Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Heart Like Mine

I couldn't resist posting the video for Miranda Lambert's 2009 song Heart Like Mine. In the intro to the video she says "I think Jesus would hang out with our band and stuff. I think he would think we were pretty cool, and we think he's pretty cool."

Common English Bible Lookup

Another little experiment on the blog - a passage lookup widget to give blog visitors quick and easy access to Bible verses, in this case from the Common English Bible. The CEB Blog Tour ends today, but I'll still be using this translation (along with the New Revised Standard Version and The Message) in worship and personal study.

Find your favorite passage in the CEB:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our Words of Faith: Sermon, January 29, 2012

The LORD your God will raise up a prophet like me from your community, from your fellow Israelites. He’s the one you must listen to. That’s exactly what you requested from the LORD your God at Horeb, on the day of the assembly, when you said, “I can’t listen to the LORD my God’s voice anymore or look at this great fire any longer. I don’t want to die!”

The LORD said to me: What they’ve said is right. I’ll raise up a prophet for them from among their fellow Israelites—one just like you. I’ll put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. I myself will hold accountable anyone who doesn’t listen to my words, which that prophet will speak in my name. However, any prophet who arrogantly speaks a word in my name that I haven’t commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet must die.

- Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Common English Bible

Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”

“Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.

Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.

- Mark 1:21-28, Common English Bible

Both of our readings today are about authority. God tells Moses that a new prophet will be raised up, and this prophet will have the authority of speaking for God, because God will put words in his mouth. And Jesus amazes people with his teaching and healing, and they say to each other, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority!”

And reading these passages makes me think about how we give authority to prophecy and teaching in the church. Now, the Bible has been our authority as Christians since the days of the first churches when followers of Jesus read the Hebrew Scriptures and began to write down the stories about Jesus and keep the letters they had received. The Bible is the witness of the church and to the church, the story of God’s revelation to humanity, to Israel and in Jesus Christ.

But of course, while we read parts of the Bible in worship each Sunday, we’re not going to be able to cover the whole story of salvation every week. I’m on a plan to read the entire New Testament in 90 days, two or three chapters a day, and even that is too long to read and discuss in our worship service. So, again from the church’s early days, we have used creeds to sum up the story told to us in the Bible. We said the Apostles’ Creed last week, which is very old. These creeds are important for us in our faith based on God being revealed to us in history, because they answer the questions we have about how, when, where, and why this revelation took place.

And today in our worship we’re using parts of the statements of faith written specifically for the United Church of Canada. The official one we have is the Articles of Faith in the Basis of Union, which is the constitution of the church. The Basis of Union is the founding document from 1925, when the United Church was formed, and it spells out how congregations and Presbyteries and Conferences and the General Council are made up and how they govern. The Basis of Union includes 20 articles that were agreed upon by the Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists coming together to become the United Church, setting out their common faith in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and what their faith led them to believe about God’s purpose, sin, salvation, the Christian life, and the church.

So this is our formal statement of faith, printed in every copy of the Manual of the United Church, although we’re not a denomination that requires people to sign off on these articles to join. In fact, most of us have probably never read the articles of faith.

But soon after union in 1925, some people felt that because the articles were basically what the three churches coming together could agree on, they didn’t take the problems of the day into account. So the 1940 Statement of Faith was written. It says that the good news of Jesus is eternal and unchanging, but each new generation must state the good news in terms of the thought and emphasis of their own age. This statement was used quite a bit in adult education in the United Church from the 1940s through the 60s. And then, when new worship resources were being developed, A New Creed was written as a modern creed in modern language. Some folks here may remember the original New Creed, from 1968, which began “man is not alone, he lives in God’s world.” Today United Church congregations say the latest version together, dating from 1994.

And, finally, as we entered this new century, the General Council of the church asked for a new statement of faith, and the result was A Song of Faith, composed as a long poem. We did a worship service on it last year and are using parts of it today.

The General Council is the gathering every three years of elected commissioners from across the country. The last one, in Kelowna BC, voted to send a remit on whether to include these faith statements in the Basis of Union. A remit is a vote on whether to change the Basis of Union. Usually remits just go to Presbyteries to make minor changes to the Basis, but larger issues require a remit to Presbyteries and congregational Sessions. So before May 15 every Presbytery and every Session in the United Church will have to vote on whether to add the 1940 Statement of Faith, A New Creed, and A Song of Faith to the 20 articles of faith in the Basis of Union.

There are a few points I want to make here. One is that this is not rare in churches like ours that are in the Protestant Reformed tradition; we’re actually unusual in that we haven’t added anything to the doctrine part of the Basis of Union in 87 years. Other Reformed churches have added new statements to their original doctrine over time.

Another is that the remit is to add these statements of faith as what are called “subordinate standards” to Scripture. The United Church, like other Reformed churches, holds that the Bible is as the second of the 1925 articles of faith says, the only infallible rule of faith and life, a faithful record of God’s revelation, and the witness of Christ. Faith statements are important, but can only ever be summaries. They cannot express the entire truth about God. They are never the last word. And these statements are always products of the time when they were written. We can see this if we compare the language in these different statements. For instance, God in the articles of faith and the 1940 Statement of Faith is always masculine.

And there are separate remit votes. A Presbytery or Session may vote to add one, or two, or three statements of faith to the Basis of Union. And the 1925 articles of faith stay in the Basis of Union no matter what. They, and anything added, are our formal declaration of doctrine.

Now, this can seem very inside baseball. People in congregations have said to me, “Who cares? We will believe whatever we want. Let’s just vote and get this over with.” But I think this is important. It may not make a big difference to our worship if we formally adopt faith statements and place them in the Basis of Union – the 1940 Statement of Faith and A New Creed and A Song of Faith were adopted by General Councils and are part of our church life whether or not they are formally placed in the Basis of Union – but there are times and places when we refer to our official doctrine. When ministers are ordained or commissioned they are required to answer a question about whether they are in essential agreement with the Basis of Union, which right now means the 20 articles from 1925. And most of us don’t know this, but the deed under which the trustees hold this building requires that its use comply with the doctrine of the United Church. And folks inside and outside the church do want to know what it is the church believes, even if this may not be the same as what each and every person in the church believes. If our doctrine remains unchanging, this sends one message about how we see ourselves as a church; if our doctrine is a living document which we add onto as times change, this sends a different message about being a church that is reformed and always reforming.

And even though statements of faith can seem dry, they are summaries of the good news that God is acting to save us. And that can get people excited, particularly if they change. Someone stood up at a church near here the other week and said that they heard there would be a vote in the United Church on taking Jesus out of the Basis of Union. So rumours are starting. Now I think I’ve explained that isn’t what this vote is at all. In fact, if these three other faith statements were all added to the Basis of Union, the number of references to Jesus would probably more than double.

So in the spring the Elders here are going to study these faith statements, and look at questions about whether each one reflects continuity with the Bible and with the articles of faith, whether each one reflects the practice of the church today, and whether each one is an authentic expression of our faith here in Newington and Ingleside. And everyone, not just members of the Session, can do this with us. And then the Sessions will vote.

We don’t require that members of our church sign off on any of these statements of faith, but they all have authority, just as God’s prophets had authority, just as Jesus taught with authority. When we say with A New Creed, “we are not alone, we live in God’s world,” that has authority. When we say with the 1940 Statement of Faith that in the greatness of God’s love Christ opened up for us a way deliverance from the guilt and power of sin, that has authority. When we say with A Song of Faith that we are called together as a community of broken but hopeful believers, loving what Jesus loved, living what Jesus taught, striving to be faithful servants of God in our time and place, this has authority. These have authority even though they may not be identical to the beliefs of every individual believer. They hold faith together, despite and even because of our differences. This is who we are. This is our faith. We are being called to decide how formal to make these expressions of our faith, but they remain authoritative, cherished, and honoured.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

That All May Be One: Sermon, January 22, 2012 (Week of Prayer For Christian Unity)

Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom,
and there’s no produce on the vine;
though the olive crop withers,
and the fields don’t provide food;
though the sheep is cut off
from the pen,
and there is no cattle in the stalls;
I will rejoice in the LORD.
I will rejoice in the God
of my deliverance.
The LORD God is my strength.
He will set my feet like the deer.
He will let me walk upon the heights.
- Habakkuk 3:17-19

Listen, I’m telling you a secret: all of us won’t die, but we will all be changed — in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the final trumpet. The trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised with bodies that won’t decay, and we will be changed. It’s necessary for this rotting body to be clothed with what can’t decay, and for the body that is dying to be clothed in what can’t die. And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen:
Death has been swallowed up by a victory.
Where is your victory, Death?
Where is your sting, Death?
(Death’s sting is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.) Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord.
- 1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me."
- John 12:23-26

Scriptural texts from the Common English Bible.

I have learned a lot this week. I was reading the package from the World Council of Churches that included the worship service we are using today for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and there is a brief description of the Polish churches that came together to prepare this year’s service. I knew that Poland is almost entirely Roman Catholic, but I didn’t know that in Poland among a number of Protestant churches there is an Evangelical Methodist Church with 5,000 followers, who as Methodists would be heirs of the same tradition as our United Church of Canada.

I have also been learning in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity about the church around the world, as I have been re-reading a study about global Christianity. This report found that a third of the world’s population, over two billion people, is Christian. Last century most Christians would have been living in Europe and North and South America. But if you look at the 2011 list of the top 10 Christian populations, of the countries you would expect the United States is number 1 – no surprise there - Russia is fourth, Germany is ninth. But Brazil is number two. Nigeria, which is only half Christian, is number six. China, which has a Christian minority, is seventh. Today there are more Christians in Asia and Africa than in Europe.

And these Christians are divided. Half of the world’s Christians are Roman Catholic, more than a third are Protestant, 12 percent are Eastern Orthodox. Last Monday was Martin Luther King Day, and I was reading – I guess I did a lot of reading this week – a sermon that Martin Luther King gave in Alabama in 1956. And King preached this sermon as if it was an imaginary letter from the Apostle Paul, a letter to go with the letters to the Romans and Corinthians and Galatians we have in our Bibles. And here is part of what Martin Luther King, speaking as Paul, said:

I must remind you, as I have said to so many others, that the church is the Body of Christ. So when the church is true to its nature it knows neither division nor disunity. But I am disturbed about what you are doing to the Body of Christ. They tell me that you have within Protestantism more than 256 denominations. The tragedy is not so much that you have such a multiplicity of denominations, but that most of them are warring against each other with a claim to absolute truth. This narrow sectarianism is destroying the unity of the Body of Christ. You must come to see that God is neither a Baptist nor a Methodist. He is neither a Presbyterian nor an Anglican; God is bigger than all our denominations. If you are to be true witnesses for Christ, you must come to see that.

There may have been 256 Protestant denominations when King spoke 56 years ago; the last statistic I could find for the United States had 6,000. Now, he went on in his sermon to address Roman Catholicism as well, saying “I am disturbed about any church that refuses to cooperate with other churches under the pretense that it is the only true church. I must emphasize the fact that God is not a Roman Catholic.”

Now, there has been some change since the days when Martin Luther King spoke. There is more ecumenical cooperation among churches. The days when it was not proper for Catholics and Protestants to marry are hopefully gone. My Catholic grandmother and Anglican grandfather married in the 1920s, so they were probably pioneers! Local churches collaborate on projects. We joined with Anglican, Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches on the Alpha Course last year, we led the Stormont County fair service with our neighbours at Newington Wesleyan Church, and we had joint Good Friday worship. Clergy get together across denominational lines. I belong to a ministerial association in South Stormont, and another one in Cornwall where I’m now the president. And at our last meeting we had worship on the theme of Christian unity, and it was very moving to have Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant and evangelical Protestant pastors all worshipping together.

But we’re nowhere near what Jesus talked about when he said of his followers, may they be one. We can worship together, but we can’t share Communion because of our traditions’ different understandings of the Lord’s Supper. At the Cornwall meeting all of us were united in worship, then began the business part of our gathering and found that we had deep disagreements in a discussion about gay and lesbian people in the church.

But, you know, I was reminded this week that at the beginning of our United Church of Canada, there was a lot of enthusiasm for union, but there was a lot of despair too. High hopes in some towns and villages were crushed when some Presbyterian congregations voted not to join the United Church. I was visiting a 94 year-old man this week who remembered the period of church union well, and how even in the United Church old attitudes survived – he was visiting a family in Kemptville, and asked if that house was the minister’s manse. And he was told that was the parsonage, as “manse” was a Presbyterian word that Methodists would never use. They would say “parsonage.”

The theme chosen by the Polish churches for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is victory, from our reading from First Corinthians, God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, Poland has not had a happy history the last couple of hundred years or so. The countries around it divided it among themselves, and when. Poland became a country again it was only to be invaded by the Nazis and the Soviets at the start of the Second World War, and over 5 million Poles, including most Polish Jews, died during that war. And when Poland was recreated after the war it was under Soviet domination.

So it would seem a bit strange for Poles to be celebrating victory, when their country has usually been getting ground under some other nation’s boot. But the group writing the service asks how we understand “victory” and how Christ shows us a different way. This year the European soccer championship will be held in Poland and Ukraine, which would have been unthinkable years ago as these are two countries with long-standing historical grievances. This is a victory for peace. Yet as we hear news of winning teams – and I know that England will go all the way – the Polish churches ask that we consider those who do not win, not only in sports, but in their lives and communities, those of us who are like Poland in its recent history in constantly suffering defeat.

Jesus Christ does show us a different way than the world’s way of having winners and losers, in politics and business and society and even the church. In our reading from the Good News According to John, Jesus talks about being like a servant, and about letting our old selves and lives die so that we can live a better life. Jesus is talking about victory, but a different kind of victory, victory through mutual service, and working to include all those who are defeated and forgotten and excluded. And that is what Jesus himself did and how he lived, and died. As he dies and is raised from death to defeat death and evil, he is the grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies to bear a bountiful harvest.

And so we as followers of Jesus must work, not in competition with each other, but with each other – as Martin Luther King would say, we must be true witnesses to Christ, working for a victory which will remove all divisions and make all Christians one in serving God and our neighbours. This victory may be a long time coming, as it took time for the United Church to become truly united, as it took time for Poland to free itself from the powers around it. But through this work for victory we will be transformed, changed to be more like Christ.

This is exciting, but scary. Real Christian unity, really being the body of Christ, doesn’t mean being comfortable with just friendliness between denominations. It means setting aside competition, opening ourselves to each other, cooperating and collaborating and giving and receiving in new ways. Perhaps as we debate how to be in the church in the Seaway Valley, we can consider sharing buildings and ministries, not just among United Church congregations, but among Presbyterians and Catholics and Anglicans and Pentecostals and Wesleyans and others.

At our clergy meeting in Cornwall, one of the Roman Catholic priests talked about a document on Christian unity written by Pope John Paul II, called in Latin ut unum sint, may they be one. And that is also part of the motto on the crest of the United Church of Canada: that all may be one, as Jesus prayed, not just Congregationalists and Methodists and Presbyterians and Evangelical United Brethren in our denomination, but all, all from Baptists to Greek Orthodox, united not in erasing all the richness of our diverse traditions, united not in blandness and conformity, but united in seeing God and truth as bigger than any denomination, united in openness that really enters into the new life in Christ that has no winners or losers. And that is the true and the only victory.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thief, bandit, or outlaw?

I'm on day 19 of the Common English Bible 90 day reading plan, today reading Mark 13 and 14. I was struck by Mark 14:48, in the story of the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane:
Jesus responded, “ Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like an outlaw?

The Common English Bible translators have chosen "outlaw" for the Greek lestes. I haven't seen that one before; my old Greek New Testament lexicon defines the Greek word as "a robber, brigand, bandit." Other translators have chosen similar words:
Authorized Version (King James): thief
New Revised Standard Version: bandit
American Standard Version: robber
English Standard Version: robber
The Message: dangerous criminal
French translations, like the Louis Segond, tend to use the translation "un brigand."

The New International Version renders the noun as a verb, as Jesus asks "am I leading a rebellion?" Only the Good News Translation translates lestes as the Common English Bible does, as "outlaw."

But I like it. It makes me think about how Jesus is treated as a criminal outlaw, arrested by an armed mob, but he really is an outlaw in the sense of living outside of, and setting us free from, the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

Monday, January 16, 2012

For Martin Luther King Day

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.
1 John 4:16, Common English Bible

"I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who has love has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality."
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Speak; Your Servant is Listening: Sermon, January 15, 2012

Now the boy Samuel was serving the LORD under Eli. The LORD ’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the LORD's temple, where God’s chest was.

The LORD called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.

Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.

Again the LORD called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”

(Now Samuel didn’t yet know the LORD, and the LORD’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)

A third time the LORD called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” Then Eli realized that it was the LORD who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say ‘Speak, LORD. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.

Then the LORD came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”

- 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Common English Bible

The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.”

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these! I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One."

- John 1:43-51, Common English Bible

Giving all glory and honour to God.

We have two stories today about call: God calls Samuel, and Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael. My childhood Bible had a coloured picture of Samuel looking up and saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Today I’m thinking of a little illustration from Søren Kierkegaard. He lived in Denmark about 170 years ago, and is one of my favourite thinkers. Actually, at first I thought he was the Danish guy who wrote the story about the ugly duckling who turns into a swan, but that turned out to be Hans Christian Andersen.

Kierkegaard had some great little illustrations for what he was saying about God, and Christ, and the Christian life. I thought of one of them when we were at Upper Canada Village for Alight at Night. We rode on the big wagon, but you could also book a carriage with just one horse and driver, with lanterns on each side. It looked very nice on the dark village streets. Kierkegaard lived when people did travel like this, and he used this in one of his word pictures, one very appropriate for Epiphany, this season of light.

When the prosperous man on a dark but star-lit night drives comfortably in his carriage and has the lanterns lighted, then he is safe, he fears no difficulty, he carries his light with him, and it is not dark close around him. But because he has the lanterns lighted, and has a strong light close to him, precisely for this reason he cannot see the stars, for his lights obscure the stars, which the poor farmer driving without lights can see gloriously in the dark but starry night. So many people are among the deceived ones; either, occupied with the necessities of life, they are too busy to see the view of the stars, or in their prosperity, it is as if they have lanterns lighted, and close around them everything is so satisfactory, so pleasant, so comfortable – but the view is lacking, and they cannot see the stars.
This story comes from Kierkegaard's The Gospel of Suffering, quoted in Vernand Eller, The Simple Life, Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1973.

We can be like the rich man in that antique carriage, comfortable, safe with the lanterns lit. And then we miss the stars: the stars God made, these balls of gas thousands and millions of light years away – I was reading the other day that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, has over 100 billion stars. We can see only a few of them. And we can miss them if we don’t look, or we don’t go outside, or our view is limited by lights around us. To use another example, if you live east of Ingleside and all the lights are turned on where they’re building that new solar farm, you miss the stars because the whole sky is lit up.

Just as we can miss the stars in the night sky with our eyes, we can miss God’s call with our senses and our minds. Samuel hears God calling to him, calling over and over, but assumes it’s Eli. Philip goes to his friend Nathanael to tell him that Jesus has called him and told him to follow, and he says to Nathanael, “We have found the one written about in the Bible, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” And Nathanael is a typical young guy who just snorts and blows Philip off, dismissing him by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael is from a different town, and he rejects anyone or anything that is from anywhere else. It’s like a Montreal Canadiens fan dissing a new player for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

God called Samuel to be a prophet. Jesus called Philip and Nathanael to be his followers, to travel with him and learn his message and bring it to the world. We talk about call in these Bible stories, and when we call a minister. But we can’t hem in God’s call to a few people long ago and ministers today.

God calls all of us. Our Psalm today, Psalm 139, says that God has a destiny for us, known to God since before we were created. God may be calling us to a new ministry here in our congregation or our community or the wider church, or a new or renewed focus in what we’re already doing. God may be calling us to leadership in a church committee, in a role where we touch the lives of many people, or God may be calling us to make a difference in one person’s life. God may be calling us to use our talents in a role we are good at and experienced in, or God may be calling us to discover a gift we did not know we had. God may be calling us to step back and spend less time acting and more time reflecting. God may be calling us over and over, to different things or the same thing. Sometimes God calls in one sudden, dramatic moment, sometimes God’s Spirit whispers to us and pushes us over a long period of time.

Just like Samuel and Philip and Nathanael, we have to figure out God’s call to us. And we can’t always predict what that call will mean for our lives. Philip couldn’t have predicted on the day he met Jesus that in a few years he would be traveling and baptizing. We just have to follow and let God use us, as Philip and Nathanael and Samuel did. That God calls us can be a source of strength, and it can be scary.

Right now, we have to discern God’s call to us, as individuals and as a congregation, to what we were meant to do and be. In November we voted on whether to engage in conversations with other congregations on possible cooperation in a cluster arrangement sharing ministries together, and the Holy Spirit moved in here, and we believed that we were called to say yes to dialogue. In some other congregations people felt that the Spirit was prodding them to vote no, and that’s how they felt called. And then it was the season of Advent, and then Christmas, and then the new year. And now we are called to decide on how to move, and how soon, and who to talk with.

Some congregations have come back and said, we’re waiting for the Presbytery to tell us what to do, but this process can’t work that way. The Presbytery and ministers are just resources, helping to facilitate conversations. If this comes from the top down, instead of from the grassroots, it won’t work because it won’t be of the people. It’s up to you to settle on the way to act on your vote, how to respond to invitations to talk, how to approach others, who to ask. It’s a bit like dating; you can’t rely on your best friend to ask girls or guys out for you. Well, you might, but it’s not a recipe for success.

So it’s up to you. And as I’m not the leader in this process, I don’t know if any overtures have been received, or any talks have taken place already. A response to God’s call may be already going on.

As always, we may be tempted to ignore the call. We may be like the prosperous man Kierkegaard talked about, in his carriage with the warm lantern light, comfortable and safe, but unable to see the stars. We block them out. God may be calling our name, just as God called "Samuel, Samuel," and we can’t decide that it is God’s call. God has a purpose for us, as there was a purpose for Nathanael, but just like him who didn’t think anything good could come from Nazareth, we’re too caught up in our preconceived ideas and prejudices to acknowledge it. And even though we voted yes to talking with other congregations, we may be thinking now, well, that was then, this is now, things still seem fine, we’re good as we are, we’re going to postpone this dialogue about new ways to be church, new ways to serve God and our neighbours, new ways to live out God’s call.

We need to be less like the rich man, happy and secure but unable to see beyond a little distance around him, and more like the poor farmer who may be less at ease and taking more of a risk, yet can see the entire night sky. We need to get that big picture so we can recognize and respond to God’s call, whatever that call may be, however many times it comes, whichever way it comes, in the surprising ways God works. And as we hear, as we see, as we discern, God who called us remains with us in the Spirit, guiding, strengthening, comforting, loving. Speak, God, for your servants are listening.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Exile on Main Street Express