Good Friday Worship Service – March 25th, 2016

Good Friday Worship Service

March 25, 2016

Penticton United Church


Lighting the Christ Candle

Call to Worship

One: Will you walk the lonely path of rejection and fear? 

All:        We make this journey, accompanied by God, our Lover.

One:     Will you speak up for Jesus, acclaiming his mercy?

All:        We stutter and cry, with hearts open to the miracle of redemption.

Prayer

Steadfast God, we journey the path of death.  We stand as witnesses to injustice, greed and indifference.  Courage fails us.  Let us not be immobilized by obstructions and burdens.   And yet we stand at the foot of the cross knowing that your love is greater than any short-coming.  Empower us to receive your life-giving grace.  Amen.

Hymn – VU # 142 – Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross

Rock liturgy (from Fern)

Scripture – John 18:1-11

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Courage

Year after year we approach Good Friday with sadness and apprehension.  Even though we know the story well, most of us are a little uncertain of all the recorded details.  Today, we hear the Good Friday story in a fresh way.  Each rock represents a specific part of the crucifixion story.

In the telling from the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus strongly and clearly declaring that he is Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus owns up to his identity and home community.  With the soldiers and police before him, Jesus acknowledges that he is the sought after One.  Showing courage and leadership, Jesus does not shirk away from the military officials.  He understood Judas’s betrayal.  With great courage, Jesus declares that he is Jesus of Nazareth.  – The Rock of Courage

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response – MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Scripture – John 18:29-38

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Truth

Jesus is arrested and bound.  Appearing before Pilate, Jesus and Pilate engage in some verbal jousting.  Jesus declares that his mission and ministry was all about truth-telling.  Pilate ultimately declared that he could not keep up with Jesus in the round of verbal gymnastics that they were engaged in.  But finally Pilate declares that he finds no case against Jesus and that the custom of releasing someone at Passover would be upheld.  Rather than selecting Jesus, Barabbas was discharged.  Jesus would be crucified.

Telling the truth had a great cost.  May we listen for the truth.  – The Rock of Truth

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response – MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Anthem

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Faith

We have heard the Good Friday story countless times.  And yet today we hear it with new awareness.  The rocks remind us of the steadfast faith that is ours.  We keep going, even in the hard, lonely, and vacant times.  We pour our hearts out to God, knowing that prayers are heard and needs are addressed.  Why then did Jesus die, we wonder?  Jesus confronted human arrogance and evil.  We acknowledge that Jesus, like us, must die to the forces of power and control.  Jesus stood up to greed, manipulation, and coercion.  And the cost was his life.  May our faith be strong enough that we will turn our selves over to God’s great heart.  The rock of faith

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response –  MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Scripture – John 19:1-16

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Leadership

A crown of thorns, a purple robe, shouts of “Hail, King of the Jews!”  and the last cries to crucify Jesus set the stage for the most horrific drama.  Jesus is adorned like a king and yet he refuses to accept either the label or the role.  Perhaps you too have wondered about Jesus’ leadership style.  He was a story-teller, a friend to children, a healer, a rebel, and a model for others.  He lived the Good News by showing the chosen disciples and friends the way of radical love.  Jesus humbly teaches until his final moments on earth.  – The Rock of Leadership

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response – MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Scripture – John 19: 17-30

Presentation of Rock

Reflection

The Rock of Love

Imagine you are Jesus’ mother, Mary, standing at the foot of the cross.  Next is Mary’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and the disciple whom we think must have been John.  These friends who were the closest people to Jesus were huddled together to witness to Jesus’ torturous death.  Oh, how they loved Jesus.  He had been so good to them.  And they would do anything they could to show their love to Jesus.  But – this time, there was nothing they could do but helplessly watch and cry.  With a bowed head, Jesus gave up his spirit.  – The Rock of Love

Silence

Nail is Struck

Sung Response  MV 90 – Don’t Be Afraid

Act of Confession

Prayer of Confession/Offering of Rocks

Merciful God, our hands hold rocks – solid and sharp.  Life is firm and full of piercing edges.  Forbid that we hurt others with words that harm.  Stop us from wounding others with our indifference and injustice.  Smooth the hard edges and soften the unpliable that is within us.  May these rocks remind us that you are our firm foundation.  Amen.

Hymn – VU #183 – We Meet You, O Christ

Extinguishing of the Christ Candle

Departure in Silence

“Can’t Stop Crying” – Easter Sunday – March 27, 2016

“Can’t Stop Crying”

Easter Sunday – March 27, 2016 – Year C

Last September I returned from a 3 month sabbatical and shared with you that I am profoundly changed.  The time of rest, renewal and new experiences was a life changing gift.  I am better able to speak up for myself.  I have better clarity when to address an issue and when to let it slide by.  But most important, I feel sadness with greater intensity and joy with more delight.  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

It was liberating to visit the various sister churches and witness that they are facing the same challenges we are.  The myth that our partners in faith have lots of children, many small group ministries, and vibrant youth ministry programs is simply not true.  They struggle just as much as we do to draw the younger demographic.  Their music ministry is louder but not any better than ours.  So, I stand before you proclaiming loud and clear that Jesus Christ is as dramatically present here at Penticton United Church as He is in our sister churches throughout town and indeed throughout the world.  With humble pride we announce, “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

While in Scotland last August I was intensely changed.  I walked the land of my forebears and saw the cathedrals and remnants that date back to the first Christian message in Scotland.  It was humbling to sit in 1700 year old pews.  It was haunting to feel Christ’s presence as I prayed while in cemeteries holding the last earthly remains of sojourners of the 3rd and 4th Century.  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

4 weeks ago 20 people of our congregation sat in the parlour and participated in a workshop on “Looking to our Future” facilitated by Rev. Richard and Joanne Simpson.  We looked at our Mission and Vision statements and listed all that we do to live out what we proclaim Penticton United Church to be all about.  7 pieces of flip chart paper were quickly filled identifying what we do so that we are “a place of nurturing, spiritual growth and Christian service”.  After spending a year or more feeling discouraged and ready to give up on being a vibrant church, we left that workshop feeling positive about ourselves and our ministry.  We do indeed have a vital ministry on the corner of Eckhardt and Main streets.  We are planning a follow up meeting to guide us for the next 5 to 10 years.  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

Throughout the 40 days of Lent, I have been using John Randolph Price’s book “The
Abundance Book” as a guide for meditations.  There are 10 meditations that are to be used 4 times each for 15 minutes each day.  These short, but evocative reflections have helped me to know God in new and exciting ways.  Experiencing God as Abundant I Am, Truthful Prosperity, and Source of Delight has been a remarkable practice.   I am overwhelmed by the power and grace of God’s mystery.   “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

I invite you to walk with Mary to the empty tomb.  It is a journey we all must make.  It can feel like a long, lonely walk.  Although, the vision ahead is so startling that we forget that we are in a burial site.  A man runs ahead and looks into the cave.  He is startled.  And so am I.  What about you?  An empty tomb catches us off guard.  I start crying.  Something has happened.  “Where have they taken Jesus’ body,” I cry?  Mary also is crying.  She stands weeping outside the tomb. 

Jesus whispers her name, “Mary.”    “I have seen the Lord,” she tells the disciples. Tears continue to stream down her cheeks.  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

Have you too seen the risen Christ?  Have you encountered the Holy Mystery? Are you filled with Holy tears?  Will you breath in the awe and wonder of Christ’s resurrection?  “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia”

Easter is a time of many miracles.  Often we limit it to birds in flight, animals birthing young, and tender plants sprouting new life.  But the greatest miracle is each one of us gathering in worship acknowledging that “Christ is Risen!  Alleluia.  May it be so.  Amen.   

“Love Story” – March 20, 2011

“Love Story”

March 20, 2011 – Lent 2 – Year A

One Sunday on their way home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, the preacher’s sermon this morning confused me.”  The mother said, “Oh, what is that?”  The little girl replied, “Well, she said that God is bigger than we are.  Is that true?”  The mother replied, “Yes, that’s true.”  “And she also said that God lives in us?  Is that true, mommy?”  Again the mother replied, “Yes.”  “Well,” said the little girl. “If God is bigger than us, wouldn’t God show through.”

There is a lovely movie called “While you Were Sleeping” about a girl who takes tokens at a subway station.  She finds herself falling in love with a man who comes through the turnstiles every day.

Then one day he is held up and pushed in front of a train.  The girl saves his life.  And he finds out that she is in love with him.

It turns out that his life-style has been less than admirable.  But then he says to the girl, “Because you love me, and because you saved my life, I will have to change the way I am and the kind of person I have been.”

Now – that sounds a lot like being “Born again” – like a profoundly Christian confession.

“Serving on Palm Sunday” – March 20, 2016

“Serving on Palm Sunday”

Palm Sunday – Year C – March 20, 2016

We have shouted hosanna while waving tree branches.  We have joined the parade, feeling the excitement and awe of this blessed season.  We have heard the timeless story of Jesus and his disciples coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.    Oh – what an amazing season this is! 

However, we know the rest of the story.  Even though we strongly believe the profession of faith described in Philippians 2 and read by Cindy, we find ourselves puzzled by Christ’s life story.  We just don’t get humility and meekness.  It is so easy for us to assume that it means weakness and passivity.  Perhaps non-resistance comes to mind.  In our very self-centred culture, none of these attributes are very appealing.

How might you and I be actively involved in the events of this Holy Week when we hear the call to humility, awe and praise?  Like Christ, we are to follow the path that serves others.  And so we open our hearts to hear the cry of the hungry on our streets and we donate food.  As we feast on the bread and wine of communion, we think of the hungry in our community who today will be eating a simple meal of soup and sandwiches at the soupateria at 11:30 am.  This week, our church has given out 15 bags of food and helped one person with medication.

We serve others as we parade towards the garden of Gethsemane and faithfully phone, visit, and send cards to those who are ill or hurting.  We follow the way of Christ as we show tenderness and compassion to our brothers and sisters of God’s delight.

We serve others as we focus on the empty cross of resurrection hope.  That service takes the form of championing justice as we welcome the young people from Pen High as they gather in our stair wells and on our emergency exits.  Stopping to talk with these interesting young people helps them to feel comfortable on our property and helps us to learn about their dreams and desires.

We serve others as we wave the banner of inclusion.  All are welcomed at our table of acceptance.  The bread and wine of new life is for the able-bodied and the disabled, the young and the not so young, the regular church attender and the first time visitor.   

So, I ask, will you join the parade and come to the table where Jesus is host?  Will you eat the simple food of bread and wine?  Will you eat bread remembering that Jesus is Lord?  Will you dip the bread in the grape juice and profess that Jesus Is Lord? 

We are part of the procession of long ago.  It begins in Jerusalem and continues to Penticton.  It changes all of our lives.  We have heard the ancient profession of faith.  It reminds us that Christ humbly and meekly served, so that you and I might live abundantly.  May Palm Sunday 2016 forever transform you.  Glory be!  Amen.

Extreme Extravagance – March 13, 2016

Extreme Extravagance

Lent 4 – Year C – March 13, 2016

A middle aged professor has been living alone for the past 10 years.   He was withdrawn, lifeless and rather crotchety.  But, it is hard to say when you began to notice the changes in the good professor – he doesn’t look down walking across campus – he smiles more – is uncharacteristically chatty – he starts wearing ties made in the past decade – he was even heard laughing out loud.  Suddenly, to everyone’s astonishment, a wedding announcement arrives, along with an invitation to the reception at the Faculty Club.  No one knows the woman, but word circulates from the graduate assistants that until just a couple of years ago she made her living dancing on tables wearing not much more than a smile.  It’s a celebration!  They’re so happy after so many unhappy years.  It’s a celebration!  You are invite.  Will you go to that party?    What will we do about the next year’s Christmas party?  What if the children hear of it?  That reception will cost something, not only for the happy bride and groom, but also for friends attending.

Let’s face it, parties are expensive.  Parties cost you something.  While I could be referring to the cost of food, I’m thinking beyond physical expenses.  The cost that most concerns Jesus is not the cost of the party itself, but what it will cost people to come. And that has been true throughout the ages.  Just look to the gospel story that …. read.

For the writer of the gospel of Luke, this is how the Kingdom of God invades the world – as an invitation to a celebration.  A few verses before, Jesus told another parable about a banquet where invited guests were too busy to attend.  But now, in our story, people refuse the invitation because they don’t like the guest list – “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them”.  Horror of Horrors! Is that a reason to include them in the guest list?

The father is the heart and centre of this story.  Although he had been rejected by his sons, he transcends.  He embraces the one who is undeserving and calls for an extravagant celebration.  Equally he went out to the one who believed himself to be more deserving and offered him words of affectionate endearment.  “My dear son.”

It truly is an amazing tale.  The grace of acceptance and the extravagance of feasting surprise us and in the process also reveals how God’s reign expands our vision. The great party thrown to celebrate the younger son’s return would have included the entire village in a feast of reconciliation.

As part of that village, you and I are included in the invitation.  Will you come to the party?  Will you embrace the young son?  Will you encourage the elder son to be part of the festivities?   Will you accept the invitation if you are the miss-fit – the sinner – the righteous – the ordinary? 

It is fitting, Jesus explains, appropriate that we should celebrate.  Our story pleads that the invitation not be rejected.  Come to the party, because it won’t be the same without you.  Jesus explains himself to those who sneer at his hospitality. 

Through this tale we see the difficulty the 2 sons had responding to the father’s unusual response to both of them.  Reprimand is noticeably absent.  The father reaches out with amazing grace, interrupting the younger son’s confession and offering reconciliation far beyond expectation.  Similarly, the father goes out to the son who stayed home but who also embarrasses the father by breaking the communal expectation of family solidarity when he refuses to participate in the celebration. 

Being part of a family is sometimes difficult.  A number of years ago, a friend and I shared a home and made the decision to care for her then 16 year old niece.  Like the young son in Jesus’ story, this gal had run away from our home a number of times.  She threw away more years of schooling than I can count, in spite of being an amazingly bright young woman.  In her own words “She had messed up badly.”  Staying at her parents home was not a safe or healthy option for her, so living with us gave her healthy boundaries, rules and consistent love for the first time in her life.  However, for the first time in my life I learned what the inside of the police station looked like, met most of the troubled teens of the community, learned where the favorite hangouts for young people were and the list goes on.  Perhaps you can relate.  But, we also threw a party to welcome her into our home.  That is what forgiveness and love is all about.

In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevya says to his wife, Golda, do you love me?

She’s too busy for such frivolities.  All the housework to do and he’s getting mushey.  “Go lie down” she says.  ‘You’ll feel better after awhile.

But he persists.  “The first time I met you was on our wedding day.”  Tevya tells Golda how frightened he was, but his own mother and father had said to him that over the years they would grow to love each other.  “So now I ask you.  Do you love me?”

Golda begins to think out loud.  “For 25 years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him.  If that isn’t love, what is?

Tevya brightens, “Then you love me?” 

“I suppose I do” she acknowledges.

Together they sing “It doesn’t change a thing.  But after 25 years, it’s nice to know.

Fiddler on the Roof is about Tevya and Golda, who are the older brothers in the prodigal parable, and about their daughters who are all “younger sons” in one way or another.  All of them move outside the norms and conventions, and during a period of history when everything was in flux, kept pushing at the edges of the tradition Tevya and Golda value so deeply, a tradition that “Tells us who we are and what God expects us to do.”

But Tevya and Golda are also God in the parable.  Because in the end, against their own instincts, against the conventions of the community and the power of the tradition, they finally act on their love.

Returning to the gospel, a close examination reveals some interesting insights.  Do you remember how the story opens? The passage begins with some tax collectors and sinners drawing near to listen to Jesus.  The phrase tax collectors and sinners refers to a group of people so destitute they were forced to engage in dishonourable professions in order to survive.  Just like the younger son in the story, the tax collectors and sinners had lost their community – their status – and in many cases their self-respect.

The tale includes the account of a family consisting of a father and 2 sons.  The young son receives his inheritance and squanders it.  After a time of frivolous living, the young man returns home.

The story does not end with the father embracing and welcoming the younger son.   Even though we would expect a detailed account of the homecoming, our attention is diverted to the reaction of the other brother. The older son refused to join the celebration banquet, complaining that he has always been dutiful and yet was never so well treated.  In a sense, he was acting like his brother did – rejecting the home that his father had provided.  This is where the sub-text of the story lies.  It is not only the outcasts who have a choice about whether or not they will accept God’s welcome.  The dutiful – like the privileged elder son, or the Pharisees and scribes listening to this story – also have a choice.  They can stubbornly hold on to their own understanding of true righteousness and refuse to join God’s banquet, or they can choose to accept God’s welcoming, overturning, inclusive love.

  There is a story of a man in Italy whose son was estranged from him after a big fight.  A few months passed without word.  Finally, the father posted a notice all around Rome.  It said, “Palo, I forgive you.  I’m sorry.  I love you.  Please meet me at the square, on Saturday at 3 p.m.

That Saturday, 800 young men named Palo appeared at the square at 3 p.m.

Those who can find the strength to forgive themselves and others know the joy when forgiveness is given and received, when hurt is past, when new life is real, and the music from the celebration can be heard by everyone. 

The message of forgiveness and acceptance is timeless. There are many reasons for not forgiving.  There is the fear of being hurt again.  The fear of being seen as foolish.  There is the fear of being taken in.  Again.  And then there is guilt when forgiveness is just too hard. Does our God love us this much?  Could the accepting Parent love the child so much to forgive the son or daughter even when they don’t deserve it?  And how could a party possibly be thrown? 

A powerful story comes from the church in New Zealand.  It is about 2 brothers named Sam and Simon who were once convicted of stealing sheep, and, in accordance with the brutal punishment of the day, were branded on the forehead with the letters ST which stood for Sheep Thief.  One of the brothers, unable to bear the stigma, tried to bury himself in a foreign land.  But people would ask him about the letters on his brow and what they meant. Thus he wandered from land to land, full of bitterness, he died and was buried in a forgotten grave.

But the other brother, who repented of his mistake, did not go away from his home.  He said to himself: “I can’t run away from the fact that I stole sheep and here I will remain until I turn it around and win back the respect of my neighbours and myself”.

As the years passed he established a reputation for respectability and integrity.   One day a stranger in the town saw the old man with the letters ST branded on his forehead and asked a local person what they signified.  After thinking for awhile the villager said: “It all happened a great while ago, and I have forgotten the particulars, but I think the letters are an abbreviation of Saint.”

To all of us who are saints, let the celebration begin!  What a party it will be!  Amen.

“Second Chances” – February 28, 2016

“Second Chances”

February 28, 2016 – Lent 3 – Year C

One morning a man with a carpenter’s toolbox knocked on farmer John’s door.  Was there any work he might do for a few days?  “Yes, my brother just bulldozed a creek to separate our property.  So I want to go him one better.  I want you to build me a fence so high that I won’t have to see my brother’s farm anymore.”  The carpenter said he understood the situation and promised that he would do a job that would please farmer John.

Farmer John headed off for this day of plowing the back forty on the other side of the farm.  At sunset, he returned to see what the carpenter had done.  The carpenter had just finished.  Farmer John’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped.  For where he expected to see a fence, there was a bridge built across the creek.  Even more, his brother Tom was striding across the bridge, his hand outstretched in reconciliation, amazed that brother John would build a bridge after all the bitterness and separation.  Farmer John walked across the bridge to meet his brother, and they clasped hands for the first time in years. 

The carpenter turned to go.  “Wait!” the brothers said together.  “Stay and work some more for us.”  The carpenter replied, “I’d love to stay.  But I have many more bridges to build.”

Throughout life there are so many bridges that one wishes were in place.   Each time I fail to be as caring and supportive to another, I wish for a bridge.  Each time I fail to help a person in need, I wish for a bridge.  Each time I fail to recycle an item, I wish for a bridge. The scripture we heard speaks of repentance and second chances.  It points us to the heart of our faith, when pain and suffering threatens to overwhelm.  Up pops depression, indifference, despair, resignation and anguish.  Yet, in the midst of all of that is God reaching out a hand and pulling us into a massive hug.  We are loved!

The context for Luke’s Gospel account is yet another teaching moment for Jesus.  Some tragedies are brought to Jesus’ attention and he uses them to explain about suffering.  It has been speculated that the 18 were working on Pilates aqueduct when part of it fell on them.  Pilate took money from the temple treasury to build his aqueduct, much to the horror of the Jews.  And so, if some masonry had fallen on Jews who were paid to build the aqueduct, the countryside would conclude, that it was the judgment of God on those who compromised themselves with the enemy.  So, in order to counter this interpretation, a parable is told.

In the story of the fig tree, God is portrayed as a gardener who is patient way beyond the patience of the landowner.  God looks beyond the present moment to the potential within the fig tree.  God will actively nurture and fertilize the tree so that it will yet bear fruit.  How can we do any less than celebrate God’s patience and trust in our own potential.  We too are to seek spiritual nurture during this season, that we may also bear good fruit.

As I have been outdoors playing in my garden and enjoying putting compost around the roots of the tender plants, the story of the fig tree is particularly relevant.  Some of my plants are going to have to grow well this year, or else they will be pulled out.  They have had second and third chances.  Yet, they refuse to bloom.  They will not bear fruit.  It is as if they don’t want to be a part of my flower garden.

What does it mean to be cast off?  Cut down?  Or the opposite – to be in community?  There are some powerful lessons we can learn from being in community.  When we are facing ill health, life struggles, financial stress, family difficulties and the list goes on – we need help and support from others.  When I was at university completing my undergraduate degree, a group of 7 of us gathered every Tuesday and Thursday noon hour to support and care for each other.  We were all mature women, most raising young families, all facing crises.  At that time, I was going through the incredible pain of a marriage break-up along with the anguish of my mother’s death.  All of that on top of my final year of university and working at a church as their minister.  It was just about too much.  But thanks to that group of women I was loved into wholeness and supported into the fullness of who I could be.  God worked through those friends and brought me to wholeness.

When tragedy strikes, people ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”  Perhaps Jesus’ audience posed the wrong question.  They asked “why did this horrible thing happen?”  A better question might be, “When I encounter suffering, how shall I interpret it?  How shall I handle it?  Will it make me more a child of God or less of one?

God’s response to these questions and concerns leads to the route of repentance.  Repentance is a path that leads to blessing.  It is a way of life brought about by a constant awareness of our human frailty and fallibility.

Repentance is an act – a seeking, a forsaking, a returning – a responding to God who is near and “may be found.”  God is merciful and forgiving – abundantly pardoning – beyond anything that human beings can imagine or enact.

The Russian film “Repentance” has a scene with people lined up at the prison gate to get letters from relatives, and often on many of these letters are scribbled the words, “Left No Forwarding Address.”  The theatre-goers would look knowingly at each other.  For they all knew what that meant, and they wept.

In another scene, the women are shown in a muddy timber yard, desperately picking up logs one by one and examining the ends of them.  One woman finds her husbands name carved in the log, and she weeps as she caresses it – almost as if she’s caressing her husband’s face.

The reviewer said that he commented to a Russian friend, “I suppose this was some kind of surrealistic statement.  But the friend replied, “no, it isn’t.  It isn’t a statement.  It isn’t a dream.  It was a reality, for (during the Stalinist era) it was common for people to search for names on the end of logs, because the prisoners who worked in the forests would carve their names and the last date as a sign that until at least that date, they were still alive.”

So in a film, a woman’s unrelenting search for her husband in a muddy timber yard, is a powerful parable of a Russian’s search for God in a muddy society.  In the middle of a devastating and unrelenting horror, torture, and death they continue to look for God – and found God – even though their search was officially forbidden.

At the heart of Christianity is the reality of human suffering.  Jesus is at his most human, at one with us most fully, when he experiences suffering.  In the Easter story God suffers with us and promises that suffering is not the final word.  This is the cost of love.  My friends, we are all loved – fully – completely – and in a way that transforms us.  Receive this Good News and live lives of abundance.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – “Wilderness Times” – February 14, 2016

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – “Wilderness Times”

February 14, 2016 – Year C – Lent 1 – Annual Meeting

When you have come into Penticton United Church, a sanctuary that God has given you as an inheritance to treasure, and you care for it, and look after it; you shall welcome the newcomer that your God is giving you, and you shall wrap them in a hug and invite them to sit near you. You shall go to the Minister who is called at this time, and say to her, ‘Today I declare to God that I have come into the place that God swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the Minister takes the bread from your hand and sets it down on the communion table she will make this response before God:

  ‘A wandering Jewish carpenter is our Redeemer; he went into Israel and Palestine and lived there as a faithful follower of God’s way.  We are people who are choosing to follow in the pattern of the Holy One.  We have a history of joyful celebration as well as pain and hurt, and yet we believe that the path of justice, compassion and love is our call.  Even though we have faced years of financial restraint and broken relationships with close friends, we cried to the God of our ancestors.  The Creator heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our hurt. God brought us out of the pain of despair, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  With a great display of power, and with signs and wonders, our God brought us into this time and gave us this place of worship, a sanctuary that is sacred. So now we bring our tithes, the first one-tenth of our resources, as a thank offering for all that you have given us, O God.’ We shall set it down before God and bow down in thanksgiving. Then we, together with the neighbours and friends who use this building, we shall celebrate raising our voices and announcing “How Great thou art!”

Such is my re-telling of the creedal statement of the Hebrew scripture text for today.  Our confession of faith acknowledges the wilderness times when we as a congregation have gone through some extremely difficult times.  Some people would say that 2015 was one of those years.  It was a year where our Council functioned without a permanent Chairperson or a treasurer.  Like many years, we had a deficit of over $14,700.   It was a tough year for our conscientious and hard working council and committees.  They worked with small committees and ensured that the various projects were completed.

With all this said, we are faced with opportunities for 2016.  It will be a year to intentionally plan our course with your guidance.  After lunch today we will gather in table groups and will begin conversations guiding us toward a path of concrete action.  And then on Saturday February 27 the entire congregation is encouraged to attend a day of “Looking to the Future.”   Rev. Richard and Joanne Simpson from our Wise Elders group will be leading us in conversation and exercises to map out a plan for 2016 and the next 5 to 10 years.  It is important that we have as many people of the congregation in attendance.  For without your input, our church is facing a serious leadership and financial crisis.  But both of these can be overcome when we work together with awareness and determination and prayer.

We are in a place that God has given.  Each week we gather to worship and be empowered.  Our spirits are nourished.  Our hearts are fed with companionship and warmth of the Holy Spirit.  We celebrate the bounty that God has given us.  And we are thankful.

May our Annual Meeting celebrate and honour the faithfulness of you – God’s people.  Amen.

 

Melodies of Love – January 31, 2016

“Melodies of Love”

January 31, 2016 – Year C – Epiphany 4

Early in the month I went to St. Catharines Ontario for my annual visit with my chosen family.  There are 8 of us who met at Brock University 36 years ago.  Each January I visit with these wonderful women for a time of deep sharing and personal catching up.  We know some of the deepest secrets of each other and can be truly honest with one another.  In other words, there is profound love among us.    It has taken 36 years to develop, but they are relationships that I cherish.

We seek to be patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  We try not to insist on our own way.  We try to avoid being irritable or resentful.  We do not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoice in the truth.  We have supported each other through divorces, ill children, new partnerships, the endings of jobs, celebrated the birth of grandchildren, grieved the death of parents.  We have loved each other through hard times and in truly wonderful times. Three of us have vacationed together including going to Scotland last summer. We have shared our diverse faith journey’s and remained hopeful when illness threatened to cripple.  But the greatest of all is love.

Eugene Peterson, in the Message Bible in Contemporary language talks of love in this way:

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut.

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,
trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.  And the best of the three is love.

Many of you have been blessed to have experienced the kind of love that the Apostle Paul described to the early Corinthian people.  This scripture passage, read often at wedding celebrations, outlines the joys and challenges of deep, abiding love.   It isn’t some mushy romantic feeling.  It isn’t some early romance infatuation.  It is deep, gutsy hard work kind of living.

Let’s take a trip to ancient Corinth.  We stand in the ruins of the agora, or the market place.  There are broken statues at the four corners.  Remnants of stalls of the merchants line the outer walls.  We look out towards the Mediterranean Ocean and marvel at the scene.  We can imagine Paul standing in the square and issuing the call to love extravagantly.  His words must have been startling to the first Century crowd that were gathered.   They were people who had much dissension among themselves.  Their way of living was fractious.  Worship had been times of turmoil and communion was marred by class distinctions, and several members had filed lawsuits against other members.

However, let’s hold a mirror up to our own life and relationships with others and see what it has to say.  Paul uses the analogy of a mirror to expose our own way of loving.  Ancient Corinth was the leading producer of high quality bronze mirrors.  Those listening to Paul would have been familiar with good mirrors and realized that the image was at best indirect.  It was a little like today’s photos – a great replication but just not quite as good as the real thing.

Those of us who hear the phrase “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” realize that we see our own reflection – incomplete lovers that we are.  Although we seek to be radical lovers, extreme in our compassion and tender in our caring, we fall short.  However, as we see the indwelling God, we are confronted by the awesome life giving lover.

The challenge before us is to recognize one another as image bearers of God.  This is the “bottom line” of why we are to love each other.  When we live love, the fog of our transgressions is lifted and we see one another as images of God.

Elvis Presley sings “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” and we sing “O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go.”  Perry Como sings “Love makes the World Go Round” and we sing “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”  May the deep and profound love of God be revealed in our living.  “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.”