“You Did What?” – May 29, 2016 – Year C

“You Did What?”
May 29, 2016 – Year C – 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

When I was first ordained I served a small congregation in a community called Coleville north of Kindersley, Saskatchewan. In early September a man named Bob came back to his family farm to help with harvest. In mid afternoon he approached the end of one field and saw what he thought was a telephone line lying on the edge of the field. He got off the combine and picked it up and an electric current ran through him burning much of his body. His father was working on a nearby field and a short while later saw his son lying on the side of the field. Assessing the situation, the Dad called for an ambulance and a rescue crew arrived. Bob was taken to the Kindersley hospital, stabilized and placed in another ambulance to be transferred to the burn united at University hospital in Saskatoon. About 50 km. outside of Kindersley the ambulance hit some gravel and rolled, throwing all the attendants and Bob. Another ambulance was called, and eventually Bob made it into the burn unit. After many surgeries, amputations, skin grafts, and debriding’s – not to mention many months of hospitalizations, Bob returned home. Today he is playing golf in spite of prosthetic leg, arm and foot. He holds down a full time job and he is a proud grandfather.
In the Gospel of Luke we learn that Jesus heals a centurion’s slave. The centurion, a Roman police officer, gathered a group of Jewish elders to assist him in caring for his slave. Disregarding power and class the centurion showed amazing concern and compassion towards the unnamed slave. Directing the elders to approach Jesus the request for healing was made. Jesus was astounded at the faith of the military officer and the people who were in his circle. And the man without a name was restored into the community of acceptance with renewed health.
Once again in Coleville Saskatchewan lived an aged woman named Pearl. Pearl was hospitalized with her body shutting down and life draining from her aching bones and organs. Several times in the middle of the night her children and I were called to the hospital as death seemed imminent. Her breathing was slow and laboured. Her skin was pale and sweaty, her lips blue. Surely death would come soon for this hard working woman who cooked over a log burning stove. But sure enough she would rally and a few days later she would be sitting up in a chair looking perky. This cycle of being near death and the family and me called in to bring her comfort at her passing, only to have her rally and life being restored, was repeated several times. Pearl lived another 2 ½ years before she ultimately joined the great river of love in death.
Many of us know what it is to have life restored. Some have lived through cancer diagnosis and treatments and have lived past the wonderful 5 year marker. Some have lived through accidents and with physiotherapy and other care are able live quality lives. Some know the despair of depression and with medical and psychological interventions plus spiritual care are finding life has new meaning. Some know the devastation of abuse and are able to live restored and full lives thanks to counselling and compassion. Yes, many of us know what it is to have life restored.
In the Gospel of Luke we learn that Jesus heals a centurion’s slave. We too come before Jesus. Surrounded by friends on a similar spiritual journey, we approach the great healer and ask for new life. The healing we seek may be for peace in the midst of a busy period in your life. You may be seeking healing of aches and pains that prevent a good night’s sleep. Turn that need over to the great healer. Perhaps you are like the unnamed slave and are ill. Bring your illness faithfully before Jesus, and with wisdom, there will be information and guidance granted to you.
Healing takes many forms and patterns. Sometimes it is spiritual and we find ourselves encountering the life giving Spirit in new and wonderful ways. Sometimes it is physical and health is restored. Healing always draws us closer to the Holy One, if we but stop and give thanks.
May our faith be like that of the community that gathered around Jesus so long ago. And may new life and healing be granted to everyone of you! So be it. Amen.

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“Triple Reasons to Love” – May 22, 2016 – Trinity Sunday

“Triple Reasons to Love”
May 22, 2016 – Trinity Sunday – Year C

Tom Miller, a ministry colleague and author, tells about visiting a three generation family where the grandfather, son, and 4 year old grandson were all named John.
The phone rang.
“Hello” said one of the women in the household.
“May I speak to John, please?”
“Which John would you like to speak to? John the father, John the son, or John the holy terror?”
If you have one of the church calendars on your wall, you will notice that today is designated as ‘Trinity Sunday.’ Immediately following Pentecost, it is the Sunday where we examine the three ways we understand and experience God’s active presence with us. We celebrate the nature, activity and mystery of God. Both the reading from Romans and the Gospel of John speak of the wisdom and caring of our creator God, the saving action of Jesus the Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Writing to the Roman people, Paul reminded them that the human condition was such that they were “out of touch” with God and that their manner of living was hostile to God’s ways. In other words, the people messed up. But God made the first move. Just as creation began with a first move from God, so did our new life, when God brought about peace and reconciliation through Jesus Christ. This new life has not come about through our own desperate attempts at goodness but through God’s gracious action. God is the actor and is our great hope. The realization of the great gift made Paul ecstatic as he declared “and so we boast of the hope we have in sharing God’s glory!” Despite the hardship facing him, Paul is confident because he experiences God’s caring presence with him, through the Holy Spirit.
When a horrible tragedy struck a family in a community I once served, I was struck by the family’s strong faith. Their faith truly did sustain them, and continues to do so. Even to their un-churched friends and neighbours, the hope surrounding this family in the wake of such deep loss was truly inspiring.
That hope rests in Christ. It defines us as Christian people. It’s what makes us unique, and at times, even mysterious to those who cannot fathom the hope that remains even in seemingly hopeless circumstances. The epistle of Romans reminds us that our hope resides in Christ’s faithfulness to us, and that our hope never lets us down.
Sometimes hope really is “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” to quote Emily Dickinson. We can gladly celebrate those times when our hope is easily accessible and affirms our faith. But perhaps we can celebrate even more of those character-building struggles in which we find only a remnant of hope, one lone feather in what’s left of our soul. These are the moments that define us. In Christ, we hold on to that hope and never let it go.
In the passage from the gospel of John, Jesus is continuing to speak to the disciples at the Last Supper. But these are also the words of Jesus for the church. They are meant for us too. The followers of Jesus will never be abandoned. Jesus is trying to explain how the disciples will experience God’s presence and be guided after he is gone. It has not been possible for him to cover every situation that might arise. And, even it he had, it would have been too much for them. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will be with them to aid them in understanding questions they haven’t even thought of yet. This understanding is not passive but a wisdom that issues in action. The Holy Spirit has been sent from God to be our guide. As the Spirit guides, so it also teaches and interprets in order that we may be led to deeper understanding, and begin to follow a way of life that will conform to the teaching of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will continue to guide the church as it seeks to do God’s will in the world.
Many years ago I went to a home to plan a funeral. Upon arriving at the home, I was ushered downstairs to talk with all the grandchildren – the adults could wait. The grandchildren ranged from 3 to 16 years of age. They so wanted to talk about their grandpa. But they had questions that they wanted answered first. They wanted to know where was grandpa, right now. My answer was something like “he is with God, in a very peaceful and loving place.” Then came the most difficult question. How do you know? I answered something like, “I know your Grandpa loved you all so very much and so does God. And now God is looking after your Grandpa, forever and forever.” And that answer seemed to satisfy them. And so the grandchildren were then OK with me talking with their parents to plan the service.
I believe the Holy Spirit meets us where we are, and informs our hearts according to the needs of the day. By this gracious gift, God pulls up a chair and meets us in the location of our very souls, ever present with us as comforter, advocate, teacher, and guide.
Sometimes we talk about coincidences happening in our lives. They sometimes seem to be serendipity experiences. I prefer to look on them as the work of the Holy Spirit. You will often hear me say, “Oh the Spirit is at work again!” when something wondrous happens. Recently a friend was telling me that her daughter was able to find a second job to help pay for orthodontic care for her daughter. The family didn’t know if they would be able to give the daughter the braces she needed, but because the 2nd job opened up, the dental care is now a reality. “Oh the Spirit is at work again!” Just this week I was told that a colleague was sitting at her desk and a teenage Syrian fellow came into her office and said he would like to sponsor his mother and sister as refugees from Syria. Would the church be interested in helping? Up to this point the congregation had been talking about how terrible the conflict and drought in Syria is, wondering what their response might be. “Oh the Spirit is at work again!”
Are we open to experiencing the Spirit at work? Is our faith in Jesus our friend and companion deep enough that even in times when we struggle, we cling to the assurance that we are not alone? Thanks be to our gracious God who is beyond our understanding and yet dwells in us. What wonderful Good News this is! Amen.

Birthday Blessings – May 15, 2016

Birthday Blessings
May 15, 2016 – Year C – Pentecost

Wow! What a fabulous day it is. We have heard the most amazing scripture passage – not once but 3 times, with one more time coming up. You might be wondering why we are hearing this awesome account of spirit stirring, and dreams fulfilled, and doves descending, and people changed. Well – it is such an incredible account that just one telling doesn’t really do it justice. It rather rattles your bones when you breathe in the wonderful story of Pentecost.
Imagine that you are amongst a crowd of some 3,000 people and a violent wind stirs us. You grab your hats and pull your jackets a little tighter. Flames of fire dances – shooting up copper, blue, yellow, red, and orange tongues. They lap around you but do not consume. Differing languages are spoken. It is a cacophony of sound. God’s Spirit is at work, as we sing and dance, waving our hands and proclaiming the Good News. If you listen closely you hear Peter proclaiming the powerful words of the prophet Joel: “Your young shall see visions and your old shall dream dreams.”
Perhaps you are thinking that the impossible has happened. The birthing of the church into a community of people who are so turned on by God’s spirit at work – well, that is just pretty amazing. Something dramatic happens when a birth takes place. There is first a lot of dreams and aspirations for the new, young one. But for Mom there comes birth pangs. Birthing is not a gentle, quiet process. There is grunting and groaning. Oh – the words that are spoken! But the end result is awesome!
Pentecost is not some flash in the pan magic act. It is not a rock concert where the crowd is drunk and stoned. It is a birthing celebration where the church takes form and we are forever changed. Our tongues are loosened and we are bold enough to proclaim the blessing of Christ’s radical love. We sing boldly the hymn “Arise, your light is come! The Spirit’s call obey; Show forth the glory of your God, Which shines on you today.” Even though this hymn is associated with Christmas, it reminds us of the glory of the community of faithful who dare to honour the One who continues to birth new possibilities.
But, in this world of “Spiritual but not Religious,” we encounter many people who jeer and ridicule us for being part of the church. They suggest that they can be just as moral and righteous as we who regularly attend church. They say the church is a crutch. They criticize the church for being irrelevant and out of touch. They don’t get Pentecost. As people who are touched by the Pentecost spirit, we are transformed. We are filled with joy! Loud, excited, exuberant joy. In fact – nothing can keep us silent about how excited we are. We want everyone to know that the Spirit is at work in us. Don’t we?
Every thing available to experience this dramatic time of transformation is offered to us. Our sanctuary is decorated to be a feast for the senses. The red as a backdrop reminds us it is a high Holy day. The tongues of fire are depicted in the many drapes. The pin wheels whirl with the wind, breathing on us hope and dreams. And the dove brings us the message of new beginnings. Songs that stir reach deep into the core of our being. Gentle whispers reach mellow places.
Can you imagine our voices united proclaiming that Penticton United Church is the place to be for a warm welcome where everybody knows your name? Will you invite friends and neighbours to join you on Sunday mornings, because you know that you are warmed from the inside out and you wish your neighbour to have that experience. Will you talk about your Sunday morning worship experience while you are eating supper this evening? All this, and more is what being filled with the spirit is all about!
Will the words we utter each moment be filled with compassion and tenderness? Will our phrases be passionate but kind, so that they are no longer divided. Will we stop and hear the other for what they are not saying, as much as for what they are saying.
Can you imagine the Gay, Lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered community hosting a dinner for the ultra conservatives of our community? Can you imagine the young people who hang around our stair-wells and steps volunteering to help with Sunday School? Can you imagine the Hells Angels taking over putting on the Spring Tea and serving tea and coffee and the plates of sandwiches and dainties to our predominately seniors crowd. All of this Pentecost possible.
So it is that we dream. We dream big. We dream of our congregation celebrating the fact that we do good ministry. We celebrate that we care for the hungry, the lonely and the bereaved. We celebrate that each Sunday we congregate so that our voices can blend in wonderful harmonies. We celebrate that we are on fire with the Spirit. We dream that we will continue this vital ministry for many long years to come.
We may have come today to worship at church as individuals, but we leave it as community. We are a community that is strong, vibrant, and excited!

Hymn #207
Spirit of God, unleashed on earth
With rush of wind and roar of flame!
With tongues of fire saints spread good news;
Earth, kindling, blazed its loud acclaim.
You came in power, the church was born;
O Holy spirit, come again!
From living waters Raise new saints,
let new tongues hail the risen Lord
With burning words of victory won
Inspire our hearts grown cold with fear,
Revive in us baptismal grace,
And fan smouldering lives to flame.