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

Thursday, 25 October 2012

“Great serve” – October 21, 2012
Sermon -  Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 21, Year B   World Food Sunday
Readings: Job 38:1–7, (34–41); Psalm 104:1–9, 24, 35c; (Hebrews 5:1–10); Mark 10:35–45
Some of us have been hungry, really hungry in our lives. Others have not been so lucky. Those who have had food regularly, predictably don’t know the feelings that go along with real hunger. We have a harder time relating to Job and the psalmist who speak so movingly about the simple fact of food for creatures and people: “Can you... satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens?,” God asks. (Job 38:39-40a); “...living things both great and small,...all these look to you to give them their food in due season,” says the psalmist. (Ps. 104:25c, 27) We also have a hard time relating to the billion or so people for whom hunger is a very present reality for part of every week, or month or year. To be truly hungry is to lose some trust, some faith in the world, in God. It’s a bit like having a close call, but in slow motion. It is a spiritual experience as much as a physical experience.
I suspect most people think it is a shame if anyone goes hungry, in a general sense, so people have responded over the years, in many ways. Who knows how many agencies, organizations and groups are trying to do something about world hunger. We had a Green Revolution a couple of generations ago that was supposed to put food security into everyone’s hands. But the fertilizers ran out and there was nothing to replace them. The beautiful tractors and other equipment stopped working right in the field and there were not parts or mechanics to fix them. There were some improvements, many improvements over the years, but hunger has not exactly slunk off the world stage. Or even the local stage.
On World Food Sunday, we’re asking questions about food and status, food and peace, food and dignity. We have a funny relationship with food here in North America. The winner of a competitive eating contest in Florida died the other day. He was to get a python as a prize. The thirty competitors were eating cockroaches and worms. The cause of Edward Archbold’s death was a mystery, at least at first. Maybe an allergy. Perhaps they’ve figured it out by now. He was going to sell the snake to a friend.
Competitive eating contests can feature almost anything edible it seems. Competitive eating. Does any of the footage of these events make it to television sets in parts of the world plagued by hunger? What must other societies think of us?
I had the good fortune to go to Cuba on a study tour a few years ago. I didn’t see any people there who were overweight. Most were thin, a few were a bit plump. Food is any issue in Cuba. There is rationing. There is very little meat, yet huge pastures full of lovely green grass have one cow in them, or none. Tourists and visitors eat very well, of course. Churches in Cuba have adopted what they call a praxis theology, meaning they have adopted this servant theology we hear in Mark today. They get actively involved providing services to low income people. Something like you do here at this church. They preach that real faith involves siding with vulnerable people the way the gospels show Jesus doing. They plant gardens and distribute food, eggs, sometimes hot meals to those who need them. Some of the elderly in Cuba are all alone. Their children have gone off to America to make lives for themselves, and America makes it very hard to send help home to aging parents. The animosity between America & Cuba is terrifying.
I just got mail from the Canadian Hunger Foundation. The Foundation tells me about Gabriel Githua, a farmer with a little bit of land in rural Kenya. His wife died eight years ago, and the two children were very young then–one just four months old. They could eat during the growing season, it sounds like, about five months of the year. There are public schools in Kenya, but also fees that would have been prohibitive to Mr. Githua, so his children were both hungry and uneducated, I suspect.
The Canadian Hunger Foundation then goes on to tell how a farming project started with donor dollars has turned around Mr. Githua’s life and many others in his community. They have food security all  year.Turns out the Foundation helps about six thousand people in Kenya, and thousands more elsewhere. But there are those other nine hundred million who are hungry. There are something like seventy-two million people displaced from their land and homes by violence and climate change. I’m not sure charitable projects, or food banks, are the real answer, (but I have left the appeal from the Foundation at the back of the church if you want to have a look).
Let me tell you a couple of food stories with a common theme. In rural Newfoundland, when the cod fish were coming in to the fish plant each day during fishing season, anyone could get a free fish. There was a tradition of looking after people who had no boat, or no one who could get out to the fishing ground. If you saw someone standing on the wharf when you got back with your fish, you offered him or her one fish. Enough for today. This happened to my father, by accident. He went out for a morning walk before breakfast and came back with a fish dangling from his finger.
The other story is from Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, a wonderful First Nations story teller, and professor at the University of Toronto. She tells about the stingy box, and how it has changed First Nations society. Time was, if I went out to hunt and the Great Spirit sent me an animal or birds, I rejoiced when I got home, and then the whole community had something to eat. I shared out the carcass till it was gone. Good times if there was game to eat, and no waste. Then a change came. I could get a box that plugged into the wall and froze everything I put in it. Now I could cut up that carcass or those birds and keep the everything for myself and my own family in the box. A stingy box.
Ancient traditions of sharing were based partially on largeness of spirit it seems, and partly on practical realities about preserving food in times gone by. It doesn’t seem to take much for stinginess to make its appearance. Or competition for scarce resources. Ask an itinerant rabbi about what his companions started to ask for when he began to grow a bit famous.
The increasingly famous rabbi wasn’t swayed by his own growing stature. He didn’t begin to acquire soft linens, or a carriage and fine horses to ease his travels. It seems like he still took his chances on a place to stay and something to eat each day. When two of his companions take him aside and reveal their hunger for fame, their ambition, he looks into the future a ways and talks about his approaching “baptism” and the cup he will drink. The two companions don’t get it, and assure him that they are up to it. Or maybe I’m doing them a disservice. Maybe they knew exactly what happened to upstarts who embarrassed the powers that be with their free meals and radical plans to share the harvest fairly.

It gets messier when other companions find out what has been going on. The others are angry. They imagine a scarcity–there are only two places of honour, after all, one on the right and one on the left, and they may have missed out. And the notion that we might miss out on something scarce has that effect on us. The rabbi then slices right through their assumptions about scarcity their false conception of worthiness. Greatness doesn’t lie in acquiring the brass ring, making it to the top. To be great is to serve.
This is still a radical notion all these generations later. As I exit the supermarket I am obliged to run a gauntlet of glossy magazines featuring shiny, thin, beautiful people with more everything than I have. More lovers, more breakups, more personal assistants, more expensive food, more diets, more houses, more fame, more shame. To be great is be on the cover of a checkout magazine. Meanwhile, I am invited to feel badly about myself, and glee about their heartaches at the same time. And that’s just the checkout at the food store.
When I’m waiting to pay for groceries, I try to remember Jesus’ words, and say a little prayer for all the people known by their first names, that they may have some real happiness in the midst of all the glitz and non-stop photography, that they may keep some perspective. I think about the bags of food hanging heavy from my arms. Where did it come from? What forests or meadows were levelled to make giant fields for these things? What hands picked the lettuce or dried the figs? Do those people eat well as they harvest or prepare food for me? Are they to be considered great if they didn’t choose to serve others, but are forced to breathe in the pesticides or stoop over the rows all day because it is the only way to feed their children?

We’re all connected. What happens in order to squeeze out a bit more profit at a food processing plant thousands of kilometres away affects me when I go to eat that food. Deadly chemicals last sprayed forty years ago to control pests are still accumulating in Arctic fish, marine mammals, bears, and the breast milk of Inuit women.
Food is such a pleasure, especially when we have some company when we eat. Can it be a pleasure for everyone involved in its production, processing and transportation as well as its consumption? Food helps us celebrate that we are not souls who happen to have a body. We really are made from everyday stuff. Food makes us aware of how much we are part of the vast web of life, from the microscopic to the leafy to the kind that moos or oinks or clucks. How and when we will get over the unfortunate thinking that we are somehow superior to everything else, I’m not sure. When you say thanks for food, do it in profound humility and ask again how you can serve alongside the servant Christ. World Food Sunday. A lot to chew on.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Covenanting Service - 7:30 p.m. - Sunday, October 21, 2012
Sermon - Rev. Brian McIntosh
Called and Sent, One and All

 First, I must say – and not just because I should! - that it’s an honour and a privilege to have been asked by Robin to offer a sermon at this Covenanting Service tonight.  Having known Robin as long as I have, rest assured I’ve seen him at his worst as well as at his best – his worst, thankfully, having far more to do with trying to hit a little white ball hundreds of yards across green grass up hill and down into a tiny cup, or trying to hurl a heavy smooth stone across ice with precision and accuracy to land somewhere in a few concentric circles, than it does with trying to offer a timely and transformative word or applying the gospel to the public events of our times or attending to the hurting and those who need healing, these latter being things he’s really quite good at, even on his off days.  Robin has been a mentor, colleague, confidant, coach, and supporter of and for me through the years, and I’m glad to call him a friend.  What’s more, he’s a terrific minister – but then you all likely already know that!

The thing is, perhaps the chief word I want to offer tonight is something of a shock, when given the proviso and introduction I’ve just shared, namely: this Covenanting Service is not primarily about Robin at all!  Yes, he’s definitely involved, but the God of the gospel is a God who calls not only individuals like Robin and the rest of us misnamed “ordered” folks but entire communities of faith like Glen Rhodes and Southeast Presbytery to ministry, and who not only sends individuals but entire communities of faith to join the mission God already has undertaken since time and space were given their genesis by the divine hand, namely to not only build up the community of faith in our time but to claim more of the world’s weary and imperialized people’s in our time and in time to come for God’s governance of justice, mercy, and faith.  In short, not only Robin but each of us individually and all of us together are called and sent in discipleship of the anti-imperial Jesus to a world that tempts and lures and contests us with other gods, other loyalties, other authorities.  Amid such a calling and sending, therefore, we are all urged to not only support Robin in his ministry here but to covenant together to engage our discipleship with all the collective passion and imagination we can muster, relying upon but not passively resting in God’s grace to grant us a faithful future not of our own making.

Our call, friends, at least the one which we honour tonight, is not to join a successful or safe institution or to support a budget; it’s not to sign up for a happy game of ecumenical sheep-stealing or membership gamesmanship or sign on for a live-or-die church growth project for the next five years.  Our call is to live up to our baptismal vocation and stake our lives and reputations, our minds, hearts and bodies, on a different, alternative account of what is real, what is true, and good, and beautiful, what is worthy of our trust and worship, than the dominant account of the real that is on public display every day in every way and into which we are all inevitably inducted by the time we’re old enough to say, “I want” … whatever the latest fad or fashion or trend or technology seems to be.

When we consider our call, or our sense of the God who calls, it’s clear that the God of the Gospel calls us away from the dominant, dehumanizing values of consumerism and endless commerce that are always and everywhere present around us.  This calling God claims us for gospel values of peace, justice, mercy and reconciliation by endlessly urging our disengagement from the postures, habits, and assumptions that define the world in which capital is king and profits are the superpower, a world devoid of compassion and empathy in every arena.  The call, in fact of faith, is away from so-called normal life, from ordinary motivations and prospects, to a way of life that the world, like the rich man who had great possessions but was poor in spirit, deems impossible.

As it turns out, discipleship is not a one-day-a-week activity, but a summons from what suffocates abundant life, namely the possessions that possess us and the dispossessed, the consumption that consumes us all and this earth at ever-increasing and dangerously close to irreversible speed.  This way involves our being called to follow a leader, not named Robin but named Jesus, who has strange, odd, costly habits – which means, by the way, that you should consider closely anything Robin says or does that may seem strange or odd or even costly, for there might just be abundant life waiting in the wings of his words or actions.  Can you imagine anything stranger or even suicidal, at least metaphorically speaking, than for your minister – and, by the way, Robin, I wouldn’t counsel this kind of thing, at least within the first few months to a decade, that is if you want to avoid an unceremonious defrocking! - in the manner of Jesus, telling a new and ridiculously rich potential member who comes in to his office that there’s only one requirement to join, namely to give everything you have away and start from scratch with this church, a church not unlike any others I know or don’t know, an aging, uncertain collection of misfits, pretenders and do-gooders who, but for the presence and power of the Spirit, would fail to inspire even mediocrity, let alone passion, in many?  Yet the sheer obscenity to God of such richness existing side-by-side with the deathly squalor of poverty among millions around the globe, including even the comparatively better off millions, a high percentage of whom are children, who live in Canada, means we are called to follow this strangely unsuccessful, crossed-up leader Jesus so that in our discipleship of him we might, often unwittingly but sometimes fiercely, disentangle ourselves from the ways in which we’ve been schooled and to which we’ve become addicted so that we may, in a prophetic recovery program, form new habits and ways of being and thinking and acting.

Our discipleship, friends in faith, requires a new kind of boldness and daring to have the kind of internal conversation that will enable the good news of Jesus’ alternative, non-violent, anti-imperial vision and social program to deeply capture and convict us as a people.  That conversation, if we actually undertook it, would utterly change the church, enabling it to truly become a cooperative, caring and sharing community, a Jesus society that isn’t about bleeding-heart liberalism or exclusivist conservatism but is about overcoming the too long and too easy accommodations that the church has made, from musical sweetener to charity laws to survival strategies, with the dominant cultural values that hold sway in the world and in the worldly church, values that often fly in the face of the purposes of God.

Canadian Mennonite author and teacher Rudy Wiebe once said it this way, in a book called The Blue Mountains of China:

          “Jesus says in his society there is a new way for people to live:

                   you show wisdom, by trusting people;

                   you handle leadership, by serving;

                   you handle offenders, by forgiving;

                   you handle money, by sharing;

                   you handle enemies, by loving;

                   and you handle violence, by suffering.

          In fact you have a new attitude toward everything, toward everybody.         Toward nature, toward the state in which you happen to live, toward

          women, toward slaves, toward all and every single thing.  Because this

          is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thinking          differently.”[i]  

The God who calls us, one and all, to such a new society of thinking and acting is also the God who issues a compelling commission to nothing less than the mending of this creation and all its creatures.  There is no call from God that does not also include a commissioning into this world God still loves and labours to give rebirth to.  The sending of Moses to “let my people go” came as part and parcel of God’s having heard the cries and groaning of the covenant community, Israel, under the harsh conditions of their oppression.  God didn’t call Moses to set up a shrine or sanctuary to enable individual navel-gazers to escape the trials and tribulations of life.  The call is, at one and the same time, a commission to confront the powers and principalities who believe themselves to be destined to rule as overlords above the rest.  The mandate of Moses, and by extension the mission of the timid faithful ever since, which means us, is to stand before and confront the powers-that-be, be they political, militaristic, economic, ideological, or even ecclesiastical, that embody false theologies of control and accumulation, with words and acts of liberation and transformation.

Those liberating and transforming words and acts claim that an old yet ever-new governance is in effect, a gospel governance that doesn’t seek to make everyone part of the church but which does claim everyone, including the poor and sick and suffering, as God’s children, as worthy of the rights of citizenship in God’s domain in this one creation.  That reign or governance of God, friends, is in our midst when the creation begins to resemble the originally blessed, twinkle-in-your-eye intention of the Creator.  In the word-acts of Jesus God has drawn near, incarnate and embodied, to effect that new reality of God’s governance in this creation, a creation built for such governance and, as surely as time, unable to be sustained without the bold enacting of that governance by faithful humans who embody the mission Dei in the manner of Jesus themselves.

Friends, we’re not just disciples, followers of Jesus, as the called body of Christ: we’re also apostles, those who’ve seen and been sent by Jesus as the commissioned body of Christ.  We’re the covenanted ones, and not just for the sake of the survival of Glen Rhodes United Church but for the sake of this entire creation, called and sent, one and all, to be a counter-force of love, sustaining a kind of aching vision and an intentional inconvenience among us in praise and risk, in worship and work.  To be called by God is a counter-cultural summons; to be sent by God is a counter-cultural practice.  In being called and sent in such a way, we are essential for the earth and for life, despite what we sometimes think, because, as Walter Brueggemann has said, “God’s people are always departing the lethal grip of the ordinarily possible.”[ii]  Like Moses, Robin said, “Here am I” to that calling and sending many years ago, and again more recently to be among you here, and all of us are invited to do the same every day of our lives.  We may think it an invitation that is impossible to respond to and be responsible for faithfully, like the rich man who walked away from the hard sayings and intentions of Jesus, but remember, strangely and by the Spirit “all things are possible with God.”  Amen.


1  Wiebe, The Blue Mountains of China, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Toronto: McClelland and      Stewart, 1970), pgs. 215-216.
2  Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), pg. 148.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

“Two-edged sword” – October 14
Sermon:  Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 20, Year B
Readings: (Job 23:1–9, 16–17); Psalm 22:1–15; Hebrews 4:12–16; Mark 10:17–31
Hands up those who are burdened by too much money. OK, never mind. Is anyone having an out‑of‑money experience? They say money isn't everything, but it sure keeps the kids in touch. Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright, said, “When I was young I used to think that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know it is.Adlai Stevenson, the American diplomat and politician, had a good line: “There was a time when a fool and his money were soon parted, but now it happens to everybody.
The bible certainly gets in many digs at rich people. At one point, for instance, the prophet Amos refers to upper class women as “cows of Bashan” because those animals were famous for being sleek and well-fed: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’” (Amos 4.1) The gospels tell the fable of Dives, the rich man who would settle for a sip of water as he roasts in hell, never mind crossing the great gap to join Abraham and all those with him.
So, for balance, here’s a story is about who someone with less money, someone frugal, shall we say. He’s talking to his mates on Monday morning about his date on Saturday night. “Yes,” he says, “out we went, lovely night to walk, and passed a restaurant I’ve heard of. Quite famous, apparently. Looked expensive. My date catches a whiff of the smells coming from inside as we go by, and almost faints on me. ‘Wonderful,’ says she. Well, I was just in that kind of a generous mood. I turned us around, and we walked by it again.”
Today we’re making connections between wealth, living a faithful life and the consequences of one versus the other. That shouldn’t be too hard. And if you like what you hear, I’m in a generous mood, so just let me know with a show of hands at the end and I’ll preach it again.
I love the connection between the passage from Hebrews about the Word, and Mark’s account of Jesus’ teaching about money and true wealth. “Sharper than a two-edged sword,” says the writer of Hebrews. And as if to prove that point, Mark’s story about the challenges facing those who love their money more than anything. The word is sharp for the rich guy. He’s already following all the other commandments. Now what? Give away everything– everything?– and follow Jesus? Come on!
What about his identity is so wrapped up in his money that he runs away instead? What is wrapped up in our money that it sometimes gets between us and the more daring acts of faith? Well, quite a bit. A roof, security, food, to name a few. It’s hard to get back to the world of the first century, where the disparity between the few with so much and the many with so little was so stark. Yes, we have Occupy, and a reminder of how much the one percent have compared to the rest of us. But we have a long way to go before we have returned to biblical levels of inequality. Although it seems as if some are determined that we get there quickly.
The Roman empire of Jesus’ day has been compared to present day organized crime. It used force or the threat of force to gather tribute, enriching those who were part of the collection system along the way, even as it left most people struggling to manage. It was a somewhat less oppressive system than the Hebrew people had experienced in Egypt as Pharaoh’s slaves. Still, the Jewish population of Palestine kept rising up against Rome, often with catastrophic death tolls when Roman soldiers waded into crowds of protesters with their short, two-edged swords, their gladii. Pax Romana was similar to peace under the Taliban–as long as a person toed the line completely, never raised his, or her, voice, no harm came.
Jesus raised his voice, of course. He went around the country eating with others, feeding others. Roman justice was retributive. Jesus’ justice was distributive. He got noticed. He gained enemies. He rocked the boat, the dreadful, fear-filled, rotten boat, and eventually got swatted aside like a gnat. The Roman empire is gone. Jesus is not.
There is usually someone lined up willing to be the new Rome, though. Up till now it has been nations. A new wrinkle is that corporations are not willing and able to take over the job. Mining companies ripping resources out of the ground without regard to the people or landscape around the mine, forestry companies cutting without regard to habitat or sustainability, giant agriculture companies holding hungry nations hostage in order to get their patented crops access to local farmers, or replacing subsistence farmers with a monoculture of fruit or sugar or something. Brutal stuff. Sometimes fatal for activists who raise their voice.
Is this just the way of the world? Is this how our species will bring about its own end? The bible view of this discouraging pattern in human affairs is a long one. It is a hopeful view. What we do here in worship is act as if change had come. For a time each week, we live into something we call God’s realm. We have called it the kingdom of God. A word that evokes that image while creatively altering it is the ‘kin-dom’ of God. It’s coming up later in our prayer. Keep track of how you feel about the change of wording, so that we can discuss it as a community.
A community. We’re seeking to be opposite of a crime gang here. We’re determined to reflect on power here, not just wield it like a sword. When we eat, we do it in the style of, in the spirit of Christ, with fair sharing, attentive to the needs of others. If we sense that part of the boat is sinking, that neighbours are at risk of drowning, we raise our voices. And we know that the word that inspires this willingness to be counter-cultural is two-edged. It would be easy to become smug about our humility, proud of our servant attitude, arrogant in our commitment to others who are vulnerable.
We don’t assume we have all the answers. We assume the Spirit is working in others. Take Bhutan, for example. This tiny nation high in the Himalayas above eastern India and Bangladesh with a population about the size of greater Hamilton leads the world in trying to measure and increase people’s happiness. They record something called Gross National Happiness. This is from Bhutan’s web site: “...the happiness of the people precedes even the Gross National Product. Gross National Happiness is the gift of Bhutan to the world. Bhutan will celebrate the year 2008 with humility, compassion and greater vigor to promote peace and happiness.” Why 2008? That was the year the new king was crowned. His father stepped down so he could take over and introduce a political system, parties and voting.
Here’s part of what the new king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchukto, said at his coronation:
“We in Bhutan view ourselves not as citizens of Bhutan but as Bhutanese citizens of the world and small as we may be, we feel that one day we might be the conscience of the modern world. Through my reign I will never rule you as a King. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son. I shall give you everything and keep nothing; I shall live such a life as a good human being that you may find it worthy to serve as an example for your children; I have no personal goals other than to fulfill your hopes and aspirations. I shall always serve you, day and night, in the spirit of kindness, justice and equality.” (From the Coronation address of HM Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchukto, the Nation, November 6, 2008.)*
Not your average king. One of the things they have going for them in Bhutan is that no oil has been discovered there yet. In fact, India, their giant neighbour helps prop up the economy. Heaven help them if someone discovers a source of great wealth there. Because Jesus is right, isn’t he? Money can get in the way of so many good things. What am I saying? How would we know? In quiet moments we sometimes think we would love to have the problems of the rich, right? Jesus was never rich. How does he know what he’s talking about? And everyone knew that money meant a person had been blessed by God. So if a rich person can’t get into eternal life, the realm of God, who can?
And that leads to the question of what we mean by eternal life, or the realm of God. If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you’ve heard many, many sermons on this one. If you are someone who is fairly new to church, you may be thinking eternal life and the realm of God are what come after death. If you’ve been good. If you’re not rich. Not too rich, anyway.
That could be. But it doesn’t sound like the kind of talk that would get a person dead. And Jesus was killed for his teaching. He was too risky to let live. He wields that living, active, sharp-as-a-sword word of God fearlessly. Two-edged sword. His teaching doesn’t let anybody off the hook.
There is a state we are capable of–call it the realm of God if you want–in which the most vulnerable people are looked after, all are fed, earth is renewed... you get the picture. You get glimpses of it here and there, but you’d have to say it hasn’t exactly settled in yet on humankind as a whole. Just following the ten commandments doesn’t quite do it, as the Mark story makes clear. There’s the money question. Our spending reveals our priorities. Money for weapons we seem to be able to find. Money for the education of girls in many parts of the world is harder to come by. And a person can still be targetted for violence if they speak out for change.

It takes a long time to raise the money for one school in Africa or Afghanistan or somewhere. But we happily buy and load and drop so-called smart bombs that cost as much as a school. The idea of a realm of God is an invitation to see others as our kin, to see our future as all tied up with them and the whole planet. How sharp is that? Should we be afraid of this living, active, sharp word of God? Think of it like a scalpel. It’s job is to separate us, to free us, from that which is getting in the way of our fearless work and prayer for change. It gets us closer to the Christ we love.

*Bhutan website, http://www.kingdomofbhutan.com/kingdom/kingdom_3_.html, accessed Oct 11, 2012.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

That all may be fed” – October 7
Sermon - Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 19, Year B   Thanksgiving/Worldwide Communion
Readings: Joel 2:21–27; Psalm 126; (1 Timothy 2:1–7); Matthew 6:25–33
Thanksgiving gives us a beautiful opportunity: to go deep within, to discover that for which you are truly grateful. We dress the church up at this time of year with signs of the harvest, a remnant of the time when most people farmed and lived on the land. In Newfoundland, people used to include salt cod, of course, and also a pitcher of fresh water to the display, so grateful were they for it in a salt water world. If we stop to think about it, abundant food at the farmers’ market and on store shelves–and fresh water to drink–are very good reasons to be deeply grateful. This is a chance to remind ourselves what a blessing this abundance is, and how many people in the world can only dream of what surrounds us.
Even in this rich place, not everyone has enough, as we know. Many still lack enough food, or healthy food. But let’s talk about other stuff first, then come back to food, and worry.
If you had to answer the question about the things that make you most thankful, what would they be? If you’ve had ill health, you might be grateful for medicine or skilled medical people. If you have, or used to have, work that was satisfying to some extent, you might be grateful for the chance to do something meaningful. If you like to read, or you enjoy music, movies, theatre, you might be thinking about how important art and artists are to you. Nature, pets, a certain time of day or year.
And many of us would say the name of someone, perhaps many people. A parent or some other relative, a teacher, a friend, a partner, a child. Life would be less somehow if it weren’t for someone’s example, or teaching, or patience, or forgiveness. These days, I’m reflecting a great deal about my mother and the many different ways I am grateful for her life, for instance. Take a moment to go inside and name for yourself something or someone for which or for whom you give thanks. Consider your thankfulness for a moment–the amount of it, the intensity. There’s likely no way you can explain it sufficiently to the rest of us. It’s your gratitude. It’s a gift, a joy, a motivator of your own, no one else’s. We may never fully get it, but that doesn’t matter.
What have you done with that gratitude? What are you doing? What will you do? Will you let it further shape you? Will you let it affect your actions, your tone of voice, the look on your face? Do you need to start something, stop something, change something to do justice to this influence in your life? Will others get some spillover from this deep, deep thanks that you are always giving?
Thanksgivings come and go, for some people a lonely long weekend, for others a whirlwind of family functions and menus that stay the same. It can be just a date on a calendar. But not here. Not for us. Half of worship is being in touch with our urge to give thanks. Reminding ourselves of how wondrous it is that there is life and love and laughter in a rather cold and somewhat spread out universe. Letting the sense of amazement wash through us and saying a prolonged “Ah” here with our prayers and hymns and the inner movement of our spirits. Slaves are freed. Dignity is restored. The hungry eat. The world holds hands around a table of peace and fairness. This is nothing short of marvellous.

The other half of worship is a kind of carefully phrased impatience, anger, rage, even, at the realization that not everyone has freedom, or dignity, or enough to eat. Impatience with our own apathy, our bad habits, the way we have come to terms with injustice. Anger of a creative kind about inequality, oppression, waste. We’ve been warned about carbon in the atmosphere for forty years, yet we’re still subsidizing big oil and big coal. We hear that there is enough food for everyone on earth, yet we still have food banks and emergency drives for places like the Sahel in Africa. The writer of our next hymn ends with the line, “that all may be fed.” This is our prayer, our commitment, a reason for being here.
The point of worship is not to leave furious or anxious or complacent. There are plenty of those things around without us adding to them. So let’s talk about food and worry now. We hear that anxiety is on the rise in society, but it is not exactly new. The gospels deal with extensively with worry. They have Jesus meeting a lot of anxious people as he moved from place to place. Does the worry date from his day, or those of the gospel writers, or both? It’s a bit hard to know from the stories we have exactly what Jesus was encountering. He responds with stories about flowers and birds and how God looks after them.
And he’s doing what we hope our worship will do: naming the things, such as fretting, that can get in the way of our deep gratitude, or our deep hunger for a different world. Worse, worry is infectious. My anxiety can make you anxious. Or a whole roomful of people, even a whole nation. It can lead to blaming and bad behaviour. Plus, we feel helpless. Not good.
You don’t like to worry. You would rather not. But it’s hard to find the off switch. Jesus is not saying, “There, there,” as if an encouraging word from the right person could somehow make it all better. He’s tapping into a long, strong theme in the bible. “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield.” (Joel 2:21) The prophet Joel begins by talking to dirt about anxiety, then animals. Working up to humans: “O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God,” for God has given you what you need. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:26) They are tied together, did you notice that? Abundance of food, giving praise to God, and the end of shame. We need to eat, of course, but the other needs are just as real and just as great: to give–give praise, give thanks, give assistance, give affection–and to be able to hold our heads up.
I chatted this week with a man who is disgusted with himself. He was angry, and he was ashamed of the way he has been giving in to addiction. The whole time we talked he looked down. “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves,” says the psalmist. (Psalm 126:6) Tears dry, heads come up, smiles begin. It might take a whole season for those seeds to turn into sheaves, but joy is on its way. Sheaves of wheat, sure. We happen to have one here today, in case it’s been a while since you cut grain by hand and bound it into bundles. Wheat we can see. Other harvests can be a little more difficult to spot. Sheaves of satisfaction or sobriety. Sheaves of social change. Sheaves of climate justice. What seeds are you sowing in response to your deep sense of thankfulness? Whatever they are, that’s what going to come up. That’s the harvest you will get, we will get.

“Strive first for the realm of God and right actions, and all these things–food, clothes, the basics–will be given to you as well,” says the Teacher.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

“In love, God made them all” - September 30
Sermon - Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 18, Year B
Readings:  Genesis 1:20-22, 24-25; Psalm 104:24-35; Luke 12:22-31
Today is exciting. Many of us have our pets with us in a place we normally think of as a people place. This church is a bit different, though. There are pets in attendance most weeks, although generally they don’t worship with us. They just wait patiently at the back for owners to finish their complicated worship.
Do pets worship? Animals don’t need to worship. At least, not in the way we do. They don’t get themselves into complicated relationships with each other or the rest of creation like people do. People need worship times to remember their place in creation and get reminders about behaviour that contributes to the well being of the universe instead of taking away from it. Pets don’t gossip, they don’t burn fossil fuels, they don’t make weapons of mass destruction. Although the owners of kittens and puppies do wonder about the amazing destructive power of those little claws and those brand new teeth. Animals worship their creator just by being themselves.
What pets do for people is well known now. They lower our blood pressure and help us cope with our lives. They make our children healthier because they bring germs into the home, germs we need to encounter is our early years to our bodies get used to our environment. They bring much joy to hospitals and seniors’ residences. They let us love them. We’re social animals, too: we need to hang out with other creatures, human or otherwise, and love them.
So far we have been talking about animals. It’s time to talk to them. The first thing we have to say to you is, We’re sorry. It’s people who are killing the coral reefs by changing the acidity of the ocean, wiping out whole fisheries, cutting down the forest homes of all manner of birds, animals and insects. When people got to this continent twelve or fourteen thousand years ago, there were species of giant animals–cats, bison, mammoths, antelope and camel-type creatures, a giant beaver, a giant condor–that are now gone. Then Europeans arrived five hundred years ago with their guns and other technology, and posed new threats to creatures and whole species. We have to wake up to the damage we are doing.
People may say they honour the bible, but we don’t take it seriously. We haven’t really listened to the story of creation where it keeps saying God pronounces each new stage of creation good. It’s a beautiful story, revealing that everything is holy. And what God calls good, people who follow the bible might respect much more than we do. You animals, by contrast, seem to coexist with plants and other creatures. Now there are more rabbits and now there are more foxes feeding on rabbits, but it’s never all rabbits or all foxes. Somehow you balance it out. We humans have so much to learn, from our scriptures, from scientists, and from you in order to figure out a sustainable relationship with creation.

A person who contemplated nature and what could be learned from it was Jesus. He spent a good deal of his ministry outdoors, it seems, moving about the country, and also teaching and healing on hillsides and in village squares. In the story we heard from Luke’s gospel, he’s at it again. This time he’s talking about worry and why it isn’t necessary. He tells people to look at birds. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.” (Luke 12:22-23) So in this story it’s ravens.

Another time it was sparrows. The people who are here may know that story. We don’t hear Jesus talking about pets, exactly, but there is this one story. A few weeks ago we heard the story about how dogs get scraps, crumbs that fall from the children’s table, so it seems there were dogs hanging around the house. Sounds like you dogs haven’t changed much in two thousand years, either–still checking under the table for something tasty.

Have we changed, we humans, I mean? Some of us think we can leave Jesus’ teaching behind now that we’re so modern with our cell phones and other gadgets. But we still worry. We still squabble. We still think too little of ourselves sometimes. Or too much. We need to contemplate you animals even more now, in the twenty-first century.

You animals remind us all that the blessing in the beginning wasn’t just for us, for humans. Everything, everyone, is made in love. “O God, how manifold are your works!,” says the psalmist. “In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalm 104:24) How hard is that to remember? We are made in wisdom. All of us. The earth is full of the creatures of the Holy One. Why would we worry, or squabble, or wreck the only planet we have?

So pets and their humans: the goal is to make all our relationships as profound and satisfying and enduring as the relationship you have with each other. You pay attention to each other. You love each other. You take care of each other. Time to make that the model for all our relationships. So many things can divide us if we let them. Love can bring us together. So many things can bring us down. Love can bring us back. So many things can hurt us. Love can heal us, and all creation. And when we have love, we want to sing and rejoice and bless.

Let’s give the last word to the psalmist: “I will sing to God as long as I live;

               I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

May my meditation be pleasing to God,

               for I rejoice in the Lord.

Bless the Creator, O my soul.” (Psalm 104:33, 35)