Friday, February 19, 2016

New book is available!

I have been trying for some time to publish my Master's of Divinity thesis on the Atonement (the Atonement is the restoration of humanity to a right relationship with God through the saving death of Jesus Christ). Here it is! Sure to be a bestseller - well, probably not, but it may be of interest to those interested in Atonement models in theology, soteriology, the Patristic Fathers (and particularly the Cappadocians, as much of the thesis deals with Gregory of Nyssa), feminist and liberation theologies, and pastoral theology.

The title of the book is Ransomed by the Fall: An Investigation of the Classic Model of the Atonement and Its Contemporary Pastoral Significance. It is available in the United States from Amazon and worldwide from the German portal

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bus Tour Highlights Mission & Service in Newfoundland

I wrote this article for the February 2016 issue of Mandate, the United Church of Canada's Mission and Service magazine.

If participants in an August 2015 Mission and Service tour of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, had heard of Rawlins Cross before, it was as a well-known Celtic rock band, or as a famous intersection in the St. John’s historic downtown. Now they will think of the hope offered by the ministries of Stella’s Circle, clustered around Rawlins Cross, and one of several community projects in the city supported by M&S.

After the United Church of Canada’s 42nd General Council finished its meeting in Corner Brook on August 15, six commissioners set out to learn more about how Mission and Service is changing lives in St. John’s. Ruth Noble from the General Council Office shepherded the group onto a bus for the trip across Newfoundland. Lunch and hospitality at Faith United Church in Northern Arm fortified the travelers for the rest of the journey. Worship at Gower Street United Church in downtown St. John’s the next morning was followed by lunch and a look at the facilities used for the church’s lunch program.

Stella’s Circle, housed in several buildings around Rawlins Cross, is named after Dr. Stella Burry, a United Church deaconess who founded Emmanuel House in 1945. Tour participants visited Emmanuel House and heard how Mission & Service supports a residential treatment program for at-risk adults. Stella’s Circle has a Real Work strategy to provide job experience in construction, office cleaning, maintenance, and food services. The centerpiece of the food service training program, and of the Rawlins Cross intersection, is the Hungry Heart CafĂ©. Real Work participants receive on-the-job training as cooks, servers, and kitchen staff – and the results are delicious! Tea is served in china cups, because that’s how Stella Burry herself liked it.

Arriving at Naomi Centre on the other side of downtown, tour participants found a secure door that opened to reveal a welcoming environment as an emergency shelter and support service for young women. Naomi Centre is also a Mission & Service recipient.

Bridges to Hope located up the hill (and St. John’s is a hilly city) is another Mission & Service partner. Participants were shown the large kitchen, where cooking classes teach preparation of nutritious, low-cost meals, and the food bank housed in a converted garage. Then it was off to Cochrane Street United Church, where Bridges to Hope volunteers were assembling backpacks full of school supplies for children from low-income families.

Another recipient of Mission &Service is the Jimmy Pratt Memorial Outreach Centre, located at George Street United Church. Most of the church’s lower level is taken up by the drop-in centre, soup kitchen, and used clothing depot. A fire at the nearby Salvation Army building has resulted in shared space with social workers and counsellors working out of the Jimmy Pratt Centre and George Street United Church.

General Council commissioners on the Mission & Service Tour were left with lasting memories of how these community ministries are bringing hope, healing and justice to the heart of Canada’s easternmost and oldest city.

The photos are mine, of the colourful "jelly bean row" houses of downtown St. John's, and the food bank at Bridges to Hope.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Two Roads Diverged: Sermon, January 31, 2016

The details of Ken Holland's story come from the January 25, 2016, issue of The Hockey News.

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”

Then said I:

“Ah, Lord GOD!
Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”

But the LORD said to me:

“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of their faces,
For I am with you to deliver you,” says the LORD.

Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me:

“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.”
Jeremiah 1:4-10, New King James Version

And Jesus began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.
Luke 4:21-30, New King James Version

The story we heard last week continues. Jesus returns to his home town, Nazareth, and reads in the synagogue, and tells everyone that this Scripture is fulfilled, that God has anointed him to preach good news to the poor and proclaim release of prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind and liberate the oppressed. Everyone is very impressed. But then Jesus starts telling them that God’s favour is also for foreigners. The very thought sends people into a fury. Judging from the news these days, the idea that foreigners and immigrants are just as deserving is still as controversial today as it was in Galilee 20 centuries ago. Those people in Nazareth are so angry that they run Jesus out of town, and drag him to where they can throw him off a cliff.

But Jesus escapes. Luke’s Gospel says, “He passed through the crowd and went on his way.” In the next verse, he has moved to another town, Capernaum, and is teaching there. And you have to wonder, what did Jesus think about being rejected in his home town? He expected the reaction to him might be hostile, because he tells them, “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown.” But his neighbours, people he had grown up with, perhaps even childhood friends, trying to kill him? You would think that almost being murdered by your neighbours would be a real setback for any new venture. Did the thought even cross his mind that maybe he had made a mistake in responding to God’s call? Did he second guess his decision?

I’m always fascinated by how all the decisions we make combine to become the map of our journey through life, how many forks in the road we take. Robert Frost wrote a poem, The Road Not Taken: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." What if Jesus had given up? What if Jesus had made a different decision, and taken a different road in life? Look at all the decisions he has made in Luke’s Gospel so far. He decides to leave his home and family and work, and travel to be baptized. Then he decides to go into the wilderness, where he is tempted. There he must decide not to give in and take a different road to his destiny. And now, barely escaping the clutches of a furious mob, he must decide to continue with his ministry. What if Jesus had chosen to settle down, and do something else with his life?

Of course, Jesus is the Son of God, and has knowledge much greater than ours when we make choices. But looking at our Old Testament reading, what if Jeremiah had given in to his doubts about being too young to be God’s prophet, and stopped listening to God? What if we had taken a different road at so many points in our lives? What if we had decided to take a different course in school and thus been directed into a different career? What if we had decided differently after a failure in business or the loss of a relationship? What if we had decided not to speak to that attractive person and thus not met our future spouse? Last Monday was the 68th anniversary of the day Kirsty’s parents got engaged to be married. They had met at a dance in Winnipeg some time before. What if Kirsty’s father had decided not to ask this woman to dance? How many lives would have been affected if that particular road had not been taken? It’s like the story about time travel, where scientists manage to go back far into the past and they accidentally squash a butterfly, and when they get back to their own time everything is different, because that set off a whole chain of events.

I was driving somewhere and listening to NHL Network Radio, and some guys were talking. On sports radio, it’s always guys talking, and the occasional woman. They were discussing the contract extension for Joel Quenneville, the coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. Now, I didn’t know this, but at one point Joel almost decided to leave hockey. This was at the start of his career, when he was playing for the Windsor Spitfires. Maybe it was Windsor’s 12-50-4 record in his first season, which included losing 10-1 to Guelph in that season opener, but he figured hockey wasn’t working out for him and he was going to go into medicine. But for whatever reason he chose not to take that other road, and stuck with it. He was drafted by the Maple Leafs, and later tried coaching in St. John’s and liked it. He stuck with coaching even after St. Louis fired him. Now he has the second most wins of any NHL coach ever, after Scotty Bowman. And he has three Stanley Cup rings – and maybe the Blackhawks wouldn’t have won those Cups if he had become Dr. Quenneville instead of Coach Quenneville.

And another story. Ken Holland was a minor league goalie in Vernon, BC, working at the liquor store while his wife Cindi was a nurse at the hospital. They had three kids. He was told by the team that his contract wouldn’t be renewed. One day he came home from work and his mother candidly asked him what his plan was for his life. And he said, Cindi will keep working and I’m going to Okanagan College, then to the University of British Columbia. His mother said, “Ken, you’re 29 years old, you’re the man of the family, you have to put food on the table.” He replied, “Mom, I have a Grade 12 education and I’ve played nine years of pro hockey. That’s all I know.”

And his mother told him that there was an ad in the paper for an Electrolux vacuum cleaner salesman. She had already called and confirmed that the job was still open. If he sold a vacuum cleaner, he would get 40 percent of the profit. She told him that she would be his first customer, and her mother, Grandma, would be his second. So Ken Holland thought, this isn’t a bad gig. If his mother and grandmother bought vacuums, maybe his aunt, who lived two doors down, would buy one too. Ken Holland was going to be an Electrolux salesman. But two days later the Detroit Red Wings called and interviewed him to be their Western Canada scout.

Ken Holland is now executive vice president and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. He has been in that position for three Stanley Cup championships and, if Detroit makes the playoffs this year, the team qualifying for the post season each year for 25 years. Again, maybe the Wings wouldn’t have won those cups if he had decided to become Ken Holland of Electrolux vacuums. He has spearheaded such innovations in the NHL as three on three overtime. The other teams imitate the system of player development that Ken Holland pioneered.

You may have read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, which has been popular for a number of years. It tries to answer the questions we have when we wonder why we are here, why God created us the way we are, in the place we are, among the people who surround us – when we feel like we were made for something, but can’t put a handle on what, or why, or how, when we struggle with doubt and lack of self-worth. And the book basically provides answers from the Bible. Because the Bible is all about purpose, finding our purpose, realizing our purpose, and keeping to our purpose when those roads diverge. And we know from the Bible that each of our purposes involves loving God and imitating Jesus and spreading his good news by loving and serving others.

If you look at that book, The Purpose Driven Life, the second chapter begins, “You are not an accident. Your birth was no mistake or mishap, and your life is no fluke of nature. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did. Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God.” And God tells young Jeremiah the same thing, “Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations.”

Now, most of us as we work out and live out God’s purpose for us will not have to suffer through the destruction of our city, as Jeremiah did. Most of us won’t be set upon by a bloodthirsty mob, as Jesus was. Well, that might happen to me if I mess with one of the congregational traditions here, but it’s probably not a risk for anyone else. But all of us are confronted by decisions about the road to take in life, about which way is the best one to fulfill God’s purpose for us, and doubts when we seem to have failed, and second guessing of the choices we made that put us on the wrong road. The way of Jesus isn’t easy. Jesus says that the gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people choose that road. The gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult. That is the road less traveled, but that is the road to living out God’s call to the purpose God set for us before we were born.

It may not be easy, but look at our stories from Scripture. God tells Jeremiah, “Don’t be afraid, because I’m with you to rescue you.” The story from Luke begins, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” We are not alone as we come to where roads diverge and decisions must be made. We have a guide through the narrow gate and onto the difficult road, the Holy Spirit that nudges and pushes us onto the right way. "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."