“Will You Respond?” February 3, 2019 – Year C – Epiphany 4

Will You Respond?”

February 3, 2019 – Year C – Epiphany 4

            Have you ever used the phrase, “I’m only.”  Perhaps it went something like, “I’m only a simple high school educated person.”  Or, “I’m only a new-comer to the church.”  Or, “I’m only a first-time member of this study group.”  The boy-prophet Jeremiah discovers that God’s not buying the “I’m only” routine either.  Thankfully, God’s insistence that Jeremiah take on the huge responsibility before him, comes with the assurance of God’s presence every step of the way.  It’s much more difficult to say “I’m only” when God’s own hand is touching your mouth.  With the confidence of knowing that God’s hand is upon us, leading and guiding us, our “I’m only” is transformed into a faithful “I will!”

Next week we will be electing a search committee, so that they might work together in determining the direction for ministry in the future.  They will work together in selecting a new minister for this church.  Imagine Jeremiah being a candidate.  If asked for his qualifications, he would say he was chosen in the womb for this opportunity.  He would say that he tried as a young boy to make a career change, but that God said that Jeremiah would be given the words he would need, thus explaining his lack of seminary degree.  The interview ends and Jeremiah, as a pastoral candidate, would disappear.  Jeremiah might be muttering on his way out the door about plucking up and pulling down, adding the message to destroy and overthrow.  The search committee would be thinking that is the last thing we need to hear.  They would never even hear Jeremiah talk about building up and planting.

What about your call from God?  When did you experience God nudging you to be a nurse, or a teacher, or to work with your hands, or what ever God nudged you to consider?  Did you heed that call?  How long ago was it when God planted a dream in your soul of how you might serve God?  Perhaps it was a call to serve others with kindness and compassion.  Possibly it was a call to use your talents and skills in a particular way.  Some of us heard God calling us to be Sunday School teachers.  Others felt God opening the door to serve on a church committee or Council.  Some to sing in the choir.  Jeremiah’s call is a reminder that God still calls people – folk of all ages, abilities, and experiences in the church.  How is God calling you?

The story of Jeremiah is a fascinating one.  We learn how God formed, knew, consecrated and appointed Jeremiah.  In 6 short verses we come to understand that God was with Jeremiah from conception through to his call to ministry.  Sometimes we forget that this truth applies to each one of us.  God knows us intimately and calls us to live as specially chosen followers of God’s way.  Imagine being a young child and knowing that God has plans for you to be a prophetic voice.  It must have been overwhelming to Jeremiah.  No wonder he was frightened.  But what words Jeremiah uttered!  While part of his ministry was to destroy and overthrow, he also built up and planted new hope.

Just like you and me, Jeremiah had his doubts and apprehensions. He strives for some independence – some wiggle room, we might say –  but God would not hear of it.  Instead God directs with a firm command, ordering Jeremiah to go where he is sent and speak whatever he is told.  I can’t help wondering if our lives would take a different path if we were better disciplined in prayer and meditation, so that we would go where God sends us and speak what God would have us say.

I know that one of the messages that God has for us to utter is the amazing Good News of Jesus Christ.  We are challenged to speak of the impact that our brother and companion Jesus has on our lives.  We are called to introduce to others the astounding miracle of Jesus by modeling our lives after the manner of Jesus.  We are invited to witness to the way of liberation, justice and shalom, as modeled by Jesus of Nazareth.  With these encouragements, let’s look at the Lukan account of Jesus in Nazareth.

He listened to God’s direction to head to his home-town and speak in the synagogue.  Our text is a continuation of last weeks account of Jesus quoting Isaiah 61.

Jesus is well liked.  How could he not?  This is Joseph, the carpenter’s son.  The hometown congregation is proud.  He is the people’s choice.  He knows Scripture well.  In fact, he has a profound and unique understanding of the Hebrew text.  So, when Jesus speaks, the eyes and ears of the congregation are fixed on him.  They expect outstanding greatness.

However, Jesus is clear that he is not there to be likeable.  “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” he announces.  Like Jeremiah’s tough sell message, Jesus acknowledges that rejection is woven into his job description.  As if that is not bad enough, Jesus dismisses any sense of privilege that his listeners may have assumed was theirs.  Jesus goes on and tells the story of Elijah and how a Gentile woman in Sidon was the recipient of grace.  Then, Jesus told a second story about a leper from Syria who was cleansed, while the Israeli lepers were ignored.

Why did Jesus tell these stories to the home town folk?  Jesus, the “proud son of Nazareth” becomes one who now has created a sense of rage.  Was he no longer the elite one?  Was it because his message was threatening?  Was it because his words were demanding – so very demanding of at least repentance?

So often we think of Jesus meek and mild.  Yet, there was a firm, direct, bold side to him.  He was not hesitant to name atrocities for what they were.  He raged against evil.  He was committed to name it like it was.  He was a straight shooter.

A professor at one of the American Theological colleges was known for his liberal insights.  Before telling his classes that the Bible might not be inerrant, or that Gandhi might get into heaven, he would always say, “now don’t tell your home church I told you this, but…”

As we read the story of Jesus’ homecoming sermon in his “home church,”  we are reminded that proclaiming the good news, even when it is difficult, is more important than catering to an audience.  Those who follow in Jesus’ footsteps – bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, and letting the oppressed go free – risk much.  It may be that we can’t go home again, but we can extend grace, love, mercy and justice beyond the walls of our ‘homes” and past the boundaries of our prejudices.  Let us commit ourselves to the challenge of bold faith sharing.  Amen.








“Searching Diligently” January 6, 2019 – Epiphany – Year C

“Searching Diligently”

January 6, 2019 – Epiphany – Year C

            Epiphany!  It is such a wonderful word.  It almost sounds like a sneeze, doesn’t it?  But, instead, it is that awesome day of the manifestation of the Christ Child to the world.  There are fabulous stories that go with the revealing of the amazing Child.  We hear about astronomers, or perhaps they were astrologers, or spiritual seekers, or maybe even Wise Men, or some stories call them Kings.  Tales are told that even name them – Malchior – Balthasar – and Gaspar.  Because the story reports 3 gifts, we choose to suggest there were 3 Magi.  Yet, all this speculation and wondering does little to diminish the sense of wonder and awe. So, let’s get on with the story.

Think about it for a moment – the scribes knew where the promised Messiah was to be born.  At Herod’s command, they searched their scriptures, and came up with the answer.  Bethlehem.  But until the Magi – strangers, foreigners, visitors from another country – come to see this Messiah, it didn’t matter.

Those outsiders can be crucial in shaping a nation’s self- perceptions.  Depending on their interests, local people may suddenly see that their rivers can be dammed to generate electricity.  Or that their mountains can be mined, for copper.  Or that their lands can grow roses for someone else’s flower shops, or beef for someone else’s hamburgers. Until then – Bethlehem was the town proclaimed in Hebrew scripture for the coming King.

Fortunately for us, the Magi came to worship.

There’s an intriguing reversal in the story of the child they came to see.  The stable where Jesus was born probably wasn’t a building, but a cave.  Just think, Jesus’ life starts and ends in a cave.  At his birth, people came into a cave to see him.  At his death, people came into a cave and didn’t see him.  It is a thought that bears more exploration and study.  But, for now, we enter the cave and see the babe.

Here we have a poor family – peasants who are young and just starting out.  What kind of gift would be most suitable?  Clothes for the little one?  Blankets –  perhaps?  How about some diapers?  What gifts do you bring to new born babies?

But no, these fellas from the east bring gold, frankincense and myrrh.  What kind of baby gifts are these?  They are almost useless.

Some occasions do not necessarily call for the most practical gifts.  We can get into trouble by being too practical-minded and getting a gift that isn’t especially thoughtful. Like the “Home Improvement” episode where Tim gives Jill a Power Window Washer for her birthday.  Or the movie “Father of the Bride” in which the groom-to-be gives the bride-to-be very nice blender.  He doesn’t understand when she runs up the stairs crying and wants to call off the wedding.

Some occasions call for impractical, extravagant gifts.  The Magi were said to be  learned, sophisticated, wealthy people.  They gave the very best gifts they could give.  It represents who they were.

By giving gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they were in a sense giving themselves to the Christ child.  They gave the fullness of who they were.  And they were overwhelmed with joy.

What is it you and I are prepared to give to God’s most well-known child?  Each week in our worship service we take significant time to present our offerings.  They represent our commitment to Christ’s ministry within this congregation and abroad.   Are our Sunday by Sunday offerings similar to the gold given by the Magi?  Is it a generous gift that will truly honour Christ?  Do we give our commitment to serve Christ in ways of compassion, kindness, and tender-heartedness?  Are our loving behaviours like the frankincense, permeating the very air we breathe and actions we make?  Do we give so generously knowing that we need not hold anything back, for we are well prepared for our death?  Are we so devoted to the Christ Child that we are fearless approaching death?  Myrrh, the perfume used for preparing a body upon death, was the Magi’s gift to Jesus.  Ours is complete devotion, even to death.  The giving of our offering is very much like the Magi giving gold, frankincense and myrrh.

I have the privilege of reading to the Al Mohammed children every Friday afternoon.  They are one of our Syrian refugee family’s.  Shaad is 6, in grade 1, Yasin is 9 in grade 4 and Haadi is 10 in grade 5.  I have been reading to them for just over 2 years and they teach me far more than I teach them.  They work hard at school, diligently do their homework, and love playing soccer.  They call Beryl, the secretary at St. Saviour’s Anglican church, “grandma,” and Gerry Neilsen and I have an honourary place in their lives.  Like the Magi, the family travelled far from Syria to find a place of security.  The whole family marvel at the beauty of the night sky.  Growing up in Allepo Syria they didn’t see the beautiful moon and stars twinkling.  Instead, they saw dust and smoke.  It was not a star that led them out of the war-ravaged country.  They fled to Damascus and then thanks to our generosity and that of the Anglican church, made Penticton their new home.

Darkness is real for too many people here in Penticton.  The Safe Shelter is full with women who have fled abusive relationships.  Our Narcotics Anonymous groups continually receive new people who are powerless over drugs.  I hear more and more people who are addicted to gambling, and find the casino too tempting.  Others find the darkness of loneliness and  depression to be persuasive.  What is your darkness?

With help from SOWINS, 12 step programs and Discovery House, as well as medical assistance the cloud of darkness can be lifted.  By participating in this church community, many people have found relief from the very struggles I have named.  May each of us see through the darkness and peek at the light of the night sky.

Perhaps, this evening, we need to step outside and marvel at the night sky.  Moonlight and stars glistening are signs of great delight.  “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Maker in heaven,” said Christ to the disciples early in his ministry.  So, we ask ourselves, “By what light do we see God?”

Do we see God, made manifest in the manger in Bethlehem, by the light of the star that the magi are said to have followed?  Is it a single star that guides our hearts and spirit toward the Bethlehem child?  Or, do we see light in the eyes of a person of faith, radiating grace, justice and devotion.  Perhaps we, like Isaiah, have seen the light of grace that touches God’s people with illuminating glory.

God’s call throughout the ages is “Arise!  Shine!”  We have the light and are to show it.  It is as if God is saying to us, “find the darkness and show light!”  As Christmas festivities have drawn to a close and Epiphany is upon us, surely the least we can do is radiate light into dimness.  Perhaps it is donating to our food cupboard, knitting a prayer shawl, visiting one of the people on our prayer list, or devoting 10 minutes every day to praying for the people of this congregation.

Let us join the trek to follow signs of great joy!  May we be transformed by what we see.  And may we lead others to experience wonder, each day!  Amen.

“The Hand That Rocked the Cradle” Advent 4 – Year C – December 23, 2018

“The Hand That Rocked the Cradle”

Advent 4 – Year C – December 23, 2018


What a time of magic and delight!  Regardless of one’s age, we can’t help but being caught up in the sense of awe and wonderment.  It is the stuff of pageants and parades.  Here we encounter some of the most beautiful poetry and drama one could imagine.

A lowly, young teenager is awestruck that God has chosen her to bear a most amazing child.  Imagine, a servant girl is the one that God has chosen to be the bearer of our Redeemer!  A young peasant gal from a tiny, no name Judean town was blessed with a child who would change the course of her life, and that of yours and mine.  The hand that rocked the cradle brought new life into the world.  The hand that rocked the cradle shaped the values of the Messiah.

Or, at least that is how the story is told.  Another understanding is that of an adolescent girl visiting her cousin Elizabeth.  Both women amazingly pregnant.  Perhaps they were the talk of the town and knew they needed each other.  Perhaps they knew that their pregnancies were exceptional and could not have happened without the astounding intervention of God.  Perhaps it is a tale of exceptional mystery.

Isn’t there a sense in which the birth of Christ within us as individuals, or within our communities, is always a miracle and a bit of a scandal?  When someone, or a group, starts to act in a way that is different, or contrary to the usual norms of the town;  tongues will wag.  Christ has always been a scandal.  When we are full of him, probably we will be too.  And today, I’m full of Christ.  What about you?  He is my hope for a love filled world.  He is my hope for a peace filled world.

The prophet Micah proclaims, “he shall be the one of peace.”  Not only the one who speaks of peace, but the One of peace.  He will transform all of our dreams and ideals of peace into something tangible – a human life.  His life will show us that the power of peace and the strength of God are best revealed in human weakness.  He will be peace incarnate, and he will change forever the shape of our dream of God.

Peace will no longer be merely the absence of war and bloodshed, God will smile on our attempts to attain it, but this peace will always be mysteriously out of reach.  It will no longer reside in the false contentment that the world offers, but in the hearts of those who know God.  The peace of God beyond our understanding will be the source of our longing, our inspiration, and the font of our strength.

From now on, peace will be synonymous with Christ, God-with-us, the one we call the Prince of Peace.

The poet George Herbert noted that the letters by which we spell the name “Mary”, the mother of Jesus, can also spell the word “army.”  Is there some kind of connection being made here between the name of Mary and the forces of death and violence?  Does this lowly adolescent also hold within her a confrontation with the forces of death?    It is a point for pondering, don’t you think?


We often hear about famous people who grew up in small towns in trying circumstances.  In our reading from Micah the people are told that God will bless them with a shepherd-king from Bethlehem, “one of the smallest towns in Judah.” Imagine!  Our Christ, born in a nothing town, much smaller than Penticton.  And yet we know the name Bethlehem as commonly as we know Vancouver.   This unlikely sovereign, descended from King David – whose father also came from Bethlehem – will he bring peace and security to the people?   Because we know the story, we realize that the answer is a resounding “maybe.”  The peace and security that Jesus offers is not a watered down absence of war nor unending comfort.  Instead, Jesus presents to us a model of radical love that calls for welcome to all.

Micah, the lyrical prophet of the 8th century BCE, called the poor and oppressed “my people”.  He lashed out against the greed of wealthy land grabbers who impoverished peasant farmers.  Having grown up in a small town, he was witness to the misery of the destitute.  To Micah, great leadership could only be born among those who had experienced hardship.  We hear the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” playing in the background, as we think of the small town where Christ was born.

As I listen to and read the daily news, I can’t help but hear Mary’s poem as a backdrop.  Are the Guatemalan refugees seeking new homes in Columbia, the poor that Mary speaks of?  Are the Mexican border crossers any different than Mary, seeking new life amongst welcoming throngs?  Is God the merciful One for all the world’s people?  Is Penticton home to Christ?  Will we welcome an impoverished, pregnant, unwed teenager into the fellowship of this congregation?  Will we do so without condemnation and comment?

A Chilean woman writes:

“With pride and dignity I sing my song of joy

When I feel the Lord’s presence;

I am poor and very ordinary,

But one day the Lord looked upon me

And the history of the poor

Will give witness to my joy.

God is unfettered and unpredictable,

God is called our great friend.

And throughout our history

God has favoured those of us who are weak.

God triumphant force

Shows itself each day when

God exposes the foolishness of the powerful.

God uncovers the feet of clay of those in power,

And nourishes the yearning of the poor.

To those who come hungry

God gives bread and wine.

And to the wealthy

God exposes their selfishness

And the emptiness of their ways.

This is God’s desire:

Always to favour the poor.

Now finally we can walk.

God is faithful to God’s promises.”

May it be so.  Amen.


“Listen and Hear” December 16, 2018 – Year C – Advent 3

“Listen and Hear”

December 16, 2018 – Year C – Advent 3


Oh, My God.  The audacity of John.  How dare he speak like that!  What a commotion he is making!   We just want to be baptized – not lectured.  He called us a brood of vipers!  When we asked him what we should do, we had no idea that he would make such high demands of us.  Sharing our coats.  Giving up food.  Tax collectors to collect only what is prescribed. Be satisfied with our wages.   How preposterous!  Oh, My God, will we listen to John?

Like the people of John’s day, we are filled with questions.  Must we listen to his message to fully understand the Good News?  Must we get our heads around the proclamations of John in order to comprehend Christ’s message of love?

John doesn’t sugar coat his message.  It is “in your face” direct.  There is an urgency to what he has to say.  Don’t flee from the wrath of God, he says.  Stay and do what you can to make it right!  Don’t rest on your ancestral laurels, do something yourself that displays your faith.  In all this directness, there is good news just the same.

The Gospel of Luke describes John’s message as “good news”.  But for whom?  It is not good news for those who are unwilling to change or see no need of it.  It is good news only for those who long for a different society, a reality transformed by God’s powerful love and justice.   It is good news for those who long for the coming One who will complete the work God has already begun.  The image of a harvest underway is one of God already acting to bring about a new reality.  The one who is to come will baptize with God’s own Spirit and, like the beginning of creation, blow new life into humanity.

I can’t help wondering if John’s message is needed once again in the political scene that the world finds itself in.  Perhaps we need the sharp, prophetic message of repent and do justice.  I suspect that we need to hear the bold directive for sharing.  Give away what you don’t need.  Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God, are all present in John’s rhetoric.   Via television we have seen enough poverty, starvation, killing, and human misery, to disturb our sleep for a long time to come.  The message of sharing and justice might be better news than we think to us who have more of this world’s goods than we need.  It surely would be for those who have too little.

When the people ask if John is the Messiah he reminds them that his baptism is one of water and repentance.  Redemption is the name of the game.   He states that the One who comes after him will baptize with the Spirit and fire.  The Greek word for Spirit and wind are the same. It is Ruah.  Wind and fire are both transforming elements which change what they touch.  Christ’s coming is transformative and if we wish to know the joy and peace of the Divine transformation we need to open ourselves now to a new world – a world in which power is shared and all have what they need.  And if our actions proclaim that such a world is possible, what joy that will bring!

Frank McCourt, Pulitzer prize winning author of Angela’s Ashes, has a children’s book titled “Angela and the Baby Jesus.  Angela was McCourt’s mother, and at age 6, she worried about the baby Jesus in the nativity crib in the church near her home.  She wondered why no one put a blanket over him.  She knew cold and hunger firsthand and decided she would do something about the baby without anyone knowing.  Angela sneaked into the church and took the baby home in order to give him a warm place to stay.  Her brother, Pat, caught her trying to get the baby Jesus into the house.  He became the tattletale and told their mother that Angela stole the baby Jesus.  The whole family climbed the stairs and found the baby Jesus with his head on a pillow.  “Mother O’ God!” said little Angela’s mother.  “Is that the Baby Jesus from St. Joseph’s?”  They all knew it was.

Her mother asked, “And why, for the love of God?”  Angela answered, “He was cold in the crib and I wanted to warm him up.”  It was decided that the baby had to be returned to the church immediately and to his mother.  Upon arrival at the church, the priest and policeman greeted the family at the door.  Angela admitted to taking the baby.  The tattletale bother turned protector when the policeman suggested that Angela might have to go to jail.  “The strange thing now was the tears twinkling on the cheeks of the priest in the December moonlight.  The policeman coughed and gave his baton a bit of a twirl.”  The priest urged Angela to place the baby in the crib and promised that his mother would keep him nice and warm.  She complied, and “When she put the Baby Jesus back in the crib, he smiled the way he always did and held out his arms to the world.”  Angela’s day included judgement by her brother and redemption by the priest when she was simply trying to care for Jesus.

Redemption – now that is what today’s message is all about.  John proclaimed redemption through the act of baptism.  The One who’s birth we await lived redemption in all he did – in all he said – and in how he loved!  May redemption be known by each one of us.  Amen.



“Dreaming the Impossible Dream” Advent 1 – December 2, 2018 – Year C

“Dreaming the Impossible Dream”

Advent 1 – December 2, 2018 – Year C


In one of his sermons, Dr Paul Wilson tells of Alec.  “Alec is a child with Down’s Syndrome who is attending kindergarten.  The teachers had all of the children sit in a circle in the classroom.  Then each one was asked to say something for which he or she was thankful.  Everyone was used to Alec, for whom they would often wait.  Sometimes he would answer and sometimes he wouldn’t, and even when he did, he was often hard to understand.  When it came to be his turn, they waited, and he got a big smile on his face, and he lifted one of his hands and pointed, first at one teacher and then at the other.  He got his big smile on again.  And one of the parents who was sitting in on the class noticed that both of the teachers started crying.  Some may have found that place holy.  But God can be found in any moment, in any place, most surely with the needy, empowering each of us with acts of love.”

Neighbourhood children use the local campus as a playground.  They show up on sunny days with their mothers.  The other day there was a group of kids kicking a ball, a clear plastic inflatable ball.  When the ball came close you could see that it actually was a globe, printed with the shapes of the continents.  One boy kicked the ball up and another caught it deftly.  “Poor old world,” she said.  Her words resonate with us, for these days our earth seems tossed around.  Poor old world.

One of the great musicals is Man of La Mancha.  Based on a book written in prison by Miguel Cervantes in the 17th century, it is the story of the adventures of an errant knight, Don Quixote, and his companion Sancho Panza.  In the musical production by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion, one of the great songs is “The Impossible Dream,” part of which says: “To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go.”

Now that may not be your dream, but we all have dreams.  We have dreams for ourselves and for our families.  We have dreams for our communities and for our nation, and we pursue these dreams personally and collectively.  We work hard to attain our personal dreams and we seek out like-minded people with whom to pursue our communal dreams.  In a sense we have a lot in common with the man of La Mancha.  In a very real way his song is our song.

One of our great poets, Langston Hughes, writes: “I dream a world, where love will bless the earth .. and joy, like a pearl, attend the needs of all mankind…”

Hughes dreams a world of which the Old Testament prophets would have been proud.  Can you hear the prophets sing their Advent song?  Can you hear the angels sing their heavenly chorus?

What is your dream?  Is it a dream of personal success, a dream of health and happiness?  Perhaps it is a dream for peace in our world or simply peace within your extended family.  Maybe it is dream of a world free of poverty or cancer, a world in which all God’s children have hope and prosperity.  We each dream a world, and that dream shapes us, gives our lives purpose and direction.  In that sense, the future shapes the present.

Jeremiah had a dream that God would one day fulfill God’s promise, that God would cause a righteous branch to spring up as a sign, as a symbol, like the “yellow ribbon round the old oak tree” as an indication that hope springs eternal. The situation in which he lived was as ghastly as any we can think of.  A terrible threat hung over his head.  Yet he refused to give up hope.  He had his dreams:  the dream of a saved nation, the dream of his people dwelling in security and peace, the dream of justice and righteousness residing in the land, and to the end of his days he hung on to his dreams.

The magnificence of this hope – the audacity of this hope – is the fact that there is no logical or tangible evidence for it.  The great gift of Jeremiah, indeed the great gift of Judaism is to hope in the face of no hope, to dream the impossible dream.

Jesus had a dream not too dissimilar from Jeremiah’s, a dream in which he would bring good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed be free and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4).

Jesus speaks a word of hope.  Although we see the tide going out and we cry in despair, we can realize that it will turn and return with new life and new possibilities.  We can see such signs as an ending or as a new beginning, as a righteous branch sprouting and bringing with it the promise of new growth.  The birth of a new understanding, of a new way of relating, like the birth of a child, is often difficult.  As with the birth of a child, a new generation is created whose ways are often not our ways.  But underneath are God’s eternal arms, this God who is called Emmanuel, God with us.

So look up, raise your heads, for your redemption is near, promises our God.

In August 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his now famous “I have a Dream” speech in which he said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed …”

It is a dream that echoes that of the prophet Isaiah, “That every valley shall be exalted and every mountain made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places made plain.” (Is 43) Or as we hear from Jeremiah, “I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.  I will cleanse them from all sin …” (Jer 33)

All God’s children have dreams, some more impossible than others, some demanding great faith and some requiring great sacrifice, some requiring great patience.

This Advent, I have a dream for each of us, that the baby born so long ago might be born in us.  That the child of Nazareth who grew in wisdom and in understanding might also grow in us.  That the Christ, the adult Jesus, might teach us how to reconcile and make new.  That we might become channels of God’s peace, singers of God’s grace, instruments of God’s healing love, bearers of God’s holy joy.

To that end I want to stand with Jeremiah and with Jesus.  I want to stand with those who promote justice and seek peace.  I want to stand with those who dream of a new heaven and a new earth.  I want to stand with those who seek to make the crooked straight, with those who give of themselves to make the rough places plain and to that end I sing:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star




“A Walk in the Wilderness” Advent 2 – December 9, 2018 – Year C

“A Walk in the Wilderness”

Advent 2 – December 9, 2018 – Year C


Over the years, countless numbers of hikers, cross country skiers, snow-shoers, and outdoor enthusiasts have ventured off the paths and got lost in the wilderness.    Hunters and anglers have set off for a day in the woods, only to have become lost and frightened. It can be a scary experience.

Many of us have experienced the wilderness of the mind.  It is a desolate and solitary time.  Loneliness, depression, anxiety, and grief can all be wilderness times.  Most of us understand the metaphor of the wilderness when it comes to describing one’s mental state.

Imagine wandering through a city where everyone speaks a language other than English.  Wouldn’t that be a wilderness time?  Or think about all the political conflict echoing across the globe and we hear the cry of wilderness.  The wilderness is where the world is raw, exposed and harsh.

However, many of us crave time in the wilderness.  It is a place of mystery and awe.  The wilderness represents peace and serenity.  When stress and busyness becomes too much, it is off to the woods for many of us.  Taking time communing with nature can be restorative.  This kind of wilderness experience is far different than the frightening vastness of wasteland.  This wilderness is the place of radical hope.  It is where we can hear the voices of prophets.

John the Baptist received his prophetic call in the desert, symbolically recalling Israel’s journey out of Egypt towards the promised land.  John calls the people to make such a journey again, but this time it is a spiritual one.  They are to turn away from the captivity of sins and be baptized.  This journey into the Jordan will symbolize choosing God’s way and acknowledge God’s leading just like crossing the Red Sea had done in the past.  Then all people will see God’s salvation.  The gospel writers saw John the Baptist as the messenger described by the prophet Isaiah, the one sent by God to get the road ready.

Martin Luther King Jr., a prophet in his own right, used todays’ Luke reading in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of thousands of people, King quoted John’s words about “making paths straight.”  This is how he described what that could mean in our day, “With this faith, we will be able to work together, pray together, struggle together, go to jail together, stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day,” said King.

Prophets are the ones who call from the wilderness to tell us there is hope for something better.  Some of our modern day prophets are connected with the Christian faith, and would easily place themselves in this text.  Environmentalists like David Suzuki, advocates for HIV/AIDS care in South Africa such as Stephen Lewis, Peace activists like Ernie Regiers of Project Ploughshares are all modern day prophets.  So too are our local visionaries, like the members of the Save the Oxbows group, the refugee transition committee members, and Pat Simons the chairperson of the Churches for Social Justice group.  These are people who see what they do through different lenses, but, are nonetheless prophetic.  John the Baptist set a standard for atypical prophets, leaving wide open the possibility that anyone, even a member of this church, can prepare the way of the Lord.

Living where we do, we have a unique perspective on Isaiah and John’s vision of making paths straight and leveling hills and valleys.  We hear with the ears of experience “the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth.”  Driving on our local roads and highways is a matter of assent and descent, and twist and turn.  There are few places in British Columbia that are not mountainous.  It was with this type of typography in front of them that Isaiah and John uttered these famous words.

So, what would our world look like as we prepare for the coming again of Christ?  Will our Aboriginal brothers and sisters be free from the horrors of the Residential Schools?  Will our villages, towns and cities be colour blind as people of all races are treated as equals?  Will we heed the warnings of scientists as they call us to conserve our resources for the sake of the planet?

What would our church be like if there were no impediments to its ministry?  Would we have a Senior’s resource centre, where information and services are under our roof?  Would we have a weekly supper for the hungry?  Would we be a drop in centre for folk with mental illness?  What can you imagine our church offering the community, if the mountains of deficit thinking and budgeting was made low?  What can you envision is the ministry needs for the next 10 years, if we were not paralyzed by too few able-bodied persons?  What is God calling us to be about?

Will we be daring, like John, and go to the wilderness of downtown Penticton and live out our baptism?  Will we live boldly and courageously, knowing that God walks with us.  It is not an uphill journey!  We are each forgiven and set free to see the salvation of God.  That is Good News, my friends!  Amen.

“I Have a Dream” 90th Anniversary Celebration – November 25, 2018

“I Have a Dream”

90th Anniversary Celebration – November 25, 2018

I have a dream of a church that is so full of love and compassion that people throughout Penticton will talk about Penticton United Church as the love filled church.

I have a dream of our church being so committed to justice that people of all ethnicities, heritage, sexual orientation, and status will be accepted, without comment.

I have a dream that Penticton United Church will continue its vital ministry of pastoral care, outreach, and worship well into the next decade and beyond.

I have a dream that the biggest worry of the next decade will be “how do we love extravagantly within our dedicated congregation?”, not worries of money and leadership!

I have a dream that persons under the age of 45 will be attracted to our church because of our array of programs and activities as well as our innovative worship.

And my dreams go on and on.  You see it is not just Martin Luther King Jr. who dared to dream and motivate.  I have big dreams for this church.  And they are not pie in the sky dreams.  They are realistic and doable.  But, for any dream to become reality takes team work and commitment. 

More than 90 years ago a group of faithful new United Church people had a dream of a new church building on this site.  Replacing the old St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, our beautiful building with sanctuary was constructed and dedicated in 1928.  This happened because the people of the United Church dared to dream of how they might meet the needs of the people of Penticton.  With up to 400 people attending worship on a Sunday morning it is easy to see why a sanctuary of this size was needed.

Throughout our 90 years of ministry we have responded to the diverse needs of our people and the broader community.  We have offered programs and activities for all age groups.  We have challenged the faithful to grow through study groups.  We have had fun with various fund raisers and social events.  And there is nothing stopping us from continuing in this pattern. 

I am convinced that the future for Penticton United Church is bright, in-spite of the signs that say otherwise.  I say this because we have been in this situation before.  Every decade we have faced deficits and leadership stresses.  But, that has not stopped us from doing and being faithful. Today’s sermon is not the time to map out a course of action for the future.  That is the role of the Long Range Planning Committee and the Council.  My role is to assure you that it can be done.  All we need is to listen very attentively to what our scripture text has to say.

John writes to the 7 churches of Asia, which today is modern Turkey.  Even though this text was written 2000 years ago, there is a relevancy to it.  It is a message we long to hear today.  We are greeted with grace and peace from God and Jesus Christ.  As the passage unfolds, we are assured that God is at work, seeking an end to injustice and suffering. How comforting it is to hear that God is still active, offering compassion, challenge, and love to all.  This great gift is manifest in Jesus Christ who brings love, liberation and community in a very concrete way.  Looks around and you’ll see what I mean.

Such is the call to the church today.  We are to follow Christ’s example as faithful witnesses.  We are to serve others, and we are to bring others into the way of love and praise which will last forever.     

Christ is not a tyrant.  He is a lover.  Christ is not a power mad oppressor.  He is a servant witness.  And Christ calls us to be the same sort of loving and serving witness to others.  When we grasp that calling, our lives become sources and avenues for praise for “the Alpha and the Omega … who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” 

That is our call, my friends.  Will we accept that challenge?  Will we dare to dream that Penticton United Church will accept Christ’s call to be loving witnesses?  Will we dream of God’s grace and peace touching us in such a profound way that our witness in the community is life changing?  May it be so.  Amen.

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

“New Beginnings”

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

Celebrating the 2000’s


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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















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

“Serving is the Name of the Game”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

“Welcoming Faith”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So be it.  Amen.