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, 27 March 2014

Saturday is Earth Hour, from 8:30 - 9:30 p.m. Check it out at www.earthhour.org. Many people will turn out their lights to signal their concern for the planet. This year, the tag line is, “Use your power to make change a reality.” Turning off the lights for an hour is one thing. Changing deeply entrenched systems around the world is another. The organizers have figured out they need us to become activists if that is going to happen.

Coincidentally, the reading from the Gospel of John for this Sunday is the one about Jesus healing the man born blind. (John 9:1–41, if you want to read it.) In the story, this guy with no name goes from darkness to light. On Saturday, we are asked to go from light to darkness to really see what we need to do.

The man in the story gets the gift of affirmation: Jesus sees him as beautiful, valued, an important member of the human family. When we flick the lights back on at our house, will we have a similar moment, except about the Earth and its beauty and value? That’s the challenge, I guess. 

I hope your Earth Hour is a good one, and that we can all keep our eyes wide open to the respect we need to give our planet all year 'round. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Glen Rhodes sermons will still appear on the site, but not such a long list. Look for them under "Recent Sermons." And if you really like something in a sermon, be sure to copy it for yourself, as they won't stay around too long now.
A minister's blog

Hello, world!
This is the first post of a new blog at Glen Rhodes United Church, from me, Robin Wardlaw. Our annual meeting was a few weeks ago. At it we formally adopted our new purpose statement: Working to build God's dream. Help wanted! We worked hard for many months to figure out a brief way of explaining who we are, and we are excited about it.
This short statement captures this congregation's commitment of long standing to a world of peace and justice. Or at least, we hope it does! It's very general, so it's open to interpretation. That's where the congregation's goals and values come in, helping to make the vision more specific. 
The two words at the end, 'Help wanted,' are a way to say to our neighbours that we would like to work with anybody who shares this vision. Our sense is that there are many people in the area who are just as committed as Glen Rhodes to respect, sharing, fairness and compassion. This is the congregation's way of saying, let's work together. 
More about our ideas of what we could be doing together in the neighbourhood and the world in the weeks to come.
I look forward to comments, suggestions and discussion about the purpose statement, the goals and values, or whatever is on your mind, so add something if you would like. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

“Born Again!  And again, and again”    Warren Schell   
 March 16, 2014

Will you pray with me.  Loving God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our strength and redeemer.  Amen 

I had an alternative title for today’s sermon:  Born again OR not born yet OR about to be born.

Many folks, like Nicodemus have struggled with this passage over the years.  

“Am I to enter my mother’s womb?”----that’s why we have a baby picture on our bulletin cover today.  We say birth and immediately babies come to mind.  The reason the baby is so cute and charming is simple.  It’s me.
My earliest memory of “born again” / altar call as is understood in most fundamental churches, other than seeing Billy Graham on TV, occurred at my home church. 

Emmanuel United Church, Summer Home Mission.  Student minister, but this was a special service on some week night.  French River.  Population 70.  Mid 1950’s.  The building had been a pool hall. 

Alvin Plant was a Pentecostal minister and had been going up and down the road with loud speakers for two days calling everyone to come and be saved. 

The place was full.  

Just about everyone in town had turned out to see what was going on.  At the end of the service it was NOT a Billy Graham moment. 

He had an altar call and NO ONE was going to stand out and come forward. 

We went home. 

Nobody got “Born Again” that night. 

Although I was a child I can still see the disappointment on Alvin’s face that no one could make that “leap of faith” that he felt necessary for salvation. 

Tracy Nesdoly is a Toronto Star reporter.  On the “Rocket” one day the usual people; crowded; the lingering thoughts of:  I hope there is no delay.  I hate waiting for / in the subway.  The doors open and a man collapses.  A circle forms around him.  Nothing is happening.  He has turned immediately grey. 

Someone shouts “Hit the passenger assist button!”
A woman comes in from the outside. 
I have first aid training. 
She assesses the situation.  Immediately starts CPR.  A flutter of eyelids and blue eyes look out at the world.  The emergency folks arrive and the man is whisked off.
The woman’s name was Lindsay.  The man was dead.  At least until Lindsay pounded life back into him.  We are all that close….what will he do with his new found life?  

What will you do with yours?
Rev. Greta Vosper is a minister at Westhill United Church.  She has been there for quite some time. 
She is [in many eyes] a radical.  Maybe she is even a prophet. 
Years ago she convinced her congregation to remove the pew bibles.  Much of the old testament with its brutality, eye for an eye judgmental stuff, and a God who seemed on a power trip went totally against what she considered “Holy.”

In the latest Progressive Christianity newsletter Greta has come out of the closet as an atheist!
Now that takes guts!  

Her reasoning is that she can no longer believe in the god [note the small G] that we have created.
I know Greta.  I sense a deep spirituality in her and, perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY I see someone who continues to question, challenge and dares to upset the status quo of Holy Mother Church. 

Church---a word dreamed up by the early followers of Jesus or, more realistically, those who decades after his death composed the gospels and then sometimes centuries later created man made creeds to instill guilt and obedience into the masses. 

Every week we read from and preach on those words from a book banished from West Hill United. 
And today we struggle with words that seem anathema to standard United Church folks. 

We don’t DO altar calls. 

This “Born Again” stuff makes us uncomfortable. 

Very few, if any of us, have been slain in the Spirit nor do we speak in tongues although at times many of our ministers have managed to confuse the best of us speaking some sort of ministerese. 

In Light of Consciousness:  Journal of Spiritual Awakening Anam Thubten writes: 

“Ultimately there is no guarantee that we are definitely on the right track.  If we try to keep ourselves swaddled in religious tradition we’ll soon become uncomfortable and constricted. 
Eventually we have to go beyond all conventional forms just like Buddha went beyond all conventional forms in his inner awakening.
This will become like space which cannot be bound by anything, and our religions will be truth and love.” 

I wonder---make that REALLY WONDER---if that is not the ULTIMATE born again experience we are challenged to seek in today’s reading from John. 

Are we being called to a way of living / loving / being that moves us from the small g god Greta has left behind to the Cosmic Christ that is not bound by tradition? 

Mike Singer in an article on nonresistance wrote: 
“It is not life’s events that are causing problems or stress.  It is your resistance to these experiences that is causing your problems.”

Perhaps Jesus is inviting us to let go and embrace the new, even if it makes us uncomfortable.  Even if it is different. 

Even if birth pains are involved. 

During my degree work at Emmanuel I was at Sunnybrook Hospital.  Rabbi Barry Schneider, Jewish Chaplain invited all of us to his synagogue for a tour and to stay for lunch.
As we sat down Barry raised the bread, offered thanks, and broke it.  I was looking at communion. 
Years later while attending a world religion course one summer I was at a Wiccan Circle in Sunnybrook Park.  A broom used to symbolically sweep out any evil spirits.  At the end of the ceremony as the sun was setting on the circle bread was raised, broken, and passed with wine. 

Communion pre-dating the church by thousands of years. 
Communion pre-dating Christ by thousands of years. 

I would suggest that being “Born Again” pre-dates the church by an equal, if not even longer time frame. 

Rev. Ed Newbery introduced our family to Art Solomon and his wife Eva.  Art was an Ojibwa elder responsible for bringing the sweet grass ceremony and the drum into Kingston Penitentiary, and forming a native circle there.  

Tongue in cheek Art called himself a Born Again Pagan.  It was NOT meant as lightly as it sounded.  Art was a survivor of the residential school system and, thank God, had managed to hold onto his True Spirit Self embracing it in adulthood. 

In Friday’s reading from our Lenten Study Book:  I Am Listening there is a story that screams “Born Again” to me. 

A man sits on the street.  His clothes are not expensive; they are not in style.  They are not clean or warm.  They are ripped and tattered, dirty and smelly, noting more than rags.  His shoes have holes in the toes and soles.  His beard is long and dirty.  He holds a sign for passersby to see. 

I pass the man every day on the way to work.  I have no time to help him.  No time to read the sign.  I’m always in such a hurry.  Sometimes people laugh at him.  Sometime s they insult him.  Some people spit on him, and even kick him.  But every morning he is there holding up his sign for the world to see. 

One day there was a commotion as I passed.  A pair of teenagers had grabbed the man’s sign, ripped it, torn it to pieces, and thrown it to the wind.  They pushed the man down and moved on, laughing.  Seeing no one else going to help the man, I turned back.  I helped him up and made sure he was all right.  Feeling generous, I gave him the $50 in my wallet.  As I walked away, I judged that it would probably end up as booze money. 

The man wasn’t there the next morning; I figured he was probably wasted and lying in some alley.  In fact, he never stood at that curb again. 

Sometime later on my way to work, a man called out, “Hey!” and I felt a hand on my shoulder.  Turning around, I saw a man whose clothes were clean, warm, and in style. 

“Remember me?” he asked.  I replied that I did not.  He laughed and told me that he was the man who used to stand on the street.  He was the man with the sign. 

He invited me for a coffee and he told me how I had changed his life.  He had a good job now and had just rented an apartment.  

I said I couldn’t understand how just $50 could have made that much of a difference.  He laughed and said it wasn’t the money that had done it, although it had been appreciated.  The real gift to him had been the hope---something he thought he had lost forever. 

We talked for a long time and we said our goodbyes.  But as I turned to go, something occurred to me.  “What did your sign say?  The one you used to hold.” 

“There is always hope.”
Sometimes we just need a little help finding it. 

Sometimes we help others to be born again.  Sometimes others help us.
I believe we are all following Christ’s high calling to continue to grow. 
To work all our lives re-birthing ourselves to become part of the world. 

The Aboriginals of Australia believe that this world was dreamt into reality.  We all come from “The Dream Time.”

I think it is Christ’s wish that each of us seek and strive to dream our new reality.  To become all that Christ wants us and challenges us to be. 

In my heart of hearts I believe that is the BORN AGAIN experience Christ desires for every single person on the planet. 

That is a high calling.
It isn’t easy.  
But it is worth pursuing with all of our hearts.


Monday, 10 March 2014

“Temptations, temptations”     Rev. Malcolm Spencer      March 9 2014 

1. Many years ago when I was a student minister, I visited a poor family in the rural church I was serving. I came in and sat at the large kitchen table and as I sat there came out bread, jam, butter and tea. We talked a lot and they said they had few visitors but it was great that I came to see them. They shared a simple fare but I felt it was amazing hospitality. This first story of Jesus temptations is to do with bread. How much bread do we really need? How much food do we need to sustain us?

Jesus went to the desert to get away from the distractions of the towns he was in and his own family. He was led by the Spirit and had fasted for over a month. Anyone coming along with the promise of food would be welcome. The tempter should have been in advertising –they seem to know what we need before we think of buying it. And we know stuff piles up all the time as we give in to and then we realize what are we going to do with it? Jesus spoke back to the tempter and said that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God! I must have been hard for him after his long fasting to turn down the promise of fresh bread and perhaps some wine in this lonely place where he was wrestling with what his ministry was going to be.

We have our Lenten journey before us- are we to give in to many temptations that in our culture to acquire, to possess and to enhance our life style?

Jesus 2nd temptation

This was a strange one to jump off the top of the temple and be supported by angels- well we are awash with people trying magician stuff for the celebrity of it- you have heard of those churches in the southern states that bring poisons snakes into the church to handle them and use a bible verse to say that they cannot hurt you as God protects them from harm. These dangerous foolish attempts are as foolish to Jesus as standing on the highest point of the temple and using a bible verse to prove that he would not be hurt by jumping off – as wizards with corporate power promise that they can be trusted with shareholders money and customers safety. Any car recalls lately! Jesus dismisses the tempter with a simple phrase, “you shall not test the Lord your God.”

Extravagant claims are often made about God’s activity in the world often a result of an over fevered mind. Again simplicity, compassion, forgiveness, generosity and hospitality are the hallmarks of the Spiritual life.

Jesus 3rd temptation

The tempter made the last temptation the most difficult to turn down- It was to become one of the world’s greatest emperors ruling lands as far from what the eye can see. In Victorian times it was popular to contrast two young men who changed the world– one, of course, was Jesus the other was Alexander the Great. They both died at 30 but left a mark on the world. Alexander was a violent warrior prince who spread Greek culture far and wide and does have cities named after him and is still known and has movies made about him. In contrast Jesus is known as the prince of peace worthy of praise.

Jesus was not born a noble in a palace but the son of a carpenter and mother who believed in social justice. He never lifted a sword, he more often spoke softly and taught the ways of God, the ways of right relations, compassion and justice fired his followers; his power was in weakness and love for the world and everything in it including people who were different than he.

Jesus knew the life of a ruler in his time usually meant wars and dynastic struggles. This had little to do with God’s prophetic word to the world and even today this happens people try to fix things they favour and miss the justice calling out to them from the poor. Christian taking part in civic affairs even arriving at the leadership of some counties and cities do not often do the obvious just policies. Trying to be a tyrant of any stripe in the home or in the land Jesus knew that that is worshipping the tempter not God.

Away with you, Satan he said, worship your God only!

Then the tempter leaves and angels come to care for him –this is a fitting end to the lessons since we can be assured of angels helping us on our Lenten journey.

In our time we need to seek a simple renewal that helps ourselves and help us to converse with our neighbours in ways we hear from them. Still in our time we have artists and others who speak passionately about the way of life which is fairer kinder and more just. And as modern Christians we can join them in raising issues but we can also pray and meditate for courage in this time of lent to walk with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

Come to us loving God and help us as we faced temptations in living inthis society. Help us to be simple as we lay down our burdens and focus on our Lenten Journey as we consider our forgiving, healing, hospitable saviour


Monday, 3 March 2014

“The Undiscovered Country”        Robin Wardlaw       March 2, 2014 

Transfiguration, Year A
Readings: Exodus 24:12–18; Psalm 99; (2 Peter 1:16–21); Matthew 17:1–9
Shakespeare calls death “the undiscovered country.” Which was controversial in his day, it turns out. The church had been saying for hundreds of years that the country of death was well known: sin, and fail to repent and you go to hell. Confess and seek forgiveness, and go to heaven. And artists and performers of medieval mystery plays had pretty well spelled out what heaven and hell were like. But by Shakespeare’s time, the old certainty about death was giving way to fresh questions.
It is Hamlet, afraid of death because he doesn’t know what it might bring, who says,
Who would fardels bear,
. . .
But that the dread of something after death,
         The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
         No traveler returns, puzzles the will
        And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
        Than fly to others we know not of.

A fardel is a ‘burden.’ Should I take my life, and go to face who knows what, or put up with things here in this life? The minister, paraphrasing the Bard very badly.
But the minister doesn’t want to talk about death. I want to talk about the undiscovered parts of life. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, on April 3, 1968, 
Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The minister, repeating poorly the soaring rhetoric of a master preacher.
He said that in Memphis. He was there to speak to the Memphis Sanitation Workers, who were on strike. In the speech he called for a black boycott of white businesses until the city dealt fairly with its workers. The next day he was shot and killed. He wasn’t killed when he worked and struggled for civil rights, the integration of schools and lunch counters, voters rights. He was killed when he argued for workers’ rights, for economic justice, and threatened to make white business share the costs of injustice.
I have been up the mountain and I have seen the other side. Who gets to do that? Moses went up a mountain, and came down with rules for living a good life, a respectful, dignified life. Jesus went up the mountain and heard praise for the path he had been walking, to share a message about respect and dignity and a fair share of God’s good gift with the poor.
If you had been lobbying for women’s rights since, what, the fifties, and lived long enough to see what gains have been made since then, would you say you had seen the undiscovered country? What if you had been fighting for LGBT rights since the seventies, let’s say, or effective treatment of HIV and AIDS since the eighties? Would you dare say, we have arrived? I have seen the Promised Land?
There is so much still to be explored. A world that works differently. Where dog eat dog thinking is gently consigned to the history books. Where we learn from First Nations to think ahead seven generations before we take actions now that could affect our great-great-great-great grandchildren. Where we ask bullies to get the emotional help they need instead of electing them into top leadership positions.
We don’t all have mountain climbing abilities. The people who do, we call prophets, and sometimes artists. They can rise above the confusion and constant demands of the day to gain a vantage point on next day, next year, next century. The Rachel Carsons of our world, to pick an environmental example, alerting us to the dangers of DDT fifty years ago while we were still happily spreading it on fields and swamps, dusting crops and people with it, oblivious to how it would affect all nature.
The undiscovered country, the undiscovered world, the undiscovered self. The bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see, apparently. That’s part of it. The job is not quite done, though, if that bear just sees stuff. She needs to come back to the rest of us with a report.
And what happens when prophets come back and give us the heads up? The record is not that great. If they’re lucky, we just mock or ignore them. It gets worse, of course. We’re about to go into the season of Lent and Easter. A huge, annual reminder of how we treat those who challenge the status quo, the Martin Luther King, Jrs., and so many others.
What happens to the bears who go over the mountain? The bible talks about their faces shining, or their whole persons shining, brighter than the best cleaner could achieve. It’s called transfiguration. The changing of one’s appearance. When it comes to ourselves, we sometimes discover parts of ourselves we didn’t know were there. We are utterly changed. People sometimes make such discoveries in some form of therapy. Sometimes by doing something very strenuous or difficult—climbing a mountain, say, or sailing a long distance by oneself. And sometimes a mountaintop experience can happen in worship, or on retreat, or in meditation.
“I have always thought I was the kind of person who couldn’t stand up for herself.” “I never imagined I could cope on my own, without some kind of substance to help me.” “I was sure I would resent and hate that person, or something they did, until my dying day.”
But something happens. One of those life commandments that can handcuff us is exposed, examined and left to one side. New possibilities emerge. Someone else behaves in a very gracious way, and makes us realize we could do that, too. Our prayer is answered, and the hold that food, or alcohol, or a drug, or nicotine, or gambling has on us begins to ebb.
Our faces shine. We can’t stop talking about what has happened to us. We are filled with excitement about this new country we are just beginning to explore. The people around us who haven’t, who can’t share our mountaintop experience get a little tired of us. They miss the old us, with the familiar tics and quirks and buttons that were so easy to push. Who is this new, unknown person, and why can’t they stop talking about the dangers of casinos, or how many barrels of bitumen are going to go through some stupid pipeline, or how I statements changed their life? Can’t we just get back to kibitzing or moaning or gossiping together like before?
When Moses came down the mountain all shiny, he found the people having an orgy of magical thinking, according to Exodus, praying to a golden calf and “running wild.” Moses got mad, and then he got all Taliban on the people. He had the Levites, the only ones who remained loyal to him, go “kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbour.” (Exod. 32:27b) That got the people’s attention, and their trudge through the desert to the Promised Land continued, with Moses still leading.
When Jesus had his transfiguring moment, he didn’t get to go down the mountain to find opposition. It came to him. One of his inner circle didn’t like the direction things were going, and decided direct confrontation with the authorities was needed, so he led them to Jesus’ side.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. came down the mountain…well, we know what happened to him at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. The next night, in reaction to the assassination of this proponent of nonviolence, riots broke out in many American cities, the Holy Week riots, as they were called.
When we use the words trans these days, it refers to someone who feels they have been given the wrong body, that they are really the other sex, whether that’s male or female. For them, the undiscovered country is very personal, as personal as it’s possible to get. Transfiguration is what a transgendered person might wish, but in a way never dreamed of by those of bible times, or even until very recently. Maybe those of who are not transgendered have something to learn about change from those who are. We might learn the joys—and the costs—of higher ground.
If you listen carefully, you will hear Johnson Oatman, Jr. explore this image in our anthem in a few minutes.
I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Oatman was a Methodist preacher from New Jersey who couldn’t sing, but wrote over 5,000 hymns in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including “Just a Closer Walk,” and “Higher Ground.”
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
Where Oatman departs from the bible understanding of the mountain top experience is that he doesn’t want to come down. “I want to live above the world…,” he says in verse three. He’s probably speaking for many people when he says it, but the witness we have inherited is a little different. If you have had a vision of another kind of country, a different way of doing life together with more respect and less suffering, if your face is shining, your calling is back here, with the rest of us, singing your song, or writing your hymn: bearing witness to your truth, our truth, God’s dream.