“Called and Sent” July 8, 2018 – Year B – 7th Sunday after Pentecost

“Called and Sent”

July 8, 2018 – Year B – 7th Sunday after Pentecost

At my first church after I was ordained, I moved into the manse and then walked down the street to the 1 corner grocery store to pick up some food.  At the checkout I introduced myself to the teller and told her I was the new United Church minister.  She grunted at me and told me the total amount of my purchase.  What a welcome to my new community!  It turned out that the teller was a member of the church and served as the treasurer on the Board. It was a beginning that was to continue for 2 long years.  2 years later I shook the dust off my feet and head off to a new community where I stayed 8 years.

To the people of Nazareth, Jesus is a known quantity.  They have him pegged – he’s a carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon and unnamed sisters who are living in town.  No room has been left for new insights, or a fresh breeze of God’s Spirit.  Jesus is drained of power by the negativity of the people of his home town, and not able to do any miracles while in their midst.  So, Jesus quickly moves on to other villages where God’s power can be manifest, where God’s work can be done.

This gospel story takes on special significance when we reflect on the life of Christian churches over time.  Negativity, back biting, gossip, put downs of others, all corrode health of a faith community.  It drains energy and resiliency.  Power and strength is sapped.  Unfortunately, too many churches have not learned to communicate lovingly.  And this has destroyed the power of God’s enlivening message.  So, dust is shaken off the feet and the faithful move on.

I am proud of you and all the people who consider this church their spiritual home.  You do a good job of direct communication.  If you have concerns, you speak to members of the Ministry and Personnel Committee or the Council Chairperson.  You commit yourselves to the way of love rather than hurtful bickering.

Just imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to come home, ready to share his healing ministry.  But, the hometown crowd wouldn’t listen to his pronouncements in the synagogue or open themselves to the healing power that Jesus offered.

There was an evangelist in a small, small church in rural Canada.  He wanted to have a revival in his little community.  He preached a long fiery sermon and at the end of it he called out for those who had been converted to come forward to the alter – the altar call.  The finale of every revival.

“Come forward,” he said.  “Anyone who has had a change of heart, who has accepted Jesus.”

No one came.  It was a small town and they all knew each other, and it was just too embarrassing. 

So, the preacher tried again. “Anyone who wants to reaffirm their commitment to Christ come on down.  Come on.  Come forward.”

Again, no one came.  So, the preacher got mad.  He’d put all his work into the revival and preached his heart out and by golly those people were gonna show some spirit.  “All right,” he shouted, “Anyone who wants to stay with Satan, stay in the pews!”

The people were caught.  They were confused and embarrassed and nobody moved.

So, there they sat.  It was a hot summer night.  The preacher and the congregation were caught in a stalemate.  For the preacher, it was a disaster.

That evening, the preacher prayed long and hard.  When he finally stopped talking, he felt a warm presence around him, and then, yes, he was sure he heard it.  There was a deep, loving, jolly chuckle.

The evangelist had not listen early on to God’s word of warning.  He did not heed the wisdom of, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

As we re-examine the account in the Gospel of Mark it is interesting to note that Jesus does not encourage his disciples to stay on and try to persuade those who are not ready to receive his message.  They are only responsible for delivering the message: they are not responsible for how others responded.  They are to shake the dust off their feet and move on.

That is the plight of the Christian church today.  Countless preachers are pronouncing the message of Christ’s transforming love, to nearly empty churches.  There are few people hearing, experiencing, and living Jesus’ life-changing message.  Instead of filling churches, today’s audience too easily falls into the “spiritual but not religious” category and fail to even try attending a Christian worship service.  They pre-judge.  And sadly, they are missing the vibrant excitement of knowing Jesus in a deep and personal way.

I cannot imagine someone who listened to Jesus preach, saying, “I’m sorry, that new preacher just didn’t do a thing for me.  I don’t think I will listen to him again.” After all, he is a carpenter.  He is Mary’s son.  And yet, our gospel text reports that Jesus and his Good News was dismissed.

How might we bring the Christian message to life?  Here are a few suggestions.  Acts of grace and service are subtle but effective ways of living the Christ message.  Sending notes of care and kindness are messages of Christ’s charity.  Telling others about the impact attending church has on your life, is Christian witness. Being good listeners to those who need an attentive ear is faithful leadership.   Acting justly and living with integrity is following the Christ path. 

Our text from the Gospel of Mark reveals Jesus in a very different way than the rest of the Gospels.  Rather than being strong and dramatic, we see Jesus moving away from his home community, out to the villages where he was more warmly welcomed.  Sage advise was offered concerning simple evangelism. 

As followers of Jesus, we too are reminded to offer God’s love filled message.  But if it is not received, we are to move on to a more receptive audience.  Let us step out with courage.  Amen.

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“Crying Out of the Depths” July 1, 2018

“Crying Out of the Depths”

July 1, 2018 – Year B – 6th Sunday after Pentecost

Preaching on today’s scripture passages is challenging – not that all of the Bible isn’t challenging.  But, how do I do justice to a story within a story?  How do I help you to look at what it means to be healed?

Perhaps a story helps – A little girl tells her Mother about her visit to her newly widowed neighbour.  “I helped Mrs. White feel lots better,” the little girl says.  Mom, worried about what her daughter might have said, and asks, “Oh, what did you say?” “Nothing, I just climbed on her knee, hugged her, and we cried together.” 

Our Gospel text begins with an anxious father begging Jesus for help.  Jairus, a synagogue official unaccustomed to asking for anything, is desperate.  Jesus tells him to have faith, and they travel towards the man’s home.  Then a 2nd story interrupts.  Besides building tension, this story tells us something of what faith is about.  Faith involves risk.  The woman with the hemorrhage broke all the rules and taboos of her culture and religion, in order to be healed. She has been menstruating continuously for 12 straight years.  Because of her illness, she was considered to be ritually unclean. For 12 years (that is 144 months) the woman was forbidden to touch, to shake hands, to make love, to cook, to bake, to embrace! She had no business being out among crowds where someone might accidently come into contact with her, let alone deliberately touch the teacher’s garment.  And, as a result of her risk-taking, her illness disappears.  But that is not the real healing which the woman needs.  She trembles with fear as Jesus asks, “Who touched me?”  She trembles because her need for a full, whole life promised by God, has forced her to break a sacred law, which is found in Leviticus 12:2-7.  Jesus also is very aware of the law.  He must have wanted her deed made public so other women could benefit from it – a healing of society. To fully appreciate the wholeness Jesus imparted to the unnamed woman, consider this: “Women are expected to be carriers of the basic necessities for human communion, in fact they value their associations with others more highly than themselves.  Women tend to be so overidentified with others that the threatened loss or even interruption of an affiliation can be perceived not just as a loss of a relationship but as something closer to a total loss of self,” so says Jean Baker Miller in “Toward a New Psychology of Women.”

When she openly and honestly names what she has done, and why, Jesus declares that her faith has made her “whole.”  Her faith gave her the strength to believe that such an action was acceptable to God, if not to the society around her.  She has reclaimed her humanity and been set free from her trouble.  Jesus sends her on her way in Peace – in true and complete shalom.

Meanwhile, news comes that Jairus’ daughter has died, but the news does not end the journey.  When Jesus and his entourage arrive at the house, the mourning rituals have begun.  Jesus’ comment that she is only sleeping is meant to attest that in the presence of Jesus and under his authority, death itself – real death – is but a sleep.  Then Jesus speaks, “Talith cumi” (my dear little one)  and the child gets up.  The story concludes with Jesus suggesting that the child be given something to eat – a sure sign of recovery, but for whom this child was not a “case” but a little girl.

This miracle story is explained in many ways by theologians much more scholarly than me.  However, what I do know is that sometimes there are healings when hope seems impossible.  Other times there are deaths even when faith is strong and hope is great.  I can’t explain why good people die.  I don’t understand why children die.  I don’t have any explanations why accidents happen.  All that I know is that God’s love is greater than our pain, sadness, grief, or hopelessness. 

These 2 challenging stories remind us that God is Liberator and Life Giver. Whatever the direction our life has taken – whatever the stresses we bear – whatever the pain we endure – Jesus walks with us, granting us abundant life.   

I believe that both of these healing stories call us to reflect on our soul deep relationship with God. They remind us of the importance of risk-taking when we open our hearts and spirits to God’s abundant grace.

While all of that is important I think there is a community and global aspect in which we are to participate.  After our Church Council meeting this week, one of our members spoke to me saying that this person will be writing to our mayor and city council members about one of the decisions we made.  I too will be letting our local elected officials know about the decision our church is taking on loitering.  We do so because we seek wholeness and safety for all who are affiliated with our building.

If our community, our province, our country and indeed our world is to see peace and justice it must begin within each of us.  We must know with every breath we take that we are at peace.  We are whole, loved people of God.  We then look around us and see what difference Penticton United Church is making to the community of Penticton.  Where are the gaps?  What needs to be addressed?  Can we be initiators of pathways towards healing?  Will we partner with other groups, so that God’s blessings are experienced by all?  Will we act on behalf of the environment?  Will we petition the government ensuring that drugs are safe and available in a public distribution place, not the street? 

May we have such faith that we risk reaching out to Jesus.  May we touch his robe and experience deep, life changing healing.  May we be woken from our sleep, so that we are fully alive to the possibilities and the risk of faithful living.  May God’s power and love abide deep with you and all creation!  Amen.

“Calm Down!” – June 24, 2018

“Calm Down!”

June 24, 2018 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B

When the Playshare children are gathering outside the classroom door, every once in a while, I hear a parent say to an excited child, “calm down.” When I am over excited about a topic, you are likely wanting to say to me, “Laura, calm down.  We get it – we hear you – enough.”

“The church is dying” says a fearful congregation.  And it hears today’s scripture text and wonders how it will let go of the fear.  Where is peace when beloved institutions are changing or closing right around us?

I attended a yoga ½ day retreat 6 weeks ago and pulled a meditation card with the words “there is peace in every breathe,” on it.  In short, it is saying “Peace!  Be still!”  Slow down enough that you can pay attention to your breathing.  Once one is aware of our breathing, then we can pray, meditate, and reflect.  We can reflect on God’s message.  God might well be saying “calm down, I am with you.”

Hurricanes, tsunamis, and floods, terrorist attacks, war and violence, the pain of personal suffering leave us crying out to God, “Do you not care that we are perishing.”  Of course, God cares.  Yet, it is in the most anxious times that we are least likely to take that slow, deep, peaceful breath and wait.  It is in the intentional waiting – mindful attentativeness – that we know deep in our bones that God is telling us to calm down – “Peace!  Be still!” is our mantra.   

I wonder if the scriptural story might have gone something like this:  They waited awhile after the storm abated, until he fell back to sleep.  When his breathing lengthened, and the stillness of his body lingered, they huddled close together to talk.  “Who is this man!?” Did you see what just happened?  “What have we gotten ourselves into here?”

They shook their heads in stunned silence until one said, ”Well, I don’t know how he called the seas that way, but I do know that I don’t appreciate how he challenged our faith at a time of such danger.  Surely he, of all people, could understand our fear.  He has been so kind and compassionate, but tonight he was hurtful.  I don’t understand.”

Then another spoke.  More timid than the rest, he was a quieter man whose words were always well chosen.  After thinking for a moment, he said “What if Jesus meant that we didn’t need to be afraid, not because he was with us in the boat, but because we had it within us to save ourselves?  What if he was trying to teach us about the power of faith?”

In the stern, Jesus lay as still as the waters around him, with eyes fixed upon the starlit night and with the slightest bit of a grin on his face.

What is it in our lives that we most fear?  Is it major health concerns?  Is it troubles facing our families?  Is it financial despair?  Is it losing your beloved?  Jesus knows all about these worries!  He has stood through them with countless others.  If any of these realities are yours, be assured that Jesus walks with you, holding your hand.  The ever-present Christ offers peace and sustaining calm. 

How do we access this ever-present peace?  Taking time for intentional prayer, meditation, and mindfulness exercises quiets the mind chatter and opens the soul.  Going for walks, preferably in the out-of-doors, yoga, thai chi, fishing, and other activities that engage the full body connect us to the divine.  Speaking with a Spiritual Director, Minister, or Soul friend all help us to relate to the Holy One.  All of these suggestions are “Soul Work” and help open us to the holy which is internal.  We rest in deep assurance that peace is God’s gift in the storms of life.

Our meetings of Council, Long Term Planning Committee, and the Finance committee often have conversations concerning our church’s financial picture.  Comments such as “we have only enough money in reserve to stay open for 3 to 4 years.  We won’t be open to see our 100th anniversary.  The church is slowly dying.  We have to make drastic cuts.”  Have all been uttered.  I want to suggest this is fear talking rather than imaginative, calm planning. 

Let me lay out alternate facts.  I will be retiring in 1 ½ years.  The Minister from Summerland will be retiring in 2 years.  The Minister from Oasis will be retiring in 2 ½ to 3 years.  Osoyoos, Oliver and Okanagan Falls United Churches are all without Ministers as of July.  What about initiating a conversation with all these churches and look at clustering.  Perhaps these 6 churches could find a creative way of working together and sharing ministry personnel.  Perhaps staff with special expertise could be called to serve the cluster and all the churches benefit. Wouldn’t it be awesome to call 3 or 4 ministers to serve the south Okanagan and they ensure that excellent preaching happens in all 6 churches, tremendous faith formation options are available throughout the area, meaningful outreach is supported, and each congregation is supported administratively.  Instead of being deluged by the storm of debt, there can be calm and peace – and dare I say it, excitement at new possibilities.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” 

Your 16 year old grandchild comes to you to tell you she is pregnant.  You are sad and angry.  This is not what you wish for your beloved grandchild.  “Peace is in every breath you take” runs through your head as you give her a hug and say to her, “God’s peace be with you, my child.”

Your Doctor stares at the computer and says, “I am sorry.  You have cancer of the lung.  I will set up an appointment with the oncologist.”  Or, at least that is all you heard.  The wave of fear washes over you and you feel like you are sinking to the bottom of a crater.  The Doctor says, “Keep faith in the Great Physician.”  And you breath in a breathe of calm.

Even when we are in the boat with the disciples and the wind comes up and the waves are crashing against the side of the vessel – we have nothing to fear.  Take a deep breath – inhale peace.  Take a deep breath – inhale calm.  Know that Christ, the great captain of the lake is with us.  We are not perishing.  Peace!  Be Still!

I want to finish with a Readers Digest quote:  A ship crossing the Atlantic ran into a terrific storm.  One of the passengers went to the captain asking, “Captain, is there any danger?” “No,” replied the captain, “not yet.  The sailors are still swearing, but if they start to pray, put on your life-belt.”

Amen.

“Sparks Flying – Spirit Dancing” – May 27, 2018

“Sparks Flying – Spirit Dancing”

May 27, 2018 – Pentecost – Year B

 

Imagine that we are at Manitou Park for our annual picnic.  The park is crowded with folk from Penticton United Church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, Oasis United Church, and Naramata Community Church.  And there are all sorts of other people you don’t recognize.  It is a full park.  Speaking was a preacher, who with a convincing voice cried out quoting from the prophet Joel.  He talks about dreams and visions.

Hold on!  Dreams and visions – really!  Is it not enough that our picnic is inundated with all these strangers?  They probably won’t help to pay the bills of our respective churches, we mumble.  Look at all the litter on the ground.  Who is going to pick it up?  And what is with this wind, whipping through the park!  Suddenly, there are tongues of fire, resting upon each one of us, but not consuming us.  What IS going on?

This is a picnic like no other.  Bunched together, elbow to elbow, we are up close and personal.  And amazing things are happening.  Penticton United Church folk are dividing up and sitting with folk from the other 4 churches and are encouraging the visitors to join them.  Instead of sitting in cliques, we have true community.

The smell of hot dogs and hamburgers and veggie burgers fill the air.  We see able bodied scrambling to help those less mobile.  There is no rush to be first in line.  There is no complaining that there is a bit of wait because of the crowd.  The Naramata community grocery store flings open its doors so that more food is available to feed the crowd.

It feels like a party – but with a difference.  The fruit pickers from Quebec are speaking in French and are being understood.  Those who learned Dutch as a first language are speaking it with delight and are engaging in meaningful conversations.  Young people, in numbers like we haven’t seen since the 1950’s and 1960’s are out playing together and talking about how “cool” this picnic is.  New friends are being made.

The most amazing thing of all is that Richard Canning and his supporters are offering to help Dan Albas and Dan Ashton campaign in support of the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline.  We see the supporters of the National Park in the South Okanagan passing out hot dogs to the opponents of the National Park.  We see hunters and fishers passing out drinks to the anti gun lobbyists. Justin Trudeau and David Suzuki, arm in arm, are passing out bannock to Penticton Indian Band folk.  Talk about dreams and visions coming alive!

What does Pentecost mean to us in 2018?  Is it just a dream or vision?  Or are sparks still flying and is the spirit dancing?  Can you imagine our church so invigorated that I would not be criticized for choosing contemporary praise music, interpretive scripture telling, and dramatic sermons.  Yes, that is acceptable once, but certainly not a regular diet of such extreme contemporary worship, you say.  Imagine that we had a praise band offering music leadership.  Picture dancing in the aisles.  In fact, imagine that we got rid of the pews and had chairs that could be positioned in circles, or arches, or any other pattern that enhanced the particular worship service.  Imagine that our service appealed more to our senses and less to our heads.  I am not saying that I want to make such radical changes.  It certainly would not be respectful to our current congregation.  But – if we truly want to grow, we need to risk.  Perhaps a first step is to invite Linnea Good back to lead a worship service in her amazing contemporary style.  Perhaps we need to try having a praise band every 6 weeks on a Sunday afternoon, just like the Anglican Church does the Jazz Vespers.

How do we attract young people, you ask?  Every church, temple, mosque and meeting hall are asking that question.  There are no easy answers.  Surely some of the response begins in the family home.  When the spirit of Pentecost is alive at home, the family will want to nurture it by including faith formation opportunities for their children.  We have people like Cindy Garnum, Pat Fraser and Jean Sherwood who are passionate about Christian Education for young folk.  We have a Worship Committee willing to try new styles of worship, as long as the congregation will support and not criticize.  In the past I have offered inter-generational worship that has been well received.  Some of those ideas have been published and are easy to duplicate.  But, are we willing to put the energy required to get that kind of ministry off the ground?  Children, youth and young adults will come if we are on fire with the Holy Spirit.  But, that means we must fund and staff that ministry, for it takes much energy, time and resources.  Just as we have chosen to fund and staff Senior’s ministry, we could make the choice for Children, Youth, and Young Adult ministry.

Pentecost means daring to dream about our future as a church.  In just over a year and a half I will be retiring.  You will be seeking a new direction in ministry and a new person to walk with you in that journey.  If we limit our dreams and visions to what is, we are engaging in a slow march to closure.  However, if we dream of possibilities the vision is endless.  Just imagine if we were to work cooperatively with other United Churches in the region.  We currently have several sister churches that do not have a called minister.  What might happen if we were to partner with 1 or 2 other United Churches and share ministerial leadership?  What about visioning a shared relationship with a church of a different denomination?  The “Daring to Share” workshop that many of us attended last month, brought helpful information on shared ministry.  Becoming a United Church and other denomination Shared Ministry can be life giving for the new congregation.

Pentecost flames around us reminding us that cut backs need not be the answer to the future church.  In fact, as Pentecostal people, we are ablaze with a vision of endless possibilities.  We are certain of our priorities of ministry and how we are to achieve them.  Our eyes are open to the community outreach needs of our community and around the world.  We dare to dream of pastoral care offered to everyone who needs and is receptive to it.  We envision our congregation participating in worship experiences, both on Sunday and at other times.  We yearn for faith formation opportunities that enlighten, encourage, and challenge.  We dream of our church meeting the needs of the people of Penticton who seek community, welcome, and the Good News of Christ.  We pray that the young and the elderly can learn from and with each other.  That is the message the dove of Pentecost brings.

Pentecost is an exciting season.  It fills us with hope and enlightenment.  We are proud to be Pentecostal people, on fire with the Good News.  May we share it with delight.  Amen.

“A Bit of a Tangle” – John 15:1-8

“A Bit of a Tangle”

John 15:1-8 Penticton BC, April 29, 2018

Prayer: Open us, O God, to the truth of the words we have heard from your Word this morning. Whether we speak now, or listen, send your Spirit to move in us so that we may live by that truth, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pruning grape vines. Could there be a more appropriate place, outside the hills of Judea, to talk about pruning grape vines than here in the Okanogan Valley? For all the strange and obscure language the Bible can throw at us, today, in this week’s gospel reading, the lectionary has smiled upon us, here in Penticton. Unlike many Canadians, you know what grapevines look like. Some of you may even have pruned a grapevine. A text about pruning may make sense to you. I need to admit that I am rather squeamish about pruning. Whether it is giving houseplants a haircut or taking the shears to Saskatoon berry bushes or the lower limbs of spruce trees, Bill will tell you that I not only make him do it, but I don’t even want to watch while it is happening. “Tell me when it’s over,” I say to him. It is not rational, this anxiety of mine. I know that pruning is logical, necessary. But somehow, I feel sorry for the pruned leaves and branches. They put all that effort into growing, only to be cut away. What did they do to deserve this?

Now, you might laugh at my strange pruning phobia, but I believe it does bear some relation to this morning’s reading from the gospel of John. And I think it even connects to our lives in the church, and the churches, and especially to the question of ecumenical sharing that brought us together here in the beautiful Okanogan Valley this weekend. So, I invite you to explore with me what this pruning gospel might have to say to us.

“I am the true vine,” Jesus tells his friends, at a very long speech he delivers at that fateful final Passover meal in Jerusalem. This is not the first time that Jesus has compared himself to an object. Bill, who, apart from being the resident pruner is also a New Testament professor, points out that a special feature of John’s gospel is that in this gospel more than the others, Jesus likes to tell his listeners who he is. Earlier in the gospel, he has said, I am bread; then, I am light; then, I am the gate for the sheep. So, when Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my father is the farmer,” he is adding another thing to this collection, these objects from everyday life that we, the listeners, might employ to understand Jesus’ relationship to God and to us. Jesus, in our passage, goes into a description of the pruning process, but he quickly intertwines the pruning language with language about “abiding” in him, and with language about bearing fruit, and with the warning that those who don’t abide will be thrown away, like branches that are thrown away, and, by the way, burned. How the pruning, and abiding, and fruit-bearing, and getting thrown away all relate to each other are not entirely clear. In short, as vines can be, it’s a bit of a tangle.

Well, that lack of clarity has led to two thousand years of Christians speculating about what John’s Jesus means by all this, and especially, who will be thrown away and burned. Christians got interested very early on in the notion of the wrong people burning, and it has been an unfortunate preoccupation of Christianity ever since. Through the ages, Christian interpreters have argued with one another about this passage. Some have said that the “fruitless” branches are the people who claim to be Christians, but are not really converted, in their hearts. Others say they are people who were converted once, but then drifted away. Others have taken the words to apply to whole communities: they argue that the passage means that those who are truly faithful will be “fruitful” – they will grow, while those who are not really abiding in Jesus will wither away. One way or another, God will punish the bad branches.

Of course, this talk of fruitfulness and punishment has fed nicely into centuries of Christians mistrusting and rejecting one another. Pruning language has been used to pit “us,” the fruitful abiders, against “them,” the non-abiders, with the implication that a fiery fate awaits “them.” Has anyone accused you, or your church of not being “really” Christian? Or have you ever found yourself wondering if they, over there, can possibly be Christians? It is hard to avoid, this us and them experience, isn’t it? And whenever it happens, among the texts playing softly in the background is this reading from John, with its vines, and branches, and abiding, and fruit-bearing, and withering. Can this really be what Jesus wanted to tell his friends on his last evening with them? Something tells me that this is not the way the good news is supposed to work.

But how to untangle this complicated passage? Ironically—or perhaps this is how the Spirit moves—my help came in the form of an article by a fundamentalist Baptist seminary professor who is also a horticulturist. He wanted to know exactly what Jesus was talking about, so he found two ancient non-religious texts about viniculture—grapevine farming—that explained how grapevines were pruned and cared for in the ancient Mediterranean world. I’ll spare you the details, which are interesting, and involve Romans and trellises—we can discuss them in coffee hour—and get to the main point. Not surprisingly, the whole process of caring for grapevines was (and no doubt is) more complex than the “us and them” crowd has admitted. Yes, branches were pruned in the spring to increase their chances of bearing fruit—Jesus says as much in our text—but even fruitful branches were cut off the vines in the fall to prepare the vines for winter.

To be a good grapevine farmer, in the ancient world and probably today, too, was not about punishing the vines; it was about knowing what and how to cut off where and when. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” says Jesus. Like all analogies, the vine image is not perfect. Real branches don’t have options. But Jesus does give his branches a task. One task. The only task of a branch on Jesus’ vine is to trust that God is a good farmer. In farmer God’s hands we are part of a salvation story that is bigger than any of us can know or imagine. The point of this tangled vine analogy, it turns out, is quite the opposite of the us-and-them church-dividing finger-pointing. The point is that Jesus wants his friends to remain with him, even when times get tough, as he knows they will. Hang in with me, like a branch clings to its vine, says Jesus. Trust that even in the tangled mess of life, God has a good plan, a plan that will shape a world like the one I have been showing you: one where the hungry are fed, the sick healed. So, stick with me, says Jesus, take my words into your heart and mind and soul, and I will make you a disciple, a learner of the gospel trade. And then, and this is the crazy thing Jesus promises, stick with me, ask for anything, and there is no telling what you might be and do.

As I was preparing for this Penticton weekend, our world in Saskatchewan was rocked with the terrible Humboldt hockey team bus collision that took so many lives, especially of young people. It spread ripples of grief throughout Canada and beyond. Hearing of tragedies in other parts of the world—including a school bus crash in India that same weekend, and this week, in Toronto—only intensified the sadness. I was so proud of my clergy colleagues in Humboldt who worked with one another and town leaders to create a space and a liturgy for sharing grief and seeking comfort. In that crowded arena there were no good or bad branches, only a community clinging to the one vine in sorrow, but also in solidarity and in hope.

Now, it is good, but not entirely surprising, that people could come together in such love and care at this tragic time. Much more difficult, we know, is sustaining that vine-like solidarity day after day. Our annoying differences, both large and petty, start to surface. We get worn down with the worries that come with struggling to be church in a dismissive culture. We get overwhelmed by our own difficulties: personally, communally. My own church has enough problems; do I really need to take on your problems too?

I think the founders of the World Council of Churches understood that challenge. Their very first global gathering in 1948 in Amsterdam was a time of great rejoicing. Some Christians had worked for decades for that moment. The 1948 assembly issued a short message to the world. It included the phrase: “We intend to stay together.” I love that phrase. We intend to stay together. It is a vine and branches sort of phrase: we will hang in together. It may not always be easy, but we will make it work. We will make it work because, the World Council message states: “Christ has made us his own, and he is not divided.” For seventy years, the World Council of Churches has stayed together—confronting their many differences to become as one writer put it, “a miracle of unity in diversity,” offering the world a taste of the good fruit of reconciliation, justice, and hope.

The loved ones of those who died in the Broncos crash look for hope. Part of what will sustain them is knowing that we have learned something good from those precious lost lives. So, they have told us about their sons and husbands, brothers and sister. Evan Thomas was an 18-year old rookie from Saskatoon. His father says that his son was struggling a little in his rookie year in Humboldt, but he was always upbeat and undaunted. Evan, says his dad, loved his teammates; he “absolutely loved” them. That experience of solidarity and friendship is something we hope for all young people, isn’t it, wherever they live, whatever their gender, race, abilities.

Young Evan’s newspaper obituary sums up his too-short life with a slogan, printed in bold. It may be familiar to people involved in sports but was new to me: “Play for the name on the front, not on the back,it said. Play for the team name on the front of your jersey, not for yourself, the name on the back. Play for the name on the front.

Well, what if we Christians did that? What if we first and foremost played together for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even if the names on our backs were Anglican, Presbyterian, United? What if we gave ourselves over to the joy, the uncertainty, the potential heartbreak, of throwing ourselves together, staying together as disciples of Jesus and learners of the gospel trade? What if we absolutely loved one another?

In the Gospel of John Jesus is bread, he is light, he is a sheep gate, he is a vine. Strange and wonderful images, all intended to remind us that Jesus feeds us, guides us, holds us. Abide in me, hang in with the team, he says, and I will teach you how to be my church, how to love the world as I do. Could we do it? Would we do it? Well, beloved friends, sometimes we already do it, and when we do, the tangled vines of a yearning creation surely dance a little in the spring breeze. And anything is possible.

Thanks be to God.

“Love Unfolding” – May 6, 2018

“Love Unfolding”

May 6, 2018 – 6th Sunday of Easter – Year B

 

Imagine that you are a peace dove or a tiny angel sitting on the shoulder of one of our Ministers of the 1960’s.  You are in the office of Rev. R. C. (Bob) Gates 1958-1965, Associate Minister Rev.  U. Schuetz 1961-1964, Associate Minister Rev.  R.J. Moore 1964-1965 (we have no picture for he was here but a single year), Rev. J. L. Cronin 1965-1970, and Associate Minister Rev. R.W. Reid 1968-1970.  They are in their office reflecting on what the church will be like in 50 years.  Do you think they could even imagine what today’s church is like?  No more having the minister chair the Official Board (now called the Council) meetings.  More than 70% of United Church Ministers are women – not so in the 1960’s. The Red Hymn Book was radical in 1961 when it was published, but nothing like Voices United in 2007.  The church budget for 1961 was almost $30,000, a 20% increase on the amount spent in 1960. The Mission and Service objective for the year was $7,500.  Todays budget is over $100,00 and an M&S objective of $15,000.

A proposal for an Associate Minister in 1960 included annual salary of $4000, housing allowance $1500 and Travel $500. Total sum to be shared on the basis of Penticton $4000, Oliver $1500 and Okanagan Falls $500. There was some difficulty in raising the whole housing allowance despite urgings from Presbytery to abide by these standard conditions.

A discussion was held in a March 1961 board meeting to have male greeters at the door. In a politically incorrect turn of phrase men were ”to be over and above the present lady greeters.” I think they meant to say that they were not going to diminish the role or number of female greeters.

One of the highlights nationally in the church occurred in 1962 where the United Church Women (UCW) were formed by the union of the Woman’s Association and the Woman’s Missionary Society and things have never been the same again!  We give thanks for the impressive ministry of the women.

Vigorous activity with youth was apparent throughout the decade. Alma Wilson reported on the formation of a Brownie Pack at PUC in 1962 ‘complete with a large wooden Toadstool that stood in the centre of the Brownie Ring’.

Nationally, Sunday school population peaked in 1961 at more than 750,000 young Canadians. From this year, declining Sunday school populations subsequently reached less than 180,000 across the country (a 23% decrease) by 1993.

The first Sunday School curriculum developed entirely in Canada was the United Church’s ‘ New Curriculum of 1963.’ It was attacked in the media by conservative denominations as being too liberal and ended co-operation between the United and Baptist churches. It was widely praised by educators and theologians and copied in varying degrees by the Anglicans.  This curriculum had the audacity to suggest that some of the stories in scripture were tales and myths.  This was the first time that a curriculum spoke in such a strong liberal voice.  Thousands of “Baby Boomers” were raised on this information and continue to be shaped by this early foundation.

Proposals for a second Penticton United Church south of the Creek on Main Street were set aside after sale of the earlier acquired property on Green Avenue. The Waterford property was also disposed of in the late 60’s for $4,500. Instead extensive ($110,000) alterations were proposed for the Sanctuary and the Christian Education wing in 1966.

There were obvious indications of strong church activities in the mid 1960’s. In the first 6 months of 1964 there were 38 Baptisms, 28 Weddings and 24 funerals. Despite this, concerns began to emerge about declining membership as in 1966, for the first time since Union, national church membership declined by about 2,000 members.

In 1967, Canada’s Centennial year, an excellent Carillon service was performed on New years eve by Mrs. McGall. It was proudly noted that Penticton United Church was the only church in Penticton that was able to usher in Canada’s Centennial year in such a fashion. In the same year, in a demonstration of the power of the Centennial dollar, a generous, anonymous gift from a member of the congregation was able to provide three students in Hong Kong with full high school education for three years.

In another sign that the more things change the more they remain the same, in Penticton declines in participation and donations created financial issues throughout the 1960’s. Discussions of deficit budgets appeared in minutes of the board in 1962, 1964 and 1965 with the later crisis resulting in major fund raising activities during 1965-66.

In 1965, following a request from the Anglican church, Pierre Berton published “The Comfortable Pew”: a critical look at Christianity and the religious establishment in the new age.  Berton’s book bears truths that are worth heeding as we look to the future.

Visionaries of the day began to feel that the future lay in closer co-operation with fellow religious travellers. Discussions were particularly vigorous with the Anglican Church and in 1965 ‘Principles of Union between the United and Anglican Churches’ was published with an active plan developed for regular meetings between ministers of both churches. This issue was not resolved until the subsequent decade where a decision was made against union. In 1968, union with the Evangelical United Brethren was finalized.

Following last weekend’s workshop and shared service, it is timely that we explore ways of co-operation with sister churches.  It is my view that the future of the Christian Church is dependant on sharing our resources and our faith.  Ecumenical Shared Ministry is but one way of living out the way of Christ’s Good News.

Many describe the 60’s as the decade of free love.  The Gospel of John in chapter 15 suggests that each decade ought to be filled with love, freely expressed by following God’s commandments.  Jesus strongly reminds us that he is shaped in the way of love, and so too are we.  “love others as I have loved you” is the simple directive of Jesus.  I find myself wondering if the 1960’s had a unique perspective on Jesus’ love.  Did those living in that decade risk loving in a generous, open, radical love, revealed by the Holy One?  Is that part of what distinguishes the 1960’s?  Jesus chose his disciples by loving them.  Many of you have friendships that formed 50 years ago.  Surely those relationships have endured the years because of love.  May we continue the tradition of radical love.

I believe that the 1960’s was a pivotal decade.  A new hymn book, a new Sunday School curriculum, the formation of the UCW, talks about union with other denominations, many church groups, innovative Bible studies, and partnered ministry all shaped the decade.   It was a busy time in the church.   We were a congregation with love to share.  Some people describe it as the last of the glory years.

The radical gift of love is transformative to a group, a community and to the world.  It has long reaching power.  For Penticton United Church, we have loved one another for 90 years.  We are committed to love boldly and daringly long into the future, for we are followers of Jesus.  May that be so.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

“Where is Jesus?” Easter 2018 – April 1, 2018

“Where is Jesus?”

Easter 2018 – April 1, 2018 – Year B

 

            Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!

 

Those of you who are movie fans no doubt remember the 1973 “Jesus Christ Superstar,” 1973 “Godspell,” and 1986 “The Last Temptation of Christ.”  Each of these wonderful dramas tell with vivid detail, gripping suspense, and powerful emotion the amazing story of the Good News of Easter.  But, there again, so too does the Gospel writer of John.  It is a down-to-earth story about something with which just about every Christian struggles – having a physical relationship with Jesus.

Even though we have never had the experience of Jesus standing beside us, nor have we talked with him on the phone, yet we have a real relationship with Jesus.  That is why we are here today.  Even though we know that dead people do not rise from the grave and walk around, yet we claim to have a real relationship with Jesus.  That is the stuff of an Easter faith.

Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus is extremely innate, emotional and deeply, deeply personal.  Mary looks the gardener in the eye, listens to him speak, and when her back is turned hears whispered, “Mary.”  The sound of his voice saying her name helps her to see Jesus.  Jesus does not offer a general address – oh no – he uses the simple, but profoundly personal address that is uniquely hers – her name – “Mary.”

This tells us much about how we know God.  Like Mary, we long to be know by God.  We long to be held in God’s gaze.  We yearn to be seen by God as the object of God love and desire and care.  This longing is not “general” or something abstract.  We do not want to be loved by some distant abstract entity who relates to us in the same grand way God relates to the universe.  Instead, we want to be seen for who we are in the most intimate, far-reaching corners of our inner lives.  We want to be known and understood in our bodies, our histories, our dreams and our losses.  When Jesus says, “Mary,” his words travel towards these most private places of our own lives.  And when Jesus’ words hit home, there, in that very name space, Christ is made known.  Christ is Risen.  Alleluia!

So, what does this reveal about the form of God’s appearing in our lives?  Surely it shows that God comes to us in the deeply personal ways invoked by the speaking of our name. This experience is fully embodied and very physical, just as it is intellectual and an idea or a concept.    Just as Jesus did with Mary, Jesus comes to you and me, not as an abstract or general idea or some kind of ghostly figure.  Indeed, Jesus the Christ,  comes as a presence that reaches far beyond our mind’s power of knowing and touches our lives in ways we cannot see.  Christ’s power is felt.  Christ is tasted, touched, smelled, heard, seen in images.  Often these are unconscious.  I have woken up from dreams, where God has spoken to me with such clarity.  God is known in our muscle memory, in the turn of the lip in that garden smile, in the stuttering voice of a trusted friend, in the fall of the foot’s arch in wet grass at sunrise.   In the barefoot walk along the beach, God’s coming unfolds in the world of our emotions – when we sense that the world suddenly shifts into place and has meaning.   Sometimes when I am meditating I hear Christ’s voice, calling me to the way of peace and gentleness.

Does this mean that Jesus will come to you in the garden?  Will Christ whisper your name?

Serene Jones writes in “Feasting on the Word,” “It means that as people of faith, we are called to attend as much to our physical lives as our spiritual and intellectual lives.  If Jesus comes to us through the senses, it is important that we go to church and be in a space where we physically, emotionally, communally, experience Jesus in our midst – in the taste of communion wine and bread, in the residual scent of cleanser on sanctuary pews, in the familiar sounds of a favorite hymn that stirs us in places too deep to be named, in the closing circle where we hold the hand of our sister or brother of faith, in the feel of the hug you receive as you enter and leave this sanctuary.

In this yearly Easter event, we enter into the ripe cinematic fullness of our embodied, uniquely personal lives – this is the shared space where Jesus meets us, calling our name, receiving our touch, calming our anxious worries, and reminding us again and again that grace is not an object to be known but a gift to be lived.

In our busy lives there are a cacophony of sounds that vie for our attention.  Will we slow down enough that we hear the gentle whisper of Christ calling your name?  And when you hear Christ’s bidding, will you reach out your hand and let him lead you along the path of love.

My friends, I tell you Good News.  Christ is Risen.  Alleluia!  Amen.

“Let the Good Times Roll” – April 22, 2018

“Let the Good Times Roll”

April 22, 2018 – Easter 4 – Year B

            “This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”  Our church has both a concrete cornerstone as well as the very real spiritual cornerstone of Jesus Christ.  To be built on such a sure foundation is astounding.  To base our very existence on the faith in Christ is amazing.  And yet for decade after decade women and men, children and adults have gathered in this sanctuary and worshiped in the name of Christ.  The cornerstone of our faith is Jesus, crucified and risen, our hope and reconciler.

So it is that we gather as followers of our redeemer.  With faith we know that Christ is among us.  It is an amazing experience to know with certainty that the risen Christ offers repentance, forgiveness of sin, and new beginnings.

The 1950’s was very much a time of new beginnings for our church.  The second world war was well behind us and there was much excitement and fervor amongst the congregation.  So much so, that in 1958 land was purchased on Waterford Avenue in case a second United Church would be needed at the south end of town.  But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Let’s start in 1951 when we were connected to the City sewer system.  A momentous event, you must agree.  The 1951 statistics are this:  membership 643 persons, baptisms 75, weddings 49 and burials 3l.  In 1952 authority was given to construct a new Christian Education wing at a cost of $32,376 and to construct a new entrance to the sanctuary at a cost of $4300.

In 1953 Rev. Ernie  Rand’s salary was $3120 and his annual car expense was $400. In April 1953 Mr. T. Reed from the Observer met with the Official Board to promote the Observer.  He said, “if we are to have an intelligent church we must have an informed church. The Observer is the means of informing the church.”  That is still true today.  The congregation was offered a deal of $1 instead of $2 for the year’s subscription of the Observer.

The September 8 1953 meeting of the Official Board was held in the new church parlour.  1953 was a busy and significant year for the church, for the keys to the new Christian Education wing were presented to Harold Myers (Shirley Myers father) on Sunday June 28 by the contractor Arthur Weight after the official dedication. This wing cost $45,000 and houses 13 classrooms, office and parlour. The construction was offered by volunteers and supervised by Mr. Weight.  At the same time the chapel was built and the kitchen was moved to where the office is now.

In 1954 the Women’s Federation had 86 members. Senior choir had 42 members, the Jr. Girl’s choir had 55 girls aged 9 and older and was led by Margaret Hendry. With George Gay as chairman, the Stewardship Committee held an “Every Family Visitation.”

In 1955 the Manse at 617 Winnipeg Street was sold for $7500.00 on a part trade-in on the new manse at 96 Manor Park Road, for $16,500.00.  That year there were 38 baptisms, 60 weddings and 70 funerals.  A story is provided by Sam Kahmann: Sam and Jimmy Johnson were walking west on Eckhardt after playing sports and noticed flames coming from the basement at the south end of the church. They reported it through the radio station CKOK as they were offering “rewards” for reporting incidents. So, the boys got their $10.00, the fire department came, and the fire was put out before it became too big. He thinks it started in a garbage can in a basement room.  The fire damage at the church destroyed mostly Sunday School files.

In October 1958 it was agreed to purchase property on Green Avenue near Princess Margaret School from Mr. & Mrs. J. Bissett for $4500.00 ($1000 cash down-payment and $500 per year for the balance).

From 1949 to 1958 Rev Ernie Rands was our Minister and from 1958 – 1965 Rev. R.C. Gates served as Minister.  The decade concluded with the balcony in the sanctuary being remodeled in 1959.  It was a decade of growth, expansion, and good times.  Post war, families were being established and the church became the centre of family life.   Worship, Sunday School and mid-week activities were an accepted part of our congregation’s pattern.  Penticton United Church was a prominent church in the community.  People came to our church to hear the message of Christ, resurrected and ever glorified.

The 1950’s were good times for our church.  We longingly look back to those days and wish they could be retrieved.  We yearn for hundreds of children in church.  We ache for Christmas pageants of yester year.  We long for multiple units of UCW.   We wish this sanctuary was filled every Sunday.  But, the reality is, we are like sheep, following the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd points us to The Way.  It is not a path of despair, but rather one of new beginnings.  Let the good times roll, my friends.  Not like that of the 1950’s but rather in a uniquely faithful way of 2018.  So be it.  Amen.

 

 

“Pomp and Circumstance – Not!” – March 25, 2018

Pomp and Circumstance – Not!”

March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday – Year B

 

Many of you have attended the PNE or Expo 86 or other large gathering of people.  There is something about the hoards of people crashing in around you that leaves you feeling off base.  Such was the scene 2000 years ago in Jerusalem during the Passover.  Thousands and thousands of people were entering the Holy City from every entrance way possible.  The Passover was a big deal.  It was a “must go to” event for the Jewish people.  And so, Jesus and his entourage headed into Jerusalem so that they too could share in that sacred feast.

Imagine a roadway lined with people craning their necks to get a look at the sights.  You spot a man on the back of a donkey.  You look again.  What a peculiar sight!  There are a group of about a dozen men and some women huddled around this man on a donkey.  Is he the promised King?  Surely not!  Not riding on a donkey.  He would be riding on a magnificent steed.  Surely!  But the folk around you are shouting “Hosanna!  God save the King!  Hosanna!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Now – you have to admit – this stranger has your attention.  Is he the one prophesied by Zechariah?  Remember what Zechariah said: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Yes, this stranger certainly fits the profile.

But why such a public demonstration.  Jesus is this quiet, private prophet and healer.  He is not one for show and pageantry.  The Jesus on the back of a donkey seems to be drawing attention to himself.  It is as if he is the Parade Marshall.  And talk about excitement amongst the crowd.

Instead of balloons tied around the arms of the crowd, they strip branches off of the trees and shrubs and spread cloaks on the ground.  A century and a half before, when Judas Maccabeus delivered Jerusalem from the Greeks, the people waved palm branches.  That is what is done for a king.  Hosanna!  Save Now!  O God – break in now and save God’s people now that the Messiah has arrived!

We are entering into Jerusalem with Jesus.  I can’t speak for you, but I really don’t want to go.  You see, I know the rest of the story.  I know that Jesus will come and visit Simon at Bethany and will have his feet anointed with costly oil.  I know that Jesus and the disciples will go to a guest room and will share the Passover meal.  I know that Jesus will go to the Mount of Olives and will pray, but his friends will all drift off to sleep.  I know that Judas will betray his friend.  I know that Peter will deny knowing Jesus.  I Know that Jesus will appear before Pilate and he will be condemned to death.  I know that we will gather again on Friday morning and we will sing and tell the story of Good Friday.  This is a week that is heavy.  We are called upon to feel.  We are called upon to enter deeply into the Holy week experience.  We do ourselves a disservice if we skip to Easter Sunday, without going through Holy Week.

Why?  You ask.  To not enter into the fullness of Holy Week cuts us off from the depth of the spiritual experience that is crucifixion and resurrection.  It is the core of our faith.  So, to walk the Palm parade prepares us to open our heart and spirit to the fullness of God’s drama.  It is a holy mystery, to be sure.  But, God walks hand in hand with us.  It is a time when prayers seem more intense.  Our openness to the everyday miracles seems heightened.  And the profoundness of life is sharper.

I invite you to utilize this upcoming week to deeply feed your spiritual senses.  Pray daily.  Take time to contemplate the faith story.  It is identified in our order of service.  Go to your Bibles and open to the Gospel of Mark and read chapters 14 and 15.  If you don’t have a Bible, there are copies of the reading on the welcome table.  Read it in full each day this week.  Then, when we gather on Good Friday you will be well prepared to experience the depth of Christ’s love for us.  And next Sunday – Oh my, what a celebration we will have!  Amen.

 

 

“Depression, War and New Possibilities” – March 18, 2018

“Depression, War and New Possibilities”

March 18, 2018 – Lent 5 – Year B

 

 

September 10, 1939 is a date that has forever changed the course of history.  The Battle of the Atlantic and the outbreak of WW 2 saw Canadian men and women engaged in conflict that would last 6 years.  During that time our congregation was faithfully singing the National Anthem immediately following the doxology.  We were proud of our home and native land.

During the war years Rev R.C. McGillvray served as our minister.  In 1944 it was determined that 2 ministers were needed and Rev. Bob Stobie and Rev. Ernie Rands were called to serve in our midst.  Sermons such as “When God Seems Hiding”, “What is Man?”, and “Getting the Best Out of Life” were proclaimed from this pulpit.  Mrs.  Monica Craig Fisher was our faithful organist for our morning and evening services.

We were a busy church, especially post war.  In addition to our Board of Stewards we had a Sunday School, a Mission Band, 40 girls in CGIT in 1944, Young People’s group, a Boy’s Club, Red Cross Unit, 5 Women’s Circles, The Couples Group, and As One That Serves (a men’s group) consisting of 40 men in 1940.

Some interesting tidbits gleaned from our archives include: in 1940 a motion was passed to support more temperance legislation.  That same year the Senior Choir organized a fundraising concert featuring Luther King, a black tenor.  In 1941 the Women’s Auxiliary raised $1,387 at their bazaar.  They organized socks, sweaters, and clothing to send to the Red Cross.  In 1943 a Fellowship Committee was established to visit homes and support the young wives of absent soldiers.  In 1944 the lot immediately north of the church was purchased.  Room was needed for the Sunday School, with attendance averaging 185 children.  Plans were discussed.  Membership was 471.  There were 30 child baptisms, 8 adult baptisms, 43 marriages, 25 funerals.  In 1945 The Sunday School registered 269 children with 29 teachers.  In May 1946 the Young People held a bike-hike to the Summerland Experimental farm with supper at the farm.  In 1947 the M&S covenant was $1,600.  By 1948 a Building Committee was formed to evaluate the condition of the premises and to carry out any needed refurbishing.  Such a committee has been active ever since.  In 1949 the AGM called for $50,000 to be raised for the construction of the Memorial Hall (Narthex)

In the minds of many, the 1940’s were the glory years.  We thrived as a church in-spite of the hardship of war.  We had a cause and we were determined to support our men and women in the very best way we could.  Post war we grew and thrived.  Marriages and births were celebrated in numbers we had never seen before.  We were a faith community that had found its legs.  20 years old and all was going well.

Like today, Sunday worship was an important constant in a greatly changing world.  The reading of scripture and the sermon was vital to a strong faith, was the understanding of our large congregation.  And so, scriptures like we heard were offered and expounded upon.

Jeremiah warned the people of the catastrophe that would befall their nation.  This was news the people didn’t want to hear.  Just like the outbreak of the Battle of the Atlantic, fear fell over God’s people in the 6th Century BCE.  Yet, it was in this context that the prophet Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant.  Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah during the last days of that nation’s sovereignty around 627 BCE.  He had been in conflict with the official theology of the nation for much of his ministry.  While many around him saw the covenant as broken beyond repair, Jeremiah saw God creating a new way.

The conditional covenant theology of the Exodus was rejected by Jeremiah as untrue to God’s nature.  God the creator would create something new that would better express the nature of God’s relationship with God’s people.  Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant written on the heart, not in books or precepts.  With this new covenant the law will be within God’s people and they will know God’s way within their very being.

This new covenant has been interpreted by Christians from the earliest days of the church to refer to Jesus.  So it is that you and I seek to live our lives in such a manner that God is revealed in all that we say, do and are.

To have God’s way written on our hearts and lived out faithfully in our lives is surely grace.  I can just imagine that on September 2, 1945 when war was declared over there was not only cheering and hugs and kisses.  I imagine that God was saying, “learn from this, my way is in loving relation with all my people from now on!”  We have not done a very good job in living out that directive.

Like the people of Jeremiah’s day, Jesus’ disciples and followers were not pleased to hear predictions of doom – they did not want to hear about Jesus’ impending death.  In the Gospel text, Jesus uses the visit of the Greeks as an opportunity to tell them again about what lay ahead for him.  Like Jeremiah, he also gives them a word of hope through his comparison of his death to the planting of a seed of wheat.  “Only if a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies will it bring forth fruit,” he says.

The image of the seed lies at the heart of John’s understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death.  The death of the single grain brings about the growth of many new seeds.  Through Jesus’ death on the cross, something new will enter and transform the world.  Through this amazing truth, you and I are forever made new.

None of us want to look to the future and foresee doom.  We squirm a little knowing that Good Friday is just less than 2 weeks away.  Yet, we know that our call is the way of the cross. The middle verses about those who love their life and therefore will lose it, have a strong resemblance to parallel sayings in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The mention of taking up one’s cross as a part of following Christ is another saying that we hear in all 4 gospels.

Jesus’ horrible death does not release us from having to go through our own death in order to emerge into the fullness of eternal life.  The process of transformation from seed to plant, death to resurrection, this world to eternal life is clearly a difficult and painful process.  However, the gospel of John does provide us with a wonderful assurance that through whatever we must endure, we are never alone.  As we take up the crosses of our lives, we are assured that we have a close and loving companion.

So, what cross are you prepared to take up?  Is it one for the environment?  Is it one to give a little more time volunteering to a worthy cause?  Will you take up the cross of racial justice?  What about committing yourself to contacting 2 lonely people each week?  How about writing letters on behalf of those facing abuse?  Could you do a little extra donation to the church to ensure it continues to proclaim the Good News for the next 90 years?

Well, there you have it.  We have looked at our 2 scripture texts and reflected on the call to bring forth fruit.  The 1940’s was a decade that bore much fruit.  We have a history to be proud of.  We honour our veterans.  Please take time to view our memorial Plaque in the narthex on your way down to coffee hour.  The men and women who helped to build this country and this church deserve to be honoured.  May our celebrations continue.  Amen.

 

Rev. Laura J. Turnbull

Penticton United Church