Inviting God into Your Life and Work
*answers to Bible, Science and Other Trivia are printed each week in the bulletin.
June 3 – Distance and the Heart
Over this last weekend, I went to Lindsay for the first, the inaugural meeting of our new Region in The United Church of Canada. We now exist in the East Central Ontario Region. Same people, mostly, same folk I used to see annually, monthly, some even weekly, or worked with and saw a couple of times a month because of our work in the church at the Presbytery or Conference levels. But Presbyteries and Conferences are no more. The Region is our new organizational body. This past weekend was spent reviewing documents of governance and workbooks for how and when we’ll meet, operate, develop policies, govern and organize ourselves within the region as the church. Yes…heavy stuff.
Many of the folk I know were there, and in most cases, I haven’t seen them since last June or last November. What struck me was this: the saying, Distance makes the heart grow stronger, is wrong. Some of those with whom I had been close, I had forgotten; even one, I had forgotten his name! In each case, we had lost connection, barely spoken over these last months. A few were those who together we’d promised to stay in touch, check in, and go for lunch or dinner. It never happened. The consequences….distance and drifting apart.
I think that’s how most relationships work. Distance and time create a space that we intentionally or unintentionally fill…or it just happens from outside of us. Distance and time create a space, a void, that is open to new friends, new contacts, new whatever, new fill. When we don’t stay in touch, when we don’t work at our relationships, they become untouched, unnurtured,, un – period. They disintegrate or just become something of the past, a memory. And relationships must be two-way. It can’t be one side or the other reaching out, checking in, inviting to get together, because that one eventually gets tired of putting more into the relationship and slowly backs away maybe even feeling unwanted or unimportant anyway.
I believe it has been this way with the churches too. We have lost two generations from the church. If you wonder why we aren’t the way we used to be, that is the key reason. The question is how did it happen and when? I understand we first saw decline in the late 1960s, early 1970s. But we were sooooo big. And we had many, many relationships. By 2000 we had declined immensely, and work groups were put in place to study what happened, where we were, where we were going, and what to do about it.
I believe it happens naturally. Like…one Sunday a family had something else to do so they didn’t go to church. And then it happened a few more times, or it became sporadic. And next thing you know, a year had gone by. Perhaps the family had become CE Christians – still believing but only attending at Christmas and Easter. And when this happened in the past, just as one example, the next generation was unfamiliar with ‘church’ and needless-to-say, church was not an important part of their lives. There are many other factors too, but I believe this is a big part. Maybe another part is that the parties of the relationship, the families and the church, did not reach out to each other enough. Who knows?
This is not to put blame on anyone in any way, shape or form. It just is what it is. Distance and time create spaces for other things, or other things enter into the patterns of living, or church life, disrupting them, creating new patterns. This has been part of the changes happening over the last 50 years. It is not just the churches; it is part of the western Christian world. It is part of our evolving story too. We live in what is called a post-modern, post-secular, post-colonial, post-many things world. And in this time, it is about individualism and choices that feed us.
Whether I realized it or not, somehow, the distance and the time between seeing my colleagues, my friends of our old ways, our old patterns, opened a space for other things and people to come in. Do I still care about those from before? Of course, I do. But the distance has not made the heart grow stronger. It has allowed the heart to move on, life to move on, or unfold as my Dad would say. Normal? Evolution? The way things are? Or…just our conscious or unconscious choices? Or just the ways things be?
When it comes to friendships, any relationship, including your relationships with your church and with God, they take work to keep them alive, to keep them part of your life and your living. Without working at our relationships, any relationship, we just drift away. I hope I have learned much from these last few days. I hope I will not tuck away my learnings in the distance and time file of been-there-done-that, not to be opened till the next Regional gathering comes along. I hope we might all know that God continually reaches out and is available to us. Love is available to us with open arms. Are we reaching out too? Only our own hearts, minds and spirits can say.
In hope and peace,
Prayer: Creator God, we know you as the one who created and still creates. We know you as holy mystery and holy love who created a world of relationships with you and each other. Our world, the earth, the water, the air, the creatures, all humanity, exists in relationships. But it takes work for these relationships to be right and nurturing and alive. Help us to see what we have that is good; help us to know when we are not doing our part; guide us to share in the building and sustaining of relationships, no matter where they are, with whom they are, as they are healthy, caring, nurturing, loving bonds. May we come to know that the relationship of Love that is you, is the Love that is beyond us, around us, between us, with and within us, holding us when we open our eyes, stretch wide our arms, and embrace the goodness we have and give to one another. May we not waste love. May we not drift away from those who mean much to us. In and with the Loving Christ we pray. Amen.
Scripture: It is Pentecost!!!
Acts 2:1-21 The Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost.
Genesis 11:1-9 Language confused at the Tower of Babel.
Psalm 104 God and Wisdom create the earth creatures.
Romans 8:14-17 A spirit of adoption, not slavery.
John 14:8-17 God will send you the Spirit of Truth.
- What is Pentecost?
- Why a passage about the Tower of Babel on Pentecost?
- What aren’t you supposed to do for twenty minutes after eating?
- How does television damage your health?
May 28 – Running on Empty
A few weekends ago, I watched The Mist. It is a movie based on a book by Steven King. I have probably mentioned it before because I like it so much. It is about the consequences of unbridled science meeting unbridled religion…not faith…religion. It is also about what happens when people run out of gas…or rather…run out of hope. It is not a happy ending.
I have a watch in which the batteries keep dying every time a new one is put in. Apparently, it has nothing to do with the batteries and everything to do with the insides that are constantly drawing on them. It reminds me of my girlfriend’s car. In the past winter, she left her car at the church while we went up to the farm to spend time with the newborn goats. When we got back, her car was deader than a door nail. She had left the side door partly open, enough that the internal lights were on, along with something else. Needless-to-say, it was a longer than expected night getting her car up and running with thanks to CAA.
On Star Trek this morning, the bad aliens ‘terminate’ two humans by removing all the fluids from their bodies, reducing them to small cubes of carbon ‘stuff’. Then, these cubes were crushed by hand to dust destroying the person entirely. All worked out in the end because of the ingenuity of Captain Kirk and Spock but…what an episode!
We are humans; we’re also like batteries. We can only draw so much out of our energies, use our bodies so long, before they need a major boost, to be re-hydrated, renewed, replenished, rejuvenated. Sometimes we forget this and keep pushing. Sometimes we remember and try to take time to relax and unwind only to find life’s obligations are still drawing on us and making us weary.
I have always felt the summer is the time to mend and heal and rejuvenate our poor worn out bodies, minds, and spirits. Whether the weather is rainy like today, or bright and sunny, we can choose to take time to sleep, to pray, to read, to sit still, to just be. Some folk suggest that is what Jesus’ time in the wilderness was all about. It was a renewal time, a reflective and prayerful time as he prepared to move into serious ministry after his discipleship training under John the Baptist. Elijah is also one who went to the wilderness. Perhaps that was part of what he needed before he continued into his ministry. Moses and the Israelites spent time in the wilderness till they reached and were ready to cross the Jordan on a new journey.
Often we look at the wilderness as a dark time in life, difficult, tragic even. But maybe we can also see the wilderness as just a time of pulling in, lifting up, resting, rejuvenating, reviving, and readying for the new journey ahead.
This week marks the beginning of June. As you make your summer plans, I hope you might make plans to take time for true rest and renewal. It will take making the plan to do so.
Peace and rest to all,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Healing God, just as you have created this world and continue to create, you also renew and enliven us, sustain us, and ready us when we take the time with you to be made new. As we move into these weeks ahead, may we know your presence around us and within us. May we be made aware of the needs of our bodies, minds and spirits. May we heed the wisdom made known to us. May we make the summer a sacred, healing, and restful time that we might be re-born with creative energy for living the mission of Christ together in the fall. We pray these things in and with the Christ. Amen.
Acts 16:16-34 Paul and Silas are freed from prison.
Psalm 97 God reigns; let the earth be glad.
Revelation 22:12-21 I am coming soon.
John 17:20-26 Jesus prays that all may be one.
- Who wrote the book of the Acts of the Apostles?
- How did he know what to write?
- Why was the dishwasher invented?
- How was Teflon discovered?
May 21 – 2 a.m.
Last Friday Lee and I stayed up talking till 2 a.m. My Saturday was so difficult. I just can’t do the 2 a.m. and get up at my usual wake-up-with-the-birds between 6 and 7. I was so slow on Saturday…even Sunday. But it was worth the time with Lee and all the topics we covered over several hours. We spoke about life and what it is to really live and experience life. We spoke about death and what we may or may not regret or hope to not regret. Will I live for my hundredth birthday party or die before 70 like my grandmother? It was quite a night. We also talked about current affairs and the books we are reading.
Lee is re-reading George Orwell’s 1984. He’s loving it again. I just finished and passed on to him a book by Cas Mudde and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser titled Populism. It has been a great little quick read explaining populism today, its history, and the relationship with liberal democracy in the western world. I just bought Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs that was recommended to me and once finished with it I’ll pass it on to Lee too. Lee bought for me Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. This book is fascinating.
It Can’t Happen Here is written in 1935 about 1935 and the events around a presidential election in the United States. It is fiction. It is post WWI. It is during the Great Depression. The Americans weren’t attending to the events in Germany and Hitler’s rise. But the author was. Lewis describes what could happen, might happen for real, even as characters in the story don’t see it happening.
What I have found fascinating is that this book that is about 1935, looks at what might happen if they are not attentive to the signs of their time just like the Prophets of our Hebrew Scriptures wrote predictions about their times. The prophets were not fortune tellers predicting the future for our time. Neither was Lewis predicting 2019. But the prophets were looking at their time naming what was wrong and how to better live in God’s way in their time caring for the widows, the orphans, and the poor that God’s kingdom might be known. Jesus was doing the same thing in the first century. I believe Lewis was a prophet in 1935 looking at his time and seeing different ways to care for the issues of his day, such as crime, liberalism, and corruption, and naming what might happen. Not fortune telling, not future telling really, but warning what might happen, and, like the prophets, what God calls the people to do.
Of course, I’m not saying that Lewis is equivalent to the Prophets of old, or Jesus, but it is fascinating what this writer warns in 1935 about 1935 that seems to be unfolding rather precisely today. It is a good read. It is fiction. And the first fiction book I’ve read in a long time.
Summer is a time for sunshine, beaches, breezes, barbecues and books. I recommend these books to you and the bible’s prophets as well. Fiction mostly – but prophetic.
905-668-3091 ext. 222
In the warmth of summer,
In the brightness of the sun,
In the imagination of our prophets today,
May we learn,
May we question,
May we see your way, your truth,
Your way of life in the kingdom revealed.
May the words, the visions, the warnings
Of the prophets of old, and
The prophets today,
Speak to our own hearts, minds and souls.
Acts 16:9-15 Paul worships with Lydia and the women by the river.
Psalm 67 Let the light of God’s face shine upon us.
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 John’s vision of the city of God.
John 14:23-29 The Holy Spirit will come to teach.
John 5:1-9 A sick man cured at the pool of Bethesda.
- Why were the prophets known as messengers?
- What was their focus?
- What do dolphins drink?
- What did James Bond drink?
May 7 – Human Touch
Last week I was wandering around some city streets, coffee shops, a little plaza and mall. I found myself noticing people. Dad taught me that. People watching. Who is happy? Who is smiling? Who looks lonely? You know. You might do this too.
I noticed a mom with her baby playing at a table in the park. The mom’s smile was so huge when her child reached up and touched her face. They played touching forehead, nose and lips. Then a kiss to the fingers. I saw a couple of teens holding hands, then a hug, then a kiss before going their own ways to wherever. Later a couple were sitting by the water just holding hands in the silence. Not far from them was an elderly couple. One was walking, the other in a wheelchair. In the delight of seeing a bird fly close to them the one walking leaned down and hugged the other. In each case…and more…human touch.
Human touch is so important – hands, hugs, helping, guiding, a brush of the cheek, the hand on the shoulder. It is the way we express our caring, our love, our humanity too. Through touch, through eye contact, through silence together, just being. Mostly though, human touch is like a sacrament – the outward sign of our inner grace or love. No matter what form it takes, depending on those involved, it is holy, sacred, and I believe, the way God is made known to us too.
So the next time you are somewhere people watching, watch for the sharing of love. Watch for the sacrament of caring touch between old and young, young and young, old and old, just everywhere that caring is expressed. And maybe know too that each time you feel the rain on your face, it is the kiss of God. Every time you feel the breeze on your cheek, it is the caress of God. And remember, God is nearer to you than the wind at your face or the air that you breathe.
Thanks be to God for such grace and the grace shown in human touch.
May you each know such grace,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
In the light of the morning,
In the silence of the night,
In the caring touch of a friend,
In the sharing warmth of a loved one,
In the breeze,
In the rain,
May we know it is you, Love,
Beyond, within, between us, in all,
Among us all,
The holy, the sacred, the sacrament of love,
Of human touch, of your grace.
Acts 9:36-43 Peter raises Tabitha (Dorcas) to life.
Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepherd.
Revelation 7:9-17 The saints of God will never hunger or thirst again.
John 10:22-30 My sheep listen to my voice.
- What is the difference between Tabitha and Dorcas?
- Why is staying with a tanner mentioned in the Acts story?
- According to an article in The Walrus (June 2018), data on floppy disks, magnetic reels of tape, and flash drives are vastly more fragile than ….what?
- According to an article in The Walrus (May 2019), one would have to live ….where…to avoid having information about your whereabouts, purchases, vital signs and vices harvested?
April 25 – Blankets
As I was driving down Brock yesterday afternoon in the rain, I found myself thinking about the comfortable sound and feeling that the rain gave to me. It was familiar. It was all around me. It wasn’t really cold and it didn’t matter as I was in the car. It was the welcome and pleasure of rain that would make puddles to jump in – but first, it was about the feeling, the wrapped up and secure feeling of the gentle rain that sang to me a song.
I like the snow too, that big white blanket of snow that softens the winter with a gentle glistening whiteness that silences the harsh sounds of the days and the nights. For me, snow is like …a Down comforter. Maybe that is because that is what I have. At night, I love to slide under and wrap up and all around in my big white comforter. It gives me warmth, softness, coziness, and security. It is fun getting right under to get warm, head and all, till I have to push it back a bit to take a big breath. A blanket of snow provides that silence, that coziness and that invitation to take a big breath of cold and crisp air that reminds me I am alive. And the snow sings a song of silence. I love that too.
These spring days with the weather not-quite-this and not-quite-that are days I tend to dream and float and sleep. Much of this sleepiness is because of all the hours preparing for Holy Week and Easter services. People may not realize it, but it begins with first Lent. And each service carries a thread from the one before to the one ahead to …ultimately Easter. For me, the Lenten services thread together like a quilt completed the morning of Easter when I take that deep breath at sunrise at the water and know…new life again.
I think that is what faith is like too…at least for me. Like the rain, like the snow, like the weeks of worship that sing me a song, wrap me in comfort and coziness, hold me tight till I take that deep, deep breath and know…the hope and promise of New. The New is seen all around me in the grass poking through the dirt, the sun flickering through leaves being born on the trees, the birds at the water, the people around me, the sharing of the bread of life and the cup of blessing. It is all there. It is new. It is the hope realized for a new day. It is Easter.
I hope your Easters were wonderful.
May you know the hope and promise and peace of God in your hearts always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Of the wind and the rain,
Of the snow and the sun,
Of the dark and the light,
Move through me this day,
Comfort me this night,
Breathe in me to be my breath
Of new life in me
That tomorrow will shine,
Will cover me as
A new morning,
A new blanket,
A new song.
In and with Christ, I/we pray.
Acts 5:27-32 Peter speaks before the Sanhedrin.
Psalm 118 God is my strength and my song.
Psalm 150 Praise God with the sound of trumpet.
Revelation 1:4-8 John greets the seven churches of Asia.
John 20:19-31 Thomas doubts until he sees Jesus for himself.
- To which seven churches are the apocalypse of John written?
- What does the empty tomb indicate?
- What colour is your brain?
- So what is grey matter and white matter?
April 9 – Hopscotch
The other night I woke up from a dream in which I was playing hopscotch at a school. I realized it was the school my kids went to when the were young. When I used to go to pick them up, I would play hopscotch by myself, before that, I’d play with my youngest as we waited for his older brother. I always preferred the hopscotch design that started with three boxes in a straight row, then two side by side, then a row to the end. I didn’t like the other design as much that began with two then an ‘x’ pattern. I don’t know why but I didn’t like that one.
I remember throwing a stone, or a key chain, or some creation I’d made as my place marker and then wherever it landed, I had to jump over that spot to get to the other squares. The whole point was getting to the end, the fun spot where friends cheered, and then travel back again – of course the journey back involved picking up the place holder in the skipped box.
I think life is like that too. Sometimes we go through life avoiding certain boxes, like place holders of unfinished business, forgiveness not given, decisions not made, problems not resolved, and often because they are the difficult places in life to enter, be in and live through. It is much easier going from fun place to fun place not entering the harder places of life. But it is not real. It is not what life is really all about because life is about all the ups and downs, all the squares jumped in whether along the way or sometimes when going back again to clear the box out.
In the year of our Christian story, there are days we’d rather not enter, we’d rather skip over them like the Old Testament story of the Passover. The details can be difficult. There are a few others too. In our stories of Jesus, we often don’t want to really go all the way to Good Friday. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday don’t seem like happy times so let’s not go there. Let’s just go from the happy parades of Palm Sunday and skip over the boxes of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and jump right into Easter.
When we do this though, we miss the depth of the story, the truth of the story of resurrection for all our lives in our endings and during our lives too. It is in the hard moments, the dark, suffering times that the new life is born and the stone moved.
Perhaps this is the year to prayerfully ponder doing the whole Holy Week Hopscotch, no boxes skipped, no markers placed to jump over and think about another time. Perhaps this Holy Week will also be your invitation to examine those boxes in your life of unfinished business, forgiveness not given, decisions not made, problems not solved.
May you feel peace in your hearts as new life is born in you this Easter.
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, our world can seem so complicated and scary, so frustrating and boxed too. Our lives can be filled with such joyful moments and opportunities, yet within our lives are those times or situations that we often want to avoid, ignore, jump over. As we move into Holy Week, may we feel the depth of the meaning of this week. May we have the courage to be open to the suffering and death, the hope and the promise in the story of Jesus. May we come to know that same story applies in our lives and in our endings too. In and with the Christ we pray. Amen.
Liturgy of the Palms
Luke 19:28-40 Jesus enters Jerusalem to cheering crowds.
Psalm 118 The stone which the builders rejected.
Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a They struck my back and plucked by beard.
Psalm 31 My body and soul are wasting away.
Philippians 2:5-11 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ.
Luke 22:14-23:56 Judas betrays Jesus; arrest, trial, crucifixion.
Luke 23:1-49 Jesus is arrested, tried, and crucified.
- Did Jesus come into Jerusalem on a colt or a donkey?
- Where did this question of the colt or donkey come from?
- Who first discovered that the world was round?
- Why do bees buzz?
Spiritual Responses to Difficult Situations from Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters.
If you are trying to change the world for the better and find yourself desperate and overwhelmed, perilously close to burnout, learn to accept the limits of what you can do, and remember the love that still exists in the world.
“If you are hungry, look for someone to feed; when you are sad, look for someone to cheer; when you need understanding, find someone who needs yours; and when you need to be looked after, find someone to care for.” See reference in ‘Spirit in Motion’ in Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters, by Roger S. Gottlieb.
April 2 – Shoes and footsteps and treasures…
Years and years ago, I worked at Birks Jewellers. At the time, there was a very proper Englishman who was our manager of the store. One day he said, “Always pay attention to the customer’s shoes. The shoes tell everything about them.” Of course, as young people ourselves, we didn’t understand his wisdom.
Over the years though, I came to understand what he meant. Shoes reflect personality, and busyness, and journeys, travels, conservative, outgoing…shoes tell much about a person. When we were in Birks, the manager wanted us to realize what you see right in front of you may not be the whole truth about a person, the reality the person lives. So…pay attention to the shoes and give everyone decent, respectful, kind, and caring service. He was really big on respecting everyone.
Today I was reading a daily devotional by Frederick Buechner. He talks about feet. He says look at your feet (I guess its like look at your own shoes). He suggests introspection can only go so far, that at some point, you must look at where your feet take you and ask yourself if there is happiness in those places you go to.
Shoes might say much. Looking at our footsteps from yesterday, or where our feet take us today, is important. But what speaks even more loudly is how you experience where you go, how you go, where you land and who is with you there.
Of course, wherever ‘there’ is….God is also.
Peace to your hearts…and your feet,
Safe and happy travels to all,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Journeying God, our days are filled with destinations, go here, go there, do this, do that. Help us to discern the point and the purpose, the joy and the life that each place brings and to which we give those same gifts. Help us to look to where we have been, where we need to go, where we need to revisit, and mostly where you are with us in it all. As we move towards Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, may we have the courage and faith, to walk with the Christ again…in his footsteps, into our own lives, introspectively and then with action, to something new again. May the boulders that close us in, be moved, that we might step out. Amen.
Isaiah 43:16-21 Look, I am doing something new.
Psalm 126 Those who sow in tears reap with joy.
Philippians 3:4b-14 I count everything as loss but knowing Christ.
John 12:1-8 Mary anoints Jesus with costly ointment.
- What is significant about the church in Philippi?
- Where was Paul when he wrote the letter to the Philippians?
- What shape did medieval people think the Earth was?
- Who was Samuel Birley Rowbotham?
Spiritual Responses to Difficult Situations from Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters.
If you practice your spirituality with arrogance or competitiveness, realize that reproducing your ego in a “spiritual” setting will get you nowhere.
If your spirituality is a search for the pleasant – elegant retreat centers, beautifully decorated meditation spaces – develop your capacity for spirituality as service. Learn to maintain your spiritual calm volunteering in a hospital, serving meals at a homeless shelter, trying to end a war.
March 26 – Words are like toothpaste…
I remember when I was young and in elementary school, we used to have spelling bees every week. Mr. May was my grade 5/6 home-room, history, math and grammar teacher. He taught me to love grammar. Mr. Baker was my grade 7 and then grade 8 grammar teacher. Grammar was taught separately from English literature where I went to school. These teachers made it so much fun. We got to use coloured pencil crayons, making circles and squiggly lines, around or under the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. You get it. Our pages were so colourful. Later in life I realized what these teachers taught me, made learning other languages easy for me.
They both made us learn hard words too like onomatopoeia and anti-disestablishment. Crazy cool words! But the toughest words to say, that only life’s lessons will teach, are help me, I need you, I am sorry, I love you. Yet shouldn’t they be so easy to say? Why is it they are so hard?
Maybe like spelling, we just need to practise. Maybe like spelling we need to teach our kids while they are young so that they can practise and say these words as they grow through their lives. I wonder how many of life’s interpersonal problems could be avoided if we were more comfortable with saying these words, if these words didn’t have to be squeezed out of us.
If we think of Jesus’ commandment to love everyone as he loved, I think that also means being able to say these words because you feel the love inside and the love is harmed when the words are not spoken. As we are in Lent, and letting go of things to become more welcoming, caring, and loving, to whom do you need to say these words, let-go these words? Which words? Why? Not saying the words may be placing rocks and dead wood in the flow of God’s love from moving through you. And you know, just like harsh words, once the words are out, they are like toothpaste – you can’t put them back in.
If we think of the psalms, I believe there are many instances of these words being prayed to God. The psalms are poems, songs and prayers. When we pray on Sunday, we pray to God beyond us, around us, with and within us. We pray to each other too. As these hard words to say are found in the prayerful psalms, prayed to God, we might think of them already started to be spoken to each other. We can use the psalms to practise. And once the words are out to God (or each other), they’re out, and this can change your life immensely.
Help me. I need you. I’m sorry. I love you.
Who needs to hear these words from you? To whom do you need to say these words?
May these words, and love, bring you peace,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
As we pray each day, may our words be true.
As we pray each night, may our words be faithful.
As we pray together, may our words be heard.
As we pray, God, may our words be lived.
Joshua 5:9-12 God takes away the shame of Egypt from the people.
Psalm 32 Blessed are those who are forgiven.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Anyone in Christ is a new creation.
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 The prodigal son; the prodigal father.
- What is literary criticism with respect to the bible?
- What is form criticism with respect to the bible.
- Who was the first man to circumnavigate the globe?
- What shape did Columbus think the Earth was?
Spiritual Responses (excerpts from Spirituality: What It Is and Why It Matters)
If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, sex or gambling, turn over your obsession to a Higher Power (aka God), get honest about who you are, and make amends to all the people you’ve hurt.
If your relationship with God has slipped into a boring routine, reawaken your devotion by slowly exploring the meanings of each word of a familiar prayer. Ask yourself, for example, what it means to “forgive them that trespass against us.”
March 19 – Cooperation
Years ago, a friend of mine came to church excited to tell me of his trip in on the highway. He said he realized how fortunate we are in Canada and how we take so much for granted. I agreed. His focus was on our traffic laws and how mostly our laws are respected, that people obey the rules of the road and drive on one side of the road appropriately allowing for the relative smooth flow of traffic and minimal collisions. He compared this with his experience in another country where the roads were mostly dirt and people just drove wherever they wanted and as fast or slow as they wanted too. He said it was a chaotic, scary nightmare. He said he’d really come to appreciate the Canadian way, including the Canadian roads and traffic. Of course, there is the occasional person who doesn’t obey the speed, or who cuts in and out, but mostly all does run smoothly.
I’ve not forgotten his excitement that day, and his observations, and I often think of his words as I drive the 401 amidst who knows how many other cars but where we are all going in the same direction on the same side – respectfully. And when I really think about it, I give thanks for that, for all that cooperation with and for one another.
The other day I had an observation of my own. It made me feel good deep inside like I think my friend felt years ago. As I was driving along Rossland, an ambulance was approaching from the other direction. Its lights were going; its sirens blaring. A firetruck was not too far behind. All the traffic in both directions pulled over to let the emergency through. Everyone pulled to one side or the other so that the vehicles could drive safely and quickly down the middle.
That cooperation, caring and respect might have saved someone’s life that day, probably did. Without an inkling of who was in that ambulance, black, white, Muslim, Christian, Asian, Jewish, man, woman, child, we all pulled over in Samaritan-style and let the ambulance pass freely.
If only the whole world could let others pass so freely.
I think when we are considering cooperation, respect, and caring, it applies to so many more things in life than traffic. It applies to our relationships in our families, our workplaces, with our political leaders, people in all aspects of our living. We have those who choose now and then not to live into the way things normally go, not to follow the rules, and that is when collisions, backlogs, and hurts occur. And just think how big that can become. Forgiveness, reconciliation and peace keep life flowing smoothly…with grace.
May we each contemplate prayerfully what we’re thankful for about our country, our ways of living here, our laws, our governance, our United Church, St. Mark’s and our families.
It is easy to focus on the collisions, on where something isn’t perfect, but then, neither are we.
Peace to your hearts always,
Prayer: Holy God, guide us in our living to be thankful always. Help us to be grateful for each other, even the stranger. Move in us, we pray, that we might always live in the spirit of respect, caring, giving, cooperating even, that our living does not cause collisions, hurt and harm to others. In and with the Christ we pray. Amen.
Isaiah 55:1-9 Come, buy wine and milk without money.
Psalm 63 I long for you, O God.
I Corinthians 10:1-13 God will not let you be tested beyond your strength.
Luke 13:1-9 The parable of the barren fig tree.
- When did the prophet Isaiah live?
- How does Isaiah’s life fit into the scroll of Isaiah?
- Who was first to claim that the earth goes around the sun?
- Who first invented the Theory of Relativity?
If you are chronically ill, see how your attachments, refusal to accept reality, or inability to shape your mind toward wellness is making you worse.
If people you love are ill, self-destructive, or in trouble, and you are tormented by their pain, learn to accept the inevitability of human suffering, to love them despite their problems, and to be a source of peace for them no matter what they are going through.
March 12 – Replacement Parts
Have you ever wondered how many parts you have replaced over the years? Washing machine parts, drier, dish washer, stove, air conditioner, barbecue, and the big one…your car? Our ‘stuff’ has parts that break down and need to be replaced. Sometimes I think they are planned that way…planned obsolescence. Mostly though, it is easier, cheaper, and less time consuming to replace parts than to replace the whole item. Unless that item is very special to you.
About a year ago, a friend of mine’s guitar was stolen. It was a treasure to him. He’d had it for years and years. His music, his words, his voice, his faith were put to the strings of that guitar and shared with others. When his guitar was stolen, it truly was a heartbreak, a loss of a material thing but one that had travelled life and faith with him for much of his life. The guitar was replaceable but not the memories of the touch, the sound, and the anticipated future for music with that life friend. Musical instruments really are like friends to whom we pour out our hearts and offer our hearts in song. It is like having a relationship with the musical instrument and it being the voice to our loves and our pains.
We have relationships with our pets too. They become part of the family, whether they be a dog, cat, fish, bird, okay even the pet scorpion we once had. I cried when he died. We cry when we lose something, or some creature, or someone dear to us. Someone we love. Good friends of mine who are seeing-eye-dog breeders and trainers said when they hand over a dog to a new home, or when one dies, they take time to share memories, and to offer what they learned from that dog having been in their lives. What did that dog teach them that changed the way they relate to each other and other dogs? They give thanks, mark the time, and take the time to grieve the loss before bringing in a new dog.
Those with whom we have a relationship, whom we love, are not like replaceable parts. When we lose a pet, we grieve and it is important to grieve, to let go of the pet even while we hold the memories. If we were to replace the pet, say your dog, immediately, then it is a disservice, it is disrespectful, and negates to some degree the love your pet gave you, and is like saying, “You are replaceable right away.” When we do this, we can often fail to grieve fully and that is never good. A bit of space, a bit of time is required to appreciate the whole, the loss, and what that guitar, cat, dog, or person meant to you. When it is a person, we don’t normally replace them right away. That sounds weird. But sometimes we try to move on without grieving. Grieving is also about giving thanks.
A couple of weeks ago we said so long to our Parish Nurse Carole Beam. She has been a treasure to us, cherished in our midst, loved and has loved us too. We wished her blessings for her next chapter in life, her retirement time. A few people have asked why we didn’t have a replacement right away after her last day and how soon we’ll have someone replacing her. The answer is simple: we need to grieve. We need to spend time appreciating all we learned from and shared with her. If we were to have had someone in place right away, then the new person would have to live in the shadow of Carole, in a grieving and grief denying church family. And that is not fair to Carole, to the new person or to each other.
So we take a breath, we reflect, pray and give thanks for all that Carole taught us, shared with us, gave to us. We look at ourselves and turn to each other and hopefully give that same care, pastoral care to each other. The parish nurse is the nurse of the parish or pastoral charge. We are also called to care for the pastoral charge through each other until we are ready to invite someone new to walk in faith and serve with us, caring for us and us for him/her.
Carole will be around now and then, not as our parish nurse, but as our friend. In the meantime, those involved in the Discernment Project are ‘discerning’ the path God calls us to and with whom we will travel.
With respect, admiration and cherished memories, and many, many thanks and much love to Carole, peace to your hearts,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, we learn from you, through Jesus, and from each other that life is full of beginnings and endings and new beginnings for all of us. Help us God to cherish the times that were, honour the times of change, and to find patience and gratitude as we open ourselves to what is to come. Guide us in the way ahead that we will journey with you, in our hearts, minds and spirits. Teach us, God, to love one another, to care for one another, as Jesus taught, as those among us offer, and as we are strengthened and held by your Spirit to give. Amen.
Genesis 15:1-18 God seals the covenant with Abram and Sarai.
Psalm 27 God is my light and my salvation.
Philippians 3:17-4:1 My dear friends, my joy, my crown, hold firm in God.
Luke 13:31-35 Jesus cries over Jerusalem as a hen over her chicks.
- Who were the Nephilim?
- Compare Genesis 6:19-22 with Genesis 7:1-5. Why do the stories conflict?
- What was the first animal in space?
- How far can an owl turn its head?
March 4 – Let Go !
On Monday mornings I go to a lectionary meeting with colleagues. There we talk about the greater church and what is happening at the regional level. We talk about our own churches and the readings for the next Sunday. We also play with the dog. One of my colleagues has his dog with him in the church each day instead of being left alone in their house. The dog is so much fun. When we arrive, he brings his ball, or frisbee, or this other colourful toy to me. The invitation is to hold one side while he tugs on it. The competition is about letting go.
We both tug back and forth. It’s a lot of work. And then comes the decision to either let go or with a super tug one of us tips over the other. Letting go is the usual decision though.
I think that’s what life is like. It is a series of experiences that we work at till we’re ready to let go or we’re let go through the process or the learning whichever. For instance, we hold our children close then one day they go to kindergarten and we have to let go so they can learn to be without us. And later comes high school and university or marriage or traveling or moving. Whichever it is, we need to let go, not stop loving or worrying, but let them go to grow. It applies to relationships and life in general. Perhaps that’s the learning in it. Life is a series of letting-go-learning through life till we’re ready to let go of life itself in the end. What do you think?
Lent is a time that traditionally was about sacrifice, giving up something, like sweet stuff, that we might feel that loss. It is to journey with Jesus through the 40 days of Lent, tempting or testing ourselves as he was tempted or tested. There’s more to it but that’s a start. As I said to the kids on Sunday, and normally do each year, let us give up or fast from hurting words and anger, pessimism and worries, bitterness and bullying. Let us give up our time to volunteer and care for others; give up having a messy room; or give up not helping with the dishes.
Today while playing with the dog, I began to think Lent is really about letting go. What do you need to let go of in the weeks ahead? What is that which you carry that is causing you harm, ache, indecision, stress, too much to do? What is it you must …. let go…?
Letting go is not a bad thing. Letting go is a freeing thing that opens your life to a new start. Like the waters of the Sea of Reeds…God, through Moses, opened the waters for the Israelites to walk through. It was a journey of faith and courage and trusting God. It was a journey into the birth of a nation, a new people, new life. But first they had to let go of the apparent comfort in what they knew in Egypt. They had to let go of their fear of the unknown. They had to trust new life awaited them ahead somewhere.
So again, what is it we need to … let go? What is it you need to let go that you might celebrate new life at Easter?
905-668-3091 ext. 222.
Ever present God, as we come together during our meeting times and worship times this week, be with us and guide us that we might not be tempted to take the easy path, the comfortable, known path. Help us to trust and have courage to let go of what was and what has been to discover the road to new life through letting go. In and with Christ we pray. Amen.
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 “My Father was a wandering Aramean.”
Psalm 91 I will raise you up on eagle’s wings.
Romans 10:8b-13 Declare with your mouth; believe with your heart.
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus tested in the desert.
- What is the synagogue?
- Who was the wandering Aramean?
- What does your appendix do?
- What is the worst thing to eat for tooth decay?
February 20 – Progress?
Over the last few weeks, the word ‘progress’ has come up a lot as has the expression ‘moving forward.’ So, I was wondering why? Why do we have to say, ‘moving forward’ and not ‘moving around’ or ‘to the side now’ or ‘let’s pause?’ I’m not sure. There is this idea that moving forward is the only way, whatever that may be, and that it means progress and it seems progress is always deemed to be better. What if we think about historical ‘progress’ and whether all things did turn out for the better? Or what did and what didn’t?
When I worked with the government, on Friday afternoons, we would help each other identify positions to apply to that were advertised in the Friday JobMart paper. It would be to find ‘lateral moves’ offering opportunities to learn new things not necessarily ‘move forward’ or ‘up’. It was to broaden our knowledge of the government itself and how the different offices served the public based on mandates from legislation. It was about helping each other discern what we each needed to learn more about before ‘moving forward’ or ‘up.’
I’ve learned that since the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s there was this ideology of progress that all things would continue to get better and better as time went on. This myth was broken when the Titanic sunk and then with the horrors of WWI and WWII.
What if we changed that concept of progress to include pausing, reflecting, thinking and praying that these actions might be considered important and worthwhile like going sideways, treading water for a while, giving space for God to speak to us instead of us ‘moving forward?’
Throughout our lives we are presented with opportunities to pause and reflect and be awakened to something new. Sometimes the awakening happens when we don’t even know it. When this happens, it is also important to rest with God and say, What gives, God? What have I been awakened to? Why? And now what?
I hope on your journeys through this end of the season after Epiphany and into Lent that you will have such moments of awakening, and of time with God, to hear God’s still, small voice say to you, Hey…Why not consider….? And, Hey, do you know how much you are loved?
Peace to your hearts always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Caring God, through these last weeks we have heard the stories that teach us what it is to be anchored in faith and in love and to follow Jesus. Now as we prepare to turn towards Lent, a pausing time, reflecting, time, thinking time, may we hear you in the silence. May we discern our own directions with you. May we commit, come Easter morning, into a new way of living, striving ever more that the faith of Christ will be our faith too. And may we sing, Hallelujah for the new life within us.
Genesis 45:3-15 Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers.
Psalm 37 Do not fret; trust in God.
I Corinthians 15:35-50 Understanding resurrection.
Luke 6:27-38 Love your enemies; be merciful.
- What is the basic God-theme of the Joseph story?
- Why was Joseph not part of the twelve tribes that went into the Promised Land?
- What do Flat-Earthers believe about the earth?
- According to Flat-Earthers, what do the Antarctic ice walls do?
Spiritual responses to Difficult or Painful Situations #4 and #5:
If you are consumed by wanting things you do not have, begin to see the endlessness of desire – how wanting gives rise to only more wanting.
If you are in despair because of what you have lost – your spouse, your eyesight, your career – feel the depth of your sorrow and then find faith in the simple goodness of life.
February 14 – Sensual
Okay…did that get your attention? Not a word we’d normally expect to use to connect with our faith, our bible even, but…it fits. Just open the Song of Solomon and read the beautiful, sensual, loving words of two people who deeply adore each other. Sit with your partner and read the parts, one for you, one for your partner, and you’ll totally understand what this book, this confession of deep love, is all about.
How beautiful you are, my love,
how very beautiful!
Your hair is like goats along the hills;
your teeth are like shorn ewes that have been washed;
your lips are like a crimson thread—so lovely;
your cheeks are like pomegranate halves.
(Song of Songs/Song of Solomon 4:1-3)
We may not relate to being told our hair is like goat skin, but goat skin coverings of shelters on a hillside would in ancient times have been beautiful to see. The softness and warmth and shine of goat hair is beautiful. I know. This passage gives you a hint of the rest of the book.
Rachel Hackenberg is a staff person in the United Church of Christ in the U.S. She wrote in her weekly devotional about the Song of Solomon. She reminds us that the Song of Solomon can and has been interpreted as the love between God and Israel, or Christ and the Church. But, as I have found, the truth is it is more like ancient, erotic Egyptian poetry. She says, “This poet wouldn’t be the first one to look at creation and imagine how it reflects characteristics of God: the wind as God’s whisper, the sunset as God’s smile, a sparkling stream as the glint in God’s eye… [and] that it’s a poem of physical adoration, a celebration of human beauty, an unapologetic delight in the joys of sensuality. The poet gazes upon a beloved and cannot cease in adoration.” Isn’t that lovely!? Can you imagine your partner saying, “Oh you are so lovely, your eyes, your hair, your lips…” Okay…enough of that…
Hackenberg also reminds us of another poet, not ancient, but present, the late Mary Oliver. Oliver wrote about prayer, “Just pay attention … [this is] the doorway into thanks.” Words that offer celebration and adoration, wonder and awe, for Love, for God, for the loved one of your life, really are the words that are the first place of living thankfully. And when we consider our Creator God, however we understand God, then as Hackenberg says, “To pause in delight, to celebrate a love (and to celebrate the Love of all loves), to be full of wonder, to be satisfied by the mutuality of adoration, to give thanks for the senses and sensualities that make life so acute—these too are gifts of the Creator.” What beautiful gifts of life for living and loving are our senses – all of them.
Both of our LIFE groups at St. Mark’s have at some time, and in a few weeks will again, be chatting about prayer: what is prayer, how to pray, why, when? I believe that prayer is a conversation we have with God, within Love, that is deep, and honest, open and vulnerable, and it is the sacred communication that, for me, is like my heart and my head coming out in the writing of my journal – it is truth at the deepest level of my spirit and soul.
What do you think of prayer?
When do you pray?
What does it do for you?
What does your inner soul say?
What does God say back?
May your days and nights be filled with ceaseless prayer,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, for life and love, for our senses with which and through which we experience, appreciate, cherish, adore, wonder and touch all that is so beautiful, we are thankful. For this world, for the loves of our lives, may we never hesitate to express our love, in words sung, spoken, in story, in poem, in touch. May we cherish and express our love openly, honestly, humbly, respectfully, as your creating love lives and breathes and caresses us with grace. In and with Christ we pray, Amen.
From Hackenberg prayer, “Thank you, O Love, for touch and affection. Thank you, O Life, for the flood of your beauty through all of my senses. Thank you, O Creator, for putting my spirit in flesh.”
Jeremiah 17:5-10 Those who trust in God are like trees planted by water.
Psalm 1 Blessed are those who follow God’s law.
I Corinthians 15:12-20 How can you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
Luke 6:17-26 The Beatitudes upon the plain.
Spiritual Practice #3 (the first 2 were a couple of weeks ago)
“If you discover that pursuing status or career is empty and unfulfilling, find forms of love that are meaningful.”
~ Roger S. Gottlieb, Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters.
- Luke writes of the beatitudes on the plain. What does Matthew say?
- What is the purpose of these sermons of Jesus?
- Is a virus a germ?
- What is the difference between a virus and a bacteria?
February 5 – What’s in a name?
In what seems like another life altogether, I worked for 14 years with the Ontario Government in what was called Personnel Services. Later, Personnel Services became Human Resources. Affirmative Action was in the office down the hall. In time, they became Employment Equity. HR Training and Development became Organizational Development and my title was changed from Training and Development Consultant to Learning Consultant. Over those years our secretaries became administrative assistants. Each name change was a sign of the times. In each case of name change, there was a reason. Sometimes it truly was a change of duties, responsibilities and service. Sometimes it was keeping with contemporary language. Sometimes it was just about … a name change.
In my home church 18 years ago, Sunday school became Joyful Noise, and Christian Education became Faith Formation Resource Committee. There was name change, focus change and change to keep with changing times and a response to the culture around us.
In the new organization of the United Church we have been, for a very short period of time, Region 11. We are now called East Central Ontario. To me it is a very matter-of-fact kind of name. But then, at least others can hear it and know exactly where we are!
Recently you have probably received a letter from The United Church Observer magazine. I have only known it as the Observer and I even have a copy from the 1960s kicking around here somewhere. The letter tells us that the Observer is going to change their name to Broadview. Their purpose is to reflect a shift in focus and service. It is also to be broader in content to appeal to a broader contemporary audience. And well, the third reason is because change must happen. As with many organizations, and the church, there has been decline in readers and decline means there has been change and there needs to be a response. It invites us to enter in to a discussion to understand what and why and all about the signs of our times.
This brings me to names and a question about words and how words are symbols of meaning. Like God. What I understand about the word God is likely different from what you conceive or what people 100 years ago thought when they heard the word God. And Jesus? Jesus Christ? Christ is not his last name; it means messiah or anointed one from Hebrew then Greek. Or is it Jesus the Christ? Or Our Christ? What about Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost? Depends perhaps on our personal church histories.
When we get together to talk about faith, and faith questions, sometimes it really is better to clear the field and share what we mean by the words we use: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, salvation, sin, …and here’s a good one…funeral. Today’s culture is avoiding the word funeral in favour of Celebration of Life. The reality is the church has always offered Celebration of Life services. The difference is the church has conversed with God first, giving thanks for the life lived and with prayers for those grieving because grief is real and a necessary human journey. After this, we share time together with lots of food – like Jesus did. He spent time with people and ate a lot. Just check Luke’s Gospel. Beyond the avoidance of the word funeral though, our current culture is avoiding other words like death. We live in a death denying culture. It changes us and our language and how we respond to … well lots of things. You name it.
How ever it is that you understand the words, and names, of our faith, I hope you have conversations with God who I believe is beyond us, around us, with and within us always. God is love and very real as love is real. Let’s take opportunities to share these thoughts, have the conversations to explore our understandings and our questions, that we might make life ever more meaningful and for us, closer to one another.
Peace to your hearts, with calm and ease as we all go through changes,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Creator God, for your journeying with us in life, from our beginnings to and through our endings to new life, we are thankful. For the blessings of life and love throughout our times, we are grateful. For the courage, strength and willingness to meet change with hope and promise, may we always be open. In and with the Christ we pray, Amen.
Isaiah 6:1-13 I saw God seated upon a throne.
Psalm 138 Do not leave unfinished the work of your hands, O God.
I Corinthians 15:1-11 An account of Jesus’ resurrection.
Luke 5:1-11 Jesus calls Simon and James and John.
- How might psalms be categorized?
- What scripture story are you not likely to hear preached from the pulpit?
- What produces most of the earth’s oxygen?
- How many muscles do you have in your fingers?
January 29 – Epiphany
A few years ago, a friend of mine had an epiphany. He discovered that rear wheel drive can be a challenge in the snow and on icy roads. Having driven rear wheel for years, I was used to it so the epiphany wasn’t mine to have. Though, years back I did discover the difference when I had a front wheel drive car. Time’s past. Life is full of little epiphanies. Sometimes it presents big epiphanies too. Just think of the wise men of the Gospel of Matthew.
We are in the season after that Epiphany, January 6, and we stay in this season in the church until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Epiphany is the time of discovery through our scriptures. It is a time we learn about God, about Jesus, how God was and is revealed through Jesus, and each time we are invited into the epiphany of this new revealed knowledge. It is different from scientific knowledge. Revealed knowledge is still knowledge though – for me. I believe God is revealed in many ways: through the scriptures, through Jesus, through nature, through us.
So here’s where that revelation stuff gets a little more difficult. When my one son was 10, I was putting him to bed one night when he ‘advised me’ he was done with Joyful Noise. This was the name of the Sunday school programme at our church as we had moved from saying Sunday school to Joyful Noise, from superintendent to coordinator. I asked him why he was done. He said they only teach the same old stories that I had been teaching them before bed every night for years using a family bible. I tried to tell him that as you grow older, these stories mean more and you will understand them in increasingly mature ways and by faith (only in kids speak of course)! Well, he advised me then of his real question. He said, “Mom, if there is a God, then where is God today? What is God doing today? And who has been healed or resurrected lately?” Good questions that demonstrated my point exactly about a mature faith, but hardly where he was going at 10 years old.
How would you answer those questions? When have you had epiphanies of understanding God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, or whatever, that would help to explain answers to a child? You see, what I discovered in that moment was an epiphany for me. This is it: if I can’t explain to a child, in kids-speak, a way to understand God in our world, responding to a child’s question, then what does it say about my understanding? But further to that, I discovered that what he asked was what many adults were asking too.
I recently read a book in which the researchers claim the main reason people don’t believe is that there is no acceptable, understandable, explainable answer to the question of pain and suffering in our lives and in the world if there is a god.
How have you reflected on, prayed on, discovered answers or the beginning of answers, to these questions. How do you move through these: pulling from the front of your thoughts and wonderings, or pushing from behind from your own histories and Sunday school? Or in what way do you do both?
Just something to chew on this week as we wait for the big snowfall. I hope you have snow tires whether rear wheel or front wheel drive, whichever your car might be.
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, we have learned of you from our childhood years, Sunday school, grandparents, grace at the table. We also learn about you through others, and through our own questioning. In these days of the quiet blanket of snow, instil in us a place and a peace to contemplate prayerfully who you are to us personally, how you are in the world, and what you are calling us to be. May we come to understand you are in us from our youth directing our living, as well as calling us from the future, revealing our path. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Before you were formed in the womb, I set you apart.
Psalm 71 God is our fortress and sheltering rock.
I Corinthians 13:1-13 Love is patient and kind.
Luke 4:21-30 Jesus is driven out of Nazareth.
- What’s the quickest way to find the Books of Psalms?
- How many books are there?
- What is a snowflake?
- How many different types of snowfall are there?
January 15 – What is a Dillon?
So for those of you who caught my typo, way to go! Many didn’t at all, even while we sat in a group talking about Dylan, reading the Inviting God, last Thursday. Or maybe you were all just so polite. I find it kind of crazy that I had been listening to a Dylan cd, with a friend who has a big poster of Dylan on the wall with his name front and centre, and checking the lyrics out on google, and still my fingers and brain typed his name wrong. What can I say? Not the first time for me. If you were to look at some of my worship service prep you would see sometimes instead of our hymn book title Voices United, I type Vices Untied. That truly has a whole other meaning and makes me wonder where my mind is at!
Apparently from Prof. Google, Dillon is an Irish surname which means loyal and true and is not at all related to the Dylan spelling. And there is something called a “Dillon Rule State” in the States which differs from a “Home Rule State.” The Dillon Rule provides for the state legislature being involved in small-scale decisions made by local jurisdictions. Let’s get back to the brain and hand…the heart and head too.
How many of you journal? Journaling is a way of meditating, opening and inviting your heart into prayer, especially when you address your journal entries to God. I have been journaling for over 20 years. My journals are private; no one is to ever read the words of my heart, mind and soul found in those journals. They are in a safe place and I will one day burn them as I let go of the prayers that they hold.
What I have learned from journaling is that my head and my heart each know things about me at my deepest level, my core. When I write in my journal, my head and my heart connect and it comes out through my hand. And there the truth lies. On the page. Written. Inked. Naked and true and so very revealing. I have learned that when I have those breaks from journaling it is not because I need a break or forget. It is because deep within my soul I do know what I will write and I’m not ready to hear what my heart and head are going to say together. I know it, and do not want to know it, at the same time. Writing it makes it real.
Journaling has been a huge part of my faith journey as I have prayed, told myself stories, written poems, emptied feelings, hurts, woes, celebrations, fears, thrills, hopes and dreams too. It is the most vulnerable, open, honest, truthful, offering I give to God and in that time and space, God answers me.
I hope you might take a few moments to consider journaling for your life and faith journeys as a spiritual practice. Pick out a really pretty, or stunning, or rugged cover for your journal, whichever speaks the most about who you are, what you’re like, what it is to be you even, and then…just…begin. Perhaps as I do…Dear God…
And as promised, from my book on spiritual responses to life:
“If you are angry, develop some empathy for the people you are angry at, learn to honestly admit your own failings, and face the grief or fear your anger may be obscuring.”
May you know God’s peace always,
906-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, hearer of my heart, my mind and soul, teach me to empty to you, to offer to you all that I hold within me. Guide me to feel the freedom of letting go and sharing with you. Help me to trust to rest in the silence of my written words, my prayed words, on paper or by voice, and to just listen for your written answers to form through my heart and head coming together or to hear your still small voice reach my ears. In and with the Christ I pray, (we pray). Amen.
Nehemiah 8:1-10 Ezra reads the Torah at the Water Gate.
Psalm 19 The heavens declare the glory of God.
I Corinthians 12:12-31a Now you are the body of Christ and each one a part of it.
Luke 4:14-21 Jesus reads from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
- Who was Nehemiah?
- Who was Ezra?
- What do we use to write on a blackboard?
- Who invented rubber boots?
January 15 – Dillon…
Do you remember growing up in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 1970s, etc., etc., whenever you grew up? Do you remember the music that meant the world to you, that anchors your memories and that shaped you? Elvis? The Beatles? John Denver? Who? What are those songs? Why did they affect you so much? These are the things some of us have chatted on over the last few weeks. Mostly, with one friend, we kept coming back to Dillon and The Times, they are a-Changing!
What a great song! Several years ago, my son did a music video power point for me for worship for that song as we were moving into the first steps of change for our United Church. More lately, my studies have taken me into the last century and some of the changes that have occurred in the church and in our culture.
One thing I’ve learned is that since the mid 1990s there has been a surge of interest in spirituality throughout much of the western world. Perhaps it is just that all things come around again, but it is interesting how many books one can find on the shelves of Chapters concerning our spirituality and how to live it. The whole idea of understanding the surge is also to understand what happened before the surge to make it a surge!
Through the years of the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, there was a loss of coherence, or loss of the spiritual, or religious loss slowly unfolding that came along with those scientific discoveries, religious skepticism, the rise in individualism and general loss of religious meaning as the west became more and more secular. Along the way, spirituality which was understood as part of being religious, became separated from the religious, as you probably have seen in the increase of those who say they are spiritual but not religious. Not religious means not participating, or wanting to participate, in organized, institutional religion. And there are many reasons for this. Many folk believe there is something out there, or they believe in synchronicity, or an awareness of God’s presence, but they seek to find this, go deeper, explore their spiritual self without the ‘trappings’ of church. Some folk find they experience their spirituality in nature, with others, through different aspects of other religions brought together even.
The times truly are changing…and have changed.
Spirituality and being religious are no longer synonymous. So what is it to be spiritual? As one writer says, “In its broadest terms, spirituality is an understanding of how life should be lived and an attempt to live that way…ultimately spiritual insights are about the meaning and value of each of our lives.” Spirituality is said to begin in movement, “away from what we come to see as unreal, disappointing, meaningless or trivial toward the ultimate, true, vital, or sacred.” This can be illustrated by what Roger Gottlieb calls spiritual responses to a number of difficult or painful situations.
Over the next number of weeks, I’ll include one or two of these responses as part of the Inviting God. Let’s see what they are, how they work, how they make us feel, and how they may even change our lives drawing us nearer to God and each other and … nature too. The first one is:
“If you are constantly distracted or anxious, turn off your computer-cell phone-iPad-tv and sit in silence for a time, every day, for the rest of your life.”
Happy silencing everyone and may you find the presence of God sits with you!
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Prayer: Holy God, in what was, in what is and in what will be, we trust you are with us. In the noise and in the chaos of life, we trust you are there. Help us to feel you in the silence, that we might know our trust is true. May we learn to rest in the quiet, in the silence, even in the dark, and open ourselves to your Presence, your peace, your still, small voice that speaks to our hearts. Amen.
Isaiah 62:1-5 No longer called desolate but now named Delight.
Psalm 36 God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens.
I Corinthians 12:1-11 Different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same spirit.
John 2:1-11 The wedding in Cana.
- What does Isaiah’s name mean?
- What is the Scroll of Isaiah about?
- What did Atlas carry on his shoulders?
- What shape is a raindrop?
January 7 – What is a miracle?
Over the past few weeks, we have each in our own ways been exposed to, privy to, life and death, living and dying, as we’ve moved through Christmas and Celebrations of Life, as we’ve shared time with family and friends, laughing and loving, and as we’ve offered a ministry of presence to those wanting or ready to die. Along the way, questions about what it is to really, live have come up, as have questions about miracles. What is it to live? What is living? What is loving? What is it to die? What is a miracle? What do we ask for? Why?
Frederick Buechner is a theologian who offers a quote of the day. In one of his recent emails he wrote about life, that life is about being with, not just being, that life is about relationships not standing alone in time and space. I would add living is about loving fully, honestly, wholly, graciously, abundantly and without fear.
Buechner said this in his email:
After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. “There is only one miracle,” he answered. “It is life.
Have you wept at anything during the past year?
Has your heart beat faster at the sight of young beauty?
Have you thought seriously about the fact that someday you are going to die?
More often than not, do you really listen when people are speaking to you instead of just waiting for your turn to speak?
Is there anybody you know in whose place, if one of you had to suffer great pain, you would volunteer yourself?
If your answer to all or most of these questions is no, the chances are that you’re dead.
That last line was a surprise for me. Was it for you?
As we move into this new year, how are you going to truly live and love and be alive? How will God in Christ enter into your living and loving that will fill you with courage and faith and joy and … well love?
Happy New Year everyone, and may you know God’s presence ever more as the nights and days unfold into this year.
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, with this new year we are invited into new beginnings, new hopes and dreams, new challenges and fresh starts. With you, we are always invited into these same …gifts. May we know your presence in each moment of doubt, of fear, of needing courage, of finding faith, of searching and discovering, of beginning again or for the first time. May we be filled with the care and compassion of your Holy Spirit to journey with each other, to hold and strengthen each other, as the nights and days of life and love unfold. And may we be set free to live and love fully, wholly, honestly and abundantly. May we know our baptisms in water, are also the sign of a new beginning with you God. In and with Christ we pray. Amen.
Isaiah 43:1-7 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
Psalm 29 Ascribe to God glory and strength.
Acts 8:14-17 Peter and John baptized the converts in Samaria.
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 Jesus is baptized by John.
- Why does Luke give a genealogy of Jesus right after the Baptism of Jesus?
- What comes to Jesus after his baptism if you skip the inserted genealogy?
- What’s the sport of kings?
- What animal are the Canary Islands named after?
Twas the night before Christmas – December 21
I think perhaps we all grew up hearing the story of St. Nicholas and the night before Christmas. I used to read it to my kids and at the Sunday school evening event at our home church at the time. Everyone seems to get into the story. And it is a story. But it is not a story we normally tell in the church. So… a few years ago, I added to St. Nicholas’ tale and offered it during Children’s Time to bring the story of Santa and the story of Jesus together. I now offer it to you for this week of fourth Advent with Christmas just a few sleeps away.
“A Visit from St. Nicholas”, also known as “The Night Before Christmas” and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” from its first line, was a poem first published anonymously in 1823 and generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, although the claim has also been made that it was written by Henry Livingston, Jr.
The poem, which has been called “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American”, is largely responsible for some of the conceptions of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today. Prior to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors varied considerably…according to Prof. Wikipedia.
So here it is…with my verses added:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
Down in the parlour, Advent candles they stood,
Encircled by their wreath on a table of wood.
Our Christmas Tree decorated with bright lights and balls
Offered welcome with bows wide, open arms for all.
On top of the mantel so white and high,
Sat the crèche with shepherds looking up to the sky,
Where the angels hovered on their wires up above
Announcing the Christ-child’s birth and God’s love.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter and threw up the sash.
A myriad of stars illumined the sky so bright
Reminding me of that long ago special night
When the wise men from the east who’d traveled so far
Arrived to see Jesus born under a star.
And the moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below.
Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
“And a message for all,” St. Nick shouted loud and clear,
“Christmas is for Christ. It is God’s time of year.”
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
And from under his beard as it moved up and down
I saw a cross for Jesus laying ‘gainst his tummy’s mound,
It was plain and simple as Santa can be
And it hung from a leather cord, no wait, there were three.
One for the Father up above,
One for the Son, the incarnation of God’s love,
One for the Spirit, together the Trinity,
And on St. Nick, it made sense to me.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He was the spirit of Christmas
Full of love and compassion
And with gifts for all
He went into action.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
From the roof of our house, I then heard him say
A prayer for us all for Christmas Day.
He prayed we might know the Christ-child within
That our hearts would be filled with love,
For stranger and kin.
He prayed we would know the presence of God
And let Christ reign in our hearts, minds and souls,
I did nod.
Then he sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Happy Christmas to you, and I pray you will know
That the Christ-child in your hearts
Is the best blessing of all.”
Merry Christmas to Everyone!
May you know God’s presence this day and always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
p.s. I won’t be writing an Inviting God till January 2 so until then, be well, be safe, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Prayer: Christmas God, we have journeyed with patience and anticipation, with busyness and longing too, for Christmas to come. We’re nearly there. May this night to come and the Christmas season to follow, be days through which your Love will shine from our hearts like the star shone in the sky. May the music we hear and that we sing be like the music of the angels floating down to the earth. May the message of peace dwell deep in our hearts and be poured by your grace and our faith with the Christmas hope and joy for the world. Amen.
Micah 5:2-5a Out of Bethlehem in Judea will come a leader.
Luke 1:46-55 Mary sings, “My soul gives glory to my God.”
Psalm 80 Shepherd of Israel, hear us.
Hebrews 10:5-10 Made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus’ body.
Luke 1:39-45 Mary visits Elizabeth
Isaiah 9:2-7 A child has been born for us.
Psalm 96 Sing to God a new song.
Titus 2:11-14 Live a godly, upright life.
Luke 2:1-20 Jesus’ birth.
- Who was Haste?
- When Mary says, Here I am, what is she saying?
- When was the King James version of the bible published?
- Why has it been called the authorized version?
Happiness – December 11
Over this last few weeks, a number of folk have told me about something that has happened in their lives that has made them feel happy: a relative return to Ontario, good outcome from tests with the doctor, a new job, feeling better, and more. I heard many reasons for feeling happy, so, I sat and thought about what makes me happy, when, where, why and with whom.
I also read in the Christian Century a short item on happiness. A longitudinal study was done at Harvard for over 30 years by George Vaillant. He followed 800 people for their entire lives and his question was: what makes you live happier, healthier and longer lives. He found six factors: avoiding smoking; moderation in alcohol; pursuit of education; a happy childhood; making meaningful relationships including loving relationships that can compensate for an unhappy childhood; coping skills; and living a well-rounded life including giving back to others and society. Vaillant said, “Whether we live to a vigorous old age lies not so much in our stars or our genes as in ourselves.” (Business Insider, August 26)
Years ago, I met a man who would spend a day or two a week tidying up graves at a cemetery. His friends thought he was stuck in his grief over the loss of his young son. But no, he said, his cemetery care began first with taking care of his son’s grave, and then the next one, and the next and the next. He said he noticed how people’s lives are busy leaving them unable to keep up with caring for or even visiting the cemetery so he was giving his time and care to help them. And he was happy.
In the October Observer, there was an article titled ‘Is there a point to life?’ Trisha Elliott recounts part of her journey and her thoughts on the purpose of life. She said that for Christians, the purpose of life is to be a disciple of Jesus even if we have different understandings of how to do this. She believes emulating Jesus’ values gives life meaning. She concluded saying, “We may not know why we’re on the planet, but we know what we’re here to do.” Like the research above, it is about how we live, how we give, and how we love. Happiness through our living.
Happiness is also rooted in thankfulness. So…what are you thankful for? What makes you happy? What are you further grateful for? What do you long for…and why? In this holy time of Advent, a time of waiting, reflecting, and praying, what are your hopes for Christmas that will put your heart at peace? What will show or teach you of the joy of faith? And how will you and do you know the Love of God that has come to you and may move through you as grace?
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Prayer: God of Hope, God of Peace, Joy and Love, for these weeks of Advent we are thankful for they invite us into pausing, quieting our thoughts and opening our hearts to hear you in us, to ask ourselves what is important, to offer to you our answers, and to wait for Christmas. We are thankful and we are grateful for those in our lives with whom we find delight, with whom we laugh, think, share time and food, those with whom we know happiness. In the same way, may we know your Love, your grace, and witness to it, pouring Love to others as your grace that comes to us and moves through us. In and with Christ we pray. Amen.
Zephaniah 3:14-20 Sing, Daughter of Zion; God comes to bring you home.
Isaiah 12:2-6 Proclaim God’s deeds to the nations.
Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in God always! Again, I say, Rejoice!
Luke 3:7-18 John warns the crowds, “You brood of vipers!”
- Who was Zephaniah?
- What was the Day of the LORD?
- Why is LORD in capitals?
- What is Hasankeyf?
- What is a swift fox?
Heaven and Earth…and butterflies – December 4
The other day I received the latest National Geographic in the mail, December 2018. The cover story Bible Hunters: Scholars, schemers, and the search for ancient texts immediately caught my attention. I know you’re not surprised. So, I opened the magazine and right away came to a page about spiders, about the widow spiders. I don’t like spiders. The article is about the mating process of the spiders, their courtship of older males with younger females, a really, odd experiment the made Tori and me groan, and then how the females eat the males alive. I don’t believe the males would find this in any way heavenly, just earthly.
Moving on… there is an article on butterflies. The story is about the transformation, or metamorphosis, that is a radical change in form and in function from the caterpillar to the butterfly. This transformation is from a crawling bug to a beautiful winged creature. It all happens in the dark of the chrysalis – the place of transformation. The crawling creature is re-born and flies. The flight of the butterfly in the air is sometimes called the Dance of the Spirit, the dance of new life.
I’ve also been reading a book titled Incarnation: The Surprising Overlap of Heaven & Earth by William H. Willimon. This book is about Jesus, about how people came to see and hear and know God in him, a touch of heaven on earth. The introduction says we can think of Jesus as the one who communicated his truth in simple, honest, homely, direct, grounded ways but his truth was about all that is so beyond the earthly – his truth was and is about God and the heavens and the kingdom of God which is near and even with you and within you now.
Metamorphosis, or transformation, physical or spiritual, is the common theme here. The caterpillar physically changes. Jesus shows and invites those who hear and follow him into a spiritual transformation. Sometimes it is called to be born again, born new, conversion, or just, a call to new life that is possible when the old life, or that which ties you down, is untethered or let go.
Advent is a time to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. Christmas is a twelve-day celebration for the birth of the Christ-child each year, and really each time someone opens to God’s invitation to a deeper spirituality, a deeper connection with God, into deep Love. When this happens, when the Love of God, the Word of God, the Christ-child is born into your awaiting heart, it can be a transformative moment, or experience, from what was to what can be. It is an incarnational time when heaven and earth meet in you by the power of the Spirit.
Last Sunday was our Advent Sunday of Hope. This Sunday is the Advent Sunday of Peace. In all that life has been, and is, may you find and know deep peace in your heart, the peace in knowing by your faith that you are not alone, that God in Christ, or Love, is with you always. Knowing and living this Love, is to live lives of continual, heavenly Hope for such Peace.
May you be so blessed in your hearts, souls and minds, with Peace.
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Prayer: Holy God of Peace, with the Hope of Advent, we hold onto the promise of Peace in our hearts to enwrap us and warm us in our faith through the quiet cold of winter time. As we rest assured of Hope and Peace, we can also know then the Joy of Faith that no matter what unfolds in life, we are never alone. May this Advent time be slow and easy, restful and prayerful, a time of waiting for you and listening to your invitation into the deep Love of Christmas. In and with Christ we pray. Amen.
Malachi 3:1-4 A refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap.
Luke 1:68-79 Zechariah sings, “Blessed be the God of Israel.”
Philippians 1:3-11 I thank God every time I remember you.
Luke 3:1-6 A voice calling in the desert.
- Why is Malachi the last book of our Old Testament?
- What does Malachi mean?
- What happens inside the chrysalis?
- How long does it take for a butterfly to emerge?
Atheism… – November 27, 2018
So this has been the topic of the week. What do we believe? Well that can take us to lots of places like Santa and the Tooth Fairy and for kids, why does Santa or the Tooth Fairy leave better gifts for those other guys? I remember a neighbour whose children got great big presents and $20 from the Tooth Fairy. That fairy did not leave the same things under my kids’ pillows so, of course, the questions were challenging. Why aren’t they fair? Why does Santa, who has a list of who is naughty or nice, not practise fairness under the tree. Yikes eh? Kids just don’t understand parents do what they can do, but it is hard for them when there are no parameters to go by!
I have had a few people talk to me this week about atheism. It was a clergy discussion too and on facebook as well. And wouldn’t you know…it is part of the research paper I’m working on. So at my finger tips is a big book titled The Age of Atheists – 556 pages about atheists. But there is another book at my fingertips titled The Twilight of Atheism. Both are excellent.
Atheism is the non-belief in a theistic god, that is, the transcendent god of the dictionary, or Wikipedia, or well you get it, a god out there, a transcendent being that often has a relationship and can intervene with human lives. To not believe in that god is to be an a-theist. Theist comes from the Greek word theos meaning god. But there are other ways of understanding or imagining God. One could be a deist, a pantheist, a panentheist, a gnostic or, for that matter, agnostic meaning “don’t know” or “not sure about that knowledge or not.”
We struggle with the idea of being atheist because for most of our understanding of the last 2000 years belief was part of life, not unbelief. It is hard to imagine people not believing in God. But over the last two hundred years or so, atheism was on the rise and many felt this threatened religion, even possibly atheism would eliminate religion. Yet if you go to a book store you will find loads of books on spirituality, on god/God, on belief, so … God is not dead. Spirituality is on the rise but many of those identifying as spiritual also say ‘but not religious’ meaning they don’t go to church. What I’ve found is that the resistance to church, or organized religion, is rooted way back about 500 years ago with the rise of individualism and the push back against authority especially church authority, dogmas, doctrines, rules, etc.
So… as you encounter those who identify as atheist, ask them what the god is like that they don’t believe in. You might find the god they don’t believe in, you don’t believe in either. Your understanding of God may be totally different from the one they object to. And as you meet those who don’t go to church, remember, they might be believers, faithful, spiritual people who just don’t want to be told what to believe…or at least in their view of church and religion.
My question this week for you though is this: how do you describe the God we/you do believe in? What do you not believe?
This one will be fun for our Thursday morning LIFE group discussions!
Prayer: Holy God, creator God, ever present beyond us, among us, with and within us, we trust in your presence, in your hearing our prayers, and that it is with you that we live and breathe and have our being and answer prayer together in our world. We (I) believe your love was made known through Jesus, is felt through the Christ, is empowered by the Spirit and your story told through the Law and the Prophets. During this waiting time of Advent, help us (me) to be open to new ways of knowing you. May the hope, peace, joy and love of these four weeks prepare us for the birth of the Christ-child into the manger of our hearts come Christmas. Amen.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 A righteous branch from David’s line.
Psalm 25 To you God I lift my soul.
I Thessalonians 3:9-13 How can we thank God adequately?
Luke 21:25-36 Signs in the heavens and on earth; parable of the fig tree.
- Which is the main city talked about during Advent?
- What does Bethlehem mean in Hebrew?
- Where do gorillas sleep?
- What’s the commonest bird in the world?
Break a Leg… – November 21, 2018
No, I haven’t broken anything, just wounded a bit because of a piece of a truck that fell on my leg…but ah…its nothing. The phrase ‘break a leg’ came to mind, though, and, also because of the friends I have who love and live in theatre. Their work is superb. Every one of them. Their roles in the plays I have seen have been so real and so moving, I am left amazed.
“Break a leg!” When someone says this to any of my friends, they say, “Thank you.” Imagine being someone who didn’t know the phrase was words for good luck! One of my friends told me it means so much to hear the words because it means she is really being thought of, wished the best for, even hope for her energy to come her way so that her performance will be awesome. Somehow, I’m told, it gives her strength, courage and yup… energy. From three short words…
Those three short words have some sort of power for those who receive them and…believe in them. What about prayer? What about when someone says, “I’m praying for you.” How does that make you feel? Honestly, now…how do you feel when someone says, “I’m praying for you.” And it doesn’t matter the outcome that is prayed for, necessarily, just that you are prayed for. And do you offer that to others who need to know they are thought of?
A few years ago, I learned of a study that was done to test the effectiveness of prayer. A group of people who were told they were being prayed for, but who did not know those doing the praying, did not report a change in feeling or wellness. Those who were prayed for by those they knew, reported a feeling of warmth, comfort, company and caring. They reported a belief that the prayers worked…well they did something…even if cure or healing had not yet been realized. They said they felt the power of those four (five) words, I’m praying for you.
Being in a community, belonging, cared about, is important to us human beings. In today’s world of social media, it is still important to belong, to have friends, to feel you are a part of something and not alone out there. Without social media, life can be lonely. It is all in how it is used of course.
I hope as you read this you might know you are not alone. You have family perhaps, friends perhaps, you have your church family even if by email, your connection with me, and most importantly, you are not alone as God is with you always. God’s love is made incarnate again and again through those who love you and as the presence of the Spirit of Love that Christ revealed moves to and through you too in the many ways this happens every day.
May knowing you are never alone bring you peace, a moment of Shalom in this busy, crowded, sometimes oblivious world.
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Prayer: Creator God, in you by Christ and the Spirit we are called to live and move and have our being. In you, and you in us, we are called to share your love, and to trust we are never alone. Even as the world, or life, presents us with incredible challenges, worries, scares, rejection, despair, whatever it may be, may we know we are never alone. May we come to know you through the love shown to us that comes in so many ways, even unexpected and mysterious ways. And may we experience you as our God beyond us, around us, among us, with and within us always. Amen.
2 Samuel 23:1-7 David’s last words glorify God.
Psalm 132 God will bless with abundance.
Revelation I am the Alpha and Omega.
John 18:33-37 Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you King of the Jews?”
- What are Alpha and Omega?
- Who was the King of the Jews?
- Crows do something not many other animals do. What is it?
- Are the flu’s genes written in DNA or RNA?
Readers Digest versions… November 14, 2018
Years ago, like in another life, I was asked by a teacher to read a particular book. I don’t remember what it was but I was able to find it in the Readers Digest that I was given. I was young. I did not know these versions of stories were condensed. I didn’t have a clue. So, I read it and then wrote whatever paper I was supposed to write. But I got chastised by the teacher for having read an incomplete version of the book. Oops.
Do you remember Cole’s Notes? I thought they were great. In high school the Cole’s Notes versions or summaries of books, especially Shakespeare, were invaluable. I bought and used a lot of them. Yet…once again I was chastised by a teacher for having used a summary and condensed story. Oops.
Right now, I am reading a really good book about The United Church of Canada and it is focusing on why we have declined since the 1960s. The book’s title is Who’s Minding the Story? I recommend it if you are interested in a quick lesson on the secular age and the shifts that our church and our culture have made in the last 100 years. Yet…once again, this is condensed material. Much of this book is an explanation of Charles Taylor’s 776 page work titled A Secular Age. As I have learned in life, I will have to go and peruse the 776 page version but I do recommend the Who’s Minding the Story book. The author is Jeff Seaton.
So far, reading this book, and another on steps into a spiritual life, I have wondered where we are at spiritually in ourselves, in our United Church. Are we living a condensed version of faith, on the surface, or are we fully immersed and deep into a spiritual life that fills and fulfils our hunger for spirituality? Do we read and explore, ask and learn about our scriptures, or do we read shortened versions of quick verses and a prayer when we feel the need? Both are important, but which drives us deeper into our faith and nearer to God?
Some early morning questions on this gray and cold early winter day. May you know peace in your hearts, deep, full, engaging, gracious peace, and may this peace flow through you always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, as we rest now at the beginning of winter, with the months ahead that will lead us ever deeper into the cold and the dark, may we also rest in our faith, with the months ahead as invitation to go deeper into our beliefs, deeper into ourselves. As the spring unfolds, the days lighten, the flowers bloom long from now, may the new warmth of the time reflect the new warmth of our nearness to you and each other by our ever richer, wider, all encompassing faith. Help us to learn and to grow, to hear not just the stories of the faithful, but the faith of the stories too. In and with the Christ we pray. Amen.
I Samuel 1:4-20 Samuel is born to Hannah and Eli.
I Samuel 2:1-10 The song of Hannah.
Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25 Provoke one another to love and good deeds.
Mark 13:1-8 Not one stone of the temple shall be left standing.
- Where did the book I Samuel come from?
- What is the book of I Samuel about?
- Why does an ostrich bury its head in the sand?
- What’s at the middle of a pearl?
A Pittance of Time… – November 4, 2018
Several years ago, a Canadian musician named Terry Kelly wrote and sang a song for Remembrance Day. A video was made as well. I, and other clergy, used the video in worship on the Sunday before Remembrance Day, and I also used it in the seniors’ residence where I worked as chaplain.
That video, and song, has an incredible message based on a true story about an incident in a store. When the request was made to hold two minutes of silence, in remembrance, a father with a small daughter did not stand still and he became annoyed when the clerk wouldn’t serve him. It is worth watching. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kX_3y3u5Uo)
It is so very important for us to remember the past, because if we don’t, we are just liable to repeat it. In the church, the Sunday before November 11 is a time of remembrance and peace holding that God’s reign is above all the governing bodies, peoples, and nations of the world. God is on the side always of those who are hurt, alone, hungry, without homes, the widows, the orphans, the poor, of every nation. God is not on the side of one nation or another but on the side of people, the lost and the lonely and those who strive to help them.
I remember learning from my son who is a history major that the way to remember the reasons for WWI is to remember MAIN. The main reasons are: militarism, alliances, imperialism and nationalism. Just think it through…think about what was going on in the world at the turn of the century, as the years moved into the 1900s and into WWI and later WWII. I hope we might learn from history.
In worship this Sunday November 11, we will remember and we will pray for peace. We will lay down red poppies as our sign of remembering. We will also lay down, the children will lay down, as is our tradition, white poppies as symbols of our prayers for peace. We do not cover up the red. We make them prominent against the white laid around them. Without praying and working for peace…why remember?
It can be hard to read our scriptures in which there are wars and for which God is sometimes deemed the instigator. We must learn how to read our scriptures of the past in the present. If not, we misunderstand not just the scriptural stories, but God too.
We sing of peace, being channels of God’s peace, of the healing of the nations, of the bells of peace that they may sound. Let us pray for the ringing of the bells of peace not just this Sunday, but every day.
May the peace of Christ be with you, within you, and flow through you,
Prayer: God of peace, in Christ we remember your love, your justice, your harmony and our scripture’s hope that weapons will become ploughshares. We know and pray for the Christ as the Prince of Peace. In this week ahead, help us to focus not on all that is wrong in the world, but on what is wrong in us. May we see that peace has to begin in us as we let go of prejudice, racism, having more than others, holding power over others, lifting up one nation over another. Peace for our world must be for the whole world. So God we pray, help us be a part of this peace by letting go of that in us that prevents peace. In Christ we pray, Amen.
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 Ruth marries Boaz and restores the family line.
Psalm 127 Unless God builds the house…
Hebrews 9:24-28 Christ, the once and for all sacrifice for sin.
Mark 12:38-44 The widow offers two small copper coins.
- Although not one of our readings this week, what is the Book of Esther about?
- From the Mark reading, what were the best seats and the places of honour?
- What kind of music charms snakes the most?
- What are violin strings made of?
Sleep – October 30
“To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” These are Hamlet’s words spoken to himself when he thinks he is alone. Okay there is a lot more to his story and this quote, but how often have you heard someone say, “Ahh… for a good night sleep!” Or, “Ahh…I’d love a nap!” or, “Ahh to sleep, perchance to dream.”
Sleep is something we all need and need a fair bit of too. Many say we should get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. That is then 1/3 of our day roughly, that we spend asleep which then would be 1/3 of our lives. What the heck are we doing, or why do we need for good health, to sleep 1/3 of our lives? I can’t believe requiring this much sleep is not important. We spend nearly 1/3 of our lives asleep!
In the August 2018 National Geographic, there is a major article on sleep titled Want to Fall Asleep? Read this Story. The article talks about the importance of putting down those cell phones and other devices before going to bed. They interfere with your sleep. But we also live in a culture that is so used to screens, everywhere, we can‘t go anywhere without a screen in front of us, or up on a wall somewhere. They are everywhere. We are constantly reading them, our eyes drawn to them immediately, and when it is before bed, they affect our ability to sleep. The author says we live in chronic sleeplessness and in Japan public dozing is socially acceptable where about 40 percent of the population sleeps less than 6 hours per night. Americans sleep less than 7. Google says, “About 20 per cent of Canadians get between six and seven hours of sleep every night. And six per cent consistently get less than six hours a night.”
How much sleep do you get per night? Straight through? How much are screens a part of your life? Reading screens all the time uses your brain. What about your hearing? What about feeling and seeing and experiencing life beyond screens, and reading words, reading screens? What about experiencing life with your heart, experiencing faith and God with your heart? The author says that everything that is known about sleep has emphasized its importance to our mental and physical health – our emotional health too. Wouldn’t that apply to our spiritual health?
There are many biblical references to sleep. Just google it! Sleep is the time for our bodies to rest. It is in sleep we dream. In many dreams we learn something, or dreams bring us into a conversation of a sort with God, with our inner self, with who we are, our fears, our doubts, our joys too, and I believe, especially when our sleep begins in prayer. There are bible stories of messengers, angels, bringing messages in dreams from God. Has this happened to you? It has happened to me.
Ahh…to sleep, perchance to dream…and to be in deep nearness to God in an indescribable place and time beyond the now, the here and the then. And in the nearness, God holds us, and we sleep in peace, as we have turned all things over to God, that we might rest and sleep.
Sleep well everyone. Without screens. With God. Rest in God’s hands and know peace through the night. And remember to get that extra hour next Saturday.
Sleep, sleep, sleep and know Peace…peace…peace,
Prayer: Holy God, from the proverbs we are told, “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” And so we pray that tonight and each night, may we offer our worries, our concerns, our joys and our dreams, our lives, over to you, to be held, to be shaped, to be known, that we might sleep in peace. May we remember to leave behind us the trappings of the busyness of life, the screens of words, the barrage of noises, that prevent us from being present with you, in prayer with you, hearing your still small voice to our hearts telling us to sleep and to dream. May our sleeps be sweet. May our dreams be revelatory and holy. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Ruth 1:1-18 Ruth choose to go with Naomi.
Psalm 146 I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath.
Hebrews 9:11-14 Christ, the high priest of good things.
Mark 12:28-34 Which commandment is the first of all?
- What is the story of Ruth about?
- What is significant about the child Ruth and Boaz create?
- What happens when we sleep?
- Who wrote an essay “On Sleep and Sleeplessness?”
Sudden changes… – October 24
Tuesday, as I looked out the window and saw a gray day, rainy day, ucky day, I was thinking about not going for a walk, not wearing shoes, not doing lots of things I would have if it were nice out, even if it were cold. Speaking on the phone with someone, not far away, I mentioned the ucky rainy day. Her response was, “No it is not.” Where she was, half an hour or less from us in Whitby, she was looking at a bright sunny day. She said it had been pouring, as I was experiencing, but it had suddenly stopped and a beautiful day opened. It was hard to believe, but then, as we continued to talk, the rain abruptly stopped; the gray brightened; and the sun shone everywhere. Abruptly, suddenly, like in an instant, the day had changed.
Our lives are like that too. Sometimes amazing things happen that we’re not expecting and our lives are filled with joy and newness and a real feeling of being alive. Sometimes it is sudden events that unleash deep sadness, worry or grief for us. Whichever it is, on that day, our lives are changed forever. We are not the same. So either the ucky rainy part of life is somehow brightened or the brightness in our lives is suddenly turned to gray. Life is like that, no, punctuated by circumstances or events that are out of our control?
I can think of so many times in my life that one or the other has happened. The thing is, our histories, our stories, shape us and we carry those experiences into our present and our future. We will see the present and the future through the lens of past experiences until we grow through them and resolve them, or celebrate them and move on into the next chapter that is unfolding.
Next week we will be turning our clocks back and getting an extra hour of sleep or day or night or prayer time or tv time … whatever we choose. Next week does mark a change of a sort, but not drastic. It is but a small shift. What shifts or changes have happened, or are happening, now in your life? What sudden experiences, or changes, have happened through your life story? Are you living out of your past in your present, or are you fully presently in the now?
And have you known God in Christ with you along the way no matter what?
Peace to your hearts always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, of all time, and of my (our) time, may this day and this week, this month, and every night and day, be times in which I (we) know your presence with us no matter what it is that life presents. May we know that you journey with us through all things, celebrate with us, mourn with us, feel with us, as a fellow traveller, as the Spirit of Life and Love in us, and never the giver of bad things, or evil. May we know that life presents good and bad, brightness and gray, sun and rain, and you are with us in it all, but not the architect behind it. May we know we need only stop, smell, see, hear, taste and feel the world, each person, each child, and know you are there, you are here, with us and within us always, your love surrounding us, Christ’s peace attending to us, the Spirit’s comfort and guidance holding us, now and forever. Amen.
Job 42:1-6, 10-17 Job acknowledges God’s power; Job’s fortunes are restored.
Psalm 34 Taste and see that God is good.
Hebrews 7:23-28 Christ, the permanent high priest.
Mark 10:46-52 The healing of blind Bartimaeus.
Stewardship Week 3: Mission and Service in Canada and the World
James 1:19-26 Religion is more than devotional exercises.
- Which is the shortest book in the Christian bible?
- Which is the shortest sentence in the Christian bible?
- Who wrote ‘Astrophysics for People in a Hurry’?
- What is a quark?
Parenting – October 10
Children learn things as they grow. Parents learn things too. Over time the relationship we have with our kids changes and maybe partly because of the knowledge of and experiences of life that they and we have. As for parenting, I think it is mostly trial and error and a whole pile of unconditional love, with a dose of sharing our woes with other parents as I know our kids share their woes of us with their friends. I suspect it is the natural way of life and of growing up too.
Raising children is not an easy task. it is not easy to understand them at times, and we wonder as parents just when we should step in, stay out, guide, financially help, keep tightly connected or not. This changes as they grow. We realize that when they are children they need a fair degree of all this. As teenagers, they need a balance, but they still need us, and in some ways, even more than ever before. Over time we see them, and they see us, differently.
There are so many ways to parent our children, depending on the time, place, experience, needs, longings, comings and goings, who they are and who we are. The questions seem to be how do we know, how do we parent, how do we love them? How do you parent your children and what is that relationship like and how has it changed over time? As parents we can see ourselves in our kids. They are not us but part of us, we in them, and them in us by love at the same time.
This leads as you can imagine to a theological question. How has your relationship with God changed through time and where is God in your parenting, or what is the relationship you understand between God and the world that shapes your parenting too? There are many different ways of understanding that relationship and beliefs about God that evolve around how directly involved you believe God is in this world, in your life? If you were asked by your kids, what is God like, what would you say?
Some folk, called classical theists, see God as a “timeless, immutable, simple, impassible, omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent substance. God exists not dependent on anything and cannot undergo any intrinsic or extrinsic change. God exists as a whole in a timeless present that lacks a before and after.” Some folk, labelled neo-classical theists, believe in most of the classical theist description of God but they reject “divine timelessness, immutability and impassibility.” For these theists, God was not always the redeemer of humanity but at one point became so. God here has emotions and is disturbed by what occurs in the universe.
Open theists agree with the neo-classical theists but the biggest difference between the open theists and the classical and neo-classical theists is over the extent of God’s knowledge. Open theists deny God has exhaustive knowledge. Pantheists (on the other hand) deny that God is a separate substance or being, “believing instead that there is only one substance in the world. For pantheists, a perfect being, as God is believed to be, must know the world. Yet a perfect being can only know itself, contemplate that which is perfect, and therefore God must be identical with the world. All things are only one thing and that one thing is the divine reality.”
So here it comes. Panentheism is sort of the newer known label on the block. The position of panentheists and their understanding and beliefs about God lie in between theism and pantheism. They are like the via media. They say “God is not identical to the universe, God is more than the universe, but God is not utterly distinct from the universe and really, the universe is in God. God energizes the world; God experiences the world; God ensouls the world; God plays with the world; God gives space to the world and provides the ground of emergence in the world.” God is both transcendent and immanent and in and of at the same time. Some claim that the universe is like God’s body.
And then there are deists who believe God is like a watchmaker who created the world, wound it up, and stepped back to let it run on its own. Atheists, on the other hand, don’t believe in a theistic god.
The problem with these different ways of understanding God is that we tap into them and struggle with them for answers and they shape or form how we see and respond to the world around us. How does the theistic God answer for the Holocaust? How does the pantheistic God answer for environmental disasters? How…? You get it.
We must each find our way to parent. We must each find our way to understand God in our time and place as we grow and experience life and respond to change. For both of these journeys, we need others to travel along with us, to talk, to explore, share questions, doubts, and to hold strong together in our discerning how to parent, and to see who and how God is for us and why.
Who would have known there are so many ways to contemplate our God?
Blessings on your journeys of discovery, and peace to your hearts along the way and always,
email@example.com 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, we try so hard in our lives to find you, to understand you, to be people of faith and to live in faith everyday, and to know you in our hearts. We think of our scriptures inviting us to have the mind that was in Christ, be the mind in us. And we learn of how it is in you that we live and move and have our being. And like Jacob, we wrestle with understanding. May our hearts rest easy as we journey day by day, as our prayers and concerns are shared with those we trust and love and who love us too. May we always know you are there, here, everywhere. You are before now and forever. We are never alone. And we are most near to you when we find ourselves in our own vulnerable times as we search for your Presence in our lives, your voice to our hearts, your grace to our souls, your Spirit to our spirits. In and with Christ we pray, Amen.
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 Job offers his complaint against God.
Psalm 22:1-15 My God why have you forsaken me?
Hebrews 4:12-16 The word of God is living, active, sharper than a two-edged sword.
Mark 10:17-31 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
- What is the Book of Job about?
- What does the phrase ‘now my eye sees you’ mean in Job 42:5?
- Does a cyclist shaving his/her legs have an aerodynamic advantage in a race?
- What was the first invention to break the sound barrier?
Decisions – October 2, 2018
In my family, this last while has been one of making decisions: which place to live; which car to replace the wrecked one; should I buy that hot red car; do I really need that car; what’s the carbon footprint; what’s my carbon footprint; what’s ahead? Some decisions are just so much harder than choosing to buy another pair of shoes.
Sometimes decisions are really, big, big decisions that are about choosing a path forward in life. And the fear is to make the worst decision ever or to not make the best decision. That’s like being a deer caught in the headlights, frozen, thinking, or like sitting with Elijah in the cave waiting for God to guide him. Sometimes decisions for a path forward can only come in the silence of waiting and discerning with God which way to go and being courageous.
About 20 years ago, I read a book titled The Path. This book helped me to discern who I am, my passions, my loves, my faith, my direction even. Not long after reading this, and doing other stuff too, I returned to the university and began the process of discerning my call to ministry. Twenty years ago.
What I find fascinating about discerning the path ahead, of hearing God’s invitation to come forward into the future with God, is that the steps may be to start doing something, like go back to school. The steps might also be to stop doing something, like quit a successful career. Another step might be to change the way something is done, or understood, for a new grounding, like learning more about the scriptures. God’s call is not always to do more. Often even, God calls us to slow down, change or even stop, or wait, and just ‘be’ for a while.
The same goes for the church. Discerning with God how do we serve best now, what is next, these are the questions the church, St. Mark’s too, has prayed on over the decades and continues to do so. This is a step in our journey ahead. Discerning together God’s call.
Where are you in your journey with God? How do you hear the Holy Spirit speaking to you? Through whom? Where? How? The beginning step of discerning is silence, and in the silence prayer, and in the prayer listening, attentively, that is, being open to really hearing God’s still small voice speak to your heart. It is also about seeing and hearing with the eyes and ears of Christ in the world, looking at those in need, assessing what it is to follow. Before reading the scriptures, some churches say, “Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.” So, I ask you, and me, what is the Spirit saying now to you and to me, to us?
May you know God’s presence, and hear God’s voice, in the depth of your being,
Prayer: Holy God of the silence, as we move through our nights and our days, through the busyness and hecticness, the worries, the demands, facing brokenness and possibilities, remind us by your Spirit to rest in the silence with you, to listen for you and to open our hearts to your voice. May we in the days ahead remember to pray, not just with our words to you, but with our ears for you. In and with Christ we pray, Amen.
Scripture: World Wide Communion Sunday and Thanksgiving Sunday together!
Job 1:1, 2:1-10 Job’s first affliction; faith intact.
Psalm 26 Prove me, try me, test my heart.
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 God gave the world to humans not angels.
Mark 10:2-16 Question of divorce; Jesus blesses children.
Question: What do you believe about why bad things happen to good people?
Good book: Why bad things happen to good people by Rabbi Kushner.
Joel 2:21-27 Do not fear, O soil for God will provide.
Psalm 126 Those who sow in tears reap in joy.
I Timothy 2:1-7 Offer prayers for everyone.
Matthew 6:25-33 Do not worry about what you will eat or drink.
- What is the Gospel of Matthew like?
- When was the Gospel of Matthew written?
- What is the most likely survivor of a nuclear war?
- What Edison invention do English speakers use every day?
Who is Jesus? – September 24, 2018
This has been a question I have asked St. Mark’s folk twice now. About six years ago, and again this year, I asked how you understand God, who is Jesus to you and what about that Holy Spirit. There have been many responses and many questions too. Who was Jesus to you as a child, or when you were new in your faith? Who was Jesus as you grew in faith in your later years? Or not and why? Who is Jesus to you now? Why?
Don’t you just love these questions?
In July, at the 43rd General Council meeting of our United Church, Rev. Richard Bott was chosen to be our new moderator of The United Church of Canada. Richard also asks the question about Jesus for us. In his welcome message he says, “I’d really like to see us – as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a denomination – to explore what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in The United Church of Canada in the 21st century. Who is Jesus – for me, for you and for us…?” I have included below the full transcript of his message.
This topic about Jesus is also what I am moving into studying in my doctoral work. My question, to me and to all of you, is this: what is it to be a Christian? What does one absolutely have to say, do, or believe to carry the title Christian? Or maybe even, how many doctrines (beliefs about God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, faith) can one lessen or let go of till one is no longer under the ‘Christian’ tent? These are questions that are becoming more and more relevant in today’s more and more secular society. These are often the questions of our youth and those who say they are spiritual but not religious. So what do we say?
As the early Christians considered themselves People of the Way, I hope in your reflecting, and your praying, you too will feel yourself as a follower of the Way of Jesus, the Way of living and loving, sharing the love of God through your words and your actions, being a blessing to others.
May you know God’s presence always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, with the early Christians we pray that we might be followers of Jesus, followers of the way of Jesus which is one that presents the paths of truth and life. May we open ourselves, our eyes, ears and most importantly our hearts to the love he showed that is your love always. And may we embrace and release to others this deep, mysterious, courageous and wonderous love.
In and with Christ, we pray. Amen.
Moderator’s Welcome Message
Transcript of Videotaped Message: September 2018
Hello, my name is Richard Bott. My pronouns are “he,” “him,” and “his.” This past July, the General Council elected me as the 43rd Moderator of The United Church of Canada.
I’ve been asked what it is that I’m hoping to focus on over the next three years. I’d really like to see us—as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a denomination—to explore what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in The United Church of Canada in the 21st century. Who is Jesus—for me, for you, and for us—and what does that mean for how we live and work and celebrate the presence of the divine together? Part of the joy of The United Church of Canada is that we have so many different answers to these questions—and, when we get down into the vulnerable depths of discussion, we have the ability to experience God’s presence in powerful ways, learning from one another.
I believe that the Holy Spirit was moving at the 43rd General Council—in gusts that carried us further along paths that we’ve been discerning for a time—as we listened to, and accepted, the calls to action of the Caretakers of Our Indigenous Circle. We have a long way to go to truly become people walking together in right relationship with each other and with the Creator, but I am so thankful for the teachings and the challenge that our Indigenous siblings have been willing to offer, and that those of us in Christ’s church who are settlers and descendants of settlers are listening, learning, and acting.
I believe that the Holy Spirit was moving at the 43rd General Council—in a gale-force whirlwind, when racialized commissioners and commissioners who are differently abled spoke of the experiences in their lives of racism and ableism—not just in the world but in The United Church of Canada. In those few hours, God challenged those of us who are part of the dominant church to realize that every single person is a beloved child of God and to do the deep, hard work of rooting out and changing our internalized and overt racism and ableism.
In all of this, there is listening that needs to happen, and conversations that need to happen, and there’s action that needs to happen. There are moments that each of us will feel overwhelmed. If we take a look at the biblical stories, there are times that many of the disciples who walked right beside Jesus were overwhelmed—even ran away. But they came back, and they lived Jesus’ Way to the best of their ability.
There are so many things happening in the life of our church and in the world around us right now. Political changes, social changes, structural changes, and all of these changes, whether we think they’re good or not, add to our stress. There’s a phrase that I once heard used by a Buddhist teacher, a play on words that both makes me smile and gives me pause, “Don’t just do something. Sit there!” It was their way of challenging the listener to stop and simply be until the moment was right to act.
For me, as a disciple of Jesus, those moments of quieting myself are a lead-in to the conversation with God that we often call prayer. So I’d invite you, in those moments when all of the change, all of the transition threatens to be overwhelming, “Don’t just do something. Sit there!” Listen carefully—to yourself, to your neighbour, and to God. Then act, and let your action be as full of your love and God’s love as you are able to make it!
Let’s see where Jesus’ Way is leading us today.
Our Scriptures for this week:
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22 Esther pleads for the life of her people.
Psalm 124If God had not been at our side.
James 5:13-20 The sick should be anointed by the elders.
Mark 9:38-50 If your hand causes you to stumble.
- Where is the book of Esther in the bible?
- What is the story about?
- Which is the largest lake in Canada?
- What is the single largest human-made structure on the earth?
Retention – September 18, 2018
As I was going through my files looking for a particular paper on Leviticus, I found another paper, from somewhere I don’t remember, that provides statistics on retention. I don’t know how accurate these statistics are, however, when I apply these numbers to my own learnings I am thinking there’s some validity. So, it says, we retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we hear and see, 70% of what we say and 90% of what we say and do.
Then it says, we tend to pay attention to 50% of what’s being said, understand 50% of that, remember 50% of that, take away 50% of that, and actually use 50% of that. Yikes. If this is true, what do we really learn, retain, use, make up, believe, live? I know for me to learn from studies, from books, and so forth, I must attend to the readings, write notes, make connections to other sources, and doodle my way into linking thoughts, ideas, questions, facts, together. I find if I don’t pay close attention, I create more stress for myself in my work and research and papers later. I also use a lot of stickees.
The same goes for the way I read the bible. Those in my Thursday or the occasional evening group know that my bible is filled with stickees, book marks, turned pages, inserts, and loads of written notes throughout the pages, even some where I have mistakenly used a marker which bled through to the other side. And I have circled, highlighted, doodled my way with lines and bubbles, questions and links, through my whole bible. Yes, it is a mess. It is the way I learn and it applies to all my books really. It allows me some sort of weird strategy to explore my faith, my beliefs, the scriptures and more. And then I watch lectures on dvds and attend classes. Boy I sound boring now.
How do you learn something new or explore answers to questions you have whether about how to fix your car, drywall your bathroom, or figure out where dinosaurs fit in Genesis? (they don’t). As church folk, people believing in God, and the way of Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit somehow touches and directs us in life, we can be faced with challenges for how to live in faith everyday with all that the every days of our lives throw at us. It may begin with books, the internet, or chatting and sharing your thoughts with others.
For about 25 years, a group of people at St. Mark’s, a changing group with some steadfast members, and new members too, have met to explore what it is to live in faith everyday. They have been called the Thursday morning bible group, or bible study, but really they do so much more together. Their bibles don’t look like mine, but their thoughts, their hearts and their faith are shared each week and they question, explore, learn and grow together.
With whom do you share your questions, your concerns, doubts, fears, beliefs? With whom can you feel safe to share your inner most thoughts? I believe we all need someone, or someones, to hear us non-judgementally, empathetically, compassionately, wholly, and freely. When this type of ‘someone’ is there for you, then I believe you can throw out those statistics as totally irrelevant. That’s just my thought. What do you think?
May you always know God’s presence and trust God hears you through and with those with whom you speak,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Listening God, in my (our)days and nights, in my wonderings and my prayers, may I feel free to empty my heart and mind of my worries, my doubts, my fears, and uncertainties. May I trust in the power of giving over these things that I might be free to live. May I come to know those special ones with whom I might share all that I carry, that they and I might be your ears, your voice, your eyes, your love for each other. In and with Christ, I pray. Amen.
Proverbs 31:10-31 A tribute to a capable woman.
Psalm 1 Blessed are those who follow God’s law.
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a Wisdom from above is gentle and peaceable.
Mark 9:30-37 Whoever welcomes a child, welcomes me.
- Why is the Song of Solomon sometimes called the Song of Songs?
- How do you understand Prov 31:10-31: an amazing, independent, smart, strong woman, or an overworked, abused woman? Why?
- What was the date of the first prosthetic also called the “leg of iron”?
- Who discovered penicillin and what did it do?
God for Beginners – September 10, 2018
A few years ago, we gave our youth who were being confirmed, this small book titled ‘God for Beginners.’ The author is Ralph Milton. It is an excellent, and cute, little book. Its chapters are Don’t Bother Me with Religion, Religion vs. Science, Who is Jesus?, The Bible, About God, The Church and a Postscript Is it true? The book may have 217 pages, but the book will fit in the back pocket of your jeans.
On the one hand, that’s great. It is a carry-as-I-go book. On the other hand, is that where learning about God is in your life, your back pocket? Two sides to the story I suppose.
What are those things we keep with us, tucked into a back pocket, or of our coat, the side of our purse or wallet, the zipped part of our brief case? For me, those things I keep represent all that is important to me in my life, my living. So I have pictures of my kids, and little notes they wrote to me years ago. And other little things too. If I look at my desk at home and around my office at home, I see my story, and our family’s story in books, in pictures, in little things that were important to them, to all of us, like pictures of our dogs even, and other things that I just haven’t thrown out. Partly, I guess, my office at home is like my back pocket. And it is there also that I keep all my books and work about God. Lots and lots of books with bookmarks hanging out, bits of Kleenex or stickees, and cut up Christmas cards to mark other pages. A big part of who I am concerns learning about God and people and our world. It is so obvious there, at the church office here, in my services and …in the Inviting God too.
So, what’s in your back pocket, coat, pants, purse or wallet? What’s important to you in life? What does your living space say about who you are, what you love, and…where you explore God, people, the world, whatever? Like my message yesterday, the astronauts on Apollo 8 turned the camera back to see the earth. What would the camera see turned back to you? What would be revealed about your relationship with God, your beliefs, your faith, and what is important to you in your life and your living?
Over the next few weeks we’re into Creation Time in the church. Our Thursday bible group/discussion group will begin meeting again, and probably the night time group too. Together we explore so many thoughts, beliefs, stories, our bible, our wonderings, and just how to live in faith everyday. If you would like to be a part of these groups and the questions, please just email me or call.
In the meantime, on this rainy, cloudy, cool and windy day, blustery day as Winnie the Pooh would say, keep warm, cuddle up, do what makes you feel good, and rest in the presence and peace of God with you always.
Blessings of life and love to all,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, on this day where the weather and the clouds surround us with both sound and silence, may we sit and rest, reflect and pray, listen and hear your still small voice of wisdom, hope and promise. May we become self aware; may we discern what we need to do, to learn, to offer, to let go. May we feel you in and with us and know we are never alone. In and with the Christ we pray. Amen.
Proverbs 1:20-33 Wisdom cries in the streets.
Psalm 19 The heavens declare the glory of God.
James 3:1-12 Not many of you should be teachers of God’s word.
Mark 8:27-38 Who do people say that I am?
- Who wrote the proverbs in the Book of Proverbs?
- Who is wisdom? Who is folly?
- What did Buffalo Bill do to buffaloes?
- Where was baseball invented?
William Blake – September 4, 2018
Guess what? I am reading a new book that is required for the course I will be starting on Spirituality and Culture. Surprised? Maybe not eh. This is a beautiful book titled Stepping into Mystery: Four Approaches to a Spiritual Life, by Monty Williams Jr. Not only is it to be read for the course I’m beginning, it is also timely for Creation Time that starts this Sunday in the church. It is timely for us as we look at our personal lives, our faith, our church, our kids in school, September, the fall, so many things that signal new starts, letting go, making room, planting seeds, preparing for the year ahead.
In this book, Williams shows how the messages of films, music and poets, and our understanding and living spiritually with the mystery of God, are woven into our daily living. William Blake has come up a lot. Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. He lived from 1757 to 1827. He is considered by many to be a “seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.” He said,
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thru’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
This quote comes into the chapter on Time, on redeeming the time of our past, through the journey into the wilderness or dark night of the soul, finding and offering forgiveness, knowing God in our story, and then redeeming the time of our present, for the present is a gift. When we can live in the present as freely as possible, having prayed and redeemed our history, our past, then the spiritual path of openness can allow us to see the gift given at every moment of our lives past, present and future. There’s pain existing in the present if we are still living in the past having dragged it with us through time, through the years. As Blake put it, if we could really see, opened our eyes and hearts to the past and present, we would see that all is infinite, and that we need not close ourselves up to protect us. Doing so only allows us to see the world from a narrow place and will affect our future time. The author compares this with going to the dentist. The fear of the dentist tightens up our body and heightens our susceptibility to the pain we’re trying not to feel. We tense up in a defensive position to avoid the pain and the result is we feel it more intensely.
We can ask ourselves then, where and when in life have we done this or are we still living an element of our past that we need to let go like the trees in autumn let go of their leaves? Living in the present is about learning to let go. This then allows all the gifts of the present to appear before us for what they truly are, seen, experienced, welcomed, and lived with the gift for the future. The author says, “The present as a gift needs to be received and accepted, opened, used, shared and celebrated.” The way to start is to ask what is the gift of the present time that has been given to you? Pray this with God. Open yourself in the silence to hear God speak to your heart. This is part of the path of intentionally living in the present, with gratitude, and is then also a step to living a spiritual life that is life changing.
William Blake, from the past, offers us these words for our present, for our spiritual journeys even, To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.
May your and our new beginnings this September be filled with openness, forgiveness, letting go of what was to make room for all the possibilities of what may be. May we each speak with God, listen and view the world not from our caverns but from the promise of the kingdom inside each of us. And may you know peace in your hearts always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer for the Week: Revealing God, as our scriptures speak to us of your creating love, your eternal presence in the world, and through time, may we in the days and nights ahead listen, hear, rest in the silence, learn to let go, forgive, and with great gratitude in our hearts, give thanks for all that we have in the present. May we look at our lives and see the gifts we have of joy, patience, kindness, caring persons, special relationships, children, wonder and awe. May these gifts prepare us for redeeming our future from our caverns’ shadows of our pasts. In and with Christ we pray. Amen.
Genesis 1:1- 2:4a The first creation story reveals our creating God of all things, transcendent.
Genesis 2:4b – 3:24 The second creation story reveals our God who walks with us, immanent.
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 A good name rather than riches.
Psalm 125 Do good to those who are good.
James 2:1-10, 14-17 Faith without works is dead.
Mark 7:24-37 The Syrophoenician woman’s faith challenges Jesus.
- What was the book of the law that was used as the basis for King Josiah’s reform in 2 Kings 22 to 23?
- When was the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) first translated into Greek?
- What is the Perlan 2 Glider and what did it recently do?
- How do the Cherokee pronounce ‘Cherokee’?
Muskol – August 27, 2018
It was the Sunday afternoon when I decided I’d go camping the Monday morning. So I quickly made reservations on-line, went food shopping (yogurt, berries, croissants, cheese, hotdogs), pulled out the tent, cooler, sleeping bag, and the blue bin with the camping equipment like lanterns and stuff. I couldn’t find the hatchet so now I have a lovely new one. Thanks to Canadian Tire. I threw my clothes into a duffle bag and went to bed.
First thing in the morning I headed out to get my campsite early as I knew no one was camping on it. Great what on-line reservation sites can show. What I didn’t do was remove nail polish. It was rather damp near the trees and mosquitoes were already out in the afternoon, so I pulled out the trusty can of Muskol. I’ve been using it for years. And I generously sprayed it all over me and proceeded to build my fire. That was when I looked down to see the mucky, red, sticky mess on my toes. Oh uck. The Muskol had penetrated through the outer layer of clear polish, the armour against the world, to make a fine mess of it all. As I later sat by the fire, in the warmth and in the silence, I began to think about it. You know…life is like that too – mucky at times.
Often we can find ourselves going through life’s joys, opening ourselves to the wonders and the loves of life, and realizing that this also opens us to the pains and agonies too. And so sometimes to avoid the pains and agonies, we put on a protective layer of armour over the warm and inviting colour of our hearts, a little polish even on our surface to protect our hearts so that no hurts can get in. And then life and work and other busyness buzz around us like mosquitoes, and the next thing we know we’re putting up another protective shield of armour. We spray on a layer of Muskol, building a wall to keep inside, closed, our beliefs, our stories, our hearts, and to keep outside, fears, doubts, new ideas, or opportunities, change.
But one day we notice the muckiness of it all. The problem is, the more we put up barriers to living, to preventing the hurts, to trying something new, the more we miss out on the beauty and wonders of really living and being fully alive. One day life touches us and breaks through our protective barriers and we are left mucky and exposed. Perhaps it is the heat of the fires of disappointments, hurts, anger, resentment, and grief that makes us feel so ucky, vulnerable. In this place though, life invites us to be honest, genuine, authentic and real and to find the path to feeling, healing, forgiveness and new life.
I believe we do this in many places and at different times in our lives, even in our churches. So often we get caught up in the day to day, protecting ourselves from the mosquitoes of life that torment us like worries about our buildings, decreased numbers, our finances, and whether this or that gets done, that we miss being open to the depth and the richness of learning and growing in faith and even feeling God’s presence. The path out of whatever muckiness we find ourselves is to go back to the beginning, the start of the journey, the barrier building, and then daring to invite God in, to find we are loved, and in that love to offer our love openly and generously to others without fear. Then we discover being that open is the path to the freedom to be our authentic selves, the self we are in the core of our being.
As we move into the fall in the church, we begin by entering Creation Time. During these weeks we will listen for the wisdom of the prophets and the psalmists to tell us of God and God’s creation, or nature. I hope you will come journey with us. Come journey with God and discover God in Christ and the freedom to be you that comes from daring to take down walls and remove the covering polish to be our most real selves. Come sit in the silence of the warmth of God’s love and listen for God’s still, small voice to your heart. Come into a conversation with God through and with each other by the Spirit of Love.
Peace always, Rev. Deb
Prayer: Creating God, through the stories of the faithful, in the scriptures, and from those around us, when we are open to listening and hearing, we can see you set a path before us. Our path means opening ourselves to our own stories, our journeys of family, work, school, travelling, adventures, fires even. It is through all these things we are shaped. May the work of your Spirit of Love, moving in and through each of us, form us ever more to be in your caring relational image, to be nearer to you, to each other, and in following the Christ day by day. May we become the people you call us to be by first emptying our fears, removing the barriers of our doubts, and the polish that covers up who we are inside. May our hearts, minds and souls be open to your Presence, your love, your being in us and us in you this day and forever more. Amen.
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 Arise, my love, and come away!
Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 Praise for the anointed hero.
James 1:17-27 Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Not from outside but from within is a person defiled.
- What is the Song of Solomon about?
- What is an often-quoted verse from the Epistle of James?
- What do camels store in their humps?
- Where do camels come from?
Surprises! – July 30, 2018
Yesterday the youth and children and their leaders in St. Mark’s led the worship service sharing their music, their songs, bells, the scriptures and prayers with us. I offered the welcome at the start, and then the thank you’s at the end, the commissioning and blessing too. When I was welcoming everyone, I noticed someone in the congregation I didn’t know but somehow felt I did, or at least, I recognized him.
Could it be? Na…no way.
As the service continued along, I saw this man really singing, actively participating in our worship, leaning forward to rest on the pew in front of him. He was so engaged in all that was happening. He was dressed in a suit jacket and dark shirt. Lots of men wear stuff like that.
Could it be? Na…no way.
At the end of the service I asked the kids to raise their hands like mine, and to turn and with me offer the blessing on everyone present, on our church family and guests. Who was that man? He smiled so big.
Could it be? Na…no way.
Everyone began to leave. I went to the back as usual to say hi to people and shake hands. I went toward the east side of the sanctuary. I wondered. Could it be? Na…no way. But…I watched him getting up, talking to those around him. I knew that … presence.
As he came towards me I asked, “Richard?”
“Yes,” he said. And he shook my hand and hugged me and thanked us all for the wonderful worship.
Could it be? Yes it was.
The new moderator of The United Church of Canada had come to St. Mark’s to worship with us. I had spoken at the beginning of the service that the new moderator had been chosen and that I had felt hope and grace in him, felt his humility and believe so fully that he will offer us the strong and compassionate leadership we require going through the changes ahead and to unite us all ever closer together. I did not know he was sitting down there in front of me.
He is a man of grace and faith, of hope and humility. Many got to speak to him yesterday. It was truly an honour and a blessing for us all to have the one who now represents the national church to be with us, like the bending of space and time from the offices of the national church to our church in Whitby. It was a surreal and beautiful moment.
This experience is also a reminder to us all: you never know who might be there, you never know when you might be entertaining angels, you never know through whom God will speak, when and where.
Could it be? Na…no way. Yes, yes way. It was.
Have a beautiful August everyone.
Peace to your hearts always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: God of grace, as we move through our lives, our days, our nights, help us to see you, feel you and know you through the love and grace we receive from others. Help us to be honest, be kind, be love, always, welcoming every stranger, caring deeply for friends, family and neighbours. May we cherish those in our lives. May we be open to the angels who surprise us, share time with us, have a meal with us, hug us, and move on. Each is a moment of grace, God, and knowing your presence. May we each be attentive and mark these times in the book of our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a Nathan’s story that condemns David.
Psalm 51 Create in me a new heart, O God.
Ephesians 4:1-16 A life worthy of your calling; speak the truth in love.
John 6:24-35 The crowds ask for another sign from Jesus.
- What do angels do?
- What is one good reason to offer extravagant hospitality?
- How much of the earth is water?
- Which way does the bathwater go down the plughole?
Sunshine…- July 17, 2018
So, it has been incredibly hot, steamy, humid, and beautifully bright and did I say really hot? I love to be outside enjoying the sun and the trees and just the wonderful feeling of freedom the summer offers us.
At this very moment, I am prepared to take a visit down to the bottom of Brock to sit at the lake for a bit while thinking of what to write for this Inviting God. Then swoosh! It is absolutely pouring out there!
It is coming down so hard and fast, cats and dogs, now thunder. But…my phone weather report says there will be sunshine at 3 p.m.. I am now wondering, “Shall I get my shorts and towel ready for the brief interlude because my phone also says it will rain at 4 p.m. and throughout the evening?“
Just remembering…I once went for a walk in an old orchard and field. Soon found myself in the middle of prickles and the path seemed to be gone entirely. It was only looking up and out that I could see where the clear path picked up again…sort of like the 3 o’clock window.
I think life is like this too. We have things going great, till the storm, or the path is smooth, till it isn’t. Even Psalm 23 tells us this. But we can’t just look down or hibernate till the rains stop. We must venture out and find ways to enjoy the rain, the puddles, the cooler air. Just as we must find ways to venture out wisely, for short bits, always following doctor’s orders, to do things so as not to find ourselves huddled inside alone. I guess that is where social media come it. When we can’t go out, and friends aren’t able to come to us, reach out by phone, by fb, by texting, by emailing. Friends are still out there. Try me!
What’s even better? God is out there too. And God is in here, in the sun, in the storm, in the rain, in the house, and just maybe we can see God in the connections we make in cyber space. God is in the connections, more so, God is felt in the real space, in the face to face sharing of words, meals, life and love. Now those are blessings!
When the rain is over, take a walk if you can. Or just pop out your front door and jump in a puddle, or open your window and ..howl. Why not!? Thank God for the wonders of our planet, for life, for diversity, for the beauty of it all! Even the smelly worms.
Live a life of gratitude, generous, extravagant, gracious gratitude, and you’ll not see the cup half empty. You won’t even see it half full! You’ll see it is refillable!!!! And all the time.
May you know God’s presence always and everywhere,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Creator God, for all the wonders of our world, and the beauty of life in the ordinary and the mundane, in the special and the glorious, in all times of living, help me/us to live a life of gracious gratitude. May this living pour out from me in gracious giving. This day and always. Amen.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a David is not the one to build God’s house.
Psalm 89 I will sing of God’s steadfast love.
Ephesians 2:11-22 You are holy citizens, members of God’s household.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Jesus teaches from a boat and heals the sick.
- Why did God need a house?
- What is the house the LORD will make for David?
- Where does the word ‘assassin’ come from?
- What colour is the universe?
See God’s Gospel of Love … Everywhere – July 11, 2018
Lately a number of my family and friends have been talking about what we might learn from history especially given our current international political state of affairs. And then, in the midst of it all, an international group of caring experts, beautiful people from around the world, came together to save 12 children and their coach trapped in a cave in Thailand.
A few weeks ago, I saw this tree image below on FB and saved it. It speaks to the way I understand God and how God may be known beyond the bible, beyond Jesus even. I believe in God being revealed in the Book of God’s Words, the bible, and the walking word, Jesus, but also through the Book of God’s Works. I think you all know this about me. The Book of God’s Works includes humanity because we are part of nature. All of us. Imperfect, yes, different, yes, as is nature but God’s presence and love can be known in the Book of God’s Works, in humanity, in the trees, the flowers, the clouds and the stars. Everywhere…if we open our eyes and see, and open our ears and listen.
All I can say now is, pass it on.
Or if you see this image on facebook…share. Maybe, just maybe, bit by bit, we might make a difference in the state of affairs. I believe we can.
Peace to your hearts always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Creator God, behind all things, seen and unseen, living and non-living, human and animal, plant and tree, when we pause and look, we can see your beautiful creation, your works, your seeds that are planted and grown, die and are planted and grown again. Life, death and new life too. Over these weeks of the summer, may we each take time to rest, to renew and to open our hearts and minds and spirits to your presence that truly is made known everywhere we look. In and with Christ we pray, Amen.
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 David brings the ark to Jerusalem.
Psalm 24 The earth is God’s and all that is in it.
Ephesians 1:3-14 Adopted through Christ and given an inheritance.
Mark 6:14-29 The death of John the Baptist.
- What was the Ark of the Covenant?
- Why did David bring the Ark to Jerusalem?
- How did Roman Emperors order the death of a gladiator?
- What is the Number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation?
When we hold hands with strangers…June 26, 2018
Last fall I read a great book that was recommended to me. Brene Brown is the author. The book is Daring Boldly. Later I read her other book Rising Strong. Now I’m reading Braving the Wilderness. Perhaps I’ve already spoken on these books. They are really so good. This last one is touching me in my heart, in my understanding of human connectedness, our need for belonging, and how and who we are as people of faith, and human beings, on this one planet.
Have you ever had an experience when with strangers you share a moment of grief or joy and suddenly you are next to, and close, to the person beside you who you don’t even know? I remember standing on the bridge over the 401 with strangers as we watched the cars beneath carrying the latest loss down that Highway of Heroes. We stood together. We let our tears fall together as we looked at one another and our children and felt that collective pain.
I remember being at the SARS concert when Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman came out on stage. The day had been long and brutally hot…then the atmosphere totally changed and half a million people rose up with an unexpected energy and sang together with the stars. It was awesome.
Both experiences are what Brene Brown calls collective pain or joy. When it happens, our barriers to one another, our unknowns fall, and it is like our spirits just reach out and we touch together. No words needed. I see this as our words are made flesh as our responses to each other’s pain and joy.
Brown says we are having a spiritual crisis in our world and “the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection.” She says, and I agree, that the connection, the spirit that flows between us and all people is not something that can be broken, but our belief in the connection can be. As a researcher into the human condition, she says “when our belief that there’s something greater than us, something rooted in love and compassion, breaks, we are more likely to retreat to our bunkers, to hate from afar, to tolerate BS, to dehumanize others, and avoid being vulnerable and open to one another.” And then we live into an us versus them scenario.
The power of collective joy, like at a sports event, is exciting and draws us together. The power of collective pain, like hearing of a plane crash, a school gun tragedy, or hurricane, in our own backyards, people we know hurting, also draws us together. We can even feel these things watching a movie with others when a scene connects with a common shared event in our lives, like giving birth, or a loved one die, or a hero survives. In these times we are drawn together. What would be wonderful is to be drawn together all the time.
That’s perhaps the spiritual crisis we are living, in a nutshell. A French sociologist Emile Durkheim called these powerful collective moments collective effervescence in his book in 1912. These are moments when our focus shifts from ourselves to our group. Together we feel a sense of meaning, a sense of sacredness and connection greater than we can describe and we hold these moments in time, in our memories, in our hearts. One suggestion is that these experiences are what contribute to a life that is filled with meaning, positiveness, social connection, decreased sense of loneliness and all these things are components of a healthy, happy life.
Many folk find this collective sharing of joy and pain, meaning and life through their faith communities, their church homes. A church that is open and caring and can be this ‘relational’ is one that is truly a blessing. From special parties to celebrating milestones to funerals, celebrations of life sharing loss and grief, together they reflect what it is to be human. Sometimes that sharing is even just a ministry of presence – sitting, being with someone in their joy or pain, in the silence. I believe the love that is God, is the love in that space, in that silence, and that love that is God is beyond us, around us, between us, among us, with and within us always.
May we open our selves with the courage to feel and be real and human together sharing collectively the joys and pains of living. May this openness fill our spiritual emptiness, and heal our spiritual crisis, and help us to know true belonging with one another and God and all of nature. Because…as Brene Brown adds from her research and that of others, social connection, social interaction makes us live longer, healthier lives. One researcher named Susan Pinker, who Brown quotes says, “In fact, neglecting to keep in close contact with people who are important to you is at least as dangerous to your health as a pack-a-day cigarette habit, hypertension, or obesity.”
May we each come close to one another, may our spirits touch, and our hearts be moved, and our lives be filled with the blessings of simply being sacredly human together.
firstname.lastname@example.org 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, we come to know you in different ways, out of different life experiences and journeys, yet knowing you is somehow to come into a relationship with you. In our tradition, God, we speak of your connection, mystical, spiritual, wondrous, with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We read we are made in your image. Help us then, we pray, to be open to such connection, mystical, spiritual, wonderous connection with you and with each other, with all of humanity. May we see that such union of our spirits is even higher, ever deeper, in being one with you, all people and all of creation than who we are now. May this relatedness be made known to us as a true and possible human condition unfolding. In Christ we pray. Amen.
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan.
Psalm 130 Out of the depths, I cry to God.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Excel in generosity.
Mark 5:21-43 Young girl raised; hemorrhaging woman healed.
- What is the book called 2 Samuel all about?
- What is Psalm 130 all about and why do the psalms speak to us?
- Why do birds matter?
- What is the earliest date for humans performing dentistry?
Shoes, Shoes and More Shoes… June 19, 2018
A couple of weeks ago when on that heavy, duty course in Toronto, we had a couple of hours one after noon to wander around. So I went with a colleague to the Bata Shoe Museum. It was a great thing to do and a must, I think, for anyone (woman) who likes shoes. What we found fascinating was the history of shoes, across time periods and cultures, when, why and wherefore. It was hugely… educational.
One thing addressed was the practice and history of the high heel. And there were lots of examples including an exhibit called Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes. I saw lots of shoes I would definitely try and some I wouldn’t too. It was fun. At the exit, there is a shop, of course, and there I found a book on the history of the high heel. It was on sale because it was in French. Ten dollars. A deal!
One of the articles says that common sense tells us that shoes were first and foremost to protect our feed and to make walking easier. Then came the high heel, that evolved into what we have today and for which there is nothing truly functional about it at all! The writer questions how an impractical shoe style might have become a status symbol and mostly belonging to one sex?
Anyway…for the rest of that story I will leave it to you to visit the Bata Shoe Museum but more importantly today, I am wondering what aspects of our beliefs have no functionality, and yet are very fashionable? I guess the best way to look at this is to consider catch-phrases that are part of our everyday language that maybe at one time people believed but no longer. For example: I believed for years, before high school, that the mustard seed truly was the smallest seed and was intimately linked with understanding God’s realm. It isn’t the smallest seed yet it is intimately linked. Another example: I have heard people say, God will only give you what you can handle. Hmm? What does that really mean? What does that really say about the God you believe in? Doesn’t that make God the source of all bad things, all evil, all murders, rapes, catastrophes, …everything? Is that what you believe? Or how might we understand God’s presence and action in the world in a new way, like seeing the mustard seed analogy in a new way?
Just some things to think about because, sometimes, in our desire to show empathy we might use a phrase we’ve often heard. But that phrase may cause harm instead of help. We must consider what we say, what we sing, what we truly believe.
Et aussi, we may begin with le haut talon! (high heel)
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, if we are open and willing to learn as we grow, we can come to know you in so many new ways that enriches our faith, draws us nearer to you, to others and the world. And so I pray this day to be open, to hear and listen to the words I speak, and others speak to me, that I might hear glimpses of who you are and who you are not. Help us all to grow ever deeper in faith, in love, in peace, in and by your grace. With Christ we pray. Amen.
I Samuel 17 David and Goliath (Remember, Hey Da..v…e..y!)
Psalm 9 I will tell of God’s marvellous deeds.
Psalm 133 It is good for God’s people to be together.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13 Now is the acceptable time, the day of salvation.
- Hannah was Samuel’s mom who prayed for a child. What does Samuel mean?
- For what reason is the Song of Hannah important?
- What is the Flying COW?
- What is the evolutionary purpose to darker and lighter skin pigmentation?
Lenses – June 6, 2018
How many of you wear glasses? Bifocals? Trifocals? Extra set for the computer? That’s where I’m headed next as my bifocals aren’t working for the computer. There are so many lenses through which we see the things in front of us, newspapers or computers, the world around us, faces or lakes, near or far. Our lenses, tinted or not, transitions or not, affect everything we think, say and do in one way or another. But there are other lenses too. These lenses are the invisible lenses of our realities, our experiences in life, our contexts in which we live, and they affect everything we think, say and do too.
Just think or yourself. You see your world through the context, or lens, of your living in a family, in a house or an apartment, in a neighbourhood, in Whitby or wherever, in Ontario, in Canada and as a person, a human being in the world with specific knowledge about things because of who you are and all the contexts, or lenses, through which you see things and experience and respond to life.
As a member of the church, a person of faith or a person exploring faith, you find yourself in other contexts too. There is the context or lens of seeing the world through the church you attend, the worship service music, prayers, scripture and message. Beyond that is the denomination and the religion, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.. All these things, contexts, provide a lens through which you see, hear and believe about the world in which you live.
So…how are you shaped by the contexts in which you live and the lenses each context provides for a view of the world?
Over the last two weeks I have been in an intensive learning programme in Toronto. One of the most important things, among many things that I learned was that I look at the world through a lens that is formed by my experiences of life, my family of origin, my current family, my work, my education, and importantly my focus on life and love and being that is ‘creation-centred oriented.’ Stephen B. Bevans is a theologian, professor and writer who describes this orientation as one that is “characterized by the conviction that human experience, and so context, is generally good. Its perspective is that grace builds on nature, but only because nature is capable of being built on in relationship with God.” Following the definition, I do see the world as sacramental, a place where God reveals Godself, in strange and unworldly circumstances sometimes even that by the spirit I see a continuity between human existence and divine reality.
Another way of looking at the world, and life, another lens, according to Bevans is the ‘redemption-centred orientation.’ This lens of seeing is “characterized by the conviction that culture and human experience are either in need of a radical transformation or in need of total replacement.” This orientation sees grace not able to build on or perfect nature because nature is corrupt. Grace can only replace nature. The world distorts God’s reality and presence and even rebels against it. Reality, says Bevans, is approached then with suspicion.
Which way do you look at the world? Through which orientation or lens? And who or what helped shape that in you?
I know, heavy theology this week. That’s because I just had two weeks of mind blowing, introspective and contextual questioning theology. Time for the brain to rest a while and listen to the flowers bloom outside my window.
Peace to your hearts always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, we come to know you in many ways, through scripture, through Jesus, by the Spirit, I believe through nature, and also through sharing with one another. In all our listening, hearing, discerning and sharing, may your presence be made known as one of calm, peace and love. Mostly God, may we listen for your still, small voice that speaks to our hearts directing us, nudging and urging us on to seek what is right, to seek what is fair, just, and good always. In and with the Christ we pray. Amen.
I Samuel 15:34-16:13 David is anointed as king.
Psalm 20 Trust not in horses or chariots, but in God.
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 Walk by faith, not by sight.
Mark 4:26-34 Parables of the growing seed and the mustard seed.
- How is David described after God’s direction to Samuel?
- What was being compared to the growing seed and the mustard seed?
- Is the mustard seed really the smallest seed on the earth?
- What is more likely: being killed by an asteroid or lightning?
My new dinosaur… week of May 23, 2018
Last weekend my son and his girlfriend gave me a solid mud ball in a plastic packaging with a plastic chisel and tiny brush. They know I like dinosaurs and this was to be my opportunity to chisel away at the mud, to un-earth dinosaur fossils, and put them together to form a dinosaur. This was going to be fun. It was.
It took me over three hours altogether, and lots of concentration and muscle power, hands, mind, heart and soul, to break into the mud, chip it away, big chunks and little pieces, till I could find those first parts of a tail and a backbone. I got them out. I dusted them off. It was a stegosaurus…minus a head. There was no way that wee little neck joint was the head. It was missing.
I started going through the fossil pieces in the mud. Nothing. I looked all around and on the floor. That’s when I saw it. There was a chunk of mud on the floor with this so very tiny piece of yellowish white that I knew right away was my dinosaur’s skull. And it was. And…voila! I put him together. But guess what!
I knew it was a stegosaurus. I know my dinosaurs having learned them with my kids when they were small. The package said it was a triceratops. No way. No how. I know a stegosaurus when I see one.
Isn’t life like that too? Full of messes, expectations, hard work. Digging in a metaphorical or symbolic mud carefully, and then having surprising outcomes!
The more I thought about it as I chiselled away, I thought our lives are full of times or challenges when we have to roll up our sleeves, attend carefully with intentionality at what we’re exploring, sometimes really going deep and into the details, then putting things together to reveal for us a result, a path, an outcome, only to be surprised when what we sought isn’t it after all, or was it all along, or the expectation was wrong.
I find the journey into God is like that too. We can scour the scriptures, dig deep into our brains, explore what this or that means, challenge ourselves, but in the end, it comes down to that little piece of fossil, that old piece of wisdom, that fragment of feeling in our hearts that tell us God is Love. And we put that onto our dinosaur of research and voila! We see again that what we were looking for is as promised but not as expected, is new and soft and feeling and real.
What sort of things have happened like this in your life? In your faith journey? In your coming to know God, the Christ and the Spirit deep in your hearts…the mud of your lives even?
Peace to your hearts always,
p.s. I will be away on an intensive course for the next two weeks. Back June 11.
Prayer: Holy God, you know us from the inside out, you know our hearts, our minds, our desires, regrets, even our confessions. Guide us to come to know you through your Word, through the Christ, through the prophets, through nature and by the Spirit. Help us to hear your voice to us through those we know and love, and those we don’t. Be with us and show us the little piece we’re missing that brings our explorations to a close, that makes sense of our searchings, our longings, our hopes. May in the breaking apart of our lives we find that which is at our core that can change us and how we see the world. In and with the Christ we pray. Amen.
Isaiah 6:1-8 The call of Isaiah.
Psalm 29 God’s voice is over the waters.
Romans 8:12-17 Adopted by the Spirit as children of God.
John 3:1-17 Nicodemus visits Jesus by night.
- What is similar in the call reports of prophets?
- What is psalm 29?
- What killed most sailors in the 18th century sea battle?
- In one word, what was Napoleon’s most humiliating defeat?
Me to We – Week of May 16
A few years ago, I was watching the news and heard about an organization called Me to We. The speaker was so exciting and inspiring to listen to. He really had the anchor and me hooked…and then I thought…wasn’t that Jesus’ message too?
Me to We, according to their web site, is “an innovative social enterprise that provides products that make an impact, empowering people to change the world with their everyday consumer choices. With ME to WE, you can make a difference with everything you do—from choosing travel that leaves a positive footprint on the planet to making purchases that give back. ME to WE is part of a family of organizations that empowers each of us to make the world a better place. We are all connected. Together WE change the world.” What a great idea! It makes sense to me for us all to work together, more closely in community, to make a difference in the world, just as we sing in the song in church to “go make a difference.” It seems a shame that we have to remind ourselves to work together to do so.
How is it that we’ve lost that togetherness feeling? Or as another song says, “We’ve lost that lovin’ feeling…” ? (Okay that song was about something different but you know). I was reading a book titled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind in the wee hours of this morning when the dog was going crazy because of the storm. Partly, we know that there was a rise in individualism, a rise in the interests and rights of the individual through the last 500 years, but this book made some claims, pretty negative claims, about the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the needs and rights of individuals. The author claims that daily life for most folk prior to the Industrial Revolution involved the family, the extended family and the local intimate community. All our needs were provided and supported, whether business, family farming, shared financial burdens, etc. Most of our human needs were taken care of through the family and the community. The author further states that over the last 200 years the market and the state acquired new powers and levels of influence that shaped us into who we are today by promoting the offer to become individuals: marry who you desire without permission, pursue the career you want instead of supporting the family’s business, allow the bank to finance the new house you want, and know that men, women and children are individuals with needs and rights. Yuval Noah Harari, the author, says the liberation of the individual came at a cost. He says millions of years of evolution designed us to live and think in community and we undid this in two centuries becoming alienated individuals. And this is the power of culture. What do you think?
I find that I step back and question the full validity of these statements in that I believe there are benefits to the evolution as well as a curse with individualism. I see another problem in the rise of nationalism and the consequences of that type of ‘community’ of individuals claiming adherence and likeness that leaves others out, and in our history, has led to wars. How much of all of this is due to, and our responses to, the rise of science, and modernity, and the Industrial Revolution and…dare I say…the imperfect human beings we are who can be lured into self centredness through lust, pride, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath and envy, I want, I deserve, I am entitled…and so on?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was an enlightened philosphe of the 18th century. He wrote the Social Contract, another cool book. He felt new technology was often harmful, even the technology of printing was a “dreadful art” because it perpetuated the “errors and extravagances of the human mind.” He wrote this prayer:
“Almighty God, Thou who holdest in Thy hand the minds of men, deliver us from the fatal arts and sciences of our forefathers; give us back ignorance, and poverty, which alone can make us happy and are precious in Thy sight.”
That is pretty heavy. This whole thing has been heavy. What do you believe about humanity and our evolution as people in community? How do you believe God is involved in the evolution of humanity through biology, society, politics…and community?
Peace to your hearts, minds and souls as you contemplate…
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, we read in the scriptures how you call us into community to serve and care for one another. We learn how Jesus offered the same, caring for individuals by teaching his disciples how to live in community themselves. Help us, we pray, to find a balance between the needs of individuals to be heard and recognized and accepted with the needs of the community that can bring individuals together. May we know and name the blessings of community and individualism, and the curses of community and individualism too. Guide us to see where you are in who we are alone, together and in the wider world. In and with the Spirit of Christ, we pray. Amen.
Acts 2:1-21 The coming of the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 The valley of dry bones.
Psalm 104 Wisdom was creating at God’s side.
Romans 8:22-27 The Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words.
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 Jesus will send the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth.
- What did the Spirit of the LORD do to Ezekiel?
- Who are the bones supposed to be in the Ezekiel passage?
- In Hebrew, what does ruah mean?
- Who said, “The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena ..our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”?
- Which ancient philosopher wrote The Cave? What was his point?
Virtual Reality – week of May 8, 2018
In a museum in Old Montreal, there is a small area at the bottom of the stairs by the entrance. There, one finds a few comfy chairs and virtual reality goggles. I’ve been there twice – didn’t try them. On Sunday, however, with my son and his girlfriend, I was given a try with the VR goggles. I was in a haunted house – creepy, spooky, with sounds of ghosts haunting and the VR couch on which I sat was the real couch in their living room. It was quite an experience as the VR storm came up with wind, lightning and thunder and a ghost that scared the….
Next experience to try was the VR roller coaster. My VR seat was the front seat of the roller coaster and given it was the real couch, I was comfortable unlike a real roller coaster seat would be…I imagine. But the VR ride was as real, for me, as a real one could be.
The downs, ups, winds, turns, were incredible and scary and I know I missed much of it because I closed my eyes a lot. At the end, my stomach had done loops. I felt sick and was shaky standing up. The VR people applauded my return to the starting point. I made it.
It was pretty weird.
What about our lives, our own virtual lives and real lives of our nights and days. I mean, what people see, read and think are our lives that we ‘show’ daily, on facebook, twitter, Instagram, the poetry and songs we post, events, photos, some folk even post their dinners. Then there is real life – what can’t be seen, but is real, in our homes, hearts, minds, griefs, pains, joys, silent or unrevealed truths too.
I think we exist in a real world and in a virtual world to some degree when we use public forum social media. But… what happens when real life is posted on social public media, when the details of the real life spill over to the virtual life (or is it the other way?)? What is the expected response?
How do we respond? Often the responses are ‘likes’ or quick comments of consolation, blessings, shared grief, LOL, or TTYS. And the newsfeed scrolls away…
Is God in the ‘likes’? Where is the community? What is the depth of care in a ‘like’ versus someone contacting you, getting together, holding your hand and asking, “How can I help?” Where is God? Is God in the cyberspace of facebook posts moving you to respond? Is it the Spirit at work? Is it shared life – which life? Real or virtual?
May we each come to see, feel and know God’s presence in the many ways God is here, there and everywhere…or… what do you think?
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Ever present God, that is what we say, that is how we generally come to believe and know you. Ever present, omnipotent, omniscient, loving, source of life and love. In this changing world that is moving faster, even where our technological responses are faster and shorter, help us to be open to your presence, to feel for you no matter what medium. Help us to hold our own humanity, our compassion for others, our hearts as instruments willing to offer more than a click of concern. May we not leave real life for the virtual life. May we know nothing replaces human touch, human hug, human embrace and love. May your grace flow to and through us in response to all that we see, hear, read, experience. In and with Christ, we pray. Amen.
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 Matthias is elected as an apostle.
Psalm 1 Blessed are those who delight in God’s law.
I John 5:9-13 The testimony of God is greater than human testimony.
John 17:6-19 “May my joy be made complete in them.”
- What is really neat about Psalm 1?
- Who wrote the Acts of the Apostles and likely when?
- When and where did writing begin?
- How many countries are there on earth?
- What is the population of the earth?
- What is the population of Canada?
- What is the population of Ontario?
- What is the population of Whitby?
- Do you use emoticons, pictographic signs?
Surreal Moments… – week of April 30, 2018
Last night there was a major gathering of people, thousands of people, of all walks of life, who came together for a time of mourning, of respect and caring in the wake of the tragedy that took place in Toronto last Monday. The news headlines this morning were:
“To honour the dead. To support the living. Because I love this city. Those are the reasons people gave for attending Sunday night’s #TorontoStrong Vigil at Mel Lastman Square.”
I was in Toronto when it happened and did not know about it as I was in class. It was my son’s call to me to ask if I was okay that prompted my question back, “Why?” And he filled me in with the details as they were unfolding. I received several calls and texts asking if I were safe. Thanks to all who did so. It meant a lot to me. Many of you knew that I was further south and not around the Yonge and Sheppard area, none the less, it was very surreal walking down Yonge Street knowing just a little way north, a tragedy had truly happened. One of the persons in my course lives right there. His wife had chosen to delay going out onto Yonge St. to do an errand. I think she had decided to put a load of laundry in. Had she not, …?
If this event was surreal to me, further south, just imagine how surreal it was to my classmate, and even more so to those in the moment, in the midst of the death and destruction. Words of hope and compassion are the only words that can really be offered. I think. A ministry of presence, of silence even, holding a hand, in an embrace of a loving hug, is sometimes all we can do to help the surreal dissipate, the moment be resolved to the heart and the head, without expecting any understanding of why.
Often we wonder where God is in these surreal moments, in many moments. Often we ask why God would allow this or that, or, why didn’t God stop this or that from happening? And sometimes the answer is why do we? Or why don’t we? And sometimes the answer is simply, we don’t know. And it remains surreal.
Surreal moments aren’t all bad. Some surreal moments are beautiful and life giving, and warm and generous, and blessings of life and love. I believe it is these moments, these surreal moments, that touch us at our core, that we need to hold as we live through all the moments, hours, nights and days of life. We need to do so with hearts of gratitude, lives of thanksgiving, and spirits of grace.
We can also ask the deep theological questions that can help us to discover or discern hope and look up and see beyond the event or situation, to find God, by asking:
How do we understand where God is in this situation?
What biblical stories or images come to mind?
Where was God in those situations? In scripture and in our lives too at another time?
What theological themes come to mind?
There is a saying, I can’t remember from where, I’ll have to search, but it goes like this:
Without God, we can’t; without us, God won’t.
What does this say to you about …life, humanity, the world, God, the Spirit, the Christ, and all that make up our surreal moments? These are the questions, the discussion we can have together, to take us ever deeper into the meaning of faith and living in faith everyday.
May you know God’s peace in your hearts, may you all be safe in the embrace, care and love of family and friends, this day and always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Creator God, each morning we wake and go through our normal routine expecting today to be just like the other days, nothing major happening, nothing overly new, nothing life changing – until it isn’t. God as we hold you to us in the ordinary, help us to hold you, hold faith, in the extraordinary too whether blessing or tragedy. Help us to know you walk with us throughout life, whatever life presents to us, however life unfolds. Help us to not be afraid. May we trust, may we love, may we live each day caring for, connected with, reaching out to those we love, those we know, those who are strangers. And may we know and live your grace. In Christ we pray, Amen.
Acts 10:44-48 The gift of the Holy Spirit comes as Peter preaches.
Psalm 98 Sing to God a new song.
I John 5:1-6 To love God is to obey God’s commandments.
John 15:9-17 Love one another as I have loved you.
- In the first story of creation, Gen 1:1-2:4a, from where is God, the creator, working (near or far)?
- In the second story of creation, Gen 2:4b and following, where is God now?
- What happens when you put these two answers together?
- What are the four distinct forces in the universe?
- What happens after creation’s photons spontaneously converted their energy into matter-antimatter particle pairs?
New Beginnings are….week of April 18, 2018
New babies, new families, new jobs, new schools, new friends, new church, new car, new house, new career, new kids, new role, new task, new learning, new everything…new is exciting. New is also scary. Just think of those disciples starting out following Jesus. It was new. It must have been scary too. Imagine hearing him call you and then deciding to follow him from place to place, and to hear him teach in the synagogue, feed and heal, and know all along that the Romans and the Jewish leaders were getting … annoyed. Whatever might happen? Exciting and scary.
Imagine later, after the crucifixion, meeting Jesus again and hearing him say, “Hey, its me, and now I am sending you to go do as I did. Go preach, teach, feed and heal.” Imagine the disciples’ thoughts, “Say what? Whatever might happen? After all, doing this got Jesus crucified!” Exciting and scary.
Next week I’m going to be doing something new. I am going to Toronto for the orientation programme to begin the steps for a Doctor of Ministry. I want to explore more and learn more about Jesus and how to hold Jesus meaningful in this third millennium. I hope to go ever deeper into Paul’s writings too. The Thursday bible group here will be journeying and learning along with me. Others have promised to be my support, guidance, encouragement, and even to moan with me when I get frustrated. I will still be here at St. Mark’s but next week is a new beginning. Exciting and scary.
Life is full of new things. With every turn to something new, we are changed within and sometimes even more. We are made new. We let go of what was, grieve, open ourselves to the new, and go from there. Exciting. And scary. What new beginnings are happening in your life right now? How are they exciting and how are they scary for you? Who are your supports along the way to guide you and moan with you too?
I hope that the new in life for you this spring is full of blossoms of beauty, lessons of love, harmonies of hugs and that you might feel and know our God in Christ of new beginnings is with you showing you the way.
Peace to your hearts always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God of New Beginnings, as we wake each morning to a new day, and later lay down to a new evening, may we rest in the assurance you are with us throughout, in all that is exciting and in all that is scary. May we find you holding us strong and comforted by and through those around us who care for us, want the best for us, and who love us. As we journey, may we do so with gratitude filling our hearts to overflowing that we pour our love back to you, to those we know and those who enter our lives. May we always know we are never alone. In and with the Christ we pray. Amen.
Acts 4:5-12 Peter testifies before the high priests.
Psalm 23 God is my shepherd.
I John 3:16-24 Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
John 10:11-18 Jesus is the good shepherd.
- Who are First, Second and Third Isaiah?
- Who wrote I John?
- What does the bark do for a tree?
- What does the ozone layer do for us?
- What does the moon do for us?
- What does the magnetic field do for us?
Plastic Things…Week of April 10
One of my favourite places to go is Canadian Tire. Another favourite place is Princess Auto. The latter for the metal car stuff and the smells; the former for the glass and plastic containers. I love containers of all sizes, lids and colours and all the possibilities they offer. Mostly, I love that they are reusable, dishwasher safe, microwave safe, great for left overs, and for organizing everything. They also save me from polluting my world with baggies and other plastic bags and flimsy things. Now that’s not to say I don’t use plastics at all, like plastic bags even, but I do try to reduce the amount I use. I use things over and over again too. I try. And it may seem ridiculous, but in each bathroom and the kitchen, I have three labelled bins: one for compost, one for recycling, one for landfill. The kids just loved it…not.
Recently though I saw a post on Facebook challenging everyone to give up plastic straws and puddings and things that come in plastic containers that are not reusable…that are just destined for land fill. On the front of this month’s Observer, there is a picture of a plastic bag in water and the title is ‘The Plastic Menace: How our favourite material is ravaging the planet.’ It’s the throw away items, says the article, like straws and billions of other throwaways that are choking our planet. Some say these plastics, made of petroleum-based polymers, are one of the biggest threats to our planet. Just go to google or YouTube and type in ‘plastic in the oceans’ or something similar and explore from there. It is disturbing.
Whether we believe plastics are a serious threat, or decide to act on this comment, really comes back, I believe, to what we think our relationship with the planet is. If we believe we have dominion over the earth to do with it as we please, as we are at the top of creation’s pyramid of evolution, development, power and rights, then perhaps the consequences of pollution are not a problem because we are entitled to live on this planet as we choose. Sort of our divine right. But if we look at ourselves in relationship with this planet, with every aspect of creation/nature, then don’t we have to hold in our hearts, minds and spirits, even just a touch of responsibility to attend to keeping that relationship fair, just and respectful?
I believe it goes beyond this too. I have to consider that bottled water both pollutes the planet and, in some cases deprives people of the very thing that all living creatures require to live, whether human, plant or animal. It happens when water is taken from one area, bottled and sold somewhere else. Whatever happened to public water fountains? How do the homeless and poor get water? People also need food, but the idea of commercializing the very essence of life, water, for me is just morally wrong.
Anyway, I look for God in all this, and I go deep into myself and my belief about the world, our human place in the world, the consequences of our actions because of our beliefs, and what I might do differently. I do believe we are stewards of creation. I believe with the power and influence we have comes great responsibility to life. I say all this as I sit with the Observer opened at the colourful page of straws and my phone charger and cord in a plastic bag. Guilty. I’ll be using this over and over.
Peace to your hearts, peace to the world, and every creature within it.
Prayer: Creator God, if we are to have been made in your image, then are we not called to be in relationship with you, with each other and the world, just as you show your relationship with the Christ and creation by the Spirit? If we are made in your image, God, and rest in this Trinity of God, humanity and nature, then mustn’t we reflect on who we are and what we do? Restoring God, help me/us to take the moment to do so. Lead me/us to see the wondrous complexity in this world as water, trees, animals, and people live together. Show me/us, God, where we cause harm. Move me/us, we pray, to heal, to mend, to save this world with the love of Christ in our hearts, minds and spirits. With you, may we be instruments of your Shalom for all of creation. Amen.
Acts 3:12-19 Peter preaches in Solomon’s Portico.
Psalm 4 Answer me, when I call, O God.
I John 3:1-7 We are children of God.
Luke 24:36-48 Jesus invites the disciples to touch his hands and feet.
- What is a portico?
- How do Paul and James differ with regards to salvation?
- What was a key phrase, theological statement, of the Protestant Reformation?
- When were plastics first introduced and then mass produced?
- How many tonnes of plastic have been produced since the early 1950?
- How long does it take for a disposable water bottle to be broken down by nature?
Raising the Titanic… April 8, 2018
Last week I watched the movie Titanic with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio…at age 22, I believe. 1997! My goodness they looked young. I also finished a book, Daring Greatly, and am nearly finished Rising Strong. The author is Brene Brown. Somehow…you guessed it…they connected in my head.
The Titanic was the ship that was never to sink; it wouldn’t be able to sink. The engineers, and all involved, had dared to dream and design and build a human masterpiece that symbolized continued progress into the 1900s, a continuation of the Enlightenment, and Modernity, that said things are just getting better and better! They were courageous, adventurous and knew where they were headed and why. And yes there were other egos and monetary wins to be had too. It was a not so humble human initiative, like a teenager venturing out figuring, “What could possibly go wrong?”
The book Daring Greatly is about having courage, freedom and willingness to dare to reach out, explore, take a risk to go after a dream, a vision, a want or need for your life. It is about personal growth for life, for work, service and faith. The author invites you to think about what you want in your life, for your life. And you know, if you don’t name it, others will decide for you what they think you want and/or need. You won’t always be asked to offer your own voice. So examine in your heart, mind and spirit, and discern for yourself; check in with others who care for you, but dare to take the challenge, in whatever ocean comes to you, or ship design is put before you, or journey extended to you.
Rising Strong is about dealing with the outcome of daring greatly because sometimes in life, we dare, or we don’t dare, but we face failure, or it just doesn’t work out the way we thought or our own reactions to something are surprising and revealing of our inner self. Whatever it is. Brown writes that when we find ourselves in this place, we need to reckon with what happened, rumble through the events and emotions, and then rise up strong ready to dare greatly again. But when you do, you will be changed and different from where you started. Rising strong means letting go of beliefs that you shouldn’t have, or should have, or you’re not good enough, or …well it is a learning experience.
So back to the Titanic… the real ship was later discovered as you know. Bits and pieces that had been salvaged floating around when it sunk, and stuff they brought up from the bottom of the ocean, have been gathered together, cleaned-up and examined for the story they tell. They are above the water in a new life. Those who designed and built the Titanic had their stories and learnings to tell too.
We all do. It is the resurrection story. It is about the resurrection from the ocean floor for us in life, out of every death, from failed darings, and loss, when you have gone on a path that didn’t present what you thought it might. But you are different, wiser, changed, and you have learned to rise up again, strong. This is the Jesus story too. This is about Christ’s Resurrection to new life, out of the darkness of the grave, after daring greatly. It is the scriptural story of the remnant as well, that there will always be those, or those bits, or us, that remain in the new life that unfolds in time.
When have you experienced the Titanic story in your life? What was the ocean like before, and sinking down into it, and coming up again bit by bit? And being restored?
When and how were you raised up after daring to act, to speak, to try?
How are you different today because of your Titanic journey, down and up, daring greatly, rising strong, ready to live again and new?
A wise man once said to me, “Let life unfold and don’t be afraid.” I keep this in my heart.
Peace to you all as you celebrate the continued journey of Easter, with courage, with commitment, with faith. Amen.
Rev. Deb – email@example.com – 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Caring God, you invite us to open ourselves to you, to our own hearts, and sometimes with others. In this sharing we are confessing who we are, our truths, our journeys. In you, and by faith, we try to accept each other unconditionally, just with love and empathy, compassion with strength and comfort by the presence of your Spirit in us. Looking in can be the ocean bed for change, for new life, for forgiveness and hope. This is the resurrection story too. May we each see these moments or journeys in our lives as blessings, as gifts, as paths to being drawn closer to you, living more authentically who we are, and being able to live fully, love freely, give generously, with and in the Christ. Amen.
Acts 4:32-35 The believers shared everything in common.
Psalm 133 How pleasant it is when God’s people are together.
I John 1:1-22 God is light; walk in the light.
John 20:19-31 Jesus appears to the disciples but Thomas is not there.
- Did Thomas put his hand in Jesus’ side?
- Who wrote the Acts of the Apostles?
Science and History Trivia
- How many atoms are there in a single molecule of your DNA?
- When did western philosophy begin?
History and Faith – March 28, 2018
A couple of friends advised me to see the movie Scent of a Woman because of the dance scene. Al Pacino does a fantastic tango with a young woman. It is awesome. But it really is only a small part of the movie, the message of the movie, and even in the life of the characters. The movie has many other very important scenes, yet those who told me to watch it, are like me, interested in dance. So that is what we were and are drawn toward.
Have you ever experienced sitting with folk after a movie, or having read a book, that you were moved by one character or event, and they another? And that becomes a wow, and conversation begins and you explore together why.
Last night I picked up the Special Edition of Athlon Classics titled ‘100 Most Important Days in the Christian Calendar.’ This magazine takes the reader through Advent, Christmastide, Epiphanytide, Lent, Easter, Eastertide, to Ordinary Time and then adds material on Mary, the Saints and Martyrs. As I flipped the pages, I could feel myself identifying with the ‘tangos’ of Jesus story as the points that touch my heart, my faith, my focus and draw me in. These points are important to me, but maybe not you.
Tori and I had a conversation on Christmas and Easter as they are the root events of Christianity and in the life of the church. The root events of Judaism are the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments. My question is: on which root event are you more connected, or moved, in your Christian faith, Christmas or Easter? On which event does the anchor of your faith hold you fast? We can’t hold one without the other in our faith story, but does one take precedent over the other in your beliefs? And why or why not?
This is Holy Week. This is the week we stop and pray and reflect on what we believe about God, Jesus, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit? What do you believe about the Jesus of history and the Christ of our faith? How do you believe in him, or have the belief and faith he had? Tough questions, I know. But then, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” That’s another question altogether…or is it?
May you each have a blessed Easter of life and love, family and friends, hope and promise and peace.
Rev. Deb, firstname.lastname@example.org, 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, for the new life we see in the spring, the new possibilities that are all around us in our lives, our work, our hopes and dreams, for the promise of never being alone, we give thanks. For the time of Lent and Holy Week, and the opportunity to reflect with you and each other in prayer about our faith, our beliefs, our story, we are grateful. For our ability to know you, to understand more and more about our world, to come nearer to the Holy Spirit’s power of Love and Grace, may we always cherish, long and search with all our hearts. In and with the Christ we pray. Amen.
Maundy Thursday John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Good Friday John 18:1-19:42
Easter Sunday John 20:1-18 (my favourite, Mark 16:1-8)
- What is a problem in John’s story of Jesus Passion?
- What do the double bars mean around Mark 16:8b through 20?
- For the past 130 years, paleontologists have divided dinosaurs into two groups based on their anatomical features that are believed to have evolved more than 230 million years ago. What are those two groups?
- What is the new proposed evolution of dinosaurs?
For my science friends – March 21, 2018
This is so cool. Remember Voyager? Not the Star Trek spin off but the Voyager 1 NASAs farthest and fastest spacecraft that is the only human-made object in interstellar space, that is in the environment between the stars. This spacecraft has been flying for 40 years, and it relies on devices called thrusters to orient itself or re-orient itself so that it can communicate with Earth. And get this…the four back up thrusters, which have been dormant since 1980, fired up no problem after 37 years without use. I have trouble thinking of a car put away for that long if it would start up no problem.
The thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or puffs, apparently , to subtly rotate Voyager so that its antenna points at us…home. But from a different perspective. Apparently also, space engineers, (maybe like Wolowitz from the Big Bang Theory) have noticed over the last few years that the attitude control thrusters have been degrading. Given there’s no mechanic shop 13 billion miles from earth to go to for a tune-up, says NASA, they decided to give these other thrusters, that had been asleep, a try.
They dug up the decades old data and reprogrammed with the old language. And voila! On Tuesday Nov 28th, 2017, these four thrusters that hadn’t been used in 37 years, were fired up. This all worked so well they are considering doing a similar test on the Voyager 2 thrusters. Imagine the sound of those ‘engines’! Better than a super charger, or a turbo charger, or either one of those on top of a V8! Anyway…
Sometimes I think we can be like thrusters that haven’t been challenged in a while. Sometimes we get comfortable in our seats, in our way of living, in our ‘what we know’, that leaves us needing maybe a kick start and a tune up? Last week in worship I asked, What do you believe about God? Many of you responded and thank you. My question now is: Has your understanding and what you believe about God changed over the years? Have you been in a long dormant time of going along with what you were and knew years back, or have you been awakened, challenged, re-aligned, re-oriented to new ideas and deeper spirituality like going deeper into interstellar space?
Okay..a bit of a leap. But…think back to when you were a child. What did you believe about God then? What did you believe about God when you were a teen? And a young adult? Middle aged? What about now wherever you are? What has been your evolving understanding about God or not? And what do you think about it?
It is the time of year closing Lent and moving into Holy Week. What we believe is important to name about God, about Jesus, about Easter and what it all means to us in our hearts.
May you know God’s presence always in the deepest place of your being, here, or in …outer space?
Rev. Deb, email@example.com, 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, creator of all, big and small, strong and weak, near and far, and all that is in between, as we hold our faith and our beliefs close to our hearts, help us to have the courage to name what we know, what we don’t know or are unsure of, and of how we’ve felt your presence in this world. May we come to hold the stories of the faithful near, with gratitude and willingness to hear all that is said, told, and shared. May we live the love shown through the Christ as we answer the call of your Spirit that flows to and through us, and the world, always. Amen.
Liturgy of the Palms
Mark 11:1-11 Jesus joyful entry into Jerusalem.
Psalm 118 The stone which the builders rejected.
Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9a The servant, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks.”
Psalm 31 My times are in your hands, O God.
Philippians 2:5-11 Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus.
Mark 14:1-15:47 The narrative of Jesus’ final hours.
- Which prophets proffered critiques in poetic form against the government of ancient Israel, the priesthood and the rich?
- Despite their warnings concerning both personal behaviour and political machinations, what happens to the northern kingdom of Israel?
- In the early days of Voyager I’s mission, what did it fly by?
- Who said, “We live in a strange and wonderful universe. Its age, size, violence, and beauty require extraordinary imagination to appreciate. The place we humans hold within this vast cosmos can seem pretty insignificant.”
- To whom can the roots of modern astronomy be traced?
Just try it… – March 6, 2018
Do you remember the line, “Try it, you’ll like it?” It came from a commercial in 1972 in which a man revealed a waiter had recommended some food in a restaurant that he would like. He tried it. He didn’t like it. It didn’t like him. Alka-Seltzer took care of the upset stomach though. The rest is history.
In the March National Geographic there is an article on Paul McCartney. He is 75 and still doing concerts. He’s also leading a Meat Free Monday campaign. His line is just “Try one day.” His hope is to get people to consider becoming a vegetarian like him. His reasons for being vegetarian are for the betterment of our planet, the compassion for animals, and personal health. “Try it. You’ll like it.” Or maybe, just try for one day.
In my teenage years I knew a man who had been a teacher and was then a priest. Apparently, earlier in life someone had challenged him to just try being a Christian for one month. As the story goes, he took up the challenge, and not too long after, his life was totally turned upside down as he went into the priesthood. He had tried being a Christian, following Christian practices, and, lo and behold, he became one. Practise changed belief and behaviour.
The question I have behind all this is: Which comes first, belief or practise? Which is the more effective method of behaviour change? Is it a change in practice that leads to behaviour change for the long term or is it a change in belief that leads to behaviour change in the long term? If someone takes up the challenge to be a vegetarian for one day, changing their practice, then maybe two or three days, at what point do they change their beliefs? Or…do we change beliefs first, and let the change in practice follow? What about Christianity?
In 1896, Charles Monroe Sheldon wrote a book called “In His Steps.” It is a religious fiction novel that has sold more than 30,000,000 copies, and ranks as one of the best-selling books of all time. The full title of the book is “In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?.” The book presents characters facing life questions and challenges and before deciding their responses, they ask, “What would Jesus do?” This is the source of WWJD. The answers to WWJD are surprising at times, as they are in our lives too. WWJD is often not what we would choose to do.
So, given it is Lent, I guess the question to each of us is this: Taking a look at our lives, the way we live, with what we know about God, the Way of Jesus, and the examples through scripture of what it is to follow God, where are we, and where are we not, doing WJWD (what Jesus would do)? What is your carbon footprint like? How do you recycle, compost, garbage for landfills? How do we care for the homeless? How do we give, love, feed, heal as JWD?
To follow WWJD is difficult and requires a realignment of our thinking, believing and living…our behaviours really. But then, that does require us to consider everything we think, say and do, after we say the words, “I believe.” In your life, did ‘I believe’ come before or after ‘I choose to follow the way of Christ’? Or in your life, did following the Way, beginning with Sunday school and your parents, shape your beliefs? Either way, in the church, at least part of your behaviour coming, participating, and giving, reflects your beliefs. What exactly are they though?
We’re getting close to Palm Sunday and Holy Week. These questions had to come up. Peace to your hearts as you revisit your beliefs, your practices, your lives,
Rev. Deb Foster
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, some of us come into the Way of Christ through our families, from being really young like being gathered together, in a net, like a school of fish. God, some of us are lured into the school by something that attracts us about the Christ and your love. Some of us come to the Way because we hunger for a richer life. As we move closer to Holy Week, may we come to understand, with you, what our faith means to us and where it rests in our hearts and minds. May we be led ever nearer to loving the world, people, each other and you, the source of life, and love, and the grace that flows to and through us. May we come to have the faith of Christ in our believing and in our living. Amen.
Numbers 21:4-9 A bronze serpent heals the people. (How often do we need to face our fears to be healed?)
Psalm 107 God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Ephesians 2:1-10 We are not saved by our own doing, but by grace.
John 3:14-21 For God so loved the world.
- What is meant by YHWH?
- What does Elohim mean?
- Who said, “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”?
- How big was the volume of the Big Bang that was “In the Beginning”?
- Who were the two bands of the British Invasion?
- Which Beatles song changed Rock and Roll in America and when?
First Impressions: Tesla – Week of February 20, 2018
Long ago, seems like a life time ago, I studied aspects of learning and memory with an excellent professor. One of the things he taught was on the primacy effect and the recency effect. Basically, if I were to give you a list of 20 things, verbally, and asked you to repeat them, you would remember more from the beginning, and the end, and not so much the items in the middle. It is the way first impressions work too. The first time we meet someone, the circumstances around the meeting, how they behaved, etc., sticks in our heads as we formulate our ‘first impression’ – primacy effect. The same goes, in a different way, for last impressions too. All this was according to the professor and research. But it does speak the truth, right?
Think of your first impressions on going somewhere, meeting people, new people, this church, a new family member, or whatever, and how strongly those first impressions stuck. – and how hard it is to change them. So…here’s my question. You knew it was coming.
Recently in the Popular Mechanics on-line, there was an article on the placing of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space. It is on its way to Mars. Astronomers are tracking Starman using a number of telescopes so they know where it is, and where it is headed, even how fast it is spinning. With others, I wonder what first impression some alien life form one day will have when he/she/it discovers the space ship from earth containing…a car. Will it be perceived as our god? Or perhaps just something we worship? Will the form or colour make a difference? What will be the first impression and what will be the response? I can’t forget, from the movie Starman, the message put out into space for aliens to find was a disk with all the languages of the earth saying welcome or something like that. I guess we could go look it up. Not now.
When we think of the bible, often people know a bit about Genesis and a bit about Revelation, not necessarily accurately but something, and not much in between. We tend to remember Jesus birth and his death. How much of the in between do we know? Our own grave stones mark the birth date and date of death with a dash. There is a poem about the dash. It is important to remember what the dash stands for – a life lived. It is important to remember the beginning, the life and the death of Jesus. What happens in between the dashes, for us all, is very important to remember. It is our life.
So …what has been your first impression that has stuck about the bible, about Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, the Church, our church? What might people’s first impression be of you?
May we know and show God’s grace in all first impressions and last ones too.
firstname.lastname@example.org 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, in the week ahead, in the days and the nights, may we be open to grace filled first impressions of morning and evening, of people, of gatherings, of tasks spoken and shared. May we be gentle and caring that our first impressions not be tainted wrongly with misunderstanding, harshness, negativity. May we attempt to stand in the other’s shoes and hear the story before making judgements. May we be and share your peace. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 The covenant between Abram, Sarai and God.
Psalm 22 You have not hidden your face, O God.
Romans 4:13-25 God’s promise rests on grace and faith.
Mark 8:31-38 Those who lose their life for the gospel will save it.
- The biblical story of the Old Testament spans what time frame?
- What are the subjects addressed in this time frame?
- What is a rhino’s horn made from?
- What colour are white rhinos?
How Old is Old? Week of February 27, 2018
Last weekend I had a crazy conversation with a few folk about planning our 100th birthdays. We talked about how old we felt, or didn’t feel, and what we used to think old was. I remember thinking thirty was over the hill. Now thirty is …90? Isn’t it funny how our views change as we approach those markers? Where else does this apply in life?
We also talked about how to stay healthy and how our generation seems to be more conscious about caring for our bodies. I’ve noticed how the younger generation is more conscious of balancing their activities in life: work, home, leisure. I’ve been told they’ve learned to do this by watching how busy our generation lived and incorporated the busyness into their lives too. I don’t know if this is accurate, but it was an interesting conversation and perspective.
Then, lo and behold, the Time magazine, February 26, 2018, arrived and is focused on aging. Articles inside are on The Anti-Aging Supplement Experts Take, The World’s Healthiest Places and …Pray! The Health Benefits of Faith. Okay…get it and zero in. The article begins with the question: do religious people live longer? And the answer is yes.
Apparently, a very comprehensive study in 2016 showed that “women who went to any kind of religious service more than once a week had a 33% lower chance than their secular peers of dying.” Of course, that’s not ever. The statistic kept me reading. Another study found regular service attendance was linked to reductions in the body’s stress responses. I have seen such numbers before.
But the question for me is why? And the answer seems to be the act of being with a like-minded community. Churches provide a network of social support, optimistic attitudes, better self-control and a sense of purpose in life. These factors, when present, are believed to contribute to longer life. Other factors believed to add to this are values like respect, compassion, gratitude, charity, humility, harmony, meditation…dare I say…prayer. Having a sense you’re not alone in this world helps to reduce stress and have beneficial effects on your blood pressure. Just talk to Carole, our parish nurse, about that one!
And yes, prayer, like any meditation, triggers the relaxation response of the body. This response decreases stress, heart rate and blood pressure. So…prayer, meditation, yoga, therapeutic touch, yes!
For me, this goes along with the other research I’ve seen on healthy congregations. In another study, churches that focus on mission, being in close and caring relationships with one another, and in which there is a sense of God’s presence, that is the incarnation of love, the flesh on the words of faith, well, these are the churches doing better in this increasingly secular society.
Seems like a prescription to me. And it is not so much the specific religious beliefs. It is about being in communion with others. There’s that trinity again: God, humanity and the world. Ahh….
Shalom to all, Rev. Deb
email@example.com 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, beyond us, with us and within us always, in what was, what is and what will be, we open our hearts and our minds to your presence, to love that comes from you in grace. In our living by faith, by prayer, coming ever closer to you, may we also come closer to each other in deep caring. May we also come ever closer to all of creation. May we find harmony and peace inside us, shalom, and may we share that peace with others. May we learn to pray for ourselves, by ourselves, with others, for others, as a conversation with you among us. And may our lives in communion together be lives of living fully, loving generously, serving faithfully, in and with the Christ. Amen.
Exodus 20:1-17 The Ten Commandments
Psalm 19 The heavens declare the glory of God.
I Corinthians 1:18-25 God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.
John 2:13-22 Jesus clears the temple.
- What is the Covenant Code in Exodus?
- Do slaves get a day off?
- Which African mammal kills more humans than any other?
- Where do most tigers live?
May we remember: That when we pray for another person, we are praying for God to open our eyes so that we can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs towards that person. This adapted quote comes from Philip Yancey. I know of someone who calls it being held in their prayer bubble. It’s a cool thought, being held in someone’s prayer bubble with love.
Tradition – February 13, 2018
Through the years, I’ve watched the movie Fiddler on the Roof over and over. My VHS version is history. I need a DVD version now. I’ve seen it performed numerous times, in different places, by different theatrical groups, professional and amateur. And I still love it. There is just something appealing about the movie, how it touches my heart, the story, the people, the music, the traditions. Our lives are filled with traditions – workplace, recreation, faith home, family traditions and more. They ground us and give us meaning and connectedness with each other. What are the traditions in your life that you hold?
The song Tradition from the play speaks about starting Hebrew school at three, learning a trade at ten, getting married. Papa makes the living, feeds the family, while Mama practises making a proper home and teaching the daughters to mend, tend and fix. These traditions seem long ago and far away but they’re not really. Just look at your parents’ or grandparents’ lives and the pattern or programme that was followed…traditions. Through these come the traditions around Christmas and New Year’s, Easter and summer weekends. Church life has traditions too. Traditions give us patterns and expectations. Sometimes though, it is time to break with the pattern, alter the tradition, begin something new. And that is all part of life too.
Life is about the excitement of new beginnings and new adventures. It is also about closing chapters, saying good bye, moving on. From closing the chapter of being pregnant, to the excitement of a newborn, through the closing chapters of infancy and early childhood as your son or daughter goes to kindergarten, and you cry. Then it happens again as they’re finishing high school and preparing for university, and you cry again. These are the ups and downs of joy and grief. Life is a series of welcomes and letting go. And each time we let go, we grieve, and forgive, and make room for new life and love, new welcomes and new joys. The crazy thing about life is that sometimes the joys and the griefs happen at the same time.
In the church year, we celebrate faith while we remember the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate the lives of our loved ones, while we grieve the loss of them from us, while we journey in faith day to day. Life’s crazy like that eh?
So where are you today? Celebrating a joy in life or grieving the close of a chapter, or the loss of someone from you? Wherever you may be, I pray you know that you are never alone, that God journeys with you, with us, through and with each other, as the grace that pours to us and through us all.
May you remember that the driven life is not soulful, not fulfilling, not healthy. In that life there is no room for living, no room for letting go, for grieving fully, for opening your heart to new life and to love.
firstname.lastname@example.org 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God we begin in you, we end in you and begin again in you. Through our days, weeks and years, we celebrate joys, we grieve sorrows, we forgive wrongs, and open our hearts to love again and again. As we move into the season of Lent through this week, may we have the courage and the freedom to name what rests in our hearts, turn it all over to you, and ready ourselves for whatever might be. May we faithfully let life unfold and not be afraid. In and with Christ we pray. Amen.
Genesis 9:8-17 The covenant between God and Noah.
Psalm 25 Lead me in your truth, O God.
I Peter 3:18-22 Baptism now saves you.
Mark 1:9-15 The baptism, temptation and mission of Jesus.
- Who spent a long time in the wilderness?
- When did the Last Supper occur?
- How many legs does a centipede have?
- How many toes has a two-toed sloth?
Know where we have been… February 6, 2018
Did you ever have that one teacher who made such a difference in your life, in your understanding of life, or who introduced something to you that changed your life? I’ve had several. The first, though, was Mr. Sullivan, grade nine, at Woburn Collegiate in Scarborough. Any other Woburnites out there?
The course was called Classical Heritage. In it, Mr. Sullivan taught us about evolution, the first civilizations, then the Greeks and Romans, their gods, and their languages. He taught us some Latin and encouraged us all to study Latin. Of course I did for the next four years along with French, Spanish and Italian. Altogether I learned about the evolution of language and that all things evolve, develop and change over time. Just think…there was a time when there was no such word as computer or astronaut.
Learning about evolution in all the different ways of being human helped me to understand the human story, and even my story, as one in which I exist but change, or evolve, over time. I am not who I was five years ago, or last year even, nor who I will be five years from now. And neither is the church. For two thousand years the church has been growing and changing, evolving, too. Who we are in the world today is a result of our story, our journey. There’s a saying: To understand where you’re going, you must know where you’ve been. This is true about the church.
On Thursday mornings, the bible group has been watching a dvd of the story of Christianity over the last 2000 years. This is a story from the first apostles, to Christianity having an empire, a creed and holy scriptures, through Gnosticism and monasticism, to the fall of the Roman Empire, and the conflicts between Rome and Constantinople, and more. Each of the segments, or shifts in the Christian story, affected who we are today. We can ask with each chapter, what of that period has shaped us, why and how? We’ve only made it to the 500s A.D. (year of our Lord) or CE (Common Era). We continue to watch a chapter each week.
So… some questions: What is the story of your life, who you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going? Where has God been along this journey and how have you changed, evolved, through the years in your understanding or beliefs or experience of God? And…would you be interested in joining a discussion group, perhaps for two or three nights over a couple of weeks, to watch the History of Christianity and explore where we’ve been, where we are today, and where we might be going? Just let me know and then I’ll work with the calendar and get back to you.
Peace to your hearts as you remember what was, what is and what may be, for God in Christ is with you along the way, throughout your whole story, from beginning to end, and on…
Rev. Deb email@example.com 905-6668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, for the wonders of creation we are thankful. For the stories of the changing journey of all things, we are amazed. For the ability to learn and discover the knowledge of your world that we are called to care for, we are grateful. For the curiosity and courage to learn and grow in our awareness of you by faith, may we always ask, seek and find. In and with Christ we pray, morning to night, night to dawn. Amen.
2 Kings 2:1-12 Elijah is taken up into heaven.
Psalm 50 God summons the earth.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6 The light of knowledge shines in our hearts.
Mark 9:2-9 The Transfiguration of Jesus.
- Who was Elijah anyway?
- Did Elijah go to heaven?
- What is the speed of light?
- Can you see light?
We Can See You! – January 30, 2018
Okay…lots of threads coming together from last week are in this email. First, do you remember Romper Room? Do you remember the lady with the, what I thought was a broken mirror, through which she would say, “I see Michael and Joanie and …” That’s all I remember. But I remember. Why? Why was she doing that? Was it spooky?
I used to tell my kids that all mothers have eyes in the back of their heads under their hair and that is why moms know what you’re doing when you don’t think they’re paying attention. My eldest son once went looking for my hidden eyes. They are not there. Creepy thought though.
Did you know you can google an address and zoom in with satellite and even see someone sitting on their front porch or in the backyard? Try googling your own address. What you see is what others can see too. Tidy or neat. It’s there for all to see…and easily. Now try googling a city in another country. This brings a whole new meaning to ‘how low can you go’? No limbo stick here!
This week in National Geographic the cover story is ‘The New Big Brother.’ The story is on the surveillance in our society through satellites, cameras and phones. We are being tracked more than we know…maybe more than we care to know and therefore don’t question it. Some surveillance is good as cameras watch for crimes being committed, suspects to be apprehended, maybe especially during large gatherings of people or when there are important people to be protected. But when are our personal rights invaded? When are we over-watched? The author of the article says he is captivated by the “basic spectacle that” we can be “watched so closely and everywhere [we] go.” Think of Facebook and the power of social media to spread very quickly personal photos of tragedies or witnesses’ cell phone camera shots of …whatever. And then comes the public court trial. Scary. On one given day through Planet’s Dove satellites there were 133 satellites transmitting images; 10,000 photos each satellite shoots in a day; 1.3 million images collected in a day. How many might you be in?
This led me to Big Data. According to google, Big data is a term that “describes the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – that inundates a business on a day-to-day basis.” And not just business. We are the source of the data, almost everything we think and do. Big data is data accumulated that is so “voluminous and complex that traditional data processing application software are inadequate to deal with them.” In Big Data, extremely large data sets may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to our human behavior and interactions, yours, mine, what we buy, when, where and some say the logarithms can project when you will go shopping and what you will buy and into the future too. I imagine some Big Data calculating when I buy toilet paper and knowing then to promote specials to me or raise the prices?
Does this make you think of George Orwell’s 1984? His book was one of a dystopian time of political tyranny, mind control, paranoia and secret mass surveillance. Moving on…
What has all this to do with God? My question is: how do we understand God’s surveillance? If God is all knowing, omnipotent and omniscient, what exactly does God know and when and how? Deists are those who believe God created the world, then like a watchmaker, set it in motion, and stepped away with no further interaction. As Christians, we believe God is connected and interacting with the world through the Spirit. So…what then are the limits, boundaries, parameters of God’s knowledge, power, and/or willingness to intercede in our lives? Are there times when God doesn’t do something in answering prayer because God can’t or God won’t and why? And if that is so, and we can, should we?
A theological conversation for a lengthy evening of dinner and …
what about the bug on the wall….?
Peace to your hearts always,
And your reflecting on God in your life and your work,
905-668-3091 ext. 222 firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayer for the Week: Ever present God, we sing of your eternal presence, of your unchanging spirit, of your being the Alpha and Omega, omnipotent, omniscient, and holy mystery, creator, redeemer, sustainer. There are so many words and concepts we use to try to understand and name how we know you, or try to know you. Sometimes our notions become so complex. As we move through this week, day in and night out, guide us to live lovingly, with care, with an openness to your presence that we are not alone. Help us to see that today we don’t have all the answers. We may not tomorrow either. And that is okay. Coming to deeper faith, deeper understand of your essence is part of discovering you and discovering ourselves too. May we learn to live in awe of all you are and may be. May we learn to experience the wonder of you through the wonder of nature and every human being. May we learn to come to hold you as Love itself, the source of love, that is poured out for us and that comforts us always, couching our living, our coming in and our going out. May we trust in faith, hope and love and know that love is the greatest of these three. In and with Christ we pray. Amen.
Isaiah 40:21-31 Those who wait upon God shall renew their strength.
Psalm 147 God heals the broken-hearted.
I Corinthians 9:16-23 I have become all things to all people for the gospel’s sake.
Mark 1:29-39 Simon’s mother-in-law and many others healed.
- Why are Paul’s letters to the Romans and then to the Corinthians the first letters in the New Testament and not say, I Thessalonians?
- An unknown teacher named John wrote what we call I John, II John and III John. How else are these letters referenced because of their theme?
- What is the main ingredient of air?
- What has nitrogen got to do with beer?
What’s the Question? – January 23, 2018
I don’t watch a lot of television, but I do remember a game show that is perhaps still on tv. The point of the game show was for contestants to provide the question to the answer they were told. I believe it went something like: the answer is the Nile. They then had to offer ‘what is’ ‘the river in Egypt.’ Or something like that. I think we could have a lot of fun making our own game using bible stories and church themes in general.
Anyway… with a gift certificate from Christmas I bought a couple of new books. One is titled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Not so brief actually. Four hundred and sixteen pages of human history is told; it’s our human story. As much as this seems long, the reality is our history is but a blip in the overall time, or story, of the world that is nearly 14 billion years old. More on that book another time.
The other book is Jesus and Postmodernism. This is where the game show memory clicked in. The author asks, If Jesus is the answer, as some Christians say, then what is the question? What is the question that Jesus answers? Just sit back and think about what those questions might be and then maybe question … from where do your questions come?
Is the Jesus of history the same as our Christ of faith? Is Jesus the one who inaugurated a new reality? A new moral or religious way of life? In what way? Are you sure? Or does he give hope for life in a death focused culture like ours? Was the Jesus of history somehow a modern man in the wrong time? Jesus is the answer…to which question for you?
As you can imagine, this leads into deeper and deeper theological, and fun questions. So, if Jesus is the answer around salvation from sin, or as some say the Fall, then what was the Fall exactly and when? And if you believe, as I do, in evolution and the Big Bang and an expanding universe, then what was the Fall in this creation story from which Jesus recovers or redeems us?
Yes, I know, heavy theology this week. Or…let’s just go write a game using bible stories and church themes and let the theology unfold as it will. I used to be able to give key words or names from the bible stories to my kids before bed, and they’d tell me which story they were from and all about it. It was a lot of fun. How did you learn the bible stories? Which ones? And …where did Jesus fit in?
May you always know God’s presence, for the bible tells us so…
email@example.com 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God, Holy Mystery, sometimes we stop during the busyness of our days and just wonder about the world, and about our faith, and what we believe or know about you. We want our reasoning to prove our faith. We want our beliefs about your presence and creation to make sense with our knowledge of the world, of the world’s and our origins. Help us to understand the different truths that reason through science and faith through the bible and experience show us. May our hearts, minds and spirits learn to hold all truths, all hope, all witness, together, that the miraculous wonder of your essence as Creative and Nurturing Love will leave us in awe of all that is. May we come to know love among us as your Love with and within us, just as it is written, God is Love. May we have the courage to ask questions and explore answers. May we know ever deeper what it is to live with and in Christ together. Amen.
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 God will raise up a prophet after Moses.
Psalm 111 The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. (some translate the word for fear as awe)
I Corinthians 8:1-13 Concerning food offered to idols.
Mark 1:21-28 A man with an unclean spirit is healed in Capernaum.
- Answer is: The Second Law. What is the question?
- Answer is: The Covenant Code. What is the question?
- Answer is: Thirteen point five billion years ago. Question is: What happened?
- Answer is: B.C. Question is: What does B.C. mean?
Lucifer – January 16, 2018
Months ago, a friend of mine suggested I start watching the series Lucifer. I was hesitant as I don’t watch much tv but over Christmas I gave it a shot. Wow was I surprised! Not only is the character development intriguing, but so is the way the writers address some theological issues and beliefs about God, Satan, angels, and humanity. The biggest surprise for me has been that Lucifer, the Lord of Hell, is a punisher not the one that makes you do evil. His role, as he says often, is to punish those who arrive there. This made a connection for me with a news item.
Early in December, it was reported that an old theological question was raised by Pope Francis about the Lord’s Prayer and that his question might lead to changes in the words. The Pope believed the prayer could be better translated. His suggestion was internationally reported and apparently rekindled tensions between Christian groups or sects. But I think it is a really good question. The Pope has suggested that the line in the prayer that says, “Lead us not into temptation” was a poor translation because, according to the Pope, only Satan, not God, leads people into sin. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” would be a better translation the Pope suggested. He added that “A father doesn’t do that,” that the Father, or God, “helps you …. What induces into temptation is Satan.”
So what do you think? Rather …what do you believe? Does God lead us into temptation, into evil, as we say in our prayer? Is there a Satan? What is Satan to you? Do you believe in a Lord of Hell? Do you believe in Evil? These are questions we’ve chatted on now and then in our Thursday morning group. Especially, we’ve asked the question, if one were to believe that God only gives you what you can handle, then doesn’t God have to be the source of bad things happening? And just think of the worst things that can happen. Do you believe God is behind them?
I personally don’t believe that. Once a very wise person said to me, “Don’t confuse God with life.” This person explained that life happens, it just unfolds and happens. God isn’t the source of bad things happening or evil. We are. But God is with us through all things – good and bad. From or through God, we find hope, strength, courage and compassion to meet the next day and life, day in and day out. I believe this. God is with us all the time.
But here’s a little twist. We also say God is the creator of all things. So…is God the creator of evil after all? I find my answer in a softer theology of God. What about you? And…we really must pay attention to the words we pray and the lyrics we sing. They might just be saying things we don’t believe or, at least, we should question.
May you know God’s presence always,
Rev. Deb firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayer: Holy God, we know you in different ways, out of many different experiences, even by different names at times, yet we seem to agree that you are the source of all, the source of life and love in this world. As we move through our days and nights, help us to see the work of your Spirit of Compassion and Grace in this world. Guide us to follow where you lead us. May we come to know you through Jesus as the way we are to be, to live, and to love in peace and justice, in communion, with you, each other, the stranger, and all of creation together. We ask these things trusting you are always with us, beyond us, around us, among us and within us too. Amen.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 Jonah calls Nineveh to repent.
Psalm 62 Be still, my soul, and wait for God.
I Corinthians 7:29-31 The time is short for the present form of the world.
Mark 1:14-20 Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John.
- Where do you find the book of Jonah in the bible?
- What is the Book of the Twelve?
- What is in an atom?
- When were electrons discovered?
Ralph Waldo Emerson, et al… – January 10, 2018
Over the last few days I’ve heard a number of folk comment on things they didn’t get done, especially last year, and they have generally said something like “there’s always tomorrow…for dreams to come true”…na that’s from a song. But they do say, “there’s always tomorrow.” It made me think of the last line in Gone with the Wind, “tomorrow is another day.” Do you remember Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara saying this? Remember her passion and her face? It was about hope for a transformation, a new tomorrow for her and those around her.
The other night Oprah Winfrey said, “Time is up.” Another woman said to me, “This year will be different.” In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for next week’s readings, he says, “The time is short for the present form of the world.” Each of these sayings reflects hope for transformation and a better, new world to come. There are even songs with lines like “A new day is dawning” and “Morning has broken like the first morning.” We live in and with hope and it begins in us even as we see ourselves as the new temple, or sanctuary, in which God lives, in which love resides.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. One of his most famous quotes is this:
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
Every new morning, each new day, offers us a second chance, a new beginning, to try again, or discern, or act. This is good. For some things it is okay to put off for tomorrow, knowing we can give it another shot, or more time. But…for some things, we must deal with it today because it is time and there really is a time for all things under heaven. The skill, the art, the gift of discerning is that which leads you to know which is which.
So for you, which are those things you must do today? What must you decide or act upon today because it is time? And then let go of the journey that led you to this place. And which things may you ponder longer and carry over, or try again, pray on with God, till tomorrow, and then decide or act, because tomorrow is another day, a day for new hope to begin again?
Whatever happens, as people of hope, and promise, of God and of Love, the future that lies before us we shape with God and God with us. Know this to be true.
May you know God’s presence always in the depths of your hearts,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God of new beginnings, new wonders, and new hopes, as we move ever deeper into this week, this month, this year, fill our hearts with hope, our minds with wisdom, our spirits with discernment. Reveal to us, by the light and love of the Christ in our lives, that to which you call us to be and to do. May we hear your call. May we answer. Amen.
I Samuel 3:1-10 God calls Samuel.
Psalm 139 God has searched and known me.
I Corinthians 6:12-20 Your body is a temple of God’s Spirit.
John 1:43-51 Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael.
- If you are a barren, older woman in the bible, what happens?
- Who was Samuel’s mother?
- Which is the commonest material in the world? Oxygen, Carbon, Nitrogen, Water?
- What does the moon smell like?
New Year’s Resolutions…baaa humbug! – January 3, 2018
I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions because I think we just set ourselves up for failure or disappointment or whatever. So…baa. Humbug. I’ve said it. But I do believe in carrying forward from the previous year. Now that may seem surprising. Let me explain.
One of my dear friends, and her husband, breed and train puppies for seeing-eye dogs. They also have several dogs of their own living in their home altogether, and with puppies, they can have ten or more dogs to love and be loved by. She has told me that losing a dog, putting a dog down, is so very hard for them. To enter their grief and let go, they take time to honour the dog, celebrate the dog’s life, and give thanks to the dog for what they learned by their sharing life together.
I think any previous year can be seen like a dutiful, caring, companion, like a loving dog, with whom we have shared the experiences of the year and learned together. So….moving into this year, what did you learn from your shared life with your companion 2017?
Over last year, many people in my life, family, friends and church family too, had sad times, challenging times, happenings in life that led to grief. And many knew love too, deep love that they couldn’t ever fully describe. I believe, from journeying with them, and with 2017, I have learned many things. Many of these I already knew and I think that I can perhaps now put together and offer in this new way, this …prayer? Let’s see.
Holy God, People hope and pray for many things.
People hope and pray for that which they know is possible.
We pray for healing, mending, and cures. We pray for forgiveness and deeper faith.
We pray for world peace knowing
All these things are possible.
We don’t hope and pray for the impossible. We know the difference.
If we lose a leg or an eye, we don’t pray for it to grow back.
That is not possible. But we do hope and pray for strength,
courage and perhaps an artificial limb or a false eye or a seeing-eye dog.
Sometimes life shows us that our hopes and dreams and prayers
are no longer possible and so we change them and a new hope begins.
But the end of the first hope leads to loss and grief and the need to let go.
And that is hard. And it hurts.
People say love hurts. Love doesn’t hurt. Love is beautiful and warm and caring and wonderful.
Love doesn’t hurt, but the loss of love, or the absence of love, hurts.
That hurt is grief. Grief hurts.
Grief is love and passion with nowhere to go, nowhere to be shared.
Or no longer shared because of life’s happenings, beginnings and endings.
And the only way through grief, the remedy, is to love all the more,
to pour out our love in new ways.
And guess what?
Love finds you and heals the loss and the grief. New life begins, not forgetting,
but with new hope once again, carrying forward all that once was,
into a time of what now might be.
Hopes and dreams. Love and new life.
That’s the resurrection story.
I believe this is the learning I gained from 2017, the dog-like companion of the days and the nights journeying with family, friends, and my church family too. Thanks to all of you for your sharing of your lives with me. Now, what did you learn that you will carry on into 2018?
May you know God’s presence and peace always,
In the depths of your hearts,
Prayer: Holy God, of all things, all times, all places, as we move into this new year, may we carry with us all that we learned from the year before, all the love we received, all the love we gave, all the grief healed, all the losses let go, all the challenges discerned, all the blessings of life and love molded into our hearts forever more. May all these things shape our beings, our living, our loving, and our faith in the year ahead and all those to come. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Scripture for Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6 Arise, shine, for your light has come.
Psalm 72 God’s anointed defends the poor.
Ephesians 3:1-12 Boldness and confidence through faith.
Matthew 2:1-12 The visit of the magi.
- What is the original meaning of Isaiah 60?
- What is the original meaning of Psalm 72?
- Were they wise men or kings?
- How many were there?
Happy New Year Everyone!
Ear worms – Week of December 18, 2017
For the last week I’ve had an ear worm, that is, a song stuck in my head that suddenly begins to play when I least expect it, and then won’t go away. It came about because of the last piece of music on our second Advent service, Let there be peace on earth… ah…there it goes again.
I find it amazing having an ear worm – stuck song – in my head. And when it happens, no matter the song, the season, the location, the timing, I still find I really wonder why this song and not another.
I think songs become ear worms because they touch us deeply, mean something so rich and true and connect to our hearts, our dreams, our hopes, that our spirits are singing. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…
I hope this Christmas you might take time to listen to all sorts of music for the season: old music, traditional, carols, hymns, pop Christmas music, elevator music, wherever and whenever you can. Share the music of Christmas time with your family, friends, neighbours, in your cars, sing them out loudly. And may your spirit plant the notes of hope and dreams and happiness into the hearts and minds of those who hear you. May you give each other ear worms, hear them, hum them, sing them, share them and know that God hears you too.
Peace to your hearts always, and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Prayer: Holy God of Christmas, may the hope for all things shine through me; may the peace for the world truly begin in me; may the joy of faith hold and centre me no matter what; may the love of the Christ flow through me by your grace ever present throughout the world, beyond us, with us, within us this day and always. Amen.
Scripture for Advent Four
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Who will build God’s house?
Luke 1:47-55 Song of Mary
Romans 16:25-27 Glory to the only wise God through Jesus Christ.
Luke 1:26-38 The angel Gabriel visits Mary.
Scripture for Christmas
Isaiah 9:2-7 A child has been born for us.
Psalm 96 Sing to God a new song.
Titus 2:11-24 Live a godly, upright life.
Luke 2:1-14 Jesus birth.
- Why doesn’t Mark give a nativity story of Jesus’ birth?
- Which nativity story do you favour? Matthew or Luke, and why?
- What does Yule mean?
- What are the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Who is pregnant? – week of December 11, 2017
Now that’s a surprising title don’t you think? And you don’t have to email back and let me know. I was just furthering on a question that was raised at another meeting this morning. Who is pregnant? Not me!
Whenever we hear a story, even bible stories, we tend to relate to a character that perhaps has something in common with our own stories. Think about when you were young…Gilligan’s Island or Batman or The Flintstones or …Mission Impossible…just think. Which character did, or do, you relate to or wished you could be when you were young? Why? Think of the Disney movies. That picks up from another conversation in Toronto. How much do little girls relate to Cinderella or Snow White and little boys to Aladdin and the Lion King? How much are we shaped by those characters in those stories? Or…David and Goliath, Jonah, Job, Paul?
And what about the Jesus story? Who do you relate to: Jesus, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men/astrologers, the star, the sheep? What about Mary? I think girls relate to Mary, the girl who becomes pregnant. But can we all re-wire our brains and think about Mary, and relate to her, and her pregnancy? Can we all be pregnant this Christmas? Men too?
I think for us all to be pregnant it is to say that there is room inside each of our hearts for the Christ-child to be laid and to grow with us, within us. Beyond that, if you think about Jesus’ life, as we do through the Christian year, where are you in your life if your life were to be laid beside his life? Are you just feeling the Spirit moving in you waiting for new life to be born? Are you in the time of Epiphany having epiphanies of understanding about who God and Christ are to you, revelations shall we say? Are you in a growing and learning time, like through Lent, discovering how and where you need to be to follow God? Have you been through a wilderness time and are now seeing a Promised Land, or have you been lifted up from a dark time like a cave and feel the Easter of new life? Or are you in a place of thankfulness and joy and celebration like the Great Fifty Days of Easter? Where are you in the Jesus story? Where are you in the Advent Christmas story? Maybe we can just say, there are many ways to be pregnant. In what way are you pregnant?
Happy Advent to All,
email@example.com 905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God of imagination and wonder, as we wait through this last bit of Advent time, guide us in the preparations of our homes and our hearts. Move our minds to different characters in the nativity story of Jesus. Fill our Spirits with the joy of faith that comes from hope and peace. And may we know and show the love of Christ as the child is born in us again this year. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 The spirit of the Lord is upon me.
Psalm 126 Sow in tears; reap in joy.
Luke 1:47-55 Song of Mary
I Thessalonians 5:16-24 Rejoice always; pray without ceasing.
John 1:6-8, 19-28 John testified to the Light.
- Read Isaiah 61:1-4. Where else is this said?
- Mary’s song is modelled after another song. Whose?
- What are frankincense and myrrh?
- What do the ox and the ass have to do with Jesus’ birth?
What’s the True Meaning of Christmas? – week of December 4, 2017
The other day I was walking through the mall looking at the glitter, the bright lights, the signs For Sale! Fifty percent off! Eighty percent off! And in a couple of stores, I saw cards and figurines of angels and shepherds, wise men and camels and…you know the picture. And there were the words Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays, and other such good wishes. I wondered. Who believes what because an awful lot of people celebrate Christmas?
Do you believe in angels? Do you believe in the Jesus story, some of it, all of it? Why? Why not?
Do you believe in God? How do you describe the God you believe in? Do the people wandering the mall wonder what I wondered? Do they believe? What is the true meaning of Christmas….2000 years ago nearly? And now? I really wanted to stop a few and ask them.
I believe we can find the true meaning of Christmas by looking at when and where it all began. In particular, what did each gospel writer, and Paul, say about this Jesus that made him so important that his story spread and a whole religion was formed and the church became what it is today? Instead of reading the gospels one after another, take a few moments to read first Mark, then Matthew, then Luke, then John. Just the birth narratives. What do each of them say about Jesus, about his birth, who was there and why, and about his ministry that unfolded? Each gospel writer tells a different story yet we repeat a harmonized version of their stories year after year. Does it matter?
Newsweek’s Special Edition ‘The Birth of Jesus Christ’ is a good read. It explores the miracle that inspires hope then and now by looking at the story of Jesus birth. As you read through, you might want to reflect on how we separate the sacred from the secular. How do you separate them in your heart, in your home, in your traditions? The sacred and the secular… while you ponder these things check out the following link…….what are you waiting for?
May the blessings of Advent flow deep into your hearts
that they might be open for the Christ child to be born this Christmas,
once again and always,
905-668-3091 ext. 222
Prayer: Holy God of Advent, these weeks before Christmas are our weeks to ponder, to wonder,
To prepare our homes and our hearts for the real meaning of Christmas. Guide us as we sing and pray, and live each night and day, with hope, peace, joy and love. May these be our hearts’ desires: that we will trust and hope in all things; that such hope will bring a peace in our hearts no matter what life presents; that the joy of faith will uphold us; that love will come to us and flow through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. May we be transformed by this Advent and Christmas from who we are now, to whom we might be, in and with the Christ. Amen.
Isaiah 40:1-11 Comfort, O comfort, my people.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 Will you be angry with us forever?
2 Peter 3:8-15a The day will come like a thief in the night.
Mark 1:1-8 The preaching of John the Baptizer.
- How many chapters in the scroll of Isaiah?
- Why is chapter 40 important?
First Century Trivia
- First century people in the Holy Land had to live with layers of political and social authority. What were they?
- What were the functions of the Temple in the first century Judaism?
Our future on Mars… week of November 27
Yup. That’s the title of the Popular Science magazine, special edition, this month. It adds, where we’ll be in 2035. So where will we be? Where do you think? Where do you hope we’ll be?
Some questions the articles pose are around dying on Mars, farming on Mars, skyping with Mars, the perils of radiation, whether our laws on earth will apply on Mars…you know…simple questions. But they are good ones. Sometimes our hopes need some fleshing out on the details to determine how and when they will be possible. But hope is hope.
This week is the first Advent of the new Christian year. The theme is hope. If we think back 2000 years to the people of Palestine, Jerusalem, Galilee, and the area, living in the midst of the Roman world, after the Greeks, after the Babylonian exile, and so on, and so on, what hope did they hold except the hope that God would bring about a salvation, freedom, and new life.
Some thought a messiah would come who would lead them against the Romans. Some thought he would be like King David. Maybe that’s partly why Jesus asked, Who do they say that I am? So many felt they were experiencing God in Jesus as he shared his table, taught like the prophets, healed many of physical ailments and cared for the poor overall. He brought and lived the hope they held.
Today, the church is supposed to be the embodiment of the Christ to live out all that Jesus said, did, loved, included, healed, and cared for. As the church, as Christians, we are to be the voice, hands and feet of Christ working for justice and peace. As we begin our new Christian year, our new journey into Advent once again, let us ponder what our future on Mars may be like, and what our future here can be like when we live into the hope and promise of the witnesses of the past. What do they say to us? What do they say to you?
May the Christ child be born into the mangers of your hearts this Christmas, as you’ve prepared that manger with the receiving blankets of hope, peace, joy and love.
905-668-3091 ext. 222 firstname.lastname@example.org
God of New Beginnings,
God of Advent,
As we move through the weeks ahead,
As we prepare our homes.
May we also prepare our hearts,
To hear the messages of the prophets,
To see the life of the Christ,
To transform our inner selves to be the mangers
For the birth of the Christ child once again.
May we know the hope, peace, joy and love
Of Advent that readies us for this birth.
May we be so moved
In and with the Risen Christ.
Isaiah 64:1-9 Tear open the heavens and come down.
Psalm 80 Shine upon us, shepherd of Israel.
I Corinthians 1:3-9 In every way, you have been enriched in Christ.
Mark 13:24-37 You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds.
- How large were the stones of the Temple begun by Herod the Great?
- When was the Temple destroyed and by whom?
- What is the problem with the dating of Jesus’ birth?
- What does A.D. mean?
- What does B.C. mean?
- What does CE mean?
- What does BCE mean?
Marionettes – week of November 20
Two articles crossed my path, my reading path that is, over this last while. I found I kept thinking of them. The first was from Christian Century in June titled ‘Not God’s Marionettes.’ The second was from Car and Driver this month titled ‘Autonomous.’ What kept whirling through my head were the questions: How much control do we have in our lives? And How much are our lives controlled?
As we move to having cars that are fully computer driven, who are we in this new transportation mode? The article describes how initially, in the early 1900s, it was mostly wealthy motorists, car owners, who wanted the cars to enjoy for themselves and to have them for their convenience. But the guardians of the new technology misbehaved and this led to a crack-down in the form of drivers’ licences and garages with security systems. Instead of chauffeurs, owners wanted control and to have the act of driving as their own kind of pleasure. Does this story remind you of another…in the garden maybe?
Anyway, what does autonomous vehicle mean? It seems to get rid of the actual driver that leaves the car in control, or rather, the car’s computer system in control. The car then does what it is told. The driver? I guess just says what he/she wants to do then sits there waiting till it happens (thoughts and prayers alone?). It is like leaving the task of driving up to a third party…the chauffeur again, the other guy. It is not really a self-driving car. That is misleading. It actually does the opposite as “the vehicle is embedded in a technological grid, tethered to the driving environments by a system of sensors and algorithms.” Marionettes?
There is a familiar spiritual catchphrase of our day that says “God has a plan for everything.” Catchphrases or clichés that are used to explain away a difficult situation, or maybe tragic circumstances, are not helpful to us and affect our understanding of God, our relationship with God, and are essentially bad theology turning us into marionettes. The idea of God’s plan may bring a measure of comfort to some who feel they’ve lost control in their lives, or that the universe isn’t safe or predictable, or maybe even friendly. But this assigns blame or credit to God for “outlandish things [that] can make hard or inexplicable situations suddenly seem reasonable.” If we are to assign to God the sovereignty that God causes all things in life…that’s scary. At least for me it is. Think how much we’d have to attribute to God!
I was once told don’t confuse God with life. And at first that’s weird. But really, I don’t believe God makes all things in life happen. I believe life happens and God is with us through all things. I don’t believe we’re marionettes to God’s will or mood. I don’t believe we’re totally autonomous either. I believe God’s Spirit of Love works in, with and through us always. That God journeys with us through all the ups and downs, wonders and tragedies of life. From this, we gain our courage, our strength, our will, and our hope. God’s reign, for me, begins in our hearts, mine, yours, the next, the next, and so on, and so on…spreading the kingdom (kin-dom) of love around the world till God in Christ truly reigns. What do you believe?
Heavy topic, heavy ponderings for this week. Or…ponder that autonomous car. Yikes.
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Prayer: Holy God, as we sit in the midst of changing times that present challenges to us, technologically, spiritually, ethically, we pray for your Spirit to be with us, guiding us with wisdom, leading us with compassion and challenging us with courage. May we be open to exploring, learning and growing in faith, in our understanding of you, each other and the whole world. May we be brought nearer to you, each other and the whole world by entering into a deeper and deeper and richer faith. In and with Christ we pray. Amen.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 God searches for the sheep; judges between the fat and the lean.
Psalm 100 Make a joyful noise all the earth!
Ephesians 1:15-23 May God give you a spirit of wisdom, revelation and hope.
Matthew 25:31-46 When you helped the least of these, you helped me.
- Who was Ezekiel?
- What was psalm 100?
- Where do diamonds come from?
- How do we measure earthquakes?