October 29, 2006

Looking Forward to November 5, 2006 -- 22nd Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Ruth 1:1-18
  • Psalm 146 (VU p.868)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 12:28-34

The Hymns for the service are:

  • 326 O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • Let There be Peace on Earth (Insert)
  • 660 How Firm a Foundation
  • 675 Will Your Anchor Hold

During Children's Time we will be looking at Remembering and Peacemaking in honour of Remembrance day coming up.

The Sermon title is In God We Trust? and is based on a devotional on Psalm 146 Gord wrote for Ordinary Time (this devotional makes up this week's Early Thoughts)

Early Thoughts: “Be still and know that I am God.” “Let go and let God.” “In God we trust.” In the end it is all about trust. The life of faith that is. In the end being faithful relies on our ability to trust in God rather than (or perhaps as well as) in ourselves and the people around us. That is what the Psalmist says here. The works of human beings will come to nothing but trust in God “who keeps faith forever”.

But that is easy to write a poem about. It is easy to write a sermon about. It is even easy to write a devotion about. What is hard is to do it. In the end, when the foot hits the pavement, it is terribly hard to “let go and let God”. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells his listeners not to worry about food or clothing. “Look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the field” he says, “God provides what they need, how much more will God provide for God’s children”. But still we worry, still we find it hard to trust in God.

Actually let’s be honest. Some days it is awfully hard to trust anyone. People still ask of course. What is an election campaign but a bunch of people saying “trust us, we know what is right”? Or then there are television commercials, which may be more subtle but still tell us to trust that this product will make our lives better. Or then there are the closer ones, the friends and loved ones who ask us to trust them with our own hopes and fears and lives. So we take the plunge, we put our trust in a government, or in a company, or in a person. And sometimes it works so we go on to trust some more. But sometimes we get burned. And when we get burned badly or often enough we give up on trust. We join the Psalmist in proclaiming Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish (verse 4). Maybe that is why we find it hard to trust God, because we have given up on trust in general.

Or maybe it is because we don’t like to give up control. Maybe that is why it is so hard to trust both in God and in the world. To trust someone else means giving up a degree of control. The deeper the trust the more control we give up. Part of growing up, we are often told, is taking charge of your own life. The goal of life, we are often told, is to be able to control our own destiny. Putting our trust in God, who has an annoying habit of turning the world upside down, goes against this idea of being in control. On second thought, maybe that is actually the whole point.

Maybe the point is that we don’t need to be in control. Maybe the point of life is that we actually aren’t in control. The Psalm claims that trusting in God is the path to happiness. Trusting in God who turns the world upside down is the path to happiness. Some people claim that we can trust in God because God has a plan, because God is knows what will happen next. I actually don’t agree. I believe that God has a hope, but that our free will frustrates and diverts God’s hope. Free will keeps God guessing about what will come next. I believe we can trust in God because God sees the big picture, because God is in it for the long haul.

Julian of Norwich is famous for her declaration of trust in God: “all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing be well”. That can be seen as a terribly unrealistic hope, as something only a fool believes, as a “there, there, it will be ok”. But Julian lived in a world that made it almost impossible to be a Pollyanna. Julian lived at a time of plague and revolt and warfare. She knew the troubles of the world but she also had trust in God. Her “all shall be well” was a long-term vision. In the end God will bring things back together. God is in it for the long haul and God is trustworthy, and God will make all manner of thing be well.

One of the challenges of trusting other people, or governments, or corporations, or even ourselves, is that we all tend to look at life in the short-term. We tend to work for our own benefit, not always realizing that what looks good now may come back to hurt us later. One of the challenges of trusting God is that God calls us to do things that just don’t make sense in the short-term. God disrupts our comfort with a vague promise of something better to come. But in the end, that is what makes me trust God. I can trust God because God is working for the time when all shall be well.

One of the classic images of God is that of a loving parent. A loving parent is trustworthy because she works for the long-term health and well being of her child. A loving parent is trustworthy because he is willing to say “you may not like this but it is for the best”. God, our loving Parent, is trustworthy not because we get what we want right away. God is trustworthy because through God, in many different ways, we get what we need. We get real justice (eventually), we get true freedom (eventually), we get food for body and soul (whether we recognize it or not). Thanks and praise to God who is in it for the long haul, who keeps faith forever!

And so we pray:
Creator and Creating God, it is so easy to be cynical. It is so easy to believe that trust is a fool’s game. Help us to remember that we are not alone, that we don’t have to do it all ourselves. Help us learn to trust You in all the ways that we meet You. We pray that in taking the risk to trust You, to trust our neighbour, to trust ourselves, we can move one step closer to the time when all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing be well. Amen.

October 28, 2006

Highlights from Wednesday's Board Meeting

At the Board Meeting on October 25 we:
  • made a list of Riverview's Strengths and Opportunities
  • decided that we will put the No Motorized Recreational Vehicles Allowed signs at the entrances to the upper and lower parking lots.
  • decided to order 10 copies of More Voices along with the music CD. That way we can test them out and order more at a later time if we want to do so.
  • decided to continue having My Three Sons clear the snow from the parking lots this winter
  • reviewed the financial reports as of the end of September, and found that while we are in a deficit position we are in less of a deficit than in the past three years at this point.
  • decided on a date for a church cleaning bee, time to get ready for the Christmas season
  • discussed that the first Sunday of Advent, December 3, will be a communion service and that we will have a tree-trimming party following worship that day.
  • set December 17 as White Gift and Pageant Sunday
  • agreed that we will have both morning and evening services on Sunday December 24
  • confirmed that we will have 4 vacancies on the Board to fill at the Annual Meeting (February 4, 2007). In order to create a rotation, and avoid having four vacancies in three years time, we are looking for 2 people to fill 3-year terms, 1 person for a 2-year term and 1 person for a 1-year term. That way we have a third of the Board up for renewal each year.

The next Board meeting will be on Wednesday November 29 at 7:00. Members are invited to bring snacks.

October 23, 2006

Looking Ahead to October 29, 2006 -- 21st Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week will be slightly different from the Lectionary. They are:

  • Job 42:1-6, 10-17
  • Psalm 34 (VU p. 761)
  • Mark 9:38-50
THe Hymns will be:

  • 276 This is God’s Wondrous World
  • 268 Bring Many Names
  • 579 The Church is Wherever God’s People
  • 646 We Are Marching
The Sermon title is Get out of the Way! The Sermon will be based on the Mark passage.

Early Thoughts: Sometimes Jesus' words are difficult to comprehend. Not because the language is confusing but because we are left shaking our heads and saying "did he really meant THAT!". Verses 42-48 of this passage certainly fall into that definition. Cut off your hand or foot? Tear out an eye? Put a millstone around your neck and drown yourself? Come on now!

Well I don't know if Jesus meant people to take those words literally. But as metaphors they are certainly powerful. Especially the first one in the passage (last in the list above). Verse 42 reads:

42 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

If anyone gets in the way of those (the phrase "these little ones" does not refer to children but to adults of lowly status) who are trying to follow the path of God, it is better that they did not exist. That is what the verse is saying. But of course, I hear you saying, we would never get in the way. Really? Are you sure?

The last Sunday in October is often called Reformation Sunday. For some this is a time to remember the work of the Reformers who have gone before. But it is also a time to consider the reforming that is ongoing. Semper Ecclesia Reformanda Est--The Church is Always Being Reformed. And in the light of that ongoing reformation we need to look at this verse more seriously.

Maybe, in our natural resistance to change, we do in fact put stumbling blocks and barricades in the path. Maybe we need to be reminded to get out of the way and start to follow instead of insisting "this is how it must be!". And so we have this week's sermon title. How do we help and/or hinder the work God is doing to create and re-create in our midst?

For me, part of the process of getting out of the way is being open to new ideas. But part of it is also remembering who is at the centre. Humans in general have a tendency to become self-centred (obviously there are varying degrees of this). And so we tend to think of how something hurts/benefits us or those around us. Also we tend to think that those who do things differently are somehow wrong. We easily fall into the logic of "whoever isn't with us is against us" -- just ask President Bush.

But Jesus has a different idea. In verse 40 of this passage Jesus says Whoever is not against us is for us. He turns conventional wisdom on its head. But this new wisdom is ever so helpful in the act of getting out of God's way. If we allow that others may not in fact be against us, that they may share a common goal, then it is easier to find God active in the world.

God says through the prophet "behold, I am doing a new thing". Jesus says do not hinder those who wish to follow me. Get out of the way and let God's path be what it is, not just what we want it to be. What new thing will we find as we push past the barricades and follow The Way?

October 19, 2006

A Pastor's Pen Piece

The following is something I wrote for a newsletter planned for September. Since We didn't get one done then and I want to write a new one for the newsletter to come in November I thought I would share it here.

As I sit down to write this in early August I find that I am in planning mode. I am considering ideas for Bible Study in the fall and winter. I am planning for my vacation time that starts in mid-August. I am thinking ahead to the guided retreat that I am taking while out West. And, strongly related to the first and second, I am wondering what lies ahead for Riverview United Church...

A common question asked both of individuals and organizations is “where do you see yourself/selves in 5 years?”. 5 years tends to be a common period of time in planning circles (although organizations also need to look 10, 15, or 20 years ahead as well – the larger the group the farther ahead they should look). AS we look into the future for Riverview what do we see?

As noted elsewhere in this newsletter the Board is looking at some of these questions this fall. I continue to believe that Riverview, and Atikokan as a whole, has great potential. But to tap that potential we have to look carefully at who we are and who we are called to be. We are a church; we are not a social club or a nice place to hang out. Our end goal is to grow in faith and share the fruits of our growth with those around us. What do we need to do to meet that goal?

As we openly engage in looking at the future it is my fervent hope that we will not get distracted by those things that are easy to count (bodies in the building and dollars in the bank). As a faith community those numbers are really secondary. I don’t mean they are not important, of course they are, but increasing them really is not our goal. Our goal is to grow in faith. Our goal is to spread the Good News of God’s presence and activity in the world to those who have trouble hearing it. Together we can live out that task. And God will be with us in all our endeavours.

At this start of a New Year may we all be filled with hope and excitement.

Blessings and Peace,

What are our Strengths?

At next Wednesday's Board Meeting we will take the second step in our Visioning work.

This will be a discussion about our Strengths and Opportunities (you could also call these our Gifts). What are they? The Board would love to hear from you.

October 16, 2006

Looking Ahead to October 22, 2006 -- 20th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Job 38:1-7, 34-41
  • Psalm 104 (VU p.826)
  • From the Letters to the Early Church: Hebrews 5:1-10
  • From the Gospel: Mark 10:35-45

The Hymns are:

  • 389 God is Here
  • 316 Praise our Maker
  • 268 Bring Many Names *NEW*
  • 684 Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

The Sermon title is Knowing God.

Early Thoughts: The book of Job is a, well different story. And it is a story where, quite frankly, God does not come off looking too good. At the beginning of the story we are told how honourable and faithful Job is. Then, as some sort of test, God allows Job to be stripped of his wealth, his health and his family. In a culture where misfortune equaled having offended God somehow everyone tells Job he must have done something wrong. His own wife counsels him to "curse God and die". But Job knows that he did nothing wrong. Job knows that this is not fair. And Job is willing to tell God so, at least indirectly by arguing with his three friends who seek to defend God. In response God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind saying: "2Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me." (Job 38:2,3).

This reading from Job is the beginning of an extended section (chapters 38-41) where God lists all that God has done. The sense is that God is trying to say "you don't really know and understand me!". And that raises a questions. How do we really know God?

Knowing God is a challenge. Part of the challenge is that there is a part of us that always wants to be able to define God. When we can define something we can limit it, we can make it what we want it to be. But God consistently resists human attempts to define who and what God is, or what God cares about.

Knowing God is a challenge also because, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part;" (1 Corinthians 13:12). God is beyond our language to describe. God is beyond our experience to comprehend. God is bigger than our conceptions.

So how do we know God? Well we don't, fully. But we are always challenged to be open to having our knowledge and understanding of God broadened. We are always urged to explore how God is present in our lives. And we are always warned not to speak as if our understanding is perfect, or as if we have the inside line on what God thinks. Otherwise we too may hear the voice from inside a whirlwind.

October 09, 2006

Looking Ahead to October 15 -- 19th Sunday after Pentecost

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
  • Psalm 90 (VU p.805)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Hebrews 4:12-16
  • From the Gospel: Mark 10:17-31

The Hymns are:

  • 679 Let There Be Light
  • 356 Seek Ye First
  • 601 The Church of Christ in Every Age
  • 427 To Show by Touch and Word

The Sermon is titled The Word Lives -- and Cuts.

Early Thoughts: The Word of God is a Living thing. Scripture is a part of the Word but is not the whole Word. God is still speaking in the world today. (For some thoughts on whether GOd is still speaking click here).

The Living Word of God speaks to us in many ways as long as we pause to hear it. "God's still speaking, are you listening?"

The Living Word of God speaks to offer comfort in our time of fear or uncertainty. "God's still speaking, have no fear."

But the Living Word of God can also cut. God's Word can be (and is) one of challenge or rebuke just as it can be (and is) one of encouragement and forgiveness. And that is the conundrum. We can't just listen to the words we like and call them the Word of God. We have to listen to the challenges and rebukes as well.

This Sunday we will look at the Word and our reactions to the cutting edge of the sword. But to deal with the cut it helps to remember the image of a gardener pruning to allow for growth, or the surgeon cutting away the illness to allow the body to be healthy. In the end that is how God's word cuts -- but that doesn't mean we always like the cutting and healing part of the process.

October 03, 2006

Looking Ahead to October 8, 2006 -- Thanksgiving Sunday, 18th after Pentecost

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday will be:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Joel 2:21-27
  • Psalm 126
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 6:25-33

The Hymns will be:

  • #222 Come, Let Us Sing
  • #227 For the Fruit of All Creation
  • #226 For the Beauty of the Earth
  • #884 You Shall Go Out with Joy

The Sermon title is Expectant Thanksgiving.

Early Thoughts: Part of being faithful is being thankful. We give thanks, not to avoid offending God the Giver, but to remind ourselves that we are truly blessed. In a world where it is easy to believe that we have too little, giving thanks pushes us to think seriously about how much we have -- to look at our abundance instead of our scarcity.

But being God's people also means that we are people of hope, faith, and trust (add a little pixie dust and we could start to fly). And so we give thanks not only for what we have received but expectantly, for what may yet come.

The people of Israel were just coming out of a time of famine when God speaks to them through the prophet Joel, promising that :

24The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. 26You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel tells the people to rejoice and be thankful because of what will be. They are told to be expectantly thankful. In the same way Jesus encourages his followers to worry less. God who provides what the flowers of the field and the birds of the air need will also provide for God's people. Hard words to live by to be sure. But when we build a habit of being thankful, when we get accustomed to looking for our abundance then it becomes easier to worry less and trust more.

And behold, Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.(Psalm 126:6)