Tuesday, May 26, 2009

June Pastoral Letter

Good Shepherd is in transition. Elli is leaving us after a year of faithful service, to get married and attend school in Vancouver. While we wish Elli and David a wonderful life together and send them off with God’s blessing, we still have a hole to fill.

Our council has been exploring alternative staffing arrangements that meet the spiritual needs of our whole congregation. On the one hand, we have a wonderful opportunity to re-think the effectiveness of our ministry and explore creative ways of meeting today’s challenges. On the other hand, those challenges remain daunting.

Please pray for your church, that God will give us wisdom and guidance as we move forward in mission.

In Jesus’ Name,

Pastor Kevin

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sermon: Easter 6 - Year B

I wasn’t going to answer the door. I should have ignored it.

My sermon is usually put to bed by Saturday night, but this particular week I was lazy, so I was in my office banging away on the computer when I should have been watching Hockey Night in Canada.

Maybe I was being punished for my sloth.

I answered the door.

“We want to talk about God,” they said. Two young men. One dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. The other in what I can only describe as a long, dress-like, shirt with matching beige coloured pants and sandals.

“Boy, the fish are jumping right in the boat,” I thought to myself.

I invited them to my office and they sat down. They got right to the point.

“What do you believe about God?” one of them asked, demandingly.

I was taken aback. I stammered a bit. How does one sum up Christianity in a few sentences?

“We believe that God, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross and rose again three days later. And that we are joined to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection through what we call ‘Holy Baptism.’ And because of this we our sins have been forgiven, and God has promised us new and everlasting life.”

A quick answer. They were unimpressed.

“You also believe in the Holy Spirit?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “We believe the Holy Spirit is the power of the Risen Jesus alive in us and in the world.”

I mentally patted myself on the back for such a succinct answer. But it was clear that they weren’t buying it.

“So, you believe in three gods?” he asked.

“No, we believe in One God, three Persons.”

“What’s the difference?” he asked, his voice rising.

“Think of H20, it is liquid, steam, and ice. Three different expressions of the same substance,” I said, knowing how oversimplified my answer was.

He rose from his chair and yelled with his index finger pointing heavenward, “There is not three gods, there is only one God, and his name is Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet. The Koran is God’s Holy revelation to mankind!”

Whoa! You guys didn’t tell me you were Muslims (although I suspected as much).

“You do not have the authority to forgive sins!,” he blasted, “You do not need priests to mediate between God and man…!”

“How about between God and women?” I thought to myself, “And who said anything about priests? This is a LUTHERAN church. Do your homework, buddy, if you’re going to come in here and start accusing me of things.”

“You don’t need phony rituals like baptism and communion! All you need is to get down on your knees and BEG Allah for forgiveness and turn your life towards him!”

Phony rituals? Baptism and communion? He obviously came with a prepared speech.

His sidekick chimed in. He had a softer tone, clearly the good cop to his friend’s bad cop. “It’s not that we’re trying to convert you,” he said, “We just want to have a conversation.”


“This 'conversation' is over,” I said ushering them to the door. And as they were leaving, the loud one turned to me and said, “You’ve been given Allah’s message from not ONE, but TWO Muslims. You need to turn your life over to the true God NOW, before it’s too late. You could die tonight on the way home, and if you don't repent, you will find yourself in damnation.”

Was that a threat?

“Please leave,” I said...(whole thing here)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sermon: Easter 5 - Year B

“I don’t need to go to church,” I was told. “I just worship God in my own way.” Another way I hear this is “I don’t believe in organized religion.”

To that I always want to reply, “Organized religion? Have you SEEN my desk lately? There’s nothing ‘organized’ about it!”

You’ve probably heard that sort of thing before. I hear it all the time. And it used to irk me when I heard it. It doesn't anymore.

I had all sorts of ready-made answers for folks who would say that sort of thing. Good biblical and theological answers as to why you need to go to church to worship God and not just do your own thing.

I would point to the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit gathered all sorts of people together in an intimate community, and say “There! There’s where it says that you need to go to church.”

I would suggest that the early churches assembled in each other’s houses because that’s the way God wanted them to worship. If God didn’t want people to be in church then why does the New Testament spend so much time in helping churches get along with each other?

I would tell them that people need each other in order to grow, that left on our own we’d simply repeat the same old patterns of thought and wouldn’t be challenged in any way. Learning and growth happen best when in conversation with other people.

Then I’d get all theological and say that our God is a church - the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, communing with each other in an intimacy so deep that we confess them to be One God. Three persons, co-equal, co-eternal, circle dancing through the cosmos, calling all who are baptized in that name to join in their everlasting ballet.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? At least I think it does. But my arguments always met glazed eyes because I think...(whole sermon here)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sheep? Who you calling a sheep?

Last week’s sheep image in John’s gospel makes me want to pummel my pillow. Not the way Jesus uses the image, but the way people interpret it. Or maybe I should say, “misinterpret” it. We focus on sheep being dumb animals, and say that we’re dumb like sheep and that we need God for everything.

I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. In fact, I think such talk is against what God has made in us, and is doing in us. God given us brains with which to think. To say that we’re “dumb like sheep” lets us off the hook too easily. It’s saying that we can dump our grey matter in the garbage and let God do everything for us.

I think Jesus used the image of the sheep and shepherd was because his followers were frightened. They knew they were far from God and didn’t know how to get back. There weren’t getting enough help from the religious leaders, many of whom seemed to care more about their houses in the ‘burbs than in sharing God’s love with scared and hurting people.

So Jesus called himself the GOOD shepherd, meaning that he gently leads those under his care, rather than beating them into submission, like the BAD shepherds - the hired hands (religious leaders?) - who failed to protect the sheep.

He is the shepherd who guides. Who lovingly corrects. Who leads by love rather than force. Who talks words of kindness to the sheep that they know who speaks to them.

I think, us shepherds in the church, those who take on leadership roles (and really, who in the church ISN’T a leader?) forget Jesus’ kindness and gentleness when leading God’s people. We often focus on manipulating process rather than listening, preaching rather than praying, forcing rather than guiding.

At least that’s true for me. There are times when I get so caught up in trying to make things happen that I forget that it’s flesh and blood humanity that God really cares about.

So, if there’s a take way for me from this passage, it’s to remember my own need for a shepherd and to minister out of that need, to remember that we’re all in this together, that we all need loving guidance, love, compassion, and grace.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Healthy Eating Update

Went bike riding today. And for a walk. My knees are killing me. But at least my back hurts.

However, I think I have that being hungry all the time thing figured out: eat a MASSIVE breakfast, then nibble all day. Not being the breakfast type, this was a revelation to me.

So far today I’ve eaten:

2 cups Red River cereal with almond milk and a squirt of agave nectar for sweetening (apparently it’s healthy. Same stuff they make tequila out of, so how bad can it be?).
3 cups of coffee
1 grapefruit
1 banana
1 cup minestrone
1 yogurt and blueberry smoothie (about 2 cups worth)
1 nutrition supplement

So far, so good.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Weight Update

Started a new nutrition/exercise program last week. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve decided to NOT have a disincentive this time because people seem to focus more on that than on the positive changes in my lifestyle. So I just have a few goals. The main one I’m not making public. But will become clear to anyone when I meet it.

Also, I lost the weight I needed to keep my money out of the CPC’s bank account, but then it came back - and more so. So, the disincentive thing wasn’t working for me. At least not for the long term.

So far, I’ve learned a few things:

1. I’m disgustingly out of shape. Embarrassingly so. Went for a bike ride yesterday and my legs are still screaming at me. 

2. Diet books suck. Even the ones that proclaim “THIS IS NOT A DIET BOOK.” This is why they suck: I follow their advice and I get hungry. REALLY hungry. I follow the advice on what to do when hunger smacks me (i.e., snack on an apple, eat a bowl of soup, pop a handful of nuts in my mouth, fill up in fibrous food, etc) and I STILL can’t calm the rumble in my belly. At least junk food kept me satiated because it sits in my gut like Rachel Ray’s cold stone, heart.

3. My will power sucks (well. duh!). But getting better.

I’m charting my progress and will keep you updated.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sermon: Easter 4 - Year B

How long do you think a sermon should be? How long is too long? How short is too short?

Most Sunday mornings, I know I’ve gone on too long when Neil Horvey holds up his watch and starts pointing at it. Or when the yawns from the youth in the back row begin to drown out my mountain top wisdom.

But its funny. I’ve never been told a sermon is too short. I never hear, “I’m sorry pastor, but you were just getting revved up when you hit the breaks.” I’m sure you’re just being polite.

Some preaching wag once muttered “sermonettes create Christianettes.” As if long sermons in themselves produce strong followers of Jesus. And short-sermoned preachers are being lax or lazy in their efforts.

But when I’m preparing each week, I’m challenged by some of the great words of history and our faith, words that we still remember.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was only 272 words and it helped shape a country on the brink of falling apart.

Shakespeare’s St. Crispin Day speech from his play Henry V, one of the most riveting ever written, is only 407 words.

The Ten Commandments has roughly 313 words (depending of which version you read. Some version have as little 170 words), and created a body of law that continues to nurture faithful people 5000 years after it was written.

So, do I think too highly of myself with a 1183 word sermon, like this one?

The cynical part of me thinks that some preachers...(whole thing here)