Monday, December 28, 2015

Gifts received and given

 Gifts: given and received
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses…. Luke’s a little sketchy on the Jewish law, but he’s making a point.  Joseph, being a man, doesn’t need to be purified after the baby’s born, but for Luke this couple are in this together
they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’)……..this child, this gift from God, is dedicated back to God, acknowledging the holiness of a newborn.  In the Baptist tradition, this still is the pattern—no longer just for boys; in our tradition, we bring children for baptism.  But rarely do we think seriously about the holiness of a child, indeed we don’t take the presentation of our children to God very seriously at all. We’re good at thinking our children are a gift FROM God, but we don’t actively raise them as if they were our gift TO God
and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’  Luke lets us know that Mary and Joseph are not well off; this is the law’s minimum requirement…..and yet they give.  Today we look at giving financially to God as an option.  Not for Joseph and Mary; they take their faith seriously and from the word go have been gift givers:  from giving up their reputations, giving over themselves to some hare-brained scheme of God’s, and now recognizing the future of their life, and their child, is to be given over to God.
 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him…….. Simeon too is a giver, he has given himself to the life of faith, not as if the faith is some ancient past story to be remembered, but ‘looking forward’ to what God will be doing.  And he is gifted, God has given him the Spirit.  We might pass over this quite quickly, but for Jews of the period it had been a long time since “the Holy Spirit rested on” anyone
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Not only was the HS just resting on him, but was active in him—he had been gifted with a sense that he wouldn’t die until the Messiah came.  And not only has he been gifted with that awareness, but he has also been…
Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; Simeon gives God and the world the gift of listening
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’
Simeon’s next gift is also to God: recognition of God’s work in his own life.   How often do we notice God’s work in our lives, God’s promises fulfilled?  Let alone acknowledge it?
 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.  we have to be paying attention to what’s happening right in front of us; there are too many times we ignore or discount the words of others…I often wonder about the gift of awe and amazement…’s the one thing that does turn me to God without fail.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’  This does not sound like much of a blessing, nor a gift.  The rise and fall of leaders and values, the exposure of our inner thoughts, deep personal hurt, not usually cause for celebration.
And we affirm, with strong hearts and confident voices, that God does not GIVE us suffering.  Yet many of us know that sometimes suffering brings gifts with it.  Simeon turned out to be right.  Bad stuff happens, but God always works to bring good out of it.
Next let’s hear from the first century letter to the congregation at Colossae
   Colossians 3:12-17
Continuing the theme of gifts: here we have a list of gifts we can give God by giving to the world.   what part of this don’t we get? One of the least difficult scriptures to understand: straightforward enough for us?
Clothe yourself with…..coats of compassion etc (children’s message)
We’re headed into the secular new year….my suggestion is to use this text as your basic new year resolution:  I’m thinking I will try one section a week to work on—to be intentional about each day, to practice all week
Week 1 Clothe yourself with compassion, Margaret                        week 2 clothe yourself with kindness                                                     week 3  clothe yourself with humility                                             week 4 clothe yourself with meekness                                           week 5 clothe yourself with patience                                             week 6 bear with one another                                                       week 7 forgive                                                                                week 8 love until it brings harmony                                                      week 9 let Christ’s peace rule in your heart                                            week 10 be thankful                                                                           week 11 Let the word of Christ dwell in you                                               
week 12 teach and admonish one another in all wisdom                       week 13 with gratitude sing!                                                         
week 14 whatever you do, word or action, do it in God’s name                  
week 15 give thanks
Thankfulness appears three times; that should tell us something
This is the gift we give back to God, and the gift we as the church must offer the world.
If you want to join me on this spiritual journey, our website will have the listing posted!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Friendship of Women

UMW communion 2015 reflection
You probably know the story (Eliz barrenness, Mary annunciation, then the visit together)
Two women, both unexpectedly pregnant, both angelically announced, both aware of the Spirit of God literally moving within them.  Both knew just how God comes in unorthodox places and through unexpected people.  And not only did they know it in their heads—even we can do that—they carried it with their lives.
There are some elements to their relationship that are worth considering in our own relationships with other women….
Mary says yes to God and immediately goes to talk to Elizabeth, and not just next door either…I imagine this single mother to be didn’t just go out of the joy of being pregnant!  There must have been anxiety, fear, wonder….all worth sharing with someone she trusts
When Elizabeth sees her, her whole body reacts.   Now our bodies today are bombarded by media images that most of us don’t fit, pregnant or not.  We learn early to critique our bodies negatively so we might learn something from Elizabeth about listening to our bodies….she takes her bodily response as an expression of joy.
she is filled with the Spirit of God, and she exclaims a blessing on this young woman….blessed are you among women.   Betcha Mary was relieved to hear that, as she probably wasn’t’feeling too sure about all this…..But then Elizabeth also says, Blessed is she who believes what God has promised. Not blessed are you for believing…..  I suspect she sees herself and Mary both as blessed by their trust in the God who keeps promises…..another wonderful character of friendship.
A prophet, John, and a savior Jesus, were human, born of women of trust, friends with each other, friends with God, women who carried God’s love into the world.  
Mary and Eliz aren’t here anymore but we are: women, friends, women who are friends, women who need friends, women who know people who need friends.
You received a heart as you came in tonight: I want you to think of a woman who has been an Elizabeth to your Mary, or a Mary to your Elizabeth, or  maybe a friend, maybe someone who needs a friend—someone whose name you could write on this heart, who is inscribed on your heart…..then when you leave, tuck it in your purse, and in the pocket of your heart, as a reminder of the Love God gives that make that love possible.
And here we are, human, women who seek to trust the living God, women of friendship, women who are now called to carry God’s love into the world.
Here we are, united in our common desire for the peace of God in our mixed up, uncertain lives. Tonight we have the opportunity, the quiet, the time, to be women who, in the words of Joan Chittister, were opening up to the impulse of God who, daily, leads us beyond ourselves….. less obsessed by the limitations of being human,  more in awe of its potential. It is humanity that is the womb of the divine in us.  Wow.
 May we too trust in our humanity as the womb of the divine, cherish the friendship of women, and the friendship of God, so we can carry some of that love and peace within us, and give birth to the work of God’s spirit in this hurting world.

Monday, December 14, 2015

the way of joy

The way of joy 121315
(Children’s message:  joy ribbons for ornament.  Chalk to share the joy with others in your neighbourhood.)

Rejoice!   Says the prophet,   Rejoice! Says Paul in his letter to the people in Philippi
Rejoice?  Are they kidding?   What’s to rejoice about?
In today’s messed up world, I’m more likely to listen to doom and gloom John the baptizer: Repent!
With the pressures of our lives……the slaughter of innocents….the ignorance of politicians…..the griefs of loss and hardship at this time of year….the bitter complaints of those who don’t get what they want…..Joy sounds like an unlikely response, maybe even inappropriate.  
What do you see in our world that makes it hard to feel joy?........

And yet, year after year, God sends out this message to Scrooge and Grinch Christians everywhere:  rejoice!   Know joy, and share it. Joy is not incidental to our spirituality; it is vital because it arises out of incredible, beautiful truths:
  • We are beloved children of God—the Energy of the Universes is intimately interested in the state of human life, all life in fact—joy!
  • We belong to God and to one another, even to those who are different from us, and diversity is a joy!
  • We have amazing abundance in our lives, even when we are in the midst of pain or fear….before he died, Jesus said he wanted his joy to be in us, and our joy to be full!
  • Joy, as is love, is the very character and energy of the divine, it’s creative and calls us to be co-creative:  what a joy!
What brings you joy, why do you feel it?........

That’s the WHY not and the why of joy.     In each of our texts today we see other aspects of the HOW of the way of joy:
In Zephaniah: the way of joy is a way of restoration.   Relationships are restored, promises are kept, transformation happens
In Isaiah: the way of joy is a way of sustenance, comparing it to a well of water….sustenance that comes from the very Presence of God in our midst.
From Paul in Philippians, the way of joy is a way of trust through prayer: prayer of thanks and prayer seeking help
And in our gospel, where neither the word rejoice nor joy appears, it would seem that the way of repentance actually brings change for the better: as we are changed, so is our behavior toward others, and justice becomes part of the way of joy.    It’s not always just about us;  making joy possible for someone else is also joy.
There’s the why not, the why and the  how of the way of joy….what about the when?
Zephaniah isn’t here to speak to a nation needing healing, but we are…..the joy of restoration is in our hands
Isaiah isn’t here to speak to a world needing strength in the midst of warfare, but we are…..the joy of sustenance is in our hands
Paul isn’t here to speak to a congregation needing spiritual depth, but we are….the joy of trusting prayer is in our hands
John the Baptiser isn’t here to speak to a people who’ve become self-centered, but we are….the joy of justice is in our hands.
We can choose to let the state of the world depress us.  Or we can be reminded of God’s activity of hope and peace always offered in times of hopelessness and harm.  It’s our choice.
I got this card this week – it has angels on the front, and the words “joy to the world”….it’s a lovely card, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness.   But it suggests that Joy is out there somewhere,  sung by heavenly angels in a starry sky one night long ago, rehearsed seasonally then forgotten for another year.
But it’s not….it’s in us, (sign) around us, as well as beyond us, for the receiving AND the giving: it’s in our hands but we don’t have to create it, just tap into it.  Now.   Not back then, in the good old days……not some day in the distant future….now.
2 simple three letter words: joy….now.
May we tap into the joy of God and scribble it, literally or figuratively, on our neighbours driveways and hearts.   Amen.

Monday, November 30, 2015

quotes from yesterday's sermon

“Patience is a hard discipline.  It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict.  Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Journey to Bethlehem 1

Journey to Bethlehem 1
Introduce ‘hope’ movement
what do you hope for this Advent? ……….
Doing sermon prep:   got a beginning and an end, nothing in between. 
Like advent for many of us: starts with decorating and ends with Christmas and there’s not much substance in between.
But the inbetween matters.  A lot.  The journey itself matters.
Journeys and advent-ures can be exciting, scary, boring, uncertain, weather dependent, you name it.   And as metaphor for the spiritual life and the Jesus-following life, they all apply!   It’s an ancient image: in our scriptures today, we had the words “way, paths, ways” several times
It’s the journey itself that signifies who we are as God’s people, not the destination.   As we head to Bethlehem this advent, focusing as we do on the destination of Christmas,  we are also journeying towards the Christ, seeking God not as end result but as present reality. 
One of our simplest vision statements was out on the hall way stand for several weeks: why are we here?  To seek God, to learn to love neighbor, to find opportunities to serve the world.   These are not future hopes, but present expectations.  Hope, the theme of this first week of Advent, is an active verb.
Hope for, and hope in, are not the same things, anymore than our two body movements today are the same….
Hope is a word that gives us the strength for the journey…when the way is unclear, hope offers patience (Nouwen quote will be posted separately)
…..when the way is unknown, hope offers trust in the God we heard from with the Jeremiah reading, who says I WILL keep my promise of a savior who WILL do what is just, and the people WILL live in safety
…..when the way is lonely, hope reminds us we are ‘together on the journey’ (bulletin), for God gives us a community to work with, to walk with
…when the way is fearful, hope reminds us that on the journey we will also find peace, and joy, and love – if we just open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts.
I started out by asking you what you hoped for….see the screen: hope is in your hands.  How you live the inbetween of advent is up to you.
But I promise you it will be richer and deeper if you pay attention to the other words that occurred several times in our texts: guide, lead, led…all of them referring to God.   The Divine guides and leads those who can let go their own control.
(Merton quote posted separately  -  note ‘hope’)
May this be the year when your advent matters…may your journey deepen your faith, not tax your wallet……enrich your trust, not heighten your fear… your mind, not close your heart.
And may we all know the leading of the God who comes, over and over and over again to all who have eyes to see.   in a frightened and frightening world: we dare to hope.  Amen.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

new eyes on giving

New eyes for giving 11081
Its that time of year again, when we look at our finances as a congregation and plan for the future; this year is particularly challenging, but we have a plan in place to move forward creatively until we find out what God wants this church to be.
And that’s where this text comes in.  Ah, I hear you say, it’s that focus-on-giving-our-money text…how we wealthy folk give out of our left over abundance and this poor woman gives her all.  Well yes, but no. 
If I were to share thoughts on this text going in that direction, I’d flip it around….the rich people give out of a scarcity mindset (there’s never enough so I’ll hold back), whereas the woman gives out of an abundance mindset (trusting God, I can give generously).  That in itself is enough of a challenge to my soul as I face next week’s dedication of our pledges of sharing, for I recognize myself in that scarcity thinking.
But I don’t think that’s all this text is about.
New, new, new, said Chris last week.   Making things new is all over scripture.  In Jesus the old reality is given up for a new reality, new ways of looking at life….so maybe we need new eyes for looking at giving, for example.
What did Jesus see that day at the temple?  Remember that in Mark’s gospel, this is a day or so before his arrest.  Two days before, he had created a scene in the temple area, upturning the tables of money changers and offering sellers, decrying what the temple had become.   So he’s hardly likely to be affirming support of that same institution two days later. I think he does indeed see beyond our actions to our mindsets, and he’s right about mine for sure, but there is a bigger issue here.
In putting together in one sentence abundance and poverty, Jesus highlights what is still wrong with our social and religious institutions today, including our churches.   We too have lost sight of our original call  of worshipping God, loving neighbor, caring for the world, and perpetuate a system that keeps a huge gap between abundance and poverty.
Jesus comes to connect human need with divine provision, says biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, and with his new eyes he sees that the connection has been broken.   Human abundance has failed to act as God’s provision for human need. Those with status give to maintain an institution, and don’t even notice the poor who struggle to offer God something.  The temple, and maybe the church today, has become its own point.   Ouch.
Our leadership is trying hard to get beyond that, to see with new eyes. (airport story: visibility unlimited)   We need money to keep going yes, but we must be clear that it is not for self-perpetuation, but for ministry…..and not for self-serving ministry, but for ministry beyond these walls, and not just for ministry beyond these walls, but work that challenges the very systems that continue to separate abundance and poverty.  You’re tired of hearing me say we need to do church differently, but this is a big part of that difference.
It is time to make that connection new again….the connection between human need and God’s provision, to regain an abundant trust mindset, so we can use God’s abundance (for it’s not really ours) to meet our own needs and see it overflow with new giving of time, energy vision, and above all, Love….divine Love that permeates the universe, that is the only thing that can make that connection new.   We need to know that Love ourselves, bathe in it, and let it overflow abundantly, generously, so we become new see’ers, new givers, new livers.
Mechtild of Magdeburg, in the 13th  century wrote this, helping me realise there is more than enough to go around, more than enough money                                     more than enough time                                                                                                         more than enough energy                                                                                                    more than enough love                                                                                                         more than enough provision:
Divine love is so immensely great!                                                                                                                             Great is its overflow, for divine love is never still.                                                                                                          Always ceaselessly tirelessly                                                                                                                                                          it pours itself out so that the small vessel that is ourselves                                                                                               might be filled to the brim                                                                                                                                                       and might also overflow.
May we be filled with that love, overflow with that grace, live with that generosity, close the gaps in our hearts and minds and society,  and make the connection new.   Amen.