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

Monday, 25 February 2013

Our citizenship is in heaven” -  February 24, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Lent 2, Year C
Readings: (Genesis 15:1–12, 17–18); Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17—4:1; Luke 13:31–35

Time was, a person could just hop in the car in this country and go over the border to shop, say, or visit. “Where were you born?, Where are you headed?”, and that was about it. Now borders are like our arteries and our waists–they are “thickening,” to use the current term: getting harder to get through, more intimidating. The American government is pulling up the drawbridge against several kinds of threat. The 1883 poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty ends, “"Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest‑tost to me,/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” A beautiful thought. But that was then.

Citizenship. If I come here from another land, I have to swear loyalty to the Queen and Canada in order to become a citizen. Makes sense. If I’m born here, no such ceremony. I can have my own thoughts about the place, my own loyalties. So far. Canada is doing a little border thickening of its own these days, getting tougher on newcomers.

Our scriptures today are about place, among other things–a promised land, citizenship in heaven, and a place provoking great ambivalence in Jesus, as Luke tells it. Some of us have come from other places, other countries and continents. We live here, but part of us still thinks about some earlier home, some other smells and sights and sounds. We know what it is to be a citizen with a foot in more than one home.

This is what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Philippians. Well, one of the things he is getting at. He spent time in Philippi, his first stop in what we call Europe, west of the Bosphorus. Like a loving aunt or uncle he writes to them with reflections, advice, warnings, news, greetings. But in Paul’s case, he’s also saying thank you. The congregation at Philippi that has been sending him money to help him continue his itinerant ministry, as if he were the young person. So it’s a two-way relationship.

“Don’t be like those other people. Be like me. They are giving their loyalty to things that are not helpful to them, not adequate: the belly, earthly things. We give our loyalty to, we are citizens of, heaven.” Can we still say that and keep any credibility? Citizens of heaven: pie in the sky types, unrealistic, other worldly. Or maybe not. Depends what we mean by heaven. Is it wrong to imagine a better place, a world of caring and sharing, peace and justice? We have had this seed planted in our hearts, and it’s a tough little thing. It just keeps growing, won’t die, even if we don’t tend it very well. Like those life commandments you got from your mother that you just can’t shake: “Eat everything on your plate. Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

That seed of an idea that provokes artists and prophets and poets. The world doesn’t have to be like this. Could be different. Young people don’t have to run around using guns to do their negotiating, their evening of scores. Men don’t have to be homeless, living and dying on the streets. Mothers shouldn’t need to come to a food bank just to get through the month, swallowing their pride to ask for help. It’s a stubborn seed. Been around for a long, long time. Looking for the right soil.

Our citizenship is in heaven. This is good. This means we are dual citizens. When the duchy of capitalism insists that we bow and scrape before Almighty Dollar, we can wave our other passport and say No, un-uh. When a leader tries to play the patriotism card, make us all weepy about our home on native land, recruit us into a campaign of fear–fear of foreigners, fear of activists, whatever–we can say, Nice try. Might work on some, but we belong to the land of love, where fear has no power.

Paul never gave up his citizenship in the empire, remember. He used it continually. “I have rights,” he would tell governors and jailers. “I am a Roman citizen, so I insist on being tried in a Roman court.” For Paul, a trial was a good thing. He could explain what drove him, his other citizenship in front of a bigger audience. He could confront the values on which the empire was built in the empire’s courts. He died in Rome waiting for such a trial, looking forward to it.

Our dual citizenship is not a get-of-jail-free card, not an escape from this world. Kind of the opposite, actually. Last week in the book study, we learned about a Huguenot congregation and their pastor, Protestants in France during the Second World War who took their citizenship in heaven pretty seriously. They started hiding Jews, in the town of Le Chambon‑sur‑Lignon in south‑central France. People started getting off the train in their town and asking for the pastor. André and Magda Trocmé took them in, then delivered them to the homes of parishioners. Fake identities were devised: a cousin, a niece. No one blabbed.

Documents discovered since the war reveal that the Germans at some point knew what was happening. But they let it go. Many people were saved from the camps, from a terrible fate. Rev. Trocmé was arrested eventually. Magda invited the police in to supper, and let someone know what was happening. By the time the police brought the pastor to be taken away, people were waiting, and pressed socks into his hands, chocolate, things that would be helpful in prison. So e knew he was loved, and these little acts of courage sent a message to the Gestapo, too. “We support this man. We don’t like your philosophy, your policies.”

At the study, we also talked about Jesus, his courage and his tenderness. Denouncing the fox, sheltering the oppressed like a mother hen. People identified plenty of foxes to denounce, all the sheltering happening, and still to do. What if Michaëlle Jean had not been allowed in to Canada, or Oscar Peterson’s only choice was to be a train porter like his dad? There are so many good gifts to nurture, in yourself, in your church, in your world. The mission we gladly accept is to be part of the emerging world of creativity, joy, abundance, respect and health. It’s Lent. We often delve into tougher topics in Lent, but it’s not a gloom fest. We always  remember who is with us, and the words of the psalm: “I will offer in God’s tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.” (Ps. 27:6b)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

“Don’t tempt me”  -  February 17, 2013  by Robin Wardlaw

Lent 1, Year C          Holy Communion      
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1–11; Psalm 91:1–2, 9–16; (Romans 10:8b–13); Luke 4:1–13

What would you do if you found yourself a slave, a prisoner? Hollywood loves stories involving heroic resistance and escape. In reality, slavery is suffocating. Why didn’t she just walk away? Gather up the kids and head for the shelter? What wouldn’t that young woman from name of country here just go to the cops rather than let herself be exploited that way. She’s in a free country now. It’s hard for most of us to imagine the hell of slavery, the psychological control enjoyed by the captor, the slave owner, Pharaoh. The recent film on slavery, Django Unchained, may not do it justice. Black film directors such as Spike Lee and John Singleton have criticized it. Lee said it is “disrespectful to my ancestors.” Singleton calls it a great western, but says if he were making a movie about slavery, it would be “a horror movie.” It angers him that a white director got $100 million budget to make it when he doubts that such an amount would ever be available to a black director.

The reading from Deuteronomy squishes a great deal of a history of slavery into a few short sentences:
A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there she became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the God of our ancestors; God heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and she brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deut. 26:5-9)

We cried to God, God heard our voice, and brought us out of Egypt with a terrifying display, and with signs and wonders. Boom. That was easy. Mind you, this is just the recap for worship purposes. Genesis and Exodus take over sixty chapters to tell the same story. The risk for people who are not slaves at present is sliding by this central theme of the bible too quickly. We start off Lent by reminding each other of how terrible it is to live in fear, what it means to be harshly treated, afflicted, with hard labour imposed. No one know exactly how long Hebrew people were in Egypt. Many generations. The status seems to have devolved over time, from refugees. And this story has a happy ending, after all those years of suffering.

Jesus lives within this story. It’s the story of his distant ancestors. His people have tried, with mixed results, to live as free people ever since, to live without fear, to live with deep respect for each other. Mixed results. One empire after another rose up to interfere with the Hebrew people. Egypt’s Pharaoh was not the only bully in the neighbourhood. Even when Israel and Judah were not being oppressed by anyone else, they didn’t always do right by one another. Jesus sees the way things are in his day, under Rome, and the way they were meant to be. What he saw made him upset, and also launched him on a prophetic ministry.

And the bible explains it wasn’t a piece of cake for him, either. Temptations abound. It’s tempting to go for total food security. “Turn these stones into bread.” It’s tempting to go for power and glory. “I will make you Pharaoh.” It’s tempting to go for immortality. “I will make you safe from all injury, even death.” Jesus wasn’t a slave himself. He seemed to have a fair amount of freedom to go around preaching and teaching. He knew this wasn’t true for everyone. He is committed to those who are hungry, those who have been driven into poverty by the economy of the day, people with mental illness.

But lots of people make the same commitment. Lots of people are tempted, too. Forget the struggle. Look out for number one. Kick back. Don’t have a cow. Go shopping. Jesus resists temptation. Why? How? He is always mixing with different kinds of people. After a while, they start pouring out to swarm him when he shows up. He keeps taking on the authorities, even when it’s clear he getting their dander up. He believes the psalmist that those “who live in the shelter of the Most High,...will say to God, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ Because you have made God your refuge, the Most High your dwelling‑place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.” (Ps. 91:1)

Clearly, he doesn’t believe that literally, either for himself, or for those around him suffering oppression. He senses that, for him, trouble is coming. But he realizes that whatever the authorities can do to him is not to be feared. It is not evil. What would be evil is losing his way, giving up on The Way, letting slavery and oppression be the norm. Slavery has not been legal in this country for a hundred and eighty years. Lucky for us it was never a major part of our economy. We have problems aplenty concerning inequality in our land, but we are not mired in the legacy of this crime against God and humankind. It makes us uncomfortable to think that our much of our coffee, our chocolate, our diamonds and who knows what other products are produced by slaves, even child slaves.

So we still take on Jesus’ orientation, in search of a world where people are respected, all kinds of gifts are recognized, and all kinds of needs are met. There are still many reasons to hear the call of the gospel, and still temptations to turn a deaf ear. We remember the instructions in Deuteronomy: “When you have come into the land that God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that God will choose as a dwelling for her name.” (Deut. 26:1-2)

For those who possess the promised inheritance, who have land, and a harvest, and a basket, it’s about remembering a former condition, and choosing to respond to a new condition with gratitude, offerings, and celebration. After the ritual actions of bringing the basket of first fruits, the rehearsal of the liberation story, comes the joy: “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that God your God has given to you and to your house.” (Deut. 26:11) It’s tempting, so tempting, to skip some or all of those steps.

And if things are reasonably well with you, imagine the people, meet the people, walk with the people who need to hear the reassurance of the psalm: “I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honour them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.” Wonder with them when their liberation is coming, and how that will happen.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

“A celebration of the six senses”  February 10, 2013 - Rev. Robin Wardlaw

Lent 1, Year C            Tranfiguration, Sensuous Sunday
Readings: Exodus 34:29–35; Psalm 99; (2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2); Luke 9:28–36

At my graduation banquet, the person responsible for getting a speaker found a nun to come and talk to our class. A nun. To talk to a roomful of Protestants about to be ordained and commissioned as ministers. She was wonderful. She chewed us out, in a gracious nun way. “You Protestants. You’re so good at doing. You’ve accomplished so much by doing. I want you to think about being as a faithful activity.” She led us on a guided meditation that was sensuous, and wonderful. There may have been gardens involved. I can’t quite remember. I remember being brought up short just as my education for ministry was coming to an end with this whole other aspect of faithfulness. My childhood, my education–nothing had prepared me to consider myself beloved because I was a being. I had somehow soaked up the message that I would be loved if I were doing.
On Sensuous Sunday, I want us to think about thinking and feeling. Descartes helped established the Enlightenment with his concept of what makes a person a person: cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am. Big breakthrough for humanity to privilege thinking and the individual over other human attributes. Last week Evans Rubara raised an African contrast: ubuntu. He defined it in a way I hadn’t heard before. Another way of defining it is: “I am because you are.” Ubuntu claims that I am because I am in relation with everyone else. Reason or relating. Thinking or feeling. Individual or collective. Everyone uses reasoning logic and everyone uses emotional logic, but our society usual gives precedence to one and pushes the other to the side.
We suffer if individuals are not allowed to flourish because of the collective. We suffer when the collective is ignored or marginalized because of individualism. We need Descartes and ubuntu. Barack Obama is a marriage of both. His father was Kenyan and black. His mother was American and white. Obama sounds like a person who wants the world to get along, wants harmony and good relations. Ubuntu. He behaves in some ways with a cold logic that is frightening, a logic around drone aircraft, for instance, that could be leading humankind to a terrifying new chapter of warfare. As with most of us, Obama may be having difficulty getting his two sides into conversation with each other.
Christians care about this stuff. Not just the current issue of robot warriors, but the very big issue of who we are, really, at heart. Are we grasshoppers, or ants? Are we worker bees, or drones? Are we efficient producers and consumers, noses to the grindstone, who keep the whole capitalist enterprise going, or are we really supposed to be hanging around the garden of Eden, accepting all the free stuff that grows on trees and grooving on creation and the Creator?

This is especially relevant at Transfiguration, while we are celebrating Sensuous Sunday. As always, we try to be wary of false choices. It’s rarely one thing or the other. Life is usually a somewhat messy blend of two more impossibly neat alternatives. The nun is right. The Protestant reformers were right. Ubuntu is amazing. Empowerment of the individual has had much to recommend it.
And today we have these two mountains, and two very different men, Moses and Jesus. The gospel writer is trying to portray Jesus as the new Moses. Moses is surrounded by a cloud; Jesus is surrounded by a cloud. Moses’ face shines; Jesus’ face shines. This is not coincidence. Luke is making very deliberate references to the story from Exodus. Point being: Moses passes along to the people a law, while Jesus has nothing in his hands. He is the latest revelation of the divine will. This is one way to look at Luke’s transfiguration story. Law vs. grace, or law and grace? Rules or a forgiving redeemer? Or somehow, both?
The challenge on Sensuous Sunday for some of us, the paler people, is a heavy reliance on thinking, on logic. Perhaps too heavy. We have many generations of formal relationships, even with loved ones, to get over. Hugs are good. We have learned to give and accept hugs. Sort of. Hand shakes are still second nature. I suppose hugs can be overdone. High schools are trying to figure out how to set and enforce limits on personal displays of affection, as they are called, in order that schools remain places of learning, not simply passion pits.
But nothing replaces personal familiarity. If I have canoed on a river, and fished in it, and swum in it, I am going to be much more concerned about some threat to it from industry, let’s say. It’s one thing to oppose homosexuality in the abstract. Suddenly it’s a very different story if my child or my brother or sister, or niece or nephew comes out. Someone I have held, teased, played, fed, loved up close. Our familiarity can help me get past rigid ways of categorizing, of pigeon holing. My senses have some things to teach me, that my thinking might never be able to do.
What would it be like to be with Jesus, up that mountain, or anywhere he went? How did his friends experience his faithfulness? How does anyone experience the faith of another person? And where are the women in these stories? Our scriptures tend to be about men. No one knows who did the compiling and editing. Perhaps they were groups of people picked with gender equality in mind. Perhaps. Our Christian life needs to add the views, the skills, the stories of women back in to make up for their comparative absence in our holy books. We’re missing the point of view, for the most part, of those who become pregnant and give birth. Those who nurse infants and provide most of the care for very young children.
Our understanding of God would be very different, more sensual if it reflected all humans, if we incorporated all that mothering imagery into our sense of the sacred. Apparently the Church of Scientology teaches it adherents to separate their mind from feelings completely. There’s a new book out by Jenna Hill, the niece of the present leader of the church.[1] Her uncle’s title is Chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Center. Ms. Hill pulls the drapes back and talks about how the church indoctrinated her while isolating and controlling her. As we get all judgmental about Scientology, it would be well to look to our own past, when the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches were highly suspicious of feelings, when pleasure was suspect, and thinking was prized above all.

How can we recover balance? Sensuous Sunday is a good start. Honouring the stories and experiences, the theology and insights of women is crucial. It must have taken Ms. Hill much courage to do what she has done. It cost her her marriage. The church persuaded her husband that he would be “disconnected” from his family, shunned, if he left the church with her. Jenna Hill is not the first woman to go against a controlling church establishment. And she won’t be the last.
We need, somehow, to be comfortable with bodies, senses, pleasure, mortality–to recover the masculine and feminine in all of us. We need to attend to the Christ who got dissed as a glutton and a drunk because he didn’t take on an aesthetic life, the one who let a woman bathe his feet and anoint them with costly oil. Jesus seemed to get human life. Later writers seem determined to make him into someone utterly different than us, so there is some tension for us within the pages of the New Testament. And that’s a good thing. It means we have to bring our whole selves to this business of Christian faith, our bodies and our minds, our critical faculties. We need a Christ who is just like us, and a Christ who is utterly different.
And speaking of anointing, this would be a good time for some of those cinnamon hearts you received earlier, if you have any left. Cinnamon goes back a long way in human history. The recipe for the oil of anointing of Jewish priests and the high priest, for instance. The oil Moses used in the ordination of the priests had expensive cinnamon in it. Perhaps it’s not too inconsistent. Evans Rubara reminded us last week that Moses was sometimes guided by his strong feelings. We’re doing him an injustice if we think of him only as a giver of the law.
Cinnamon comes from warm parts of the world, like oranges. These days we’re lucky that we can enjoy food from all over the world at almost any time of the world. To celebrate all we are, our creation in the image of the Holy One, we claim our tropical heritage and our colder heritage all together. We celebrate all our senses, including that gift of the Spirit called imagination, or intuition. We revel in a world full of things to hear, see, taste, smell and feel, and where our heroes, male and female show us ways to be that honour all our thinking and all our feeling.