic error. So we’ll need to adapt – again (and again, and again, and again).

This is a pretty new way of thinking for us. Our denomination is approaching its 100th birthday in a couple of years and in all that time we’ve never had as big a sea change as we’re experiencing right now. That’s pretty daunting, and unsettling. Where else do we go at such times but to prayer and scripture.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he’s giving them a pep talk in chapter 6. He’s using a metaphor of putting on armour to prepare for a great battle. Remember, back in those days Christians were at best tolerated and at worst persecuted – so the image of gearing up for a battle was pretty relatable. I don’t think the armour imagery works for us in the same way, but I think we can…adapt it!

From Ephesians 6:10-20… read on

Noticings – August 18, 2021

NOTICINGS…

August 18, 2021

I’m back! I’ve spent the last four weeks packing up one house, moving, and unpacking and settling into our new home. It’s fantastic, and we absolutely love it – and I’m happy to be back to work. Mostly that’s because I needed a break! Moving is incredibly hard work. I needed to come back to work for a rest! It has been a never-ending list of honey-dos. Now, I’m generally not a very handy guy, but in these last weeks I’ve painted rooms, installed closet rods, shelves, dimmer switches, shower wands, recycling holders, bicycle racks, towel hooks, medicine cabinets, ceiling lights, reassembled exercise machines, and cut back tree branches – not to mention unpacking a gazillion boxes. Honey-do-this, honey-do-that! It’s endless! (I’m joking, of course! We’ve done it all as a team and it’s been lovely. Hard work, but lovely.)

My favourite thing that I’ve installed are the hooks on the wall of my new music room for my guitars! I have dreamed about having a music room forever, and to have my guitars displayed on the wall. That is now a reality. It’s a dream come true. Those are the kinds of things that have made all the hard work feel so worth it.

The best thing about working through all those honey-dos is that as the house takes shape and we settle in we are more and more able to enjoy the space. When I sit out on our back deck in the morning with a coffee and I look around all I see are trees and pastures. And in those blissfully quiet moments I realize that my honey-dos have become like honeydew! No, not the delicious melon, but the sweet residue that exudes from certain plants in hot weather. It’s kind of like the sweat of your brow when you work hard, but sweet and natural and pleasing.

And that is more or less the essence of spirituality. It’s not escaping to a mountaintop to get away from the tasks of living – it’s the deep awareness that your honey-dos can be honeydew if you are open to experiencing them in that way. That’s harder to appreciate when the air is turning blue because one of your installation jobs has gone south! (Yes, ministers know those words too!) But it’s much easier to see when you pause and breathe deeply – like on the deck in the morning, or sitting in your guitar-decorated sanctuary.

So I’m back to work – and I guess that means my challenge is to savour the honeydews in the honey-dos of ministry. Time to pour another coffee and get to it.

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

 

Noticings – August 11, 2021

NOTICINGS…

August 11, 2021

This summer we’re hearing the voices of women mystics. I invite you to read each quotation slowly and prayerfully. Do not hurry. Linger. Savour. Pray. 
This week we ponder the words of Catherine of Siena…
It is only through shadows that one comes to know the light.
Make two homes for thyself, my daughter. 
One actual home . . . and the other a spiritual home which thou are to carry with thee always.
God is closer to us than water is to a fish.
To join two things together there must be nothing between them or there cannot be a perfect fusion. 
Now realize that this is how God wants our soul to be, 
without any selfish love of ourselves or of others in between, 
just as God loves us without anything in between.
All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, “I am the way.”
Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.
St. Catherine of Siena is one of the most important female mystics in the Catholic and Christian traditions. Born in Italy, Catherine believed she was spiritually wed to Jesus Christ. This made her quite influential in 14th century Italy, an influence she used to play a peacekeeping role during a revolution in her hometown of Siena, and to gain favour with the pope. Catherine’s devotion to God and her unique mystic abilities were enough to get her canonized in 1461. 
 Shalom,
Rev. Larry

 

Noticings – August 4, 2021

NOTICINGS…

August 4, 2021

This summer we’re hearing the voices of women mystics. I invite you to read each quotation slowly and prayerfully. Do not hurry. Linger. Savour. Pray. 
This week we ponder the words of Teresa of Avila…
Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. 
Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. 
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. 
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.
Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; 
 it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. 
The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. 
Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.
True perfection [wholeness, spiritual maturity] consists in the love of God and our neighbour, and the better we keep both these commandments, the more perfect we shall be.
May God protect me from gloomy saints.
Teresa of Avila was a Catholic mystic. Born in 16th century Spain, Teresa spent her childhood studying the lives of the Christian saints and martyrs. Many assume that mystics must be extremely skilled in prayer to spend their lives in contemplation as they do, but for much of Teresa of Avila’s life, prayer was a difficult, and sometimes impossible, task. It was only at the age of 40 that she truly began to engage in the practice, with the help of voices who began to speak to her. From then on, she committed herself not only to spiritual contemplation, but also to reforming and refounding convents throughout her home country of Spain, and beyond. 
 Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings – July 28, 2021

NOTICINGS…

July 28, 2021

This summer we’re hearing the voices of women mystics. I invite you to read each quotation slowly and prayerfully. Do not hurry. Linger. Savour. Pray. 
This week we ponder the words of Julian of Norwich
The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. 
 God is the ground, the substance, 
 the teaching, the teacher, 
 the purpose, and the reward for which every soul labours.
Between God and the soul there is no between.
Wouldst thou learn thy Lord’s meaning in this thing?
Learn it well: Love was His meaning. 
Who showed it thee? Love.
What showed He thee? Love.
Wherefore showed it He? For Love.
Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same. 
But thou shalt never know nor learn therein other thing without end. 
Thus was I learned that Love was our Lord’s meaning.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
In 1373, when she was about 30 years old, Julian of Norwich nearly died. A priest came to her bedside to issue her last rites and show her an image of Jesus Christ. Julian not only miraculously recovered but received the 16 revelations that would ultimately make her one of the most famous female mystics of all time. Julian documented each revelation in her book, Revelations of Divine Love in Sixteen Showings [Shewings]. 

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings – July 21, 2021

NOTICINGS…

July 21, 2021

This summer we’re hearing the voices of women mystics. I invite you to read each quotation slowly and prayerfully. Do not hurry. Linger. Savour. Pray. 
This week we ponder the words of Hildegard of Bingen
Humankind, full of all creative possibilities, is God’s work. 
Humankind alone is called to assist God. 
Humankind is called to co-create. 
With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life-sustaining.
Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. 
 Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. 
 Now, think. 
 What delight God gives to humankind 
 with all these things. 
 All nature is at the disposal of humankind. 
 We are to work with it.
For without we cannot survive.
Don’t let yourself forget that God’s grace rewards not only those who never slip, but also those who bend and fall. 
So sing!
The song of rejoicing softens hard hearts. 
It makes tears of godly sorrow flow from them. 
Singing summons the Holy Spirit. 
Happy praises offered in simplicity and love lead the faithful to complete harmony, without discord. 
Don’t stop singing.
The mystery of God hugs you in its all-encompassing arms.
Hildegard of Bingen lived between 1098 and 1179, and is one of the earliest known mystics. Hildegard was a child when she first began receiving visions of God, though it was only later in life, when she became an abbess, that she began to record her mystic experiences in detail. This collection of divine visions, known as Scivias or Know the Ways, eventually evolved into Hildegard’s philosophies on everything from natural history to music. Popes, bishops, and kings consulted her. A woman of all trades, she was a skilled healer, writer, composer and theological critic.
Shalom,
Rev. Larry

 

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