220410 – War of the Worlds – Shrieking Sunday

Yr C ~ Palm Sunday ~ Luke 19:28-40

To begin, did anyone notice that in Luke’s version of Palm Sunday there are a couple of things missing – like palms? If we only had Luke’s version we’d have to call this story something else. Maybe Parade Sunday, or Cloak Sunday. In Luke’s version the people laid cloaks before Jesus but didn’t wave palm branches. Maybe the detail doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s enough to acknowledge that somehow Jesus’ arrival at the city of Jerusalem for Passover that year created quite a stir.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that what Jesus and his disciples are doing as they parade into Jerusalem for Passover is political theatre. There are crowds, cheering, a passionate exchange of ideas, and the entire act itself is making a big statement.

The details vary depending on which gospel you read this story in. For Luke’s version, other than there being no palms, the really interesting thing is the crowd. I want to say two things about this crowd – one of which might shift how you read the whole story!

Verse 37 says: As [Jesus] was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.

Did you catch that? Who is making up this crowd? It says “the whole multitude of disciples!” A multitude of disciples! Not just 12, not just a bunch, but a multitude. I think our typical view of the story is that the crowd was made up of a throng of curious onlookers who heard a commotion and came to see what the fuss was about. But Luke suggests it was a multitude of disciples accompanying Jesus – followers filled with the Spirit and being unashamedly demonstrative about it.

Does that change the way you see the story? How about this? – If you were a Roman soldier or a Pharisee and you saw a random crowd gather you might worry a bit – but if you saw a multitude of disciples descending on the city raising a ruckus I’m pretty certain your guard would be up and you’d be ready for action.

Here’s a question for you. If Jesus were to appear today and start parading toward a city to make some kind of point would you be a curious onlooker? Would you be part of the parade laying down your cloak, singing songs of praise to God, and marching toward the powers that be? I wonder.

Ok, now we get to the really juicy stuff! Listen carefully to verse 39:
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

Did you catch that? Where does Luke suggest the Pharisees were? In the crowd! Not standing apart and looking down judgingly but in the midst of the crowd – the crowd of disciples! The suggestion here is that Jesus had some Pharisees as his disciples! Wow!

The story works perfectly well either way – whether the Pharisees were apart from the crowd or within it. What changes is the tone. If those Pharisees were disciples in the crowd then when they say “Teacher, order your disciples to stop” it isn’t an authoritative command from on high – it’s a heartfelt plea from within. The tone changes from angry judgment to friendly concern. Who better than Pharisees to understand that such a rowdy display was likely to seriously ruffle the feathers of the authorities.

However you interpret that one thing is certain. As Jesus entered Jerusalem he encountered opposition – maybe from without, maybe from within, but nonetheless, opposition. How did he respond? read on

Noticings… April 6, 2022

NOTICINGS…

April 6, 2022

I was putting my recycling and trash at the curbside this morning when it struck me that something was different. As I was walking back toward the house I figured it out. It felt like spring. The air was different. I paused for a moment, and I heard all sorts of birds noisily chirping away. I felt the breeze. It no longer had that sting of chill in it. It was soft, and gentle, and warm. I took a deep, deep breath and closed my eyes and looked up into the sun and felt it beaming down on my face as my hair tussled in the wind. I was beaming too – from ear to ear. Spring! Finally! The long range forecast shows no nights falling below zero for the next two weeks. I’m not quite ready for shorts and a beach umbrella yet – but there’s no denying it anymore. Spring has sprung. Praise God!

And then I saw it. It was just leaning there, minding its own business, but its presence disturbed my peace. Here I was revelling in the joyousness of a changing season and there it was reminding me of what was. I didn’t want the reminder. I wanted to leave that season behind. But the echoes of it remain, stubbornly refusing to go quietly. There was only one thing to do. It had to go. ‘It’ was a snow shovel. It was dutifully holding it’s post outside our front door ready to spring (pardon the pun) into action and help us clear away the snow from our steps and walkway. It was a good and useful tool, in its season. But this is not that season. We were grateful for it in its time, but that time had passed. It was time to put what was to rest, and embrace the new. So into the garage it went.

If only our spiritual turnings could be so easy. It’s actually pretty easy to turn and enter into a new season, spiritually. Usually they emerge and envelop you and it all feels like a beautiful and natural flow of spirit and energy. And then, inevitably, we see some of the ‘tools’ of our former way – our habits, our attachments, our initial reactions – and they remind us of things we’d rather leave behind. They disturb our peace. If only they were as easy to put away as my shovel was. But sometimes they don’t go quietly. Sometimes, even though we’ve ‘turned’ and embraced a new season, they keep popping up like a whack-a-mole clamouring for our attention.

The only real strategy is to keep on keeping on. Keep immersing yourself in the new season and the former season will eventually fade from view. Keep intentionally opening your heart to God’s loving presence and that presence will increasingly fill you. In another month it’ll be hard to even remember the chill of winter, because we’ll be so fully ensconced in spring. But if we let ourselves dwell too much on what was we may find ourselves wintering when we could be springing. The turning part is easy – staying on the journey and living a new season, a new way, takes work. Thankfully, we don’t have to do it alone. We have one another! And we have the constant presence of God, nudging us, sustaining us, and urging us to put away our shovels.

(Click here for a video version of Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

220403 – War of the Worlds – Prodigals

Yr C ~ Lent 5 ~ Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

This is the fifth sermon in a Lenten series called War of the Worlds. We’ve been looking at the culture clash and conflict that happens when the ‘ways of the world’ – which are marked by self-indulgence, self-importance, and self-obsession – collide with the ‘way of the Kingdom of God’ – which is grounded in love of God and love of other. I’ve called it ‘me, me, me’ vs ‘us, us, us’. And we’ve looked at it from a number of angles.

Interestingly, or perhaps tragically, over the centuries as we’ve tried to articulate what this Kingdom of God is like in contrast to the ‘ways of the world’ Christians have tended to get it, well, wrong. A lot. Our problem, our challenge, is that as we begin to describe God we have to rely on our own language and experience, both of which fall terribly short of being able to really frame the staggering awesomeness of God well. How do you describe the indescribable?
So instead of words and definitions we turn to stories and parables that paint pictures. Stories have the power to help us imagine things better – and there’s probably no better known story in the bible than that of the prodigals. Notice I didn’t call it the prodigal son. Although, I might have called it the prodigal sons, plural. More about that in a few minutes.

I know I’ve preached on it here a couple of times, so some of you may have heard some of this before, but I’m hoping it’ll still surprise you, and maybe even offend you. And if it doesn’t then I’m not doing my job – because it is actually a profoundly shocking story. That’s what parables always are – if you’re reading them right! They’re thought bombs, and they’re designed to explode your brain!

It’s actually three stories – about two brothers and their parent – and they’re all pretty shocking! The younger turns away from the family, squanders the inheritance, makes bad choices, falls on hard times, becomes humble, and returns. The shocking parts are that the parent didn’t really have to give the inheritance but did, and that the kid ended up slopping pigs, which for a Jew was shameful, unclean, a tremendous indignity.
So the kid goes home fully expecting, and frankly deserving, to be treated as nothing more than a servant. At least there’d be food! The response was shocking.

“While he was still a long way off,” the parent came running out, wouldn’t even listen to the kid’s apology, and welcomed the kid home without hesitation. It’s almost like the parent had been waiting with open arms the whole time.

What does this say about the character or nature of “the parent?”

Instead of punishment, or a reduction in status, or even a period of getting back in the good books, the parent throws a lavish party for the wayward child – the prodigal. It’s shocking! I’m not sure that’s how I’d react if this was actually happening to me. How about you?

What does this say about the character or nature of “the parent?”

Enter the sulking older sibling – sees the party, learns it’s for the returned prodigal, and goes off in a huff. This is the dutiful child who stayed home and took care of things while the other one goofed off. Most of us probably relate to this older child. We’re the ones who follow the rules and do the right thing.

Are you ready for the shocking part? This child is a prodigal too!
Are you ready for another shocking part? The parent again comes running out and begs the older child to come in and share in the party.

What does this say about the character or nature of “the parent?”

Now, I’m sure we have some sympathy for the older sibling. Because we’re the dutiful ones we want to be rewarded and honoured for being good. On one level the older kid has a case. “I’ve produced like society says I’m supposed to. Where’s my reward?”

Is it any wonder we get theology wrong so often? On the surface the older sib looks like the one who’s hard done by. That’s our automatic reaction. But that’s also the way of the world. “Where’s my reward? I earned it.”

The parent though is on a whole other level.
The parent says, “But you’ve been with me all the time!”
And we go, “Huh?! That’s the reward?”
Yeah! It is!

What the parent didn’t say, and what the preacher gets to fill in is the longer, unpublished version of the parent’s speech… read on

220327 – War of the Worlds – Bad Theology

Yr C ~ Lent 3 ~ Luke 13:1-9

In the 1992 Clint Eastwood movie “Unforgiven” a young man who has just killed a man says, “Well, I reckon he had it coming.” To this the grizzled old gun slinger played by Eastwood replies, “We all got it coming, kid.”

How do you feel about that? It’s a heavy question. The technical theological term for it is theodicy. Theodicy is about the question of how to reconcile the presence of evil in the world if God is supreme, omnipotent, omniscient.

When bad things happen to good people is it a sign of God’s judgment?
When good things happen to bad people is it a sign of God dropping the ball?
Does God permit bad things to happen?
Cause them?
It’s a fundamental, core question that each of us has to answer for ourselves: what kind of god is the Holy Mystery we call God?

Jesus has a few thoughts on this! He tells us a couple of hot news stories in this passage. In one story we’re told that Pilate apparently (oh wait, it’s a news story – allegedly) killed some people while they were at worship.
Did they have it coming?
Did they die because they were worse sinners than other people?
Did God use Pilate as a tool?

Then there’s the story of an accident where a tower fell down and some people were killed.
Did they have it coming?
Or was it just terrible luck?
Is God pushing buildings over on people?
Is God standing by helplessly watching?

Jesus answers the questions plainly. He says no, God didn’t do this. That’s not the way God works. That is some bad, bad theology. Remember that next time some wild-eyed televangelist tries to blame some tragic event on sinful people.

Jesus. Says. No.

God does not will evil, permit evil, cause evil, use evil, or have anything to do with evil. God is love. Elsewhere Jesus says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. But he doesn’t stop there. This isn’t a shoulder-shrugging fatalism that glumly endures whatever happens and renders God irrelevant.

The point is not to try to figure out why some folks suffer or die in certain ways; the point Jesus makes is that we’re all going to die – some naturally, some by violence, some by accidents. But instead of fussing about that Jesus says we should spend our energy on how we live!

Twice here in this passage Jesus calls us to repent. Now, that’s a loaded word for some people. It has been understood (and preached) poorly over time.
Repent means to have a change of heart, a change of mind. Literally it means to have a new mind. There is a turning, a change of direction, an end to one path in favour of a new path in God’s love. A deep personal relationship with the Sacred is neither fire insurance nor a protective bubble – it’s about being fully alive while we’re alive. It’s about abundant life in this life.

In Luke 13:3 and again in verse 5, Jesus says something very cryptic. About those tragic news reports, and friends we’re still being inundated with tragic news reports all the time – Jesus asks whether those folks had it coming.
His answer is: No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.

We get the repent part – to have a change of heart and mind. But what about that ‘if you don’t you’ll all perish as they did’ part? read on

Noticings… March 30, 2022

NOTICINGS…

March 30, 2022

You have probably heard the news of ‘the slap’ that occurred during the Oscars on Sunday night. In case you haven’t, a Black male presenter made a joke denigrating a Black woman’s medical condition, and her husband, a Black man responded by walking onto the stage and slapping the presenter. You may wonder why I took such great pains to include the description of their race. The reason is that race is integral to the story, and to the reactions to the incident.

To begin, the people involved are all well acquainted, friends even. There has also been some history of tension among them over the years. What I’m saying is that there are layers to this story that are not immediately evident. The predominant first reaction online has been that while the presenter crossed a line and did violence (and make no mistake, words can be much more damaging than a slap) – while that’s true the reaction has been that the slapper did worse by assaulting the presenter. “Violence in any form is never the answer,” goes the response. True. It must also be noted that such reactions come primarily from White persons, but they’re usually only focused on the physical act, not the verbal one. This story is playing out much differently in the Black community.

Black commentators I’ve read have argued emphatically that non-Black persons cannot understand the constant degradation of Black women’s bodies in society, media, and the workplace, and especially sensitive is the subject of Black women’s hair, which was the subject of the ‘joke’. But it wasn’t a hairstyle choice that was being mocked – it was a medical condition called alopecia, which when compounded with the endemic degradation of Black women’s bodies provoked the husband to lash out. Both presenter and slapper have publically apologized for their part, as they well should. Interestingly, in social media circles where White voices are dominant the presenter is defended and the slapper is denounced. Where Black voices are dominant it is reversed. The slapper is heralded for standing up to a bully and defending Black women.

This is all very nuanced and complicated. The layers of race, and racism, in this are complex. I am not sure that I should have even tried to lift this up. As many voices have said online, “White people ought to sit this one out.” Had either or both the presenter or slapper been White this story would have played out very differently. It’s a strong reminder to all of us that situations have nuance and complexity, and when racial minority is involved we (the dominant White culture) all must press pause and be quicker to listen than speak.

Is this a spiritual issue? Absolutely. ‘Otherness’ takes many forms – race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, ability, education, experience, etc. Our ability to understand the depth of ‘the other’, their wholeness, their humanity, their strengths, their inconsistencies, their being, is at the core of what ‘love of neighbour’ means. And we pray that ‘the other’ will strive to see our wholeness as well.
And if you want to know what my ‘hot take’ on this is, well, I’m not going to share it. I’m going to sit this one out, and just listen, and learn, and seek to understand. Because today, that’s what neighbour-love looks like.

(Click here for a video version of Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

220320 – War of the Worlds – Belly God

Yr C ~ Lent 3 ~ Philippians 3:17-4:1

I’m calling this Lenten sermon series the War of the Worlds – borrowing from H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi novel – a novel about what happens when a powerful, hostile ‘world’ wages war on a ‘world’ with an entirely different world-view. And really, that’s what this is about – it’s a war of the world-views. This concept is erupting with devastating consequences around our planet right now. Places like Ukraine, Myanmar, Yemen, Ethiopia-Eritrea-Sudan, on and on the violence goes. The evil of ‘power-over’ clashing with those who would resist.

Solving geo-political quagmires is far beyond us, but we can’t help but want to do something, anything to help. That’s why our recent appeal for donations of personal care items for people in Ukraine was so overwhelmingly supported. It was something we could tangibly do beyond thoughts and prayers.
And, this is important – it was a way to assert our world-view in the face of an oppressive world-view.

This is the war of the world-views that we can make a difference in. It’s the ‘ways of the world’ vs God’s Way. It’s the kingdoms of empire vs the Kingdom of God. It’s me, me, me vs us, us, us. The first Sunday in Lent we looked at Jesus in the wilderness – countering the voice of temptation that tries to entice us with taking the easy way, worshipping the wrong things, and distracting us from filling our tank with Spirit.

Last week we explored our constant struggle to turn away from self-interest, and self-indulgence, and self-importance and press on toward the ever-deepening goal of love, love, love. Today we’re picking up right where we left off in Philippians 3 and hearing Paul say more about those who worship the ways of the world, especially the self-indulgence part. We’re using The Message translation today because it’s phrasing is so personal and relatable, and I’m going to go verse-by-verse and amplify Paul’s words as I go.

v.17 Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal.

Watch for people whose faith journey seems deep and grounded. Seek out mentors you can be in relationship with and learn from. They probably won’t see themselves as worthy of being a mentor. But they are. We say we follow Jesus, but really we follow one another in the ways Jesus taught. When the world gives us so many examples of unhealthy and unloving ways to walk, it’s that much more critical that we find kindred in Christ whose walk inspires us.
Because…

v.18 There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross.

Easy street is the opposite of what Jesus taught. That’s why so many people seem hostile to our faith. Maybe you’ve encountered some of that. It usually comes in the form of a vicious and dismissive eye-roll! Maybe some of that hostility comes from the fact that far too many people through church history have tried to make faith into easy street. “Say these magic sentences and you get into heaven!” That’s easy street thinking.
Faith is the opposite of that.
Faith knows it’s not what you say – it’s how you live.
It’s how you love.
It’s how you love, love, love.

Easy-streeters hate Christ’s cross because the cross symbolizes dying to the ways of the world and opening your heart to God’s way of love. Dying to me, me, me and being reborn into us, us, us. Letting go of the lure of easy street is really hard, because on the surface it seems so appealing.

v.19 But easy street is a dead-end street.

The NRSV bible says for those on that path “their end is destruction.” It doesn’t really mean annihilation, but instead means “loss of well-being” not loss of ‘being’.
Loss of well-being. A dead-end street.
If that’s so obvious to us, why is this a problem? Why is the way of the world, easy street, so alluring?

v.19 continues Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.

What does it mean to make your belly your god? read on

Noticings – March 23, 2022

NOTICINGS…

March 23, 2022

Yesterday morning I stepped out on the deck and breathed deeply. It was a beautiful, sun shining morning, and where I stood it was protected from the wind so it felt (and looked) quite warm. Out on the road for the afternoon dog walk, however, it was quite chilly. In the morning I was thinking “spring has sprung!” In the afternoon I was thinking “nope, still wintery.” It occurred to me that we’re in that awkward and unpredictable time that’s in-between winter and spring.

We’re in-between in a lot of things right now. Some of them are good, and some of them are very challenging. A good one is that we’re back to in-person worship, and we’re committed to online excellence, but we’re in-between having all the tech and the know-how to make it all great. A new second camera is on the way which will open up many possibilities for us, once we learn how to use it. But for now we’re in-between what we want to be able to do and what we can do.

As pandemic safety mandates start to be relaxed we find ourselves in-between desperately wanting to tear off our masks and hug everyone we see, and being wisely cautious about going too quickly without sufficient scientific assurance that it’s safe, and dreading the idea that we might cause yet another wave of illness, or even be infected ourselves, or infect a vulnerable person.

And, of course, here in the middle of the Season of Lent we find ourselves in-between the energized newness of starting a journey and the looming angst of Holy Week and the cross. Not to mention the personal reflecting that Lent invites us into and the stuff that stirs up. When we do that inner work we see how we’re in-between in our being. Like the coming of spring we’re in that awkward and unpredictable time in-between being the person of faith we aspire to be, and falling disappointingly short of the mark. Truth be told, humans are probably always in that state of in-between-ness, but I wonder if in Lent we might notice it more.

The thing about in-between-ness is it always feels unresolved, unsettled, and often unsatisfying. The way through in-between-ness is to try to find peace in the moment, joy in the wondering, and hope in the possibilities that are on the cusp of emerging. It helps to remember that you are not alone! A season of in-between-ness is a season of becoming. It’s rich, and liminal, and transformational – but in-between-ness ain’t easy. Shalom as you squirm friends!

(Click here for a video version of Noticings)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings… March 16, 2022

NOTICINGS…

March 16, 2022

Two Sundays ago it was 15 degrees C and it felt remarkably like spring was going to begin. It was just a tease, of course. Intellectually we all knew that – but it didn’t stop me from wanting to believe that we were all done with snow. Last Sunday was much cooler, but I thought it was going to be a nice day. I was wrong. By the time I drove home from church it was snowing hard, with white-outs on some sections of the road. Then it just kept snowing, and snowing. Sigh. I looked out at my driveway that night and went and charged up the batteries for my snow blower, expecting to have to use it the next morning.

When I woke up on Monday I saw lots and lots of snow, but this time I looked at the weather forecast and saw that the temperature was going to climb and climb all week to double digits again. So I looked at my driveway and said, “I’ll let God do it!” Sure enough, here we are on Wednesday and my driveway is completely clear. My strategy worked perfectly.

Some days I wish life could be like that. It would be great to look at the problems in the world and just be able to say, “I’ll let God do it.” Wouldn’t it? There’s an environmental crisis. We need to change our consumption habits. “I’ll let God do it.” Racism and white privilege are insidiously wreaking havoc. We need to awaken people and move their hearts and minds. “I’ll let God do it.” People need a living wage, and the housing market is unjust. “That sounds complicated, and costly. I’ll let God do it.” There are devastating wars in Ukraine, Myanmar, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, and too many more places. “That’s above my pay grade. I’ll let God do it.”

Of course it doesn’t work that way. But rather than be discouraged and defeated, what if we turned it all around? What if instead of trying to solve the world’s problems all at once, I just worked on my own inner world first? We know the metaphor well. If a plane has an emergency we’re instructed to put on our own air mask first before trying to help others. If we rush to help before we’re steady, we may become part of the problem.
The Season of Lent helps us focus on that inner world. Like with this verse we sang recently:
          God, replace my stony heart with a heart that’s kind and tender.
          All my coldness and fear to your grace I now surrender.
          Spirit open my heart.

I really do want to live a more Christlike life, and to do my part to lean into all those terrible problems and challenges in the world. But I know I don’t have what it takes on my own. I need to allow the Spirit to open my heart and let it be renewed, and reshaped, and recharged. It’ll be hard, but I think I know how the rejuvenation of my heart might happen. Can you guess? (I’ll let God do it.)

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

220313 – War of the Worlds – Rubbishness

Yr C ~ Lent 2 ~ Philippians 3:4b-14

This is going to be uncomfortable for a while. Oh, we’ll land in a good place, but first we’re going to wade through some nasty business. We’re looking at Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi today and next week. Paul is writing from prison, and he’s laying it on pretty thick. (Yeah, I know, Paul always tends to lay it on pretty thick. Let’s call it the preacher’s prerogative!)

The lectionary has us start at verse 4 of Philippians 3. Why not start at verse 1? It’s probably because it’s a bit nasty – and confusing. This whole chapter must’ve been hard to translate from the Greek because it’s all quite convoluted, but the core message is actually pretty straightforward. Paul begins by talking about ‘the world’, and how most people put all their confidence in ‘the ways of the world’. Last week we talked about how the voice of temptation enticed Jesus to worship power, and money, and fame, and ambition, and how Jesus responded, “You’re worshipping the wrong things.” Paul is saying the same thing here. I’ve been calling it ‘the world’. Paul’s catchword for all that is ‘the flesh’. I believe he means the things of the world as opposed to the things of Spirit.

Paul says that people of faith don’t need to have confidence in the flesh – and then he immediately says, “But if we did, I’d have the most!” Like I said – confusing. But let’s think it through. He’s laying out his credentials. He’s showing the Philippians that in the eyes of the world, especially the known religious world (which in this case is Judaism), that Paul is the epitome of it – the poster child. If you want to critique a system you have to have some cred. If I walked into the quilting group one morning and started to tell them that they’re doing it all wrong they’d laugh me out of the room. Deservedly! I have no cred there.

But here, in this space, in this pulpit, I have significant cred. I’ve even got the fancy degrees and a collar to prove it! I can authentically stand here and critique scripture, church, and faith. So too could Paul. And so he stood there – well, wrote there, I guess, and in the finest tradition of his saviour he turns it all on its head. He says that whatever gains he may have made in the world’s eyes, whatever success he may have achieved, whatever clout he may have accrued, whatever status and privilege he may have ‘earned’ – it was nothing, less than nothing, compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. (Philippians 3:8)

According to Paul, the world says we should be chasing all manner of things – and Paul tells us exactly what he thinks of those things. He says it’s all rubbish. Well, that’s the polite translation. It’s a remarkably salty Greek word. It literally means garbage. Dung. In today’s terms I guess you could say Paul is calling BS on ‘the ways of the world’.
(If you’d like to substitute that every time I say ‘rubbishness’, be my guest!)

We are constantly being drawn into, and tempted by, and distracted by, and conned by…rubbishness. read on

Noticings – March 9, 2022

NOTICINGS…

March  9, 2022

Watching the news these days takes some courage. We seem to be lurching from crisis to crisis. On one level I’m relieved and grateful that the swirl is not directly impacting me. But the truth is that as I read I’m drawn into the anxiety and worry of it, and I can’t seem to look away. I suspect you are feeling some of that too. It’s heartbreaking. It’s especially hard when we are witness to such injustice and violence being perpetrated upon innocent people, and we feel like there’s nothing we can do.

Oh, we can offer thoughts and prayers – and I do actually believe that such things matter. But it doesn’t feel like enough. Solving geopolitical quagmires is decidedly above my pay grade, and even speaking intelligently about them is a stretch. So if you’re like me you’re flailing around looking for something real and helpful to offer. I’d like to tell you about one such project.

Many of you will remember our former music facilitator Oksana, and that Ukraine is her homeland. Oksana has reached out to us with an invitation to tangibly help her home nation. Here is what she said,
“It’s with the heavy heart that I am reaching out to the communities I know personally. As you already know, my homeland Ukraine is under brutal attack of Russian army and their dictator leader Putin. Please, let me know if your church will be open for donation of essential supplies to the Humanitarian Aid organization.”

On your behalf, I told Oksana that Faith United would be eager to help!
Below is a list of supplies that this organization has requested. If you have something to contribute, please take it to Faith United on:
Thursday March 17 between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm
so it can be included in the shipment. If you cannot make that time work please contact Stacey in the church office to make alternate arrangements.
Stacey and some of our church youth are coordinating this project.

You could also make a monetary donation through the group Oksana is working with http://4th-wave.org/
or through the United Church at https://united-church.ca/

Every little bit helps, and it will feel good to be able to do something, anything tangible in the face of such hardship and horror.
And in the meantime, keep praying for peace!

List of items
Diapers for children and adults ( various sizes), Disposable wipes
Hygiene products: shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, Women pads, Baby food ( long storage), baby formula, dry milk, Protein Powder,
Medical products: band-aids, vitamins, Tylenol (adults/kids), Advil (adults/kids)
Sleeping bags ( new or gently used and washed), Towels (new), Socks woman/ man/kids, Men’s boots (Working)
There is no need for clothes at this time. All items should be new and unopened.

Thank you for standing with Ukraine!

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

220306 – War of the Worlds – Temptation

Yr C ~ Lent 1 ~ Luke 4:1-13

It’s a story that we’ve heard so many times, and that’s inspired so much art, and literature, and yes, sermons over the years that we may think it doesn’t have much more to say to us. Like much of scripture, the more familiar bits require us to dig in a little deeper to get underneath what we think we already know. And it’s a good reminder that while the story appears to be about Jesus way back then, it’s actually about you and me, here and now. Let’s get into it, and curiously perhaps, we’ll spend most of our time just on the first verse!

Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.

There is enough wonderful spiritual food right here in this verse to fill this entire sermon. And until we have a really strong grasp on this verse there’s no sense going on to the rest of the passage. In fact, without grasping this verse a person could completely misread and misunderstand the whole temptation bit, and how Jesus faced it. The temptations get all the attention, but for me it’s these three words that matter the most: fullness, led, and wilderness.

This scene takes place right after Jesus was baptized. He’s just experienced a transcendent moment in the waters of the Jordan, and has had a life-changing encounter with the Presence of God. Jesus is absolutely full of the Holy Spirit. I’m certain if you could’ve talked to him at that moment you’d have been able to see it in his eyes, and his face would’ve been glowing with shalom and love.

The reason I’m emphasizing this is because it’s crucial that before Jesus was tempted in the wilderness he was full of the Holy Spirit. What I’m saying is: don’t face temptation on an empty tank. If Jesus was left to his own willpower who knows how those temptations might have gone. If you find yourself tempted, or struggling, wondering if your strength will be enough – it might be, but even Jesus relied on something far greater than his own willpower.

I know what you’re thinking – “my temptations tend to come when I’m out of gas and that’s why I so often stumble and fail.” Yup. It does seem like that. So I’m saying if you want a different result, start with a full tank. Don’t wait until you’re on empty before you think about refueling. Constantly stay filled with the Holy Spirit and you’ll always be ready, for whatever may come.

The fullness of God, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that’s not something Jesus earned like a gold star by acing his temptations – it was his starting point. Start with the fullness of God and everything else looks different. And not that this is the only place to get filled, but doing this worship thing regularly and growing and cultivating your capacity to love God, love people, and love one another is a fabulous recipe for fullness!

The place where Jesus was tempted was the wilderness. We’ve talked about this before. In the bible when you hear of a person going to the wilderness it’s a metaphor for a place of transformation. It isn’t that the desert, or wilderness, or deserted place is magic; it’s that it’s quiet. There are no distractions in the wilderness when you’re alone – except for your own thoughts, of course. Jesus had just been baptized and he was about to figure out how to live the rest of his life. What shape would his ministry take? Was he really ready to begin a public ministry that might have significant consequences? His time in the wilderness helped him discern that.

The other giveaway is the number 40. Whenever 40 is used in the bible it’s about a transformation. 40 years in the wilderness the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land. 40 days and nights it rained on Noah and the world was transformed. 40 days Moses was up the mountain to get the commandments. 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness. Again, there’s nothing magic about this – it’s just a placeholder for a significant enough period of time for something to really change. They say if you want to break a habit or build a new one it takes around 6 weeks for it to stick. That’s around 40 days. So it’s a period of transformation in a place of transformation.

Fullness. Wilderness. And now the third word – led. Jesus was led into the transformative wilderness by the Spirit. That means Jesus did not choose to go. Jesus did not necessarily want to go. Jesus was not in charge. Jesus was not following a carefully laid out 7-point plan that he read about in a self-help book. Jesus was doing the one thing that we find so very hard to do. He allowed himself to be led. He felt a spiritual nudge and went with it.

It’s very popular for church people to call ourselves followers of Jesus. But that doesn’t just mean to do as he did – it also means to be led as he was led. Not all of us want to be in the lead, or be a leader, but precious few of us have the strength to allow ourselves to be led, to surrender. Did you catch that? Being led, surrendering to Spirit, is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of great strength. To be led, by definition, means less self-importance and more humility. Like Jesus.

There he is, in the wilderness, full of the Holy Spirit – being led – facing hard challenges and temptations – having his being shaped by God’s love, and discerning what his life is going to be about.

Will he be self-serving or serve others? Will his ego get the better of him or will he answer God’s call? Will he use his gifts, and skills, and power for his own gain or so that others can know God’s love too? Will you?

Just like us, Jesus was tempted with ego and power – and he replied with the love of God. Will you? Look at this picture.  It absolutely sums up this whole scripture passage in one image. Jesus was tempted, not by some ridiculous red-skinned, devil with horns and a pitchfork trying to talk him into doing something naughty. No, Jesus’ adversary was much more insidious than that – he’s facing his own consciousness, his own ego, his own shadowy self, trying to talk him into turning away from God’s Presence and relying on himself alone. And Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, drew on that spiritual power that so utterly filled him and claimed the light and love of God.

The voice of temptation said, read on

220302 – Ash Wednesday

Scripture: Psalm 51:10-17

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
51:13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
51:14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
51:15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
51:16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
51:17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

Reflection  –  Broken Open (the reflection is an amplification of Psalm 51, offered in the form of a prayer from a person to God…)

Verse 10 of Psalm 51 gets all the attention, God, and deservedly so, because it’s such an evocative verse: Create in me a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit within me. I can hear the aching, the yearning in the psalmist – in me. In us? The awareness – that the heart I have just isn’t cutting it. I could use a new one. A clean one. It kind of makes us squirm when we realize that yearning for that clean heart means acknowledging that the one we’ve been working from is somehow…marred – misshapen perhaps through too much setting it on unworthy things, or using it for less than holy purposes. A clean heart, as opposed to this smudged and scuffed up version. A holy heart.

And while you’re in there, God, fixing stuff up, how about installing a new and right spirit too? Mine’s been acting up a bit lately – making some strange noises. I’d like the latest model please. Green and energy efficient, of course!

Even though I know that you would/could never, ever do it, I’m worried that you’ll withdraw your Spirit from me, and cast me away from your Presence. I know that’s foolish, but I can’t help thinking it. I know what my tarnished and stony heart has been up to!

I pray I can return to the joy I used to feel – of absolutely being sure that you were right with me – and how that sustained me, and gave me a willing spirit. I’m not sure how, or where, or why I speed-wobbled, but I’m wobbling. If I could get that feeling back I could convince the world to recognize you.

Maybe part of it is the news I can’t seem to turn away from these days. I know I’m pretty safe – but my heart breaks for those in the fray. I wish you could just make us all see – because then it would all stop – and instead of shouting at each other, or hurting each other we might actually love one another. And we’d use our voices for singing your praises instead.

I can’t bargain with you, Abba. I’ve got nothing to barter with. My sacrifices or offerings, heck even my paltry prayers and mumblings are not really what you’re looking for. What you’re looking for is a chance to help me with my heart.

Scripture says what you’re interested in is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart – but I don’t think that’s quite right. Or at least, something’s got lost in translation. I think what you’re really interested in is a broken-open heart – a broken-open ego – a broken-open me.

 

[this song was then shared – see our YouTube channel for an audio/video version]

Heartbroken

Been taking myself too seriously
I’m all about accomplish, perform and achieve
I’m letting go of pretense, my persona’s not me
I’m stripping the illusion

Been hiding away the things I despise
Failures, limitations, contradictions, lies
I’m letting go of willfulness, let willingness arise
I’m stripping the illusion

Don’t need to be perfect, just humble
As out of my shadow I stumble

I’m feeling heartbroken, heartbroken
I need my heart broken o-pen
I’m feeling heartbroken, heartbroken
I need my heart broken o-pen
my heart broken o-pen,     my heart broken o-pen

I’m longing for a space where I can breathe
With nothing to protect or prove, defend, or plead
Naked so that God can love the me God sees
I’m stripping the illusion

 

Noticings – March 2, 2022

NOTICINGS…

March 2, 2022

Noticings…

March 2, 2022

Friends, it’s difficult to find adequate words to express how we are feeling about the terrible violence being inflicted upon the people of Ukraine. Scripture tells us that at such times the Spirit intercedes on our behalf with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26) So rather than fill this page with outrage, and horror, and shock, and pain, I will share a prayer from our Moderator, the Rt. Rev. Richard Bott. On this day, Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance, we pray that hardened hearts will be broken-open and that light and love might burst through.

God of all Creation,
God of the heights and the depths,
and everything in-between,
God of this blue-green bauble,
spinning in space,
a place of such wondrous creatures,
and abundant life…

we are praying for a miracle,
one of the smallest of changes,
but one that would have immense consequence.

As a delegation from Russia,
meets with a delegation from Ukraine,
on the border of Belarus,
seeking to end the war
that Russia has perpetrated on Ukraine,
seeking to end the death,
seeking to make a peace,
what I am praying for is a change of
mind, a change of
heart, a change of
worldview,
in the Russian leadership,
who brought this into being.

Help them, God of all hope,
to see that this is the chance to
step back from the war,
to pull back the escalation,
to let go of whatever it is
that made them choose
the path that has led to
the chaos,
the destruction,
the death,
in Ukraine.

We need a miracle that will
help them to not only pull back,
their forces to within their borders,
their rhetoric of nuclear option;
but to be part of the rebuilding
of the nation they sought to overtake…

in the midst of the grief and tears
and anger and rage,
of the parents and grandparents,
of the siblings and children,
of the friends and neighbours,
of those who have been killed
in this act of aggression.

Help us to bring this to an end, God,
one that will allow the sunflowers of Ukraine
to reach their growth,
sprouting in the soil of peace,
under a hope-filled sky.

Help us to make that miracle, God,
for it is truly needed.

In Christ’s name,
in the Spirit’s power,
in the Creator’s love,
I pray.
Amen.

Shalom,
Rev. Larry

Noticings – February 23, 2022

NOTICINGS…

February 23, 2022

Happy 25th Anniversary
In just a few short days Faith United will celebrate our 25th anniversary as a congregation. 25 years is an amazing milestone to acknowledge. I am overjoyed to lift up this day and celebrate with all of you this momentous event!
25 years! Wow!!!
Preparing for this celebration we reached out to the previous ministers who served the predecessor congregations to Faith United. You’ll hear their responses on Sunday. Each of them spoke eloquently and gratefully about their experience during that time of transition.

And now, here we are. 25 years in – inheriting a tremendous legacy of faithfulness and commitment to the mission of Christ’s church! Our task is to carry on.
What shape of ministry is God calling us into for the next 25 years?
What is your part to play?

Communion THIS Sunday
As part of our anniversary celebration we will be having Communion together. It’s a week sooner than our usual monthly sacrament. I hope you will prepare something to serve as your bread and wine this Sunday.


In-Person Worship returns March 2nd
As the restrictions around Covid are receding we are ready to return to offering an in-person worship experience in addition to our continuing online livestream. We will follow the same protocols for attending that we did back in November. (See below.)

Our first event will be a short Ash Wednesday service on March 2nd at 7:00 pm. This is in-person only and *not* livestreamed. Then on March 6th we will have an in-person Sunday morning option again.

Council has set these two guidelines as our in-person policy:

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

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

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

We know that many people will still not be comfortable gathering in-person yet, so we are ensuring that the online livestream experience will remain excellent.

 

220213 – Enemy Mine

Yr C ~ Epiphany 6 ~ Luke 6:27-31

Sometimes Jesus really ticks me off. How’s that for a sermon opener?! I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in a state lately, and it’s not been happy. There are times when I just want to shut out the world, and ignore all the news, and retreat to my cozy little country home hideaway. I don’t ever talk politics from this pulpit, and I won’t talk politics today.

I will, however, definitively and without apology, say that these ongoing protests, regardless of whatever wafer thin connection to legitimacy they may have begun with, have devolved into a reprehensible affront to decency, common sense, science, and logic. It’s a toddler’s temper tantrum that thinks personal inconvenience for the greater good and health of all is somehow an attack on an individual. But I probably shouldn’t say any more because, you know, pastor and all. My first draft of this rant (I mean sermon) had several more paragraphs about this, including how if this had been an Indigenous rights or Black Lives Matter protest it would have been physically ended long ago – but I digress. Pastor. Shh.

Look, everyone is tired of mandates and restrictions. Everyone is tired of all this Covid pandemic nonsense. Everyone wants their lives back. Everyone wants all this stuff to be over and done with. I know I do. I’m sick of it. I believe our Prime Minister even said it clearly this past week – this pandemic stuff sucks. We’re done, we’re tired, we’re through.

But the problem is that Covid doesn’t care about how we’re feeling. It just keeps on rolling, and infecting, and mutating, if unchecked. And dropping health mandates too quickly that collectively protect us all just because we’re tired and frustrated, well, that’s an understandable desire, but unwise.

So we take a deep breath, and then another, and another, because we’re all pretty ticked off about this whole thing – and then we keep on keeping on, because it’s for the collective good – because that’s what love does. Love looks out for the collective good. Love gets vaccinated. Love wears masks. Love loves.

And then we’re confronted with ‘the other’ who refuses to…love. The type that parks their lot in the middle of everything and shakes their fist at the world. The type that yells at the top of their lungs the opposite to what I’d yell at the top of mine. The type that, considering all that, would have to be described as my enemy. An enemy to logic, and science, and decency, and love.

And what does Jesus have to say about that? You’re not going to like it. I don’t like it.
Remember how I started this sermon? Sometimes Jesus really ticks me off!
What would Jesus say to us in such a delicate, and fraught, and volatile situation?
What would Jesus say when clearly ‘they’ are in the wrong and ‘we’ are in the right?

He’d say this, (hold on to your hats): read on

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