Sunday, December 26, 2004

Off to the In-laws

See ya folks next year. I'm off to Edmonton to visit the in-laws! Have good one!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Sermon

It ought to shock us to be told year after year that the universe lives by the kind of love that we see in the helpless child and in the dying man on the cross. We have been shown the engine room of the universe; and it ought to worry us - us, who are so obsessed about being safe and being successful, who worry endlessly about being in control, who cannot believe that power could show itself in any other way than the ways we are used to. But this festival tells us exactly what Good Friday and Easter tell us: that God fulfils what he wants to do by emptying himself of his own life, giving away all that he is in love. The gospel reading sets this out in terms that cannot be argued with or surpassed. God is always, from all eternity, pouring out his very being in the person of the Word, the everlasting Son; and the Word, who has received everything from the gift of the Father, and who makes the world alive by giving reality to all creation, makes a gift of himself by becoming human and suffering humiliation and death for our sake. 'From his fullness we have all received'; Jesus, the word made human flesh and blood, has given us the freedom, the authority, to become God's children by our trust in him, and so to have a fuller and fuller share in God's own joy.

Read the rest here.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Day Children's Message

It was still dark out when David woke up. Being Christmas morning he couldn’t wait to rip open his stocking to find what Santa left him. But the rule was, no opening presents, no looking inside the stocking, no peering under the tree until after church.

But David wasn’t tired. He lay in bed staring at the street light just outside of his window, wishing the numbers on his clock radio would tick by faster so he could see what he was getting for Christmas.

David couldn’t wait anymore. He slipped off his covers, put his feet down on the cold floor and crept out of his bedroom, tiptoeing over his dog Daisy so not to wake her, and slinked down the stairs stopping at each creek in the floor.

It was so dark David couldn’t see, so he walked with his hands stretched in front of face so he wouldn’t bump into anything. David found the reading lamp that was on the coffee table and turned it on. He lightly removed the stocking from the fireplace and saw that there was a note resting on top that read: “It’s too early, David. Go back to bed. Love, Mom and Dad.”

David decided that there were probably more traps hidden inside the stocking, so he figured that it was best that he obey the note. As David turned the light off his foot bumped the coffee table just hard enough to knock over the Homer Simpson Santa doll parked on top. The Homer doll began to sing [press button] which woke up Daisy who began to bark, who woke up mom and dad and David’s little sister Marsha.

All at once, lights were on all over the house and David’s mom and dad were standing in front of him. Marsha was wiping her eyes as she made her way down the stairs. Daisy sniffed the Homer’s Santa suit.

David was caught.

“We knew you couldn’t wait until after church,” dad said not knowing to laugh or yell. “But now that we’re all up I’ll start cooking breakfast.”

“But I’m tired and want to God back to bed,” David protested.

“But not tired enough to look in your stocking before it’s time,” David’s dad pointed out. “But why is it that I have to nag you to get out of bed for church each Sunday, but you’ll get up early when presents are involved?”

“Does he really want me to answer that?” David asked himself. It sounded like one of those questions that parents ask just to make you feel guilty. David remained silent. And a little annoyed.

Finally, church was over. David was the first one out of church and he waited what seemed like forever for his mom, dad, and little sister to come out.

“David, we’re just going to make a quick stop on the way home today.” Dad said getting in to the car.

“Where?” David asked.

“You’ll see,” replied his dad.

Their car pulled up at the Eldercare home. “What are we doing here” David asked.

When they arrived inside other people from church were waiting. Together there must have been 15 church folks. The group made their way to the cafeteria and began to sing.

A crowd of wheelchairs and walkers encircled around the group. At the front of the line was Mrs. Grey. She taught David’s dad Sunday school when he was David’s age. Mrs. Grey grabbed David’s hand and held it tightly with both of hers. When David looked down Mrs. Grey’s face beaming with delight. “Thank you for coming! Merry Christmas!” she kept saying over and over again.

That night, as they were getting ready to say their prayers, David said to his dad. “Boy, Mrs. Grey sure was glad we came today. She couldn’t stop smiling all the time we were singing.”

“She doesn’t have any more family left,” dad replied. “So our church is her family.”

David sat for a moment remembering the songs they sang for Mrs. Grey and all the others who didn’t have a family, thinking how the angels brought the good news in song as well. He thought that he could be in worse company.

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now: Dear God. Thank you for giving us Jesus, and thank you for opportunities to share his message of love. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas Eve Children's Message

Monica loved Christmas decorations. The rule was that she couldn’t open the Christmas box until December 15th. Early that morning she sneaked into the back of the garage, pulled out the Christmas box and opened it like a precious and rare gift. She inhaled deeply. The small plastic Christmas trees gave off a unique fragrance which she smelled only at Christmas.

Monica’s mom grunted exaggeratedly as she lugged out the ladder to hang the lights. They got busy all morning, stringing lights, hanging sparking tinsel on the garland that surrounded their front window, and lining up the electric candles that welcomed people along their front walk way.

Finally, Monica and her mom stood out in front of their house admiring their creation.

“It looks wonderful,” Mom said.

“Just like it did last year,” Monica replied.

“We’re not done just yet,” Said Monica’s mom as Monica started toward the door, “We still have one more decoration to put up.”

Monica’s mom opened the trunk of the car and dragged out a large rectangle shaped box. Monica’s eyes bugged out as she ripped open the top and saw a manger scene, wrapped in plastic covering, ready to be fixed under the tinsel clothed garland that sparkled against the lights.

Together they unwrapped the wooden figures: Mary, Joseph, the Angel, and the manger where Monica was about to put the baby Jesus inside

“Not just yet,” Mom said. “The baby Jesus doesn’t come until Christmas.”

The 25th came before Monica knew it. It was colder and darker then she expected that night as she kneeled in the grass, admiring the manger scene on their front lawn. Mary and Joseph were there. A couple of sheep appeared to be waiting in eager anticipation.

“Time to go to church,” her mom shouted from the door. And together they climbed into the car and headed for church. As they drove down the street, Monica could see the lights dance off the tinsel that encircled the manger. To Monica, it looked like a halo.

When they arrived home, Monica was filled with Christmas Carols. And when they pulled up in the driveway Monica didn’t wait until the engine was shut off before she jumped out and ran across the lawn to the manger scene. She fumbled in her coat pocket for a second or two then pulled out the figure of the baby Jesus. She placed him in the manger and smiled. But after a minute her smile disappeared. She stared deeply at the baby.

“You know what really I want for Christmas this year, mom?” asked Monica.

“What’s that, sweetie?”

“I want dad to be here. And that we’d all be together again.”

“Me too, sweetie.” Mom said wiping an unexpected tear from her eye and putting her arm around Monica’s shoulder.

“But wherever he is, I hope he’s having a merry Christmas,” said Monica.

They huddled together in the frozen December grass; held each other gently, quietly remembering the promise of Monica’s favorite hymn: sleep in heavenly peace.

Then together they said a prayer as we do now:

Dear God, we thank you for giving us Jesus, and we pray for a day when he will bring all people together. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Advent and Christmas Greetings from Bishop Steve

Dear Partners in Ministry,

We are faced with the reality of a world in chaos. The war on terror dominates news and political agendas. Missile defense shields against "rogue" states and terrorist groups are being designed in both North America and Russia. The Middle East is in a high state of anxiety with the death of Yasser Arafat. The situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and other places continue to remind us how fragile the relationships between human beings can be, and how capable people are of inflicting harm on other people. Global warming looms in the background as a force the likes of which we have never had to deal, and whose consequences are as yet unknown. All of this creates a dynamic of fear which affects the whole planet.

Advent and Christmas remind us of another reality in which we live. God, the creator of all, chose to come to this tiny speck of dust in the vastness of creation to become one with the human beings God created. This coming was not in power or pomp or threat. It was in the form of a vulnerable baby, born in a stable to parents displaced by an unfeeling government in the backwater town of Bethlehem. Jesus grew up and confronted all the powers of destruction in our world, took into himself all the hate human beings could generate, and put them to death with him on the cross. This Jesus lives now among us in the people he claims for his own in baptism. This community, gathered in Christ, nourished by his own body and blood, is sent out into the midst of this world of chaos, pain, and fear, with a new word - Love. This love overcomes all fear and knits together a broken people with a mandate to heal the world. So with the angels and shepherds outside of Bethlehem, we prepare once again to sing God's song that will not fade, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on earth." Christ is born! Alleluia!

+Stephen P. Kristenson, Bishop
Synod of Alberta and the Territories

The Emergent matrix: a new kind of church?

Scott Bader-Saye has expressed my feelings toward the so-called "Emerging Church" better than I ever could, in an article in the Christian Century.

An Emergent definition of relevance, modulated by resistance, might run something like this: relevance means listening before speaking; relevance means interpreting the culture to itself by noting the ways in which certain cultural productions gesture toward a transcendent grace and beauty; relevance means being ready to give an account for the hope that we have and being in places where someone might actually ask; relevance means believing that we might learn something from those who are most unlike us; relevance means not so much translating the church’s language to the culture as translating the culture’s language back to the church; relevance means making theological sense of the depth that people discover in the oddest places of ordinary living and then using that experience to draw them to the source of that depth (Augustine seems to imply such a move in his reflections on beauty and transience in his Confessions). Relevance might simply mean wanting to understand why so many young people have said that attending U2’s Elevation Tour and hearing Bono close the show with choruses of “Hallelujah” was like being in worship (but a whole lot better).

This kind of relevance will also include the recognition that the church becomes relevant precisely by offering something that the culture does not. In a loud and frenzied world, that may mean creating a space where people can bask in silence and rest in liturgical rhythms. In a world of superficial entertainment, it may mean throwing parties that nurture deep and authentic community. In these ways relevance and resistance begin to look more like dance partners and less like competing suitors for the church’s soul.

Perhaps “relevant-resistant” is another way of naming the “incarnational” church. To incarnate the reign of God means to take on local flesh, to speak the vernacular, to dive deep into the cultural particularities of a time and place. But as Jesus shows, to embody God’s word in a time and place is both to participate in the world of the fallen and to offer an alternative to that world. The emerging church, to be anything other than a hip blip on the radar of American religion, will need to live the tension of “relevant-resistant” no less than it lives the tension of “ancient-future.”

Read the whole thing here.

The emerging church movement has some real creativity and passion. But I wonder how different it is in strategy/ideology than the MegaChurch models of the 70's and 80's. Both the mega and emerging confess to be speaking the language of the culture rather than the church. Fair enough. But as the author above points out, at what point do we cease to be an alternative way of being in the world because we've cozied up to comfortably to the prevailing culture? What gospel can we then proclaim?

O Radiant Dawn

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina
sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
and sun of justice,
come, and shine on those ,
seated in darkness,
and in the shadow of death.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christmas Eve Sermon

With many thanks to Pastor Edward F. Markquart of Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle.
Text: Luke 2:1-20

Tonight, as we assemble on Christmas Eve, people are being drawn to houses of worship throughout the whole world. Softly and gently, they come. It is as if the sanctuaries are like gigantic magnets, stretching their magnetic powers into all the world. People from all corners are being drawn to churches tonight. Silhouettes steal across the streets of Khartoum. Shadows toddle by streetlights in Hong Kong. Believers kneel in the tents and bunkers of Baghdad. In Norway and Nigeria, in Bolivia and Bangladesh, people are gathering.

And we too are drawn to the splendor of this story. We too have come to the sanctuary as millions of others are coming this night. We too come to see the candles gently push away the darkness. We too come to listen to the calm and hushed silence. We come to bathe ourselves in the familiar. Familiar songs. Familiar carols. Familiar stories. We too have joined that magnetic processional of Christians everywhere this Christmas night.

But, why have you come tonight? What drew you here?
Maybe you’ve come because it is a dark world in your life; you feel the darkness around you and within you and can’t escape it on your own. Perhaps you feel that you are really drawn to the darkness rather than the light, and you need to hear God’s promises all over again.

Maybe this past year you have felt the prolonged darkness of death, the loss of a parent, child, spouse, dearest friend. Against that deep shadow, you hope to catch a glimmer of God’s holy light.
Maybe you have come being dragged by the ear, because grandma really wants the whole family together. But really, you’d rather be home, watching TV or playing video games, sipping eggnog, warming your feet by the fire. But for the sake of family unity, you come. You’ve lost whatever faith that you might have had once. Part of you wishes God could be alive to you once again, part of you feels this whole God thing is lost on you.

Some of you have come because you are afraid. Deep down inside, you are afraid that you are going to die this year. You sense it, you know it. You have talked quietly with your doctor. This may be your last Christmas with your loved ones, and you want to make this Christmas special without drawing too much attention to yourself. You come because to go from this life to eternity, you can’t make happen yourself. You need a saviour to save you from death by sharing promises of resurrection, promises that begin with the baby in the manger. There is no need to be afraid, “for to you is born this night a saviour.”

Why are you drawn here this evening? Perhaps you have had a rotten time in your marriage this past year. It has been awful at your house and you are here because you want a new beginning. You want to have God help you with the new beginning of love; and if God is the source of all love and source of all newness, you want to have God help you to begin to love again. You want to turn over a new leaf with your partner, God has to be a crucial part of it, and so you are here.

I’ve asked myself why I’m here. Beyond the obvious you’d fire me if I didn’t show up, I’d say part of it is I love the message of Christmas. I want to hear the Bible passages from the book of Isaiah, the vision of turning swords into plowshares, tanks into trowels, bombs into blessings. I come tonight because I want to be a person of peace, to solve problems with love and healing and justice rather than war and conflict. The Christmas Eve service reminds me of my hunger for peace.

And I’m here tonight because I love Christmas music. I was once a musician so it is through music that God’s touches me most deeply. I come for my soul and spirit to be renewed and it is often through music that my heart is gently moved.

But, if I am honest, I also need Christmas Eve because I am afraid. Part of me is afraid that the message of Christmas and the message of Easter and the message of Pentecost and all the other Sundays is a lie, and that I am part of a big lie and maybe so are you. Maybe we are people fooling ourselves with human-made traditions. I am afraid that there is nothing beyond the grave but death. So I come to Christmas Eve for the same reason I come each Sunday. I come because here in worship my heart is opened to the promise that God IS Immanuel, God with us. And in God’s great mystery, I can believe.

For me, for you, for why ever we’ve come here tonight, God’s message is the same, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 1to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Amen.

Rescuing C 'n E Christians

It has become a minor sport for clergy and some church folks, to whine about “C ‘n E” Christians ("Christmas and Easter", for you uninitiated). I remember a few years ago the pastor at my home church, on Christmas Eve preached to folks who only show up on large festival holidays. He didn't offer a gospel message, but snapped “Where are you the other Sundays of the year!?” with venom dripping from his lips.

Awkward silence. It was a small miracle that no one got up and left.

I guess some folks assume that people come to church on Christmas out of nostalgia, or because they’ve been dragged by the ear by their grandma who wants the whole family together, or because they want a little religion to spice up their holiday celebrations.

And all this may be true. But I wonder if it is an oversimplification born out of pastoral frustration than out of a true concern for the integrity of the gospel. I wonder if many of the people who come to our churches on Christmas Eve come with a genuine hunger for God. Some say they’d rather be home, watching TV or playing video games, sipping eggnog, warming their feet by the fire because they’ve lost whatever faith that they might have had once. Many wish God could be alive to them once again. And, in the back of their minds, they’re hoping to be confounded with the undying message of the Invisible God who was born among us as a child.

This is my assumption as I prepare for Christmas worship. That people are coming seeking the child in the manger, anxiously waiting to hear the promises of heralded by the angels: , “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Monday, December 20, 2004

Still Working Towards Peace on Earth

News Release

Winnipeg, December 20, 2004 (ELCIC)-- This week Christians
around the world
ready themselves to hear the Christmas story and to sing
once again the
song of the angels, "Peace on earth. Good will to all". But
all these years
after the birth of our Christ, our earth is not peaceful.
It is, therefore,
worth celebrating a story like the one that follows
(Information from the
Lutheran World Federation).

Palestinian Lutheran Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan received
the 2004 Bethany
Award from the Bethany Foundation in Oslo, Norway for his
leadership in
working for peace, justice and reconciliation through
dialogue between
Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. The head
of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (ELCJ) was equally
recognized for his
continuous witness of Arab Palestinian Christianity in the
Holy Land.

The foundation, begun by the Methodist Church in 1897 also
honored Younan
for his service with the Augusta Victoria Hospital, an
institution run by
the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Department for World
Service program in
Jerusalem. Younan has served as ELCJ bishop since 1998. He
is LWF
Vice-President for the Asian region, and a member of the
LWF Executive

Accepting the award in October, Younan thanked the Bethany
Foundation on
behalf of Palestinian Christians, and paid tribute to his
friends and
colleagues in Norway for their partnership and support.
"This makes our
Palestinian church a church of martyria, serving suffering
people with the
love of God, even as it is suffering itself," he said.

The ELCJ has 3,000 members in congregations in Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
It joined the Lutheran World Federation in 1974. (ELCJ News)

The ELCJ is one of eight partners churches of the ELCIC.
More information click here.

Thomas Merton on Christmas

"The mystery of Christmas therefore lays upon us all a debt and an obligation to the whole created universe. We who have seen the light of Christ are obliged, by the greatness of the grace that has been given us, to make known the presence of the Saviour to the ends of the earth. This we will do not only by preaching the glad tidings of His coming, but above all by revealing Him in our lives. Christ is born to us today, in order that he may appear to the whole world through us. This one day is the day of His birth, but every day of our mortal lives must be His manifestation, His divine Epiphany, in the world which He has created and redeemed.”

From Thomas Merton’s Seasons of Celebration, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY, 1965, p 112.)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Sermon: Advent 4 - Year A

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

I played Joseph in the church Christmas pageant when I was a boy. Being about 8 or 9 years old I thought I had really hit the big time. The older kids always played Joseph. I was usually shepherd, or even at one time a sheep; “baaing” away from the back of the crowd, nestled uncomfortably between the rear end of the donkey and the angel robes that stunk like mothballs. But as I was immersed into my new role, I was surprised to notice how limited my part was. As Joseph, husband of Mary, guardian of Jesus, my job was to walk with Mary to the manger then to stand there. I didn’t even have to look holy because no one was looking at me. The real action was taking place at the manger. Or on the hillside where shepherds cowered in fear and angels sang glorious songs of praise. Or the roadway where the three wise men carried richly symbolic gifts for the Christ Child. Me? I was a lump. Bland scenery strategically placed to fill in the gaps, with nothing else to do but to be a statue. No lines to read. No songs to sing. Nothing. It was the best job I ever had.

But I wonder if that’s what we do with Joseph, relegate him to the margins because we don’t know really what else to do. Joseph is part of the story. But not hugely. Peripheral, he just goes about his work unnoticed until we need something from him.

But take a magnifying glass to him and we get bigger picture. His fiancé gets pregnant and he’s not the father. So instead of exacting revenge on this helpless young woman by crushing her under the full weight of the law, he was going to cut off the engagement quietly so she wouldn’t be punished. At least not by any legal means; she still had to deal with the baby. But then the angel in his dream tells him that the baby is God’s child, so Joseph just shrugs his shoulders and marries the girl.

It could be easy to ignore Joseph because he is so quiet. He just calmly goes about his business. He doesn’t have very much to say. We can’t help but listen to loud mouthed prophets spitting truth at us. And we’re drawn to crowds of angels singing noisily in the sky.

But it is the Josephs who keep the machinery of the salvation story well oiled. Folks like Joseph don’t know the difference between doing God’s will and just plain old doing what needs to be done.

Internet sage Real Live Preacher says,

“Turns out Christianity is an Eastern religion. The earliest Christians were Hebrews. Semites. People of the East. They did not know how to separate mind from body. They were holistic before holistic was cool.

“In our world we have separated mind from body to our great loss,” he goes on to say. “Here a man may betray his wife and neglect his children, but say he loves them ‘down inside’.

“Bullshit. There is no ‘down inside.’ Love is something you do, not something you feel.

“Likewise, we think having faith means being convinced God exists in the same way we are convinced a chair exists. People who cannot be completely convinced of God’s existence think faith is impossible for them.

“Not so. People who doubt can have great faith because faith is something you do, not something you think. In fact, the greater your doubt, the more heroic your faith.” (RLP, the Preacher's Own Story)

Joseph knew this instinctively. Sure he had his questions. Anyone would have. Was that really an angel in his dreams or was it just the bad batch of wine before crawling into bed? Did his wife really get pregnant by God or is that just a story she made up to get herself out of trouble? So, yeah, he had questions. Good questions. But they didn’t bog him down from doing what needed to be done.

So not only did Joseph have a role to play, he played it very well. The NT takes pains to show us that he didn’t take the first bus out of town when Mary told him he was pregnant and that he obviously was not the father. And he didn’t drop everything and disappear when the angel came to see him. He married Mary. He got her to Bethlehem. He found lodgings for his family. He took his place at her side and dealt with whatever came their way. He listened carefully around him to the danger to his wife and newly born and adopted son, and rustled them out of Bethlehem to the safety to Egypt. (adapted from Peter Gomes, Sermon)

Because for Joseph, faith is not something you think. Faith is something you do.

On other words, at the heart of the story is a good and just man who wakes up one day to find his life ruined: a baby that’s not his, his trust betrayed, his name devastated, his future destroyed. It’s about a righteous man who looks at the mess that is his life, a mess he had absolutely nothing to do with creating and believes that somehow God is present in it. With every reason to walk away, Joseph stays put. He makes the mess is own and the mess becomes the place where the Messiah is born. (adapted from Barbara Brown Taylor, Believing the Impossible)

Because for Joseph, faith is not something you think. Faith is something you do.

But isn’t that the way God seems to work; behind the scenes where there’s no TV camera in sight? I’m thinking of people who run the cans over to the food bank when the bin gets full. Or the quick phone-call to the widower who just lost his wife, simply to see if he needs groceries, because they both know the only food he can make is cereal and toast. Or I’m thinking of the couple who find the time to drop off a pick-up truck at a man’s house who’s stuck in the hospital, and check back with him to see if he needed anything to make his stay more bearable. To the casual observer, these are not heroic acts. But to the divine observer, no greater heroism exists.

Because to these people, faith is not something you think. Faith is something you do.

Faith is making other peoples’ mess our own, and finding God hidden in it. Because these people know that God is found frolicking in the clutter, buried in our dirt, and wrestling with us in the mud because that’s where God needs to be: embroiled in the waste of our lives and mixed up in the chaos of the world.

These people, people like Joseph and people like you and me, insist on trusting that “God is still being born in the mess, among those who still believe what angels tell them in their dreams.” (BBT, ibid)

Or to say it another way: faith is not something you think. Faith is something you do.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Buy Nothing Christmas? How 'bout Buy Nothing Year!?

Some guy in Nova Scotia (my old stomping ground) is half way through not spending a penny for a year.Check it out.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem, have mercy on us

Recent Child poverty stats in Canada. Shameful.

Christmas Greetings from ELCIC Nat'l Bishop Ray Schultz


Kelly Fryer wrote in
Reclaiming the
"L" Word that a core principle of Lutheran theology is the
statement: God
always comes down.

Whatever we may think of humanity, God created us out of
unconditional love
and continues to live with us out of that attitude. This is
not some syrupy
sentiment; God, by character, is love. To desire communion
with us is part
of God's very nature.

God wants and chooses to live with us, in our world of time
and space, amid
our sin and error, accepting the necessity of our deaths
and adapting to
our changing moods. This is such an essential attitude on
God's part, that
God deems it worth dying for and did so. When one considers
the risks
involved in first-century pregnancies, the very act of
choosing to start
from the womb and live outward from there was an incredible
act of

The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is not the beginning of the
Exodus is-but it is the beginning of the core event for us.
Everything else
in the scriptures is seen in a new way because of this.
Every person is
seen as a new person because of this.

"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors!"

May the gracious love of God, revealed in Bethlehem and
expressed most
deeply on the cross, encourage you, fill you with joy, and
call you forward
into the future with Christ.

Raymond L. Schultz, National Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Lego Brand Church

And people thought I had too much time on my hands.

Also, Real Live Preacher has a chapter from his book in the SoMA Review website. Great stuff, as usual. I especially appreciate his rough honesty and earthy wisdom. Don't forget to check out other articles on the SoMA site. Some really good thinking happening there.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Rowan Williams' Christmas Message

A wonderful Christmas message from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Human beings are wrapped up in themselves. Because of that great primitive betrayal that we call the Fall of humanity, we are all afraid of God and the world and our real selves in some degree. We can't cope with the light. As John's gospel says, those who don't want to respond to God fear and run away from the light. But God acts to heal us, to bring us out of our isolation...[Jesus] does what we do; he is born, he grows up, he lives for many years a life that is ordinary and prosaic like ours - he works, he eats, he sleeps. Here is ultimate love, complete holiness, made real in a back street in a small town. And when he begins to do new and shocking things, to proclaim the Kingdom, to heal, to forgive, to die and rise again - well, we shouldn't panic and run away because we have learned that we can trust him. We know he speaks our language, he has responded to our actions and our words, he has echoed to us what we are like.

Christ does not save the world just by his death on the cross; we respond to that death because we know that here is love in human flesh, here is the creator's power and life in a shape like ours. As we read the gospels, we should think of God watching us moment by moment, mirroring back to us our human actions - our fears and our joys and our struggles - until he can at last reach out in the great gestures of the healing ministry and the cross. And at last we let ourselves be touched and changed.

Read the whole message here.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Real Problem With Christmas

David Suzuki on the real problem of Christmas. Great article. Thought provoking.

On a different note, Warren Kinsella has written a piece for the National Post on former PM Jean Chretien. Here's a taste:

It is not "anti-American" to assert Canada sovereignty, and Jean Chrétien also understood this truism better than most (as did his friend Bill Clinton, and as does George W. Bush, with whom Mr. Chrétien enjoyed a long, friendly discussion during the recent Presidential visit). His decision to refuse to participate in the war in Iraq – again, over the objections of many powerful forces within the country and within his own Liberal cabinet – is rightly seen as profoundly courageous, and a decision that preserved Canadian lives and enhanced our reputation in the international community. Similarly, Mr. Chrétien’s success at negotiating delicate trade issues – particularly the Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement – demonstrated that he was correct when he declared in 1991 that globalization was something to be embraced, and not feared.

Read the rest here.

Living in Southern Alberta I know I take my life into my hands when I say this: I like Chretien. He got things done. He stood up to right wing bullies like Stockwell Day. Yes, he could have done more for health care, education, and the environment. But he governed from the centre, holding social compassion in one hand and fiscal retraint in the other. A true liberal.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Gower Street Interviews NT Wright

Part One and Part Two. A great read from one of the best New Testament scholars living today. Well worth the time.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Waiting for God

A wonderful article by the late sage Henri Nouwen on the discipline of waiting. Thanks to the Onehouse Blog for directing me to this. It makes me think of how so often we jump right into Christmas on December 1 (or November 1st if you work at the mall). Christmas carols, Christmas parties, Santa hats, all come out as we celebrate the "Christmas season" forgetting (or ignoring) that Christmas begins on December 24.

I'm not just being a grinch (or Scrooge, for you Christmas line jumpers). But when we leap too quickly into the "joy of the season" we rob ourselves of the hunger that comes with waiting. We begin re-telling our salvation story at Advent because we being with a yearning for the Saviour. It's not that we pretend Jesus hasn't come, but Advent reminds us that the world still needs Jesus and his promises of new life and new creation. We enter into the world's pain as well as our own more deeply by hearing the promises of the Saviour, not just their fulfilment. But we also need to remember, Jesus has come, and we still await his return where he will make all things new, and "he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more." That is what we hunger for and for which we will continue to hunger as long we see God's vision of a New Creation unfulfilled among us.

May our hunger be insatiable as we wait with hopeful anticipation for the coming Saviour.

Good News for Bald Men

Levititcus 13:40 "If anyone loses the hair from his head, he is bald but he is clean"

Monday, December 06, 2004

Montreal Massacre Remembered

"It must be admitted therefore that if the gospel of peace is no longer convincing on the lips of Christians, it may well be because they have ceased to give a living example of peace, unity and love. True, we have to understand that the Church was never intended to be absolutely perfect on earth, and she is a Church of sinners, laden with imperfection. Christian peace and Christian charity are based indeed on this need to ‘bear one another’s burdens,’ to accept the infirmities that plague one’s own life and the lives of others. Our unity is a struggle with disunity and our peace exists in the midst of conflict."

From Peace in the Post-Christian Era, edited with an Introduction by Patricia A. Burton, Foreword by Jim Forest (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004), P 129

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. I remember the day vividly. I was studying music at Humber College and came home late and the terrible news was all over the TV. I felt sick inside as they read the names and ages of the women who were not much older than I was.

For many, it was easy to dismiss this tragedy as the evil actions of one deranged man. In fact, I remember many Christians at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on the campus of Wilfrid Laurier University tell me that they saw no reason to remember this "one isolated event." And when I was in seminary some of my clasmates complained that were spending too much time reflecting on the violence of December 6 which got in the way of the festival of St. Nicholas (interesting perspective, coming from Lutherans). To me this sounded like mysogony veiled in religious garments. This is a terrible witness to the world. Just like Thomas Merton warned us in the quote above. I think this sort of religious game playing is what the prophet Amos condemned:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies, says the Lord. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

I wonder if this is all by way of relieving ourselves of any culpability in the violence of the world. Yes, one man alone walked into Montreal's l'École Polytechnique and shot 14 women simply because they were woman. But human beings do not act in isolation. We are conditioned by that which is around us. I don't mean to say that we are all evil Marc Lapines, but I wonder if many of us share the same violent impulses, but simply do not act upon them. And that violence reveals itself in other ways.

I have two young girls at home (10 months and 3 years), and I have to admit, since their births the issue of violence against women have been pressing on my mind. Would they be honoured for their gifts or would they fall into a prescribed gender roles? Would they be free to choose any vocation to which they are called or would they be limited because they are female? If they found themselves in abusive relationships, would they have the strength and courage to escape?

So today, I see an appropriate way of remembering these woman is to commit one's self to peace and reconciliation - doing the kingdom's work, knowing there will be victories and defeats along the way, learning forgiveness for our enemies and love for those who hurt us. But also, remembering that Jesus has already defeated the forces of sin and death and put us on the path that leads to new and everlasting life.

Child of glory, Child of Mary,
born in the stable, King of all,
you came to our wasteland, in our place suffered.
By choosing to be born as a child
you teach us to reverance every human life.
May we never despise, degrade, or destroy it.
Rather, help us sustain and preserve it. Amen

(A Holy Island Prayer Book, p. 53)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sermon: Advent 2 - Year A

Text: Matthew 3:1-12

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” roars John the Baptist, his camel hair shirt being battered by the wind and his beard dusty from a lifetime spent spitting out sand in the desert. But he speaks from a place outside of his body with an authority that isn’t his. His breath is aflame with words that burn. “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

People had to travel pretty far to hear these words. The Jordan River wasn’t exactly on a main street with good traffic flow. I guess John missed the book that detailed the best strategy for amassing a crowd. Near a McDonalds, on a corner, and there must be a stop sign in front. Not that John needed a plan. The people kept coming. Their ears were hungry for a true word from God. Not the faith of the temple, that came filtered through the official Roman creed of fidelity to Caesar to first. No, they were looking for red meat; something with substance. People put up with the blisters and stubbed their feet on the rocks because they craved access to God to receive the freedom they craved. And John didn’t disappoint.

He even looked the part. His clothes ragged and his voice hoarse. He ate what he could find out there in the desert and a not drop of wine ever touched his lips. Only water for this prophet. His words were so rough and so true that they cut deep wounds in people’s self-delusions. He spoke truth to power. Clearly, John had no loyalty to anyone other that God and had no other trade other than proclaiming God’s message. John lived the freedom the people craved.

And the people came. Crowds flocked to hear this strange little man shouting hard words of repentance. People who had been kicked out of the temple for failing. Failing at religion. Failing in their job. Failing at life. A lot of these folks weren’t part of what you would call the comfortable middle-class. And to be honest. If you saw one of them walking toward you downtown you’d probably cross the street and walk on the other side.

A week ago one of these introduced himself to us when an intoxicated Aboriginal man banged on the church’s front door during our Saturday morning Stephen Ministry training class. He asked when church service started. I told him it was tomorrow at 8:45 and 11:00 and that he was welcome to come to join in. Then he just stood and stared at me. After a minute or two he asked for something to eat. So I gave him three apples, the only food I had in the fridge. Then he sat down on a chair in our “Welcome Area.”

A woman from the Stephen Ministry class sat down with him to talk. We resumed our class in a nearby room. Suddenly we heard the man yell “Somebody help me!” and myself and a man from the class ran out to the hallway. The woman who was sitting with him was pale.

She whispered to me “He said he is suicidal and asked me for a gun.”

Not knowing exactly what to do I called 911 and explained the situation. They asked if he was drunk and if he was native. I said “yes” on both counts. They said they would send a police car around.

10 minutes later an officer arrived. He obviously knew the man.

“Hi Ron, are you causing trouble around here?” asked the officer.

I said to him, “No, he’s not. We called because he said he was suicidal.”

“When Ron gets drunk he says lots of things he doesn't mean.” The cop replied, dismissing my concern. “Sorry pastor,” the officer continued, “I’ve got no compassion for these people.”

Then the officer parked Ron in the back seat of his cruiser and took him away.

We said a prayer for Ron and the class resumed.

But the class was wondering if we did the right thing by calling the police. My training had taught me that once the person says he or she is suicidal then all pastoral bets are off and I have to notify authorities. But folks raised good questions. Did we “care” for Ron as Jesus would have? Was calling the police the best way to handle the situation? Was it at coincidence that he showed up when we were learning how to be Christian caregiver? Was he an angel who had visited us unawares, as the bible said might happen? What else could we have done? After all, we’re not miracle workers. One visit with us is not going to change this man’s life. No matter how earnest and well-intentioned we are.

I really appreciated the questions the class asked because they recognized that this person was one who is traditionally shut out of respectable religion and was hungering for more than what we gave him. We gave him food. But I wondered if he hungered for the bread of life. Let face it, our churches aren’t populated with aboriginal people, especially ones with substance abuse problems. But I wonder if these were the types that flocked to hear John. I wondered if these were the ones who entered the waters of the Jordan river, the river of freedom, and emerged on the other side a new person. “Ron” was clearly hurting for more than food. He wanted someone to talk to.

Good Shepherd is a remarkably caring community. I've been taught how to be a better disciple by the witness of many people in this congregation. But I'm always wondering were we can grow. And I wonder if the fellow who visited us last Saturday taught us where we can reach deeper in our caring. The discomfort this person brought to us is a holy discomfort. Like John the Baptist, he challenged us to make our embrace reach wider. I know that we want to do more, we want to be more loving, we want to show the world God’s love. We certainly do not want to see hurting people led away from our church in the back seats of police cars. We want to do more. We know we can do more.

For us, when we hear John’s message, I don’t think the judgment we fear is the fires of hell, but the fires of our own consciences.

American preacher Barbara Brown Taylor concedes that “one of the most frightening things about John’s vision of judgment is that unquenchable fire of his. It is not possible to live in the Bible belt without a vivid image of Hell, much more vivid than the clean streets of heaven. But if you read the Bible very much, you have to wonder about that fire. Throughout Holy Scripture, fire is the reliable sign of the presence of God. God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush; a pillar of fire guides the people of Israel through the wilderness after their escape from Egypt; when Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments from God, it looks to those down below as if the mountain itself is being devoured by fire.

“I do not mean to minimize the danger” she continues. This is not a safe fire; it can still burn and kill. But it is God’s own fire, the fire of God’s presence, fire that wants to speak to us, guide us, instruct us, save us. It is the fire of a potter who wants to make useful vessels out of damp clay. It is fire of the jeweler who wants to refine pure gold from rough ore. It does not have to be the fire of destruction, in other words. It may also be the fire of transformation, a fire that lights us up and changes us, melting us down and reforming us more nearly into the image of God. It is the fire that with which Jesus himself baptizes us, inviting us into a bright, hot relationship with him. Even when the fire seems bent on consuming us, like Meshach , Shadrach, and Abednego, in the fiery furnace we find that we have company, and that even in the hottest regions of our own personal hells we do not sweat.” (BBT, Changed in to Fire)

So the fires that meet us, like small bonfires that keep us warm but alert, or the infernos that threaten to overwhelm us, leaving us scarred and often unrecognizable, are the fires that transform us into what God wants us to be. But also, it is important to remember that we do not start the fire. God strikes the match sticks and hauls out the can of gasoline. Our salvation does not depend on our own goodness but on God’s goodness. I wonder if John’s message would have been a little softer, a touch gentler if he knew that the Messiah, Jesus was much more willing to forgive than to destroy.

But yes, John the Baptist was right. Jesus is our judge. But as one writer puts it, “the chambers from which he presides is the chambers of his compassionate heart.” All he needs is a handful of dust willing to be transformed, willing to be caught on fire, for heaven’s sake,” (BBT, ibid) because he knows that fear and discomfort is the furnace in which faith is forged. In fact, as one preacher says it, “the greater the fear, the more heroic the faith.”

It is my prayer, that in this Advent season, God will disquiet us enough, make us uncomfortable enough, that our embrace will widen, our love for the world will deepen, and our fear will enlarge our vision of your kingdom in our lives and in the world. Maybe for us, repentance means looking to a broader vision of what God wants for us in ministry, keeping us hungering for more of the kingdom alive in our midst. Amen.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

"Religion" not "spirituality"

CBC's Tapesty is airing an intervew with Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau who say their writing is for people made anxious by churches, embarrassed to be caught in the spirituality section of the bookstore, people who are hostile, yet drawn to talk of God.

The whole "religion" vs "spirituality" thing has me confused. I know that many folks like "spirituality" because it implies freedom from the rigid structures found in traditional faith.

But I wonder if such freedom comes with too high a price. For me, being part of a historic faith rejoices in the continuity of a message that has been passed down through the ages. I feel clothed in history, surrounded by saints, and affirmed by time.

I find that many people who find "spirituality" outside of a historic faith find themselves looking in the mirror calling the reflection "God."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Who is John Stott?

This was sent to me from a rabbi in Halifax. Great article on John Stott (rector of All Souls, Langham Place) from the NY Times.

Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.

Inviting these two bozos onto "Meet the Press" to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D. H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.

Read the rest of the article here.

I like John Stott. He represents the best of evangelicalism. His theology emerges from a deep love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and not from a preconceived political agenda. While I wouldn't agree with him on many issues, he is always thoughtful and seeks the compassionate heart of God in dealing with the harder issues. A true Christian leader.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Angels Unawares?

We had two visitors to Good Shepherd this past weekend. And both of them challenged our sense how caring we are.

The first was an intoxicated Aboriginal man. He banged on the church’s front door during our Saturday morning Stephen Ministry training class. He asked when church service started. I told him it was tomorrow at 8:45 and 11:00 and that he was welcome to come to join in. Then he just stood and stared at me. After a minute or two he asked for something to eat. So I gave him three apples, the only food I had in the fridge. Then he sat down on a chair in our “Welcome Area.”

A woman from the Stephen Ministry class sat down with him to talk. We resumed our class in a nearby room. Suddenly we heard the man yell “Somebody help me!” and myself and a man from the class ran out to the hallway. The woman who was sitting with him was pale.

She whispered to me “He said he is suicidal and asked me for a gun.”

Not knowing exactly what to do I called 911 and explained the situation. They asked if he was drunk and if he was native. I said “yes” on both counts. They said they would send a police car around.

10 minutes later a cop arrives. He obviously knew the man.

“Hi Ron, are you causing trouble around here.”

I said to the cop, “No, we called because he said he was suicidal.”

“When Ron gets drunk he says lots of things he doesn't.” The cop replied, dismissing my concern. “Sorry pastor,” the cop continued, “I’ve got no compassion for these people.”

Then the cop parked Ron in the police car and took him away.

We said a prayer for Ron and the class resumed.

But the class was wondering if we did the right thing by calling the cops. My training had taught me that once the person says he/she is suicidal then all pastoral bets are off and I have to notify authorities. But the class raised good questions. Did we “care” for Ron as Jesus would have? Was calling the police, who are known for their racism toward aboriginal people, the best way to handle the situation? Was it at coincidence that he showed up when we were learning how to be Christian caregiver? Was he an angel who had visited us unawares, as the bible said might happen?

The next day, another young man came to our door. He came to Alberta from Newfoundland because he was told he had a job here. But when he arrived, the job evaporated. Then, he learned that both his parents were killed by a drunk driver back home on the Rock. He felt an inner compulsion to come to a Lutheran church.

A group of people sat with him and prayed with him. We invited him downstairs for coffee and cookies. One gentleman offered to buy him a plane ticket home, but the fellow initially declined. But later, after church, said that he, perhaps had refused the kind offer too soon. But by then, the man from the church had gone home. We gave him a ride to the bus station where he was going to by a ticket to Medicine Hat and hitch a ride with one of the truckers at the truck stop.

We’ve been asking ourselves if we failed these two men.

It feels as if our ministry is taking a turn and we are going down a road that we didn’t expect. As we think about our new building and what we want to use it for, how do we remain faithful to our calling as a community of disciples of Jesus Christ, the poor man from Nazareth? How do we reach out to most hurting around us from our comfortable perch in the suburbs among the big box stores and half-million dollar houses? Are we merely baptizing people’s affluence or are we offering an alternative vision for the world? God’s vision – the vision of the kingdom of God, where all are welcome, renewed, healed, cleansed, and sent.

Good Shepherd is a remarkably caring community. I've been taught how to be a disciple by the witness of many people in this congregation. But I'm always wondering were we can grow. And those areas walked through our doors last weekend. The discomfort many people feel is a holy discomfort. We want to do more, we want to be more loving, we certainly do not want to see hurting people lead away from our church in the back seats of police cars, or do we want to see grieving people hitching rides from strangers to make it home to bury their parents. We want to do more. We know we can do more.

Maybe this discomfort shows that we are growing more fully into our mission statement that begins “Rooted in the gospel, our caring community…”