Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, August 13, 2017. Sermon Topic: We Celebrate Music and Song

Colorful musical notes

We Celebrate Music and Song

Today we celebrate music and song. The two go hand-in-hand and have been always a wonderful way for us to express our feelings and adoration about God.

Music is one of the most glorious gifts of God. We are able to hear beautiful harmonies, rich melodies and engaging rhythms that speak to us in a way that surpasses all language. Regardless of race, culture, or the multitude of different languages spoken, we all appreciate music. Music is a language unto itself, understood and enjoyed by all. Throughout humanity’s existence, music has been a constant presence. Music may have existed before we humans came along. In the book of Job, God is quoted as saying that when He laid the cornerstones of the earth, “the morning stars sang together,” (Job 38:7). Within our universe, there is a deep musical note known as the “OM” sound – it is heard in space. The universe sings!

We humans are not alone when it comes to music. Many animals from humpback whales to birds to bats to toadfish make musical sounds. Some even seem to sing. Why do they do it? Well, it seems many vocalizations are to attract members of the opposite sex. They make beautiful noises to attract a beautiful mate, beauty being in the eye of the beholder, of course! Whales are known to change their songs from year to year – they call to each other and sing to each other. Perhaps they are establishing their territory or location. They may be communicating in a way to express alarm, danger, or even a source of food.

Humans use music for a huge variety of purposes. It wakes us up, fills the quiet times and helps our moods. We also use music sometimes to simply express how we feel. If we’re happy, we sing and if we are sad, we sing. Couples will talk about “their song” and get all mushy when they hear it. We have our favourite composers and tunes we like to hear.

Japanese companies often have their employees start the day by singing a corporate song together. Some North American companies like Walmart have tried this, too. This is using music in a corporate way to bind people together. Patriotic songs have a similar purpose. When elevators were invented people were fearful of riding in them, so music was piped in as a distraction to help calm them down. We now refer to a calm, uneventful song as “elevator music” or Muzak, named after the company which pioneered this use of music. During the Second World War music was played in factories to help productivity. This became a radio show called “Music While You Work.” Music has selling power and it has been used to sell products for hundreds of years. The street vendors in early England used to sing little ditties about the products they had for sale. Do you remember the movie Oliver? “Who will buy my sweet red roses?” Molly Malone in Dublin sang “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!” We use music to hook people’s attention in TV and radio commercials. There is a whole industry of commercial musicians creating ditties to help open our wallets.

For untold millennia, we humans have used music and song to worship God. Even the most primitive societies had some form of music during their ceremonies. Throughout the ages, religious services have been accompanied by music, both instrumental and choral. Held within our Christian religious tradition, we look back to the foundational texts of the Bible and see continual references to music and song. After escaping from the Egyptians and crossing the Red Sea, the people of Israel sang a song to the Lord (Exodus 15). Music was part of Israel’s formal worship in both tabernacle and temple. The psalms we read each Sunday were sung in their services, often accompanied with the instrumental music of flute, harp and the lyre.

Here’s the way Martin Luther in the 1500’s spoke of music:

I wish to see all art, principally music, in the service of Him who gave and created them. Music is a fair and glorious gift of God. I would not for the world forego my humble share of music. Singers are never sorrowful, but are merry, and smile through their troubles in song. Music makes people kinder, gentler, more staid and reasonable. I am strongly persuaded that after theology there is no art that can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart…the devil flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”

English theologian William Barclay wrote this about the early Christians:

It was a singing church; the early Christians were always ready to burst into song. In Paul’s description of the meetings of the Church at Corinth, we find singing an integral part (1Cor.14: 15, 26). The Christians they speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). The word of Christ dwells in them, and they teach and admonish each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in their hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16).”

Over the centuries great musical composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Handel have created beautiful compositions that inspire and uplift us all in the name of God. Every Christmas, you can hear Handel’s Messiah performed in some church or music hall.

Music continues to be a huge part of our worship still today. Can you imagine a service without music? From the musical prelude to the introit to the hymns and sung responses, it flows throughout the service. And at the end of the service, when we are driving or walking home, perhaps some of that music is still echoing in our ears and reminding us of our worship time. Augustine, the well-known 5th century bishop from North Africa said, “Those who sing, pray twice.” When we sing our praise and prayer rather than just saying it, we seem to double our efforts. Our words are heard and so is our melody.

Each Sunday, we continue this great tradition and present both our words and music to God. May God bless our efforts and enjoy the worship we bring. And in our daily lives, we continue to celebrate music and song. Thanks be to God for these glorious godly gifts!

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, August 6, 2017. Sermon Topic: We Celebrate the Psalms

psalms

WE CELEBRATE THE PSALMS!

The Psalms of Hebrew Scripture are the oldest worship songs of the Jewish people. The traditional Hebrew title tehillim means “praises” and tephillot means “prayers.” The psalms were mainly sung and accompanied with stringed musical instruments such as harp, lyre and lute. When you read the psalms, you often see “To the Director of Music” or “To the Leader with Stringed Instruments.” Many psalms were composed by David the shepherd boy (Psalm 23) and later when he became King of Israel. One of the first collections in the Psalms is titled “The Prayers of David son of Jesse,” Ps. 72: 20. David’s reign as King began in 1,000 B.C., so the psalms are very ancient. Whether they are prayers, petitions, songs or poems, the Psalms are prayers of the individual (Ps. 3), praise from the individual for God’s saving help (Ps. 30, 34), prayers of the community (Ps. 12, 79), praise from the community for God’s saving help (Ps. 66, 75), confessions of confidence in the Lord (Ps. 11, 52), hymns in praise of God’s majesty and virtues (Ps. 8, 29), hymns celebrating God’s universal reign (Ps. 47, 93), songs of Zion the city of God (Ps. 46, 84), royal psalms concerning the King, the Lord’s anointed (Ps. 20, 110), pilgrimage songs (Ps. 120), liturgical songs (Ps. 15, 68), and instructional songs (Ps. 73, 119). All the Psalms teach and assure us of God’s goodwill and faithfulness to all humankind.

Phillip Keller, a real-life shepherd, wrote the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, explaining the many duties, responsibilities and challenges of a shepherd. Phillip refers to Ps. 42: 11: “In Psalm 42:11 he cries out, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God.” Phillip writes:

Now there is an exact parallel to this in caring for sheep. Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits understand the significance of a “cast” sheep or a “cast down” sheep. This is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself. A “cast” sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it flays away frantically struggling to stand up, without success. Sometimes it will bleat a little for help, but generally it lies there lashing about in frightened frustration. If the owner does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die. This is another reason why it is so essential for a careful sheepman to look over his flock every day, counting them to see that all are able to be up and on their feet. If one or two are missing, often the first thought to flash into his mind is, “One of my sheep is cast somewhere. I must go in search and set it on its feet again.” This knowledge that any “cast” sheep is helpless, close to death and vulnerable to attack, makes the whole problem of cast sheep serious for the manager.

The way it happens is this. A heavy, fat, or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet. As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen. As these expand they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs. If the weather is very hot and sunny, a cast sheep can die in a few hours. If it is cool and cloudy and rainy, it may survive in this position for several days.

Again and again I would spend hours searching for a single sheep that was missing. Then more often than not I would see it at a distance, down on its back, lying helpless. At once I would start to run toward it — hurrying as fast as I could — for every minute was critical. Within me there was a mingled sense of fear and joy: fear it might be too late; joy that it was found at all. As soon as I reached the cast ewe my very first impulse was to pick it up. Tenderly I would roll the sheep over on its side. This would relieve the pressure of gases in the rumen. If she had been down for long, I would have to lift her onto her feet. Then straddling the sheep with my legs I would hold her erect, rubbing her limbs to restore the circulation to her legs. This often took quite a little time. When the sheep started to walk again she often just stumbled, staggered and collapsed in a heap once more. All the time I worked on the cast sheep I would talk to it gently, “When are you going to learn to stand on your own feet?” – “I’m so glad I found you in time — you rascal!” And so the conversation would go. Always couched in language that combined tenderness and rebuke, compassion and correction. Little by little the sheep would regain its equilibrium. It would start to walk steadily and surely. By and by it would dash away to rejoin the others, set free from its fears and frustrations, given another chance to live a little longer.

All of this pageantry is conveyed to my heart and mind when I repeat the simple statement, “He restoreth my soul!” This is part of the pageantry and drama depicted for us in the magnificent story of the ninety-and-nine sheep with one astray. There is the Shepherd’s deep concern; his agonizing search; his longing to find the missing one; his delight in restoring it not only to its feet but also to the flock as well as to himself.

Many people have the idea that when a child of God falls, when he is frustrated and helpless in a spiritual dilemma, God becomes disgusted, fed-up and even furious with him. This simply is not so. One of the great revelations of the heart of God given to us by Christ is that of Himself as our Shepherd. He has the same identical sensations of anxiety, concern and compassion for cast men and women as I had for cast sheep. This is precisely why He looked on people with such pathos and compassion. It explains His magnanimous dealing with down-and-out individuals for whom even human society had no use. It discloses the depth of His understanding of undone people to whom He came eagerly and quickly, ready to help, to save, to restore. When I read the life story of ]esus Christ and examine carefully His conduct in coping with human need, I see Him again and again as the Good Shepherd picking up “cast” sheep. The tenderness, the love, the patience that He used to restore Peter’s soul after the terrible tragedy of his temptations is a classic picture of the Christ coming to restore one of His own. And so He comes quietly, gently, reassuringly to me no matter when or where or how I may be cast down.

Phillip Keller’s inspirational words and magnificent message depict Jesus as our loving, caring, and forgiving Shepherd. And it brings new understanding to Psalm 23, as the shepherd gently leads his sheep to green pastures, still waters, and paths of safety and rest.

Writing a Psalm of Thanksgiving: questions asked of Parkview’s congregation (answers):

1. Name a kind of song that you like. (Stairway to Heaven)

2. Name two places anywhere in the world. (Bali & Canada)

3. Name the greatest thing that God does. (Heal)

4. Name some people that you know. (Laura, Belinda, Annetta, Jim, Paul)

5. Name some people that you do not know (Andrea, Leena),

and who are far away (Justin, Ralph).

6. Tell me a word that describes something incredibly powerful. (ocean, typhoon, wind)

7. Name something worthless. (Chuck!) And something yucky. (mud)

8. Name the most wonderful thing you can think of. (love)

9. Name something bad that can happen to a thing. (torture)

10. Tell me how you feel when someone loves you. (fulfilled)

11. Name a sound you might make when you are happy. (laughter) And excited. (Whoopee!)

12. Name something that lives in the ocean. (whale)

13. Name something you might find in a field. (cows, flowers)

14. Name something you could find in the woods. (trees)

15. Tell me the best characteristic a person can have. (kindness)

16. Tell me the best feeling that someone can have. (elation)

PARKVIEW’S PSALM OF THANKSGIVING (based on Psalm 96)

O sing to God a (1) Stairway to Heaven song;

Sing to God, (2) Bali and Canada, and throughout the earth.

Bless God’s name!

Tell of God’s (3) healing from day to day.

Declare God’s glory among (4) Laura, Belinda, Annetta, Jim & Paul,

God’s marvelous works among (5) Andrea, Leena, Justin & Ralph.

For (6) typhoonal is our God, and greatly to be praised.

The gods of the people are (7) chucky and muddy.

But our God made (8) love.

All praise and thanks be to God! Say among the nations “God reigns!”

The world shall never (9) be tortured.

Let the heavens be (10) fulfilled and let the earth (11) laugh and say “Whoopee!

Let the sea roar, and every (12) whale be glad.

Let the fields exalt, and every (13) cow and flower praise God.

Then shall all the (14) trees sing for joy in honour of our God.

For God comes to judge the world with (15) kindness,

and all peoples will (16) have elation. Amen.

Well done, Parkview! It was a great Sunday to celebrate the Psalms. Blessings to all, Rev. Mary.

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Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar for Parkview United Chuch, July 9, 2017. Sermon Topic: “Amateurs at Work”

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Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar, July 9, 2017. Sermon Topic: “Amateurs at Work”
North Americans on both sides of the boarder seem caught up in reality shows. American and Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with the Stars, The Amazing Race and many others have real followings.

What is it about these shows that catches our interest?

I think the power and indeed the popularity of these shows is surely this – it is about amateurs. The shows feature ordinary people who are energized by a dream. They want to become famous.

In fact, the more ordinary the winner the more fun it is to see them win. Look at Susan Boyle from Scotland. An unmarried woman in mid-life living quietly in a Scottish suburb comes in second on “Britain’s Got Talent” with her incredible singing voice. She was a little overcome at first but now is on her feet, looking great and having the time of her life.

We in Stratford are so lucky to have the Stratford Festival right here in our city but just look at the popularity of all the amateur community theaters around Southern Ontario who play to sold out crowds.

We here at Parkview have recently enjoyed a wonderful talent show. Ordinary folks, in the congregation, young and old, stepped up here and sang or danced or recited a poem, told a story and played with a dummy! And when the evening was done, so many commented, “Wow, I didn’t know that they were so talented or so funny!”

This morning’s Gospel is a story about ordinary people, real amateurs who are called out on the stage by Jesus himself. The disciples find their little lives caught up in a grand miracle and many are thereby fed. It is not an unusual story in scripture. In fact, the remarkable thing is that stories of amateurs called forth by God to act their parts on the stage called salvation are not remarkable at all. This is the way that our awesome God works.

Don’t you find it remarkable that when the Son of God entered human history he did not go immediately to the professional theologians up at the temple or to the church officials, those people who were “religious professionals”. He went to ordinary people, strictly amateurs.

Oh yes, there was the moment that only Luke tells, when the boy Jesus stood before the temple elders and astonished them. But presumably that was all Jesus needed to see of the “religious professionals.” He doesn’t interact with them again, at least not up at headquarters, until the very end of the story when the “religious professionals” conspired to crucify him.

Jesus’ followers were all amateurs and yet, it took a very short time for the church to develop its own “professionals,” people who were experts at the Christian faith. It’s the Protestant in me, but I see this as a loss.
The church’s perversion of discipleship implies that if you are really, really serious about following Jesus, you must become a minister.

As a minister I can tell you that one of the biggest challenges any minister has is to resist the laity attempting to give over their baptismally mandated ministry to me, the so-called professional.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that we are all amateurs. That is, when it comes to discipleship, to following Jesus, there is no professional training that we can take, no credentialing other than his claim upon our lives. The main thing that authorizes us is Jesus’ call to, “Follow me.” Your personal righteousness, your many talents, no matter how great, are not what makes you a disciple. It is Jesus’ call that makes you a disciple.

I love the way that the Gospels frequently portray Jesus’ first twelve disciples as the inner circle. Those who were privy to all of Jesus’ teaching, and witnesses to all his miracles, are depicted (particularly in Mark’s Gospel) as a bunch of bungling, often inept, and misunderstanding people. There is not one disciple, no not one, of whom it can be said, “He really gets it right.” Even Simon Peter, particularly Simon Peter, is constantly getting it wrong, all the way to the end when he joins Judas in betraying Jesus.

And this bumbling ineptitude, this eternal amateurism, is a mystery at the heart of the gospel. This is the way our awesome God works.

Jesus offers salvation, redemption, and participation in the Reign of God to a bunch of amateurs. He offers these things to us too, calling us to follow him.

And so, here we are, amateurs stumbling along behind Jesus. He would have it no other way. In fact, it would be the height of self-delusion and stupidity for anybody ever to think of himself or herself as a religious professional. Not one of us could say that somehow God has revealed the secret of the gospel, the whole truth of the Christian faith, and that we are particularly, spectacularly adept at practicing the faith.

Today’s Gospel opens with the disciples telling Jesus all they have taught and all they have done. (Which is ironic considering how often, up to this point, they have managed to say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing!)

To me the most spectacular, miraculous moment in this is in what follows our scripture reading today. It’s when Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “You give them something to eat.”

When asked, “What do you have?” they responded that they had only a few loaves and a couple of fish. “We’re not into food distribution,” they might have replied. “We’re not good at cooking.”

Miraculously Jesus then says, “You give them something to eat.” And when they obey, Jesus takes what they have, and wonder of wonders, it is more than enough.

We are called to be willing, to obey the command of Jesus when he says, “follow me.”

Christmas pageants prove my point. Can I talk about this in July? To have a bunch of kids from the church dressed up in bathrobes before a makeshift cardboard manger is for all of us to be reminded of the nature of following Jesus. When it comes to discipleship, we’re all amateur actors, those pushed out onto the stage with ill-fitting clothes having to speak lines that don’t come naturally to us. This is the way our awesome God saves the world – through amateurs – through us. Amen

Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar for Parkview United Church, July 2, 2017. Sermon Topic: “Eh Canada!”

canadian flag mountains 2

“Eh Canada!”
I went to meet some brand new friends
and what do you suppose? They said,
“O, you’re from Canada, that place where it always snows.
And policemen all ride horses, and they always get their man.
I’d love to visit Canada. Is that where they make cans?”
(not exactly, but…)
We’re the second largest country in the whole round world.
We have the smallest ocean. Way out east in Nova Scotia
the ocean makes the biggest motion.
We have a third of the world’s fresh water
and the planet’s largest lake. And if you want to speak
Canadian you better polish up you’re “eh”!
Cause I’m from C, eh, n, eh d, eh. That’s O Canada,
my home and native C, eh, n, eh d, eh.
That’s O Canada. Just north of the U S eh!
When I say that I’m from Canada, they tell me, “ O how nice.
You must be fond of hockey and live in a house of ice.
And when you folks get hungry, I’ll bet you’ll bag a moose.
Then fly south for the winter, on your own Canadian Goose.”
(not likely, eh)
But, we love our maple syrup. It’s the apple of our eye.
And you can come and spend our Loonies
on a piece of fungi pie. Our Thousand Island Dressing
is known the whole world through.
And once you’ve tasted Nanimo Bars,
you’ll want to be a Canadian too.

Cause I’m from C, eh, n, eh d, eh. That’s O Canada,
my home and native C, eh, n, eh d, eh.
That spells O Canada. Just north of the U S eh!
We gave the world the snow mobile,
inspired Winnie the Pooh. And instant mashed potatoes
are a Canadian invention too.
We’ve two official languages. We aim to s’il vous plait!
So to parlez-vous Canadian you better practice votre “eh”!
Cause I’m from C, eh, n, eh d, eh. That spells O Canada,
my home and native C, eh, n, eh d, eh.
O Canada. Just north of the U S
Eh can you C, eh, n, eh d, eh.
O Canada, my home and native land. CCL1 #2685207

Patriotism is the heartfelt love of country. On this day after Canada Day, patriotism has its place.
There are times when even we reserved Canadians need to celebrate our national heritage and say that for all the problems and difficulties in this nation, Canada remains one of the finest places on earth in which to live and raise a family. There is nothing extreme in rekindling the pride of being Canadian, thanking God that we live in “the true north strong and free.”
God has blessed Canada—especially as compared with other civilizations in the history of the world. The Athenian Pericles built a civilization based on culture, and it failed. Caesar developed one based on power, and it too failed. Hitler tried to build a civilization based on racial purity and it failed after countless millions were put to death. Lenin, Stalin and Mao sought to build a civilization based on a materialist utopian ideal, and it failed miserably.
But the fathers of Confederation who founded Canada built a nation based on the rule of law and sound government dating back to the Magna Carta. They formed a constitutional monarchy in which the dignity of the individual and the common good are both valued; in which French and English, Catholic and Protestant, come together rather than oppose one another; in which unity and diversity, compromise and confederation join hands in a middle way of civil discourse, mutual respect and consensus.
Take, for example, the first prime minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald. He was a man of many imperfections, but he was precisely the kind of leader required to move Canada forward as a nation. He finessed a reluctant union of four central and eastern provinces into a strong nation, despite indifference from Britain and annexationist sentiment in the United States. In the face of considerable challenges and threats, MacDonald had a vision for this country with all its diversity and incredible distances.
He connected the nation through a railroad that eventually would link the east and west coasts.
Despite the tensions of different languages and religions, he held English Protestants and French Catholics together, if more in a marriage of convenience than a loving embrace. Unlikely though it may have seemed, his labours were successful, and despite all the difficulties between Quebec and the rest of Canada, we remain one nation today.
MacDonald had his share of sorrows and made his share of wrong decisions. There was the birth of a disabled child during his second marriage. There was Louis Riel’s rebellion, the army’s slaughter of the Métis, and MacDonald’s struggle to decide whether Riel should hang. (He did.)
Then there was the death of his dear friend and colleague D’Arcy McGee. No one fought the elements of intolerance in Canadian life more than he. When the Fenian Brotherhood threatened our national unity with its dreams of revolutionizing Ireland and annexing Canada to the United States, it was McGee who took an firm stand against the militants and attempted to balance core values with minority rights—a precursor of today’s multiculturalism. For his efforts at promoting toleration and national unity, McGee was assassinated on the doorstep of his Ottawa boarding house on April 7, 1868. MacDonald never forgot his friend or the legacy he left Canada.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Canada, though young, is, paradoxically, an old country as federations go. Only the American and Swiss federations are older. And history is littered with failed federations and multinational empires. Even today, Britain is threatened with breakup as the Scots seriously contemplate independence. What an irony it would be if ancient Britain fell apart as a united country while Canada remained whole.
This nation holds together, and in so doing it sets an example to the world on how people of different races, religions, cultures and ethnicities can join together as one people, live in mutual respect and practise tolerance in one glorious Canadian mosaic. I sometimes think that when the first President Bush spoke about a “kinder, gentler America,” he had the Canadian model in mind. We have achieved what most of the world can only dream of.
God has blessed Canada in our civility, compassion and social unity. But God has also blessed us with abundant natural resources. Practically every commodity that we need abounds in this country. We have fertile lands for crops and livestock. We have abundant water. We have never known famine (accept in the Great Depression). We go down under the earth into our mines and find every mineral we could ever need. From the shores of Newfoundland to the oil sands of Alberta, we have access to ample oil and gas for the next century and beyond.
If that were not enough, God has also given us a feast for the eyes. The grandeur and magnificence of the Canadian Rockies are indelibly etched in my mind. The Gulf Islands off the coast of Vancouver are about as pristine as one can possibly imagine. The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton is Canada’s answer to the Big Sur in California. The countryside of Quebec is truly La belle province. And let’s not forget Ontario where we can enjoy the majesty of the Great Lakes and the gentle serenity of rolling hills and farmland, while just a few hours away lie the rugged Bruce Peninsula and the Canadian Shield with its spectacular lakes and rocks.
God has also made Canada a welcoming land of opportunity. Think of all the immigrants who have come to this country and prospered. They have enhanced our commerce, participated in our politics, edified our minds, stirred our souls and touched our hearts with their imagination, invention, initiative and industry. This is a land of opportunity.
But God gave us more. Since 1982 we have been protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which ensures that, even in dire circumstances, civil liberties and the rule of law prevail. If you are like me, you are disheartened by the hockey riots in Vancouver and the actions and treatment of the protestors at the G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010, or the student unrest in Quebec, still unresolved.
But I don’t despair even when Canadians don’t act Canadian, because there is still accountability through the courts and the justice system. Rights and freedoms are still cherished, and the rule of law still matters. Just look at the world. How many nations can we count that enjoy the same civil liberties or that can call law enforcement to account for its actions? Painfully few!
Is Canada perfect? We all know better than that. An article in Canadian Business magazine suggested that Canadians are richer than Americans and our nation is now the envy of Europe. If so, we still have grinding poverty in this country—in our cities and especially in our indigenous communities. Many of us may recall the national outrage at the substandard housing in northern Ontario’s Attawapiskat community. Poor diet and housing chronic unemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence against women, teen pregnancy and a host of other ills plague many people in our nation. Food banks and charities are indispensable for the survival of many people in most communities. No, this nation is not perfect.
The Bible is clear that what makes a nation great is its compassion for the least, the last and the lost among its citizens. It is our willingness to extend mercy to the vulnerable and marginalized that shows the true character of a nation. On the night before he died, Jesus told us how to live as his disciples, saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” To love others as Jesus loved us—that is the Christian ethic pure and simple. A great nation is one that practises that commandment by putting love into action.
On this day after Canada Day, it is fitting that all of us make a personal commitment to live lives pleasing to the Lord, and then demonstrate that commitment in the unselfish management of our resources, the prayerful support of our leaders and a loving reaffirmation of the principles that have guided our country over the years.
On July 1, 1960, in a speech on the Canadian Bill of Rights, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker spoke words that have resonated with Canadians to the present day.
I leave you with his words: “I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”
May it ever be so, O God, made it ever be so!

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Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, June 25, 2017. Baptism Sermon: We Are Named

baptism

Sunday June 25, 2017 Psalm 139, Mark 1: 1 – 11

Baptism Sermon: We Are Named

Thus says the Lord, he who created you… I have called you by name, you are mine,” Isaiah 43: 1.

Jesus our Good Shepherd says: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out,” John 10: 3.

This morning we have named a child in the sacrament of baptism. We celebrate the continuity of family, and we are proud to be part of a successive line of people related to each other. We celebrate that the inherent make-up of our very persons continues in the legacy of our children, and that families are bonded and united in the growth of their offspring. Often naming a child reflects its family’s history and heritage. Madeleine’s middle name Alejandra is the name of her mother, and so this name will continue throughout the decades of Madeleine’s life and hopefully be passed on to future generations.

Name-calling can follow popular trends or have unusual connections. Names once used exclusively for boys are now used for girls, and vice versa: Blair, Morgan, Jamie, Jordan. Parents name their children after cars, constellations, rock bands, almost anything – and the more unusual and unique, the better, parents often think! Just a few years ago, one young mother told me in Tim Horten’s right here in Stratford that her baby daughter was named “Pandora” after a vampire from a television show – it was her husband’s favourite show, she told me.

When my son David was born in a small hospital in Wales, Great Britain many years ago, a new mom like myself told me that she was naming her son “Alias.” I asked her: “Did she mean the name ‘Elias,’ an old biblical name? No, she said, she was calling her son “Alias.” I wondered if she knew the meaning of that word? “Alias” means an assumed name or false identity. Sometimes children are saddled with names which doom them for the rest of their lives. A current church minister named “Sandy” has the surname “Kloss.” Sandy Kloss. I knew a school principal with the surname “Christmas” – I hope he didn’t name a daughter “Mary!”

The Puritans were very religious people as you know, and they apparently had the habit of giving their children names which described scripture or their Christian beliefs: for instance, a child named “Zeal-of-the-Lord!” “Wholesome Tribulation!” There is a story, reportedly true, that a father named “Praise-God” with the surname Barebones, called his son: “If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-wouldst-have–been-damned!” With the surname “Barebones” added on the end. This name was regularly shortened to “Damned Barebones!”

The aboriginal native peoples give their children names which speak of the spirits in nature, or characteristics which the children possess, e.g. the Ojibwa name “Niimi” means he/she is dancing, the name “Myeengun” means little wolf, “Namid” means star dancing, and the name “Waatese” means there is lightning.

As well as our given birth names, we can get nicknames: Shorty, Stretch, initials for names, shortened surnames like “Fletch” for Fletcher or “Hutch” for Hutchison, my maiden name. In Mark 3: 17, Jesus calls his two disciples James and John “Sons of Thunder.” Jesus nicknaming his disciples? I wonder what other names he had for them? And “Sons of Thunder?” What did that imply? Loud and noisy? Quick-tempered? Jesus calls Simon “Peter,” indicating that Peter (“Petros”) was a rock (“petra”) for his church (Matt. 16: 18). In New Testament times, Jesus was a common name, as well as Judas. But these names are not commonly used today, as Jesus seems too sacred a name to give, and Judas a name too terrible.

Our scripture readings tell us that God names us, as well as Jesus: “I have called you by name,” says God in Isaiah 43: 1. Jesus says that he “calls his own sheep by name,” John 10: 3. What names have they given us? If we had a nickname, I wonder what it would be? In the same way that our parents name us with family heritage in mind, does God name us with God’s family heritage in mind? We inherit from our earthly parents the DNA, chromosomes, genes, and all that makes us biologically who we are, but we are also God’s children, and as part of God’s family, we are gifted by God spiritually – we inherit spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts are listed for us in our scriptures – mainly in Romans and 1 Corinthians chapters 12 – among them, the gifts of cheerfulness, generosity, wisdom, among many others. When God looks at us, God sees the gifts God has implanted within each of us, and the potential to grow into the person, the very BEST person, God fully intends us to be. God sees the unique biological and spiritual potential built within each of us. Does the name God gives us reflect that?

I like to think that it does. If God blesses us with a name, it would be one that best describes us as God sees us and takes delight in us. Perhaps we are given our “divine” name at our earthly birth. And in the same way that a nickname can be quite different from our parental given name, if God has a nickname for us, what would that be? Would it deviate much from God’s divine name for us? Would it reflect our earthly characteristics? What would Jesus call us? Son or Daughter of Thunder? Oh, oh, watch your temper…

In holy baptism, we recognize our spiritual connection with God and we celebrate that we are the children of God. In the same way that God called Jesus “His beloved” at Jesus’ baptism, God calls us beloved, too. In baptism, we are welcomed spiritually into the broader family of God – the family of Christ. Romans 8: 16, 17: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” With the name “Christian,” we all have a name which we all share – we are Christ’s man, Christ’s woman, Christ’s boy, Christ’s girl – we all have the name of the person called Jesus the Christ. As Christians, we are named after him.

In baptism, we enter into something greater than ourselves. We are participants in an experience, an encounter, an event greater than our imaginations can ever conceive. Baptism reflects the mysterious, intimate and loving relationship we have with God our Parent, Jesus God’s Son, and God’s Holy Spirit. We are claimed to be a child of God, named by God, and called by God. And for this divine connection, we say: Thanks be to God! Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, June 18, 2017. Sermon: The Prodigal Son – a Modern Rendition

prodigal son

Father’s Day Sunday, June 18, 2017 Luke 15: 11 – 32

Sermon: The Prodigal Son – a Modern Rendition

Song: Nobody Likes Me (everybody sings)

Once upon a time, there was a dad with two sons. The younger son said to the dad one day: “Give me now what you’re going to give me when you die!” So the dad did, and the son left home. The dad was sad and dejected, and every day after his son left, the dad could be heard singing:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,

Guess I’ll go outside and eat some worms,

Long, thin, slimy ones,

Short, fat, juicy ones,

Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms.

For his part, the younger son had a great time for a short while, but then things started to go wrong. He ran out of money, there was a famine, he had to take a terrible job, and he ended up near to starvation. Then it was his turn to sing:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,

Guess I’ll go outside and eat some worms,

Long, thin, slimy ones,

Short, fat, juicy ones,

Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms.

Soon the son got sick of singing this song to himself. He thought, “Well shoot, even the guys who work for my dad do better than I’m doing now. I’m going to go see dad and sing this song, and maybe dad will feel sorry for me and let me come back and work for him.” So, as the son got closer to home, coming down the lane, he started to sing in a loud voice:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,

Guess I’ll go outside and eat some worms,

Long, thin, slimy ones,

Short, fat, juicy ones,

Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms.

But even before the son finished the last line, his dad came tearing out of the house and grabbed him in a great big bear-hug. The dad began to sing:

I really love you, I will always love you,

Please don’t stay outside and eat some worms,

No long slimy ones,

No fat juicy ones,

No more fuzzy, wuzzy worms for you!

And the next thing you know, the father and son were singing and dancing and they went inside the house where the dad organized a feast to celebrate! And there were no worms on that menu, I can tell you! Just about that time, the older son was coming back from a hard day of work in his father’s fields. He heard music playing as he got closer to the house, and when he came up on the porch, he asked a servant what was going on. When he was told that his younger brother was back and there was a feast going on in the house, he could hardly believe his ears! “My younger brother? Who ran away? All this music and food is for him? You’re kidding!” And the older brother thought: “Dad loves him better than me!” He stayed outside the house and started to sing:

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,

Guess I’ll go outside and eat some worms,

Long, thin, slimy ones,

Short, fat, juicy ones,

Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms.

Nothing anyone said could make the older brother come into the house and join the party. Finally, his dad couldn’t stand it anymore and he came out to try to get his older son to come inside. But before the dad could say a word, the older son said, “Dad, are you crazy? I’m the good son! I’m the one you should love! I’m the one you should be throwing a party for! How can you throw a feast for my younger brother who treated you like he did, dad?” And the older son started to sing: Nobody likes him, everybody hates him… But before the son could sing any more, the sad look on his father’s face made him stop. Dad said: “Son, this is the day your little brother decided to stop eating worms. Of course we had to throw a party!” And the dad started to sing to his older son:

I really love you! I will always love you!

All that is mine belongs to you!

The good and the broken ones,

The hurt and the wholesome ones,

Everything I have belongs to you!

So,” the dad said, “why not put away those worms and come inside and have a steak with us instead?” And I bet you want to know how the story ends, right? Well, we don’t know! Jesus never said. Cause the story is for us today, too. The end of the story depends on us – what do we do? Jesus says to us:

I really love you! I will always love you!

All that is mine belongs to you!

The good and the broken ones,

The hurt and the wholesome ones,

Everything I have belongs to you!

We are meant to take care of others the way Jesus takes care of others and us. He loves us all! We all come to the banquet of God’s love!

(The Gathering, Pentecost 1 2013, Leslie Clark, Niverville, Manitoba.)

In our parable, God is the Father, and God chooses to judge. God sees the good and the bad within each of us. God sees our potential as only God can. And in God’s mercy, we are forgiven unconditionally. God doesn’t hold grudges! We do.

We are like the older brother in the story. “It isn’t fair,” we cry. We get jealous. We get disappointed. We become resentful. We remember hurts and hold it against others. We become critical. We judge. We eat worms.

In the same way that the very thought of eating worms causes a negative reaction within ourselves, so do the resentful, hurtful feelings and attitudes we harbour within ourselves: they cause a negative reaction and they’re harmful. Let God judge others. Let our judgments go, as difficult as it may seem. When we “show mercy” to others, it means to forgive them even when we think they don’t deserve it. Show mercy! Let our judgments go. Release them to God.

One way to visualize this is to mentally hand them over to God – picture yourself literally plunking the person, the circumstance, the trauma that has caused you grief, and you plunk it into God’s lap. You say: “Here God, take so-and-so, take my resentment, take this circumstance, take my hurt, and please – you deal with it. You take care of it. I hand it over to you.” And leave it there. Leave it with God. Let God judge. Let God deal with it. God will know what to do and it isn’t your problem to stress about anymore.

Then, we stop eating worms and we come to the banquet of God, the feast, which is prepared for ALL of us. We are all invited, no exceptions. Does God play favourites with us? No. Neither does Jesus.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of love, certainly, but also one of freedom. We become exceptionally free when we hand over to God our burdensome troubles and traumas, whether it be people in our lives or events or circumstances.

Come to God’s feast which is prepared for all, and let Father God judge!

And when we do, we learn to show mercy, forgive, and love the way God wants us to love each other and care for each other.

Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, June 11,2017. Sermon Topic for Trinity Sunday: One Powerful God in Three – Awesome!

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TRINITY SUNDAY June 11, 2017

SERMON: One Powerful God in Three – Awesome!

SCRIPTURE: John 14: 8 – 11, 16, 17, 20, 26; John 16: 13 – 15

 

Why do most Christians believe in what they call the Trinity? This is a question which puzzles the Jew, the Unitarian, or the Muslim of Islamic faith. Each of these religions rejects what the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and majority of Protestant Churches call the doctrine of the Trinity.

Trinity Sunday is the Sunday in the church calendar which commemorates the oflicial acceptance of belief in the Trinity by the earliest Christian church councils. The doctrine was established as official teaching at Nicaea in 325 AD, and at Constantinople in 381 AD. It seemed of vital importance to the church at the time to combat what they considered a heresy, or false teaching concerning God. So the early Church Fathers and Bishops, meeting in solemn council at Nicaea and Constantinople, affirmed that both Jesus Christ as Son of God and the Holy Spirit are unequivocably the same being as God the Father.

Does it sound mysterious, even completely baffling, to you? The early Church Fathers thought so, too. Throughout the centuries since these important Councils, Christian teachers have considered the Trinity a mystery.

What do they mean by a mystery? They mean that its nature cannot be fully known or understood by human intelligence. It is a truth of revelation: it is a truth God’s Spirit enables us to grasp.

Repeatedly this doctrine has been attacked as “irrational.” But the teaching of the Trinity is an attempt to describe the fullness of God, or the revelation of God.

The word “Trinity” means “three-fold-ness.” And the doctrine of the Trinity declares that the great God who confronts us in our lives and in the life of the universe, confronts us chiefly as God our Maker/ Creator, as the Eternal Word revealed in Jesus the Word made flesh, and as the Holy Spirit opening the hearts and minds of men and women of faith. Yet, it is the same God who is present in each disclosure and experience.

God lives, and as a living entity, God is active. God is active in an infinite number of ways in God’s universe, in God’s Kingdom, but we humans chiefly experience God as Creator, as Redeemer/ Saviour in Jesus, and as the Paraclete, the Spirit.

When we speak of “God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity,” it sounds as if we believe in three Gods. Three Persons suggest three different beings. But this is a misleading translation from the Latin word “persona.” What is meant is a way of making Personality known. And this is the clue to a better way of understanding the Trinity.

We believe that there is One God expressed or revealed in three very distinct ways:

1. God Creator/Maker is the Designer of Life – our earth, the universe, US – God the Designer of Life gives us life.

2. God came to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus brought God into people’s lives in a way they never knew. They could only explain him by saying that somehow God was in Christ. God entered into life in a tangible, material way – God became matter. God entered into our life and became one of us, “Immanuel” – meaning “God with us.”

3. God became Spirit – not tangible, touchable matter like Jesus, but God became a Living Spirit speaking to our hearts, minds, and souls – a very real presence, but in Spirit form.

God – One God – becomes known to us in three distinct, separate ways: God the Designer creates matter, God becomes matter, and God transforms or energizes matter into spirit. Have you experienced God in any one of these ways? How real is God to you? Have you had a dream or vision, have you heard something – a voice, a message, have you experienced a holy presence? Have you recognized that it is God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?

I’d like to share some real-life experiences of my own:

When our son Iain was not quite three years old, he became afraid of tigers. He was having nightmares dreaming about tigers and he was afraid to go to sleep. So my husband Terry and I said a prayer with him, asking God to take away Iain’s fear and bring him peace. The next morning, Iain told us that he had seen God – and that God was a woman! Amazed, we asked him, how did he know? He replied that God was wearing a long dress, (we wondered, a tunic?), and God was holding five tigers in God’s hand. And God was laughing! Iain was delighted with this dream and his fear of tigers was gone. God was taking care of the tigers.

Both my husband Terry and I have separately had visions of a bright, white light which we knew was God. Terry wasn’t brought up in a Christian home – he had no religious training whatsoever, and years before I met him, he was exploring our Christian faith to discover what it was all about. He was reading C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity in the bath, he tells me, when he suddenly had a sensation of travelling through space towards a very bright, white light. The light grew stronger and stronger, and so bright that he couldn’t look at it. He realized that he was in the presence of God – God was in direct communication with him, and God was letting him know that God existed.

I saw a bright, white light when I was baptized at thirteen years of age. I was brought up Baptist, and we were totally immersed in a tank of water when we were baptized. When I came up out of the water, I saw a bright, white light which completely enveloped me, and I felt complete and immeasurable Love. I was immersed in the presence of Love. It was God. It was a glimpse of heaven, I think, for I could hear beautiful music in the background, beautiful singing. It was so lovely. It was truly Love Incarnate. I remember walking up out of the tank thinking: “So this is what happens when you’re baptized!”

Just over a year ago, Rev. Anne Beattie-Stokes in London presented a course on the spirituality of visions and dreams, and the messages we can receive through them. Terry and I attended her course, and Anne said that she had a vivid dream when she was a teenager – Jesus came to her in her dream. He told her that she was to become a minister. She woke up and told her family that she knew what she was going to become! It was a direct message about what she was to do with her life: Jesus wanted her to become a minister.

What are your stories? How have you experienced God?

On the date of a Jewish festival called Pentecost, Jesus’ friends had “an overwhelming sense of the presence and power of God.” They said that God our Heavenly Father whom they had known in His Son Jesus, is with us now and forever through His Holy Spirit. So, Christians would say that to think of God in terms of the Trinity, we can think of what God is in His or Her eternal love, of what God did in Jesus for us, and what God does still today, living with us and within us through the Holy Spirit.Whichever persona we meet our God in, we know that we are loved and cared for. And that is the most important fact about the Trinity. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar for Parkview United Church, May 28, 2017. Sermon Topic: “To Reconcile and Make New”

Habakkuk

Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar: “To Reconcile and Make New”

The prophet, Habakkuk, shows us how to share a vision. And strangely enough he started by complaining. In the bible we call them laments.

Habakkuk was lamenting about the state of the people and the nations. He lamented that justice never seemed to prevail—there was still violence, famine, and destruction in society. He saw that things weren’t where they could be. There were better possibilities for being together in community.

In the United Church today, we have also been lamenting that things aren’t where they could be. We also see injustices—racism, heterosexism, discrimination, and other structural inequities. We see that not all are welcomed in a place that they might call home. And, we see these both in church and society.

After Habakkuk lamented, he prayed. Then, at his watch post, he waited for God’s response. He waited with confidence, with anticipation and with a steadfast faith that God would provide a vision of justice.

And sure enough God called Habakkuk to write the vision and to make it plain, so plain that a runner could read it.

Habakkuk’s is not as familiar to us as is a much more familiar figure that we follow, one whom God also called to write a vision and to make it plain, Jesus Christ. Jesus came to reconcile and make new. This phrase is embedded within the New Creed of our United Church and has formed the ongoing theme for this year’s London Conference.

Throughout the scriptures, Jesus is often found sitting sharing parables, stories that had life lessons in them for the crowds and disciples gathered around him.

In our gospel passage this morning we have the reconciliation of the prodigal son and the prodigal father. The word prodigal can be confusing, because it does not mean wayward as the story suggests, but it actually means extravagant and lavish – excessively so. The son lived a prodigal life in the far off country, and his father hosted a prodigal celebration upon his return.

Mark Allan Powell wrote a book called What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap between Pulpit and Pew that examines something that has always amazed me: why it is that a preacher thinks they say one thing and the congregation hears something totally different.

He speaks of “social location” as being one of the factors. One’s place in society influences the way we think, perceive and judge. Our unique life experiences inform our opinion and unless we can identify such biases within ourselves and in others, the path to reconciliation can prove steep.

Powell did an exercise with a class where he told the story of the prodigal son and then asked the class to get into partners and retell the story to one another. When he called the class back to order, he asked them the following:

What were some of the things that were missing or changed from the text when their partner retold the gospel story? ____

Why did the young man end up starving in a pig pen? ______

Powell noticed something when he did this exercise with his class. Everyone mentioned the wayward immoral living in the big city (100%). Hardly anyone mentioned the famine (6%) in the country where the son had run off to. Did that make a difference? Maybe not. Unless it does.

He did this same exercise with a group of students in Russia, when he had occasion to be there on sabbatical. Only a third mentioned the young man squandering his inheritance and a whopping 84% mentioned the famine in the retelling of the story.

There’s a historical and sociological reason for this difference in remembering the famine. During World War II, German forces besieged the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) cutting off food and supplies, instituting what became a 900-day famine. In that time, ¼ of the population died from starvation and exposure. 670, 000 people. You don’t forget such things so easily. For those students in Russia, the famine in the prodigal son’s far off land is worth mentioning.

So in the telling of what happens, we have these events:
1. young man receives inheritance
2. he squanders it in a far off land
3. famine comes
4. he is left in dire straits

Depending on our social station, we emphasize different aspects of the story. In Powell’s particular study, American listeners focus on point 2, ignoring point 3: rich young man goes off, squanders his riches, is left in a desperate situation, returns home, is forgiven.

Russian listeners focus on point 3, skipping over point 2: rich young man goes off, famine devastates the land, he is in a desperate situation, returns home, is restored.

Their social situation affects the way they hear, remember and interpret the story. In Russia, the great sin was leaving home and trusting in one’s self-reliance. In America, the great sin was of squandering property in dissolute living.

Asotos is the Greek word used in our scripture reading to describe this dissolute living. It can mean “wasteful” in the literal sense, as in the opposite of saving up. It can also mean “unhealthy” in the figurative sense, immoral and wicked.

We’ve tended to interpret asotos in the second manner: the son squandered his property in riotous, reckless, loose, wild living, in a life of dissipation, of debauchery. As translated in 8 different English translations of the Bible.

If we instead interpret asotos as the son squandered his property in wasteful, expensive, luxurious living, there is no indictment of immorality, just foolishness and poor planning. This is how it is translated in Syriac and Arabic versions of the Bible.

In one viewpoint, the wicked, evil and immoral son got what he deserved, because his downfall was inevitable. In the other, the dumb kid just ran into hard times – he might have been able to get by on his own if it wasn’t for the famine.

The difference being the son is either wicked and evil, in need of reform and repentance – the pivotal moment being when he comes to himself and decides to return home as a slave. Or the son is just stupid, not prepared for a rainy day or for a famine, thinking that he could make it on his own, in need of reunion and in being found – the pivotal moment being in the embrace of his father and the celebration that ensued.

So which is it? Evil prodigal son, or stupid prodigal son? Both interpretations are valid. Are we willing to have our minds open enough to hear what the other viewpoint may be? Are we willing to accept the value and truth that shapes another person’s faith and belief?

Here is where reconciliation must live: in the willingness to connect and bridge gaps, to re-examine and let go of assumptions and hearsay. It’s a hard place to live and many of us don’t like to stay there very long. If we can’t resolve or reconcile quickly, it’s too frustrating, painful, hurtful, and discouraging.

And if it’s a daunting task to reconcile multiple meanings and interpretations from trying to preach a sermon, how much more intimidating is it to try and reconcile people? When it comes to estranged families, discontented congregation members, rogue atheist ministers, the social dynamics are more complicated and stakes are far greater. When it comes to the reconciliation between nations, entire societies; be they aboriginal or settler, it seems impossible. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. Or keep trying.

We claim to be a people of faith, we claim to be a church of Jesus Christ, and so we name ourselves as pilgrims committed to a long journey of repentance, restoration, to live into what Jesus would do: to reconcile and make new.

As a postscript, Mark Alan Powell asked a group of ministers and students in Tanzania, eastern Africa, the question: why did the young man end up starving in a pig pen? The overwhelming answer was: because no one fed him. In Tanzania society is responsible for caring for their people, receiving and supporting immigrants and visitors, for warning them about famines, and helping them. It’s not kind to consider someone stupid or foolish just because they didn’t know the rules about how to live in a new country, to punish them for not being ready for something they didn’t know about.

A Little Boy’s Explanation of God

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A Little Boy’s Explanation of God — Fabulous!!!-

Out of the mouths of the Babes–

I certainly don’t think an adult could explain this more beautifully!

 

It was written by an 8-year-old named Danny Dutton, who lives in Chula Vista, CA . He wrote it for his third-grade homework assignment, to ‘explain God.’ I wonder if any of us could have done as well? (and
he had such an assignment, in California, and someone published it, I guess miracles do happen!)
EXPLANATION OF GOD:
‘One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn’t make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.’

‘God’s second most important job is listening to prayers an awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.’

‘God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So, you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.’

‘Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista. At least there aren’t any who come to our church.’

‘Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him. But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.’ And God did not let Jesus stay in the grave, but raised him from the dead.

‘His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So, he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.’

‘You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.’

‘You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God!

Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.’

‘If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared, in the dark or when you can’t swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.’

‘But…you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.
And… that’s why I believe in God.’Save

Sermon by Rev. Mary Fletcher for Parkview United Church, May 21, 2017. Sermon Topic: Rogation Blessings

rogation sunday

Rural Life/Rogation Sunday May 21, 2017

Sermon: Rogation Blessings

Scriptures: Genesis 1: 29 – 31; 2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 11

This Sunday is known as Rural Life or Rogation Sunday in our United Church calendar, and it is a centuries-old custom which gives God thanks for the goodness of creation. The word “rogare” is a Latin word meaning ask – we ask God to bless our fields and our planting, to bless our soil, seeds and water. We ask God for continued blessings in agriculture and the harvests to come. The church celebrates on this Rogation Sunday the specific themes of seed sowing and tending the fields.

In days of old, as far back as the 1600’s and earlier, it was the custom and practice to mark the boundaries of fields and the parish community. The priest or minister would process with the entire community out into the fields, onto the land, and prominent landmarks such as boulders, ditches and hedgerows would be noted and marked to set the boundaries of the land. It was a practical way to acknowledge where each field lay and where property lines were established. Embedded in this custom, as well, was the spiritual practice to acknowledge and pray for God’s goodness and bounty. The priest would “rogare” or ask God to bless the soil, the water and the seeds in their planting. This tradition known as Rogation Sunday takes place in the springtime when there is a renewing of the earth. This service traditionally follows Easter, the season of resurrection. Renewal and resurrection are the underlying themes of Rogation Sunday.

We humans are meant to reflect, seriously, our relationship with the natural created order. Our Genesis scripture reading this morning states that God has given every seed-bearing plant and tree on the face of the earth for food for all creatures, and in this same chapter of Genesis, God says to we humans, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it; rule over…every living creature that moves on the ground.” Some translations use the word “dominion” instead of rule. Have “dominion” over the earth. What does it mean to subdue or “have dominion” over the birds of the air, the cattle and animals, the plants bearing seed, the trees bearing fruit, the green plants? Having dominion does not mean that we are privileged to exploit or rule the earth with tyranny or disregard for its welfare. We are not meant to exploit or subdue the earth for our own personal gain when it would threaten or harm the well-being of all earth’s creatures. Earthly dominion means that we are “stewards” or “managers” for our earth. We are part of the whole, part of creation. All of life is simply amazing, and our planet earth is a remarkable, beautiful, amazing place to live.

We enjoy the four seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter. Our rain and water are as old as our earth, billions of years old. It is the same water – it isn’t replenished from outer space. We have a unique stratosphere and atmosphere which constantly recycles our water as it changes from liquid drenching our earth, to vapour as warm air rises in the sky carrying moisture, to rain droplets as this vapour condenses to liquid, and our clouds return rain again to the earth. Our ground, all rocks and sand and soil are as old as our earth. Our water and soil are constantly recycled. It is amazing! We are living in the middle of a miracle. We wouldn’t exist without this ecosystem. Our rain falls, cleaning the air and the soil, watering our fields, infiltrating our earth, and seeds sprout into life. The everyday miracle of seeds and plants is that year after year, they regenerate and continue to grow and flourish.

Jesus says to us in a parable: “The kingdom of God is as if a man scatters seed on the ground, he sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows – he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  And when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come,” Mark 4: 26 – 29.

Jesus equates the kingdom of God to the miracle of nature. God’s love and care for us is likened to the richness and never-ending bounty which we find in all of nature. The kingdom of God comes to us in the miracle of Jesus. When he emerges from the tomb on Easter morning, he is announcing to the world that his resurrection has overcome death and his Spirit is with us forever. The Spirit of Jesus is alive, living within us. Like the seeds of nature regenerating and flourishing, Christ brings us renewal and growth. It is unstoppable, inexplainable and unfailing. We cannot stop Jesus’ and God’s love and care any more than we can stop springtime from coming.

God has provided for us in giving us everything we need to survive on this beautiful planet earth. Let us never take creation’s abundance for granted. On this Rogation Sunday, we praise God and thank God for earth’s creation, for God’s Son Jesus, and the abundant blessings we receive from soil, seeds, water and air.

Blessing of the Seed, Soil & Water

Blessing of the Seed

Lord God, from your hand comes the mystery of life.

We thank you for the gift of seed, and the wonder of fertility, growth and harvest.

Bless the seeds we sow in our farms, allotments and gardens,

that they may germinate well, flourish,

be resistant to disease, and yield abundantly.

Bless our efforts to feed others and ourselves.

Blessing of the Soil

Lord God, from your hand comes all that nourishes life.

We thank you for the gift of soil.

Bless the soil in which our seeds are sown and our crops are planted;

bless our efforts to use it well, to enrich it,

and to sustain its fertility for the future.

Blessing of the Water

Lord God, your rain is the most precious liquid on earth.

We thank you for the gift of water.

Bless our land and our crops with rain;

grant us adequate reserves of water, and spare us drought.

Bless our efforts to keep water unpolluted and to make it accessible for all.

Bless our efforts to conserve water responsibly.

God of Goodness, we ask for your blessings for our earth.

Amen.