Pace and Direction in Life has Changed

When I started this blog back in the summer of 2009, it was my way of taking others along on a journey. I was stepping off the path I had been on and going down a road which was very new for me, with lots of new things to examine and describe along the way. The destination of the journey was never clear and I was surprised to find myself occupying the office in the corner of a rural church, my home church even.

Over this past y20131103_135207ear, getting my feet wet in a bi-vocational ministry, I have written a little about the experience. I’ve written about my call, explained how it is to be bi-vocational, shared the ordinations service,posted about baptism of my granddaughter, shared news about a fire in the church, but the interval between posts has grown, interspersed with book reviews and records of holidays.

It’s not that nothing is happening in life, that I have nothing to say, that my mind is empty. Certainly, I am busy writing, likely more than before, sermons, bulletin announcements, various reports keep my fingers near the keyboard. I don’t need the blog to fulfill the urge to write.

My days and weeks have been  taken over with things that are not really for public consumption and it’s likely this keeping me away from this forum. My thoughts and feelings about the funeral I conducted last week are best shared in private. The day belonged to the family as they remembered, not to me, the servant of the event. The visits made to my office, and to the homes in my parish are wonderful, but not the fodder for internet discussion. The struggles we go through daily, are best shared with people who are close, rather than the whole world.

I read a number of other blogs written by pastors some of which are repositories for sermon manuscripts (I could do that). Others write at length about denominational politics, theological dilemmas, and cultural issues (I could do this too, but likely won’t very often, it’s just not me). Most pastors, though, are silent. Shepherding is a local task.

So, we’ll just need to be satisfied with a lower rate of posting. I’ll still write about the events of life, the grandchildren born, the trips taken, the books read, my own thoughts from time to time about things happening around me, but a large part of my life will be kept from view, it’s not mine to share, only to hold.

 

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A Short Cycling Break

Last week we took a short break that combined cycling, theater, and food, all things we enjoy. We returned yesterday afternoon after three days of nearly perfect conditions, virtually no wind, absolutely on rain, and temperatures in the high 20’s, hot, but not uncomfortably so.

The Oxford Inn in Stratford. Charming

The Oxford Inn in Stratford. Charming

Our journey took us 90 km, from home to Stratford the first day, to the Oxford Inn B&B and a wonderful evening at the Stratford Festival Theatre with friends. The friends met us at the Parlour Gastro Pub and then provided transportation for us to and from the production of Crazy for You. I’d never been to a play in Stratford and it was certainly a wonderful experience. We’ll need to try some real Shakespeare at some point.

Getting ready to leave after a stop in a St Marys park

Getting ready to leave after a stop in a St Marys park

The next morning it was up and on to Grand Bend via the village of St Marys. Fueled by Grant’s wonderful B&B breakfast we made the entire 92 km trip to Grand Bend with no lunch. We stopped at the grocery store in Grand Bend to pick up some food which became something of a lupper. We had intended to go out for supper, but the pool and comfy deck chairs at the Grand Hideaway B&B held us until it was time to get in the taxi to go to the Huron Country Playhouse for an opening night production of Les Miserables.download We where held through the night with Haagen-Daz ice cream.

Day three started with filling up on an even larger breakfast than the morning before, served by B&B host  Peter, a professional chef. 90 km later we were home, but not before stopping for more food at Bartliff’s Bakery in Clinton (you just can’t bike past Bartliff’s)

We mostly stayed on what should have been quiet country roads for this trip,  without any serious incidents. Grand Bend itself was a nightmare with one yelling motorist and a couple of near misses. East/west roads in southern Huron County were very busy on our Saturday trip home and motorists seemed to have little time or space for our bike. We were pushed off the road twice, once by an oncoming car passing two slower vehicles. The gravel on the shoulder was very loose, bringing us to a full stop, but without damage or injury. There was a close call with a pick-up truck in Clinton, which, on sober reflection, may have been my fault.

Apart from those small annoyances, we had a great few days away. Sun, wind, humming wheels on the road and great company. What could be better?

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 Stole

20140227_0051

Photo Courtesy Annelies Numan

My ordination service, in the Christian Reformed Church, was an odd and wonderful thing. It is unusual for a minister to be ordained in his home/childhood church. I have been part of the congregation where I now serve for over 40 years. I’m older than the regular candidate, and earned my MDiv from a seminary outside my denomination. The service itself was a community event since I have been involved with the other churches in town for many years. It was an awesome and diverse event.

One of the very special, and unique aspects of the evening was the presentation of a stole. A stole is a liturgical vestment which, in some denominations is seen as a sign of ordination and the office of the ministry of Word and Sacrament. In my part of the world the use of a stole is unusual in our denomination. It is however common in the Lutheran churches, whose seminary I attended.

Photo courtesy Annelies Numan

Photo courtesy Annelies Numan

The stole was given to me by some of my Lutheran friends and presented by Matthew, a Lutheran pastor from Montreal who has become a close friend following a couple of pilgrimage trips mentioned earlier in this blog.

Receiving and wearing the stole has been a wonderful privilege. I love symbolism and will wear the stole for special events, Lord’s supper, baptisms, weddings, and funerals as a symbol of being yoked with Christ.

Matthew 17:28-30

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The Ordination Service

In 2009 I started this blog, not knowing where I was headed, but realizing I had started something new. Those first posts are tentative, a feeling in the dark, knowing God had a plan, knew what I was supposed to do, and if I kept walking through open doors I might find my way. It has been amazing how doors opened, and opened, and opened, until, maybe just as one more open door, I was ordained as a Minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church this past Friday night.

It was wonderful, a mountaintop really, with folks coming from far away and from nearby to share and participate in the event. I felt truly blessed and supported, loved even. The event was very ecumenical, with my Lutheran friends very well represented among the CRC majority. I will cherish the stole that was presented even though I’m told it will “pull hard”.

There is much processing still to be done, and I may write more on this event at a later date.

I don’t have any pictures to post yet, but I do have video of the whole event which you can view here:

 

 

A Week of Contrasts

We’re on a family holiday, the first one in 3 years. We had a couple of criteria for this adventure. Since it’s winter it had to be warm. All flights from the various places where we live needed to be direct. We wanted something more interesting than a resort in the Caribbean, particularly since we would have a 20 month old grandson along.

Las Vegas provided the direct flights, warmth, and had the added benefit of being an economical place to fly. It really didn’t do the thing for the interesting so we decided to split our time between the city of casinos and the wilderness of the Grand Canyon.

From our Las Vegas Hotel room
From our Las Vegas Hotel room

What a contrast! Las Vegas is amazing, teeming with people with a continual party spirit, its casinos and hotels are beautiful expressions of human ingenuity and creativity. Towers and pyramids rise out of the landscape. Michael Angelo’s David graces the hallway of a casino with more famous sculptures in alcoves outside the building. Of course, it’s all fake, nice to look at, but fake, designed to draw the unsuspecting into the casino. Even some of the trees are fake. Nothing in Vegas is as it seems, although it is all quite beautiful.

From right in front of our Grand Canyon hotel
From right in front of our Grand Canyon hotel

After two nights in Vegas, we get into rental cars and drive 250 miles (we’re in the US now) to the Grand Canyon National Park. Here we stay in a log hotel built in the early 1900’s. Its not as luxurious as our digs in Vegas, but right outside the front door is a sight that no human could create, the Grand Canyon. The view is stunning, confusing the senses in its majesty. You could spend the whole day looking and still see new things, new colours. It just goes on and on. We are fortunate to be here in February. Its relatively quiet and yet it is warm enough to spend time outside reading a book.

Of course, you can spend the whole day looking in Vegas too, but there is something about getting to know something about the creator of the Grand Canyon that tops the best work of the designers of the Las Vegas strip.

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.