Our Purpose and Mission Statement

Working to build God's dream. Help wanted!

We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Looking Ahead, Not Down

Mark 1: 14-20

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC, Jan. 22, 2012

 As you called from their daily work the four who were fishing, so, God, you call us in the midst of everyday life. We would hear your voice and discern your call. May we respond to your call by looking ahead to the new way of life.  Amen

 This winter has been unseasonably mild and warm, although we had a few days of it this week.  It has been reported that our city has used only a third of the usual amount of street salt so far compared to the same period last year.  This is good news for our environment as well as our city.  The city has reportedly saved around 3 million dollars so far just because there has not been much snow on the streets. 

However, I have to confess that these days I am getting anxious to have a series of abundant snowfalls so I can go cross-country skiing before this winter is over.  Some of you remember that I came to church one Sunday morning last year, walking with a cane.  That happened almost a year ago, after my left knee was injured by a bad fall during a cross-country skiing trip.  Thanks to vigorous workouts, I feel fully recovered now and cannot wait to go skiing again.  But I have had no luck yet and my skiing gear is collecting dust in my garage. 

I am still a beginner skier; there is much I have to learn about cross-country skiing.  This morning, I would like to share with you an insight I gained from the bad fall I had last year. One of the fundamental skiing skills I have to master is shifting my body weight between the two skis alternatively without losing my balance when I slide and glide.   In order to keep the proper balance, I have learned how critical it is to “look ahead” instead of “down.”  It is easier said than done.  I always tend to look down at my feet or the skis, being afraid of falling.  Then, I lose my balance and fall.  Contrary to my instinct, the more afraid I am of falling, the more often I fall.  So, I still struggle to raise my head and focus on something ahead and not on my fear of falling.

When I read today’s Gospel reading from Mark, I was reminded of this critical tip for cross-country skiing, “Look ahead, not down.”  As Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee, he sees people going about their everyday work, hauling in the daily catch of fish.  In the midst of the ordinary, Jesus calls four fishers, two sets of brothers, with the words “Follow me.” And immediately – a word that Mark uses often to express the urgent need to proclaim the gospel in troubled times such as those faced by the first readers – Simon and Andrew, James and John leave their boats and their nets and follow.

The story of Jesus calling the four fishers in Mark is so brief that it might be called “telescoped,” that is, an event which may have transpired over a longer period is presented as swift and complete.  As a result, many questions can be asked.  Who were these four individuals?  Did they know Jesus?  Had James and John heard of Jesus from Andrew and Peter?  What did Jesus see in them that prompted him to choose them?

In particular, what did they think as they dropped everything and left their work and their families? They went with Jesus, apparently, without question.  What compelled them to go?  We will never know. That part of the story is no longer available to us. What we do know is that they decided to give up their fishing to live the less secure, more nomadic life as a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus.

From this time on, everything would be different for these four.  They are required to leave behind a past way of life, trusting in the One who calls into an unknown future. In other words, they are called not to “look down” to the past or current way of life, but to “look ahead” to the new way of life.  According to Mark, they follow Jesus immediately.  However, I imagine it took a lot of courage to “look ahead” and follow Jesus, not fearing that unknown future.

Last Sunday, Kathryn kept us updated about the work of our Joint Search Committee.  We were glad to hear that their work had gone well so far and that our advertisement about searching for a new minister was in the January edition of the United Church Observer.  We are waiting for more applications to arrive until the end of the month.  Speaking about the difference between secrecy and confidentiality, she assured us that the committee would work hard to make the whole process transparent and fair and, at the same time, keep us informed about the process.  Also, she announced that next Sunday we would have a covenanting service with the Committee, the Presbytery and us as a congregation during the morning service.  The Rev. Peter McNaughton, Secretary of the Presbytery, will come to preach and lead the covenanting.  We are looking forward to it.

One and a half years ago, when we began this journey of Intentional Interim Ministry here, we were not sure about what was ahead and how things would turn out.  Not many of us had a clear idea of what interim ministry was all about.  Even though I had completed special training courses, I had no experience of interim ministry either.  It was my first appointment as an interim and only my second pastoral charge since ordination.  I was far from an eloquent, experienced and confident interim minister.  From the beginning, some of us openly expressed some concern and worry about this ministry.  Many of us, myself included, were afraid of “falling,” looking down to what had happened in the past. 

Now, we are excited to look ahead to the calling of a new minister soon, hopefully within a couple of months.  In retrospect, we have managed not to fall, but to balance ourselves so as to arrive at the point where we can see the finish line of our interim work.  According to the Manual, Interim Ministry is an intentional, time-limited ministry.  Its primary intention is to work toward specific goals identified by the Presbytery and the congregation.  In other words, we set up goals to work on within a couple of years, something to look forward to from the very beginning of our interim work.  I think that setting up those specific goals has helped us to look ahead, not down, all the way along.   

As a congregation, we have experienced a great deal of difficulty caused by the sudden disruption of ministry following the medical leave of a minister.  One of the important goals for our interim work was, therefore, to establish a stable, long-term pastoral relationship by calling a new minister.  How would we achieve this goal?  What would we need to do?  Was there anything we could do differently?  It was not an easy task.  Some of us have struggled with many flashback memories of what happened in the past.  Old wounds were reopened.  But we know that we needed to do that in order to move on and begin our ministry anew.  The Transition Committee, the Joint Needs Assessment Committee and the Joint Search Committee have kept us aware of the purpose of our interim work and helped us look ahead toward the future, not down to the past. 

Our interim work is not done yet.  There is still much work to do.  The good news is that the finish line is not that far away and we can see it more clearly now.  We hope to celebrate that when we call a new minister in March. 

Today, Jesus tells the four fishers that their new work will be to “fish for people.” Their work will be to tend to relationships, to care for others and to invite them to hear the good news that Jesus is proclaiming.  Now, we too are called to “fish for people,” leaving behind a past way of life and looking ahead with courage to an unknown future.  May we bring this call of Jesus into the interim work that lies ahead.  Amen.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

“Come and See”

John 1: 43-51

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC, Jan. 15, 2012

God, you call us out of the world to be your people and send us back to the world as your disciples. May our hearts and minds be open to recognize your call to us to live in ways that reflect your vision and purpose. You are calling us, O God. We are listening. Amen.

 I was glad to receive a phone call from a friend in Korea early this month.  She called me to wish me a happy new year.  Since I had not talked with her for a long time, I asked how she had been doing.  She said that she had not been well recently.  She had had a nose bleed for almost a month.  She had no idea what was wrong; her doctor could not explain it.  She had to visit the clinic almost everyday to stop the bleeding.  But the medical treatment seemed to work only for a few hours.  Of course, she found the experience quite stressful because she had to spend most of her day lying down, in spite of the needs of her busy job at the office. 

Being so sick and tired of visiting the clinic, one day she decided to try something different.  Instead of going back to the clinic, she stayed home and prayed all day long to God for healing. Her prayer was answered.  Her bleeding stopped that night and has never reoccurred since.  Needless to say, she was so happy to get back to work after the holidays.  In the end, she said to me, “Isn’t that amazing?”  I took a moment and said, “Well, of course, it is.  I am glad to hear that you are okay now.  But, you know what?  I am more amazed by your belief that God healed you as soon as you prayed.”  I hoped that my blunt response did not offend her.  We are both Christians but after listening to her explanation of her faith, I found that our understanding of God is quite different from each other.

In the Gospel reading today, among the first of Jesus’ disciples, we meet Philip and Nathanael.  Jesus finds Philip and invites him to discipleship, “Follow me.” (v. 43) Then Philip finds Nathanael and bears witness to Jesus, just as Andrew did with Peter earlier in verse 40. Philip’s witness is in two parts. First, he identifies Jesus as the fulfillment of all Scripture. Second, he identifies Jesus by naming his father, “Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (v. 45)

However, Philip was surprised by Nathanael’s response: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (v. 46a) Philip does not argue with Nathanael. Instead, he extends the same invitation to Nathanael, “Come and see.” (v. 46b) Philip invites Nathanael to see for himself that the fulfillment of Scripture is indeed embodied in this human being, this son of Joseph from Nazareth.

When he sees Nathanael coming to him, Jesus greets him as an “Israelite,” indicating Nathanael is a model of faithfulness. Jesus may be praising Nathanael because he accepts Philip’s invitation even though he has questions.  After his short conversation with Jesus, Nathanael is moved by his recognition and confesses his faith, saying, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  In response to Nathanael’s confession, Jesus does not criticize the grounds of Nathanael’s faith, but suggests that Nathanael is only at the beginning point of his faith. The “greater things” Nathanael will see will be occasions for deepening his faith.

According to John, Philip follows Jesus because he comes and sees the fulfillment of Scripture from the son of Joseph of Nazareth.  In contrast, Nathanael follows Jesus because he comes and sees Jesus’ insightful recognition of him.  Each accepts his call to be a disciple after they “come and see” Jesus. Each one becomes a disciple based upon his own experience of Jesus.  Each of them experiences something different in Jesus and bears witness in his own way. Each disciple comes to Jesus with different expectations and needs and sees his or her expectations and needs are met.

My friend who called me from Korea the other day believes in Jesus Christ because she expects him to listen compassionately to her prayer and work a miracle.  When things turn out the way she wants, she experiences Jesus as answering prayer with a miracle.  When things do not turn out the way she hopes, she ignores the experience or blames God or her own lack of faith.  My experience is different.  I do not believe that Jesus is “divine or a miracle worker,” but I meet him first of all as a human being like you and me. He came to us as a little baby born of Mary on the first Christmas, not as a superhuman riding the clouds from heaven; this sweet little baby lying in a manger grew up to be a radical subversive preacher; he was the friend of sinners, not the religious elite of his day; his friends were ordinary folks like fishermen, political dissidents like the Zealots, social outcasts like the tax collectors or prostitutes, foreigners like the Samaritans and the disadvantaged like widows and children.  Everyday I “come and see” Jesus working with people in desperate need of acceptance, forgiveness and help.  These experiences of him eventually led me into ministry.

One Sunday morning last month, as many of you know, we were pleasantly surprised to have a dozen unexpected guests join us in the morning service.  They were members from my former pastoral charge, Beverley Hills United.  I was deeply honoured by their surprise visit.  That Sunday, I was reminded of my six-year-long journey with them as a newly ordained minister.  

Like many urban United Church congregations, Beverley Hills United had a proud history: it had once accommodated over 500 worshippers on Sundays along with a big choir of a hundred and the Sunday School packed with over 150 children. As time went by, the demography of the neighbourhood changed drastically.  A once predominantly English speaking White population in the neighbourhood was replaced by new immigrants who had no idea of the United Church of Canada. 

 When I arrived in 2004, I found the people at Beverley Hills United deeply distressed following the failure of five-year long, exhausting, amalgamation talks with a neighbouring congregation.  What was next?  They were anxious about their future.  They had a huge building and a multi-million dollar property; they did not have enough cash or people to maintain it; there was no more possibility of amalgamation.  In the following year, they formed a joint task group with the Presbytery to explore various options for their future.  Over the years, the whole congregation engaged in a series of conversations with the task group through many meetings and workshops.  One of the options they considered seriously was to sell the property to a developer and build a high rise residential complex with a moderately sized sanctuary for worship on the ground floor. 

As their minister, I walked with them, first of all, listening to them with compassion, and then challenging them with respect.  It was not an easy journey; tension was real and emotions ran high. To make a long story short, I felt affirmed when they decided to welcome a thriving ethnic congregation, Ghana Calvary Methodist United Church, to their building and voted overwhelmingly to transfer the whole property to them for just one dollar in 2009.  I appreciated their decision because it was historical, exemplary and courageous.  I was certain that they were able to “come and see” God’s challenges for them in that time and place and to transform their fear of loss into the courage to follow Jesus’ footsteps embracing God’s call in their midst.  Beverley Hills United was officially closed in June last year.

Today, Philip and Nathanael invite us to engage in active interaction with Jesus, saying, “Come and see.”  Philip and Nathanael have their different needs and expectations met when they encounter Jesus.  Now, let us bring our own needs and expectations to Jesus.  Then, we will see “greater things,” even as Jesus promised. Let us celebrate and enjoy the variety of God’s grace in Jesus Christ we all “come and see” today and in the days ahead. Amen.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

We All Have Two Names

Mark 1: 4-11

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC, Jan. 08, 2012

Loving God, you seal your claim upon us with word, water and Spirit. You empower us to respond in faith, even as we live in the mystery of being your beloved children. Amen.

 When I was young, I had two names, Jong Bok and Doo Whan.  It was due to a mistake of my father: while I was already known and called Doo Whan in my family and in the village, he had registered my name as Jong Bok.  There is a long story behind my father’s mistake.  At any rate, the problem arose when I went to school.  I was called Jong Bok at school but after school, every one called me Doo Whan.  Of course, I complained to my mother.  As a believer in Shamanism, she took her headache to a shaman in the village.  According to my mother, the shaman solved the problem by blessing the name Jong Bok through a religious ritual.  After that, my mother enthusiastically advocated this blessed name on my behalf.  It took a while until my new name was accepted in the village.

Today is the Baptism of Jesus Sunday. At baptism, Jesus is named as God’s beloved child.  Today, we are invited to reflect on the naming of Jesus and its meaning for us.  As the passage in Mark opens, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, preaching a gospel of repentance. Jesus comes to John to be baptized. As Jesus emerges from the water, the Spirit of God descends and a voice comes from heaven. Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of Mark.

According to the Revised Common Lectionary, which we follow, this year we are going to read the Gospel of Mark almost every Sunday. Let me introduce this Gospel briefly here.  The Gospel of Mark was written in Greek for a struggling group of Christians who lived in typical Greco-Roman households of the late first century CE, possibly in Rome.

The author was a third generation Christian who meditated on the story of Jesus and the call to discipleship in the difficult times around 70 CE when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Even though we traditionally call the author “Mark” and think of him as a companion to Peter and Paul, the Gospel was originally anonymous. It was named “according to Mark” in the late second or early third century because the Gospel offered a faithful meditation on the story of Jesus in the spirit of those who first followed Jesus.

Mark’s Gospel, written about 40 years after Jesus was thought to have been crucified and the shortest of the Gospels, has sixteen chapters. Its opening verse is a summary of the whole Gospel: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus the Christ the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). This describes Mark’s Gospel: its focus is on Jesus as God’s Good News, revealed in the first half, chapters 1—8, as the “Son of God” and in the second half, chapters 8—16, as “the Christ.”  The halfway point of the Gospel is noted by the central question which Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say I am?”  This same question has been asked of every disciple throughout the ages, including ourselves.

The story of Jesus’ baptism is also an attempt to answer the question of who Jesus is.  Each of the Four Gospels includes a story of Jesus’ baptism. Unlike the other Gospels, Mark tells us that only Jesus sees the heavens open and the Spirit descend like a dove. Only Jesus hears the voice from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” No one else is recorded in Mark to have seen or heard anything.  His naming was not shared with others.  Perhaps this is why, throughout Mark’s Gospel, the disciples are slow to understand who Jesus is.

We are no one if we have no name.  Our name tells us who we are.  Sometimes our name defines who we are.  Naming is important in our lives.  Having said that, I read an interesting letter from Gary MacDonald, one of our United Church overseas personnel working for Amity, the service arm of the China Christian Council, in a school in a rural area of China.  This letter is available to read on the website of the United Church of Canada.  He shared a couple of stories he collected from assignments written by his students about the meaning of their names. 

 Here is one.

On the night of my birth, the elders in my family stand waiting outside the door. As I take my first breath in this world the midwife announces the birth of a girl.  Loud groans of disappointment accompany my first cry.  As the first child in a peasant farming family, all hopes were on the birth of a boy.  As I lie at my mother's breast, everyone is discussing what should be done with me. Most of the possibilities are not in my favour. The final decision rests with my grandfather, the elder of the family and a shaman.  After much thought he suggests that perhaps I might be kept even though I am a girl.  If I were to be given a special name, that might change the family fate. In fact, I do remain in this family and I am given a name — a very special name. As fate would have it, one year later a boy is born in that same bed with those same people waiting outside the door.  From that moment on, even though I am a girl, I have found favour in the family. My name is “Leading Forth Brother.”

 Here is another story:

We were always very poor.  None of us, my two sisters, my younger brother nor I had ever gone to school.  One evening I suddenly heard my parents discussing the possibility of sending one of us to school.  After the harvest there was enough money to buy clothes, pencils and notebooks for one child.  Which one of us would it be? My parents decided that my two sisters were now big enough to help in the fields.  My brother was too small.  Could it be true that I was the one who would go to school?  I could hardly believe my ears. My parents and grandparents sat around the table to come up with a name for the child who would be going to school.  Without a proper name I could not be registered.  I said my name, my beautiful name, over to myself again and again.  I had a name.  At nine years of age I would no longer be called Third Daughter.  I had a name!  A real name!  At that time, having a name was more exciting to me than even the thought of going to school. 

 When I was young it was a luxury to have two names.  However, I was told that my grandmothers on both sides did not have their own names.  They were named only by their family names followed by the names of their hometowns.  They were among the Korean women who, generation after generation, had never had their own names.  That has become history in Korea now.  I was astounded with the stories in Gary’s letter from China.  That history is still reality in other parts of the world.  I wonder how many children, especially girls or women around the world, do not yet have their own names. 

For Christians today, baptism is also a time to reconsider who – and whose – we are. At baptism, Jesus is named as God’s beloved child. Jesus’ ministry grows from this revelation. We, too, are named as God’s beloved children at our baptisms. God delights in us, also, and empowers us to be part of a community that helps to make God’s reign and vision a reality. 

God says to each of us, “You are my beloved child.”  Let us be assured that we have another name, “the beloved.”  Through our baptism, we enter into a relationship with God as special and different from all other relationships.  Believing in the power of our baptism, let us join together in a litany of “Affirmation of Baptism,” as printed on page 3 of the order of the service.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Homily - Glen Rhodes United Church January 1, 2012

The Rev.  Malcolm Spencer


At the temple

We read today the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the events following his circumcision and information on the customs of what sacrifices were offered for a first born male. Luke was very concerned that Jesus had all the appropriate rituals for Jewish males at that time. The story would be rather colourless - a devout young couple doing what was expected of them and this would have been the entire story but two older persons change the picture and add the entire colour.

First we meet Simeon and he is introduced as a devout man who has struggled a long time with his yearning, shared by many that the Roman occupation was not healthy for the country and not respectful of the native Jewish population. Of course by the time Luke wrote this gospel rebellions had been breaking out and ruthlessly put down. Simeon was keen on the welfare of the city and we are further told he was moved by the Spirit to go to the temple that day. Often we wander into places we never planned to go but they seem to turn out to be the best places to be. Jean Vanier got out of the Navy and had to work out what he wanted, as a son of George Vanier famous Canadian General and our Governor General at one time, he was expected to go into industry or something like that. He was moved spiritually at the time and sought out Fr. Philippe in Paris as a spiritual director – a year later they put together L’Arche and the rest was history.

Helen Keller was led to a therapist and someone else to leave a life of seclusion as a blind and deaf person and venture out and become famous even political – few people knew that she watched by the FBI for many years for her support of workers movements.

Like Simeon they trusted that vision of new life to come. Simeon was older than many men who lived at the time and looked for a sign to assure his hope and spotting Jesus he takes the baby in his arms and sings this beautiful song. We call it by the first words in Latin: the Nunc dimittis.

Here rendered in the new living translation:
Sovereign Lord now let your servant die in peace
As you have promised
I have seen your salvation
Which you have prepared for all people
A light to reveal God to the nations
And the glory of your people Israel

He blessed the family and spoke to Mary about how difficult the road may be for promising a sword that will pierce her soul.

Here we wonder why this is said to a young woman but one of the values of older people in society is that they often can talk easily about issues in life than younger people because they know that there is survival.

He introduces the hope and struggle it would be for this boy of promise and he sums up the mission of Jesus – he feels now he can die in hope that the messiah has come.

After that we meet the widow Anna who has been praying in the temple and fasting and doing all the things to give her a devout soul but whom also yearned for a sign of hope for a new opportunity for the people - she also recognized who Jesus was and she also looked for the redemption and consolation of Jerusalem. She was 84 and full of energy, she wanted to tell everyone who could hear about the hope she had found and the good news of the coming of the Saviour. She was like many older women who take on religious duties and social concerns and seemed to have enthusiasm about the activity and are open to hope for the new. I was always amazed at the Raging Gammas phenomenon in Canada who took and still take on social issues even on street corners and rallies where they are the by far the oldest but not the least enthusiastic folk. Jesus and his parents were greeted by two seniors who yearned for a better world. They saw this would happen with Jesus. For us we learn from these seniors some lessons for our lives of faith. Perhaps we can take some of these on our New Year’s Resolutions for 2012.

First can we open ourselves to wander some to places where we might find hope and find encouragement whether by choice of chance and be more open to the Spirit in our lives and secondly can we show that enthusiasm for our faith and hope we know to help those who have little faith or little hope.

Look closely at these two lives Anna and Simeon and how they found Christ, how do recognize the signs of Jesus in our lives?

A blessing for the New Year and may it be a Happy new Year.

Thank you loving God for the gift of yourself at Christmas and may we look to know you better and love you more in the coming calendar year and realise how near you are to us and in eyes and heart of those around us.  In Jesus Name we pray, Amen