“New Beginnings” October 28, 2018 – Year B – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Celebrating the 2000’s

“New Beginnings”

October 28, 2018 – Year B – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Celebrating the 2000’s

 

To describe the 2000’s as eventful is an understatement.  In many respects the decade of change and turbulence began on March 7, 2000 with the death of Rev. Helen Stover-Scott.  Helen had been off work on disability the previous year after serving since 1996.  However, the congregation was well served by lay people such as Mickey Bell, Fern Gibbard, Doug Ormond, Sarah Morgan, Cornelia King, and Sheila MacDermott as chair persons of Council and Doreen Bobbitt as Secretary.

January 16, 2000 was a joyous day, as the brand new hand-bells were dedicated.  They arrived December 22, 1999 just in time for the Christmas Eve service.  Thanks to many donations, much fundraising, and significant support from the Sanctuary choir the Angelus Ringers Hand-bell Choir came into being.

In the spring of 2000 the Retired Civil Servants began using room 1A (now known as 103) twice weekly on a year-round basis.

2000 was also the year that the beaded red and white HIV/AIDS ribbons from South Africa, educational campaign was launched.

Staff changes were significant throughout the decade.  Doug Youngstrom retired as Pastoral Care visitor and Volunteer Coordinator in 2000 and was replaced by Barbara Mason, who left in 2002.  Marianne Lummin joined the staff in 2000.  Caroline Hild left the Youth Group leader position in 2000.  Ross White became Interim Minister form 2000 – 2002.  In 2001 Shannon Oliver became our part time host.  Connie Sloane resigned as Office Administrator in 2001.  Dianne Clarke resigned as Office Administrator in 2002.  Linda Ervin was called to the church in 2002 and served until 2007.  Tim Scorer joined the staff in 2003 assisting the youth program.  Jim McNaughton was with us from 2003-2007.  Rev. Harvie Barker was named Minister Emeritus in March 2005.  Alice Deroche became Choir Director in 2007.  Rev. David Sparks served as supply minister in 2007.  Rev. Ralph Spencer was supply minister in 2008 for 22 months.

Along with various changes of staff came many efforts at looking at decision making.  In 2001 the committee structures were revised, a Mission statement was developed, and a new staffing model was implemented.  In 2004 the Council governance model ended and a Board structure was executed.  This new structure had 9 members empowered to make decisions on behalf of the church.  In 2005 the Board decided to use consensus decision making.  By 2008 it was determined that the Council system of governance would be re-implemented.

As we spend time in our church’s archives room, it become clear that 2006 was a difficult year for our community of faith.  Tension is noted in minutes from that year, unhappiness is expressed in correspondence addressed to the board.  A desire for change permeates the various documents of that year.   In 2007 Kamloops Okanagan Presbytery was very involved in mediating and overseeing.  By 2008 two congregations became a reality.

However, all was not doom and gloom.  Street parking which has a 1 hour limit outside the church is overlooked for weddings and funerals as long as we call the by-law office, came about in 2000.  In 2001 Healing Touch was recognized as an important part of the ministry of Penticton United Church.  That same year Ted Makar removed the floor files from the Penticton Art Gallery, loaded them in his truck, took them home, cleaned them and installed them in the large room 205 upstairs.  In 2003 a new elevator/lift was installed. A motion was passed that we celebrate our anniversary annually on or about November 18 with a major celebration every 5 years.  The Senior Wellness Centre began using space in the building.   The Sermons that Speak series began in 2007.

2000-2009 was a decade of challenges. It was a time of uncertainty and discomfort for you, the people of God, who were struggling to be faithful.  Sometimes it seemed as if darkness was our new reality.  We had difficulty seeing our way out of the muck and mire.  We could relate to blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus.  There were times throughout that decade that we wanted to cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy of me!”  We felt stuck, and hurt, and blind to answers that were in the best interest of the congregation.  We prayed faithfully for the persons on the transition team who met representing Penticton United, Oasis United and Presbytery.  Much of the work was confidential so again you felt like you were blind.  We needed Jesus to help us see the possibilities of God’s kin-dom.

We hear the story of Bartimaeus as if it is prophecy.  How amazing that this week’s lection is the account of a blind beggar seeking new life!  I couldn’t have selected a more appropriate scripture text.  The account of this blind friend reminds us that there is a vast difference between healing and cure.  We may pray for a cure that was not possible, though healing was possible.  I suspect that many prayers were offered asking that the chasm that was growing in the congregation might be cured.  However, what really happened was that the great divide was healed by creating space and time.   And the faithful answer at that specific time was division.   Vision was restored, by God’s grace.

Bartimaeus was a persistent man who pursued Jesus with determination.  He recognized Jesus as the Anointed One, the Messiah.  Even though Bartimaeus could not see Jesus he heard the crowd crying out to the Son of David.  He wanted to be part of the action.  Once receiving sight, Bartimaeus acted upon this great insight and follows the Anointed One on the way.

Such faithfulness is a model for us.  Will we see the other sojourners who are on the way with us?  Will we recognize them as pilgrims of new possibilities? Will we courageously refuse to be silent about injustice, as we look around and see abuse of land, water, and air?  May we commit to the principles of reduce, renew and recycle.  May we inform our politicians and corporate leaders that we want decisions that ensure a healthy planet.  Rest assured this church’s council has implemented such policies.  Presbytery recognizes us as a green church.   May we turn the struggles of the 2000’s into health for the future.

Let us understand the decade as a turning point.  Our eyes were opened to new possibilities of cooperation, loving and witness.  We praise God for new beginnings.  So be it.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Serving is the Name of the Game” October 14, 2018 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

“Serving is the Name of the Game”

October 14, 2018 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

 

Carol was on a business trip.  In the taxi on the way to the airport the driver asked her where home was. She said, “Toronto.”  He replied that he had grown up there.  He asked her what she did and she explained that she was a criminologist.  “Oh”, he said, “Then you would be very interested in my story.”  He went on to tell her how he had grown up in the roughest of places in the city.  It was a tale of one tragic happening after another.  His mother had been murdered.  He had been separated from his brothers and sisters.  The story sounded unbelievable and yet Carol knew it was true.  Carol said to him, “Well, how is it that you managed to break out of all that and do so well for yourself?”  And the cab driver replied, “My grandmother took me to church.  I attended Sunday school and there was a teacher there who really believed in me.  That’s how I made it where I am today.

I have a feeling that the man who ran up to Jesus, worrying about eternal life, might well have appreciated that story of Carol and the taxi driver.  How wonderful to be so influenced by a Sunday School teacher!  Perhaps the man questioning Jesus had also a good experience at Synagogue.  He knows the 10 Commandments and has followed them since he was a child.  Jesus loved the man.  Looking at him, Jesus pointed out that there was one thing lacking.  He was challenged to sell what he had and give all his money to the poor.  And as if that wasn’t enough, he was to dispose of all his possessions!  In doing that Jesus promised him that his treasury would be in heaven.

Just imagine if you were that man.  You sincerely want to know about eternal life and instead are told to live in poverty.  What a shock!  How depressing!  Jesus must be off his rocker.  In order to achieve eternal life, Jesus reminds us that we must relinquish a focus on achievement.  We must become a very different person.

In one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays, he has a character standing in centre stage holding a coin up to the sun commenting “money obliterates the sun.”  That line has haunted me for years.  Money obliterates the sun!

Perhaps that is what Jesus is trying to teach us.  This is not so much a stewardship message as it is a time to reflect on our priorities.  What is it in our life that blinds us, prohibiting us from seeing the sun?  Is it our quest for power and control?  Is an addiction to gambling, or alcohol, or even prescription drugs restricting full life?  Are we blinded by being busy being busy?  Are we lusting after a certain amount of money in our bank accounts?  Are we worried about an inheritance for our children?

In the Book “Country Preacher’s Notebook”  Joyce Sasse states, “money is one of the most sensitive issues among people who know each other well, so we back away from discussing the subject lest we be thought to be presumptuous.  Thus, while great segments of time are spent deciding what a Church Board can afford when it comes to installing new plumbing, we are often silent when it comes to talking about stewardship and what we “should give”.  When I was a teenager, “stewardship” took on meaning for me when I heard our minister tell this story.

A member of the local Church Board was visiting a number of households, budget in hand, to give people an opportunity to make their financial pledge to the local church.  Often he heard the groaning question, “Why does it always cost so much?”

In response, this man told about his son James, He told about how excited he and his wife where when they heard about the coming of their first child.  “Things weren’t easy then”, he recalled.  “My wife and I started with a bunch of dreams and little else.”  Then he went on to say that “right from the time we knew our baby was coming,  he began to cost us.  There were bills for his mother’s check- ups.  We had to pay for the doctor and the hospital when the baby was delivered.  He needed clothes, and the right kind of formula.  Later, we bought his hockey equipment and paid for him to go to hockey camp.  When he needed braces for his teeth, and glasses, we bought those.  And as you know, nothing comes cheap!”

The church visitor paused for a moment before he started talking about his boy registering at University.  How proud they were, and how anxious to do what little they could to help him.  “Then, when Jim was in his last year on campus, he went to a doctor to see about his headaches and blurred vision.  They ran a few tests and soon found he had an inoperable tumor.

“Our Jim died last year!  And you know what?  That boy hasn’t cost us a cent since his funeral!  My friend, he said, looking at his host square in the eye, “that’s the difference between having something that is living and something that is dead.”

He continued.  “I find it is the same with the Church.  If it’s alive and growing (like a teenage boy), sure it is going to cost us.  It is going to cost in terms of dollars, and in terms of our time, and in terms of our involvement and commitment!  It’s going to cost because it is alive!  But, my God, it’s terrible to have it dead!”

Jesus was questioned about eternal life.  His response led to a pointed message about holding tight to possessions.  And yet Jesus’ dream for this sincere, good man was to set him free.  Jesus loved him enough to let him go.  Perhaps some other day the man would make a different choice.  Jesus respected the choice the man made.  With his very life, Jesus modelled that in order to achieve eternal life, one must relinquish their focus on achieving it.  We are called to become very different people.

So, the man walked away from Jesus.  He did so grieving what Jesus had to offer.  Jesus had no harsh words for him.  Rather, Jesus understood that to give up what one knows and is comfortable with, for that which one has not yet experienced is a great risk.

When we hold the coin up to the sun, the sun is obliterated. Let us not be blinded by devotion to money, power, information, or anything that prohibits full living.  Instead, let us be extravagant and faithful in our giving.   Share your time wastefully, loving God’s creation.  Use your gifts generously.   Live radically, knowing that your friends in this church love you with Christ filled compassion.  May our faith be nourished through your sharing.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

“Welcoming Faith” September 23, 2018 – Year B – 18th Sunday after Pentecost

“Welcoming Faith”

September 23, 2018 – Year B – 18th Sunday after Pentecost

Nancy loved going to the local bingo hall.  In conversation one day, she explained to me the attraction of the Bingo hall.  There, she had a sense of community.  If she missed a time or 2, the regulars would ask after her.  When she arrived, her new friends would welcome her with delight.  They would give her tips and hints to up her chances of winning a BINGO.  In short, they cared about Nancy.  No where else would she find such a sense of community.  Unless you went to the bar regularly.  Or the church!? 

When I was on medical leave I went to a nearby church for 5 consecutive Sundays.  The 1st Sunday a acquaintance invited me to sit with her family, which I did.  The remaining 4 Sundays I sat by myself with no one speaking to me except for 1 lovely welcoming woman, once.    After that experience in worship, the last thing I wanted to do was go for coffee time after church.  So, I didn’t.  Then, I tried another church and had the opposite experience.  The congregation warmly welcomed me, even asked me to read 1 sentence in a litany that the whole congregation was involved in.  The difference between the 2 congregations was remarkable. 

I wonder where we fit when newcomers visit us?  Do we welcome and try make the newcomer feel like they are part of the community?  Or do we ignore them? 

Penticton United Church self identifies as a welcoming church.  We are proud of the fact that we welcome newcomers.  We have a welcome table out in the narthex, after all.  We wear our name tags so that everyone, newcomer and long-time member can call us by name.  We love it when children come to be part of our worship service.

Jesus took a child and held him or her in his arms.  Was the child a boy or a girl?  Most likely a boy, considering the customs of the day.  Did he have brown hair or blonde?  Likely the child would have had dark hair and dark skin.  If the child was a girl, was she numbered, as was the custom in Greco-Roman times, or was she named Mary or Martha or Hanna?  If a boy was he Nathaniel or Andrew or James?  Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and Jesus was explaining that the path they were taking was that of crucifixion and rising from the dead.  You can just hear the disciples crying out, “No! No! No!”  They were arguing who was the greatest.  They had no use for talk about crucifixion and resurrection.

As they trundled along they reached Capernaum.  Jesus tries to tell his disciples what the future will bring- his betrayal, death, and rising again.  The first time Jesus told the disciples about this, Peter challenged him and was rebuked.  This time no one says anything. 

Instead they begin to debate something they do understand – who is the greatest.  It is not clear from the text if they are discussing who among themselves is greatest or if they are arguing about what makes for greatness,.  It may be that their confusion about why Jesus would talk about dying sparked a conversation about the attributes of great leaders.   How could God’s great Anointed One be prepared to die?

Jesus understands their conversation to be a misunderstanding of the nature of greatness.  Being first, says Jesus is being willing to be last.  To illustrate the reversal of values in what he is saying Jesus takes a child, a member of the Capernaum household, and places the child in their midst.  We do not know the age of the child.  Was it a tiny 2 month old baby?  Or was it a precocious 6 year old, we wonder?  “Whoever welcomes such a one welcomes me, and the one who sent me.”

A child in Jewish and Greek society had little status.  Because of the incidence of serious illness and accident, fewer than half of children born lived to the age of 6 in Jesus’s time.  Since the life of fa child couldn’t be guaranteed, one wasn’t considered to be a full person, worthy of respect, until they had reached the age of maturity.

For Jesus to make a child his representative was a radical step.  It went against all popular notions of what someone with his status could expect.  He was redefining greatness as “servant of all” by placing himself in the position of one who could be called upon to serve an adult member of the house-hold, and one whose life was extremely vulnerable.

Jesus goes a step further.  To welcome such a vulnerable one, says Jesus. Is to welcome God.  God’s greatness lies, not in God’s power over other’s, but in God’s willingness to serve the creation God has made.  The challenge for disciples is to understand greatness as the capacity to care for others.

To welcome the child is to welcome Jesus.  To welcome Jesus is to welcome God.  And God is always in the welcoming business.

There is a scene in Tennessee William’s “A Street Car Named Desire” when Blanche, an unlovely person desperately seeking love, meets Mitch, a man who is grossly overweigh, who is embarrassed that he perspires profusely, and who, like Blanche, is frantically lonely.

It is not their strength, but their mutual weakness, which brings them together, and because they are both so needy.  Blanche is able to trust Mitch with the tragic story of her life.  Mitch then takes her in his arms and says, “You need somebody, and I need somebody, too.  Could it be you and me, Blanche?”

She looks at him in amazement, then reaches for him, her eyes filling with tears, and says, “Sometimes there’s God, so quickly.”

So be it.  Amen.

“Still Following Jesus” September 16, 2018 – Year B

“Still Following Jesus”

September 16, 2018 – Year B – 17th Sunday after Pentecost

Anniversary Sunday – The 1990’s

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Such describes the 1990’s in Penticton United Church.  There were many creative projects undertaken such as the landscaping project of 1991, the Archives headed up by Anne Walker in 1991, visits in 1991 by the Moderator Rev. Walter Farquarhson, in 1993 by the Moderator, the Rev. Dr. Stan McKay who helped us celebrate our 65th Anniversary, and in 1998 Rev. Bill Phipps, our Moderator visited.
In 1993 we held an “Apple Pie Making Bee” with 2000 pounds of apples provided by Harry and Mary Shaw.  This raised $3,000.00.  In that same year the Parlour was renovated in recognition of the life and work of Rev. Ernest Rands.

In 1994 the Gordon Brown Memorial Window was installed and dedicated. The stained- glass windows above the balcony were installed, a memorial to her husband by Mrs. Brown. A scholarship fund in the name of Rev. Ernest Rands, was started within the church, and is made available annually to a student at Okanagan University College in Penticton. The year ended with a deficit of $16,754.18.

1995 was a tumultuous year with Rev Harvie Barker and Rev. Ron Jeffries leaving us.  It was a team ministry that had its struggles.  An interim year with Rev. Gordon Howe followed and then in 1996 Rev. Helen Stover Scott was called to our church.  Sadly, Helen died in March of 2000.  Each minister brought gifts and creative ideas, some of which were accepted and others – not so much.

For instance, in 1997 the Constitution and By-Laws document was updated. The Memorial and Bursary Fund and UCW purchased a dishwasher for the kitchen. The entire kitchen was gutted and completely refurbished during the summer months.

In 1999 Refugees: Gordana and Dini Voloder, arrived from Croatia.  Our church’s commitment to supporting refugee families has a long history.

Rev. Helen Stover Scott and other area Ministers conducted 8 weddings, 57 funerals, and 13 baptisms in 1999.  Church membership was 523 persons.

Also, in 1999 the Angelus Ringers started under the direction of Margaret Ormond.  They had 10 ringers. The funding and purchase of bells was available through a special appeal to the congregation.  This group was recognized as a vital part of worship. We honoured them in June.

Renovations to the office area and foyer were carried out. Monies for this project were made available through bequests and memorials in the Memorial and Bursary Fund.

One of the most interesting pieces of our history occurred in 1998.  The outside belfry wall was found to be bulging, and with the help of the Penticton Search & Rescue Team (who wanted some practice at rappelling) displayed their abilities by laying two beams to support and secure the wall.

There is much that should be said about the faithful leadership of chairpersons of council, committee members and the faithful volunteers.  In spite of stressful times, the congregation was supportive and dedicated.  Our Ministers served faithfully through changing and often difficult times.  They tried to faithfully answer Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?”

That timeless question is as old as Jesus himself.  And it certainly is an appropriate one on this anniversary Sunday.  If we are to be like Peter, we would say “You are the Messiah.”  Jesus is the anointed One who is chosen to save people from harm.  Perhaps we have an understanding of Jesus based on our Sunday School days, picturing him as the Good Shepherd – the One who gathers us like a lamb being protected from the wolf.  Some of us have come to know Jesus as the Rock – the solid, immovable force that stands sentinel over us.  Others might say the Judge who rules over our actions.  And the list goes on.

“Who do you say that Jesus is?”  For the founders of this church, surely Jesus was their constant guide.  Jesus gave them strength, courage and guidance.  And that truth is equally as real today. The Jesus that I know is my peace, my lover, and my true friend.

When Jesus asked Peter, “who do you say that I am?” he was wanting to make sure that we are not missing the boat!  He wanted to make sure that we know clearly who he is and what he is all about.  “Some say this and some say that, but who do YOU say that I am?

And yet the question is as relevant today as ever before.  Who do we way Christ is?  Jesus is the gift of God who shows to us what it is to be fully human.  One of my favorite books is John Shelby Spong’s book, “This Hebrew Lord.”  In it John Spong suggests, “To be in Christ is to come alive.  It is to turn on to life, to know the power of love, to experience freedom from our self-centred bondage.  For Jesus, to be the messiah meant that he must bring life.  He must bring love to the unloved, freedom to the bound, wholeness to the distorted, and peace to the insecure.”

This fullness of life is only a dream for many people.  With lives crammed full with work, volunteer activities, care for family members and the drudgery of the everyday,  there is little room to dream of an encounter with the enlivening Christ.  Yet, freedom, wholeness and peace is the gift that Christ promises to people like you and me.

So, my friends, as we celebrate the 1990’s we reflect on Jesus’ timeless question “Who do you day that I am?”  Each of us will have a different answer.  It is perhaps the most important question for which you and I will be called to respond.  For me, the answer is; Jesus is the gift of God who shows us what it is to be fully human.  Will you dare to live in this way?  Will you let go of your inhibitions and insecurities and trust deeply!  And will you risk!  Risk vibrant, abundant living!

Our church in the 1990’s sought to honour Jesus as Bible Studies, UCW meetings, Men’s Club, Choir, and many fund raising projects were undertaken.  Yet there were struggles and tensions that permeated much of the 1990’s.  Some of it was the fall out of 1988 and the position taken concerning human sexuality tolerance.  Approximately 100 people left our church in 1988 through to 1990.For those who stayed at Penticton United Church, we knew Jesus to be inclusive and welcoming of all people. As you go into the coming week, consider the question Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”  Don’t jump to conclusions, but let the answer come to you through reflection and prayer.  You may be surprised and freed by the answer.  Your answer is at the core of your faith and it will give direction to your life and to your Christian witness in the world.  Amen.

 

“He Did, What?!” September 9, 2018 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

“He Did, What?!”

September 9, 2018 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

 

One day in an Episcopal church, a very smelly disheveled man came into the sanctuary during worship.  He was not known to anyone in the congregation.  When the congregation rose to go forward for Communion, the odiferous man went too!   On his first pass, the priest overlooked the stranger and gave communion to all the others at the rail.  On his second pass, the strange man reached out and stopped the priest and said, “What about me? I want Jesus, too.”

Tears welling in hid eyes, the priest gave the host to the stranger.  Later, the priest recounted that he had withheld the elements in order to avoid judgment from the decent, clean members of this church who paid his salary and maintained the peace.  The second time around, in the face of the man’s persistence, the gospel finally prevailed.

Today’s gospel text is remarkable because in it Jesus is challenged about his own assumptions.  The story is set in a predominantly Gentile region north of Galilee.  Jesus is approached by a Gentile woman seeking healing for her daughter.   Her daughter, she reports, has a disease of the mind.  She bows low before Jesus, expressing her distress and indicating her profound respect for Jesus.  Yet, his answer to her is a rejection.  Her request for help is met with an insult.  “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  “Children” was a term used for disciples or the community of Israel.  “Dogs” were not beloved house-hold pets but scavengers who were a nuisance to the community.  Jesus’ declared self-understanding is that his time and energy goes first and foremost to his own people.

But, the woman refuses to be silenced by the insult and instead engages Jesus in debate.  “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” she says.  Jesus, who usually overwhelms his opponents in verbal jousting, lets her reply stand.  Surprisingly, the mother’s faith remains strong.  Jesus accepts her challenge and opens himself to her teaching.  “For saying that,.” He replies, “your daughter is healed.”

The healing story which follows Jesus’ encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman again takes Jesus into the predominantly Gentile territory of the Decapolis.  There it is a deaf and mute man who needs his ears and tongue opened.  Jesus heals him with touch and spit and word: “Ephphatha, be opened.”  The story does not give the man’s faith or national identity.  Whether he was a Jew or a Gentile didn’t matter anymore.

Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears, spit and touched the man’s tongue and said, “Ephphatha”.  “Be opened.”  And the man could hear and the man could speak.

Now he could hear the birds sing.  Now he could praise God with his voice.  But now he could also hear the cries of people who were hurting.  Now he had the responsibility to speak out for justice and to act on their behalf.  As James said, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

By healing the Phoenician woman’s daughter and the deaf man, Jesus gains a new level of empathy.  He now has a deeper appreciation of the fact that God’s love is a never ending circle that includes us all.  These stories about Jesus becoming more inclusive are a tremendous challenge to all those who claim to follow him by being church.

Churches all around the world are asking themselves “how they might draw more people into their congregation.”  They know that the key is inclusivity.  Our fellowship activities and groups do much for creating community. Inviting friends into our community of faith so that they might see that we are a place of healing, inclusion, and welcome is yet another approach.  It is all about how we stretch our circle.

One of my colleagues writes about a day at the park.  He says, ”two years ago, my family and I were at the park, on a main highway near our home, watching my oldest daughter play softball.

I had noticed a man in dirty clothes sitting at one of the far tables near the street, with all his earthly belongings in a single shopping cart.  After a while, he walked my way and I tried to make myself invisible (probably as invisible as he feels every time someone ignores his outstretched hand.)

To my relief he was only going to the drinking fountain.  I was so relieved I didn’t even consider offering him some of the cold bottled water in the ice chest at my feet.

After he finished his drink, he lingered for a moment to catch the girls’ game.  Many thoughts passed through my mind as I looked at him.  How old was he, did he have children, how did he end up living on the streets?  He walked back to his cart without asking any one for anything.

As the game wore one, my 2 sons, aged 9 and 3, played kickball on the grass outside the ball field.  I was absorbed in the softball game, but I can still remember my older son’s scream “Erick, stop!”

As I turned, I could see my younger son chasing a ball directly toward the highway, loaded with fast moving cars.

I screamed my son’s name and began to run the 40 or so yards to the street.  To my amazement, the man in the dirty clothes jumped up and ran in front of my son only a few feet from the highway.  I reached them both a few seconds later and immediately began to thank the man who so unselfishly protected my son from harm.  I tried to give him all the money I had in my pocket.

“That’s okay man, I just wanted to help.”

I begged him to take the money, and finally he agreed.  Then he walked back to his cart.

The irony didn’t escape me.  An hour earlier, I tried to ignore him so he wouldn’t ask me for spare change.  Now I would have gladly given everything I had for his act of kindness.  It’s truly amazing how our vision can change so quickly.

Isn’t interesting that we all need wake up calls?  The man in the story I just shared certainly did.  So too did Jesus.  It was the foreign mother of the child with a disease of the mind who set Jesus straight.  That Syro Phoenician woman gave Jesus the wake-up call about who are outsiders.  I certainly have had many wake-up calls.  Coming to this church was certainly a profound ah ha.  Your love and acceptance has been life giving.  Your willingness to try new ideas has been awesome.  You include newcomers with great delight.  Inclusion is your commitment to God’s way.  You are committed to inclusion, and that is rare in today’s churches.

Rare, I say – because most of us are hesitant to put our biases, phobias, racist thoughts, and anxieties aside and truly invite the newcomer into our “tight little fellowship.”  We do it in token ways, but not in life changing, and faith healing manners.   That is what Jesus confronted in himself and Jesus challenges us to look inside ourselves and see if this is true for ourselves also.  Once we do that we are far more likely to invite the person we were first repelled by to join you for lunch.

Are we prepared to have our spiritual eyes and ears opened to even the most disturbing aspects of the gospel?  Are we prepared to have our spiritual hearts touched by a homeless person, a prostitute, a person from another country, a person you struggle to tolerate?  Are we the kind of church that offers a warm welcome to every person who walks through our doors?  Is our inviting acceptance for every individual that is in the shadow of our building and asks for help?

That was what Jesus did.  Now it is in our hands to open the ears, the eyes, the heart and spirit so that all may know Penticton United Church as a place of welcome, acceptance and healing.  May that be so.  Amen.

 

 

 

“A Love Song” September 2, 2018 – 15th Sunday after September – Year B

“A Love Song”

September 2, 2018 – 15th Sunday after September – Year B

 

This is the only week where we dip into the Song of Solomon.  So, I certainly don’t want to miss my chance at exploring what this text has to say to us.

This exquisite poem from the Song of Solomon, also called the Song of Songs, is part of that miscellaneous collection simply called “The Writings.”  It was the custom to read it on the 8th day of Passover, but it is also believed to be a collection of Judean wedding songs and continues to be read at weddings today.  Others treat the poems as an allegory, the bridegroom being God, and the bride being the people of Israel.  Another interpretation is that the Song is a collection of liturgies connected to spring festivals.  Whatever the interpretation (and the other lessons read with it will likely have their influence) there is no denying its lyrical beauty.  The arrival of the loved one, initially, is heard rather than seen.  As he stands at the window drinking in the beauty of the springtime, he turns and calls his love to come and share this precious moment.  The poems in the Songs of Songs celebrate the mutual love of a Lover and Beloved, now meeting, now parting, seeking, and finding each other.  It celebrates life’s rhythms in the harmony of the universe.

The story is told of a person who runs a marina on the eastern end of Long Island.  Every year he knows when spring is coming, even without a calendar.  You see, the winter may be unpredictable and the workload may rise and fall, but he knows when it is March 23rd.

Every year on March 23rd, 2 osprey return from the Caribbean and build their nest on top of the same telephone pole.  March 23rd – every year.  Such are the rhythms of life!

The Song of Songs is, for many, particularly disquieting.  For one thing, it doesn’t mention God at all.  For another, it is frankly erotic.

Treating this book, let alone this passage, as an allegory for an ecstatic relationship with God reveals our discomfort with sexuality and eroticism.  This is about passion – not the passion of Christ, but the passion of early love.

When we reduce these verses to a distant, abstract, spirituality, we embalm them.  Infatuation courses through the veins of the Song of Songs.  It rages out of control – and perhaps that’s what makes us so uneasy about this book.  It invites us to abandon ourselves to love.  But we have an enormous fear of losing control.  Even our faith needs to the rational, reasoned, logical.

Many of Jesus’ teachings deal with paradox, not logic.  Maybe we need to take a hint from the Song of Songs and fling ourselves into “the everlasting arms” with complete abandon.

A number of years ago a United Church congregation was invited to a Seder at the local synagogue.  As part of the benediction, Rabbi Morris turned to the group and said, “Sabbat Shalom.  We Jews have a custom which we hope you share with us.  We hope you will return to your homes and celebrate Shabbat as we do, by re-consummating your marriages in the joy which God intends.”

Afterward, the United Church Minister told Rabbi Morris one would not likely hear that from a Christian pulpit.  His comment was, “Yeah, Augustine really did a number on you guys.  Healthy sexuality with our marriage partner was, after all, God’s second commandment.”

The unabashed and unashamed enjoyment of the physical and erotic side of relationships is beautiful.  The split between body and spirit did us no favors.  The idea of a disembodied spirit would have been unthinkable to an Israelite.  As people, we are a unity – body and spirit.  For example, the harm done to the spirit by an extreme, unbridled sexuality is only too well documented.  And when sexuality is denied and repressed, all sorts of psychological and spiritual aberrations occur.

Beautiful Eros love that is described in this lovely poem is that love of mutuality between lovers.  It is joy-filled, exciting, and tender.  The delight is evident from the first line to the last of our scripture text.  Both partners are filled with passion and anticipation.  It is not the agape love – that love for everyone, nor the philia love between friends.  This passage describes erotic love that is toe tingling, and other parts too, and full of anticipation.

For those who have known abuse, rejection, and hurt, this passage is the opposite of your experience.  There is nothing tender, delightful, or full of mutuality in abuse.  It is neither agape or philia love.  Abuse is power over and controlling.

Now, back to Song of Songs.  This lovely passage describes a spring time courtship.  There is a newness and delight in the call between the two lovers. To be in love is to live beyond the boundaries of the self and to enter a realm of sheer delight, in which the human and the divine can merge.  Oh – God does so love it when we are fully in love.  J.C. Powys says: “Love … is always in the mood of believing in miracles.”  What greater miracle is there then when 2 unique and oh so different individuals come together and find bliss.

In our text of today we encounter the heart as the seat of passion, the centre of understanding, and the locus for transformation.  It gives more than 1 way of viewing the heart.  The 2 lovers remind us that all action -or inaction –  is a sign of the heart’s intent.  Sometimes the challenge is to renew the heart’s understanding.  Sometimes it is to live what the heart knows to be true.

While I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I had the privilege of working as a teaching assistant for the Human Sexuality course.  Several people were astonished that a Student Minister could be teaching such a course.  Especially one whose marriage had just ended.   I had a great experience teaching and facilitating sessional groups.  The conversations were deep and often amazingly personal.  The students were willing to delve deeply into their hearts to explore the fullness of understanding themselves as sexual beings.  I appreciated the opportunity of lecturing on the faith perspective of human sexuality.  Today’s scripture never failed to astound the students.

Perhaps you are wondering why this text is in our Bible.  You are not alone in wondering this.  My hunch is that it offers a fuller understanding of God’s delight with humanity.  I encourage you to take out your Bibles and read the entire book of Song of Solomon.  It is only 8 short chapters long.  You will find it after Psalms and before Isaiah.

So, what are you to take home with you from today’s service?  If you are partnered, I hope you will continue to know and express great eros love together.  For all of us, may we live out agape and philia love.  May love be deep in all our hearts.  Amen.

 

“Lovely Dwelling Place” August 26, 2018 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

“Lovely Dwelling Place”

August 26, 2018 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

 

“Oh God, the center of Your will

Is truly the place of fulfillment.

I long incessantly

For the peace and security of walking with you.

Therein only is purpose and meaning for my life.

Even the birds of the air

And the animals that inhabit our forests

abide within your orbit and destiny for them.

Thus it is that persons who discover and follow Your course for them

Are forever blessed.

How enriched they are

Who draw their power from You,

Whose hearts are focused on You!

Even as they wend their way

Through this fractured world,

They become springs of healing reservoirs of power,

To the sick, weak, and empty lives

They touch about them.

God look with loving mercy upon those

Who have yielded their destinies to You.

Just one day in the centre of Your will

Is incomparably better than a thousand

Spent in the pursuit

Of self-centred aims and objectives.

It is more fulfilling to be an underpaid clerk

In the service of my God

Than to be owner and director

Of some huge and wealthy enterprise.

O God, nothing that is truly good and worthwhile

Is with-held from those who walk

Within Your will.

The person who trusts in You is very rich indeed!”

Writes poet Leslie Brandt as he retells the essence of Psalm 84.

Today’s psalm beautifully captures the theological significance of the Temple for the Israelites.  It was God’s home on earth, the place where the Presence of God could be encountered and engaged.  The psalmist longs to go there not because it is a beautiful building but because the human soul longs for God.

Notice the movement in the psalm.  It was probably recited by pilgrims as they approached the doors, but even beyond this practical understanding, the assumption is that people need to move towards God.  Making pilgrimage is not simply about going to a holy place, it is about actively choosing to approach God, to walk in God’s ways, to seek out the values and perspectives and dreams of this power.  James L. Mays says, “Pilgrimage to God’s place is a ritual of entry into God’s order of reality and the conditions of human life.”

Throughout Christian history we have used this psalm not so much to refer to the Temple as to refer to any of the churches and shrines where we experience the holiness of God.  We go to God in our own sacred places.  We go to God by the choices we make for our lives.  We find the presence of God in many different ways, but we can join with the psalmist in celebrating the joy and the blessing of feeling at home there.

Our Psalm is one of the most popular of a group of pilgrimage psalms that would be sung as pilgrims arrived at the temple.  It probably was written before David’s time and refers to the time when Zion was a Jebusite holy place.  The psalmist notices birds nesting among the beams and acknowledges God’s presence and providence for all life.  A single day as a pilgrim at the temple gates is deemed to be worth more than a thousand days spent elsewhere.

A colleague tells “over the weekend, we discovered a sparrow had taken Psalm 84 literally.  It had flown in the front door and was lodged high in the narthex by windows that could not be opened.  After days it was weaker, but still had not come down.  Not having a St. Francis who could charm the birds from the trees, I was resigned to waiting for the inevitable fall to the ground.  That night, however, I received a call from a member of our Bible study group who had consulted the New Jersey Audubon Society .  It seems that birds, blithe spirits, are phototropic!  The way to get them out of a building is to wait until shadows fall.  Shine a bright light where you want them to be.  Stir them up. And they will “go toward the light.”  I can attest that it’s true!”

Birds are attracted to light and so are most people.  In this story, the bird follows the light out of the church.  How good are we at shining the light of Christ to attract people into the church.  Do we provide the light their souls long for?  I wonder?….

So, getting back to reflecting on the background to this psalm.  Psalm 84 is song of pilgrimage and worship, perhaps sung as whippers entered the Temple.  This psalm evokes a sense of the mystery of the Temple and the emotions of those who came to worship there.  Longing, fainting, yearning, and singing for joy are all felt in an atmosphere of pageantry and feasting.  The psalmist even notes the birds that nest in the Temple pillars near the alter.  Those who make their way to the Temple find refuge and strength in God to whom the Temple is dedicated.

What an amazing place of acceptance and inclusion.  Throughout the psalm we hear echo of the inclusiveness of God.  No one is excluded.  It is God’s open house.  In God’s open house you can talk to all people of faith.  Over the last number of years we have held a Peace service in September.  Although the turnout hasn’t been enormous, nevertheless, those of us who seek peace and want to learn how other faith communities are doing on their peace journey – we gather.    We do so, because God’s dwelling place is lovely because it is open for all people.

I can’t help thinking of the many places where I experience God’s dwelling place.  This sanctuary is one of them.  Years ago it was on the shore line at Camp Kasota West, in Alberta.  I love Linden gardens as a place where God and I commune.  Where is your place where you experience God’s dwelling place?  Where do you encounter God’s dwelling place in a profound way?

James Taylor, writer and poet offers a contemporary re-telling of Psalm 84.  He entitles it, A Passionate Lover:

“My heart races when I am in your presence;

My blood pulses with joy when I think of you.

You never turn anything away from you.

You encourage swallows to nest under your eaves

And worms to tunnel in your earth.

Each creature plays its part in your universal symphony.

Whatever strength we have, we get from you.

Refreshed and renewed, we rise eager for each new day,

And find that every road leads us to you.

In apartment blocks and office towers,

High-rise filing cabinets filled with despair, you comfort us;

When narrow minds turn into cold shoulders,

You renew us.

When we cannot cope, you carry us.

You see us, you know us, you look into our hearts.

You lift us up when our knees melt with weariness;

You hear our prayers.

You stand beside us, even when we cannot recognize you.

So we call on you, oh God of Gods.

Creator of the universe, hear the plea of your creation.

Take me as your lover.

I would rather be dirt swept before your broom

Than a polished brass plaque in anyone else’s boardroom.

An hour in your company is more stimulating than a day at Disneyland.

You are like the sun that burns away the morning fog;

You are as fresh as the air after a spring shower;

Deceit And deception have no part in your personality.

You are the kind of God I want to live with.”  So writes James Taylor

 

May you delight in God’s Temple, where-ever that may be for you.  May you find peace and deep grace.  Let the happiness that is God, dwell deep within your soul.  Amen.

“Who Is this Living Bread?” August 19, 2018 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

“Who Is this Living Bread?”

August 19, 2018 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

 

The 9 grain loaf is on the menu again, folks!  Indeed – we have now come to a 4th week of chewing on these grainy texts from John’s 6th chapter.  Each passage we have sampled has had a unique taste and texture.  Today’s is also exceptional.  Up to now, we have had a string of texts working out the significance of Jesus as the bread of life whose self, words and actions – embodied in mere flesh – offer life to the world.  But today, the pattern changes.  We look at how the community participates through the food of our common meal, communion, or the eucharist.

Most scholars think that today’s passage is an add on to the 6th chapter of John, not an original part of the passage.  Nevertheless, as we explore its insights, we glean some astounding learnings.

You can’t blame the Jews or the disciples for being puzzled, angry, and repulsed.  The idea of eating human flesh and drinking blood is abhorrent to us.  It was surely more so to them.  From our vantage point in history, we can understand the metaphor.  From where they stood, with Jesus alive and talking to them, it was very different.  Verse 66 says that from this time on many of his disciples stopped following him.

What Jesus probably meant was that without the closest, most intimate relationship; without a real internalizing of the love and message of the gospel, life will never really satisfy our craving for meaning.  We will continue to search for bread.

I wonder what would turn me away from faith?  Would it be some intellectual hurdle, the threat of physical harm, or the allure of money?

Not only do we need to see and believe but we need to eat and drink who Jesus is.  We are not talking about cannibalism though.  John states it more clearly in chapter 17 verses 22 and 23 “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one.”

I was reading about the plight of Pakistani Christians.  In that Moslem country, Christians are being raped, hung, beaten, and their property destroyed, because they are Christians.  Yet they won’t change, they stay because they have nothing else to hang on to.  They have bread.

The poet Bialik was raised in poverty.  His single mother worked long, hard hours, often coming home late at night.  Exhausted as she was, she would make the bread for the next day before going to bed.  With tears of exhaustion she would weep while kneading the bread.  Bialik would hear her praying for God’s strength and guidance to rear her children in faith.  He would see her tears mix with the dough.  The next morning, little Bialik ate the bread acknowledging that “he swallowed my mother’s tears.  Part of my mother was in that bread.”

Every meal is a sacrament.   I encourage you to think about some of the special meals that you have had throughout your life.  Perhaps it was going to an elegant restaurant.  Possibly it was a gathering with family and friends and a delicious meal was served.  Maybe it was a meal eaten over a campfire.  Now – think about some of the communion or eucharist celebrations that have been particularly meaningful.  For me, I think of one with a group of teenagers at a church camp.  I remember a communion where I cried throughout because it was so profound.  I remember the first Maundy Thursday service I attended and we sat around the communion table and the 12 of us shared the sacred meal.  There was no doubt that I ate the body and blood, in a metaphorical way, of Jesus the Christ.

Are we hungry enough to taste the eternal God?  Are we thirsty enough to drink that which quenches our deepest thirst?  The bread which Jesus offers sustains us in this world where violence and pain and suffering abounds.  As we cry our salty tears we taste the depth of sorrow and hurt that only Jesus can quench.  And so, we take in the blood knowing that eternal life is the great gift.

It is a fearsome thing to confront the reality of the living God.  It may lead to wisdom, or joy, or praise.  It may also lead to opponents, ridicule, a cross.  What is clear, however, is that we cannot remain the same.  When we come to knowing God more deeply, when we take part of God into ourselves and allow it to nourish us and change us, our perspectives, our values, our joys and our sorrows are converted for eternity.

I grew up in a home where I was dropped off for Sunday School, not taken.  When I was 12 or so, I joined the confirmation class and chose to the confirmed.  It was after my Mother saw something had happened to me through the process of confirmation preparation and the actual sacrament, that she chose to become confirmed.  I was changed, and my Mom wanted to find out what that was all about.

As God’s people, we are constantly being changed.  Day by day we become more compassionate.  We love more deeply.  We hunger for justice.  So, we come to church so that we might be fed.  We partake in communion and feast on the gift that Jesus is in our lives.

The disheveled old lady noticed the young woman crying through most of the service.  She seemed to be encountering a deep, personal agony.

When the communion came by, the younger woman hesitated.  The elderly woman hesitated.  The elderly woman leaned over to her and whispered, “Take it deary.  It’s specially for you and me.”  Amen.

 

 

 

“Who Is this Living Bread?”

August 19, 2018 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

 

The 9 grain loaf is on the menu again, folks!  Indeed – we have now come to a 4th week of chewing on these grainy texts from John’s 6th chapter.  Each passage we have sampled has had a unique taste and texture.  Today’s is also exceptional.  Up to now, we have had a string of texts working out the significance of Jesus as the bread of life whose self, words and actions – embodied in mere flesh – offer life to the world.  But today, the pattern changes.  We look at how the community participates through the food of our common meal, communion, or the eucharist.

Most scholars think that today’s passage is an add on to the 6th chapter of John, not an original part of the passage.  Nevertheless, as we explore its insights, we glean some astounding learnings.

You can’t blame the Jews or the disciples for being puzzled, angry, and repulsed.  The idea of eating human flesh and drinking blood is abhorrent to us.  It was surely more so to them.  From our vantage point in history, we can understand the metaphor.  From where they stood, with Jesus alive and talking to them, it was very different.  Verse 66 says that from this time on many of his disciples stopped following him.

What Jesus probably meant was that without the closest, most intimate relationship; without a real internalizing of the love and message of the gospel, life will never really satisfy our craving for meaning.  We will continue to search for bread.

I wonder what would turn me away from faith?  Would it be some intellectual hurdle, the threat of physical harm, or the allure of money?

Not only do we need to see and believe but we need to eat and drink who Jesus is.  We are not talking about cannibalism though.  John states it more clearly in chapter 17 verses 22 and 23 “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one.”

I was reading about the plight of Pakistani Christians.  In that Moslem country, Christians are being raped, hung, beaten, and their property destroyed, because they are Christians.  Yet they won’t change, they stay because they have nothing else to hang on to.  They have bread.

The poet Bialik was raised in poverty.  His single mother worked long, hard hours, often coming home late at night.  Exhausted as she was, she would make the bread for the next day before going to bed.  With tears of exhaustion she would weep while kneading the bread.  Bialik would hear her praying for God’s strength and guidance to rear her children in faith.  He would see her tears mix with the dough.  The next morning, little Bialik ate the bread acknowledging that “he swallowed my mother’s tears.  Part of my mother was in that bread.”

Every meal is a sacrament.   I encourage you to think about some of the special meals that you have had throughout your life.  Perhaps it was going to an elegant restaurant.  Possibly it was a gathering with family and friends and a delicious meal was served.  Maybe it was a meal eaten over a campfire.  Now – think about some of the communion or eucharist celebrations that have been particularly meaningful.  For me, I think of one with a group of teenagers at a church camp.  I remember a communion where I cried throughout because it was so profound.  I remember the first Maundy Thursday service I attended and we sat around the communion table and the 12 of us shared the sacred meal.  There was no doubt that I ate the body and blood, in a metaphorical way, of Jesus the Christ.

Are we hungry enough to taste the eternal God?  Are we thirsty enough to drink that which quenches our deepest thirst?  The bread which Jesus offers sustains us in this world where violence and pain and suffering abounds.  As we cry our salty tears we taste the depth of sorrow and hurt that only Jesus can quench.  And so, we take in the blood knowing that eternal life is the great gift.

It is a fearsome thing to confront the reality of the living God.  It may lead to wisdom, or joy, or praise.  It may also lead to opponents, ridicule, a cross.  What is clear, however, is that we cannot remain the same.  When we come to knowing God more deeply, when we take part of God into ourselves and allow it to nourish us and change us, our perspectives, our values, our joys and our sorrows are converted for eternity.

I grew up in a home where I was dropped off for Sunday School, not taken.  When I was 12 or so, I joined the confirmation class and chose to the confirmed.  It was after my Mother saw something had happened to me through the process of confirmation preparation and the actual sacrament, that she chose to become confirmed.  I was changed, and my Mom wanted to find out what that was all about.

As God’s people, we are constantly being changed.  Day by day we become more compassionate.  We love more deeply.  We hunger for justice.  So, we come to church so that we might be fed.  We partake in communion and feast on the gift that Jesus is in our lives.

The disheveled old lady noticed the young woman crying through most of the service.  She seemed to be encountering a deep, personal agony.

When the communion came by, the younger woman hesitated.  The elderly woman hesitated.  The elderly woman leaned over to her and whispered, “Take it deary.  It’s specially for you and me.”  Amen.

 

 

 

“An Emotional Time” August 12, 2018 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

“An Emotional Time”

August 12, 2018 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

 

Pat Baker reached forward to pick up the communion bread, to break it, and stopped.  The bread was glowing.

The sight so surprised her that she pulled back her hands.  Then she realized that the bread itself was not glowing.  But somehow, a pool of golden light fell upon the bread and plate it lay upon.  Steeling herself, Pat reached into the pool of light and broke the bread.

After the service, she looked around to find an explanation.  The explanation was simple enough, but perhaps even more remarkable.  The church had recently installed a large brass cross on the back wall of the chancel, illuminated by a spotlight.  The spotlight reflected off the shiny brass cross, focusing a patch of warm-coloured light on the bread on the communion table.

We couldn’t have planned it that way if we had tried,” said Pat, still shaking her head.  “To have the light of the cross fall on the bread that is broken…”

Martin Luther, back in 1520 tells us, “For just as the bread is made out of many grains ground and mixed together, and out of the bodies of the many grains there comes the body of one bread, in which each grain loses its form and body and takes upon itself the common body of the bread… so it should be with us

This enkindles in us such love that we take on Christ’s form, rely upon his righteousness, life and blessedness.  And through this interchange of his blessings and our misfortunes we become one loaf, one bread, one body … and have all things in common.

We should humbly and heartily give thanks with all our powers to the God of all mercy for giving us such a gracious sign by which – if we hold fast to it in faith – he leads and draws us through death and every danger to himself, to Christ.” So said Martin Luther.

I think it is safe to say that the eating of food is at one and the same time both the most commonplace and the most profound experience of any life.  The first moment in which love is experienced by any human being is the moment when he or she first is fed.  Newborn babies enter life separate and alone.  The vast new world is filled with unknown stimuli; but when children are fed by their mothers, they are held, cradled, and rocked.  They know warmth, security, caring.  It is all but impossible for an infant to receive food without feeling community and love.  So, it is that deep in our unconscious minds, food becomes associated with something far deeper than food.  It is a symbol for love; never are the two separated.

Eating food is a profound human experience.   It is physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.  By understanding this, we comprehend Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life.”  Eating bread – in fact eating any food – was a symbol for love.  Bread – fills a body, physically.  Love psychologically fills a life.  The Christ claim to be the bread of life was therefore a claim to be the power that fulfills the deepest needs of human life.

We worship Jesus Christ when the bread of life is taken, blessed, broken and given.  Christ both makes known and is the source of life.  We worship him by living in his freedom, sharing in his being, giving of his love; and we call him brother and Comforter, for he is bread – the bread of life.

In 11 short verses Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.  I am the bread that came down from heaven.  I am the bread of life.  I am the living bread.”  4 times he says, “I am bread.”  We must not forget that God is the great I Am.  Jesus is self identifying his relationship with God and with humanity.

This passage from the Gospel of John begins with the familiar verse of last week’s reading.  Jesus declares himself as the “bread of life.”  Some of his listeners takes great offense at this, pointing out Jesus’ humble origins.  Jesus replies briefly to them and then resumes an elevated discourse on his relationship with God, linking the Exodus from Egypt with the freedom of new life that he offers.  He repeats the assertion  – “I am the bread of life” – and goes on the describe that bread even more graphically as his own flesh.  The mention of “flesh” recalls the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, where it states “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” and also raises eucharistic or in other words communion images.

Jesus takes ordinary things from life and nature such as bread, wine, water and light, and transforms them into symbols bearing spiritual meaning and possessing saving power.  In the dialogue with Nicodemus, birth becomes New Birth, with the Woman at the well, water becomes Living Water and here bread from the feeding of the 5,000 becomes Bread of Life which feeds the whole world.

As we reflect on this simple, yet complex image we become convinced that Jesus speaks of bread that is more than bread.  It is spiritual nourishment.  We recognize that bread for myself is a material question.  Bread for my neighbour is a spiritual question.

In one Saskatchewan community the groundwater is threatened.  The water table is near the surface and used by a lot of agriculture.  The ground water has been tainted.  It is compromised by the use of pesticides and growth enhancers.  The grain that is now produced is genetically altered.  In this community is a Roman Catholic nun who leads conferences and workshops.  Because the grain has been altered, her host for communion is compromised by poison.  It brings the issue of the earth and bread into a whole new level of existence in terms of brokenness and our sin.

One of my special friends is a woman who has been organically farming for over 30 years in Southwest Saskatchewan.  Growing lentils, peas, durham wheat and some canola – she has learned the many special techniques necessary to farm without using pesticides and herbicides.  She is an organic farmer because she wants to do her part for the environment.  She believes that the quality of product is enhanced because of the no chemicals approach to farming.  Farming organically is part of her commitment to leave the world a better place.  Her homemade multi grain bread is something to swoon over.

High quality, nutritious food is essential to a healthy life.  To share the bread of life with other pilgrims is to know the Holy One.  May your table be laden with nourishing bread.  And each time you take a bite of bread remember that Jesus is the bread of life.

It has been said that to know Jesus is to know God.  To know Jesus is to have eternal life.   May we always reflect on these words of Jesus, “whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Amen.

 

 

 

“No Getting Away” July 22, 2018 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

“No Getting Away”

July 22, 2018 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

 

There is an old saying:  The average congregation is like a basketball game where there are 10 players badly in need of rest and 100 spectators badly in need of exercise.

Jesus was physically weary, and so were his disciples. The 12 had just completed an extensive teaching and healing mission, and they desperately needed rest.  But the people heard of where they were headed by boat, and they “hurried there on foot.”  We see a picture of people feeling a void in their lives, desperate for truth, yearning for something that satisfies the soul.

The people were yearning for more than a theological pronouncement, though.  They were shepherds, carpenters, housewives, merchants, cobblers, all wishing to find someone who could show them the way.  They needed someone who would be their Leader, a shepherd, who would meet their deepest needs.  They were seeking someone who cared and understood.  They needed a Redeemer who would lead them to a fulfilling future, someone who could even assure them of eternal life.

The crowd of people were seeking compassion and knew that the Compassionate One was who they needed to turn to.  The precondition for compassion is unconditional solidarity with the ones for whom you feel it.  Who else but Jesus could offer the consolation and compassion to all us needy sojourners?

I have long admired the Grandmothers for Africa movement.  Their commitment and compassion for the grannies in Africa is astounding.  Supporting the grannies who are raising their HIV/AIDS infected grandchildren is amazing.  The grandmothers for Africa extend care and compassion to the needy in Africa through their many fund-raising and awareness-raising endeavours.

We see large crowds of people so needy that they will not leave Jesus or his disciples alone even when they need a break.  We see Jesus responding with compassion to their need, putting aside his own need for rest and refreshment.  We see how intertwined Jesus’ teaching and healing were; he seems never to have done one without the other.  Both arose out of his compassion for the crowd.  Both were signs of the good news that God was changing people’s lives.  Both were integral to the ministry he undertook and passed on to his disciples.

I am committed to attending yoga classes at least 3 times a week.  I do this because it is good for flexibility and strength, but most importantly it is an important spiritual discipline for me.  Many of my fellow yogis talk about how blissful and meditative yoga is for them.  They have found a spiritual practice that works.

 

If it is true that today people around us do not recognize the church as a place of healing, then we need to look closely at our mission and the message we have been communicating to the broader community.  The Healing Touch program needs to be promoted in every way possible as a Christian healing practice.  We are a congregation that are blessed to have a number of healing touch practitioners in our midst.  Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings are times when scheduled sessions are arranged. Other times can be arranged by contacting the church office. Prayer must be affirmed as a healing tool.  Spiritual Direction must be interpreted and then promoted as a tool of awareness and growth.  The church must be a place of Good News, not petty squabbles and gossip.

This gospel passage gives some profound and direct insights on how the church should be in this busy world we live in.  We are reminded that a cloistered building set apart from the hustle and bustle of daily living is not the Jesus way.  However, being in a central location and expecting people to make their way to a church on their own is not the way of faithfulness.  Healing takes place when the faith community and those with whom they minister reach out to one another in mutual need.  Just as persons come to the church in need of God’s grace, the faith community engages in ministry because it needs to live as Christ has commanded, as the body of Christ sent into the world to help God repair the worlds brokenness caused by spiritual brokenness.  By embracing its role as the fringe of Christ’s cloak, the church can expect to have a healing effect on all who reach out to Christian communities with the desire to be made whole.

As we reflect on this Gospel passage we find ourselves thinking about the suffering of the world and the need for healing.  The people where rushing and begging for an opportunity to be made whole – they sought an encounter with God.  But I don’t see Penticton United Church, nor in fact most, if not every other church experiencing the neediness of the world in which we are part of.  Oh, how I wish we would encounter people who are rushing and begging for an opportunity to be made whole through an encounter with God.  This is not how a contemporary congregation typically experiences the neediness of the world. When you and I are in search of healing we are more likely to seek out therapists, physicians, self-help books, and prescription drugs, than we are to talk to me or any other minister, nor are we likely to search out a Spiritual Director, of which I am one.  Perhaps this is because persons outside the church do not recognize Christ’s healing presence within communities of faith.  Jesus and the disciples encounter people in need as part of their movement from place to place, not by waiting for people to make their way to them.  Healing takes place when the faith community and those with whom they minister reach out to one another in mutual need.

In this glorious summer time, may we come away and rest.  Let that rest be sure and comforting in the compassionate arms of our God.  Amen.