“As For Me and My House” – November 5, 2017

          “As For Me and My House”

                          November 5, 2017 – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

Students of Canadian literature no doubt remember Sinclair Ross’s book “As For Me and My House”.  This classic story has been described as one of Canada’s greatest novels.  It explores life in the drought belt of Saskatchewan as experienced by the Bentley’s.  One commentator suggests “in this 2 fold study, Ross describes the barrenness of the West through the varying effects on the consciousness of a man and a woman who long to escape the taboos of their small prairie town.   In its depth of insight this book has become a classic in Canadian literature.”

For his first sermon in the small town of Horizon, Phillip Bentley preaches on the Hebrew Scripture text of Joshua 24 “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  Reading this story we are drawn into the complex and yet barren realities of life for a country preacher and his wife.  The tension between faithfulness and despair is evident in every phrase.   This story, that many of us studied in school, is an effective backdrop as we examine our call to serve God.

“As for my family and me, we will serve God.”  That is a pretty dramatic pronouncement, isn’t it?  “As for me, I will serve God” is the commitment I made with my confirmation many years ago.  To commit oneself to the challenge and opportunity of serving God is a big step of faith.  Yet each and every day countless people are prepared to direct their lives in such a way that God is honoured.

And that is exactly what the ancient Israelites were called to do.  It is a story about choice.  So let’s stop for a few minutes and examine the text.  Today’s lection is a formal ritual or dialogue between Joshua – who represents God – and Israel.    In this text, we are reminded that God had acted on the promise of salvation and as a result Israel was being forced to decide whether or not to follow God.  The choice, though,  was anything but casual or easy.  The difficulty of the option is underscored in the structure of the passage as well as by its language.   In hearing the passage, we recognize legal overtones as we today are challenged to make a choice.  This is an effective discourse in that God’s past acts of salvation are recounted before the scene shifts to a current time.  In bringing the context to the present the people of Israel were confronted with the need to make a clear decision to follow God.   Some might say that the choice was a “no brainer”.  What is clear is the preference was obvious and Israel responded affirmatively to the question of following God.  But, it was as if Israel’s decision was too casual for Joshua, and a whole new cycle started yet again.  Later in our text Joshua confronted Israel with the need and danger of making a choice to enter into covenant with God.  And once again the people express their will to follow God.  Using the tools of language, it was explained why the whole process was repeated.

Needless to say – this account is challenging and even troubling.  There seems to be no room for compromise.  But – as we reflect on this time in the history of the Israelite people, it is clear that a significant decision was being called for.  The people were offered three choices as to whom they would follow and honour: 1) God –  2) the gods of the ancestors in the region beyond the River – 3) the gods of the Amorites in whose land they were living.

In today’s language the 3 choices are: to remain faithful, to revert to the past, or to blend in with the surrounding culture.  When we put it in this kind of language, we may well feel that Joshua was describing our own situation with uncomfortable accuracy.

And then Joshua uttered powerful words that speak to us across the millennia.  Stating his own decision Joshua says “as for me and my family, we will serve God.”  I can’t help wondering what our world would look like if each of us who commit ourselves to serving God really did try to live as God would have us.  Would we affirm one another rather than tear others apart?  Would our care and concern be visible and audible – with tender words, unsolicited acts of kindness, genuine affirmations?  Would we continually ask ourselves, “is this just?”  All of that and much more is how I understand serving God.

You have to admire Joshua.  In the midst of much stress he was determined to make sure that the Israelites knew what kind of God they had pledged themselves to serve.  Joshua told the people that they could not serve God, because God is separate and holy, and that the choice in favour of following God could be very dangerous.  Fear was planted, with the suggestion that if the people failed to live up to their obligations, God might do them harm.

To understand God in this way reminds me of a cartoon in the New Yorker.  The setting is a large office with a secretary at a desk.  Another figure is walking past her toward a huge closed door.  As this person prepares to knock on the door, he turns to the secretary with an anxious look and asks, “Is he the God of the Old Testament or the New Testament this morning?”

To understand God as vengeful and unforgiving is chilling.  It is no wonder that the people of Israel were quick to agree to serve God.  They were scared.  They did not know God as loving and compassionate – but instead knew God as punishing and spiteful.  As we sit here in the comfort of this sanctuary, we too must ask ourselves, “who is the God that we serve?”  “What is God really like?”

Last week, while off on Study Leave, I re-read a number of thought provoking books by Bishop John Spong.  Bishop Spong believes that we are an exile people who will be accompanied by God into barren and unfamiliar places.  Rather than experiencing God as punitive and judgemental in the Hebrew Scripture sense, Spong understands God as companion into the exile and judge for the way of true justice.  Spong reminded us that if we truly seek to follow the way of God, we must be prepared to be different and direct our lives so that the oppressed and hurting are validated and find wholeness.

I’m impressed with Bishop Spong’s candour.  It is his contention that Christianity as we know it today must change radically or else it will be extinct in the not too distant future.  We can’t cling to time honoured creeds, hymns and traditions at the expense of a living faith that loves extravagantly and seeks justice for the oppressed.

I don’t think Joshua of old would argue against this position.  In fact, I believe that Joshua, in stating “as for me and my family, we will serve God” is telling all that he had made a choice to direct his full being in the way of faithfulness.

Those who are involved in 12 step programs say that you must “walk the walk and talk the talk”.   In other words we must be intentional in choosing to let go of false idols and security.  Instead we are to replace the god of money with the true God who grants strength to support the vulnerable.  Rather than giving lip service to the way of peace, we are to direct our lives so that our homes are filled with tolerance, understanding and compassion.  We are called to be a visible alternative to the ways of the world.

I for one, am committed to serving God.  What about you?  Are you prepared to offer yourself and those you love to the way of love, justice and new life?  Will you join me in honouring God in work and play and relaxation?  Will you throw caution to the wind and make the choice to live as God’s faith filled people?  “As for me, I will serve God.”  Amen.

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“It’s Party Time” – October 15, 2017

“It’s Party Time”
October 15, 2017 – Year A – 19th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Last weekend many of us gathered with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving.  It was like we were in the midst of a joyous party.  Great food.  Wonderful company.  Lots of stories were told.  For me, not only did I host a Thanksgiving Dinner, I also presided at a wedding.  So, it was double the fun!

Jesus tells a rather confusing story, or parable about a wedding banquet.  Food was made ready for cooking.  And so, the meal was prepared.  But horror of horrors, the invited guests didn’t show up.  The King’s slaves were sent out to find the guests.  But the slaves were seized and killed.  Enraged, the King sent his troops to destroy the murderers.  Then more slaves were sent into the city to find guests who would fill the hall.  Then, to make the story even more confusing, the King enters the hall and spots a man who is not wearing a wedding robe.  Speechless, the man ends up bound –  hands and feet, and thrown into the outer darkness.  “Many are called, but few are chosen,” so ends the tale.

This parable is full of allegory.  The King represents God, giving a banquet for the Son, the Messiah.  The people of the streets are the new Christians community – both Gentiles and Jews, who claim to be followers of Christ, but whose actions say otherwise. They are the people who throughout the ages have ignored the prophets and leaders who serve God.   The required “robe”, which the guest who was cast out does not have, is righteousness – the behaviour befitting someone who claims Jesus as Leader.  It is a warning to all who hears this tale, that no one can presume by virtue of their identity – or their baptism – their place in God’s great feast.

Let’s take a deep breath and slowly figure out what this parable means for us 21st century followers of God’s way of love, joy and celebration.  It is party time.  Even in the midst of catastrophic events happening all around the world, God want to throw a party.  You and I and the people who hang out in our stair-wells, and the children in our play-share program, and the Narcotics anonymous members who meet at noon hour, are all invited.  God wants people who are intentionally living the way of kindness, who speak truth – not gossip, who seek out others to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, and who are filled with grace.  They are the ones who are robed with joy and righteousness.  There is a place for all of these people at the banquet that God is hosting.

In one of my previous congregations, there was a fellow from the community who came to every funeral service held at the church.  He sat through the service and then joined us in the hall for the reception.  Over the time I was at that church, I learned that this man came to the services, not to pay respect to the deceased or their family, but because he loved to eat and visit with others.  He loved to be in community.  He couldn’t afford our fund-raising dinners, but he sure loved our funeral receptions!

As I wrote this message I had the song “Cabaret” by Liza Minneli, playing in my head.  The words are this:

What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret, old chum
Come to the cabaret

Put down the knitting, the book and the broom
It’s time for a holiday
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret

Come taste the wine
Come hear the band
Come blow that horn
Start celebrating right this way
Your table’s waiting

What could permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret.

God’s kingdom is a party.  It’s a celebration beyond any celebration we have ever seen.  We are not in charge of the celebration.  It’s Jesus’ party.  Jesus can invite whomever he wants.  The Pharisees had a problem with the kinds of people Jesus hung out with.  That should not be our problem.  “God is not looking for warm bodies.  God is looking for wedding guests who will rise to the occasion of honouring the Son.” (Barbara Brown Taylor).

Let’s remember that in the midst of hard times, God calls us to a wedding banquet.  Please respond joyfully- thankfully – faithfully!  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Is it Thanks Giving or Giving Thanks?” – October 8, 2017

“Is it Thanks Giving or Giving Thanks?”
October 8, 2017 – Thanksgiving Sunday – Year A

 

Growing up in Calgary, it was my family’s tradition to spend the thanksgiving weekend raking leaves.  Saturday was a full day of raking and bagging the leaves.  On Sunday morning, I would walk by myself to church while my Mom and Dad and sister were attending a competitive swim meet.  Once the swim meet was over, it was homeward bound and Linda and I and our Dad would get to work finishing off raking the leaves.  Mom was inside preparing a chicken or small turkey for our family meal.  Monday was more raking.

We didn’t have much by way of family tradition concerning this day of giving thanks.  We had a family meal, complete with pumpkin pie to finish the meal.  Ours was not a family who went around the table and asked what you were thankful for this year.  We didn’t think about giving a food hamper to those less fortunate then ourselves.  We didn’t give an extra thank offering to the church, likely because, I was the only one of our family who regularly went to church.

Once I moved to St. Catharines Ontario and worked for the YMCA I spent many thanksgiving weekends working.  So, there was no turkey and pumpkin pie in those days.  It wasn’t until I went to seminary that we as students pooled our resources and invited those who were at loose ends on Thanksgiving Sunday to gather for a potluck supper, usually at my home.

It was when I was Ordained and began serving in churches that I became aware that there are many folk, like myself who are single or in partnership and crave to be together with others so they might give thanks for God’s abundance.  And so, I started the tradition of inviting folk to my table for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter Sundays.  Anyone who is on their own, either as a single, double or in-between is invited.  I am richly blessed that I can share good food, interesting conversation, and lovely friendship.

What are your memories of Thanksgiving weekend from earlier days?  Did you have traditions that you still follow?  What new traditions have you incorporated into your way of honouring this special weekend?  This church has the tradition of decorating the chancel with harvest fruits, vegetables and grasses.  This weekend it is extra special as the 2 bouquets on the communion table are there from yesterdays wedding of Cory Nelmes and Joseph Burt.

Another tradition of churches like ours is reading the story from Deuteronomy of the abundance that God provided to the Israelite people as well as listening to the amazing account of the healing of a group of lepers while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  Without these two beloved accounts, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same.

Both lections remind us of the gratefulness we feel as we respond to God’s abundance.  It is natural to turn and say thanks when one feels blessed.  However, that leaves us pondering why the other people who were cured of leprosy didn’t stop and express gratitude?  Admittedly, they were a group of outsiders, a group from Samaria.  They were despised.  The Samaritans were culturally inferior, theological and liturgical heretics.

The story of the 10 lepers is a puzzling one.  One minute they were shouting “have mercy on us” and the next they were making tracks out of sight.  All except one, that is.  One realized he was healed and turned toward Jesus, falling at Jesus’ feet.  Thank You!  Thank You!  Thank You!  He gratefully praised Jesus.

Jesus was rather astounded that only one person expressed his appreciation.  “Where are the others, questioned Jesus?”  Then Jesus said an interesting thing, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

It would seem that gratitude has something to do with faith.  We know that although he was an outsider, he never-the-less was filled with thankfulness.  For Jesus to say, “your faith has made you well” implies that faith and gratitude are closely related.  Faith without gratitude is no faith at all.  There is something lifegiving about gratitude.  We see that wellness, wholeness, and salvation are used in the Bible almost interchangeably.  So, it might have been that Jesus said, “your faith has made you whole”, or “your faith has saved you”.

John Buchanan, an American theologian, suggests “being grateful and saying thank you are absolutely at the heart of God’s hope for the human race and God’s intent for each of us.”  Medical research points to evidence that grateful people take better care of themselves, and that gratitude is a stress reducer.  New studies point to grateful people being more hopeful and have an improved immune system.

This wonderful story of 10 of God’s precious people points us to a world of thankfulness.  One person was so grateful that he turned to Jesus and cried out Thank You.  The remaining 9 were also healed, but we have no record of them giving thanks.  Perhaps they still saw themselves as lepers, rather than whole, giving, grateful people.

What does this say to us, some 2000 years later.  I see many folk holding back their “thank you’s” as if there was a ration.  Rather than being generous and grateful, we respond briskly and coldly.  If we were to slow down, look around and see who can be thanked, our community will be a much happier one.  Many years ago, I was part of an organization that started a campaign entitled “kindness grows.”  We wore green lapel pins with the phrase “kindness grows” on it.  The objective was to live out ways of being kind.  It was amazing how many ways that kindness was expressed.

So, why don’t we each commit ourselves to be a little more thankful.  Let us act in ways that express gratitude.  May we mirror God’s wondrous grace.  Let us give, over and over again, generously.

Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of all time, was fond of saying that the basic human response to God is gratitude – not fear and trembling, not guilt and dread, but thanksgiving.  “What else can we say to what God gives us but to stammer praise?”

Writer Anne Lamott says her 2 favorite prayers are, in the morning, “Help me.  Help me.  Help me.  And at bedtime, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”

On this Thanksgiving weekend, may we give thanks for God’s great abundance.  May are giving be generous, our loving be extravagant, and our thanks be genuine.  Amen.

 

“Called to Be the Church – Sing Thanksgiving – Part 4” October 1, 2017

“Called to Be the Church – Sing Thanksgiving – Part 4”
October 1, 2017 – World Wide Communion – Year A

A man was looking for a good church to attend, and he happened to enter one in which the congregation and the preacher were reading from their prayer book.  They were saying, “We have left undone those things we ought to have done, and we have done those things we ought not to have done.”   The man dropped into a seat and sighed with relief as he said to himself, “Thank goodness, I’ve found my crowd at last.”

Here it is, World Wide Communion Sunday.  It is also our final day of our “Called to be the Church:  We Sing Thanksgiving” stewardship program.  It is a day where we sit into our pew and gather with our crowd, both near and far.  We raise our voices in thanksgiving, for this church and the people who make it home.  We rejoice that we share the bread and wine with Christians around the world, celebrating the unity of being followers of Jesus the Christ.

Since August we have been peaking inside the financial side of being church.  We have examined the real costs of running this church.  We have grappled with the challenges of hearing the gospel call of caring for sisters and brothers in need.  And in so doing, we have heard about the work of the Mission and Service fund.  We have stared in the face of our operating deficit and have celebrated the diverse ministries that Penticton United Church is known for throughout the community.  For the first time in 6 years we have devoted a block of time so that we might examine our financial story.

Although money talk is often an uncomfortable conversation, it is one we have engaged in with courage.  We are a congregation who is bold and brave.  For 89 years we have addressed the timeless question of “how can we keep our doors open and be the church that God calls us to be?”  Over those 89 years we have had teas and bake sales, fund raising meals and yard sales, talent shows and concerts, all to keep our doors open.  For 89 years we have pleaded with the members to please give more.

Here we are, October 1, 2017 and we have about 220 people who are on our membership list.  These are people who believe in the mission and ministry of Penticton United Church.  Together – we worship, pray, sing, do healing touch, ring the hand bells, support one another, maintain the building, and give God praise.  Like our ministry partners around the world, we believe that through Christ all things are possible.  Christ models for us the way of meeting naysayers.  Christ shows us that when facing opposition, we are to turn the other cheek.  Christ lived for a new tomorrow.

That is the message of today’s scripture reading.  The Apostle Paul asks the congregation to examine its life together and make some important choices.  Scholars tell us that Paul was concerned about some missionaries who had come to Philippi in his absence and whose teachings were causing problems.  He asks his listeners to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but to act in the interests of others.  He asks them to choose the same mind or attitude Christ had.  He describes this humble attitude by reciting the words of an early Christian hymn.

As we reflect on this scripture passage, we recognize that God is made known through kindness, compassion, and humility. It is through our vulnerability and humility that Christ’s power is most clearly revealed.  I can’t help but think of our Christian friends in parts of the world where they must walk for hours to reach the closest Christian gathering.  For many of them, they walk along singing “Blessed Assurance” and other revered gospel hymns.  They will be raising the bread and cup to their lips as they share the sacred meal.  Can we do any less?  Will we continue to tell the faith story long into the future?

“What I do, you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do.  The needs are great and none of us, including me, ever do great things.  But, we can do small things with great love, and together, we can do something wonderful. (Mother Teresa)

Let us do something wonderful, as we celebrate.  We sing thanksgiving with voices of gratitude.  We share humbly and generously!  Amen.

 

 

 

“Called ‘To Be the Church – Part Three” – September 24, 2017

“Called ‘To Be the Church – Part Three”

September 24, 2017 – Year A – 16th Sunday after Pentecost

2 weeks ago, Sarah gave a wonderful testimonial as to why she supports the church financially.  She identified the diverse programs and activities the church offers.  She went on to talk about the many user groups who meet at our church and how bereft they would be without a safe meeting space.  She encouraged us to support the Mission and Service fund, reminding us that the leadership training events, the support to global partners, and the grants to outreach programs like First United Church in the downtown east-side of Vancouver are all supported by our donations to the Mission and Service fund.

Last week Gordon told us about his 3 years of working amongst the people of Bella Bella.  He pointed out that the Mission and Service fund gave an operating grant to the medical and dental clinic that he and Luanne worked at.  Without that financial support, the people of that Northern community would not have received the preventative and restorative dental care that Gordon offered.  He talked about the float planes bringing in patients to the clinic, all thanks to the Mission and Service fund.

Both Sarah and Gordon shared why they continue to support the Mission and Service fund.  Any one who has been to Naramata Centre has experienced first hand the benefit of a Mission and Service fund support grant.  Naramata Centre has re-opened after being closed for a few years.  This past year it was able to operate with a small profit.  The grant from the Mission and Service fund ensures that leadership development receives a high priority in the United Church of Canada.

Any Minister trained at a United Church theological college has been the beneficiary of the Mission and Service fund.  The support given to theological colleges ensures that students are well trained in the various techniques, biblical understandings, United Church ethos, and ministry skills in preparation to pastoral and educational ministry. 

Approximately 1/5 of the nearly $25 million raised each year supports global programs and justice work.  Helping partners on urgent issues such as water security, access to human rights, and justice initiatives, as well as responding to humanitarian crises, all come from yours and my donations to the Mission and Service Fund.  Emergency response to the Caribbean disaster has happened thanks to the M&S fund.  As soon as needs were identified, the United Church sent immediate aid to the devastated areas.  Donations designated specifically for hurricane relief will be over and above the early response of the M&S fund.

If you are a student away at a university likely you have seen a sign on the wall inviting you to a group sponsored by the Spiritual Care department.  The chaplain on campus works with students helping them to find community, support, and grounding.  Some of the chaplaincies across Canada are M&S fund supported.

Indigenous and non-indigenous persons experience M&S supported programs of advocacy, food security, employment training, and summer camps.  A number of indigenous United Church congregations receive Mission Support grants, which come from the Mission and Service fund.

Support to congregations that are seeking to change is enabled through a program called EDGE.  Coaches, mentors and resource material is available.  As we are in a time where the existing way of being church is not working, new initiatives are necessary.  The EDGE Network and the Embracing the Spirit program is available for churches who are willing to risk trying new ways of doing ministry.  Financial grants and programming support are available, thanks to the Mission and Service Fund.  Many congregations who recognize that they will not be in existence 10 years from now are turning to the EDGE Network for help in redefining themselves so that they might have a vital, new ministry long into the future.

The Mission and Service fund supports 13 Conferences as they provide leadership and resources to presbyteries.  BC and Toronto Conferences have generously returned their M&S grants so they can be shared with the 11 other Conferences.  BC Conference has been richly blessed with many bequests, and therefore can support many courses and events with reduced costs and grants to participants.   All the work of BC conference including the cost of staffing is covered by the money held in trust.

So, why do I donate to the Mission and Service Fund?  I donate because I believe in the work it supports.  I am proud to know that in the event of a crisis in some part of the world, the United Church immediately releases money from the Disaster Relief portion of the M&S fund and directs it to the Mennonite Central Committee for fast response.   I have attended probably close to 100 United Church sponsored workshops.  They would have been much more expensive had they not been partially funded by the Mission and Service fund.  I was educated at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon, a theological education site of the United Church of Canada.  I have served on Presbytery, Conference and General Council committees – all which have been supported by the Mission and Service fund.  Half of my offering goes to the local church fund and half goes to the Mission and Service fund.  That is how much I believe in it.

One of the many reasons I chose to apply and subsequently come to this church as your Minister, was its strong support to the Mission and Service Fund.  In 2010, the year I came to minister among you, we gave just under $27,000 to the M&S fund.  Our total givings that year was $251,139.  We gave 10.75% of our givings to the M&S fund.  That is impressive!  I knew I wanted to be part of a congregation that had the broader church as its priority.

I want to now share a couple of clarifications from the last 2 weeks sermons.  From 2 week’s ago I mentioned about the cost of gas and electricity.  It is $102 per person for the year.  When I calculated the amount, I multiplied rather than divided, giving you an inaccurate number.  And last week, in taking about tithing, folks were talking at coffee time and wondered if including donations to other charities could be included in one’s calculation of a tithe.  My response is most definitely.   Today, many charities are doing the work that previously was done only by the church.  It seems reasonable that we include the donations to other charities in our tithe.  At this past week’s study group, some of the participants felt that the emphasis on tithing over-shadowed the point I was trying to make concerning intentional giving.  I was trying to say that we are challenged to look at our offering in an intentional way rather than simply giving the loose change that is in our purse or pocket.

With those clarifications made, let’s look at our gospel text and discern its truth as we are called to be the church.  As you listened to Patti tell the parable of the landowner and the labourers, you likely found yourself thinking, “heh, that’s not fair.”  The question of just what is sufficient and what is abundant permeates this story.  In the commonwealth of God, everyone receives enough because God’s grace, not human effort, is the source of blessing and life.  This is the philosophy of the Mission and Service fund.  Grace upon grace is poured out to those in need.

The large church in downtown Winnipeg that reaches out to the LGBT community, the Newfoundland education initiative, and the part-time mission among the Aboriginal of the West Coast all receive M&S grants.  Perhaps it seems unfair that the grants are not larger.  However, the grace of God is so amazingly radical that all are blessed.  God’s generosity along with your abundance brings Good News to all.

This 3 part look at stewardship has enabled us to examine some of the facets of our giving.  Next week we will celebrate.  There is much to celebrate.  So, stay tuned.  Amen.

“Called to be the Church – Part Two” – September 17, 2017

“Called to be the Church – Part Two”

September 17, 2017 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

I want to introduce you to Debbie.  I was Debbie’s Spiritual Director approximately 25 years ago.  She was a devout Mennonite who was widowed about 10 years previously.  Debbie had the practice of matching dollar for dollar the money spent on gifts for her children and grandchildren with donations to her church.  If she bought a sweater for $30 she also gave $30 to her church, over her ongoing tithe.  Needless-to-say, Debbie was a generous giver.  However, you need to know, Debbie had only a meagre pension to live on.

We heard Sheila read one of the more challenging set of scripture texts.  We heard about a widow who had limited resources who placed 2 small copper coins into the treasury of the synagogue.  Although the value of the 2 coins is minimal, the extravagance of the gesture is unmistakable.  The woman gave all the money she had, while the others gave their loose change.  There is a certain recklessness about this act.  The woman could have held back one of the coins.  But, she did not.  She gave everything she had.  What about you and me?  Do we hold back or do we give our all?  Does generosity mark us?

The loose change approach to church giving is putting $2 or $5 in the offering plate without much thought of how it impacts our daily life.  Many of us spend more at Tim Hortons or Starbucks each week than we give to the church.  In other words, we want Tim Hortons or Starbucks to stay open more than we want Penticton United Church to carry out its important ministry.

When eating out at a restaurant, at the end of the meal we pay for it and likely add on a 15% tip acknowledging good service.  Seldom would we leave a restaurant without giving the added 15% gratuity.  I find it interesting that we are generally more stingy when it comes to our offering to the church.

It seems to me that, when it comes to our approach to our offerings that we give to the church, there are two ways.  One is intentionally planned and the other is offering the loose change.  If you give intentionally, you make a decision what the church is worth to you and what you can afford.  For some folk, the biblical injunction of tithing is taken seriously and they give a fixed percentage of their resources.  A tithe literally means 1/10.  Some of us cannot give 10%, but can give 3%, or 5%, or 7%, of their resources.  Many of us set aside the money for housing, food, and the church as the first expenses of each month.  All other expenses come afterwards.  However, with changing priorities and lifestyles, I note that more and more people pay all other expenses and whatever is left over goes to the church.

I must say, ever since I was confirmed as a teenager, I have tithed.  I have never gone hungry or could not pay my rent.  It is true, some months money was very skimpy, but I persisted in tithing.  While I was a student, there were a number of times that I worried how I was going to pay my bills, but always money come through in the form of gifts, bursaries or scholarships.  Through it all, I tithed.  I have been doing that for almost 50 years.  The chart that is in today’s order of service might be a helpful resource for you if you want to consider tithing.

Scripture reminds us “where your wealth is, there your heart will be also.”  Knowing full well that we humans are so tempted to accumulate items that can be destroyed or stolen, Jesus guides us to invest in that which feeds the soul. “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” directs Jesus.  What are those treasures in heaven?  This is a Jewish concept which comes from prayer, tithing, and spiritual disciplines such as meditation or fasting.  In Jewish literature, the good deeds of a religious person are often described as treasurers stored in heaven.

Biblical scholars suggest that this passage found in the Gospel of Matthew may originally have been a piece of secular wisdom.  “A person’s real interests are where their investments are.”  In other words, if you want someone interested in something, get them to put money into it.  In this particular context, it could mean, “If you act in this way, your whole inner disposition will increasingly be turned in the right direction.

On this 2nd week of our preaching series on “Called to be the Church, We Sing Thanksgiving” we are confronted in a direct way with 2 of Jesus’ directives concerning money.  But we are left with the question, “why should we give to the church?  And more specifically, why should we give to Penticton United Church?  Last week I identified the amazing variety of programs and activities that go on inside the walls of this church.  I listed the user groups who value and appreciate the warm welcome they receive when they meet in our building.  Quite simply, we give so the programs, activities and services can continue.  We give because we believe that baptisms and confirmations like Mike’s should happen.  We give because we believe that Cory and Joseph, who are being married in our sanctuary over the Thanksgiving weekend, and other couples, should be able to use our beautiful sanctuary for their wedding.  We give because we want to ensure that folk who are ill are visited.  We give because we know that the varied and diverse ministry tasks need staff to ensure they are well administered.

Perhaps you are wondering why I am doing this preaching series and why we are engaging in an informational series of inserts in our order of service for 7 weeks.  As you look at the announcement indicating our financial picture you notice that we are in a significant financial deficit.  So, your council is hoping that you might be able to help reduce that serious deficit.  Also, it has been 5 ½ years since we have done a serious stewardship campaign.  It is past time to remind ourselves that money is not a 4 letter word.

I believe that Penticton United Church has a long, important ministry.  If we all are committed to that vision, it will happen. Next year we will celebrate our 90th anniversary.  We have many more years of ministry before us.  Together, we will make that happen.   May that be so.  Amen.

“I’m to Do, What!” – August 27, 2017

“I’m to Do, What!”

August 27, 2017 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

I look out on an amazing group of people.  You folks!   I love the whole bunch of you!  I see before me (and beside me) creative, generous, skilled, and kind folk.  You have been blessed with gifts of: medical aptitude, organizational skills, teaching talents, the ability to fix things, tender hearts, talent in growing things, patience, leadership abilities, and many other gifts that I haven’t named, but the Apostle Paul did identify for the Roman listeners.

I am deeply blessed to be your minister.  I have the privilege of knowing you in your good days and your not so good days.  I learn of the many things that are important in your life.  Often you share health concerns, worries about ones’ you love, and faith crises.  I also join with you in celebrations of new beginnings, whether it be the birth of a grandchild, the baptism of a great grandchild, 60th wedding anniversary parties, and celebration of life services where we honour the life and faith of one we have known and loved.

If the Apostle Paul were standing in this pulpit rather than me, I suspect he would say exactly as he did some 2000 years ago when he addressed the Roman people.   Good old Paul, who is so passionate about Christ, urges his listeners to be humble, share generously, support one another, and use your gifts for God’s service.  All this we do out of response to God’s great gift of love made known in Christ.  That sounds reasonable enough, don’t you think?  We can do all that.  But then Paul throws in the clincher.  We are to be living sacrifices.  “I’m to Do, what?!,” we say collectively.  In other words, we are to bring our whole selves – body, mind, heart and spirit – and yes, our bankbook too, and anything else that holds us back from freely offering your whole self – now that is sacrifice.

We are to be like Anna Moerkoert and write the most heartfelt card to the sick and shut-in.  We are to be like Jim Freestone who comes into the building one Saturday a month and tests our fire alarm system, making sure it is working to its capacity.  We are to be like Dyane MacDonald who comes in a few times a year and defrosts our freezers and cleans them and along with the refrigerators.  We are to be like Mike Carnes who has researched the best systems, speakers and microphones for our sanctuary and hall – all on his own initiative, before taking it to council.  We are to be like Carolyn Dircks who comes in once a month to do some back up book keeping, concerning double checking the recording of our offerings.  We are grateful to these faithful followers of Christ who share their gifts in quiet, unrecognized ways. I could continue and name each one of you and identify the quiet and unassuming gifts you share in this community of faith.

We give God praise for Fern Gibbard and Sarah Tupholme’s gift of prophecy, Harvie Barker’s and Jean Sherwood’s gift of Ministry, Pat Fraser for the gift of teaching Sunday School, Marty Godsmart for exhortation, Joe Jackson for his generous gifts to our Food Cupboard, Patti Skinner for her diligence in leadership, and our whole congregation for the gift of compassion offered in cheerfulness.  Now, it is your turn to think about what Paul means when he says, “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

I think one of the reasons that the Wise Elders project has been so successful is that all 3 original congregations and now with Oasis Church joining in, are clear about their own strengths and weaknesses.  Each knows the gifts they bring to the group.  There is a genuine respect for one another’s faith traditions.  We are able to be honest with one another.  I think this is why the shared services are so well received, and keep getting better and better.  The theme for the upcoming forum in April 2018 will be on Shared Ministry.  This is a ministry where 2 or more denominations worship and live together sharing the same minister and building.  Naramata Community Church is a Shared Ministry of United Church of Canada and Anglican Church of Canada congregations worshipping as one body in Christ.  It is a way of being church that I believe we will be doing more and more.  As congregational size lessens, finances more limited, and Ministers less willing to accept part-time positions – Shared Ministry becomes more viable.  But, it calls for a willingness to be flexible, adaptable, and open-hearted.  Perhaps now is the time for Penticton United Church to invite St. Andrew’s Presbyterian and St. Saviour’s Anglican churches to a meeting about considering becoming a shared ministry.  If we want to take that step, we need to have explored the question that Jesus asked Peter in our Gospel  text.

Jesus experience in Caesarea Philippi is an interesting addendum to Paul’s proclamation on gift sharing.  Just like modern teachers, Jesus offers a quiz at the conclusion of a unit: “Who do people say that the Son of Humanity is?”  The disciples answer eagerly.  You can almost imagine them throwing up their hands excited to answer.   But then, Jesus raises the stakes: “But who do you say that I am?”

The disciples did not associate Jesus with the great voices of history – They were not throwing out the great names of faith.  John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Moses, Elijah and others, were all left off the roll.  Yet, here we have Peter, describing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Peter’s confession was a calm, calculated answer drawn from the experiences in which God had unfolded this revelation before the disciples.  So, it is with each of us today.

Any true church is built on the same claim Peter made. Jesus is the Teacher, Brother, Redeemer, Anointed One, and Sustainer.  In his response Jesus outlines a positive action for all disciples and followers.  That is the message you and I hear, alongside our sisters and brothers of faith in other Churches that seek to follow Christ’s ways.

I have been finding myself calling Jesus “Friend, companion, intimate One and My Delight” more regularly than in past years.  I have come to this as my faith grows and changes.  With incredible help and support from my Spiritual Director each month, we explore a faith issue or challenge.  Over the past 7 years we have delved deep as I try to answer, “Who is Jesus, in my life?”  I challenge you to answer that question for yourself.  “Who is Jesus, in your life?”  As you hold the rock that we talked about earlier in the service, use it as a tactile tool for prayer.  May it help you to answer, “Who is Jesus, in your life?”  Also reflect on “I’m to Do, What!” as you list the many gifts and skills and talents with which God has blessed you.

Peter may well be the Petra, (the deep earth and rock) – and the church of all time is built rock solid – but no particular church building is so permanent that we cannot find another place to gather and worship in the name of Creator, Rock and Wind – better known as Maker, Christ and Spirit.  So, when disaster ravages a church building, the rock solid community of faith continues to use their gifts so they may carry on the timeless message of faith.

Let’s go back to how I opened this message.  I look out on an amazing group of people.  You folks!   I love the whole bunch of you!  I see before me (and beside me) imaginative, generous, accomplished, and sympathetic folk.  You have been blessed with gifts of: accounting skills, artistic talents, kindness, mentoring abilities, dexterity, a green thumb, compassion, open-hearted ways, and many other gifts that I haven’t named, but the Apostle Paul did identify for the Roman listeners.

So, friends – keep being who you are. Thanks be to God for each and every one of you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Called to be the Church – Part One” – September 10, 2017

“Called to be the Church – Part One”

September 10, 2017 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

Today we begin a 3 part, preaching series entitled “Called to be the Church – We Sing Thanksgiving.”  Throughout August and September, we have included inserts in the announcement portion of our order of service that contains information, statistics, and encouragement concerning yours and my financial commitment to the church.

While it has been said that there are 3 topics one never speaks of in polite company – money, politics and religion – you already know that I don’t pay much attention to that wisdom.  Today, I’m going to talk about 2 of the 3.

If you have been following along with the inserts we have included each week since August 13th, you already know that 74% of our congregational members contribute financially to our local fund.  Statistics provided by our National Office reports that 67% of folk affiliated with United Churches across Canada give to their local church.  We exceed the national average by 7%.  Way to go, Penticton United Church!  Our average giving’s are over $1,000, while nationally it is slightly over $950.  Again, way to go, Penticton United Church!  49% of our members give to the Mission and Service fund at an average of $306 while nationally 43.5% of givers give to the M&S fund on average of $243.  We are good givers!

There is a however associated to these statistics.  Because we are in an old building, it costs each giver $37 per day to cover the cost of gas and electricity.  Further, it cost $174 per day to open the building and keep it clean and user friendly.  That is a lot of money, especially when you consider that one quarter of our givers give less than $100 a year.

I want to lay these numbers aside and look at the ways we are called to be the church, named Penticton United Church.  We are an amazingly active church.  Sunday worship, study group, Healing Touch, Angelus Ringers, adult choir, fund raising events, U.C.W., social activities, visiting the sick and shut-in, special worship services at ti9mes of joy or sadness, Wise Elders, Penticton Churches for Social Justice, write-in for Amnesty International, and incredible volunteers, all help to make us a church to be proud of.  Our building is busy 7 days a week with Narcotics Anonymous, Al Anon, a Meditation group, Alcoholics Anonymous, Stamp Club, South Okanagan and Similkameen Volunteer Centre, Federal Retirees, Trefoil Guild, and Playshare Preschool.  We are a church that seeks to be relevant in 2017 while recognizing that a majority of our members are seniors.  Therefore, we have skilled visitors in Eileen Tymm, Sheila MacDermott and Patti Skinner.  Our trained funeral officiants are Fern Gibbard, Jean Sherwood, Patti Craig, Sarah Tupholme, and Patti Skinner.

Like United Churches all across Canada, we have declining Sunday worship attendance, a limited number of volunteers for committee and council, and just paying the bills is becoming harder and harder.  Our story is echoed in small prairie churches, large metropolitan Ontario churches and tiny Maritime churches.  So, what do we do to keep Penticton United Church open and responding to the real needs of the community?  I believe that today’s scripture has part of the answer.

The writer of the Gospel of Matthew speaks about conflict resolution within the early church and it certainly applies today.  Whenever a group of people congregate there is likely to be times of difference.  This congregation is all too aware of this truth.  We have a history of difference that has caused wounds that have left scars.  We have lived through years of dissention.  So, we hear Jesus’ instruction to settle differences personally, and failing that, utilizing the help of an elder, and as a last resort to the gathered community.  I know this sounds incredibly simplistic and naïve, however, it is filled with love and compassion.  It attempts to preserve dignity and treats the dissenter with compassion.  Jesus guides us with a heart filled with love and a commitment to truth-telling.

What does this have to do with a being called to be the church, you ask?  As a congregation marked by Jesus Christ, we are well equipped to settle our differences in faithful ways.  Our Ministry and Personnel Committee is available to listen confidentially.  We work hard to talk directly with each other rather than side comments and talking about another.   Therefore, we utilize our committees and council to help us examine the diverse needs facing the people of Penticton.   We have pledged to walk the path of reconciliation and love of neighbour.

Relevant, life-giving churches of the 21st century are ones that are willing to look at the community around them and respond to the needs.  Small groups and specific outreach are just 2 responses.  Paying attention to the demographics of the community and the congregation is essential.  A willingness to try new initiatives, realizing that some of them will fail is a sign of a healthy church.  Being open about talking about finances, knowing that Jesus spoke about money more than any other topic.  A church that is truly welcoming will thrive.  Finally, a truly vibrant church never says, “we’ve never done it that way before.”

So – how do we measure up?  Our food cupboard, the support that is given to people in need, and our willingness to offer Memorial services to anyone requesting it are 3 examples of our willingness to look at the community and respond.  We offer a number of small group and outreach opportunities including the choir, study group, and Healing Touch.  We offer meaningful senior’s ministry realizing that Penticton has many retirees.  Our UCW, Council meetings held at 9:15 am, and visitation focused on seniors are some examples of understanding the demographics of Penticton.  Every idea and new initiative I have wanted to try has been met with a positive “go for it.”  We have offered liturgical dance, drumming, and a study on who and what is God.  Many sermons include references to our financial picture.  Each month our announcements in our order of service includes a financial summary of the previous month’s income and expense statement.  We seek to be welcoming by having a welcome table in the narthex.  This is probably the area where we fall-down.  We are inconsistent in wearing name tags.  Newcomers cannot call us by name even after we have introduced ourselves, without this aid.   It is hard to feel included when one does not know the other by name.  I know that few people in the congregation know the name of every member.  Sadly, I still hear folk say, “We’ve never done it that way before.”

We are doing pretty well in being a relevant, life-giving church.  Certainly, there are areas we can work on.   Stay tuned for part 2 and 3 of this preaching series where I will look at some more of our statistical data and place it alongside our scriptural text.

For today, we take pride in what we do well.  We rejoice that we exceed the National church averages in our giving.         We hear the challenge to look at our personal giving and see if we can cover the cost of electricity and gas.  Will you do your part in ensuring that Penticton United Church flings its doors open wide, tomorrow and long into the future?

Each week when we gather in a circle holding one another’s hands, I am struck by the sense of unity we convey.  We encircle the sanctuary with love and harmony.  Money struggles are set aside.  Low attendance numbers are disregarded.  Instead, we love our neighbour as our-self.  We are called to be the Church – We sing thanksgiving!  Amen.

 

“I’m to Do, What!” – August 27, 2017

“I’m to Do, What!”

August 27, 2017 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

I look out on an amazing group of people.  You folks!   I love the whole bunch of you!  I see before me (and beside me) creative, generous, skilled, and kind folk.  You have been blessed with gifts of: medical aptitude, organizational skills, teaching talents, the ability to fix things, tender hearts, talent in growing things, patience, leadership abilities, and many other gifts that I haven’t named, but the Apostle Paul did identify for the Roman listeners.

I am deeply blessed to be your minister.  I have the privilege of knowing you in your good days and your not so good days.  I learn of the many things that are important in your life.  Often you share health concerns, worries about ones’ you love, and faith crises.  I also join with you in celebrations of new beginnings, whether it be the birth of a grandchild, the baptism of a great grandchild, 60th wedding anniversary parties, and celebration of life services where we honour the life and faith of one we have known and loved.

If the Apostle Paul were standing in this pulpit rather than me, I suspect he would say exactly as he did some 2000 years ago when he addressed the Roman people.   Good old Paul, who is so passionate about Christ, urges his listeners to be humble, share generously, support one another, and use your gifts for God’s service.  All this we do out of response to God’s great gift of love made known in Christ.  That sounds reasonable enough, don’t you think?  We can do all that.  But then Paul throws in the clincher.  We are to be living sacrifices.  “I’m to Do, what?!,” we say collectively.  In other words, we are to bring our whole selves – body, mind, heart and spirit – and yes, our bankbook too, and anything else that holds us back from freely offering your whole self – now that is sacrifice.

We are to be like Anna Moerkoert and write the most heartfelt card to the sick and shut-in.  We are to be like Jim Freestone who comes into the building one Saturday a month and tests our fire alarm system, making sure it is working to its capacity.  We are to be like Dyane MacDonald who comes in a few times a year and defrosts our freezers and cleans them and along with the refrigerators.  We are to be like Mike Carnes who has researched the best systems, speakers and microphones for our sanctuary and hall – all on his own initiative, before taking it to council.  We are to be like Carolyn Dircks who comes in once a month to do some back up book keeping, concerning double checking the recording of our offerings.  We are grateful to these faithful followers of Christ who share their gifts in quiet, unrecognized ways. I could continue and name each one of you and identify the quiet and unassuming gifts you share in this community of faith.

We give God praise for Fern Gibbard and Sarah Tupholme’s gift of prophecy, Harvie Barker’s and Jean Sherwood’s gift of Ministry, Pat Fraser for the gift of teaching Sunday School, Marty Godsmart for exhortation, Joe Jackson for his generous gifts to our Food Cupboard, Patti Skinner for her diligence in leadership, and our whole congregation for the gift of compassion offered in cheerfulness.  Now, it is your turn to think about what Paul means when he says, “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

I think one of the reasons that the Wise Elders project has been so successful is that all 3 original congregations and now with Oasis Church joining in, are clear about their own strengths and weaknesses.  Each knows the gifts they bring to the group.  There is a genuine respect for one another’s faith traditions.  We are able to be honest with one another.  I think this is why the shared services are so well received, and keep getting better and better.  The theme for the upcoming forum in April 2018 will be on Shared Ministry.  This is a ministry where 2 or more denominations worship and live together sharing the same minister and building.  Naramata Community Church is a Shared Ministry of United Church of Canada and Anglican Church of Canada congregations worshipping as one body in Christ.  It is a way of being church that I believe we will be doing more and more.  As congregational size lessens, finances more limited, and Ministers less willing to accept part-time positions – Shared Ministry becomes more viable.  But, it calls for a willingness to be flexible, adaptable, and open-hearted.  Perhaps now is the time for Penticton United Church to invite St. Andrew’s Presbyterian and St. Saviour’s Anglican churches to a meeting about considering becoming a shared ministry.  If we want to take that step, we need to have explored the question that Jesus asked Peter in our Gospel  text.

Jesus experience in Caesarea Philippi is an interesting addendum to Paul’s proclamation on gift sharing.  Just like modern teachers, Jesus offers a quiz at the conclusion of a unit: “Who do people say that the Son of Humanity is?”  The disciples answer eagerly.  You can almost imagine them throwing up their hands excited to answer.   But then, Jesus raises the stakes: “But who do you say that I am?”

The disciples did not associate Jesus with the great voices of history – They were not throwing out the great names of faith.  John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Moses, Elijah and others, were all left off the roll.  Yet, here we have Peter, describing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Peter’s confession was a calm, calculated answer drawn from the experiences in which God had unfolded this revelation before the disciples.  So, it is with each of us today.

Any true church is built on the same claim Peter made. Jesus is the Teacher, Brother, Redeemer, Anointed One, and Sustainer.  In his response Jesus outlines a positive action for all disciples and followers.  That is the message you and I hear, alongside our sisters and brothers of faith in other Churches that seek to follow Christ’s ways.

I have been finding myself calling Jesus “Friend, companion, intimate One and My Delight” more regularly than in past years.  I have come to this as my faith grows and changes.  With incredible help and support from my Spiritual Director each month, we explore a faith issue or challenge.  Over the past 7 years we have delved deep as I try to answer, “Who is Jesus, in my life?”  I challenge you to answer that question for yourself.  “Who is Jesus, in your life?”  As you hold the rock that we talked about earlier in the service, use it as a tactile tool for prayer.  May it help you to answer, “Who is Jesus, in your life?”  Also reflect on “I’m to Do, What!” as you list the many gifts and skills and talents with which God has blessed you.

Peter may well be the Petra, (the deep earth and rock) – and the church of all time is built rock solid – but no particular church building is so permanent that we cannot find another place to gather and worship in the name of Creator, Rock and Wind – better known as Maker, Christ and Spirit.  So, when disaster ravages a church building, the rock solid community of faith continues to use their gifts so they may carry on the timeless message of faith.

Let’s go back to how I opened this message.  I look out on an amazing group of people.  You folks!   I love the whole bunch of you!  I see before me (and beside me) imaginative, generous, accomplished, and sympathetic folk.  You have been blessed with gifts of: accounting skills, artistic talents, kindness, mentoring abilities, dexterity, a green thumb, compassion, open-hearted ways, and many other gifts that I haven’t named, but the Apostle Paul did identify for the Roman listeners.

So, friends – keep being who you are. Thanks be to God for each and every one of you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Bigotry and Racism is Overcome” – August 20, 2017

“Bigotry and Racism is Overcome”

August 20, 2017 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A

 

“I am woman, hear me roar

In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much

To go back and pretend

‘Cause I’ve been down there

On the floor

And no-one’s ever gonna

Keep me down again.”  Sings Helen Reddy in 1972

 

That anthem for the women’s movement holds a power and truth for women throughout the ages.  All we have to do is really hear the scripture text of today to hear a woman roar some 2000 years ago.

The Canaanite woman certainly knew how to stand up for herself.  Some might even say she was persistent and tenacious.   With all that said, we can’t help but be astounded at her faith.  She is incredibly clear that Jesus is the One who can cure her demented daughter, a child likely living with epilepsy.  And wow, is Jesus ever impressed by her faith when he says to her “Women, great is your faith!”

In todays world, the Canaanite woman might well be one of our displaced Aboriginal women who dearly loves their child but have found it difficult to find a job, adequate housing, sufficient food, and proper schooling for her precious child.  The woman was called all sorts of names, including ones I can’t use in church, or anywhere else, for that matter.  Yet, in spite of all the deprecating understanding of this uppity Canaanite woman, there is no doubt that she is gutsy.  She is told that she is not worthy of food –  food that children throw to the dogs.  And even more outrageous, dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their owners table.  But there is no food for this hungry Mother.  This marginalized woman only wanted scraps.  And she wanted her daughter to be released from her horrible agony.

Todays Gospel story describes the only recorded occasion on which Jesus was outside of Jewish territory.   Some commentators suggest that Jesus was taking a break – a holiday, so to speak.  Perhaps that explains his reluctance to respond to the needs of the Canaanite woman when she initially requests help.  Jesus just wants to chill out.  If that is the case, what makes this account so startling is that Jesus was initially hesitant to respond to this Gentile woman’s need.  A Gentile is an outcast – a foreigner – a person not to be associated with.  Yet, when Jesus does respond to the woman and her child, he breaks down the barriers of bigotry, sexism and racism.

I decided on the sermon title “Bigotry and Racism is Overcome” back in June.  Little could I have imagined the horror that has occurred in Charlottesville Virginia.  The extreme racial tension and violence that has been sparked by allegedly 1000 neo-Nazis, skin heads and Ku Klux Klan members, which has widened the racial and ideological divide.  This college town finds itself in the midst of “take America back” chants, “anti-immigration” placards, and white Nationalists parading down their streets.  All this is happening while Gerry Neilsen and I were at a birthday party for one of our Syrian refugee families.  Shaad had turned 5 and Gerry and I and approximately 12 other members of the refugee committee were helping her celebrate her big day.  We were living out that racism has no place in Penticton.

2000 years ago a brave yet desperate woman,  persistently nagged  Jesus, until he came to the aid of her daughter.  45 years ago Helen Reddy sang about the strength of women, born out of pain.  35 years ago The Right Rev. Dr. Lois Wilson has this to say about the Canaanite woman and all of us:

“This is a story about a woman who refused to “know her place.”

She was poor, a foreigner, and a Gentile.  In the eyes of many she had no legitimate claim on God’s grace.  Yet she demonstrated self confidence, dignity, and self-assurance in her encounter with Jesus.  She is insistent, demanding, and unafraid.

The nub of the controversy was whether an inclusive table sharing of both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians was justified in the new Jesus movement.  How ‘open’ should the Christian community be?  How open should it be to women like this Canaanite?

This remains an issue for the contemporary church.  What restrictions, laws, customs do we ‘lay on’ those who come seeking God’s grace?  Is ‘a mighty fortress is our church’ ever justified?  The major theologian and spokesperson for inclusive table sharing was a woman, and a foreigner at that!”  says The Rev. Dr. Lois Wilson, in a speech during the time she was Moderator of The United Church of Canada.

What does this story say to us in 2017? Does it have relevance today?  I believe that the learning for us is that of standing up for what is just and necessary.  I am not proposing the Charlottesville kind of speaking out, but instead working toward what is fair and life giving.  I am referring to wisdom and conviction that comes from deep prayer and profound faith in Christ’s life-giving way.  We need people who will write to companies that destroy our environment and urge them to reform.  We are called to be persistent truth-tellers who confront the people who degrade, abuse, and hurt.  This is done when, with love and kindness, we call inappropriate behaviours.   We need people who are tenacious and purpose driven.  But that tenacity must be tempered with mercy and compassion.  That is what Jesus learned from the uppity woman from Tyre and Sidon.

Let’s hear the words that Helen Reddy made famous in 1972 and see if they have something to say to us today.

I Am Woman

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
(Strong)
I am invincible
(Invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul