Sunday, February 27, 2005

Children's Message Lent 3 - Year A

Tina loved sports. In the summer she played soccer in a girl’s league and in the winter she played basketball at school. When she was in class she stared at the clock ticking by instead of listening to the teacher because she couldn't wait to get out in the fresh air and run around with her friends.

It was recess and Tina’s friends Jane and Liz were inside helping the teacher move some desks around, so Tina ran over to Roger and John who were putting a couple teams together to play football.

“Which team can I be on?” Tina asked.

“Go away, no girls allowed,” snapped Roger.
Tina thought they were joking. But then noticed the boys weren’t smiling.
“No, really, I want to play.”
“You can’t play. You’re just a girl.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” asked Tina.
“Girls can’t play football. This is a man’s game.” said John.
“It’s not as if you’re playing in the Grey Cup. Even if you were…”
“Go away!” shouted Roger pushing Tina to the ground.

That night as she was getting ready for bed and to say her prayers, her dad noticed that she wasn’t her normal chatty self.

“What’s wrong, Tina. Why are you so quiet?”
“The boys wouldn’t let me play football with them because I am girl. One of them even pushed me.”
“Pushed you! Which one?”
“I work with Roger’s dad. I ‘ll talk with him tomorrow.”
“Why do boys have to be so mean?” asked Tina.
“Not all boys are mean. But some are, yes. I guess they have to show themselves how big and tough they are by picking on others. They should have been at church on Sunday.”
“Why?” asked Tina.
“Do you remember the story you heard in Sunday school about the woman at the well? You might remember that woman weren’t treated very well. Men were the only people that mattered. But Jesus talked to the woman, forgave her sin, and was the first person in the bible to share the good news of God’s love with her neighbours. Even though everyone else thought woman couldn’t do anything, Jesus gave her the most important job there is because he saw she was more than ‘just a girl.’”

Tina smiled.

“I guess if Jesus gave that woman the most important job, God must think girls are pretty special as well as boys.” Tina said.

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now: Dear God, thank you for seeing more in us than anyone else sees. Thank you for loving us. Amen.

Sermon: Lent 3 - Year A

Writer Anne Lamott, in her autobiographical Traveling Mercies, describes her conversion to Christ during a fierce struggle with alcoholism,

“After a while,” she says, “as I lay there, I became aware of someone watching me, hunkering down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light to make sure no one was there; of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

“And I was appalled…I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”

“I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.

“Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.

“This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever…

“And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared child, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.

“I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said,…’I quit.’ I took a long, deep breath and said out loud, ‘All right. You can come in.’

“So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.” (Lamott, p.67)
I read you such a lengthy passage because it resonates deeply with the story that we read this morning of the woman at the well. It’s a story of sadness. Of failure. And of simple grace.

Most rabbis didn’t bother to waste their words of wisdom and theological teachings to a Samaritan. But here is a Samaritan woman. A Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, not far from Mt. Gerizim, which is where the Samaritans thought the temple should be rather than Jerusalem. Because of this, Jewish folks had no dealings with Samaritans. Samaritans had changed the faith. They worshipped in a different temple. They had a different standard of what it meant to be faithful. They were almost Jews. Samaritans were a lot like Mormons. They said the right words, but somehow twisted the core of the faith to make it unrecognizable if you listened closely enough.

Plus, she is a woman. Women weren’t even considered persons. Mostly, they were property. From the way this woman was treated, it was clear that the men in her life didn’t give her any respect or care. And from the fact that she went to the well under the heat of the noon day sun instead of in the freshness of the morning or the coolness of the evening like everyone else showed how much she was scorned by the other women around her.

She can’t believe that this man, a Jew, a rabbi, someone with an obvious following, would talk to her; a woman, a Samaritan, a sinner. Wrong gender. Wrong race. Wrong religion. Yet Jesus reaches out to her. He knows all about her: all her failures. All her sadness. All her sin.

And yet this is not what Jesus sees when he talks to her. He sees – a disciple!

The Samaritan woman is an evangelist. She is the first person who understands in John’s gospel. The disciples are uncomprehending at this point. Nicodemus doesn’t get it. But this woman does, enough to get others to follow her in her new belief in Jesus.

Jesus talks to her of the very essence of life, water that will never run dry. Living water, whatever that is. And she runs all the way back home to tell people, “Come! See a man who has told me everything! He can’t be the Messiah, can he?” It is her witness to the new life Jesus shares that converts those around her

And what is that witness? Jesus didn’t tell her a whole lot. He didn’t quote John 3: 16 or teach her the Apostles’ Creed. He did her one better: he loved her.

It’s amazing the hurts that keep people from Jesus, afraid that God will reject them if God knew what lie deep within their souls.

A few weeks ago I met the woman at the well. Actually, it was a man in a dirty, smoke-filled apartment. He had called the church for help and I went to go see him armed with a bag of groceries. As I was leaving he said, “I want to go to church, can I come to your church?”

Those were his words but that wasn’t what he was asking. What he was really asking was “Will someone like me be welcome in your church?”

I pictured him in our pews, his black greasy hair, his yellowed fingers and his nicotine and booze stained breath, mingling with men in ties and suit jackets, women in dresses and children in jeans. And I thought that like woman at the well was to the disciples, he’d be a challenge to our congregation. But a challenge our congregation would definitely step up to.

“Yes,” I told him, “we’d love to have you worship with us.”

Who is the woman at the well for you? Maybe it’s someone in your family. The brother who hides his homosexuality because he is terrified he’ll be rejected by those who he loves the most.

The co-worker who had an abortion and pretends that nothing really happened “It was just a surgical procedure,” she says, but secretly she harbours guilt and grief deep inside her soul.

Maybe it’s the aunt who found out last month she had cancer and she doesn’t want to tell anyone about it because she’s afraid people will treat her differently - like she’s weak.

Or maybe it’s you. You’re the woman at the well, carrying burdens that weigh you down while you put on a smiling public face.

You need to know that when Jesus looks at you, or looks at whoever it is you consider to be “outside” the faith, that he doesn’t see a sinner. Oh, sure, he sees the sin – and knows it, in all its gory detail – but he sees much more than that.

Jesus’ vision could have stopped at the woman being a Samaritan, a woman, in difficulty with her relationships, a sinner. But he saw more – a woman to be won over to a greater cause, a witness to serve God and God’s people, a disciple.

And no doubt Jesus’ vision of Anne Lamott could have stopped at the alcoholic, the anorexic, the desperate, the druggie, a sinner. But he saw more - a woman to be won over to a greater cause, a witness through her writing to serve God and God’s people, a disciple.

So. What do you think Jesus sees when he looks at you? A sinner? One who has failed and continues to fail in some of your moral obligations? Oh yes. But much more than that – someone to be won over to a greater cause, Jesus’ cause – a witness to serve God and God’s people, a disciple. That’s what Jesus sees.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A storm is brewing among Canadian Lutherans over Same Sex Blessings

EDMONTON - Rev. Tim Posyluzny says he deeply regrets hurting some members of his Lutheran congregation by conducting a same-sex blessing.

But he doesn't regret the blessing itself.

"I couldn't apologize for what I did because I thought it was good and necessary," says Posyluzny, the minister at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, 11223 51st Ave.

"But I apologized for the hurt that I caused. And there was a lot of hurt."

Read the rest here.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Andrew Hutchison: "I thought it was going to be worse."

The blogosphere is going crazy over the latest Anglican woes.

ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold had this to say at the meeting where it all took place:

We find ourselves overtaken by a compassion, which because it is of the Spirit and not the result of our effort or imagination, knows no bounds and can enfold all persons and all things.

It is a compassion, which in the words of St Isaac of Syria, embraces not only humankind but the birds and the beasts, the enemies of truth, those who wish to do us harm and 'even the reptiles', which may be seen as representing those slithery aspects of our own humanity which we are loath to admit to the company of our 'better' selves and therefore often displace on to others as evil.

Read the rest here

Get Religion has the most extensive coverage of the Anglican responses. Although clearly, they've taken the side of African Primates.

Canadian coverage. Check out the graphic. An empty church:

They have not yet made any decisions in response to the request, Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Principal Secretary to the Primate, told in a phone interview from Northern Ireland where the meetings between the leaders took place this week.

We're members of the Anglican Communion, we will continue to be members of the Anglican Communion," he said, nothing that the talks were much like a family dispute during which family members "step back for breathing space, to sort things out.

Bishop Sue Moxley of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island offered her usual wise insight,

"My whole thing is: as long as we can stay at the table, we can talk. If we're not there, how can we go forward?" she asked.

Bishop Moxley questioned why the primates chose to exclude the North Americans from the Council.

"They (the primates) didn't decide that Andrew (Hutchison) and Frank (Griswold, presiding bishop of ECUSA) couldn't be at the next primates' meeting," she noted. "It seems that they don't want anybody other than primates making decisions."

She said that the Anglican Consultative Council is the only place in the Anglican Communion where laity, clergy and bishops all have a voice.

"We were right on the edge of a break-up of the Communion," said Archbishop Hutchison. Withdrawing from the Council, he said, "gives everyone a little space to think; it gives the very conservative churches something to go home with and to be able to say that their voice was truly heard."

Read the rest here

North American Anglicans Respond

Canadian Anglican Primate Andrew Hutchinson issued this response.

No surprise here, Anglican Essentials has asked archbishop Hutchinson to comply with the worldwide Primates' request to "exercise a moratorium on public rites of blessing for same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage."

American Primate Frank Griswold issued this brief statement.

Father Jake provides his usual insight.

When I find something from the so-called "pro-gay" side here in Canada I'll post it.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Anglican leaders ask U.S., Canadian churches to withdraw temporarily from the Communion

The issue of homosexuality in the Anglican Communion has reached fevered pitch.

I promised myself not to blog about it because, to be honest, I'm tired of the whole debate. Between parliament's bill to recognize same sex unions and the ELCIC's fight over the local option, (for the uniniated, the local option is allowing individual congregations to decide for themselves whether or not they will bless same sex unions) I feel like I'm all debated out.

But having said that,

...we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public rites of blessing for same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage.

Read the rest here.

For the actual communique, click here.

This seems to be an indication of the localization of religion. While it's important for churches to be in community, I wonder where this community ends. Worldwide, the cultural differences within the Anglican Communion are staggering. Is this more of a cultural divide than a theological one? Can the evangelicals within the Canadian church who ally themselves with their African conferes stomach other issues such as African church leaders turning a blind eye to polygamy within African churches?

The Anglican Church of Canada can function autonomously if they do volunteer to remove themselves from the Communion. But the question remains, does such a move compromise the essence of what it means to be an Anglican Christian; being in communion with others who share the same historical foundation? Or has that communion and unity come with too high a price?

Until this is resolved, I think it is imperative that the Anglican Church of Canada continue to chart its own course, independant of outside influence, forge partnerships with likeminded churches. Maybe we'll see a new communion between the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Why John Paul II Shouldn't Resign

John L. Allen Jr. has a great article on why JPII should keeping holding the reigns of the Roman Catholic Church:

...many observers believe that John Paul II is providing precious testimony about the inherent value of human life, from beginning to end. In a culture that worships youth, beauty and efficiency, his reminder that elderly and infirm people can provide important contributions is perhaps a valuable one.

Enough said. Allen could have left it at that.

Read the rest here.

March Pastoral Letter

At the Pastors’ Study Conference last month in Canmore, the guest presenter, Rev. Michael Foss took us through a ministry model he developed and implemented at his church, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church ( in Burnsville Minnesota. While I’m usually suspicious of “one size fits all” approaches to ministry, I found his presentation to be exhilaratingly hopeful for congregations trying to effectively engage the world around them with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Good Shepherd is certainly one of those churches.

In Foss’ main text, Power Surge: Six Marks of Discipleship for a Changing Church as well in as his subsequent book, A Servant’s Manual: Christian Leadership for Tomorrow he challenges congregations to make the move from “membership to discipleship.”

“Membership”, Foss says, “identifies who is in and who is out. It’s exclusive. The church is to be inclusive.”

True enough. I think his main point is a deeply biblical one. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to “Go and make members of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus said, “Go and makes disciples.”

“Membership is passive,” Foss says, “Discipleship is active.”

Good Shepherd seems to understand this instinctively. We have hard working faithful disciples sharing in our ministry who are not members. Folks who probably will never be members. But will offer their gifts for service in Christ’s church. In fact, the only two “benefits” that come with membership is serving on council and voting in congregational meetings. But, it’s no secret that plenty of decision making comes informally by way of conversation over coffee or in the parking lot.

We also have hard working faithful disciples who happen to be members. When it comes to our church’s work, there appears to be no distinction between the two.

This is not to say that good governance is not important. Strong leadership is vital to the on-going fulfillment of our ministry. We need to make significant decisions together. But the strength of our family of faith comes from the power of God working through the efforts of our gifted community of disciples.

“All the power the church will ever need,” Foss concludes, “comes from the people who love because they live consciously as disciples of the risen Christ. When we teach, train, equip, empower, encourage, support, and challenge people in their calling as disciples of the risen Christ, the power of Christ’s life’s surges through the church and wonderful, grace-full, life-giving, life-celebrating things begin to happen.”

This is Good Shepherd, all over.

Grace to you and peace,

Pastor Kevin

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

World Council of Churches adopts consensus decision-making

Geneva (ENI). After several years of experimentation, the
main governing body of the World Council of Churches, the body
uniting most non-Roman Catholic Christians, has formally adopted a
consensus method of decision-making for all WCC bodies.
"This decision to adopt the consensus method marks a new culture
altogether in the World Council," the church grouping's
general secretary the Rev. Samuel Kobia told journalists.

This is going to come back and bite them in the butt. The Consensus Method effectively gives everyone a veto; which will bog down decision making. This sounds more ideological than practical. Take same-sex blessings, for example. Is it possible for the WCC to secure a consensus amongst its members, especially when a growing number are from Africa and notoriously socially conservative?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Shrek, You Girlie Man!

First Spongbob Squarepants and now Shrek.

This is just nutty. If you look hard enough you can find a pro-gay message anywhere you want.

I remember as a kid having a friend who's dad wouldn't let him watch M*A*S*H because Klinger wore a dress. It didn't matter to this father that Klinger donned an evening gown to get out of the army, or that the core message of the show was a celebration of peace. Politics was irrelevant. All that mattered to this father was that a man was wearing a woman's clothing.

I find these people astonishingly shallow. These folks who are looking for so-called pro-gay messages under every rock. If they weren't so ridiculous they'd be dangerous.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Children's Message: Lent 2 - Year A

Ann loved to watch hockey. Even though Hockey Night in Canada was put on the shelf until the players and owners could figure out how many millions of dollars the players could comfortably live on, she loved going to see the junior team play even more than the pro’s.

Ann and her dad went to the games together. It was their special time.

Ann’s dad scored tickets right behind the goalie. Ann loved sitting at the end of the rink so she could get a broader view of the game.

“Look at the cameras, Ann,” dad said pointing to the big camera at the front boards, “I guess the game is going to be on TV.”

But when her and her dad arrived at their seats she was troubled to see who or what was sitting next to her. He was dressed in red and purple and yellow and green pants, with a pink and orange shirt, and a brown and blue polka-dotted tie. To top it all off, he wore a wig that was coloured like a rainbow.

“Why would someone dress like a clown at a hockey game?” Ann asked herself.

Beside the clown’s chair sat a huge piece of cardboard that he must have ripped from the side of a box. “He must be a real hockey nut,” Ann thought to herself.

“Dad, can we switch seats?” Ann asked.

“I’m sorry sweetie,” Dad replied looking past Ann to the fellow sitting beside her, “but these chairs are too small for my legs and I need the aisle seat.”

Ann frowned and watched the clown from the corner of her eye.

The game started and the home team kept the puck in the zone where Ann and her dad were sitting. Ann loved the game’s fast pace. Finally, the puck went in the net. The red light when on. And the crowd went wild. The TV camera turned and scanned the seats. As the camera panned past Ann and her Dad, the guy beside leapt up from his chair, hoisting the cardboard sign in the air and shouting, “Read your bible! Read your bible!” His sign had huge letters that read “John 3:16.”

Ann was more than a little freaked by this guy and was terrified that she would be caught on TV sitting next to him. Her dad put his arm around Ann and pulled her tight against himself, protecting her from the clown man’s wild gestures.


That night as Ann was getting into her pajamas and to say prayers with her dad, Ann asked,

“What was that guy doing at the hockey game? Why did he stand up and shout nothing that to do with hockey each time a goal was scored?”

“I guess he had other ideas about what folks should do with their time.”

“But the sign he was carrying. Was that a bible verse?”

“John 3:16? Yes it is. I guess he wanted folks to read the bible more. Especially that verse.”


“I guess he believes that if people read the bible they will know God better.”

“But he was scary. He scared other people as well. How would scaring them make them read the bible?”

“Sometimes people with the best intentions do more harm than good. But, in a way, he’s right. If people read their bible a little more closely then they’ll better understand who God is. But people like our friend at the hockey game seem to think that the bible is a magic book. Like a book of spells that if you read it, the words themselves will change people. But it’s not the words that change people; it’s the message, the story of how God loves and accepts us know matter what we have done. That’s what changes us.”

“John 3:16. What does that say?” Ann asked.

“Well, let’s look it up,” replied dad. Ann pulled her bible from her shelf, found the right page and read it out loud to her dad, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son; that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

“That just about sums up the whole message of the bible doesn’t it?” said Ann.

“It sure does,” said her dad. “I guess that guy made us read the bible after all.”

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now, “Dear God, thank you for loving us just as we are. Thank you for giving your Son to us. Thank you for eternal life.” Amen.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Sermon: Lent 2 - Year A

Today I’d like to tell you a story about an old man named Abe. If Abe’s business gave out gold watches he would have received one. Maybe even two. A week later his first pension cheques arrived. Abe and his wife had planned to head to the cottage, fix the place up, and turn it into their summer home when they returned from their winter condo in Arizona. Abe did his time, paid his dues, now he just wanted what was coming to him.

Abe sat back in his favourite rocker outside on his back yard. The fire’s soft crackle warmed his feet. It was dark and Abe looked up and scanned the stars in the sky. Abe was looking forward to not moving except to fill up his coffee mug and take a slice out of the stack of books had been growing on his night table.

In the heavens, God began to snicker.

“Abe!” God shouted in which Abe could hear only in his bowels. “Too much salsa for dinner,” Abe said reaching for the Tums in his pocket.

“I want to lead you on a great adventure.”

“What adventure? What are you talking about?”

“See those stars? More people will call you “father” and your wife “mother than what you see in the sky.”

“Are you crazy? Look at me! I shouldn’t be having kids at my age. My wife is no spring chicken herself (don’t tell her I said that).”

“You and your wife will be the parents of millions.”

“She couldn’t have kids when we were young. Why would you wait until now to screw up our lives?”

“You have been blessed. Now you will be a blessing to the world.”

Abe put his mug down and walked over to the front of the barn. He reminded God that it took 12 generations to build up the family farm into the well- oiled business machine it now is.

“See that spot right over there?” Abe asked, “That’s where my daddy’s daddy planted the first tree. There was nothing here when he arrived. NOTHING. Now you want us to walk away from all of this.”

“Yup,” said God.

“Can you see that small fence just over the east hill? That’s the family plot. Generations of my family and Sara’s are buried there. This is not just traditions that I’m leaving behind. It’s my family.”

“I know,” said God.

“But why us? Why now? There’s a young guy that helps out around here every now and then. You want him. We just can’t do what you’re asking us to do.”

“I want you.”

“Why? What makes us so special?”

“You are special because I choose you. I know what’s in your heart. I know the battles between good and evil that rages in your soul. I know every murderous thought. Every mixed motive. Every seed of hate. I still choose you and Sara.

“You will have wisdom because I will give you wisdom. You will have strength because I will give you strength. You will have a family because I will give you children. Generations will honour you because of what I will do for you. They will call you “father” and Sara they will call “mother.” Don’t be afraid. I will guide you.”

Abe sat down on the bumper of the truck. He looked up at the night sky and tried counting the stars. He stopped after a couple minutes feeling stupid to even consider taking the voice seriously.

He argued with God until he heard Sara turning off the lights for bed. God left. Abe stayed outside wondering what he was going to tell his wife.


“Look at the wrinkles in these hand, Abe” Sara cried in disbelief. “We’ve lived our lives. We’ve done our work. What do mean that we have to begin all over again?”

“Sara, I know what this sounds like. But God told me we are supposed to change history.”

“Change history? Boy, someone’s full of themselves. We’ve worked hard our whole lives. It’s time for us to retire. Let someone younger do this because we’re not leaving. Our parents built us a home. How can we turn our backs on all that our family has done for us? You’re asking me to throw away all the blood, sweat, and sacrifice, of everyone who built this house. You just want to put it out on the curb!”

“I know. We need to honour our past,” said Abe, “We need to remember all the blessings that we’ve received. Maybe the best way to do that is for our lives to be a blessing. Maybe we’re not turning our backs on the past as much as we are looking ahead to the future. God is asking us to have faith.”

“Faith!?” said Sara, rolling her eyes at her husband. “What are talking about, faith? You’re talking about insanity! You’re telling me that I should have faith that God wants us to pack up our things, head off to who-knows-where and start a family. We couldn’t have kids them what makes you think we can have them now?”

“Faith, Sara. God is asking us to trust. I know this is insane. I know this is terrifying. It’s like fumbling around in the dark, groping for something to cling to. Following God is like tracking a voice we can barely hear, or chasing a shadow we can barely see. It’s like that poem we read that says that after we jump into the darkness of the unknown, faith lets us believe that we will either land on solid ground, or we will be taught how to fly.”

“Look around. Is this the world God wants? Does God want the world to fight with one another? Does God want children to starve when there’s enough food to go around? Does God want our cities to collapse under the weight of human pain?

“Remember those folks over in Babel building that skyscraper? They thought that just because they were smart they could build a world better than what God had in mind. Look what happened to them. The building crumbled. The structure wasn’t solid. It buckled under the strain of everyone demanding to live on the top floor.”

“How will us moving end all that? We are just two old people. How can we help, really.”

Abe paused for a moment. Saw the sun setting in the western sky and said,

“Maybe it is our job to get the ball rolling.”

That night Sara tossed and turned. Fearful of where her husband was taking them. Abe stared at the ceiling, hoping it was actually God’s voice he heard and not some bad salsa. He hoped that he wasn’t asking his wife to give up everything for a fool’s errand.

The next day, just as the sun was peeking over the eastern horizon, Abe and Sara put some clothes in a suitcase, packed up the truck, and slowly pulled out of their driveway.

As they drove out of town, Sara felt a rumble in her belly. An eagle soared above the rising sun and dipped down in front of their truck. Even though they didn’t know where they were going, they knew they weren’t alone. God, somehow, was guiding them. They only needed to look at the rising sun to know their direction, and scan the stars of the sky to see their destination.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Why I am a pastor

“Why are you a pastor?” the young man asked.

I couldn’t blame him for asking. It seems like a bizarre job for someone my age. The word "pastor" often evokes images of a graying, black clad, humourless, hard ass who’s only job is to sap the world of earthly pleasures. All in Jesus' name.

He left a stain on a young guy's soul that may never be removed.

“But why would you attach yourself to a losing team?” he continued. “There must be a better way to do good for the world then to play religious games that fewer and fewer people want to play.”

“But where else would you see God working? I mean really working.” I ask.

Yes, I know that God is everywhere but God has promised to work through God’s people - Us. The church. Think about how odd that sounds. The young guy's questions cut too close.

God has chosen church-folks to be the instrument of salvation and healing that God wants for the world. Weak. Petty. Squabbling. Us. It's a wonder a light bulb gets changed in the church.

Based on my own experience, the stuff we do is not the sort of stuff that makes it on the 6:00 news, but it is the normal, everyday miracles that happen in the church all the time. God's work get done.

Like the young woman who rolling into the Greyhound Station just weeks before Christmas, escaped with her kids from the nightmare of an abusive relationship; out of food and out money, she asks the church to help her get through the season. No one makes a big fuss. The woman’s group helps her pay her rent, and another buys Christmas presents for her two young children. Another makes arrangements to meet with her to see how she’s getting along.

Or like on Easter Sunday, “the crazy woman is back” the kids murmur gleefully to each other. Her squeaky old wheelchair takes up the whole of the centre aisle in an already packed church. She closes her eyes and sways to the soothing music of the organ prelude; her face is flush with peace. During the announcements, she boorishly interrupts the pastor to bear spontaneous testimony – how God has richly blessed her with a church she loves and people with whom she can pray. People who stand by her despite her occasional "episodes." For her, she says, that is resurrection. The kids in the back smile widely. She smiles back. Resurrection, indeed.

Or like the older man visiting the nursing home, holding the hand of a long-time member who cannot hear, see, or speak, and is drawing her last breaths. He stays with her all night, gently stroking her hand as she softly slips into eternity. “No one,” he says, “deserves to die alone.”

"I could go on and on but you get point." I tell the young man. "No matter how bad things get, the gospel always seems to 'work.' All we can do is be faithful to our message of salvation and new life in Jesus, and to keep our eyes open to where God is around us. Where else would that happen? And I get a from row seat when it all starts happening."

That's why I’m a pastor.

I was shot today...

My family went to the health centre to get Naomi, our one-year-old, her immunization shots. The nurse asked me when my last shot was. I told her it was when I was in high school. She told me to roll up my sleeve.


My arm hurts like hell. But now I can play with strange animals and walk barefoot through a scrap yard.

How much did this cost me?


Gotta love this Canadian health care system.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I still don't know what I'm giving up...

I still don’t know what I’m giving up for Lent. And that’s ok. Maybe I won’t give up anything. I feel tired. Maybe I could offer my exhaustion to God. Maybe that’s enough. I’m reminded that “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)”

God is more interested in our hearts, our minds, our souls, than our external observances. Not that external observances are necessarily bad. External observances point us to the deeper message of Christ. Rituals are powerful. But they are not essential to our faith (“adiaphora” to use the Reformation term).

Maybe I’ll spend more time in prayer, study, and visitation. Parts of my job that draw me closer to God. Hearing faith stories of parishioners always refreshes me. Reading deeply of the grand story of our salvation always stirs me.

Praying I find more difficult. But maybe I need to push through the pain and simply do it and see where it leads me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lutheran membership climbs in world, Africa, but not South

Geneva (ENI). The number of Lutherans worldwide increased
by 5.4 per cent in 2004 to almost 70 million, much of this growth
in Africa, says the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation.
But while Lutheran churches throughout most of the African
continent registered an increase in membership, several churches in
South Africa experienced a decline, the Lutheran church grouping
has noted.

Good news.

But as I noted on a previous post, the LWF numbers are wildly inflated due to the baptismal records in the European state churches. European state churches are known to be in great decline as attendance figures hover around the 2-3 percent levels.

But why are the African churches growing. I'll bet the report also points to growth in South America and Asia.

I wonder if folks are most open to the gospel when they actually experience it as "good news." History has shown that Christianty flourishes in poorer countries, but has a fundamentalistic colour. Also, the Lutheranism (as well as the rest of Christianity) that is growing world-wide is a pentecostal style that emphasizes experience over knowledge.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Pentecostalism is a dynamic expression of Christianity that provides ecstatic experiences of God. I've called often pentecostal (or charismatics)"extraverted mystics" )a designation that has been met with derision among my more liberal friends)but they fail to deepen their understanding of the historic faith that has been passed down from generation to generation for 2000 years. At some point, experience needs knowledge to give it legs.

The pentecostal Lutheranism that is blossoming in developing countries will cause tremendous cultural division between north and south; especially around the issues of human sexuality. Maybe northern liberals will need to practice the inclusiveness they preach so fervantly by hearing the southern voices that so strongly disagree with them on some pretty controversial issues.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Who's Lurking in Your Church?

Will Willimon tells this story in this week's entry of Pulpit Resources:

A few years ago, in one of the great churches of our denomination, a young man was discoverd hiding in the church.

A maintenance worker discovered him one day. He had been lurking in the attic, spending his day in darkness, only venturing forth during the night to prowl about the church, feeding on leftovers, listening in on that daily activities of the congregation from his secret hideaway in the attic.

Willimon then asks,

Do you know anyone who is hiding in the church? Someone who is hiding amid the rest of the congregation, present, but not really, on the boundary, uninvolved, fearful of being found out, encountered? What would it take for this person to come out of the dark into the light?

As a pastor, this story haunts me.

I know there are people who are lurking on the edges, spiritually hidden away, fearful of being exposed. People who prowl through the leftovers of the well-fed. Or who overhear the joyfilled strains of the community in worship, disconnected, but still, somehow present. What does good news mean for them? Who do they need Jesus to be?

Scanning the borders, shining light in the dark corners, sweeping away the cobwebs and making sure the doors are open to all who need God's healing grace in their lives. This will always be our calling and our challenge.

I'll be pondering all this over the next couple of days as I prepare my sermon.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Sermon: Lent One - Year A

(N.B., with help from Willimon, Pulpit Resouce)

Kevin Powell
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
Lent 1 – Year A
February 13 – Year A

I didn’t really take Lent seriously until I was in university. To be honest, Lent wasn’t even on my radar screen before then. Lent just seemed like a religious game that I didn’t want to play. Smearing ashes on my forehead. Keeping the “A” word buried in a tomb. Liturgically beating our chests in ritual repentance. All of this seemed so – medieval. Religious hocus-pocus that may have meant something at some time, but lost its meaning as the world “progressed” beyond superstition and religious fantasy.

But it’s amazing how life can turn up empty when left to our own devices. And how such emptiness can make you look at things differently.

I had been a fairly confident young man. I was studying music. I was going to be an orchestra conductor. And, as any musician will tell you, you need to have a bit of an ego to stand in front of 50 to 100 equally ego-obsessed individuals and suggest that your way is the best way. Confidence was one quality I was not lacking.

When you’re young and haven’t experienced failure. The first one can flatten you.

Without sharing the gory details, I had a few big set backs, both personal and professional. After which I found myself in an Anglican church hearing the words from the prophet Joel in the language of the old prayer book:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
(Joel 2:13)

For me, these were words of refreshing honesty. Strange truthfulness. Perverse openness.

Failure felt dirty. But there was good news in knowing that my failures, my limitations, my brokenness, could be offered as a gift to God. Not that God was offering worldly success in return. But that God wanted from me the parts of my life the rest of world didn’t even want to know about. God wanted my tears. God wanted my anger. God wanted my disappointments and my regrets. No one other than God could take what the world calls ugly and dirty, and transform it into a gift for the Almighty.

Maybe it was the Holy Spirit talking, or maybe it was the need for a deeper expression of faith in my life, or maybe it was both, but Lent became for me a time of deepening my understanding of God and how God works in the world and in my life. The ashes smeared on my forehead confronted me with my mortality. The silence of the “A” word aroused my longing for new life. The prayers of confession exposed my self-conceits.

So now, Lent is, for me, a time of devastating honesty. Honesty about myself: where I’ve failed. Where I’ve succeeded. Where I’ve fallen short of what God wants for me. Where I need God’s healing in my life.

Sometimes Lent is the spot where pain and pleasure intersect purging me of all that limits abundant living.

But other times Lent requires more from me then I’m ready to give. Because my sin is too great.

But what I’ve learned foremost is that sin is the great equalizer. The grand leveler. None of us gets off scot-free. In today’s second reading, Paul writes to the church in Rome, singing to them of the triumph of Christ. He describes for them the entrance of sin and rebellion into the world. We are those who have gone astray, who have preferred our wills to God’s will. The results of this sin are all around us. The history of this past blood-stained century, the headlines in this morning’s paper tell the story.

Yet to this story Paul contrasts the story of Christ. Christ brings life to our death-dealing ways. Christ offers forgiveness for all our sins. In Christ, it’s like God starts all over with creation, from the beginning, and sets us toward a new future.

This Sunday, this first Sunday in Lent, think of church as a place where all our contradictions are underscored, examined, and questioned. Think of church as a place where we confront the truths about ourselves that we spend the rest of our lives avoiding. Here, with God’s help, we try to tell the truth about ourselves. And sometimes, the truth hurts.

The whole world is busy trying to climb up the ladder of success; here we kneel down in confession of sin. The world keeps telling us that we are basically good people who are doing the very best we can. Here, we admit that we are those who wander, who rebel, who fail; in short, we sin.

On a Sunday like this one, alongside of an “everybody welcome” sign, over the door of the sanctuary we should put a warning sign for unsuspecting visitors: BEWARE: TRUTH BEING TOLD HERE!

How is it possible for people like us to tell the truth about ourselves?

Left on our own, I doubt that we would be able tpo achieve the kind of honesty God asks from us because we have a way of beating ourselves up. If we think God is judging, I wonder if we don’t do a better job. Honesty would be utterly impossible were it not because in Jesus Christ, we hear first, that we are loved; God’s love is the safety net in which our honesty lands us. As Paul says to the Romans, though our sin was serious, in Christ, “grace abounded,” which is a fancy way of saying, “love and forgiveness flourished.” Our misdeeds are abundant, as we admit every time we say a prayer of confession. Yet, as Paul says, in Christ we have received abundant grace. We could not get good enough for God, so God in Christ has made us good enough through his saving love for us. We could not do right by God, so God in Christ did right for us.

The good God who had every right to punish us for our failure to be good, instead loved us back into relationship with God. This is the great and wonderful contradiction of our faith, the great contradiction of God’s love for us, upon which rests our hope in life and in death.

So maybe we shouldn’t put the sign up: BEWARE: TRUTH BEING TOLD HERE. Maybe instead we should replace it with, WELCOME: LOVE AND FORGIVENESS BEING OFFERED HERE.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Friday, February 11, 2005

What can I give up for Lent?

I know I'm a little behind. We're two days into Lent and I still don't know what to give up. I thought about giving up beer (yeah, right!) or starting to exercise and eating healthier (even funnier). When I figure out what I'm giving up I'll let you know.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

TS Eliot: Ash Wednesday

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

- TS Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Roman Catholic priest Joseph Nassal tells this story,

Imagine you are walking down the street and come upon a house that has burned to the ground. Sitting in the midst of the ashes and rubble is a man in his mid-thirties. The young man, a professional, who might otherwise be a striking symbol of sanity and success, is rubbing the ashes on his arms, his shirt, his pants.

You stop on the sidewalk to watch him. At first you think the fire which destroyed his house also took his mind. One of his neighbours is standing beside you and tells you that this is where the young man lived as a child. The house had been vacant for a couple of years since the death of the young man’s grandfather.

“He was looking to sell the house,” the neighbour says, “but he never got around to it.” Then he adds, “Come to think of it, I don’t think he never came to take care of his grandfather’s possessions until after he died. He’s busy, you know, with his career and all.”

The young man stands and then stumbles over charred beams and scarred remains. You want to step forward to comfort him but can’t. What if he has indeed gone insane? No telling what he might do. You watch and whisper with the others.

He’s found something. The young man picks up a tiny object and holds it in his hand. He brushes away the powdery ash and rubs it on his face. His bath is complete. He is covered with ashes.

You inch closer to see what it is the young man has found. Whatever it is, it’s not very large. His hands hide it. Perhaps it is an heirloom. Then you see a tarnished chain slip through his fingers. A watch dangles at the end of the chain. Gracefully, gently, it glides back and forth as the young man gazes, hypnotized by memory.

You hear him say softly, “This was my grandfather’s. Just before he died he gave it to me.” It is one of those pocket watches that you put in your vest. The young man opens it and a smile slightly creases his face.

He puts the watch in his pocket and falls back to the ground. A cloud of dust rises as the young man rolls around in the ashes of the place he once called home.

“He’s lost his mind,” the neighbour whispers.

No, you think to yourself, he’s found his soul.
(Joseph Nassal, The Conspiracy of Compassion)

An odd little story, don’t you think? It’s awkwardly morbid. Yet strangely life-affirming.

Ashes are the enemy. Ashes mean defeat. Don’t they?

Think about how bizarre these ashes look stuck to our foreheads. It’s as if we’re saying to the world “I give up!” We’re flaunting our mortality. We’re boasting in our weakness. Maybe that’s why we’re tempted to wash them off as soon as get into our cars. We’re embarrassed that someone is going to say to us, “You’ve got something on your forehead.”

It’s as if we’re telling the world the wrong kind of truth.

A week ago I received the sad news that the three-year-old cousin of a seminarian died after a valiant two-year battle with leukemia. I never met Hannah. But through Sara, our friend at seminary, Rebekah and I had been following her story. We received regular reports. I checked her website often. I prayed for her. I wept when she died.

I wonder if Hannah’s story moved me so deeply because was she was only a few months older than Sophie. So much life. So much joy, doused. And I can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a child. On top of sorrow I felt angry. Angry at the injustice. Angry at the absurdity of losing such a beautiful young life. Angry at knowing that her’s is not an isolated case. Thousands of children die each day. Hannah’s is just one voice in a chorus. So, I’m angry.

But moreover, maybe I’m angry because I know that one day Sophie will die. Naomi will die. Just like all of us.

It’s one thing to reflect upon our own deaths, but I think the death of one’s child carries its own special tragedy. I feel a responsibility for my children’s well-being and survival, and I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that Rebekah and I have brought Sophie and Naomi into the world simply to die. To me it feels like I’ve lost the game before it has even begun.

Irrational? Maybe. But aren’t most fears?

But maybe these ashes tell a different story. Maybe these ashes bear the wounds of the saviour who embraced our dustiness, our limitations, our failure, when he went to death on the cross. Maybe these ashes are signs of defiance against death and suffering and point to a new future. Maybe, these ashes, that we wear so proudly say to the world, I know you’re suffering. I know you carry wounds so deep that maybe you can’t even name them. I know that life can be devastating. I know all that because these ashes bear witness to my own suffering. And through my own suffering, I have learned compassion. So share your agony with me. So let’s breathe together. As the Spirit of the Risen Jesus who still bears the wounds of salvation, breathes with us.

More than a simple act of remembering that “We are dust and unto dust we will return,” receiving ashes is a sacred act of courage. It says: Yes, I am willing to wrestle in the darkness of these days “where the shadows of sin play hide and seek, where clouds of indifference have eroded commitment, where the cold winds of compromise have chilled compassion” as one poet says it. (Nassal)

Ashes say: Yes, I am willing to confront those death-dealing attitudes and death-denying gestures that have become second nature to me. Yes, I will roll around in the dust in an act of repentance and remembering and confidence. Yes, I will be mortal; I will trust God, because I can’t find my own way into eternity.

Even when we wash our faces, the ashes cling. They remind us that only God can bring new life out of these ashes. Only God can bring new life out of you, out of me, out of Hannah.

No, we don’t have all the answers for all the world’s ills, evils, and diseases. We don’t have the answer to death. But when we have the courage to live the questions with each other, then we may discover how the Spirit of God breathing within us gives us power to change from self-centred ways into a growing respect for the needs of others. The Holy Spirit loosens the grip that original sin and unoriginal indifference hold on our lives and frees us to remember what we need never forget: God’s fingerprints are felt on our wounds, God’s life breathes deep within us. It is because of God’s mercy that we can be merciful. It is because of God’s faithfulness that we can be faithful. It is because of God’s grief at losing God’s Son that we are re-born into eternal life.

So try as we might. We can never wash the ashes from our forehead. They stubbornly refuse to be wiped clean. Only though the waters of life given to us in baptism is the stain of death removed. In the meantime, I think I’ll leave my wounds open, hoping they will continue to teach me how meet others in their pain. And in our common wounds, we breathe together, conspiring for life, for love, for compassion.

And when people say, “He’s lost his mind,” I can answer, “No, I’ve found my soul.” Amen.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Was that an AGM or a LoveFest?

Yesterday Good Shepherd had an excellent Annual General Meeting. It wasn’t a meeting as much as it was a celebration of all the gifted people doing wonderful ministries at our church.

The motion about pursuing a more suitable facility for our congregation went through very easily, with a minimum of discussion. I guess folks got to have their say at earlier meetings. All that was left was a vote. And it was unanimous.

Now the hard work begins.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Transfiguration: Children's Message

Esther’s parents dropped her and her brother James off at her grandma’s and grandpa’s while they went away for the weekend skiing.

Esther and her brother James loved going to visit grandma and grandpa. Their house was tucked away the middle of a small forest with big trees looming over the roof, providing shade in the summer and comfort in the winter; for the naked branches of the tree looked like arms hugging their little house.

James liked to roam about in the woods outside, but Esther preferred to stay inside and explore the vast treasure-house of old things that grandma and grandpa kept in their attic.

Esther opened a box labeled “pictures” and pulled the pictures out and laid them on her lap. They were pictures from long long ago; from before her mom and dad were born. Everyone was all dressed up. The men had slicked back hair and the women were wearing fancy white dresses.

Just then James came up the ladder that led to the attic.

“What’ya looking at?” asked James.

“Just some old pictures,” replied Esther.

“Of who?” asked James.

“I don’t know,” replied Esther, “This one looks like grandma and grandpa, and this one looks like Uncle John. But they all look so different.”

James came closer and looked at the pictures over his sister’s shoulder.

“That’s not them,” said James “Grandma and Grandpa have white hair.”

“But not back then, silly,” replied Esther. “It does look like them, but then again, it doesn’t. I wonder who it is.”

“Also, when was the last time you saw grandpa wearing a tie?” asked James.

That night, as Grandma and Grandpa were tucking Esther and James into bed and to say their prayers, Grandma asked,

“Did you find anything interesting in those old boxes?”

“Just some old pictures,” replied Esther, “but we didn’t know who they were.”
Esther pulled out a picture that she had slipped under her pillow.

Grandma looked at the picture and laughed.

“What’s so funny, grandma?” asked Esther.

“Why that’s your grandpa and me at your Uncle John’s wedding.” Grandma replied, “That feels like it was a thousand years ago, and only yesterday.”

“But that doesn’t look like you. Where’s your white hair?” asked James.

“Grandma and grandpa didn’t always have white hair,” replied Grandpa. “We earned each one of them.”

“I guess it’s like in the bible story at church where Jesus was hard to recognize because he looked so shiny and new,” said Esther, “He wore brand new clothes and his hair seemed to shine like the sun. Our Sunday school teacher said that was the beginning of Jesus’ real work. He looked nice for a day, and then he went off to Jerusalem where he was crucified, and then his work was finished. So, like you and grandpa, who looked nice that day, spent your life together and built this house and the family business, and then your work was finished.”

“Yeah,” said grandpa smiling, “I guess it is like that.”

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now: Dear God, help us to finish the work you have for us. Amen.”

Friday, February 04, 2005

As promised...

As mentioned this past week, I was in Canmore at our synod’s Pastor’s Study Conference. The guest presenter was Michael Foss of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville Minnesota. He was excellent. He talked about renewing the church: from “membership to discipleship.” While it might have easy to dismiss him and his church as being irrelevant to our context because his numbers are massive for a Lutheran church, but he showed how his method was used in small rural settings as well as inner city churches and suburban parishes.

But the best part for me was the fellowship and the time to get away. Since I’m new to the synod I had the opportunity to meet all sorts of new folks. Of course, the dominant topic of discussion was Same Sex Blessings. Some people put a moratorium on The Issue, but it came up in almost every discussion.

My former bishop, Michael Pryse of the Eastern Synod spoke for a bit during the bishop’s hour. After a couple soft ball pitches he was blunt with the crowd, “Don’t you have any questions about human sexuality? I know you have questions, so ask them!” The Eastern Synod has been designated a “Reconciling in Christ” synod by Lutherans Concerned, despite the fact that the ES has not adopted their statement of welcome. Their Synod Assembly last year passed their own, but similar statement, that broadened the welcome beyond GLBT’s. So they were placed on the list, which has been a cause of concern from conservative elements within the ELCIC.

Bishop Steve
talked about the farm crisis. Not just the fall out from BSE or Mad Cow, but the whole farming industry in Alberta. He shared with us a report of a meeting that took place in Medicine Hat between Canadian and American farmers. All Lutheran. He said that the gathering was very productive, dispelling myths on both sides and brought reconciliation between people sharing similar struggles.

But if I walked away from the event with one essential learning it is that there are good people on every side of the issue. I had meals with some of the most conservative pastors in our synod as well as the most liberal, and I experienced both of them as caring, faithful, and generous people who honestly want what’s best for the church.

So, it was a great event. Good things are happening in our synod and wider church. Which gives me hope for the future.

"Canada is lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent as us" - Ann Coulter

Do Americans really like hearing their pundits bash Canada? The level of political discourse south of the border is deteriorating rapidly if these folks are the public face of American conservatism. The arrogance is breathtaking. Here's another link.

Also, I'm a religious nut! Or so writes my brother on his blog. Be sure and check out the links on the body of his writing. What can I say? He's a class act. I'm sure the 4 or 5 people who read his blog will be very amused.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mountain Scenery...

Right now I'm in Canmore, Alberta, enjoying the mountain scenery and some excellent presentations by Michael Foss of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minn. When I get back I'll have a complete report of what went on here. But I'm enjoying being here with colleagues and friends, eating good food, drinking cheap beer, and learning lots.

I heard this afternoon that the pope has been hospitalized. Let the Vatican Spin Machine fire its engines!