Thursday, 20 September 2012

Season of Creation - Mountain Sunday

This Sunday is Mountain Sunday and here is a link to a great video taken from the top of the Mountain. Last Sunday was Sky Sunday so this video is a perfect way to link the two together:

Go to to see Terje Sorgjerd’s time lapse movie of El Teide, Spain’s highest mountain.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Comments about the General Council decision regarding Israel and Palestine

It’s likely that by now you’ve seen a few headlines or heard something about a decision the United Church of Canada made this summer to do with Israel and Palestine. Some of the headlines have declared the decision shocking and controversial.

Maybe you have been wondering just what happened and what does this decision mean for me? Maybe other people who know you are connected to the United Church have asked you questions. Maybe you’re curious to know a bit about what happened or maybe you’re deeply concerned about the decision and struggling to understand why the church took this action.

In August the 41st General Council took place in Ottawa. The General Council meets every three years to do the work of the church; to make decisions and create policy for the church. There are over 300 elected people who vote, called commissioners. They are ministers and lay people from all across the country.

This year there was a report from a working group on Israel/Palestine that was released in May. You can see an overview and read the full report here:

The most controversial part of the report called for a boycott directed exclusively against settlement products that can be identified as produced in or related to the settlements or the occupied territories.
As soon as the report was released there were those in the media as well as those within the United Church of Canada who became very vocal against the report, especially the proposed boycott.
There were a variety of reasons why people were against it. One of the reasons cited several times was that this is would greatly damage our inter-faith relationship with Jewish people.
At the General Council meeting there were several groups lobbying the commissioners and presenting them with papers and articles to encourage them to vote in favor or to vote against the recommendations from the report. There was extensive debate on the floor of the council and in fact the debate spread over more then one day. There were several amendments to the recommendations, but in the end the recommendations passed.

In the days and weeks since the council there have been those both in the church and outside it who have both praised and widely criticized the church for taking this action. There are those who are in favor of the boycott but who are concerned about the logistics. The Canadian government does not require goods that are produced in the settlements to be labeled in this way. So there is no simple way to know which products are produced there. Additionally, it’s hard to know if the average Canadian actually regularly buys something that is produced in a settlement and therefore it’s impossible to stop buying that product.
However in the days and week since the council there have been both clergy and lay people in the church, people of deep faith who are struggling with this decision. Most site damage to the relationship with Jewish brothers and sisters but there are variety of reasons why some United Church people are deeply upset and concerned.

For those who are concerned I encourage you to read the full report and some of the responses by former Moderator David Guiliano who chaired the working group. At times like this it is important to rely on the documents themselves and not media headlines.

However there are still many who have the facts correct and are still upset. The United Church of Canada is a church that covers this vast Canadian landscape, in some ways we are the same as each other and in many ways we are very different from each other. I’m proud to be part of a church that can be so diverse and yet do its best to live together in that tension. We all don’t have to think the same things and we all don’t have to agree. It’s clearly made harder when the highest court of the church makes a decision that seems to speak for all of us. However there is always room at the table for those who disagree, even those who strongly disagree. And that diversity I think is one of our greatest strengths as a church.

As Christians we have a responsibility to care about these lands of our ancestors. Each week we read stories from the Bible about people from this region; walking in these lands and having encounters with the Holy. Many wonder weather any action the United Church of Canada takes can have any kind of difference in such a complicated place as the Middle East.

So lets continue to hold each other in prayer and lets continue to have this discussion about the role of the people of faith in matters such as this, about inter faith relations, about how we live in these tensions. Let us talk together holding in mind God’s dream of justice and love for all creation.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Youtube link for June 17th's Sermon

Have you seen this yet? Jonathan is being called the new Susan Boyle. Today we're talking about looking at the heart and not judging by the outward appearance. We're reading the story of Samuel appointing one of Jesse's sons as the new king. Who will he choose? The tall and handsome one? the oldest? the strongest? Nope it's David the smallest one of all who didn't even bother to attend because no one thought he had a chance.

Watch this video of Jonathan and hopefully it will bring a smile to your face.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Introducing...The Book Club

Everyone is invited to read the book choice and then come and discuss it on Thursday June 14th at 7:00 in the Church Parlor. We will meet every other month to discuss interesting books about religion, religious themes or life topics. Come to every meeting, come when the book choice is of particular interest, come and suggest we read a book you enjoy. 

June's book is Religion for Atheists: A Non Believers Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton. It's an intriguing book and I think it will be a great discussion starter. 

This is a new book just published this year and is on its way to be a very talked about book. Over the past few years various high profile atheists have published books calling for an end to religion and have gone to great pains to point out everything bad about religion. Often these books overlook the important fact that many people who are deeply religious understand there are negative things about religion. 

 Religion for Atheists it seems to me does something new. de Botton looks at the positive things that religion has to offer and I think he does a fair job of it. (There are some obvious things I think he missed....come to the book club to find out) 

Obviously this is a topic that will get people talking. Sometimes its helpful to look at things from a completely different perspective and reading a book written by an atheist will likely give many people that experience. Sometimes as people of faith it's hard to articulate just what be believe and why so it can be helpful to start with what you don't believe and hopefully that book will help us with some of that as well. 

Different people in the church have expressed to me that they wish their children and grandchildren found the same meaning in attending church that they have found throughout their lives. We all know that fewer and fewer young people are finding meaning in the church. This book should help us have a discussion about what is really important for the church to focus on and how that might help more people find meaning in it. 

So, that's the pitch. Hope you read the book and come and discuss it with us. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Listen! Let all who have ears, listen! Listen and I will you a story.

This is a story about a man named Jesus. He lived a long time ago, 2000 years ago in the Middle East. He lived a special life, one filled with radical love and inclusiveness. His life was so beautiful, people remember him all these years later. It’s hard to forget someone so special and filled with so much love.

Jesus was a teacher and preacher and he taught the people that God’s kingdom of peace and justice was for all people. Jesus taught the people that it was important to follow laws and have rituals but it was more important that the laws and rituals were life giving and filled with love.

Jesus inspired a lot of people, a lot of people. Crowds would gather to hear him speak, people travelled great distances just to see him. There was something so special about him. There was something profound about him that made people think of God. Jesus loved so fully and forgave so generously he seemed he was almost like God. People began to use God language to describe this him, to describe what they saw. They said he could do amazing things like walk on water and calm storms. They said he could do even more amazing things like welcoming children to sit on his knew and speaking to woman about the kingdom of God.

A life filled with so much love and kindness is the most beautiful thing. A life filled with so much love and kindness is the most dangerous thing.

It’s dangerous to those in power. It’s dangerous to the status quo. It’s dangerous to the way we’ve always done things. Jesus talked about a landowner who pays all his works a full day’s wage when some only worked a half day. That’s can’t be right, can it? It’s not fair! Our economic systems would collapse if we did things like that. Jesus preached release to the captives and let the prisoners go free. That’s chaos! It’s not safe! Don’t they deserve to be punished? Jesus told them to love your enemies? What? How can you possibility love your enemy? They are your enemy for a reason, aren’t they?

A life filled with so much love and kindness is a dangerous thing. And it was very dangerous for Jesus. He was living in an occupied country, a place where it was best to lay low and not risk upsetting the powers that be. You’ll only risk making life more difficult for yourself. But Jesus didn’t lay low his message was too important. Not only did be not law low, along with him followers they marched, they paraded into the city of Jerusalem at one of the riskiest times of year, during the Passover festival. It doesn’t get more dangerous then that. And so Jesus was silenced. He was executed by the state. The ruling powers couldn’t risk it, they saw the influence he had with people and it threatened their own influence. So they assassinated him.

What a devastating shock, how could this happen? How could God allow this to happen? How could Jesus allow this to happen? Clearly he could have held back a little, not upset so many people for a greater good. It was such a waste, he was killed only a few years into his ministry, why didn’t he live longer? Love more? Go on changing the world?
But he didn’t, he died. They killed him. It was over. It was clearly over. Oh the things he could have done, oh what the world would have been like. Jesus’ followers fled, terrified to be associated with him, worried they were next, the next one to be killed. It was the end.

The dreams they had for Jesus. The hope they had for him. They thought there was something different about him, they thought Jesus’ actions and teachings made an invisible God, visible. And it was all for nothing. They were wrong, so wrong. How awful. How embarrassing. It was over, really over. Their teacher was gone, their friend was dead. It was the end.

Now listen! Let all who have ears listen!

Because the most shocking part of the story is still to come.

His followers thought it was over, the political powers thought his message was silenced by killing him. But listen I said earlier that Jesus lived 2000 years ago in another part of the world, so then how is it that I came to know these stories about Jesus, how did I learn about this man who loved radically and then died?

I’ll tell you how I know…I know because they tried to silence his message about God’s love. I know because they tried to stop his influence with people. They killed him. But it wasn’t enough. That couldn’t stop the message! It was to powerful to be stopped. It was too important, it was life giving and death couldn’t stop it.

The disciples were scared and lost without their leader, without Jesus their teacher. Teacher? He had taught them when he knew, he had even told then, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. In fact, he will do even greater things.” And so they did.

The disciples and Jesus’ followers continued to preach Jesus’ message. They showed the love of God they saw made known in Jesus’ life. They didn’t let his death stop them.

They knew that he had been killed but that he still lived. Sure, they had been scared and fled but they now realized that love and hope were stronger then death and pain. God was doing a new thing, a thing that no one could have expected. It wasn’t over at all.

Jesus had been the special one they thought he was. In his life and even in his death he could inspire people and give them hope through the stories that were told about him. It wasn’t the end, not at all. It was just the beginning…


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Good Friday Sermon

Sermon for Good Friday

What Happened? Why did Jesus die?

Did Jesus die for our sins? This is often offered as the interpretation of Good Friday and it can seem like this is the only choice to understand what happened.
However I would like to suggest something different. It is a subtle change in wording but a significant change in meaning. I would like to offer an interpretation of Good Friday that says Jesus did not die for our sins but that Jesus died because of our sins.

Jesus died because of all of the things in the world that keep God’s dream for the world of being realized. The things that lead to Jesus’ death were: power and greed and selfishness and violence and fear and our willingness to accept the status quo without questioning it.

This particular understanding comes from the book The Last Week: A Day by Day account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. 

Borg and Crossan are two New Testament scholars whose books are easy to read and have allowed millions of people to find new meaning and understanding in the life of Jesus.

In the chapter in the book on Good Friday the authors ask, “Did Jesus’ death have to happen? There are two quite different reasons why one might think so. One is divine necessity: the other is human inevitability.” They offer the following in response, “Was the death of Jesus the will of God? No. It is never the will of God that a righteous man be crucified. Did it have to happen? It might have turned out differently…but this does not mean Good Friday had to happen.”

The great thing about Borg and Crossan is that they place the story of Jesus’ death in its own time and place. They provide a context and an understanding of what Jesus’ actions meant not as part of a greater cosmic plan but what his actions meant in those days.

They continue,

“The execution of Jesus was virtually inevitable. Not because of divine necessity, but because of human inevitability- that is what dominations systems did to people who publicly and vigorously challenged them. It happened often in the ancient world. It has happened to countless people throughout history. Closer to Jesus, it has happened to his mentor John the Baptist. Now it happened to Jesus. Within a few more decades it would happen to Paul, Peter and James. We should wonder what it was about Jesus and his movement that so provoked the authorities at the top of the domination system of their time.

But Jesus was not simply an unfortunate victim of a domination system’s brutality. He was also a protagonist filled with passion. His passion, his message, was about the Kingdom of God.

He spoke to peasants as a voice of peasant religious protest against the central economic and political institutions of his day. He attracted a following and took his movement to Jerusalem at the season of Passover. There he challenged the authorities with public acts and public debates. All of this was his passion, what he was passionate about: God and the kingdom of God, God and God’s passion for justice.

Jesus’ passion for him killed. To put this meaning into a single sentence: Jesus’ passion for the kingdom of God led to what is often called his passion, namely, his suffering and death. But to restrict Jesus’ passion to his suffering and death is to ignore the passion that brought him to Jerusalem. To think of Jesus’ passion as simply what happened on Good Friday is to separate his death from the passion that animated his life.

Good Friday is the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the domination systems of his time.
It is important to realize that what killed Jesus was nothing unusual. We have no reason to think that the temple authorities were wicked people. Moreover, as empires go, Rome was better than most. There was nothing exceptional or abnormal about it; this is simply the way domination systems behave.”

The authors end this section with the message,

“According to Mark, Jesus did not die for the sins of the world. The language of substitutionary sacrifice for sin is absent from his story. But in an important sense, he was killed because of the sin of the world. It was the injustice of the domination system that killed him, injustice so routine that it is part of the normalcy of civilization. Though sin means more than this, it includes this. And thus Jesus was crucified because of the sin of the world.”

Borg and Crossan’s book is an important book on the topic of Good Friday and Easter Sunday and it very much worth reading, especially if you enjoyed this excerpt.

Another scholar who offers insights about the meaning of Good Friday for those looking for additional interpretations is Rex Hunt. He offers the following:

“Jesus died because he was publicly and brutally executed.
He certainly did not want to die.
He died as a result of his passionate, imaginative living.
He died as a result of a decision not to deviate from the God-Self-Neighbour relationship he continually lived.
What Jesus said and did and stood for...
collided with all that was heartless and oppressive
in a social religion that had forgotten its real meaning.
His healings on the Sabbath.
His acts of forgiveness.
His stories which turned conventional wisdom upside down.
His association with that society’s outcasts.
His speaking in the name of the God of compassion...
all tore open the social and religious fabric of his time.
Either that social and religious order, or Jesus, had to go.”

The same themes that we saw in the Borg and Corssan quotes come through here. Our task is to ground Jesus’ death in his life. If we simply focus on his death we risk missing out on his radical life. Here’s one more quote. It’s from John Shuck:
"Jesus was about making changes in this world.  That is what got him killed.  He talked about compassion. He talked about moving beyond ethnic boundaries and divisions.  He talked about forgiveness.  Not something you go to the priest for or even to God for, but your neighbor. That is the one we hurt. That is the one from whom we need forgiveness.  We get it as we give it.  He worked to bring people together:  Samaritan and Jew, Greek and Roman.  He practiced an open table, rich and poor, male and female.  He challenged unjust boundaries and rules. That is what got him killed.  Dying was not his reason for living.  Living was his reason for dying.  For life, he died.  For integrity, he died.  For compassion, he died.  For justice, he died.  For change, he died...  I think it is a sham and a shame that the religious establishment distorted his story"
What does it have to do with us?

Now that we have spent time learning about new and different interpretations about Jesus’ death we need to ask “What does this have to do with us?”

Good Friday acknowledges the sins of the world. In Good Friday we face the reality of the sins that Jesus died because of. Jesus died because of power and greed and selfishness and violence and fear and because of our willingness to accept the status quo without questioning it

It can be uncomfortable talking about sin. And so there is a temptation not to talk about. It is much nicer to focus on the positive and happy things in life. But this might mean we get off a little easy. Of course it is important to hear that God loves you and its true God does love you and that is the topic most Sundays and on Easter morning.

However on Good Friday we talk about sin. On Good Friday we talk about the reality of these influences in our lives and in the world.  This morning we talk about sin not because we’re vile sinners who need to feel guilty but we talk about sin this morning because we acknowledge that we’re not blameless in the evils of this world. Each one of us struggles with power and greed and selfishness. Each one of us can do better to stand up against violence and fear and our willingness to accept the status quo without questioning it.

God loves you. Let me be clear God loves you but on Good Friday we realize we can all do better.

As uncomfortable as it can be to talk about sin it is important to realize that sins are not just things the “bad” things that we do. We need to move from an understanding of sins of commission to acknowledging sins of omission as well. It’s not good enough to just not be violent or not be greedy. It’s not good enough to sit by and watch the sins of others. It seems it may be sinful to not work for justice and for love and to help God’s dream for this world come true.

Hopefully this has given you some things to think about. This morning we wrestle bravely with the meaning of our foundational story of faith and we know that God goes with us…God is with us at the foot of the cross and with us in this place this day.


Thursday, 15 March 2012

Sunday March 18th- We're talking about Prayer

This Sunday the sermon is going to be about prayer and Im going to be using these two resources: 

"50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times" by Tersea A. Blythe

"I am Listening: Daily Devotions for Lent" Edited by Betty Lynn Schwab, published by the United Church of Canada.

and here are two more books worth checking out on this topic

"Women's Uncommon Prayers: Our Lives Revealed, Nurtured and Celebrated" Editors Elizabeth Rankin Geitz, Marjorie A. Burke and Ann Smith

"Surprise Around the Bend: 50 Adventurous Walkers" by Richard A. Hasler.

For those of you who notice such things, I normally follow the lectionary but today I have headed out on my own deciding to talk about prayer. There is so much to say on this topic I may return to it again if there is popular demand.

Sermon on Sunday March 11th

Hello Again,

If you were in church last Sunday or if you missed it here's a link to a blog post that I used a lot as part of the sermon. There were some pretty great quotes so it's worth checking out.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Sunday March 4th

Here's the link to the blog I will be talking about in the sermon on Sunday. Thom and I are both on the General Council Executive. When it comes to Peace in the Middle East it is impossible to even know where to begin because it's such a complex and overwhelming topic.

It is interesting then to read Thom's first hand accounts of his time in Palestine. And his pictures really bring his stories to life.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Lent Event

Here is link to a website from Australia called Lent Event.

As part of this project participants are encouraged forgo an item from their daily lifestyle and donate the money saved so that others are able to live a life of dignity: clean water, nutritious food, elementary education, viable employment and essential healthcare.

There are some interesting videos and ideas on the site to think about for lent this year.

Let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Link to "Thin Places" Video

This Sunday (February 19th) in the sermon I will be using quotes from an article called "Walking Through Thin Places" by Mindie Burgoyne.
Mindie has a website all about thin places. There is a great video that I would recommend on website called "What are Thin Places?" The video uses some of the text from the article and includes some beautiful pictures.


Thursday, 9 February 2012

Backgroup for Study Group on Our Words of Faith

Summary on Remit 6 – Remit on Doctrine.
On Sunday January 29th during the sermon I talked about the upcoming Remit on Doctrine (Remit 6) in the United Church of Canada.
I’ve posted some excepts from it here for anyone who may have missed it or how wants to better understand what is being asked of us.
In the spring of 2012 the church council here at Almonte United Church will be asked to vote on Remit 6.
“What is a Remit?”
A remit is a word that we use in the church, when we need to vote on a change to the Basis of Union.
When the United Church of Canada was formed in 1925 by three founding denominations the Basis of Union was created. The Basis of Union was the founding document outlining what this new church would be about, what it would believe and how it would govern it self. The part about what this new church believed was outline in the doctrine section called the Twenty Articles of Faith. 
Since 1925 small changed have been made to the Basis of Union and these changes are made through a remit, a vote to decide if the change should be allowed or not.
Often that vote is carried out at the Presbytery level however the changes being proposed this year are significant enough that is was ruled that this decision would be made by the council of every church.
What are we being asked?
The part of the Basis of Union that talks about what we believe as a church is called the Twenty Articles of Faith. And as such that has stood as the official document about what the church believes.
However several times over the years the church has sought to define anew what it believes by creating new faith statements. Statements that would be grounded in their time and place, that would use words and images of the present day to try again to attempt to capture the beliefs of this church.

There have been three faith statements over the years: The 1940 Statement of Faith, in 1968 A New Creed and in 2006 A Song of Faith.
These statements were adopted by the General Council and have been used in various ways in the life of the church. A New Creed is perhaps the most well known and most beloved as it is short and easy to use in worship, often on special occasions such as a baptism or a confirmation.
The remit asks: Should we add these three statements, The 1940 Faith Statement, the New Creed and A Song of Faith to the Doctrine Section of the Basis of Union?
Currently The Twenty Articles of Faith is the only doctrinal statement in the Doctrine Section, so this asks to add these three statements.  
Who will vote?
The remit specifically will be voted on here by the church council, it will be their decision. However is an opportunity for the whole church to engage these documents and to wrestle with the questions about just how we define, or attempt to define our faith.
How Can I learn more?
1.      Join the Study Group- We will be holding two study groups to engage these questions and explore the proposed faith statements. Please consider attending as it will be a great chance to ask questions about faith and beliefs and how they relate to our churches and our lives.
When A Song of Faith was adopted by the church in 2006 it was made clear that “concise creeds and clear faith statements don’t encapsulate all we believe, but they are a summary and serve as maps for walking the journey of faith. In church language they are called symbols. Their purpose is to invite deeper reflection and evoke more profound insights into the shared way of Christ for our day”
Let’s explore these maps together.
2.      Ask other United Churches- Every United Church in the County is being asked to vote on this remit. Do you have friends and family that attend other churches in different regions of the country? What are they doing? How are they engaging the remit?

Lent Study Group- "Our Words of Faith"

Welcome! To the first post on the new blog.

Here's the link to the document that we will be using in the Study Group. It's called "Our Words of Faith" and was published by the United Church of Canada.