Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sermon: Pentecost 11 - Year A

I think Jesus came to show us that God cannot be packaged; God cannot be confined to simple categories. That God is not about placing boundaries around lives as much as God is interested in loving us lavishly. That there’s something built right in to the nature of God, it would seem, that tends towards extravagance, bounty, and abundance.

But we need to be careful about the kind of abundance that Jesus was talking about. God couldn’t care less about wealth, status, power, or fame. God doesn’t care of Robin Williams was seen buying coffee at Safeway. God isn’t interested in the air-conditioned dog houses of some TV evangelists who peddle the gospel like its some sort of get-rich-quick scheme. God isn’t interested in our upwardly mobile lives with a two car garage in the ‘burbs and satellite TV. Those things aren’t even on God’s radar screen.

God is interested in...
(the rest here)

Children's Message: Pentecost 11 - Year A

Today I’d like to tell you a story about a boy named Roger. One Friday night, neither Roger’s mom nor dad felt like cooking dinner, so they...(the rest here)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Communion of Saints?

Blogging has been light lately. Sorry. But there’s been so much going on at the church that I didn’t have time to blog.

Right now I should be working on my sermon. But my brain seems to be sleeping, at least when it comes to exegeting the Feeding of the 5000 for my sermon tomorrow.

But instead I’m blogging.

In Other News…

Apparently Robin Williams is in town filming a movie. The radio has been having regular “Robin Williams sighting reports.”

I just can’t get excited about celebrities. I find real life more interesting.

Of course, there are people I admire, read about, wish I could more like, but the whole celebrity thing is lost on me.

Some theologians believe that celebrities have taken the place of saints in western culture. I think they’re right. We look for people to ennoble us, to challenge us, to inspire us, but we’re given celebrities to fill that gap.

Some folks point to the grief poured out when Princess Diana died. The flowers, messages, and gifts left at Buckingham Palace. The hysterical weeping on the streets. The clamour for sainthood. This is stuff that was reserved for the esteemed, the beloved, the holy.

In Canada, the closest outpouring of grief that rivaled Princess Diana was when former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau passed away. Love him or hate him, he had an impact. The pictures of the mourning were incredible: his sons riding the rails with their dad’s coffin on their way from Ottawa to Montreal; the gathering at Parliament Hill where Maggie walking away from insensitive questions from a reporter about Michel’s death; the speech Justin gave at the funeral watched by more than half of Canada. It was a country in grief over the death of the man who, for better or worse, shaped the country as we know it.

But in-between the deaths of great people, we follow the vacuous lives of celebs. I don’t know why. Is it spiritual laziness?

But still, I just can’t get into this whole Robin Williams excitement.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hope Blooms in a Weary World

The network at the Internet café was down all week, except for a 2 hour window that I snuck through to offer an update on the goings-on of the convention.

But now the ELCIC Tenth Biennial Convention is over and I’m back in my office.

It was a good convention. Draining. No, exhausting. I didn’t realize just how worn out I was until I arrived at church this morning with VBS getting into full swing. I don’t have much energy for ANYTHING, but I have a stack of stuff waiting for me.

But now that the convention is over, it feels like a pressure valve has opened and now we can get back to our lives. The same-sex blessing issue was taking WAY too much of our time. I’m glad it’s over.

For me, the best part of the week was the re-connecting with folks. Hearing what they’ve been up to the past 2 or 3 years. People doing well; weddings. Ordinations. Babies.

People doing not so well. Divorce. Illness. Loneliness. Death.

Human stuff.

I came home filled with gratitude, gratitude because I have so many good friends, the opportunity to be part of their lives, and have them be part of mine. I have friends who strongly opposed the ssb resolution and friends that passionately supported it. But, still, friends.

It is clear that the ELCIC is a house divided; as the ssb resolution vote certainly confirms. It was like the two sides were speaking two different languages, two different understandings of gospel, two different ways of living faithfully.

I don't know if this issue can be resolved. The divide is too great.

The final night, I was feeling disconnected from the Church. I wasn’t planning to go to the hymn sing. But I decided I needed to re-connect, to feel like, despite our differences, differences deeper than what anyone imagined, we are still – somehow – one family, one body, one people. I don’t know how we are going to get over our differences or what such unity looks like in the midst of great disparity.

So, I sat at the back of the church, sung hymns through a constricted throat while reading music through tear-filled eyes. We have some great hymns in our church. Wonderful words of deep faith and songs of profound hope. I wondered how we could live up to the declarations we were making through song. I wondered if we ever could be the people we confess we are – loving, compassionate, faithful.

But then I thought that - maybe - being a Christian, following Jesus in the way of the cross, is not just something that we are, but also something we become through the refining fire of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to listen to the Spirit and to the world. To not run away when the fire starts to burn. To know that the way of the cross is also the path that leads to freedom and new life. The cross leads to resurrection.

So I left the convention hopeful for our church. That, somehow, our divisions will heal. That we will be united in our proclamation and our mission.

I don’t know how all this will happen. But I trust God’s promises to bring hope to a weary world.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Motion defeated - but the house is divided

183 voted Yes
220 voted No.

That's roughly 45% Yes and 55% No. Wow. Almost right down the middle.

Two thirds majority not achieved. Life resumes.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Update From Winterpeg....

Right now the convention is going through the financial report and the budget, so I thought I'd jump out and check my email and fill you in on what has been going on.

So far, so good. Folks are behaving themselves. It's been a good time of re-connecting with friends from all over Canada. I've drunk some beer, bought some books, ate good food. Typical convention stuff.

Tomorrow is the Same-sex blessing resolution. It's going to be awful. Strong feelings on both sides. I'm not looking forward to it.

If it passes, the ELCIC will collapse. No question. But a new church will rise. That I'm confident of.

If the resolution DOESN't pass, then some liberals will force the issue from within their own congregations. They will either perform "illegal" blessings (can a blessing ever be "illegal"?) and suffer the consequences of church discipline, or they will turn in their licences to perform marriages as sanctioned by our synod and ask their congregation to independantly endorse them with the provincial government.

The question I ask is: why don't folks who want to perform ssb or ssm simply do first what they are threatening to do as a consequence of a "no" vote - turn in their licences to get their congregations to apply for a separate licence. This, it seems to me, is a good compromise. It won't change church policy, it won't anger the conservatives, and we'll continue business as usual.

Maybe tonight, I'll chat with some leaders in the "pro-gay" camp and see if this is a real option, or if they just want to beat up on conservatives.

But tonight is about beer and prayer. For this crowd, the two are the same. At least we can agree on that.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Off to convention...

I'm going to be away until next Monday and probably won't get to blog. I'll be in Edmonton until Thursday, then I'm flying to Winnipeg for our Nat'l Convention. This should be interesting...

I'll see you when I get back!

Sermon: Pentecost 9 - Year A

After all the recent rain, the tiny weeds in our yard have grown into super-sized pests. The other day I went out with our weed puller and did my best to annihilate those wretches from the backyard. After a half hour I hardly put a dent in the weeds. There were too many of them. But I left dozens of small holes in the grass, so my backyard looks like pockmarked face with a bad beard-trim.

When I was a kid I pulled a lot of weeds. Weeds in the garden. Weeds in the driveway. Weeds in the flower bed. Sometimes my mom would come out of the house yelling, “Not those! Those are radishes!”

Weeds. No one likes them. The first impulse is to yank them out by their roots. To get rid of them before they cause more to grow. But while that may be good gardening advice, Jesus tells us to let them grow. To let them flourish. Because if we are too hasty in getting rid of the weeds we might take out some of the good plants as well.

But, if that’s true, the question is how to live with the weeds. Maybe what’s harder to take in this parable is that Jesus says we’re...
(the rest here)

Friday, July 15, 2005

An Hour a week job

The classic accusation is that pastors only work one hour a week. Ask my wife if that’s true. Most pastors work their fingers to the bone trying to do “the Lord’s work” as if we clergy have cornered the market on that particular job.

Also, every pastor wonders the same thing: Am I actually DOING anything here? And if I am how would I know?

I like to see results. Stats, baby. How much money we rake in this week? How ‘bout attendance? Is it up this week? No? Gotta work harder to get them in the door. More visits. More phone calls. Bigger, better programs. Higher community profile.

Yeah, I play that game. I’m not proud of it. But how else have we been taught to quantify success?

But maybe the deeper question is: Am I doing anything that couldn’t be done by a cadre of well-trained, well-intentioned, hard-working disciples of Jesus? Do I play this game to justify my own existence?

So what do I do all week?

I preach. But the lay-preachers here do a great job when I’m away.

I prepare and lead worship. But the deacons also do this.

I attend meetings. Lots and lots of meetings.

I visit the sick, shut-in, lonely, anyone. So do our Stephen Ministers and other members.

I represent the congregation in the community; but I usually bring a few folks with me.

I teach confirmation; but we have many teachers who are probably better at it and more qualified than I.

I find leaders and put them in leadership positions. So does our council.

So, I ask again, am I am doing anything here that anyone else couldn’t do just as well if not better than I?

But as I thumb through the church directory and scan the peoples’ faces, I think about their lives, the unexpected tragedies, their unintended graces, the shape their life together has taken as they converge each week hungry for the bread of life to be shared among people they love.

Maybe it’s my job to provide that place. I am the host at Jesus’ banquet. I make sure all are served and well-fed.

Maybe it’s my job to provide a resting place for the weary, a sanctuary from life’s pressures and sorrows.

Maybe it’s my job to pray, because people don’t have time to pray and it makes them feel better that SOMEONE is talking to God on theirs’ and the world’s behalf. Like the monastery over looking the village, people might be glad that I’m hunkered down in my prayer closet, pleading on behalf of a broken and battered world, that God might actually get INVOLVED in human affairs.

A well placed lightening bolt would be nice. Or an end to war and hunger, poverty and disease? Whad’ya say, God?

Maybe it’s my job to remind people who God is and what God wants for us.

Pastor means “shepherd.” I am a shepherd. It’s my job to love the sheep. All of them. I’m supposed to love them when they listen and I’m supposed to love them when they bite. When one runs away, I’m supposed to drop everything and run after it. The rest can find safety in the flock.

The bible says that I’m supposed to “model the godly life.” At first I thought this meant that I had to be more moral than others. But now I wonder if it means I’m supposed to show forgiveness when people forget what forgiveness looks like. Maybe it means I’m supposed to show them what suffering, self-giving love looks like when peoples’ hearts grow calloused. Maybe it means I’m supposed to show them how God wants people to live as people of God.

Maybe it means I’m just supposed to stand at the front of the church and point at the cross.

That’s quite the job description, don’t you think?

But again, anyone can do that. We have a lot of people who can do it just as well and for a lot less money. It doesn’t take a master’s degree to do this job. Just a strong arm and a lot of patience.

However, these people have asked ME to do this. And for that, I am grateful.

What's your ecological footprint?

If everyone lived like me we'd need three planets, according to this quiz prepared by the folks at I'm certainly aware that our family needs to do more to protect the earth.

How do you score? Thanks to Maggie.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bad gardening advice

I’ve been musing privately, with my friends and colleagues that, the resolution on blessing same-sex unions before our National Convention may compel some of the more extremist elements within our denomination to leave.

But I wonder if many good people of conscience on both sides of this issue would also feel obliged to leave – no matter the outcome.

The classic conundrum that Jesus outlined in this weeks gospel reading – the parable of the wheat and the tares. Jesus, the crappy gardener tells us to let the weeds and the wheat grow together because you might pull out some good plants while trying to get rid of those pesky weeds.

“Stick to carpentry, Jesus,” they must have thought, “you don’t know squat about gardening.”

Terrible gardening advice. Wise words when dealing with people.

So how do we live with the weeds that threaten to take over and compromise the purity of the soil? In our circumstance, how do we deal with divisions?

Some of our bishops have asked us to focus on the things that unite us – our common faith in Jesus as the saviour of the world – and to not let our divisions define who we are.

But those on the left say the issue at stake is social justice. For those on the right, it’s biblical authority.

I don’t want to get into which side is right and which side is wrong. They’re both right. They’re both wrong.

Because for me, that’s not the core issue.

The question is: how do we allow wheat and weeds to live together – even flourish – and be okay with that?

How do we live with those who speak a totally different language? How do we allow each other to flourish, knowing that none of us are pure weed and none are pure wheat?

Said another way, “none are righteous, not one. (Rom 3:10)”

Unity is hard work. And it should be. We should be expending as much if not more energy keeping our family of faith together than finding ways to suspend fellowship, seek other church homes, name call, and fight. Unity is not a frill.

Could you imagine what a witness to the world it would be if we Lutherans stayed united in love for each other, love for the gospel, and love of God, even though we have disagreements that run to the very core of who we are as people of God?

That doesn't mean that our disagreements don't matter. They do. A lot.

Jesus died for the ungodly, the impure, the sinner, the enemy. The least we can do is live with each other.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Thanks, everyone...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments and emails. Zooey’s death was a bigger blow than I anticipated, and it will take time for the wounds to heal. But it wouldn’t hurt so much if there wasn’t real love involved, right?

So, thanks, folks, for your comforting words.

Now For Something Completely Different...

You are dependable, popular, and observant.
Deep and thoughtful, you are prone to moodiness.
In fact, your emotions tend to influence everything you do.

You are unique, creative, and expressive.
You don't mind waving your freak flag every once and a while.
And lucky for you, most people find your weird ways charming!

Here I am, "waving my freak flag!" Check it out! Thanks to Steve for pointing this out!

Sermon: Pentecost 8 - Year A

“And grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the honour and glory of your holy name. Amen.”

Those are the words we sometimes use when we pray our prayer of confession, “Grant that we may serve you in newness of life.”

That’s quite a request, when you stop and think about it. “Serving God in newness of life.”

Newness of life. Starting over. A fresh start. A complete overhaul.

But truly fresh beginnings are hard. I think that’s one reason why there is so much...
(the rest here)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Death in the Family

This morning our dog died. Zooey (pronounced “Zoey”). Zooey became suddenly very sick on Thursday night after she went outside to go pee. She became lethargic. She wouldn’t eat. She had trouble lying down, but when she finally was able to lay on her blanket, she wouldn’t move for hours.

The long and short of it is that she had some bad chicken, got salmonella poisoning which wreaked havoc on her digestive system and her organs. She became weaker and weaker. Until she had to be carried.

This morning, thinking this might be “it,” I took her for one last trip around our house so our kids could pet her one final time and my wife could say good-bye.

I took Zooey outside and she couldn’t negotiate the stairs. She collapsed and tumbled down the steps. My wife and I loaded her into the car and I took her to the vet.

40 minutes later she was given a needle. She died sniffing my hand while I rubbed her ears, and thanked her for all she had done for our family. But most of all I thanked her for her faithfulness, her love, her generosity, and her gentleness, before she softly slipped into eternity.

She leaves behind a lifetime of memories.

I’ll remember our walks in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax; her and I, “daddy-doggy day” we called it. I’ll remember how she parked herself under the crib when Sophia was born. Then again when we brought Naomi home.

I’ll remember when Naomi climbed on her head and pulled her whiskers and she didn’t react. She just looked at me as if to say, “Can you do something about this?” I’ll remember how she waited under the kids’ chairs for the inevitable food to drop.

But most of all I’ll remember how much we loved her and how much she loved us. She was part of the family. That sounds like a cliché, but to any pet owner, that’s God’s honest truth.

My grief reminds me that real life is lived in small worlds. A rub begin the ears. A run in the park. A snuggle on the bed. That’s the important stuff. That’s not just the cream, that’s the coffee.

There are greater tragedies haunting the world right now, people in deeper pain than a well-fed, middle class, white boy who just lost his dog; victims of the London bombings, children dying of hunger and preventable disease, young people with cancer, old people with Alzheimer’s, car accidents, natural disasters, the list goes on and on.

But nonetheless, today, I grieve. She's the good Zo, the best Zo, the only Zo, the true Zo. That was my mantra to her.

I tell people at funerals that the pain and grief they feel is in direct proportion to the quality of the relationship that has been lost. But today I find no solace in those words. The words ring true, but, sadly, truth is not comfort.

I wonder if death is God’s way of showing us how wonderful life is. I wonder if that’s why Jesus’ death was such a big deal, and why his resurrection is an even bigger deal. Because life – the power of God’s creative love – is why the world was created. Death thwarts God’s plan for the world.

Maybe that’s why my heart aches, even for a dog, because the joy she gave us, the love she taught us, and the friendship she shared with us are echoes of the love that God has for the world.

But there will be a day when Zooey will be only a fond memory. The pain will disappear into a few scattered pictures in a photo album and tender reminiscing with my family and friends, “Do you remember when Zooey…?”

But not today. Today I miss my dog.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Hard Prayer

For our enemies and those who wish us harm, and for all whom we have injured or offended, we pray to you, O Lord.

Lord, have mercy. --
Noonday Prayer

That’s a hard prayer to pray today. Especially for Londoners.

This prayer asks for forgiveness, for enemies to become friends, for the humility to know when we have hurt others, for the acknowledgement of our complicity in the world’s pain.

I have no idea what that looks like in an age of terror. But that’s the challenge for us Christians, isn’t it? To figure out what self-giving, suffering love looks like in our time, then live that way?

No one said that following Jesus would be easy. In fact, we’ve been warned that the opposite is true.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

High Anxiety

About a month ago, I was sitting in my office typing away, when, out of no where, my chest started pounding, electrical energy ran through my limbs, and my breath became short.

“My God, I’m only 35 and I’m having a heart attack!” I thought to myself.

A half hour and a shot of sherry later, I calmed down.

On Father's Day, during Sunday morning worship, I was giving the post-communion blessing, and BAM(!), it hit me again. I couldn’t breathe, my chest felt like a bass drum, and my limbs felt like I’d been zapped with a stun gun.

Over the next few days (and many nights) it happened over and over again. I made short work of that bottle of sherry that I keep in my desk.

My wife suggested that I call the employee assistance folks. It’s covered by our health plan, so it wouldn’t cost me anything.

What have I got to lose? I called the number.

They had me see someone that same day.

Not a doctor, but a counselor. It turns out they have a name for those episodes I’d been having – “Anxiety Attacks.”

“Boy, that’s a first,” I thought to myself. I’m usually pretty cucumber like.

The counselor and I chatted about possible causes.

Not sleeping? No.
Eating right? Tofu, baby. And lots of it!
Exercise much? Does walking back and forth to the coffee pot count?
Stress in your life? Well, I’m a pastor of a busy church, my denomination is about to implode over the same-sex blessing issue, I receive emails and letters from conservative extremists who suggest I’m going to hell if I even talk nicely with “liberals,” my daughter is still not sleeping through the night, my wife is feeling personally attacked by folks because her brother is gay, and sermon writing is becoming increasingly more difficult because I can’t concentrate for more than 10 minutes at a time.

So, yeah, I feel a little bit of stress.

This guy was good. No touchy-feely stuff. He didn’t prescribe bubble baths with scented candles while listening to Enya. He didn’t say to remove the stress from my life. He just gave me strategies on how to handle it better.

“Plus,” he said, “lay off the booze. Self-medication doesn’t help.”

A great guy remedy.

So now I’m writing down the frequency and intensity of each attack in a log. For a while, I thought they’d stopped. Great! Life resumed.

Then I checked my mail yesterday and found this: A Declaration of Selective Fellowship, and an invitation to sign it. Just the name gives me the creeps. It stinks of elitism and rank self-righteousness.

These folks – churches, pastors, councils, etc - will not fellowship with anyone (what ever that means) who supports the resolution allowing for congregations to decide whether or not they will perform same-sex blessings. They will not financially support any ministries that welcome gays and lesbians. They signed a declaration saying this.

I recognized many of the signatories - the usual suspects. But my old seminary room mate also had signed.

Jesus wept.

Its no wonder my gay brother-in-law doesn’t go to church. They hate him there. But of course they cloak it in the “love the sinner hate the sin” nonsense, which is often Christian shorthand for, “hate the sinner because of the sin.”

Church should be a resting place for the weary, a sanctuary for the oppressed, a place of healing and restoration for the broken. The church should be a place of welcome and freedom. The church should be the great leveller; a place where we remember that we are ALL sinners; that we’re all in the same boat; that none of us is righteous on our own.

Church should be a place of celebration that God love us, because there is too much hatred, anger, competition, cruelty, ache, judgment, and nastiness in the world and in people. People come to church searching for good news. Sadly, many gays and lesbians leave church feeling more abused than when they walked in. There was no good news for them to hear.

Thankfully, my congregation is a place where good news is shared freely. This is not to say that same-sex blessings is not a controverial issue here. But these are grown-up Christians. They know that baptism trumps politics. They know that gays and lesbians are people, not sin personified. Many of them may have moral qualms about homosexuality, but you dare not make a homophobic remark around them. They won't tolerate bigotry.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God that I’ve landed among these faithful and caring people. I get paid the big bucks to show people who God is. But they’ve done a better job showing me where God is most joyfully and powerfully alive.

I love the church. I love Jesus’ message. I think ordinary Christians working together can be the hope of the world.

But I grieve that these Selective Fellowship folks may feel compelled to divert my church’s energies to silly ecclesiastical politicking. I lament the suffering that such anger is causing. I mourn the inevitable loss of relationships that will occur if these people decide they are leaving the denomination.

So, my anxiety attacks have returned. In fact, I had a doozey this morning. It’s been duly recorded in my log.

I just pray that we’ll see God’s hand of reconciliation work among us – a fractious, divided, hurting, lot. And may we have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing among us.

Monday, July 04, 2005

I am a stat. Check it out

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Monte, meet Straw Man

Monte Solberg is in Idaho Falls and he’s feeling patriotic.

Freedom, duty, democracy, honour. Wonderful words that pepper the airwaves this weekend. Words that are more than words. I say this knowing that there will be much eye rolling as I speak with any fondness at all about a country that Chesterton once described as the only country ever founded on a creed. The creed that asserts that we are all equally born with certain inalienable rights, and that among these rights are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The same Canadians who scoff at all of this as so much jingoism probably want to forget that the Canadian Charter was inspired by the US Declaration and their Bill of Rights. Stupid historical facts!
(full text here)

I move in leftie circles and know some anti-American Canadians. And I know NO ONE who talks about the US this way; who “scoff at this as so much jingoism.” What Canadians is he talking about? How about some names to back up these claims?

I like Americans. While I don’t always agree with their politics, I’ve always experienced Americans as kind, generous, and friendly. I love visiting the US and even considered moving there once when a parish came calling.

Of course, there are Canadians who define themselves by how not-American they are. Yes, there are some loony-lefties and right wing nuts who hate just about everything American. But on the whole, Canadians respect Americans as friends and neighbours, faults and all.

The problem with Monte is that, he and other folks in the CPC, mistake differences and critiques of American policy with anti-Americanism. Think about the charges of anti-Americanism that came from Conservatives when the gov’t decided not to join the war in Iraq. It was a principled stand in its own right. It wasn’t a shot at Americans. And I was glad when Chrétien announced that we weren’t participating.

So, friends sometimes disagree. And that’s okay.

[NB: I fixed the grammar typos, spelling errors, and cleaned up some of the writing]

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Sermon: Pentecost 7 - Year A

East Liberty Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, PA, is, shall we say, an odd congregation. Even though, on Sundays, they look and sound like your everyday, garden variety, Lutheran church, they have a unique way of living in their neighbourhood.

Well, maybe not unique by their neighbourhood’s standards. Located in the inner-city, they have some pretty odd folks coming through their doors. Folks smelling up the back pews. Folks babbling incoherently. Folks napping on the sidewalk outside. Folks coming to worship armed to the teeth. Yes, we’re talking about guns. Because the neighbourhood they live in is pretty violent. And the church has a “come as you are” policy.

Instead of moving to the suburbs when the neighbourhood changed, they chose...(the rest here)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Happy Canada Day!

The sun is shining. I spent the day with my wife and two kids in a free and beautiful country. Life is good. Happy birthday, Canada!