Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sermon: Advent 1 - Year B

We begin at the end. We jump into the story near its conclusion. Not Jesus' story, but the world's story. We begin at the world's end. We begin this new church year with a reading describing the end of days.

Advent opens our new church year. We just finished “Year A” or the Year of Matthew, the first of a three year cycle. This year we're beginning what is known as “Year B” or the Year of Mark. This means that most of our gospel readings will be from Mark's gospel, with a little bit from John thrown in because Mark is comparatively short. It's about half the length of Matthew, Luke, and John, the other three gospels. Next year, we'll be in “Year C,” the Year of Luke. John doesn't get his own year. Don't ask why.

And today's reading from Mark 14 dubbed “the Little Apocalypse” (as if any apocalypse can be little) brings us face-to-face with the strange contradiction of Advent.

In Advent we wait for Jesus' arrival. Both as a baby in Bethlehem AND in a fiery cloud descending from the sky. The hope of new birth AND the terror of judgment sharing the same crib, fighting over the blankets. In Advent we get both stories as if they mean the same thing.

In Halifax, Rebekah and I got an earful from...(whole thing here)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sermon: Christ the King - Year A

Have you every felt alone? I mean REALLY alone? I'm not talking about mere loneliness, but abject Aloneness.

Have you ever felt like you couldn't connect with a single person on this planet? That no one really knew the deepest part of you, nor did you know the deepest part of anyone? That everywhere you turned you didn't just see strangers, but aliens. People so foreign to your own experience as to be from outside your solar system.

Maybe it was something that happened to you. Abuse, rejection, failure. And you were too ashamed to connect with others for fear it might happen again.

Or was it a loss that left you breathless, a loss so deep and raw that you couldn't really share with it anyone, because you weren't sure anyone else knew what it was like?

Perhaps you felt abandoned by everyone you know, everyone who you thought loved you. Maybe you even felt abandoned by God in the midst of great suffering.

If you have, you're...(whole thing here)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A special welcome... our American friends looking for a Thanksgiving sermon. I've had hundreds of hits over the last couple day from folks looking for a little help with their Sunday proclamations. Hope your sermon is filled with good news and your dinner stuffed with stuffing!

In case you're still looking for it, here's my sermon from last month's Canadian Thanksgiving.

Pentecost 27 and Gen X

I’ve had a more positive reaction to last week’s sermon than any other I’ve preached. And it’s come mainly from people identified as Gen X, folks I talked about in the sermon.

I think that might be because Gen Xers FEEL like middle children (as the article I cited identified, and much as there is a universal middle child experience). We’ve seen the baby boomers stay too long in important positions, and we’ve seen the younger generations hungry for everything their parents have, without having to work for it.

And we feel cheated. We’re frustrated that many of us had to begin our careers flipping burgers or working at the mall because the recession of the early 90’s lopped off job opportunities.

Many are angry that they didn’t start making a decent salary, or start to achieve their vocational goals until well into their thirties.

Many have noticed that their standard of living is much lower than their parents were at this stage in their lives; that wages didn’t keep up with buying power.

It’s like we’ve had to work longer and harder for less. And we’ve been dumped on for not achieving like our parents did. Or for not being as hungry as our younger sisters and brothers.

However, one thing our generation does really well is community. That’s another reason I think people responded to the sermon. We don’t often see community as a gift. Or a talent. And people were glad to see it affirmed.

If this generation has a legacy it will be to make choices for community rather than self-interest. And if there is any gospel here, it is that community is the gift that God has given this generation, and the gift we are then called to share with the world.

Personally, I don’t think God cares about job satisfaction or career success, or even about personal happiness.

I do think God cares about how we relate, how we love. I think God cares about how we contribute to the life of our communities and the world, not just in its economic growth. I think God is more interested in what we give up for the sake of others, than what we gain for ourselves.

And these are ideals that many Gen Xers identify as core values. So, maybe it’s our job to gather people together instead of creating vast sums of wealth. Maybe it’s our job to build people rather than empires. Maybe it’s our job to be the community that God wants for the world.

Maybe that’s the unique gift and talent that God wants us to share with the other generations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A New Creation?

I’ve been reflecting on death lately. First, a friend of ours passed away from cancer at way too young an age, leaving behind a husband and baby. Then, a young man I performed a wedding for committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and small child. One death was a drawn out tragedy. The other, an angry, impulsive act.

As a Christian, I have hope in the resurrection to eternal life. In fact, Christians reaffirm this belief each time we gather for worship and say the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds.

But, I keep on thinking how unbelievable the resurrection is. A lifeless body not only revived, but renewed. Eyes re-opened. Breath restored.

The bible promises that God is renewing the whole world. And we are part of that renewal. Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the world restoration, where God is making all things new.

And this is true of J and J (both the deceased’s names begin with J). I think of the cancer victim longing for life. And then the depressed young man, putting a gun to his head. But God’s promises are for both of them.

Yet, still. I have a hard time imagining their eyes opening one day. But then again, that’s the challenge of faith. Some call it a “mystery.” I prefer to think of it as hope. Some may dismiss this as false hope. But then again, what’s the alternative?

I spent last week reflecting, meditation on life and mortality, wondering how we, as human beings are different from the rest of creation. That we, somehow, are spared the eternal oblivion of death.

And I began to ask, “Are we any different? Does our consciousness spare us an eternity of nothingness? Are we unlike the trees that fall and disintegrate into the ground? Or the fish that get eaten by seagulls? Or the flowers that wilt and become part of the soil?”

The bible says, No. We are all mortal. We will all die. “All flesh is grass.”

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you will return.

But then again, the bible also talks about the New Creation, where God renews the world. The bible’s a little light on the details but the promise is clear, God is already busy raising the dead, bringing life in all its fullness.

That’s the promise I have keep reminding myself of again and again. Even though I can’t comprehend it, doesn’t make it any less real. I can’t say I cling to this promise. I can only say it clings to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How did THAT happen?

5 Years ago today I was waking up to my first morning as a Lethbridgian. Five years. Half a decade.

Let me ponder that for awhile.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost 27 - Year A

“Doesn’t the parable of the talents give you nightmares?” she asked. Apparently she was unhappy with the life she had chosen. Or had chosen her. If she was like most people, she probably looked at the standard menu of life options and ordered the item easiest to swallow.

She looked back at her 37 years and realized that she hadn’t flexed her artistic muscles. Her creativity lay on the couch watching TV and eating potato chips. There was so much potential dozing inside her, that, somehow, she failed to arouse. Despite brains and talent, she never became the person she dreamed she would be.

She’s not alone. I encounter a lot of people like that. People who know that there’s more inside them than what they express in their lives, their work, or their relationships. And when they reach a certain age, they worry they’ll...(the whole thing here)

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Week Off

No sermon this week. Our ELW did their annual Praise Offering service, giving me Sunday off. They do this every year and consider it a “gift to the pastor.” A gift I gladly accept.

Since I didn’t have to sermonize this Sunday, I went to hear my wife preach. And, my wife, being among the best preachers I’ve ever heard, didn’t disappoint. She rocked and/or rolled our neighbouring United Church.

It felt weird being in the pew rather than the pulpit. But a good kind of weird. I rarely get to worship with my kids, and I can’t remember the last time we all worshipped as a family. Even on holidays one of us gets sucked into preaching somewhere. Clergy shortages make it tough on vacations.

But then, after the children’s message, the kids were shuffled off to Sunday School. I don’t want to dump on another church, but how can children learn to worship if they’re rounded up and sent off to another part of the building? How can we tell our kids that they are full members of the body of Christ, but adults are fuller members than they are? Either we believe that baptism is the entry way into the Christian faith or we don’t.

Again, I don’t want to slime another ministry, but this is something I feel passionate about. A squawky baby. A restless toddler. A giggly pre-teen. These are all signs of life. Signs that we are alive, human, and growing. Signs that God is still active among us. They may distract. They may annoy. But what family is perfect?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sermon: All Saints

In 2003, St. Teresa of Lisieux’s bones were dragged to Halifax. The first stop in her cross country tour. Hundreds of people stood in line for hours to venerate the skeleton of a dead French peasant woman, known in Catholic circles as ‘The Little Flower.” She was very popular among maritime Catholics. A church was named in her honour.

I have to admit, I was tempted to stand in line with my catholic friends to share a moment with St. Teresa. A temptation I shared with our council president, who spit out his coffee when I told him.

“Y’know, there was a Reformation for a reason!” he snarked as he refilled his mug.

But I was more sociologically curious than spiritually compelled. I knew Teresa’s bones had no divine power, I knew it would be more like visiting an open grave rather than standing at a gateway to heaven. But I wanted to see why so many other Christians would stand in line for so long simply to gape at a pile of bones.

They are called...(whole thing here)