Sermon 1st Sunday of Christmas 2014

Luke 2:29-32

We’re in an odd place today aren’t we? The excitement of Christmas is still fresh in our memories. The songs, the favorite carols have been sung. A few of you may still have celebrations planned, but on the whole Christmas is past and we sit in this no man’s land between that month long celebration and the coming of the New Year. Some of you may have thought seriously about staying home today, feeling like there had been enough gathering, enough singing, enough scripture to take you to the end of the year.

We might feel a little like that about Luke today as well. He, of all the gospels spends the most time in Jesus birth and childhood. It takes the Gospel of Mark only 250 words to introduce Jesus and get to his time of teaching. Luke takes ten times as many words.

If we were making the film of Jesus early life the scene we read this morning would likely be cut out, left on the cutting room floor. It doesn’t build excitement like a sky full of angels, it doesn’t tug at heartstrings like the thought of a young mom giving birth in a dark, cold stable, it doesn’t make good fodder for a Christmas pageant, who wants to play the really old people holding a baby. It doesn’t work well on a Christmas card either. It just seems, well, out of place, redundant.

And maybe that is the reason we would cut this piece. Sure the young mom is here, with her husband carrying a couple of dead doves. The baby is here too, and we all love babies, they exude love, we want to hold them, cuddle them. But old people? Old people don’t get to having starring roles very often, putting them here in this passage, lovingly preserving their interaction with this little family group, makes us wonder what Luke is up to, why bother with this story.

Now, it’s true that we really don’t know much about these two, we can’t even say for sure that Simeon was old; it seems he might be because of his words about death and dying, about being dismissed, in fact the NRSV makes it sound like he is going to be dismissed shortly.

Anna we do know something about, she is very old, eighty four years old, in Ancient Israel this is very, very, very old and she has been a widow for most of those years. Luke calls her a prophet, in an age when prophets have become extinct.  In this label he shows her to have a special link to God, a special gift but also a link to a past age.

Both of these folks represent the old guard, they represent the people of the Old Testament, the old covenant, and as such we don’t expect them to be the ones to usher in, to welcome a new era. We expect them to be at the forefront of standing up for tradition, likely from the quiet comfort of a chair at home. We expect Simeon and Anna to have found their groove, to be comfortable with the way things are, rather than looking for change in the future. We expect them to be the ones hoping for things to stay the same, because they have figured out how to live with the same. We would not have been at all surprised to have had Luke tell us the story of a group of students welcoming Jesus, maybe having a bit of a demonstration, some stone throwing at the Romans and at their own leaders, some slogan shouting, maybe a camp-out in front of the temple.  We expect the old guard to be safe, quietly disapproving at home, lobbying for the status quo.

We expect this, because we see it in ourselves and in those around us. I know it’s a huge, unfair generalization, but as we get older, we seem to be more and more attached to the status quo, more interested in stability than change. We are more likely to judge what will happen tomorrow by what happened today, and are more likely to hope that is true. I see it in myself as I move into, and somewhat beyond middle age. I’m less likely to get excited about issues, less likely to feel like changing the world either on my own or as part of a group. I feel more disposed to coasting, to letting sleeping dogs lie, to recognizing that this is just the way the world is and forming my life around it.

But, this isn’t the way it should be is it? The Bible gives no examples of retirement, no examples of backing off from the work of kingdom bringing, no examples of complacently accepting the status quo in a world where the status quo is a long way from the way things should be. It gives no examples of tenaciously holding on to the past.

No, in fact Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world, calls us to be agents of change. What does he say about salt that loses it’s saltiness, loses its ability to change the food it’s added to? It is thrown out.  There is no place in the kingdom for those who stop being agents of change in the world

Simeon and Anna model this for us today.

Simeon had opened himself to the working of the Holy Spirit

Anna had spent years waiting in the temple, waiting to welcome the messiah, waiting to welcome a new age, an age of God with us.

I wonder what they expected to see. Did they expect this Messiah to come in an expensive carriage with an entourage of nurses, footmen, and guards. Did they expect his coming to be so filled with pomp and ceremony that an old man and an old woman would be little more than excited spectators held back from the child by an over protective security detail.

Did they expect a baby at all? I actually doubt that they did. They were more likely expecting to meet the messiah, fully formed, full grown, showing power, and majesty, with a large group of followers giving him honour, listening to his every word.

I think they were likely surprised when the Holy Spirit tickled them awake and pointed them at a poor family group, father, mother and child, coming into the temple alone, almost anonymously. I’m sure they looked past the couple as they they studied the doorway of the temple, looking for something more impressive, more Messiah like.  I’m sure there was a bit of incredulity in both their faces.

“Are you sure Spirit?” Simeon may have said, “Are you sure this is the one who is going to save us from our sins, the one who is going to set up a kingdom, God’s Kingdom, on earth” “He’s just a poor little baby, There is no power here” “I think I’ll just sit down again in my comfortable chair and wait for my picture of the Messiah to appear and while I wait, I’ll just stick with the old laws, the old ways, for a while longer They have worked for centuries now and this baby doesn’t look like he’ll be changing them any time soon, if ever.

And Anna, roused by the spirit from a short nap may have looked around in confusion, wondering why the spirit had poked her and seeing the little family group may have had to have an argument with herself about whether to get up or not, because getting up, recognizing this little one was going to change the rest of her life, going to the temple to watch would no longer be required. Her life’s routine was about to be ruined.

Of course, Luke doesn’t tell us anything about what they thought, or whether or not they argued with themselves, or with God, about approaching this unlikely couple carrying a month and a half old baby and speaking over the child, celebrating the child, celebrating God’s grace in the world.

What he does tell us is that the spirit nudged these two and they responded with gladness. They opened themselves to the change that was coming, the change they had been actively waiting for a long time. They may have been surprised, maybe even a little disappointed, that the Messiah was appearing as a baby but they accepted that God’s ways are not always our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. They understood that God’s grace doesn’t often come in the package we imagine. They were willing to let go of the past, the old covenant and look forward with hope toward the new one.

For Simeon it is the culminating experience of his life

“Lord, now you are letting your servant[d] depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

For him, peace didn’t mean finishing one more business deal, seeing one more grandchild, presiding over one more family celebration, no seeing God’s salvation in a little child was all he needed. It was all he needed to fully embrace the change which was coming to the world, to fully embrace the Christ Child and all that meant.

He predicts that the coming of this child will be difficult for many, he prophesies “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.” This is not the easy path that we might expect the old guard to hang on to. No, Simeon predicts turmoil, and opposition in the wake of Gods grace coming into the world. He even, I’m sure with tenderness and a tear in his eye predicts the heartbreak Mary, this young mother, will suffer as she watches her wonderful son humiliated and finally crucified.

And Anna, she begins to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. She at her advanced age she becomes an evangelist sharing the good news of what God is doing in the world.

Both Simeon and Anna respond to the coming of the Messiah, the movement from the old covenant, to the new covenant, a new way of interacting with God, with gladness, with excitement, the testimony that this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened in their lives. In fact, for them nothing will be more exciting. They greet the messiah with open arms.

And we are called today to do the same. Today on this Sunday stranded between celebrations, this Sunday that seems mundane, we are called to look beyond our traditions, our comfort zones, and see the wonders God has done. Coming into the world as Emmanuel, God with us, continues to be the cause of the rising and falling of many, it continues to be a sign that is opposed, it continues to push us out of our comfort zones, continues to push us away from the old covenant where we thought we could do something to bring about our own salvation to a new covenant where our salvation is freely given.

This coming into the world is still not spectacular, it shows itself in unexpected, often surprising ways. We are called to watch, to wait, and to be ready to act.

All of us are called to this, not just those of us who are older who may be holding strongly to the past, for the sake of the past, wishing for things to revert to the way they were because we think they were better, making a god out of history, and tradition, but also those for whom change has become the god, who lobby for change for the sake of change. All of us are called to recognize that God has made, and continues to make a change in the world. That the kingdom of God is continuing to break into our world and into our lives.

The coming of God into the world as an unlikely weak baby, in the skin of a child, to save us from our sins is the greatest thing this world has ever seen. God continues to break into the world, even today, in quiet and even mundane ways. Like Simeon and Anna we are to be watching for these God moments, open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, ready to rejoice in each sighting, and prepared to alter the course of our lives to join the one who is bringing change to the world.

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Do Not Be Afraid

Here is the sermon from the Lucknow Strawberry Fest Service on June 22 2014

Sermon June 22 2014

Matthew 10:24-39

 

How many of you remember Greer’s pond? Back in the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s Greer’s pond was the swimming pool for the village of Lucknow. Just outside of the village on what is now called Harper’s line there were two ponds, one for swimming, seemingly open to the public, but without all the signs about using at your own risk, and the other stocked with fish.

 

The ponds are still there, but I don’t see much swimming there anymore. When I was a kid, on hot summer days, Greer’s pond was full of village kids and we would be there too, a couple of time a week.

 

My story really isn’t about Greer’s pond though. To be able to enjoy the pond safely one had to know how to swim. Knowing how to swim is a good thing anyway, so my parents enrolled us in swimming lessons. It was a time before a pool in Lucknow, so off we went to Wingham. I have a vague memory that there may have even been a bus to take us there.

 

I was the biggest kid in Guppies and I was terrified. I’ve looked at the requirements to pass Guppies since then and I’m not sure what my problem was. It all looks pretty simple now. Bobbing twice, opening eyes under water and retrieve two objects, float two body lengths, tread water for 5 seconds (I never really understood the value of treading water). It all seems pretty innocuous now, pretty simple, but I knew I was a land animal and water was not my normal habitat.

 

The biggest terror though, was the high board. After all of our floating, bobbing and treading, if there was time, the class would be allowed jump off the high board. It wasn’t really that high, six feet off the water maybe, but to an eight year old kid it was enormous. While the other kids in the class weren’t my peers, they were all younger than me, it was peer pressure that got me up the steps and had my toes edging to the end of the board.

 

Did I mention my problem with heights?

 

I’d seen the other little kids jump, it seemed easy, but from where I was now there was no way. But, the next kid in line was already standing behind me, there was no way back, at least no way which would preserve any dignity I had left.

 

The life guard, seeing my predicament, my hesitation, the look of supreme terror that might soon lead to yellow water running down my already wet legs, offered me the end of the hook. This hook was at the end of a long pole and one might imagine it was made specifically for scooping land animals like me off of the bottom of the pool. I took it gratefully, with both hands, and pushing back tears of terror, I jumped.

 

Our scripture passage this morning is in the middle of a longer conversation Jesus has with his disciples about mission, about how they should share the good news of the gospel with the world around them. About how they need to jump off of the high board into a world that was as foreign to them as water was to me, the land animal. Jesus is clear that this job will not be an easy one, he is sending them, he says, like sheep among the wolves, he tells them that their normal support group, their families will turn against them, points out that they should not expect to be treated any differently than he, their teacher was treated, and that didn’t turn out all that well did it.

 

Crosses are frightening things.

 

Jesus recognizes that his disciples will be tempted, to stay on land, not to engage the world, not to step into the world as kingdom builders where building God’s kingdom means running in opposition to the kingdoms already here.

 

He knows what bringing the message of the gospel and proclaiming a new kingdom will mean for his followers. They will be marginalized, they will come last in popularity contests, they will be pushed to the edges of society, in fact he goes as far as to say some of them will be imprisoned and even killed.

 

For over 2000 years, disciples of Jesus Christ, when they are carrying out His mission, when they are actively working to bring the kingdom of God into this world, find themselves resisted and marginalized.  Many of us resist stepping up to the task put in front of us. We are afraid to climb up onto the high board and content ourselves with merely hanging around the pool. Some of us are good at giving money so that someone else swims in the pool, jumps off the high board, but we really hang on to the fact that we are land animals and are afraid of getting wet.

 

And we think we are likely ok where we are at the edge of the pool. We know about grace don’t we. We know that Jesus died for us, to bring us back into relationship with God and that there is nothing we can do to arrange our own salvation. Grace comes through Jesus, and it free. We just need to believe and sit back and enjoy the privileges. Jesus, we say, has let us into the fenced area around the pool, paid our admission, but we don’t need to get wet do we?

 

That’s called cheap grace. Cheap grace is a term coined by Dietrich Bonheoffer. He describes it this way:

 

Cheap grace means grace as bargain basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is poured out without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs. . . . Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, as principle, as system. It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian idea of God. . . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. . . . Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock again and again.

 

It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it gives them their lives. It is costly, because it condemns sin; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s son—”you were brought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.[1]

 

This morning we are called to discipleship, we are called to climb up on the high board and to jump in. We are called to jump into a world where justice is often a scarce commodity, where mercy has been replaced with a drive for profits, where folks who walk humbly with their God as seen as losers, outsiders, misfits.

 

We are called to be kingdom builders this morning, to cast our lot with the poor, the homeless, the mistreated. We are called to advocate for the underdog, the disinfranchised, to care for God’s creation, to stand up for what is right, not what is expedient. We are called to be witnesses to what Jesus has done and what we are called to isn’t popular, isn’t easy, isn’t safe. We are called to get wet in the world, to jump off of that high board, to leap in faith.

 

But, we don’t leap alone. Just like the lifeguard extended the hook for me to hold on to, Jesus promises not to abandon us, not to leave us, encourages us not to be afraid. We are so important to our Father, God, that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. The most insignificant part of us is known and important. As we make this leap into mission, this step toward discipleship, work that will change us and the world around us, we do not go alone. Just as I grabbed that lifeguard’s hook and held on with both hands as I jumped into a very hostile environment, the water, we can wrap our arms around Jesus, in fact, he wraps his loving arms around us as we leap, sheltering us, watching over us, giving us courage for what is to come, for the work before us. Jesus encourages us as we go, just as that lifeguard long ago did, shouting, don’t be afraid, I’m here, I’ll take care of you.

 

So, what did Greer’s pond have to do with this whole story anyway. It did give some local flavor to my story, but I think it can be larger than that as well. You see, there were no lifeguards at Greer’s pond. No high board either but there was a diving board, and even though I didn’t pass Guppies that year, I think they gave me a Minnows badge instead, it wasn’t long before I was diving off of that low board at Greer’s pond, by myself and swimming underwater to the other side.

 

Something that seemed so impossible as I stood trembling and wet on that high board above the chlorinated clarity of that pool, became something of a second nature in the brown murkiness of Greer’s pond. Oh there were still times of panic in the water when rough housing town kids held the little farm kid underwater for just a little to long, the water never really became my friend, I was still a land animal, but because a life guard with a hook on a pole encouraged me, told me not to be afraid I was able to find a place in it.

 

Many of you here this morning are standing on the edge of the pool, your admission was paid by Jesus Christ, you stand afraid of fully committing to a life of mission, a life of kingdom bringing, a life which makes a difference which brings Jesus into real life through you. You have found it comfortable on the edge, living quietly while injustice and misery go on unchecked around you and around the world. You know you should act, you should jump in, you should do something, but you let fear hold you back.

 

This morning, hear the voice of Jesus ringing through the litany of bad things that will happen when we truly act as his disciples, with a clear do not be afraid, you are valued, you are loved, you are watched over, now go, jump into the water, jump into the mission I have for you here, share the good news of the gospel and bring change to the world in which you live a change based in loving God and Loving neighbours. It won’t be a popular movement, it won’t be a safe task, but you don’t need to be afraid, because a God who cares about falling sparrows, knows the number of hairs on your head is there to protect you to guide you to watch over you because to this God you are worth more than many sparrows.

 

Amen

 

 

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2003), Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4. Fortress Press pg 29

The Almost Final Step

On Wednesday of this week, I was examined by Classis Huron of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). It’s the last step in the process toward ordination. I’ve been working on, and finished a Master of Divinity. I’ve been examined by the faculty of Calvin Seminary, the Candidacy Committee of the CRCNA, and received a call (job offer) from a church. The examination is the last hurdle.

Of all of the exams, this one is the most onerous. Two examiners are assigned, one to delve into practical matters and one to cover theology. Both contacted me, in one way or another, before the event and gave a very broad idea of what they might ask. It was broad enough that virtually anything was on the table. There were about a hundred people in the audience and they were allowed to ask questions as well (there weren’t many of those).

After about two hours, the questions stopped and all but the delegates were asked to leave the room. It seemed to take a long time, but we were called back in and, while the chairman tried to add some drama, implying failure, I was passed.

I felt a lot better as it was announced this was behind me. I don’t suffer a lot from nervousness, but this experience, with its broad scope, and answers, which are, by their very nature, sometimes controversial, did push me as far as I have been pushed in recent years.

The title of this post is “The Almost Final Step”. There is one more, the Ordination Service. It will be a celebration, not a trial, but it is the final step in this journey. That service will be held February 28th at 7:30.

During the questions, I was asked to reflect on God’s work in this whole process. All along the way, God has been pushing, prodding, and opening doors. The presence is much clearer in retrospect than it is in the moment, but, I know that as this journey continues to unfold, God will continue to be there, out front, marking the way.

The Journey to Ordination: An Update

It’s been a little while since I shared anything here about the ongoing trip toward ordination. This is mostly because there has been little to tell.

DSCN1831Back in September, I was called as the bi-vocational interim pastor of the church where I have been a member for most of my life. This call was the trigger to start the final steps of the process. You see, to be ordained legitimately you need to have both an internal call (you recognizing yourself that God is telling you this is the direction your life is meant to go) and and an external call ( a group of people, a church, telling you that this is a suitable direction, God’s direction, for your life). The external call and the internal call affirm each other. Ordination requires both.

With the external call realized, the bureaucracy moves into gear. Examiners are assigned to make sure, even though both calls are recognized, the candidate has the necessary skills, and gifts, to actually function in the role of “minister of the word”. The examinations cover sermon writing, delivery, and worship leadership, as well as theology and practical ministry.

Back in December, I was assigned 1 Samuel 3 as my examination sermon. Two weeks ago, I led a service and preached the resulting sermon in my own church with two pastors present. (you can view the sermon here)  By the next evening, I had their report, three single spaced pages critiquing not only the sermon but the entire service, as well as two other sermons which I had submitted earlier. It was a valuable exercise which, while painful in places, did conclude with the words “we heartily recommend”. This sort of input is actually quite unusual in the every day world of preaching because ministers so rarely hear each other, and when they do are hesitant to comment on what they have heard.

The next stop in the process is almost the last one. On February 12th, fully five months after being called, I will be examined, orally, (no they are not going to look in my mouth) at the regular meeting of the classis (a body consisting of ministers and elders from 22 churches) There is 40 minutes allotted for this on the agenda, but, I suspect the questions may go on longer. Two ministers have been assigned to lead off the questioning, but, at some point, the floor will be opened and anyone is able to ask virtually anything. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to this experience.

With the examinations passed, if I am successful, there will be a time of celebration, an ordination service, likely a couple of weeks after the oral examination. The rules say you can’t set the date or start planning this event until after the successful completion of the exams, so I can’t tell you a date. Hopefully, I can in a couple of weeks.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the first post on this blog. I wonder if the title of this blog will need to change once this piece of the journey is complete.

An Interaction with Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope

A week or so ago, driving to a dentist appointment in Goderich, I passed the Benmiller United Church. The sign board in front of the church announces the time of the services, 10:00 am, and the name of the person currently leading the congregation. In stark contrast to the business as usual of the sign, a bulldozer is working next to the church with an odd extension attached to the bucket, carefully stripping off the bricks for salvage. Another rural church is closed, the third in my area in the past year. I’m sure a small monument, not unlike a grave stone, will be planted on the lot, to commemorate the place which was once the social and spiritual center of this community.

  It seems the church, once a driving force in Canada, is being pushed, and shoved, by various forces into a corner of the social fabric which is almost redundant.  The pushing is not unlike that experienced by the Crow People as described in Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope. The movement from the feared, nomadic nation, roaming the American west, a nation that knew what it meant to be a Crow, to life on an ever shrinking reservation, where the old rules and the old measures of success no longer held true, could be used as a metaphor for the decline of the church in Canada. Just as the sphere of the Crow influence was eroded, from all of the land they walked on, to seventy million acres, and then to two million acres with parcels of being sold off every year further endangering their identity, the church in Canada has lost much of its place as well, being pushed from honour to obscurity, from power to poverty.

Plenty Coups, the chief of the Crow identifies the end of their existence, as it was traditionally known, with the disappearance of the buffalo. He identifies this as the point their paradigm for life shifted, where their sense of what was honourable and shameful was turned upside down. It was at this point, their social structure, their measure of courage, their entire sense of self identity changed. He does not identify the fact that being on the reservation, being prevented from making war, stealing horses, counting coup, as the turning points. These were certainly symptoms of the change, but he points the loss of the buffalo as the root, the defining moment, the point at which there was no opportunity to turn back.

I wonder, if the church in Canada could identify the particular thing which is the loss of buffalo for us, could we face the future and flourish, with the radical hope shown by Plenty Coups and the Crow people? Plenty Coups was able to articulate the cause of the end of the world as they knew it. The loss of the buffalo meant many other things were lost as well. Courage and cunning in the hunt would no longer be prized, honoured, traits. The nomadic existence, following the herds, would no longer sustain life. The protection of the tribe from other tribes, as they moved through their lands, would no longer be a necessary, or even valued skill. Bravery and courage took on new meaning and were no longer measured in the same ways. All of this change could be placed on the loss of the buffalo, and as much as one might hope to turn back time, to hold on to the old ways, the thing that made the old ways work, the buffalo, had disappeared and they were not coming back. With the buffalo gone, forward is the only direction available if the tribe is to survive.

Part of our issue, as we struggle to find our way in the church, is, we cannot identify our buffalo, and since we cannot identify the particular event, we somehow feel there may be a way back to where we were. For the Crow there was no choice, it was change or die, the buffalo were gone, end of story.  For the church it is much less clear. Is the issue the epidemic of consumerism sometimes called afluenza, which has replaced the God of the heavens with the god of stuff? Has positive thinking so invaded our psyche we no longer need to come together in churches for physical, moral and spiritual support and, if we did come together for those reasons, would it be a sign of failure? Has the media so permeated our lives that the truths of scripture have become mere whispers, and in fact, not even recognized as truth? Is it the shift that has taken place from tool using to technocracy to the technopoly which has overwhelmed the church and in some ways made it seem redundant? Or is it the effect of our culture’s move to postmodernity, with its distrust of the meta- narrative, and its refusal to accept that there might be some ultimate truth?

Whatever issue we might choose doesn’t really matter. Plenty Coups chose to identify the disappearance of the buffalo, he could have chosen to point at any number of other events, but he picked this one as the defining event, and recognized, neither he nor his people could reverse it. They could not bring the buffalo back. They had to change, adapt, by, as he puts it, becoming like the chickadee, watching, listening, learning.

As I watched the bulldozer peeling the bricks off of the church in Benmiller, joining the one in Nile, and Donnybrook, and St Helens, and Kingsbridge, and Lucknow, and Whitechurch, and St Augustine, I wonder if this is just part of the kind of death and destruction Plenty Coups and the Crow people experienced after the buffalo were gone. There must have been a real sense of hopelessness there, and yet, by recognizing there is no way to return to the past glory days, Plenty Coups is able to lead the remnant of his people forward toward a new hope and a new flourishing identity.

Our churches need to do the same if they are to flourish. Trying to identify the reason the old ways don’t work anymore, and doing battle with that reason, is likely not the answer. The force is just too large, too dominant, the change in our cultural landscape just too radical to overcome. We are called to be in the world but not of the world, but still to be salt and light. We need to learn again what makes a church a church, in this time, and in our culture. This would entail quiet listening and learning, a study of how this new reality in which we find ourselves functions and flourishes and then applying our learning to a new radical hope, and new way of flourishing as God’s people in this world.

Plenty Coups put faith in his dream, a dream that told him that a tree, the Crow tree, would be left standing after the storm which was coming. We can put our faith in a God who promises never to leave us or forsake us, who promises to be there whenever two or three are gathered together. In the same way as the Crow nation looks much different after the storm, but is flourishing, the church in Canada can flourish, in new ways we may not yet be able to imagine.

On Death and Dying

This past week I attended A Dialogue on the Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Aboriginal Worldview  sponsored by the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. I must admit, I attended this event under duress. One of my professors made the dialogue part of his course requirements and since it landed at the beginning of a week in which a lot of assignments were due, it is unlikely  I would have gone without this “little push”.

It was a day of learning new things, some of which I am still processing. I learned how aboriginal spirituality is tied to the land and recognizes the spirit in all that grows on it; the tree people, the rock people, the green people, the winged people, the four leggeds and the two leggeds. It’s a paradigm that is outside of, but intersects with, my own in various places..

Rev.Ray Aldred, was the keynote speaker for the day, an ordained minister and associate professor at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary. His presentation was insightful and interesting, but it was something  he said later in the day, as part of an informal panel, that has been working over in my head through the week. He was talking about death and said  one of the greatest gifts the older generation can give the next one is to go to their ancestors, to die.

Now, to be fair, he never used the word die, that is my word clarifying the going to the ancestors words. The way  he said it, the “going to the ancestors” was just part of the cycle, a carrying on in a different place, the next stop on the journey, a continuation along the trajectory of life. In fact, it was a gift to the next generation because it gave them an opportunity to step up and use their gifts of leadership in the community.

His words made me wonder, as he spoke easily about a topic  we non-aboriginals avoid, if he is typical of his people. His “going to the ancestors” was as logical and inviting as my saying  “I’m going to be a grandfather”. There seemed to be little angst since the going was to those  he already knew. There was no indication of meeting the Great Spirit, of standing in judgement, of counting on the blood of the Lamb, just going to a family reunion. There was no talk of streets of gold (would I even like streets of gold?) rather, a feeling of coming together with people who are loved, in a place that is known and valued, a natural transition. Something to be expected, expectantly.

Our Christian view, of death as an enemy, a defeated enemy, but still an enemy, does not lend itself to embracing this transition  each of us will face as a natural part of the cycle of life. We still see death as the punishment for sin, rather than a gift to future generations, an unnatural intrusion into a perfect world, rather than a natural transition to the arms of the ancestors.

I will continue to mull and ponder.

Swimming

Its Thursday and I feel a bit like I’m swimming, directionless, with nowhere to put my feet down and just rest a while. Its disconcerting.

This feeling may be coming from the fact that school never really stopped. By the time I wrote my Greek exam and the final Philosophy paper, my online Preaching course had been opened with all of its challenges.

It may be coming from the trip that we are taking this weekend, to Edmonton (more on this later), which has landed in the middle of the first week of my physical seminary classes, making it feel like things there have not really started yet while giving me the strong feeling of already being behind.

It may be due to the increased workload that has come to my consulting company, partially from my own successes, and partially because one of the folks  I worked with has been relieved of his duties and I have been asked to cover some of those as well.

It may be spawned by the realization that I am entering the last two semesters of my degree and really don’t have a clear picture of what the next step is.

It may be a simple as the fact that fall has arrived with its shorter days, and the promise of the cold and dark of winter.

Whatever is causing this feeling, I wish it would go away. I really don’t have time for it right now.

Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. Isaiah 49:1