Our Purpose and Mission Statement

Working to build God's dream. Help wanted!

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

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

“Peace barges in”    Robin Wardlaw    December 8, 2013 

Advent 2, Year A
Readings: Isaiah 11:1–10; Psalm 72:1–7, 18–19; (Romans 15:4–13); Matthew 3:1–12 

John the Baptist is never going to get hired to sit in the mall. Isaiah is never going to turn up in the Santa Claus parade. Too fierce, too gloomy. But the message of the prophets—John, Isaiah, any of them—is welcome here. We can handle the paradox of Advent and Christmas. The birth of the Christ is a gift to be celebrated because the world really needs the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love.  We decorate our spaces with lights and greenery, but we don’t fool ourselves that the world is cozy for everybody. We may whip up holiday treats, but we know that many people on the planet have it tough. We may put on party clothes to look our best, but we know the tender, the broken and the ugly parts inside us.
The bible reveals a tough love in response to tough times. In Advent we reflect on the way things are versus the way we imagine they could be. The colour of Advent is a deep purple, or a deep blue—somewhat somber, penitential even. We all know, peace is not something that is easy. When things seem peaceful, it may be because money or privilege or distance is insulating us from what’s really going on.
Our scriptures today give us this challenge. They call us to intensify our Christmas. We yearn for the traditional festivities, all the good stuff of the season.
But listen to Isaiah. First the easy part:
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of God shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of God.
This could go on a Christmas card. All good. Then the part that’s harder to hear:
She shall not judge by what her eyes see,
   or decide by what her ears hear;
but with righteousness she shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
she shall strike the earth with the rod of her mouth,
   and with the breath of her lips she shall kill the wicked.
Kill the wicked? Where’s the holiday spirit? Listen to John, camping out beside the Jordan, beating around no bushes for the people of his day and age:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Brood of vipers. Presumptions about worthiness. Axe. Trees cut down, fire. “Repent,” he tells people. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” These words are directed at us. Who doesn’t need to repent? And… they are directed at warlords. They are directed at those who manage giant corporations at the expense of ordinary people and the planet. They are directed at the smug, the proud.
The department store will not keep these prophet words alive. Militants, sure of their cause, will not speak these words from their pulpits and secret bunkers. Whose  privilege and burden is it, then, to keep the Christ mass?
Friday was the anniversary of a terrible shooting in Montreal. December 6, 1989. A man with a gun and a terrible grudge. The sickening powerlessness of students as the attacker separated the men from the women and then started shooting the women. Today and every Advent and every day, we remember the meek of the earth, victims of violence. We celebrate peace and we work for justice.
Thursday will become known as the date of another death, this one of a single man. The bible would say he died “full of years.” Somehow he was not brought down by an assassin, nor did he die mysteriously of injuries in a racist prison. Somehow his heart was not hardened by hatred, discrimination and vicious suppression of his human rights. He was a prince of his own Xhosa people. He studied and practiced boxing, and law. He was a fervent Methodist. He was a fervent Communist. When nothing he had learned in the village, the church, the classroom seemed to make any dint on a system that was killing his nation and demeaning the whole world, he turned to violence.
Nelson Mandela was arrested on his second mission to blow up a hydro tower, doing damage to the regime’s infrastructure. He spent a generation in jail. He missed his children’s growing up, the birth of grandchildren. In prison he got to know leaders and members of other liberation movements, helped run an informal university for prisoners who had little or no education, secretly communicated with freedom fighters on the outside still struggling for justice. When people in South Africa and around the world continued to resist the wickedness of apartheid it became clear that violence would no longer be needed. Instead breath could be used for words—words of healing, words of inspiration, words of peace—and Mandela was able to use his powerful words instead of his fists or his weapons.
South Africa, like much of the world, is still a long, long way from justice. Mandela said, “I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” Many more hills to climb. Some of our heroes don’t get to climb any hills. They only name a hill and urge us to make the effort before they are gone: disappeared, shot, crucified. Others live long enough to see how complicated it is to build God’s dream.
I said earlier that hope, peace, joy and love are gifts. And they are. Wonderful gifts. Equity, fairness, justice—these things are not given to us, it seems. The Christ has no wand to wave to make them happen. We need hope, peace, joy and love for the long walk up the hill, this hill before us that we can see, and then, likely, another hill beyond it. Sometimes the only way peace can come is to barge in with its vision of justice.
I was lucky enough to be in the Sky Dome that day when Mandela came to speak to the children. Forty thousand children waited patiently. Energetic MCs coached then on how to greet the great man. “Amandla,” we all cried. Municipal politicians spoke. The premier of the time tried to speak. His government was attacking teachers, though, and the children started booing him. They wouldn’t let him talk. Others tried to get the children to stop. He finally gave up. Later he blamed the teachers for putting them up to it.
When Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel finally appeared on the giant TV screen, getting ready to motor across the stadium to the stage in a little golf cart, the children started cheering. It was deafening. I looked at my watch. It took a few minutes for President Mandela to reach the stage. He slowly climb the steps to the podium. He started dancing on the stage. He raised his arms to salute the children, then to try to stop the cheering. When it finally worked, it had been seven minutes of non-stop adulation. Then sustained applause kept breaking out during his speech. He told them, “You have made me feel young again.” He encouraged them to work for freedom, he made us all feel like being better, standing taller, climbing hills.
The bible gives us pictures of peace: when everyone gets to sit under their own vine and their own fig tree. That sounds like a very pleasant form of food security to me. When brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. Sounds like a society of enough, where people have figured out how to resolve those little irritants that keep popping up in families and society. Where people, even the poor, are judged with equity.
It could happen. It could all come as a sudden gift, where we don’t have to do anything, but somehow I doubt it. If peace is going to come into this world, barging in, tiptoeing, dancing, it will take commitment, faith, vision, humour. There is no world leader, no prophet, no saint who can climb that hill for us.
Tuesday, December 10th, is Human Rights Day. It’s the anniversary of the signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in December, 1948. Sixty-five years old. Here’s how it starts:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, [and so on for several more whereases]…
We celebrate peace and we work for justice.
Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Dorothy Thompson, the British scholar and peace activist, said, “Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.”
Put out your favourite Santa if you want, your angels, your creche. But get yourself a prophet figure, too, something a bit wooly and passionate, perhaps, who looks like he or she is barging into the party, calling the world to account, to repent. Add that to your decorations. When people ask about it, tell them you’ll put it away when all is calm, all is bright.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

“Is That Really a Light at the End of the Tunnel?”     Brian Elcombe
 December 1, 2013 

Advent 1, Year A
Readings: Isaiah 2:1–5; Psalm 122; (Romans 13:11–14); Matthew 24:36–44 

Those hot scorching days of heat and high humidity seem distant and far away. The end of the year approaches - December already. It seems as if winter may have finally arrived. The days seem shorter don’t they? Have you noticed that the streetlights come on earlier and go off later? Lights pierce the darkness. Brightness appears so powerful that we cannot see beyond it. It is there and in that uncertainty, we can become like a raccoon caught in the lights of the house or car. Frozen in infectiveness. Straining to see beyond. To catch a glimpse of what is beyond yet when we turn around the past is illuminated. We are in transition from darkness into light. The past can hold us or set us free. So how do we go from the holdings of the past?
The past is to remember and hopefully enable us to learn and move forward, to take us out of isolation. December 1st is World AIDS day. Persons living in the west with HIV/AIDS by 2015 over half will be over 50 years of age. This pandemic claimed more that 35 million lives and was considered a death sentence until recently. Long-term survival was seen as miracle. The introduction of retrovirals in the 1990’s prompted a “Lazarus effect”. People were getting out of wheelchairs. Funerals decreased. As lepers were viewed in the Bible, persons with leprosy isolated and shunned, so to were those infected with HIV/Aids. They became our lepers. Yet, for a long time in the 1980’s society was unaware how to engage in treatment or even what to do. The stigma prevailed. The introduction as mentioned above of the retrovirals eased the tension but left the survivors to deal with prejudice and isolation. High levels of anxiety and depression are common in about 75% of the survivors. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The first generation of people infected in the 1980’s whose campaigning led to medical breakthroughs and made survival possible. Education and support networks in Eastern Europe and Africa are limited and the epidemic spreads. However, the Canadian government has pledged $10.7 million that will provide five years of funding to two projects. $8.7 million to find a cure and $2 million for a project focused on curing babies and children who acquire HIV from their mothers during pregnancy. As the world carries on in its daily workings, the light of hope can be seen in the tunnel. Advent provides a new start to our church year. 
Even in the beginning of Advent as a society, we live in the uneasy relation of the Scriptures to both the historical past and the promise of what is yet to come. We fast forward to Christmas and the birth and yet must live in being told that not knowing when the event will happen. It speaks of ending times as in the great flood where Noah and his family survived. Some Christians believe that his gospel is the heart of Christ’s second coming. Theologian Karl Barth is supposed to have enjoined that people start their day with their bible in one hand looking for the signs of the end of times while searching the newspaper to see if those signs are yet in view. Advent calls us to be a community of faith.
As a community of faith it takes us from the historical apathy to the God that created is not only the goad of history but also the goal of history. It takes us in grace to a time that is new. A time when as a people of God we live in the history as past but also of present. That sense of history to present calls us in Advent be a community of hope. 
As a community of hope, we see the signs of the end but it takes us away from this sense of anxiety. To keep those “end of days time” hanging on the wall calendar. The serenity prayer usually attributed to Richard Nieibuhr, asks us to accept those things that we cannot change. It is even harder at times to acknowledge what we cannot know. In faith formation, we trust in a future we cannot control or even know the details of.  So how do we go forward into the unknown? We go forward as an Advent community of Memory. 
In that community of memory that can look back at history unafraid to the stories of disaster, in this case Noah. It shows us that choices are open to us. As people on a journey, we learn from history and from those learnings take comfort that we are a people not alone. History and the stories of them provide sketches and outlines for what could be. It allows us to move towards the light at the end of the tunnel. It also calls us to be and Advent community that is alert. 
As an alert community we are challenged to be awake, to be ready when the event happens. The story challenges us not to doze off, to be prepared in all ways – physically, mentally, and spiritually. It allows us to move forward. 
The light at the end of the tunnel is hope. It is that hope we are not required to know everything. It is that hope that we are not required to everything. We are challenged though to be ready. Can you be ready? What will you do this next week on your Advent journey?
 Thanks be to God