Lent 1 – February 18, 2018

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

Linda Yates on Zombies

Kushner on When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Theo Wilson on going undercover

Wikipedia: Lazarus of Bethany

Washington Post on School Shootings

 

Words of Welcome
3 breaths – one for the people who are here right now & for those who can’t be – one for the people who have come before us (our parents, congregation, early settlers, Mi’maki, disciples, Jesus) – one for the people who will come in the future (our children & grandchildren, the future congregation of St. Luke’s)
Lighting the Candle & Ringing the Singing Bowl

Hymn Come and Find the Quiet Center VU 374

Call to Worship

One: This is our time to prepare for worship.
All: It is the time to set aside all of the hurt and exhaustion from the past week.
One: This is our opportunity to offer thanksgiving.
All: It is our opportunity to recognize all of our abundance and offer thanks.
One: This is a place to share.
All: We share the good and the bad. We learn to celebrate together, to work together and to help when and where we can.
One: This is what it is to worship.

Opening Prayer

Caring God, we pray that our worship today will renew our spirits, encouraging us and inspiring us to work towards the common good. Amen.

Hymn Holy Spirit, Truth Divine VU 368

Theme Conversation What is Lent?

Readings John 11:1-44
Linda Yates on Zombies

Musical Response Holy Spirit Hear Us VU 377 v1&2

Sermon When disaster strikes…

The part of this story that jumped out at me this time around was that Jesus stayed an extra two days before heading back towards the gravely ill Lazarus.  Mary and Martha, when they finally get to see Jesus, are actually mad at him.  He had tried his best but work got in the way, and he simply could not get back to them in time.  So Jesus lamented.  All of this I understand and can relate to.

Usually I’m in full on zombie mode for Lazarus.  It’s not because, I’m a Walking Dead fan or on the side of the White Walkers.  It’s more because of an experience I had with a group of 5 year olds when I was working with a Beaver Colony in Middle Musquodoboit.  One of the 5 year olds had experienced more tragedy in his young life than the other 5 year olds.  We’d had a number or conversations about his Aunt and Uncle, who had both died in separate accidents in the previous two years.  He liked to visit their grave when we were outside playing, just check on them and then head back to the rest of the group playing in the church yard.  One night he invited his two besties to go with him, so I went too, just in case.  He explained to his friends that they had died, and he and his sisters and mom had planted flowers there for them and put in solar lights so that they would see the light and remember they were loved. They stood there for a moment in silence, and then looked towards the woods where the dusk was settling in a little faster and one of them said – “that’s where the zombies are!” and they ran back to the rest of the kids.  I didn’t blame them or think much of it at the time.  The woods were a little gross looking with faded silk and plastic flowers caught in the undergrowth and lots of old man’s beard hanging in the trees.  But the next time I heard one of the same trio of kids refer to zombies, I realized the five year olds at least were using the term zombie to refer to things that they didn’t fully understand and found just a little unsettling.

A few months later, Linda’s video interview came out and her thoughts on zombies and their relation to the resurrection due to people’s misunderstanding always stuck with me.

If you aren’t up to date on zombies in popular culture, a fun question to ask is “What do you need to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?”  The answers you’ll get range from very practical items, to ridiculous.  Let’s face it, regardless of if we like it or not, we’re stuck with a zombie fascination for a few years yet.  Personally, I think the people who are most fascinated with the living dead zombies are people who need a very unrealistic escape from the everyday.  That there is something worse than what they currently have to deal with.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around a lot this week. Between dealing with Ash Wednesday and Lent theology and how best to portray that in a way that still upholds tradition without shaming people. And then I heard about the shooting in Florida.  Now, I don’t know any high school students in Florida, and currently I don’t have any live tv, so I didn’t see any traumatizing images, but I am a person over the age of 18, who contributes to society, so I did take some time to reflect on this incident and what I, personally, can do to improve the situation we are left to deal with.  In case you’ve never dealt with an ADHD mind, either passive or active, let me pre-warn you: pretty much everything goes off on a tangent.  So while Ash Wednesday and mass shootings were my two major thinking topics this week, as sure as a squirrel distracts a dog running towards it’s human’s whistle, I went off topic too.  I thought about the theology of the past around confession and the needless things that people were told to go to confession about.  I thought about hurtful words masked in the “guise of prayer”.  I thought about the #metoo movement and it’s impact on everyone.  I thought about the things churches can do to offer a little bit of hope and resilience to people who find themselves in a minority position most of the time.  I thought about bullying and the role it plays in the mental health of so many adults and children.  I thought a lot about gun control and the evolution of the necessity of guns, I wondered about the attraction of semi-automatic weapons and tried to think of a practical use for them other than a zombie apocalypse.  (And for the record I don’t think I’d need one to survive the zombie apocalypse.) I thought about mental health and the gaps in our system and I wondered if the system in the US was worse.  I thought about how so many people require everything to be binary – a one or the other choice, when there is no clear answer and how we’ve even cultured our politics to be binary.  Either you agree with everything I believe, or you are against me. Binary thinking lead me back to the lesson for today and the binary thinking we sometimes use when reading the Bible.   It has to be all fact or it has to be all fiction.  Binary thinking doesn’t fix anything other than a computer program.  It didn’t fix the situation for Mary and Martha, nor will it fix society’s issues with violence.  I don’t really know what fixed the situation with Mary and Martha.  I don’t know how Lazarus died, or exactly what Jesus did other than to speak to him, to bring him back to life.  I don’t even really know if it was a literal death or a metaphorical death.  I know that medical technology then certainly wasn’t what it is now. I know that Jesus saw the compassion that Mary and Martha’s faith family had for them during their time of crisis.  I know that Jesus felt deeply about the whole situation, especially after listening to what the sisters had to say.  I know Jesus was criticized for helping others, but not helping Lazarus.  I know the criticism bothered Jesus or he wouldn’t have been troubled by the whole situation.

I don’t know, all the details of the story, but I know the family of Lazarus was in crisis.  I know that often in crisis, we say things we don’t mean.  I know that often when disaster happens, we look for a reason, for someone or something to blame.  There’s not always an answer to the blame question, especially during crisis.  This week after yet another school shooting incident in the US this year, social media blew up with people looking to place blame.  Some blamed a lack of gun control, some blamed a lack of religion in schools, some blame mental health, some blame radicalism.  This is one of those times we can’t afford to have binary thinking.  It was all of these things and probably more that contributed to 17 deaths on Wednesday.  All we can do is try our best to fix the places we can see as problematic as best as we personally can.  For my part, I’m going to tame down my all or nothing thinking and try to neutralize radicalism with love.  I’m still going to question semi-automatic weapons and mental health systems, but I’m going to do so with the whole situation in mind and not just one or two areas.  I’m going to continue to work to create safe spaces and communities of trust, where people might turn when they are feeling alone. After all, we’re not dealing with robots or zombies.  We’re dealing with complicated human beings with many complicated feelings and situations.  There are far more than two alternatives.

Music Minstry Fix You (Coldplay)

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation
Two weeks ago, our Sunday School decorated some simple paper bags with messages of love the children wrote or drew themselves. The bags were then filled with a few small treats and sent to Brunswick Street Mission with a few of our families. For people feeling lost and alone, these messages of unconditional love were very meaningful. Our children and teens offered from their abundance of love a very meaningful gift.

Offertory We Give Our Thanks MV 187 (thanks, hands, hearts)

Offertory Prayer
May these gifts, those given through PAR and our commitment to give be seen as the gifts they truly are. Amen.

Prayer Music Lord, Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary MV 18

Prayers of the People & the Prayer of Jesus
Ending with the sung Prayer of Jesus. During the Prayer of Jesus, you are invited to use the translation and language of your choice. A variety of translations and expressions of the Prayer of Jesus (also known as The Lord’s Prayer) can be found in Voices United pages 916-927.

Commissioning & Benediction

Musical Blessing Go Now in Peace, Guided By the Light MV 211

Ash Wednesday – February 14, 2018

It’s hard to take a selfie of your forehead!

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash_Wednesday

http://www.catholic.org/lent/ashwed.php

http://www.ucc.org/news_glitter_ashes_masquerade_ball_mark_beginning_lent_in_massachusetts_lgbtq_community_02172017

https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/sundays-coming/ashes-without-glitter

http://www.edgevillebuzz.com/news/get-glitter-ashes-go-wednesday-red-line

http://www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/2017/06/the-price-of-glitter.html

http://www.queervirtue.com/glitter-ash-wednesday

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2017/02/glitter-serious-business-story-behind-glitter-ash-wednesday/

https://religionnews.com/2017/02/14/glitter-ash-wednesday-sparkles-for-lgbt-christians-and-others/

https://religionnews.com/2018/02/08/queer-christians-organize-second-glitter-ash-wednesday/

https://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/contributors/2018/02/11/dark-times-add-some-glitter-ash-wednesday-pastors-view/300849002/

http://parity.nyc/glitter-ash-wednesday-2018/

http://www.rexaehuntprogressive.com/liturgy_collection/year_b_liturgy_collection/year_b_lenteaster/ashwednesdayb1422018.html

I’d also like to say that I struggled with the decision to offer glitter.  I read the articles and the comments about keeping the somber mood of Lent sacred.  I appreciate that.  But I also recognize that many people have been made to feel ashamed because of their sexuality, culture, race, even theology (just to name a few ways) by atonement, repentance and confessional theology expressed in the church.  The opportunity to regain some of the dignity we have mistakenly taken far outweighs the traditional history that can continue to be mistaken as “You are not worthy.” This was never the case.  I added glitter for those whose resilience was weakened, whose dignity was diminished, who felt devalued and shunned.  More importantly I added glitter for those who continue to feel that way.  I kept a somber and traditional atmosphere, but encouraged everyone to add from the table of symbols to their own little pot of ashes which I applied to each persons own forehead.  Next year, out of respect for those who wish to uphold the solemn tradition, I will offer both options again.  But I not so secretly hope that everyone will wish to choose the glitter option.

Hymn: When Painful Mem’ries MV 74
Let us acknowledge the awesome mystery
embodied in every person.
Through us God comes to unique
and personal expression.

Let us give thanks for the abundance
of life on this earth.
Through it we and all people may be nourished.

Let us be in silence together. (R Hunt)
(Silence)

Lighting of the Community Candle
Fire is your sacrament, O God, fire is sacred.

We light this flame to affirm that new light
is ever waiting to break through to enlighten our ways:
that new truth is ever waiting
to break through to illumine our minds,
and that new love is ever waiting
to break through to warm our hearts.  (CAHowe)

Lighting of the Personal Candles
People come forward to light their tea candle
and place it on the table around the Community candle

Response
Out of nothingness we came through birth into life:
With the Spirit of God within us.

From the life of God the universe unfolded into being
With the Spirit of God within it.

From the heart of God creation goes on till the end of time
With the Spirit of God within it and with our spirit within it.

Let us embrace the God who enfolds us
We delight in God. (Pitt St Uniting Church, adapted)

Reading from John 10:1-18
Silence

Hymn: Kyrie Eleison MV 69

CELEBRATING COMMUNITY: SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION
We remember the stories…

How Jesus gathered with friends and foes
to tell them of a re-imagined way of living and being.
A way that did not conform to the standards of the Roman Empire
or any other system of governance
that suppressed people
until starvation and deprivation resulted in death. (S Weinberg)

In this way, the issues of life and death,
justice and injustice,
conflict and peace,
goodness and evil
were talked through and made real to ordinary people.

Bread and Cup
So in our time and in this place, with today’s issues before us,
let us continue the tradition: to break bread together.

We remember what that tradition says…
At the end of a journey, among friends,
gathered round a table…
Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it:
‘This bread is broken, as my body will be’.
Break Bread

And he handed it to his friends, and invited them to eat:
‘Remember all that I have been to you’.

We remember…
Jesus poured the cup, offered thanks for it,
and gave it to his friends:
‘This cup is poured out as my life will be.
As you drink give thanks for all I have given’.
Pour Cup

Bread… Cup… an outward sign of an inward grace.

May the spirit within us
be a source of healing and consolation.
May the spirit within us
strengthen us when we feel weak,
warm us when we are cold-hearted,
bend us when we are stubborn,
move us when we are uncaring,
guide us in the way of love.

May the spirit within us
shine in all we do. (R Hunt, adapted)

Communion
By eating this bread and this cup
we become one in hope. (R Hunt, adapted)

 

After Communion
May our sharing become sharing with the world.
May our blessing become blessing for the world.
May our lives become living assurance
of the presence of compassion in the world. (R Hunt, adapted)

SERVICE OF THE ASHES
The Ashes
Ash Wednesday invites us to come back to earth.
To wonder at the gift of life,
my life – our life
with the earth, the shared body of our existence.

These ashes were once trees and shrubs,
and places where life was lived to its fullest.
Once they were full of life.
Now they are black and grey.
Dry.  Lifeless.

But mixed with the oil and water of our baptism
make good fertiliser:
it will help the seeds of the gospel take deeper root in us
and bring forth the fruits,
the harvest of justice, peace, and generosity.

These are ashes worth wearing.
For from the burnt ashes will spring the green shoot of life
and the purple flower of attentiveness to God. (R Hunt)

Preparation of Ashes

The Fire represents purification and the opportunity to start fresh.

The Bread & Cup represent our communion together and our acceptance of one another.

The Mirror represents the opportunity to reflect on our lives throughout the season of Lent.

The Palms represent the past year and everything that came with it.

The Oil represents healing and anointing.

The Water represents our baptism and our choice to be people of grace.

The Glitter represents the resilience of people who have been shamed by the church and yet still rise above it.  It also reminds us of the Cosmic Christ that lives on in each of us.

The Ashes themselves represent mourning and grief, our wearing them represents our confession that we are Christians, that we are imperfect and we are enough.

 Distribution
Those who wish to be marked came forward, and mixed the symbols of their personal choice.

Blessing
We pray:
May these ashes be blessed in our wearing.
May they be for us a symbol of our return to the earth.

May we be blessed.
May we be earthed in everlasting love,
as forgiven and forgiving people.
Amen.

 

Hymn: Bless the Lord MV 46

Words of Blessing

February 4, 2018

Links of Interest/Bibliography:
Woman at the Well Monologue
Woman at the Well (bench)
Woman at the Well (5)
Ashley Judd Nasty Woman
OnScripture
Working Preacher
Working Preacher
Circle Culture – Karen Hilman Millson

Words of Welcome
3 breaths – one for the people who are here right now & for those who can’t be – one for the people who have come before us (our parents, congregation, early settlers, Mi’maki, disciples, Jesus) – one for the people who will come in the future (our children & grandchildren, the future congregation of St. Luke’s)
Lighting the Candle & Ringing the Singing Bowl

Hymn Spirit Dancing VU 388

Call to Worship

One: All who are thirsty for meaning,
All: All who are thirsty for love,
One: If you are looking for real relationships,
All: If you are looking for sacred moments,
One: Come and drink from this well.

Opening Prayer
Spirit dancing on the waters, as we search for your presence, we pray that our eyes will be opened to your presence around us in new and unexpected ways. May we find all that we need during this time of worship. Amen.

Hymn Water Flowing From the Mountains MV 87

Theme Conversation Connecting with Others
Hymn Jesus, Friend of Little Children VU 340

Readings Woman at the Well Monologue
John 4:5-42
Musical Response Jesus, Your Spirit in Us MV 102

Sermon Are you Connected?

Jesus’ popularity had grown so much that there was some cause for concern amongst the upper crust of Judea. So he did what many celebrities do when inundated. He headed home. On his way back to Galilee, he had to pass through Samaria. He stopped at a particular town in Samira near the land that Jacob had given his son Joseph. The town was home to Jacob’s Well. Jesus, weary from his journey, stopped at the well for a rest.
A local woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus asked her for a drink. Jesus was alone, as the disciples had gone off to purchase supplies. Jesus and the local Samaritan Woman have a conversation. During the course of this conversation, Jesus explains his dreams for the world: that people will be less worried about being right and more open and accepting of the diversity around them.
She drinks the Kool-Aid aka Living Water, and the disciple return shortly before she leaves. Jesus is somewhat euphoric: he has managed to plant a seed of hope in a town that he did not feel was accessible to him. The Woman at the Well has gone off and told many of the townspeople, who can see the value in the teachings of Jesus. Many of them believe, and bring others to hear the teachings of Jesus. Jesus had been popular amongst his own people. People who weren’t even Hebrew were beginning to follow his way.
Now, keep in mind that people from Samaria and the Hebrew people to whom Jesus belonged, did not usually associate. So both Jesus and the woman from Samaria needed to be willing partners in this conversation. And this conversation had to be more than just superficial, because the woman left the conversation a changed person.
This week, I had the privilege of being invited to join a network of church leaders who believe in facilitating in a particular way…a way that builds community and strengthens people. The point is to host “sacred conversations”, conversations that change the participants. The buzz word for this is “Circle Culture”.
Circle Culture has been around for a while…even if we haven’t been studying it. Summer camps operate in a circle culture. Small groups of children gather in a cabin, experience things together in their small group, gather as a large group to share other experiences, then return to the small group to share or build on the experience. If you ever had the opportunity, or your children had the opportunity to participate in intermediates at conference or youth forum, it’s the same idea. Small groups gather to get to know each other, check-in daily, and process all of the events of the weekend.
I was present at the general council where a motion was being presented to reduce funding to summer camps. The number of people lined up to speak against the proposal was the largest I’ve ever seen. Many of the people speaking introduced themselves as ministers who’d had a life or faith altering experience at a United Church run summer camp. Many of those who hadn’t had experiences at summer camps did have them at youth forum or intermediates. It became abundantly clear that these organizations that operated with a circle culture had a huge impact on the faith and life of so many people.
So how do you get to the point in these small groups where you can build an authentic relationship?
The presenter the Sacred Conversations network heard from on Wednesday, Karen Hilfman Millson, laid out 4 concepts that are present in Circle Culture, but in order for it to be successful, everyone who participates needs to be very intentional about the concepts being part of the process.
1. Show up, or choose to be present (which is connecting to the authentic self)
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning (which is validating each other and expressing gratitude)
3. Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Karen quoted Margaret Wheatley: “It’s not our differences that divide us. It is our judgments about each other that do.”
4. Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome (letting go of what has been and opening to what is emerging)
All of these steps help to create Circle Culture and the potential of action that makes a difference.
So let’s look at these concepts as applied to the conversation between the Woman from Samaria and Jesus, or at least the parts of the conversation we know. Keep in mind, that what we have to work with has likely been distorted a bit between the oral culture of the time and translation.
1. Show up, or choose to be present – Both Jesus and the Samaritan woman chose to enter into conversation with each other when that wasn’t socially acceptable. Although we don’t know the exact words that were said, we do know that in order for the change to have happened to the woman as described, this was honest and deep conversation.
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning – at the mid-point in the story, the Samaritan Woman says “I can see you are a prophet.” She validates what Jesus has told her. I’m sure Jesus validated or expressed gratitude to the Woman as well. As he tells the disciples a little later about having something metaphorical to eat and continues on to say that doing God’s work fulfills his hunger. He said this just after having his conversation with the Samaritan Woman.
3. Tell the truth without blame or judgment. – This one is somewhat obvious. Jesus doesn’t judge the woman for having 5 + husbands. For her part, the woman not only reveals this deep truth about herself, but she hears Jesus’ beliefs and dreams and actively becomes part of them. She didn’t laugh at his grand dreams of a better world for everyone.
4. Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome – The Woman at the Well went out and told everyone of her time with Jesus. They could have laughed at her. They could have told her she was wasting her time. They could have told her that this way that Jesus was suggesting just simply wasn’t the way it had always been done. And they probably did tell her to stop. But she didn’t. She kept on telling about her experience. For his part, Jesus stayed there an extra two days and spoke to the people, even when it didn’t fit in the schedule.
Circle Culture and the potential for action that makes a difference. Many people believed in The Way of Jesus after this experience at the Well.
I admit, we haven’t been great lately at cultivating Circle Culture. But there is always opportunity to work on it. When the opportunity presents itself to you, take it. You may have the opportunity to be part of a life or faith altering experience. Make the connection with someone unexpected. Drink the Kool-Aid.

Music Minstry Come Thou Fount Laura Beth Smith

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation

Offertory What Can I Do? MV 191

Offertory Prayer
May these gifts, those given through PAR and our commitment to give be seen as the gifts they truly are. Amen.

Prayer Music Lord, Listen to Children Praying VU 400

Prayers of the People & the Prayer of Jesus
Ending with the sung Prayer of Jesus. During the Prayer of Jesus, you are invited to use the translation and language of your choice. A variety of translations and expressions of the Prayer of Jesus (also known as The Lord’s Prayer) can be found in Voices United pages 916-927.

Hymn By the Well, a Thirsty Woman MV 117

Commissioning & Benediction

Musical Blessing May The Love Of Our God MV 218