Sunday, January 30, 2005

Children's Message: Epiphany 4 - Year A

Anne’s class at school helped raise money for the victims of the Tsunami in South Asia. The class decided on a number of different projects that would help them meet their goal of $500. Part of the class was going on a bottle drive. Another part was having a bake sale. And another was going door to door in their neighborhoods asking for donations. After two weeks they were to report back and see how much they raised.

Anne’s group was to go door to door around their home neighbourhood. When she saw that Janet was in her group, she groaned inside.

“I don’t want Janet in our group,” Anne muttered to her friend Lisa. “We won’t get any money. Everyone knows that all her neighbours are all on welfare.”

“Maybe Janet should do a bottle drive then, she shouldn't have any trouble finding empty beer cans.” Lisa giggled. But Janet didn’t think it was very funny.

“I can’t help it if my mom gets sick and can’t work!” Janet blurted angrily.

“Everyone knows that people who live your neighbourhood are lazy and don’t want to work,” Lisa barked back.

“And everyone knows that people who live in your neighbourhood are a bunch of rich snobs like you!” Janet snapped.

Janet and Lisa looked like they were about to fight. But Janet turned away and as she did, Anne saw a tear trickle down Janet’s cheek, and Janet eyes darted around the class as she wiped it off.

A week later, when the class counted the money they raised, Janet was late for class.

“It figures Janet didn’t show up today,” Lisa growled to Anne. “I’ll bet she didn’t raise any money. I went to all my dad’s business friends, they gave me lots of money. My bag got so heavy I could barely lift it with all those loonies and toonies inside. And they kept saying something about a tax receipt. I had no idea what they were talking about.”

“So how much did you raise?” asked Anne.

“76.81” said Lisa proudly.

“Sorry I’m late,” Janet said to her teacher handing him the late slip. “My mom was sick again.”

“So, how much did you raise?” asked the teacher.

“$101.03” replied Janet.

Lisa gasped.

“Wow! That’s wonderful!” exclaimed the teacher. Then turning to the class he said “With all your hard work we’ve raised more than the amount we hoped for.”

The class applauded themselves. Except for Lisa who couldn’t figure out how Janet could raise more money than her when she lived in that part of town. Anne was happy the class met their goal.

That night as Anne was putting on her pajamas, she asked her mom and dad, “How could Janet raise so much money? Even more than Lisa?”

“Why shouldn’t she raise as much as anyone else?” asked her dad.

“Because of where she lives,” replied Annie. “Everyone knows they don’t have any money over there.”

“Well it looks like “everyone” is wrong,” said her dad. “Or what they do have they are ready to share.”

“I guess it’s like what we heard in church where the bible says that God chose what is weak in this world to shame the strong. That’s kind of a fancy way of saying that God does things in the opposite way of how we do them. Strange, huh?”

“Yeah,” said Anne.

“That’s how people in poorer neighbourhoods and sometimes raise more money than those who have more,” said mom.

“I guess Jesus had a different way of thinking about blessing then we do.”

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now, “Dear God, help us to see your blessings where we least expect them. Amen.”

Friday, January 28, 2005

"Christian Right, Christian Left: The Polarized American Religious Scene"

An excellent lecture by Episcopal (Anglican) priest Fleming Rutledge. She talks about the divide between evangelical camps and searches for common ground. Fantasic stuff. Check it out.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Christian Cooking Aprons...

Does this stuff really further the kingdom of God? Click here...

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience

Ron Sider has written an excellent critique of American evangelical Christianity from the perspective of a passionate insider. (Thanks to for drawing my attention to this)

While I'm not an "evangelical" in the newer, American-style "born-again" variety, I wonder if much of this criticism can be leveled against us in the Canadian mainline churches. How different are we from the prevailing culture? How do we point to the alternative reality that is the kingdom of God?

Too often, we in the mainline bed down too snugly with the political left (either the NDP here in Canada or the liberal wing of the Democratic party in the US) the same way the evangelicals do with the political right. We do this thinking that Jesus' message can be translated easily into traditional right/left political categories without recognizing that Jesus would have words for both. We treat each other as "enemies" without the love that Jesus asks from us. We lust after power seeminly oblivious to its dangers. We think that if enough of the right politicians are elected and appropriate legisilation passed, then the kingdom of God will arrive.

But we forget our own complicity in the worldwide sin that threatens to destroy our world. We're so trapped in the western consumerist lifestyle that we fail to see the harm that is causing our sisters and brothers in the so-called developing nations or even to the earth itself. Economic sacrifice is deemed treasonous. Religious involvement is to prop up the dominant culture. I'm reminded of something I read somewhere, "What does it profit you to gain the whole world yet lose your soul?"

Jesus asks more from us because he knows that we are capable of more as his followers. Sider offers the whole church (evangelical and mainline)a wake up call to greater faithfulness.

Here's an excerpt:

Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity. By their daily activity, most "Christians" regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.

The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Watch out for respectful sponges!

Parents, watch out. A little sponge shaped cartoon character is going to teach your children such dangerous ideas such as respect and tolerance.

Check it out. These guys say they're ambassadors for Jesus.

Disturb us, Lord

Thanks to Maggi Dawn for sharing this.

Disturb us, Lord,
when we are too well pleased with ourselves;
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little;
when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst for the Waters of Life;
having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity;
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly -
to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery;
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask you push back the horizons of our hopes,
and to push us in the future with strength, courage, hope and love.


- attributed to Sir Francis Drake

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sermon: Epiphany 3 - Year A

Some of you may have seen the movie Dogma where comedian George Carlin plays a Roman Catholic cardinal who is actually a PR man for the Vatican. He’s in charge of changing the “depressing” image of the crucified Jesus to something a little more palatable for the masses. On the front steps of a local church, the good cardinal initiates a campaign called “Catholicism Wow” which replaces the crucifix with a “Buddy Christ” who winks, smiles, and offers followers a big thumbs-up. It’s a great scene because it is so frighteningly true. Church leaders often do some pretty weird stuff to bring ‘em in.

At last count, I have roughly ten books on how to reach out to so-called “seekers.” Many of them detail strategic plans on how to pack folks into church. “Use whatever style music is most popular on the radio in worship,” recommends one earnest specialist. Another advises that we take down all the trappings of religion: the cross, the altar, the bible, and make sure the church building looks more like a shopping mall than a church, so not to offend the sensibilities of those who might not be used to such overt expressions of faith. Yet another suggests that we “ride the latest wave,” be it bible studies based on the Purpose Driven Life, showings of the Passion of Christ, or whatever the flavour of the month may be, this book tells us to “find the next wave and join the swimmers!” in order to enjoy greater numbers on a Sunday morning.

You’re probably asking why I have these on my shelf if I’m just going to mock them.

Well, I bought them out of desperation.

Coming out of seminary, I had no idea how to run a church or do evangelism. I knew how put together a sermon and write a decent theology paper, but I had no idea what I was doing when it came to going outside the church doors with the gospel. Also, as I looked at the sea of white hair in my first church, I became frightened for the future. I felt we needed some help figuring out how to get folks through our doors. So I subscribed to a church growth magazine and filled my shelves with strategy books. I keep them there for two reasons: 1) they’re not totally useless as I have found some helpful practical stuff in them 2) they remind me of my dark side; the price I’m tempted to pay for numerical church success.

Of course, Jesus didn’t need any of the latest techniques. He had something a little simpler: the message of the kingdom of God. All he said to Peter and Andrew to get them on board was, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And, it is said, immediately, they dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Down the harbour, Jesus did the same thing with two brothers, James and John, who heard Jesus’ invitation, quit the family business, and joined Jesus’ small band of disciples.

The interesting this about this story is that neither Simon Peter nor Andrew, nor James nor John, ever went looking for Jesus. They didn’t seek him out. Their eyes were open but their feet remained planted; but it was the Messiah who sought them out. This story turns most of what we know as church on its head.

Will Willimon, talking about so-called “seeker sensitive churches” said this, “One of my problems with so-called seeker services and seeker-sensitive churches is that, in my pastoral experience, whatever most people are seeking, it isn’t Jesus. We live in a society of omnivorous desire where people tend to grab at everything hoping they might seize upon something that will give them a good reason to get up in the morning.” (Foreward to Preaching to Skeptics and Seekers by Frank Honeycutt).

In a recent sermon, Willimon tells of when a businessman came to Duke University to gave a lecture to about 200 students entitled, “My Five Years with a Zen Master.” Two hundred students sat in rapt attention for two hours, nodding in agreement as he talked about the joys of studying Zen Buddhism.

Two nights later, a graduate student gave a talk called, “My Semester in a Benedictine Monastery.” Again, about 200 students were in attendance, in rapt attention for over an hour. And they were the same students! (Willimon, Pulpit Digest)

This story doesn’t surprise me. I’m told that many religion courses at Wilfrid Laurier University, (my old stomping ground) that once attracted only a handful nerdy specialists like myself, are now forced to turn students away. I am told the same thing is going on at U of L. Church observers note that a new found interest in spirituality and religion has emerged over the last 15 years or so. Young people, we are told, are embracing the religious faith that their parents rejected.

I really noticed a change in folks, especially younger people when I was serving in Halifax. I encountered many university students who were fervently involved with social issues; poverty, war, third world debt, human rights, but confessed that they lacked a spiritual framework for the causes they so passionately pursued, and they wondered openly whether or not the church was the place for them to explore who God was and to reconcile these two parts of their live. Being brought up on popular culture they saw the church as a caricature of itself: an authoritarian institution bent on protecting its own interests and shoring up its own power, all at the expense of message of Jesus.

It’s hard to argue with that when so many cheesy TV evangelists are milking unsuspecting believers out of their hard earned cash; or when we hear new about the latest cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church.

But as Dr. Harold Remus of Waterloo Seminary pointed out, “A lot of people don’t like the church but almost everyone likes Jesus.” But still, when talking with many of these people, young and old and in between, on the street, in the coffee shop, or wherever, they groan about “feeling lost,” “less grounded” or “cut off from the source of life.” In a world where the rumour of God is being shared in hushed tones in downtown alleyways, in the book sections of big box stores, and in the hungered whisperings of young people as they walk past open church doors, the church has a challenge.

When I think about the process in discerning if God is calling us to a new facility; I think Jesus is asking us if this is what we need to find the ones cut off from church but searching for the presence of God and hungering for good news.

Jesus is asking us if the building will simply be a solution to our physical plant problems or if we’ll use the building to further our mission: to go after the ones cut off from God, Simon’s, the Andrew’s; the James’s and John’s; Jesus is asking us to think about those folks whom he healed, forgave, and loved, and says to us, “Can you bring me the pains and sorrows of the world? Can you bring me the cries of the children whose bellies are swollen with hunger? Can you bring me lost, the grieving, the imprisoned, those living a nightmare we can’t even begin to imagine, and lay it all down at the foot of my cross?

If you can, I will bless you. If you can tell me that your heart swells with the love that I have for the world, then I will lead you on an adventure into eternity. If you can tell me that you will engage the world with the transforming message of the gospel: that death is defeated, the lame walk, the blind see, and the captives go free, then I say to you, “Drop your nets, and follow me, I will make you fish for people…” Amen.

Children's Message: Epiphany 3 - Year A

Andrew and Simon saw in the paper that it was going to really warm today. After two weeks of cold, no… very cold, no…darn cold weather, the snow was gone, the sun was out, road was clear, and it was Sunday afternoon.

It was time to play road hockey.

Andrew got on the phone and called Dave next door, “Dave, let’s play hockey!”

“I can’t, I’m going to my aunt’s for dinner.”

Simon called Peter down the street, “Pete, I’ve got my net outside, you want to play hockey?”

“Sorry, Simon, I have too much homework.”

“Homework! It’s Sunday! You can work on it tonight!” Simon exclaimed.

“I just want to get a head start,” said Peter. “Call me tomorrow.”

Andrew and Simon must have made over 10 phone calls and their friends were either too busy or not home. They had to play together.

Andrew was the goalie and Simon practiced his slap-shots on him. It was fun, but not as fun as with other people.

After about a half hour, their mom called, “Andrew, telephone. I think it’s Alice.”

“What does she want?” Andrew thought to himself as he put down his stick and went into the house.

A few minutes later, Andrew came out frowning. “Alice and her cousin are coming over.” He said glumly.

Simon rolled his eyes. He didn’t want to play with girls. They were too…girly.

Alice and her cousin Sally came running down the street with their hockey sticks. Andrew and Simon figured they could beat them in two-on-two, but the girls had other ideas.

“I have a really cool game to play,” said Alice. “I learned it at sports camp.”
“What is it?” asked Andrew, not convinced it was going to be any fun.

“Just watch.”

Alice and Sally grabbed the little green tennis ball and placed two large plastic rings in the middle of the road. “The first one to get the ball in the ring wins.”

“O that’s easy,” said Simon.

“Then try it.” Simon tried. Then Andrew. Then Alice and Sally.

They played all afternoon until the street lights came on and Andrew and Simon’s mom called them in for dinner.

That night as they were getting into their pajamas, their mom asked, “Boy it looked like you two had fun with Alice and her cousin this afternoon.

The boys grunted. “It would have been more fun to play real hockey.”

“But you had fun didn’t you?”

“Yes,” the two boys grudgingly admitted. “But we really wanted to play with the guys but no one was home.”

“When you think about it, that’s sort of what like happened to Jesus in the bible story we heard at church. Jesus called his first followers, but they weren’t the ones anyone else would have picked. Just like Alice and Sally surprised you by how much fun they could be, even though they were girls, the first followers were fishermen, and back then, no one really liked fishermen. But they surprised everyone by being chosen by Jesus.”

“But why would Jesus choose fishermen as his followers if no one liked them? Why didn’t he choose someone who everyone liked?” asked Simon.

“I guess God likes to surprise people,” said mom

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now: Dear God, thank for choosing us as your followers. Help us follow where you lead the way. Amen.

Friday, January 21, 2005

A Free Car!

Calgary Grit is giving away a car on their "first annual 'Know your Obscure Biblical Passages on what Constitutes a Sin' contest." Check it out. he has this to say about "traditional historical-biblical understanding of marriage:"

In an effort to make amends with any proponents of the "traditional definition of marriage" (to clarify: Not the "traditional" definition in the biblical sense of having multiple wives, or not the 19th century "traditional" definition in the sense of a man's wife being property, or not the early 20th century "traditional" definition where inter-racial marriages were banned...what I'm referring to is the "traditional" definition of marriage circa-2002) this site may have offended, I’m launching a brand new contest!

Great stuff...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Jim Wallis on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Last night Jim Wallis of the Sojourners Community was on Jon Stewart pushing his new book God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. The left has been trotting Wallis out, despite his excellent critiques of traditional political categories of left vs right, probably to get into the religion arena. I'm not convinced that one needs to be a person of explict faith to be an effective political leader, but Wallis is an influencial figure within progressive Christianity, so I think that his will a fresh voice to those who only heard the rantings of Jerry Falwell, Tim Lahaye, and Rick Warren.

Wallis did an excellent job on the show, in presenting an alternative Christian face to the angry Religious Right that seems to dominate the public discourse. The church need such progressive, evangelical voices in the public arena to bring attention to the gospel call of helping those in need as a way of serving Jesus (ala Matt 25).

Monday, January 17, 2005

Pastor's Report 2005

Rev. Kevin Powell
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
Pastor’s Annual Report 2005

According to the 2001 Canadian Census, 607 000 people call themselves “Lutheran.” Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) reports national membership at 160 000 (a number that I think is grossly inflated due to churches who haven’t updated their membership roles in recent memory). The Lutheran Church – Canada, the next largest Lutheran body says that fewer than 100 000 Canadians are on their membership roles. So the question needs to be asked, where are the other 347 000 people who identify themselves as Lutheran in Canada?

The good news is that people are more open than ever before to the message of Jesus. While it is true that many folks are into “spirituality but not religion,” there is, in the words of sociologist of religion, Dr. Reginald Bibby, a “religious renaissance” in Canada. In his book Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada, Bibby documents the upward trend of religious involvement among Canadians. It turns out, churches are not only holding steady - churches are growing! In his subsequent book Restless Churches: How Canada’s Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance, Bibby offers some helpful guidelines for congregations looking to effectively meet the growing hunger for God.

What Bibby documents scientifically, I think we have experienced personally. Popular culture has been saturated by “religious” or “spiritual” themes. It wasn’t just Christians who went to see The Passion of the Christ. It’s not only church-goers who haunt the “Religion” section at Chapters. People by the million bury their noses in the The Da Vinci Code. The Purpose Driven Life has been on Christian and secular bestseller lists. God, it seems, is good business. People’s hunger gives us a divine opportunity to share Christ’s message of freedom and salvation.

We at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd are in an excellent position to reach out to those who have fallen away from church or who have never encountered the living God revealed in Jesus Christ, but hunger for a word from God. Our mission statement says so well:

Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd:

“celebrates God’s grace
emphasizes worship and prayer
nurtures faith through the Word and the Sacraments
equips for service, and
witnesses to the world in Jesus’ name.”

We rightly see ourselves as a caring, welcoming community. Perhaps this is most evident in our Sunday morning worship celebrations. Smiling greeters meet people as they arrive. Helpful ushers provide for the needs of worshippers. And the people in the pews are ready with a warm handshake and a friendly smile. Each week I anxiously anticipate Sunday morning because I love worshipping with this joyful family of faith.

While worship is the centerpiece of our life together, worship certainly doesn’t encompass the whole of what we do. Church Council, under the energetic leadership of President Wayne Street, provides exceptional and creative oversight of the church’s various ministries and administrative functions. Council meetings are short, but effective. As he departs his position, I’d like to thank him for all his hard work and dedication to the on-going life of this congregation, and for his leadership in preparing us to take bold new steps into the future.

But of course, the council is only as good as the community it represents and from which it draws its members. The day-to-day running of the church, paying bills, cleaning the building, buying supplies, making decisions, preparing lesson plans, quilting quilts, teaching Sunday School, making coffee, clearing tables, greeting guests, running food to the Food Bank, writing cheques, duplicating tapes, fixing computers, recruiting volunteers, organizing worship leaders, studying the bible, and planning for the future, are all met with an enthusiasm and a joy that bears witness to a deep faith. Good Shepherd is a place where people discern, explore, and use their gifts. But most of all, Good Shepherd is a place where people encounter the living God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Youth Trip to Hamilton

I’d like to thank Mark Heinen, Lori Fromm, Adina Street, and, perhaps most importantly, the youth of our church, for inviting me to participate in their trip to the Youth Gathering last summer in Hamilton. It was an honour and privilege to spend that time with our young people, traveling across Canada and back, seeing first hand the deep faith that is shaping their lives. We are blessed to have such gifted young people, unafraid to live their faith in a world hungry for good news.

I came back from that trip with a renewed sense of mission and purpose for our young people, recognizing that the youth are not our future: the youth are our present, and it is our job and our challenge to help them find ways to express their many skills and gift and to nurture their talents so they can grow into the leaders of tomorrow.

We look forward to new opportunities for our young people to grow in discipleship. As we plan youth trip to Mexico in 2006 as well as a trip to the National Youth Gathering in Winnipeg that same summer, we recognize that many young people will choose one event over the other.

Stephen Ministry

Going to California last summer was a tremendous opportunity to experience the Stephen Series system. I was able to meet caring, compassionate Christians from all over the United States, Canada, and some from Europe and even from Asia.

I am delighted that we have 6 new exceptionally gifted Stephen Ministry candidates who are in training now and will be commissioned in the spring. As we are approaching the half-way point in the training, I am confident that these new Stephen Ministers will bring fresh energy into an already effective caring ministry.

Many of our existing Stephen Ministers have been working hard over the past year. In one-to-one relationships, as well as music ministries and other expressions of care, not to mention the on-going learning and mutual support, Stephen Ministry is one of the most effective ways we can care for others in Jesus’ name.

ChristCare Series

As mentioned earlier, Good Shepherd’s mission statement begins by saying: “Rooted in the Gospel, our caring community…” before it gets into specific areas of ministry, Good Shepherd understands itself, first as a gospel-centred caring community, so all ministry flows from the care that the people of Good Shepherd have for each other and the wider community.

The ChristCare Series is described as “…a complete system that provides training, resources, and support to direct and grow in a Christ-centred, life-changing small group ministry in your congregation.”

On my visits, I hear people say that Good Shepherd is a very friendly and welcoming place, and that it is easy to sit down at coffee hour and chat with folks. But people also comment that, while coffee hour and other events help bring people together, people still feel the need to go deeper in relationships, deeper in faith, deeper in commitment, and deeper in outreach. People want a church that’s relational, reflective, and makes a positive impact in the world, in Jesus’ name. In short, people want a church where they are cared for and where they can care for others. The ChristCare Series is a practical way to help us meet those needs. The program has been field tested and implemented in 400 congregations in the United States and a handful of churches here in Canada. By all accounts, the ChristCare Series, like its sister program, the Stephen Series, helps congregations live out their calling as disciples of Jesus, to “love one another as I have loved you.”

While Good Shepherd already has a few small groups meeting regularly, the ChristCare Series would help build on that solid foundation, making existing groups stronger while providing a framework for creating new ones. Good Shepherd understands the importance of small group ministry and is in an excellent position to take this ministry to newer and more exciting levels and will compliment the caring ministry of the Stephen Ministers.

In this year’s budget, we propose that Good Shepherd enroll in the ChristCare Series program and in 2006 send two “ChristCare Equippers” to St. Louis for leadership training. By easing into the program, we can more effectively implement the series, minimizing the risk to our investment, and ensuring the likelihood of its success.

Building the Future

Good Shepherd has been talking about a new facility for many years. I am told that folks have talked about the problems with our building for a while. Now it looks as if Good Shepherd will be coming to a decision about the future of our building.

It is important that we think of the new building, not as a solution to all our physical plant problems, but as a way of building our mission. Our existing building has ministered to this congregation well. It has borne the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies, and sweat and toil of our people. If our building could talk, I’m sure it would talk of the quiet faithfulness of its people. It would tell stories of the laughter and joy of weddings and baptisms. It would talk of the tears of loss at funerals. It would see people come and go. But most importantly, it would bear witness to the faithfulness of its people, the love and compassion they have for each other and the world.

But now we have the opportunity to build on the solid foundation that has so painstakingly been laid. Like the covenants of Israel, which built on the strength of the past, our new building can help us grow into greater and bolder faithfulness. Lethbridge is supposed to grow to over 100 000 people over the next 10-20 years. We need a facility to meet this growth. But not just a building, but a whole mission plan. Some have talked about building a senior’s facility onto the church as a means of mission. Others have discussed a day-care. Still others have suggested both. I’m delighted that people are thinking creatively about our mission. The future is open enough that we can be creative about how we “do church” or “be in mission.” This is an exciting time to be the church!


When people ask me how long I’ve been in the ministry, they often want me to pin-point a date; the day when Bishop Michael Pryse of the Eastern Synod laid hands my head and rubbed oil and my hands, and on behalf of the people of God he represented, declared me a minister of the Gospel. But that was just a beginning. Each day I’m reminded just how much I need to learn, how much I need to grow. I feel that I’ve been as much a student among you as I have been a pastor and teacher. It is with no small amount of humility and awe that I have seen many members of this congregation bear witness to the faith that makes a claim on our lives.

Dr. Bibby talks about a religious renaissance in Canada. While that may provide us with an incredible opportunity to grow in numbers and in faith, meeting that renaissance will be a formidable challenge. That’s why it's more important than ever that we strengthen the bonds that root us in our family of faith: prayer, worship, fellowship, service, evangelism, caring; not to retreat from or resist future, but to greet it with arms wide open.

Behind us we can look back and see the great expanse of faith, the message of freedom and salvation passed down from generation to generation; and before us we can see even greater, grander frontiers of possibility. We can, all of us, be filled with gratitude and humility for our blessings. And we can be filled with awe and joy at what lies just over the horizon.

It is always an honour and a privilege to serve with and among you, as a minister of the gospel. We have tremendous opportunities and profound challenges ahead. But we have people strong in faith, strong in commitment, and strong in love to meet the future with joy and hope. I look forward to seeing how God will work among us. As a pastor I have a front row seat when God starts working. So far, it’s been quite a show.

Submitted in the service of Christ and Church,

Rev. Kevin Powell, Pastor
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Children's Message: Epiphany 2 - Year A

One really cold night, Jamie could hear the fierce winter winds batter wildly against his bedroom windows. The large birch tree on the front lawn was being thrust back and forth, and the snow was blowing so hard, that when he looked out the window he could barely see the street. This was probably the biggest storm he had ever seen.

As he lay in bed he saw the wind rip a branch from the birch and hurl it at the side of the house where it landed with a loud thud.

Suddenly, the house became very dark. The nightlight in the bathroom vanished and the numbers on Jamie’s clock radio disappeared. Even the streetlights evaporated into the dark winter night.

“What was that!?” Jamie heard his mom cry out from the kitchen.
“I’ll go check,” said his dad, “Where did I put that flashlight?”

Jamie heard his dad shuffling around in the room next door.
“Ouch!” yelled dad, “did you move the chairs? I just caught my toe on one! Where is that flashlight?”

“Quiet, you’ll wake Jamie” Jamie heard his mom say.

“I’m already wake,” Jamie called out

“Have you been playing with my flashlight?” Dad asked.
“No,” replied Jamie a little miffed. If anything goes missing he’s usually the first one they blame.

“Maybe it’s in the basement by the furnace,” mom said.
“I’m not going down there in the dark.” Dad said. “We must have something up here. I remember using it last week to fix the pipes under the sink.”

“Who fixed the pipes?” asked mom pointedly.
“Okay, You fixed the pipes,” Dad admitted, “So where did you leave the flashlight then?”
“It must be down here somewhere,” said mom.

Mom and Dad were talking so loudly that they only began to be aware of a faint ratcheting sound.

“What’s that noise?” Asked mom. “It sounds like a rat chewing on a metal wire.”

Now they were not only looking for the flashlight, but they were also trying to figure out where that creepy sound was coming from.

Then the sound abruptly stopped and a huge white light appeared under Jamie’s door.

“That’s it, I’m gonna kill him” said Dad. “He had the flashlight all this time and let us look all over the house for it.”

When they opened the door, they saw Jamie sitting on his bed beside the wind up camping light he got for Christmas, reading.

“Jamie, I forgot you had that thing. "But I figured it was just a toy. I had no idea it would be so bright!” Dad said.

“I forgot about it, too.” Said Jamie, "Until I tried to find the door and ended up in my closet.”

“It’s funny how you found a light when you were looking for something else,” said mom. “It’s sort of like that bible reading where God says that we will be a light to all people. We were looking for a flashlight, but we found a light that was even brighter, where we least expected it.”

“Now can we bring this light downstairs? I think I have to check to see the garage is okay.” Said dad.

But before they went downstairs, they said a prayer like this as we do now: Dear God, help us to be your light to all who need your warm bright love. Amen.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

McKenna denies 'cozy' relationship with Washington

This is just silly. So is this.

Maybe I'm missing something, but do we want a person in Washington who has a confrontation attitude toward the Bush administration, and who has no contacts in Washington? How would that best serve Canadian interests? Frank McKenna is a very different breed of politician than George Bush. Just look at his record in New Brunswick. Plus McKenna has a strong reputation as a good, ol' fashioned moderate who knows how to get things done. We are lucky to have such a skilled politician in Washington. Leave the guy alone and let him do his job.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Prayer

Almighty God, grant to your Church your Holy Spirit and the wisdom which comes down from heaven, that your Word may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and enlightenment of your holy people, that in steadfast faith we may serve you in the confession of your name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Journey Together Faithfully, Part 2, page 32)

Canadian Fakin'

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has a piece about an American businessman finding a solution to worldwide hostility to American travellers: a t'shirt and lapel pin with the Canadian flag on them.

I could think of another way Americans could have re-established credibility in the world: they could have elected John Kerry.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Real Theology?

Greg at The Parish shared this the other day:

Talked to a friend today who has been getting some grief about blog topics. The gist is that he focuses too much on the negative aspects of faith and ministry. He focuses too much on the hard parts of faith. He focuses too much on theodic questions. Etc.

Here's my question. What's the alternative? Pretend they don't exist? Keep saying the creeds and drinking the wine and praying the prayers and talking to the vapid soccer moms in their SUV's who show up for the Krispy Kremes and the talking trees in children's ministry and pretend Jesus is the answer to all life's questions?

Great question. If all we are doing as a church us help people feel good about our affluence, then we should pack it all up. If our theology can't stand up to the scrutiny of the experience of suffering and evil and horror, then truly our faith is built on sand.

One theologian gave this sage advice to preachers:

Don’t make promises God doesn’t keep. Account for the shaky ground and patches of quicksand. Don’t deny our disappointments or run away from our broken hearts. Explain the beast lying in wait, the damaged goods that can’t be fixed, the trouble in the streets. Show us God in the horrors hidden under cover of night and the prayers that don’t get answered. Make your words equal to our predicament. Give us faith as wild as the world. Describe that and we’ll hang on every word

To which my wife Rebekah Eckert reponded to in a recent yet-to-be published article:

"That isn’t easy preaching Most of the time we like to pretend we have a handle on God. We preach as though we can understand, at least partially, the God of the Bible and of life. This wild God, amoral (or more precisely, the source of morality unto God’s-self), unpredictable, is not one we like to admit. Yet by presenting the opposite, a supposedly “good” God, omnipotent and source of all morality, judge and controller of the universe, a God who fits seamlessly into the seductive categories of Greek philosophy, a God too easily assessed and understood, we feed right into a theology of glory, before whom we are forced to understand the rape of the women in Rwanda as part of God’s plan. Far better that we admit this hidden terrifying God, who exists we know not how alongside the God we do know in Jesus Christ."

I think we need to preach the hard questions because that's what is in the backs of peoples' minds. Too many Christians believe in the "parking space" God (pray for a good parking spot on a cold day and -presto- one opens up) as if God cares about the minute, self-obsessed needs and wants of our lives and ignores the larger gestures of history (i.e., the holocaust, genocide in Rwanda, war in Iraq, tsunamis, etc). Good news isn't good news unless it is believable in light of horror, atrocity, and suffering.

So let us be real in our theology lest our faith lose its credibility in a world hungry for good news.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The State of Giving - Martin E. Marty

The State of Giving
-- Martin E. Marty

From Sightings.

Some recent 'theological' headlines: "Disasters Like Tsunami Can Test or Strengthen Faith"; "When Faith Is Tested"; "Who Gets the Blame This Time?" (Blaming God may make us feel good, but it doesn't accomplish much); "Numbed by the Numbers of Those Who Have Died"; "Tsunami Levels a Challenge to All Our Beliefs."

And now a sample of recent 'political' headlines: "Americans Definitely Not 'Stingy'"; "Private Acts of Giving"; "Not-for-Profits Tread Carefully: Charitable Organizations Not Part of Tsunami Relief Worry about Fund Raising"; "Nations Jockey to Top Aid List"; "Possible Bidding War."

Why call the second set of references 'political'? Because they concern not the benumbed individual or community, but the polis -- the human city, which includes governmental politics but is not exhausted by "the State" and its corollaries. The title of a book by H. M. Kuitert speaks to this point: Everything Is Politics but Politics Is Not Everything.

In the United States, political controversy surrounding tsunami relief aid was instant. The administration initially offered $35 million for relief, and then raised the ante to $350 million. The first figure would buy seven minutes of Super Bowl commercial time; the second, more generously, would pay for just over an hour of such. Score one against the administration. But contra that: think of what our military is doing in the name of the government and the people. Good point; that costs us many millions of dollars. Contra that: we rank low among the nations in financial response to catastrophes. And contra that: Americans compensate by being generous in voluntary-agency and church-dispensed giving. (In this regard, my favorite point, to quote Pogo, is that "we have faults we've hardly used yet" -- but religiously motivated giving is on a scale that warrants the conclusion that such giving is the great untold or under-told American story around the world.) Thus "pro" and "contra" fight to a draw.

Two themes emerge. First, how can we citizens program ourselves to be more consistently responsive to need? A headline from Thursday, January 6, proclaimed that "more than 200,000 people died of starvation around the world in the few days since the tsunami" took more than 150,000 lives. Are the starving on our screens and agendas?

Second, how might giving be sustained in any case? Arthur W. Frank, in his wonderful new book, The Renewal of Generosity, quotes Emmanuel Levinas as he connects charity, justice, and government: "The State begins as soon as three are present. It is inevitable. Because no one should be neglected, yet it is impossible to establish with the multiplicity of humanity a relation of unique to unique, of face to face .... [If the State does not impose justice,] charity runs the risk of being wrong."

That sentence is an argument-starter, not an argument-ender, on a theme that lurks in the tsunami talk. Leaders of faith-based charities, be they Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, World Vision, or any of countless others, are impressed again by the instant and immediate response of people with generous hearts. They will be more impressed by those who pledge and give both in and out of season. And since virtually all of them, as faith-based agencies, draw on and enhance governmental funds, they have a right to promote discussion of governmental priorities -- as a religious issue. Let conversation about that ensue.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Baptism of Jesus - Children's Message

Angela’s mom and dad were at the hospital because her mom spilled some water on the floor that came out of her dress. Her mom called her dad at work telling him to come home. And grandma came over from the west side to take care of her.

“When we come home, sweetie,” said mom, “You’ll have a little sister or brother.”

“Just a second,” yelled grandma, “I want to get the last picture of the threesome before it becomes a foursome.” So grandma fiddled with her camera and took the picture. Then mom and dad were off to the hospital.

Later that afternoon Angela was downstairs playing with her train set when the phone rang. She heard grandma answer it then let out a delighted squeal. “That’s wonderful!” Angela heard grandma say, “I’ll go tell Angela.”

“Angela, dear,” grandma called down the stairs. “You have a new baby brother.”

Angela stopped playing with her trains. She pictured herself throwing a football to a red haired, diaper-wearing, chubby little lump. Then she went back to her trains.

A couple days later, mom and dad came home, and with them her new brother. “Say hello to Peter,” said mom. “I know you two will be good friends.”

“We’ll see,” thought Angela to herself.

Angela had trouble sleeping. It wasn’t because she wasn’t sleepy. It was that Peter woke up screaming every hour on the hour. “Why won’t he just shut up and sleep!?” Angela angrily thought to herself.

The next day, grandma had an appointment and dad was called into work, Angela wanted her mom to read her The Runaway Bunny, her favorite book.

“I’m sorry sweetie, but I have to nurse Peter.”

“Can I at least sit on your lap?” asked Angela

“No, I’m sorry, but Peter needs my lap right now. When he falls asleep I can read you your book.”

“No! I want it now!” Demanded Angela.
“No, I’ll read you the story later,” said mom gently but firmly. Angela ran crying to her room, slammed the door, and buried her face in her pink princess pillow.

Later that night while dad was watching the news, Angela came in the TV room and put in a video.

“Angela, daddy’s watching the news. After it’s over you can watch your video.”

“No, now!” Angela shrieked. “I want to watch my video now!”

“Angela, you know you don’t talk to daddy like that.”

Just then grandma called them to the table for dinner. At the table, Angela wanted peaches instead of potatoes. “Sorry, Angela, no. You have to eat what’s on your plate.”

“No!” Angela screamed as she threw her food at her mom who was at the table nursing Peter. Mom had to pick bits of potato and beans out of Peter’s hair. Her mom’s face turned the colour of a ripe tomato and Angela knew she had stepped over the line, but was not backing down.

“Angela, we do not throw food,” shouted mom. Grandma carried Angela kicking and screaming to her room to cool off. But inside her room, Angela got really angry. She tore the sheets off her bed; ripped the stuffing out of her pillow, and sprayed hand lotion all over the walls. She looked at what she had done and was surprised that it didn’t make her feel better, only sadder.

That Sunday, Peter was being baptized. Angela didn’t want to go to church. Her dad wrestled her into her dress and tussled with her to get into her car seat. He muttered a word that Angela knew she wasn’t allowed to say. In church, Angela sat between her mom and dad. Peter was sleeping.

Angela heard the pastor read the bible passage about when Jesus was baptized. When the pastor read the words that God said about Jesus “This is my beloved son,” her mom picked Angela up, put her on her lap, kissed her forehead, and whispered in her ear, “You’re my beloved child,” then held her tight. Angela nestled against her mom’s chest and her dad gently stroked her hair. It felt like old times.

That night as dad was getting her ready for bed and to say their prayers Angela said,

“I don’t like having Peter here. When is he going back to the hospital?"

"He's here to stay," dad replied gently.

Angela frowned and was quiet for a minute or two.

"I miss mommy.”

“Yes, I know. Your mommy misses you as well. But right now Peter needs her. But that doesn’t mean that she loves you any less. You will always be our beloved child just like Peter will also be.”

Angela didn’t know how they could both be their beloved child. But for the moment she was satisfied.

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now:

Dear God, we thank you that Jesus is your beloved child, and we are glad you love us as well. Amen.

Friday, January 07, 2005

To the Victims of the Tsunami

Thus says the Lord:
'Come from the four winds, O breath
and breathe upon these slain,
that they may live.'

Ezekiel 37:9

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

January Pastoral Letter

From Pastor Kevin

O God of earth and altar, in mercy hear our cry;
Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the words of scorn divide;
Take not Thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of pen and tongue;
From all the easy speeches that satisfy the throng;
From sale and profanation of honour and the word;
From sleep and damnation, deliver us, good God!

GK Chesterton, 1906

So many words, agendas, obligations, and responsibilities compete for our attention. It’s hard to discern where to put our best energy because we can’t do it all. We can’t please everyone. Despite St. Paul’s earnest exhortation, we can’t be all things to all people.

Roman Catholic writer Henri Nouwen admits to being increasingly aware

“of how much I want to go in many directions, do many things, meet many people, be involved in many situations. But to be fruitful I have to stay close to the source of life and allow myself to be cut back.
This is something I cannot do for myself; it must be done by the Word of God. It’s the Word that tells me that the grain of wheat has to die in order to bear fruit. Maybe its first of all a question of becoming attentive to when and where the cutting is taking place, and recognizing these times and places as times and places of fruitfulness.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of these “simplicity for simplicity’s sake” types. I love being busy. I love seeing plans come to fruition. I savour the blast of adrenalin that comes when multiple projects come together. And I get a perverse delight in crossing off items in my day book after a day well spent.

But what I think Nouwen and Chesterton are getting at is forming our life and priorities according to a different set of values than what the world gives us. Chesterton warns of the dangers of being swallowed up in the world’s quest for personal aggrandizement and comfort at the expense of our souls. And Nouwen reminds us that fruitfulness involves the Word of God pruning away those parts of our lives that destroy what God has so lovingly cultivated.

For me, this would mean having a lazar beam focus on Word and Sacrament ministry, being a messenger of good news to all I encounter. For you, it may mean re-evaluating how you spend your energies. It may mean cutting back in some areas and giving more in others. For us, as a congregation, it may mean reflecting on how we can be a more effective witness to the good news that makes a claim on our lives, building on the exciting things that are happening around here. And there are many!

This new year, it is my prayer that we, as a congregation, will continue to be shaped, formed, pruned, and cultivated by the Word of God, the message of salvation in Jesus’ name, so that we may live more faithfully, bearing joyful witness to the story that promises to bring life, freedom, and salvation to all people.

Happy New Year!

I always feel optimistic at the beginning of each year. This year is no exception. Despite the horrific disaster in Asia and a host of other reasons why I shoulod just throw in the towel, I still feel like I have another chance at having a really good year.

So tonight, I'm drinking a beer with the hope and prayer that God is somehow still alive and active in the world. I'll toast to peace in the face of violence. I'll toast compassion when competition seems to rule our world. I'll toast love when hatred appears to have the upper hand.

Grace and peace to you this new year!