Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Feb. 26, 2017. Sermon Topic: God’s “Backyard”

sunlight on church

Sermon: God’s “Backyard”

Parkview United Church Annual Meeting 2017

Today we celebrate our Annual Meeting, and it is a time when we look back at this past year, a time for Parkview United Church to celebrate who you are, where you’ve been, where you are today, and where you’re going! At Annual Meeting time, we recognize our church’s accomplishments and our challenges. We also recognize the presence of God in our midst. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit of God is here with us. As we come together each Sunday, a united body of worshipers, we celebrate God’s Spirit actively among us, always loving us, guiding and directing us. We celebrate that this holy divine Spirit of God has been with us in the past, that this Holy Spirit of God is present here with us now, and that God’s divine Spirit will be with us in the future. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, as our scriptures tell us.

It is often the future which puzzles us or perplexes us. Life is never without change, and sometimes we don’t like this. We want to see what is around the corner, we would like to know what’s coming in advance, we want to be prepared, we want to know ahead of time what to do, to plan, to guarantee our safety. I read a story in the Upper Room Devotional about a woman who moved from one house to another, and her cat who normally loved the outdoors, was afraid to leave the house to go outside. The cat was afraid of its new, unfamiliar surroundings. The woman describes how her cat would pace back and forth at the door leading to the backyard, meowing to go out, but every time the lady opened the door, the cat would panic and run back into the house for safety. This strange new neighbourhood, this big unknown backyard, terrified her pet. The lady said that watching her cat’s behaviour made her sad, because she could see that her cat was passing up potential freedom and happiness out of fear. And she said that her cat’s behaviour reminded her of herself – there were times in her life when God seemed to be opening wide the door to new opportunities, fresh new beginnings, but she would run for safety, too, back to the familiar.

This cat story reminded me of many stories in our scriptures where God calls people but they react out of fear. Jonah doesn’t want to preach in Ninevah, Jeremiah doesn’t want to be a prophet, Moses doesn’t want to go to Pharaoh. They all had excuses or ran away out of fear. And when Moses finally does go to Pharaoh and frees the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, they begin their great exodus journey in the Sinai Desert, a wilderness, and here, time and time again when faced with difficulties, the Israelites want to go back to what was familiar. They complain and grumble and repeatedly want to return to Egypt: “And all the Israelites complained against Moses…would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Would that we had died in this wilderness!…would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?…let us go back to Egypt!” (Numbers 14: 2 – 4) Despite the fact that God always provided for this Israelite nation, their needs were always met, it seemed easier and safer to go back to what was familiar, even slavery!

But God had conceived a new future for these Israelites, something better, a promised land full of bounty and freedom, a place to settle, have families and grow into a great nation. God was leading his people forward. God had a wonderful plan set in motion, for out of this Israelite nation, centuries and centuries later, a Messiah was to be born in Israel. But the Israelites at the time of the exodus, didn’t see this plan. They struggled with facing the unknown in their time, especially when the going got rough. It was safer to run back rather than trust God. We are reminded in the cat story and the Israelite story that we need courage not cowardice, we need trust not fear, and we need confidence to step forward and walk into the scary, unknown backyards where God leads. We do not, and often cannot, see God’s plans. We need to believe something very important: God is already there in our future. If God is leading us, God is already there ahead of us, and God will provide. Isn’t that a remarkable thought? If God has planned our future, God is already there. God will lead us where we’re meant to go. God’s purposes will be fulfilled. Our scriptures offer many beautiful assurances of God’s leading and guidance:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths,” Proverbs 3: 5, 6.

– “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One, your Saviour…Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured and I love you…do not fear, for I am with you,” Isaiah 43: 3 – 5.

“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you…The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage,” Psalm 32: 8, 11, 12.

This morning I would like to assure you, Parkview United Church, that the Lord God looks upon us all as “the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.” And I would like to assure you that the Holy Spirit of God is in charge of our future. God sees the generations of faithful people who worshiped here, served here, who proclaimed and lived out their Christian faith here. God sees us today, we worshipers gathered together, who faithfully continue to uphold our Christian beliefs and traditions – we follow and live out the examples and teachings of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God knows our dedication and our commitment, and that Parkview United Church stands as a witness, a Christian beacon of light, right here in the community of Stratford. This church was built to welcome all people through its doors who come searching for God and who want to know Jesus Christ better. God knows who we are and what we are as a community of believers. God knows that we love and serve as Christ’s disciples. And we want to continue! God knows that. And God loves us for that.

As a church, let us confidently move into our future, that great big unknown “backyard.” We may not see the way, but God does. God knows our destination. And remember: God is already there, waiting for us. Let’s ask God to lead us where we are meant to go, today. Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Feb 19, 2017. Sermon Topic: What Does It Mean To Be Family?

church family


Family Day Holiday, Monday Feb. 20

To celebrate Family Day and families, we have seven volunteers to share with us their stories about their family and church life. Our volunteers are role-playing, but they represent real-life family scenarios.

READER #1 – Older Couple (Chuck Salter)

“I am part of an older couple. We never had any children. It just worked out that way. Most of the time that’s OK, but when I come to church there are children who smile at us and welcome us. We were invited to teach Sunday school. My wife accepted, and she’s been doing that for years, but I like to sing in the choir. We are special to some of these children, and they are all special to us. In the past it was hard to go to church because everyone seemed to have children but us. But here we get to be a part of their lives, watch them grow, and encourage them and love them. This has become our family. Our children are here. We really feel a part of it. We love coming to church and being part of this family.”

READER #2 – Single SBNR (Kayleigh Kowatsch)

“I’m single and living far away from the family I grew up with. I went to church as a kid in Sunday School, but now I’m a SBNR – spiritual but not religious, you know? I’m questioning my up-bringing and exploring my beliefs. What is true? How do you know? Where is God in all this muddle? Is God even there? I have really strong opinions about a lot of things and about the way the world should be. So I wasn’t sure I would find a welcome in a church. But here I find they’re willing to accept me the way I am. They listen to me and they care about my opinions. They don’t all agree with me. But that seems to be OK. We have different understandings about our faith, but we still get along and care about each other. In that way, I guess it’s just like any other family. I’m glad I can say this is a family for me. I feel at home here while I’m questioning and exploring, wherever that takes me.”

READER #3 – Single Father (Ross Bode)

“I am a father with four kids. They were all baptized in this church. My wife and I wanted them to know they always had a place in God’s family and that this church was where they could learn what that meant. But six months ago, my wife and I separated, and it’s been tough. When I have the kids on the weekend, it’s not easy getting the five of us out the door on Sunday mornings, but it’s worth it. I come here because, for a few hours a week, there are other people who help, other adults to talk to, people who ask how things are going and are willing to help if things aren’t going well. And it’s the same for my kids. Their friends here and their teachers give them the same care and love. Here, we as a family find support. Here I know God loves us because the people at this church act like they love us. That makes life so much easier for us right now. I love this church family.”

READER #4 – Conspicuous Family (Evelyn Broadfoot)

“My daughter is from a different race and a different colour than me. That makes us what they call a conspicuous family: when we go out people stare. Sometimes people ask really strange questions. We have to be “Ambasssadors for Adoption” all the time. I have the same parenting issues as everyone else, the same challenges, but my daughter and I all our lives have had to face extra challenges. But you know what? At our church, we’re not treated different, we’re not conspicuous, we’re just who we are. We’re just part of the family. At first, we were worried about subtle racism. We were worried that people wouldn’t treat her like my own daughter, that they wouldn’t understand she is my own. But it didn’t take long for us to be accepted just like any other family. Here, we’re all part of God’s family, and the extra details are what make us special – we all have those “extra details” in a family, and I’m so glad that here in this church family we celebrate that about each other.”

READER #5 – Two Moms (Mitchell Bruce)

“I come here with my Moms most weeks. I have two Moms – my Dad lives with someone else – and it’s sort of complicated. I don’t think it’s that complicated – people just think it is. Usually I have to explain everything a few times before people get it, but here it’s not that big a deal. There were people who seemed confused at first and some who were a little too interested, but now it’s just who we are. I really appreciate that. It’s nice to go somewhere and just be a family and everyone knows we’re a family and that’s all there is to it. It’s a relief to be welcomed just for who we are by a church that acts like it’s all about loving people, and not about being nosey or judgmental. It reminds me that we’re all God’s children just like we’re taught in Sunday School and I’m glad that this church treats us like family.”

READER #6 – Grandmother (Elaine Webber)

“I am a grandmother. I grew up in the church and I brought my children up in the church. Now I am bringing my grandchildren to church. Their parents work shifts and can’t always make it. But it’s important to us that these children know that they have a place here. We want them to know the Bible stories that can give them strength and moral guidance. We want them to know that the Christian faith is about being part of a community that works and worships together and that they are never alone – no matter what life might bring their way.”


READER #7 – Extended Family (Maggie Wybrow)

“I guess my husband and I are part of what you might call a nuclear family: two parents, two children. We even have a dog and a cat. We moved here to find work. But we left behind our own parents and our siblings. Our children don’t have cousins to play with, and we never have big family gatherings for holidays – or we wouldn’t have them if we didn’t have this church family! In this congregation, we have found an extended family. We’re always invited somewhere for Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving! The children have more honorary grandparents than we can count! And we know that there are people who can fill in with emergency baby-sitting and advice if we need it. Here we feel like we’re part of a family that shares our faith and our values.”

(Resource: Christian Family Sunday, The United Church of Canada)

We find different families in all walks of life, but we are all united! Jesus tells us so:

“…those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons and daughters of God… The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,” (Romans 8: 14, 16, 17).

Jesus also tells us that if we give someone even a cup of water in his name, we are doing that as if we are offering it to him (Matthew 10: 42). Jesus tells us that if we offer food to those who are hungry, clothing to those in need of clothes, hospitality to strangers, and visitations to those in need who are lonely, destitute or in need of a friend, we are offering these services to Christ himself (Matthew 25: 34 – 40).

You did it for me, says Jesus. As we reach out to our family members, and extended family members, and church, community and neighbourhood families, let’s remember that Jesus sees our kindness, generosity and love. You did it for me, says Jesus!


Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Feb. 12, 2017. Sermon Topic: We Celebrate Love!

for god so loved the world

Sermon: We Celebrate Love! February 12th 2017

PRAYER: O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.

On February 14 this week, Valentine’s Day, we think of love! We want to express our love to others, to those who are special to us, our spouses or partners, our children, our nieces/nephews/cousins/grandparents or any other extended family members on whom we want to shower our loving affection. We try not to forget anyone important to us! We remember our co-workers, our boss, we think of our neighbours, teachers, the paper boy, and we might even love ourselves into the bargain! We buy cards and candies and especially boxes of chocolates! On Valentine’s Day, the theme of love reigns!

A group of four to eight year olds were asked: “What does love mean?”

* “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your french fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

* “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

* “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

Spanish Jesuit Priest Pedro Arrupe says this about love:

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love; stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.”

What does Jesus say about love? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself.” “This is my command: Love one another.” Our New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greeks had four different words for our one English word “love.” Each Greek word expressing “love” had its own meaning. Jesus uses the Greek word “agapao” when he commands his disciples to love one another. Agapao love means the highest and purest form of love. Agapao love recognizes the preciousness of a person or an object. It is a love of esteem. When Jesus commands us to love one another, he is saying: “Value, esteem, hold precious one another. Prize one another.” True followers of Christ acquire a deep, abiding love of value and esteem for each other.

One Valentine’s Day, a young man spent the entire evening telling his girlfriend how much he loved her. He said he couldn’t live without her, he’d go to the ends of the earth for her, yes, he’d even die for her. However, on leaving, he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow night – if the weather’s good.” And she had told him all evening how much she loved him, that she couldn’t live without him, she would go to the ends of the earth for him, too, and she’d given him a photo of herself, signing it with all her love forever, but she’d also said: “If we ever break up, I want my photo back.”

Many times we put our own self-interest first. But true love is unconditional love. No strings attached. It’s not the kind of love which “plays out the scene” to see how it will benefit us or what we’ll get out of it. Fortunately, our God is a god who loves us unconditionally. As God’s children, God loves every human being even when we don’t love God back. Speaking of God in a maternal way, as our Parent, God loves those who say She doesn’t exist, or believe in Her existence but ignore Her. Speaking of God in a paternal way, God loves those who take His name in vain, or curse Him. God loves those who hate Him. God loves those who live in deepest sin. We can’t earn God’s love. To live a good life pleases God, but it doesn’t give us an advantage over others, or gain us a favourable seat in God’s presence. Our God is not a manipulative God who sees what we give back in order to love us. God doesn’t “play out the scene” before committing to a relationship with us.

But do we do that with God? Like the young man considering the weather, or the girl wanting her photo back, do we let our self-interests govern our thoughts and actions when it comes to loving God? Do we invest Godly time to see what we get out of it? If we give God our talents, money or affection, do we think: How does my effort benefit me? Whether conscious or subconscious, does this attitude govern our thoughts and actions when it comes to our relationship with God?

Thank goodness God doesn’t love us this way! Thank goodness God doesn’t weigh us up against each other, or measure the amount of love we give back! Here is Godly love:

For God so loved the world, that He gave us His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Nothing can top this love gift to us!

Jesus coming into our world is the best, most loving gift the world has ever received. It is for you. It is for me. It is free. No strings attached. We only have to take it. We only have to ask Jesus to come into our hearts, come into our lives, to give us his love, to invade us with his Spirit, to be in charge, to be in control, and tell Jesus that we love him and want to serve him, to make him Lord over our lives, to commune with him every day. We experience agapao love, the highest and purest form of love. We are valued, esteemed, precious in God’s sight, and we are prized. God our Father/ Mother and Jesus God’s Son prize the relationship they have with us.

So, here’s the challenge: on this Valentine’s Day when we remember to love those dear to us, the least we can do is show God and Jesus our love and affection for them. Do something for God, for Jesus. Make them happy. Put a smile on their face. Tell them you love them. And do something about it. Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, Feb. 5, 2017. Sermon Topic: Living the Salty Light

salt candles

Sermon: Living the Salty Light February 5, 2017

You are the salt of the earth.”

You are the light of the world.”

Matthew 5: 13, 14

PRAYER: O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words spoken and in the thoughts that we form.

Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen.


It has become fashionable for us to eat less salt these days. The doctors say it is a very good way to begin combating high blood pressure which may lead to hypertension and the danger of strokes. So, reading this passage where Jesus tells us to become the salt of the earth can seem a little bit confusing or contradictory to our welfare. Of course, medical knowledge changes all the time and what is seen as a good thing one day can be on the black list tomorrow, or vice versa. Can salt be a good thing? Well, actually yes. As well as preserving and flavouring our food, salt is good for us.

We need salt to help regulate the water content in our blood cells. It also helps to transmit information in our nerves and muscles, and salt is used in the intake of certain nutrients from our food. Without salt, our hearts would not beat, blood would not flow, and muscles would not work properly. Our bodies can’t make salt, so we need to obtain it from the food we eat. People can actually become quite ill from salt deprivation. When health experts tell us to cut down on salt, they are telling us not to overdo a good thing. Just as too much fat or sugar can harm us, so can too much salt.

We know from archaeological evidence that salt has been gathered by humans for millennia. Salt is harvested, of course, from the saltwater of the oceans and from salt deposits left in the earth. Salt mines can go for miles into the ground. Cities have grown rich from their salt mines, for instance Salzburg in Austria. Salz means salt. Six thousand years before Christ, there were salt workers in China. The Egyptians have left salted birds and fish in their tombs. In ancient times, if you said that you were receiving salt from a person, it was the same as saying that you were in that person’s service, or taking pay from that person.

The Roman historian Pliny the Elder states that in Rome, a soldier’s pay was given in salt. The Roman word for salt is “salarium,” from which we get our English word “salary.” Salt equaled payment in Roman times. A person not worth his or her salt was one not worthy of his or her wages. Salt was highly valued and as important as money.

In the book of Ezra written approximately 500 B.C., there is a letter written to the King from his servants, the people of the province, and they write in chapter 4:14: “Now because we share in the salt of the palace,” which means literally that the servants were paid with salt by the king. In Ezra’s time, salt production was strictly controlled by the rulers, the kings, because salt was an expensive commodity.

Today salt is cheap, but salt has always been treated with great reverence. Its value is recognized. Several world religions use salt in their worship ceremonies and refer to salt in their holy books. Jesus would have recognized the importance of salt in his own Jewish festivals, as salt is one of the foods used at the Passover Feast. So, when Jesus compares us to salt, he is not saying we are like a cheap, unhealthy substance. He is saying that we are precious, and that we are essential to life and the preservation of goodness.

Jesus also says that salt is useless when it has lost its flavour or beneficial properties. This happens when salt becomes mixed in with other substances which pollute it. What would it mean for a Christian to become polluted? Well, if Jesus Christ seems to mean less and less to us, if we start to think that Christianity is just a set of rules to live by, then we may be losing our zest for him. When we forget that Jesus came to earth and died for us, that he is saving a place in heaven for us, that he is always looking for others to carry on his work for him, here today, when we forget his mission and that we’re part of it, to share his gospel and saving grace with others, then we are definitely losing our Christian saltiness and our light. For Jesus calls us “the light of the world.” We are meant to shine for him. In John 8: 12, Jesus says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Jesus has lighted a light in the life of each one of us, we his followers and disciples.

If we see ourselves as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, then what does it mean? Are Christians important to the life of the world in the same way that salt is important to the life of our body? Salt helps transmit information in our nerves, so maybe we Christians should also be transmitting information about Jesus Christ? Salt creates a thirst. Are we thirsty to learn more about Jesus? Are we thirsty to share our faith with others? Sometimes this is an awkward thing to do, to openly talk to someone about our faith.

To be the light of the world for Jesus can mean that we act the way we feel led by his Holy Spirit. To do the things Jesus would do, to say the things he would say, to act the way he would act. We can do a kindness for someone, like shoveling their driveway while we are out shoveling our own. We can drop off groceries at the Food Bank, or take a person who can no longer drive out to their doctor’s appointment – or a movie, or just for a coffee. It can mean sending some money to help disaster victims, or buying baby food for a young single mom. It can be standing up for what is right, and when we see something is wrong, we say so.

This past week, we gathered as Christians and as citizens in support of Stratford’s Muslim community following the dreadful shootings in Quebec City. We held vigils at City Hall and the Stratford Mosque, encircling its building while members were at prayer. Earlier in the week, I presented a letter to Imam Omar Alshehri from Parkview United Church offering our condolences, friendship and support. This letter meant so much to them. They posted our letter over the internet to their Muslim members and friends.

We are valuable, and what we do is valuable. “You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus. “You are the light of the world,” says our Master. So let’s do our best to be the salt that seasons, the salt that preserves, the light that communicates, that reconciles, the light that gives hope. Let’s transmit our Christian witness to the world. Jesus Christ is depending on us!