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, 29 November 2012

What’s Next?   - Jim McKibbin, Mission Developer, Toronto Southeast  Presbytery, United Church of Canada  -  November 25, 2012

In the lectionary which defines the church year this is Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday in the church calendar.  And it begs the question, “What’s next?” Next week we begin a new church year as we celebrate the first Sunday of advent. 

For me Advent brings its own theological challenges.  It is a season of anticipation, of waiting expectation and preparation for the coming of Jesus.  That time before the coming looms it seems as a time of confusion as we well might wonder what the waiting is for?  What does it mean?  And it’s during Advent that we address those questions and begin to understand how to live out the message of and celebrate the humanity of Jesus, this individual who came into our midst and spoke and lived the word of God. 

But we’re not there yet.  That’s next week. 

And last week we heard that same Jesus preaching apocalypse.  You may remember the phrase “All will be thrown down.” 

And that leaves us here, in between the apocalypse and the beginning at Reign of Christ Sunday with these scriptural reflections on Jesus, who is described in the passage from Revelation as “first born of the dead”.  We are told “Look! He is coming in the clouds” and “every eye will see him.”   

And we also have this second passage where we hear Jesus utter the phrase ‘my kingdom is not from this world’.  Now it is in the interpretation of these texts that we encounter a central fundamental theological challenge of literalism versus metaphor.       

And on Reign of Christ Sunday that challenge becomes a question as to whether we should look back or ahead.  Do we look back and anticipate the second coming of Jesus to save us or look forward to the nativity?   

We have some looking backwards last words from David in our text from Second Samuel.  He describes his ‘inspired utterance … anointed by the God of Jacob.”  And later says, “If my house was not right with God surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant… (later) and grant me my every desire.”

There may be other interpretations of this scripture but I can’t help but see some David grandiosity in all those words.  A little too much all about me! I am not sure reading this whether it is praise for God or David? 

And behind all of that I am troubled by shades of Empire. 

Now when we combine the Second Samuel with the Psalm for this week we get a clearer picture of what is for me a significant theological question on how God works. 

We didn’t read all of Psalm 132.  It is quite long. But I am going to read a couple of phrases from it to demonstrate what I am describing.   It begins with a caution to Good “Lord remember, David and all his self-denial....  and later, “Do not reject your anointed one.  And then we read that the Lord, who has chosen Zion says, “I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor I will satisfy with food and I will clothe his enemies with shame.”

So here we have a God who chooses sides: a God who chooses who to provide abundance to and who not too.

And that’s where it gets troubling.  We are to understand that those without abundance have therefore not been chosen by God.   God has chosen others not them.  Their poverty is from God. 

Now often accompanying this theology is an equally mystifying concept.  First you have the belief that God chooses people to help and not others then you have the mantra that “God helps those who help themselves.” 

As good as that sounds, it does serve to create the notion that if you try hard God will help you. And if God chooses to help you then you will receive abundance. But doesn’t it also implicitly mean that if you don’t have abundance that you have a) not been chosen by God and b) haven’t tried hard enough because if you had tried hard enough to help yourself God would have helped you and you would have received abundance.          

Now for me that’s a double whammy about God that I don’t like.  It seems to say: ‘Your poverty is your fault.  Those in abundance are favoured by God – unlike you who are unworthy.’   

So for me this is dangerous theology. It ascribes to God human character traits like favouritism and pragmatism.     

And it simply doesn’t come down on the side of truth as Jesus so eloquently said to Pilate.   

Poverty does not come from God.  It is systemic and it comes from the God of Caesar – the God of the Market – the God of Empire. 

And so does abundance!  Now that may sound sacrilegious or even anti-Christian but I think these questions are worth thinking about.   

Many of us through daily prayer thank God for the abundance in our lives and it worth considering as we do this exactly what it is we are praying about.  

In a real world sense we know poverty does not come from God.  In spite of the declarations and determination of the chief priests of empire, who speak of making things right with poverty, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, as it has over the decades.  This is not just some mistake.   

Only those who are wilfully blind would disagree that the system is designed to produce the results it is getting.  In our society the acquisition of abundance and relegation to poverty has everything to do with empire and nothing to do with God. 

In an article in this month’s United Church Observer accommodation requirements for Out of the Cold programs nationally are up.  Way up considering we have had a number of mild winters in recent years.  

And you, in this congregation, who began a temporary food bank some 30 years ago during a severe recession, and a time of extremely high mortgage interest rates, you, have seen your outreach program become institutionalized along with many others. Food bank use is at high levels.  

So we see that change is on our doorstep.  We can resist it but it is not stopping. 

Like many neighbouring churches the threshold of change presents itself.  But there is no looking backward for this United Church of ours.        

We are a church which adapts ourselves over time.  We change.  Our response to the call of God is prayerfully discerned in community with one another. 

Last Tuesday, I attended a Presbytery meeting where a discussion took place about the General Council’s decision to boycott goods and services produced in the illegal Israel Settlements.  Much of the discussion was about who we are as a church and it was clear that there was deep sentiment for what the United Church stood for.  

This is a strength of the church: that we consider questions prayerfully but also act on those decisions.  The church responds to the call of God in the circumstances in which it finds itself.  It is perhaps a distinguishing feature of our church.

Certainly our critics recognize it as a distinguishing feature.  There are those who wish we would just remain silent, both inside and outside the church. 

But the church’s prophetic voice is welcomed by the people of God.        

And we have seen that time and time again particularly in the last 40 years.  Our activism as a people of God has meant that we don’t just talk the talk we walk it as well. 

In my work with east end churches there is sentiment for more collaborative work amongst lay people in support of the ongoing presence of the church regionally: its programs and most of all its clarion voice.      

So where does that leave us?  We’re at the threshold of the threshold it would seem a still point pregnant with the question of what the Rein of Christ means now, here.  And the answer to looking backward for Jesus to come and save us or forward to living out the reality of the nativity, is perhaps best addressed by John Dominic Crossan in his book God and Empire where he writes:  “The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen soon, violently, or literally. The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with its divine presence.”

In church we have a choice to lament the past and what was or be midwives of change.  

Perhaps in other words, on Reign of Christ Sunday, we are invited to remember that the “Kingdom of God” or “Reign of God” — to which Jesus constantly pointed — is as fully available to us here and now and always as it was 2,000 years ago. The question that remains today is whether we will choose to live as if the one who reigns is not Caesar, but God. 

Thanks be to God.


Monday, 19 November 2012

“Provoked into love” - November 18, 2012
Pentecost 25, Year B
Readings: (1 Samuel 1:4–20); 1 Samuel 2:1–10; Hebrews 10:19–25; Mark 13:1–8
Samuel is born to Hannah and Eli.
Time to pause for a while to contemplate where we are in year one hundred and six. Time to draw back and look at the big picture on the one hand, and look within on the other. The anniversary of this church. Our family tree has to be looked at under the ground, as well as above. Our roots are complicated, like the roots of any tree. If you take a picture of the place, they don’t show. You can’t see all the churches nestled within this one, all the generations sharing the pews with us.
Nor can an observer see all the ripples that have been fanning out into the neighbourhood and beyond for all these years, most of them good. Ripples of laughter, of caring, of prophetic anger. People passing the building project things onto it, and us. People who know or knew someone who comes here, either to worship, or for theatre, or a children’s program, or for food, and get a sense of what this place means to the world.
A church is not static, not simply a lump of brick and mortar. It like a magnifying glass, concentrating spiritual power into a focus. It is classroom, inviting people into deeper awareness of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. It is a laboratory, allowing people to explore new-old ways to be in the world. It is a dance studio, encouraging us all to learn how to move in relation to each other, and to the Spirit of the dance. It is factory for hard work and piercing visions. It is a sandbox, a climbing structure, a salon.
Or if you came from the Palestine of Jesus’ day, it is a nod to the Temple in Jerusalem, where God lived in the terrifying and exhilarating Holy of Holies, deep within. Where people came from all over the world to breathe in the sanctity, remind themselves of the wholly Other, the deity who could not be portrayed, and who was aligned with no king or empire. Where a steady plume of smoke rose up from the giant basin where parts of birds and animals were burned to send a fragrant offering to the heavens.
The temple was an interface between the sacred and the secular, what the Celts might call “a thin place.” This church is to resemble the Temple in that regard, if not the herds, the flocks,  the cages, the smells, the flames, and the fear factor. The author of Hebrews is working hard to make links between temple worship and Christian faith, seeing in Jesus a replacement for the Temple, the high priest, the sacrifices in every way, only better than all of them. All the gore comes as a bit of shock to us. It’s so remote from our everyday experience.
Meanwhile, we hear Jesus talking about the destruction of the Temple. Herod the Great rebuilt and expanded the 500 year old structure wanting a legacy in vast architectural projects. It was brand new in his day, still being worked on, the gold and bronze ornamentation still shiny. Some of the giant foundation blocks weighed 600 tons. Then the centre of the faith was removed not long after it was finally completed, in the year 70, at the end of the Great Jewish Revolt, a sign of imperial Roman might, and a lesson to any would-be Judean nationalist. All that ritual gone, unnecessary, it turns out. The tribe of Levi unemployed now that no priests were needed to handle all the sacrifices and other business of the place. The business of the place: there were people who made their living by selling the special coins needed for one’s offering, the money changers. This interface between earth and heaven disappeared, to be replaced by...what? This is what we’ve been trying to figure out ever since.
Do we need a building to draw near to the sacred? Back at the beginning, Christians met in synagogues, sometimes at the riverside, then catacombs, and other hidey holes. Does all the business of church get in the way of the holy just the same as the business of the Temple did? How can we make a place like this transparent, less of a door, more of a window? How can we make our worship, our life together less of a hindrance and more of an avenue for a person hungry for transcendence? Is our mission consistent with Jesus’ mission, our fellowship an embodiment of the Christ?
What we’re after is the wildness, the satisfaction in Hannah’s song. We sang it this morning. Did you catch its radical nature? Everything is reversed. “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.” And on it goes: the childless, the rich and poor, the honoured and the needy, the faithful and the wicked. A pure, thrilling cry of incandescent anger, and the certainty that wickedness, inequality and privilege are doomed.
Has there been a church built, a system for religion set up, ever, that could contain such a Spirit? That’s the whole thing with the Spirit, isn’t it? That it blows where it wills. In warm countries, windows, doors and insulated walls are not important for a church. The walls are just to hold up the roof, so the place can be built to be open, breezy. We’re here, though, inside, in our one hundred and seventh year, with the boiler running and things shut up in the hopes of keeping a chill breeze out. All we can hope is that opening the metaphorical windows, the doors, the skylights, the shutters as wide as they’ll go will let that untamed Spirit blow through here.
Today we celebrate all the times it has. All the daring ventures, all the caring words and shoulders, and the sharing the Spirit has stirred up here. We give thanks for heroes in the faith from all the congregations woven into the tapestry that is Glen Rhodes. We bless their spirits, and the Spirit. We set up our kites, unfurl our wings, hoist our sails and wait for that fresh breeze that will lift us up, carry us off toward...who knows where? We wait for the Spirit.
In the meantime, we are not exactly passive. Did you catch the end of the Hebrew reading? This is the Gordie Howe verse in the bible. Gordie Howe was famous for his sharp jabs along the boards. Hebrews says to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. Check. And while we’re waiting for Hannah’s day of surprises we have a Gordie-type job to do with our elbows, apparently. The author of Hebrews tells his readers to “provoke one another to love and good works.” (Heb. 10:24) The Greek verb for provoke also means to incite, stimulate, irritate. Like a jab in the ribs. This is great. No sitting around hoping or praying someone, someone else, will get busy, be loving. No, we’re busy nudging each other. Or something. What does it take to get the best out of you? Flattery, cajoling, tears? Now to that list of places a church resembles, add hockey rink. Watch yourself in the corners.
No. Scratch that. Go into the corners, and take those elbows and butt ends. Your sisters and brothers are just doing their job, provoking you. And if you are the polite, retiring sort of person who would rather die than jostle someone else, consider empowering your inner Gordie for a change, doing a little provoking of your own.
The needs in the world for Christ-like ministry are not going down. Far from it. Team Glen Rhodes is needed in the bigger game. On Sundays we have our team meeting, go over our plays, rehearse the importance of team work. On Monday we get in the game, as individuals, as groups, as a whole church. At home, on the street, at work or school, in the media, with our various groups.
The game analogy breaks down quickly when we think about the consequences for so many others in the world who don’t have homes, or safety, or freedom, or food, or a chance for an education, or a dependable climate anymore. It’s not a game for them. They can only sing Hannah’s song, and wait some fantastic reversal of fortune that will bring down their oppressors.
Love and good deeds. If we tried to list all your love and good deeds of the last week, we’d be here until next Sunday, and still not finish. None of us are perfect. I’m not trying to say that. We have our moments. But we meet together, and we encourage one another, as Hebrews instructs. It’s possible we can be an even better team, and we’re working on that, always.      
Let me illustrate with a story. Bob goes with his friend, a comedian, to a comedian's meeting. When they get there, one of the men stands up and shouts out "34!” and all the other comedians laugh hysterically. Bob turns to his friend and says "I don't get what was so funny!” and his friend explains to him that the Comedians' Guild has assigned each joke a number to make them easier to tell.
All through dinner, the members of the Guild stand up and say numbers, and every time, everyone laughs, so Bob decides to give it a try. He stands up, and shouts out his favorite number: "54!" Dead silence.
Bob sits down, turns to his friend and asks "What did I do wrong? When ever you do it, they laugh!" And his friend answered, "You didn't tell it well." We have to tell our story well. It’s not just laughs we’re after, although we enjoy that too. We have such a great story to tell. We might as well tell it well. And at this early part of century number two, we have so much to celebrate. Enjoy the anniversary. Enjoy the thin places. Get those elbows up.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

“Our quarrel with the foe”  - November 11, 2012

Pentecost 24, Year B    Remembrance Day

Readings: Ruth 3:1–5; 4:13–17; Psalm 127; (Hebrews 9:24–28); Mark 12:38–44

 Remembrance Day carries so many different memories for all of us. We have such different relationships to the two major conflicts of the Western world in the 20th century, and all the other hostilities. Perhaps we remember the Second World War and its leadup and followup and combatants and all the feelings. Perhaps reflection on military matters brings back recollections of a later war: tear gas, love beads, draft dodgers, deep social divisions, or Desert Storm, IEDs, Taliban, schools for girls. The national flag, the national anthem, the Last Post–cause for weeping for some, embarrassment, anger, or apathy for others. High schools full of another generation of young people summoned to attend to adult memories from before their birth, aged veterans with their shopping bags of memorabilia, the poppy poem.
The walls of this church are covered with plaques bearing the names of those who served in one or other of the two big conflicts from many different east Toronto congregations. Young people–young men, mostly–who signed up for many different reasons, with many different results: overseas service, or Canadian, fighting forces or support, injured, killed or unscathed, terrified by war, or turned on, full of amusing yarns or haunted by traumatic memories. So we remember. The plaques don’t show those left behind when young people marched away, the complicated life on the home front.

All those affected by the First War prayed that it would be the war to end all wars, so horrific were the tactics and the carnage. As a result of it, biochemical weapons were banned from the battlefield. One side won that war, but everybody lost the peace, and in twenty years, the guns were booming and barking again, to regain lost dignity, to reassert dominance. So more plaques were made and hung on more church walls. More battles and dates were carved into cenotaphs marking strife.

This time we did the peace differently. So far, so good, for three generations, if we ignore the list of ongoing conflicts we heard here back on Peace Sunday. Now new tensions are testing Europe once again. How united will those nations prove to be as the economic situation worsens and everyone is tempted to look out for themselves? As neo-fascist movements gain ground, and those deemed different are scapegoated once again?

Remember. So much to remember. Propaganda campaigns on all sides succeed in whipping up support for combat. Everyone is recruited to do their bit. A terrible blow today, a stunning victory the next. A long-running far away football game with the line of scrimmage moving back and forth over months and years–Maginot, Ypres, the Somme, Dieppe, Boulogne, the Ardenne, Monte Cassino. Society suddenly organized for a common cause as never before. Other people moving into the paid workforce for the first time. A daycare system and unemployment insurance are suddenly created, only to disappear when hostilities end. And as always, certain people getting rich by producing material.

How to sort out the memories? What to learn from it all? “What they could do with 'round here is a good war.” Bertholt Brecht, the German poet, playwright and theatre director, being sardonic. “What else can you expect with peace running wild all over the place? You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization.”

War certainly takes organization. One of the veterans of the Canadian contingent to Afghanistan was contrasting his life there, on the front lines, with his peace time life now in response to a reporter’s questions. He notes how the imperative of combat pushed the usual priorities for an adult into the background. Paying taxes, work, children, the messy stuff of peace all superseded by the urgent need to do this adrenalin-filled job while trying to avoid dying. Another German, Thomas Mann, the German novelist, shares Brecht’s conclusion about war: “War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.”

The problems of peace. The problems all around us. Jobs, justice, pollution, resources, sexism, drugs, mental illness, all illness, the search for dignity. Bullying, homophobia, poverty, wealth–the list goes on. Very messy, very persistent. Have we structured our society so that we can address them to honour those who fought for freedom? Have we reached the limits of democracy, or have we barely tried it yet?

Who is the foe, and what is the quarrel? The poet was talking about the conflict of his day, of course. 1915. McCrae didn’t know when he wrote it that he would be among the dead mere months later, handing the torch on to others to hold it high as poppies blow between the crosses, row on row.

The question lives, though. If we encounter a foe big enough, don’t just quarrel, declare war on it– poverty, drugs, terror. Marshall all resources to combat it. Override normal rules and rights. Organize all sectors. Achieve victory. Rest. It must be tempting, in a country such as the United States which has been at war almost continuously since it was founded by war, where the President is also the Commander-in-Chief, to see every problem from a military point of view, always solvable by a war.

What are the options? What would people who have a bible and a love for God, self and others have to offer in place of an us-against-them approach? Where does prayer, or communion, or singing fit into desperate conflicts, when two sides are reaching for arrows, or spears, or small arms, or nukes? We have our stories to offer. Stories that reveal a different vision of how things could be, are meant to be. Stories about women today, as it happens. Ruth and the least coin woman. Ruth the foreigner, the Moabite, the foe. Least coin woman observed by an itinerant teacher and preacher. Ruth the hero of a beautiful story developed to make a point about faithfulness and exclusion. Copper coin woman praised to teach about faithfulness and status.

The book of Ruth comes after the Exile, when Hebrew society was inclined on the one hand to see itself as exceptional, different, exclusive. “Divorce your foreign partners! Racial purity! No consorting!” On the other hand, some people imagined Israel as “a blessing in the midst of the earth,” and “a light to the nations.” (Isaiah 19:24, 42.6) Ruth, the foreigner, resolves conflict through her imagination and her courage. Her Jewish husband has died before any children were born. Her husband’s brother has also died, also childless. Who will bear children for the family? Her mother-in-law, Naomi, goes home. Ruth goes with her, and we get a tender love story between Ruth and a well-to-do cousin, Boaz. In the end, they marry, and Ruth has a child at last. Not just any child, but the grandfather of David, Israel’s greatest king.

The story is about racial tolerance. It’s about how love and loyalty are intermingled with each other, and better than hatred or hostility.

The story about the widow and her small coins is a bit different. What is sacrifice, really? What is the foe for this poor widow? How does she go about the quarrel with it? Jesus is aware that for the decision makers in his day God’s dream of world of dignity for all is the foe. Jesus’ allies in working for this dream, this vision are here and there, unlikely people. Widows, hated tax collectors, foreigners, people with severe physical or mental challenges, those who have downsized in a changing 1st century economy, or I think the phrase we use now is going through workforce adjustment.

They don’t fight fire with fire, fear with fear. The people Jesus learns from, admires, imitates, resist peacefully, with their heads up. They may not “smile, smile, smile” as the old song goes, but neither do they threaten violence, or demonize those who cling to a different vision. They practice good stewardship: in the story about Ruth, we find her in Boaz’ fields harvesting the portion that God insists belongs to those without land. We catch sight of Copper Coin Woman as she takes her only two coins, lepta, they were called, off her headdress and put them both into the treasury. She’s making a total commitment.

That leaves us. Who is the foe for us, for you? How did that start, and how long has it been going on? Is it boredom, depression, some substance, a relative, a social system, yourself? And how is the quarrel going? Who is on your side? What is your strategy, what are your tactics? How do you gain from Jesus’ example, or Ruth’s, or Least Coin Woman’s? Is there anything you would not do, any tactic you would not use in your struggle? Why? Is there any way to befriend your foe, any bridge across the divide you have not tried yet? And how much do you need the quarrel in your life because it’s an escape from other problems?

Remembrance Day. A day not to forget. A day to learn from the past. A day to honour those who gave their all. A day to honour the power of the foe, and to admit the capacity we all have to be the foe. A day for trumpets and a day for silence. A day for tears and a day for hopeful smiles. “Be yours to hold it high.” Does that mean take up the same techniques, the same propaganda, the same goal as those who are passing the torch to us? Or do we have permission to depart from the way they quarrelled? To remember the future differently.

This is the part where you allow to yourself that the quarrel may be more than you can handle alone. That you need allies, a plan, and most of all, a vision of a different future. A dream that grabs you and fills your horizon, that gives you energy to reframe the quarrel, to move on from win-lose to another way of being in the world. This is the part where you accept that you are a person of dignity. That’s what pours out of the stories about two long-ago women today–their dignity in the face of adversity, their confidence that non-violence is the better, the sustainable, the sacred, the only real way to go. Learn from them.

Non-violence: no violent thoughts about yourself or others, no violent decisions, no violent language, no acceptance of violence on the part of others. A total commitment. What do they say at the poker table? All in. A pledge to make this Remembrance Day.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

“The quests of life” - November 4, 2012
Pentecost 23, Year B   All Saints
Readings: Ruth 1:1–18; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:11–14; Mark 12:28–34  
“Oh, when the saints...go marchin’ in.” I remember belting this one out at day camp and camp fires as a youngster. “O Lord, I want to be in that number...” Later I heard about other times it is sung, specifically, New Orleans’ funerals, the ones with the band out in front of the mourners on the walk to and from the cemetery. On the way there, When the Saints is played slowly, as a dirge. On the way back to town, it is played fast, as a march, to lift people’s spirits, and to signal hope, confidence in a loving presence that gathers in the saints.
The song is a classic. I hope it is still being sung by groups of youngsters somewhere, at the top of their lungs. Because it’s important to think forward, so to speak, to imagine my place at some future time, and When the Saints gives us that chance. It doesn’t hurt that it has a catchy melody and that great syncopation. Will I be in the company of saints, or not? It is a way of imagining my life as a quest.
I’m no expert on capital S saints. I don’t know all their stories. I have a feeling no one puts down as their life goal to be a saint. Some people get started on a faithful activity, though, and before they know it, they’re up to their necks. All the way in. They can’t stop, even though for many saints, faithfulness has had a high cost. Often their very lives. The picture on our bulletin comes from a story called “How to Become a Saint in Ten Steps, in the Catholic Church, that is”  by a Fr. James Martin on a web site called Beliefnet.
According to Martin, the first step rules out most of us, at least from becoming an official saint: being Catholic. The third step is not one we may want to happen soon: you have to die. Most of the later steps are a bit bureaucratic. It’s the second step in Fr. Martin’s article I like, after being Catholic and before dying. “Now comes the hard part,” he writes: “live a holy Christian life full of ‘heroic virtue.’ In other words, be a real Christian, and not just a person who says he's a Christian but doesn't act like one. Take the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount (and the rest of the Gospels for that matter) seriously. Be charitable, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Give generously to the poor. Devote your life to God even when it's hard—especially when it's hard....By the way,” he adds, “remember that your holiness is a gift from God. You can work hard at it, but ultimately it is a ‘grace’ or a ‘gift.’ Don't forget who is in charge. And it's not you.”
Heroic virtue. Holiness. It’s awkward to talk about them anywhere else but here in church. If I am trying to live a life of heroic virtue for the sake of the Good News, let’s say, I wreck what I’m trying to do, namely point beyond myself to another source of goodness, values, hope, love, if my own life becomes the subject of discussion. Now my ego is involved. And not in a good way. Swelling of the head and all that. We need Fr. Martin’s reminder that holiness is gift, that we’re not in charge.
But we can talk about holiness all day today, as we commemorate All Saints day last Thursday. We have to talk about it. You’re not here because the seats are so good, and the coffee so exotic, good though it is. There are better seats and fancier coffee elsewhere. You’re not here to impress the neighbours. Not because you don’t have other things to do.

You are aiming for heroic virtue, if you would admit it to yourself. You crave holiness in your quiet way. Not stained glass holiness, not high social standing, not widespread recognition for your goodness. True holiness. The gutsy kind. The get-it-done-no-matter-who-gets-the- credit kind. The shared tears and shared laughter kind. Blue jeans, not silk and satin. Hands in the dish water. Something keeps drawing you here, to this place and these people, sure, but to this quest. When hear the story of the guy talking about the greatest commandment, you perk up. The story is all about love–love of others, love of God, love of self. And that clicks for you.

The other night at our Wednesday evening service we contemplated two of the women with photographs on the wall in the Barbara Christie Room among a nice collection of women we remember. A candidate for a very high office got himself into some difficulty recently talking about binders full of women so we have to be careful not to say we have a wall of women. If you haven’t stopped recently, pause some time to remember the people pictured there. On Wednesday evening, we heard a little about Barbara Christie and Louise Scott from people who remembered their lives. What made them so admired? What personal qualities did they have? We don’t have a way of keeping track of spiritual heroes, either as congregations, or as the United Church.

Judging by the group gathered for evening worship, we’re not sure we need to. Maybe every generation needs its own heroes, not a big list preserved from generations gone by.

If Barbara and Louise and the others are saints for some of us, it is not because they can somehow help our prayers get to God’s ears in heaven. It’s because they inspire our lives here on earth. You may have heard the classic description of saints, supposedly from a child at story time at a church somewhere, some time. The person leading the children’s time was asking about saints and pointing out the images in the stained glass windows of that church. The child’s astute definition of a saint: a person the light shines through.

We all have people like that for us. People through whom light shines for us, showing us how much light there is, for one thing. And illuminating our world for another: shining light on what is most important and how to struggle for it. Nudging us. Making us wonder if we have our priorities right yet. Giving us a vision of something fine, something right, something good.

Our readings this morning talk about sacrifice, something of deep interest when we’re talking about holiness and virtue. In the gospel, an unnamed scribe agrees with Jesus that love God, love your neighbour is the most important commandment. How much so? “...much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” (Mk. 12:33) When I go to offer an animal as a sacrifice, I might have to scrimp and save to buy it, but the animal makes most of the sacrifice. On my behalf, somehow. This is such a crucial little window into the tension between the official religion of Jesus’ day, centred on the temple, and how rituals at temple in Jerusalem were supposed to bring one closer to God, contrasted with synagogue worship, where people gathered to hear the word read and prayers offered in local settings.

Then there is the letter to Hebrews. The intended audience of this anonymous letter were Jewish people who had joined the Jesus movement, and were now losing heart, some of them going back to Judaism. The author does an extended contrast of the two faiths, claiming Christianity is superior in every way. In chapter 9, sacrifice is the topic. Does anyone need to sacrifice goats and calves now that Jesus has shed his blood as the final, once-and-for-all sacrifice? No, says the author of the letter. Animal blood has limited capacity for purification. But contrast that with the blood of Jesus, offered “to purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Heb. 9:14) Too much talk about blood for many of us in a world that has managed to put many basic aspects of daily life out of sight. But theologically, this is a crucial issue. The author calls Jesus the new high priest. His readers would have in mind the Jewish high priest, and know about Levites and the practices at the temple. For people who grew up Jewish, it’s a good comparison. The writing is powerful.

But did Jesus think of himself in this way? Did he imagine becoming the sacrifice to end all sacrifices? Did he think of his blood as being important to his followers somehow, himself as the new, the actual, the real high priest? Both the letter to the Hebrews and the gospel of Mark are thought to come from around the time of the temple’s destruction. Hebrews perhaps just before the temple was destroyed by the Romans in what we call the year 70 of the Common Era, and Mark likely just after. Two important Christian texts, in other words, with very different understandings of how one gets closer to one’s true purpose, closer to God, closer to holiness. On the one hand, Jesus’ suffering and death on a cross has done it for you. On the other, your loving behaviour is involved, even if it leads to suffering.

In other words, these two scriptures are having an argument. People who had to decide what writings to include in the New Testament had a dilemma. They put them both in. In their opinion, both had something to offer to people in their day. We are always having to decide what our own testament is. So you have a decision. Not just today, but in your life of faith. Does suffering lead to holiness, or does holiness lead to suffering? Do they have to go together? Is baptism necessarily into a life of pain of one kind or another?

The mission statement of this congregation concludes with inspiring words about how we will do mission together, “with compassion, fun and laughter.” Are we kidding ourselves? What if fun and laughter are incompatible with compassion, or justice? Heaven help us if that’s true. Those words belong in our mission statement even if self-denial and love of God and other come with a cost. The most fun we can have with our clothes on comes from the sense that we are fully committed to a worthy cause. On a quest, together.

The quest for faithfulness, virtue, a world of respect and radical hospitality will outlast us all. We don’t know when the saints will go marchin’ in. We aren’t in a hurry to join that great cloud of witnesses, but when we do, what great company to be in.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

“Seek peace and pursue it”
Peace Sunday - October 28, 2012
A Glen Rhodes skit by Renate Schober with collaboration of Rose Harvey and Robin Wardlaw, written for Peace Sunday, 2012, to bring attention to the need for reconciliation and collaboration both internationally and within continents, countries, cities and individuals who make up our world. The skit highlights the need for peace on each of the seven continents: Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, Australia and the Oceanic, North America, and the Antarctica.
“Seek peace and pursue it” presents three characters: a Journalist; the Voice of the People; and a Priest. They will teach, reflect and preach Jesus’ gospel of peace and offer witness against all forms of violence and war. At the end of this skit, you will have a chance to participate during the hymn, either by saying “Peace” in a different language using the small handout sheets in the pews this morning, or by mounting the word “Peace” on the board here at the front.
 Priest:  For some, peace represents a world free of violent conflict that stems from ethnic, cultural, religious, or political differences. To others, the promotion of democracy, justice and human rights are additional and equally important factors of peace. Negative peace is the absence of war and violence. Positive peace extends this definition by insisting on the promotion of social justice.
·         On the continent of Africa, 24 countries are involved in conflict, as well as 107 militias-guerrillas, separatist groups and anarchic groups.
·         Hot spots are Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Puntland, Somalia, and Somaliland. Added to these are Cote d’Ivoire (or the Ivory Coast), Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Rwanda.
·         According to reports on May 12, 2010, there have been over 9 million refugees and internationally displaced people from conflicts in Africa. Hundreds and thousands of people have been slaughtered in bloody conflicts and civil wars. In the Ivory Coast, a million people are thought to have fled their homes, of which about 100,000 have crossed into neighbouring Liberia. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what human rights observers have found to be mass human rights violations. If this scale of destruction and fighting was in Europe, then people would be calling it World War III.
·         AIDS in Africa is said to be killing more people than conflicts. As well, 12 million people are in dire need of food, clean water, and basic sanitation.
Voice of the People (Eve)
·         I am a woman from Cote d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast). Last year, I fled with my children to a refugee camp in Liberia. Ambassadors from the United Nations visited our camp last week. I told them we had to flee because armed gangs were threatening our neighbourhood. There have been rapes and killings.I was scared, scared for my children.

·         My husband worked in the Diamond industry. He worked in the mines, 14 hours a day, for little pay. He did not say much about his work conditions, except it was better for me to not know. Gangs asked him to participate in diamond smuggling. He refused and, one day, he did not come home from work. I think he was killed. This is when we fled to Liberia. I am alone with my three children.
·         I pray that God will lead me back home to my country. It is my country of birth. I want my children to grow up in my home country. I want them to go to school, I want them to have a better life, I want them to live in peace.
·         I do not know whether God hears me, and sometimes I forget he is there. But I am surviving; I need to survive for my children.
International Day of Peace was established by the United Nations Resolution in 1981 to be observed for the first time in September of 1982. The resolution declares that this Day be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day. By 2012, the United Nations included a call for efforts to achieve the easing of tensions and causes of conflict, and efforts to achieve nonviolent endings to conflicts around the world. Also included are efforts to care for the environment as an essential element in achieving the sustainability of peace.
Thanksgiving for Light and Peace:
Let us pray for women such as Eve
and all the others in Africa affected by conflict and war.
·         In Asia, 15 countries and 87 militias-guerrillas, separatist groups and anarchic groups are involved in conflict. Added to these are 8 countries in the Middle East, where 91 militia-guerrillas and separatist groups are active in conflict and violence.
·         Hot spots are Afghanistan, Burma-Myanmar, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Yemen.

·         Following the September 11th 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre, the US, United Kingdom, and Australia formed “Operation Enduring Freedom” and invaded Afghanistan a month later. Since 2001, the United States has deployed 101,000 troops to Afghanistan. 2,000 soldiers have died. Over a thousand NATO troops have also died. 25,000 Canadians were deployed and 158 have died. In addition, Afghan civilian deaths are more than 20,000 people. Most were killed by NATO-allied air combat missions, and by Taliban suicide and insurgent attacks. For the United States, the total project cost relating to Afghanistan from inception to the year 2011 is expected to be $468 billion. On May 21, 2012, NATO announced an exit strategy. Combat will be replaced by advising, training and assisting the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its president, Hamid Karzai, to build a credible police and security force under democratically elected leadership.
Voice of the People (Raheel)
·         I am from Kabul, Afghanistan. I fled violence in my country, and went to get help in a refugee camp in Pakistan. I spent two years in the camp, and was then allowed to immigrate to Canada. I first lived in a shelter. Then I moved to Flemingdon Park here in Toronto, where many Afghan people have settled. I am Muslim and I am able to practice my faith here. I have some friends, who are also immigrants from Afghanistan – we share the same language and culture, and this makes me feel like I am home. But I am careful even with people from my own country. Some of them belong to a different Muslim faction; back home there is conflict between different Muslim groups. I try to stay safe.
·         I have some bad memories. I remember the day my younger sister was killed. There was a bomb that exploded, and she was right there when it happened. When I saw her lying on the street, her brain was outside her head. She was dead. I miss her. I pray to Allah, and I believe he is testing my faith.
·         All my family is back in Kabul. I am here alone. I am on welfare, and I volunteer at a local community centre. I do not have money to pay for an education. Perhaps I will be able to find work somewhere. I will try the best I can. I want to bring my mother to Canada. This is my dream. I miss Afghanistan.
At the 38th General Council in 2003, the United Church named six core pillars that sustain peace and justice: equitable global economic development; promotion of human rights; democratic governance; a healthy, sustainable physical environment; war prevention and peace building; and arms control and disarmament agreements. In 2006 at the 39th General Council, a $1 million peace fund was established to support peace initiatives in Palestine and Israel. At a subsequent meeting, the Executive of the General Council decided to expand the initiative to a $2 million fund to support peace work in all parts of the Globe, including in Canada. Several projects have been funded, but the peace fund is still well short of its goal.
Let us pray for Raheel and all those exiled from their homes by the threat of violence.
South America
·         In the South Americas, conflict is active in five countries and between 24 drug cartels, militias-guerrillas, separatist groups and anarchic groups.
·         Hot spots are Columbia and Mexico
·         Columbia, like many of its neighbours, is a nation of deep social inequalities and rampant human rights abuses. It has hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people.
·         Land ownership issues are at the heart of Columbia’s conflict, which is funded by Cocaine trafficking and far-right militias. They have colluded with a military widely questioned for human rights abuses. The country grapples with insurgencies and drug trafficking.
·         Behind much of the conflict is a terrorist organization known as FARC from its initials F.A.R.C. FARC has been involved in the forced enlistment of minors, kidnapping of children for ransom, the sexual exploitation of female recruits, horrific urban bombings, rape, executions, and extortion. The government, in turn, has been accused of “state-sponsored violence” and “the crime of capitalism and neo-liberalism” in its pursuit of insurgents.
·         The Columbian government has negotiated over the past few decades with many insurgent and criminal groups. There was no resolution to the conflicts. This year, on October 18, 2012, Columbia’s lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle joined peace talks with FARC in Oslo. These talks will continue in Cuba later in November and there is, yet again, hope for peace.
Voice of the People (Fernando)
·         I speak for Columbia. I have served in the insurgent rebel group FARC for 10 years. I was recruited into the group in my teens, when I was experimenting with drugs and earned extra income through drug trafficking. I was able to support my family, and was proud of it.
·         Slowly, I gained the respect of the rebels and leaders. I was allowed to participate in kidnappings for ransom. This gave me a sense of power, of righting the wrongs done to my country. I stay close to my rebel group. They are my friends and family. We are fighting against inequality in land ownership and a deceptive government. These are my causes.
·         I am seeing less and less of my family. I don’t want them to know about all the things I do. And I don’t want to put them at risk. I want to secure their safety, and the only way to do that is to stay away, far away from the family that raised me. I still love my family.
·         I wonder about my future. Where will it take me? Will I marry? Will I have children? And how would I raise them? Will I always be with the rebels? If I leave, where would I go? I have no place to go. If I decided to leave, they would kill me. There is no return.
·         I was raised a Catholic, by a faithful mother and hard-working father who never got ahead in this world. I no longer have faith – where is this God, who promises to keep us safe and loved, and where is this Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins. I have died many times over. There is no way to turn back. Sometimes I ease the pain by using drugs. They make me feel good. They are my new heaven.
Let us pray for men like Fernando and all those caught up in the cycle of violence.
·         In Europe, 8 countries are involved in war, and 57 militias, separatist groups and anarchic group participate in violence and conflict.
·         Hot spots are Chechnya and Dagestan. The former Yugoslavia continues to experience ethnic conflict.
·         In the former Yugoslavia, local organizations and peacebuilders are attempting to build stable, peaceful societies, and much of their work focuses on improving relations between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims, Albanians, and Croats after the brutal violence they have suffered and inflicted on one another.
·         War in Bosnia saw the re-emergence of detention camps, systematic use of rape and mass rape, and large-scale massacres. This war left 2.2 million people displaced, and up to 100,000 dead. 10,000 people are still missing. The unemployment rate is at 40%, with widespread poverty, fertile ground to draw young men back into violence as a means of survival.
·         In 2013, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will hear cases against the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. They have been indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, and the ordering of massacres and genocide. It is hoped that the conviction of these men may contribute to peace and stability in the whole region.
Voice of the People    (Maria)
·         I am a Serbian woman from Bosnia. Although I am Serb, I was so frightened when I learned about the Srebrenica massacre against Bosnian Muslims. They call him “The Butcher of Bosnia” – he was a Serb, like me. I do not understand what happened. I no longer understand anything at all.

·         We had war in Bosnia. I lost my two sons. I miss them terribly. They were fighting for an independent Bosnia – I believe in an independent Bosnia, but I don’t believe in war.
·         Our economy is dead. I see children selling cigarettes in the streets. They support their families. There is sex-trafficking. Young girls are drawn into this business, and I have heard that some are sold as sex slaves. I don’t know how to protect my daughter. She is 19 years old and not married. I worry about her.
·         Mostly, I feel despair and fear. But often I feel nothing at all. I tried to keep my family together, but I couldn’t – both my sons are dead, and nothing will bring them back. I have also lost my brother and my husband’s brothers. We don’t know what happened to them. They are missing. There is so much sorrow, and I don’t know how to go on.
·          As a Serb, I am an Orthodox Christian. I attend church. Often I think that this war is like the crucifixion of Jesus. But for what sins have we died? And will our children benefit from our sacrifice? I believe in God, and I hope that he will keep my sons safe. I also hope that he will give me strength and lead our country to peace. But I’m not sure this will happen, and sometimes I am not sure about God at all.
Let us pray for Maria, and all those grieving the loss of loved ones.
Australia and Oceanic
·         This continent includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Volcanic Islands.
·         Australia topped the polls as the best country of the world in which to live.
·         British colonization of Australia started in about 1788. Today, there are only 400,000 Aboriginal people left in Australia.
·         The Aboriginees, as they are called, have come to face problems similar to those confronted by indigenous people in Canada and the United States. They experience high rates of alcohol and drug abuse and the loss of their land, language, culture and traditions.
·         Land and property rights claims led to a civil rights movement in the 1970s. The Australian government passed The Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976, enabling its indigenous peoples to claim land taken by British settlers. Today, there are also a range of specialized programs available to Aborigenees, from economic development, to health care, education, and family re-unification.

·         In 2007, the United Nations passed a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to protect land and resources, and to maintain unique cultures and traditions. Only four countries voted against this Declaration: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
Voice of the People   (James, called “Jamie”)
·         I am proud to be Australian, with British ancestry. My forefathers were settlers and they built a very successful life for themselves and their families. They also helped Australia become a strong and successful country.
·         I am married with children, and I have a good job and my own home. Life couldn’t be better.
·         I feel sorry for the people who are less successful, especially the Aboriginees. I do not understand why the Aboriginees should make land claims going back hundreds of years. They lost their land, and now it belongs to us. They need to understand and accept history. Our government has set up many programs to help these people improve their lives. So we are doing our part.
·         I think I am more concerned about the environment, the loss of agricultural land, logging and whaling, pollution of fresh water supplies, and the depletion of coastal fisheries. This is what we need to focus on, to provide a good future for our children.
Let us pray for Jamie, and all who wrestle with thoughts and feelings of superiority. 
North America
·         The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) is used to rate different countries along a scale of human development, based on life expectancy, education, standard of living, child welfare, healthcare, economic welfare and personal happiness. In 2010, the United States was in 4th place and Canada in 6th place on this index.
·         The past decade in both Canada and the United States has seen a growing gap between the rich and the poor. Income for the top 10% of earners has increased, while income for the bottom 10% of earners has decreased. In the USA (2010), the top 1% of households owned 42.1% of all assets. In Canada, the top 1% of households own 1/3 of all assets, and the top 10% own 50% of all assets.

·         According to an August 29, 2012 CBC report, 1.7 million Ontarians live in poverty, and 1 in 7 children live in poverty. 19% less money was earned by workers of colour compared to Caucasian workers; and 29% less money was earned by women compared to men. In March of 2010, 402,000 people in Ontario relied on a Food Bank to make it through the month. This inequality raises questions about fairness, and can lead to social tensions.
·         In Toronto, we have seen gang violence and killings. Two young Canadians recently committed suicide, caused by intense bullying. In Ontario, 2,740 Human Rights Complaints were filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in 2011-2012. 70% of the cases involved employment situations, and grounds for discrimination included disability (54%), race (29%), and ethnic origin (15%).
·         We have structures and systems in place to better the lives of those who have been adversely affected. But it all seems to take a lot of time.
Voice of the People   (Rose)
·         I worship at Glen Rhodes United. I am an immigrant woman, and have worked hard as a professional all my life. I am now retired and live with my mother. Glen Rhodes is my faith community; this community gives me hope, strength and inspiration to work for social justice.
·         I have served on church committees to help govern the church and its work. My mother volunteers in the food bank and for monthly community dinners. The community dinners are attended by over 100 people who are thankful for a meal and thankful to know that we care.
·         I wish our governments would work together to help the poor and disadvantaged. It is a crime that so many people have to come for help in a country that has so much to give. My membership in the United Church is important, because I know the Church does advocacy on behalf of the poor and works for social justice here and in the world. We work for peace, reconciliation, nuclear abolition and disarmament. I wish that the lonely suffering heart around world could know that we keep them in our prayers every week. They are not alone. God is with them.
We pray for ourselves, Prince of Peace,
and this congregation of your people,
that we may be a place of peace,
a sanctuary from conflict,
a force for justice in our community and in our world.
Help us, Holy One, as we raise our voices and our hearts
for the sake of a world more whole.
·         The Antarctica is a continent of contradictions: volcanoes erupting from a frozen landscape, and miles and miles of ice. An arid land surrounded by three oceans. Over the past century, global warming has caused partial melting of ice, snow fields and small glaciers.
·         Animal life in Antarctica is flourishing. It includes whales, seals, orcas, penguins, albatrosses, auks and guillemots. Antarctica’s waters are a good food source for these creatures.

·         On December 1, 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington by seven countries: Australia, Argentine, Chili, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. The total number of parties to the Treaty is now 50. The Treaty specifies that Antarctica be used for peaceful purposes only. It is a military-free continent with no weapons testing of any sort, including nuclear testing. All plants and animals are protected under the Treaty, and legislation has banned mining and oil exploration.

·         The Treaty has granted and supported freedom of scientific investigation and collaboration. During the dark 6 months of the year, the South Pole has a population of 28 scientists from around the world. For seven months, from February until a plane flies in mid-winter with supplies, their only link to the outside world is the internet, phone and radio.

Voice of the People

  • I speak for the whales, and penguins, and seals and other species of animals that make Antarctica their home. This is a true home, freedom to explore and freedom to be. Untouched by human hands.

Priest -

Let us pray for all the creatures in and around Antartica,

and throughout the world, living in the world God gave them.


Reporter, Voice of the People, and Priest: -

Imagine a new heaven and new earth.

The world will be at peace.