Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A week until Christmas...

...and all I have to do is print out the bulletins. Sermons are prepared. Prayers written. Gifts bought and delivered. I even hung up my one Christmas decoration; a star that my youngest daughter made for me.

And after that, I have to think about Christmas 1A, where we abruptly shift gears, and move from embracing a baby in barn, to mourning the deaths of hundreds of babies, because of that one baby.

There's so much rich  - and terrible - material for the Sunday after Christmas in Matthew's Year.  The story is both raw and real. The baby Jesus barely has time to soil his first diapers before he is smuggled into Egypt as a refugee.

This story is kind of a reversal of Caiaphas' claim that it is better to have one person die for the people. (John 18:4), since many had died for the sake of the one. And some ask why didn't or couldn't stop the slaughter of those children. But this story is clearly an echo of the night in Egypt when the Angel of Death killed the first born sons of those who didn't have lamb's blood over their doorposts.

But I'm not fully sure what that connection means. But what I do know is that we understand killing. We're familiar with those who use their standings for their own awful ambitions, and we can tell other stories of those who use terrible means to maintain or retain their powerful position. This is not news.

So, this baby, this Word Made Flesh, was marked for death right from the beginning, because our human impulse is toward death, so God came that we would have life.

I think there's a start of a sermon in that.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sermon: Pentecost 20C we come to church with our tiny faith tucked neatly in our pocket, out of sight, but hoping that here - among God’s people, through God’s redeeming Word and saving sacrament, our little bundle of faith will grow into maturity. The details may be different but the concern is common to everyone.

You think that your faith could be larger than it is. You feel like you lack the strength of certainty that Jesus seems to have, and that you often see in others.

You have questions that haunt you, doubts that dog you, and you maybe even have pain that simply won’t go away, a pain which constantly reminds you that you are weak and frail. And you lack the inner-resources to move your life ahead in any meaningful way.

Or you’re searching for something bigger than yourself or even bigger than your world, you’re looking for something that binds everything together so that the mess and chaos of the world will make some kind of sense.

You worry that hope is an illusion, a story we tell ourselves to make an unknown future a little less scary. You’re afraid that you’re forgetting how to love, because you’ve been hurt so badly.

You want to know that the droning of your daily routine matters - somehow - in God’s Grand Design.
You want to believe that you haven’t walked the planet in vain, and that your life and your labour will live on after you’re gone.

You want faith that will help you truly know that when you close your eyes in death, you will open them again in the presence of God, and all your sorrows, questions, doubts, and frailties will be traded for confidence, newness, and strength.

And so, in response to all our longings, all our fears, and all our questions, we gather here as one family, lifting up the deepest concerns of our hearts, and together we pray, “Lord, increase our faith!”

Well, FORGET IT!! Jesus won’t...(whole thing here)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sermon: Pentecost 17C

It’s no wonder why so many people are turned off by Christianity, when there’s so many negative voices dominating religious discourse. 

When I encounter an atheist, or agnostic, or someone who simply walked away from Christianity, I usually encounter someone who’s been hurt by Christians. And I hear all sorts of stories of Christians behaving badly.

I hear stories about the mean Sunday School teacher who scolded them for asking uncomfortable questions about the creation story, saying questions reveal doubt and that doubt is a sin.

I hear stories about the angry preacher who condemned them for walking away from an abusive marriage, because, they say, divorce is a sin.

I hear stories about the overly pious aunt who said that science was from the pit of Hell when they told her they were studying biology at school.

And when they drive past churches, they don’t see places where God’s people dwell. They don’t see places where they feel they can walk through the door without wearing spiritual body armour. 

They see places where they have to become someone they know they aren’t nor who they want to be, before they can even start looking for a parking spot...(whole thing here)

UPDATE: Link added.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Pastor, is that an iPhone in Your Pocket?" or "Six Reasons I Use Social Media for Ministry"

NB: This is a guest post for Ryan Holtz's blog which can be found here. Check it out.

“Wow, I’ve never meet a pastor who uses social media like you do!” I often hear. Which surprises me. Because social media use among clergy is growing. And social media has become an important part of my ministry. It’s the way the world is talking!

Here are six reasons why I use social media for ministry:

1. It connects me with a wider community.

In my job it’s easy to be insular. It’s a cliche that ministry is a 24/7 enterprise. And that can be true. But while I rarely get that 3:00 am phone call, there is ALWAYS something to do. Social media helps me see beyond the church world into the wider world that we say God loves, and helps me make relationships with people I might not meet otherwise.

For example, I’m writing this for Ryan Holtz (@RyanHoltz1), and we have never personally met. Yet, I have found our twitter interactions valuable. Also, when I was living in Lethbridge, I made connections in the community through Twitter (@powe2550), allowing me access to opportunities and partnerships that would never have been available to me without social media.

2. It connects me to the daily lives of those in my congregation.

A governing principle of social media in my denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) is to wait until a congregation member “friends” the pastor on Facebook, or “Follows” on Twitter or Instagram, or “Connects” on Linkedin before reciprocating. The thinking is that there is a power dynamic at play, and pastors shouldn’t use their pastoral authority to push their way into the social media lives of those to whom they minister.

That’s wise guidance. But it’s also a little paranoid. Just like asking for a pastoral visit where I get to experience my members in their natural habitat, and gain insight into their lives and faith in ways I can’t in the brief Sunday morning interactions, I ask to connect on social media so I can experience them in a more meaningful way. And they can see what I’m up to. It goes both ways.  I’m not “spying on them” as some have suggested, but building relationships with the tools that people use today.

I have ministered to people in crisis over Facebook, and have said prayers for people over Twitter. These tools enhance my ministry in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of when I started as a pastor.

3. It connects me to a variety of perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

Some social media commentators are worried that tools like Facebook and Twitter are polarizing the political discourse, since users can choose who they will and will not follow, or engage with. That users will only follow people or read content they agree with. They’re concerned that people are “unfriending” cousin Janet in California for voting for Obama, or are blocking the tweets of a high school buddy who has since become a Fox News fanatic, which lowers the variety of voices people hear, and diminishes informed political thought. Which results in splitting people unduly into two camps, and negatively influencing policy.

That may be true for some. But I have friends and followers from across the political and theological spectrum. Having such a diversity of thought cross my screen each day keeps me from tweeting in an echo chamber. For example, I swing to the left both politically and theologically, yet conservative commentator David Frum (@DavidFrum) is one of my favourite tweeters. I find that I need alternative views to challenge my own ideas and beliefs, to protect me from lazy group-think.

4. It connects me to a larger body of colleagues who both affirm and challenge me.

I find social media VERY helpful in gaining new ideas for ministry, and insight into older models. I often throw questions out for colleagues in Twitter and Facebook such as “What’s the most helpful preaching resource you use?” and receive useful feedback.

Also, late one December, I was banging my head against my keyboard, hoping a Christmas sermon would pop out, but nothing was coming. So, I went on Twitter and complained about “sermon block.” Within an hour, 20 preachers had sent me drafts of their Christmas sermons.

While I didn’t use any of them, they were excellent inspiration for coming up with my own. And we had wonderful conversations and debates regarding the content of the sermons.

5. It connects me to others when I’m feeling alone.

Since I live alone and (mostly) work alone, nights can get mighty lonely. And I’ve found social media connects me with others. Also, when I separated from my wife in 2009, my connections on social media (usually divorced men themselves) created a virtual support, which helped me get through some pretty tough nights.

While some say that social media connections aren’t real, these friends were (and are) pretty real to me. Even though I have never met most of them in person. Social media friends never replace face-to-face friends, they’re another form of relationship that should not be diminished.

6. It connects the gospel message to those in my networks.

Social media is the newest way to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. And not just by posting my sermons, or tweeting inspirational quotes or bible passages. But also by sharing good news in a bad news world. Tweeting words of love and encouragement. Proclaiming what I believe to be true, that God is active and alive in the world, creating something new and beautiful each day.
I would never send an unwanted tweet or comment on an Facebook status without thinking about how it would be received any more than I would stand on a street corner and preach at people as they walk by. My message is built as much upon relationships as it is by my faith.

New technology has always been used by churches to connect with others and proclaim their message. For me, social media has become so in grained into my ministry that I can’t imagine how I would minister without it.

Feel free to connect with me.  I would love to continue the conversation!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sermon: Pentecost 12C

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

I don’t know what you hear in this passage, but sometimes such promises increase my blood pressure. Mainly because of the second half of Jesus’ statement where Jesus fleshes out what he means:

“Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

No doubt Jesus is right. We spend money on things that are important to us. Economists tell us that all spending is emotional spending. Heart spending. It’s not rational. It’s a personal expression of our deepest selves. No matter how much we tell ourselves otherwise.

And I’d rather not have Jesus poking around in the most personal areas of my life. I’d rather keep Jesus at a safe distance when it comes to my money. In fact, Martin Luther once said that the last part of a person to be converted is the person’s wallet. And when I look back at my own financial history, I’m uncomfortable with how right he is.

I’m reminded of this passage each month when my...(whole thing here)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sermon: Pentecost 4C

"You know, pastor, " he said. "There are a lot of PEOPLE in our churches but there aren't very many CHRISTIANS."

"I beg your pardon," I replied.

"There are too many people who go to church but don't live by God's law, they live just like everyone else. They're fake Christians," he said.

"Is that right?" I replied, turning my chair to indicate that this was a conversation I no interest in being a part of. But he didn't take the hint.

"Yeah, too many people think they're Christians but they really aren't. There's no repentance. No outward evidence that they they believe in God. There's too much immorality. Too many concessions to the secular world. They don't believe in the Truth of the bible."


"Really?" I replied, hoping my monosyllabic answers might discourage him. But they seemed to do the opposite. He was just getting started.

"People think that they can sin and still be part of Christ's church. The bible is clear, God HATES sin. God demands obedience from us, not disobedience."

"But didn't Jesus die for our sins?" I asked.

"Jesus may have died for our sins but that doesn't mean we can still go on sinning and expect to go to heaven," he replied.

"So, we can stop sinning if we just put our minds to it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "God gave us free will so we can choose to sin or not to sin."

"If God has given us the freedom to sin or not to sin then why did Jesus have to die for our sins, why didn't he just say, ‘Hey folks, don’t sin...’? Wouldn’t that have been easier?"

And from there it was on. He had pushed my last...(whole thing here)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sermon: Day of Pentecost C

One thing I find troubling about the Christian church is that we too often seem to be facing in the wrong direction. We look backwards in history rather than forward in hope. We look to the past for inspiration rather than to the future with expectation.

This is especially true when we talk about our beliefs. We trip over ourselves trying to prove that what we believe now is the same thing as what people believed 2000 years ago, or even longer.

We say that God is unchanging, which may be true, but we don’t know the whole of who God is. So we take our tiny bits of ideas about God, flash-freeze them in time, and present them as if, by their very nature, their un-embodied truths will speak to all people in every time and every place.

It’s as if we think that the glory days of the church were “back then” when the faith was fresh and the Spirit spoke with awesome clarity.

It’s as if we believe that today’s expression of church is a pale imitation of what God has done in previous generations.

I hear this all the time. People wax poetic about the primitive church, and how the early Christians were filled with fiery zeal, upon which we have poured cold institutional water.

Others point to the great church reformers, and the heroism that was shown in restoring a corrupt faith to the “purity” of the original.

Even the father of our Lutheran Church, Martin Luther went to great pains to demonstrate that he is not an original thinker, that he was just a mouthpiece for an ancient proclamation. Theological innovation in the church, we are told, is heresy. A fancy word that means, “really bad and really wrong ideas about God.”

So we ponder the drama of the Reformation story, and are inspired by the Christian heroes who stood up against the enemies of the gospel, and we think, THOSE -THOSE! - were the glory days of the church.

Still others look to the recent past with vivid memories of full churches and crowded Sunday School classrooms. They and we remember when committees had more members then they needed, when new church buildings were being constructed weekly, and the budget kept growing, and we say “Those were the church’s glory days.”

We think that God set the standard years ago, and we are not to deviate one iota from what we say God has created.

It’s as if we’re saying that, the more ancient the expression of faith, the more pure it is, since it hadn’t yet been stained by the messy fingerprints of human history.

And when we say that we are not...(whole thing here)

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sermon: Easter 6C

“I’d like you to baptize my baby,” she said, on the other end of the phone.

“I’d be glad to,” I replied.

“What’s involved?” she asked

“Well, I’d like to meet with you and we can talk about that. When can you meet?” I asked

“How’s Sunday at 1:00?” she said.

“How about you come to church and see what we’re all about then we’ll meet in my office after worship,” I suggested.

“, I don’t think so,” she responded. “How about you come to my place at 1:00.”

“Umm...Okay,” I responded.

I arrived at her house armed with a hymnal marked to the baptism service, as well as a copy of Baptized We Live, a sort of comic book version of what we believe as Lutherans.

“So, why a baptism?” I asked her.

I ask this question every time I meet with a family who presents their child for baptism, not to jam parents into a corner, and I’m NOT looking for a “correct” answer. But because I’m genuinely interested in what parents believe about baptism.

“Well, I got done, my parents got done, and I should have my baby done,” she said. Her answer was pretty typical from what I get from parents. At least she was honest.

I opened the hymnal and turned to the liturgy for Holy Baptism, and I pointed out the section where she would be making some pretty heavy duty promises on behalf of her child:

“As you bring your child to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities:

to live with her among God’s faithful people,
bring her to the Word of God and the Holy Supper
teach her the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in her hands the holy scriptures,
nurture her in faith and prayer,
so that your child may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.

Do you promise to help your child grow in the Christian faith and life?”

I couldn’t get through the rest of my spiel because she immediately burst out crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t want to do any of that,” she said.

“I don’t understand, what’s your concern?” I asked.

“I don’t want to...(whole thing here)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sermon: Easter 5C

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

My sermon is usually put to bed well before Saturday night, but this particular week I guess I was lazy, because I was in my office banging away on the computer when I should have been at home in front of the TV watching Hockey Night in Canada.

Maybe I was being punished for my sloth.

I answered the door.

“We want to talk about God,” one of them said. They were two young men. One was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. The other was dressed 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, but more like an accusation than a question.

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 believe 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.

Again, they looked unimpressed.

The fellow in the long shirt then rose from his chair and with his index finger pointing heavenward, he yelled, “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 while pointing at me, “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? (whole thing here)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Sermon: Easter 2C

"The door was locked for fear of the Jews," John says in today’s gospel.

Maybe. But I’m sure there was more to it than that. But John couldn’t just come out and say it.

Yes, Jesus' disciples were probably afraid that their fellow Jews might have wanted to see them on the business end of a cross. But that's probably not the only reason the door was locked. They might have been afraid of something - or someone - else. And they wanted to keep that person as far away as possible from them.

The announcement of Jesus' resurrection might not have been good news for the disciples. They knew what they had done. They knew that they scattered like scared rats when Jesus was arrested. Peter knew that he denied knowing Jesus while Jesus was being questioned and tortured by the police.

They knew that, while Jesus was hanging in torment waiting for death to take him, the only comforting eyes he saw were the women - and John.

Everyone else had disappeared when things started getting real.

They probably knew that their abandonment was just as painful to Jesus as the nails in his hands and feet. John says that the door was locked for fear of the Jews. But I wonder if the door was locked because there was one specific Jewish rabbi they were trying to keep out out.

They had heard that Jesus was back. And now they were in trouble.

Was Jesus angry? What was he going to say when he caught up with his disciples? What was he going to say to those who betrayed and abandoned him - the disciples who were all talk and zero action?

To those who, by their behaviour, showed Jesus that they didn't really believe a single word that he said, what would he say?

What would YOU say?

"Where were you when I...(whole thing here)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Melito of Sardis: Easter Sermon

April 1 is Melito's Feast Day. Here is his Easter sermon for Easter Monday.

And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was attached indicating who was being killed.

Who was it?

It is a grievous thing to tell, but a most fearful thing to refrain from telling.

But listen, as you tremble before him on whose account the earth trembled!

He who hung the earth in place is hanged.
He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed in place.
He who made all things fast is made fast on a tree.

The Sovereign is insulted.
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.

But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven.
When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity,
and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer,
and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned,
and had been judged for the sake of the condemned,
and buried for the sake of the one who was buried,
he rose up from the dead,
and cried aloud with this voice:

Who is it who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me.
I set the condemned free;
I gave the dead life;
I raised up the one who had been entombed.
Who is my opponent?

I, he says, am the Christ.
I am the one who destroyed death,
and triumphed over the enemy,
and trampled Hell under foot,
and bound the strong one,
and carried off mortals to the heights of heaven,
I, he says, am the Christ.

Therefore, come, all families of the earth,
you who have been befouled with sins, receive forgiveness for your sins.
I am your forgiveness,
I am the passover of your salvation,
I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you,
I am your ransom,
I am your light,
I am your saviour,
I am your resurrection,
I am your king,
I am leading you up to the heights of heaven,
I will show you the eternal Father,
I will raise you up by my right hand.

This is the One who made the heavens and the earth,
and formed humankind in the beginning,
The One proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets,
The One enfleshed in a virgin,
The One hanged on a tree,
The One buried in the earth,
The One raised from the dead and who went up into the heights of heaven,
The One sitting at the right hand of the Father,
The One having all authority to judge and save,
Through Whom the Father made the things which exist from the beginning of time.

This One is "the Alpha and the Omega,"
This One is "the beginning and the end"
The beginning indescribable and the end incomprehensible.

This One is the Christ.
This One is the King.
This One is Jesus.
This One is the Leader.
This One is the Lord.

This One is the One who rose from the dead.
This One is the One sitting on the right hand of the Father.
He bears the Father and is borne by the Father.

"To him be the glory and the power forever. Amen."

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sermon

"...For among them, Christ IS risen indeed.

In this story, and in the lives of the disciples...

...we hear that Easter is NOT just about a dead man opening his eyes.

...we hear that Easter is NOT just about our sins being forgiven. 

...we hear that Easter is NOT just about the miracle of victory in the midst of defeat.

We hear that Easter is about God's undying commitment to LIFE.

Easter is about how God making life THRIVE in the world. 
Easter is about how God is making EVERYTHING new.

Easter is about a God building a world...

A world....

...where setbacks are turned into comebacks.

...where the fearful find faith
...where the hurting find healing
...where the addicted find freedom
...where the broken find wholeness

...where the weak find strength

...where the sinful find forgiveness

Wherever evil is defeated, there is Easter! It is there that Christ is Risen!

Wherever selfishness rises into generosity, there is Easter. It is there that Christ is Risen!

Wherever enemies become friends, there is Easter! It is there that Christ is Risen!

Wherever hungry bellies are filled, 
wherever tears are wiped dry, 
wherever the grieving find comfort, there is Easter!
It is there that Christ is Risen!

Wherever justice destroys oppression, 
wherever the lowly are lifted up and proud are de-throned, 
there is Easter!  It is there that Christ is Risen!

Wherever life bursts from death, there is Easter! It is there that Christ is Risen!

And today, Easter descends upon...(whole thing here)"

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sermon: Epiphany C

But I always wonder what happened when the wise men finally arrived home. What did they say about what and whom they found? How did this encounter change them? Or did it? Was this just one more spiritual quest? One more notch on the belt, one more experience they could say they had? One more spiritual tradition they could add to their collection?

When they arrived home did they stop searching for God because they found God in the baby in Bethlehem? Did they go off on another journey looking for the divine some where else? And did they find God in that journeying?

Of course, I have no idea. And maybe I’m looking too deeply into the story, trying to find clues to better understand their motivation where there are none to be found.

But I like to think that...(whole thing here)